Tag Archives: 1970s

Have Life’s rules changed?

Parking my yellow convertible on the seventh square, I read the words aloud,

“’Inherit shrunken head collection. Pay $10,000 for museum to accept it.’ Aw, man!”

“Pay up, and quit yer whining!” my brother snickered with sick satisfaction. No matter what game we played, my older brother always appointed himself the banker, setting an immediate tone of domination. The Game of Life was no exception, and he snapped the brightly colored bills out of my hand with a greedy sneer.

Growing up in the 70s with only three television channels and one mind-numbingly monotonous Atari Tennis game, my brother and I relied heavily on board games for entertainment when we weren’t outside chasing each other with sticks. We played Monopoly, Sorry!, Risk, Payday, Clue, Masterpiece, Stratego, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Battleship and other games expressly intended to reward the rich, the ruthless, the lucky, and the intellectually superior.

There were no consolation prizes for the losers – if you lost, you suffered complete destitution and utter humiliation, and we liked it that way. After all, if losing wasn’t so unbearable, why bother winning?

One recent weekend, my kids were draped lazily over our sofa whining, “We’re BORED!” I reminded them of the myriad of bikes, scooters, and athletic equipment lying dormant in our garage, and they sighed. I reminded them of our four televisions with over 200 channels each, and they sighed. I reminded them of the Wii game system complete with guitars, microphones, electronic dance mat, steering wheel and drum set, and they sighed.

Finally, I marched up to their playroom and scanned the stacks of neglected games on the shelves. I spied the current edition of The Game of Life, and plucked it from the pile. Cajoling them with the promise of unhealthy snack foods, the kids agreed to play the game. A few minutes later, I heard their banter at the dining room table.

“’Cycle to work.’ Ooo, I got $10,000.”

“’Support Wildlife Fund.’ Ha! I got $5,000!”

“Wait a minute? What game are you guys playing?” I interrupted. There on our table lay The Game of Life with its characteristic segmented pathway, rainbow spinner, and white plastic buildings. However, upon closer inspection, I could see that this was not the game of my youth.

“What’s this – ‘Countryside Acres?’ What happened to The Poor Farm? And are these minivans? No more convertibles? You get money for recycling now? What’s going on?!”

Determined to alleviate my confusion, I called my mother, who like me is unable to get rid of anything with remotely sentimental value. Sure enough, she found the Game of Life my brother and I used to play in the basement of the 1950s brick ranch of my youth. I asked her to carefully open the brittle old box and read to me from its faded game board.

“Big day at the races. Collect $80,000.”

“Pay $5,000 for toupee.”

“Find Uranium deposit. Collect $100,000.”

“Tornado blows you back to start.”

“Buy raccoon coat. Pay $500.”

“Uncle in jail. Pay $500 bail.

“Buy Rolls Royce. Pay $16,000.”

“REVENGE. Collect $100,000 from any player.”

With each square, fond memories of rainy days spent trying to crush my opponent flooded my mind. Back then, the Rules of Life were clear – get a good job, take care of your responsibilities, make as much money as possible. Sure, every player had to deal with the hard knocks in Life like tornadoes, jury duty, poison ivy, and poor relatives. But if you could manage to get rich, there was no shame in rewarding yourself with yachts and trips to Monte Carlo. To the contrary, wealth was respected and necessary to win at The Game of Life.

Nowadays, players in The New Game of Life get money for planting trees, having family picnics, returning lost wallets, joining health clubs and even making new friends. Nobody goes bald or inherits a skunk farm anymore. Gambling and revenge have been outlawed, and players have ample chances in Life to “Spin again if not in the lead.”

To make matters worse, the old game’s daunting “Day of Reckoning” has now been replaced with an anti-climactic choice between a government subsidized retirement community called “Countryside Acres,” and watered-down Millionaire Estates. No more Poor Farm or risk-taking Millionaire Tycoons. Everyone’s a winner. Frankly, I’m surprised the game doesn’t come with trophies for every player.

Sadly, I said goodbye to my mother and hung up the phone. “Isn’t it bad enough that we no longer have a clear vision of what it means to live the American Dream, but now our children must face the same milk-toast sociology in their board games? What is this world coming to?” I thought to myself.

Just then, I heard a commotion in the dining room, and rushed in to find my son holding his sister in a headlock as she screamed, “You’re just mad ‘cause I beat you again! I’m richer than you are!”

“Whew,” I thought, and was relieved to see that some things in Life will never change.


Taken for a Ride

As I nervously watched my daughters reeling down our street in an abandoned shopping cart, memories of my own childhood misadventures rushed into my head.

Any kid who could get his hands on certain common household items like shopping carts and refrigerator boxes, was golden.

On spring in the 1970’s, my brother Tray scored two large inner tubes. He called his friend, Tracy, to come over to help him figure out what to do with them. Tray and his friends were in Junior High School and wanted nothing to do with little sisters like me. They were mischievous, parted their hair in the center, listened to Foreigner and Supertramp, and said things like, “That’s decent.”

After lunch, Tracy and Tray disappeared to hatch their plan while I trotted up the hill to the neighbor’s house to find my two friends.

We had recently moved from town into a rural neighborhood on the side of a hill with only five houses. Our house was at the bottom of the hill on the road, and my two girlfriends lived at the top of the hill near the woods. 

Starting from the tree line, our hill sloped steadily downward, flattening out a bit at the neighbor’s property, but then taking a steep drop toward a barrier of blue spruces, my friends’ grandma’s house, and the road beyond. In winter, we rode sleds down the long hill and in summer we rolled down the hill and played in the tall grass.

As I trudged barefooted up the hill to find my friends, I picked a handful of newly sprouted dandelions along the way.

About an hour later, there was a knock at my neighbors’ playhouse door.

“Hey, Lisa! C’meer! Wanna do something fun with me and Tracy?!”

Completely gullible, I threw the baby doll I was nurturing into the spider-webbed corner and ran out the door. “Whaddya wanna do?!” I yelled excitedly.

Tracy and Tray lead me to the side of the neighbors’ house where I saw the inner tubes lashed together, side by side, with twine. Glancing sideways at each other and down at me, my brother said, “Lisa, if you climb inside the tubes, we’ll roll you down the hill and it’ll be really fun!”

I couldn’t see the red flags or hear the alarm bells going off. All I knew is that my big brother finally wanted to play with me.

I crouched down and climbed into the center hole, gripping the metal valves like handles just as they instructed. With my chin on my chest and my legs criss-crossed, I fit snuggly into the tiny space.

Assuring me that the ride would be better than the Scrambler at the County Fair, they carefully shoved me off down the hill.

As the tubes took their first few rotations, I squealed with excitement. But then, I reached the sharp drop off at the front of the neighbors’ property, and the tubes spun wildly with the sudden acceleration.

The undulations in the grass sent the tubes airborne, causing them to change shape as they hit the ground. The circle distorted into an elongated oval with the impact, and my teeth clacked.

As the contraption flew down the hill toward the border of blue spruces, my initial squeals of delight turned into breathy screams of terror, and then into the silence of survival mode.

From my cramped vantage point, I could see flashes of blue sky, the approaching spruces, grass, and Tray and Tracy screaming down the hill after me.

I knew I had to save myself from certain disaster, so as I slammed into the ground after a particularly high bounce, I allowed a foot to pop out of the ring. My toes immediately caught the grass, flipping the tubes like a quarter in a coin toss.

My wheel of terror teetered to a stop just before the spruces, and I instinctively burst out of the confining hole onto the grass. The entire universe spun around me.

I could hear faint yelling coming closer, until Tracy’s silhouette appeared against the blue sky above me.

“Lisa! Lisa! Are you OK?!” Tracy panted as a drop of spit began to ooze from his gaping mouth. Just before the elongated globule could detach itself, Tracy slurped and swallowed.

What an idiot I was to trust my brother. He had baited me into many a judo flip, locked closet and harebrained scheme, so why did I think that moment would be any different?

Anyone with an older sibling knows the answer to that question. No matter how much my brother acted annoyed by me, no matter how many times he gave me a charlie horse-producing punch, no matter how many times he called me “Chunky Dinners,” no matter how many of my Barbis he maimed, I would drop anything if he showed me the slightest amount of attention.

And now, as I watch my daughters careening down the street in a shopping cart, I say a little prayer that no one breaks an arm, I accept the natural order of things, and understand that some things never change.

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Back to School Duds for a Fashion Dud

Fashion has always eluded me. By the time I clue in to the latest trend, it has hit the clearance racks, which is why I’ve never spent much on clothes and often look a bit outdated. 

It all started in my primary years when my mother was dressing me in polyester dresses, cardigan sweaters worn over the shoulders with only the top button done, knee socks, saddle shoes, and my hair tied in thick yarn bows. Even when I was allowed to get a pair of groovy gauchos, I still had to wear the stinking saddle shoes. Add to that my chunky frame and a huge split between my front teeth, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

 

I remember one August back in the late 70s, when my mother dragged my brother and me downtown to do some back to school shopping. Our first stop was Troutman’s, a musty old department store on the main street. At 13, I thought it was an “old lady store,” and never much set foot in the place except on half days when my friends and I would stop in to see the latest Bonnie Bell Lip Gloss flavor behind the makeup counter.

 

I associated the place with a mild level of anxiety, a direct result of the years when my parents would take my brother and me there at Christmas time to sit on Santa’s lap. No candy cane was worth the building terror that I experienced every year as the line inched forward. I loved Santa when he was that elusive guy up at the North Pole I wrote letters to, but put me in his lap and he may as well be the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

 

My mother took me to the juniors section, and started sifting through racks of slacks, while I watched my mischievous older brother occupy himself over by some mannequins. For a moment, he disappeared behind a display. As he popped out the other side with a smirk on his face, I noticed that the wig on one of the mannequins had been tugged off to one side, exposing her bald head and knocking her sunglasses askew. He could barely contain his laughter, and I started to snicker too.

 

“Here dumpling, go try these on.”

 

My mother handed me a pile of outfits and I reluctantly faced the harshly-lit dressing room. One by one, I tried the outfits my mother had put together. Plum slacks and a cowel neck. Khaki gauchos and a blouse with a bow at the neck. Blue chinos and a plaid shirt. I just wanted to crawl under a rock.

 

Our next stop was Pflorsheim Shoes, another place my friends and I went to on half days. The store had one of those old stand alone penny gum machines that spit out five or six square pellets in green, yellow, orange, white, pink and red. Curiously, they all tasted the same, except the red one, which was cinnamon.

 

But we weren’t there to buy gum, we were there to find me the one pair of school shoes I would be imprisoned in my entire 7th grade year. Mercifully, we passed by the saddle shoes and headed for a rack of brown leather. A salesman in shirtsleeves and tie knelt to measure my foot and brought out an array that could best be described as dumpy, frumpy, plain and nondescript.

 

As the salesman fitted me in the shoes, I tried to think of what my best friend would do. But she never shopped in these stores. She was totally cute, hip and trendy, and used her mother’s employee discount at a chic little boutique called “The Cubby Hole” across the street in upscale Brody’s Department Store. She had just purchased a satin jacket, rainbow suspenders, a Coneheads t-shirt, designer jeans and a huge plastic comb for her back pocket.

 

But my parents were more conservative than hers, so I didn’t even think to ask for anything satin or rainbow. I knew it was brown leather or nothing.

 

Having remembered something my best friend said about new “preppy” styles, I settled on a pair of plain Bass loafers and hoped my back to school shopping agony would soon be over.

 

As the years rolled by, I continued to make obvious fashion mistakes like the bang roll, my suede green Pumas, the lace-collared peach dress with the massive shoulder pads, and that time I got a perm. But, through it all, I learned to overcompensate for my lack of fashion sense with my developing sense of humor, and although I was always somewhat uncomfortable in my clothes, I found a comfortable security in making people laugh. 

 

Now, as an adult, I wish I hadn’t worried so much about my clothes when I was a kid. Much older and a little wiser, I know that developing a strong sense of character is more important than a sense of style. That being said, I need to go shopping. I heard there’s a big sale on parachute pants and crop tops.

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