Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Quality Time

Pete is a Sicilian guy who frequently shows up at the International Delights Cafe in Las Cruces with a portable chess set. He rolls his board out across a table, leaving just enough room for coffee cups, cell phones, and perhaps an ash tray to the sides. He sets up his white and red pieces and waits, if he must; often enough, challengers are eager for a chance to vanquish Pete.
This is not blitz chess, played out in a few minutes over a cash bet. He's not a hustler. These games last half an hour, forty minutes, an hour. Pete plays position chess, considering all of the ramifications and possibilities carefully before making each move. Nonostante, Pete is not averse to a little competitive banter from time to time.
It becomes a spectator event, with strangers or coffee-shop-acquaintances looking up from their electronic devices to watch. Conversations unfold. Cigarettes are fired up. People duck inside for refills and come back. The scene is mostly but not exclusively male.
In a world that is ever more loud and impatient, there are still people who gather around a slow-paced battle of wits, speaking softly, watching, waiting. One man watched an entire game with scarcely a comment, occasionally checking his phone (it frequently beeped at him, like a nagging robot assistant), yet timelessly watching the situation change as he savored a black cigarette that smelled like toasting herbs. Not a word, just witnessing and nodding when he approved of the move.

Human beings speak of "quality time," a concept I find fascinating. "Quality time" as opposed to other kinds of time, thought of as a kind of time where we are not pressured to be productive or perform or meet deadlines. Perhaps that would constitute a vacation from "time" itself.
Strangely, we posit the idea of a special time that allows human beings to connect socially, as if something held us back from doing that the rest of the time. It's the familiar nausea of modern life: loud, fast, hard to focus on the person sitting right in front of us, much less our own selves. There is no "app" for that.
Last night, I had a peculiar urge to bring my own chessboard -- actually, my father's chess set, dating back to his high school days -- to the Mimbres Valley Brewing Company here in Deming. Filled my glass mug with their Pancho Villa stout, set up the board, and thumbed through a book waiting to see if anyone would sit down. A half hour or so went by before a young man named Jeremy sat down, a sweet guy one year out of college, passing through town on a long, meandering road trip throughout the United States, heading to Utah to earn some money so he can keep going, not even knowing yet what he's looking for, just looking around. Over the board and some friendly competition, we exchanged stories and information.
This morning, I imagine Jeremy is heading north in his beat-up van, with a notion of spending New Year's Eve in Silver City. I hope he is still savoring the roads and the mountains on his journey, going forward yet taking his time.

[Photos: Pete (top) and Johnny (below) playing chess at International Delights]


Kelly said...

My son use to love chess and played quite a bit as a teenager. I played some, but always preferred Pente. It's certainly not as cerebral as chess, but still a fun, challenging game of skill.

quid said...

A thoughtful post. Hard to think of things like chess dying out. Good to see younger people still play. Pete the Sicilian is a twin for my ex-hubby's uncle Sant.