[Rerun] Non-Gamers Just Don't Get Gamers

This one, written in 2004, was lost with a prior iteration of Popehat; I was inspired to dig it up from another site when I noticed someone following a now-dead link from Kotaku to find it. It concerns "Saga of Ryzom," a MMORPG (that is, for non-gamers, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing game, like World of Warcraft) that went off-line for good early this year. Here it is, after the jump:

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[rerun] Interview Month

Ah, Autumn. The smog takes on a golden hue here in Los Angeles, the birds fall from the trees, and the graffiti combines the festive colors of the season with the bright-eyed eagerness of students returning to class. “Wrd up Mutha! Frankie!” Ah, word up indeed, Frankie, word up indeed.

And with it comes interview season — my chance to eat gourmet food for free, drink to excess, and play head games so cruel and intrusive that they would make Hannibal Lecter take me off his Christmas card list. [Read more…]

[rerun] Forget it, Babe, it's CHINATOWN!

Today I was unexpectedly cheered by a truckload of dead pigs.

I needed cheering up. I was not designed to wrangle two cranky toddlers to two day care centers in the rain on a day in which I am trying to give up the demon caffeine again. Danger girl hit howling boy with some train track (one of the 8″ lengths, which lets you get more leverage into it) and was enraged to be sent to time out for two minutes. Howling boy demanded a bagel with cream cheese, refused to eat it, and then went all China Syndrome when it was taken away from him upon leaving the house. Daddy’s Lexus is a toddler-wielded-cream-cheese-free zone, thankyouverymuch. Jackets were thrust upon struggling arms like said toddlers were the Joker being dragged back to Arkham in a straightjacket, the protection of umbrellas was ignored, puddles were jumped upon, and other atrocities against Daddy’s morning equilibrium were committed.

So by the time I fought rainy-day L.A. traffic, wondering if there is a patch or gum for caffeine addicts, I was a little on edge. I cut off the freeway on San Fernando to take a short cut through Lincoln Heights and the north edge of the city, which eventually takes me on Broadway through Chinatown.

And there, on Broadway in the heart of Chinatown, in front of Sam Woo’s BBQ and just a few doors from the unmatched Yang Chow, I saw the truck. It was a big, dirty panel truck painted some long forgotten color turned muddy brown in the rain. The rear door was open, and very nearly spilling from the truck was a cornucopia of dead pigs. A stocky Chinese man was carrying a dead pig matter-of-factly over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes into Sam Woo’s. The pigs had all been prepared for display or consumption, intact but for their insides scooped neatly out from the chest and belly, making them look like a hollow child’s toy. There must have been at least 50 of them piled unceremoniously in the back of the truck, limbs splayed, tongues protruding. Some will hang in the window of Sam Woo’s, others will be visibly chopped apart in the open kitchen for the various pork dishes on Sam’s tempting menu.

Why did this cheer me up? It’s hard to explain, but it made me think about how it is a good thing that we are different, and that we have a chance to interact with people who are different. As a rule, mainstream American society is squeamish about food and death. We’ve drifted far from what frontier roots we had, and now expect our food packaged, rendered mostly unidentifiable and therefore (to our minds) sanitary. Many of us would be freaked out by seeing the pig we are about to eat in recognizable pig form; some of us freak out at the notion of choosing a fish or lobster from a tank at a restaurant. Aside from rural cultures where eating what you shoot is still celebrated, we seem to prefer to think that the flesh we eat is carved from some immense sanitary and inanimate block processed in a factory.

Is this an inherently bad thing? Not necessarily. Ironically, it may move us away from tolerance for unnecessary cruelty to food animals; as we move further away from the reality of how our food is prepared, we may lose familiarity and therefore acceptance of its unpleasant side.

But I like that we can find easy access to cultures that take a completely different approach. In Chinatown I can see the dead animals my food comes from hanging in windows. I can eat crispy shrimp with heads and legs still on, looking like actual sea creatures and not like undifferentiated lumps of protein. I can talk to people who see food, and its preparation, and its cultural significance, completely differently than I do. I can take my kids and show them that the way they and their friends live day to day life is not the only way to live, and that there are endless possibilities. That’s why the pigs cheered me up.

Also, I find live pigs irritating.

[rerun] Why I am a bad person

I am a bad person. I can’t watch kids’ TV shows the way they are supposed to be watched.

I know that I could once. I could sit there, disbelief suspended, rudimentary logic turned off, mouth agape, and just accept it. I could do this even into adulthood. I wasn”t even stoned.

But not any more. Now, they just cheese me off.

I mean, look at Sesame Street. Can the adults stop mugging for the camera for one freaking moment? It’s as painful as a mid-season replacement sitcom featuring Tony Danza.

And why are some of these Sesame Street characters so beloved? Let’s start with Ernie. Ernie —- and I mean this is the nicest way possible —- is an asshole. He may mean well, but he’s obnoxious and inconsiderate. He’s always waking Bert up playing the trumpet or singing songs. He’s always getting in Bert’s space. I suppose you can’t expect much better when you pick a rubber fetishist for a roommate, but you have to admire Bert’s patience. I think after one week with Ernie he’d vanish and I’d be walking around in a new felt hat.

And Elmo. Don”t get me started on Elmo. First of all, if my three-year-old constantly refers to himself in the third person, has elaborate dialougues with doors, window shades, and a fish, and frequently receives command hallucinations from animate fruit, I won”t be heaving an oh-how-cute sigh. I will be taking him to the Price Club to see if they have Thorazine in bulk.

Second, what the hell is up with his friends? Hey, Children’s Television Workshop: I have news for you about Mr. Noodle and his brother, Mr. Noodles. If two middle-aged men with some sort of organic brain damage who frequently show up in their underwear are trying to hang out with my toddler, my response is not insouciant laughter. My response is long and painful conversations with the kid using anatomically correct props, calls to the police, and surreptitious checks to see if my Glock is loaded with hollow-points.

And finally, it just sucks that everyone can see Snuffy now. Way to piss all over my childhood, you bastards.

And then there’s Bob. Bob the Builder, my son’s latest non-sexual crush. Let me start with that frigging scarecrow, Spud. They are trying to make Spud cute and mischievous. They missed: he’s a bleeding sociopath. If I were Bob, about the ninth or tenth time Spuds spilled the paint or knocked over the ladder or hooked Scoop to Travis’ trailer hitch, I’d take him aside and quietly explain that people made of straw and old clothes should not irritate people with a complete set of acetylene torches.
And what the hell is wrong with Lofty? His cringing-dog thing really harshes my mellow. I don’t see why Bob and Wendy don’t take him back to the dealership and trade him in for a piece of heavy equipment without such crushing self-esteem issues.

Finally, we come to the Wiggles. First, I must emphasize that I am a progressive person and have no problem with a quartet of men in their thirties who live together, dress in bright uniforms, and are relentlessly cheerful and well groomed. I am fond of surrealism, in its place, and thus have no issues with the fact that they frequently dance with a dog, an octopus, and a dinosaur at the same time. I recognize that while drug humor is normally in poor taste, an exception can me made here. I am not even threatened by the spectacle of Captain Feathersword, a grown man who dresses up like a pirate in a girly blouse and carries a ‘feathersword’ that looks suspiciously like a mail-order marital aid. I have only one request for the Wiggles: please come here and let me explain how I feel about the percentage of my brain now occupied by your songs. That’s right. Come closer. Lean this way. This won’t hurt a bit.

You have to believe me: I don’t want to be like this. I’m just a bad person.

[rerun] Gamers are different

So last night about 8:00 I stop at our local Baja Fresh to pick up some dinner. I don’t particularly want Mexican food, but I’m atoning for working late and missing out on helping putting the munchkins to bed — they have been particularly hyper.

I pull into our shopping center and see a large and distinctly motley crowd on the sidewalk next to Baja Fresh. At first I think it is something political, possibly a disaffected-and-poorly-dressed-youth-for-Nader rally or something. But then I see they are all standing in front of our local GameStop. I don’t go in there much because I am not a console boy and they have segregated their pathetic few PC games to a single narrow shelf space in the back. But they are not suffering for want of my business tonight. There must be a good 40 people crowded in front of the store, in a sort of not-line line, all looking expectantly at the door, which is open and guarded by a GameStop employee who would last about three seconds if they rushed him. [Read more…]

[rerun] Ken 0, Garage Door 1

So last night I bought my first nice car. Actually, technically, the first car I ever bought. I used a cast-off from my Mom in college, took over payments on a car from my Dad after law school, and drove that car until now. It’s a ‘96 Honda Accord Anniversary edition — “Anniversary Edition” being code for “we’re stripping everything modern or nice off this motherfucker so we can sell it cheap.” In other words, no power windows, doors, or anything, an interior that appeared to be made of courderoy and the sort of plastic they make Pez dispensers out of, etc. But it was a reliable car and held up for 8 good years with nary a complaint.

But we finally decided that I needed a new car. For a long time I looked at the Toyota Avalon — roomy as all hell and comfy. I need lots of room for two car seats in the back. Then Katrina pointed out that the car is basically a Buick with a Toyota logo slapped onto it. It’s astonishingly stodgy for a Toyota. It probably has some sort of attachment that pulls your pants up to your armpits and an auto-Thesarus for assisting you in complaining about kids these days.

So I got my first nice car — a Lexus ES 330 SportDesign edition. It rocks. I’m going to spend a month figuring out all the cool little features. This morning I entertained the grumpy kids on the way to daycare by opening and closing the sunroof for ten minutes. It feels extravagant, but I figure I’ve been a senior associate or special counsel at a big firm for four years now and am entitled. After all, all the little first-year lawyer twerps tool around in their Porsche boxters and Mercedes kiddie-cars. It was a bit embarrassing to be in my battered and scratched 8 year old Honda with two car seats in the back and a year of trash in the passenger footwell. Somehow I feel more adult. I do not yet feel as if my penis is any bigger, but based on the promotional material, I’m sure that will happen at any time.

So where does the titular pwnage come in? Well, last night we get home with the new car, put Katrina’s minivan in the garage, and send the baby sitter home. Then we get down to installing the car seats in the new car. Katrina takes one out of the back of the minivan, leaving the back hatch open. The back hatch, I might add, has a scratch from the time that I closed the garage door with it open — the minivan is so big that when the hatch is open it gets in the way of the garage door.

So we finish with the car seat and decide to program the little button on the console that opens or closes your garage door. Katrina reads the manual and talks me through it. I hold the garage door control next to the button as instructed and press it. There is a loud CRUNCHCRUNCHCRUNCHSCREEEEECH. We look up and see that we have forgotten that the minivan hatch is open and the minivan and garage door are in a death struggle.

I stop pressing the button.

I go and survey the damage. Let me put it this way: the minivan won. There is a new but modest scratch on the minivan hatch. But the garage door is utterly tweaked. Four of the little posts connecting the door to its tracks have popped out, the cable has twisted around the shaft and tangled, and two panels have buckled.

So I try to fix it. Yes, me. We get the minivan out first and then give it a shot. I try to fit the little posts back into the tracks on which they roll. I am quickly covered by about a quart of grease which lathers all this equipment like a bad porno video. Several of the flanges used to connect the posts to the door are bent. The panels look irreparably bent. The cable is unsalvageable. After a half hour of hammering and cursing, I give up and decide just to close the door and call a repairman.

Here comes the pwnage.

I try to pull the thing down manually. It doesn’t budge, and I get dirtier and cut my thumb. I pull the manual release and try again. Still nothing. Finally, I pull the manual release so hard I hear something snap, grab the door, and pull with all my still-considerable-even-after-South-Beach weight. There is a THUDCRUNCHSKREEEEEE and the damn door comes hurtling at me like a guillotine. So I roll out of the way. Like, in Lethal Weapon II, you remember when Mel Gibson nimbly rolls to the ground and tumbles under a closing garage door? Exactly unlike that. I drop like a sack of potatoes and lurch out of the way, limbs spavined and flailing like a frog corpse electrified in biology class, making a noise intended to be a manly shout of warning but sounding more like somebody’s maiden aunt finding a mouse in her purse. The door doesn’t crush me, but kind of smacks me for my trouble as I fall out of the way. I hit my head on the pavement, rip my pants, and bloody my elbow. I sit up and put my head in my hands, trying to get my bearings, leaving two beautiful full handprints in dark grease on either side of my face. This grease, by the way, refuses to fade completely, no matter how hard and painfully I scrub or how hot the water I use is. It’s still faintly there, in the middle of the ruin of my scalded and over-scrubbed face. I look like a politician who spent a week sleeping on the street in a sandstorm as penance for an ill-advised recent appearance in blackface.


[rerun] Men Are Pigs

I have a specific example to support that; I’m not just speaking in the abstract.

This weekend I coveted a cartoon character. A cartoon character at a little girl’s third birthday party. No, I am not a sick freak. I am a man.

The cartoon character in question was Dora the Explorer. Now normally Dora is simply not my type. She’s a little kid, first of all, and I’m not the King of Pop or anything. Plus, she consorts with monkeys wearing boots and lives in a jungle, so I’m pretty sure she has some exotic diseases. Also, she’s pretty wound up with her daily adventures with finding her way around this jungle with a map and her magic backpack and avoiding a kleptomaniac fox (apparently of some breed of fox that lives in the jungle) and speaking about as much Spanish as my Dad ordering more chips at the local Mexican place. So there’s just no chemistry is what I am saying. [Read more…]

[rerun] Wiggles Induce Vomiting

Some people say it isn’t a real rock concert experience unless someone pukes at the end.

But I’m pretty sure these people are not talking about Wiggles concerts.

Yesterday we took the kids to the Universal Amphitheatre to see the Wiggles, Australia’s most popular export among two-to-four-year olds, fans of relentlessly cheerful clean cut young men in bright costumes, and command hallucination aficionados. It went about as well as you would expect.

Evan and Abby were a little uncertain, and spent much time in laps with thumbs in their mouths. They both perked up a little bit when the Wiggles sang the song “Shake your hips like Wags the Dog.” Thus in the span of half a century, conduct that would get you censored on the Ed Sullivan show becomes fodder for the amusement of the preschool set. Evan eventually danced a bit and even did some of the many complex arm movements required by the various songs (I’m pretty sure Henry the Octopus was vogueing), interspersed with returning to the lap or attempting to climb into the next row. Abby spent most of the 75 minutes trying to escape, screaming about not being permitted to escape, or jumping up and down repeatedly in Katrina’s lap.

We were in the balcony, but could still see and hear the show pretty well. It’s not like you’re going to miss any subtle facial expressions or a stage whisper like in an Ibsen play or something. What they mostly do is jump up and down and sing and talk about jumping up and down and singing. They also shout at Jeff a lot. Jeff is the Wiggle whose entire dramatic purpose is to fall asleep so that everyone can shout for him to wake up. I don’t know what kind of legal protections are offered in Australia, but I’m pretty sure that if you have narcalepsy in America, “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act would not include getting everyone in the office to scream at you simultaneously.

Despite our nosebleed seats, we actually got to see two Wiggles very close up – both Jeff and Murray came upstairs and plowed through the audience, even walking through our row. I guess this is the kid-concert equivalent of mosh pit diving. I can report reliably that they look the same up close. I can also reliably report this previously unknown fact about Wiggles: they are extremely sweaty people.

Here we see the stage. The illusion of a fission reaction is created by the lousy camera on my Treo 650. You could actually see the Wiggles and Wags and such.

Here we see one of the big side screens. One of the challenges in getting a toddler to appreciate a stage show with big TV screens is that toddlers are conditioned to watch the screen instead of any nearby action. That’s why I can safely doze on the couch while Evan and Abby watch Thomas the Tank Engine without them getting too grossed out over my drool. So I had to prod Evan constantly to watch the people on stage rather than the big TV screens showing the people on stage. I’d say, “Those are the real people, Evan, whereas the TV screen only shows digital representations of those people. As Magritte would say, ‘ceci n’est pas un Wiggle.’” Evan, impervious to turn-of-the-century French artistic philosophy, mostly watched the screens instead. Oh, that doesn’t bode well if we wanted to get him into a good Santa Monica preschool.

We escaped midway through a finale that was dragging on like a Liza Minelli farewell tour. It was about 6:30, past normal dinnertime for the kids. We thought, let’s look at the restaurants over here at the edge of Universal Citywalk. What could go wrong? [cue dramatic approaching-doom-music, like they use on The West Wing when a Republican comes onscreen.]We chose a mega-touristy chop house with a stupendously belabored cowboy/ranch theme. The waiters and waitresses, all dressed Ambercrombie meets Bonanza and all looking like they just came from a casting call for The OC, led us to a table on the outside dance floor. Pluses: music videos blaring from the TVs meant we could relax about the whole “indoor voice” thing. The choice of videos was curious for a cowboy restaurant. Is Billy Idol a cowboy?

We ordered. Huge but watered-down drinks arrived, as did rolls and a quesadilla to amuse the kids. We plied the kids with lemonade. Strolling cowboy guitar players appeared – sort of a cowboy equivalent of a mariachi band – and played the “Spider Man” song at Evan’s request, resulting in one of the more surreal moments of a life full of them. The guitar players, like the chiseled waiters and waitresses, looked a little put off by the Wiggles horde that had descended on the restaurant – they ran out of high chairs and did not appear to be prepared to handle toddler table manners.

So, now we get to the barfing promised in the lede. Why did Abby boot all over? It might be she is fighting a little cold. It might be the lemonade we gave her was too tart. It might when the quesedilla appetizer arrived, she swiped the little bowl of salsa and ate most of it with her hands. Anyway, boot she did, aplenty.

One might think that the volume of vomit is limited by the physical size of the toddler. But there is more vomit in a toddler than is dreampt of in your philosophies, Horatio. Toddlers are not constrained by the laws of physics, God, or man. Abby hurled repeatedly. Katrina attempted, in a classic parenting I’ll-throw-myself-on-the-grenade-Sarge manner, to catch most of it in napkins, wipes, place mats, bread baskets, and eventually her pants. Fortunately, we were finished with dinner at that point, and fortunately with the din of the videos and the distance between the dance-floor tables the other customers did not seem too repulsed. We beat a hasty retreat.

On the way home, Evan rather sadly remarked that we would not be allowed to return to that restaurant.

[rerun] I have no mouse and I must scream

Day One: In Which We Pay For a Three-Room Suite, But Someone Sleeps In the Bathroom Anyway

I did my part for the economy last weekend. I took my family on a three-day trip to Disneyland. Not only did we spend a hideous amount on a hotel, tickets, mostly bad food, and souvenirs, but I think the experience will result in the employment of mental-health professionals, psychotropic pharmaceutical manufacturers, and distillers for the next half-century or so. [Read more…]

[rerun] Not that there's anything wrong with that

Barbie is the author of my son’s anguish.

That bitch.

See, we’ve been trying to get Abby interested in potty-training.  Evan was doing pretty well at it by about two and three-quarters, but Abby at two and a half hasn’t shown any interest.  I suspect that because she sees me evenings and weekends lounging on the couch like the Dauphin of the beached whales, she figures it’s perfectly reasonable to maintain a system in which she craps herself whenever and wherever she feels like it.

So Katrina bought some Barbie underwear to entice her.  Big girl underwear!  You can wear it!  Look how pretty!  Just as soon as you start to potty train!  We figured we would put it over the diapers for a while until she got with the program.

She’s still not interested.  She’s really not a terribly Barbie-ponies-hair-ribbons-frilly-dress type of girl.  She’s more the girl you meet in the bar and make a rude comment to and then she kicks you in the nads and you wake up in the parking lot in a pool of your own vomit with two black eyes and your eyebrows shaved off.  Or she will be, I think.

So she was not moved by the Barbie underwear.

But Evan was.

Evan saw the Barbie underwear and demanded it.  No, explained Katrina, this is girl’s underwear.  You have your Bob the Builder and Spider-Man underwear and Thomas the Tank Engine underwear. 

Evan explained, using a tone of voice adults reserve for car crashes and getting genitals caught in their zippers, that he wanted the Barbie underwear.  Katrina explained that they don’t make Barbie underwear for boys.  Evan, using both voice and a form of communication resembling break-dancing, expressed his displeasure with this gender inequity.

Evan has expressed an interest in female clothing before.  He’s stretched his sister’s fairy princess outfit out of shape.  He wears his mother’s shoes.  I’ve been assured by friends with older sons that this is typical.  And, really, I’m a modern man, and it doesn’t bother me.  Does it?

Meanwhile, I’m going to buy some G.I. Joe underwear and convince him that Joe is actually Barbie in drag.