I'd always been interested in words since (according to my parents) spelling out the name of my hometown newspaper with building blocks at the age of 3. When I grew up, I spent four years as sports editor of that northwestern Pennsylvania publication.
Both in high school and in the Army, stationed in Korea, I created crossword puzzles for my respective scholastic and military newspapers. I'd dabbled in Scrabble as a kitchen table pastime, but didn't dwell too much on it until I visited my first club. I proceeded to win my first two games and marveled how simple this game was.
Then I was matched with a fellow named Gary Brown, who promptly ate my lunch. I later learned the guy was a former national champion. Yes, Scrabble is a national and international activity with players rated according to their tournament achievements (there are thousands of dollars at stake in some competitions).
But the beauty of it is that it's also appealing to novices and kitchen-table players. Anyone with an interest in word games can hop down to the IHOP and get into the action. The fee is two bucks for four games, and newcomers don't have to pay that until they win their first one.
"We have expert players that will assist you in improving your game and making it more fun while doing so," said Paul Trachtenberg, director of Club No. 34, which he calls "one of the oldest and friendliest Scrabble clubs in North America."
Trachtenberg is one of the club's two directors. The other is Penny Baker, the grand dame of local Scrabble who's still active (and beat me recently) at the age of 88.
Another little old lady from Pasadena was still pushing the tiles at 95 — they named a tournament after her. The Huntington Beach club meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, then reconvenes from 6 to 10 p.m. at the IHOP, on Beach, north of Garfield Avenue.
You'll find an entertaining atmosphere with enough characters to populate a TV sitcom. If you're interested in the fun and competition of Scrabble, give Trachtenberg a ring at (714) 968-7546. Or just walk in, as I did 27 years ago.
Two words of warning: It's addictive.