Okay. Maybe I’m just getting softer with old age, but this picture is simply fucking precious.
(originally published Sept 7, 2006)
All the pretty things you did,
I cannot remember.
All the little things you did,
Nothing left to keep.
All the times you held me close,
I cannot remember,
All the times we came so close,
Nothing left for me to hold.
Little house of cards we built,
It went too high, and blew away,
Foundation made of sand and silt,
Crumbled into mounds of clay.
Tried to shape you, from the land,
A success not mine to have,
Ended up with dirty hands,
Left without a place to hide.
Solid hammer, breaks the dam,
Wash the holy hell away,
Solid blows, steady hand,
Nothing left but dust today.
Every once in a while, my father will step outside on my back deck and whistle. He listens first to the various bird calls, and then proceeds to mimic them, one by one, pitch-perfect. In truth, if you could not see him, I doubt very highly you would be able to distinguish the two. The only appreciable differences are his added resonance, and a slight legato in his note line.
What always fascinated me the most about his whistling were the responses he would garner. Typically, his calls would be met with a matching response, maybe once, or twice, and then silence. However, in some cases, his calls would be met with a slightly different response, but not from the same creature. I decided to investigate why this was so.
Male birds have a dual purpose in their loud, repetitive calls. They are either a challenge, or an invitation. Females will generally answer with a corresponding call to an invitation from a suitable mate. Bird calls communicate more than just a message however, they also broadcast the strength and health of the animal, so females typically can decide on a mate from just his call alone.
So in essence what I was hearing is this. The perfectly simulated male call was met with the expected challenge from the male in the tree, however, the challenge was futile and abandoned. Because just as the female can listen and decide, “Oh, I need me some-a ‘dat”, the male knows right away when he is outmatched. I can only imagine what the male visualizes when he processes the monstrous, yet unmistakable challenge issued by my father. The same goes for the female side, but from the reproductive angle.
Meanwhile, my father sits out there, happily whistling, never realizing that little horny feathered creatures everywhere are flying about him calling, “Let’s make some eggs Shaquille!” and “Fuck the branch, you can have this here whole tree mutha-fucka, sheeeeht!
Every so often, I come across a piece of writing so important, and so well written that I find myself re-reading it over and over. Tonight I stumbled upon an essay entitled, “A Mathematician’s Lament” penned by Paul Lockhart. I seem to keep running into the idea that it’s not how many facts you know, but how many of those facts you understand.
Lockhart makes so many great points, and I for one, now understand why I have always had such misgivings about math. His writing also made me profoundly sad, because the manner in which he described the true beauty of mathematics made me realize just how much I lost by only seeing it one way.
What really makes this essay shine however, is the underlying, universal message liberally splattered across it. What makes something truly enjoyable and worthwhile is the willingness to be challenged by it.
Why are U.S. companies outsourcing as much as they do? Read, and you will understand soon enough.
Watching the video of our president take out a house fly, only using his hands and wits impressed me to no end. Not only that, his demeanor and willingness to have a laugh during a serious interview was remarkable and flat out charming. However, PETA, being the piece of shit hypocrite, terrorists that they are, of course have a problem with this. Let me educate everyone for a moment.
The Musca Domestica is one of the most widespread, and common pests in the entire world. It is also a frequent carrier of disease and infectious agents.
The reason it is often so difficult to ‘slap’ down a pesky fly is because of two unique attributes it posesses. One, it has highly developed, compound eyes, which enable it to see your clumsy, lumbering hand long before it slams down. And two, it is also equipped with hundreds of fine hairs which are able to detect subtle changes in air pressure that signal an incoming attack. This is why fly swatters have holes in them, to reduce the pressure as they swoop down. In short, the little shit-eater sees you coming a mile away.
Despite this, our ‘bama slammed that big ‘ol hand down and wasted that son ‘a bitch. What ninja-like powers enabled him to accomplish this feat?
If you pay attention, you see that he stops, concentrates for a moment, and moves his hand down very gently until the last possible moment. So even with the ‘buggy sense’ on full alert, the pressure wave only arrives milliseconds before the deadly palm, which, even for the speedy house fly, is too little time to jump away.
PETA decided to send our president a ‘humane fly catching device’.
I can only hope that a house fly walks across Bruce Freidrich’s (PETA spokesman) frozen yogurt and he acquires a nice, humane, typhoid infection from his delicious house fly shit topping.
This weeks ‘headline of the week’ comes to us courtesy of the ‘New Haven Register’, of New Haven CT.
“PETA hands out “unhappy” meals in Elm City.”
Of course PETA hands out unhappy meals.
Who the hell wants to eat soy nuggets with a side of soggy yam fries?
The story has a picture of a boy wearing a posterboard that states, “stop the mc-cruelty”. The only mc-cruelty going on is the fact that that poor boy isn’t sitting down and enjoying some nugget-y goodness.
Live it, Love it (nugget-ize it!),
(I was reading everything by McInerney at this time, and I fell in love with his style of writing. So, I decided to document this journey to A.C. just as the character from Bright Lights, Big City might have. This trip was probably the last time the four of us would ever be as close as we were. I am very glad I recorded it.)
June 11, 2006.
The first thing you notice as you look up are the hundreds of confetti-like white specks circling the tops of the buildings. S. turns to you and explains that they are seagulls, and furthermore, there is always a marginal chance you could be pelted with watery bird feces, this is Atlantic City after all, the city of odds. You find yourself wishing for a long range rifle with a powerful scope.
You walk slowly down the boardwalk, re-living the events that brought you here, wondering how you ended up at Caesars palace with no money, and a broken promise. You remember leaving work, already having explained that money you were supposed to receive, had not been available, but they were adamant, they were not leaving without you. Money was pooled, and you were assured of a good time, even penniless, in retrospect; you realize they knew the scenario all along.
You are writing. You are packing. You are running around frantically, trying desperately not to forget anything important. Guido strength hair glue, check. Deodorant stick, check. Book, check. Pain pills, check. Oh, and some clothes of course, and lets not forget the handy phone charger, lest you run out of phone battery amidst embarrassingly emotional drunk dials . B. needs to use the computer. Work now, at a time like this? You put your bag in the trunk and run back in the house, pacing nervously back and forth while B. shouts into the phone and furiously checks email. After a few minutes which somehow stretch into an epoch, he gets up and you both walk towards the car with determined gaits. There is much steam to be shot off.
Pit stop. Soft drinks for the ride, and cigarettes. You haven’t been smoking, you are taking a break, you find yourself asking the man to pull you down a pack of Nat Sherman’s finest light mint cigarettes, all natural tobacco, and never any additives. None of which make it a “safer” cigarette, as the box happily reminds you. You think, ‘If I wanted safe, I’d buy a fucking pack of juicy fruit.’ You stare longingly at the beer, thinking perhaps it would not be so bad to get a little lit for the ride up, B. follows your eyes and moves his head slowly back and forth, “Uh uh man, baaad idea.” You hesitate a split second, looking one more time at that twenty-two of corona, before finally turning for the door, clutching the Jones grape soda you settled for instead.
“This is under John, and your license says Juan, sorry, its no good.” The heavily accented hispanic woman behind the dirty, bulletproof plexiglass, tries her best to look sympathetic. You explain that she should know the names are the same, it should not make a difference. You see the two hundred and fifty dollars flashing on the screen, awaiting your ethnic twin, Juan. Frustration bubbles up for a moment, and you find yourself imagining that scene in Risky Business, where Tom Cruise’s character takes that old bitchy nurse by the lapels and explains that, “he really needs this.” Instead, you slip your half filled out form back under the slot, and mutter for her to “keep it” in spanish before walking out, trying your best not to look as defeated as you feel. You realize you failed as the car explodes in howls of laughter as you exit the store.
Guy talk ensues in the car ride up, asses, fighting, and stickiness are main topics of discussion, and you find yourself laughing convulsively the majority of the trip.
“Who do you… who do you, who do you, who do you think you are? Bless your soul, you really think you’re in control?”
That lyric will not leave your cortex. It has decided to squat, and has so far resisted all attempts at eviction.
Laughter, harassment, and miles later, the windmills and buildings and ridiculously airbrushed billboards come into view. Donna Summer looks like a fifteen foot Tyra Banks, and Madonna is eighteen again under the well placed soft light. You are getting nervous as the street comes into view, and tense excitement fills you as your mind begins to process new information, and sensations. Oh, you are afraid, but it feels so fucking good. Left, right, right, left. You realize that if the parking lot were The Legend of Zelda, you would have escaped the lost woods by now. You remember it was, northwest, southwest, and you shush your mind in disgust, momentarily repulsed by your own nerdiness.
An empty spot is finally found, and everyone piles out, joints creaking and cracking, disoriented from sitting for so long. Nevertheless, you all make the check-in counter in record time, buoyed by the prospect of a nine-thirty reservation at Ruth’s Chris. A. looks at you, and no words pass, but you both realize that at heart, you are mere country bumpkins compared to the worldliness of S. and B. Still no words pass, but in that moment you have both agreed to follow their lead, and you are certain you heard an echo in your head when you thought, “I hope they know what the fuck they’re doing.”
A short debate ensues as to the direction of the steakhouse, and once again, you find yourself looking at A., who is looking back at you nervously. S. ends the debate by walking off, and like good gambling baby goslings, you all dutifully follow along. Ruby Tuesdays, Sun bank, and there, finally, is Ruth’s Chris. Curtains drawn, and an entrance that looks like it should have a, ‘Use the door around the corner’ sign on it greets you at the front. You and A. immediately start to walk around the corner when B. pulls the door open and disappears inside. S. follows his lead, and you and A. simultaneously make a dash for the slowly closing door, as if you are both certain that when the door closes again, it will not open back up for the likes of yourselves.
A large wine case is the first thing you see, it is dark, but you make out some of the names. Berenger 2000, Clou du Bois. Your attention is ripped away by the engaging hostess who asks if it is anyone’s birthday. It certainly is, and you are greeted with a look from B. specifically designed to save money on rodent traps by causing their little, rapidly beating hearts to wither. B. hates attention, and he tells everyone this. S. reminds him, “does this look like fucking friday’s to you?” The hostess assures him there will be no ridiculous clapping or singing, and B. sits back, visibly relaxed, relieved to be spared that humiliation in a classy place like this no less. S. puts himself in charge of the wine, and soon the jovial waitress is popping open a bottle of 2003 Clou du Bois, you and A. look at the decanter, puzzled, before you realize the wastefulness of the apparatus. B. waves it away, thankfully having come to the same conclusion as the two of you. S. remains absorbed in his menu.
“Everything is al a carte, meaning, no meals, no mashed potatoes on the side, no french fries, nothing. You order a piece of meat, and you get one piece of meat, and don’t you fucking dare put a drop of anything on it.” You and A. listen like recruits off the bus, meanwhile, perusing the side order menu regardless. Mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach. You all decide to split these two, with reassurances from S. and B. that it will be plenty.
You take a moment to study your surroundings, everything is red or wood-paneled, and seated at the tables are all couples except for the large group of heavily tattooed men behind you that periodically get up to walk outside and smoke. The low light creates an intimate feel, and you settle into a sort of nervous excitement. It is a simple menu, meat, fish, and more meat. You decide the filet mignon would be a fine way to break into the world of fine steak dining, and B. warns you that eating slowly and breathing in between bites is probably the best way to go. “How would you like that cooked?” The waitress smiles at you and you find yourself thinking back to your fathers advice regarding meat consumption, nothing below medium if you value your health. Lately, you haven’t placed much value on your health, so, medium rare it is. S. and B. nod in approval and order a petit filet, and new york strip respectively, both rare.
The wait is considerable, so you idly drift back into the conversation which centers mainly around S. and B’s other trips to Ruth’s Chris, and how to avoid the danger of “food coma”. Not being a big eater, you do not have much experience with “food coma”, but you do understand the concept well. It is that paralyzing need to nap after a particularly excessive meal, somewhere between a heavy dose of smack directly to the bloodstream, and several bumps of pure ketamine. You hear a sizzling sound, and the waitresses warning about the plate being hot comes back to you, a medium sized chunk of meat is placed in front of you and you watch it sizzle and sputter for a moment, unsure if you should be disappointed by its size, or impressed by its height.
B. is already halfway into his portion before you dip your serrated blade into yours. The inside is like a bloody layer cake, starting at brown from the outside, but gradually getting more red until you reach the center which has the look and consistency of strawberry jello. You dissect the meat into smaller bite sized pieces, and take a moment to spoon some creamed spinach and potatoes onto the side of the still sizzling plate. You exhale, insert the tines of the fork slightly into a piece by the edge and slowly insert it into your mouth. It is meat. It is butter. It is buttery meat. You effortlessly chew this small portion of bovine loveliness, savoring its natural flavor, and mentally cursing the city of Worschester for creating such a useless little condiment. After this, any meal that requires it will always be considered second rate. You foolishly burn your mouth on the potatoes and spinach, forgetting that the superheated plate would be cooking those small side portions as well. It seems well worth it, as you realize that you like creamed spinach quite a bit, although you are still unsure about this as a whole, knowing that the quality of this place can be deceptive.
Another bottle of Clou du Bois arrives, and you realize you have barely touched your glass since taking your first bite. To make up for this, you take a long sip, which in snobbier company, could surely be termed a gulp. The wine seems made just to offset the richness of the beef, tangy and fruity come together in a bitter struggle for supremacy, with tangy winning slightly, but it is a war of attrition; because ultimately, you win. In between bites, sips, and breathing, you look down at the plate. You are determined to not leave a thing behind. Twenty-five minutes later you look down again, and see a small puddle of brownish, reddish juices where filet, spinach, and potatoes used to be, even better than this, is looking up and seeing a full glass of cabernet. It is then that your B. birthday gambit pays dividends. The waitress emerges from the red double doors with a plate containing the blackest piece of cake you have ever seen, topped by a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzled in strawberry sauce, with a large sliced strawberry to the left of everything. B. refuses to blow out the candle, but grudgingly submits to the pressure and gives a half-hearted breath in its general direction, which miraculously manages to put out the small flame. You take this as a good sign. A sort of unspoken agreement passes between you and A. and you both leave behind only a tiny portion of the black crumbly cake that is too bitter to be eaten alone. Piece of crumbly cake, dipped in the ice cream, and book-ended by a slice of over-sized strawberry. They call that dessert, you call that heaven. S. and B. discuss business matters meanwhile, and periodically wrinkle their noses at the two of you.
After struggling with B. over the bill, which he ludicrously decides to try and put on his Amex, you depart towards Caesars palace, eager to gamble. You pass by the large sculptures of soldiers and warhorses, you pass by the wealthy tourists, eager to be drunk and poor, you pass by the dregs of humanity, eager for what you have. You choose not to notice any of it, not yet, you are too full, and too excited, and too satisfied, to hell with the poor, to hell with the hookers, to hell with the dealers, at this moment, they are not your fucking problem. The doors whoosh open and S. stops to light a cigarette, “Look, lets find a ten dollar minimum table, and start slow, hey T, the nickel slots are that way.” Everyone has a quick laugh, including you. All of you have been throwing insults at each other all day, why should you be left out of the fun? S. and B. walk on ahead, and A. stops and presses one hundred and sixty dollars into your hand, “Try to break even, okay?” You nod solemnly and follow him towards the back.
You wade through a sea of wheelchairs, walkers, casino workers and prostitutes. Middle-aged men with ponytails are sitting at the bar, talking to working girls with sad eyes and fake smiles, old women are aerobically pulling on levers, and well groomed college boys are doing their very best to look like they know exactly what they are doing.
You walk past them all, thoughtfully puffing on your cigarette, bombarded by flashing lights and ringing bells. You come to the tables, where people crowd around, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, and squealing with delight as they are dealt twenty-one, or the little silver balls stops on their number, or the dice come tumbling to a halt, displaying the proper amount of black indentations. You spot S. sitting at an uncrowded table, hat backwards, chain smoking with a jack and coke in hand. He looks up and waves you over.
“Okay, ten dollar minimum, wait, you know how to play blackjack right?” You nod and place sixty dollars on the table which the dealer, a sweet older black woman, takes and converts into eight red chips for you. She smiles and says, “good luck honey” like shes means it, so you smile back like you mean it too. Two chips go into the small white circle, and your stomach flutters as she deftly deals out four hands, five, eight, seven, ten. Next card, seven, eight, ten, jack. You have seventeen, S. has twenty, dealer has a face card. You stay, dealer has nineteen. Shit. S. leans over and whispers, “Just do what the fuck I tell you from now on, ante up bitch.” You light another sherman and slug down whats left of your own jack and coke, you are feeling pretty damn good. Thirty-five minutes later, you are up forty dollars when A. and B. show up again. S. advises you to quit while you are ahead and despite the heady drinks coursing through your system, you back away from the table and watch as B. takes your spot. He slaps a franklin on the table and turns to you, “Don’t worry, we are outta here real soon, go get some drinks man, jack and coke, wait, no, make that two jack and cokes, these fucking waitresses take fucking forever.” You shrug and walk away with his twenty dollars, weighed down with the chips clicking together in your front pocket. The hookers eye you as you walk up to the bar, you try not to assume they ALL are, but deep down, you know you can’t possibly be dressed like that and be alone in a place like this and NOT be, so you smile to yourself when the stares turn away once you lay your single twenty on the bar. At this point, you need a hooker like you need another hole in your head.
Two jack and cokes, one bottle of Guinness, and you are back at the table watching B. lose his shirt, and S. scream at him. “You are a fucking idiot! Seriously, I’m going to leave the table, stop being fucking stupid!” B. gives him his patented idiotic grin, the one that says, ‘I’m going to do whatever I want and when you speak I hear doobie, doobie, doo’ and slaps two more green chips down, and then flashes another grin as he stays on thirteen. You insert yourself between them, and decide to gamble with your winnings, keeping the original sixty in your front pocket. S. thinks this is very prudent of you, but is way too distracted to advise you properly. Four hands later you are watching S. shake his head in disbelief from behind the seated players. Five feet away is a flashing, buzzing row of nickel slots, and somewhere in your lower pocket, a ten dollar bill begins to smolder. You sit down next to a woman whose features are either filipino, or pacific islander, and watch the slot eat your bill.
Press, press, pull, press, press, pull. Two buttons to place your wager, and one arm to pull the lever, which is really just for show, as all of the machines offer push button spinning for those not so inclined to gambling induced rotator-cuff injuries. There is something about that clicking noise that accompanies the pull that sends a thrill up your spine, and you continue to pull away until you light another cigarette and it becomes too annoying to hold a drink, smoke, and pull at the same time. Lose, win, lose, lose, lose, win, it goes something like that for a while, until you are back to where you started, and you make a large credit wager, and get what the woman next to you calls, wilds. The machine lights up and gives several electronic belches, before rapidly increasing the number of credits you have available.
The woman congratulates you, and rubs your arm briefly, creeping you out at first, until you understand she considers you lucky, and you assume it is fairly normal to do something like that. You do not consider fifty-two dollars anything to write home about, but as S. reasons later, if it was a quarter slot, it would have been five hundred bucks. So, fifty-two out of a nickel slot isn’t half bad. You proudly display your white ticket to the others still being depleted by a new dealer at the same table, and they stop and laugh and congratulate you. You have to admit to yourself, it was a bit of fun. Five minutes later, you are all at the cashier line, and then you are leaving Caesars tipsy, and fifty-two dollars richer than you entered.
A nightclub is the next destination and you all make slow progress down the boardwalk, full of food, drink, and sluggishness. You look around, and see more tourists, men pushing wheeled carts, and hidden amongst the bustle, bums, pickpockets, and men handing out cards are working the walk, doing what they must to survive. One such man follows all of you, asking why you would not take a card, you feel guilty and take four cards with an attractive, heavily airbrushed woman on it, the clubs name is allure. You and A. try to be polite and listen to his sales pitch, B. is uninterested and looks straight ahead, while S. busies himself with calling the man out on the slightest hint of bullshit. “Oh yeah, save twenty bucks with the card? That’s because we have to pay twenty each to get in right? Bring our own beer in? Twenty bucks for a bucket of ice right?” The man backtracks and sugar-coats each response and keeps up with your group, undaunted. Finally, S. tells him you would all be there later and the man drifts away, leaving you with a pocket full of the black cards.
After one more brief stop to gamble, you come up to the Taj Mahal, one of the two or three nightclubs in the city just inside. You look up again, and the gulls are still circling, like giant moths, around and around, and you absolutely hate them. After you see one gigantic, architecturally impressive structure in Atlantic city, you have pretty much seen them all, so you walk straight into the side doors, and hop onto the escalator that leads up to the nightclub. The four of you stand around the hall from the entrance, listening to the slow, hip-hop beat streaming from the doorway. Drunk or not, no fucking way, no. You are not going in there, you will not hang out amongst the blowouts and popped collars of this derelict city, no way in hell, you will not shuffle even a foot to this music that signifies the ruin of a person for you, no you will not, it revolts you. If you had your rifle, gulls would be falling by the score. It would rain blood and white feathers, you are so drunk, you need to stop hearing this now. S. is disappointed, he swears that the music will get good, luckily majority wins and you all leave, walking a bit further back to another nightclub that S. swears will not be half as good.
“To all my puerto-rican people in the back, in the back, where my people at?!!”
S. is right. You all stand outside, and A. is drunk and adamant. “Fuck this music, fuck this place, and fuck these people, lets get the fuck out of here.” You are in full agreement, and it does not bother you very much that a group of club-goers is situated on the rail next to you. S. and B. exchange a look and turn to the both of us mid-complaint, “Look, fuck you guys, we’re going to gamble.” A. looks at you and shrugs, “Eh, fuck you guys too, come on T, lets go look at some titties.” At this point, you want somewhere to drink more and sit, so the both of you walk towards the empty street. A man rides towards you on a bicycle and stops to hand the both of you a large white card and explains that he is an artist and is trying to make money for his family and that they cost a dollar each. A. hands back his card, and you follow suit, A. explains that you just lost your shirts at the casino, hence, why you are walking back. The man takes them back, nods solemnly, and blesses you anyway, which makes you feel guilty and you both return the blessing. “There has to be a better way to make a living drawing than that.” You know A. is talking as much to himself, as he is about that man.
It doesn’t take you long to realize you are in the ghetto. Dilapidated houses, and small groups of females, often three or four, surround single men. There is a man standing in the middle of the street, smoking a joint, arm raised, standing as still as if he were one of the sculptures inside the casino. He is like a black, joint smoking sculpture, moving only to bring the spliff to his lips and lift it high over his head once he has exhaled. You watch, fascinated by all of this, hoping to somehow catch a cab. It takes several tries, but soon you are both headed towards a very respectable sounding establishment called “Bare Nakeds”.
You walk in, shocked at the amount of people in the place. It is packed solid, but the advertisement for this place should read, “Bare naked, now with ninety percent more penis!” You both head straight for the back and sit down to order a drink. The bartender explains that this is one of those “byob” places, and that you would need to go next door and get your drinks and bring them in. A. looks at you and you point to the door, minutes later you are back from the small bodega/bar next to the place with a six pack of Yuengling. You order a red-bull, and a bucket of ice. A. knocks back the red-bull while you place the beers into the bucket, and remove two which the bartender neatly uncaps for you. You sit there, looking around, watching a group of young men right beyond the ropes which you are seated next to. They are so excited, and other men wait right by the ropes, dying for a chance to get in and flirt and safely fondle the strippers. You notice that it is a sharp divide, the men are either blowouts and popped collars, or they are thugged out. Either way, they all congregate, united in perversion, the brotherhood of saline and silicone. The terrible hip-hop keeps the girls twirling, and you find yourself wondering what the fuck the point is. You look back expecting A. to be in drunken rapture, but instead, he looks at you and curls his lip slightly. You lean over and whisper, “Lets finish these beers and get the fuck out of here, okay?” He nods in agreement, and the next five minutes are spent in a contest to see who can chug down Yuenglings faster. During these five minutes, a stripper talking to a man behind you finishes her conversation, and runs her nails up your arm and shoulder to your neck. You shiver, but completely ignore her, and she is gone in seconds.
The night is starting to get blurry now, and you stumble out, trying to call S. or B. You walk up a block and by some miracle, see them in front of another casino, trying to do the same exact thing you are. Having reunited, you all go back down the boardwalk, and almost as if it were magic (the magic of alcohol), you find yourself within the confines of the Tropicana. S. and B. find a bar, and the four of you sit down, S. decides that it would be amusing to keep buying shots for A. until he falls down drunk. Drunk as you are, you appoint yourself as his personal savior, and pour his shots into yours before he can get them. Three of those saves later, you remodel a stall at the Tropicana, you like to call it, ‘le vomitus projectile.’
Whirrrrrr, Buzzzz, Whirrrr, Ding, the world de-evolves into a cacophony of sound and light, coherency cashed in his chips hours ago, and now your body is just a blank vessel in need of a telephone and a place to sit, and call, and mumble, and possibly sob. You split from the group and somehow make it back to your room, sit down, and call, and call, and call. You are still not entirely certain how many you made, you are not sure who it was to exactly, although you know a few for certain.
You know you did this, you can barely remember. You wake up in a wet pile of blankets. Apparently, B. decided to splash everyone’s bed with water before he went to sleep. You look in the mirror, it is eleven-fifteen. Checkout is at noon. Your eyes are a bloodshot mess, your body is a wreck, you are dizzy, dehydrated, and still stumbling.
I find writing to be something like driving from Long Island to upstate New York. You are either flying down the Palisades, or, you are on the Cross Bronx being serenaded by a chorus of obnoxious (and useless) horn honking.
So, while I approach the underpass, I will share another quote from the amazing Mr. Feynman. This one in particular is so very applicable at this juncture in my life. I read it earlier today, and had one of those, ‘it’s a message from the universe!’ moments. It was wonderful.
Preface: Professor Feynman was being offered all these incredible teaching positions at top notch universities all around the country, but these positions were filled with almost impossible expectations, so he faced a dilemma as far as what direction to head in, and how could he possibly fulfill any of these incredible expectations? He sat down and thought, and the solution finally presented itself,
“It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be.”
“It’s their mistake, not my failing.”*
That last part in particular made me smile.
Lots and lots of new stuff. Coming soon.
Stay tuned muchachos y muchachas.
*This is also the hands down winner for quote of the week.
“Our findings suggest that the use of electronic games should be limited to prevent childhood obesity.”
– Nicolas Stettler, MD, pediatric nutrition specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Lynbrook, New York. 1981.
I remember how excited my brother and sister were as our old puke green and wood panel station wagon pulled into the Green Acres mall that day. I was barely three but the memory stayed etched in my mind. I kept hearing the word ‘atari’ and even then, I knew it was something very special. The next memory I have is of the smell of the machine as it was pulled out of its Sears box. It was a strange mixture of plastic, wood and aluminum switches, but it was glorious. Pac-man(1) was burning up the arcades at the time, and the $200 Atari vcs system scored a major coup in the early console wars by acquiring the rights to develop and bundle a home version included with the purchase of a new system.
Quite frankly, it was complete and utter garbage. None of the vibrancy and excitement present in the quarter eating phenomenon was translated whatsoever. To a trio of latch-key children stuck in a two bedroom apartment however, it was a dull blue and yellow gift from the gods. I played everything I could get my hands on for that system, even what is commonly referred to as the worst movie to video game adaptation of all time, E.T. (not only did I play it, I played it often, actually going as far as completing the game, which technically is impossible since it appears to operate in a never-ending cycle of invisible pits and and flower pots). I spent a lot of time listening to blips and bloops, and controlling simple, pixel heavy characters around a 15″ zenith television screen. At least it seemed like a lot of time, but looking at those games now, I realize it simply was just not possible to spend very much time playing them, they were clearly not developed for gaming marathons.
Bellmore, New York, 1985.
A few months into the school year, my parents took their first step towards south shore suburban bliss by purchasing a home in Bellmore. So we moved, and our precious Atari moved with us. It wasn’t long before I started hearing rumblings of a brand new system, “better than Coleco!” (Coleco was the system every black cartridge loving gamer wanted back then). It was called Nintendo, and strangely enough the cartridges appeared to be these flat, bulky looking grey things. I knew this because one of the older kids in my new school brought in a copy of Super Mario Brothers, likely to show off how cool he was for having it. I was familiar with Super Mario Brothers. The place around the corner from my house which is now a beer distributor, used to be a batting cagearcade, and they had a coin-op Super Mario Brothers machine that I spent many quarters earned from my paper routes on.
It didn’t take long for the three of us to put our heads together and figure out that with our paper routes, and the addition of a penny-saver route, we could come up with the money for our own Nintendo in a matter of months ($199 retail, which included two controllers, Super Mario BrothersDuck Hunt, andddd, a cool-looking and surprisingly accurate light gun). So we worked our routes, getting up extra early and packing papers into a Jackson Heights granny pushcart and trying to hit the stoops as much as possible (this was also video-game related, as paperboy was, and still is one of my favorites). In less than half a year we not only had enough money for our Nintendo, we also were very close to having enough for the baddest gaming computer on the planet, the Commodore 64c. We bought the Nintendo, and a few months later, at Christmas, we brought home our brand new computer.
The next few years were gaming bliss. I spent countless hours falling off bricks to my death, roundhouse kicking snake filled crockery, and generally pounding my fists in frustration. Sure, some of the games could be beaten eventually, but good lord, the vast majority were developed by masochistic child hating Asian men, whose secret plan was to plant the seeds of hypertension in young Americans so that they would be plagued with sickness as middle-aged adults, and therefore, be less industrious, giving Japan the edge in business dealings.
As time went on, more and more games began copying the groundbreaking “save game” idea pioneered in ‘The Legend of Zelda’, and despite all the backtracking one would have to do, at least you still had your stupid bow of flaming death (hearts, items, whatever, point is, less to re-do). Between that, and liberal (and dangerous!), use of the pause feature (can’t save? well, leave the freaking thing paused for a day and a half ’til you get back to it!), games became way more manageable.
Strangely enough, despite the popularity and visceral thrill of games like Metroid (it’s a GIRL??!!), it wasn’t very long before I found myself spending most of my time sitting in front of the Commodore, loading up one of the many pirated floppies I had at my disposal. Pirating games was as simple as using a hole puncher to remove the plastic on one side of the official game, making it ‘readable’, and copying it to a blank floppy. Smaller programs could be stacked on these flimsy contraptions, and a menu of these could be reached by typing, ‘load “sys” ,8’. It was through this machine that I developed a deep love for role-playing games, and subsequently began reading sci-fifantasy novels almost exclusively as a result. There were no strategy guides, and very little help available outside of ‘comic book guy’, who could be found at your local RadioshackElectronics Boutique.
These dateless wonders were the pioneers of that stereotype, the kind of secret hoarding, haughty, crumb cake eaters who Matt Groening no doubt was exposed to more than once before creating the classic Springfield resident (Electronics Boutique…worst video-game store name EVER).
So I roamed the radioactive wastes, and spelunked the ruins of Skara Brae, and wandered the roads in and out of Hillsfar, often drawing my own maps, and keeping journals, as a real adventurer might do. New skillsspellslevels acquired also had to be carefully documented, because these things didn’t just apply themselves, nor did they make sense to use in every situation, so one had to be aware of the circumstances, or how balanced, or unbalanced their characterparty was. (Mad Dog has a 3 in helicopter piloting, and you only need one member with that skill to fly you out of a jam, so perhaps those points are better spent on some agility, don’cha think Private 1st class Molasses?).
Even the most inane side-scrolling creation required some thought, or at least the ability to discern simple sequential patterns, which of course, had to then be combined with ‘twitch’ reflexes in order to get to Pluto, because that god damned six armed spaceship just came down with a case of purple death orb diarrhea, and that small slice of screen that will keep you safe better be an automatic move or it’s game over kiddo.
That’s right, game over. Oh, you mean, you got to level 25, passed all three sub-bosses, and didn’t take one hit? Right, right, I see, so you got to the last boss, you’re kicking his titanic, mechanized ass, and suddenly a screen engulfing ray of doom took you out? Four times in a row? …..so…how’s that title screen look boy?
Save point? Nope. Save right outside the boss roomlair? Nope. Nobody ever needed a parent to tell them when to put the controller down, the game went ahead and did that for you. No use being a crybaby about it, the cartridge was pitiless. Now go play some stick-ball….loser.
Massapequa, New York, 1992.
Day long weekend trips to what was then known as Sunrise Mall(2) had been the norm for several years by then, and myself, and my then best friend Shawn had a set routine we followed. We began by haunting the arcades for a few hours, then buying movie tickets, having lunch, and then it was back to the arcades until it was time to watch whatever horrid late 80’s, early 90’s film we had decided to partake of.
I never had much money, usually just ten dollars for the whole day, but at the time, ten dollars was just enough for an entire day of fun, and if I ever found myself running low, Shawn would supplement my arcade funds with the twenty his mom would give him before she let us have the run of the mall.
Arcades were very social experiences. Most cabinets were two or more players, and at any given moment you could pop a quarter into the second coin slot and become an integral part of the fight to bring down the notorious bikini biker gang, who just so happened to be holding the mayors daughter hostage on the other side of town, which of course, had to be arrived at using the most enemy plagued, roundabout path possible. These bonds were broken as quickly as they were formed, because as soon as the, continue? 20, 19, 18… popped up on the screen, and one of you left, it was rare that the single player remaining forged on. It was then up to the defeated (and likely broke) player to walk away as quickly as possible, or else suffer the humiliation of mocking, digitized laughter directed at you from the triumphant end boss.
One weekend in 1992, arcade gaming changed forever.
There were two arcades in the mall then. Time Out (which was a large scale franchise operation at the time, most east coast malls had a Time Out in them), and upstairs, next to the entrance where there is STILL a Sbarro’s pizzeria, was galaxy arcade. Now Time Out may have had the ‘name’, but galaxy got the exclusives. But because we always entered the mall by the recently closed McDonald’s (if that isn’t a bad sign, then I don’t know what is), we always hit the Time Out first since it was right there as well. It seemed unusually quiet, just a few small children messing around on the G-Loc(3) cockpit, and some sullen looking employees checking (read: playing) the machines.
So we left and Shawn decided he was hungry, so we parted. There was no need to agree on a time and place to meet back up, he knew where I would be.
I headed upstairs, turned at Sbarro’s, and was met with utter chaos. There was a line of people stretching out almost to the entrance, and for the first time in my experience, the buzz of conversation drowned out the never-ending cacophony of sound created by the many loud machines.
I walked in past the waiting gamers and heard the dull thump of joysticks being pushed and pulled, but they were very measured thumps, often punctuated by a loud tap of a button being slammed down. I could not see the game, even though I was now quite close, but the first sound-effect I heard sounded something like, “Oooh yooouuuu kin!”, and past the two chubby trolls frantically manipulating the controls (and, covering almost the entire monitor), I saw a barefoot character dressed in a white karate gi fly through the air, with one arm raised, ending in a fist, and the opposite leg bent in to the hollow of his knee.
The resulting impact was terrific. His opponents character, who appeared to be a large, stereotypical Japanese sumo wrestler, had made the mistake of jumping right into it, and a loud smackcrash rang out as the blow landed squarely on his thick chin. I barely heard the deep thud as his body hit the wooden planks, I was completely entranced.
The defeated player walked off, and the next challenger in line stepped up, and instead of pulling a quarter out of his pocket, he took one off a row of quarters that lay side by side on the thin plastic molding that encased the monitor. It seemed that waiting challengers would place their money on the machine itself as a way of announcing their intention to play, and reserving their spot in the queue. I had never seen this happen before, and I stared in wonder at this cabinet, which took on a mystical aura, decorated with offerings from the gamers dedicated to it.
I stood, like many others, watching player after player select from eight characters, (each representing a different country) and slug it out. They kicked, punched, jumped, and flipped around the screen, but that wasn’t all. They also threw fireballs, electrified each other, rocketed through the air like missiles, and generally defied every basic law of physics and movement I was familiar with. Blood flew, flesh bruised, and the rich, deep bass coming from the cabinet speakers punctuated every wonderful, brutal moment of it.
I got my turn eventually, and my heart raced as I grabbed the joystick with my sweaty palms. I was matched up with a pimply faced boy who was playing as the character I had wanted to choose, a red karate gi wearing fighter with long blond hair named Ken (turns out, white gi, and red gi were basically the same guy. the developers instituted what is known as a ‘palette swap’, which is just some color changing, and they made Kens throw move animation slightly longer, otherwise their move set was exactly the same, and the same strategies applied to both).
I moved my second player outline towards that character and discovered the reason no one had picked the same characters to fight each other with. You couldn’t. So I decided on a green and orange fanged monstrosity, figuring his ferocity would compensate for my lack of technical knowledge (it was at this time that the term, ‘button masher’ was born. that meant you just frantically moved around and pressed buttons hoping you could pull off some moves and win via seizure. I was one of these).
Pimple face handed me my ass in humiliating fashion. Not only did he hit me with every conceivable move in Ken’s repertoire repeatedly, (including the, ‘hy-pa ger-ger whe’, which is the sound one hears while an animated foot flies in ones face as it spins rapidly through the air) he introduced me to the concept of ‘perfect!’, which the game recognizes and awards bonus points for.
Despite the harsh introduction, I was in love. I played and played, pumping quarter after quarter into a game that I surprisingly never really got much better at. Not more than a year after this is when the flood came.
Time Out learned their lesson, and months later, the line was now out of their door. They had gotten Mortal Kombat, and just as Street Fighter II had blown gamers away, Mortal Kombat did that as well, and then some. Not only were these characters photo-realistic, they moved fluidly, and the sound effects were nothing like the cartoon-y smacks and thuds of Street Fighter II. The blows landed with loud, meaty smacks that made you wince upon hearing it for the first time, and the visual effects were no less garish.
Gobs of blood flew across the screen and characters screamed and groaned in pain as they were mercilessly beaten to a pulp. This was one of the many wave of fighting games that were now competing for real estate in arcades across America, so the developers of Mortal Kombat took things a step further to set themselves apart and added what they called, fatalities. (later on I found this idea redundant, as if the massive damage inflicted upon the virtual bodies during these battles were NOT enough to cause a fatality)
Almost all fighting games adopted the best of three rounds format, so, you win two, and you keep your spot. Mortal Kombat was the same, except that after your second win, the defeated opponent would rise up again and sway drunkenly for a few seconds. The menacing voice which announced the rounds, winner, etc. would then prompt you to, ‘FINISH HIM!’ (never mind that one of the characters was female), and then if you entered a certain combination of joystick movements andor button presses, your character would kill your dazed opponent, typically in gruesome fashion.
My personal favorite was the Sub-zero characters finishing move. He would reach over, take the opponents head, and rip it off. Then he would turn and face the screen, displaying the head, dripping blood and dangling spinal cord for all to see. A close second was Kano (he grew into my character of choice). He would reach out and tear the still beating heart from the opponents chest, and then roar victoriously.
The boss characters were no less over the top. In Street Fighter, you had four extra (unplayable) characters serving as boss fighters. In Mortal Kombat, there were just two, but what a pair they were. The first one was Goro. This four-armed monstrosity dwarfed your character, and moved across the screen like a giant claymation nightmare. Most offensives launched against this creature would fail to affect him, leaving you helpless just long enough for him to grab you by the torso with his lower two limbs, and pound the stuffing out of you with his top two.
If you somehow made it past this thing, you faced Shang Tsung. This ‘feeble’ looking old man was nothing but. He floated across the screen, tossing a barrage of flaming skulls which were all but unblockable, and if you did manage to close the distance, he could morph into any character he pleased, which he did, and then he would often execute the exact move necessary to counter whatever you had in mind, using the perfect character to do it with.
The game was hardly appropriate for a place intended for young kids, but you didn’t hear a peep about that from anyone then, it was only when they began adapting it for home consoles that parents got their panties in a bunch, and Nintendo fans got a watered down, shameful version of the original.
Arcades went through a boom time. New games seemed to hit weekly, and fans showed up in droves, pumping quarters into coin slots at fantastic rates, it really did seem like it would never end. Of course, the more time passed, the more sophisticated the games got. Elaborate combination moves, comic book characters, even a star wars-like holographic fighter made an appearance (it was complete rubbish).
My personal favorite of this new wave was Killer Instinct. It had large, hyper-active characters that zipped around the screen, hitting each other at enormous rates which a player could induce by memorizing a long, and often complicated sequence of movements and button pushes. The payoff was, once this chain began, it could go on for as long as 40-50 hits, effectively trumping your opponent with a single calculated offensive (there was a way to escape this sequence once it began, but it involved another series of movements and needed PRECISE timing to be executed properly. however, if you were skilled, and lucky enough, you would be rewarded by seeing your besieged character interrupt the onslaught with a counter-blow, which would lead to a small retaliatory combination in return. not to mention, the whole place would know what just happened, because the announcer would scream, “C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!!”)
It was then that a curious thing began to happen. Home technology, which had always lagged far behind the arcade experience, (I don’t simply mean just the look of the game, I mean the sound, and the feel. Also, better and cheaper home sound systems which could be hooked into gaming machines to give the complete arcade experience, without having to leave home and constantly reach into a lint-ridden filthy pant pocket) began to catch up, in a big way.
Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn, Neo Geo(4), all of the sudden, games got bigger, looked better, and became way more immersive. It was then that the line between the ‘real world’, and the virtual one began to blur.
No more note-taking. Just go get the strategy guide. No more completing the game. It doesn’t end, go find a new party, download the expansion, quest for the goblet of icky syrup, or get married and even start a family. All right there, in the game. Why EVER turn it off? Why get up and go to an arcade? Just download it off the online store.
You can die. You can fail at some part, but you, NEVER. REALLY. LOSE. You can re-load, or re-spawn, ad-nauseam.
There was fast food back then. Hell, if anything, we ate way less healthy, simply because we didn’t know better. We played video-games like crazy, so what’s with the ‘obesity epidemic’ now all of the sudden?
Simple. Because kids are being raised to believe that you should NEVER feel like a loser, it should NEVER be game over, and why even bother to use your imagination to add to the entertainment experience, when the machines will do it all for you.
I was playing stick-ball last weekend with Sebastian. It was myself, Sebastian, and two other local kids who just happened to be there shooting some hoops. At one point, I walloped a pitch right over the school’s back fence, and since we had to squeeze (read: I, had to squeeze) through the locked gates to get in, retrieving the ball required a walk back around the school, a squeeze through, another walk around, and back again. Or, one could simply hop the chain link fence across the lot.
I expected both kids to immediately turn and vault that fence, and be back with that ball in moments. However, I watched as they cautiously approached it, and seemed to have a debate about what to do. One of the boys took matters into his own hands and I nodded approvingly as he began scaling the six foot fence. He got maybe two, three feet up, and stopped. His soft, paunchy body clinging pathetically. I walked over disgusted, and called for him to get down before he got hurt. It took me all of ten seconds to get that ball. Those kids were 12, maybe 13, I am 30, this should not be.
The answer isn’t to stop buying the kids games. Or to put them on some fancy diet. Even more direct parental involvement, which on paper, seems like a good thing, isn’t the answer either.
Lets bring back Dodge Ball.
Big, red balls with grips that enable overgrown sadistic children to hurl them at lethal velocities. You want visceral kid? BAM! There you go. No continues on that welt son.
And how about this one? If we all have a big race, and the top three finishers get a medal, and you placed fifth, guess what happens now? You DON’T get an f-ing medal! Participating is simply not enough, children should not be rewarded for things that they SHOULD be doing anyway. It’s simple psychology folks, tell a kid they CAN’T have something, or they DIDN’T get it, and one of two things will happen, they will either light a fire under their asses to find a way to get it, or they will be discouraged from that activity and try something else, having learned an important lesson about the way things work.
None of this will be happening anytime soon. We are a nation obsessed with everyone’s feelings.
So, until WoW actually turns the bulk of humanity into matrix-like batteries…
Live it, Love it, (and teach it a painful and valuable lesson.)
(1) “Pac-man” was thought up by a japanese game designer after a night out with some pals having beer and pizza. Seeing the pie with a slice missing somehow triggered a trippy thought sequence in which he envisioned said pizza taking horrible revenge by going on an eating rampage. I can only assume the ‘ghosts’ would be the angry spirits of those eaten folk back to exact revenge. Originally, it was called, “Puck-man”, and it is still referred to as such in Japan, however, fears of juvenile, and very funny vandalism on arcade cabinets in the U.S. prompted the Namco localization team to change “Puck” to “Pac”.
(2) Sunrise Mall is now known as ‘Westfield Mall’. This company purchased the mall a few years back and began revitalizing it the best way it knows how, by adding trendy, overpriced retail clothing stores, and raising rent high enough to push out long-time mall stores which may not bring in the big bucks, but provide character. I believe this strategy may have worked a decade ago, however now, with the economy in the mall port-o-potty, things are looking grim, and the riff-raff that used to make the ‘old’ Sunrise Mall so perilous, yet colorful, seems to be making a strong comeback.
(3) G-Loc was, and I think still is, the coolest jet-fighter video-game ever created. You actually climbed into an enclosed cockpit and the whole thing moved as you thundered through level after level of dog-fighting bliss, blasting enemy MiG fighters, and giving that cocky Iceman what for.
(4) The Neo-Geo was available for years before this, and the MASSIVE cartridges which it used, served as the games in its many arcade cabinets as well, meaning, if you bought the console, and games, you actually WERE getting the exact same experience, provided you had a kick ass television and proper sound. why didn’t everyone just go out and get one then? well, perhaps the $750 dollar price tag might have had a say in that, and the fact that on average, each ‘MVS cart’ cost in the $70-$150 range. bear in mind, this was the early 90’s, if you had one of these, mom and dad had bucks. and, I definitely wanted to be your friend. Ironically enough, if you happen to see an arcade machine in operation somewhere still, it is likely a Neo-Geo machine.
I wondered earlier tonight what exactly it was, that I imagined I had been missing out on by staying in as much as I do now. I took a few moments to consider this as Sebastian absently stroked my arm as he does when he is at the point of exhaustion. People go out to barsclubs for various reasons, but there really are just four main ones, and every other result seems to be an offshoot of these.
1. To get drunk.
2. To get laid.
3. To dance to enjoyable music (or you can introduce 1 here and make it, any music).
4. To meet with a friend or friends (to socialize).
These numbers can be mixed and matched all sorts of ways, or not. Some do go just to get drunk and that’s it, or dance and that’s it..etc.
So then again I wondered what I was missing. Since aside from dancing, None of these other reasons appeal to me in even the slightest fashion. It should be mentioned that the dancing only happens with a very particular kind of music, so in my case, it is basically moot. In essence, the answer I found was nothing. I am missing absolutely nothing and my bed has never felt more wonderful in my entire life.
A few minutes after I realized this, Sebastian turned sleepily to me and said, “daddy, it’s almost eleven o’clock, you’re still here.” He smiled and continued lazily brushing my arm. Bedtime is usually 9:30-10, but since we have guests staying over, everyone was up late. He always had a thing for clutching my arm as he fell asleep, since he was a baby, and remembering that made me realize something else.
I don’t have much more of this left. It will only be a few short years before he will be too big, and too old, and too cool to be my little boy. I’m not worried about Antonio just yet, he still has quite a bit of silly left in him, and I hope it lasts.
I still experience the occasional ‘tic’, of not having companionship, and not having hundreds of social network contacts to rely on when I feel lonely. But it really is true what everyone says about adjusting to a new way of living, or anything difficult really. It truly does start to get easier. Not all at once, and not quickly, it’s more like a slow leak that you don’t notice for months, and suddenly one day you’re driving on a rim and you scratch your head thinking, ‘ok, now when the hell did this happen?’ I have needed to be alone for quite some time, and at last, that is what is actually happening. There are no shortcuts, nor do I want any. I will ‘feel better’, when I feel better.
In the meantime, my phone and email have become all but useless. My cell wallpaper is tumbleweeds. However, yesterday I did receive a very interesting, and very unexpected phone call related to music that made me all but salivate in anticipation. My cute and cuddly boys, music, a friend, or two perhaps. That is what matters.
As for the rest of you,
Cheers, to a meaningful life, filled with self-less love and self-respect.
Live it, Love it (Goodnight Moon..)