Tactical Games

Chicago, USA
March 18, 2012

It's all fun and games... until your host mistakes you for being a white supremacist.

Friday night a friend invited me to a casual evening of drinks and games with housemates on the South Side. Our first hours were spent playing poker. We bet matchsticks in lieu of chips. I did surprisingly well given how seldom I play cards. After midnight, the choice for those yet awake evolved into Anagrams--a fast-paced game in which words are formed from individual lettered tiles.

In the middle of our play one of the guys I hadn't previously met who also lived in the apartment came over and stood next to me. I'd chatted very little with him but enough with his partner over the course of the evening to gather a superficial sense of who the couple were. They were from a formerly Soviet part of eastern Europe. It was their home we were gathered in. They were letting their spare room out to my friend who had invited me over. They were welcoming hosts, having a fair number of people over for the evening, both familar and unknown to them.

"You must be into tactical games!", he announced to me as I and everybody else in the room was focused on letters strewn out atop the table.

I didn't know what he was talking about. I'd never heard of "tactical games." I was mentally juggling what words could next be formed from letters lying face-up on the table.

"I do enjoy playing games," I said only half paying attention. "This one, Anagrams, is one of my favorites."

"No, tactical games," he emphasized. "Come, come. I want to talk with you."

Was this some kind of codespeak? I left the other players and followed him down the hallway. When we were away from everybody else he continued:

"My partner talked with you all night. She said after your conversation that she is pretty sure. Are you with white power?"

"Oh! I think you've got me all wrong... ," I said.

"But, you must be. Your haircut. Your beard. You must be with us."

Though drunk, he didn't seem to be putting me on. I wasn't sure the best approach with anybody who insisted that I must be with "white power". How could I respond? I improvised from experience.

When traveling in the part of the world he came from I'd noticed that men shook hands a lot when greeting and saying goodbye. They would also put on more public displays of fraternal affection. So, I shook his hand vigorously. I clapped him on the shoulder a couple times. I reiterated that, no, despite my shaven head and recently-grown scraggly beard, he actually had me all wrong. Sorry, I'm not with white power.

"Well, I welcome you any time you want to join us!", he said. "We go out together into the woods every few weeks. We play 'tactical games' together. If you want, you can join with us. You would enjoy, I am sure," he said, evidently still missing the point that I wasn't party to whatever scenes he was into.

I pumped his hand a few more times and thanked him for his invitation. I returned to the table, sat back down, and carried on playing Anagrams. When the game finally finished after another half hour of tile-turning one of the other players asked me:

"What did he want to talk with you about?"

"Oh, nothing important," I said. "He just wanted to see if I was interested in playing tactical games."