“Why d0n’t you like playing Scrabble?” my girlfriend asked one eve. She loves unwinding by playing the game online, simultaneously holding down 10 or 15 games like a savant.
“I’d rather vacuum,” I replied, staring lovingly at our Bissell Pet Hair Eraser. Since I suffer minor obsessive-compulsive compulsions, purchasing this equipment opened a personal Pandora’s Box. I often scurry beneath the furniture like an Indiana Jones of filth, searching for colonies of dust bunnies or tumbleweeds of dog fur. I flick on our Bissell, watching intently as its bowels are filled with grime.
“Just one game,” she said. “We can drink some beer.”
“Hon, I don’t have to play some stinking game to drink,” I said, heading to the fridge for a Bear Republic Racer 5, my favorite California-brewed piney indulgence. She returned to her hot Internet action. I avoided telling her my shameful truth: My father scarred me at Scrabble.
As an elementary-schooler, I devoured books as voraciously as friends did candy. I studied the dictionary like holy men did the Talmud. I loved how stringing disparate letters together created new, malleable meanings. Lair was easily liar. Dog was God. And when it came to Scrabble, my father was assuredly God. On the odd lazy Saturday afternoon, when my dad was wide-eyed on a double macchiato—his fervor for coffee meant that, even when I was knee-high to his hissing espresso machine, I lusted after the pleasures of caffeination—we’d take to the dining room table. I’d unfurl the board. We’d select seven letters. Then, while my father sipped his bitter brew, I tasted bitter defeat. Again. And again.
Why did he always win? A few months back, I decided to find out. It was his 60th-birthday party. My girlfriend and I had flown back to Ohio to fete him with a surprise dinner. We leaped out from behind a chair as enthusiastically as showgirls emerging from oversize cakes. Hence, he was feeling maudlin. I was mildly soused, courtesy of copious inky pints of rich, roasty Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.
Thus emboldened by booze, my siblings and I put my father through a roast worthy of the New York Friar’s Club. My brother spoke eloquently of dad falling through the attic ceiling. I recounted the story of my father making me bury our dead family pets in the backyard in old Birkenstock boxes. “I don’t know what was worse,” I said, “my tears or the weeping blisters on my palms.”
I’d unfurl the board. We’d select seven letters. Then, while my father sipped his bitter brew, I tasted bitter defeat. Again. And again.
But we gave the culinary kicker to my sister. She told tale of our family driving through the jungles of Jamaica, lost in the foliage and as famished as the Donner party. But by the grace of serendipity and ruthless corporate expansion, we stumbled upon a Pizza Hut. My dad went inside to purchase a pie. Our minds raced with images of pepperoni, mushrooms, extra cheese! When he returned a short while later, he held neither a large nor a medium. Instead, he cradled a single personal-size pizza, cut into four itsy-bitsy slices barely big enough for Barbie.
“And in case you can’t count, there are five members in our family,” my sister said, opening her palm to drive home the punch line.
My dad’s face turned as red as his wine. I seized my opening. “You’re lucky I didn’t tell the Scrabble story,” I whispered. His face went chalkboard-blank.
“Scrabble?” “Yeah, remember how you always beat me in Scrabble and never let me win?” He shook his head, more enamored of his wine than my whine. I went on, “You don’t remember at all?” “Not really.” I was cold crushed. My elephant memory carried these defeats like a lead weight. But my father had forgotten his victories as if they were a grocery list from May 3, 2006.
“Just forget it,” my dad said, “and order another beer.” Though it pains me to admit it, sometimes father really does know best.