Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Chess Club Part Five.

Today we continue with the saga of Egor and Boris Vasilovich Kostin from the time of the chess tournament in January of this year. I will print the sixth and final episode either tomorrow or within a few days depending on my being here. I have a lot to do this week and very little time to get it done. These next two writings by the way come from the 16th of January, a few days after what happened at the tournament.

And again, for those of you who are just tuning in, I apologies if this is confusing, but as this is a daily post the entries follow one another in reverse order. So, I guess you just have to sort of scroll down and then work your way back up

And finally, and on behalf of Egor, I would like to thank those of you who have written. The letters have been overwhelmingly positive and sympathetic and really, it is very much appreciated. And also, thank you to those of you who sent birthday wishes for Egor. I think he has got a pretty decent enough day going. There was some nice presents in the morning, Tatyana prepared a feast for breakfast (a family tradition) and he is currently out playing war with his friends on a stunningly beautiful July 5th.

So without further ado, here is part five of the chess chronicles.

Some words that were needed to be said.

When I was about 11 or so, I played little league baseball. One day my coach said or did something that led me to believe that I should go home rather than play in the game. I don’t remember what I did, but it was enough for him to send me home. I was watching TV when my dad got home. He asked why I wasn’t playing baseball and I told him what the coach had said. Dad got pissed. He threw me in the car, drove at high speed over to the ballpark where the game was still in progress. He promptly grabbed the coach by the shirt, tossed him up against the fence in front of everybody and informed him, rather directly, that the kids were to be able to play and his job was not to get in the way of that.

I guess this is kind of similar to our situation. But as for this Chess Club business, Boris Vasilovich is an old man with a heart condition and I don’t think I am going to do any shirt grabbing, however much I may feel like it.

Oh, and for what it is worth, when my coach put me in the game as a pinch hitter with two outs in the last inning, I struck out on three pitches.

Everyone was nervous on Thursday morning.

Tanya and I were still angry with each other over the previous day’s argument. The baby was crying and asking to be fed about twice as often as usual. Egor woke up late, ate too slow and refused to get moving to school. Tanya wouldn’t stop bothering anybody. Nobody was happy. There was too much tension. Our meeting with Boris Vasilovich would not be until four in the afternoon, and it would be a long day until then.

This business with the Chess Club had become too much. All we wanted was for Egor to change teachers and get away from Boris Vasilovich. We wanted to do this because Boris Vasilovich had openly attacked him at a chess tournament before a game that could have given him the inside track to winning. That game would have been against Kosty, the Chess club star and the Grandson of one of Pinsk Chess’ greatest figures and that was why Boris Vasilovich put the kibosh on Egor. The previous day’s conversations had shown us that the level of Kosty’s protection was actually so enormous as make all of this seem to be potentially an international incident.
We still had several hours though before we were to meet with Boris Vasilovich himself, but passing the time was going to be anything but easy. Egor had been gone to school about an hour when Tatyana started screaming. The baby had been mauling her nipples so badly when she fed that Tanya was becoming hysterical with tears from the pain. I asked her to write for me the correct word for a plastic feeding cover for her breasts. We had thought to buy something like this a couple of nights before but the pharmacy (Apteka) across the street didn’t have any. I guess Wednesday wasn’t a problem but this morning was agony.

I didn’t bother to put on a sweater or a hat because it has been so warm here lately that I thought I didn’t need them. I just grabbed my blue jacket, unlocked my bike and road to the next closest Apteka which was on Lenin Street. They didn’t have anything there like a silicone feeding cover either, but the pharmacist was nice enough to call over to the apteka on Lenin Square for me. She called, but the instrument wasn’t there either.

So, I got back on the bike. There was another Apteka on Lenin street (Not today), on Zavalnya (Nope, but that lady also made several phone calls), at the beginning of Piervamayskaya (No, but we knew you were coming) and three others later on that street. I also tried seven Kiosks and walked through the whole Piervamayskaya Bazaar- all no’s. It was actually pretty cold outside, especially after it started to rain but I kept on going and eventually rode all the way out to the "rod dome" where Anya was born. They didn’t have any there either, though the lady in their Apteka was kind enough to sell me a rather expensive nipple creme; there was a cheaper one, but that one’s cheaper, was how she explained it to me.

On the way back I found what were probably the last two Apteka’s in town and from the last, I received a phone number to call later that day. That lady told me that they might just be able to get one for us, perhaps today or tomorrow. I took the number with gratitude and then, noticing what was in the cabinet in front of me, bought in a fit of logic, a pacifier.

I was wet and cold when I came home and was greeted with the news that Tatyana had found that rubbing some crushed apple on her nipples made them feel better. Apples here are only fifty cents a kilo. I wish she would have told me that sooner. I gave her the phone number, got my screaming daughter stoned on teddy bear and pacifier and went and took a hot bath.

When I finished, I went back to work on writing about all of this. Those conversations with Janna and Grib’s mother really had me going. I suppose it is the most natural thing in the world to want the best for your kids. And the conversations between the chess moms and Leonid Nikolaivich Linderenko, the guy we want to replace Boris Vasilovich with, seems to indicate that our problem with what had happened at the tournament were being thought of as typical chess parent jealousy by everyone.

But I disagree. The truth of the matter is that there really isn’t that great of a difference between Kosty’s talent, Grib’s and Egor’s. I say this because I have played over 600 games against Egor, and until recently I could at least hang in there at about 50%. This is just simply no longer true because he beats me pretty much all the time. Also, he has proven that he can win on the chess program on the computer at a very similar level to where the leaders of this chess school play. And of course, he was in the tournament until that fateful moment when Boris Vasilovich decided to off him. To me, there is some real evidence of abuse here and so rather than blow off what I had heard form the moms, I was thinking that little Egor had in fact been had. And as this was the case, there wasn’t going to be a lot of discussion with Boris Vasilovich because any arguments he might make would simply be his trying to cover his own ass. I just didn’t believe he gave a crap about Egor anymore. I mean, I would listen, but you would have to go a long way to tell me I didn’t know what I was looking at.

However, we did have another "in house" problem.Tanya was scared shitless. I can’t really blame her. Everything in her upbringing and in her life had taught her not to rock the boat and certainly not to buck authority. And if you don’t think Stalin’s effect and the reality of KGB disappearances isn’t real here in the former USSR, think again. Boris Vasilovich is very much "the man" in Chess Club and his stature and connectedness is a big deal. In Tatyna’s mind, Egor’s being black balled was a very likely thing and she was absolutely terrified about what Boris Vasilovich might do if it came down to a fight.

I however am still very much an American and my thinking is that you just can’t lay down and die and pretend that things don’t happen. I mean, you try and be wise about picking your battles, but sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do.

But of course this is just the logic. Tanyas discomfort with Egor’s predicament, a discomfort aggravated by sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion courtesy of Anya, had her screaming insults and threatening physical harm. This of course started yet another screaming match and restarted our skirmish from the previous day. Logic and reason of course having little or nothing to do with caring for new babies…

Egor was at school when all of this started. I could go on about how different the cultures are and how little I may or may not know about how things work around here, but at the bottom line Tatyana simply did not want any part of this any more. She simply didn’t want Egor touched by this. It was not as if she really wanted to keep Boris Vasilovich, but she was now completely terrified that this incident would break Egor or at least ruin his chess. She was now too angry and frightened and was simply too afraid to touch anything. I was not. In the end, Chess Club is Egor’s business, but his growing up is ours. If the situation called for confronting a teacher, than that is what had to happen. And, if we were going to confront a teacher about something he had done directly to Egor, then Egor had the right to be there in person. Tatyana though wasn’t buying and hit me with an ultimatum that if the boy went to the meeting she would not. I opted to take my chances with the language problem and leave her at home. And that’s how we finally decided to do it.
Egor got home from school at about 2:30. He had time enough to basically only set up his homework and then the three of us sat down to eat something. The fight was still hot though and we started up again at the table. The fighting was awful and the baby started crying in the middle of it. I picked her up and put her on my shoulder and came back to the table. I though that this would calm things down but after about 30 seconds it started up again. I wanted this whole episode to be calm and business like but Tatyana was simply going off.

During all of this the phone rang. Tanya jumped up. The phone we have reports the number of who is doing the calling and when we heard it was Boris Vasilovich, she stopped and didn’t pick up the receiver.

"He knows he is guilty." Said Tatyana.

"That’s right. Let’s count the rings. I bet there is at least ten."

"Maybe we should answer…"

"He just wants to find out what is going on over the phone. He knows what’s up." The ringing stopped after eight.

I thought that this moment would unify us but it didn’t and Tatyana started up again. That was enough for me. I grabbed my coat and hat, handed the kid his, and we simply walked out. We would be early for the 4:00 Chess Club start, but fuck it, let’s just get this thing over with already.

I was mad as hell and this was the last thing I wanted. Going into an important meeting when you are all furious is absolutely stupid. But here I was on my way over to Egor’s school with smoke coming out of my ears. Jesus…

On the way over I tried to ask the kid to help if we needed any translations but realized this would probably make things even worse then they already were. It was cold and overcast. There were a couple of drops of rain and the streets were damp. I asked him at least seven times if he was sure in his mind about what had happened. We replayed the incident again and again. I asked him for Boris Vasilovich’s exact words, how he said them, and whether or not it could have been a joke. The kid was cool. He was dead sure what had happened. And in the end so was I. But really I was still a little nervous too.

Boris Vasilovich was not yet at the school. We checked upstairs in the room where the kids study, but the door was still locked. We decided to wait for him outside near the gate. As we left the building though, we could see him walking up towards the school.

"It’s him." Said Egor.

"I see him." Boris Vasilovich is about five foot five, and about 170 pounds. He is a little stout, wears thick glasses and has a disarming smile as well as a rather pronounced air of authority. He was the director of his factory in the day, and still has the dignity that such an office brings. I looked down as we walked toward him avoiding eye contact until we were closer.


"Zdrastvichi" I took a deep breath and started to speak as carefully as I could.

"Boris Vasilovich, may I speak to you about something for a few minutes. It is very important."

"Of course." He offered me a friendly and winning smile.

"I feel that we have a problem. And it is very serious. What happened at the tournament was a very difficult business. I think it was very bad that you spoke to Egor about how he must think about losing before his game with Kosty. Egor felt terrible after this. I know you think that you were right in what you did, but I don’t agree.

"Tatyana and I have spoken to Linderenko about becoming Egor’s new teacher, and he said that we must come and speak to you about this first. So, we are here speaking to you. I want you to agree to let Egor go, immediately and to also agree to let him study right away with Linderenko. Egor needs a trainer, and I do not wish him to have to wait until September." He had been nodding as he was listening, indicating that he was trying to listen respectfully. And when I finished, he gave a final nod and smiled at me.

"I am not sure I completely understand all what you have said." He started. "But I think that you do not understand all what had happened at the tournament."

"You said something about losing to Egor before his game with Kosty." I said.

"No, I think that he misunderstood me. You see the tournament was a team format…"

"Egor was playing independent."

"Yes. Do you think he should have been on the team? I had three players who were ahead of him."

"No, this is not what I am saying. I am saying that Egor WAS in the tournament."

"Yes. But I don’t think you understand what the situation was. It was team format. I wanted to help the team." He smiled at me. Obviously I was being foolish.

"You spoke to him before he would play for first place."

"Ah, do you know how many parents come to me and tell me that their children should be first or should be receiving more attention? Do you think that Egor has worked harder than Kosty or than Grip?"

"I am not asking for this. This is about what happened at the tournament."

"You were not there at the tournament."

"Egor told us and then I saw, after."

"I think Egor simply didn’t tell you what happened correctly."

"I am listening." I remembered my father throwing that baseball coach against the fence. I was staring daggers at the old man.

"The situation at the tournament was that Gulaivich was on the team and Egor wasn’t. I didn’t tell him he should lose, only that if he would have lost, I wouldn’t have scolded him." He offered a big smile. This had all been a silly misunderstanding.

He had used the word, "rugat", which means scold, yell at, swear at etc. "I didn’t say he should lose, only that I wouldn’t have scolded him if he had." Egor had said that this was indeed the word that Boris Vasilovich had used. But Egor had also said that Boris Vasilovich had been "Zloy", angry with him when he said it. In fact, he had been furious when he had said it and dragged him off to the coatroom, away from the others to yell at him. The other trainers had apparently enjoyed the moment of Egor’s winning his fifth game, had enjoyed that it had created a little tension and they had all come to shake his hand after the win. But Boris Vasilovich had spoken to him with anger. He had not shaken Egor’s hand or smiled, and regardless of what words were used, he had definitely shocked and scolded him.

I stared at the old man. I was furious. Boris Vasilovch was a lying son-of-a-bitch and Egor saw it too. I looked at Egor and he looked as though his heart was going to break at what he was listening to. Boris Vasilovich was gone. I spoke very calmly and slowly.

"I understand what you have said. We would like for Egor to begin studying with Linderenko immediately. Egor needs a Chess trainer and Linderenko has said that we needed to speak to you first before he could begin. I am asking for your agreement to let him go right now." Boris Vasilovich waived his hand at me and attempted to walk past me.

"I don’t understand any of this. Your Russian is terrible and you understand nothing of our situation." I had not moved. I called after him.

"I am asking for your agreement simply to let Egor go and to be able to train with Linderenko…" He waved his hand at this.

"Linderenko, Linderenko; do you know how long I have been Egor’s trainer? Three and a half years! Do you think that this has all been chess and nothing more?"

"You told him to lose."

"He didn’t understand what I was saying." He had sat on the stairs of the school and had taken out his heart medicine and had taken a tablet. I looked at Egor when he did this and Egor made a face. He didn’t believe he needed the medicine either.

"He understood exactly what you were saying and came home crying because of it." I said, "We want you to release him right now!" I was standing in front him as he sat on the stairs. He stood up and walked past me again and towards the trees.

"I don’t understand any of this. I don’t understand your Russian. I am an old man, and I don’t need these problems. Don’t you understand my heart hurts." I guess he thought I would follow him but I hadn’t. He stopped and fussed with something in his pocket.

"Mr. Vasilovich…" I started and then realized my mistake. I had used the word mister on purpose but I had not used his last name. I corrected myself very slowly. "Mr. Kostine…" I pronounced it with an emphasis on the last syllable. When I made the correction, his body shook. I guess he had thought that I had made a fool of myself with the mistake but the correction hit home. Maybe he thought I hadn’t known his last name, or maybe he thought that I might have been buying his act, but either way, I could see at this moment that he understood that the ride was over. "Mr. Kostine, I need for you to release Egor from your class so that he can begin to study with Linderenko immediately. Egor needs a trainer. And am asking for your agreement."

This asking for agreement is very Russian. I used the word "Soglossen", agreement with emphasis. He understood completely. He started to walk towards the school. The conversation was not over but he was going to try and make a run for it. The following was as he was marching towards the school. "Mr. Kostine, I need your agreement."

"You don’t know what you are doing."

"Mr. Kostine, I need your agreement."

"I agree, I agree. I agree to everything…"

"Are you saying Egor can study with Linderenko?"

"Linderenko, whoever you want." He waved me away.

"And he can study right away?"

"Yes, yes, right away. How you want."

"Egor, did you hear him?" I said. This stopped Vasilovich. I suppose he had forgotten that Egor was there and had not taken his eyes off of him.

"Yes." said Egor, loud and clear.

"Did you hear what he said?"


"Egor says that he has heard you, sir."

Boris Vasilovich stopped walking right before the door. He made only a half turn around, he wasn’t looking straight at us, his body still going though the door, but he had stopped.

"You want me to simply "set Egor free"? Even after all of this time?"

"Yes. This is what he and I want."

"You don’t know what you are doing."

"I need your agreement. We want Egor to have a new trainer."

"I agree. Good luck to you."

"Thank you." I said. And we watched him go into the school.

We were both a little stunned, but happy, I think. We didn’t say much for a while and then Egor chimed in that that bit about the heart medicine wasn’t real. I told him I didn’t think so either.

From 16 January, 2005

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