Sunday, January 01, 2012

Just Talk To Harry

Not all of you might know it, but long time West Orange Chess Club member Harry S. Katz is an accomplished checkers player, even going so far as to give simultaneous exhibitions. To go back in time, to the old days, March 5th, 1998 seemed so long ago. What were you doing then and who were you with? Some of us would rather not remember back to that time, others do so fondly.

[The video and sound quality, admitedly are not great, but the emotion and heart is there. It is touching stuff. Watch Harry interact with his opponents, and his imprimatur. The word is gentleman.]

Most of the standing members know who Harry is, but for anyone new to our club or visiting the blog, it is to his family to which we owe our most sincere gratitude of appreciation. The Japanese have a term which aptly describes this emotion (and very much an emotion it is, not just an idea) called ‘on’, translated as debt of gratitude’ (Kanji: 恩, Kana: おん, favor, favor, obligation, debt of gratitude [1]). It is important in their society which is so much based on subtle nuances, to be mindful of and thus remember to acknowledge where things stand. That said, Harry’s wife Toby arranged for the use of our community facility based on her significant involvement in the Township of West Orange City Council. Thank you again Toby. Let us not forget. That said, before sharing his checkers video, and two very different videos after that, to tell a brief but poignant story:

Taking a new job, one our members was moved to Seattle, by the famed Architecture and Engineering firm, John Graham and Associates [2]. He tells how when he was but 33 or just old enough to be bold but still young enough to know that trying to access an executive in a new business environment might be incorrect and thus hesitated, tells how on a dark and wet fall day not long after starting taking his job, tells how he walked across the hall to the by now very old Mr. Graham’s office. His young ‘girlfriend’ (by then his wife) Lois sat outside the door to his large corner office overlooking the Puget Sound. He was 82 and she was probably 72. He knew to marry his cute, shocking blond secretary. Just picture them. The image of mature but fully established romance.

Poking his round the door to the antechamber, this new employee asked to be able to speak with Mr. Graham, and with a nod, given pass beyond her desk to his sweeping office. It was so long ago, that he by now finds it hard to remember exactly what they discussed, but remembers something about his at the time innovative catamaran sailboat, conspicuously shown in a large framed photo behind him, and carefully give obeisance to his many accomplishments, which included Seattle’s well known, iconic Space Needle, the centerpiece of the 1962 World’s Fair. He also designed one of the prototypes of the first mall (not sure if that is something by now to be proud of, but back then…).

His urge was to invite him to lunch, and see what could be learned. He was like that back then, and now misses that youthful desire and curiosity which fuels change and wonder. As he tells it, later that night his French-German girlfriend (the one who had been the runway model, ouch!) promptly told him that he should have asked this Mr. Graham to lunch. This love of his life was not only devastatingly beautiful, but also very smart, and right she was. He can still remember clearly thinking that he would just follow up in the next few weeks, for what harm would delay be, and prudent also, so as not to intrude as an unfamiliar person. But to his utter shock Mr. Graham was dead three weeks later (see obituary in the NY Times linked here, click red).

So what does this have to do with The West Orange Chess Club: Talk to Harry. We hope that this will not embarrass him, but what is there to lose? He says it himself, ALL the time. “I don’t know how much more time I have left, four months, four years’. Does anyone think he is dumb? That he has no idea, that he is denial? No. Talk to Harry. You might get something more than a few stories or insights from a ‘doddering old man’ [3] which if you wait, will one day not be able to get back. In addition to his checkers skills, maybe the least of it, he once sold a company to a Fortune 400 Corporation. You don’t think he has any insights? Talk to Harry. He also once sported a 1884 USCF rating, back in 1994 which is hardly a laughing matter. Just remember that over all these years rating inflation has been so significant, that it could plausibly be argued that this might easily if not surely equate to a strength of as great as 1950 ELO (or more!) in today’s rating numbers [4]. This is a little bit of chess skill, no? How will you do when you get to where Harry is? Will you still be playing, have sold a company, still be married, still be walking? Talk to Harry.

[1.] "'On' is the social and psychological obligation taken on with favors received from others. The word comes from warrior society when lords granted to followers. It has been only 120 years since Japan got out of its feudal system. At present it is still fundamentally a vertical society, which values strict orders and strong relationships among people of different ranks". ... "To forget 'on' is morally wrong. However, this kind of sentiment, as well as others considered to be traditional Japanese feelings, is gradually" decreasing [editor, correction for 'dismissing'].

[2.] Latter consolidated to Regional Firm, John Graham DLR Architects, Engineers, Planners.

[3.] Let’s not get our dandruff up over these words. While Harry did not ask for us to write this post, he nevertheless approves this message.

[4.] Think of solid Roger or Alberto, or think of Doran or Ian on a slightly off day, or if your prefer Matthew or Brian on a better day. This is not a laughing matter as far as chess knowledge goes from a class perspective!


Lev Zilbermintz said...

Very interesting! How about Harry writing a book? Would make interesting reading!

transformation said...

I guess some might call this sucking up. It is not. I count Harry as a friend. We email, we talk, we interact. Sincerely, he has far, far more than most know. I doubt what I wrote will swing many persons, but to me, it is not material, but moral.

A very astute and wise therapist I once got to know very closely, named Steven Ruden, once said to me: 'As we get older, we become invisible to the young'. Its true. Even at age 53 I have begun to see it.

Go to ANY Starbux near any major college, and see the young girls or handsome young men, take your pick. Or any man there for that matter with a smartPhone or other device, checking his sales figures or text messages.

We have gotten to where numbing down is the commonly accepted form of social interaction. When I met the boy next door, our first real conversation in a YEAR, ten feet from my door, he began our conversation by staring down into his smartPhone. How sad.

Fast forward. At the club, who takes time to talk to who? No complaints. I love my club. But Harry is here now. Talk to Harry. Ask him things about China or Plastics or post-war Europe or Kennedy or MLK or Fischer.