In Prai$e of Monopoly

 

I am betting that the name, Hasbro, of toy and game notoriety, is actually an acronym of the words “has” and “brothers”. Who else but somebody who “has brothers” could invent a board game that would strengthen and gentle its players while still providing fierce competition and fun?

This past weekend, my family followed our regular routine of swimming lessons, working out and running errands. We all welcomed the free time to see friends and extended family, but Sunday afternoon, we were finally four alone in our house. Usually, when my sons are not involved in verbal warfare with each other, they make for the nearest electronic. We have Wii, Play Station, DSI, computers and TV. These are their go-to happy places on a cold, windy winter day. But, Harrison, who is eight, was seeking some daddy/son time and for no apparent reason, my husband, momentarily pulled away from his work, opened our game cupboard and dusted off Monopoly.

I had purchased the unopened set several years ago, hoping to one day interest my sons in the greatest game of my childhood and adolescence, but the opportunity never seemed to arrive. Now, I watched Harrison’s bemused but curious expression while his dad removed the top of the box and began to count out fifteen hundred dollars in crisp, colourful bills. My hands rubbed together in anticipation as I remembered the limitless possibilities I used to feel before a new game. I left them to play, but memories of fun and fiscal satisfaction engulfed me like a warm bubble bath.

When I was a kid, Monopoly represented long languorous Sundays at home with my parents and younger brother, Steve. We played the game for hours in our basement, sitting on the couch or the plush carpet, eating liquorice and Jiffy Pop, slurping Coke and Tab. Everybody wanted Boardwalk and Park Place even though I always wondered how a glorified sidewalk where people strolled could have a hotel smack dab in the middle of it. When we visited Atlantic City in my eleventh year, I finally understood.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, after going to synagogue in the morning to apologize for every wrong I had committed in the year just past – including hoarding Monopoly money under the sofa cushions so I could pay less when I landed on “Income Tax” – my family set up the game and played until sundown when the fast was officially over. Playing Monopoly made it possible for me to forget that I was starving, and I remember feeling surprised when my father would come home from the evening service and announce that it was finally time to eat. “Already?” my mother, Steve and I would ask.

Our sense of time had been completely monopolized.

On Sunday afternoon, while I tried to read by the fireplace in my living room, I was drawn by the banter between Harrison and his dad as the latter explained the rules to the former. In twenty minutes, my son had increased his vocabulary, adding “title deed”, “mortgage” and “tycoon” and used these words with expert abandon. With beginner’s luck, Harrison had landed on and purchased every railroad on his first ride around the board (he chose the car as his game piece) and was already reaping the cash rewards of being landlord of a monopoly. “Rent!” he declared. “Reading Railroad, $200. Pay up, Mister.”

As I listened to my son and husband laughing and trading good-natured jibes, I realized that the book at which I had been staring was no match for the temptation of Monopoly and I wandered in to the kitchen, surprised by what I saw there.

My fifteen year-old son Charlie had parked himself at the table and was watching the game intently. I was taken aback because Charlie only vacates his room for food or to leave the house all together. Yet, here he was observing the Monopoly board and asking questions. Our whole family now sat in the kitchen and we were hours away from meal-time.

Moments later, we began a four-person game that lasted ages past dinner. I eventually ordered pizza while we just kept on playing. The boys learned how to negotiate buy-outs, to add to their property value with houses and hotels and to strategize with patience and winning arguments. I felt grateful amazement that despite all Charlie and Harrison’s electronic enticements, a simple diversion with dice and phony money had them completely captivated. What’s more, they were polite to each other. Nobody used the word “moron”, “idiot” or the all too popular “stupid”. Nobody “hated” each other or wished that the other was never born. They were all “congratulations on your purchase” and “$22 rent please, Sir”.

Of course, I couldn’t fully escape the silliness of sons. Early in the game, Charlie landed on Virginia Avenue. Virginia? Really? For anyone who has boys, I need not elaborate on why this name is funny. If you don’t have sons, think about the capital of Saskatchewan and its rhyming body part. Yeah, that’s the one.

The B&O Railroad quickly turned into “Smelly Station.” Baltic Avenue, which, in my experience, is a cheap throwaway property, suddenly became the comic star of the board when Harrison landed on and purchased it. “I have Ball Sack Avenue and you don’t!” he said to his brother.

Harrison then exploded with one of those body-shaking laughs that leave eyes wet, limbs weak and one’s whole being happily exhausted from an outpouring of endorphins. Charlie, my husband and I laughed right along with him, infected by his childish pleasure. We were four kids caught up in a hot game of Monopoly. We were a family enjoying each other’s company right up until bed-time, infused with the spirit of a game created seventy-six years ago. We sat around the board like four ends of a compass, our every direction pointing home.

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