[A SHORT STORY BY LEX REX]
John and Marilyn had really enjoyed the delicious meal that their close friend and next door neighbor, Jill, had prepared for them. It was always such a treat to accept an invitation to spend an evening with Jill and her husband, Henry. Jill was such a great cook, and always prepared those dishes that were favorites for John and Marilyn. Henry was a born comedian, keeping any group laughing for hours. What a relaxing and fun way to spend an evening. Friends for many years, they had enjoyed numerous such times together, and their views on most subjects were so similar that they rarely disagreed, or debated on any issue or idea.
Reluctantly pushing themselves away from the dining room table, they all agreed that dessert with coffee in the living room was definitely the ideal way to top off a truly fabulous meal. John had just begun to start thinking about the possibility of getting everyone to play his pet card game; and Jill was about to suggest that they all look at the video of their recent vacation trip, when Henry said, excitedly, "What do you all say to our playing a brand new game I picked up yesterday at the game store?" "You bet," John replied, "but what's it called, Henry? I wonder if I've heard of it." "I don't think so, John, because the clerk told me that it's the latest thing in games . . . just got it in the store this week; and the clerk said all the new games, from now on, are going to be designed like this one. He said that the game company had done a nationwide survey, asked hundreds of thousands of people . . . sent them some kind of questionnaire, I guess . . . and they all said this is the kind of game they want from now on. I told the kid at the store that if everyone wanted it, I better take one, so we could enjoy it with our best friends.
It was a little weird though, when he went out back and brought the game to the counter. It was in the plainest box I ever saw. I had kind of figured that being the latest thing and something that everyone wanted, it would really be in a good looking package, but it was just a plain, gray, cardboard box with absolutely nothing printed on it, no letters, numbers, pictures, or anything. I did see the name stamped across one corner, however, and when the clerk put the box down on the counter, I could read the name . . . just one word . . . "LIVING." Here let me show it to you." "Wow, said Jill, how do they expect to sell those things, as plain and drab as they are. Who would notice them?" "Well, I don't know, said Marilyn, I think it's kinda' neat. Makes you so curious, you'd just buy it to find out what they'd put in a box like that. By the way, Henry, what did they soak you for that one?" "Well, that's the other funny thing, when I asked the clerk, how much it cost, can you imagine what he said? He said, and I'm giving you a verbatim quote now. He said, 'Whatever you think it's worth.' I practically fell over. I told him, look, everything in this place has got a price tag on it. Somebody figured out what it cost to design it, make it and package it; and you guys decided what you had to sell it for to run your business. Then, when people, like me, come in, we can read the label and know what we have to pay for it. Now you're telling me that this plain, gray, cardboard box with the latest game in it, the one that everyone voted for, the one that all other games from now on are going to be copied from, with the weird name 'Living' stamped, with what looks to me like a rubber stamp, in the upper right-hand corner, has no price tag, and I'm supposed to pay you whatever I think it's worth to me. I don't believe it. I don't even know what this game is. I don't even know what's in the box. It doesn't even indicate on the outside what I get in the box, what the game is made out of, or whether it's a card game, a dice game, a word game, a building game, or any other kind of game. I tell you, John, for some reason his telling me to pay him whatever I thought the stupid thing was worth to me, just about freaked me out. I even threw in something like . . . and if that's the way you're going to sell games from now on, I'm not coming back. I don't want your games! Boy, was I ticked; but the clerk said, 'Oh never mind, just give me $14.75 and take the game and enjoy it.' I said, well, OK, just this once. But how did you come up with $14.75? And you know what he said? He said, 'Because that's what I think it's worth to me.' You can believe that this nonsense at the end of a hard day at the office, was really getting to me. I said, because that's what you think it's worth to you? What about the owner of this place? Maybe, you should ask him what he thinks it's worth to him. I was stressed out. And the clerk replies to me . . . you won't believe this . . . he says to me, 'I already asked the owner when this new line of games came in, and the owner told me, it doesn't make any difference. It's what each customer thinks it's worth, that counts!'
"Oh, never mind, Henry," said Jill. "It sounds like you got all bent out of shape for nothing. You have the new game, and I suppose you gave the clerk the $14.75 for it. So, we all want to play this "LIVING" game. Don't we, John? . . . Marilyn?" "Of course we do, especially after Henry went through what he went through to get it. It does seem like things are changing though, these days," replied Marilyn. "I had a funny experience the other day, myself. Didn't think anything of it at the time, though. I just laughed and left. Went on to find another place." "Why, what are you talking about Marilyn?" asked John. "You didn't say anything to me about it." "Well, it didn't seem important, darling, but now that Henry has ranted and raved about his problem at the game store, maybe I should say something. Anyway, it wasn't much of anything. I just went into this shoe store at the Mall. I've been there off and on. Never had what I wanted. But I thought I'd try them again. Well, I looked at a lot of shoes, usual thing, some on the racks, and some in boxes on the shelves, but when I asked the clerk why they didn't have any prices on them, or even have size numbers on the boxes, or on the shoes, she said a most remarkable thing to me. She said it was up to me to decide what the sizes were and the prices were whatever I wanted them to be. I was so taken aback, I asked her to repeat it about three times. By that time, I could only laugh, and leave. I didn't get mad like Henry, but I did make up my mind I wouldn't go back there again! I sure hope the other stores don't follow that trend."
"Well, let's forget all that troublesome stuff, and relax and enjoy the latest new game that Henry has taken so much trouble to get for us. Henry, Marilyn, John, I've already got the card table set up as always. So, let's just move over there and Henry, bring that silly box and let's have some fun. Oh, great, now that we're all settled, Henry, you do the honors. Open up the box and let's get going."
"I can't believe this, Jill. The box is empty," exclaimed Henry. "What?," said John, "it's empty?" "Yes," replied Henry. "There are no cards, no dice, no building materials, no rule book, no explanation for the game, no questions, no answer book, nothing . . . absolutely nothing. That's LIVING, That's just plain stupid." "Wait, wait just one minute," said Jill. "It's not quite empty. There's a little piece of paper . . . stuck down here in the corner . . . ah, here, I've got it. It's got something written on it. I'll read it out loud. It says: 'You are right. There is nothing in the box. There are no rules. There are no parameters. No one wins or loses. There is no object or point to it. There are no numbers, words, or guidelines. Each person makes it up. Whatever seems like fun to you, if you think you can get away with it, just do it. If you don't like it, or get upset by it, we don't care. After all, you only paid what you thought it was worth to you.'
"Wait a minute, hold on," said Henry. There's something printed on the inside cover of this box. Oh, it's nothing, just the manufacturer's name." "Well, read it," said Marilyn, Jill and John at the same time. Read it, Henry!" "OK, OK. It says, 'Conceived, Designed and Produced by the Humanism Manufacturing Company of the World.'
"Can you beat that! I'll bet they're running that shoe store too!"
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