Monday, June 28, 2010

Word Play

Over the course of my years as an avid book reader, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to marvel at how social book reading can be, despite the fact that it is a decidedly solitary activity. Some of biggest “aha,” social synergy, wow-we-just-met-but-I-think-we-could-be-friends moments have been in the wake of discovering that someone loves some character, or passage of a book or line of poetry to the same degree that I do. Some of my favorite groups of people convene for book discussions. Recently, my brother and I discovered a way to connect in what I think may be an all time record low number of written words without even trying to.

My brother (two years my junior) and I have always been close despite our many differences: he’s an athlete, I’m a dweeb; he listens to talk radio while driving while I rock out to bad pop music; he’s a news junkie, I’m a lover of fiction; he lives in OH in a very adult house that he owns, while I’ve lived in three different New York apartments in five years. One thing we’ve always had in common, though, is an ease with and an appreciation for language. No one delivers an elegant, multi-layered joke with quite the finesse that he does, and while I nearly failed seventh grade math, English composition was always a breeze.

When I was home for Christmas two years ago, one of the gifts I asked for and received was a Scrabble set. I had recently started playing it online and had caught the bug. Given that our living room floor was scattered with new video games and DVDs, I knew getting anyone to play with me would be a stretch, but I somehow conned my brother into playing one game (probably in exchange for my playing one round of his new Wii game in return) and it ended up being hours before we took a break—he was as mesmerized as I was. We continued our epic stretches of Scrabble play throughout the rest of the days I was home, and by the time I got on the plane to go back to New York, it was a full blown addiction.

It was probably less than six hours after I had made it back to my New York apartment that I signed on to Facebook and saw that my brother had started several online games of Scrabble, and I quickly made my moves. By the end of the week, we had at least twenty games going.

While my brother and I have both always been big talkers, we’ve never been phone people. So, while I always enjoy our time together during my frequent trips home, and we always pick up where we left off without missing a beat, we rarely communicate during the stretches in between. Suddenly, though, we had daily correspondence. We started naming our games with little updates about our lives: “work is killing me,” “home for Easter in 7 days—get excited.” The game titles also quickly became a way to playfully but mercilessly tease and taunt each other the way we have since childhood. “Haha—I killed you there.” “Beating you never gets old.” Or, my favorite, “la la la loser.” By utilizing the “chat” function of the online Scrabble application, we started sending quick one line messages a few times a week.

Before long, I found myself depending on these games as a way not only to sharpen my Scrabble skills and flex my vocabulary muscle, but as a way to feel close to someone very far away. I started playing my games religiously every day, no matter how pressed for time I was or how much else I had on my plate. Friends became mystified when, in ticking off items on my to do list for any given day “play my Scrabble moves” was among them. I just couldn’t miss playing my turns every day. It would be like not returning one of my brother’s calls or forgetting his birthday.

Earlier this month, I went home for a few days to attend my five year reunion at Kenyon College only a few hours from home. My brother has always been friends with my college gang and since it was only a few hours from home, he came along. When I walked out to the car to meet him for the drive up to campus, he immediately started shaking his head in amusement at my outfit. Always the biggest critic of my slightly odd, colorful fashion sense, he was once again horrified at what I was wearing, this time a lemon yellow dress with red high top sneakers.

Throughout the night, we had a blast catching up with people we hadn’t seen in years and drinking more than we had since college. More than one of my collegiate pals have equally quirky taste in clothing, and a handful of people complimented my unusual sneaker/dress combo. Every time, my brother would stifle a laugh and shake his head a bit for my benefit as if to say, “don’t let them fool you—you’re still a weirdo.”

The reunion passed all too quickly, as vacations often do, and before I knew it I was back at work. Within an hour of signing back into my very full work inbox I was psyched to see that my brother had started a handful of new games. I quickly began examining the letters I had been given in the first game without even looking at its title. It was only after I had played my move, confident that I was on my way to finally beating him, that I looked up and saw it: “yellow dress, red sneakers.” No barb after. No derogatory adjective before it. After 27 years, I can assure you that in the unwritten code between us, this means: I had a really fun time with you this weekend. Thanks for bringing me along. I miss you. It is probably the only time my eyes welled up on account of only four words, and they were better than any novel I’ve ever read.

1 comment:

  1. My 79-year-old aunt lives alone in NYC and I work at home in Rhode Island. We have been playing daily FB Scrabble games for about a year and a half now. Like you and your brother, we also chat while we play, and exchange coded news through our games' names. Your post made me cry.