Memorial for Vito


Vito Vitkauskas

I would like to thank Noël for asking me to say a few words about Vito. He was one of my oldest friends and I have so many happy memories of the time we spent together. As you all know, his real name is Vytautas Jonas Vitkauskas. But we always called him Vito. Everyone called him Vito. Sometimes he would have to explain that he was a Lithuanian Vito. And not an Italian Vito.

It all started with chess. Vito loved playing chess until the very end. When my family moved to Marquette Park, I made new friends. Among my closest friends were Vito and Jim. First, I met Jim at Gage Park High School in physics class. I didn’t learn much physics because Jim and I always played chess during class. Then, Jim told me about the Mar Par Chessmen, a chess club at the Marquette Park fieldhouse. And there, we met Vito.

Our lives revolved around Marquette Park and the Mar Par Chessmen, which met at the Marquette Park fieldhouse every Tuesday evening. People of all ages came to play chess. There were two things we always remembered about playing at the Mar Par Chessmen. The first was Spans, an older gentleman who never missed a Tuesday night of action-packed chess matches. He was well-known for slamming a chess piece down and yelling, “Check!” at the top of his voice. Even though he lost every game, Spans got great satisfaction saying, “Yeah, but I checked you sixteen times!” We, too, would often imitate Spans when we played chess, slamming down the chess piece and shouting, “Check!”

The second, but not so fond, memory from the Mar Par Chessmen was playing chess in the winter. The fieldhouse was located next to the Marquette Park lagoon. So for three straight hours we were forced to listen to, “Danger! Thin ice! No skating!” Endlessly. Sometimes, when we were nowhere near the park, one of us would mimic the PA voice out of the blue: “Danger! Thin ice! No skating!”

Of course, Vito had other sayings he would often repeat. For example, if I mentioned that perhaps we should turn on the lights, Vito would say, “Light is for those who cannot see!” Or, just out of the blue, he would often say, “‘I see,’ said the blind man as he picked up the hammer and saw.”

We had so much in common, besides chess and living near Marquette Park. We also loved going to the movies together. When I started working and owned my own car, we went to the movies all over Chicago. If Jim or I started talking during the movie, Vito would shush us by saying, “Tyliac!”, Lithuanian for “Hush!”. He would even say it to total strangers who spoke too loudly in the theater. We especially loved comedies. We would always sit in the third row. And we would always sit all the way through the end of the credits. At some point, Vito would erupt into applause during the credits: “Let’s hear it for the key grip!” And I would tell him, “Tyliac!” To this day, I still don’t know what a key grip does.

We also loved going out for pizza, before or after the movie. And on a few occasions, before and after the movie. So every weekend we would go to the show and go out to eat pizza two or three times. On Friday night, I would call Vito and start telling him about my week and Vito would cut me off. He would say, “Stop talking right now. Otherwise, we won’t have anything to talk about when we go out.”

Vito was our activity planner. Because of Vito, I saw a few plays I would have never seen on my own. I went to a Sting concert because of Vito. We also went to see Larry Rand in concert for the last show at the Amazing Grace in Evanston because of Vito. As a side note, I am now friends with Larry Rand on Facebook because of Vito. Now that I think of it, I joined Facebook because of Vito.

As we matured, our interests broadened. We sometimes went running in Marquette Park together. When I started going to kung fu classes, Vito started going with me. On lazy Sunday afternoons, we would hang out at my apartment and read the Sunday newspapers. Vito had such a calming effect on everyone. He was a very nice person to have around.

I still remember our university days at Champaign-Urbana. Of the three of us, Jim was the only officially registered U of I student. But Vito and I would visit Jim on weekends. We still fondly recall our college days together.

I never knew when Vito and Jim would come over to my apartment unexpectedly and announce that we were going on a road trip. Well, I thought those road trips were over when my first son was born. However, Vito and Jim taught me otherwise. One Saturday morning, I’m home with my three-year-old son when I hear a knock on my door. Well, it was Vito and Jim announcing that we were going to Mount Baldy in Indiana. Like we used to. I thought I would get out of it by saying I had to watch my son. But, no! They said I could bring my son along. We had a lot of fun that day at Mount Baldy! Vito brought his camera, so I still have pictures of that trip.

Jim continued with his university studies. I joined the Marines. Vito joined the Navy, where he studied journalism. When I started writing for some local running publications, Vito gave me his notes from his Navy journalism classes, which really improved my writing.

I was stationed in California when I came back to Chicago for my first furlough from Marine boot camp. Of course, I had to visit all my family and friends. So, Vito and I drove to the north side for pizza. Even though I was watching the time, I got a ticket for rush hour parking. I looked at my watch again in disbelief. Vito finally asked me, “Did you set your watch to Chicago time?” I then realized that my watch was still set to California time. I was going to pay for the ticket because I would be back in California before the court date. But Vito volunteered to represent me in court. I insisted on just paying the ticket. But Vito insisted on representing me in court, and so he did. He explained to the judge that I was a U.S. Marine on furlough from California and that I had forgotten to set my watch to the correct time. He must have been persuasive, because the judge dismissed my parking ticket.

Over time, many of our interests changed. All of them except our love of comedy. Especially standup comedy. In the late 1970s, Vito, Jim, and I all started performing standup comedy. And all these years, we never lost our sense of humor. We even wrote a comedy skit based on the Marx Brothers. A parody of the Marx Brothers, if that’s at all possible. I was Groucho, Jim was Harpo, and Vito was Chico. I had forgotten all about it until Jim recently sent me a copy of the script. We really put a lot of effort into it and finished writing the skit, but we never actually performed it. But we were still proud of our accomplishment.

Last year, I decided to get back into comedy and I recruited Vito to help me write some jokes. I had used his jokes in the past. And they were usually funnier than mine. So, he helped me write some new jokes. He even told me about all the new comedy venues with open mics. It was just like the old days when Vito, Jim, and I were supportive of each other. He told me about this café called Kibbitznest where they had a comedy open mic night. I think he was more enthusiastic about me performing than I was. We actually had a lot of fun going to these open mics together. Despite me being nervous because of my looming performance, I really enjoyed performing and spending time with Vito. And I also enjoyed watching Vito enjoying himself. He recorded my performances and you can hear him laughing in the background. He took notes on a lot of the comedians. After each of my performances, he gave me lots of constructive criticism, which I have used to improve my act. Vito was tempted to also perform at a comedy open mic. He almost did. But I think he was just happier working behind the scenes.

A while back, I reminded Vito of my encounter with his father. Vito was happy to be reminded of his father. When Vito lived on the northside near Humboldt Park, I went to pick him up at his father’s house. I knocked on the door and Vito’s father answered. “Is Vito home?” I asked. “I’m Vito,” his father said. So, I asked, “Is Vito Junior home?” Vito’s father said, “I’m Vito Junior,” and he just smiled. “Okay,” I said, “Is Vito the third home?” And he said, “Well why didn’t you say so? Vito the third’s not home.” Vito was a lot like his father. Like father, like son.

When Vito met Noël, he couldn’t wait to introduce me to her. He told me that they were taking tango lessons. So, we said we would meet at an Argentine restaurant near my house. But in typical Vito fashion, he took Noël to a gun range first because she had never shot a gun before. Well, we had a very memorable meal together.

I will especially remember the last few times we hung out at Kibbitznest. We both worked really hard for my return to the comedy open mic scene. And we really had a lot of fun hanging out with all the comedians. And then we went to Jim’s house and Vito proudly showed the video of me performing at Kibbitznest to Jim and Ted.

Throughout our friendship, even when we were thousands of miles apart, Vito was never far from my thoughts. He was a different kind of friend. Vito was always honest, but never hurtful. He knew how to keep a conversation going, without making anyone feel pressured to participate. When I look back at our friendship over the years, I realize that he never complained about anything. He just accepted everything life dished out at him. He was never pessimistic. I always felt good when Vito was around.

I will always remember Vito. Vito will always be my friend.

Gage Park Chess Team


Evergreen Park, Illinois

When Chicagoans hear the names Palermo’s, Giordano’s, Chesden’s, and Falco’s, pizza comes to mind. Delicious Chicago-style pizza. My thoughts turn to chess. Pizza always reminds me of my days as a high school athlete at Gage Park High School. Okay, I didn’t actually play any sports that involved physical activity at Gage Park, but I did letter in chess and our chess team was awarded athletic letters the athletes award ceremony. For some reason unbeknownst to me, chess was even covered in Sports Illustrated back then.

Dr. D. plays Jim Harmon as Ted Rafacz watches.

Anyway, I played chess on the chess team at Gage Park High School with Jim Harmon, Vito Vitkauskas, Dave Johnson, Bill Rozivics, Ted Rafacz, and Nick Polo. We were coached by Mr. Crowe, who also coached the hockey team. I suppose tenacity and mental toughness is required for both chess and hockey, so Mr. Crowe was the perfect coach for both sports. I think he liked the hockey team better, though. He used to brag about how smart the hockey team was. And he would tell us every time a hockey player got a college scholarship. The chess team was a bunch of slackers by comparison. One time, Mr. Crowe complained because two chess players were suspended and couldn’t play in an important chess match. Bill was suspended for low grades, even though he could recite the atomic chart from memory. And I was suspended for fighting. As a member of the chess team, bullies liked to pick on me, but I always fought back. I didn’t know you could get suspended for self-defense. To school officials, fighting was fighting and that warranted a suspension.

But back to the pizza. In order to inspire us to play better chess, Mr. Crowe promised to take us out for pizza every time we won a chess match. If we lost, we had to treat him to a steak dinner. We complained that this wasn’t fair because steak was more delicious and more expensive than pizza. But since he was the coach, we finally agreed with the arrangement reluctantly because he insisted that he was buying a meal for seven chess players while we were only treating one person.

I don’t remember how many matches we won or how many times Mr. Crowe treated us to pizza, but I do remember the one time we lost the match and we went to Chesden’s on Archer Avenue for Mr. Crowe’s steak dinner. We barely had enough to pay for his steak dinner, so we didn’t order pizza for ourselves. But Mr. Crowe was so kind as to keep asking the waitress to keep replenishing the bread baskets. All we ate was bread and water while Mr. Crowe savored a juicy t-bone steak. He insisted that he was teaching us to become better chess players!

The other memorable event of this day was the snowball fight afterward. As we were walking to Mr. Crowe’s car, we started throwing snowballs at each other. Since we were always very competitive, we chose up sides and began battling in earnest. Suddenly, Ted said that he lost his school ring while throwing a snowball. We must have looked for that ring for about an hour in the snow, in the dark, before we finally found it.

So whenever I think of pizza, my thoughts turn to my days on the Gage Park Chess Team!

Reading


 

Reading has been my lifelong passion. I have always loved reading! Even when I went camping with my friend Jim, I took books along. He took this picture of me reading while I was so engrossed in reading. 

I loved the first grade when we started reading. At that level, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know English. Our homework involved reading to our parents at home. My mother thought that was too much trouble for her after a long day’s work, so I would read to my abuelita. Unfortunately, not only did she not speak English, but she was also blind. But she loved it when I read to her. And I was grateful to have someone to listen to me read. 

When I was a little older, I used to go to the library to read. I mostly read joke and riddle books, but that still counts as reading in my book. In the seventh grade, Divine Heart Seminary let me check out books from their library via the USPS. I only remember two of the books that I read. One book was about Father Damien who was a missionary on a leper island in Hawaii. And the other one was Fighting Father Duffy who was a U.S. Army chaplain during World War II. Now why would the seminary only send me books about priests? I’ve always wondered about that. Not!

I like reading at the library because I had more privacy. If mother saw me reading comic books or even books, she would criticize me for being lazy. When I finally bought my first car, I would drive to Marquette Park just to read in my car. When I would come home, my mother would ask me what I did. When I told her I went to the park to read, her blood would boil. Then she would tell me about other constructive things I could have been doing around the house. 

In general, the uneducated masses don’t understand why anyone would want to read a book. When I worked in the peanut butter factory, I always carried a paperback in my back pocket. Whenever the production line stopped or I was on break or lunch, I would pull out my book and start reading, even if I had to stand. No matter who my boss was, he would come by and tell me to pick up a broom and start cleaning up my area. No one at the factory really understood why I liked reading so much. 

Ironically, the books I chose to read were the books that I refused to read in high school. In high school, I spent most of my time reading chess books. For two years my life revolved around chess.  But once the assigned books weren’t required reading, they piqued my curiosity. Why were they required reading in the first place? So, one by one, I read all the books I once rebelled against. Suddenly, I felt a certain sense of fulfillment. 

In the Marines, I bought the Great Books set and I would read them every free moment. My fellow Marines thought I was a bit crazy, but that’s why no one started any trouble with me. That and I told everyone I knew kung fu. No one wanted to risk starting trouble with me. 

J’adube


My blog at http://chicago60643.wordpress.com

 

I’ve worked really hard on my new blog. Actually, it’s my old blog, but I’m updating it a little bit. I never did like my old title of David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D. It just seemed too vain and oh so pompous. But that’s also exactly what I liked about that title. With this new blog, I wanted a new title, so I changed it to Estados Unidos Mexicans. At the top, I have place a picture of my Mexican passport. I like the ambiguousness of the title the United States becomes Estados Unidos in Spanish. Since I was a boy, I have always known that the official name of México is really los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. In the U.S., it’s just Mexico, without an accent mark. So, I like the title because I like to write about mexicanos in los Estados Unidos, and that includes both countries. 

If you think this blog is schizophrenic, I will correct you and insist that it’s multifaceted! Yes, I know that it’s titled Estados Unidos Mexicanos, but then it’s located at chicago60643 at wordpress.com. Of course, the four categories of this blog have a tenous relationship to each other. You’re probably wondering how Life 101, Chicago, Mexicans, and Spanish Lessons are all related to one another. Actually, I have written several blog posts that could fall under any one of the four categories! 

However, I have a confession to make. I don’t like the new title, either! But I can’t think of a good title for this blog. Perhaps one of my longtime readers may have a suggestion or two. Please be gentle! Part of the problem is that I write about whatever comes to mind, regardless of its relevance to reality or current events. Well, my blog ID does locate me in Chicago on the South Side. And I’m damn proud of that! All the other good IDs I wanted were already taken. I’m surprised I was able to get this ID. I mean, who wouldn’t want chicago60643 for a blog ID? So I snatched it up! 

For a while, I toyed with the idea of having several blogs, one for each different category about which I generally write. But then the logistics of maintaining several sites became unbearable. I want my blog to be fun for me. I don’t need another burden in my life. In fact, now that I think of it, I use my blog as therapy. This is a place where I can kick of my shoes, let down my hair, and soak in my imaginary beauty bubble bath in order to disseminate my innermost thoughts to the world. Whether they asked for them or not. I feel a renewed psychic cleansing with new blog post. I really can’t speak for my readers, though. I enjoy writing, so I don’t worry that much about whether or not anyone actually reads my blog. 

Lately, I’ve been going back to previous entries and categorizing, tagging, and editing them. This is a very time-consuming process! But, all the same, it’s also very therapeutic. And I am such a perfectionist, too. My students accuse me of having OCD. If it doesn’t come out right the first time, I repeat the process repetitively, redundantly, and repetitively. So get used to it! I mean the repetitiveness and redundancy. I’ll do it over and over again. There I did it again! 

Oh, yes, the title. I used to play chess religiously in high school. Even though I no longer play chess, I constantly think in chess terms or strategy. Or I just plain think about chess. So, I want to say to all my readers: J’adube. Meaning, I say, “J’adube,” as in I’m adjusting a chess piece and therefore I am not required to moved it. J’adube! I’m adjusting my blog. But I may or may not move it in the future. It’s my move. You’ll just have to wait to see what I’ll do! 

I'll get it right this time!

Chess memories


I bought this chess set in high school.

Now that I’m playing at the UIC Chess Club, I’m starting to recall how I used to play chess. The last time I played chess seriously was in high school about thirty-two years ago. Somehow, my chess skills have gotten rusty! The chess atmosphere has changed a lot since then. I kind of miss the cigar smoke while playing chess.

These players in the UIC Chess Club are really into chess, but their attitude is completely different from mine. When I got into chess, I felt impelled to learn everything possible about the game. I learned the history of chess, the important chess players, the terminology, and the classic chess openings. As I played the last two Tuesdays, I tried to remember some of the terminology, but no one knew any of it–or even seemed remotely interested in learning terms like rank, row, file, or column.

One player, touched a piece and said, “I adjust.” I said, “You mean, ‘J’adube.'” My remark was met with a blank stare. Hmm.

One player asked advice of another and I never heard anyone talk about “control the center” or “castle early.” This was like culture shock to me. Later, a few players discussed the merits of learning book openings and the general consensus was that learning openings wasn’t necessary to become a great player. I was so rusty that I lost most of my games. I was surprised that I won any games at all. I would inadvertently give away pieces or set myself up for a knight fork. When I was playing chess, I used to open P-K4; now it’s E4. This will take some getting used to. My biggest surprise came when I had to take back a move because I was in check. No one says, “Check!” when they check your king. I’m so rusty that I didn’t realize that I was in check.

Well, I improved when I returned the next Tuesday. I try to be realistic try to evaluate just how well I played when I was high school. Even back then I made bad moves or gave up pieces. But I’m sure I will improve with a little more practice.

UIC Chess Club


My high school chess set

Well, last night I played chess again at the UIC Chess Club. It was my first time in about thirty years playing at a chess club. Yes, I was a bit rusty. And no, my moves didn’t suddenly come back to me. But I’m glad I went. I need some sort of intellectual stimulus to exercise my mind. I mean I go running to exercise my body, so I want my mind to be healthy, too. I actually enjoyed playing chess last night. I was easily the oldest one in the room. But I got along well with everyone there. I plan on playing chess every Tuesday from now on. But I’m promising myself not to get too involved with chess so that it becomes an obsession. That’s why I haven’t played chess for years. I’m afraid to become addicted to it–again!

Free time


Barack Obama's house in Hyde Park.

Now that it has become quite apparent that Barack Obama will not select me has his presidential running mate, I realize that I will have a lot of free time on my hands. I’m not taking this political snub personally, B.O., because I understand that that’s how presidencies are won or lost. I don’t want to hold you back, B.O.! That will be my contribution to your presidential campaign. Trust me. My personal support for you is worth much more than my personal assets. That’s why I was kind of hoping I could be vice president. I could contribute a lot to this country as vice president, but since you have already chosen Joe Biden, I guess you’ll just have to make the best of the hand you were dealt–as will I. As election day rapidly approaches, I get this nagging sensation that John McCain won’t pick me as his running mate, either. I wish them both the best of luck with my name conspicuously missing from the slate. And, I am absolutely convinced that the independent candidate (Rafael Nadal?) doesn’t even know that I exist. Because of all the free time that I will now have from not hitting the campaign trail and pressing the flesh, I have decided to start playing chess again. Some students at UIC are starting a chess club and I am their faculty adviser. Perhaps our chess playing will help American interests at home and abroad. That’s the kind of guy I am! I always try to improve the world in my own little way!

Cheating


Cheating may be hazardous to your health

Well, this last semester was full of surprises for me. For some reason, students opened up to me a little more than usual. Partly because I’m very friendly and partly because I encourage them to express themselves, but I do maintain control of the class for the most part. I always encourage students to study for all their classes. I tell them that if they cheat, they’re only cheating themselves. A university education teaches them how to think. If they cheat, they are depriving themselves of a valuable education. However, one student told me that this semester that all he learned was how to cheat. He really believed that graduating only involved passing courses, and that could easily be done by cheating. I told him that he was cheating himself because he wasn’t developing valuable cognitive abilities, but he didn’t seem to care.

When I was a student, I only cheated three times in my entire life. The first time was in eighth grade. We were doing an English grammar quiz in which we had to match columns. I was almost done except for two answers. I was very sure that the rest of the answers were correct. My friend Robert Kurpis who sat in the next row looked at my paper and shook his head. He lifted his paper so that I could copy his answers, but I shook my head no and looked away. He insisted that I copy his answers, so I did because I didn’t want lose him as a friend. I wanted him to think I was as cool as him. Well, it turns out that I changed my correct answers to his wrong answers and I failed the quiz. I had learned my lesson and I didn’t cheat anymore. I realized then that I was much smarter than I thought I was.

My parents always taught me to second guess my intelligence. But I after that, I never cheated again. Until high school. I didn’t do my homework in physics class and I was failing the course. Toward the end of the year, Mr. Wlecke said I could pass the course if I made up the homework. However, when I tried to do the homework, I couldn’t because Mr. Wlecke never actually taught us physics, and on those rare occasions when he did, I was too busy playing chess with my friend Jim Harmon. So, I talked to my friend Bill Pappas who had done all the homework. He lent it to me and I copied all of it. I passed physics with a C, although I still feel guilty about it to this day.

In college, I only cheated once because we received a take-home final exam for Latin American literature class in Spanish and I didn’t have time to answer one question before the due date. My friend Ernesto Mondragon let me read his answer and then I wrote my own original answer. When classmates tried to copy off of me, I would always cover my paper and not give them my answers. I had studied very hard. Why should I help them out? I only helped one student once, but we were very close friends. We were in a literature class that focused on the works of James Joyce. I believe I was the only student in the whole class who actually read Finnegan’s Wake in its entirety. Well, we had a take-home final exam and one of the questions was on Finnegan’s Wake. Daniel Buckman couldn’t find the passage in the novel that we had to analyze for the final. Well, since I had read the whole book, I was determined to find it. And I did! I had to help my friend out, so I told him on what page the passage was. He was so grateful to me and I was so proud of myself for having found it in the first place. He did go on to publish several books.

Alva


Don't even think about saying anything bad about Texas!
Laredo, Texas

I don’t even remember his first name. But I always think of him whenever I play chess and/or drink a beer.

I met him when we were in the Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. He was your typical Mexican from Texas. A true Texican. Everyone called him Alva. He was short and stocky, what would be called husky in the boy’s department. He was particularly handsome. In fact, he had one eye a little bigger than the other, his teeth were crooked, and he always had a bad haircut. What he lacked in looks, he made up for in personality. He was always the joker and he always had everyone in the shop laughing.

He retained the rank of private because he was always getting into trouble and so he would never get promoted. Drinking was at the root of all his problems. I never saw him sober even once. He was always drunk or suffering from a hangover. When we stood in formation, he would always teeter during inspection. I’m surprised that he never fell over because a few times he was leaning more than the Tower of Pisa. Despite all his flaws, he had a girlfriend whom he had met near the base. That is, until he got into a fight at the club and wasn’t allowed to leave the base for months. So he would drink at the club everyday, only leaving to check in with the sergeant.

One day, he went to the club to watch Monday Night Football and later returned emotionally distraught. He told us that the game was interrupted for a special announcement: John Lennon had been shot! None of us could believe it. But Alva was the one who was the most depressed by Lennon’s death. Alva seemed to drink less after that shocking assassination.

Our superiors really came down hard on Alva. They controlled every aspect of his duty hours. We all thought they went beyond the call of duty. Finally, he told our commanding officer that he was tired of being harassed and he wanted everyone to leave him alone. He wanted to everything to go back to the way it was. He even told the CO that he had written his congressman. Why did Alva feel harassed? He would have to check in with the sergeant every hour just to make sure he was still on base.

It was during this time that I learned about his special talent. He could play chess. That was surprising because he wasn’t the type of person who exuded intelligence of any sort. One day, he challenged all comers. He walked into the radio shop where we worked and announced, “Who’s the best chess player here? I challenge you to a chess match!”

Somehow he had heard that I used to play chess. It might have been from me because I used to like to tell people I used to like to play chess. I might have said that I used to play when I first arrived at Camp Pendleton and Alva remembered. He had a good memory. At first, I didn’t want to play because I hadn’t played since high school and I was afraid that if I started playing again I would get addicted to play chess again. But I couldn’t control myself and I accepted Alva’s challenge. Anyway, Alva won every game easily.

Eventually, I played chess with Alva regularly and he always beat me easily. To add insult to injury, he was always very drunk when we played. Okay, I was hooked. I wanted to beat Alva at chess. We played chess everyday in the shop. Whenever he made a particularyly good move, he would say, “Don’t mess with Texas!”

I never beat him until I finally figured out his strategy! He had no strategy! He was always so drunk that he would only play the best move for the position. With each game we played, I improved my game. Finally, I figured out that if I planned my strategy at least five moves ahead, his best move for the position wouldn’t help him. Eventually, I was beating him on a regular basis. He wasn’t used to losing even though he never studied or practiced chess formally. He was truly amazed that anyone could beat him. And I was surprised that anyone so drunk could play chess so well. Oh, yes, and Alva’s congressman called up our commanding officer and Alva was no longer on restriction.

I challenge you to a chess game!

Chess


 

I can't believe my mother let me grow my hair this long!
I can’t believe my mother let me grow my hair this long!

When I was in high school, I met my friend Jim Harmon in physics class. We really didn’t learn much physics because Mr. Wlecke the teacher didn’t really teach much in the way of physics. He would sometimes make a half-hearted attempt at teaching us something, but then he would lose his focus and stop. My friend Jim always carried a chess set wherever he went. So one day, after Mr. Wlecke inexplicably stopped teaching, Jim challenged me to a game of chess. I accepted, but explained that I only knew how the pieces moved and that I wasn’t very good. We played anyway and Jim won–of course. From then on, we always played chess in physics class and at lunch sometimes. Once Mr. Wlecke missed class and the substitute teacher was surprised to see Jim and I playing chess in class. I told him we played chess in class everyday, but he didn’t believe me. I slowly but surely improved my game of chess. Jim later talked me into joining the chess team. I later learned that Jim was the best player on the chess team.

I became obsessed by chess. I loved playing on the chess team! I studied the chess books that the chess coach Mr. Crowe had lent us. I even bought chess books of my own. When I decide to dedicate myself to something, I go way above and beyond the call of duty! I really improved as a chess player. I wanted nothing less than to be first board on the chess team. Eventually, I played well enough to play first board, but then I lost my game at the match and I never played first board again. This failure only drove me to study chess even more diligently!

Soon after joining the Gage Park H.S. chess team, we went to the La Salle Hotel downtown to play in chess tournaments sponsored by the Chicago Chess Club. I really wanted to win a chess trophy. All my brothers had various trophies for different sports, but I was the only one in the family without a trophy of any kind. So I spent every free moment studying and breathing chess. I won more and more of my practice games. I even beat my uncle at chess even after he stopped letting me win. One day, I did win my division in a tournament. I was the 1974 Northern Illinois High School Novice Unrated Champion! I know this is the exact title because I’m looking at the trophy as I write this. However, as luck would have it, the trophies were not delivered to the tournament on time because the trophy factory had burned down the previous week. These eerie coincidences have happened to me throughout my life. I’m used to them now. None of my friends went to that tournament, so no one believed me that I had actually won a trophy. Especially my mother! She almost didn’t give me the $6 for the then astronomical entry fee to enter the tournament. I was told I would receive my trophy in the mail within four weeks, by February of 1974. Well, it didn’t come until May! And then, finally everyone believed me that I had actually won a trophy. And it was bigger than any of the trophies that my brothers had won. Even my mother had to believe me then!