Many people look at me and envy my life. But let me tell you.
My life is a mess.
I mean, beyond the fact of the failed marriages and broken homes I have created for my children. That’s the obvious part.
I am a lawyer. I have three children. I have two ex-wives. One who hates me, one with whom I am still friends. I date beautiful tall Russian models. I drive nice cars. I have a stylish “estate” including sixteen acres of wild land and a largish house in Granite Bay.
I love my kids. They are all three smart and beautiful. My two older children lived with me through my divorce with their mother. And through my courtship, marriage, and ultimate divorce from my second wife. During that time, we also got their little brother, during my second marriage. My two older children lived with me through all of that. And then on into my current string of short-lived intense relationships with the models.
Until my children had had enough, and insisted on moving out and living with their mother. Did I tell you my kids are smart?
My little one, he’s always stayed with his own mom. Whether she and I were together or not, those two are inseparable. A good way to be.
But this story isn’t about my kids, although I could tell you about them all day long. This story is instead about their dumbass Dad. This story is about how I screw up my life.
Like I said, I’m a lawyer. Mostly I handle real estate and construction cases. I have some experience in both fields. I worked construction as a kid, and all the way through law school. My Dad was a contractor, as well as both my Grandfathers. My Mom was a real estate broker, not when I was a kid, but later. And I’ve been involved in numerous ventures into property development over the years, dating all the way back to my late teens and early twenties, with varying degrees of success.
The things I like to do, other than to date hot Russian models, are to play chess, do the NYTimes crossword puzzle, read books, and drink coffee. I might sometimes have a beer, but I stopped drinking a few years ago, and it’s probably not a year, but most of a year, since I last had a beer with some Thai food at dinner.
I do not do drugs, I don’t like drugs. I am a non-smoker, but I will light your cigarette if you have nice legs and a pretty smile.
I like to think I am a pretty normal guy. A normal guy who’s been divorced twice, works out a couple times a week (or sometimes once a month) at the gym, is a lawyer, and who dates girls most guys only dream of. Get the picture?
I do my best work at the bookstore. My favorite place to hang out in the whole world is the bookstore. I can sit there in a comfy chair, with my coffee and a sweet roll on a little table to my right, a book on my knee, the NYTimes crossword on the left armrest (unless it is early in the week, and I’ve already finished the X-word before my first cup of coffee is gone), and my Smartphone on the right armrest. To me, this is like home.
Clients can email or text me on my Smartphone. I won’t pick up if they call, but let it go to voicemail. Well, almost always. Unless I need something from them right away, and then I might pick up. But I hate talking on the phone. First, people always talk too long. Why can’t they just get to the point and then shut up and hang up? They always want to “talk it out,” and frankly I don’t have the time or the inclination to listen or to care. Second, I am a notoriously bad note-taker. So if we’re talking, I’ll just end up forgetting half of what you’ve said. Six months later, when it finally becomes vital for me to remember what you said, if it is not written down, not in my case notes, I won’t review it for the meeting, or the hearing, and it might get lost in translation. So don’t tell me anything important unless you watch me write it down. Always put it in writing.
And third, I’m in the bookstore! I mean it’s not exactly a Library, but close enough. I don’t really want to talk at all. So text me. Or email.
A word about voicemail. I hate it. Usually I won’t even listen to it. I’ll just erase your message. Yeah, you called. And blah, blah, something important, blah, blah. Spare me. I don’t have time. I know you called, and if I get around to it, I’ll call you back. But probably not. Ten to one, you leave a VM, I’ll never call you back. Maybe I’m busy. Maybe I don’t really care. Maybe it’s my retribution for you leaving me a VM in the first place, which I really hate.
Unless I really want something from you, I won’t return your VM. I won’t call you back. So stop wasting my time. And yours.
If you want my attention, use email. Now we have a written record. I can’t evade it or avoid it. There’s a permanent record. Now your odds are reversed, tremendously improved. If you email me, ten to one I will respond, and usually right away.
Or better yet, if you want or need my attention immediately, text me. Unless I am actively avoiding you (ex-girlfriend, annoying client, probably already left ten voicemails), I respond quickly to a text. But I hate long text conversations almost as much as I don’t like VM or talking on the phone.
They usually seem to end up in a misunderstanding of some sort, important or not. To me the length of a texting exchange seems to be directly proportional to the probability that the meaning will become somehow garbled. So when you text me, keep it short.
If you are beginning to think I have a lot of rules in my life, I do. Mostly unpublished. My kids, my dog, my ex-wives, my various girlfriends (if she happens to last more than a week or two) all have become accustomed to my rules. Such as, I don’t like repeating myself. If I’ve told you, I’ve told you. I am a pretty good teacher, so I will present a new lesson two or three times before I get short and start to think maybe you are mentally challenged. But very soon after that, I become impatient with repeating myself, and let my frustration show.
People around me tend to be pretty sharp, pretty quick. This is because people who are slow or dim don’t last very long around me. If they just don’t get it, I either distance myself from them, or chase them away with my sharp tongue. Not very Christian of me, I know.
And while I’m at it, I should probably explain. I have not always been Christian. Oh, I have always believed in Jesus Christ. I was raised in a Christian household, in a Christian faith. And I know Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” For a large chunk of my life, what I really believed was that Jesus is a way, a truth, and a light, rather than the way, the truth, the life. But I know better now. Now I know Jesus is the only name by which man might be saved and come unto the Father. But I was a long time in coming to this understanding.
So I’ve learned a lot of ways of living that are contrary to His ways. And old habits can be hard to break.
I practically run my law practice from my control room leisure chair in the bookstore. Like Captain Kirk. You could email to me your construction drama, attach electronic documents, or even fax them to my eFax inbox, and I’d sit right there in the bookstore, dream up a solution, perhaps research it on the web right from my smart phone, draft an email response, maybe a letter on my letterhead also saved on my Smartphone, and email you my solution to your legal problem. All while sipping my coffee, nibbling on my sweet roll, solving the crossword, and reading a book. Multi-tasking doesn’t begin to describe me. I’ve had five balls in the air, sometimes ten, and I was brilliant. My clients loved me. I could devise and execute solutions to their legal problems that hadn’t even occurred to anyone else. And usually in only a few minutes, all by email. So I was very sought after. This only fed my ego, pride and arrogance. Which also contributed greatly to my downfall.
I met Dennis at the bookstore. Specifically, the Borders over on Douglas Blvd. in Roseville. It’s closed now, because they filed BK. But this was a few years ago, back when I first moved to Granite Bay.
The funny thing is, Dennis isn’t a Roseville type of guy. He looks more like a Downtown kind of guy. Well, maybe even a little bit like a homeless bum, but maybe just a cut above that. Though not by much.
And the reason why that’s funny is because I lived Downtown for twenty years, even up until I became a lawyer. I began my practice Downtown, until I started making some money, and began my inexorable march to the suburbs, and then out past, almost to the country. Close to where I grew up, actually. But that’s way far off the current point.
The point is, Dennis didn’t fit. He stood out, and so I noticed him. He was reading some old book on Mayan culture, and another about Hindu mysticism. Dennis is kind of strange. I almost hate having a conversation with him, because he likes to argue, and will take any of six different positions, alternating free flow, like a Gatling gun, to defeat your one, sound argument. It was Saturday afternoon.
At Borders they have, or used to have, an open mike most Saturday evenings. Where bad poets and worse musicians make their friends cringe for five minutes apiece. If I have nowhere to be, sometimes I’ll still be there, reading a book, when the open mike starts. That’s my signal to move to the other side of the store, away from the coffee shop, and the noise. They always have a host, and then some local band as an anchor act. Like just in case nobody has a poem to read. And usually they’re some awful folk group. But once in awhile they might be pretty quirky and kind of cool. So then I’ll mosey back over and take a listen. I think it starts around seven.
I noticed Dennis sitting at a table in the coffee shop area. I always sit in the comfortable lounge chairs, but they also have these tables with two or four wooden chairs. And larger groups will move the tables together to make a bigger area for six, eight, ten. You get the picture; So Dennis is sitting at a table for four in the coffee shop area, all alone, with a chair on each of the four sides. And he has a chess set.
It’s not set up. It’s one of those with a roll-up vinyl chessboard, and all the pieces in a canvas bag with a drawstring. But I’ve been around enough to know. It’s a Chess set, and the man wouldn’t mind a game or two.
So I kind of invite myself, I just kind of nod at him, eye the set, and look back at him. As he’s setting aside his books, he says, “You want a game?” As he’s rolling out the board, and dumping the pieces out of the bag, I say, “Ok.” He asks, “You any good?” I say, “I guess we’re about to find out.” It’s like four, maybe four thirty in the afternoon.
We play for the next six hours, until they’re wiping the tables and telling us we don’t need to leave yet, but soon. Borders stays open until eleven on Saturday nights. Most nights they close at nine. It might be like ten on Friday, and they close early on Sundays. But I’m always in church on Sunday nights, so I can’t really say for sure what time.
Dennis is pretty good. I mean, he’s real good. He lets me win four or five in a row, and then, just to keep me honest, he lets loose and blows me out in back-to-back games. I have to try my best to just tie his shoes. But the people watching don’t know. They think I’m whooping up on this old man, taking mental advantage of him. Dennis is eating it up.
I am virtually silent when I play. Though I sometimes hum or sing. It helps me to think. We, Dennis and I, don’t use a chess clock, but we play at lightning speed. Games take only two or three minutes. One with a whole lot of thinking might take five minutes, tops. And Dennis is non-stop talking.
We soon gather an audience. Singles, twos and threes will walk up and watch us play and then wander off after a half dozen games or so. A couple times, someone sits down and watches for an hour or more. People walk away shaking their heads, amazed.
And the whole time, Dennis is keeping up a running commentary. He banters with the spectators. He gives a virtual play-by-play of the games; e.g. “Oh, see that!? He wants my Queen! You know, I might just let him have her. But not yet!”
He never tells me his name, not while we’re playing. And since I am a veritable mute, I never introduce myself either. And yet, we are communicating. Through our moves on the Chess board. We are even conspiring, engaged in a mental dance. We leave a false impression with those watching, that I am the superior player, and that Dennis is totally shocked and surprised each time he wins.
Though that’s not the truth, and is far from it. Because, in fact, only once or twice all night I catch Dennis when he’s pulling out the stops. But that once or twice feels nice. And we both know it when it happens. Although Dennis is a Master, maybe a Grandmaster, and me a bare beginner next to him (though I’ve been playing most of four decades), my one or two earned victories in about six hours, and maybe a hundred games, are enough to catch his attention, and to instantly win his respect.
But that’s not the important thing that happened that night. I mean, none of this story would have happened, or at least if it had, it would have been different and I wouldn’t have known about it nor been involved, had I not met Dennis. Although I might have met him still, a different time, if we hadn’t played chess that day. Because, as I later learned, it is Dennis’ normal routine to be sitting in that very bookstore coffee shop most Saturday afternoons between about four and six. And he always has his chess set with him, not really looking for a game, and not even hoping, but always available.
No, the important thing that happened, and I do blame Dennis for it, is I met Her that evening. And if Dennis and I hadn’t been playing chess, I probably would have been long gone before she started singing. And even if I were there, on the other side of the bookstore, in noise-avoidance mode, and wandered back over toward the coffee shop area to hear her better, it is unlikely she would have even noticed me, a face in the crowd.
But, I was playing chess. And Dennis was busy working, making me look like a genius. And she noticed me. And she sat down and watched us play. And she smiled. And she gave us a shout out, a few times, between songs. She said, one time, “Hey, you can watch the game and listen to us at the same time. But I think those guys playing chess are even better than we are. But, hopefully, we’re not too bad.” And then she sang. And her voice was enough to melt your heart.
And before she left, she slipped me her phone number. Her name was Chloe.
Now back to the important stuff. Dennis told me his name that night. As they were wiping up the tables, we put away the pieces, rolled up the board, and talked until they turned down the lights and kicked us out of Borders. I even overcame my muteness and told him my own name.
Dennis said he only comes out to Roseville on Saturdays. To see his brother. Usually he stopped by the bookstore around four, and then over to the rest home where his brother stays. He times it so he gets there after dinner, so he normally leaves the store about six. He brings his chess set, because his brother used to be a very good chess player – way better than Dennis – before the Alzheimer’s set in. But now he doesn’t even know Dennis. So Dennis goes over there, and they play chess. Sometimes his brother moves a Knight like a castle. Or a Pawn like a Queen. Or he makes erratic attacks. But Dennis just plays along. And his brother wins every game.
But, every once in a awhile, there’s that spark. And his brother will put together a brilliant attack. Once, a few months ago, it lasted for three whole games. He was back, if only for a moment. And then he faded again. That’s why Dennis goes, every week, for those few rare moments. Those short times when he has his brother back.
Normally, Dennis said, he haunts the North Sac area. Around Del Paso Heights, or Downtown. He said he does a little handyman work on a few rental properties, and it keeps him as busy as he wants to be. But his real dream is to open a little café “for chess-minded people… where you can get a sandwich or a cup of coffee… and maybe play a couple games as you wile away an hour or two in the afternoon.”
I said it sounds to me like a half-baked idea. “How many ‘Chess-minded people’ do you think there are in this world?” I asked him.
“More than you’d think,” he said.
“Well I don’t think such a business would do very well around Sacramento.”
Dennis just smiled. He said good night and left. I was mildly concerned his beat up little pick-up truck might not make it all the way back to North Sac. I was a little ashamed I hadn’t at least offered him $20.00 to buy some gas. I was hoping he didn’t run out of gas, or get stranded somewhere along the way. But hey, whatever, I could probably use that twenty bucks to get myself some Starbucks in the morning.