When I was a kid I desperately wanted to play chess. That was before the internet and even before personal computers. There was this horrible girl who lived across the street with her sister, girls we completely wrote off as useless human beings. They were the ravaged products of class pretension, unhealthy notions of femininity, and alcoholic parents.
The younger one I didn't know so well, but I regarded both as complete losers. Everything they did or said was embarrassing, and the best policy was to avoid them.
One day in high school, however, so desperate for chess was I, that on the trudge home from the bus stop I made a proposal in the defeated voice you would use when saying "I choose death by lethal injection."
I asked if one of them wanted to come to my house and play chess.
Delighted, they said they would both come ... but they just needed a few minutes to get ready, and then they'd be right over.
I went to my house, set up the chess board at the kitchen table, and waited. And waited and waited and waited. More than an hour went by, and then they appeared. They were all dressed up, had elaborate hair, and were wearing jewelry and perfume.
Lest you get the wrong idea and think they were secretly in love with me, let me remind you that I was a short, pimply, grim, antisocial geek. If they had any interest at all in me they would have made it known at some point over the years. But they despised me as much as I despised them.
So why get all dolled up? They were in love with themselves, with the idea of being women going on a date.
Once they finally arrived, I didn't get up. "OK, which one of you wants to play first?"
"Oh, we'll both play!"
"It's really better if one person makes the decisions. Otherwise you're likely to lose."
"No, we decided that we both want to play."
"OK," I said, "Here's my move."
They started gabbing like it was a cocktail party about what move to make. They would gesture with pieces and then theatrically disagree, speculate, vacillate, and chatter. The point seemed to be to prolong the deliberation as long as possible, to be social.
They were both in theater groups outside school.
Finally, after 10 minutes of their chatter, I demanded that they make a move. Within seconds, they did. It was a stupid move.
I would move and they would gab, moving rarely.
The squalid little game took forever, so long that when my parents came home from wherever they'd been, they beheld a frustrated little teenage boy sitting furiously at a table before a chess board while two tall, overdressed teenage girls stood bantering with each other as if entertaining the Prince of Wales.
My parents looked shocked. They must have known then that I was desperate for chess.
At some point before I graduated high school they gave me the finest, most extravagant gift of my entire childhood: An electronic chess board with a simple computer inside that played chess.
Who needs stupid girls?