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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Friday, November 12, 2010


It still pisses me off...

In a tiny mini-mall, near the back, past Abbie's Irish Rose, was a small store that became another of my "lengthy hangout spots." It sold handcrafts and wargames. I bought one game, then another, and playing with and against Don and Bill quickly became a major interest for me. I'll point out that I won many more than I lost, mainly because I was very much a competitive little brat who played everything as if it were life or death. I had fun.

One day, I bought "Bismarck", an Avalon Hill classic that recreated the battle between the German super-battleship and the British Navy forces trying desperately to sink it before it reached the safety of the Mediterranean. The game, with its naval theme, was not high on my list of interests, but its game mechanics were. The German player would plot his movement on a pad with map sheets and when the British player found the Bismarck (on the board, searching with air and sea forces), the battle began.

Don and I played the game twice, he as the German both times because he respected (tolerated) my competitiveness and felt that by picking the "losing" side, if he lost, it was the "normal" result. I won both times, sinking the Bismarck with alacrity.

We played a third time, a sunny afternoon that didn't merit going to class. Once again, I took the British forces and Don plotted his moves on the pad. I sent out my planes in search patterns and sat back to enjoy the game.

After four turns, I sensed something was wrong. The obvious was that I hadn't found the Bismarck. I went over my moves and picked another set of searches. The Bismarck was coming south from the North Sea and had to pass the Straits of Gibraltar to win the game. The search area was large, but the British had plenty of planes and ships to ensure the German juggernaut was caught. I looked at the coastline--France, Spain, Portugal--and at the more westerly sections from my search areas and tried again.

Nothing. Another search. Nothing. I stared at the board, thinking Don must have moved west, in essence a flanking move, the veritable long way around, to get past the bulk of my forces and then dash east. I sent planes that way. Nothing. I tried the northern search area again, just in case Don had "parked" the Bismarck to throw me off. Nothing. I sent more searches and ships to the southern search zones. Nothing.

I sat there, wanting to ask Don if he had followed the rules, but knowing he was as fair a player as there was ever born, I simply stared at the board. I looked at every plane, every ship, every freaking hex of that board as Don sat there patiently.

Another search. Nothing. I sent my forces further south and west and then Don looked up at me, smiled and said "I'm in. I got past Gibraltar."

Stunned. I know I gawped at him. He was smiling, obviously pleased. He may have even started to apologize, good guy, knowing I took losses badly. I didn't hear him well because all I could ask was "How?"

He showed me. He took the Bismarck as close to the coast as he could, limiting his movement as per the rules, but in essence tracking along the coast lines, just past the edge of my search patterns. The ones I'd limited because the coastline path was...wrong.

Only it had been right. Don had made it right.

Back then, most of my self-image was wrapped up in "intelligence," the oft-mentioned notion that I was smart; to some people, amazingly so. But in Don I met the first person in my life who was at least "as smart" as I... and was a nice guy, to boot. Having noticed that and instead of being competitive about it, I'd found myself admiring it, with a personal caveat: Never underestimate Don. Never underestimate his intelligence, his creativity, his sheer ability to be brilliant. Never. And in Bismarck, I had underestimated him. I thought he couldn't beat me. And because I had thought that, I had been clearly outplayed and he'd won the game.

We never played Bismarck again. My fault, for I'm sure we played other games rather than that one because of that third game and Don may have offered to play it again--nice guy--but I'm sure I declined.

I never underestimated Don again. In anything. There were times when I may have exasperated him by saying he could do more--and he could--but I never tried to use my expectations against him, as some people do, to criticize him, using "friendship" as a cover for "envy." I never envied Don; I admired him. Always have.

And yet, when I hear or read or think about the Bismarck... it still pisses me off.


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