Mansion, apartment, shack or house?

Chris Carmona

The most valuable things I learned growing up came from the game Mash. Although cherished by girls, the game was condoned by boys, mostly for its seemingly mystical powers. It would reveal to us our future job, wife (or husband), home, car and place of residence. Other categories would be added or deleted (four types of pets, four places you go on your honeymoon, four names for your children, etc.), but the really interesting aspect of this game is what we chose for our options.

A child’s character can be defined through these choices. The one being “Mashed” would choose three dream jobs, and the one recording the game (to secure the validity of your future) would have the honor of attempting to crush your dreams by choosing one horrible option for each of the categories. To this day, I remember the three jobs I would choose.

The first immediate, instinctive job I’d say (even at the tender age of seven) was gynecologist. Maybe I was a pervert growing up, but I was always deprived of having even the faintest belief in “cooties.” I distinctly remember being assigned to sit next to a classmate who would insert every object or toy inside his mouth that his sticky, fruit punch-stained hands could reach. After failing to eat his own fingers, he’d find an abandoned Lincoln Log that by itself looked disgustingly similar to something I’d find in the toilet, and he’d suck on it for the eternity of the bus ride. Then he’d shove a Bic pen into his mouth and turn to talk to me.

This was the age where I learned that, despite what our Founding Fathers have preached, we were not all created equal. Chewing on his Bic pen, he’d say (in a tone that would suggest I was farther than six inches away from his mouth), “Do you have any cootie shots? I do. I have a cootie shield and hat and I get a circle circle dot dot cootie shot every day!”

I remember wiping his saliva off of my face and telling him, as if I were ripping off the beard of the local mall’s Santa, that cooties don’t exist, just like his flimsy invisible shield doesn’t and just like his invisible hat doesn’t. He was so startled by my claim that he chewed the pen until blue ink burst into his mouth and I, against all natural inclinations, pried the pen from his hand and saved his hollow little life.

The next day, his father, who was a police officer (years later he would be our D.A.R.E officer), boarded the bus with his son, screamed at me in front of the entire bus for telling his son that cooties don’t exist and strutted off of the now silent school bus, baton in hand.

But in regards to Mash, I was fairly chic for having chosen gynecologist, because most of my classmates were too busy gargling ink or stapling their foreheads to notice that the opposite sex doesn’t actually possess a fatal disease.

The second job I’d choose would be a baseball player, for obvious reasons. More interestingly, the third job I’d choose would often be “lawyer,” a practical and realistic answer that even to this day baffles me. Lawyer? It would be as if my friend were to say “middle management.” The only reason I can give is that my parents would always rent these movies that were adapted from John Grisham novels, and I’d watch them in awe of the cunning lawyers, thinking about how exotic the profession was. Also, it seemed a bit flamboyant to say “movie star” or “musician.” So I went with the cold, hard law.

Growing up, my good friend was this freckly, red-haired kid who was shockingly witty for someone who could hardly construct a sentence. He even seemed to fall short of grasping the concept of Mash, because his favorite job to choose was always “Notre Dame graduate.”

But there were also intelligent kids who would break the rules. It almost seemed that by breaking the rules, they gave the game of Mash more validity, deeming it so powerful that it was worthy of one compromising their ethical standards. My friend Kiran would always increase his percentage of his desired occupation by simply writing “doctor” three times.

Choosing wives was generally the best category. We’d scour through the homeroom class inspecting our female classmates. The fun part was choosing that one hideous girl for our friend’s list who, despite her homely appearance, still managed to get Ds on all of her assignments (and would probably grow up to become a billboard model).

At the end of the game, the result was usually something contradictive, like I’d become a baseball player, husband of Mary from P.E., who lives in a shack in Alaska and drives a Ferrari. Or maybe I’d be a garbage man who lives in a house in Hollywood, drives a Huffy five-speed and is the husband of Jeff’s mom.

No matter how the cards fell, the result was usually an incoherent mess, and that’s what made the game beautiful. If you really think about it, all of these aspects of life encompass our aspirations. After you get the job you’re trying so hard to obtain and find the wife that you assume will fill that bottomless void, you’ll begin to pay the mortgage on the home you’ve been dreaming about. And after a few years, you’ll have saved enough money to pat yourself on the back and buy that dream car, and you hope that these things will provide you with some euphoric sense of identity.

So maybe our mindsets aren’t too different from when we were kids. When we think of our dream job, we think that being a CEO is making a bunch of money to buy more toys instead of acknowledging the 80-hour work weeks, just like we thought that being a gynecologist was just playing with girls. We think about some exotic place to live, because somewhere else, maybe west, maybe south, must always be better.

We make a list of things to get done and things to accomplish, not unlike one long Mash game. We know very well that when it’s over, we can’t take any of these things with us, but we don’t know what else to aspire toward, and the rules already seem to have been made. So we keep making lists and crossing out tasks, hoping to get that car, that wife, that home or that job, even though we’re fully aware that the game ends the same for everyone.

But I guess you can’t really win unless you play.