Black and White

  • Reading time:6 mins read

I’m in a new coffee shop a couple of blocks up into Bushwick. It’s a decent little place; more or less what I want in a cafe. The hipsters seem to have found it out, though not in such droves as to clutter the atmosphere. There’s a nice variety of perches, from the bar stools by the window (with a knee-level nook for bags and coats, and conveniently-placed outlets) to an antique couch to a booth to a quiet table in the corner, separated from life. Service is kind of slow, but the Americano is solid and the sandwiches are cheap. Relatively speaking. Instead of a toaster they’ve a panini press, which makes a sort of weird pastry out of a grilled cheese. Decent grade of cheese, decent grade of bread. I had apples in mine, and they were inserted before the press. Not enough apples, though it was interesting to eat them warm.

It’s a curious view, out the plate glass windows. The street is at an angled intersection — five back roads all meeting like a stick figure jumping for glee. diagonally before and above me — what is it, the L train? Does the J twist up here? I have yet to learn the trains. To the right is a park the size of a closet and the shape of a doorstop; to the left is an empty lot bounded by graffiti-festooned plywood. Across the street is a Tire & Wheel store, as it sells itself, displaying a fine range of hubcaps along the sidewalk. More prominently, and this is where this series of observations has been leading, is the Family Dollar. It feels to me that this view is calculated specially to insinuate that store into my mind. Every time I glance up, I think, oh — there’s the Family Dollar. When I’m done here, I might as well pop over for a moment and see what they have for my spare change. That would be the change left over from my coffee and sandwich, you see. You understand the positioning now.

Despite or perhaps in part because of the subversiveness, I like the feel of this place. The only downfall is that both times I’ve stopped in the barista has been awfully lonely — different barista, same pattern. Not that I’ve a problem with chatty baristas on principle; some of my best friends have been chatty baristas. It’s just that my whole goal in coming here was to soak in the atmosphere; to carve out a little bit of a world for myself. Once I’m settled, okay; the door is open. Come in, chat. Chances are there are some interesting people around here. Yet there is this process.

And so far it seems my process is being respected. The guy is friendly and helpful enough, without making me feel guilty for setting about my on business rather than passing his day a little more amicably. Maybe that’s the New York talking. It does encourage me to return, so good job there.

I notice the place holds a chess tournament. Or maybe it’s a club. Hang on, I think there’s a flyer. No, just a sign. Wednesday, 5-7PM. Bushwick Chess. If I played chess, this would appeal to me on more than principle. On principle, that gives me a strong impression what the management is trying to do with this place — and I like the feel of it.

A lady just interrupted me to point out a hole in the floor that I was in no danger of falling into. Well, that was nice of her.

Maybe I should look a bit into chess. Every time I play, I have to learn the rules all over. They have always seemed a bit arbitrary, especially as codified in the nineteenth century. If there were a more distinct representational logic to the system — well, it’s not like I’ve never learned an affected system. It’s just that I feel like I’m playing a well-balanced fighting game where none of the commands bears any analog to its outcome. You know the kind of fighter I mean. Whereas a quarter-circle forward makes sense for a fireball; it follows Ryu’s or Ken’s arm motions and body balance; another game might assign an arbitrary command such as a reverse dragon punch motion or a series of button commands, just to prevent all the characters from feeling the same.

Take the knight piece — what is it meant to represent, in its motion? So it soars up alongside another piece and then swoops to the side. Or else it steps to the side and then charges forward. What, in the nature of a knight or a horseman, does this motion represent? When does a horse scuttle or leap sideways, around a corner? What man, wearing several hundred pounds of steel, is inclined to suddenly pivot and pounce, waging a surprise attack? I am not as educated as I might be on Roman warfare, so there may be something in the phalanx; I seem to recall a certain craftiness to their motion. Regardless, it is difficult to digest these patterns when their representation seems to me so arbitrary. If the knight were to plow straight ahead, or serve a defensive role, I could better understand its place. Likewise, if the L shape is considered a crucial bit of the puzzle (and I would like to know the logic behind the balance of moves; it may well be brilliant), why not assign a representation more analogous to the motion?

What moves so craftily, in a mix of skips and charges? Some kind of a rogue? If we’re to keep to the nobility and infantry, perhaps a fencer? How then do we distinguish a fencer from a knight? As archetypes go, the line is fairly thin between the two. Casting further, perhaps a hunter? An assassin? Ninja, samurai? Yet again, what really distinguishes a samurai and a knight besides the shape of their armor? I suppose it’s all subjective in the end.

Well, hey. That was a thousand words.