Ah, summer. When I was 9 or 10, summer was a time of simple pleasures which didn't get complicated until a few years later. School was out, daylight hours seemed unending, and I could spend the night at a friend’s house. During the school year, sleepovers weren’t possible. There was homework and chores and ‘school the next day’ and Saturday baths for Sunday church. Adult reasoning never resonated with me. It just translated into ‘NO’. Homework more important than a sleepover? Really?
So, while we contented ourselves with scattered Saturday or Sunday afternoon visits during the school year, as June approached, my friends and I would start scheming. Most of my sleepover time was spent at best buddy Darwin’s house. There were two events we spent weeks planning: The annual church trip to Disneyland in February and sleepovers at his house in the summer. He spent the night at my house a few times, too. But I remember best a Friday night at his house.
The key ingredients to our sleepover festivities were food and games. The 1960’s were a golden era of board games and snacks, before television swallowed up family game time and health cultists labeled ‘junk food’ as the great evil of the 20th century. Darwin and I had solemnly committed to not only convincing our parents that a rare reprieve from eating what was good for us would do no lasting harm, but getting them to fund our feast as well.
Mom dropped me off early that Friday evening. Sometime after dinner we headed out to our enclave. Darwin’s dad had set up their massive family tent in the front yard for us to camp out in, probably to keep the noise out of the house. For us, it meant more floor space than Darwin’s laundry closet bedroom and independence. After we pooled our resources, the menu looked something like this:
Taco Flavor Doritos
Cinnamon Pop Tarts
Hires Root Beer
Pringles potato chips.
Chips Ahoy cookies
Nesbitt’s Orange Soda
We had two simple objectives for an enjoyable evening: to consume all of our treats before morning and to play games until sunup. Some of our choices for games were Aggravation, Sorry, Life and Monopoly. We may have played some of the other games, but Monopoly was our perennial favorite and a sleepover meant enough time to enjoy it fully.
With only two people playing Monopoly, it can take many hours to play out to the bitter end where one person finally runs out of money. There are a number of strategies for prolonging the agony: mortgaging property to pay debt; selling properties to pay debt; swapping properties to pay debt; staying in jail to avoid landing on another high-rent property.
Sort of like the real world.
As the night wore on, the combination of sugar, starch, artificial colors and sleep deprivation began to have their effect. Everything became funny. Who won or lost the game didn’t matter as much as making it last as long as possible. We could have easily passed for intoxicated. Which we were, on life. We were doing what we wanted for as long as we wanted and no-one was telling us to stop or be quiet or trying to take our hoard of treats away. Every hour we would switch to a new entrée - a bag of chips, another package of Pop Tarts, some cookies.
Sometime in the early hours of the morning, before dawn but well after midnight, the last dollar was drained out of one of our Monopoly accounts. There was no way to pay the rent — no loans, no property, nothing. All was gone. Impulsively, one of us threw some Monopoly money in the air. Then, the two of us just went berserk. The player tokens, chance cards, houses and hotels, the rest of the money went flying into the air and all over the tent. We laughed hysterically as we continued to fling stuff everywhere. For a few minutes, the inside of the tent resembled a well-shaken snow globe. Eventually, our hilarity subsided enough so we could begin the recovery effort.
We spent a good half hour scrounging around the tent on our Monopoly search and rescue. To our sleep-deprived brains, even cleaning up our own mess was fun. We crawled over un-used sleeping bags, scrounged through empty snack food containers to re-assemble the game. Finally, we went outside the tent as the sky grew lighter in the east. We felt triumphant. We had conquered sleep. There was nothing left to do but roll up sleeping bags and pack the remains of our stuff back into the house. We managed to find a few more Monopoly pieces as we emptied the tent.
We crept through the solemn quiet of the house. Darwin’s stuff went back into his room, mine into a tidy stack in the living room. To our delight, we were perched happily on the living room couch when Darwin’s mom came out to fix breakfast.
“Are you boys hungry?”
I looked at Darwin and he at me. We both groaned and shook our heads. The exotic binge of the past several hours churned heavily in our guts. So, we sat on the couch while the rest of the family ate breakfast. Saturday morning cartoons played hypnotically on the flickering black and white screen of the television.
And that is where they found us after breakfast: half leaning against each other, heads flung back, mouths hanging open, eyes sealed shut, snoring deeply, the contented victims of our marathon junk food Monopoly fest.