The world of real estate is a dangerous place. As you seize property as quickly as possible, raise the rent higher and higher, and negotiate deals under the table, you’re bound to offend someone, and when you do, he or she just might snap.
“WHADDA YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” bellows my sister Zandy, her almost spaghetti-thin torso belying the power of her lungs as she lunges for the tiny train representing my other sister, Nadia, and moves it back onto Virginia Ave., a property in which Zandy just invested $200 to build two houses. Nadia is the middle child, but she adopts the tactics of the baby of the family nonetheless. Smiling innocently, eyes dancing with amusement, she says in honeyed tones, “How do I always miscount?” This is Monopoly. This is serious business.
My family believes that board games are the best form of bonding. Shouting, catfights, game tokens flying through the air? No problem. We’ll take a violent game of checkers over a hike in the woods any day. Actually, my parents fervently support “being one with nature,” too, but it’s much simpler to subvert an outing to the great outdoors. First my sisters and I can wear down Mom and Dad’s patience and determination by bringing up all of the hazards we might potentially encounter (“But Mom, what if Nadia gets chased up a tree by a rabid bear and the tree gets cut down and she falls out of it into a pit and breaks her ankle and we never find her?”). Then all we need to do is confound their planning by listing options for the trip until they’re overwhelmed and make the executive decision to stay home (“No arguing! We’re not going hiking, and I don’t want to hear one complaint about it”).
Other possibilities for family time aside, we have a long-standing tradition of playing board and card games and taking them very, very seriously, whether we’re playing Risk with my uncle who is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, “Bruto Uno” with my aunt (involving a hand of cards four times the usual size and a complicated system of sanctioned cheating), or a game of Hearts at home. Today, however, the heated battle that we were locked in happened to be a game of Monopoly.
After much pleading on my sisters’ and my part, my mom had agreed to play with us, but before we began, she rescinded her assent, seeing our stony faces and my just-barely-noticeably creased forehead and remembering that this will be no mere game – this is a Stovicek war. This was a wise choice on her part, as it turns out, for within four turns Dad already has the most property and Zandy and I are scorning our luck, glaring daggers at him and mumbling about how things would be different “if I had just rolled a nine that first turn.” Recalcitrance and sulkiness are common features of our Monopoly games, as the minute that someone begins to lose he or she grows cross. Once the wheel of fortune turns, of course, we deny ever having been less than chipper. As I snap up Pennsylvania Ave., I turn and ask the still-pouting Zandy what’s wrong, soon counting myself lucky that we’re not playing Clue, because it looks like she’s trying to set me alight with her scowl, and the props of Clue provide far too ample opportunity for bodily harm for my comfort. And we haven’t even begun to trade properties yet.
Zandy offers a railroad and $50 for Connecticut Ave., and I scoff. I announce that I’ll give Nadia Pennsylvania for St. James Place. The cacophony of our market suggests a handful of near-deaf old ladies playing bingo more than a civilized band of real-estate moguls, but the noise crescendos as my dad executes a trade with each one of us in quick succession. “Dad, you can’t give us all monopolies!” “Come on, we don’t need your help! You’re making this too easy!” “Why don’t you let us beat you fair and square?” No one volunteers to trade back.
A peculiar code of honor settles upon us once we sit down at the round table in the living room and prepare to do battle. We want to win justly, honestly, sure, but our definition of fairness is a little loose, almost looser than the morals of a streetwalker. Blatant cheating is a perfectly acceptable part of the game. Don’t notice that someone has landed on your property and owes you rent? Your problem. When you’re in jail, want to roll first and then decide whether or not you feel like paying bail? Go for it. We do draw the line somewhere; if someone has left the table, you can’t pull anything. As long as it is to his or her face, however, feel free. Naturally, since we are all aware of the criminal tendencies of the major players in our miniature economy, successful schemes are few and far between, and as such, we tend to take raucous pride in our triumphs.
Of course, it’s when I’m crowing my success at evading paying Zandy’s rent that Zandy starts warning us that she’s about to quit. This is a common tactic in the Stovicek household, and we all know that it’s an empty threat. Still, we play along anyway, exhorting her to stay with vague warnings that make us sound like modern-day Corleones and plying her with more seltzer. Yes, seltzer. I down mine in a gulp and squint carefully at my younger sister before refilling my glass. She stays.
Here, briefly, the game cools down, and my dad seizes the opportunity to give us an economics lesson. “It’s like the recession, guys – everyone’s money is tied up in property and no one has any cash to spend, so the game is stagnating.” Following that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, Nadia decides to Occupy Park Place, because if whoever owns the top two properties isn’t the top 1%, who is? My dad owns Boardwalk and Park Place – he owns the vast majority of the property – but Occupy Park Place soon has more to protest about. All evening, we’ve been paying the various fees and dues levied by the game into the middle of the board, and by now it looks like a second bank. By Stovicek rules, whoever hits the Free Parking space will be showered with all of that brightly-colored money, close to $2000, a fortune in Monopoly. Dad lands on it, much to our distress. Immediately afterward, in the same rotation, first I land on Free Parking, and then Nadia does. The irony does not escape us.
This is where my sisters and I lose our already-tenuous grips on the chance to win, for the influx of cash allows my dad to put hotels on his monopolies. Over a thousand dollars to spare for rent, anyone? But though we may be down, we’re not out yet, and Nadia, Zandy, and I will gang up on Dad once more, harrying him until the end. When Zandy gets slammed by one of Dad’s hotels, Nadia says, “I’ll give ya one dollar for Ventnor,” laughing hard enough to snort, donkeylike, as she “helps,” but it is, in fact, a solid tactic; if she can (with rather dubious backing from the rulebook) buy up Zandy’s property, even if it’s useless to her, it will prevent Dad from getting all of Zandy’s property for free.
Still, working against Dad doesn’t mean that we’re not all working for ourselves. When Zandy puts Atlantic Ave. up for auction in a last-ditch fire sale, my dad, Nadia, and I all start to bark our bids, and soon we’re up to $200. “216 dollars!” Nadia cries enthusiastically. Dad and I are silent. “Going once,” calls Zandy. “Going twice… SOLD to the lady in the preppy pajamas!” But Nadia’s enthusiasm has swiftly been replaced with sheepishness. “I’m a little short of 216 dollars,” she admits. “About 120 dollars short. I was just driving up the price so that Olivia would spend more money.” I lean back for a moment in surprise. Then we all burst out laughing simultaneously. You’d think that someone had slipped something into the seltzer.
Dad wins, of course. We saw that coming. But we’ll get him next time. After all, we’re a bunch of brilliant budding criminal masterminds. It’s easy to see how our cunning will defeat him – just watch us clean up the board after the game. “Take your muskles out. Your schnapples!” says Nadia to Zandy, gesticulating wildly to indicate Zandy’s game token.
It’s good to spend time with the family.
Age 16, Grade 11