Sunday, November 30, 2008
Checkers and other pastimes
This morning, in my email obituary update, along with the architect of the Sydney operahouse and a former leader of India, the NY Times carried an obituary for Richard L. Fortman, a warehouse foreman in Springfield, IL. His claim to fame, however, was that he was a world champion checkers player.
It's an intriguing obituary for many reasons, one of which is that it explains how one plays the game of checkers. And it's true, I suppose, that a lot of people nowadays wouldn't know what checkers is and have probably never played it.
The whole obituary is a study in analog. Fortman's specialty was playing checkers by mail, sending his moves back to opponents by postcard. But "In recent years the computer has made checkers by mail a bygone art. Mr. Fortman adapted, and to the end of his life, his daughter said, he spent hours each day playing, and winning, games online."
Intriguing for me, too, to think what will be the archaic claims to fame from my generation: experts in Grand Theft Auto, perhaps.
In a very touching finish, the obituary ends, "Last month members of the checkers world suspected that Mr. Fortman’s health was declining after he failed, highly uncharacteristically, to submit his return moves in time." It's that there is a checkers world and that one could be noticed in it that I love.
Reading this obituary was in itself a reflective act that evoked the past for me in incredibly vivid and specific forms. It made me want to slow down. And, in a triumph for both the writer and the deceased, it made me want to play checkers.