Friday, February 25, 2011

True Stories (2)

A no-longer-so-young but all-too-complex composer, realizing that there wasn't much traction left in his career decided to try another line of work. Between a small inheritance and some left-over prize money, he invested everything in a line of inflatable chess boards he had designed for use in water — swimming pools, hot- and bathtubs, wading ponds etc.. Unfortunately, he had made a mistake in his production specifications and the first shipment — an over-optimistically-large shipment —came back from the manufacturer with a serious flaw. Instead of the standard eight-by-eight chess and checkers layout, all 12000 inflatable, buoyant, waterproof soft plastic chess board came back with an eleven-by-ten array of squares. After an initial panic and some heated words with the manufacturer in Hanoi which soon enough convinced him that the error lay on his side, he did exactly what might be expected of a trained complexist composer: he researched chess variations played on an eleven-by-ten board. He quickly settled on a game attributed to Tamerlane, the fourteenth-century conqueror of Western, South and Central Asia and became possibly the greatest living expert on Tamerlane Chess. Having ended up — after a long series of moves between temporary academic posts — in the outskirts of Las Vegas, he came up with the marketing idea to reconfigure the Central Asian figures of the original Tamerlane game to his new home town. Thus the kings became casino owners, the war machines were replaced by bouncers, the vizirs by pit bosses, the knights by detectives, the picket became a croupier, the rooks were either solicitors bell hops and the pawns were "escorts" (as "prostitution" is illegal in Las Vegas) ; the elephants, camels and giraffes were, of course, replaced by tigers. The composer thought he had a real winner, but it soon turned out that everyone to whom he had explained the game ended up hopelessly confused by the layout and moves. His most honest friends explained that it was impossibile to imagine this ever becoming a hit with tourists; the idea of hotel guests spending their time between evenings of reckless drinking and gambling by sobering up in the pool with floating games of fairy chess was plain silly. But he was determined not to have a total loss of his investment, and with the advice of a friend who worked for the casinos as a debt collector* and a group of college friends, a few of whom continue to be active in the composing scene, he conspired to recover his investment. Using some discount tickets, they all booked rooms in the same hotel and executed the following move: scattered through the casino at different tables, they would each gamble for a while, using up all their free chips, and then loudly announce that they were going to the pool to play some Vegas Chess. And later, while floating and playing Vegas Chess, they would get very loud with their enthusiasm for the game. This naturally attracted the interest of others poolside, and soon the composer started out handing free sets to people, on the condition that they would play their first game, then-and-there. Pretty soon the management got wind of people skipping out of the casino to play chess in the pool and anything that keeps gamblers from emptying their wallets inside the casino does not make casino management happy. To nip a possible problem in the bud, the casino manager approached the composer and asked him, more or less politely, to leave the premises and take his floating Vegas Chess boards with him. Well — as the composer suspected — the management took the precaution of following the him to the storage unit where he happened to keep the stock of unsold chess sets. The casino — through intermediaries, no doubt — "arranged" for that remaining stock of 11000-some polyvinyl Vegas Chess boards to "disappear". The composer had, of course, insured the contents of the storage unit and was able to recover enough of his investment to move to Provo, Utah, where he still lives, running a multi-level direct marketing company and composing, on the side, for show choir, the genre he has found to be closest to his own deepest musical sympathies.


* The collector, who was named Leroy, was six-feet five inches tall and well over 250 lbs., an imposing figure and not a handsome man. His collecting technique was to knock on the door of the debtor, dressed in in the most elegant pin stripe suit, and then toss a Dixie cup of water in the debtor's face, promising that the next time they met, should the debt not be fulfilled, the cup would be full of acid. I actually met Leroy once (not as a debtor, thank you for asking) and he assured me that his technique was so effective that he had never once had to toss a Dixie cup full of anything other than water.

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