The Dark Bishop
“Émile’s the coolest dude in the world!” I thought to myself as I shook the giant’s hand. But that must’ve been the inner gym-rat in me talking. The guy was massive, built like an NFL player and never seemed to move away from his collected demeanor. He had a natural energy about him, something that made him believe that he whole city could kneel before him. He sat upright in his chair, feet rooted into the cobblestone, back straight, and eyes focused on the sidewalk. I had made my way to the square from the west, traveling Fourteenth Street’s signature wide sidewalks. It was a somewhat sunny afternoon but was becoming more and more cloudy as the day progressed. I had come here for a story, and hopefully, I will leave with just that. Émile didn’t seem like the friendliest person in Manhattan, but he was indeed personable. He seemed to talk to nearby individuals in a non-discriminatory manner – never quick to judge. But there was something about the way his arms crossed over his chest; hiding the embroidery arrayed on his jean jacket. Émile alluded to a sense of superiority, which kept outsiders away, and even created something of an imaginary bubble around Émile, his chess board, and what seemed like his subordinates. To the people that meet him – he was the coolest; to people looking at him from afar – best to keep your distance.
The game of chess has many different pieces and movements, and because of this, it is a complex game. The same goes for people. Some only move forewords, some along straight lines, and others tend to slide along a perpendicular course. We are capable of being any piece and choosing whichever movements we desire. However, we find ourselves in a world centered around difference, rules, and regulation. Throughout my studies, I’ve seen rules and regulation that are put in place to protect our liberties. Religion, money, and appearance are some of the things that hold the illusion that we are separate. My interview with Émile really brought to life this idea of difference and how a person may create something of a personalized exile of peace and prosperity within their given constraints.
The interview with Émile was difficult to piece together; mainly because of the its spontaneous nature. I began the study like most others; sitting nearby and patiently waiting for an opportunity to strike dialogue. I noticed his friends, who had been huddled near him began to venture off on what looked like a hunt for cigarettes. The “huddle” reminded me of something straight out a New York Jets game due to the size of the men. I figured this was as good of a time as any to try and converse. I began by inching forward, making it look as if I was meeting someone and keeping it as casual as I could. I could tell he noticed me as I continued to watch the crowds of people and intermittently checking my cell phone; watching for an imaginary friend that would not show. I released a light sigh and met him eyes.
DP: “Hey, how about a quick game?”
Émile tore his eyes off the Park Avenue and Fourteenth Street Intersection to glare down at me.
He waited a few seconds but then quickly responded with a smirk,
E: “Got your own pieces? – only have mine. These guys like using they own.”
I hadn’t noticed before, but he only had a one-sided board – the black pieces were in place, sternly faced toward an otherwise empty board. “Maybe it’s for the best, you’d probably wipe the floor with me!” I exclaimed. I tried my best to keep things light hearted. I had been slightly intimidated by his physiology and didn’t want to judge too quickly. Émile had lowered his arms to adjust his chess pieces, revealing the embroidery cross the chest of his jacket. I proceeded to share some of my true intentions from coming to the square that day. I left out the specifics and mentioned I was writing a research paper on the Chess Players of New York City. I was relieved to see him laugh in what seemed like an acknowledgment of my efforts. “Haha! Well whatcha wanna know?” Émile returned as we continued to build rapport. I explained to him that my goal was to target specific individuals playing chess throughout the Square, learn why they choose Chess over other board or card games, and why they personally value the game as a daily activity.
E: “Alright, name’s Émile. Ask away!” he responded. I proceeded to ask my first question:
DP: “What makes you choose Union Sqaure?”
E: “There really ain’t much too it, I worked down toward Houston for many years and started comin’ here with some friends growin’ up. We just keep doing it.”
I noticed his friends were beginning to stare from afar. He turned and yelled something int heir direction. He mentioned that one of them was an old family friend that was living with him.
DP: “Why do you play Chess?”
E: “We make money off it. The better you are the more you make – and we all need that money. People always think they good but they’re never good enough for us!”
I manipulated my final question based on the previous response.
DP: “Is there a significance to Chess that you value?”
E: “It’s a thinking man’s game. It ain’t for fools – you gotta be smart. You need to understand how to use each piece in relation to the other. Pawn is no less useful then the Queen if you know how to use em’.”
I concluded the interview shortly after Émile answered my final question. I could see that his friends were getting impatient with my role in his distraction. He offered me his hand before I took my leave. He had a very gentle handshake for someone with hands the size of a bunch of bananas! With that, I turned and began walking back towards University Place; a slight pep in my step. While waiting for the light, I glanced back to see that Émile had wasted no time and was now talking to someone knew. From what I saw, they must’ve been setting up the other side of the chess board in preparation for a game. There is a Dark Bishop on each side of the board. It is a common name within the Chess community for the bishop on the right side of each array of pieces. It only moves on the black tiles and will not travel over to the other half. I understand this to represent an analogy for Émile and his community as a whole. He sits among one of the most populated places in the country and doesn’t venture outside of his community. I feel as though this connects to a massive portion of America that doesn’t feel a sense of acceptance, yet carves out their own sense of fulfillment in whatever they do. I want to live in an America where social restriction isn’t a setback, but instead a tool for digging deeper and helping each other. Once we understand this, we’ll finally be able to play the game with synergy and collaboration. May the Dark Bishop embrace it’s strengths and move freely throughout the world.