"What do you want to do with your Life?" a grown-up might have asked you as a kid, and you had to think: Do you mean the cereal, the magazine, or the board game?
I mention this because the inventor of Life just died, and no, I'm not recycling a Nietzsche quote. I mean the board game Life. It was what you played when no one had the stomach for six hours of Monopoly.
The only thing I remember about the game was the plastic spinner embedded in the board, and the crude topography studded with plastic houses. It presented Life as an arbitrary collection of events that punished and rewarded with no regard to effort or character, and led children to believe that when they grew up, they would spend the modern equivalent of $124,000 to extricate themselves from a failed jungle expedition.
Believe me, it's twice that much.
I found a copy of the original game online, and the board is full of peculiar events. You could land on a square that said "Add Baby Son. Collect Presents," then spin a two and land on "Add Baby Daughter. Collect Presents!" Makes it seem as if pregnancy took as long to make as Jiffy Pop.
When you hit PAYDAY, you collect a salary. The professions available were Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, Physicist and Journalist, the last one receiving $10,000 per pay period. Yes, I am suing the company for misleading an entire generation.
The demands were rather arbitrary:"If Childless, give $50,000 to the orphanage." Nice thought, but there's no option for the lawyer to contest the legality of the demand. You only get children by landing on the right square — there's no square that says "Spouse is ovulating, leave work immediately." The next square, you're paying $500 for dentures because all of your teeth have been removed. Two squares later, you've inherited a cattle ranch, and down the road you pay $5K for a toupee, only to be robbed for $30,000 later.
So basically you're a well-paid doctor whose teeth rotted out, is prematurely bald and wanders down dark streets with envelopes of cash in his pocket. Life!
Whether you go to college is entirely a matter of chance. In the old version, you just attained college, without cost, depending on what number you spun. Otherwise you went into "business," where your salary was $3,000 less than a teacher. No option for a trade, like plumbing or truck driving: You were either in the sainted professional class, or a corporate drone in a gray flannel suit grinding his molars to dust in frustration, playing the stock market, then finding out his aunt died and left him 100 cats, disposal of which cost him $10,000.
That's $92,000 in 2021 money. Apparently you get rid of the cats by giving them Uber rides to Barcelona.
At the end you either end up at the Poor Farm or Millionaire Acres. There is no happy middle-class place where you spend your golden years in a rambler, waxing the car, listening to the Twins on the radio while you take sips from a cold can of Hamm's. You're part of the 1 percent, or you're in a state-run institution in a cinderblock room, toiling in the county potato field every day, talking with the other old men about what did you in.
"For me it was gettin' out of the jungle, then getting hit with the cats." Murmurs of assent: Been there, brother.
Subsequent versions edited the outcomes: The most recent iteration had no ending at all. You just played until you moved to Arizona, I guess.
Monopoly was better. It taught you hard truths: You will have to pay rent, and you will rue the day you didn't buy a railroad.