Fictional private detectives often have private obsessions. Take Philip Marlowe, for example. After a long day of getting shot at, breaking the hearts of beautiful women and being knocked on the back of the head, he’d unwind by playing chess. Alone, in his shabby apartment, he’d take on grandmasters, playing games out of a book. Sherlock Holmes soothed his shattered nerves by sawing away on a violin.

Real private detectives, like myself, have similar quirks. Maybe because the job is so ” to use a popular word ” random, I need something solid to come home to ” like Scrabble.

I used to play three games nightly, until my video game broke. Then, like most homo sapiens of the 21st century, I turned to the Internet. I downloaded the first Scrabble game I saw, out of thousands listed. The viruses that accompanied the game sounded like a plague of locusts invading my computer, but my software was able to fight them off.

Scrabble is kind of like Marlowe’s chess ” or playing golf ” it’s so difficult, it takes your mind off your real problems. We detectives tend to be loners but some day I may even play against a human being.

As for Holmes’ hobby, I never learned a musical instrument. But there was a voice inside me crying out to be heard. I started fooling around with a keyboard that came equipped with some pre-recorded rhythms and patterns. The first time I played piano to the jazz beat, I was sure I was a genius.

I couldn’t hit a bad note if I tried and I thought “I’ve been Mozart all this time without knowing it.” Then I turned off the jazz rhythm and realized I wasn’t Mozart ” I was terrible. I couldn’t find two keys that sounded good together. I was discouraged but I kept plunking away night after night.

I gave my first public concert one afternoon and my wife, who was the only member of the audience, said I sounded OK. I tried a second recital for my daughter during dinner but she picked up her plate and went elsewhere to eat.

My third concert was for a captive audience consisting of one friend. He listened politely but was crying out in pain by the end. He urged me to take some emergency lessons before touching any more keys.

Forest Park abounds with music teachers ” I think there are two on my block and there’s a music school not far away. I plan to invest in some lessons, so that I may someday play for a multi-person audience. My ultimate goal is to become the keyboardist for a Forest Park band called the Lemurs.

Perhaps the Lemurs already have a keyboard man ” in which case, I’ll wait till he retires. All I know is this is a band that aspires to mediocrity and that’s about where I am musically.

Even if my music career never gets off the ground, I find tinkling the ivories to be a soothing activity. And, after all the bullets, bumps and scheming seductresses, nothing is more satisfying then laying down a seven letter word in Scrabble.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.