I was an odd little kid. I liked playing outside, video games, fun stuff like that. I also loved vegetables, reading and writing, and I was probably the most responsible person I’ve ever met. I kid you not. My mind could not fathom refusing to do something that had been communicated to me as a responsibility. I understood and took very seriously duties that were bequeathed to me.
One of the weirdest things about me was that I loved to play checkers. It’s not so weird in context; didn’t get much quality time with Pops, he taught me to play checkers, positive associations, etc. But I really loved to play. I was like a little old man. Even after I learned to play chess, I much preferred the old red and black pieces.
I used to spend every summer in Miami with my grandparents. I had a step-grandad if that’s a thing, and he was the sweetest old man ever. I didn’t have much to bring to Miami during any given summer, so if I wasn’t running around outside or playing with WCW and WWF (real fans know) action figures, then I was playing checkers with Mr. B.
He was slow and methodical. It seemed like he would count out every move and countermove possible on the board before he made his. I was amazed at his decision making skills. He would be two or three moves ahead from what I was trying to accomplish, either stopping me or setting me up to be stopped. When he got a king piece, he would move it back down the board to provide protection for the other pieces so that they could reach the other side of the board too. Every now and again, he would let me win. I didn’t know at the time, I really thought I got over on him somehow. But he would act surprised and everything. He’d let me win just enough each summer to have some confidence and hope that I could maybe win again.
Every summer, playing checkers for at least 70 days, multiple hours a day. Needless to say, I got pretty good. I didn’t realize until after Mr. B. passed and I stopped going to Miami as often that not many of my peers played checkers, and none of them has as much experience as me. Everybody talked about chess as this cerebral game, a microcosm for life. You’ve got different players that look different, move different, some need to be protected, some are meant to be sacrificed. And it’s all about protecting the king. I understood it then, and even now, I understand more than ever how it applies to the world.
But I never really cared for that interpretation.
In checkers, everybody is the same. Same talents, same potential, one piece just as useful as the next. Kings are valuable once they’re achieved, but the game isn’t about protecting them. They’re better used as protection for those who aren’t as strong. There aren’t as many ways to escape danger. No L-shaped moves or unlimited diagonal travel. So you have to use your space. You have to make the most out of very little. The games are typically short, but action-packed, meaningful. And hopefully, you win enough to inspire you to keep playing.
I prefer to live my life like I’m playing checkers. I learned more than I realized on those long summer days with Mr. B. I hope he’s saving a game for me on the next cloud. Until then, make your moves strategic, grind to the promised land, and always alway always come back and make sure your homies can get there too. We all build and break each other.