“You don’t have any kids?” he questioned me with a hint of sarcastic surprise in his voice. Followed closely by “and come to think of it, you don’t even have any grandkids!” I couldn’t suppress the laughter that was bubbling inside of me and it began to slip out as I tried to remain focused and serious.
Then the first match ended almost before it began. I should have seen it coming. The first pawn of mine that was taken resulted in check-mate. So as suddenly as we started it was over. I don’t take losing easily and wasn’t going to let that happen again, despite my lack of experience in playing chess, compared to the 72 year old retired English teacher with an afro that was sitting across from me.
The pieces were quickly retest which wasn’t hard considering the brevity of the first match. The board was then rotated and play continued. Things were different this time. Play progressed, a queen was captured, castles consumed, knights knocked out, and bishops bagged until finally I had his king trapped with no means of escape. My cunning and daring strategy had somehow outwitted the years of experience that guided the pieces opposite of mine.
Anyone else observing this scene would probably have difficulty believing their eyes. Here is an old man playing chess, which isn’t a surprise, but the fact that his opponent was barely a third of his age. Not a common occurrence especially for someone my age to be there by choice and not out of obligation or any other ulterior motives. I am old enough to be his grandson, and if I were common to my generation I would expect to mercilessly distract by my phone and other outside forces. This was different though. I had the weekend from work, and I hadn’t seen one of my best friends in quick a while, and decided to make the quick trip to pay him a visit.
From an outsider’s perspective we had very little in common at all, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Despite the many years that separated us we got along great. Had we been born in the same decade we would have been inseparable, but we weren’t going to let that stop us. We both had the same sarcastic and ridiculous sense of humor, loved music and played the guitar, and liked to make fun of each other and others. Despite our physical age differences, our minds are both about the age of 11, which makes things almost too fun at times.
Once upon a time we were both working janitorial on weeknights cleaning the offices at a truck depot. It was probably the nastiest job that I have ever had. Especially the bathrooms, which were at times tainted by trucker blowouts. He loved to tell me not to put things in my mouth, as if I were the one that was 2 years old. One night he had me put new urinal cakes in the men’s bathroom. He had me three and looked at me very sternly and said, “These aren’t Altoids, SO don’t put them in your mouth, cause they will take your breath away!” This was followed by both of us bursting into laughter.
The only thing that made cleaning bearable, and the only reason I was even there was because we had so much fun together. One night my “supervisor/boss” strategically hid himself in one of the back offices that I always got around to vacuuming last. As I opened the door I found a dirty rag flying at my face, and heard an unearthly yell. Needless to say I was quite startled and once I had my wits about be I found the old man literally rolling around on the dirty carpet with short bursts of giggling escaping at sporadic intervals.
This is only one example of the many adventures that shaped and forged this unlikely friendship. Despite all of the fun and practical jokes, there were times when we would discuss more serious in an often light hearted way, but knowing that deep down we both recognized the true importance of these more heavy matters. It is also said that those that work and serve together develop some of the strongest bonds of friendship. There we many experiences together serving some widowed women and sick seniors that lived in our area in various ways. Not only was he a good friend, but a great example as well. There is more to life than just fun and games all the time.
As with most friendships time and circumstance would take us far from each other. Even with the advancements in modern communication, we would only occasionally talk to each other. However whenever circumstances and time would permit, we would make plans to go get a cheap senior discounted meal at a fast food restaurant, or for the first time, a friendly and competitive match of chess. Either way, whenever we would get together it was awesome because we both would be practically the same person that we were the previous time. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks and when you’re as hard headed as me, change is slow, painful and far between. I am always looking forward to the time that we get together. I also start to feel a bit older too when, we get to reminisce about the many good times that we have had in the past.
My mom would always tell me when I was growing up that friends would come and go but family is the only thing that will last. While she was right about basically everything including this there is one exception. Every other friend that I’ve had growing up until now that has been relatively close to my age has moved on for some reason or another. Marriage, graduating, military, and careers all seem to pull those friends of mine from my life. However I can truly say that I’ve had one friend that despite distance and changes in my life has always been there, and can without a doubt make me laugh. I don’t even want to think about the time that will come when he literally won’t be around anymore. At any rate before I know it I’ll be the one on the experienced side of the chess board, reliving my younger years with some punk kind.