"It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow, it could be next week," he says.
Like it or not, San Francisco's Paul "The Thimble" Gilmore is about to surpass Norman "Derby Hat" Peterson's career Monopoly record of 714 hotels.
As an indication of how polarizing a figure Gilmore has become, Parker Brothers will not officially recognize the feat. "We salute Mr. Gilmore's achievement, but 'The Derb' remains the true Hotel King for the Parker Brothers," reads a statement released by co-CEOs Jeff and Tim Parker.
They are not the only ones with reservations. Whereas Peterson set his record during the Great Depression, Gilmore came of age in the era of loaded dice, and has been dogged by numerous accusations of cheating in the recent investigative book Game of Chance. Beyond his links with ACPCO (Atlantic City Probability Co-Operative), whose tentacles may also extend to top players in Yahtzee and Boggle, the authors charge Gilmore with creating diversions so he can steal from the banker and raise suspicion regarding his "statistically improbable" penchant for winning second prize in beauty contests. Adding insult to injury, an ex-girlfriend recently claimed that Gilmore bought her countless diamond rings in the early '90s with money from bank errors in his favor and never paid the required $75.00 luxury tax.
On his new Game Show Network reality show, Gilmore on Gilmore, the star has adamantly denied allegations of using the banned dice known as "The One" and "The Six." "X-ray my dice anytime," he challenges. "It's just natural talent, baby. I roll as steady as a ride on the Reading."
Random testing of dice has been in place only this past year, and thus far Gilmore has evaded scrutiny although, conspiracy theorists assert, ACPCO may also be tampering with the supposed randomness of the testing.
His peers have mixed opinions. "In this country, you're on Free Parking until you're sent directly to Jail," says Greg Duncan, next on the active hotel list with 583. "Unless I see proof that he's loading, to me The Thimble still lights up the board like nothing since the Electric Company."
"Look at his game now, and compare it to when he started 15 years ago," says a Railroad Baron who asked not to be identified. "He used to be a scrappy Mediterranean-and-Baltic guy, the consummate Utilities player. Now he's racking up Boardwalk and Park Place and the greens every time he plays. If he's not loading, then St. James Place and Tennessee Avenue aren't the most-landed on properties."
The penalties for loading are steep: $200 or 10% of his salary, whichever is greater, and held in jail on a $50 bond. More destructive than any pecuniary setback, however, would be the damage to Gilmore's legacy. Seventy-year-old Monopoly commissioner Rich Uncle Pennybags is considering putting an asterisk next to the hotel record.
"That mustachioed fool can print whatever he wants," Gilmore snorts. "Not gonna stop me from dominating the right side of the board."
Public distaste for Gilmore reached a high last week when a fan threw a Community Chest card on the board assessing Gilmore for street repairs of $40 per house and $115 per hotel. Gilmore smiled and handed the card to a nearby police officer. "It was a low-rent move, but I'm just glad no one got hurt," he chuckled.
While nagging rolling-hand carpal tunnel has hampered his production, Gilmore remains as intimidating as ever. Opposing players still band together against him, pooling resources and trading just to prevent him from buying property. Yet Gilmore has the patience of a Zen master; sooner or later, someone will leave a color open, and he will monopolize on the mistake.
Before the game last week in which he acquired his 714th hotel, a journalist asked how he coped with the pressure. "Pressure?" Gilmore scoffed. "Real pressure is having four kids and paying a school tax of $150. Real pressure's breaking your leg and scrounging for fifty bucks for the doctor's fee. Monopoly ain't pressure."
Or is it? As he rounded the board, landing on GO and collecting $200, he was grim-faced and stoic as always but slow-motion replays revealed a single tear coursing down his weary face. Whether it was due to the ecstasy or loneliness of being alone at the top, it was a rare moment of vulnerability, and one not likely to be repeated. When he hits 715, don't expect him to turn on the waterworks.
"This is The Thimble's world," Gilmore says with typical bravado in the opening credits of his show. "Y'all are Just Visiting."
Teddy Wayne lives in New York City and St. Louis. He is working on a novel and a humor collection.
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