Last night I went back to the Manhattan Scrabble club for the first time in a few months. Everyone was kind, chastised me for not telling them I was sick. "I'd have come over to play with you. I love a good game," Steve with the square afro said.
"I'm so glad you're back! We missed you," Dee said hugging me. I smiled even though I do not like to be hugged.
And then there was Walter.
Here's the thing about Walter. He's 94 years old, frail, half blind, mostly deaf and brash.
"Where was she?"
"She had foot surgery."
"Well, now she's back."
I played Walter...once.
He uses a magnifying glass to read words, constantly ketvches about counting the score and he takes forever. Usually a competitive game lasts a maximum of forty six minutes. In my game with him, he went over on his time by forty-five minutes.
There's not a night that goes by where the silence of forty people searching for bingos and word hooks isn't shattered by his booming voice complaining that his opponent isn't keeping score right or putting the tile bag where he can see them.
Last night was no different.
"Where's the bag...put it back here!" I heard him yell at Dee. Not yell, it's just how he talks.
Except last night was different.
The club director had reached his breaking point.
"That's it Walter," he said.
The director is a thin, bald gaunt man. A curmudgeon in his own right and about forty years before he should be.
He handed the old man back his entrance fee and told him to get out.
"You slow down the games every night, you disrupt the room and all you do is argue. You're not welcome back."
"When do I argue?" Walter shot back.
"EVERY NIGHT," the director yelled.
He took the board up, moved Dee to a new table and the two of them started a new game.
Walter sat alone at his table.
He didn't move.
Through two more rounds of play, he just sat.
Finally, he stood up slowly, put on his jacket and said "okay, I'll see you next week? In the new year?" He voice uncertain, but hopeful.
"NO, WALTER. GET OUT AND YOU CAN'T COME BACK." The director fired back unmoved.
Walter shuffled to the door and began taking the steps one at a time.
"Next week. Okay?"
And then he was gone.
At the next break, the room seemed divided about what to do about Walter.
"Come on, have mercy. He's old," one gray haired lady pleaded.
"That old buzzard is impossible. He's just contankerous...no he's a pain in the ass, I don't know why I said contankerous," another old woman fired back.
The director defended himself.
"I've given him chance after chance for a year. He just won't listen."
"Joel, you're the same way," the first old lady argued.
"Yeah, but this is my club."
"Walter refused to play me last week because I didn't take my husband's last name," said one of my friends at the club.
We laughed, that's Walter.