“I believe in God in order to be an atheist. It’s not comfortable to be a believer, it’s a hard and perpetual battle, like an ongoing toothache. Believe me, since man is born he’s been lying.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Devils
In the ritzy suburban city of Northern Virginia, just a stone’s throw away from the nation’s bustling capital lived a young man named Tim Shiblon. The Shiblon family was a prominent one, known for their unwavering Calvinist faith and their affluent lifestyle. Yet, Tim was the black sheep of the clan, for he had strayed far from the path of his ancestors, committing what his parents deemed apostasy.
Tim Shiblon’s obsession with chess had reached a point of no return. He was not merely a chess enthusiast; he was a bona fide fanatic. His passion for the game mirrored the unwavering zeal of his Calvinist parents, who held out hope that someday their prodigal son would see the light and return to their faith.
But as Tim’s chess marathon sessions continued, an eerie phenomenon began to creep into his life—the dreaded “tetris effect.” After having played chess or organized tournaments for over three days straight, his mind had become so entangled with the game that even sleep couldn’t provide an escape.
One fateful night, utterly drained from hours of strategic battles over the board at iHop, Tim finally succumbed to exhaustion. He collapsed into bed, his body crying out for rest. But as he closed his eyes, the chessboard refused to fade from his thoughts.
In the dark recesses of his mind, the chess pieces danced and plotted, moving tirelessly across an endless battlefield. Tim’s sleep was fitful, haunted by the relentless pursuit of checkmate.
When he awoke the next morning, he found himself in a surreal world. His bedroom had transformed into a giant chessboard, the squares etched into the walls and ceiling. Every piece of furniture had taken on the shape of knights, bishops, and rooks. Even the TV, which had been innocently broadcasting a commercial, had become a battleground for pawns and kings.
Terrified, Tim stumbled downstairs to the kitchen, hoping to find solace in his mother’s cooking. But there, on the breakfast table, lay a plate that seemed to mock him. The scrambled eggs were arranged in a grid, imitating a chessboard, and the toast had been cunningly cut into the shape of chess pieces.
Tim’s mother, oblivious to her son’s torment, cheerfully offered him his chess-themed breakfast. She had no idea that her well-intentioned gesture had become part of the chessboard that now enveloped Tim’s reality.
Tim was determined to create a haven for chess enthusiasts like himself, a place where the game could be played at any hour of the day or night. And so, he embarked on a mission to establish his own chess club, but not just anywhere. His choice was a most unconventional one—the grand old International House of Pancakes, better known as iHop.
With its 24/7 operating hours, iHop became the perfect venue for Tim’s chess club. He would often be found there, hunched over a chessboard, his eyes gleaming with a fervor that could rival any religious zealot. While others enjoyed pancakes and syrup, Tim’s devotion to the sixty-four squares on a chessboard was unwavering.
As for his parents, they watched in dismay as their prodigal son pursued his own brand of devotion. They implored him to return to the fold, to rekindle his faith, and to abandon the apostasy they believed he had committed. But Tim was resolute in his passion, and for now, he found solace and purpose in the world of chess that he had created within the walls of iHop.
Tim had long abandoned the notion of a higher power, much to the dismay of his Calvinist kin. He delighted in mocking their family library, which was filled with books about the “young earth” and other such heretical ideas, as he saw them. He considered himself a proud liberal who preached the gospel of free speech, but his fervor seemed to wane whenever someone dared to question the infallibility of his intellectual idols.
Tim’s patience in listening to opposing viewpoints was a mere formality. He would nod as if considering the argument, but his eyes would betray a deep-rooted certainty in his own rectitude. It was as if he believed that almost all of life’s problems could be solved if only everyone embraced his way of thinking and became as conscientious as he saw himself.
On that fateful morning, Miguel Diaz had been scheduled to appear at the iHop at the ungodly hour of six in the morning for a mandatory chess match. As much as Miguel wished to keep his Hispanic heritage hidden, one aspect of his identity was impossible to conceal—he was thoroughly imbued in a polychronic culture, where time often flowed more like a river than a strict, unforgiving stream.
Tim Shiblon, the steadfast organizer of the chess club, had made it abundantly clear that he would not tolerate the intolerant. His club was open to all, regardless of their background, but there was one sacred rule that all members had to adhere to—punctuality. If you said you’d be there at seven in the morning, you’d better arrive at 7:00 on the dot. Not 7:06, and most certainly not 8:15.
Yet, on this particular day, Miguel arrived an entire hour late, his arrival heralded by a flurry of silly excuses. He explained how he had inadvertently awakened his mother, how his dog had suddenly fallen ill, and how his Uber driver had performed a masterclass in navigational ineptitude.
Tim’s patience, already worn thin by the delay, began to fray even further as Miguel’s litany of excuses continued. “God damn it, Miguel!” Tim exclaimed, his frustration evident. “Your yes must mean yes, and your no must mean no! Seven in the morning means 7-0-0, seven on the dot! Not 7:06, and definitely not 8:15!”
Miguel, now fully aware of the gravity of his tardiness, tried to apologize profusely, but Tim’s stern countenance left no room for negotiation. In the world of Tim Shiblon’s chess club, time was an absolute, unwavering ruler by which all members had to abide.
As the other members of the club looked on, Miguel could only sigh in resignation, realizing that in this particular realm, his polychronic tendencies were no match for the rigidity of Tim Shiblon’s punctuality doctrine. It was a lesson learned the hard way—one that would forever be etched in Miguel’s memory as he faced the consequences of his tardiness on that fateful morning at the iHop chess match.