Matt Leslie

I spent this morning playing Monopoly with Don Bankhead. This was as much a surprise to me as it probably is to anyone reading this column. Jane Rands and I attended a Monopoly tournament fundraiser for the North OC YWCA at the Knott’s Berry Farm Resort. About thirty others were there, including Mr. and Mrs. Bankhead, and a handful of highly skilled competitive Monopoly players. In the lobby a registration table featured a book on how to win at Monopoly by an expert player who sported a somewhat worn looking Monopoly print shirt with red “Free Parking” cars, “Go to Jail” cops and other familiar images from the game’s board.

Mr. Bankhead was there for his seventh year in a row. He was dressed in a sharp blue blazer festooned with lapel pins, dress shirt, and pressed slacks while most of us slummed it in weekend jeans. He carried himself like a city councilman, and reminded us that for two more days at least, he was. His extended hand and affable pat on the shoulder made me wonder if he intended to be one again sometime soon.

He wanted us to know that the John and Ken radio show had gotten it all wrong. The special meeting to declare the recall election results almost scheduled for last Thursday had been moved to Monday, July 2 because Pat McKinley wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise.

We decided to play at separate tables to increase our chances of moving on to the final round, although everyone would get to play two complete games before our scores would determine who played against the current champion. This elementary strategy was immediately rendered useless as soon as I realized that the half dozen serious tournament players did the same thing to avoid playing one another when they could individually beat a table of rubes instead.

My table of four players consisted of Ken, the expert/author, Don Bankhead, a freckled nine year old boy named Jeff, and myself. The kid predictably chose the racing car as his game piece. Ken opened a ring box to produce his own game piece, the standard issue flat iron, but painted a color nearly like the game board (and his shirt) to increase his chances that another player would be less likely to notice it parked on one of their properties and thus miss collecting rent due them. Any mild repugnance I felt toward a grown man going to this length to win against a nine year old boy was compounded by my realization that the flat iron was probably chosen because it has the lowest profile of any playing piece.

As I struggled to recall the rules of a game I hadn’t played more than twice since childhood, we rolled for highest score to go first. The kid won, and we were off, buying up properties, railroads and utilities as we landed on them. I had a bad streak of luck and had to go to jail twice, keeping my holdings to a minimum.

Ken, the pro, lost no time in offereing the kid a property trade or two, or three for railroads he wanted, reminding me of adults who trade baseball cards with children. The kid resisted with determination admirable for his age. Don Bankhead preferred a game without any deals, at least at this stage, and said so, but Mr. Monopoly Shirt politely and bemusedly declined to restrict himself to a friendly game by the fireside. He was out to win. His game was helped along by Mr. Bankhead neglecting to collect rent several times as various players landed, unnoticed by him, on his properties, as well as by my rusty skills as a land magnate.

The delicious irony of watching Don Bankhead literally playing with Monopoly money two days before the truncation of his twenty four year term on the City Council/Redevelopment Agency that spent funds in much the same way was not lost on me. But I was first to go bankrupt, followed by the kid, who nonetheless displayed impressive skill at the game. After Ken the author’s inevitable win Mr. Bankhead began to helpfully gather up the little green plastic houses and red hotels while Ken was still adding up assets for his score, leading to a new rule about players having to leave the table following their defeat.

After lunch everyone got to play again. Our combined scores from both games would determine which five players would go on to the final round. This time I got my clock cleaned by a perky but serious young Japanese tournament player who used an oversized ceramic netsuke looking version of the Monopoly thimble on the board. You couldn’t write a better script, I thought, until my attention was drawn to the table behind us where Jeff the nine year old and Ken with the Monopoly shirt were the two remaining players. My distaste for the rematch evaporated when I saw that the kid was winning. Ken tried for a bathroom break, but was persuaded by the reigning official that it was not an appropriate action with only about ten minutes remaining. The clock wound down as a crowd gathered around the table to watch the kid finish him off.

Young Jeff didn’t make the finals, but he kept Mr. Monopoly shirt out of it too. Don Bankhead won sixty-five bucks in the fifty-fifty drawing.

We all win some time.