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Checker champion of the world 0

Dear Bradshaw,

I was sitting on bus 492, waiting for the driver to return from his break and then transport me to my three o’clock lesson near Piazza Navona. I had just opened my book and started to read when someone in the seat behind me asked, “How long has the bus been here?”

I turned to face a chubby guy wearing a Superman T-shirt and thick-rimmed glasses. He was in his late twenties and had cropped brown hair and a constellation of zits spotting his cheeks and chin.

“About five minutes,” I said, and then continued reading, but he tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around again.

“How often does it leave?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Every fifteen minutes maybe.”

“Fifteen? Not ten?”

I smiled, nodded my head slowly, and said, “Ten is possible.”

Again I returned to my book, and just when I had found my place, he asked, “Do you like dama?”

I twisted my neck uncomfortably around, and asked, “What’s dama?”

We were speaking Italian, of course, and from his explanation I understood that dama meant checkers.

“Yeah,” I said, “sure. Why not?”

“Do you play often?”

“No, not often. In fact, the last time I played was probably, uh, let me think, at least fifteen years ago.”

He squinted his eyes, pointed a finger at my chest, and asked, “Are you Italian?”

“No, I’m American.”

“New York?”


“Where’d you learn to speak Italian?”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve lived here for seven years.”

He was silent, and I tried to turn around and read, but again just as I had focused on the page, he asked, “What color are the checker pieces in America?”

I set my book in my lap, stared out the window at someone passing, and then shifted around. “Well, let me think. I’d say they’re… uh, black and red.”

“Really? Black and red.”

“Yep, black and red.”

“Which color goes first?”

I scratched my head, and said, ” Wow. You know what? I really don’t remember. I doubt black goes first so it must be red.”

“What happens after you get a king? Can you move immediately or do you have to wait until your next turn?”

“That’s a helluva question. To tell you the truth, I really don’t know.”

“Do Americans play checkers in public squares like we do in Italy?”

“No, not really.”

His eyes dilated, and he seemed to gnaw on that like it was a chunk of cheese, and then he fired this question, “Do you want to play checkers?”

“You mean right now?” I asked.


“You have it with you?”

“No, do you?”

Again, Shaw, we were speaking Italian, and I suspected I might have misunderstood, so I asked, “Do I what? Do I have a checkerboard with me?”

He nodded his head.

“No, I don’t. As I said, I haven’t played in about fifteen years.”

“Would you like to play checkers another time?”

“Not really. I like the game but I prefer to read.”

The driver returned. He climbed into his seat, started the engine, and as we headed down the road I held up my cell phone so my new friend could see the time. “How do you like that?” I said. “You were right. Ten minutes.” Then I stood up and moved to another seat.

So there you have it, Shaw. One more reason to thank heaven I was born normal or, at least, within the sphere of sanity. For whatever it’s worth, I wish that guy well, and I hope he finds a friend to play checkers with. Who knows? With a little luck and sufficient training, he may become checker champion of the world.

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