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.

1 comment:

qoe said...

I enjoyed this obit, as well.

I am constantly being reminded of one major difference between the kinds of activities that occupied the years of my youth and what is available to kids and youth in this day: technology.

Must admit to finding it disturbing that people spend so much time isolating themselves from other people with their technology. Instead of everyone listening to "records" together, everyone listens to their own music on their own personal gizmos, tuning everyone else (and sometimes every THING) out.

It seems rather disturbing that people, young and old, spend so much time compulsively texting or gaming on their cell phones. The price of constant engagement is perhaps never having a moment to be lost in thought, where the possibility of a message from beyond might be able to penetrate the thick skull as an inspiration to DO something.

Guess I am turning into an old codger, or some such. I like slow games like checkers and chess. I like sharing the experience of music with people. I enjoy being lost in thought, and then finding my way back...