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  • When a coat hanger drops down, and gets hooked on the one hanging next, and when I try to get it disentangled and instead bring the shirt on the other side down, and I get on the verge of being impatient, then I think about the game of Mikado. I used to play the game as a kid, a game of sticks that are all of equal length, and pointed at the ends, so that by pinning the tip on either end down, the stick lifts up.

    At the beginning of the game all sticks are twisted around each other by twisting the bundle, and then let loose, so that they fall over each other ever which way. The objective of the game is to take them out, one by one, without moving the others even a bit, even a micron, even an Angstrom. The table has to be absolutely solid, and no knocking on the table, blowing at the sticks, or shouting is allowed.

    The sticks have different ranks, as indicated by their stripes, as the stripes of military brass indicate the power the officers wield. In the case of the sticks, that power is the power to get to do something the commoners cannot do, such as lift a commoner with a single swoop, if that commoner happens to lie on the very top of the others. This is the power of the medium rank. Another power is the power to move a commoner lying underneath other sticks, but not touching them, by rolling it into a safe area where it can be picked up with a steady hand. But the most power has the Mikado himself, a stick with the most magnificant striping, so beautiful and powerful that much of the efforts go into retrieving the Mikado first.

    Because the power of the Mikado is like the power of no other stick -- did I mention there is only a single Mikado in the game? -- it is the power, in the hand of a player, to stir up the whole bunch, essentially creating a whole new game, with commoners being on top if they were at the bottom before, with mid-level officers all of a sudden in easy reach.

    So this is what goes through my mind when another coat hanger drops down in my closet, or when see a plastic fork lying upside on the sidewalk, since I cannot, absolutely cannot, pass by without trying to hit its tip with the tip of my shoe, trying to catapult it upward, on good days four feet or more unless I miss it. Because this comes from walking around, as I do, with the memory of the Mikado of my childhood.

    And I'm thinking everyone has some childhood game, and they are all of a different sort, so the way people think must be very different, and it is a miracle -- an absolute miracle! -- that we seem to know how to talk to each other and make ourselves understood.
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