“No more Mrs. Nice Guy,” I announce as I pull my chair closer to the table. Dinner is over. The dishes are washed. Pleasantries done. It is time for the game to begin. Tonight is Monday night, and Monday night is Scrabble night.
Every week Albee, Yardenna and I meet to break bread, share our lives and crush each other competitively. For 10 years we have set aside this time, moving through weddings, births, deaths, jobs, dates and divorce. Dinner is always part of the deal. Yardenna and I switch off as hosts. Albee’s responsibility is maneuvering for an hour through Los Angeles rush-hour traffic. To cook for them is a gift, even after a full day at work shuttling between the preschool I own and run in Venice and my psychotherapy practice. Setting my table with fresh corn salad, a chiffonade of lightly steamed collard greens tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and a chicken glistening in a glaze of roasted vegetables is an act of love and a creative outlet — farm to table, the newest name for an old art, organic eating.
Our banter is easy. “Win much at Poker?” I ask Albee. “Nah, bad cards,” he replies, recounting his all too frequent games at the casino.
“Ever hear from the good doctor?” he throws out in return, shifting the topic to a man I dated intermittently. “Nah, bad Karma,” I reply.
Albee and I slide off into giggles we can’t stop. Yardenna, thrumming her fingers and throwing a glance, lets us know we are disturbing her concentration. Then, Albee, our mentor, pulls himself together and, for his turn, lays out a 50-point word. Stunned, I double down, setting my sights on a nearly impossible goal: Maybe this week I can unseat him as our reigning King of Scrabble.
Welcome to my life, or part of it.
Forty years ago, I wondered what my future would bring. Forty years later, I wonder what my past means. At 30, I lived communally in the backwoods of Oregon, off the grid, looking for utopia. Was I a child of the times, or was I just a child, me, within the times?
What I see, as I look across the table at my Scrabble partners or into the innocent faces that expectantly look up at me during my weekly Toddler Group at the preschool, is a line that runs through my past to my present. Today, as then, I still crave the connection of community and have a need to live, or to try to live, a life that will weigh in on the side of virtue, a squirrelly concept to say the least, then as well as now.
In the comfort of our sweet Scrabble closeness, I am aware that our nights are not unlike those at the plank table in the center of the main cabin, the nexus of my 1970s communal life. There, lingering after shared meals, we gossiped and teased our way through the rest of the evening. Surrounded by the dark woods outside and illuminated by kerosene lanterns inside, we felt secure in the knowledge that our futures and our pasts were intimately tied together, or so we hoped.
Now, in that future that has become the present, I walk through the gate to my preschool yard, and the world once again drops away. Friendly is the operative word, and love is my currency. This is my utopia, a little Eden, where we strive to nurture the best in the children as well as ourselves. At what other job does who you are matter as much as what you know? Wasn’t this what we tried to do when we left our upwardly mobile, competitive lives in 1970 to create a more fulfilling way of being — personally, ecologically and socially?
Tonight as I shuffle the tiles on my rack, a skill we learned from Albee, I start to see the elusive holy grail of Scrabble take form. “Bingo,” I cry slapping down all seven letters. “Tonight’s my lucky night.”
Actually all of these nights, past and present, are my lucky nights. Going in with an open heart, commitment, big dreams and a huge dollop of good humor is the constant. At least, that is what I, that same child, only older, continue to believe.