How to Win The Game of Life

LIFE IMG_4516My family has started a new tradition.  We have decided to turn Wednesdays into Family Fun night.  We started last night.   We decided we are going to take good old Milton Bradley’s suggestion and have a family fun night on Wednesdays and start playing board games.

I was first inspired a week ago when playing a vicious, okay scratch that, mildly competitive game of Double Twelve Dominoes – The Mexican Train Version with the ladies from my bible study group.   There is nothing like playing a great game around a table with fun people, food, coffee and tea, laughter, and a community quest to learn something new and if luck has it, to WIN!

So when my seven year old son requested we play the game of LIFE last night, I was all in!  I made dinner speedy quick and cleared the table lightening fast after we finished eating.  That is to say, I moved the dirty dishes and miscellaneous other clutter to the counter to deal with later.

My husband, young son and I pulled the game of LIFE out of the box and started setting up.  I fanned out the cards.  We chose our careers.  We all decided to skip college as we couldn’t find how starting out with borrowed money would get us a higher paying salary which was basically luck of the draw anyway.   We spun the dial and off we went.

I was a policeperson, my husband was an artist, my adult son was a computer programmer, and my youngest son was an entertainer.  Not so much different than our real life actually.  The only difference is that in real life my husband is a mechanic, but even that requires a modicum of creativity to be able to repair cars when car parts or cars themselves are no longer manufactured.

I landed on the first PAYDAY.  I was elated to have an annual salary of ninety grand.  Which if moms were actually compensated in real life for policing a busy household, I would say this is adequate at best.    We made our way around the board collecting our salaries multiple times, picking up LIFE cards, paying both frivolous and necessary bills, and chastising one another for memory lapses over whose turn it was.  My oldest son said we could just play for him as he had important games in real life he had to play on the Wii.  So entertainer-boy  just spun the dial for computer geek-man and moved his box-like van around the board, and basically made every decision for him.

My husband, being the artist that he was and is, had an annual salary of twenty grand and took a loan out for a $200,000 mortgage.  Very quickly he landed a wife, a kid, then a set of twins, and then another kid.  Figures.  We all know people like that.  I told my young son he’d probably be a “drain on the system” before too much longer at the rate he was accruing kids and a high-falutin’ lifestyle on a pauper’s salary.

I could not have been more wrong.  After two paydays, he got the card that said “exchange salary” with any other player.   Of course he picked me.  So there I was for the rest of the long drawn out game stuck at a paltry $20,000 a year salary with 4 kids of my own, a blue husband who refuses to speak to me, and an uncanny knack for landing on every known expense imaginable.  Sigh!  It’s amazing how the parables of sports and games so mirrors our real life!

About ninety percent through our game, my real husband SERIOUSLY asked my real kids and I if he could trade his kids in for cash; he had so dang many of them—they had already spilled out of his six-slotted car and tumbled onto the highway of LIFE several times.    This from the same man whose first wife had previously fallen out of his dilapidated artist’s van into the Grand Canyon (the kitchen floor) upon which he had said, “Don’t worry about it; I’ll just get another one!”

“Seriously?”  I asked.  “Yeah!  Check the rules” he insisted.   For some weird reason I just started laughing and couldn’t stop.  It’s that absurd moment in LIFE and in real life where someone says something so ridiculous you just fall out on the floor wondering how did your brain get wired like this?  But of course, who amongst us hasn’t wished at some point we could’ve traded our kids in for a lump sum payout on any given teenage hormonal day?

My young son got to the Millionaire Estates first because he had mysteriously spun tens almost the entire game.  His spin kept “not taking” except for when it consistently scored a ten.  Throughout the game he’d been entrusted to not lose his fortunes when paying bills and acquiring money in tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars.  But for him the best part was at the end.

He quickly mastered the art of skip-counting by half-millions even though he often claims his daily first grade homework of skip counting by fives or tens is just too stressful.  Sure it is!  If you’re not getting paid to do it.   He counted and handled LIFE money the way politicians handle our money The game of LIFE is always more fun when playing with OPM (other people’s moolah!) to accomplish your goals; the results are secondary to the joy of spending it.   Like GAO accounting procedures, it’s not even worth counting if it isn’t first followed by at least six zeroes.

At the end of the game, we all experienced temporary happiness as we counted our stash:   a million, a million five hundred, a million seven hundred fifty etc.  Perhaps that may be the closest we ever get to counting numbers that high related to real life finances.    At the end of the game, my husband “won” but only by five thousand dollars.  My little boy had two million, seven hundred and seventy thousand dollars.  And hubby had exactly that plus one extra five thousand dollar bill.  Just one wrong move somewhere probably cost my son the game. 

Towards the end, he once spun the dial on my turn before I had a chance to see what number I had spun.  “HEYYYYY!” I shouted, “Watch it!  That can change the whole outcome of the game!”  And indeed it did.  For the next ten turns (I’m NOT kidding here) I landed on every expense known to exist.   I drifted from one crisis to the next railing against the unfairness of the greedy rich just inches away from me.    I had my turns skipped multiple times and the rest of my family inherited all the LIFE cards while I got nothing.   I lost.  Big time!  And then when it was all over, I reread the rules just in case we had missed anything.

We did.  I wanted to cry foul but it was too late.  In LIFE and in life, there are no do-overs.  Since I was the policeperson, I had forgotten to collect $10,000 every time a certain someone had spun a ten.  That alone would have given me an extra hundred grand no doubt.  I had forgotten to plan for my future and buy stock, as did every one else.  My oldest son lost almost as spectacularly as I did, perhaps because he played by proxy and had allowed a seven year old to represent him.  You can’t win if you don’t play the game. 

Finally, as the game ended and reality beckoned with dirty dishes waiting and teeth that need brushing and jammies that needed filling, I realized I had finally spent my most valuable currency very wisely after all:

TIME

    In the end all the money we had tried so desperately to accumulate during the game of LIFE just got put back in the box.  It was all meaningless.  But the time we had spent laughing, competing, journeying across the land, and just being a family?  Well that was the best night we had spent in a long time.  These are the moments that pay eternal dividends.  And that you can bank on!

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Strong as Gay

      John Stillman, AKA JAck wrangler – “The Marlboro man”

I was talking with a good friend this morning.  We were lamenting on the fact that we were both sort of married to the Marlboro Man, well different versions of, not the same guy, lest you be confused.

You know.  The Marlboro Man!  Rugged.  Strong.  Masculine.  Not bad to look at.  Works hard.  With their calloused hands no less, which always have grease lined-nails and jagged edges.   Yes, they are the quintessential man’s man who know the definition of HARD WORK and have an inexhaustible supply of energy to draw from in order to work– usually ten or twelve hours (on a slow day).

Maybe you know a Marlboro Man.  He probably smokes.  And cusses when he gets mad.   They leave the seat up just for you, ladies.  They like steak and potatoes and they despise casseroles and anything that comes from a recipe.  They like a nice cold one after work.  They like Monday night football and they don’t do chick flicks—ever!  They don’t see dust and above all they never ever cry.

They’re Dodge Ram tough!  They fix transmissions and they fix broken sinks.  They have tools that are too heavy for you to carry.  But mending broken hearts?  That’s another matter.

Ah yes, these steel boned, iron-willed men are what we chose and what we are indeed grateful for.  But sometimes, if life were absolutely perfect, we wonder what it’d be like to at least borrow a man like this:

Strong as Gay

     Yes, I said it.  For just one night, I want a reprieve from reality.  I want to spend time with someone who is characteristically and  fastidiously neat and would be horrified to see urine on the side of the porcelain and would instantly reach for the nearest spray bottle of Clorox.

In this alternate universe we’d have our moment.  My dream date would go down something like this:

First, I’ll go out to dinner to an elegant restaurant with a name I can’t pronounce, attached to the arm of a man who has never publicly belched or farted and knows what a linen napkin is for.  I want to see that Polo pony emblazoned proudly on his shirt in all its embroidered glory.    Yes, this is the steed for me.

I want to smell some nice Givenchy or Hermes with fruity overtones waft across the candlelight as this beautiful man sits there and compliments profusely my long ago-forgotten beauty.  As he gazes into my forty-something eyes, he’ll reach for my hand and hold it softly in his, as I’m acutely aware of how his baby-bottom like soft skin touches mine.  He’ll look longingly into my eyes as he gently inquires how was my day and how am I doing?  Yes, how are you actually doing–he’ll insist on knowing.  Then he will even wait for and even listen to my response. 

Even if it involves tears.

Especially, if it involves tears.

    “Oh dear, dear, dear, dear,” he’ll say as he wipes my eyes.  “We can’t have this.  This absolutely won’t do; your mascara will run.”  At this point, this perfectly caring strong beautiful man will jump up and then kneel down beside me on my side of the table and wipe my tear before it even starts the slippery descent down my cheek.  He’ll lean over and kiss the crown of my head and my heart will just melt.  I will think for a moment what did I ever do to deserve such a sensitive man.

By the time the maître d arrives, the perfect Pinot Noir has already been ordered and the definite possibility of dessert is being discussed.  No, make that relished.  We are laughing as we fork through our shrimp and avocado salad discussing dessert choices.   Next the topic of conversation will slowly shift to the time-treasured topic of:

Hopes and Dreams

     We’ll slowly savor each bite of our pan-seared salmon entrees with asparagus as we spend a good hour discussing the finer details of the above-mentioned topic.   Yes, I’ll try and get a word in edge-wise about what about you and your dreams, but this strong as gay man will have none of it.  We’re not here to discuss me he’ll say; tonight is all about you.  “But it’s not even my birthday,” I’ll insist.  “Shush, shush,” he’ll say, “as you were saying?”  He’ll beg for more details in his compassionate quest.

After dessert, we’ll sit facing one another in his new luxury Mercedes S class Sedan.  As I inhale the fresh-off-the-lot cleanliness of new leather, I’ll surreptitiously notice that not a solitary object exists in his car, save for the most recent copy of Architectural Digest and Traditional Home tucked neatly away in the backseat.  He’ll check his watch and remind me that we still have an hour before the movie starts.  He’ll ask me which movie I want to see more, the one with Sandra Bullock or the one with Hugh Grant.  He’ll tell me he is good either way.

We’ll continue talking about life and he’ll offer wisdom and real words of encouragement when I mention the things that are bothering me.  He’ll lean over and say, “Is it okay if I just hold you?”    This will make me cry and I’ll say, “Of course!”  Then I’ll start crying in that slobbery kind of way reserved only for deaths of loved ones and true break-downs, and he’ll just keep holding me and have a hanky close by on ready reserve just waiting to wipe away my tears.  In between sobs and slobs, he’ll just say, “There, there, it’s gonna be okay.”  And he’ll just lightly kiss the side of my face once or twice but mostly he’ll just hold me.

I will calm down and feel strangely comforted.  I may even feel like this is LOVE.   I’m relieved because I know I don’t owe him anything later for this abundance of kindness and caring.

As the evening winds down, we’ll finally go and see our movie.  We’ll laugh and cry together as we stuff our already full bellies with popcorn, soda, and chocolate.  Yes, we’ll have lots of chocolate.   He’ll probably reach over for my hand just to hold it during the tear-jerker scenes.

Finally, he will take me home.  He’ll look into my eyes one last time and say, “Thank you darling for tonight. It has been such a lovely evening.  You mean the world to me!  Never change, okay?”

We’ll lightly peck one another’s lips as I savor one last time the smells of his car, of him, of a reality that isn’t mine, never was, and never will be.

He will drop me back off at the house of the Marlboro Man.  The house where I live.  The house where there is both duty and love.  Heartache and heart full.  But every now and then, I will pine for the man who comfortably wears pink, has a small stud earring and smells really good, and a heart that goes so deep I think I’d like to drown there for just a little while sometimes.

Yes, we suburban wives of Marlboro need just such a strong man sometimes or at least the dream of one.  Even if it goes up in a puff of smoke.

Post Script:  John Stillman who played Jack Wrangler, aka The Marlboro Man, first worked as a model, than became well-known for his rugged good looks as The Marlboro Man.  He then went on to become a porn star and died from emphysema at age 62 in April 2009.