In my days on the road, I lived out of a backpack. If I was in transit, there was a guitar case in my left hand, a pack on my back, and my right thumb jauntily positioned to get a ride.
Timing is everything on the road. Unless prompted by dire need, you left in the light of day. But the night my girlfriend, Charlotte, tossed me out, I found myself on the street at two AM. The dispute was over a game of Cheater’s Monopoly.
My friend John, a petty officer in the Navy, introduced me to the game. For us, neither poker nor dice held any appeal. So Cheater’s Monopoly was the game with its intricate strategy, banker cheats, and ledger de main with cards.
John had shown up at our digs needing a place to stay. That evening Charlotte was having a few friends over for a game night. After a few rounds of cribbage, John suggested Monopoly. There were groans at first until he told them about the changes in the game that made it more challenging, just a bit dangerous. Charlotte was reluctant, but the rest of the group was interested, and a party atmosphere developed.
John started them out slowly, but about half an hour into the game, I caught the signal that we should double down. I began to lose deliberately. At last, John looked at me, smiled, and said, ” you don’t have a chance of staying in the game another three turns.” I quipped back – ” wanna bet on that?” And that started the slow descent of a merely twisted game of Monopoly into a crooked game where the marks never stood a chance. Charlotte’s guests, Tom and Elaine, took this as an opportunity to bet against the man they assumed was a bad influence on sweet Charlotte. They seemed grateful for the chance to do well and victimize poor me. I saw it as an opportunity to get back at some of my girlfriend’s snotty cliques. They were all at university; I wasn’t, and dammed if Charlotte didn’t deserve better!
Over the next two hours, the game went from a friendly game night into a casino atmosphere where real money was placed on phony properties, houses, and hotels. Charlotte smelled a rat early on but could never catch me stealing. But, of course, that was because I wasn’t stealing. I was just the Dummy in John’s team – he did all the cheating, and I looked like the fumbling idiot who couldn’t play right.
After a few hours, John cleaned the guests out of their available cash and asked if he could stay the night. This tipped Charlotte over the edge, and the board games went flying as she accused both John and me, rightfully, of taking her friends in a con. While she had never caught me cheating, I drew most of her wrath, and soon my pack and guitar, followed by me, were on the landing outside the apartment.
That was how I landed on the streets of Georgetown at two in the morning. John split the take with me, and we went our separate ways to find shelter and rides out of town. It was sunrise before I caught a ride heading toward Baltimore, and I was grateful for the heater in the car.
Didn’t see Charlotte and her friends for ten years; I was presenting a paper at an Anthropological society meeting. They sat in the audience with that look on their faces that seemed to say, ” No! It can’t be!”