The Last Player in The Game Wins

So!! Once upon a time there was a very determined man and there were a lot of odds against him, but he just couldn’t be held back by “The Man,” and he pulled himself up by those bootstraps we’re always hearing so much about, and he figured out a totally honest and admirable way to make himself rich and provide a service that people really, truly wanted, and everything was great and cool forever and ever. That is the story of a book I would never want to read. But, I mean, nobody really needs to write that kind of book anymore; we all know that story like the back of our capitalist hands.

In 2009, Mary Pilon was writing for The Wall Street Journal and wanted to include a line about how we all know the story of Monopoly—the classic origin tale of Charles Darrow, an unemployed and broke man who sold his board game to Parker Brothers during the Great Depression, just the kind of uplifting rags-to-riches story people love to hear. Like so many other stories that fit into archetypal narratives, it was total bullshit.

Charles Darrow was, perhaps, the last person to create the game Monopoly as we know it, but the game had been invented by a woman named Lizzie Magie in the early 1900s. Magie was a writer, an inventor, and an outspoken feminist, and she invented something she called “The Landlord’s Game” and patented it in 1904. Her version included both a “monopolist” set of rules and an “anti-monopolist” set of rules, and it became kind of fashionable with certain prominent public figures like Upton Sinclair.

People made their own boards with their own set of rules and started casually referring to the game as “the monopoly game,” like the Quaker community of Atlantic City, who created a board to reflect their neighborhoods. One such Quaker invited Charles Darrow and his wife over to play their board, and, I mean, I’m sure you can see where this is going: Darrow copied their board, sent it to Parker Brothers, complete with a perfectly packaged revisionist mythology that just so happened to suit the values, aspirations, and beliefs of American society at that time.

Magie’s story might have been lost if it hadn’t been for Ralph Anspach, an economics professor who tried to make his own version of the game called “Anti-Monopoly.” His goal was to have a “better” capitalist board game, one that encouraged players to produce better goods as governments destroyed existing monopolies. Parker Brothers sued for an unauthorized use of the brand name that they owned, but as Anspach and his lawyer quickly found out, it wasn’t even their brand name to begin with. What happened after that? You’ll just have to read The Monopolists, in stores today, to find out!!!

Mary and I spoke about the five years she spent writing this book, the importance of telling Lizze Magie’s story, and—whoops—how much I hate Monopoly.

Looking The Part

A few months ago a friend of mine contacted me about doing a project together, saying she wanted to write with more “women of color.” I didn’t know whether to correct her or not. Are you allowed that title when your color fades?

I am not white. It has taken me years to be able to say this out loud, and I still mumble through it, or qualify it with “sort of”s and “basically”s and “not really’s.” Because despite my Indian immigrant father and my non-white name and my ability to do the sideways head nod gesture that seems to only be a thing Indians can do, I have rarely been treated as anything but white and American.

When I first began understanding the realities that many people of color in this country face, I aimed to become an ally. It made more sense than considering myself part of the group, since I assumed the title of “person of color” had to come with certain things: namely, a struggle stemming from a lifetime of mistreatment and microaggressions. I mistakenly associated the POC identity with its most publicized experience, one which I didn’t think I shared: I’d always made friends of lots of different backgrounds, and sometimes we talked about them and most of the time we didn’t; I had no problem seeing myself in the white protagonists that saturated the media I consumed. But the biggest misconception I had was that to be “of color,” my skin actually had to be one, and that it had to stay that way all the time.

When I was a kid, I assumed my “natural” skin color was a deep tan. Maybe it’s because summer is when most photos of me were taken, on the beach with my white cousins, them in brimmed hats with freckles and flecks of sunblock still on their skin, me wild-haired and brown brown brown, always exposed. I worked backwards from these shots, using them as yearly proof of what I “really” looked like—thick black hair, big eyes, a flash of beauty I hoped would become permanent by aging out of frizzy bangs and overall shorts, and brown skin.

In a grade school worksheet I was asked to describe myself, a quick lesson in bodily features, and I dutifully took these images to write my truths. “My name is Jaya Saxena. I am eight years old. I have black hair. I have hazel eyes. I have brown skin. My favorite color is red.” They were natural statements to make, things that there’d be no point fabricating. But in the winter I’d find myself staring confusedly at my reflection, wondering where one of those truths went, and what happened to my “natural” state.

Welcome to Fourth Wave Coffee

Hello! Welcome to Fourth Wave Coffee. My name is Sternum and I’ll be your barista, but you can call me big poppa, Dr. Freud, Mrs. Robinson, or any other nickname that makes you feel warm inside. Warm like our coffee.

Here at Fourth Wave, our mission is to provide a beverage experience that transcends the merely average service provided by ordinary third-wave coffee shops. Fellow millennial, I’m here to make you feel good about yourself. Here’s a trophy, just for coming in.

The Middle-Classism of Teen Movies

There’s a scene in Allison Anders’ Gas Food Lodging where sisters Trudi and Shade slouch in a truck stop diner booth. Nora, their mother, a waitress, is covering two stations. Trudi (played by Ione Skye) won’t eat because she’d rather starve then risk “smelling like grease and fish.” Trudi hates her town, the trailer park where she lives, and the busboy who spills a soda on her lap. She blames her mother for all of her bad choices, but mostly for her mother’s bad choices in men. She lashes out at her mother and her sister, but really, it’s the world that’s at fault.

The scene captures what we take for granted in teen movies—not the indignant teen, but the frustrated parent struggling to pay bills, who sometimes has to work two shifts, or double shifts, or the graveyard shift. Even in smart teen movies like Mean Girls or 10 Things I Hate About You, there’s endless money for all the fries and Cokes and movies kids want. The kids are sheltered; financial realities simply don’t exist or aren’t addressed. And understandably so—who wants their teen movie filled to the brim with our parents’ problems? Even Charlie Brown dismissed adults as background noise.

Except teen movies—and movies about teens—in the ‘80s and ‘90s, like Gas Food Lodging, delved into some heavy socio-economic plots and subplots. There was John Singleton’s groundbreaking Boyz n the Hood about three black teenage boys living in South Central Los Angeles and the demoralizing effect gang life has on them. There was the exhausted single parent in Whatever. There was the no-parent household in The Outsiders. There was the money-is-tight-let’s-move-across-country subplot in The Karate Kid. There was the parent moving to the rich suburb so his kids could go to better schools in Slums of Beverly Hills. There was the rough coming-of-age of three high school seniors in Girls Town, in which the tag line read “This ain’t no 90210.” There was the my-stepfather-is-a-lazy-piece-of-shit-drunk-who eats-all-of-our-food-while-mom-works-her-ass-off subplot in River’s Edge. There was Mi Vida Loca, about Latino teen girls living in gang-riddled Echo Park. There was the I-want-to-be-seen-as-more-than-just-another-black-girl-on-the-subway in Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. Even John Hughes, the king of rich white kids, tackled class warfare with Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, a romantic who lived on the “other side of the tracks,” and Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson’s characters in Some Kind of Wonderful were poor artists/drummer/mechanics.

Fast forward today and the middle class struggle is hardly touched on in films about teens. There are 50 million people living in poverty in the U.S., according to the 2013 Census report, but we’ve only seen a tiny sample of contemporary teen movies (Thirteen, Precious, Beneath the Harvest Sky) even attempt to grasp those topics.

Elegy For Your Superheroes

Superheros should never remove their costumes. Without the mask, they lose the magic.

Years of dealing with racism, no matter the season’s favored model—systematic, institutional, post-racial—have drained my father. Growing up, he was my bulletproof Superman, following a personal creed of Christian benevolence and unbiased compassion instilled by his late mother. As he’s gotten older, cynicism has wormed its way into his everyday language, as loud as the rolling of summer thunder. He doesn’t believe that racial harmony is attainable, at least during his lifetime. The civil unrest in Ferguson and the death of Mike Brown have not cracked his surface. While outrage and fear turn my words into live wires, my father is not shocked. He does not believe Darren Wilson’s story. He has kept an eye on the situation. He believes that the non-indictment was determined when it was announced that the grand jury consisted of more white citizens than black. Despite his casual interest, he feigns indifference to the public protests and the grassroots campaigns. My father wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that the country’s justice system is broken, has never worked in favor of black people, and was never created for black people in the first place. Sometimes he navigates this life like a man without a country that is kind enough to call home.

One of my father’s favorite history books is Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He likes the book because it’s something that never would have been found in the curriculum at his high school, the same public school I attended. Intentionally calling reference to JFK’s Profiles in Courage, Abdul-Jabbar’s work highlights the achievements and cultural significance of icons and visionaries such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, alongside lesser-known black intellectuals and military men.

My father told me that he was tired of reading about the same overexposed historical figures during Black History Month, the rushed week in social studies where teachers always mentioned “the guy who invented the peanut” and little else. Why was Black History Month reduced to the invention of peanut butter?

My father was one of the few black students in his class, let alone the entire school. He’d known black male friends that had attempted to go on dates with white girls, only to be greeted at her door by the end of their father’s shotgun. When James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King on that Memphis balcony, my father became hyper-aware of his blackness. It was as though his third eye had been pried open with a rusty screwdriver; the razored blessing of W.E.B. Du Bois’ double consciousness. He said that he felt “like an alien.” Many of the white students expressed condolences to him as though he were the sole ambassador for a disintegrated nation far removed from America.

“This one white guy came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry your leader died.’ I thought it was a weird way to put it. Sorry your leader died? I thought Martin Luther King was supposed to be for everyone. I felt like an alien because people kept staring at me,” he said. That day at lunch, all of the black students sat together. Everyone was tired of the theatrics of their white peers, the moon-sized eyes searching for forgiveness, demanding absolution of guilt.

My father had always been aware of his blackness. He learned how to fight at an early age. He’d need the skill of a KO punch if he wanted to survive the playground.

The Best Time I Fainted While Posing Nude

Twenty-two was my worst year. I was broke, deeply depressed, and wrapped up in an emotionally destructive relationship. The one nice thing I had going was the semi-successful band we’d started when we first got together; but between that, our shared living situation, and the overwhelming sadness which had rendered me inert, I felt trapped.

Thanks to our band’s increasingly ambitious touring schedule, and my seeming inability to do anything other than cry, my retail job was in jeopardy. My boss didn’t support me doing anything that involved running away with that particular boyfriend; she cared for me, and she’d watched my mental health wane over the year I’d worked for her, and was reasonably fed up with me coming in every day with eyes swollen from crying. Indignant, I put in my two weeks.

We started to book more and more shows, but it was never really enough. We’d be home for weeks at a time, trapped together in a one-bedroom apartment. He worked day and night to convince me that our relationship would be fine if I wasn’t damaged goods. Anyone in his situation—stuck with me—would do the same. At the height of his abuse, when I, not wanting to set him off, would simply stay in bed for days, he gave me an ultimatum: get psychiatric drugs, or be abandoned. I would have no band, no job, and nowhere to live, and because I was crazy, I would be alone.

Wedding Town

My mother first saw my namesake in the OBGYN waiting room—a model in a bicentennial bikini smiling from the wrinkled, worn pages of a magazine.

“She was pretty,” my mother told me. “Her name was Allison.”

That was the entirety of the name origin story. Nothing terribly meaningful or symbolic—a pretty model had my name before I did. By the time I learned this I was deep in my gawky adolescence, already realizing that “pretty” wasn’t necessarily something a girl was but rather something she did.

Bewildered, I watched as my girlfriends—who had once rescued half-dead robins, obsessed over the difference between Arabians and Clydesdales, who could quote whole pages of Watership Down and Black Beauty—became suddenly fixated on the distinction between gloss and matte, ivory and off-white, sheer and opaque. They could do “pretty,” and while I sensed this was important, the urgency was lost on me. Pink or coral? Red or rust? Who cares? There were more pressing matters, like what the fuck are we going to do with the fetal squirrel that died in this shoebox?

Of course, my female friends’ interest in color schemes, powders, perfumes and nail polish had just about everything to do with boys. They wanted to be liked and noticed by boys, but considering how the boys snapped our bras, leered at us, and catcalled, all I could think was, They notice us too much.

The Best Time I Had Bed Bugs While Housesitting For Someone Else

I was very sure it was not bed bugs.

I was so, so sure.

In fact, I knew it was not bed bugs because I had done some extensive googling and cream buying and had gone to the doctor and decided what it really was was an obscure skin condition called Polymorphic Light Eruption.

Polymorphic Light Eruption is a skin rash caused by exposure to the sun affecting approximately 1 in 10 European women. Damn you, England, I thought to myself, damn you straight to hell. But secretly I was relieved.

My doctor was less convinced. “To be honest, it looks more like scabies or bed bugs or something,” she said. I snorted. To be fair, she had literally just googled “scabies rash” in front of me, so my smug doubt was, I felt, somewhat justified. The itchy, red bumps decorating my arms, back and chest were clearly PMLE (the abbreviation used by My Community), and all I needed to do was never go outside in the sun again, fine.

I went home from the doctor and tore the sheets off the bed. Eggs.

Lagusta Yearwood, The Punk Chocolatier

“Women! Let us meet.” This is how Lagusta Yearwood, chef and owner of chocolate shop Lagusta’s Luscious in New Paltz, New York, calls together her employees for a staff meeting. “And Jacob,” she adds, a sweet afterthought, to include her partner of 16 years, who’s running around the small shop taking care of orders to be shipped out. Four women stand around Lagusta, all in vintage aprons, listening as she discusses the business of the day: a new whipped cream recipe, strategies for most efficiently using the enrober to get 1,400 caramels out. Over to the side, I note a “Kill Your Local Misogynists” mug.

She’s a feminist, anarchist, vegan chef. No matter how much like a hippie-skewering skit the sketch of her might seem, this woman is punk. After getting a degree in women’s studies, she attended New York City’s Natural Gourmet Institute and trained in Connecticut at the feminist cooperative vegetarian restaurant Bloodroot. She began her foray into being what she calls an “antipreneur” with a savory meal-delivery service. It was in off-hours from running that business that she began rolling and selling fair-trade-chocolate truffles out of her home. In 2010, she and Jacob bought the foreclosed laundromat that would become Lagusta’s Luscious, envisioning it as a wholesale chocolate factory with a shop up front for selling extras. Instead, the business is about 60-40 retail to mail order, and has become its own little utopia.