Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Sourdough Gambit

E@L struggles to find a nice shirt to wear as his two favorite polo shirts are in the wash. So he grabs an outrageously bright Hawaiian shirt that doesn't stink too much after he wore it to the Penis Party on Sat night. He puts his keys, phone, wallet and a book to read if he doesn't find anything later, into a small shoulder bag and heads for the bus-stop. The strap of the shoulder bag keeps cutting into his neck as the wide soft collar of the gapingly open necked shirt cannot hold it. Uncomfortable, but hey. He puts the phone into the top pocket and this holds the collar back, but of course the shirt is all crumpled on him now under the opposing forces of the strap and the phone. He looks like a clumsy tourist. Whatever. He needs another shirt. Too late; the bus has come.

Chess. He has won 52% of his games on Gameknot, however because he has never really studied opening theory, never really memorized the board layout, (he has trouble visualizing the moves in his head) he often enters a state of panic early in the game, expecting to be mated by some grade-school combination - Dickhead's Mate, Idiot's Mate, Beginner's Dumbfuck Mate, etc…


1. P--K4 (b) ...

(b) The primary cause of all of White's subsequent difficulties.

Samuel Beckett, Murphy, Novels I of Samuel Beckett pp145-6.

You know it, that feeling of being in over your head, of having started something that could easily expose your lack of experience and expertise (like starting a blog post with a quote from Beckett). He gets that hollow-legged feeling of impending doom EVERY game he has with a new opponent. He has decided for the umpteenth time that he needs to do some shopping for some (more) simple to medium standard chess books. He has been into Borders and the few they have are hardbacks and outrageously priced, even for a well-heeled soul such as he. Kinokuniya it is then, and maybe a Devonshire tea or even some of that brilliant mushroom soup at the Copenhagen Tea-room on the second floor at Takashimaya, or perhaps an iced coffee and a cookie over the road at Paragon, where he could grab some of that nice fresh mushroom soup from the Soupspoon for dinner at home. So many choices while he is still on the bus, but he will react as the situation demands.

E@L wonders why he can remember the layout of shopping malls but not the moves in the opening gambits of chess.

Sure enough, there are more chess books and they are cheaper in K. AND there appears to be a 20%-Off Sale at a K. E@L uses their computer to search for the chess area (Games and Pastimes, surely chess books should be in the Obsession section) and makes futile attempts to stride purposefully across the store to the right area, where after some deliberation, he grabs two books that reasonably match his requirements -The Amateur's Mind and Complete Book of Chess Strategy.

Once again E@L purposefully attempts to break through the aimlessly floating world of the sale crowd -- ever notice how frustrating it is to know where you are going when everyone else doesn't? -- over to the cashier. But he too is human, all too human, and gets distracted by the philosophy section and so becomes himself an hovering giant Hawaiian-shirted impediment to others. He picks some extras - Arendt On Violence (I can finally see that something violent has to happen in my long-gestated book , I have been buying much over the years on this subject), Bataille Accursed Share, Vol. 1 (on consumption), John Gray's Straw Dogs (a must have, after enjoying the attitude behind his terrific Black Mass, which I had completed in Thailand the day they threw my back out), and funnily enough, after he had floated across to the literature section looking for more by Vollman (haven’t read the last three, but hey!), the great Walter Tevis's book on a female chess prodigy, The Queen's Gambit.

E@L read a few pages and found it crisply written and Tevis obviously knowledgeable/obsessed about chess:

He brought the knight back. It was a wasted move and she felt a thrill when she saw him do it.

Tevis, The Queens Gambit, p11.

Exactly. This is what people must feel when they play me, fucking it up, doing the wrong things, E@L thought.

With the heavy plastic bag of books banging at his left thigh, he headed on towards the tea-room. When E@L passed into the Takashimaya store proper, he paused slightly to look at a Brooks Brother's polo-shirt. Within thirty seconds he had been checkmated by the wily old salesman and he now had a nice new, very expensive, polo-shirt. Too good for golf, he'd have to wear this at Christmas. Somehow, he managed to escape without buying anything else -"this is a nice color for you"… E@L shook his head and paid his penalty. He returned his wallet to the shoulder bag, slung the latter over his right arm, placed the black Brook Bros bag together with the Kinokuniya bag in his left hand and moved on.

The Copenhagen tea-room was full and the wait would be twenty minutes, according to the char-woman in-attendance. His vision of puffy scones, thickly laden with rich black jam and folds of clotted cream faded. Sigh. He went downstairs and outside into sunshine made brighter by some rays sneaking through a break in dark rain clouds, and tried to make his way across Orchard Rd to Paragon Shopping Centre. Just as in the bookstore, he was impeded by the drifting, floating crowd, always forced wider than he wanted to go and often directly into oncoming pedestrians.

Finally at CoffeeBean, by the outside tables, he hovered, in the local manner, next to a couple who were checking watches and packing their phones, placed ostentatiously on the table, and he grabbed the chairs as they left them empty, placing his bags there to hold the table while he ordered his favorite - a large ice-blended, black-forest (cherry) coffee and a muffin. Before long he had the chess books out, trying to gain a brief understanding of the weaknesses of the French Defense, and found an anecdote quoted by Silman in the Amateur's Mind about a six-year old girl who understood much of the advanced powers of the rook on the seventh rank! E@L smiled at the coincidence of having bought of Tevis's book, which is about a similarly gifted eight-year old girl.

From book to book he moved, hoping some of it would sink in. When convinced that something had been learned - primarily that children are better at chess than he is - he went inside Paragon and downstairs for that takeaway mushroom soup from The Soupspoon. As he passed into the basement he noticed that the pseudo-French Delifrance was gone. A new French pseudo-pâtisserie was in its place, and he noticed a bread section up one end of the glass display cabinets. He would come back and check it out.

When he purchased the soup he wanted, they placed it in another (branded) plastic bag for him. With the three bags in his left hand now, he walked to the new pâtisserie. Behind the glass at the very end of the display he noticed a round, flour-dusted loaf of ---- SOURDOUGH BREAD! Checkmate to the fucker at that other restaurant.

There was a narrow counter in front of the display. E@L balanced all three of his shopping bags on this counter by the bread area as he asked the first serving-wench who came near for one of the sourdough loaves. Still holding those bags together safely, he negotiated the shoulder bag around, unzipped a pocket to get his wallet out and eventually proffered the $4 that the loaf cost, according to its pretty little French badge.

She indicated to him that the cashier was down the other of the counter.

She took his money and walked down with the loaf. He gathered that she expected him to follow her. E@L threw his shoulder bag around back, picked up the soup bag and tried to feed it into the mouth of the Brook Bros bag. At this point he decided to stay where he was, whatever she thought was the done thing at French pâtisseries be buggered. Even in the supermarket deli you stay where you are, the food-slicer comes to you. Fuck the bitch. He looked down the counter and she looked back at him from the POS register. After a pause, she walked back down to him and said -

"There's an extra 25c for GST."

E@L swung the shoulder bag back up, and said - "I'm balancing four bags here," though technically there now only three to balance on the counter, one being inside another. He fished out EXACTLY 25c, gave it to her and she pleasantly walked away again.

He thought of young Beth's first winning game in Tevis's book and smiled to himself.

She walked up the counter's length yet again, this time with the loaf in an elaborately designed paper bag. E@L took the bag - now he again had three to hold in his left hand - and said to the girl as he moved away,

"You could have brought this loaf up when you asked for the 25c. It would have saved you a trip, you know."

She smiled with a professional grimace. He felt a small thrill.

More about Novels I of Samuel BeckettMore about The Amateur's MindMore about Complete Book of Chess StrategyMore about On ViolenceMore about Accursed Share, Vol. 1More about Straw DogsMore about The Queen's Gambit



savannah said...

so how was the bread? ;~D xoxoxo

(i have written down a title or 2, tyvm!)

expat@large said...

Sav: chewy sourdough bread and chunky mushroom soup with a glass of amontillado sherry - a divine combination! That was dinner, done.

Fruit and salad today. I'm trying something called the DASH diet to reduce my blood pressure.

expat@large said...

OK I give up, Sav: what are your suggested titles?

Momentary Madness said...

I got lost after the first move.
No, that's not a title. I think it may have been the colored shirt, at least it was clean.

I feel in over my head every morning I wake up, like, will I get through breakfast, get dressed appropriately, and remember which way the shoe lace knot goes.
Once I get over those major feats I take my med. and sure I'm right for the day: "picture yourself on a boat o a river, with ....."

Chess, heady stuff.
I play a good game of Draughts as long as I can focus on which color I am.

Unknown said...

Then again a google search would have provided lots of free Chess tuition, but not added to the book collection.
At which point I realise that it is one thing to have a huge book collection, another to have read each one, but a huge achievement to understand each one.
Which probably means that most people could only ever have about 20 books in their personal library.

expat@large said...

MomMad: we used to use bottle-caps.

Bludger: so I need a drastic spring clean, hey? What if I haven't yet read the books I will understand?

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