Two sets of Aunts and Uncles, a few blocks away, watched me on an alternating basis almost daily up until this point in time. So to my many cousins, I was the 'orphaned cousin Genie,' the skinniest child ever to walk the already crumbling sidewalks of Levittown, Pennsylvania. And to top it off, because one Aunt saw me "rolling my eyes a lot" she suggested to my parents I wear glasses--as it turned out...big, black ugly ones like Elvis Costello wore in the 80's and high school Science teachers wear to this day, I suppose. I had already narrowly escaped the big, black orthopedic shoe scenario with some quick think 'mimic walking' of my non pigeon-toed peers but my early onset sarcasm (the eye rolling, apparently) put me in thick black frames until I stopped cutting my hair in the 70's when all childhood bets were finally and ultimately, off for good.
So....until that second grade Catholic school year I spent most of my unquality time at my cousins' respective households where I was among the youngest and smallest of the Petro males. There were a lot of Petro kids of all grades and sizes in that particular era, 15 besides me--at least 15 if I recall correctly, so we played a lot of games to pass the time--the kind of games made out of cardboard and toxic lead pieces in taped up boxes--not silicone chips, LCD screens and joysticks, if you know what I'm saying. And being an hour or so west of Atlantic City, we always played Monopoly. It was the best game ever invented, we were sure.
Now, hovering around the bottom of the family foodchain meant my game face persona was, as you might guess... The Thimble. Not The Dog, nor The Racecar.. not even The @#&%ing Iron.
No, GenieWeenieJellyBeanie (that nickname hung in the air until I got bald and heavy and everyone became convinced I was either in The Mob or auditioning for The Sopranos) almost always got stuck with The Thimble. And with such a status symbol handicap (even The Shoe could at least be mistaken for a boot, which is pretty cool) and little, if no knowledge at all of how to best allocate the multicolored $1500 stake, the most I could mentally muster back in those wonder years was to aspire for the yellow corner of the Monopoly Board--Atlantic, Ventnor, and my all time favorite--Marvin Gardens. Maybe even someday hope to own a few little green houses here and there before inevitably--parking illegally in some Park Place tow zone, blowing my Boardwalk rent money at the Casino or searching frantically for my last Get Out Of Jail Free favor from an ex-inlaw--and going belly up for good. I strived to obtain the little green houses. We all lived in Levittown which was nothing but little green houses in the 1960's, if you think about it.
I learned to become risk aversive before the 3rd Grade. I knew to always keep a hidden orange $500 bill in my wallet in case of emergency. My cousin Eddie taught me how to play the game 'on credit', how to collect from a deadbeat sibling, and as I got older...the beauty of compound weekly interest and the importance of passing GO for the 'two big ones.' The biggest, if not the oldest of my males cousins, he took me under his wing and even let me borrow his silver car on occasion, allowing me to move for him or play in his place if he got bored and left the game for greater, greener pastures--usually a girl down the block.
And when Eddie was in the game, no one much argued with the way he counted the dice when it was his turn to move even though the difference between a seven and an eight can be significant in such a game of spaces. In a few years time I began to earn some family respect of my own at gaming table (bedroom floor). I purposely cracked a lens (to look tougher) of my heavy, back-up specs, wore three and four shirts to show (imply) bulk and swore the most venial curse words whenever possible, mostly beginning with H and D, to prove my entrepreneurial points. I was learning about the Real Estate game. Later in life, more than a few of these lessons proved invaluable. Eddie thought my thimble was a shotglass, or at least called it that to make me feel bigger and stronger, I imagine.
"Snake-eyes!...Shotglass Genie passes GO and collects 'two big ones,' he'd say, grabbing half for the rent I couldn't pay a minute earlier on his Boardwalk penthouse. Eddie was always the bank, too. He'd give me a 'side job' as a Teller which meant I was in charge of all the heavy counting, passing out 1500 'big ones' to start the game, and putting everything away in order, back in the taped up box, when all the fun was over.
If you play Monopoly your whole life you eventually learn how to sniff out the dirty dogs and stay away from the dirty deals that usually follow. You learn to pick your partners wisely and keep a cousin Eddie around, if needed. You learn to count in your head and dollar cost average your losses and not invest in the Railway system in lean economic times. You realize that the meat of the market may very well lie in the 'yellow properties' and the not in the heavily mortgaged and luxury taxed 'blue corner' of the city and if you indeed win 2nd Place in a Beauty Contest, just shut up and take the $15. But most of all...you learn how to have fun doing it.
house and thimble image by hasbro