From the essay “If You Sprinkle” (from How Did You Get This Number)
I had little red circles stuck to my chin, cheeks, and forehead when Zooey Ellis warned us that Rachel Hermann was going to be joining our slumber party… The sticker, meant to double as a “zit,” was part of a board game called Girl Talk, an early-’90s version of truth-or-dare, designed to sanction prepubescent cruelty via laminated cardboard. Accompanying the board itself were zits peeled from an adhesive sheet and doled out to those who refused to participate in dares. Imagine the karmic opposite of candy dots. Girl Talk was the main reason I wound up enrolling in a college without a Greek system.
The game began by spinning a plastic arrow so cheap and lopsided that you didn’t “spin” it so much as flick it very fast. The arrow touched down in one of four pie-shaped categories of clairvoyance:
- Special Moments
The whole concept of forecasting and fortune telling was very en vogue at the time, often taking the form of origami finger puppets that told you when you’d lose your virginity and where you’d live when you grew up. Soda-can tabs told you the first letter of your future husband’s name, candles melted to reveal secret scrolls, moods were exposed depending on the temperature of your ring finger. The future was everywhere, and it was all very illuminating. Girl Talk simply did the grunt work for you, its predictions preprinted on triangular cards that fit into the board like the courses in TV dinner entrées.
To its credit, Girl Talk was downright empowering compared to Mall Madness, a game of fiscal responsibility that encouraged girls to buy everything in sight until they found a boy to do it for them. It was also strangely complicated, a layered enterprise with rules complex enough to make the ancient Chinese game of Go look like Candy Land. Before you put your fate in the hands of a plastic wheel, you had a choice. You could either tell the truth or pick from a series of dares. These ranged from the coy (“Call a boy and ask him who he likes”) to the suspect (“Act like Pee-wee Herman for one minute”) to the dehumanizing (“Lap up a bowl of water like a dog”).
Imagine, if you will, the legal repercussions of a game manufactured today in which underage girls are encouraged to call strangers’ homes in the middle of the night. Or to leave the house sporting a “silly outfit.” It’s all fun and games until someone winds up in the back of a cop car, clutching a Cabbage Patch Kid. In hindsight, I am proud that I declined to imitate a convicted child molester or assume a doggie position in order to win a board game. As if all this wasn’t enough, you needed “household” items to play, including shoelaces, a short-wave radio, and a blindfold. Were we preparing for our future fiancés or the apocalypse? Or both?