This past Saturday brought something cheer and fun. The grand opening of the free chess school in the room next to the Douglass Gymnasium in Bahama Village. The white guy behind it, Brian Fiester, lives in Bahama Village. His African-American girlfriend, Carrie Groomes Davis, is the executive secretary to the director of the community college on Stock Island. Carrie took the photos down below, last Saturday. Brian is the guy in the red shirt holding the big scissors.
Classes presently are scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 1 p.m. Saturday.
The way this all came about is summarized below the grand opening photos.
The way this came about was, Brian for some months was beating me regularly at chess at the county library, where I had been asked to host chess on Wednesday evenings, starting 5:30 p.m. The library closes at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
Brian told me about three weeks ago that he wanted to start a chess school, it was a dream he'd had for a long time. He said he wanted to do it in Bahama Village, where he lived. Offer classes, $5 for kids, $10 for adults. I said that I did not think Bahama Village children could afford that. (Bahama Village is the city's historic black neighborhood.) Brian said, it could be done on a donation basis. I said that would be more appealing, but donations might not come. Is this a business venture, or a calling? A calling, Brian said.
I said we could go talk with Blue Heaven restaurant on Petronia Street, I know the people who own it. They also own Salute restaurant on Higgs Beach. They are white. And we then could walk across the street to Johnson's Grocery across the street from Blue Heaven. The owners are African-American. Maybe they know where you can set up a chess school in a free space, since you are not going to be requiring payment for classes. Brian said he knew the Johnsons.
And, I said, we could to to Martin Luther King Center and talk with my friend, William, who is African-American. He is in charge of the swimming pool, where I have seen him joking and working with and disciplining lots of Bahama Village boys, nearly all African-American. He used to work at the Douglass Gym, but came to the pool while the Gym was being renovated.
As it turned out, I was in Bahama Village one day on my bicycle checking out the condition of the streets, and I dropped by the pool at the Martin Luther King Center to see William. There was a new pool director. He said William had gone back to work at Douglass Gym, he probably was there now. I asked about using the big open space in the room next to the swimming pool for a chess school. The director said that would have to be approved by the city. I asked about the school accepting donations. The pool director said that is not allowed. If you put on a program on city property, it has to be free. I thanked him and headed for Douglass Gym.
William was there, with a Mr. Major, who is the African-American fellow in the top photo above. I told them what Brian wanted to do. They seemed really interested. They knew Brian's girlfriend, Carrie. We agreed to meet another day, with Brian. That happened pronto.
Brian explained how chess disciplines the mind. Improves thinking. Improves math ability. Calms people down. A good inner game, to balance basketball, for example. (There are nice, lighted outdoor basketball courts at the Martin Luther King Center. I see older and younger children, black and white, playing there.)
Brian said class participants will start matches by shaking hands, and they will end matches by shaking hands, that's how it's done in chess tournaments.
I told of when I found a black chess club in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, very near the 16th Street Baptist Church, which had been bombed by KKK, which was across the street from The Civil Rights Park. I was the only white person playing in that chess club, getting beat something awful. They played "touch rules", meaning, if you touch a chess piece, you have to move it. You can't move another piece. You don't get mulligans if you mess up. Same in life. That's how chess is played by real chess players. Bobby Fisher, for example. Magnus Carlson, the present world champion, for another example.
I said those men in the Birmingham chess club gave each other a lot of jive, and some of them slammed pieces on the table like you see dominoes players in Bahama Village doing. They played about 2 hours after work each day, then went home. I spaced out saying that a few of them were homeless.
Somewhere in all of that, a younger African-American Mr. Major came in, who was above William and the older Mr. Major, and was in charge of Doublass Gym. He said he liked what he was hearing. He offered advice about the best time in the afternoons for the chess class. After the children had been bussed back into Bahama Village and those who had homework study groups were done with that. We brainstormed a flyer to put out at the gym and in Bahama Village and at the library and elsewhere.
Carrie suggested showing the children movies about chess. I suggested the fabulous "In Search of Bobby Fisher," which is about which chess child prodigy might end up being the next world champion? Carrie suggested a film about an African girl who only wanted to play chess, and was met with a lot of social resistance, but in the end she went on and became her country's chess champion in an international tournament, as I recall what Carrie said. I had not seen that film. Brian suggested "Pawn Sacrifice," which I had not seen, either.
Brian told of Carrie and him going to NY City for a chess tournament and he played a young boy who drove him crazy by playing his moves really fast and then leaving the table and wandering up and down the aisle watching other chess games in progress and also keeping an eye on Brian deep in study, and when Brian finally moved, the kid raced back to the table and made his next move really fast, and went back to watching the other games, over and over. Brian said he lost that game, but it was due to making a mistake that cost him a major piece.
I said that kinda reminded me of a video I had seen of Magnus Carlsen, when he was maybe 10, playing a one-game challenge on a clock against the the Russian grand master and world champion at one time, Kasparov, I think was how it was spelled. Carlsen moved really fast, got up and left the table and wandered around until Kasparov moved. Back to the table, Carlsen moved really fast and left the table. It looked to me like Kasparov was winning, but Carlsen got a tie and said he had the game won but he made a mistake. I said the kids coming to the chess classes will really like that video.
I told of when back in 1995, I had gone into Floyd's Barber Shop on Petronia Street to get my beard cut. Floyd, Sr. was there, cutting a man's hair. He asked what I wanted, I told him. He told me to sit in the empty chair, his son would be there soon and he would take off my beard. A small crowd of black kids and adults gathered in and outside the barber shop. When Floyd, Jr. came in, he looked at me and asked what I was there for? I said, your father said you could take off my beard. Floyd Jr. said he never cut a white man's hair before. Floyd Jr. was a big man, his arms looks bigger around than my thighs. I said that I had never had a black man cut my hair before, but you have the razor and the advantage. He took off my beard. After that, Floyd Sr. took off another of my beards. And even later, Floyd Jr. took off yet another beard.
At the chess school grand opening, the race mix was about half white and half African-American, with a couple of Hispanic kids. Some of the white kids had been brought by their mothers from outside of Bahama Village, who had heard of the new chess school. Some of the kids knew how chess pieces moved, some did not. Brian, another white man and I played and taught as we went, trying in our own different ways to get down on the kids' level. For me, it was like trying to be a parent again.
I started games by asking the kid I was playing to show me how each piece moved and took other pieces. Most of the kids didn't know about that. Or how pawns move one or two spaces the first time and can only take other pieces diagonally.
The kids mostly seemed to want to start on the sideline, with a rook pawn, a sideline pass to a split end, which might work great for chess hustler masters, but is fatal to rookies like me and even more inexperienced players.
I kept trying to get the kids to start by trying to take control of the center of the board and getting their knights off the backline so they could castle on one side or the other. I showed them how to do both castles, and said that's the only time two chess pieces can be moved at once.
I showed some of them en passant, a special pawn-take move I was some time learning after I was told in a dream in early 2005, that I needed to learn how to play chess and woke up kinda terrified, because whenever I had played chess in the past I had gotten clobbered. After that dream, good chess players started showing up and clobbering me.
I likened different pieces and moves and positions to football games. Do you really want to put your quarterback, your queen, in front of those two running backs, castles? Wouldn't rather throw a slant pass at one of his castles with that ninja assassin bishop? How about hopping that killer horse over that pawn and putting his quarterback and running back both in peril? He will give you that castle to save his quarterback, and his castle is more important than your horse.
I played my side and helped the kids play their side, and sometimes their side checkmated me. I forgot to tell them that in Birmingham, I had gone to the city library with one of the black chess players, who had little formal chess training but was savant and taught a chess class on Saturday, and those kids wore me out. I did mention that during the organizational meeting.
I told the kids that Brian is a old-timey chess player, he studied chess a lot. Read lots of books. Studied moves, tactics, famous players' games. I, however, mostly learned by getting beat a lot by much better chess players. I learned chess on the street, like you learn to play stickball on the street.
I likened learning chess to ninja training, but mind ninja.
I likened chess to video games, but it is the originator of those games, it is the dinosaur video game.
I told the kids that in the old days some kings who got into arguments sat down and played chess and the winner won the war and got some or all of the other king's land. For real? Yeah.
I was there yesterday (Monday) afternoon for the first regular class. All the kids were black and one Hispanic. Not as many kids as on Saturday, but a good turnout. Before the kids arrived, Brian whipped me 4 games, we tied 1, which I viewed as a win, and it seemed I might win the 6th game, when the kids showed up and we stopped playing and started teaching.
If experienced chess players show up, they will get to teach in their own way, and play Brian, with kids watching. Or play me, less challenging. Or, if he's there, another white guy whom I play at the library, who was at the organizational meeting with William, Mr. Major and their supervisor, and at the Grand Opening, which went from 1- 7 p.m.
I hope to be at Douglass Gym each weekday and Saturday afternoon. It's fun.
Meanwhile, on the all is not quiet on the Key Western Front School...
I dreamed last night of my friend Todd German and me going to Tallahassee. The only thing I see today that might have to do with that is in today's Key West Citizen. Todd is chairman of the board (he is not paid) of Key West Collegiate Academy charter high school. My thoughts trail the Citizen article.
Safe schools mandate has costs
In a "past life", Todd German, above, was U.S. Army Special Forces. He saw combat in Central American jungles. He owns guns and combat knives. I have seen them. He's the kind of person the school district needs to guard the schools.
I say that what Tallahassee says and does, or doesn't say and do, is irrelevant. The Florida Keys school district needs to treat students, teachers, school staff and principals as capital assets. The school board needs to use the school district's capital fund to hire private security contractors to put a well-trained armed guard, preferably retired US Military combat veteran or special forces-equivalent, in each school.
In that way, free up the city police officers and deputies to serve and protect the rest of the people and to be on emergency call if a school comes under threat from a shooter or otherwise terrorist.
I told Todd that even I would make a good armed guard. Give me an AR 15 and put me in a school. I would not hesitate to shoot a shooter, and if I got shot, tough shit.
That aside, there are many very rich people in the Florida Keys, who could give the school district money to hire professional armed guards in the schools. Right, such gifts are not tax deductible. So what? Tax deductions are more important than safe schools? Do National Rifle Association members get tax deductions for NRA dues they pay, or for guns and ammo they buy?
The local SPCA raised $8,000,000 in donations for a new homeless animal shelter in Key West. Right, those donations were tax deductible. Even so, are homeless animals' safety more important than school children's safety?
It would not surprise me if there are rich people with children or grandchildren in the local charter schools, who can afford to hire Special Forces-level armed guards for those schools.
Todd German told me this morning that the charter schools are free schools, funded by the school district. They are not private schools, which charge a tuition, thus should hire their own private security guards.
Moving laterally, Todd forwarded yesterday:
Homeless encampment relocation plan has California residents outraged
A plan to house hundreds of homeless people in a tent city near a popular Southern California park was met with fierce public resistance, forcing an upcoming vote to rescind the scheme. Read the full story
The talk in Key West is that the #1 issue is actual affordable housing. Put the new homeless shelter next to a residential neighborhood and see what the #1 issue is. I can imagine if the mayor and city commissioners actually do that, their lives and the lives of their families will be at risk from their mainstream constituents. I'm not joking.
The very last paragraph of this article went to the heart of it.
While the county may scrap the proposal later this week, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson told FOX11 that without a homeless plan in place, the judge may not allow any city in Orange County to enforce their overnight camping or trespassing laws, which could lead to homeless people being allowed to have their choice of locations to start a new encampment.
If KW's mayor and city commissioners don't come down off their thrones and order KWPD to stop putting homeless people into the sheriff's jail next to KOTS on Stock Island, for offenses only applied to homeless people, I don't see the sheriff or the county commission backing off requiring the city to move KOTS by this October.
All of which meanders straight back to 2004, before the city built KOTS, and homeless tents were on city land. If that happens again, that will be what Mayor Cates and the 6 city commissioners will be most remembered for, their imaginations and posturing to the contrary notwithstanding.
I am not joking when I keep saying that it won't surprise me that eventually long-term homeless people in America will be euthanized like feral cats are today by KW SPCA.
Today's last chess match features Sancho Panza's internet friend, whose Facebook private chat was reported in posts at this website recently, messaged me this morning:
What about eastern religion? I have noticed similarities in my experience and people like UG Krishnamurti and Sri Ramana Maharishi in particular. Ramana neglected his body for a time before he found enlightenment. UG was homeless and said he could sit and stare at a clock for hours and never think this is a clock or what time it is unless a demand arose for that specific knowledge. His mind was like a laser he could stop at will or it would stop on its own. UG spoke of his awakening as a calamity like being tortured.
I read 2 of U.G. Krishnamurti's books back in the early 1990s. I recall him reporting that he had told people who came to talk with him that he had nothing for them, that what had happened to him had just happened to him, he had no control over it, he could not explain why, or how to replicate it. I don't know anything about Maharishi. Western religion is woefully ignorant of many things metaphysical. For people not being directed and messed with by Spirit, the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels on how to live are a good road map. And are a good road map anyway. You need to quit searching and start going directly to Spirit. You will not find what you seek in books. What you seek is an actual experience. You live it, it lives you, ongoing. Day after day, night after night. You change into an entirely different person. That is what being born again means, I suppose.
Meanwhile, One of my readers sent this below yesterday, and I replied, Amen.
"A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this?-And-how many of us do know it? Not Lotze. Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane. Or you are becoming sane, finally. Waking up. I suppose only a few are aware of all this. Isolated persons here and there. But the broad masses...what do they think? All these hundreds of thousands in this city, here. Do they imagine that they live in a sane world? Or do they guess, glimpse the truth...?" Philip K Dick