Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Scrabble is a Blood Sport

My family banned the game of Parcheesi from our household when I was ten years old.
Now I can't tell you who won that last game we ever played, but I can tell you it was neither me nor my older sister, as she was blocking my game piece with two of her own. When I pointed out that by not moving her pieces she had no way of winning herself, she replied, "I don't care. I just don't want you to win."

I don't remember much after that, some harsh words were likely exchanged, zingers along the lines of "retard" and "poopeyface," possibly I put the smackdown on her, I don't know, but I do know that after that ill-fated game, my parents banished Parcheesi to the bowels of our basement, never to be played again. That game followed us around the country, bouncing around from house to house, most likely hoping that once enough time had elapsed, the incident we now refer to as "the Parcheesi block" would be forgiven and forgotten. It has been seventeen years since that day, my sister is now married with two beautiful children, and even mention the word "Parcheesi" in my family and the "poopeyfaces" and "boogerbutts" go flying.

I also don't remember winning so much as a game of Candyland against my father growing up--he'd laugh and point at me, (as I'd predictably be stuck in some gooey gumdrops) while skipping his piece merrily on to the glory that is Candy Castle. Come to think of it, gumdrops aren't even gooey--how lame. Not that I'm bitter or anything. My dad also used to take my younger sister and I to the putt-putt course whenever he was in the mood to kick some ass. Being five years old, not even having the walking thing down all that well, we'd inevitably hit the ball into a bunker.

"Oh! What a shame! Put the ball back on the tee, sweetheart, that's a two stroke penalty!"

"But Dad! That's not fair!"

"Those are the rules, kid! Hey! Stop your crying! There's no crying in putt-putt! Damn it, that's another one stroke penalty."

And my mom was no better. A game of Pictionary once brought my little sister to tears after teaming up with my mother:

"You call that a cherry?! That looks like a lemon with hair!"

"I'm sorry! I'm not an artist, OK?"

"Damn you! Now they're going to win because you can't draw a cherry! It's just a circle and a line for Christ's sake!"

My sister, who could draw neither a circle nor a line, flew from the table in tears, and we slowly packed up Pictionary and sent it off to live with Parcheesi in the basement, where its foster games Yahtzee and Life were already keeping it company.

When I was away at college, my little sister called me with some more bad news.

"Scrabble's out, dude."

"What? You mean it's banned?" It is a testament to my family's competitive nature that I could make sense out of those three words without any other background information.

"Yeah. I don't know what happened, dude. I think Dad and I were taking too long or something putting down the tiles. All I know is that one second, we were all waiting for Dad to put down his letters, and the next second, the game is in the air, tiles are flying everywhere--one fucking hit me in the eye--they're like fucking wood, man! And Mom didn't say a word--just stormed off to her room! It was ugly."

"Damn! Well what the hell is left?"

"Memory and Hi-Ho Cherry-O."

"Yikes--we might as well start doing shadow puppets on the wall."

"Uh ... actually, that was banned back in '88. Remember? Mom got pissed at Dad for not being able to put his hands together for a butterfly."

I sometimes wish my family would be able to play a friendly game of pool or Yahtzee or even Go Fish without it turning into a Dr. Phil special, but then I wonder how much fun would that be? A game of ping-pong with no profanity? Scrabble without a scuffle? We might as well just hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" until someone is impelled to shove a pencil in their ear. Scrabble just wouldn't be the same without a little blood on the board.