Monday, September 22, 2014

Monopoly of Power


I hit the trap release and the red and black checker pieces spilled onto the dining room table. We avoided each other’s eyes. Our fingers snatched up our respective colored discs. I have been observing strategy, noticing habits, making mental notes while grinning. As a tight smile stretches my cheeks, I take special care to act nonchalant. Inside I think about crushing her, humiliating her mind, pouring scorn and malice on my sister as we play Connect Four. These thoughts make me laugh like a dope fiend after a new hit.

My family is overly competitive. I have been in games where furniture is tossed, walls and doors are punched as our faces flush in red fury. It’s family game night. My first family game night primed the pump for a lifelong lust. We were going to have fun, spend some quality time together, have dinner, and find a game.

I had never played Monopoly before and my parents had an old set in the hallway closet. As a 5-year-old in kindergarten I was fascinated by the colorful pieces and property blocks. My father thought it would be a good lesson in business. I know my dad and he probably wanted to regale us with stories about his time as a stock broker and the art of bargaining and negotiating.

The pieces were divvied up. I loved the selection of steel boots and golden hats as an on-board avatar. The dice were thrown out to determine order and we began the game. My Dad started talking about the economic aspects of American capitalism.  My sister and I were more enamored with the casino aspects of the game: the roll of the dice, moving our pieces down the board, picking up colorful cards with the the artful sardonic drawings.

I don’t know when the game became more serious. The transition just sort of snuck up on us and at a certain point all that familial cordial talk faded into an focused silence. We were considering our moves, thinking of how to out-manuever each other, praying quietly to whatever golden calf god of wealth to grant us our wish for more capital. But I didn’t wish any ill will toward my competitors...at first.

The silence became thick with unspoken commentary as I could feel my parent’s smugness, their condescending tone in telling me the rules. I started winning. Everything. Property by property, it seemed as if a magical spell had been cast. While my sister’s finances began to look shaky, I beamed. I offered her a deal: give me some of your property and I’ll give you some of the cash I had been saving. In need of paying off her bills, she happily traded her cheapest purple claims on Baltic and Metropolitan Avenue.

After a few more times around the board I had my first monopoly in the slum section of the board right near the starting point. Every time a player had to pass GO there was a good chance they would land on one of the purple pieces which increased in value once a monopoly was held. I used that extra money to begin putting houses, and soon hotels as the price went sky high. I bartered my way into a utilities monopoly and leveraged that power to bring my family to their knees.

My Dad’s sputtered observations about the board action, muttering ‘good job’ and ‘yeah...uh-huh’ as the diuretic verbiage became monosyllabic and then just grunts and soft sighs. I locked-in, and attained an unnatural level of concentration for a 5-year-old kid. At a certain point my mom stopped giving me advice; I think it was when I forced her into penury. She leaned back and ate more pizza.

I was careful not to celebrate too much but I had never been happier in my short life of embarrassments than in this first moment of Monopoly. Not my pre-school crushes, eating cookies, watching TV, nothing compared to the thrill of not only getting money, but depriving capital to others.

I was Donald Trump. I was Michael Milken. I was Genghis Khan. Sure I was five-years-old and didn’t know exactly what these people did to deserve a space in mind for euphoric victory. I just knew their names meant conquest, destruction, and triumph. I visualized the game as real. I saw myself in mansions and sports care while my family begged on the street corner for change in tatters. I would toss them spare nickels from my pleated trousers as I looked at them through monocles. There was a sweetness in this bitter vision. Something I had been denied as an adolescent was now open in this game: conquest over adults, over age, over family hiearchy. Competition equalized this field.

One by one my competitors fell. They sold off property for quick cash and then paid dearly for landing on an utility, railroad or the two sides of the board which I had littered with hotels and houses like financial landmines.

The game hit the 3 hour mark. I had inexhaustible energy. I stood up and paced around the board like General Patton. I flaunted my money by stacking it lazily, knocking it over with an elbow, before re-arranging it in pretty patterns.

After about 200 minutes my Dad began to find a way to wrap up this game and avoid the inevitable: me having everyone’s money. I cried, I threw a tantrum!

NO!!!

This is so much fun!

This is family game night, what’s wrong with you people?!?

After almost 4 hours, the game was complete. I had everyone’s property through direct bartering or collecting it after bankruptcy. There were a few hold-out plots of land but it was insignificant. If you rolled the dice -odds are- you would land on several of my pieces before circumambulating the board as you gushed cash into my accounts. There was no more money out there except for me and the bank. I smiled like a newborn devil. Even writing this now causes me to laugh, grin, and twirl my fictitious monopoly moustache.

After the first family game night I was hooked. From the moment of the first cast die or card dealt, the tone became less tutorial and more Conquistadors arriving in Mexico City for the first time. Any mercy my parents might have shown was stripped away in our taunts after what became known as the Monopoly Massacre.

We moved on to other board games through the years. The board game of Life wasn’t as fun because you couldn’t destroy your opponent directly but merely send a curse out to that their plastic cars remain barren of children, education, and prospects before drowning in a muddy ditch of failure. At the end of this ridiculous game of chance you would count up your earnings, children, and degrees (all assessed monetary value!) and whomever had the most was the winner...of Life itself.      

I loved game where direct punishment could be administered from one player to the other. I didn’t want a pathetic ‘Life referee’ getting in my way of revenge against my family, my competitors, the world. I wanted to buy justice and then use it to crush my adversaries. I wanted to rig the stock market so it could crash right into my opponent. I wanted symbolic blood in the streets, beheadings, behanding, befootings as weeping widows wailed and gnashed their teeth at being cursed in marrying the loser of the game.

My parent’s had greater success at cards.

Of courses, is the real game of intelligence. This is chance meets skill. It takes smarts.

Our card games were pinochle, to gin, gin rummy, and Black Jack as an appetizer. We tried playing poker a few times, but it didn’t seem to interests anyone. When it comes to card games, there is a certain logic that only becomes apparent to a person once they hit their teenage years. Perhaps its sorting out the combination of numbers, faces, as well as card suits in a constantly shifting puzzle while counting what’s been dealt, what’s been used, how many cards are out there that could beat my hand, and doing this all while trying to maximize my own hand.

By the time we were teens, me and my sister were hot on our parent’s tail. The games started to get close and then tied. One time as the ‘adult victory streak’ in the house was coming to ominous end, I caught my Dad sweating out a dealt hand.

Are you all right? I asked with ersatz innocence and wonder.

Yeah...think the AC...he trailed off.

Do you need a towel or a moist napkin? I began teasing as a smirked dawned across my face.

He didn’t reply.

Maybe some ice or a cool refreshing…

My Dad gave me the death stare. It is the glare of hell, fiery worlds of hatred, enmity, and it only lasts for a second. In his eyes I could see that this rage was coming from a new place: we were becoming equals. We weren’t father and son in this moment. We were rivals, warriors capable of killing each other over a bad hand of cards.

The fire disappeared from his eyes. We returned to our previous hierarchy of father and son. He cracked a joke and tossed out another dud card. At the end of the round, my hand slapped down on the recent toss. I collected my winning books. For a split second longer than I intended, I stared at him. As I dragged my winning across the table and over to my side, I tilted my head to the side and returned his sulfurous gaze with an icy smirk.

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