Friday, December 26, 2008

STD Swamps & Time Under The Table

When my older sister e-mailed her three siblings and jokingly mentioned that one of the things she wanted for Christmas was some board games that would bring her friends and a social life, my little sisters rose to the challenge. They created “This End Up”

So named for the scrap of cardboard they rummaged up to use as the “board,” the purpose of the game is, well, nothing. Aside from, perhaps, disturbingly sick entertainment. Next to the title “This End Up,” they drew a martini glass. Alcohol would indeed play a part in this game.

An “I love math” sticker decorates the go space, along with a monkey reading a book, and an Oscar the Grouch sticker. All three, I presume are intended to somehow portray my sister’s personality. I think it fits, in a strange way.

The first “zone” is Olive Garden, suggesting, I suppose, that friends and a social life begin with buying them food. Considering that I’ll virtually sell my soul to anybody that feeds me, I guess I understand. Maybe I’m trying too hard to understand this game, though.

Beyond the Olive Garden, a “Mr. Yuck” sticker surrounds the “STD Swamp,” an area that must be traversed, unless one lands on the Relationship Rainbow space, which skirts the swamp.

Some more spaces, and players enter the Party Palace, complete with stupid little party hats, balloons, spirits, cigarettes, streamers (they could be polio viruses, I suppose. Or sperm), and AIDS needles. The sticker there says, “Party 24/7.” A speeding car ahead is closely tailed by a police car, sirens wailing and lights flashing, as one moves past the jail. If you land on the jail spot, you get stuck in there indefinitely. Writing over the car states, “Drive it like you stole it.” Maybe they actually DID steal it.

Shopping is the next little zone, adorned with more stickers, shopping cards, and lengthy receipts. Buying your friends things also deepens their loyalties, at least in this game.

Next, the “Carnal Caribe,” a lovely island getaway surrounded by waves, fish, and a beach umbrella. I believe that Carnal Caribe means, “Caribbean Flesh.” I could be mistaken. If one survives the vacation (and isn’t sent back to the STD Swamp), they make it to the finish line, which is littered with more happy stickers, smiling faces, and a poorly-drawn checkered flag. There’s a rather significant problem with the checker pattern.

Along this entire trip are spaces with stars, which indicate that the player must draw a card. Some are good news and will advance you, but most are not.

Bankrupt – go back three spaces

Unplanned pregnancy – go back to start and wait eighteen years

Mistletoe – go ahead three spaces

You smiled at them so they said, “hello,” – advance one space

PMS – lose two turns

You wear a pink sweater – one space (forward or backward, I don’t know…)

You give A’s to all your students. You get invited to the Tri-Delta Sorority graduation party. Advance three spaces. (Considering this is Tri-Delta, I’d say there’s a good chance of getting thrown back into the STD Swamp – but that’s just me.)

Gift certificates to GAP for all your girlfriends – advance one space

New Years bash! You brought the vodka – advance two spaces

Membership at local swingers’ club! Go ahead two spaces!

You have AIDS – you lose

I have spent my Christmas feeling like I’m the normal one – or at least not the terribly disturbed one. That mantle is jointly awarded to my two dear little sisters.

Aside from an unusually large dose of inanity, Christmas was great. We had fun, we gave and received great gifts, we regretted how much we ate, and then wandered off to do other things. A good time was truly had by all.

On a more serious note, however, this game brings up a few good points (in whatever way legitimate social issues can be divined from a dungheap of insanity). People don’t know how to make friends. I include myself here, too.

Some will buy them things and attempt to win their good graces or their indebtedness. Others provide them booze, or just serve them too much in the hopes that an excess of drink will cause some moral concession that will overlook the reality that, “we have nothing in common but the fact we’re both lonely.” Or we just feed them. If food has anything to do with it, though, I’d say Americans are probably the most “friended” people on the planet. Statistics, however, prove they are not. (See this article)

So the question is, just how DO we meet people. Good people. Bar encounters only produce meaningful relationships on the rarest of occasions. Friends that are “bought” tend to depart when the money runs out. And what if none of us can cook? How do we meet people?

To be completely honest, I haven’t the slightest idea. A unique group of people is forming today in America, and often find themselves misfits at best, and at worst, outcasts. They are the 20-somethings that haven’t married their highschool or college sweetheart and settled down into a career. They are also the married folks in this age group that lack good community. True Koinonia.

Our numbers are on the rise here in the United States, as is evidenced by innumerable news and periodical reports. Nobody, including US, know what to do with them. We’re smart, often highly educated and capable, but don’t fit comfortably into any previous social brackets. We’re lonely – for real friends.

We can haunt bars every night looking to meet great people, but these efforts rarely produce the sort of friendships or relationships that any of us wish to maintain beyond a single, poorly-remembered night. We could try community college or some other educational forum, but to take on such a class for the sole purpose of meeting people is a poor idea.

We could try churches, but they frequently are clueless what to do with us. We’re not kids, but nor do we necessarily fit in the old men Sunday School class or the moms and old ladies class. We don’t relate to either group so well. Additionally, the sort of guys a woman might meet at church are often either fantastic posers or genuinely boring. I’ve heard that several times. Single church guys, a few of my friends lament, are boring. I don’t know many church girls, so I’m uncertain if it works both ways.

Regardless, attending a church for the purpose of meeting people isn’t a terribly good reason. The same applies to schools, bars, or any other social forum for that matter. It’s forcing a social circle, manipulating conversations, and investing undue hope in conversations and encounters otherwise considered casual. You can’t seek friends, I think. You have to find them. There’s a big difference.

The intellectual in me says just live my life and see what happens. Don’t WORK to make things happen. In the case of friendships, simply love people, talk to and truly care about those that cross my path, and let matters of the heart run their natural course. Most importantly, befriend God, and then the two of us can go meet people, relying heavily on this critical friendship as the model for all the rest. God doesn’t seek me because He’s lonely, but because He likes and loves me. I truly want to apply this to my other social encounters. It sure sounds awesome on paper. Trouble is, it rarely works out so swimmingly. I’m still lonely. WE’RE still lonely.

As I have quoted more than once, Saint Frances of Assisi said that we are to, “love God, and do whatever we want.” I wholehearted agree. The whatever and whomever will take care of itself in due (and perfect timing). With God we are never truly alone anyway.

But consider Adam, who, though he was in the very presence of and walked with God, still hungered for human companionship. Eve came about thus. We are made for relationship. We may pursue God with all fervor until our dying breath, and still be lonely for another human. That, I believe, is natural and innate, though I can’t really explain it right now aside from saying that I firmly believe we are created in the image of God and are thus predisposed for relationships. We all want friends.

I hunger for crumbs when above me the master dines in banquet. (I am aware I’m mixing my metaphors. Crumbs are the imperfect friendships/relationships I pursue with other people, and the feast on the table is a perfect relationship with perfect God.) Does this make my pursuit of droppings from the table ignoble? I don’t think so at all. I am not yet sitting at that table. For the moment, I will keep pursuing the crumbs. They give me a hint of the table that awaits.

Maybe this is the answer. Keep crawling around for crumbs, never lose sight of their source, and recognize that some day I will pull up a chair and eat my fill. I have a hunch there are many of us under this table. We are here because we all hunger for the same thing.

Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. I'm not insane... I like to think I'm just in touch with reality, which our board game demonstrates. I think we need to patent it and sell it.

  2. Mary Anna: More than likely you could bottle it and sell it.

  3. Loneliness is not a popular topic about which to pontificate; the first half of your post treated it successfully with humor.

    I made all the good game cards.

  4. That's not true. Mine included the swingers club and the unplanned pregnancy.

  5. What are you trying to do, Mary Anna? Exclude Octogenerians?

  6. Do Octogenarians have friends and a social life? Maybe we should make "This End Up: Geriatric Version." The game cards might read "The man in the Depends aisle winked at you - advance three spaces"; "ODed on bowel medicine and missed the St. Patrick's Day gala - lose a turn."

  7. Elizabeth: I clearly have to arrange for a part time job for you in a retirement home. You would have a following in no time.

  8. Thank you, but I sustain sordid love affairs with geriatrics even without assistance. I've been invited to visit someone's 100-year old mother in El Salvador next month. And to go to New Zealand. I was about to suggest my mother for the trip, because the common interests and ages would be a much better match, but she's married.

    Benjamin, I've thoroughly exhausted and sickened myself with this topic. Can you post something else now?

  9. Elizabeth: I have to agree with you. Your mom is the perfect choice. She is pretty old, but maybe still healthy enough for the trip. Heck, you dad may not even notice she is gone...he is pretty old too.

  10. I'm just upset he hasn't posted yet about his new home and the photo to go with it.

  11. Fear not. I'm writing as you guys all gather round and fuss. The new mobile home and surrounding photographs will be either up later tonight or tomorrow. At the moment I am ranting about something else. Actually, I'll say rambling, because it bother's Elizabeth so much. There.