The Games People Play

Guess who won and who lost …

We recently wrapped up a weekend in Port Townsend with my wife’s sister and her husband where about all we did was eat and play board games. Settlers of Catan, SmallWorld, Splendor and Five Crowns were all … on the table. We had an absolute blast, and pretty much each of us won one game. We can’t wait to go back and test our skills and luck again!

Playing these games did dredge up a couple of memories from years gone by. My sister Susan and I would occasionally get to stay with our grandparents in Vancouver, B.C.; one time we found a very old version of Snakes and Ladders, and played that endlessly, maybe my first introduction to board games.

Then I got introduced to Monopoly. We had a ton of kids in the neighborhood I grew up in, and we all loved to play. And play. And play. We started adding to the rules – you could put as many hotels on a property as you could afford. Soon we had to buy extra packs of Monopoly money, houses and hotels. Then one year, we started a game just as school got out for the summer. That game lasted almost the entire summer! There was never a game like that before, and there will never be another.

Someone “Shot the Moon,” or “ran” them!

I also learned how to play Hearts at an early age. One of my grandmas played it with a cutthroat intensity. She was able to count the cards and remember what had been played, and figure out what was left, and who was most likely to have what was left in their hands. I remember epic games around our dining room table that resulted in shouts of exultation as someone “ran” the Hearts, and cries of anguish as the Queen of Spades got played on an unsuspecting victim.

One time my grandmother came up to visit my wife and I. We naturally started playing Hearts, but somehow, she just kept getting messed up on her plays, and started racking up the points. “I just can’t understand it!” she kept saying. Then … “What is that music you have playing?” Well, I had some great rock’n’roll going softly in the background. “Turn that off!” she commanded, and with that, she was back on her game. Dang.

Just a few years back, I was visiting my uncle, and he taught me how to play a card game he called “Nickel.” Apparently that was because everyone had to ante up a nickel for every hand they played. Such a fun game! Since then my wife and I have taught it to several other couples (although I did have to call my uncle a few times to clarify the rules), and they in turn have taught it to others. I love being a part of keeping this tradition alive! Side note: the game “5 Crowns” turns out to be a commercial version of Nickel, with a very slight variant on the scoring portion of the rules.

And then there is dominoes. I had played with them as a youth, stacking them so that they’d all fall down sequentially, but I had never played a game of dominoes. Then our friends from Texas, Dave and Jodi, taught us how to play 42 and Mexican Train. 42 is a game with partners, and involves a highly evolved strategy. The good news is that David is quite skilled, so we won more games than can be attributed to my contributions. Mexican Train, however, proved to be super fun, easy to learn and teach, and so we acquired our own set of these specialized dominoes, and enjoy playing with anyone who will join us.

We are excited, because it looks probable we will have a game night at our home soon with our granddaughter and daughter. We’ve already made lots of great memories around OUR dining room table, and we can’t wait to make more. Maybe, if you are lucky this holiday season, someone will come up to you with a wish in their eyes, and say “Will you play a game with me?” and I hope you do.

The Three Amigos

The Boogie Corner

Many people form great, life-long bonds with college roommates; others become comrades-in-arms in military service. Then there’s the Three Amigos from the Boogie Corner. Odd how things work out. I had just returned to Portland after Basic and AIT Training for the Oregon National Guard at Fort Lewis, and knew living at home was no longer an option. John D had just gotten back from Texas, where he had gone through the Air Force equivalent of Basic Training. Gary M. had been friends with my sisters, and (as often happened) would make the trek down from Renton to visit with my mom, and he was looking to move to Portland. None of us had enough resources to get our own places, so I said, “What if we all get an apartment together?” And we did.

We found a newer three bedroom, two bath apartment in South East Portland, scraped together some furnishings, and moved in. We were in a corner unit with two other apartments – one had three “girls”, and the other had three “guys.” Those six liked to party hardy with alcohol, and while we wouldn’t turn down a drink, preferred, let’s say, alternative choices. Occasionally we would all join forces, and quite the party would ensue – hence the name, Boogie Corner.

Gary loved to cook, and we loved to eat. John “loved” to clean, and I – hmmm – I liked everything at 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. Music, medicinal herbs, you name it. Think hippy wanna-be’s Odd Couple plus One. But something clicked.

Poor Gary – John and I would get the munchies around midnight, after Gary had been to bed for a couple of hours. We’d cook up cheeseburgers, and wake him up to eat one. He’d actually get up, eat the burger we cooked, and go back to bed. In the morning involuntary bulimia would often afflict Gary. He says that’s why I don’t eat burgers now.

Then there was the time John and I came back to the apartment, opened the door, and tons of smoke rolled out. We thought the apartment was on fire! Turns out Gary had cookies in the oven, and forgot about them until a second before we arrived. Then there was the time when he had cooked up a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce. We were in the process of eating dinner when the landlord came to call. I answered the door, but for various reasons, did not invite him in. Gary came up to the door, holding his plate of spaghetti, until – it just fell from his fingers, as if in slow motion. Still in slow-mo, Gary’s mouth fell open, his eyes widened, and he slowly looked down at the floor where his dinner now resided. The landlord looked at the food, then at Gary, then at me and said “I’ll come back later.”

Celebrating a 50th Birthday in Vancouver, BC

John worked at a major bank, I worked at Western Electric building telephone switching equipment, and Gary held a variety of jobs. One was selling waterbeds (remember those?). The best part about that was that they sponsored rock concerts, so Gary was able to get us in to see Bill Withers on his first tour, Canned Heat, and the James Gang. We did like to rock out.

There was a whole lot more, compressed into what actually was a fairly short time. But we bonded. John still lives in Portland, Gary lives in Olympia, and I’m far north in between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, but we still try and get together once a year. We share old stories, talk about future plans, and just enjoy each other’s company. I treasure the friendship of these two, and am so glad we’ve kept it going for oh my gosh it must be about 50 years now! In the end, we all have memories, but for us lucky ones, we have friends who have touched, and continue to touch, our lives.

The Three Amigos and Spouses getting together again to celebrate about 50 years of friendship


When I was young, I was a voracious reader. I mean I read everything, including my mom’s Good Housekeeping magazines. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, I’ve always remembered an ad in there, and it has now come back to haunt me. You might even remember it – “GET RID OF HORRID AGE SPOTS!. Just buy their cream, and hey presto! The’re gone!

I guess you can figure out where this is headed; yes, I DO have “horrid age spots’. It was kinda like going shopping, getting back to your car, and finding a ding on the door. Disbelief, shock, anger, and then, resignation. Well, at least they’re not painful.

And age spots would be okay, if that’s where it stopped, but noooooo. Suddenly the back of my hand looks OLD. When did that happen? I remember when my facial hair started growing gray, and I finally convinced my wife I’d look sooo much better if I shaved the gray caterpillar off my upper lip.  Actually made me look a bit younger, for awhile. Then there are the incipient wattles, aka Turkey Neck. I’d shake my head in disgust, but I hate the flapping.

All of these are bad enough, but my nemesis is  – wait for it – hair. Hair on my head. Not the stuff on top, thinning and (ahem) soon and suddenly to go gray. No, I’m talking about the hair that is creeping up my neck and back, trying to peek out over my shirt collars. I’m talking about the zillion hairs in my nose that would pass for a mustache if I didn’t trim them. I’m talking about the ones growing out of my ears. Really, what evolutionary benefit does that impart to an aging male that is already showing signs of hearing loss (didn’t we all turn the amps up to 11 when we were young?). Seems like that little forest of ear hairs would keep even MORE sound out.

Finally, not to be outdone, are the Eyebrow Hairs. Why do they grow so much when the top of my head is losing so much? I’ve actually wondered if I could use them for a comb-over; certainly cheaper than getting hair implants!

At night, when I am dreaming, I am young, vibrant and strong. Well, in my dreams, I can also play the guitar like Eric Clapton, and I can often fly. Point is, I’m never old, or even middle-aged. But then I wake, jump in the shower, and there they are! Horrid Age Spots! Hey, what was the name of that cream again??? Asking for a friend.