Wednesday, December 27, 2023


 Train Station

The game of Life didn’t age well. No one plays it anymore. Half the pieces are missing. The fake money all gone. Its gilded suburbia a Potemkin sham. Besides, it's too much like real life. Insurance premiums going up, escrow shortages. Estate taxes on the bachelor uncle everyone hated so he left it all to you. When life itself is just a game, the game itself stops being any fun. Risk is more of the same. A strategy distilled down to the heaviest gas. Domination, manipulation. Betrayal and degradation. But it’s all just roll of the dice luck. And much less enjoyable when there’s nothing at stake. Tomorrow, and every day after that, everything real goes back on the line. Risk becomes even less appealing. Which gets boring. So then it is again. One minute you see that nothing really matters. The next, you can't let go of a single goddam thing. So you plant your flag in Australia and mass your armies at the border. Every time it’s your turn, you pass.  Attack no one. And then, at the end, when you’re completely outnumbered, under siege and there’s nothing you can hope to do, the meaning of the word inevitable finally becomes clear. Which obviates any concerns, once and for all, vis-a-vis "risk". When this happens everyone still at the table commits hara-kiri. There’s a game stashed deep in the closet called Capitalism but anyone who has ever played it either ends up dead or conscripted as characters in the game itself and can’t ever get out of it. My dad is still there, as a matter of fact. Lots of people are. Sometimes I feel myself getting moved from square to square by giant invisible hands. We had a phase when we all played Charades, the cheap do-it-yourself version where you scribble the clues on torn off scraps of paper and put them all in a plastic jack-o-lantern. I go first, to get it out of the way. I’m terrible, you see, at trying to get people to think I’m anyone other than who they believe I am. Movie. 5 words. Sounds like the polite applause in light rain at the trochaic conclusion of your own eulogy. The silence percolates a rage just beneath the thin veneer of frantic gesturing. In the end I just blurt out what it is, who I am. Clear and direct. Everyone gets mad. Stop speaking in tongues, you freak, they exclaim, chorus-like. You’re supposed to pretend. Only hint. Keep up the charade. Let someone else call out the words to your own life. Fisticuffs ensue. Uncles have to break it up. Then try to change the mood by telling old stories of Christmas carolers stripping down to garters and stockings on East Market St in downtown Akron. While holy roller Baptists in fur coats gamely sang Away in a Manger all the way to its end. We all laugh. The strippers are gesturing obscenely with hands and cheeks. A spinster aunt reaches into the jack-o-lantern for the next scrap. 

The new game is called Train Station. 

Everyone starts at the station.

Outside it is always raining. . 

Faces blurred like pensioners

Waiting at the Gare St Lazare

The men wear fedoras 

While the women hover near shadows

In raincoats smoking cigarettes 

The train you’ve been waiting for never arrives

While the one you’re urged to get on

Never departs. Stranded in a state

Of limbo. Both early and late

Neither here nor there

You spend all game looking at routes and maps

With ravenous envy

Your kids are dangerously bored, scrolling apps

Tearing open bags of chips

Every day you buy another ticket

Just in case this is a real place

And not some elaborate ruse

Everything you have is no longer necessary

Your ID, your passport, your money

None of it is good here

None of it means anything 

The object of the game is the opposite of Monopoly

First person to give everything away wins 

Your houses and hotels. The old brass shoe

Your name, your legacy, that hard earned truce

You’ve brokered with god.

By the time the last scrap of self is handed over to the banker

No one is there to collect a trophy

And where's the fun in that?

The game doesn’t end so much as melt 

Into a shared sense of collective doom

After you’ve finished playing Train Station

Everyone decides to play Airport.

But it's getting late 

Halfway through, you quit.

You put on your shoes

You tear up your ticket


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