…because not all of us have our Peking ducks in a row
Just as someone might want to swim with the sharks or pull a freight train with his testicles – when I lived in southern China, I played online Scrabble to relax. After a six-day work week filled with clueless customers and employees with issues, there was nothing better than flopping onto the couch with my laptop, a big cold drink, the A/C on full blast, and a challenging game of Scrabble.
Unlike traditional Scrabble, where people with a minimal grasp of the English language but an inflated sense of themselves would argue for hours over whether SPTHU is really an English word, today’s Scrabble games can be played anonymously on the internet with any random opponent. Based on their locations, players on the Scrabble website are divided into regions – North America or the UK – and are matched based on previous game statistics. Players can assume any identity by choosing online names and mini-me versions of themselves. They are given two minutes to make a move and should they fail to come up with a word during that time, their opponents have the option of extending more time. To make the whole online Scrabble experience more human, there’s even a chat box to the right of the Scrabble board for socializing.
In order to reach the Scrabble game servers in the U.S., I have to first connect to the Chinese internet, then a U.S.-based VPN, which will give me access to websites that are banned in China – Facebook, the New York Times, Twitter, Taiwanese and U.S. government websites, and even WordPress. But by the time I get a steady connection and sneak past the tenacious Chinese internet firewall to find myself in the middle of a Scrabble game with MammaJ715, I may have already downed two glasses of wine and a bag of chips, and it would already be 5PM Sunday in China, 5AM on the East Coast United States, or 2AM Pacific Time. It’s one thing to be unwinding on a Sunday afternoon with a hearty game of Scrabble. It’s another to be playing online Scrabble in the wee weekend hours when your mini-me looks like this:
The best Scrabble players aren’t necessarily the ones with the best vocabulary and game strategy. They are the ones who don’t mess around with small talk, observe the time limits, praise an opponent who makes a brilliant move, are gracious when accepting a compliment, and are even more gracious when they lose. Occasionally, however, I get a real talker – someone who thinks that a two-minute Scrabble move is a two-hour horse-and-buggy ride through the oppressive humidity of the deep south in the middle of summer. I knew she was trouble as soon as I saw her name.
SparkleSparkle51: georgia here sweety. how r u?
Me: Hi…in China here. Not bad and you?
SparkleSparkle51: it’s a gr8t day for me here. my baby’s gonna come up and visit me with my grandson…havent seen him in ages…. it’s a 4 hr drive a bit much, but i can’t drive anymore on account of my bad hip. drs say i shouldn’t sit 4 long but what do drs know? my granddaddy was a dr and did alright for himself, the hrs are long and its tough u never know what kinda ppl yr going to get. ppl never think how tough it is to be a dr but theyve got their problems too…the $ they make comes @ a price u kno.
SparkleSparkle51: like i told my gf sandy who wants to marry a dr she’d better be sure whats she gettin into, its not all roses u know…its not what u think…every1 thinks drs drs make all the money…theres a price and i sure dont mean the price that drs r paid cuz boy howdy its never enuf!
I imagined SparkleSparkle51 and I sitting outside a grand southern estate sipping perfectly-made mint juleps while lounging on white wicker chairs, with an expanse of immaculately manicured green grass before us. Songbirds would be chirping in the tall sycamores and butterflies darting around the dragonflies and honeybees. There would be the faraway sound of someone blowing into a jug or scratching a wooden washboard while singing about the agony of being so dirt poor that he’d have to resort to jugs and washboards as musical instruments. SparkleSparkle51 would be chatting me up about her bad hip, her daughter, her near car accident, her emotionally-absent husband, as she arranged then re-arranged the seven cardboard pieces which would ensure her at least a 57-point word score and a possible victory. After I give her two time extensions, SparkleSparkle51 finally comes up with a word. But the word isn’t accepted by Scrabble.
SparkleSparkle51: ALABAMA thats a word right?
Me: It’s a place name and you can’t use names or place names on Scrabble.
SparkleSparkle51: its not just a place name, honey… its also a word ALABAMA.
Me: ALABAMA’s not really considered a WORD in the dictionary, besides being the name of a State. I mean, you can’t really say, “The Union was alabama-ed in the Civil War.”
After SparkleSparkle51 lost her luster and abruptly exited the game faster than a South Carolina gray squirrel can pack two acorns into its mouth, I understood why some people might dislike the Chinese. Here’s a nice southern lady who was looking to have a some friendly chat and a game of Scrabble, and this bitch from China insults the American lady’s knowledge of English then rubs salt into her Confederate wounds. Not that being in China is a big deal, but when you consider that the Scrabble game servers only exist in countries which don’t censor their internet, and that China’s first and second languages aren’t even English – it’s likely that someone from China would really prefer to play Scrabble and not find herself at a Sunday picnic social with a dropout from the cast of Steel Magnolias.
But talkers aren’t nearly as bad as the looking for virtual love crowd. Matchmaking while gaming is so popular that there’s now a Scrabble gaming room entitled, Looking for Love. Except the love room is usually fully occupied, so the single Scrabble players – men with no spelling ability – will join any game and try to chat up the women.
Jollyspaceman69: Heytherehavetime for me?
Jollyspaceman69: i’m Not godbut can b YOURGOD. 41 SWM here. u?
Me: …not amused….
Jollyspaceman69: cmon…im a nice guy just gimme achance youl see…
Me: I’d rather be blind…
Jollyspaceman69: ohh…man…zing! fisty one!!! yr sooooo hot!!! hubba hubba!! ****<<<<o o>>>
Incidentally, this is my online avatar…
In the stinky cesspool between real life and delusion, there is online gaming – the irony of which is that we play online games – like Scrabble – to forget our everyday problems, but sometimes become attached to our “online gaming buddies”, thereby acquiring all of their problems…but in a more nebulous kind of way. Maybe JohnnyNOCumLately59 claims to have a cheating girlfriend, but that thought will only stay with us for as long as we’re connected to the internet and have the displeasure of JohnnyNOCum’s company. Once we turn off our computers and turn towards our Swanson’s Hungry Man dinner or ten-for-one-dollar freeze-dried ramen noodles, the bleakness of our own lives will hit us in the face like a dirty, wet dish rag…which is why some people, like WJM70, are always online and everybody’s friend.
WJM70: I’m in TN, where are you?
WJM70: Wow! China! That’s SO COOL! What time is it there?
Me: It’s 5PM, China’s OK.
WJM70: Wow, I’ve never been to China, but got as far as Korea when I was stationed there. Thai food rocks!
Me: OK. But I’m in China.
(Another player joins our Scrabble game. This is common, if you have a friend on your Scrabble list, you can find them in whichever room they might be playing in.)
TiniMini555: Hey, Josh, long time no see, how you doing?
WJM70: I’m great, Lisa. I’d like for you to meet my new friend from China!
TiniMini555: WOW! All the way from China! What time is it over there?
Me: It’s 5:05PM, China’s OK.
TiniMini555: WOW…that’s sooo cool! Isn’t that cool, Josh?
WJM70: Yeah, I was just saying how cool it is! I’ve never met anyone from China before!
As I watched the Scrabble game timer count down to zero for the second time, we all sat around our virtual Scrabble board awkwardly like idiots in an idiot shop. I was reminded of parties gone by where the only thing I had in common with the other party-goers was my love for alcohol…except i preferred drinking it out of a glass or a bottle, instead of sucking it from my sweatshirt after dousing myself with a keg of beer. I played online Scrabble to get away from people and have some quiet time to myself, but someone inevitably wants to talk about his son going to rehab, or a messy divorce. It’s bad enough when you know the person and are talking to him face-to-face, but when you just met the guy 1:19 minutes ago and can easily turn off his whining by toggling the chat function to MUTE, the consequences can be enormous. Imagine being on someone’s Scrabble shit list, so that you must resort to playing with the Scrabble bot. Or, worse yet – being subjected to the wrath of a passive-aggressive Scrabble player, whose every word speaks of their resentment towards you – LOATHE, HATE, SMELLY, FAT, COW…so I have no choice but to sit and wait out the conversation with a virtual smile on my face.
TiniMini555: You know, Josh, I waited for you all night yesterday and you weren’t online like you said you would…
WJM70: Yeah…sorry, baby – you know, I get busy sometimes.
TiniMini555: Well, I had to get home early and log on. The connection was terrible, I was kicked off several @#$*@ times! You don’t know how bad it was…and then you weren’t even here!!
WJM70: Look, I told you I’m going thru a rough patch right now. I can’t always guarantee I’ll be around. I was here three days ago and where were YOU? I waited for over three hours, you know – I’m not complaining!
TiniMini555: Hey, let’s not change the subject back to YOU here…we’re talking about ME and my inability to connect with YOU
Me: Uhhh…maybe I should leave now…you guys seem busy…I’ll let you guys go now….
WJM70: OH no! Please don’t think of it! I’m SO SORRY we made you feel uncomfortable!
TiniMini555: No no no! I’m the one who should leave anyway, I’ve gotta be getting back to my kids. It was SO NICE to have met you, SueZ!
As WJM70 and TiniMini555 continued to argue via online chat, WJM70 soldiered on through the game, his words becoming increasingly desperate and monosyllabic – TERSE, BUT, BAD, HARD, WOUND – and I remembered the conversation I’d had with my Purchasing Manager, Tony, earlier in the day. Having arrived to work late several days in a row and looking like crap, Tony finally admitted to me he was having marital problems.
“It’s my wife…I-I-I don’t know how to put it…she thinks I can’t…perform…in…in…the bed, you know….” Tony covered his face with his hands. “It’s…so…embarrassing! I’m not sure what to do…! I want to…just die!”
“Well…maybe you can see a doctor about this? I’m not sure I’m the right one to talk to…”
“But I’ve seen all the doctors! I had Chinese medicines and acupuncture and even tried Qi Gong and then yoga…I took raw eggs and supplements…NOTHING WORKS…I’m at the end of my rope, what can I do? I’m not a man! I’m a…a…laughing stock!”
“Now, Tony – nobody thinks you’re a laughing stock, you’re still a good worker. Everyone respects you. You’re still a valuable member of our team…but you just need to…uh…focus….”
“Susan, I know you can help me. I know it! You are my only hope! There is the little pill called Viagra. Maybe you can help me buy it in the U.S., I will pay you. Yes!”
“Why would you need Viagra? Maybe your issue is different from what Viagra can do. And why can’t you buy Viagra in China?”
“No, no, no. I’m sure Viagra can help me. You can help me. You can’t trust the drug makers here in China – it could be poison as far as I know. But in the States, you can buy the real stuff. And it’s much less expensive. I will pay you. You buy me a year’s supply!”
“A YEAR’S SUPPLY of Viagra? I don’t even know what the stuff looks like! And how am I supposed to get Viagra? Doctors in the States don’t just write prescriptions for the stuff without good reason. And I’m a woman, for goddsakes! Who would write me a prescription for Viagra? I wouldn’t even know where to begin!”
As WJM70 and TiniMini555 continued their argument, filling up my chat box with a multitude of !!??! and@#*$&, my web browser finally froze then collapsed. As I sat in the now complete darkness, with only the light of the laptop screen illuminating my face, I thought about trying my luck with another Scrabble game, but at 5:25AM Sunday on the East Coast, I wasn’t sure there would be anyone *normal* playing. And there’s still the possibility that I might be flung back into the same room with the arguing couple. I eventually took out the files I’d brought home from work, including a formal application from Tony to take an extended leave of absence due to personal issues. And in the weird blue light of my computer screen I carefully typed the words, WHOLESALE VIAGRA, then waited for the results to reveal themselves.
Thanks to Charles Gulotta – WordPress recommended humor blogger over at mostlybrightideas.wordpress.com – for the inspiration to this post. Charles is no doubt a mean Scrabble player, knows more words than there are Scrabble tiles in all of China, and isn’t afraid to use those words in his writing. His latest book, The Long Hall, is 320 pages and can be purchased for $12.95 from Amazon.com. The e-book edition is also available, for about $3.99 US, in any country where Amazon has a Kindle store.