Rolling The Dice On A Rainy Day
In the early 80s the entertainment world was changing. Atari, ColecoVision, and Intellivision were competing for kids’ attention all over the country. Handheld battery operated games like Mattel Football were finding their way into the hands of children at a rapid pace. Cable Television was still gaining a foothold in American households bringing movies, music videos, sports and other venues into our living rooms and rec rooms.
In my house, we had one TV, no cable and no gaming consoles of any kind. I did have plenty of the handhelds, though. As a matter if fact, I still have one if them. I cut the speaker wire on it when I was in the seventh grade so I could sneak it into study hall at school play it. I had friends whose parents splurged for cable and even an Atari 2600, but not my house and that was ok. I had my comics and, if you have read some of my earlier pieces on Ordinary Times, you will understand that I was perfectly content with just that most of the time.
I lived in a neighborhood where we were always doing something. Riding bikes, playing war, waffle ball, throw up and kill, building treehouses and clubs in the woods; there was always something to do outside. On the days it rained in the summer you would find me and my childhood friends hanging out on my covered back porch. We would play cards and board games on those days. Epic campaigns of Risk or a marathon game of Monopoly most of the time. My mother would keep us knee deep in popcorn and fueled with Kool-Aide. We would play up until suppertime most days. We were not locked away in a room lit only by a television screen wearing headsets to communicate with other gamers around the world; we were together. Talking, laughing and just enjoying the simple pleasure of each other’s company with a little bit of competition added to the mix.
Playing board games was the great equalizer for a group of boys. You see, we were not all good at everything when it came to the activities we took part in around the neighborhood. Some ran faster than others, some could ride a wheelie all the way up the street. Some of us were fearless, some not. We used to do the same thing those guys in Jackass did and got paid millions for just for fun. Jumping our bikes over homemade ramps like Evel Knievel, diving through hedges, bottle rocket fights in the woods.
Some of us were better than others at these types of things but when it came to board games we were all the same. The slow kid was just as fast as the fastest of the bunch when rolling the dice. The kid who was afraid to swing across the gully on a vine could take over the world in a game of Risk. Of course there were days when tempers would flare when you would catch the banker dipping into the funds or armies being moved around the board while you were in the kitchen refilling your glass of grape drink.
That was just all part of it, really. Yes, a board might get flipped or someone would storm out but the next time it rained we would be back at it again.
We did that for a few summers until we grew out if it I suppose. Our interests changed as did our friendships, mainly around the time we all hit junior high. We had four public elementary schools plus three Catholic elementary schools in town then. Once you hit the sixth grade you were bused downtown to the junior high along with everyone else from all the other schools. Add to that the seventh and eighth graders already there, it was inevitable that new friends and activities would come into our lives.
Eventually, we grew apart as time passed due to those changes. We still got together to play whatever sport was taking place at the time as “The Lane Gang” to represent our street against other teams from neighborhoods across the city and hung out on “the wall” here and there, but the days of sitting out back and passing the time playing board games was long gone.
As a father I got to play board games with my daughters, who loved them. We played Candyland, Clue, Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, Life and of course, Monopoly when they were little. We eventually bought the girls GameBoys for our trips to the beach each summer to keep the peace on the twelve hour jaunt but they still liked to play board games as they grew up, and still play them today on occasion.
I am not sure how popular board games are in this day and age. I am amazed at what is out there now for kids entertain themselves with. Their minds are challenged in ways mine was not as a kid. I will argue that I had the opportunity to use my imagination a lot more than kids these days while learning the same lessons when it comes to fair play and strategy though.
When I was a senior in high school, the movie “Stand by Me” hit theaters. The story about the boys in it rang true for me even though film was set in the boomer era. While watching it I would catch myself drifting back to the days when I was the age of the boys depicted, thinking about the walks in the woods, just hanging out and of course those rainy days on my parents back porch with my old buddies. Simple times, simple pleasures.
To borrow a classic line from the movie that still hits home even today, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?”
E Pluribus Unum