An excerpt from The Goldberg Variations
Level Playing FieldThe last time I saw Richard was Detroit, in '68. I ran into him again at some political rally last September and we’d gone back to his place as it turned unseasonably cold and he lived nearby.
“Wanna play Level Playing Field?” he asked as he brought out some wine and a couple glasses.
“What’s that?” I asked. He went to the closet and brought out a board and a box of stuff.
“It’s a board game based on the American experience.” He said, though I was still unclear about what he meant.
“It’s Monopoly.” I said when he opened the board and set it on the table.
“No. It’s called Level Playing Field.” He said, and I noticed that “Monopoly” had been crossed out by a magic marker and “Level Playing Field” had been written in above it.
“Here’s how you play.” He said. “I’ll be the guy whose grandfather busted a union and made a fortune in the trucking business and whose father inherited that money and became a major fundraiser for the Republican Party and sits on a bunch of corporate boards. You can be you.”
“OK.” I said.
Richard pulled out a huge wad of Monopoly money, what looked to be from a dozen or so games. He counted out one million six hundred thousand dollars for himself and then counted out five hundred dollars for me. From the board pieces he selected a double-sized gold-plated top hat for himself and gave me what looked like a small tin outhouse.
We started to play and, after the first dozen or so trips around the board Richard owned pretty much everything; all the utilities and all but one railroad, which I quickly handed over when I landed on a hotel-studded Park Place a couple rolls later.
“OK,” I said. “You win.”
“Hmmm, yeah… but that’s not the best part.”
“What’s the best part?” I asked.
“The best part is now when I lecture you in a patronizing tone about how I won because you just didn’t want it as much. I won because you just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities you had. I won because I was willing to work harder and I just had more determination.” He started reaching for the piles of money with a look of actual entitlement on his face.
For the past year and a half I was working for the public transit authority as a supervisor and often carried large amounts of money with me. This had allowed me to acquire a license to carry a concealed weapon and I bought a small .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Since I’d gone to the rally directly from work I had the gun in a small holster behind my back.
“Actually Richard,” I said, “that’s not the best part.”
I pulled out the gun, pistol-whipped him unconscious, and stuffed the million plus in small orange and yellow bills into my pockets. I took a pen and crossed out “Level Playing Field” and wrote “Power to the People” above it.
“Now that’s what I call leveling the playing field.” I said, finished my wine, and split. I haven’t seen Richard since then but I don’t think he called the cops, I think he understood my point.
[with apologies to Joni Mitchell and Scott Ballantine]