Magical

Hydra“Dude, I’m thinking about . . . kinda getting into Magic again.”

Dasad paused the game, his beefy in-game character frozen while carving the body of a subterranean orc-mercenary. High-res blood and brain-matter splattered the screen, proof of the game’s ‘M-rating’ and hundred-billion weekend sales. He stared at me, his eyes screaming silent chords of betrayal and disbelief as if I had confessed to operating a meth-lab in my spare time . . . and refusing to split the profits.

“Why . . ?” he stammered. “Why would you play again willingly? I thought you were going to register on eHarmony with me . . . well, not WITH with me, but . . . you know, figuratively cruise for potential female life-mates on a digital frontier?”

“Well, Magic doesn’t prevent any of that.”

“Unless you plan on lying on your questionnaire, it does. Face it, you’re mutant-bait.”

“Maybe, but role-playing strategy games cannot hurt my love-life any worse than ’33-years-old and still living with parents,'” I remind him. “Or my dream of owning my own house to solely to store my extensive comic book collection . . .”

“. . . and Japanese porn . . .”
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Small Steps

To infinity and beyond!

The final frontier.  As a kid, I’ve never acquired the obsession with space travel that so fascinated the prototypical ‘geeks’ of my generation.  Before high school, my friends and I began to specialize: the road to anime, the way of the superhero, the path of fantasy, the . . .  starport to sci-fi.  Most of us would explore other genres as well, adopting one another’s obsessions in time.  I introduced Dasad to Tolkien; he led me to comic shops, where I began collecting Batman; our friend, Lloyd, reveled in mecha anime, magical girls, Dragonball and Pokemon.  We all loved video games so finding common ground proved easy.

Still amid all the late movie marathons and gaming sessions, their interest in space and future tech never really stuck.  The nature of space and its prerequisite vacuum always seemed overwhelming and claustrophobic at the same time, like the paradox of a man trapped within infinity — or Marty always running out of time in Back to the Future.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space. — Douglas Adams Continue reading

Wage and War

Like a femme fatale, the curves here proved deadly.

The 3rd Annual Ice Cream Invitational.  Every summer in Disney, Rodney and Ryan compete with Shannon and ‘yours truly’ in a sacred triathlon that tests the very limits of our body, our heart, and — dare I say — our sanity, a contest fit for gladiators (American or otherwise).  The contest consisted of three rounds.  The first grueling challenge sets brother against brother on the miniature golf course, and then the fiery hell of the tennis court . . .

Wait, why are you rolling your eyes?  Seriously, whatever you THINK you know about miniature golf, forget it.  Disney’s Fantasia Fairways is a theme park asylum covered in undulating green felt, reminding you why men have loved and cursed the bloody game for centuries.  No cartoon castles litter the course.  The pathway to the hole rises and falls like waves on a storm-tossed sea so there’s no ‘trick’ or ‘perfect putt’ to secure your hole in one . . . just luck and the pity of God.  This was to be our battlefield — our Ragnarok, some may say days from now — and waiting for us at the end, a rich waffle cone, filled with soft-serve and seasoned with the blood and tears of our enemies. Continue reading

Care Package for Charley Part 2

Yeah, so before we begin, I should explain that texting with my family is a creative experience, a workshop for the mind.  Most days I like to spice up our conversations in simple but unusual ways: reversing words (sdrow gnisrever), texting in the third person (Murph enjoyed Ridley Scott’s Prometheus), or conceiving complex stories moments from erupting in the midst of mundane arguments.  As an obsessive-compulsive reader, these are some of my favorite kinds of tales anyhow.  Outcasts entangled in affairs of grave importance and dire consequence . . . and zombies.  You can never go wrong with zombies. 

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Basic Maternal Instinct

This photo has nothing at to do with the following post; however, the subject matter is more pleasing than what I found on the basement computer.

“You’re kidding!” Dasad laughed, nearly dribbling coffee onto the table.  “They left it up?  On the screen?”

“No, no, no,” I said, waving my hands, as if brushing away the misconception.  “It’s what the address bar listed.  You know how when you start typing, Firefox offers a few of the popular searches from the last week? Apparently, someone’s been visiting frequently.  All I typed was a ‘H’ and the site appeared, right below Hulu.”

“What was the name again?” my friend smiled, baiting me.

“Hotmoms.com . . . or something like it.”  My friend’s squeals filled the entire cafe like a fire alarm.  If the coffee and caffeine had failed in its primary function, curiosity and Dasad’s laughter proved a jolt of adrenaline. Even the baristas stared, whispering behind the counter and consulting their watches.  Only a boy and girl continued to ignore us, racing Hotwheels across a neighboring tabletop.  I lowered my voice.

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A Question of Secret Identity

“Nerd.  Nerd.  Nerd,” Dasad muttered, pointing at the sundry collection of costumed moviegoers, the vast majority sporting Marvel-themed t-shirts.  “God, we’ve landed in some antisocial geek convention. Again.”

“It’s just a movie, dude,” I sigh.  “Try to enjoy the energy from the crowd.  Everyone’s been waiting years for this moment.”

Dasad and I had decided see the Avengers a few Saturdays ago, a day after Disney had released it here stateside to glowing reviews both from fans and reviewers alike.  Many of us, myself include, were simply happy the film was so well received as it guaranteed the superhero genre had not yet jumped the shark.   However, not everyone was enjoying the growing anticipation — not vocally at any rate.

“You do realize that you’re a computer science major, right?” I argue.  “You work all day long building databases and designing web sites.  You’re not just a geek, man.  You’re a prince.”

“Ha! And what does that make you?” he laughed.  “You dabble in every nerd world there is: super-heroes, hobbits, anime, manga, and semi-clad bishoujo figurines.  All tucked away in your parents’ basement.  What does that make you?”

“A king.  But don’t tell anyone,” I whisper.  “I’m traveling incognito.” Continue reading

The Inquisition

The two ladies on the left side of the table appeared hollow or rather bored to the point of emptiness. If you drilled a hole in their forehead and sent a stiff breeze through the cavity, cobwebs and dust bunnies would explode from their ears like party favors. The eyes betrayed them. Not their voices, full of professionalism and interest, gleefully reading their typed questionnaires. Or their fingers, quickly taking note of my responses enthusiastically given or my aphorisms, recited with honesty and respect for my past students. Continue reading

A Game of Life or Death

Lately I’ve been Puzzle Quest-ing for my health, jumping on the treadmill whenever I want to game.  Possessing one of those mediocre minds that becomes bored quite easily, in order to exercise efficiently for any length of time requires a distraction, some outlet for my mind as my body goes about the business of toning itself.  Movies or the morning’s SportsCenter typically satisfies most folks, but in this case predictable plots haunt most of the cable HBOs.  And sports just bore me, thus reminding me of my legs, the sweat, and that gnawing pain in my lungs.

The difficulty in this activity of course is finding the right game, as all do not apply themselves well to the constant motion and noise associated with cardio-exercise.  Castlevania: Symphony of the Night worked quite well as did other 2-D platformers.  Story-based RPGs found me jumping off the treadmill in order to listen to dialogue.  Initiating the intricate commands of Street Fighter or fast-paced headshots of Call of Duty while your body (literally) is in motion left me crippled, dying from zombie bites or roundhouse fireball to the face.  Duct-taping the Rock Band drums to the adjacent bookcase, I nearly stabbed myself with the sticks.

PuzzleQuest requires little in the way of ‘game learning:’ no intricate controls, combos, or plot-driven cyphers to memorize.  Players match jewels, skulls, and coins and use the collected matches to hurl spells at zombies, ogres, and minotaurs.  The thrill in itself is simple: the cascading gems chime out bonus points, extra turns, and created weaponry.  Control in hand, I could run for hours and never notice what had so completely distracted my lower half, while my thumb successfully cast bolt lightning and saved the world.

My motivations for exercise requires some explanation.  Outside the obvious drive to remain healthy and mobile, reducing the fate of one day donning pants fashioned from sizable circus tents, I fear an abscess of sloth might reduce or stymie my desire to write effectively.  That’s one excuse at any rate.  The primary drive is purely competitive in nature: as Dasad strives everyday to run, leap, and even doggie-paddle during his free time, training for various club sports and other sweat-inducing activities, I dare not let that bum get too fit, too fast.  He might actually acquire the energy and quickness to beat me in Tekken, and that I can never allow.

Lately my friend has joined that special clique of Americans that run marathons and jogs in the wee hours of the day in tight shorts.  You might notice him or one of his brethren racing along the shoulder at three in the morning or seven o’clock at night, florescent tags stapled to their Speedos, faces flush with sweat and exhaustion.  I often wonder what runners consider while retracing their respective trails every morning.  Don’t they get bored after a while?  I’d be sorely tempted after fifteen minutes to find myself something new, pausing on a park bench to consider the scenery, the stars, or the scents wafting from the corner Starbucks.  Indeed I cannot criticize their focus, but certainly my ADD would not be able to suffer the repetitious movements, the struggle against muscle and fat, the absence of meaningful words scattered among the neighborhood woodlands.

For what purpose, I ask you?  Why do we pay the monthly fees for gyms, the twenty-first century equivalent of a torture chamber?  Health of course is the obvious answer, forever linked with suffering and physical pain.  The digital realm and the computer, a god in its own right, demands the daily sacrifice of time, energy, and those size 36 pants you’ve kept since college.  Unlike our ancestors, we work not to survive.  The dinosaurs are extinct; Nature’s predators are stored away in zoo or protected by countless government edicts; even Maryland deer bounce off the sides of our Excursion as we cruise up the road to the grocer’s for milk.  The Wild is conquered.  We run not to survive another day, but to avoid fusing with our sofas.

Thus, with the snow building outside and my mind now fully awake, my body creaks and groans, demanding exercise.  I shall grab my shoes and hop on the treadmill, controller in hand.  Until they begin cloning dinosaurs, this is the best I can do.

Diluted Sins

img_2377“What did you give up for Lent?”  An honest response to this question typically requires a fair bit of chagrin, a prolonged sigh, and an explanatory tale that often begins with “Well, it’s like this . . . ”  Regardless of their beginnings, no two stories are the same even though — more often than not — we all wind up innocent in the end.

Once again, this year Dasad and I have not managed to free ourselves from this fate.  However, unlike everyone else, it’s not our fault this time.   Truly.  Seriously.  Look, if you can spare me a moment or two, I can explain . . .

Lent for us Catholics is typically a time of sacrifice, fasting, and forgiveness, a decidedly textbook definition for what amounts to using God to enforce those pesky New Years’ resolutions we’ve long forgotten over the last two months.  As a kid, this usually meant giving up candy, video games, or the internet for forty days and forty nights, the same time period Noah suffered storm-tossed seas and a boat-load of the world’s fauna without the aid of Dramamine, sails, or steel cages.  After mounting a particularly towering wave, the world’s last pair of unicorns slide into the lion paddock, promptly removing magic (and many a childhood dream) forever from the gene pool.   By all rights, getting by with one less bag of Twizzlers doesn’t seem so bad.

iced-teaThis year in addition to striving to run two miles each day, I decided to halt my weekly purchase of novels and considered diving into some of the older tomes I have left to gather dust  over the years.  Thus, no new novels for forty days.  In hindsight a more effective sacrifice would have constituted banishment from the bookstore entirely, but my on-going addiction to Borders iced tea prevented such a bold stroke.  Instead while shifting through shelves of manga one afternoon — keeping a wide berth between the rest of the stacks (Mr. Bradbury, you know why) — my eyes tantalized by several new titles,  I considered what exactly constitutes a ‘novel’ per se.  My thoughts traveled back to EN212, Birth of the English Novel, and some vaguely remembered definition concerning plot and character, an eight-page paper citing specific examples in 12pt font, Times Roman.  At any rate no mention of ‘Japanese’ or ‘comics’ appeared in the slurry of words so I grabbed a handful of books and raced to the check-out counter before any divine arbitrator could consult the fine print.   Afterward outside the store, amid the blustery spring breeze and cloud-streaked skies, I walked bag in hand, swelling with my new purchases,  confident in my adherence to the letter-of-the-law even while gut-punching the much ignored spirit-of-the law with two rights and an uppercut to the chin.

To my credit, over the last fifty days or so, I ignored the graphic novel section (collected anthologies of Superman, Spiderman, and other comics) entirely.  Here my half-hearted arguments that graphic novels did not strictly constitute novels failed; in the end I could not escape the nomenclature.   Besides, nothing good (i.e. Batman’s ‘Heart of Hush’ book) arrived in the stores until at least the end of April at least . . .  and in the absence of temptation one finds strength.

Still despite my own innocence in this affair, I still felt the twinge of guilt, a smidgen of complacency in my actions; thus I sought out Dasad, prompting his confession and shared guilt with the similar question:

“Wait, so you’re only giving up videogames on Saturdays?”  I wrote to him on IM one morning, a week and a half after Ash Wednesday.

“Well, it’s like this, man,” he typed with a speed reserved for computer programmers and courtroom stenographers.  “It used to be everyday, but once Resident Evil 5 came out, I decided to alter it a little.”

“A single day sacrifice though?”

“Well, when the game came out, I thought of just abandoning the whole no-gaming sacrifice altogether, but considering a potential wrath-of-God-slash-karma blacklash, I just decided to tweak it a bit:  ‘No games that I already own, will I play.’  There.  Now we have a loophole . . . and my console is RE5 ready.”  For most individuals Lenten appeals do not need to be stated aloud, resting solely on the honor system.  In our case, we require written contracts for the sake of bragging rights.

“What about Gears?  Don’t you already own that?” I wrote with a smile.

viva_pinata“Uh yeah, I thought of that too,” he typed after a pause.  “That would put a serious dent in our Friday nights so then I considered ‘No games released before 2006,’ but that only really eliminated that pinata game and Madden 2005 . . .”

“Both of which you haven’t opened yet, if I recall correctly.”  Dasad collects games almost habitually, like a schizophrenic stockpiling voices, or old Mrs. Martin and her cats.

“Yeah, not much of a sacrifice, right?  So then I reconsidered and decided that I would only play games on Friday and Sundays.”

“Ok, so what went wrong with that?”

“There was nothing on TV last Wednesday.” I picture my friend flipping frantically through his 1 million channels, his mounting anger that nothing NOTHING was on except another abysmal season of American Idol.  Then finally after dousing the lights and shutting the blinds, he switches on his Xbox for a quick Horde match.  No one will ever know . . .

“Dude, that’s sad.”  Sincerity aside, I am laughing when I write this.

“Hey look, the whole Lenten season is rife with loopholes.  No meat on Fridays except seafood and if St. Patrick’s Day falls on Friday, then the Irish are given special dispensation to eat corned beef.  Moreover, on Sundays you are free from your Lenten sacrifices anyway.”

“Yeah . . .” I consider, trying in vain to differentiate the rule from the habit, “. . . but I think that’s only for elementary school kids.  As adults we’re expected to keep the sacrifice every day no exceptions.”

“Ha, another bias!  Damn it all, I’m having pastrami tonight.”

In the end, I think Dasad faithfully maintained his original pledge and abstained himself from gaming throughout the last forty days.  Every now and then I saw his avatar logged onto Xbox Live but he swears that was merely to watch a movie — which he reminds me does not constitute a game at all.  Frankly I believe him, though for the sake of my own heathen soul I like to pretend otherwise.  Hell, I hear, is a quite a lonely place with a very poor library — the constant humidity is murder on the pages.  In the absence of reading materials, amid the screams of the damned, a sympathetic ear means the world to us sinners.

Punch Drunk

Disney Quest at Downtown Disney

Disney Quest at Downtown Disney

The family and I have visited Disney World for years now so it always amazes me when we discover something truly new and unique. On the West End of Downtown Disney – the encapsulated title for the various shops, clubs, and restaurants open to the consuming public – Disney Quest hides like a shy behemoth. Alone the building, painted with bright kiddy-pool turquoise and standing nearly five stories tall, would attract attention anywhere, yet somehow nestled between the commercial monstrosity of the Virgin Mega-store and peaked dome of the Cirque du Soleil it appears almost demure in comparison, like a costumed juggler competing with the sensuality of the Vegas strip.

Dad took a few of the kids to Quest years ago during one stormy afternoon after spending most of the morning baking beneath the Florida sun.Like Floridian clockwork, thunder sounded at around two, and the kids convinced Dad to lead the expedition through the shops.An offer of modest recreation amid indoor air conditioning in the end, I believe, won him over. He returned quite exhausted, and when questioned he could only stutter, “It’s right up your alley, Murphey.”

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