Pictionary Portraits

pictionary“. . . so those are the categories. Ok now everybody, listen up,” I said standing at the head of the table, several white-board markers rolling absently in my hand. “I don’t want the same disaster we had last time. As long as we all understand the rules, there shouldn’t be any problems, ok?”

“What happened last time?” Mary asked, whispering to Katie and her best friend, CB. The rest of the girls on the right side of the table talked among themselves. They had heard this spiel before.

“People accused each other of cheating, mostly Stuart’s mom,” CB smiled with a wink, “once they found out they were losing. Also we had a lot of trouble remembering which side of the deck to choose from – there was a lot of alcohol present – and so a lot of categories and words were accidentally redrawn . . .”

“Tonight, just like the night before, we will be choosing from the red side,” I shouted above the table chatter. “Not the side with the red pencil, but the side with the red border. Now does everyone understand that?” A few nod their head. Everyone else ignores me.

“Why do you call Murph, Stuart?” Mary asked.

“Oh,” CB laughed, while Katie leaves to make another margarita. “ ‘Cause he looks like a flight steward, asking us to buckle up and to remember our seats double as floaties. Hey everyone, shut up! Stuart is discussing the Pictionary rules.”

The room quiets somewhat. CB gives me a thumbs-up.

“Thanks girl. Ok, last thing,” I quickly spurt out in the wake of the ensuing silence. For about nine months of the year, CB plays as a young elementary school teacher at a local private school, teaching when the opportunity presents itself but mostly coping with immaturity – sometimes with the children – among the parents and her colleagues. Her expertise in these matters allows her to fit quite well with the household mob.

“Who wants more margari-tass?” Katie shouts from the kitchen, which causes most of the women and all of the underage boys to cheer a hearty ‘Here!’

Though members of large families themselves, Mary and her little sister worried me a little. Their own clan was much more well-behaved then ours. They would be swallowed alive.

Once all the – legal – drink orders had been taken, I continued.

“In the past people have cheated,” I said again, with a long look at my mother. “Thus, let us remember that there is no drawing of numbers or letters. Even in the case of a two-word answer, part of the word may not be written on the board.” A few dissenting cries.

“I know, I know. But the . . . uh, ladies . . .” I look again at mom. “. . . have requested this addendum to the rule and we will stick with it.”

“You tell them, Stuart,” CB shouts.

“Thank you, final thing . . .”

“Enough of this,” Sean shouts. “Let’s play the game.”

“Last bit,” I say. “The draw-er must recognize the correct answer. No guesser may stop play or shout afterwards that he or she got the answer when no one heard it. The draw-er stops the play once he or she hears the correct answer. Now then, if that’s it . . ? Good. The first round is All-Play. The teams are boys versus girls. Let’s play.”

Sean and Mom approach the dry-erase board.

“What side are we picking from again?”

“Red,” I sighed.

“The red border or the red pencil?”

“The red border.”

“Because the pencil is red too . . .”

“I know, but we’re choosing from the red border. Like the picture frame.”

“Right, ok. What category are we doin’ again . . .?”

After a few more moments and with the (correct) card in hand, Sean and Mom take up their markers. Both must illustrate the same word. Both sides attempts to guess for control of the dice and advancement along the board. The hourglass remains untouched. No one may leave until a correct guess is recognized. They begin.


Somewhere in the South Pacific, a volcano erupts, swallowing the remains of a small village. A gunshot accidentally lets loose an avalanche, quaking the very marrow of the Himalayan Mountains. Kevin Conner, a storm chaser and journalist for National Geographic, will capture on film an explosion at a nearby farm, where a rogue lighting bolt will strike a abandoned oil tanker; the explosion sends ripples through the ground; the winds whip and scatter the remains across the county. Billy Briars, after downing a large 20oz bottle of coke and consuming a hefty helping of his Mom’s leftover bean burrito casserole for lunch, will let loose an explosive blast that will tear a hole in his britches, totally disrupting Mrs. Galveston’s 6th period English class for the next hour and transforming Billy into a legend for the next thirty years.

Yet even when it is discovered that the school must close the next week for fumigation and detox, the explosive chaos cannot compare with that of Murphey family shouting and screaming at the onset of our monthly Pictionary game. Girls and boys, men and women swarm the board where our intrepid draw-ers attempt to capture the necessary idea, object, action, or proper noun with a primary-color marker and an ensuing mob whose shouts threatens to overwhelm their fragile cochlea. Unwilling to fight the tide, the voices of the new-comers are swallowed and forgotten until their turn to take up the marker.

Eventually perhaps due to dumb luck, one of the boys shouts out the correct word loud enough to be heard. The draw-er recognizes the word amid the shouts and ends the round. The losing side slumps off grumbling about how the horns on that cow looked nothing like an antelope.


On each side of the table, a pair of individuals sit, who possess a mutual understanding of one another so keen and flawless that only the minimal effort is needed by either to guess the desired answer. Charley and Shannon represent just such a pair. Shannon strides up to the board. He looks at the card and picks up the pen. The timer is turned. He draws a stick man and a circle. Then he . . .

“Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark!” Charley shouts.

“You got it!” Shannon laughs.

“Fowl!” Mom complains. “He barely drew anything! A man and a circle and you got Raiders of the Lost Ark? Someone’s cheating.”

“No way,” Charley argues.

“The man is Indiana Jones . . .” Shan explains.

“. . . and the circle is the ball from the beginning of the movie,” Charley finishes.

“We should have separated those two,” Mom grumbles.

wooden_hourglass_3Nature balances itself out. Just as stronger members of the herd possess an innate ability to read minds so that actually picking up the pen is rather extraneous, others seem to paint the board with a vast array of lines, swirls, and colors, signifying anything from a chipmunk to nuclear holocaust. The resulting patterns and doodles from my brother Kevin’s drawings meanwhile glimpse the inner workings of a highly disturbed soul.

The word was ‘depressed’ or rather ‘depression.’ CB and Kevin had an all-play so both approached the board and readied themselves for a fast paced round.

“Wahoo, the dyslexic duo, up at last,” CB shouted. They began to draw . . . something. Honestly I am not sure what CB draws (Apparently by her own account CB affirms that dyslexics are horrible at drawing pictures of words.). In the end, Katie guesses the right word after CB draws a rather oblong frowning clown face complete with an I Pagliacci tear. We laugh at CB’s drawings and look over at Kevin, who has been using a vast array of colors to show – by his own account – someone cutting their wrists.

“He’s depressed,” Kev shrugged. “That’s what depressed people do.”

“No,” CB laughs, “that’s what suicidal people do.”

“So?” Kevin shrugs. “Suicidal people are depressed. I drew what I knew.”

While the rest of us are attempting to recall the names and phone numbers of various psychiatrists and asylums, CB still laughing walks over and places her arm comfortingly around Kevin’s shoulders.

“It’s ok,” she whispers. “I understand. Us dyslexics have to stick together. Next time study Stuart’s face when our team beats his. Or visit a pet store around Christmas time: dogs in candy-cane tights. Now that’s depressing.”

The game moves along. The boys’ team cruises ahead, which causes Mom to seek for an edge – any way possible:

  • “Wait, hold on. You can’t use two different colors of markers here. That’s not fair. We should win that round.”
  • “That line looks suspiciously like an ‘L’ or a ‘1.’ If you’re cheating, we should get to roll.

  • “Hold on, there was miming.Sean, mimed. Miming’s not allowed.”
  • “A dollar sign . . . is that really legal? Come on. It’s on a keyboard. We can’t allow that.”

To be honest, Mom does her fair share of miming as well. Once when during one of her turns (the word was ‘lean’), her body slowly began to dip further and further until it was clear to both sides that she was insinuating something. Luckily the point came to the boy’s which proves that cheaters never prospers or at least that bad cheaters should learn a little subtlety.