The last time I was back home in Arkansas for a visit, my two younger sisters got into a long-drawn-out debate over the following passage from the instructions for the Rummikub game:
In order to make an initial meld, each player must place tiles on the table in one or more sets that total at least 30 points. These points must come from the tiles on each player’s rack; for their initial meld, players may not use tiles already played on the table.
My sisters subjected these two sentences to such a degree of exegetical scrutiny you would have thought we were trying to decipher some crucial law from the Talmud. Honestly, either sister could convincingly lay claim to being the Maimonides of the Rummikub instructional booklet.
I, for my part, couldn’t quite grasp the point of contention; hermeneutics was never my strong suit. Instead, I was persuaded by whomever was speaking at any given time, for if there are two things I know for certain they are: 1.) language is ambiguous and 2.) I am wishy-washy.
I don’t know when my sisters started playing Rummikub, by the way, but it definitely wasn’t when we were kids—though we did on occasion play the card game rummy 500, which is similar.
The official Thompson family parlor games, though, are Crazy Eights and Aggravation. The former is a less fun Uno, the latter a bootleg Sorry! that we play on a homemade wooden board carved by my paternal grandfather, who could make stuff.
My father is partial to Monopoly, but nobody ever wants to take him on because the game turns him into an unscrupulous real estate developer and heartless slumlord. He’s especially deft when it comes to proposing some misleading side deal where you’ll think, How could I possibly not come out ahead by trading my middling St. James Place for his mighty Marvin Gardens?
But then before you know it, little ol’ SJP has been gentrified and rezoned for so many hotels they’re overflowing into the Community Chest, and just paying the rent puts you in hock up to your eyeballs so that you can’t even afford the godforsaken Income Tax you land on every single blasted time you pass Go. And I just wanna be like, Okay fine, but tell me this, Rich Uncle Pennybags: What shall it profit a man if he shall gain all four railroads—and the Get Out of Jail Free card—but lose his own soul?
Games tear families apart is basically what I’m getting at here. Sisters are divided by arcane orthodoxies. Fathers engineer the financial ruin of their offspring. Sons ponder whether 10am is too early in the day to start drinking.
And yet when it came time to provide my husband’s family with Christmas gift ideas for him this year, for my very first suggestion I was like, “. . . Rummikub . . .?”
And then of course he duly received the game on Christmas morning. And then of course we had to play. And then of course I lost.
Why did I introduce this poison into my home? Do you think I’m subconsciously trying to destroy my own marriage?
Just promise me you’ll sign us up for emergency couples counseling if I ever purchase a copy of Boggle.