Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sweet days of summer

Okay, they're not always sweet. But this summer, the summer of 1964, the summer before we entered Gateway Regional High School was my last blissful summer. Summer in Wenonah was always rich. But also filled with dread and the sure knowledge school was coming. Wenonah summers are hot and humid. Sometimes it feels like you're walking around in a swimming pool with trees in it. We returned from California ready for the rest of the summer and like all rest of the summers it stretched wide before us.
We could go to the pool, or ride our bikes, or play guns, or kick the can, or the Gun Game, but either way there were a million things to do. And we did them but by mid-August time had shifted into a weird sort of warp. On the one hand it was rushing forward with a terrible pace bringing the fall and school with it. On the other hand it had slowed to a near crawl. We'd exhausted all the fun in the world and nothing was left except Risk and Monopoly.
Oh, sure, we got to vote on the name of the new Gateway athletic teams. The mascot. Woodbury was "The Thundering Herd", Deptford was the "Spartans", West Deptford the "Eagles" and we became for reasons I've never, ever understood, the "Gators". For some insane reason alliteration triumphed over location, desire, and anything remotely related to the idea of a school mascot. "Hoyas" makes more sense than "Gators" (a little snide nudge at Lundquist there). There are no alligators in South Jersey. Maybe the occasional rattler or water moccasin, or garter snake. some toads and frogs. Box turtles. Catfish and sunnys and carp. But alligators? You'd have to go to South Carolina to just see one. We were bummed. What about the Jersey Devil, or the Gladiators?
"The Gateway Gators" with some natty little cartoon of a gator for us to stare at blankly.
After that it was just a waiting game.
A waiting game spent on my porch with Mick and Sam Stewart and Chris DeHart and Terry Fleming and Gary Condell. A waiting game spent conquering the world or else taking over the now decrepit Atlantic City. Sure, we fucked with the games. We combined two, three Risk games to create huge amounts of available armies. We also used rules from Chris' original Risk which decreed each throw of the dice killed but one army. This insured epic, lengthy, battles.
We did the same with Monopoly. Bags of money were everywhere, like in the Hague administration in Jersey City. Hotels sat two and three high on a property. We played on, we played on.
My brother Mick, for some stupid reason, always tried to take Asia. Gary Condell was in love with America. Me, I preferred to take Australia and stack up box after box of armies waiting for armageddon. And it would come, it would come. Then, when I'd exhausted my opponents armies I'd sweep out across the board and ruin everyone's dreams. We'd begin again. Broken and bruised but ready to battle for days, weeks, even if that's what it took.
And it did. The games sat on the porch day after day waiting for us to hunker down, pick up the dice, and launch our evil little dreams.
Risk is a game where everyone eventually ends up hating everyone else. No other game elicits the deep level of personal hate that this game does. It was like taking some evil drug everyday for weeks.
Years later I taught a poetry group consisting of teachers. One of the teachers wrote a poem about a game of Risk between herself, her new boyfriend, and a newlywed couple. At the end of the game the wife is sobbing in another room, her boyfriend storms out to buy cigarettes and she and the husband share a brief sexual interlude. The last line was "I was Queen of the World". Indeed.
We battled and schemed and waited. Waited for the doors to open in our brand new school. Waited to meet the dozens of strangers from the four sending districts. Waited for the unknown. It would come. It would come. Till then my armies are massed in Indonesia for a final battle against Gary Condell and the Asian hordes.


Jim Maddox said...

Long days in August in South Jersey.
Hot, humid sweltering days. My Risk was an old one, the pieces made of wood. Over in Woodbury Heights We battled as you did, for days at a time. We were Napoleon and Attila and Hitler and all the rest, and we coveted the world as we rolled the dice. Steve Kay and I and others played war outside the Episcopal Church where his father was the priest. We built the North African Desert in his basement and fought World War II with Airfix soldiers and HO gauge tanks. Gateway regional was built right behind my house, and I'd wonder what my life would be like now that I was a "Gator."
"Gator?" How lame!

Bob Thomas said...

I know that you will think that I am being picky but...

1. National Park
2. Wenonah
3. Westville
4. Woodbury Heights

5. "The Swamp that spawned the gator?"

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