Keep on Playing

man ray chess set

Perhaps the last time you played games has not been since your last bad relationship. Hard to imagine sometimes, but mind games aren’t the only game out there.

On a recent trip to Thailand, the beginning of rainy season kept us shut away in our hilltop villa on Koh Yao Yai, over looking the stormy sea. We holed up with a minifridge full of Singh-ha and played both dominoes and checkers until the sky cleared and the stars came out. It was fun. Before that, I think the last time I played a game was Monopoly with my two littlest brothers, where I proceeded to buy up the entire board and bankrupt them both. I’m pretty sure I took a picture of my real estate holdings and gloated via Instagram. It’s just a game, right? One of my brothers walked away in a huff, probably to go play a video game by himself. Gloating and games seem to go hand-in-hand I suppose, as I quickly learned while I discovered that my checkers skills aren’t exactly up to snuff. I am, however, much sharper when it comes to dominoes. Thank goodness, otherwise the tears probably would’ve started flowing. Oh, how the mighty fall.

As a little girl, my older brother and I played checkers together. He always beat me. I always cried. He stopped playing with me. The net result of my poor sportsmanship as a child is my poor skills with those frustrating squares as an adult. We win and lose everyday, but we try so hard to equalize everything, justify and categorize, that our imposed relativity makes everything a tie. Sometimes it’s good to loose, it’s also nice to win, and it’s always good to feel something, even if it’s defeat. Even if it’s only a board game. Keep on playing. Don’t cry though, except when it’s a break-up. I kept on playing, right on through a hot afternoon in a poolside tent in Dubai, fan blowing and vodka tonics furtively sipped, defying the Ramadan ban. I didn’t win a single game. I didn’t shed a single tear. Okay, maybe just one.


Dominoes occupied a great deal of time at the end of college and that lazy summer after. There was a particularly memorable afternoon where we set-up a card table in the front yard and played for hours in the southern California sun. I won often. After that summer, I moved to Washington Heights, a neighborhood just north of West Harlem, to a sixth-floor walk-up on the corner of 143rd and Broadway. It was August, the apartment had no air conditioning, and the only bed I had was a sleeping bag on the floor, sticky with sweat. I used to sit on the fire escape, listening to the end-of-summer screams of kids, watching men of all ages play Jamaican dominoes in the little strip of green running down the middle of Broadway. I saw a few drug deals go down as well. It was a far cry from my Thailand villa.

I always think of myself as having been a very serious child, and I think I probably was, but there were many long afternoons of both board and card games. I always latched on to certain characters or pieces: Miss Scarlett, the Thimble, Maria (with the green beret), Marvin Place… the Man Ray chess set. Okay, that’s recent. Not only is the set a classic, but around that time chess was a powerful Surrealist image for Duchamp and also occupied the work of Ernst and others. Many many artists have been fixated on the imagery of chess. There are some great Bauhaus sets as well. I think purchasing the Man Ray set from the MoMA store may motivate me to um… learn the game. Or maybe I can track down a vintage set. No more fire escapes for me, apparently. Hey, life’s about winning, right?