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The Column

Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House

I'm wondering when my mansion will be ready. Because in 4th grade, I played a killer game of MASH, and I'm still waiting for any of the results.

MASH, if you were born before 1975, is a TV show about the Korean War. But to anyone younger than 30, MASH is a game that determined our future – where we'd live and in what kinds of houses, what occupations we'd have, what cars we'd drive, and most importantly, what cootie-ridden members of the opposite sex our friends teased us about for the next year.

MASH typically stood for "Mansion – Apartment – Shack – House," though I've heard slight variations. The idea was to have four choices in each category--one wonderful, one tolerable, one awful, and one preferable. Let's say you had five letters in your name, or your birthday was the fifth, or you cheated by placing every bad option in every fifth place. You'd cross off every fifth choice until you were left with one option in each category, which you were then contractually obligated to pursue. Each one of us, at some point, was expecting to be a doctor living in a mansion in Paris with a Lamborghini in the garage. All cootie-ridden members of the opposite sex were equally wonderful and frightening.

Since we were so young, our choices were often limited to the only stuff we'd heard of. The professions were usually things like doctor, lawyer, teacher and garbage man, with teacher being the awful choice (Come on, we were eight!). Cities typically included wherever you were from, followed by a combination of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, and Paris (even though many of us did not know what country housed London, Paris, or Los Angeles). And of course, our cars: ranging from Lamborghinis to station wagons, with little in between. Not many 8-year-olds know much about Camrys or Sentras.

When we graduate college, we should play MASH again, with the choices changed to be a bit more realistic. The game for anyone in their early twenties should be called RASH, where the choices are Railroad Apartment, At Home With Our Parents, Studio, and Homeless Shelter.

Beating out MASH for the most popular future game was the Fortune Teller, an origami-esque contraption that put each of us at the whim of whoever wrote it. After a few number-based options, we were left with one of 8 or 16 fortunes, that typically weren't fortunes at all. A desirable "fortune" would say something like, "You're a rock star" whereas a less desirable one might suggest the chooser had some sort of odor problem.

Often, we'd find entire Fortune Tellers with similarly negative fortunes, or compliments so cheesy they should be on massed produced Valentines. ("You're A-OK, sport!") I preferred the Magic 8-ball, which made you return another time and ask again more often than it gave you a definitive answer. Which is much like the first realtor you deal with while deciding between a studio and a homeless shelter.

I am in possession of a sarcastic 8-ball, which gives you answers like, "Yeah, sure" and "If you say so, buddy." I love it – maybe because it reminds me of the Fortune Tellers I used to write. (I once created a Fortune Teller with all the same answers. It took seven tries for a friend to catch on.)

My game of choice, however, came slightly later in life, once our cooties cleared up and our parents allowed us to drink more soda. My game of choice was Poptop.

The rules were simple: take the tab on a can of soda and bend it back and forth, which each bend representing a letter of the alphabet. Which ever letter you say when the tab comes off was the first letter of the person you'd end up with. 5 bends? Find someone named Emily or Evan. 10? Josh or Julia. I, however, spent a great deal of 7th grade admiring someone named Sari. And so I did what we all did – I cheated.

19 bends almost every time, the first 16 of which were very light. Then, with increasing force came Q, R, and S. I had to be careful though – I didn't want to accidentally pop at R or miss it and land at T and get teased for the rest of the year. If I was going to be teased, at least let it be for Sari, since everyone knew I liked her anyway.

Our willingness to cheat at these games was incredible. Those that liked a girl with an A name would even rip the top off in one shot. Which looked a bit obvious, but we used that to our advantage. "Due to my incredible strength, the top just popped off! Did you see that, Allison? (FLEX)" Of course, there's also the route of going through the alphabet a full time to land on the second A. But that's like not being able to get the wheel around on the Price is Right. If you're so weak that 26 tries can't pop the top off, that "A" is going to stand less for "Allison" and more for "Alone."

It'd be nice to be able to answer our current questions like this. Find out where we're going to live, who we're going to end up with, or whether or not those of us that are called "sport" are indeed, A-OK. I asked a few friends if they wanted to play any of these with me. One of them, who has a particularly busy summer, said it best:

"Reply hazy, try again."

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