Summer of ’69: booze, drugs, chess, and sex

I was stationed at the Camp Pendleton Brig during the summer 1969. I was marking time until I was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1970. My job that summer, at the exalted rank of sergeant, was to take care of the linen loft amongst other menial mind numbing chores. The linen loft was a small dark second story room in the corner of the Brig supply shed. My job was to hand out pillow cases, sheets, and blankets to incoming prisoners. Once a week, I would take two prisoners and load up all the dirty linen and take it to the base laundry.

I had plenty of time on my hands. I filled it with Ron Rico 151 rum and Coca Cola, drugs, and lots of reading. I had a friend, whose last name was Prince, but whose first name eludes me, who had a chess set. He reintroduced me to the game. We would play for hours after work.

Prince was discharged from the service that summer. He bequeathed his chess set and his copy of Jose Capablanca’s book, A Primer of Chess, to me. I filled my idle hours in the linen loft by pouring over the book and trying to get better at the game. I was living off base at a house a block away from the beach in California. My friend with whom I shared the house liked to play chess, so at night we would play a few games. He would beat me all the time with his unorthodox moves, which you could not find in Capablanca. When he was not around, I would drive all over the place looking for games and play until late at night. It curbed my drink and drug habit. It’s hard to win unless your opponent is at least as stoned as you.

That summer I received a very unexpected letter from the sister of my best friend in high school. Let’s call her Susan. She and I got together when I went home on leave to Iowa that summer. She was about to begin college. She was absolutely beautiful and spectacularly put together. I had had a crush on her since she was 14. All of sudden she was my girlfriend. I really lucked out.

My chess addiction continued until I was released from the service in March 1970. I went back to Iowa and enrolled in college. Susan and I spent every available moment we had together that summer. Then she went to her college and I went to mine. And we drifted apart even though I loved her. She had another boyfriend at her college. I didn’t lack for women friends, so it softened the blow.

I did not play much chess my first two years of college. Then the notorious Fischer/Spassky world chess championship in Iceland made the scene in 1972. Everybody started playing chess. Each morning I combed the papers to find out the latest status of the Fischer/Spassky games. I started playing lots of chess to the detriment of my studies. Let’s call it the second phase of my chess addiction.

Now, I’m sitting here writing, recollecting, playing ten simultaneous chess games on the Internet, reading a chess book off and on, and making moves on my little magnetic travel chess set sitting by by the computer. I am addicted again. I wish I had not dropped chess for so many years. I’d like to think that if I had played occasionally and regularly I would be a decent player now.

However, with the Internet and the ability to play correspondence like chess with opponents, I might keep at it this time. It is a honey of a game. Unlike love, I even win sometimes.

Published in: on November 28, 2007 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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