Whenever my mother and I get together for any length of time, we try to squeeze in a game or two of Scrabble so that she can reaffirm her rightful place in the world as ALL KNOWING AND POWERFUL and I can crawl back to my niche known as MOM, IS THIS A WORD? HOW ABOUT THIS? DAMMIT.
When I play Scrabble with my mother, my goal is not to win because I know that is never going to happen. It’s impossible to win a game of words with someone who does the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in pen. I have no such lofty goal. Instead, I set the bar so low that a pregnant amoeba could jump over it: I simply want to leave the table with a shred of dignity intact.
Is there such a thing as a pregnant amoeba? I’ll have to ask Mom.
One of my strategies is to block her from using any triple word spaces because inevitably she has a “Z” and will spell some obscure word like “muzjiks,” thereby using all of her letters which results in a 50 point bonus, causing her score to skyrocket to 4,892.
And for all of you racing to dictionary.com, I’ll save you the hassle and just tell you that “muzjiks” means a Russian peasant. And therein lies my point … average people like me don’t know what muzjiks means and assume it’s the sound you make when your mouth is stuffed full of cotton after having your wisdom teeth pulled. Scrabble should be for average people, not for people who can tell you without hesitation that “janiceps” is a two faced monster whose faces look in opposite directions, not to be confused with “Janiform” which is a Roman god.
See what I’m up against?
I know how Mom thinks and I can practically see her mind churning out all possible letter combinations remaining. She counts letters like she’s counting cards in Vegas. She knows exactly what is left in the bag. She is always mentally two or three turns ahead of everyone else and has an arsenal of vocabulary in her head so that she is ready at a moment’s notice to throw down a word such as “peccavis” on a triple, increasing her score by 45. But not before first complaining that she can’t do anything with her letters, that this is the worst board she has ever played, we don’t ever have to worry about her winning ever again and WOULD YOU PLEASE TURN DOWN THAT MUSIC ALREADY, I’M GETTING A HEADACHE. THANK YOU.
It means a confession of sin. Peccavis. Don’t lie, I know it was bothering you.
Because everyone else is busy trying to form their own words and couldn’t care less that Mom is conquering the entire board methodically and without conscience, I am forced to sacrifice my own score in order stop her, even if it means I spell “it” on a triple space for a total of nine points. This irritates her to no end and she raises that one eyebrow freakishly high and asks what she ever did to me to deserve this kind of treatment and then cuts me off before I can begin my litany. If I can get her agitated enough to froth at the mouth, I’m a happy camper and consider the sacrifice worth it.
You know, happy used to mean something different to me back in the day. I barely recognize myself anymore. In my prior life I used to wear short short skirts and high heels and jump on top of bars and slam down shots of sex on the beach followed by orgasm chasers and dance the hand jive in front of hundreds of patrons. That used to make me a happy camper.
Oh! Sorry about that. Just dreaming of my squandered youth …
So anyway, when we play Scrabble, we usually play multiple games for hours and those who are not participating hover in the background, giving the players valuable advice like stop being an idiot by wasting an “X” or something equally as important. If my kids are not playing, they are right in the mix asking all sorts of obnoxious questions like “is it time to graduate high school now?” and “if the moon is over there, is it next year already?”
And when we play, it goes something like this:
Nate: Would you play already?
Me: Stop talking to me. I’m concentrating.
Silence as the minutes tick by.
Mom: Would you like me to help you, dear?
Nate: God, yes.
Me: She was talking to me and the answer is NO.
Dad: You just take all the time in the world, sweetie.
Mom: Give it up, Peter. Somebody already ate the last eclair.
Helena bows her head and licks all the chocolate off her chin.
Mom: Peter, did you take your pills?
Dad: Oh, that’s right. I need to take them. Or did I take them already?
Me: Mom, is RA a word?
Mom: No, I don’t believe it is. But if you have a Q, you could use “Quaestor” which means an ancient Roman military commander.
Me: How about XA?
Nate: Actually Dee, I don’t think she has enough letters to use that word. By the way, did I tell you your dinner was delicious?
Mom: Sure she does, she could fit it right here between her other words “pot” and “him.” And thank you, Nathan! Have I told you lately that you are my favorite son-in-law?
Me: Can I vomit now?
Aunt VeVe: Just put down anything! I’m getting wrinkles on my wrinkles.
Me: I can’t! I need to block this triple space because otherwise Mom will use it three turns from now. If you guys would just step up to the plate and stop her yourselves, I wouldn’t have to do all the work and this game would be over by now.
Groan in unison from the crowd.
Aunt VeVe: Are we allowed to use curse words? I’ve got a great one here.
Nate rummages through the box, finds the little hourglass timer and sets it down directly in front of my letters in a colossal display of passive aggressiveness.
Me: If you don’t take that thing out of my sight, you will be pissing sand for a week.
Helena: Mom! You said a bad word.
Dad: Don’t you worry about it, Andy. You just take your time.
Mom: The cannolis are gone too, Peter.
Dad: For crying out loud. Hurry it up already!
Zoe: Why are you in such a hurry, Papou?
Dad: I think I am decaying as we speak. Did you see me take my pills?
Me: Is BRXIIA a word?
Mom: (acting as if she has to think about it): No dear, I don’t think it is.
Nate: Just forfeit your turn.
Aunt VeVe: Do you want to trade in your letters? Go ahead, just trade them in. Go ahead, there’s no shame in that.
Helena: Mom, Zoe won’t stop looking at me.
Nate: You know, if a certain someone hadn’t used “fuzz” with a blank for a “Z”, that whole side of the board would be open right now.
Me: I had to! Mom would have used that triple two turns from then.
Mom: Oh for God’s sake! Leave me alone! What did I ever do to you?
Me: Well, if you must know, there was that time …
Aunt VeVe: Who uses a blank for a “Z?” Is that even allowed?
Me (shouting): OK! Fine! Fine! Here. “OR”. That’s two points.
Nate: You’ve got to be kidding. We waited all that time for two lousy points? That’s the best you can do?
Aunt VeVe: Quiet Nathan or she’ll want to go again.
Me: I can’t concentrate when you are all yelling at me!
Dad: Did I take my pills?
Helena: Daddy, it’s your turn.
Nate (turning the board towards him and immediately playing his letters): I’m done. “jump”. That’s fifteen.
Me: Must you do that?
Me: Always one up me? Must you always do better than me?
Nate: How could I not do better than two points?
Zoe: It’s Yia Yia’s turn! Watch out, everyone!
Me: Aaaah geez, here we go. Look at her! See? Look! She’s gunning for that triple! I TOLD YOU! If you had all just shut up, I would have been able to block her! But nooooooooooo, you just …
Aunt VeVe: She is entitled to use that triple just like anybody else is! Would you begrudge me a triple?
My mom: Shhhh, I’m concentrating. I have no idea what to do. I have the worst letters. My God, I have never seen such a terrible board. It’s truly awful.
Dad: I don’t think I took my pills.
Mom: Hmmmm, what to do? What to do?
Me: Oh, just stop it already. We know exactly what you’re up to. Put down your 39 point word already and let’s just get this over with.
Nate: Stop nagging your mother. She needs some time.
Me: Could you possibly suck up any more?
Mom: Well, I’m just going to have to do it. I hate to do this, it’s such a waste. But I’ve got no choice! My letters are just atrocious (shaking her head at the unfairness of it all.)
We all watch the board intently as she places her letters on a triple.
Dad: What is Evoe?
Aunt VeVe: I never heard of that.
Nate: I think I’ve heard of that.
Me to Nate: You just don’t give up, do you?
Nate: What? What’d I do?
Dad: What is Evoe?
Mom (taking a deep breath): it’s probably not in the dictionary, but it means the cry of bacchanals, an exclamation of sorts.
Dad: The cry of what?
Nate: Yes! Bacchanals!
Me: Oh for God’s sake, give it a rest, will you?
Mom: Look it up! It’s a word!
Dad: Where’s the dictionary? And where are my pills?
Mom (rolling her eyes and raising her eyebrow): Are you serious? You’re actually going to look it up?
Dad: You just told me I could! Zoe, run and grab me the dictionary, will you?
Mom: Can’t you, for once in your life, just believe me? It’s a goddamn word. Cry of bacchanals!
Nate: Yeah, I’ve heard of this before, that is definitely a word.
Mom: Thank you, Nathan. Someone here believes me! Why would I cheat? I don’t have to cheat!
Me: You know what, Nate? Nevermind. OK, OK … we’ll just take it. Just take it! JUST TAKE IT! My god, anything to make this game end.
Helena: Mom, Zoe won’t stop poking me!
Dad: It’s not in the dictionary.
Mom (slapping her hand to her thigh, yelling): That happens all the time! IT’S A WORD. It’s not my fault it’s not in the dictionary.
Aunt VeVe: Too bad, we’re on to my turn already and I need that “V.”
Mom: IT’S A WORD. TRUST ME.
Dad: Did I take my pills?
Me: My god, when will this hell be over?
Another thirty minutes go by before Mom once again claims victory with a triple digit lead over everyone. As we part, my mom and I try to figure out when our next Scrabble battle will ensue. Because we do manage to laugh quite a bit despite all the yelling and shouting and glaring and pouting.
And that reminds me. Algophilist: one who enjoys pain. Worth seventeen points. 51 if placed on a triple.
Just for future reference.