Monopoly: capitalists under a card table

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SUMMER is over; time for the first day of school, time for the teacher to ask my kids what they did over summer vacation. They will have to 'fess up to playing Monopoly! As they are encamped right now in the back bedroom, I begin to have flashbacks, reliving those memories. Monopoly was an adult game even kids were allowed to play. When I was growing up, there were three kids in our family, but add to that my four boy cousins of the same last name who lived just down the street. Our ages dovetailed, so that, taken as a group, we covered a 10-year age span. Everybody in the neighborhood knew at least one of us.

During those carefree summers of the 1950s, before television had become the all-consuming attraction for children, we would play baseball in the dust, build tents out of blankets, dam up rainwater, climb trees, and just swing. Swinging developed into an art form and could easily take up half a day.

My Uncle Jack, who was a plumber, had built the most elaborate swing set in the neighborhood - in the world, I thought. It was made up of odd bits and pieces of pipe left over from jobs. A special big section of pipe was from the Boys' Home. Each section stood about 15 feet high, with four swings. You could pump like crazy, building up speed, and then coast to a standstill or jump off at the highest spot.

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A nearby tree provided cover for any would-be ``attackers'' and, very conveniently, ammunition in the form of little green berries that were hard enough to sting whenever you swung into range. The sand pile at the end of the slide also offered hours of make-believe for those future architects of everything from caves to castles.

If I have painted a picture of joy and fun, it was. Into this world came Monopoly, not to displace but to enhance. What a privilege it was for the older group of us to be taught to play, and play we did. This game required thinking, skill, and true salesmanship when trying to talk some younger relative out of property that would give you three of a kind.

To leave a board set up for days was nothing; we had to hold position while someone went to visit Aunt Thelma or Grandmom. We would reconvene as soon as all the participants could manage to get out of or finish their respective chores and obligations.

Some games were long, drawn-out affairs, taking days; others were mercifully short, almost brutal - ha, ha, you lose! The agony of defeat was nothing compared with languishing in Jail, or not being able to collect that all-important $200 after passing GO, or the ultimate disgrace of having the littlest cousin end up with $40 zillion and every hotel on the board. You know how in fish stories the size of the fish keeps getting bigger and bigger; well every time the story was retold, the amount won got larger and larger. The only possible way to spare yourself from hearing how much you lost last week was to agree to a rematch and hope this time you would not lose.

What lessons I learned in Monopoly. I learned to lose and to win. Five $20 bills meant I had an extra hundred in the spare-change pile. I am convinced my first sense of money management came from that game, and I have used it to help teach my own kids why parents cannot always say yes to requests for things. I was banker so often that today I really enjoy bookkeeping. We certainly knew what bankrupt meant, and mortgage was not an abstract term to us.

How about that space marked Income Tax? Little did I know then that I would land on it with marked regularity, every April 15.

You may have heard about Free Parking. Well, to help create some hope for those of us perpetually poor people we paid all fines to Free Parking as a jackpot. The closest I have ever come to Free Parking is when I moved to this small town and found that all the meters downtown are blanks.

When I did not buy a railroad, I landed on them, and the cost of the privilege of landing on the utilities continues to increase, especially in today's market. Modern times have changed my perspective about a lot of things that looked so different from the vantage of 11. I confess that I still have a secret feeling that $500 bills should be gold in color. I even went to the bank to see one, but they were out.

Monopoly is still a great game, and I love to play it when I have the time. (To shorten the game we have been known to deal out the properties: To a purist that is probably totally unacceptable.) I have realized in later life that Monopoly is really a child's game that adults are allowed to play.

For 12 years we have owned apartments or single-family houses, collecting rents and dealing with mortgages, income taxes, accumulated depreciation, and those not-to-be-forgotten repair bills. These are now a part of my daily life. I still cannot discuss Park Place and Boardwalk, but I can tell you about Trenton, King, and 77th North East Avenue, and I can regale you with stories of abandoned vehicles and the roof that blew off just before the sale of the building closed. Monopoly is only the tip of the iceberg.

Now my child pleads at my elbow, ``Please play Monopoly with me, Mom!'' How can I refuse? I play Monopoly all the time on a smaller but more realistic scale. Who am I to refuse an invitation to life, finance, and maybe their future?

There are three of us encamped in the back bedroom, under a card table, covered with a bedspread tent, having a good time on Boardwalk, or near it. I think there is an unwritten rule that I am not allowed to land on it. I lost the last two games that I played with the kids, d'ej`a vu. It is no different now: I hear about it for days. Yet Monopoly holds for me a special spot as I move into new areas of second mortgages and absentee landlords.

I do not know where this all will lead, but I am still learning and having fun at the same time. Monopoly has touched my life and the lives of other family members who have owned or now own rental property. Did the rest of the baby-boomers cut their financial teeth on Monopoly?

Since you have completed this article, collect $200, a yellow $100, and two blue $50s.

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