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Monopoly, Risk and Sorry! Family Fun, Post-NOAA Holidays and the Quadrangle

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How awful, as we enter the great family fun season of sugar cookies, Charlie Brown and battered, beloved board games, to find ourselves suddenly flashing our hands in front of the kids' tender eyes to block them from the latest in the sordid franchise: Real Housewives of Military Bases. Thought the calendar meant we were coming into some kind of post-NOAA holiday, did we? Well, before we sink into feeling singled out, deprived of holiday shopping stampedes and sundry justified self-pity I suggest, remarkably, 'tis a season to be sanguine.

We're not the only ones to have ever played the real Game of Life.

What was originally invented by Milton Bradley as "The Checkered Game of Life" received patent number 53561 on April 3, 1866. I mean, this was the first year of Reconstruction after the end of the Civil War. The Game of Life my baby-boom family played starts you out with nothing but your car. You spin the wheel that makes that zippy, revving up sound. You get married immediately, pack your car with as many babies as possible (collecting presents for each), may or may not get a college degree with commensurate salary (journalists and educators at the bottom), suffer setbacks such as having a tornado blow you back to Start, and wind up either at the Poor Farm or Millionaire Acres. You might be bummed, but it's only a game.

And it's no surprise to me that Monopoly's greatest charm may be that it was invented in 1935 during the Great Depression, 69 years after Milton Bradley's take on The Game of Life. Why is the tactile feel and click of tossing small plastic cubes with debossed dots onto a portable cardboard surface, moving a cast tin object around colorful squares connoting real estate, and placing small plastic "houses" and "hotels" on them to collect "rent" so addictive? Possibly because it's a healthier way to channel current images of Atlantic City, the ongoing mortgage crisis, and suspicions about our banker surreptitiously stashing $500 bills under the game board than Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto III. I don't need to pretend I'm a Crip and wipe out 3D urban enclaves, with as much splatter as possible, to feel a little more empowered. Landing on Get Out of Jail Free will do.

Clean, silly escapism saves our sanity -- in Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen's hopeless hypochondriac stumbles into lifesaving silliness with an art-house screening of Duck Soup. If Ryan Seacrest comes up with a reality series where satiny platinum blondes, tailed tuxedos and a Cole Porter soundtrack replace the overripe Kardashians, E!, for me, just might stand for entertainment again instead of wretched excess designed to provoke maximum envy. My brother, family-law attorney with a talk-radio soul, called me yesterday afternoon to reverse-engineer the election, but not without first singing "What Can You Do With A General (When He Stops Being A General)." "Thanks a lot," I said after I finally managed to stop laughing -- and hating myself for it. "I'll never be able to watch White Christmas again."

Which brings us back to the present scandal, and our depressing modern definition of "connectivity." Look how the quaint gesture of a general handing out a business card escalated into the Petraeus-Broadwell-Kelley-Allen Quadrangle. What can you do with a general, when he stops being a general? (In 2012, you make him testify about Benghazi.)

In the past 15 years or so, "interactivity" has come to mean acting out -- not, for healthy example, by kicking playing cards into the air in a petulant lightning round of 52 Pickup as we kids did, or quitting an interminable losing game of Risk by announcing you're bored (as opposed to just succumbing to world domination). It means interacting with hardware and whatever we've purchased and installed there as our cool little friend. Nobody has relationships any more -- we network. We're not acquainted, we're linked in. Guilty: Just yesterday I posted on Facebook that in my perfect world of Software Updates (Apple iEcosystem), Grabber (voicemail, first ring) and Nagger (Audi GPS), who needs humans? The weird thing is, I was making the point to 608 "friends." Thanks to the Quadrangle, the definition of "friends" is now subject to FBI investigation.

Media timing for connecting the rest of us to Petraeus et al impressed me as remarkably considerate -- we were permitted just about one day to recover from Election Night before the next screaming headline surfaced, and then something of a moratorium on epaulet-ripping revelations until after the Veterans Day weekend. As the overheated days ran together and some of us were unsure whether this past Monday, November 12, was a federal holiday (it was), a couple of veterans commented ironically to me that the actual November 11 observance was originally called Armistice Day.

However, for lack of playful humans I've pulled out my DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas and am openly watching it, as often as possible, with Thanksgiving fully a week away. One way or another, my messed-up holidays are happening. Anybody up for a good old-fashioned game of Stratego?

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