Oh, I am a bad blogger! A bad, bad blogger! I’m not posting and I’m not commenting other people’s blogs. Listen everybody, this is the truth: I just this minute smacked my nose with a rolled up newspaper. Don’t wince . . . it’s the only way I’m going to learn. I’ll never be a good blogger if I carry on this way. It’s really for my own good.
I’ve been busy lately, you see. By “busy,” I mean I have actually been earning my paycheck. I’ve been putting in full days at the office, taking moments here and there only to make a move in the latest office Scrabble game we play on our computers. During lunch, I have just enough time to scan the headlines of The Boston Globe’s
website and afterward read my three favorite comics: For Better or For Worse, Get Fuzzy
. Then it’s back to the grind. Man oh man oh man . . . all work and no play makes Schprock a dull boy all right. Momma never told me there’d be days like these.
But speaking of the office Scrabble games, I must confess I’ve allowed myself to become a little too wrapped up in them of late. It seems that underneath my calm, passive exterior, there lurks a slightly obnoxious, rabid competitor. True, we don’t play for money, my family’s health and safety does not ride on the outcome of any game, and surely the future of the free world does not hang in the balance in any of our contests. Whether or not I can stretch a word to hit a red triple word square, or get double credit for placing the “X” or “J” on a triple letter square, will not, nor ever will, lead off a network news broadcast. But to see how I act sometimes, you’d sure think so. Maybe this has something to do with not being breast fed as a child. Or perhaps it dates back to the time I lost the final round of the Dan Quayle Invitational Spelling Bee when I forgot to add the “e” at the end of “tomatoe.” Of course, we mustn’t forget the nights I went to bed hungry because my father refused to allow us to eat any foods we couldn’t spell at the dinner table (thanks, Mom, for serving us spanakotyropita, aubergine, pflaumenkuchen, and tarte aux fraises frangipane). Whatever the reason, sometimes your humble servant takes his Scrabble game a teensy bit too far.
My latest excess involves accusing a coworker of cheating. Now, as I explain this, don’t let me off the hook simply because he really does cheat — I can assure you that’s beside the point. I’ve known he cheats all along and I should have accepted it. It’s like losing your patience with a duck for quacking because you really wanted it to moo like a cow. Ducks don’t moo, and this guy, 80 Hour Man, doesn’t always play fair or tell the truth because it’s not in his nature to always play fair or tell the truth. He’s really a good person; I consider 80 Hour Man a friend in fact. But sometimes, God bless him, he just can’t resist telling a fib or stepping outside the bounds of fair play for the advantage it gives him. The temptation is too great. We all have our faults — Lord knows I have mine.
But to really understand how everything came about, we need to go back to the year 2001…
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(echoes) . . . 2001 . . . 2001 . . . 2001 . . .
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Ah, there we are, in the loft of the old office! See, that’s me, working at my Mac G4 tower and quoting from the latest Austin Powers movie, Goldmember
, to the distraction of my fellow coworkers. My, how young and innocent I was back then! “Mojo” indeed! Ha ha! And look, across the way! Why, it’s Last Female Coworker in all her loveliness! She would leave the next year and we’d never have another female coworker again. Oh, how it does my heart good to see LFC back at her old computer with her headphones on, completely not hearing a word I’m saying. And in the far corner? It’s . . . it’s young John H.
! There he is, tapping away at his keyboard with his headphones on just as he does today, completely not hearing a word I’m saying either. How the young man could block me out! (How he still can!) My, my! And who is this sitting at the desk nearest me? It’s Moonshadow, of course, alternately talking to his computer and singing snatches of songs in his “rock and roll voice.” And, finally, who is that man sitting opposite LFC? Who is this fellow with the loud voice? Can you not tell? Can’t you guess? It’s 80 Hour Man as he appeared in 2001, back when he wore those Hawaiian-style shirts. Everything is exactly as it was that day.
Now we descend the corkscrew loft stairs to the first level. Like a ghost we float through the reception area and then through a short corridor to a large open area with four cubicles. What is this sitting atop a high counter? It’s a travel-size Scrabble board with a game apparently already in progress. Behind the board are four tent cards with our names written on them. See? This one says “80 Hour Man.” Next to it is “Mr. Schprock,” and then there’s “Moonshadow” and “John H.” Each tent card conceals our letter trays, you see. Whenever it’s your turn, the idea is to come downstairs at your earliest convenience, uncover your letters, and spell a word. Ingenious, eh? Puts a little amusement into our dreary workday. But our little tableau is not yet complete: there is another element that sits to the right of the Scrabble board. It’s the Official Scrabble Dictionary. Mark its presence well, my friends.
Now some time passes. It’s the same day, but later on in the afternoon. LFC has a technical question to ask me, so she’s over at my desk. When the discussion ends, she inquires: “Is it against the rules in Scrabble to check a word in the dictionary before you play it?”
“Of course,” I reply.
“Then I think you should keep an eye on 80 Hour Man,” she warns.
She leaves and I ponder what she says. I consider the question of how someone with such a limited vocabulary as 80 Hour Man could know all those obscure words that come in so handy for him and score him so many points. “Hmmmmm,” I say to myself.
Now we’ll let some time slip by. It’s the following week. We are all up in the loft as before. The Scrabble board is downstairs as before. But the Official Scrabble Dictionary is not by the board! No, it is quite gone! Where is it now, you may ask? The Official Scrabble Dictionary is safely with LFC. She had graciously accepted my request to be the Word-Checker, or Challenge Mistress. And during the last week we have witnessed a strange thing. Those wonderfully arcane words that have always magically come to 80 Hour Man’s aid seem to have deserted him. Occasionally he has even spelled a word wrong. His scores, in general, have trended downward. It is really quite a mystery to him and to everyone else…
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(echoes) . . . else . . . else . . . else . . .
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In our new office here in the year 2006, we now play internet Scrabble. For 10 bucks a pop we all signed up to a site where we can play against each other on our computers. We receive email notifications of each move and, like in the old days with the traditional Scrabble board, it helps break the day up. The one thing about this site that I don’t much care for is that it provides a dictionary right there for you — in fact, the managers of the site encourage players to verify words before playing them to avoid challenges, as challenges, while possible, often lead to confusion and a less satisfying game. Before we started playing Scrabble in this new format, we all agreed to not look up words by using the honor system, and, as it turns out, the guy who follows me (Moonshadow) is quite adept at making challenges and wiping my phony words completely out of existence anyway. The games tend to go smoothly. So even though there’s a dictionary right there, we don’t use it.
The amazing, albeit brief, facility 80 Hour Man showed in 2001 for supplying words you never heard of at just the right time has suddenly reappeared. One time, when he used the word “kae” to score 36 points, I asked him where did he ever encounter such a word and just what the hell did it mean? I think his response was something like blah, blah, blah . . . or at least that’s all I can remember. As with this Scrabble site you can challenge words with impunity, it has become a very remarkable thing that of all the 25 games we’ve played, not one word of his has ever been shot down by the dictionary. They all check out. Meanwhile I have become famous for the gambles I’ve taken, only to have Moonshadow wipe away the fanciful words I try with a such dispatch that I am convinced he actually enjoys it. I’ll never forget my use of “pueling,” for instance, a variant, if you will, of “puling.” By God, that should be a word!
Well, last Friday I had a bingo in my tray with no place to play it (a “bingo,” by the way, is playing all seven of your letters and earning an additional 50 bonus points over anything else the word may have scored). The word was “glitter,” but there was no place where I could fit it. Feeling desperate, I hooked it onto the word “bane” to make it “baner,” thinking, what the hell? it might be a word.
Of course “baner” wasn’t a word. Moonshadow unceremoniously wiped it away and play continued.
Eventually, it came to be 80 Hour Man’s turn. He was able to play “daring” by transforming “bane” to “baned.” And, of course, it checked out in the dictionary like all his words do. But feeling perhaps a bit cheated that I couldn’t play my precious bingo, I snapped at him.
“How the hell could you have known that’s a word. How is it that none of your words are ever wrong?”
He glibly explained to me, as he did before, that he plays online Scrabble at home and has learned all sorts of words. They just stick with him.
“I just think it’s amazing how you have this vast fund of words at your disposal all of a sudden. When we played conventional Scrabble you didn’t know any of them and you used to spell a lot of words wrong.” Which, of course, was another way of saying “you’re a goddamn cheater!”
“Well, look,” he said, getting quite hot, “after this game I won’t play anymore. How’s that?”
That shut me up. We didn’t say much after that. The main impression I had from that exchange was: we’re both 50-year-old men, not fourth graders, for God’s sake! And this is just a game!
After 80 Hour Man left (he always leaves early, despite stories of how he routinely worked 80 hour weeks back in the day), I discussed the situation with John H. and Moonshadow. I have to confess I felt like crap. In the end, we came around to deciding that the only way we could continue playing with 80 Hour Man required a rule change, that checking words before playing them could now be legal. That night, I nearly called him up to apologize. Whether he cheats or not, a stupid Scrabble game should never lead to this. Save your emotion for more important things, I say.
But it does help to always play fair.