Matches and Surveys

“So, you really want to get back into World of Warcraft?” I asked, somewhat taken aback by my friend’s regression into geekdom.

“Absolutely,” Dasad said in between sips of a chestnut praline latte – I swear Starbucks is taking advice from Yankee Candle in their choice of holiday blends. “Look you need something to occupy your free time outside of grading . . . mole tests or whatever the hell you teach in chemistry. MMOs are the perfect outlet.”

I nodded. The last week before my school closed for the Christmas break had proven . . . stressful, so much so that I considered stealing away around noon for a several pints of spiked nog. The mounting terror of children, emails, ungraded labs, January’s midterms, cloying principals, overbearing parents and those last-minute quizzes that you thought would provide an easy grade but . . . ah, the to-do list sought to smother my sanity. Only with three o’clock bell did the anxiety begin to drain away like poison from a wound leaving me exhausted and with a slight migraine.

I had met with Dasad hours later for drinks and coffee, confessing my near panic attack and utter thankfulness for the Christmas season.

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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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Luddites in Love

Lately I’ve been immersing myself in the works of O. Henry so much so that I decided to write my own for geeks like me.  Imitating another author’s writing style is not as easy as it first sounds — mostly because the gauge for success is rather ambiguous — but anything that helps me become a better writer . . . well, I’m not going to ignore.  

Regrettably, the sibling response was decidedly mixed.   Katie really enjoyed it, while my dearest brother after some consideration responded with a ‘meh.’   Needless to say, I’m anticipating proofreading his next law brief. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story — more than Sean, at least.

Luddites in Love

With the exception of honeybees, ants, and reality TV starlets, the modern American citizen communicates more than any other species on earth.  Since the dawn of the iPod, it is said that the human species has stumbled upon the evolutionary fast-track to cyborg-ification.   Cell phones strapped to our ears; fingers typing out ten texts per picosecond; cat videos by the billions streaming on YouTube.  From dawn to dark, we expose our life’s tapestry of photos, quotes, and gossip before an expectant public like specimens in a digital zoo, to be ogled, examined, and meme-ed at the first opportunity.    The sum total of pheromones exuded by the world’s ant population palls to a day’s worth of status updates from an average college sorority. Continue reading

A Simple Truth

Ryan just asked me to train him to master Xbox games.  Apparently Ryan and his girlfriend together with  Shannon and his girlfriend dueled earlier tonight, shooting Nazis, Russian terrorists, and possibly zombies.  Ryan did not fare very well, dying repeatedly again and again before his lady-love.  Coming home, he sought out a master . . .

This is probably the single greatest moment of my life. For this and that reason alone, I think I might burst into tears.

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.

Party like a Rock Star

Indulged any residual All Hallow’s Eve hunger for the strange and weird with a second helping of ZombieLand tonight in the bowels of our nation’s capital.  Meanwhile Mom, Kate, Bree and  our cousin Kathleen learned about friendship, celebrity, and sequined hot pants at  the Miley Cyrus concert next door.  Having carted my group of screaming girls to the arena (Mom wisely brought earplugs), I strode off to the local theater for a flix, accompanied by a host of lucky fathers, who had managed to escape the two-hour scream-fest in favor of blood-spewing zombies.

Fascination with undead violence is a universal man-love, much like weaponry, alcohol, and mammary glands.  Watching bits and pieces of animated corpses explode or disintegrate, or smashed to applesauce with giant carnival mallets reaches deep into our collective male pleasure nodes.   Imagine yourself armed with only a shotgun or a Ford Excursion (a tank on wheels) mowing down crowds of incarnate demons and your lips begin to quiver ever so slight . . . Heh heh heh.

Unfortunately our arrival at the concert was not half as cathartic.  In an effort to save the environment, Miley instituted a paper-less entry, which meant that we needed to swipe our credit cards in order to enter the arena.  Which meant we could not give tickets to others, driving separately.  Which meant I had to swipe nearly sixteen people into a venue, I myself would not see.  Which meant I was confused as hell.

Luckily Dad solved most of our problems by paying others to solve them for us.  As a kindness for buying the tickets in bulk, our ticket vendor guided the girls inside without any qualms or anxious glances.  I was free to see my show and the girls were free to squeal and giggle loudly at theirs.   We left early from the concert to emerge first-in-line for D.C. traffic, complicated by lane closures and road work, but all in all, we arrived back home healthy, exhausted, and wise enough to stay home for the next two weeks.

In the meantime, I’m off to kill some zombies on the Xbox before bed.  Somehow it just relaxes me . . .

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.

Modern Methusala

The tables at Bertucci’s had appeared swarming with high school kids and college freshmen. The only couple over thirty sat in the middle of the room, donning festive NASCAR top hats around gray heads and looking quite bewildered – a fact partly due to age, partly due to the environment, but mostly due to the hats. The rest of the nubile crowd chatted noisily. A group of high school girls held conference behind us, practicing imperfect similes:

“Sorry guys for being like so late. We like got held up by like a thousand lights on the way.”

“No one calls sprinkles Jimmies.”

“No one calls sprinkles Jimmies.”

The kitchen clattered and steamed with thin-crust pizza, delivered to tables where GameBoys sang with squealing tires and power-ups. Therefore, when Dasad and I later made our way into the TCBY, it felt a little strange to be standing in line with seven or eight gray-haired seniors.

“Are we old?” Dasad asked afterwards.

“No, I just think we picked a very mature ice cream parlor, that’s all,” I said digging into my peanut butter parfait.

“Do you think we’ll be doing the same thing twenty, thirty years from now? Hobbling to the nearby fat free yogurt stand for waffle cones and white chocolate soft serve?”

“. . . and jimmies,” I helpfully add.

“Huh?”

“Jimmies, you know, the sprinkles you pour over ice cream.”

“That’s not the right word,” Dasad corrected. “No one calls sprinkles ‘jimmies.’”

“Sure they do. I just did.”

“It sounds like drug slang: ‘Give me a nickel bag of jimmies, man. The good stuff.’ ”

“No, its sprinkles, chocolate or rainbow colored. Jimmies.”

“One day I must learn this dialect you practice so well. Do you think we’ll be spendin’ our Fridays outside a TCBY?” Dasad asked for another attempt at focus. “For that matter, what will we be doing ten twenty years from now?

The question has merit. In the spring of my life, I constructed a bucket list of sorts, a short repository of aims and goals for the future.

  • Find true love
  • Save a life
  • Be a good brother, friend, husband
  • Get in shape
  • Travel the world
  • Win the Pulitzer Prize
  • Write a work of fiction that will stand the test of time (perhaps children’s lit)
  • Kill a dragon with my bare hands

dragonslayAlright perhaps not the most reasonable goals (especially that last one), but then your life’s pursuits should never be too modest or probable. It’s the impossibility of it all that makes it worth pursuing in the first place. As of this moment, I have yet to achieve . . . well anything. But although scratching off any item on my list may seem like carving Mount Rushmore with a toothpick, if you never give up, you’re that much closer than those who do.

Despite our accomplishments though, I do not believe people change that much. When she was a girl, my grandmother would travel downtown via street car to the movie theater, watch movies all day for a nickel. Today she spends her free time poised before Turner Classic Movies and field trips to see the latest Oscar nominees. My great-grandfather during Prohibition concocted booze in his bathtub. I recall his lavish parties, where beer and booze would fill the glasses of all guests, regardless of race, creed or legal drinking age.

Dasad and I arrived back home and nestled our aging bodies down in plush armchairs. The TV and the Xbox hummed into life. We see the familiar devastation, silhouetted against a blood red sky, a large rotating cog and a grinning skull where the sun once stood. Horde mode loads.

“I think we’ll probably be doing the same thing we’re doing now.” I pushed a few buttons, trying to remember which trigger button controlled the aim.

I could see ourselves, sitting in the same chairs, obsessed with the latest cooking show, playing the latest video game: virtual reality Tetris or Super Mario Multi-verse perhaps.

Dasad nodded. “Is that sad? Should we feel disappointed by that?”

“Oh well, more yogurt for us . . . "

“Oh well, more yogurt for us . . . "

“Well,” I considered. “We might be married with kids by then. That’d be cool. Plus when your fifty-something, you get to eat as much yogurt as you want, right?”

“Is that why so many old people were at TCBY?”

“Probably, because it’s soft and relatively fat-free, they suck it down,” I say, “Ooo . . . got boomed.”

“On it. Why’s that matter?” Dasad said navigating his character through the debris, where I lay bloody and crawling.

“Because old folk are more health conscious, and many have trouble chewing. You know, dentures and all that.” I wrapped my lips over my teeth and mimed someone gumming their vanilla mocha yogurt.

“So what you’re suggesting,” Dasad laughed, “is that when we’re fifty, we’re going to be sitting in the same chairs . . .”

“. . . well not the same chairs, perhaps something more comfortable and ergonomically satisfying . . .”

“Whatever . . . wasting our Saturday nights playing the same games – or the future equivalent,” he added before I could interrupt. “And all this will be ok, because we’ll be consuming vast amounts of fat free yogurt . . .”

“ . . . with chocolate jimmies . . .”

“Shut up, there’s no such thing . . . and teaching our kids and wives how to kill undead hordes, alien swarms, or subterranean invaders? Is that it?”

“Yes, only our wives are super hot, and my kids are showing your kids our shared manga collections and anime DVDs,” I smile. “Oh, that will be a grand day.”

“My kids,” Dasad frowns, “will never see your kids – unless it is Thursday. Thursdays are the days when my kids make your kids eat grass. We’ll call them green ‘jimmies.’”

“Hmph, try as you might, my kids will train early on, mastering their Tekken, Street Fighter, and Soul Caliber. By the time their twelve, they’ll have mastered all the world’s fighting styles rendered into the virtual world. They’ll be able to shoot fireballs from their hands.” My geekdom knows no bounds.

kawaii_hat“That’ll work well until my kids Asian genes kick in . . .”

“Ha, my kids will be exposed to so much manga and anime that they’ll be more Asian than you by the time the next Thursday rolls around.”

The game stalls for a moment or two. Desad walks into an empty room and suddenly finds himself out in the open surrounded by subterranean mutants. Mine is the sole character left. I run him towards the bridge for the final stand when the screen goes red: disconnected from server.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I mutter.

“That there’s not a Hell’s chance we’re ever going to reproduce.”

“It’s probably better for everyone, you know?” I say dropping my controller to the floor.

“Oh well, more yogurt for us, I suppose,” Dasad shrugged.

“And chocolate . . .”

“Shut it.”

Something Good

Music possesses the innate ability to transport people to realms of their own imaginings. Enchanted snow-covered forests, gem-encrusted caves, sand-blasted temples, and bridge-linked villages roosting high among starlight-encrusted evergreens.

At least that’s where my music takes me. J.R.R. Tolkien poses in his essay on Fairy-Tales that we as humans possess deep within our blood primal yearnings for the impossible. Myth and fairy tales are the actualization of those desires. I do not presume to know much about this myself, yet how often sitting at my desk have I gazed outside and dreamt – for many several moments – to leap outside and take to the skies like Superman. How often do we yearn to converse with a Bengal tiger or coach a sapling into a mighty oak? Is it truly that odd to wish that you possessed the power to protect and save something precious? To lift up a sword and rescue a damsel, a kingdom, a brother or a sister?

Simply put, certain songs inspire the best from me. If everyone could imagine themselves a hero in a story for a moment say three minutes and forty-six seconds, consider the world we might create.

Daily Epiphany: Travel

Kevin jumps catapillars . . .

Kevin jumps catapillars . . .

I woke this morning to find my brother Kevin jumping caterpillars in Super Mario World, realizing that everything I know about Italians stems from the Mario Brothers. I sincerely need to travel more . . . or at least play more realistic games.

Realism of course has its good points. People after all create their own worlds every day, waking with either pessimism, optimism, or the strange amalgam, realism. Usually realists, I find, are merely a sub-set of pessimism, giving them a philosophical excuse to complain, criticize, and frown a lot. I am not ignorant of the pains and tribulations of reality; I merely refuse to give them any importance.

“In reality, the world have payed too great a compliment to critics, and have imagined them men of much greater profundity than they really are.” — Henry Fielding

“Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.” — Friedrich Schiller