My name is Tony. My dad is Big Tony, and I have an uncle and two cousins that are also named Tony. Nobody who is smart messes with Big Tony, and part of that respect trickles down to me. At school, kids walk up and voluntarily give me their milk money. Like I would ever drink milk.
So I figured the family across the street was just showing their respect when they invited me for dinner and game night when my old man was out of town because he had this thing to do in Jersey. Their youngest kid was my age and he seemed like a stand-up kinda guy. Did his homework. Didn’t sass off to the teacher. Played by the rules. Not the kind I like to associate with but not somebody you have to worry about.
The family’s last name was Johnson, and they were about as un-Italian as you could get. See, everybody I ever knew was Italian. We all played together. Our fathers all did the same kind of work. We attended mass at St. Michaels. I was used to people who had dark hair and who spoke with their hands as much as they did with their mouths.
But the Johnsons? They were so white they made me feel black. Their house was neat and orderly and only had art hanging on the walls. No pictures of family, except for the group photo they had done by a professional somewhere. And their kitchen? What can I say? They didn’t own a pot or pan big enough to cook a good sauce.
Their food was good. We had pork chops and green beans and bread bought from the bakery my pop sends me to. But I can’t remember the last time I ate a meal without at least three bottles of wine on the table and a plate of meatballs right smack dab in the center of the table.
After we were done eating, we all went into the “family room” to play games. To be honest, I thought “game night” meant craps or at least poker, but they were going to play Monopoly. At this point I realized the only thing I had in common with the Johnsons is that they loved Monopoly and I had once heard of Monopoly. But I learned a long time ago that you respect people who invite you in, so figured what the hell. Or heck. Excuse me.
They were surprised when they found out I had never played the game, but then perked right up when they figured out that they would be the ones to teach me the game rules. I listened closely as the explained that the game was about buying up as much stuff as you can and then squeezing some poor sap out of his money when he owes you. Eventually you want to bleed him dry until he has to sell off his stuff to pay off his debt, and if it’s not enough, you get to keep it all.
My kinda game.
I picked the car as my token and off we went. I made it two rolls in before I landed on St. Charles Place. I bought it, smirked, and then stuck it under the board near me. Before too long I had a railroad, a yellow and two greens. Things were heating up when the first trade happened.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You can make trades?”
“Sure thing,” Mr. Johnson said. “Part of the game is negotiating with other players.”
How have I never played this game before??
After that the game got really good. I didn’t need to even land on stuff to get what I wanted. I figure I would let those saps do all the heavy lifting and then I would swoop in and offer up my protection in exchange for cash. I tried my theory first on Mrs. Johnson.
After she got both Park Place and Boardwalk, I motioned her aside from the game.
“I’ve never played this game before, but I can tell you just got something good,” I said.
She looked as happy as hot kids with a busted hydrant. “Oh, it’s only the best property in the game,” she explained. “Once I build up the properties with houses, the rent is phenomenal!”
I looked around to see who was paying attention. Nobody was.
“I can see that you’re very excited by this turn of events,” I whispered as I moved in closer. “I’m sure in no time at all, you’ll have houses everywhere. But I can speed things up for you.”
“I know a guy that knows a guy that owes my old man a favor for this thing he did a while back. You give me, say, 300 dollars, and I make sure that your cement gets poured on time, and that the union boys leave you alone.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“You know; all the things that happen during construction. Sometimes tools come up missing and sometimes entire crews get sick all at once. And that’s not even talking about permits.”
“Uh,” she began, “we just pay money for the houses and we get them. There aren’t any permits required.”
I smirked at how gullible she was. “Suit yourself,” I said as I walked back to the table.
About an hour or so later, the heard was getting thinned. The youngest kid had lost everything to the dad when she landed on Marvin Gardens and didn’t have the dough to pay the rent. I suggested a loan, but she didn’t appreciate the rate of 50% interest per round. So she got wiped out.
I had two railroads, five rental places and the electric company. I figured I could strong-arm the mom for the third green property so I could then start to build houses. I know one of those could easily be turned into a gambling parlor, so that rent should be high.
“Mrs. Johnson, I see that you have the one green one I need.”
I saw her wink at her husband. She did it right in front of me, like I’m some blind guy or something. No respect.
“Why, yes I do. Would you like to make a trade?”
“Like what kind of trade?” I asked.
“Well, you need my Pennsylvania Ave. and I would like to have your two railroads.”
“What? Straight up?”
“Sure,” she said. “That gives you a monopoly and it gives me all four of the railroads.”
I rubbed my chin like I’ve seen my old man do a million times. “I was thinking that you give me your green and in return I offer you my protection.”
“What does that even mean?” Mr. Johnson asked.
“You serious? It means that nobody is going to come in and mess with you. Let’s say that you land on somebody else’s property. Now normally you’d pay, right? But they know that you have my protection and out of respect for me, they let this one slide. Or they give me a 20% cut and I talk it out between the two of you. That way everybody gets a little something and everybody is happy.”
Their entire family was silent.
Finally, the dad spoke.
“Tony, this is just a board game. It’s just for fun.”
“Sure. Fun. I get it,” I said. “But in the end, somebody has to win, and that somebody has to eliminate their competition. I mean, if we keep playing all nicey-nice, then nobody wins and the game lasts forever.”
“I’ll just forget the bargain, ok?” Mrs. Johnson said. “It’s your turn, Tony.”
I picked up the dice, blew on them like Mikey Two Thumbs showed me, and gave them a toss. I rolled a three. Community chest. I picked up the top card and turned it over. It was a “get out of jail free” card.
I laughed. “Wonder what dirt they had on a judge to get this one?”
“I’m feeling tired,” Mrs. Johnson said.
“Me too,” her husband said.
We packed up the game and they escorted me to their front door.
I doubt they ever invite me back.