Exactly 21 years ago, as research for a column about chess, I sat in the chiropractic office of local chess master Daniel Kamen and watched him replicate from memory every move of a six-hour chess rematch played by crazy American genius Bobby Fischer and Russian whiz Boris Spassky.
The excitable Kamen even leapt out of his chair and pantomimed a Michael Jordan move to illustrate how Fischer was "the slam-dunk champion of chess."
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Now 57, Kamen isn't as animated as he was a generation ago. But his chess stories pale in comparison to his tales of how he met his wife by accident, found his career by accident, got knocked off a ladder by a giraffe on purpose, wrote a novel with one of the most graphic torture scenes you'll ever read, wrote a parody song that aired on the Dr. Demento radio show, has a box of bones in his basement, and came to discover that his greatest skill is illegal in Illinois.
As I walk to the front door of his Buffalo Grove home, I hear Kamen at his piano, playing the familiar melody of Billy Joel's "Piano Man." I listen before ringing the doorbell. He's good.
"I have very little natural abilities," Kamen says, brushing aside my praise. A music major at Indiana University, Kamen says he found a new career path when he mis-dialed a telephone the summer before his senior year.
"I called up a friend to go bowling and I got a wrong number," Kamen recalls. "It was a chiropractor."
Growing up in the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary, Ind., with his dad, Jack, an anesthesiologist, and his mom, Shirley, an artist, Kamen says he'd "never heard great things about chiropractors." So he was a bit of a wiseacre on the phone, and the chiropractor responded by inviting him to visit the office and see what a chiropractor does. The impulsive Kamen showed up and took the tour.
"Within 5 minutes after he got done talking, I said, 'I'm going to do this,'" Kamen says. He took chemistry and physics classes to prepare for graduate school, and was accepted at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, where he graduated in 1981. His wife, Sharon, supported his career change, and followed him to Iowa, but still doesn't like hearing her husband's story of how they met.
"Another accident," Kamen explains. Tired of his college roommate's complaints about the difficulty of finding a date, Kamen bet him that he could open the student phone book of 35,000 students at random and win a date from the first female name his finger landed on. He called. She agreed to meet him at the library. They dated, married, had three sons and celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary last May.
In the first year of his chiropractic career, Kamen stumbled upon another calling -- performing chiropractic procedures on animals. "One of my first patients had a horse at Arlington Park racetrack," he says. The racetrack had a good chicken dinner with peach cobbler for $2.50 on the backstretch, so Kamen agreed to stop by and work out some kinks on the horse while he was there. That led to more chiropractic work on animals (everything from monkeys and cows to lions and llamas), and to a memorable photograph of him working on a giraffe's neck at a wild animal ranch in Missouri, before the giraffe knocked him off his ladder.
His series of books -- "The Well-Adjusted Dog," "The Well-Adjusted Cat" and "The Well-Adjusted Horse" -- were published in the 1990s and still sell online and in bookstores. His animal work ("I was literally a dog and pony show") earned him a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal, a spot on the original Arsenio Hall talk show and other media coverage. It also landed him in trouble with state laws and veterinarian associations and led to appearances before state boards, which want to make sure only veterinarians are responsible for working on animals.
"It's intimidating to be before a board. You have to wear a tie," says Kamen, who adhered to cease and desist orders, avoiding charges of practicing veterinarian medicine without a license in Illinois. He doubled his human chiropractic income by conducting seminars across the nation and beyond, teaching others how to adjust the spines of horses, make a cat relax, or push in the right area to improve a dog's bladder control.
But even that was complicated by interpretations of state laws. Now, he generally does one seminar a year. He still works on humans in his office, makes money from his books and manufactures and sells a line of "cold laser" devices that he says use light to stimulate cells, increase blood flow and ease pain for animals.
In his spare time, he writes novels. His latest, published this year, "The Bullies Must Die," is the fictional tale of a chiropractor who seeks murderous revenge on bullies who abused him 19 years earlier.
While he keeps an old Daily Herald story about him playing 25 simultaneous chess games against suburban high school players and winning them all, Kamen has put chess on a back burner. But he can still dole out chess wisdom.
"Bobby Fischer died at age 64 and there are 64 squares on a chess board," Kamen says. "If he played Chinese checkers, he might still be alive."