Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Life Worth Living


A Short Story Written by Chuck Negron

William Stewart will soon be turning 75 years of age. He is concerned about his quality of life moving forward owing to the tremors in his hands and weakness in his extremities. He submitted to a series of tests in hopes of revealing the source of his predicament. 

William was born in New York City at Harlem Hospital Center, 506 Lenox Ave. Baby William would spend his formative years in Spanish Harlem with his mother, Carmen, and his father, Bill. 

Meet William's Parents

Carmen Lopez was born in San Germàn, Puerto Rico, in 1921. San Germàn was a quiet, humble town in which surrounding areas produced sugarcane, fruit, coffee, and tobacco. Carmen immigrated to America with her family and established a residence in Harlem. 

  San Germàn, Puerto Rico

From the 1920s through World War II, a large contingency of Puerto Rican families immigrated to the United States and settled in a section of Harlem, eventually referred to as Spanish Harlem. Today, it is called East Harlem, or, colloquially, El Barrio.

Bill Stewart, William's father, and his family travelled from Kent, England, to The Colonies and established residence in Harlem. Harlem has always been a melting pot of varied cultures and nationalities. At one time, it was called Italian Harlem and today there still remains a smaller area of the Harlem community that is primarily Italian.

Carmen and Bill met in Central Park at The Chess & Checkers House. Bill was there in hopes of playing a match or two, and Carmen was with a girlfriend who was playing checkers with a young man.

 Central Park Chess & Checkers House

Carmen and Bill noticed each other and spent the rest of the afternoon talking. From that day forward, they became a couple. Their relationship made them both perfectly content. It was comforting to have each other to navigate through a new country with so many different nationalities.

A year passed and Bill asked Carmen to marry him. While planning for the wedding, Carmen and Bill learned they were expecting a child. Their two families were from separate worlds and denominations. The Lopez family was Catholic while the Stewart's were Protestant.

Culture Clash

The differences in their ethnicities and cultures manifested an indifference and some racial bias endured. These families knew virtually nothing of the other's nationality or descendants, but that doesn't stop human beings from judging one another.

To elaborate on my point of view I would ask two questions:

1) In the 1920s, how many Puerto Rican families lived in Kent, England?
2) Were there any English or other European families living in San Germàn, Puerto Rico?

The answer is most likely none.

So, with no possible interaction nor personal history with one another, how can they disparage and discriminate against each other? Do we instinctively snub others with a different appearance and background, or is it learned behavior? Some psychologists feel human beings are naturally drawn to similar genders, ethnicity, race, and even political preference.

People are comforted by others with the same physical resemblance, culture, and iconic symbols of affiliation. On the contrary, human beings seem threatened by other groups of people with dissimilar appearance and history. Taking into consideration the latter, how and why does prejudice manifest itself? Most likely it begins when people cut out and divide each other into separate groups. The group, team, gang, or soldier is inclined to think and feel comparably. They are predisposed to an adversarial view of other groups. The -ism takes its first breath when we choose not to understand nor embrace those who are different or in other groups.

Bill's fear is that if the families continue their conduct, it will fester and grow until it is too big to control. Having the possibility of a new beginning, in "The Land of Opportunity," only to bring the baggage multitudes in the world coming to America are trying to escape is wretched.

Ten Years Later

Carmen and Bill's son, William, is 12-years old now. William feels fortunate to have four grandparents who dote over him. With the happiness of their son, daughter, and grandchild at stake, the two families were once invested in cordiality and peace when William was first born, but that is no longer the narrative, which sadly evaporated over time.

 Carmen, Bill, and William 

Mr. Lopez, after ten years of success in his line of work, finds himself unemployed. He's seriously contemplating relocating to Tampa, Florida, to reunite with his brother and accept a lucrative job offer he has recently received. Unbeknownst to Bill, his wife, Carmen, is contemplating abandoning him and their son, William, and departing New York for Tampa, Florida, with her family! 

The Lopez and Stewart families continually scorch one another with subtle, and often blatant, behavior calculated to disrespect the other's ethnicity. Bill and Carmen also began animated arguments under the guise of defending their family from the stereotypical racial slurs being expressed. Carmen, calm and relatively detached, rationalizes her decision to leave to her son, William, and her husband, Bill. 

Astonished and distressed, Bill cannot find the words to voice his feelings. William, confused, but revealing an understanding and acceptance far beyond his years, asks his mother, "Will you be coming back?" "No," answers Carmen.

Weeks pass, but Bill is still unable to comprehend how a mother can abandon her child. On the other hand, William starts frequenting The Chess & Checkers House in Central Park as well as Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Many of New York's best chess players come to Washington Square Park to compete. Bobby Fischer, the youngest to ever win the U.S. Chess Championship at 14 and additionally winning the World Championship at 15, also played chess at Washington Square Park. 

William's father taught him to play chess when he was 6 and they still share their love of the game together at least once a week. 

A Watchmaking Family

Mr. Stewart came to America founded on an offer from Henry Fried, who is referred to by the New York Times as the "dean of American watchmakers", to be his apprentice. 

In 1940, the Battle of Britain raged above the fields and villages of Kent, England, spilling debris as German and English planes fell from the sky. Kent was heavily bombed leaving "Stewart's Watch Makers" in ruins. With literally nothing left, Bill convinced his family to emigrate to America.

     Kent, England, World War II

Bill's position with Henry Fried was more than he ever imagined. Bill once looked at watch making and repair as an occupation, but now he sees it as an art or a calling! Henry Fried is a brilliant artist creating beautiful masterpieces. He can take a broken, neglected watch and breathe fresh life into it as well as years of perfect time.

Henry Fried was the first to teach watch and clock making at the technical high school in NY. He taught for 35 years and in that span of time he wrote three books which were widely considered a must have for anyone wanting to make or repair watches:

1) The Watch Repairer's Manual
2) The Watch Escapement
3) The Electric Watch Repair Manual

Mr. Fried instructed William on the importance of not just loving the occupation you choose, but also being passionate and inquisitive about learning. William had been tutored on watch making and repair by Mr. Fried since he was 9 and his father began bringing him to work with him. 

Bill made a conscious effort to spend time with William. Considering both father and son enjoy chess, they spent much of their free time in Washington Square Park playing chess.

Washington Square Park

A New Apprenticeship

For the better part of a year, William had become a gifted chess strategist. Mr. Stewart was approached by William Lombardy, a chess writer, teacher, and former Catholic priest, concerning William being his apprentice. Mr. Lombardy became the first American to win the World Junior Chess Championship, which also made him an international chess champion. He coached Bobby Fischer from age 11 until he was 29 preparing him for the highest profile chess match in the history of the game. They designated the competition as "The Match of The Century" in which Fischer beat the Soviet Union's World Champion Boris Spassky.

 William Lombardy & Bobby Fischer 

 Match Of The Century 

Bobby Fischer was intrigued regarding Mr. Lombardy's new apprentice, William Stewart, so he inquired if they might meet. William was overjoyed about the prospect of meeting Bobby Fischer and possibly playing a game of chess with him. Throughout the day, William fantasized of beating Bobby with thousands of onlookers and screaming girls chanting "We Love William!" That scenario was eventually replaced with the fear and reality of losing badly in front of everyone! 

The day in which William met Bobby arrived and Mr. Stewart prompted his son to get ready for it was time to leave. They would take the A train at 125th Street and travel about 30 minutes to Washington Square Park. As William and his Dad walked through the park, they noticed just a short distance away there were hundreds of people surrounding the chess tables. Bobby Fischer, just 12-years old, was playing 5 separate matches with 5 different opponents at the same time--walking back and forth unceremoniously defeating them one by one.

Bobby Fischer Playing Multiple Matches

Watching 12-year old Bobby and 14-year old William meet for the first time was wonderfully endearing! It was as if they yearned for the friendship they had just found. Mr. Lombardy informed Mr. Stewart that he had never seen Bobby act his age, laugh, and simply fool around. Mr. Lombardy and Mr. Stewart graciously interrupted the boys to inquire if they were ready to play a match together? William became excited and nervous, but Bobby was visibly upset. It was more important to Bobby for William to be his friend. Also, he had no need or desire to beat him in a chess match and that was fine with William. 

On the train ride home, Mr. Stewart, curious why the chess match never materialized, asked his son if he knew the reason. William, trying to express his feelings, explained that Bobby knew he would be unable to restrain himself from becoming a ruthless competitor once the match began and he did not want that part of him to hurt their friendship.

William made a discovery today observing Bobby play chess. It was obvious the love, commitment, and God-given talent young Fischer exhibited. William believed he had the same attributes and passion when it came to creating new watches from discarded ones. Until he watched Bobby, William didn't realize he could make a career doing something he would do for free.

William revealed to his father the decision he made to follow in the family business of watchmakers.

A New Century

Years pass and a new century is at hand. Mr. Stewart is retired and still looks forward to his chess nights with his son. Mr. Fried has passed, but spent everyday of his life teaching someone about watches and clocks. Mr. Lombardy became a Chess Master and wrote several books including:

1) Chess for Children, Step by Step
2) Guide to Tournament Chess
3) Chess Panorama

William's mother, Carmen, passed away leaving a husband and two children behind. She never contacted her son after abandoning him.

Coming to Grip with Reality

A lifetime has seemed to vanish for William since he lost his father. He so desperately pines for just one more night of chess with his dad! The results from his test have arrived and the prognosis was not what William was expecting. His trembling hands and weak extremities are being caused by Parkinson's Disease. Parkinson's is a debilitating disease, but it can have a slow onset and, in that stage, medication can help with tremors. 

William's major fear is that he will no longer be proficient with the tweezers, which separates the men from the boys in watchmaking and repair. Primary skills necessary in William's occupation are excellent hand/eye coordination, good eyes, and steady tweezer capabilities! He has been working on a watch for several years feeling quite content taking his time and enjoying the process. He no longer has the luxury of time owing to his new situation. 

    Tweezers Skills

    William's Handmade Watch

Making and repairing the broken, neglected, and discarded watches has been his life and without that he feels there will be no rationale or desire to be here anymore! Everyone he loved is gone and now his artistry and love of creating soon will also be gone. 

William fell asleep crying, but woke up anticipating positive results from the medication that would help reduce the tremors. Upon leaving the hospital and filling his prescription, he decided to take a train ride to Union Square where most of the best chess players are these days. The move was made primarily for money since there is so much more traffic and businesses in the area. The majority of chess there is now played for money.

William is enjoying the excitement of the betting and the tension in the games. Feeling somewhat melancholy owing to an influx of fond memories playing chess in the park with his father, Mr. Lombardy, and Bobby Fischer, William is at peace with his condition.

William and Bobby

Before Bobby passed away in 2008, while living in Reykjavik, Iceland, he and William spoke often. Bobby believed there was a conspiracy against him by the U.S. government.  His U.S. passport was revoked for participating in a non-sanctioned chess match against Boris Spassky in The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which was under U.N. sanctions at the time. Bobby had become paranoid, but still trusted his long-time friend, William. Even when Fischer was dealing with mental issues and moving from Hungary to Germany, the Philippines, and Japan, he would call his childhood friend. 

Fischer would begin most conversations with, "Don't worry I scanned the rooms for cameras and bugs and couldn't find any." Bobby would speak to the conspiracies America and other countries were hatching against him. Bobby's mother was a Russian Jew and at one time he would not play a match on The Sabbath. At this point in his life, he would go on tirades about his royalties being stolen by Jews along with vulgar, anti-Semitic rhetoric. As sad and upsetting as it was to hear Bobby speak this way, William always listened without judging considering Bobby's paranoia and deteriorating mental health.

 Bobby Fischer in Iceland, 2005

When William arrived home, he sat in his favorite chair, and like an email to the brain, he remembered what Bobby had said to him during their last conversation. Amid what could be comparable to a spiritual shift, Bobby commenced telling his old friend how much he respected him as a man, artist, chess player, and friend. Bobby continued, describing how being the best chess player in the world was insignificant in comparison to William, who was a gifted and wonderful human being. 

"William, you have always lived...A Life Worth Living!"

           William Stewart, Watchmaker