Chicken Soup for the Bored
by Patricia Pearson
I was flipping through the ten billionth installment in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series — the one for the Cat and Dog Lover’s Soul — and I thought, “You know what? I don’t like my dog. He gets on my nerves all the time. Especially when I’m sitting in my living room, which has bare floors, and he starts making those click-click-click sounds with his toe nails, pacing aimlessly around, click-click-click-click, until I want to throw a plate at his head.”
So I fell into conversation with a colleague, who described how her dog would go and eat the most appallingly disgusting things in the park, like pooh or a dead squirrel’s foot, and then try to lick her face. At which point another person came up to talk about how much he hates it when he tries to walk his dog, and the dog just doesn’t get it that pulling on the leash until he wheezes is stupid, pointless behaviour that won’t get him down the sidewalk any faster.
We were just beginning to plan an alternative book, called “How To Surreptitiously Lose Your Dog,” when what should arrive in the office but another installment of the Chicken Soup series. This time, the gettin’ wealthy publishers have expanded beyond audio tape and Best Of spin-offs to another medium entirely: a Chicken Soup for the Soul board game. Since we were all feeling quite collaborative at that point, not to mention uninterested in office work, we decided to sit down in the cafeteria and play.
The game, it turned out, was confusingly heart-warming and earnest. This is not how I remember games from my childhood. In my family, the most popular game was called Spoons, a riotously competitive card game involving one fewer spoon on the table to grab at the end of a hand than there were players to grab a spoon. The loser’s punishment, inventively devised by my brother, was to kiss the cat’s bum.
This Chicken Soup game, disappointingly, has no losers, and no punishments. Indeed, the whole thing is suffused with happy little encouragements, like “Smile!” “Imagine a game,” gushed the press release that accompanied the box, “that is so far removed from inspiring competition that it directs the hungriest player to go first.” Imagine, in other words, a game whose objective is to oblige every player to behave like Barney.
“Don’t be modest!” one of the little cards encourages, “List three of your best qualities.” If two other players write the same qualities down on their own little Chicken Soup pads, you get to move three squares around the cute, cute board and land on categories like “Favorite Recipes” and “Special Seasonings.”.
I picked up a card in the Favorite Recipes category: “We’re ready for a laugh!” the card cajoled. “Tell us about the funniest teacher you ever had.”
Okay, um….(tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick..)
“C’mon Patricia, you must have had a teacher who made you laugh.”
“Intentionally or unintentionally?”
“Okay, forget it. Somebody else try a question.”
“Alright,” said the woman whose dog eats pooh. “This one says: ‘Tell a story about a song that taught you something.'” It was her turn, but we all reflected silently for a very long time. “I learned how to dance the Macarena,” somebody offered.
“I think they mean a song that gave you some sort of revelation,” said the fellow whose dog wheezed.
Um…..Well, you know that song “Smoke on the water” by Black Sabbath? “My friend Michael used to think it went, “Slooooo Talkin’ Walter, Fire Engine Guy.’ He had a revelation in retrospect about what the words were supposed to be.”
“That doesn’t count.”
We decided to move on to another category.
“This card says I have to guess the favourite circus act of the player with the largest shoe size.”
“Oh that’s just retarded.”
We started riffling through the cards, trying to find a question we cared to answer. Nobody found competitive inspiration in deducing “what the player wearing the brightest colour clothes puts on a hamburger,” and “finding out what the oldest player last purchased at a drug store.”
“I dunno know, Tylenol,” someone offered, looking at their watch.
“Listen, I gotta get back to work,” said another person, prompting everyone to rise at once.
“But wait!” I complained. “Don’t you feel this game has been an ‘enriching experience of sharing, friendship and laughter” like it says on the box?
The responses were polite, but noncommital.
Back home, I had some time to think as I picked up the garbage my dog had lovingly strewn all over the kitchen floor, and I thought about how a mass-market board game was the wrong vehicle, really, for seeking a communal sort of spiritual contentment.
I’m sure the Chicken Soup people have the best of intentions, and aren’t merely trying to come up with new ways to rake in the dough from a blockbuster series that taps into people’s desperation for inspirational homilies. But, you know, I just feel it’s not necessary.
Family togetherness doesn’t need to be manufactured from a box with explicit instructions to Smile. Spoons, assembled from the cutlery drawer, is earthier fun. So’s running a gauntlet of pillows, for that matter, topped off late in the evening, I might recommend, by feeding a large quantity of peanut butter to the dog.
© Patricia Pearson, 2001