It had been two years since I graduated from high school, and I had only heard from two high school friends in the last couple months: Melissa Holmes and Rachel Copeland. Neither of them was in town during the week that I came home, after the end of the school year at the University of Jeromeville and before the start of my summer class. Plumdale was not exactly the world’s most exciting place; neither was Gabilan or Santa Lucia or anywhere else in Santa Lucia County. Santa Lucia was on the beach, but it was usually windy and not very warm, not what I call beach weather. Gabilan had a low-level minor league baseball team; in the long tradition of unusual team names in Minor League Baseball, the team was called the Peppers. I went to one Peppers game with my family that week. The Peppers lost.
Usually, when I came home on school breaks, the only friends I saw were my brother Mark’s friends, who were all 14 and 15 years old. There was Cody Kaneko, a teammate and opponent of Mark in baseball and basketball whose parents had known mine for decades. Another one was Matt Bosworth, Boz for short, a unique combination of silly and intellectual who also had no sense of smell, so we could fart in front of him all we wanted. Mark and his friends and I had a lot of inside jokes. Many of them came at the expense of Mark’s other friends, like Ryan Lathrop, who always seemed a bit out of it, or goofy Eric Kingston.
Eric Kingston came over one day during the time I was home. I was in Mark’s room playing Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo, alone, while Mark and Eric played basketball in the backyard. After my game ended, I went outside to watch them.
“For three!” Mark shouted, shooting the ball some distance from the court. The ball cleanly sailed through the hoop. Eric took the ball to the back of the half-length court, then he ran around the court, holding the ball instead of dribbling and flapping his arms like wings, making a vaguely bird-like noise that sounded like “Ba-caa! Ba-caa!”
“What’s that?” Mark shouted. “Traveling!”
“No, it’s not traveling,” Eric explained. “It’s the Flying Bacaa. That means I don’t have to dribble. Ba-caa! Ba-caa!” Eric shot the ball from just a few feet away; it missed. All three of us started laughing hysterically.
“Ba-caa! Ba-caa!” I crowed, running around the yard and flapping my arms in imitation of Eric. Eric and Mark started laughing harder.
After Eric and Mark got tired of basketball, all three of us went back inside to Mark’s room, trying to decide what else to do. I saw a Monopoly game through the open closet door, and suggested, “Let’s play Killer Monopoly.”
“Okay,” Mark said.
“Killer Monopoly?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” I explained. “It’s like Monopoly, but with a few extra rules. We use the house rule about getting money on Free Parking. And also, there’s no limit to how many houses and hotels you can build, and you can build more houses after you build a hotel.”
“Can’t you always do that?”
“Not according to the actual rules.”
“Well, that’s how I’ve always played.”
“But the most important rule change is, when you land directly on Go, instead of the two hundred dollars, you get a bomb. And if you land on someone’s property and you don’t want to pay rent, you use the bomb to blow up their houses and hotels. And if you use two bombs, the whole property goes back to the bank.”
“That sounds cool,” Eric said.
We began playing, aggressively buying property. After a few times around the board, Mark had all three of the light purple properties. He landed on Free Parking on that round and used the money to put two houses on each property. Eric landed on Go on his next turn, just as Mom opened the door to check on us. Julio, a large orange and white striped cat, one of four cats who lived here, walked into the room when the door opened.
“I got a bomb!” Eric said.
“A bomb?” Mom asked. “In Monopoly?”
“Killer Monopoly,” I corrected. “I tried teaching it to you a few days ago, but you weren’t interested. You just said you hated Monopoly.”
“I do!” Mom said.
“No, no, Julio,” Mark said, pushing Julio away to make sure he did not walk across the board and knock over pieces.
“You come with me,” Mom told Julio, picking him up. She patted him on the head, saying, “You feel better now, don’t you.” Turning to Eric, Mom explained, “He had worms in his butt. But the doctor gave him medicine, and now he’s all better.” Eric got a horrified look on his face. He looked at Mark, then back at Mom. “Oh!” Mom said, laughing. “You thought I was talking about Mark! No, I meant Julio. The cat.”
“Oh!” Eric said, laughing. I laughed too.
“I don’t have worms in my butt!” Mark shouted.
After Mom left with Julio, I took my turn and landed on Mark’s St. Charles Place, with two houses. I begrudgingly handed over the rent, leaving me with very little money left. “I wish I had a bomb,” I said. “Maybe we need something so you can escape paying rent, but without blowing up the property. I know! We should make a Community Chest card that you can keep, like the Get Out Of Jail Free card, and when you play it, you just run away and reappear somewhere else. Like, it takes you the space farthest away from where you are. It can be the Flying Bacaa card.”
“Ba-caa! Ba-caa!” Eric squawked.
“We can use the ‘You have won second prize in a beauty contest’ card for that. I always thought that card was silly anyway.”
Eric went home late in the afternoon. Mark went out to the living room and put in a VHS tape of shows he had been recording. First on the tape was a recent episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a popular sitcom starring Will Smith as a city kid who moved in with wealthy relatives to keep him out of trouble. Will’s cousin Hilary had gotten a job hosting a television talk show, and the family was talking about William Shatner being a guest on the show.
“Have you seen this one, Greg?” Mom asked me.
“No,” I replied.
“It’s hilarious! We have to watch it! You know the show ended this season, right?”
“I don’t know if I knew that.”
“Mark? Do you have the last episode on this tape?”
“I think so,” Mark answered, sounding annoyed. “I’ll look for it later.”
I continued watching as Carlton embarrassed himself trying to impress William Shatner, accidentally breaking his tooth with a pool stick and taking him to the dentist. William Shatner got doped up on laughing gas just in time for the interview on Hilary’s show. Mom and Mark and I laughed hysterically through the entire episode. Mark pressed fast-forward to look for the finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but stopped when an episode of Beavis and Butthead came on. “This one!” he said. “Plant Man!”
“Yes!” I shouted. The show Beavis and Butthead alternated between a silly story involving the two teenage boys of less than stellar intellect and scenes of the boys watching music videos. In this episode, they were watching a very strange video called “Plant Man,” by Gary Young. One part of the song featured Gary Young banging on the drums, and Beavis commented that he could play drums like that. It was not the first time seeing this episode for any of us.
“Beavis and Butthead sure do watch the strangest music videos,” Mom said.
“I know!” I replied.
Mark found the other episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on the tape. While he fast-forwarded to skip commercials, I said, “I like that idea of adding a Flying Bacaa card to Killer Monopoly.”
“Ba-caa! Ba-caa!” Mark said.
“We also need to get Plant Man in that game somehow.”
“Maybe Plant Man should fight the Monopoly guy.”
“That would be funny,” I said. “Or maybe we should leave Killer Monopoly alone and make a new game with the Flying Bacaa and Plant Man.”
“And Erzix,” Mark added, using an old nickname for Eric Kingston from a few years ago. Eric was playing a video game that asked for your name, and he started entering Eric but finished with nonsense letters. Erzix was pronounced “air-zicks,” with the first syllable pronounced like the first syllable of Eric.
“Yes!” I said. “The Adventures of Erzix. You have to go around the neighborhood fighting Plant Man and a bunch of other weirdos. And you can get items to help you win a fight.”
“If you land on the same space as another player, you have to fight the other player.”
“But first, you have to ask them, ‘Pardon me, sir, but do you have any Grey Poupon?’” I suggested, quoting a TV commercial.
“Let’s go work on this!”
We went back to Mark’s room with a pen and paper. I began drawing four glorified stick figures resembling Erzix wearing a basketball jersey and colored them different colors. “Don’t forget, he has an earring now,” Mark said. I drew an oversized hoop earring on each of the four Erzices. (Since I was one to use irregular plurals facetiously, I had decided years ago that the plural of Erzix was “Erzices,” analogous to the plurals of “matrix” and “vertex” being “matrices” and “vertices.”)
“Who else should you have to fight besides Plant Man?” I asked as I drew Plant Man.
“Putnam,” Mark said.
“You don’t know Putnam? Let me bring you up to Putnam.”
“Huh?” I asked. Mark told me about some funny-looking annoying kid at his school named Putnam, then proceeded to draw a caricature of a face with a bad haircut and exaggerated features. I cut out the Putnam picture and glued it to the front of a playing card, from a deck that was missing cards anyway. Those cards would become the cards for the Erzix game.
Mark had a stuffed figure of Pepe the Pepper, the mascot of the Gabilan Peppers baseball team, on a shelf. Pepe was an anthropomorphic jalapeño with a mustache and baseball cap. As I stared at that shelf, I asked, “What about Pepe? Should he be one of the enemies?”
“No!” Mark said. “Pepe is awesome! He should be on your side instead!”
“What about, you can go to the stadium and get Pepe, and then he follows you and helps you in the next fight?”
“Yeah! Let’s do that!”
The next day, I typed the rules for The Adventures of Erzix on the family computer. When I went to print the rules, I noticed the printer was not working, so I asked Mom about that.
“We just got a new printer,” she said. “And we haven’t set it up yet. We were waiting for you to come home so you could help.”
I rolled my eyes. The directions for setting up a printer were not difficult. You plug it in, you put the CD in the computer, and you follow the prompts it gives you. I did exactly that. About halfway through the installation process, I said, “It wants you to name the printer. What do you want to name it?”
“Carlton!” Mom said, after the character from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
“Really?” I asked. “You’re gonna name your printer ‘Carlton?’”
“Sure! Why not?”
I typed “Carlton” in the box and waited for the printer to finish installing. When it was done, I printed the rules to The Adventures of Erzix; it worked. “Printer works!” I called out.
“Good!” Mom replied.”
Later that week, Cody and Boz both came over on the same day. While waiting for a turn on the Super Nintendo, I said, “We should play The Adventures of Erzix. All four of us.”
“Yeah!” Mark said.
“We should play what?” Boz asked.
“The Adventures of Erzix. Mark and I made a board game.”
“You made a board game about Erzix?” Cody asked. “I gotta see this.”
I unfolded the game board and set up the pieces as I was explaining the rules to Cody and Boz. “I have the rules right here,” I said, holding up the typed rule sheet, “so you know I’m not making anything up.”
We began the game, taking our turns and drawing Item cards when we landed on certain spaces. Boz was the first to land on a Fight space. He drew an Enemy card. “Putnam,” he said, laughing at the drawing. “The items that say ‘roll 1 to win fight,’ I can play that now and I also win by rolling a 1, is that how that works?”
“Yes,” I said. “With no item, you have to roll higher than whatever the card says.”
“Then I’m going to play this Giant Otter Pop, and hit Putnam with it.” Boz rolled the die; it was a 1. “Got him!”
Cody took his turn next. He landed on an Item space and drew a card. “Go to Ryan’s Fart Station,” he read aloud. He laughed, then asked, “What the heck is Ryan’s Fart Station?”
“One time we were playing Legos with Ryan Lathrop,” I explained. “He found a piece that said ‘STATION,’ it’s supposed to be for a train station, and he goes, ‘I’m going to build a fart station!’ I have no idea what it means.” I pointed to Ryan’s Fart Station on the board, and as Cody moved his piece there, I added, “You have to shuffle your items and discard the top one.”
“Because Ryan’s Fart Station stinks so bad, it makes you drop something!”
“Like this?” Mark said. He farted loudly, and the rest of us laughed.
“Eww!” I screamed as the smell of Mark’s fart hit my nose.
“Boz!” Mark exclaimed. “You’re lucky you can’t smell that one!”
Just then the door opened. “What’s going on in here?” Mom asked.
“Mark farted, that’s what’s going on,” I said.
“Whew! I can smell it!” Mom exclaimed, and the four of us all started laughing again. “Are you actually playing that Erzix game that you’ve been working on?”
“Yes!” I said, proud of my creation.
“I want to see how this works.”
“Okay. Whose turn was it?”
“Mine,” Mark said. Mark rolled the die, moved, and landed on Flying Bacaa. “Ba-caa! Ba-caa!” he shouted, flapping his arms, as he moved his Erzix token across the board.
“Wha– what?” Boz asked. “What even is a Flying Bacaa?”
“Some weird Erzix thing,” I said. “My turn.” I landed on a Fight space and drew an Enemy card. “Ogre,” I said, as I drew a card with a drawing of myself on it, complete with Jeromeville T-shirt.
“Ogre, like the nickname that Mark’s baseball team used to call you when you worked in the snack bar?” Mom asked. “You’re in this game?”
“Yeah. It was Mark’s idea. But my Erzix doesn’t have to fight Ogre, because I have this,” I said, playing an Item card from my hand. “I’m going to use the White Bronco to drive away!”
“Yes!” Cody said, laughing.
“White Bronco?” Boz asked. “Like O.J. Simpson’s car?”
“Yes!” I shouted. “My turn is done! Your turn, Boz.”
Boz drew the Item card that says to challenge another player to a game of one-on-one. He took Mark’s piece and moved them both to the Basketball Court space. Mark rolled higher, so Boz had to give Mark his last two Item cards.
Cody took his turn next. He landed on a Fight square and drew an Enemy card. “Plant Man!” he said, laughing at the drawing resembling Gary Young in his furry green suit. Cody pulled an Item card out of his hand, saying, “I’m going to use this Picture of a Butt, to get an extra chance to win.”
“What?” Boz said, reading the card to make sure he heard right.
“You guys are silly,” Mom said.
A couple weeks after I moved back to Jeromeville for my summer class, I heard from Mom that Eric Kingston had come over and played The Adventures of Erzix with Mark. He got a good laugh out of the whole thing, although he said that my drawing of him did not look like him.
We dragged the game out a few more times when I came home on school breaks. After that, it spent twenty-four years in a closet at my parents’ house, where it remains today. The game was not a regular activity for our family for long, but it had an important legacy in my life. It served as a sort of first draft for another silly board game I would write a couple of years later. The later game had a very similar style of play to The Adventures of Erzix, but with the game rules reworked and improved a little. Over the years, I taught that later game to many other groups of friends, and I was still playing it regularly for most of my adulthood. One of my friends who now lives in another state just recently, a few days before I wrote this, dragged out her copy and taught it to some people she knows now. That other game is another story for another time.
This story has had one more lasting legacy in my life. In the years since I helped Mom set up Carlton the printer, I have bought three more printers, and every one was named after a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character. I keep print copies of all of my writing, so if you will excuse me, I need to go print this on my printer, Aunt Viv.