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For one brief, long-ago, shining moment, when a friend tore my retina leaving me with nothing to do but sit at home for a couple of months, my Scrabble game had an actual upwards trajectory.
I must take some credit, because I worked at it with the doggedness of a man building a wall: memorizing a handful of the English words starting with Q that don’t require a U; committing to memory some handy vowel drops; learning the value of two- and three-letter words, and the transformative power of the letter S.
I’m not implying anything resembling mastery or even bare competence, but I did improve.
Now, due to our present “stay the blazes at home” circumstances, I’m expecting a return to form.
It hasn’t happened yet. The scores, scribbled in a reporter’s stenographer notebook, on napkins, and the back of a Halifax Water envelope, between L (my wife) and J (me) are decidedly one-sided.
Since the lockdown began I do recall squeaking out one victory -- thanks to picking the Q and Z, worth 10 points apiece, and the ever-advantageous blank tile -- but have been unable to find written confirmation of this event.
Even so, there is less staring with a frown at the board for long periods of time before mumbling, “I guess I’m going to drop," fewer pauses as I determine a word’s legitimacy on the online Scrabble word finder under the guise of checking my email.
I have to tell you that I feel a little like Shane putting on his six-guns again when I shake the black tile bag around to mix the letters up at the start of every game.
I think the synapses are starting to fire a little more easily, even if the scores have yet to reflect this.
Everywhere, I know, people are finding ways to fill this free time that now opens like a chasm since the pandemic hit.
I’m still part of The Chronicle Herald and SaltWire teams proving the value of local newspapers every day during COVID-19, so I’m busy.
But where I sit typing these words, I can see my grandfather’s old saxophone case that, when I unsnap it, makes our dog slink from the room.
There are binoculars for looking at birds I mostly can’t identify. And a book that is meant to explain the geological history of Nova Scotia, once I get past the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks.
The Scrabble board — a folding model that handles for easy carrying — leans up against the far wall for easy access.
Some people, of course, didn’t need COVID-19 boredom to make them unpack it.
David Rodenhiser, once a scribe for Halifax’s The Daily News and later a communications pro for Nova Scotia Power, had six separate online Scrabble games going— “which is low for me" — when I messaged him Monday. (There’s a bit of a controversy in the online circuit these days, by the way, over Hasbro's and Mattel’s decision to make a new Scrabble mobile game dubbed Scrabble Go, which has miffed some of the hard-core players, but not Rodenhiser.)
He’s played every day since the lockdown, but, the truth is, he played every day before we were told to stay inside, too.
“It’s always been a way to exercise my brain, have some fun, and stay connected with friends,” he explained. “That hasn’t really changed.”
Practice apparently pays off: Rodenhiser once scored a to-me-unthinkable 585 points in a game, and 176 points on a single word.
He understands the notion of people turning to familiar pastimes to entertain themselves in these worrisome times.
“They could be breaking out an old board game, picking up a guitar, or getting an early start on their gardening,” he told me electronically. “I’ve seen friends post photos of their jigsaw puzzles — talk about kicking it old school.”
Whatever gets you through the long, housebound day.
We can’t forget what Premier McNeil and Doctor Strang, like disappointed parents, tell us over and over again: hey you, yeah YOU -- stay in where the virus can’t reach you.
In the privacy of home, of course, you can do whatever the hell you want. Scrabble's good but if you so desire you can take up the kazoo, or rhythmic dance, learn to juggle, or read ancient Etruscan.
There’s no hurry. The possibilities are endless. From the looks of it, we’re going to have lots of time.