At the end of the fourth day of the North American Scrabble Championship (which most of us Scrabbleheads still refer to by its former name, “the Nationals”) in Reno, after I had packed up all of my equipment and was about to leave the playing venue to walk back to the hotel, I noticed a few people gathered around near the door to the lobby. As I approached, I saw that fellow competitor Stefan Fatsis (famous on the Scrabble scene as the author of the wonderful book Word Freak) and his tween-aged daughter were holding court for a small crowd of admirers and assorted hangers-on.
I had no idea that Fatsis’ daughter was playing in this tournament (in a division higher than my own, I might add). Sure, I saw the name Chloe Fatsis on the roster. I stupidly assumed that she was his wife. Oh, how darling, husband and wife traveling together from the east coast to share the experience of playing in the Nationals.
Actually, Fatsis is married to Melissa Block. Chloe, no shrinking violet by any means, proudly informed those gathered around that she competed in her first Scrabble tournament at the age of ten and that, at the time, she was still a bit too young for the experience. That was, what, three years ago? Should I also mention that she made the playoffs (a feat that neither her dad nor I managed) and that she won $300 in prize money?
As I explained in my last post, we oldsters haven’t the slightest chance against these bright youngsters.
A bit starstruck, I confessed to Fatsis the elder that I had read his book cover to cover three times and that it had a major influence on my decision to join the traveling tournament show that is known as the national Scrabble circus, er, circuit. I then further embarrassed myself by admitting that my favorite part of Word Freak was Fatsis’ description of finding himself able to make the eight-letter play FEELINGS and then being unable to get the Morris Albert song of that title out of his head.
I’m glad I wasn’t the only gawker awed to be in Fatsis’ presence for a few minutes. Marvin, a college economics professor who ended up one place ahead of me in the standings, was right there next to me. He admitted to having 19 wins so far in the tournament and I blurted out that I had the same. Fatsis very graciously told us that he had never had that many wins at any tournament.
“But you don’t play down in Division 4 like we do,” I added.
“I once played in Division 4 and I never had 19 wins,” he responded.
The man is both humble and kind. Case closed (if for no other reason than that Chloe announced that she was ready to go for dinner).
I’m just glad that none of those assembled asked for Fatsis’ autograph. Now that would have been embarrassing.
Of course, if my copy of Word Freak hadn’t been back home in Sacramento sitting on my book shelf, well, you never know.