Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Boomer the Drunken Ghost

So, it's Halloween again.

What of it?

Stop looking at me like that.

I don't have to entertain you.

Fine, here, a terrible short story of sorts to get you in the Halloween mood. One might even say, it'd leave you feeling rather Halloweenie. See what I did there? Doesn't feel so good, does it?

Boomer the Drunken Ghost

It was a dark and spooky night. Not the "Oh god, please don't let anybody rape me" kind of spooky, but the "I sure hope nobody puts arsenic or razor blades in my candy!" sort of spooky. Both are pretty spooky in their own regard, though. Granted, this story takes place in Tallahasee, Florida in the late '90s, so it's in a locale with its own grade of spookiness. And that grade? C+. On a good day.

The Johnson family had just fled from a small town in Wisconsin a week prior - not to escape any deranged cannibals or even insurance agents, but to flee the encroaching population of the elderly. It wasn't that they particularly disliked old people, or that they didn't value the wisdom they brought to the town with their age, but when you had enough of them gathered together in small spaces like such little Wisconsin towns, a musty smell took to the air that nothing could dispel. As such, the Johnson family had no particular prejudices they were acting upon, simply an olfactory objection. The Johnsons had very sensitive noses, after all. They wouldn't realize until later what a mistake they'd made in moving to Florida. But this has nothing to do with the story at hand.

The Johnsons felt that their children's education was important, and so they moved into the Harper building on Voltaire Avenue. Previously Castro Blvd., the good citizens of Tallahasee voted to change its name in 1983, in order to show the world what a bastion of civilization and intellectualism a city in Florida could be. Some credit this particular decision for the city's continued successful growth. Others - mostly visitors from Ireland - look back on their visits and simply say, "That was no Sligo!" But this too is unimportant, like most things Tallahasee-related in life.

Having trusted their children - perhaps altogether far too much - to look out for themselves on Halloween, for the past two years, the Johnson parents had allowed their children to trick-or-treat alone. Most of the old people in their previous hometown had lacked both the twisted wit and physical dexterity required to properly poison and reseal the generic Werther's candy they passed out every year, so the health of the few children in that town had never been particularly threatened. Except by old Ned Levine - they say he wanted to organize a local marathon to support cancer research charities. They put a stop to that.

Not having lived in the Harper building long, and having been largely ignored by their new neighbors - they smelled like Wisconsin old people, so you can't blame them entirely - no one had warned the Johnsons about which apartment to avoid. Upon reaching it, the Johnson children balefully knocked on the door of apartment 12-C. It was kind of annoying, their balefulness. The door swung open and there stood the most terrifying sight they'd ever beheld - Boomer the Drunken Ghost.

"Whaddaya you kids want!?" Boomer demanded in drunken discord. He was about five foot six and balding, what hair he had on his head standing up garishly, like a lightning bolt extending to the ceiling from either hemisphere of his cranium. Tired and gaunt, he seemed to be leaning against the door frame in order to keep standing at all. Never before had the Johnson children seen a man so pale - and these were Wisconsin kids.

"Um, can-... can we have some candy?" Jimmy, the middle of the Johnson siblings asked. At eight, like most children bearing his first name, Jimmy wasn't all that bright. He even still believed in Santa Claus. Seriously, what's up with that?

"Candy? Do I look like the Easter Bunny to you?" Boomer glowered down at the kids, having just had to reference yet another holiday popular with children. That would irritate anybody.

Unfortunately, again, Jimmy wasn't that smart. "Sure you do, maybe, I suppose. Your hair, it kind of looks like rabbit ears, if you look at it at the right angle." But Boomer hated being compared to rabbits. He'd dealt with enough of it over the course of his life, having buck teeth and an unhealthy fondness for carrots. He'd always been told that if he ate his carrots, his vision would improve. But even now, he still had to wear prescription bifocals. Everybody hates a blind rabbit.

There was only one course of action. "Out you go!" Boomer shouted, hefting the middle Johnson sibling over his shoulder and out the nearest window. Jimmy would survive the fall, both fortunately and unfortunately, landing in a dumpster at the bottom of the building. He would repress this memory and twist it, recanting upon it as having been taught to fly by the Easter Bunny later in his life. He would go on to spend many years in therapy reckoning with that such an event never transpired. Unable to cope with life in a world that would not believe him, he would later take his life through a voluntary coronary - experiencing one whenever he wished would become a popular parlor trick of his after achieving a certain level of gross obesity in the midst of his lifelong depression. But that's okay, like most people named Jimmy, no one would ever love him anyway.

As Boomer did this, the other two Johnson siblings - Peter, the eldest, and Jeannie, the youngest - followed him into the apartment uninvited. "Gee, mister, was that really necessary?" Peter asked. Peter was slightly smarter than his younger brother, more of a B- student, if you will.

"Din'tchoo kids learn?!" Boomer groaned, collapsing onto his couch. "You don't bother Boomer the ghost on Halloween! All that doorbell ringin', gives a man the headache from hell!" Boomer was actually hung over. The Harper building apartments had no doorbells.

"You're a ghost?" Peter's eyes widened in amazement. He would go on to experience vision problems himself later in life, never quite learning to control the whole eye-widening issue as a child. His future therapist would go on to diagnose it as an unhealthy mental tick, but Peter would still have his own nostalgia about it.

"No, I'm fuckin' Louis Farrakhan, what do you think!? Why don't you get out of here, kid? Or do you want to go out the window, too?" Boomer growled irately.

"Yeah, I think I'm going to do that. This is getting way too stupid," Jeannie said, and immediately left. Jeannie was the smart one. Even at the mere age of six, she had a bullshit detector envied by even the most grizzled of adults. Unfortunately, her adolescence would stink, due to the pressures placed on young women to adhere to ridiculous standards of beauty in America, and onward into adulthood, she would learn to genuinely loathe herself, despite not being a bad person at all.

"Anything I can do to help you pass on, mister ghost?" Peter stuck around and asked. It has to be reiterated - Peter was not that much smarter than his brother.

"Get me a bottle of gin!" Boomer muttered into a pillow.

"Anything for a ghost! I won't let you down!" Peter said cheerily. The sort of cheer he would only experience as an adult through prescription medication.

After catching up with Jeannie - and later Jimmy - and finishing their trick-or-treating, Peter returned to Boomer the Drunken Ghost's apartment the next evening. "I found this in my parents' liquor cabinet!" Peter said proudly, thrusting a bottle he held towards the door as it opened. The man who stood at the door did not seem to be the one from the previous night. Instead, this new man had a bad comb-over, and wore the clothes of an accountant. "Boomer?" Peter's eyes widened in confusion.

"It's Stan. Stan Dworkin. What are you doing, kid?" the man sighed.

"Is Boomer the ghost here? He asked me to bring him a bottle of gin," Peter was confused and frightened. Where had his ghost disappeared to!?

"I don't know what you're talking about. There's no ghosts here. Go home," the man shut the door.


And that's where the story ends. Pretty spooky, huh? Aren't you feeling more in the Halloween mood now? Also, if you're looking for a moral to this story, it's thus: Don't listen to or try to help anybody. They're probably just drunk. Drunk on Halloween. Or whatever day it is when they're drunk.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Your Ex-Lover is Dead

Another day, another week, another blog entry. You're hooked on the junk and I'm here to give you your fix, so cut the foaming-at-the-mouth thing, will ya?

The topic this time? A rare, stupid slip-up - writing something personal on the internet. Always a smart idea. (Hold onto your hats, internet, it's time for some "LULZ UR RETARDED" moments!)

So, I am generally someone who would be regarded by most people as, in no uncertain terms, a loser. It's easy to write off individuals too cool for comprehension as something like that. As such, I occasionally kill some time on one of those blasted internet dating sites, OKcupid. (Nothing makes it clear what a badass you are like having an account on a site like that.) Despite all the hang-ups and preconceptions that come with using a site like that, it can be a decent place to kill time on quizzes and whatnot. Sometimes you'll cross paths with a decent human being or two as well. (Astonishingly, some of them do exist in internetland, few in number though they are, like in the "real world.") They have this "quickmatch" feature, that lets you browse random people and click whether or not you'd be interested in speaking with them. It rarely yields anything in the way of actually meeting people, but it's an interesting study in really just looking at people and the way they describe themselves. There's notable patterns to how people break themselves down on sites like that - perhaps 6 or 7 different types at most, but in the end, nothing surprising. Unique snowflakes, people are not. I happened to come across someone on there who was pretty unmistakably my last ex-girlfriend tonight.

It's a tremendously strange feeling, seeing one's ex again anywhere. She didn't seem to have changed much, not particularly surprisingly. It was a strange feeling nonetheless, though. A veritable opposite of the feelings I get when I see a picture of or read anything written by the woman I'm presently in love with now online. Though I try to avoid that, both for the sake of healthy behavior, naturally, and that anything of her fills me with a ridiculous amount of love and hope. The sorts of feelings a creature like me probably shouldn't be having. My heart ignites and burns me to the ground, when the hopelessness of reality sets in. Seeing my ex, all I felt was cold, and regret. It stung me to my core. On one hand, her words rang of a woman I once loved, and I could remember well why I loved her. But the feeling was tinted, naturally, with knowing that we weren't to last, and of what a disaster the short relationship had been, despite the strong one-sided feelings involved. And in seeing her face again, I knew damn well that I didn't want to see her again, having gotten over her years ago. I haven't been in a single relationship since. Time flies.

She's long gone, and I'm certain, much happier without me. She never loved me and was hardly kind to me when we were together, after all. The whole relationship was an exercise in futility. To me, it represented trying as hard as I could - pouring as much of myself as possible into the relationship - to be the best boyfriend imaginable. Naturally, being myself, that wasn't enough, or anything remotely close to that. But when you get down to it, if someone doesn't love you, odds are, they aren't going to start, no matter what you do. Getting someone to fall in love with you is one of the most difficult tasks one can face in life. And if it doesn't happen naturally, they're never going to love you anyway.

When you're young, and immersed in a sea of your peers, filling your days with new experiences and new memories, it's easy to trick yourself into thinking that your possibilities are limitless. That you'll always have another friend waiting for you around the corner, should you have a falling out with one. That if your relationships fail, there'll always be a new lover, another fish in the sea. (Those who are old enough to realize how ineffective that metaphor is should be in agreement by now, that the guy who thought that one up should have choked to death on a live herring.) Idealism and youth come hand in hand like that. That kind of foolishness is beautiful, and often romanticized - I'm as guilty of that as anyone else. But it isn't true. No matter how hard you try to party, how much you try to put yourself out there and have encounters, the number of people in life with whom you'll have real connections is very finite - far more so than those in the midst of their youth tend to realize. You can misconnect, miscommunicate, and ultimately blow everything in more ways than you can imagine. The littlest thing could potentially bring down all the support columns of your future - yes, we've gotten to the point of ancient Greek architecture metaphors here. The very thought of all this is enough to leave one in a state of perpetual panic, the neurons firing and crossing so rapidly, common sense'd fly right out the window.

That's the reality of things, though. There's a means by which people get to being mind-bogglingly neurotic - like Woody Allen, for instance - after all. There's a simple solution to it all. Or at least, I'd like to be able to pat you on the back and tell you that's the case, but like all easy solutions to life's problems, it merely sounds deceptively simple, when it's much easier said than done. Said solution? Don't take people for granted. Let them know how important they are to you. Make time for them, no matter what it takes. Spend time with them, talk to them, tell you that you love them. It's because we don't do these things that the world is once again teetering on the brink of war. (Hugs, not nukes!) Wait, no, that's just human nature, but that simply makes our futures all the more uncertain and frightening, and as such, telling those you love that you love them all the more important. Sure, it could blow up in your face, depending on how they take it. It's one of the strongest statements you could ever make to somebody - unless you're one of those people who constantly tells everybody that you love them, to the point at which the words lose all meaning - just as though you told them that you hated them. Both sentiments are an effective punch in the chest - one's just much nicer to hear than the other - and because people are full of baggage (As much as everybody loves to downplay it and pretend they don't have any, so it can inevitably explode within them and cause all sorts of trouble down the line.) and many do not know how to take being told that they're loved. Many people do not even love themselves, or know how, for that matter, though this is to both their benefit and detriment, as far too many people love themselves far too much.

I don't get into relationships much, and when I have, they were doomed from the start. I just had a hard time recognizing that each time. That trend will probably continue, though I'd hope not. I haven't felt the slightest spark with over 99% of the people I've crossed paths with in my life, and as that number continues to steadily decrease over the years, as is inevitable in life as well, prospects continue to dim. I've had my heart broken, fiercely. With no pleasant experiences in relationships, it makes one less than keen on falling in love with anybody. And I've broken hearts, or at least, so I've been told. Not those of women I dated, mind you, but simply a very few individuals who professed to be in love with me when they still did not know me remotely nearly well enough to fall for a creature such as myself. They only knew me over fiber-optic cable, far cross the internets, anyway. If you've been hurt enough, it's probably easy to become infatuated with a guy who isn't a complete asshole to you. And regardless of whether they really were in love with me or merely infatuated (As some came to despise me upon becoming more aware of my aggravating complexity as a person, and my sharper, darker side.), I feel terrible for having hurt them at all. But terrible within limits, as it couldn't be helped that I felt nothing for them, just as it couldn't be - despite my best efforts - that my ex-girlfriends did not reciprocate my feelings. Love is not a choice you can make. It's essentially the experience of being hit by a car, and hoping that they're hit by the same car, as your eyes meet and words pass between you. If they're not, you're in for a sad, painful experience that may last up to many years.

That's life. All humans are born searching. For something, someone they're missing, to at least give them the illusion of completion and fulfillment - the sort of thing people probably aren't entirely capable of anyway, but continue to seek. Some find (Or convince themselves that they've found) what they're looking for in religion or some sort of spirituality. Others find it in one another, in love, in a deep connection with another individual who fills their heart. Others yet find what they're looking for in their passions, whether a career or something they do for fun. While others yet sink into depression and in many other cases, suspend themselves from their harsh reality through substance abuse. It's easier for people to fall into that than most realize. Most people are more unhappy than they realize, after all, and when that finally hits them, it hits them hard. We prop ourselves up with illusions. And even when we find the that or whom we've sought, we have no way of knowing for certain if we really have. Uncertainty is nerve-wracking, and heart-breaking. In some regards, in this human existence, illusions are all we have, in pursuit of happiness, the carrot dangled before us, forever out of reach.

Though I may try to write such pretty words - sour though they often are - they may yet simply fall on deaf ears in the end. Beautiful words won't win anyone's heart if they aren't predisposed to the possibility of loving you. The beauty of words is twofold - the meaning they have to the writer, which exists eternally, and the meaning to those who read them, or hear them spoken. But even the most beautiful of words lose all meaning when met with a reader or listener entirely unaffected by them. There's no way of knowing who will be affected by what, like tapping verbal grenades against them to see if they explode or not. Or perhaps a less... violent metaphor. But aside from the childhood schoolyard taunts about sticks and stones, words can be amongst the most dangerous and painful things in the world, simply on a basis of what the words themselves are, and who has spoken them. Generally, you want to blow up happy grenades on people. Though knocking people down has its time and place as well.

I'm accustomed to life as a man loved by few, and who loves even fewer - who never return his feelings. As I've mentioned here before, I'm still working on my first novel, which is nearly complete, though behind schedule as usual. Once it's finished, I have a long, daunting journey ahead, in hunting for an agent willing to represent me, and in turn, through them, a publisher willing to publish the book. These are steps in the process where many, many aspiring authors fall through the cracks. It's a rare, lucky few who make it through to the end and get to look upon their words in satisfaction at their local bookstores, knowing the melange of feelings accompanied with people reading your work across the globe. In some ways, impacting people's lives, even if only in small, insignificant ways - and one can only hope with good results for those impacted. For me, the importance of getting this book published and on shelves within the next two years is even greater, for through it, I'm confessing my love to a brilliant young woman I've been in love with unrequited for over five and a half years now. We haven't spoken in some time. And so, I can't exactly set my expectations high, despite my high aspirations. I may be on my way to self-destruction in love on an epic, public scale, for all I know. But I have to do it. I'm that sort of man - that sort of fool. I have to tell her that I love her or I will spend the rest of my life drowning in regret. And I have to do it the right way, the most meaningful, grandest way I know. So that at least once, I can say that I told someone that I loved her with all my heart and immortalized it in the grandest way I knew. Even if odds are probably against me in that the story might not touch her heart, that she might not realize how I've felt for her all along, that she probably won't ever feel for me what I feel for her, should the story and gesture touch her even deeply. But at least then, she'd still know how loved she is. But as one who's grown accustomed to epic failure in love, I can't hold my breath. All I can do is pour my heart into the story and cross my fingers that I can find an agent and publisher before too long, and that she'd read it before it was far too late for it to potentially have an impact on anything. To do just one thing just right in my life, if I can, is my aim here. Even if I fail again. I can pour the last of my love, what romance I'm capable of, and my hopes into the book, and hope it doesn't end up terrible. Then when it hits, it can make its impact, whether it leads to amazing experiences for the both of us, or my simply remaining accustomed to loneliness and disappointment as I grow colder inside with age. It may be impossible to get her to love me - I don't know for a fact, as there were signs here and there to the contrary in my past, enough to retain the tiniest spark of hope - but it's an endeavor worth embarking on, as to me, it's the grandest, most personally, emotionally important endeavor I've ever attempted in my life. And odds are good that this is the best I will ever do in that regard. So in and of that, it's practically an adventure of sorts, full of overwhelming personal risks in seeking the greatest treasure known to humanity. No telling if my personal story will have a happy ending. But as a cynic, I'm not holding my breath. I'm simply going to go through with it and give it my all. It's the best anyone can hope to do in life.

We can only part from the shackles of our past so much. Our memories are who we are. When we step back at the end of our lives and look back at who we are, what we've accomplished, and what we've experienced, that's all we really have - our thoughts and our memories. And often shadows we create of memories, experiences, and thoughts we wish that we'd had. Regrets. By the end of it all, we have those too. We all say we want to live a life without regrets, to look back when on our deathbed and smile as we fall from this mortal coil into oblivion's cool embrace. But just as many are not fortunate enough to die a privileged, peaceful death, even fewer will ever know what it is to die without regrets. As easy as it is to say you'd like to go out that way, accomplishing it is another matter entirely - and what's more human than striving to accomplish the virtually impossible? Only to be disappointed. Foolish, foolish creatures. And yet we still grasp at these things, looking back in the end and always thinking "I should have done this..." and "Why didn't I do that?"

There, an odd rare slice of my personal life. I hope you're happy, ya damn voyeurs.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How Dry was my Autumn

The seasons have certainly changed. You can tell here in North Carolina, because we've had a few days when it was actually comfortable outside - and even dipped down into the 40s at night. That's about as much as you can hope for, when summer's devoured the other seasons. Thanks, global warming! (And a special thanks to all the companies and pollutants they've pumped into the atmosphere, bringing this about! It couldn't have happened without you!)

Climate change - it's a popular topic these days. Of course, instead of seriously doing much of anything about it, we've politicized it (As is popular to do with any matters of science - if science can effectively prove it, it's evil, unamerican, and anti-capitalist.), because clearly the best way to resolve the issue is to tell everyone to shut up about it and pretend it doesn't exist. On the right, you've got viewpoints ranging from half-right (Claiming it's natural and should be happening like this, when the truth is that while climate change - the warming of the planet - is natural, it should be happening at a much, much slower pace. We've accelerated it by millennia through the abuse we've put this planet through.) to bat-shit insane ("Global Warming is an evil liberal myth concocted to attack industry and stop them from making money because liberals hate money! Let's kill them all now before it's too late!" ... Yeah, I kind of went a little Ann Coulter with that example.), entirely nonconstructive regardless in their focus on simply avoiding acknowledging the existence of a problem - let alone doing anything about it, as that'd entail holding corporations and in large part, the wealthy upper class, responsible for their actions.

Al Gore was recently among those awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Naturally, the right flipped out. After all, they don't want to agree with anything he's had to say, even though he successfully brought a great deal of awareness about the climate change crisis to the western world, and especially America, where we've been particularly slow on the uptake in acknowledging the existence of such a problem. On one hand, you have pundits declaring that George W. Bush should have been given it, simply to continue this never-ending war they see between Bush and Gore, constantly trying to tear down everything about Gore in order to conversely legitimize Bush's presidency, having never won the popular vote in the original election to begin with. (As for 2004, their own rhetoric of rule by fear was all too sadly successful in winning reelection.) On the other, you have idiots who insist that, on the grounds that Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, Gore - and by proxy, all Nobel Peace Prize winners - is a terrorist. I wish I was kidding.

While the politicians continue to fight amongst themselves - and accomplish nothing truly good or effective in regards to addressing the issue - everyday ordinary people seek out small ways they can contribute to slowing climate shift, while paying attention to its coverage. Here in North Carolina, we're facing the worst drought we have in ages - by far the worst I've seen in my thirteen years of living here. We've been plenty accustomed to summertime droughts and some amount of water restrictions - one has to wonder how many really bother to follow them, given their inconvenience, and the obsession many have with maintaining their immaculate green lawns - but this is the longest such a drought has spilled into the fall. Typically, the rain picks up much sooner and alleviates the problem. Now, all our local lakes are beginning to dry up entirely. The local paper's reported that our water supplies are expected to last just over another hundred days - in Durham nearby, they aren't even anticipating another hundred days - and that we'd need a good two feet of rain to get out of these conditions. The kind of rain we almost never see with any kind of consistency. The situation is grim, and conservation efforts, though encouraged, will help little now to stymie the constant drain on our water supplies. We're verging on a state of emergency, with little rain in the forecast down the line. And the government isn't exactly prepared for this sort of conflict.

In this day and age, there's little excuse for that. Not being well versed in ways to handle this sort of crisis, I wouldn't know where to suggest to begin, beyond at least opening up a constructive discussion on policy. But in this time when everything involving climate change, its ensuing crises, and problems posed to humanity by nature is politicized - the left trying to help, and the right putting a stop to that, with a ridiculous amount of power despite Democratic majorities in Congress - there's no real hope of that. The right calls for smaller government, and yet in these Bush years, they've supported its growth with their increased power that came with it, and began assaults on our civil rights and liberties we've appreciated for so long. They've demonstrated themselves what it is when big government goes wrong, while at the same time decrying big government otherwise. After all, what's the point of power if you're going to use it to help your country's citizens? Such as providing all-inclusive much-needed healthcare legislation for children? But no, health being a right as opposed to a privilege for the wealthy is a socialist value, and therefore evil and representative of what big government should never be. Instead, it's all about rolling back freedoms - all while talking about defending it - and killing a whole lot of people.

What a time we live in.

I just hope we see some real rain yet. It's the only shot we've got. And like most people, I'd really rather not stop practicing good hygiene on a daily basis. And drinking water - that's always been pretty cool, too. I'd rather not stop that either, so I don't, say, die. Nobody really wants to do that - save for those who do - and certainly not in a difficult state of emergency. And considering how the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was handled, there's no reason to put any faith in the government - let alone this administration - to help anybody through such trying times. If the market isn't taking care of you (In other words, if you aren't wealthy and don't have other methods to avoid such trouble yourself.), you don't matter. Don'tcha just love the anti-socialist rhetoric of the rabid capitalism-obsessed right? It would seem that once you have money and power, the first thing you forget is people. But then, we are the "Look Out For Number One!" nation. Or so the conservatives strangling our government would like to justify.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

For Sports Lovers Everywhere

Introducing a new whenever-the-hell-I-feel-like-it feature in this blog! I call it "Ben Doesn't Know Anything About Sports." I felt that it was necessary to start a feature like this largely because clearly my massive reader base has been clamoring for one thing - and that thing is important and relevant commentary on people running around after balls, looking to score. (And with none of the immature follow-ups to a statement like that most other bloggers might resort to for a cheap laugh. This place has never been anything but a class act, after all.)

"But Ben," you're asking yourself, "why write this feature if you don't know anything about sports?" For starters, don't be so familiar. Secondly, I'm a very generous and giving person - it's just my nature. I feel that after years of painful experiences with sports - from being scrutinized for "throwing like a girl" (That's misogyny, by the way!) to being smashed in the head by a soccer ball and that movie Space Jam (Just the fact that it exists is an affront to everybody.) - it's important to return the favor to sports lovers. For each time you gave me a snide look because I was a nerd (And not a high school athlete and thus an inferred date rapist by default like yourself.), for each time you expected me to see your hackneyed Hollywood "true stories" about delinquents reformed through football, for each time you suggested I use my own legs to propel myself instead of levitating with my mind - this feature is for you.

Thus, we reach the meat of this first feature - the fall season. Everybody loves watching sports in the fall, hunched around their 1930s style scanning disc TVs. Except for perhaps the terrorists - apparently they're readers, and too good for our all-American television addiction. Our lives just wouldn't be complete without the regular crack of a baseball bat as old Ty Cobb scored a touchdown, or eagle, or whatever it is you pull off in baseball where you might not lose the game. Of course, here and there you'll find the odd individual, like myself, who never strapped on the oversized helmet of sports-addiction, the appeal of which continues to elude us. But if you play your cards right, you'll learn to blend into modern society as though it didn't matter that you skipped watching the big game because you had better things to do - like catching up with friends, reading a book, or watching paint dry, all of the above are more enriching than the average bout of televised sportification, after all.

Now, this would be a more stressful time of year for those of us less inclined to athletics if we actually cared. But indifference is a virus that threatens to destroy society as we know it unless something is done. It's not just your obligation, but your solemn duty to be a pain in the ass to the sports-lovers during their most prized of seasons. You weren't raised to tolerate their fondness for kinetic motion when their misery could be your pleasure! Don't give me any lip, that's the American way!

Now, finding joy in wrecking sports fans' days may seem like a daunting task - especially to those of you who like to think of themselves as "good" people (This will soon change. Empathy is a communist sentiment! You're not one of the reds, are you?) - but once you get the hang of these simple, little, every day behavior patterns, it'll be the easiest thing since passing a sobriety test! (If you pass it the right way, anyway - punching the cop and running away. They can't catch you if you believe they can't.)

1) Reference Canadian athletics whenever the topic comes up in the break room, coffee nook, or whatever booby-trapped little corner employees actually think they've escaped from big brother into when at work. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a preferable reference, as in most of America, they're considered more mythical than anything else. (Canadians, playing hockey! Yeah, right. Next, you'll be telling me Soccer's not its real name!) If you run into an individual who is well-versed in all things Canada, you should run away immediately, as if you're caught in their gaze, you'll be turned to stone immediately. If they're not a Canadian themselves, they're probably a sleeper cell, and you should report them to Homeland Security. (Or at least the writers of 24. Word is they've just about run out of Republican wet dreams to write about.)

2) Should someone try to drag you into a conversation about sports, there's a simple statement that, when made defiantly, can break up any and all athletic conversations within a matter of seconds. Whether they want to talk about skeet shooting, curling, or turbo-ice skating, cut them off with a single demand: "Who caught the Snitch!?" If the subject is a sport, there must be a Snitch, and you must know who caught it. (Warning: This method may not work on Harry Potter fans. In fact, to many fans of the boy wizard and his adventures, this is essentially a mating call. Carry a Klingon dictionary with you at all times to ward them off if need be.) This sends a single clear, concise message - that you don't know what they're talking about, and if you don't understand or care about these things, neither should anybody else. It's up to you to make it your personal lifetime goal to ruin anything and everything athletics-related around you. (If they try to ignore you, get more aggressive. If they try to make you back off, be sure to carry a bat you can brandish at a moment's notice - always held at the wrong end, that way they know you're crazy. No one fucks with a crazy person.)

3) Video games. Sometimes you'll encounter people playing sports games - particularly one celebrated by cultists on the Pagan holiday "Maddenoliday" every August when their software of choice gets a roster update. Should any such a fool attempt to coerce you into joining them in a round of their 1980s Jack Nicklaus PC golf simulator, demand to know if what they are playing is a game called "Battletoads." No matter what, be insistent. Battletoads will wear down their willpower in a matter of minutes, dissolving them into a puddle of goo that you can trade for an arrowhead on the black market. A little known trade secret.

4) Should anyone invite you to watch an actual athletic event with them, decline fervently. Should they press the issue, fake a seizure - bellowing outdated profanity as you do so only drives the point further home. If you're lucky, not only will they never invite you to anything sports-related, but they may, in fact, never so much as speak to you again. And once they've had that experience, they can't un-have it. The damage will have been done.

This is all you need to know for now, dear readers, as you fight the good fight in the crusade against others' simple pleasures that you may not share. I leave you with one last nugget of wisdom on this subject for the time being - should all the aforementioned methods be met with failure, begin wearing a full beard of bees at all times. It may drive away family, friends, and even lovers, but there is no method more effective in warding off physical-activity-mongers quite like a beard of bees. Those things have stingers, you know.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gaming Gone Green

For about as long as video games have existed - in fact, from the very first time many people first played Pong, I'd wager - people have used them as an exercise in killing things. Usually people. But this is only natural, after all, upon first finding out about such a form of entertainment, who wouldn't immediately think "Now how soon can I start the killing?" Of course, over the years, there've been countless complaints about violence in video games, ranging from "Pixelated blood in Mortal Kombat will destroy America's youth!" (A lot like D&D sure did too, eh?) to "I don't want my child playing Manhunt 2 so instead of being a good parent and paying attention to ESRB age rating labels, I don't want it out at all!"

There's a lot to be said about Manhunt 2 and the gaming media circus that revolved around it for months earlier this year. It's a testament to both how brilliant and disgusting the marketing team that orchestrated the whole fiasco at Rockstar Games is, having realized following the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" scandal, controversy sells. They pushed the ESRB too hard and got Manhunt 2 effectively banned through an AO (Adults Only) rating, which actually makes sense when you consider that the game itself is, at its core, all about murdering people through all sorts of horrific means. They protested, and gamers flipped out. Successfully manipulated into an outraged frenzy, they ranted against Nintendo for not allowing AO-rated games to be released on their hardware (And yet frequently gave Sony the pass, despite their not allowing AO games on their hardware either. Funny how that works.), and they ranted against the ESRB for doing their job. (After all, maintaining a good age rating system for game software is clearly a terrible idea, and secretly part of a plot to oppress gamers and ruin gaming - not protect the industry from politicians who don't realize that games exist for the whole gambit of demographics.) Then when the time came to hype a release, they easily edited the content ever so slightly as to be re-rated and brought down to an M (Mature) rating, locking in a Halloween release date for the game. Rather obviously cleverly orchestrated from the start to get the non-thinking gamer masses to rally behind the sequel to a fairly mediocre PS2 game that didn't make much of a splash, Rockstar deserves a nod for easily manipulating so much of the market. (And receiving little to no backlash for it from gamers, being amongst the few software developers who can get away with virtually anything in gamers' eyes - even playing them like fools.) But at the same time, they don't deserve much in the way of respect, largely in that this sort of well-crafted controversy only draws further ire from lawmakers with little understanding of gaming. It's the sort of activity that's essentially putting a bullseye right back on gaming, and that conveys a distinct lack of respect for the market as a whole as well.

The Manhunt 2 controversy also raised a common question - are video games art? The average video gamer, ever since this controversy, will give you an emphatic yes. But are they really art on average? No. Certainly, there's games with beautiful and imaginative artistic direction - Katamari Damacy, Okami, and Baten Kaitos, for example - but are these games art? On the whole, like most games, they make no particular meaningful statement. They're just gorgeous, fun games with interesting stories to tell. But rarely do games have a notable message or idea underlying the story. And far more are ultimately destructive than constructive by nature. Even the surreal cult hit Killer7 - one of the few video games truly worth regarding as a work of art in and of itself - relies on destruction to tell its story, through the eyes of an old assassin and his multiple personalities. The game made many notable statements about culture, politics, and the path humanity is on. However, very few listened to the messages it held - in part because of the extremely dense, trippy manner in which the story was told, and in part because it was a rail-based shooter, and plenty of gamers have an irrational hate for those these days. When you get down to it, though, most games have little to no artistic value at best.

Despite their efforts to shield their precious Manhunt 2 - on which precious little was revealed for a long time - from the onslaught of the "evil" ESRB, the game still isn't art. It's an unremarkable tale, like in the original, and like most Rockstar Games stories, that functions first and foremost as a means to murder people, and nothing more. This sort of thing is arguably detrimental to both gaming and culture alike, as there's a world of difference between their tongue-in-cheek crime sims that are the GTA games, and a humorless, straightforward murder simulator. Rather than supporting Rockstar blindly, we should be asking what this really says about us, and what we want in the gaming market, as if we don't police it ourselves, the government will eventually step in and do it for us, and we do ourselves no favors by antagonizing the ESRB over blind loyalty to a brand name.

Despite the prevalence of violent games, however, there are titles that manage to make far better themes fun - far more so than the violent game junkies would have you believe. (But many self-proclaimed "hardcore" gamers are far too narrow-minded to give any software a chance outside of the narrow established genre scope they enjoy. Everything else is either "kiddy," or an insult to them personally when those development costs could've been spent on making him another bloody shooter.) Natsume has enjoyed longstanding success since the 16-bit era with their Harvest Moon series, a fairly naturalistic, light-hearted franchise of cute farm simulators (Wherein playing as a young man or woman, you run a farm, raising animals, growing crops, befriending the local townspeople, and eventually getting married.), managing to keep each new installment of the series relatively fresh and fun, well over a decade since the series' emergence.

In 2002, Nintendo released Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube, a main entry in the Mario series that drew frustration from many fans in large part due to the feeling that a game where you utilized a water-pack on Mario's back to clean up a polluted island was somehow an open attack on their manhood. It makes one wonder where in the Man Guide it says we're supposed to be dirty, pro-pollution bastards. I must've missed that page. Regardless, it was a good game, with a notably positive theme to it, and gamers who looked past its environmentalistic leanings got a great, fun game out of it.

Now just over a week ago, Nintendo released Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol, the sequel to the cult hit Gamecube adventure game/house-cleaning sim, Chibi-Robo, on the DS. To say the least, Super Mario Sunshine pales in comparison to the environmentalist theme of Park Patrol, which has already begun to grate on the nerves of right-leaning gamers. (After all, by cleaning up a polluted park, our little four-inch metal hero is apparently an enemy of big business. It seems it's a failing of industry when it doesn't contribute all that it can to the death of our planet unimpeded.) The game focuses on a new model of the eponymous tiny robot, "Blooming Chibi-Robo," as it's tasked with restoring a wrecked park by growing flowers to restore the greenery, adding further plant life, and building little environmentally friendly attractions, while fending off the onslaught of the cheesily-named Sergeant Smogglor and his Smoglings. The game takes its eco-friendly leanings to new heights, with Chibi-Robo even being generating its own power in its Chibi-House, converting the happy points it earns from growing flowers to watts to power its battery and perform a variety of tasks. (If only it were so easy in real life.)

Though it's a fantastically addictive and enjoyable little sim with a good message behind it, Nintendo could've handled its release better. They launched it on, of all days, the same release date as the highly anticipated Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass DS game, and restricted its United States release to Wal-Mart. (For a variety of rather off-base reasons, no less, given that Wal-Mart's hardly a history as an eco-friendly company, let alone one that treats their employees well.) Regardless, if you're into gaming - and not fixated on violence in said medium - don't miss out on Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol. It's further proof that games with a good, thoughtful themes can be made without becoming preachy or dull edutainment masquerading as entertainment. And if we've learned anything about pollution from video games by now, it's that dumping waste can make tentacles turn evil.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Showing vs. Telling: The Dramatic Showdown

I'd say it's high time I wrote another writing-centric blog entry, don't you agree, internets? Quite right, quite right, just give me a minute to adjust my monocle and handlebar mustache here.

There we are.

Well then, let's get on with it, shall we? Now writers, writing instructors, students, and the rest of that general lot've been having quite the argument for some time now. This argument? It could only be the eternal question of "showing" versus "telling" when writing fiction. After all, clearly one must be better than the other, and those who opt to use the other are all, quite simply, wrong. It's easy to think that way, of course, when you've a few thousand bats in the old belfry, and processing more complicated thought - and writing - processes suddenly seem archaic, bourgeois, and without a doubt, too much work. We can't be wracking our brains over our wordosity now, can we? There's homeland security thrillers to write! Someone has to cash in on the popularity of terror talk these days, after all.

So you see, I called you all here today to discuss this very subject - and also to solve that murderer, but I'm certain that by now we're all in agreement that it couldn't be anyone but Colonel Mustard. Isn't that right, Professor Plum? But I digress.

This showing and this telling, these are words - particularly when forced to square off against one another in a cage match, as they often are - that cause any writer worth their salt quite the headache, for in essence, this argument only dumbs down the entire craft of fiction writing. The craft itself, after all, is far more elaborate than merely being a matter of one or the other. At best, you'd weave both of these gross generalizations together, then cast them aside in the name of your own personal style - you do want to write something meaningful, after all, do you not? At worst, you'll write something entirely one-dimensional, that comes across as though it were written by a high school or college student. And this never-ending struggle of the showing and the telling is often imparted by writing instructors - do not be fooled! It is a lie. It is a trap. It is a guideline that far too many who seek to become better writers take to heart, when it is their heart itself that should guide their hand as they articulate their thoughts in the absurdity of language. Mind you, this author believes we should have cast off words long ago and instead learned to communicate by rhythmically slapping our knees - like all geniuses, you'll look back upon me someday and think to yourselves "That lad was far ahead of his time." But by then, you'll have reduced language to making motorboat noises with your mouthes. For shame.

Granted, simpler, lesser-dimensional writing has its place on the market - and many who make their passion working with words do fall prey to avarice, upon tasting success in the mainstream market - you wouldn't have to look far to find less than spectacular literature on bookstore shelves and bestseller lists. As in all fields, quality and popularity are quite the different beasts. Regardless of success, however, a lack of depth does not good writing - let alone storytelling - make. By that token, you'd think you could make a killing writing children's books, considering all the crap people foist on the young ones - just this past week on The Daily Show, John Oliver talked to authors trying to indoctrinate children with hatred for liberals and conservatives while they're far too young to understand what that even means. But even those fellows have come under heavy fire for try to do just that. Perhaps the conservative author's next book will focus on teaching children to support murder companies like Blackwater over those dirty heathens who don't believe in Jesus who dared to cross their path. Of course cutting them down in a hail of gunfire was the correct response. According to the last memo I got, civility and sympathy are now unamerican - and top indicators that you might just be a member of Al-Qaeda. But then, so is the right's mantra about everything human these days.

Ultimately, chiding someone to "show," not "tell," in their writing is simply something said by people unable to differentiate between bad writing with a good story to tell, and a good story being told through quality writing. (And bad stories with quality writing certainly exist too. Many never take the time to sit down and ask themselves, "is this worth writing?" And to ask it while not looking at potential for publishing and sales, but into their heart.) Everyone has to start somewhere. And "show, don't tell" is little more than an easy catchphrase to remember. The best writers know when and how to best do each. And everyone else? Turkeys, the whole lot of 'em. Where did that voice I started writing in go? Oh well.

Don't you all just love it when a writer writes about the craft, and in the process does nothing but talk down to any and all potential readers as though they were recovering from a brain embolism?