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What is Risk?

 by Ken Carlson

Ken Carlson is a performer who has appeared in more bars, coffee shops, festivals, Chinese restaurants, and Lutheran campgrounds than he'd care to remember. He's written for several publications and is the former editor of The Comedians Magazine. His upcoming book, GET OUT OF MY WAY!, takes an absurd and humorous look at the daily commute. Follow him on Twitter @ #KenCarlsonSaid.

Life is uncertain. Life is precarious. Life, is boring; boring, boring, boring; probably the most boring board game ever made. Have you ever played the game of Life? Like most activities developed by adults for kids, this one dating back to the 19thcentury when it was created by Milton Bradley himself, it serves as a dull, hokey, moral compass under the guise of fun. The object of the game of Life is to take your car, fill it with as many wives and offspring as most cults allow, and hope when the game is over some of the players are still speaking to one another.

The most fun part of the game is when you get to spin the dial. It has no dice and it’s not a pop-o-matic game, but at least your senses awaken for a moment from the WHIIZZZZZ sound to see if your space brought you something financially pleasant. It’s the most tedious, least exciting game ever created. Who wants to play a game, presumably for a fun way escape the daily hassles of day-to-day existence, that features homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, and promissory notes? What real life game do we play tomorrow: Chutes and Ladders, where the object of the game is slide down the chute and call a slip-and-fall attorney to sue for damages? Candy Land, where every three moves, you select a card to see if you have Type 2 Diabetes? Or the new version of Clue, where instead of solving a who-dun-it mystery of eccentric characters, you try to remember your passwords for your email, three forms of social media, and your bank account where the hint is “Your mother’s maiden name combined to form an anagram with your favorite pet, the street you lived when you were five, and the name of the grade school from Little House on the Prairie.”

Life wasn’t a game. Risk was a game. Risk was about world conquest. Spreading your armies around the world. Not necessarily in an evil, German way, but a powerful, in-your-face way that says you’re the authority of how the planet should be run, like Starbucks.

Of course, the irony in naming a war game, Risk, is that there really is very little to risk in playing the game. Just because you’re directed to invade other nations to conquer the world doesn’t mean you have to. You could place your armies in certain locations while yours opponent place their armies in their locations, and the game becomes détente, or Canadian.

The nature of risk, not in the dice-rolling game, but in life, is what is at stake and what are the odds. Are talking about life and death decisions? Are we talking about armed troops jumping out of airplanes in heavy gunfire? Are we talking about intricate surgical operations where a doctor’s skill, combined with a bit of luck, and maybe the hand of God will dictate whether a loved one lives or dies. Or are we talking about something really important, where you’re risking everything that means everything to you? Are we talking about hot sauce?

Let’s say you’re having some people over for a casual dinner. It’s becoming a taco party. Be cool, it’s Tuesday and everyone appreciates Taco Tuesday.

You and your posse are at the supermarket, picking up supplies. Jennifer reminds you that you’re out of hot sauce. She knows because she’s been over a few times lately, not everyone else know about it yet, but she calls you out for what’s in your fridge. Efficient, but kind of creepy. Has she been through your medicine cabinet too? Yikes.

So you reach for Cholula sauce. That’s your thing. Then Keith says, “Hey, dude.” He, a grown man with painfully ironic sideburns and a unicycle, still says dude all the time. Keith reaches for Tabasco, like that’s the only choice. You know Tabasco is hot, but you’re into Cholula, that’s still your thing.

Then Marina and Tom reach for Frank’s hot sauce, together, they must totally be doing it. But Frank’s is for wings, can you risk using this for taco Tuesday.

Then Barry, chimes in, fuckin’ Barry, can’t keep an opinion to himself in a tropical storm, and always in that passive aggressive, obnoxious way, “Uh, guys, I think we’re forgetting…” as he waves a wicked huge bottle of Sriracha sauce at the group. Sriracha? That’s not a taco sauce, not in your America. It’s a got a chicken on the bottle! We all respect it as a general, all around good, hot sauce, but it’s not for tacos.

So Marina and Tom say together, “Hey, why doesn’t everyone just get their own hot sauce?” Jennifer stares at you, shaking her head. There is no way she will allow all these hot sauces to linger in your or her fridge. The shelves are too narrow to hold a throng of hot sauces, so they’ll spread all over the fridge, lost for months, maybe years behind leftovers and salad dressings. You look to her, trying to visually, your not that kind of person, you’re into Cholula sauce, that’s still your thing.

And then Armando waddles over. Armando drinks a lot, probably too much. As always he’s playing the clown, and with three hot sauces in each hand like he raided a mini bar at an Embassy Suites. The sauces he chose are those eccentric off-market brands for hot sauces that stress flames coming from your body; Burning Ass hot sauce, Ass in a bucket hot sauce, Hotter going out that it is going in hot sauce. Whoa, this is becoming a hot sauce collection. That is not your thing. Jennifer shakes her head. What’s next, collecting berets, bragging about your karaoke machine at work on Mondays, and greeting waiters in foreign languages you don’t know? Your entire Taco Tuesday party is at risk! What do you do?

You spin the dial in the game of Life. WHIIZZZZZ. You go back to Life and realize that game’s reality is far easier to understand. WHIIZZZZZ you have kids. WHIIZZZZZ you have a job. WHIIZZZZZ you have to take a whiz and stop worrying about unimportant decisions that don’t matter and won’t affect your life. The minutiae of parties disappear in the breeze, but some things, like old jars of hot sauce in the back of your fridge, last forever.


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