March 18th, 2005

Tip of the Hat

a short piece of fiction

The old man already had the chess board set up for our daily game, and started pouring some green tea for me when he saw me enter. I sat down at the coffee shop table.

I pushed a pawn to the e4 square as I sat down.

He moved his pawn. "How's the writing going, boy?"

"It's not. I need a plot to write. Sure I can string words together, and even create characters. Heck, there's a Klingon who is walking around in my head cursing me and telling me to be bolder and show more passion all the time. I just feel like I'm in a boat without a rudder when I try to write something."

The old man looked at me sadly and shook his head. "Then either find that rudder or learn to drift with the currents, boy." He paused for a moment studying the board in silence before moving his knight. "So you have characters but no plot. How about a theme?"

"What?" I said as our chess game continued while we talked.

"Look at the chess board. You know chess. Tell me about the game we're playing."

I looked at the board. "We're only a few moves in." I said confused.

"Try again. I didn't ask you how many moves we've made. What's the game?" He said as he made his move.

I looked at him blankly. "Chess?"

He sighed. "Ok, I think I understand your problem." He reached over the table and taped my head. "There's someone home, but the porch light is out. Make your move and tell me what is the theme of this chess game."

I made my move. "I don't understand."

"Stop being an idiot!" He reached out slammed his piece down on the the board as he made his move. "How would you classify the game?"

"What? The center game?"

He look at the board. "Is that what you call it? I thought it was the Four Knights opening."

"How could it be? Only one knight has moved so far in the game."

"Ah, that's right. So tell me about this center game of yours."

"You probably know more about it than I do."

"Humor me."

"I don't really know much about it."

"You just said you were playing it. Tell me about it. Chess openings have some idea behind them; quicker development, risking material in exchange for better positional control of the board, or some such mumbo jumbo chess talk. Tell me about the opening of this game. Roy Loopy wasn't it?"

"Ruy Lopez, I think you meant. And, this is a center game. It's all about controlling the center of the board. What does this have to do with my writing anyway?"

"Writing? I thought we were talking themes. My mind must be going in my old age. I guess it has nothing to do with writing." He glanced at the clock. "How time flies. You better get back to work. We can continue our talk about putting your boat into the water. Then maybe you'll find your oar after you get the thing floating."

"My oar?"

"Didn't you say you felt like your writing was like a boat without an oar at the start of our game?"


"Oh, that's right. Maybe you shouldn't take advice from such a senile old man who runs a struggling coffee shop. Now get going, or you'll be late. I'll add the tea to your tab."

I left feeling confused. Somehow I always get the feeling the old guy isn't as feeble minded as he pretends to be.