I was walking through Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library at 42d and Fifth, on a glorious September afternoon when I saw a table piled high with board games, and a man and woman playing one I’d never seen before — Bananagrams, a word game that requires players to think really fast and make words with their letters. First one done, wins.
“Can I play, too?” I asked. I hadn’t asked anyone that question in decades. The woman’s job was to wait for people to come along — and play, with her or with others, part of the park’s new initiative to make it even more welcoming.
“Sure. Have you ever played before?”
I hadn’t, but am a fairly decent/quick Scrabble player. Within minutes, we were laughing and hooting and shouting “Dump!” (turning in your letters for new ones) or “Peel!” forcing us to pick up another one.
The winner gets to shout “Bananas!”
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had such free, spontaneous, joyful and social fun. In New York City, where status and power and owning costly real estate are the usual measures of human value, laughing my ass off with two smart strangers was the best.
It felt so good to be five again!
I love to play. Raised as an only child, trolls and Legos and stuffed animals were usually my companions. In boarding school (from the age of eight), every day and every hour was structured, lived by a schedule.
I love my work as a writer, but every word, literally, is worth money. I’ve bought groceries and gas and rent and clothes and acquired savings for decades — thanks to my ability to conjure up enough words, in the right order for the right people.
To simply play with words is a great luxury!
In my teens, I spent many evenings in front of the fire with my Dad, drinking tea and eating chocolate cookies, whipping one another at Scrabble — unless Jack, the big fat tabby cat, prowled right through the board, scattering our hard-won triumphs.
My weathered Scrabble board still bears the hand-written notations of my highest score, and my Mom’s — we played for hours while visiting Costa Rica and Fiji. On one of my trips west, to Victoria, B.C., where she now lives in a nursing home, she taught me to play gin rummy.
Before my left hip was destroyed by arthritis-plus-steroids in May 2009 — and has since been replaced — I played co-ed softball most Saturdays in a field near my home; here’s an essay I wrote about it for The New York Times. I plan to be back at it this year.
Our players are people who spend their worklives practicing law and medicine, singing at a synagogue, teaching high school, representing authors. Heavy responsibilities. There is something so deeply restorative in just playing, for its own sweet sake, where all we really need is a triple or a great catch from the outfield.
Jose and I don’t have children, nor any nieces or nephews, so we (sadly) have no chances to play with kids. I really miss that! We often play gin rummy, Scrabble and now, Bananagrams. He plays Tetris on the Iphone while I play Scrabble on the Ipad — cursing the bloody, stubborn algorithm for using words I have never heard of.
Do you play games — with your sweetie or friends or kids or grandkids?
Which ones do you enjoy most and why?