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Almost Fiction: Chess and dinner downtown

By Sam Jones

Being interested in everything, several things were high on his list: motorcycles, firearms, photography, writing, fine dining and wine, fly fishing, chess and women. He prided himself on being one of the last “Renaissance Men.” Long discussions at lunch with friends who shared mutual interests were common. An amiable social life with several different lady friends was also frequent and most enjoyable. There are times in a man’s life when his world makes sense, when he has no inclination to change anything, when he finds balance. He was a lucky man.

Having never worked downtown, being ignorant of its nooks and crannies, he now loved the adventure, anonymity and the exploration of the big city. However, the traffic congestion made him crazy. In the past, other than airplanes and an occasional taxi, he never used public transportation but currently it had become most intriguing. He realized that he could take the train round trip to the center of the city for less than it would cost to park a car. Another benefit was that he could travel unbothered and play chess on his tiny travel chess computer. Congestion or chess; it was an easy choice.

Once a month, sometimes twice, a longtime lady friend who lived 100 miles on the other side of the city would invite him to dinner. She had been the one who had discovered and suggested the train. Taking it and meeting downtown made a great deal of sense for both of them.

Being a divorcée with her own money and one who had always believed in “equal rights for women,” initiating a social engagement was easy. “Would you like to join me for cocktails, an early dinner and an evening at the Philharmonic? It might be a late night, so I will reserve a room at that hotel we like.” It was a familiar invitation, which he accepted.

His habit was to dress well in a suit and tie for these evenings. Stowing his garment bag in the sidecar he rode his Harley to the train station. Instead of just parking in the lot, he stabled it in the corner of his buddy’s little garage a short walk from the station.

The train was on time. Finding a seat facing forward, he preferred sitting in the direction the train was traveling. He produced from his garment bag a travel chess computer and started a game. At the end of the second game he was at the central station and he put the computer away with a smile. He had won both games against the computer and at a higher level than he normally played.

It was early afternoon with plenty of time to get his shoes polished in the shine parlor and a straight razor shave at his barber four blocks south. A five-minute bus ride to the gym he had just joined rewarded him with a light spin on a workout bicycle, 10 minutes in the steam room and a cool shower. With that, every muscle in his body said hello.

He was from the old school, which said only a white dress shirt was appropriate with a suit after dark. Dressing slowly, paying special attention to the knotting of his tie in order to get the dimple exactly in the middle, giving his shoes a final buff with the gym’s towel, he felt great and looked presidential.

The restaurant where he was to meet his date was only a few blocks from the gym. There was quickness to his step and a lightness to his demeanor.

Checking his bag with the hatcheck girl and inquiring with the maitre d` about the dinner reservation, he had plenty of time and took a seat in the lounge. “Yes, I’ll have a Manhattan made with a rye,” was his answer to the barman’s question.

Before it came she joined him. “Have you been waiting long? What are you drinking?” Women have a habit of asking more than one question at a time.

“No, I just got here. I am having a Manhattan made with rye whiskey. What would you like?”

“That sounds good.” He motioned to the barman to make two. “Was your trip crowded? You of course played chess on the way in; did you win?” again with the multiple questions. He answered both, whereupon the drinks came and she started filling him in with the events of her day.

His steak was broiled perfectly and paired well with two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. Her live Maine lobster and a glass of chardonnay were equally as beautiful. Sampling each other’s meal, like teenagers they sneaked bites. A glass of port and some cheese was his dessert. A triple chocolate soufflé was hers. Beethoven’s 9th was at the Philharmonic, one of his favorites. The hotel management always added champagne and fruit to their suite. The sex was mature, experienced and very satisfying for both of them. Breakfast was served in the room and there was no hurry to the morning. It was a grownup’s version of the unblemished prom night.

He lingered a bit after she left. Showering, changing his skivvies and shirt, he tied a different tie, dusted his shoes and took the bus back to his train.

Producing the chess computer he started a game. An 8-year-old boy sat across from him. “What game are you playing?” The boy asked.

“Chess. Do you know how to play?”

“Yeah, my grandpa taught me. Can I play?”

“Sure, why not.” The man said condescendingly, while looking to his mother who nodded her approval.

The boy beat him three games straight, ruining his morning.

Skipping, holding his mother’s hand, they got off at his stop. “The pretentious little devil.”

As he reclaimed the Harley he thought of giving both of them a ride in the sidecar, taking them waaaaay out in the wilderness and leaving them for the wolves. He would have except its battery was dead.

His humiliation at the hands of a child and the failure of his motorcycle were just the beginnings of his payment for the last unspoiled 24 hours. The Gods pretend that their job is to maintain justice and balance in the universe. It’s an excuse for their demented sense of humor.

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