On Satruday night, while I was out walking with Drew, we ran into David the Chess Guy.
David was a guy I met on the internet about six months ago, and we went out a few times. He’s a little taller than I am, but not much, which is to say he’s pretty short. David used to be a bodybuilder, though, and you can still kinda tell. He weighs at least fifty pounds more than I do, and that’s probably a pretty conservative estimate (I’m very bad at guessing how much people weigh). He’s in his mid-30s, and he has a shaved head. I think he’s one of those guys who started going bald a few years ago and then decided it was better to have no hair than most of his hair, so he unmasked his scalp and never looked back.
Largely due to his skinhead and his bulky frame, David looks a little scary when you first see him. He has an unnaturally deep voice, like Barry White, so it’s not surprising that he makes a living doing voice-overs. He was on a bunch of cartoons I’ve never heard of, plus he did some radio ads. He’s an attractive guy, but I’m sure he frightens children.
Before I had even met David in person, probably as a defensive measure, he told me about his eye problem. He was born with a lazy eye that he had corrected years ago. It looks fine now, but his vision is bad enough that he can’t drive a car. He walks everywhere he goes, or he takes cabs or the bus. When I last spoke to him, he was looking forward to the release of the Segway, because he figured his eye problem wouldn’t prevent him from owning one of those, and at last, he’d have a decent mode of transportation. I never told him that the drawback of the Segway is that it would make him look weird. For a 5’6″ 200-pound bald guy who can’t see straight, the point seemed moot.
On three times and in three different ways during our first date, David told me how attracted he was to me. Once it was “I’m really attracted to shorter guys.” Once it was “You’re so my type.” Once it was, “I’m really attracted to you.” Saying things like these seemed a little forward for a first date, and I wondered if it was a coincidence that the only time this had ever happened to me, it was from a guy who had vision problems.
There are three general responses I have to a first date. In Category 1 are the extremely rare cases where I know I want to see a guy again, in which case I say, “We should hang out again.” That’s bold for me, and that’s as far as I usually go on a first date. The only times I’ve done that, I’ve been pretty sure the other guy felt the same way, and I was usually right. In Category 2 are guys I know I don’t want to see again. This is a conclusion I usually reach about five minutes into the date, after which I spend the rest of my time trying to formulate the proper exit line. I fear that anything the slightest bit polite, such as “It was nice meeting you” could be seen as a sign of encouragement, so I usually end up with something more like, “Where are you parked?” or simply, “Well, bye.” But most guys fall into Category 3: guys I’m not sure about. In those cases, I’ll let them give the exit line, play along, then wait to see if they contact me again. If they do, I’ll give them another chance. If they don’t, I usually don’t even notice.
David fell into that third category, but there was no doubt about whether I would be hearing from him again. When I dropped him off, he said, “I’d like to kiss you now.” I shrugged and said, “Okay”, and so he did. Twice.
By the end of that day (we had met for lunch and ended the date immediately afterward), he had sent me three emails. I didn’t write back, so the next day, he left me a voicemail. And he sent another email. David, it seemed, was trying very hard to go from Category 3 to Category 2.
I told David I wanted to take things slowly, and he said he was fine with that. He probably thought I meant that I didn’t want to sleep with him right away, but I really meant that I didn’t want to get 4 emails from him within 24 hours. Thankfully, the communication slowed down anyway, to the point where I felt safe giving him another chance, so two weeks later, we met up to see the movie THE RING.
David didn’t like it. Neither did I, but even though I didn’t like it, I also didn’t like the way that David didn’t like it. He critiqued the director’s intentions and very angrily labeled the film pretentious. I just wanted to be scared more. Afterward, we had dinner. David really wanted to play chess over dinner, but the idea of playing chess in a restaurant made me uncomfortable. The date was okay, and both of us seemed a little less interested than last time, but it wasn’t bad enough that we didn’t want to see each other again.
That wouldn’t happen until the third date. The third date was when we actually did play chess. Something in between date #2 and date #3 convinced me that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. I had suggested the activities for our first two dates — lunch the first time, dinner and a movie the second — and both dates had been just a bit awkward. So I figured maybe if I did what he wanted to do, David would be more comfortable, more himself. Quite naively, I thought that would be a good thing.
Before we even met up, we fought over the setting. I thought it would be rude to show up at a restaurant on a busy Friday night with a chess board and then park yourself at a table for three hours while you played. David said he did it “all the time”, as if you couldn’t be rude “all the time”. I thought we should go to a coffee shop, which seemed a perfectly reasonable solution, but for some reason, this was a big problem for David and led to quite a long and heated disagreement. I’m not the kind of person who always has to win an argument — only when the other person is wrong.
We went to a coffee shop.
Playing chess well requires concentration, so it’s not the best time to have a conversation. This was another reason it seemed like a perfect third date. By that point in a relationship, there’s less to talk about and it helps to get used to silence. I knew David had problems with conversation, and I would soon discover he had problems with silence as well.
“How long has it been since you’ve played chess?” he asked me a few minutes into the game, after he had captured a couple of my pieces and while I was contemplating my next move.
“I don’t know. A while,” I said. “Maybe a couple years.”
“Oh,” he said, nodding his head. “You’re doing very well.”
Now, I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think you should tell someone they’re doing well when you’re beating them. In my mind, it seems patronizing, a gentle nudge of encouragement from the player who’s currently demonstrating his superiority. I think you should only tell someone they’re doing well when… well, when they’re doing well.
I am not a naturally competitive person. But there’s definitely a competitive drive buried somewhere in my subconscious. The way some people are passive-aggressive, I’m passive-competitive. If you want to see my competitive side, you have to coax it out of me. And that’s just what David had done by telling me I was “doing well”.
I would now accept now outcome except victory.
I started playing harder, attacking, dredging up really obnoxious moves I’d learned in my (yes, I’m embarrassed to admit) chess club in high school. And I started winning. I know that lots of straight guys feel obliged by the rules of chivalry to let their girlfriends win at certain activities. If you’re playing tennis against a woman, it’s not cool to slam an overhead shot past her at 100 miles an hour and shout “Boo-yaa!” But when you take the woman out of the equation, things change. When men play games with men, it can get ugly. Men go for blood. It was, as they say, on.
David played a very psychological game. He bopped his head to the lousy music the coffee shop was playing, pretending to be at ease. He hummed along, out of tune. He blurted out inane non sequiturs like, “Did you know there’s no tipping in Australia? They pay waitresses $20 an hour.” He asked questions intended to make him seem like a more novice player than he was (i.e., “So if I get my pawn to the other side of the board, what do I get? A rook? A queen?”). But at the same time he exhibited an incongruously detailed knowledge of rules that had the potential to make things harder on me (i.e., by not allowing me to change my mind on a move once I had touched a piece), and he was quite good at defending against stealthy textbook chess attacks I was attempting to set up. David spoke a lot, but only when it was my turn. When he was thinking, he was silent. Intense.
I eventually stopped paying attention to him altogether. If he asked me a question, I would grunt or shrug my shoulders. I would take ten minutes or more to make a move. I no longer had any interest in salvaging the date, only in victory.
Overall, it was one of the closest games of chess I’ve ever played. As we depleted each other’s arsenals and cleared the board of most of the pieces, I made a move that should’ve sealed David’s doom. I took his last rook. According to the official scoring, we were dead even, but David had mostly pawns remaining, whereas I had a few offensive pieces. Knowing that I don’t have an endgame, I offered a draw — which is a perfectly honorable end to a chess match as well as to a date.
So we played the game out. David does have an endgame, and he struggled to come back, putting me in check at every turn to cripple my offensive game. My king ended up so far up the board that I was able to use it to put his king in check, which led to a controversy as to whether this was a legal move. I offered to take back the move, but David said that wouldn’t be legal, as I had already taken my hand off the piece. He insisted we keep playing despite the disagreement and finish what was now a tainted game.
I won. Damn him.
When I dropped David off at his apartment, I promised to look up my move to see if it was legal. To my surprise, he kissed me goodnight, but just once this time. That was a clear enough sign.
The next day, I found a chess site on the internet, where a move much like mine had recently been discussed and in fact been declared illegal. David was right. I emailed him the link and told him I hadn’t really won the game after all. He wrote back two words: “I know”.
What bothered me most wasn’t so much that my ignorance had been exposed, but that David had robbed me of the chance for a legitimate victory when he refused to allow me to rescind the move and try something else.
I didn’t go out with David again.
But on Saturday night, Drew and I passed David by on Santa Monica Boulevard. We were picking up dinner, walking very close together down the sidewalk, talking and laughing and probably looking very much like boyfriends. David was headed for one of those mailbox stores, carrying a large box taped up with priority mail stickers (David sells vintage food on eBay — and yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like). He must’ve seen Drew and me walking together and before I saw him, because by the time I noticed him, he was looking down at the ground. I thought for a second that because of his eye problem, maybe he hadn’t seen me at all. But it was clear that he had. I had almost bumped into him and he’d had to step around me to get by.
I didn’t say hi and didn’t acknowledge David in any way. I kept talking to Drew, thinking about how it had only been a few months ago that I was so lonely I was willing to go out on three dates with a guy I had no interest in, willing to let him kiss me goodnight, willing to let him bring out my bad side, and as I watched David walk past me with his box full of old food, head down and I headed for the restaurant with Drew, that passive-competitive part of me couldn’t help thinking, “Checkmate!”