It wasn’t an ordinary game of Monopoly.
Every summer, when my in-laws Rudy and Daisy visit us in Baltimore for a long weekend, one of the traditions—along with an Orioles or Nats game, a meal out in this restaurant-impoverished city (especially compared to their home in Los Angeles) and happily idling in the kitchen doing a whole lot of nothing—is a knock-out, lengthy and sometimes acrimonious Monopoly contest. Truth be told, my wife Melissa, Rudy and son Nicky are just along for the ride, lacking the interest or competitive spirit for what some, not unfairly, call a dumb board game. But Booker, Daisy and I duke it out, frantically dealing, trying to dissuade others from swapping properties, with pitched voices that on occasion disturb the rabbits just outside in the backyard.
Last Saturday night, after returning from an early dinner at Mt. Vernon’s fine Helmand restaurant—too many stewed vegetables for my taste, but it’s a quality joint and is always packed—the set was laid out, tokens chosen and the skirmish commenced. It was an oddball day to begin with, as rains pounded Baltimore for hours on end, partially flooding our basement, which meant I was pressed into duty to sweep water out of harm’s way. We had a pump from years ago, back before laying out a small fortune for a basement overhaul, but I had no idea how to get the thing to work, so Booker and I planned an early visit to Home Depot to buy a new one. Fortunately, Rudy—unlike the boys and me—is a handy guy and he had the dusty contraption up and running in about a minute. Who needs Roto-Rooter when you’ve got a spry 77-year-old engineer at the quick? In my book, that’s heroic, if not quite Herculean.
Usually, the games take hours and finish only when one of us grudgingly concedes, and as Booker was going to D.C. at 10 for a movie with friends, it was almost certain this bloodbath would spill over to the next day. But no! Should’ve known the weird was upon us, for at one point three players combined to roll 10 consecutive doubles, which I’ve never seen before. We moved along at a brisk pace—not abnormal in the first hour, as players just buy as much real estate as possible—but the properties were evenly dispersed, save Booker’s gamble on the lethal combo of Park Place and Boardwalk, which he quickly built up. It was my son’s game, clearly, but I made a last-ditch attempt at relevance, wresting Pacific Avenue from Rudy, and scraped dollars together to put a modest string of houses on the sudden monopoly. As it happened, Booker must’ve had a devil on his shoulder, for he made just one paltry score from Park Place, while everyone (even those not participating!) landed on my green swath of the board. (Obviously, the dearest monopoly is dicey, since there are just two addresses, reducing the likelihood of a score, but it was the only beachhead Booker could establish.) It was all the same to Rudy, more interested in talking baseball than the rent on Oriental Avenue, but Daisy was flummoxed (see picture above), not only because her own game was going nowhere, but, per tradition, she handled bank duties. At 9:45, record time, victory was declared by yours truly—and decency be damned, it’s always gratifying to cream an adult son—and Booker was off in the night, after a perfunctory, “Good game, Dad,” which we both knew was spoken while smoke came out of his ears.
Time was on our side the next afternoon as well—if not actuarially, as the Stones sang last century, for the post-60 among us—as the Orioles/Indians game was completed in a National League-like two hours and 21 minutes, a commando performance by the O’s Ubaldo Jimenez vs. the hapless Indians. Even though my team, the Red Sox, is heading toward another cellar-finish, I haven’t yet given up rooting against Boston’s A.L. East rivals, and, risking heresy in this town, I find manager Buck Showalter a very annoying figure. Not nearly as loathsome as MASN’s broadcaster Gary Thorne, but Buck never smiles, like he’s got a spear stuck up his butt. In any case, the weather broke, and it was a relaxing outing, nearly sold out with all of Camden Yards enveloped in Oriole Orange. The day wound down, and as I read Evan Thomas’ new, and rather by-the-numbers bio of Richard Nixon (I prefer his book on Bobby Kennedy), the rest of the group was engaging in another game downstairs, the name of which escapes me now, that’s how ridiculous it was. At least to me, I should add, since, like Scrabble (a game at which I’ve defeated my wife just once in 25 years) I’d probably whiff at whatever they were playing.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955