When I was a junior in high school, my locker partner was a National Merit Scholar, who had a photographic memory with a smidgen of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Our locker was a hoot.

The top shelf was the definition of neatness. Notebooks on the bottom, then books, stacked largest to smallest; the left edge of each perfectly in line with the others. To the right of the books was a Bic pen, which had been in its owner’s possession since the beginning of 8th grade, (And was in exactly the same condition as the day it was purchased), a No. 2 pencil and a Rosary, placed so the crucifix faced outward. And taped to the top of the door, just below the vent, was a holy card of St.Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of students. (A gift from his Mom on the first day of school.)

As for the second shelf …

From bottom to top, a slew of candy wrappers, crumpled papers, (mostly story notes), unfinished homework, finished, forgotten homework, copies of “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Cats Cradle” and “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater,” that were due back in the school library a semester and a half ago, textbooks whose pages were dog-eared, not from overuse but from merely existing in that environment, plastic straws (should an impromptu spit wad war erupt in the hall — often did), a chewed up pen that was found on the floor, and way back in the corner was a Rosary. And just beneath the holy card on the door, was a Eugene McCarthy bumper sticker and the cover of the August 1971 edition of Playboy magazine. (I dare you to find it, Father Stewart.) Truth is I was terrified he’d find it, so I destroyed it on my own, but that doesn’t suit the story, does it?

The bottom of the locker served as the repository for all the slag that didn’t survive the second shelf. (Or should I say, those things that bailed ’cuz they just couldn’t take it anymore.)

Well, one fateful day, my locker partner decided to teach me to play chess. (The phrase, “explaining Renaissance poetry to a puppy”comes readily to mind.)

Surprisingly, I picked up the rudiments of the game rather quickly. However, strategy and concentration were and are foreign to me so, as you might expect, I never beat him. Our conversations during said games consisting of me swearing and him (most patronizingly) saying things like, “I’ll win in four moves if you do that.” or “Are you really sure you want to do that?”

However, there was the time when he was horribly off his game, and I managed to capture his queen and both his bishops. In fact, I had him down to his king, both rooks, a knight and three pawns. Fully drunk with power, I sent my queen on the offensive with such ferocity, I completely lost sight of the pawn he steadily marched toward my end of the board. The pawn reached its goal, he retrieved his queen, and the rest was a humiliating blur.

Turns out that year was rife with lessons I’d carry to this day.

My locker experienced perfectly prepared me to be married for decades to a “Place for everything and everything in its place,” label-making, spending-an-entire-vacation-day-rearranging-a-closet, sweet, sweet woman. (Nice save, huh?)

And the chess game prepared me for life itself.

Seriously. Tell me you’ve never been just tooling along, thinking you have life down to its king, both rooks, a knight and thee pawns, and then while you’re not paying attention, life retrieves its queen, and there you go …

When such a thing happens to you, I just hope your opponent is as gracious as mine was. For as I hung my head in shame, uttering words that could warp the wallpaper, he smiled and said, “Sometimes it just turns out that way.”

There are no deeper political messages here. (Unless you want to read them in …) I just thought my little story would be a nice respite from the 2020 rabbit hole.

Craig Carter is an Ontario resident and can be reached in care of The Argus Observer, 1160 S.W. Fourth St., Ontario, OR 97914. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of the Argus Observer.

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