Monday, December 27, 2010

Questionable Bios

Bios, as in the tiny biographies that magazines give contributors or blogs give their bloggers when you click 'About ...'
  • When not completing his collection of WWII hand grenade pins, Steve can be found volunteering his time with 'Explode This!', an interactive, hands on pyrotechnics demonstration for kids 1-4.
  • Fran takes her obsession with size-exclusion chromatography to pretty daring extremes, but not so much as to interfere with her career, a receptionist at Duluth's 16th highest grossing Century 21 office.
  • Travis enjoys his school marching band, being co-sub-captain of the Junior co-ed cheer squad, and taking all comers in his travelling full-contact "Octagon of Terror" (touring most of Norther Florida's retirement communities),
  • Marilyn's other hobby is sharpening steak knives, often not her own, and usually without anyone knowing.
  • Stamford says his most prized isolated pure virus is a variant of E. Bola he has secured with  patent-pending isolation  methodologies. He also breeds ficuses.
  • Besides being North America's foremost amateur expert in corn-husk and maize-silk based rope knotting, Kathleen is also Kansas's main importer of betel-nut and betel-nut accessories.
  • "Trendsetters!" 1987 annual issue named Jain the "One To Watch In Stand Alone Vending Machine Supply and Service", he hasn't looked back since.
  • Roger is the senior editor and owner of "Sticklers for Stickers", North America's premier magazine for sticker misprint enthusiasts since 1998.
  • Fazz also teaches jazzerskating at her local home studio. Still accepting students for the 2011 term.
  • You can buy Dr. Bioplanack's self-published book, "Taxonomy Ain't Just For Animals!' at Amazon.
  • Janet also is an avid horse jumper, horse groomer, horsefeed custom mixologist, horse tack adjuster, and horse shoer. She loves to keep her work varied and cites Leonardo as a kindred spirit.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Family Letter 2010

Another year has passed and that means another torrid and spicy family drama wrapped in the infamous Owl Family Christmas Letter. Maybe not torrid, and perhaps not entirely spicy, but certainly without the more earthy odours familiar to any parent who's kid has switched to solid food.

Owl Jr. is now almost two. TWO! His soberness and infinite sadness continue unabated. I do so hope he doesn't reserve that look just for me (however well-founded it may be). He's starting to speak. Not in any way or form that might be recognizable as such, and not in any way that might be measured in relation to others of his age, unless others of his age call everything 'Ma-Ma', 'Da-Da', or “CHOO CHOO”; especially “Choo Choo”. He's very much into locomotives and rail centered conveyances. I suspect it's because we're not allowed to expose them to more interesting and edifying things, like ninjas, robots, ninja robots, and perhaps vikings. He's a happy camper, more or less, going from Eeyore to Tigger in about the space it takes you to go for his armpits. He looks somewhat like I did when I was his age: morose, serious, and entirely Japanese.

He's not a picky eater. He'll eat anything that has fallen from the tree or bush (veggies or fruits), or, paradoxically, lunchmeats (that unholy alliance of stomach lining, advanced food preservation chemistry, and cow lips). He's an enigma, a mystery.

He's very mobile now, going up and down stairs like handrails are a luxury (in our case, non-existent) and gravity not quite the enemy. But generally he's to be found under some table or chair, quiet, playing with one of his many trains, or pretending whatever he has in hand is a train (books, teddy-bears, day-old macaroni).

There's not much more to say about him, except that he's developed this nearly Woody The Woodpecker type laugh, except quieter, and perhaps slightly less maniacal.

Owlet is a whole four years and change now. Her favourite punctuation is the question mark, her favourite things in life being TV or bargaining. Usually the bargaining to get more TV, so perhaps we should just say her favourite thing is TV but then we might appear even more remiss as parents. She has a bright future as a SWAT negotiator or TV critic, perhaps some sort of amalgam of the two.

She's still firey, perhaps more so. She has an expressiveness that easily matches Owl Jr.' lack thereof, and several pretty hilarious misconceptions about pretty much anything. As a pre-schooler, that's her right. As her parents, it's our right to listen to her and not correct her. Mind you, it might be because some of these misconceptions were planted in there by us (chocolate makes you shrink) and are useful to keeping her healthy; if it happens to be entertaining as well, so be it.

When not asking questions and being just generally very firey, she'll attempt to start talking about something. She's incredibly adept at starting to talk about something. “Dadda, when I was a.. when I was... Dadda, when I was a... when... I.. a little gi... Dadda, dadda, I have to tell you something, when I was a little girl”. It's funny, written down like this. But at the end of a long day, it's like Chinese water torture if the water was replaced with mercury and the torture was forever.

She's discovered the joys of drawing sea monsters, robots, and aliens, curious how she got to drawing those. I certainly had nothing to do with it.

Knock-knock jokes are a huge favourite for her. And for us, because rarely does she actually understand how the first bit and the second bit come together and you end up with a masterpiece of absurdist humour, “Knock knock,.Who's there? Banana. Banana who? Aren't you glad I didn't say orange?” I choose to believe she's doing this on purpose. She does, however, know how to do the 'interrupting cow' knock knock joke to perfection, and well, her parents are cheap laughs.

She's noticing Molly a lot more now, trying to give her commands, making note that she's the “cutest dog in the whole wide world”. Molly continues to base her affection in direct proportion to how much meat Owlet has on her plate at the moment.

This is her last year of pre-school. Next term (2011 September) she starts 5 days a week kindergarten. I assume they need more time to get into the trickery fingerpainting, the lesser used crayons, and perhaps some neon Play-Doh™, I'm not sure.

Owl Jr. and Owlet continue to get along famously. When not ignoring each other or making each other laugh they are making each other scream (sometimes out of fun (I'm not sure how screaming has been associated with fun, for them, but there it is), mostly out of frustration). They do seem to care about each other a whole lot. Most disagreements arise because Owl Jr. can't see why he has to wait to play with something just because Owlet happens to be holding it. Owlet is invariably the put-upon party, since she's learned such things as 'sharing' and 'mine', while Owl Jr., noble savage that he is, is blissfully unfettered by such ideas.

They like making forts together, and sometimes just taking turns screaming and laughing at each other which is something that goes quickly from adorable to 'how can I cover my ears inconspicuously'.

Molly is still going to work. She's far too friendly to new people who come into our office but that keeps me from having to do small talk, which is a relief to all parties, let me tell you.

I'm still where I was last year. My rut is extraordinarily homey, thanks for asking.

At some point during the summer I took a weekend and went to NYC to see some friends. It was hot, it was fun, and I wasn't mugged above seven times. I'm told it's because I kept to all the touristy areas. The Chrysler Center, Central Park, and other land marks are just as you imagined them, as long as you add about thirty times more tourists and ensure it's hotter than a malfunctioning bathhouse in the third circle of Hell.

Mrs. Owl is still working part time at a long term care facility. The old people are still old, I'm told, the pleasantly confused are still both, as well. During the summer she took a weekend to go to Vegas with her friends. She's since asked me what a 'lien' is, and I don't know, and I assume it's not related to the Vegas trip. Or choose to believe.

And that's all the news that's fit to cram into a Christmas letter, in all its torrid, spicy glory.

Best wishes for you and yours, and may the new year find you as this year has hopefully found you: healthy and wealthy and wise.

Owl Family (Mrs. Owllle, Niteowl, Owlet, Owl Jr. & Molly) Christmas 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Magnadoodle

Owlet has this doodle pad, it works with magnets somehow. You use a magnetic pen and you draw stuff, and when you're done, you erase it with another magnet. Owlet enjoys making sea-monsters and aliens and robots and all sorts of things that I'm sure I had NO hand in putting in her head.

We've taken to doing these things collaboratively, each adding a bit more. I used to draw a bit in elementary, jet-packed leopards with flamethrowers, aardvarks with rocket launchers, the usual stuff. Ok, maybe not usual, maybe the product of a war-and-apparently-zoo-obsessed 10 year old, but, no letters to home, so it's all above board.

In any case, I enjoy these collaborative efforts: sea monsters look something like the Loch Ness, with added various eye-stalks, claws, flippers, jaws, and tentacles; robots are generally squares with other square like things added on, invariable jet wings, or something of the sort; aliens are more humanoid, lots of antennae, and, well, overlap alot with sea monsters.

So we'll add and add and tweak and at some point Owlet feels like the monster/alien/robot might be a bit cold and gives them a sweater, more or less blacking out a large part of the body. We know what's under there, and I guess that's what matters.

Anyhow, after veritably minutes of work, she'll just kinda shrug and pull the eraser across the board. I always catch myself being surprised. We toiled over that creation. Poured together our limited and infantile imagination into every tentacle and misplaced jet engine! I never cease to be even more impressed by how zen Owlet is about the whole enterprise. Complete detachment. Or maybe I"m just looking too far into these things.

She'll be drawing over-armed aardvarks in no time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oz

Went to a friend/coworkers place for a Christmas work dinner type thing. Good company, food, and the many, many kids didn't leave lasting scars on each other, so, a success in my book. There was a Secret Santa with all the excitement and bubbling enthusiasm that free loot tends to engender and the kids were relatively happy about what they got, or well-bred enough not to make obvious their bitter disappointment.

What was interesting was realizing how far I've come, well, how far anyone comes when they hit adulthood. Doubly so when you have kids and you see how excited they are about the whole thing and its stark contrast to your own mild enthusiasm.

For me it's become a thing to endure. Hopefully something I can make memorable for my brood. Christmas magic and all that. Christmas songs, eggnog, turkey, Christmas cookies and what have you. But I'm far beyond being in the moment, the suspended magic of it. Because, well, I have a bloody mortgage don't I? And responsibilities, and don't see how cool a train set is, and usually think of it in relation to how it fits the family budget.

So. It's sobering. Looking at them have their fun. It's great, it makes me smile, I enjoy seeing them enjoy themselves, but I'm never going to get that place they are now.

Course, I can eat as much Christmas chocolate as I want and drink gallons upon gallons of egg-nog without having to give the what for to anyone except perhaps my cardiologist or coroner, which was the Great Freedom I yearned for when i was a child. I could also walk into a Toys R Us and literally buy anything I wanted for myself, now that I don't find any of it remotely interesting. Odd, life.

The dinner was on an island, and we took a water taxi out there. A boat. It's about a 25 minute ride, going out there was choppy as heck, but fun in its own way. Coming back it was pretty smooth, except somewhere near the end where I was starting to calculate how long I could tread water in near freezing water while keeping my kids afloat. Not long.

One was asleep, one didn't even notice we were more pitching at 45 degree angles than merely hitting chop. I'm a worrisome sort, so maybe the other parents didn't think much of it, but if they did, and I imagine they did, it seems like another thing about adulthood. Being the wizard behind the curtain, aware of how all things works (gifts, Santa, possibility of drowning and hypothermia enroute to home), knowing about the bitter realities, worrying about the horrifying consequences, but making no note of it, shouldering it, keeping on.

Mind you, the roast beef was quite good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Not That Impressive

It doesn't matter what sort of restaurant you go to: the chic one with glass everywhere and the vague impression that the interior designer might have had a short but meaningful fling with slight, well-manicured Japanese man; those BBQ places that aren't really so much BBQ as they are the end product of some highly efficient de-graded beef and chemical food delivery process that would put Mussolini's railway to shame; a small cafe at some long abandoned highway town where the main ingredient in all the food, even the fruit bowl (especially the fruit bowl) is pork fat; one of those chipper new 'hip' restaurants that's just a front for one of those older restaurant chains that you could have sworn had given up the ghost to marching progress and the vagaries of the every changing and fickle North American palate; Dennys.

It really doesn't matter.

There's always a cadre of servers who have, through choice or fate, made that job their life. For good. And for some reason it's the majority opinion of them that taking the order by memory is the bestest, most impressive way to get a big fat tip.

It's not.

It's the best fastest way to get me all anxiety laden, and ineveitably, smirky and self-righteous when you bring me the Moons Over My Hammy rather than the small Coke and apple pie I ordered. This might just be a confirmation bias, it may be that all these servers who shirk from a pen and paper like economists from basic ecological theory, are, in fact, better. But my anxiety of you messing up my order is, objectively, ruining my experience.

And I feel bad for them of course. Them and their mortification for having messed up my simple order of  the 'the bacon burger,that's it, just the bacon burger, fries', as if this thing doesn't happen every goddamn day. And how could it not? It's precisely because my orders are so boring, and of course, I naturally exude boring myself, that my order would be as memorable as a Democrat's stump speech.

And I'm sorry for that.

But please. For the love of my very severe craving for a BLT and not, say, a Cobb salad, please write down my damn order.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Herculean Achievements And Other Small Miracles Part II

I'm not sure where the obsession with trains comes from, but it seems to be universal for kids of a certain age. Thus we have Thomas The Train Engine and Chugginton and those wooden train tracks sold by everyone from Ikea to Toys R Us. Then there are the other incarnations, train rides in shopping centres on small electric carts kitted out to look like 19th-century steam engines, outdoor gasoline-powered mini-trains manned by former engineers and those who have taken their hobby far too seriously.

You don't notice it until you have a little boy or girl who goes absolutely ballistic at the first sign of anything that goes on a track. It's the Blue Car Syndrome with multi-ton uni-directional transport vehicles. Owlet is fairly far past it, but Owl Jr. is deep in the throes of this near pathological mental disability. On the merest hint of one, he drops whatever he was doing (invariably, playing with a small train) and shouts out "CHOO CHOO!", then looks around to see if, perhaps, one has snuck up behind him, or behind me. (A meerkat like response that is much like Owlet, actually, when her favourite shows goes on, as she bellows (yes, bellows) "MOMMA!! TOOPY AND BINOO IS ONN!!!").

So for the second day of questionable childcare by their father, the kids are taken to an outdoor train somewhere deeper in the wilds of the suburbs, bordering on the exoburbs. Somehow, like all jobs that one does day in and day out, it must become somewhat commonplace, watching the jittering uncontainable excitement of little ones as they come face to face with their obsession; the tired, vaguely triumphant face on the caregivers as they set their kids down in the tiny cars for a full five minutes of peace.

It then comes to my attention, as the train is pulling from the station, that the ride is being set up for a night-time Halloween mode. All innocuous children's outdoor activities take on a demonic alter-ego during Halloween. Amusement parks, train rides, petting zoos, you name it, if it's outside, there's going to be a Halloween version that would make small children and lesser men, like myself, suddenly become aware of how tenuous bladder control really is.

This isn't 'billowing sheets and funny jack-o-lanterns', this is 'something scary enough to chip through teenager's jaded skepticism', the same teens who watch horror movies that make the Dresden Fire Bombing look like a mild city-wide heat-wave.

I'm told that nothing is really set up,that it'll be fine for the six or so kids on the train, all under the age of 5. Which, to some extent, it is. But there were a few tunnels a little bit too well prepared for the night's event. Hideous monsters, bloodthirsty monsters glare out, although the lights were dimmed (which made it somewhat worse, actually). It's then that the powers of suggestion, all the powers I could muster, came into play.

Owlet : "The tunnel, it's SCARY!?"
Me : "Nonono, it's not *shudder* scary. Nono. It's fine"

Repeat that conversation about thirty times over five minutes.

Much later, I'm sure Mrs. Owl will be regaled by Owlet's disturbingly accurate memory, "Dadda! Remember when we went on that SCAAARY train!?". After which she will reduce me to ashes with a withering glare.

Owl Jr., of course, simply loved it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Herculean Achievements And Other Small Miracles Part I

So, I knew it was coming. The Payback. After carousing in NYC with my fellow nerds for a few days, it was only fair that Mrs. Owl get a chance away from the kids, in Vegas. Yes, Vegas. It's lucky for me that both of us have the gambling habits of a Siberian ermine in hibernation, that is, none at all. Or it's lucky that she's hid her gambling addiction and the second mortgage we are now carrying. Either way, you know, I'm a happy camper.

She went down with some of her fellow mommy friends and they had a grand old time in heat that made NYC seem like a spacious Frigidaire. Killing heat. The kind of heat that's too hot for sand. But hey, who am I to judge if her idea of a good time is to gawp at the living proof, the soaring edifices proclaiming that often-repeated but rarely heeded motto "The House Always Wins"?

By all accounts she had a good time and whatnot and I haven't noticed any undue garnishing of my wages, so it was a success.

But enough about her. This is about me! Me taking care of a 1.5 year old and a 4 year old and a small, furry dog given to frequent, enviable naps.

On Saturday I take them to a free live kids performance of a cartoon. Yeah. I know. They dress up two poor schlubs in gigantic costumes of two popular cartoon characters. The schlubs thenv gesture as the pre-recorded audio shouts out their lines.

That's not where the suffering happens though. No, the suffering happens when you arrive an hour early for a 'free fun playtime' to see only a teeming mass of stoic parents and already squirming kids waiting as patiently as they can for an animated character to come to life on a stage that bears a striking resemblance to the loading pallets you usually see out back. Toddlers and babies waiting are like live rounds in a camp fire. It's a peace with the understanding that Things Aren't Going To Be Altogether Fun In A Little while. Unless the idea of unpredictable munitions excites you.

So we wait. I have Owlet on one knee, Owl Jr. on the other, and Molly in a doggie bag by my side, with a smaller bag on whatever side of me I have left to carry diapers, wet wipes, snacks and water. Closest parent-child combo? About 2 inches. On every side. It was brick wall and a bit of gothic architecture away from being the Cask of Amontillado.

Free kids shows are really something that parents should avoid if at all possible. The 10 dollars or whatever you woulda paid is well worth the peace of mind. What peace of mind you ask? Well, waiting an HOUR with small children, for one. Trying ones best to be polite yet not giving a single goddamn millimeter to any blasted parent and their snivelling toddler if they think they can hem in on your territory, for another.

Ahem.

You see? It doesn't bring the best out in parents. Well, it brings the best out in parents, in that all parents want to give their children the bestest, mostest, everythingest they want. At least til a certain age. I call this the Years When Civility Goes By The Wayside, or the Mad Maxx Years. For some parents, it's a very long time. Up until, say, 30. For others, it's until they're kids are in elementary. I have no doubt this dark and uncouth time will take the better part of my adult life.

It's unnerving and humiliating to find yourself in a tooth and nail fight, albeit surreptiously, albeit covertly with the grand airs of civility. All that high-minded idealistic youth is gone when you're defending your 2 square feet of rubber mat hoping against hope that one kid doesn't meltdown, the other kid doesn't evacuate his bowels, and your dog doesn't start whining because What THE HELL Are All These Kids Doign So Close To ME?!

We survive, there are minor meltdowns, small compromises, but Owlet gets to see the characters gesture about and I try not to imagine what impressive resumes those poor folks in the suits had to build to get there (3 years modern dance, 5 years ballet, 2 years tap, BA teaching, Primary School, CPR 1 and 2).

When we pile back into the car, my shirt is nearly soaked in sweat. The cold sweat of stress, the real sweat of carrying a 1.5 year old and a small dog and pack, the bonus sweat of being a desk jockey who's idea of exercise is moving the mouse enough so the screen saver doesn't engage.

Oh yes, the Payback has just begun.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Other Filler Words According To Socio-Economic Class

 You know how there is a certain youngish girl, who, when describing another girl to girlfriend, will use the term 'oh, but she's really sweet'? That 'sweet' means essentially nothing, it's just a pablum stuffer of styrofoamian proportions. Here are some other Filler Words used by certain groups to describe peers about which there isn't much to say.


Accountants : "Diligent"

Arts Students : "Interesting"

Babysitters : "Loves children"

Commercial Airline Pilots : "Has put in the hours"

Doctors : "Bright"

Judges : "Tough, but fair"

Mechanics : "Ain't afraid to get his hands dirty"

Mob : "Good guy"

Painters : "Unique perspective"

Sea Captains : "Taut"

Science Students : "So smart"

Stunt Persons : "Tough"

Voltron Pilots : "Team player"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rules of Engagement for the Squirt Battle Flotilla

I have a friend who likes to use military terms in polite company as if everyone grew up idolizing Robert Mitchum and reading Jane's Tactical manuals for fun. He suggested this topic. After write this up, I'm going to look up what ROE is, exactly, and find out why he was looking at this when he has neither kids nor a pool.

  1. It's hot. 
  2. Combatants are in swimming trunks or bathing suits or other such attire that is allowed to be spattered with chlorinated water.
  3. Aggressors shall assault the defensive positions at no more than 45 degrees off the normal plane, or however far the squirt gun rotates.
  4. All battle flotilla equipment is fully inflated by respective parties. No parental help. Chris is not allowed to use his electric air pump.
  5. Sustained fire to the eyes or mouth shall be curtailed to no more than 3 seconds, unless targetted parties have breached such offenses at least as egregious, but not less than: wedgies, purple nurple, visibly relieving oneself in the pool.
  6. Moving of the squirt vessels shall be facilitated by only the flutter kick. Egg-beater or frog-kick are verboten and punishable by dunking or being named Marco for the first three (3) games of Marco Polo.
  7. Creating a 'fire ship' by pushing Mr. Peterson while he's sleeping on his floating chair into the stationary squirt platform is likewise verboten.
  8. Good and bad guys must switch after every round. Robbie can't be Destro every single time.
  9. Waterballoons must be thrown in a 'skyhook' or underhanded.
  10. NO ROCKS.
  11. Yes gravel counts as rocks.
  12. Getting Jenny's oldest brother to play the "Kraken" on the squirt platform is not allowed. Those who do not immediately repel Jenny's brother as he tries to ruin the fun will have an entire lemon squirted in their eyes.
  13. Slurpees are not 'mortars'.
  14. Any attempt by Quint's dad on trying to sneakily teach us Naval History will be vigorously opposed by both sides.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NYC Meetup : Monday Manhattan

On the Monday, most everyone had gone home. I had taken advantage of Han's really fantastic hospitality a bit too long, I thought, so an outing was called for. Yes. More walking. It was up to me and Bob to wander around Manhattan, the island that I think most people think about when you say "New York City" (well, what I think when people say "New York City" is that El Paso commercial, but that's neither here nor there). The financial district, Central Park, erstwhile meat-packing districts now the fashionable stalking grounds for high priced escorts with rod and tackle still in place, all the glories of NYC, in other words.

I wanted to see the crush of people, the endless sea of NYC that first got drilled into my head by, I think, "Crocodile Dundee". You know, where he has to climb a lamp post to get his bearing? I got a bit of it. I think. But, you know, it's just people. And they didn't walk at a blazingly fast speed that had me at half jog either. Maybe some of Hong Kong's walking speed made it's way to Vancouver, because I didn't really notice a huge uptick of speed. I had visions of being crushed underfoot by overpriced Italian pumps and Oxfords whose sheen could spear a small pidgeon at thirty meters.It might have been the words of warning from my overly cautious big brother, something along the lines of "NYC Will Crush You". But then, he always moves through the crowd like a particularly well-paid security detail for a retired President. Too much marital arts at an early does this to a mind.

We wandered around, Bob being a bit of an old hand at the NYC than I was (then, I think, pretty much anyone was more of an old hand at NYC than I was. I might have slightly edged out a 3-month old from Hungary in a Baby Bjorn, but just). I know I didn't want to see the same ol' same ol. Get pictures of landmarks that have several million shots of them on Flickr or what have you. I wanted to soak in as much as I could of the island, for the few hours we had. In my 30 dollar quickly disintegrating sandals.

I also had to get a knockoff bag for Mrs. Owl. It was a thing she vaguely requested, and me, being filled with the guilt that only young parents can feel when going on a vacation without the family, took it to be a Holy Quest. I was told there might be Bartering.

My family, as I've said many times, comes from South East Asia. Different parts, mom and dad, but that area nevertheless. A place where 'prices' are just 'where to start your haggling from', numbers that get attached to items by the store owner looking at you, and not so much the tag (which is non-existent in the first place). I had to go, get a bag, and haggle. There was all sorts of ancestral and family honour on the line here.

Now Bob comes from the Mid West. Bedrock of community and family values and picket fences and neighbours with lawn envy and very large Ford dealerships. I don't know. I'm going by, as you can see, Hollywood here. But I do know that Bob had a distaste for bartering. And so did I, or so I said. Or so I thought. One of those.

I have recollections of my dad bartering for things where he really shouldn't have, to the eternal burning embarassment to me. Say, aquarium supplies, or Little League fees.  I have recollections of my dad breaking down a shop owner (on one of our trips to previously mentioned SE Asian countries) until he paid some unimaginable fraction of a US dollar as opposed to the entire US dollar for, I dunno, a wild boar, a small bushel of pineapples? And then there is the story about the family van. Which is a story for another time.

In short, the act of bartering, as well as the very real uncomfortableness of it all is ingrained deep in me. Like, how I imagine college hoops is to other families, or quilting.

So we reach Canal Street. An area, where I'm assured, all sorts of kitschy NY things can be had, notably things involving a heart or questionable electronics or trashy knockoffs of Italian designers made in Taiwan. Ahhh, America.

It's a heady matrix of shops, really. The sidewalk is crammed right to the gills, quite a bit past it, over the eyes and dorsal fins. One is submerged in knock-off flotsam and crap that makes 'pleather' seem the stuff of Louis the XIV's court. And it's manned by many, many Chinese. Ah, Chinese! My life in Vancouver has prepared me for this! There are entire malls in Vancouver with not a single word of English is displayed and where I can be accosted by any number of merchants who insist on trying to talk to me in Cantonese while I beg off, trying to explain I'm only 1/4 Chinese and that quarter being Haka anyways, so, you can see, I'd never understand you anyways, and them, slowly comprehending, shaking their head in shame and disgust.

Anyways.

So the street is cram full of these store fronts. But these store fronts are just an ENTRY WAY to a long hallway jammed with MORE of the EXACT. Same. Shops.

There's a casual disinterest, as well as a undefinable hostility from the shop owners. A posture I know all too well. It's the thinnest veneer of emotion, just going through the motions. Everyone playing their part until they have a general idea of how far you are willing to go. It's almost rude, but, if you've seen it enough, it's not so bad. I take on the half broken English, short sentences, curt words.

"How much?"

"Thirty five dollar."

"Ohhh.."

"How much you pay?"

"Too much."

"Ok. *pause* Thirty."

*sucking air through my teeth* "Ahh.."

*goes about fixing bags, pretending I'm not there*

"Hm"

"Twenty seven."

"Ahh. Twenty."

"No, no. Can't do."

*I pat his shoulder, nodding* "Ah, well" *start walking away*

*He pauses, then he gestures towards me* "Okokok 25"

At this point I push it too much and am at an impasse. A deal is made later on, for a bag that doesn't look quite like a ripoff of a $10,000 bag and more like an actual $200 bag. I don't haggle so much with this owner because I'm sure Bob has tired of the uncomfortable with my half English and comically abrasive tone.


It's an act of wild optimism to hope to turn a profit on items that your neighbour is also selling, nearly identical, about half a foot away from you. I'm not sure how they do it. Then I see a dozen tourists, possible from the Midwest, who actually pay whatever the shop owner says the price is. I can't help but feel that someone is being insulted in that exchange.


Although we avoided most landmarks, I did want to see one, the Chrysler Building. It may not be as iconic as the WTC site or the Wall St. Bull or the Empire State building, but dangit, I just thing it's so dang stylish. It looks like Ayn Rand novels read. Art Decoish. But you know, without the turgid prose, flimsy philosophy and cruel, cold, competent protagonists. It was great. And I've added to the Internet's current collection of 958 100 292 photos of that building. I'm a contributing member of society.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

NYC Meetup : Sunday

There are certain expectations I had of Brooklyn. The lurking spectre of crime (possibly backed up by Tommy Guns and speakeasys); taxis; high-strung Type-A personalities who's abrasive interpersonal style might be best described as a 'high-impact verbal assault' and which is undoubtably augmented by prescription and not-quite-prescription stimulants.

Now, nobody said it was accurate or based in any sort of reality, unless you count "Wall Street" as reality (you know the movie, the one where Michael Douglas plays a powerful and rich white man who's overconfidence leads to his own downfall?). Anyhoo, that's what I expected. At least a shadow of that.

Brooklyn nearly dissappointed me entirely.

On Sunday we idle around, waiting for one of the nerd-herd to move in a direction so we can all truculently follow. It's brunch at DuMont's Burger. There are about, oh, well, enough off us to take over 2/3rds of the seating. A hang-out for the urban hipsters and high-powered 80-hour work heroes who are trying best to fit in with their precisely in-style for the moment 'casual' clothes which quite likely cost more than a new set of Dunlops, is over-run by the terribly bright, effusively anti-fashion brigade of, well, us.

The server casually asks how we know each other. There is a very, very long pause. Like our cell has just been uncovered. Many of us are, or at least I am, thinking that there is no possible way we can explain our acquaintance without embarrassing her and us and completely stripping down any cool-factor the eatery has gained up to this point and will ever gain for the next 35 years. I think she just walks away. I'm pretty sure she suspects the worst.

Bruce decides he needs a new pair of shoes. A bold stance to take. We can clearly see that his current shoes are not : mouldering, on fire, actually gone and replaced by punctured blisters and hole-ridden socks. What's more, he wants to get gold sneakers (tennis-shoes? kicks? uhm, cross-trainers? what do people call them these days?). A desire for clothing and fashion. Bruce is a pioneer in the nerd community.

So a bunch of us take one of the many, many subways to another part of Brooklyn. Ah, I think, this is where I'll see the rampant crime: the burning cars, the fully automatic assault rifles brandished by grandmas and impromptu militias alike, the vicious, vicious dance-offs. As you can see from the above photo, Hollywood has lied to me, again.

It's quaint and laid-back and has little beach-heads of corporate America between your mom-and-pops and your boutiques manned by over-educated Liberal Arts majors. It's not Victoria quaint, but it's charming. I stop at another shop that's even quainter to get some overpriced toys that no doubt have been 'very popular in Europe' and 'carbon-neutral'. They should really re-name parts of Brooklyn to be more in line with tourists expectations. Like this area would make a marvellous Tea Tree Heights.

And we do more walking. Friday night had already killed any notion of taxis to me. You know, taxis door-to-door. It's shameful that I'm exhausted with walking. Walking, for crying out loud. I live in an area where there are bear warnings and coyote alerts. There are non-toxic-waste infused streams nearby. And yet the walking culture of Brooklyn has defeated me. No snarky cabbies, no cigar chomping, no bits of incoherent advice hidden behind an impenetrable NY accent. Again, Hollywood, are you all lies?

Later in the day we all decide to walk again. This time, though, for a good cause. To Barcade. A bar, obviously, but that's filled with ridiculously difficult quarter eaters from yesteryear. Ghost N' Goblins, Arkanoid, 1943, Marble Madness, Joust, Robotron, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!.
It's a powerful mixture of alcohol, nostalgia, and societally acceptably nerdery. They even have a laughably inaccurate money changer. One is submitted to the painful ritual of re-feeding the same dollar bill seven times to a piece of technology made when calculators were the size of dictionaries. Confidently at first, sure, but then, meekly, angrily, and finally with a series of rituals which prove that the phenomenon of Cargo Cults isn't the province of Micronesian cultures with a taste for K-rations.

We all try our hand at Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! It's imperative that we all beat Glass Joe. The first opponent you fight, with a name that's perfectly crafted to wreak despair and humiliation upon any who cannot beat him. It's a character that has special meaning, since Ralph, who had hosted the fantastic BBQ, has never beaten him. This is when nerds try and keep their position in the (albeit pathetic) pecking order of video game prowess. While we may be thoughtful lot, we are not, as it turns out, terribly high-minded.

We all beat him, eventually. The night is done, we hike it back home. More walking.

The spectre of crime has been completely abolished, so to with the taxis. I figure if I have to walk it, I might as well take some pictures. Even if it's quite late and I'm really just inviting trouble by taking pictures like, well, a tourist.

I lift my camera to take this shot. It's all neony and low-budget and kinda under-grungy lived in business.

At the last possible moment, out of the corner of my eye, I see a woman walking the other way, right into the shot. I wait, because, well, I'm not interesting in shooting people I don't know. She says, or, er. Shouts? Whatever is the intensity level between a shout and saying something very loud, "Don't you fucking take my picture!".

Well, one out of three ain't bad, Brooklyn.

Friday, August 06, 2010

NYC Meetup : Saturday Get Togther

Saturday was recovery day. I think I felt nausea for its entirety. The type that makes you think hard about how much you really need that meal, or any meal, for, say, the rest of your life. My body was having its revenge one me for drinking like a 300 lb. Scandinavian who had replaced his liver with an industrial composting plant.

We kinda dazed through the day. Speaking low, trying to remember why we wrote down "Rainbow Ten, Rainbow Ten, The Circus Spins" on both wrists and why the PS3 is crammed with Cinnamon Toast Crunch. OK, maybe not that bad. Just all-0ut toxic trauma to every internal organ who thought it its duty stand in the way of high grade whiskey.

Naturally, for the evening, we have drinking, Rock Band, whatever PC games on the two desktops/three laptops available, and some sort of board game. When I say board game, I mean it in the geek sense, not the normal sense. Normal sense of a board game is a game with, a, well, a board, for one thing. It also has fairly easy to understand rules and is some variant of the ten Parker Brothers games we all grew up on. Games rife with memories of sibling treachery and misunderstood-rules-on-purpose cutthroat maneuvers to the win.

When geeks speak of board games, we're talking about games with cards, maybe not with a board at all. A lot of quick, accurate arithmetic is expected. There is often a working economy of some sort, community and political/socio ramifications for actions taken. There aren't rules, there are rule-sets, or more likely, rule BOOKS. Games like Dominion, or Settles of Catan, or Carcasonne, or any number of obscure types of entertainment wildly popular with people who think logic puzzles aren't fun until a graph of has been constructed. Preferably with Lego™.

Before the gathering a few of us go out to get more booze. This is always a treat for me since the US puts prices on booze that you might find on second rate lemonade in Canada. A 1.14L bottle of fancy whiskey, enough to power a Toureg in a ramble around upstate New York, $50. This is the sort of mind-blowing revelations I remember from traveling. "You pay HOW much to get blitzed?!" It is, as it was when I was 22, a recurring concern of mine.

The night goes off well. There's all the various distractions, plus, at intervals, different groups up on the roof, where its actually cool. The roof is always be slanting, not always the same direction and not for any reason I could make out, but it would slant. This would cause quite a few beverages to spill right in the middle of some mellow, nerdy talk, everyone would jump or as best as they could manage given their inebriation and someone would comment on how sloped the roof was and how hard it was to keep a drink from spilling. Then everyone would take their seats on the ground and put their drinks down.

There are comfortable, relaxed silences, punctuated by some story or anecdote. The topics were wide and varied: pyramids schemes that chipped away at ones already paltry faith in mankind; what makes a thing 'tactical; The South; sunburn; obscure comic artists; digital photography; and I'm sure many, many more.

What was neat to watch was one particular fellow geek, let's call him, er, Asterix. He either took some sort of Toastmasters For Amusing Anecdotes or (as I suspect) paid an actor to take his place at the meetup. Animated is a poor adjective. But getting there. Jack-wired on sweet rock-fudge and Jolt-cola dreams and crashing through the sonic funboundary to arise an electrical mizzen of quizzical buzz-zap would be closer. Performing, in the best meaning of the world. There was shape to his stories,and perfect nuanced actions, presence, counter-point. To top it all his topics were wide and varied and looked like they might make the basis for a script coming out of the indie-film scene in Stuttgart. Informative and funny and slightly strange and quietly scandalous.

Downstairs, in Han's apartment, where all the games playing is going on, Rock Band is in full swing. Taters, who strikes me as the sort who might enjoy 3rd rate Karaoke (no dig on him, I do too), has his time at the mic usurped by his girlfriend who had just finished a marathon set of Pat Benatar. As the night wears, and as alcohol brings down that seemingly invincible wall called Self-Inhibition, the mic in Rock Band becomes a battleground for all the hams (again, I am one too). It's only for the hammiest. And for those who really like The Cult.

I try a few. They don't go off horribly. Not that anyone is listening, because Rock Band is only a performance for the people playing it. A sad, eternal fact. The liquor that I've consumed has taken down the last barrier, and I, filled with the hubris of some cock-sure self that is repeatedly beaten down by experience, select Roxanne, by the Police. This goes as well as you can imagine, if you are imagining a defeathered turkey in a knife fight with an adolescent duck while both are being forcibly stuffed into a Cuisinart. Luckily I find catastrophic failure exhilarating.

At the end of the night some of get the idea to make another trip to the Crocodile Lounge. Memory is poor or judgment is poorer or we just really felt like some pizza. We make it in time, but as we file past the bouncer, a mountain of a man, I can't help but notice he is giving exaggerated, Why Am I Put Upon So shrugs as he counts each one of us. He was the most depressed bouncer I had ever seen.

I felt bad, to put him through so much so I could get a pizza. The day long nausea had pretty much killed my appetite.

NYC Meetup : Brooklyn Death March

Is it always the case that, while inebriated past any measure of personal safety, and when ensconced in a group of like minded individuals, sound decisions become as likely as Uwe Bolle winning the Palme d'Or? Maybe the fact it was 2:30 AM didn't help our rational brain functions. Maybe the fact that the place we were heading after the first bar promised a free wood fired personal pizza with every beer purchase, maybe... no, wait, it was the last thing.

The Alligator Lounge is about a mile from Han's place, where I'm staying. Which is a bit of a walk for a group of inebriated shut-ins who find walking to Gamestop to get their pre-order... uhm, taxing. A mile. There's one problem, we're still 3 miles to Han's.

I shouldn't complain. I'm from BC. Land of Greenpeace and hippies and hikers and orienteerers. Outdoorsy. But those generalities are just that, an average. Somebody has to be the outlier. To top it all, I'm lucky to have on my feet the cheapest sandals I could find, barring footwear that leaves permanent stains and those that fall apart from direct sunlight. My feet can handle impact stress about as well as a dry mound of talcum.

Good thing I'm drunk.

Stumbling, it seems, doesn't count as walking. And, overwhelmed with braincell-killing ethanol and higher cerebrum smothering heat (even at 2:30), my brain could only process two things 1) the ever increasing challenge of walking upright 2) the exact moment when I was going to skip a few steps in the digestion process and reverse the direction. Nerve-shattering tendon-grinding pain is a far away memory.

We get there, and receive the bright-eyed cheerful staff welcome reserved only for large groups who stumble into a bar 15 minutes from closing. It's 3:45am. We have marched for, well. It was longer than what normal math and your sober understanding of time would indicate. It goes without saying that they had run out of pizza. Put airquotes around any part of that previous sentence, you'd probably be right.

At some point during the March of Death, our general bonhomie and chit-chat was swallowed up by the grim determination to get to wherever the hell we were going (at this point many of us, or at least I, had forgotten). One foot in front of the other. Try not to yak on one another's shoes. Remember you're doing this to have fun.

Berg mentions a story about some SAS march, somewhere dangerous. Let's say Antarctica (no, I don't know why the British Government is interested in killing penguins with outrageously trained military types moving in a two by two formation). Anyhoo, the story goes that people get left behind, but the group is too strained and near death to care or worry.They'd just look behind them periodically, and poof, that one guy with the 100 yard stare and personalized side-arm with hand-made hollow points was gone.

This seemed patently ridiculous to me. I mean, you're walking in a group. Surely you'd sense it, no? It's not like the SAS move in large, anonymous groups.

Yes, this is my round-about way of saying that we lost someone. We lost three people, actually. The SAS have nothing on us.

So we have a drink. Again. Not me, because my body has decided to take this downtime to shut everything down. Higher brain functions. Lower brain functions. Any brain functions. If my breath wasn't so flammable I woulda been the "I Love You Man" guy.

We pull up stakes and hike over to a diner, because nothing staves off nausea like a large stack of Insta-Quik Nearly-Flour-Based Pancake Substitute (I worked at Denny's. I know.). I head to the bathroom, and every sweat gland decides it's a good time to work overdrive. I'd had this before. When I was 19 and thought if you don't feel anything from a shot of Southern Comfort after 30 seconds, why not have another. It is, I later found out (as I had suspected), basically the early stages of alcohol poisoning.

I stumble out and sit with my friends. Just trying not to embarrass myself while looking like I had just gone a little crazy with a spray bottle. It wasn't so much a sheen as a uncomfortable torrent. Zesty, one of the younger, more sardonic types given to the sort of humour that'd make Rickle's proud (an American thing, I think), snickers at this point. Oh, people with high amounts of perfectly functioning alcohol dehydrogenase in their European livers can die in a fire. I'm feeling too sick and near death to offer up any defense. Which would had been feeble even if I was sober (Canadian thing, I think).

So Prime sees how near death I am, and, forgoing hunger, he pulls me up and tells me he's walking me home. Some of us get a move on.

It's a tough walk. The streets are relatively empty but for some reason Zesty bumps into a dude with dreadlocks, poor posture, and a likely sickening trust fund. He looks Zesty up and down and says, "Hey man, it's all cool, I mean, we could be friends, probably". It was the most passive aggressive burn I had ever seen. It seems even the hippies here are American.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

NYC Meetup : Friday Night Amazon

Names have been changed because that's what people on the internet do.
So after the BBQ at Ralph's we all head out. For more drinking, apparently, because having a long drawn out scotch 'tasting' apparently is not enough trauma for the liver.

We nerds are a pretty humble, quiet lot. Mostly. He kinda follow where everyone else is going in hopes of not being left behind (which, in so doing, would bring back so many third round picks of dodgeball in which stood on the line, shuffling, unchosen, along with the exchange student from Estonia and the guy who had an unsettling fascination with abattoirs). I'm not sure any of us knew where we were going. We are not cut for leadership, I don't think. But we are more or less thoughtful, and knew that it was time to leave Ralph to clean up our embarassingly small mess (nerds use coasters); you can only impose on a host for so long. Excepting LAN party.

So we head out to a bar. It was like a hallway that someone had doubled as a liquor cabinet. Then advertised. It was late. My liver was down and out, blood alcohol was running rampant and wildly, and, if we were the more... outspoken sort, I'm sure someone would had been shotgunning beers.

Rowdy for us, of course, is sitting in a circle and frantically trying to find a topic of conversation. Into our group of four of us -- all kinda huddled together like dehydrated cockatoos around a saltlick -- barges... no... crashes in a tall, Amazonian black woman with more confidence than I have after enabling God Mode in Doom.

She was this bright light of unfettered social enthusiasm. She had to be. How does one just kinda walk into a group and start talking? I'm not sure. But she did. And after about three pleasantries, she turned to one of the group, we'll call him, uhm, Brad. She turns to Brad and says, "You're cute".

Just like that.

There is blood in the water, ladies and gentlemen. Now, I don't fear for my life because I have a wedding ring and look like a female body builder who has long since given up the sport but not the eating habits. Brad has a quiet sardonicness which, I think, some people might mistake for a cool, intense interest.

Aha! I think, there's no way this Amazon can keep it up. I mean, we are so meekly returning her ground strokes of conversation she wouldn't be amiss if she mistook us for a highly unorthodox, poorly dressed, lesser known Amish sect. But she drives on.

Out of nowhere, Dotty, one of ours, or so I thought, instantly becomes this woman's wingman. I think there are references to movie stars he may or may not look like. Brad has taken a very quiet, "if I don't make any sudden moves I might make it out of here with my boxers intact" posture. The Amazon takes on some pretense to touch his face. I take some pretense to leave for another group of us.

At some point, the woman gets too greedy, perhaps, and tries to flirt with another from our herd. Brad takes this as a cue to shrug his shoulders up, turn 180, and walk to us.

NYC is dangerous.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

NYC Meetup : BBQ

Friday was a pretty great day. Milled about, played some retro games (Sega Collection for the PS3 (yes, that's right, with the power of two deskstops, four laptops, two PS3s (enough technology to rival worldwide computing power in 1975) we played games which were ports of 80's arcade games made for 90's consoles then retrofitted for 00's consoles)), some PC games, and attempted to play some card games.

Then it was time for BBQ.

We headed over to Ralph's place which was situated in some patchily gentrified portion of Brooklyn. There were Hasidic Jews everywhere, and African Americans, and Hispanics (I'm sure this breaks down further, like how in Vancouver "Asian" covers a wide array, I'm sure there were Senegalese and Mexicans and Chileans and Puerto Ricans etc). Slightly less hipsters.

This dizzying array of multiculturalism, and there was something about the alternately well-worn and tumbled-down nature of the neighbourhood with newer bits, mom-and-pop shops and Banana Republics, every cranny filled with urban decay or the American Enterprising spirit (large and small), that it seemed to fill that bit in my mind when people say "America". America : You Know, Pretty Much Fricking Everything In One Place. Not pithy, sure, but fitting.

So, we get to Ralph's (well, 5 of us take a car, the rest walk. It's not a short walk. We who took the car will bear the Mark of Shame forever). And it's, well, it's like the front for the lair of the protagonist of an 80's action TV show. One suspects that there is a military grade prototype of a street-bike stored behind it, or a man who's secret identity is VR Man.

It's a solid metal plate. Curb appeal brought to you by the A-Team. All around the door it's not so much a neighbourhood as the blasted out remnants of an industrialization experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong. Suitable fellow tenants would be chops shops or Vietnamese tailors who make 100 dollar suits for you with suspect materials and excellent craftsmanship.

But, through the door. It was amazing. This pretty, nicely proportioned house with exposed brick and skylights and all sorts of rich history that is a regular occurrence in America. Again, the wild difference between NYC and Vancouver become apparent, since for us, 'rich history' means architecture that slightly predates Hypercolour Shirts. Ancient history being anything before colour television.

But back to the house. An open, uhm, courtyard, is that the right word? I mean, to describe abodes not from the French Restoration? An open air area past the blast metal plate, then the house, then behind, a backyard made for cookouts and memories and animated discussions about Derrida.

It was an amazing BBQ. The food was great, the people were fantastic, nerds of every shape and colour milling about, drinking and chatting and not having to steer the conversations away from the dreaded question, 'so, do you have any hobbies'?

About 50-90% of our communication is non-verbal, so that makes the meeting of people who spend all their time communicating over voice or typing, something of an event. Lots of silence at the start. Then, as all gatherings tend to go, the conversations started flowing and we're all having a hell of time.

There you are, in the middle of Brooklyn, in a secret lair of nerdiness, drinking expensive alcohol and talking about how goddamn cheap the Spy is and how so-and-so never uses sticky bombs but still dominates the server. It's a small moment of feeling part of a larger whole. The tribe, the nerd-herd, the grouping that's separated by geography but connected by geekery and the perenially societal maligned hobby, video games.

We setup the webcam to connect to the other gamers who couldn't make it. And it gets even better. There are our other friends, zipping through the internet, joining us from their homes from across North America and Europe and Asia. Ecstatic to see us all together, teeming with pasty complexion and awkward social graces.

Hell of a night.

We had to leave, eventually. Things got a little bumpy then. But that's for another post.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brooklyn

It's amazing how tightly packed people can get. Sardined and crammed til they're breathing over and under each other, stepping on toes sandals shoes dreams personal spaces. It's like every sidewalk is a misinterpreted sneeze away from a rather bloody riot. Young and old and old neighbourhood and new immigrants.

I kinda like seeing more than the usual Vancouver minorities.That is, Pacific Rim. Korean Japanese Chinese (Hong Kong and Taiwanese and every single possible shade of acculturation that represents the Chinese in Vancouver), Indians (Sikhs, Muslims, Hindu, Canadian-born), Persian. That's the norm, anyways, in Vancouver. People gush about how multi-cultural Vancouver is, but that's really only for a very small subset of 'culture'.

Every other shade is out in Brooklyn. They're so many and the varied. And, since it's Brooklyn, apparently the home of the hipsters, you get that extra strange and weird and sadly predictably subculture. But it's still interesting. It's multitudinal and mosaic and strange and kinda neat and oddly scary.

Scary, sure. I mean, from a distance. But when you get up close you find it's not really anything. Everyone is moving around, trying the best they can to eke out a personality for themselves and a place in whatever number of culture stratas they care about. Sure there are small, and infrequent groups of young men with too little hope and too much experience that make me drop my eyes and give way, but that's the same in everywhere. I think.

There's no room between the buildings. That's the first thing I noticed. No space, no alleys, really, no bit of scraggly pathetic greenery between this property and that. Just concrete on concrete and brick on brick.

And damn, is it hot, and humid, and did I mention how it's concrete from end to end and front and back? Cement, concrete, asphalt, tarmac. Heat is radiated from the walls and seems to hunt you indoors. Stairwells and laundro-mats and bodegas are thick and oppressive and just plain hot.

Little vestiges of shops as evidence of the grusty and grangy past of Brooklyn That Was. And then the even littler vestiges of kicky and upscale shops of Brooklyn That's To Be. Gentrified and pricey and pseudo-grunge authentic.

The whole basket of it all is pretty great though. Everything lives and breathes and there's a dizzying array of life everywhere you look.

Brooklyn.

Airport, JFK

Have arrived at JFK. It's your standard sprawling, patchily modernized airport. Charming 70's peppered rock themed linoleum, fancy Air Train system which complexifies it's already dizzying multi-ring setup by having only one train working. Meaning you can go from terminal 5 to 6, but to get from 6 to 5, well, yeah, you have to go the entire way around. I'll try and take a picture of their helpful brochure. Even in the most simplified colours and large text, I'm pretty sure it could double as the MRI of a contortionist's circulatory system.

I expected this, I think. A third of Canada, for crying out loud. That's even counting the bits of Canada we cherish especially for its multi-cultural otherwordlyness but never visit, like Yellowknife, or West Vancouver.

The people are, oddly, just people. No one has yelled at me a phrase along the lines of , "HEY I'M WALKING HERE". But then, these are also Airport People. The bright shining happy people who can afford to take a jet powered tube of metal to other parts of the world. Everyone is a bit more docile and well-behaved at an airport. I suppose spending hundreds of dollars to take an 8 hour flight to visit your Aunt Rita you don't particularly care for in Tallahasee has to dampen spirits a bit.

And man alive, is it humid. It reminds me too much of visiting my relatives in the tropics. If it weren't for the stringent air quality controls and lack of crushing poverty evidenced in every direction I turn, I think I'd be hard put to find a difference.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

NYC

It's hard to sum up my feelings about going to NYC. I mean, that's a real world-class city.

I'm from Vancouver. A city that constantly, if embarassingly self-consciously, proclaims itself to be just that. Last time I checked, though, I don't see people walking around NYC with "I HEART VANCOUVER" shirts on absentmindedly. Yesterday, in Vancouver, I saw two NY shirts (they were kinda well-worn and had all the tourist feel of a Nike jumpsuit). No director is shooting in NYC trying to recreate the picture-perfect Kitsilano scene. I suspect there's a dance club in upper Manhattan that has a higher GDP than all of the Lower Mainland.

There's a enormousness about NYC. Movies and books and the collective memory of much of Western Civilization are put in the backdrop of, are created in, are stamped out in the streets of that city. Midnight Cowboy, An Affair to Remember, The Godfather, Wall Street, The French Connection, Guys and Dolls, Independence Day. It's this fountain of zeitgeist, if I may resurrect a buzz word from '02 that has all the freshness of a Pompeii compost heap.

The bustle rustle, the bumble tub grinding tumble of it all. I never thought one could be intimidated by a city. It's just people isn't it? People, sewer system, a city bureaucracy, the police, the justice system, transit, by-laws, parks, sky scrapers, tenement buildings, concrete, cement, glass. But I am.

I've never really believed in the idea of city loyalty. It's part and parcel of the idea that you can take credit for shit you have had no hand in doing anything about. Like being proud you're tall, or your parents are from a certain part of the world. It's silly.

But I can see how one can feel proud about NYC. Like how one, I suppose, can feel proud about Canada. I'm not entirely sure how this is different from city loyalty. Where people from this city hate people from that city or blahblahblah 'TASTES GREAT!! LESS FILLING!!" merry-go-round of idiocy.

I suppose you can admire it. You can admire what a city stands for, what it's given birth to. What culture and personality it fosters. I suppose there's nothing silly about that.

NYC, to me, a West Coast bumpkin, is so many things and everything. Mostly things that aren't West Coast. When I think of the Hippie Annex (California, Oregon, Washington, BC), I think, laid-back, slow, relaxed, live-and-let live, work just enough to enjoy life, organic, coffee multinationals. Fast-talking, fast-moving, striving, dog-eat-dog, no-time-fore-chit-chat-let-alone-to-breathe, Dangerous Streets, grifting, authentic. Also, you know, Crime. With a capital C. The sort you make grungy, lo-fi tragic documentaries about. It's a burden of a city, I suppose, that is filmed so often and, I'm sure, so often inaccurately.

And here I am plunging headlong into it. A city, which the internet tells me, has almost a third the population of my entire beloved Canada.

What's it gonna be like? How am I gonna even experience through this filter of movies books shows? Will I be able to keep myself from craning my head back, shading my eyes, and muttering, 'That's one tall building'?

I hope I'm ready for world-class.

Adventure

So, it's begun. Sometime while partaking in my hobby I'm mildly ashamed about, I formed a bit of a bond with the people I was playing with. Folks from Metafilter, which seeems, in retrospect, to be the last sort of people I'd cleave to. Not that they are dull, at Metafilter, but they are so full of snark and invective and trenchant analysis as to why that thing you like sucks, it makes it a unlikely source of friendship.

But I have.

Sure, there have been hiccups, and the invaraible flare up of forum drama, but all internet hang outs get those. It's a question of whether the place is left standing afterwards. And it's stuck. Fortunately, miraculously.

Bright, funny, interesting people playing video games and getting angry over strange things like K:D ratios and Team Stacking and things that, granted, likely have analogues in say, a bowling league.

So, it's been three years or so. Playing, chatting, forum drama, jokes, in-jokes, in-in-jokes, baked goods exchanges, Secret Santas, meetups.

And now we are having the Mother of All Meetups. Forty or so of us, descending upon NYC. To play games, drink, eat food that'll cut our lifespan by not insignificant amount.

Yeah, I'm going to Meet People From The Internet.

I've done this before, but locally. After all, the thinking I go through is, "Hey, I'm a people from the internet!". I haven't been disappointed or scared or stuffed into a medium sized cooler smelling suspiciously of chloroform. Which, I"m sure, shocks those less nerdy.

But it all makes sense, you see. It's not that I just met them over the internet. I played with them, suffered trials and tribulations, which, while not say, the scale of the Dresden Fire Bombing or even the hardships make your local SWAT gel, aren't nothing.

We already know so much about each other. Not just personal details, which can be lied about, admittedly. We know some more interesting things. How each other responds to pressure, to failure, to success, to unfairness, to goddman totally overpowered/underpowered updates to our game du jour.

It's damned exciting. Connecting the voice and still pictures to the real, live, breathing mass of fellow nerdery. To meet one's tribe, one's people. Adventure.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pacino On Flotilla

Another post I made for the Full Glass, Empty Clip gaming blog. This has to do with the indie game Flotilla, which is a turn-based strategy space combat sand box exploration game. With no goddamn save feature.

It’s a rough galaxy out there.

You go out there, every day.

You flank and open fire and strategize because the galaxy isn’t doing you any favours. You tear at your hair, at the bulkheads, you claw your way past the militant penguins and the looming space hulks because that’s what you do.

And the Galaxy tries to shove back?

It tries to take from you what is your right?

You shove back. Maybe you get another ship, maybe your flotilla gets bigger.

You keep growing.

And you know you’ll kill for that flotilla, for every upgrade you’ve fought for, for every new ship that you’ve won.

Because that’s what you do. The Galaxy isn’t going to be explored by itself. It’s up to you, and your crew.

That’s it. That’s what the Galaxy expects from you, and, damnit, that’s what you expect from you.

Now, maybe I’m too jaded, too old, too damn tired to think differently. I’ve spent too long out in that galaxy fighting the good fight, the right fight. But you shouldn’t have to do all this in one go.

What are we? Robots? Animals? I say we are not. I say we are not that thing which can continue on for hours upon hours. We are flesh and blood. We have laundry to do, and kids to mind, and all the little things that make up a life. The little things that go on between conquests. That’s life, gentlemen, that’s living.

You remember that don’t you?

At the end of the day the Galaxy doesn’t care for your life your place in it. It’s only hungry for your ships, and for everything you’ve worked so hard at for the past 40 minutes. But you can’t give it to them. Not after all the sweat and blood it’s extracted from you, step by step, fight by fight, tooth and nail and fist and bone.

And we shouldn’t have to give it all up. Should we? Because our time is fractured. It’s cut up and divided and pulled, stretched out across the day. We shouldn’t, we can’t.

We need a save feature.

Andy Rooney On Teams and Fortresses

I'm blogging over at this gaming blog some of my MeFi friends setup. Specifically, some of my MeFi friends who formed Mefightclub, which is kinda the gaming arm of Metafilter, I suppose. This article has to do with Team Fortress 2, so, if you're not a PC gamer, and not hip with all the incarnations of Team Fortress, you can skip this post.

I don’t know what’s happening to gaming these days. In my day you had a fortress, you had a team, and you just went at it. It was like tag or flag football, the bedrock of any small town community. I know community isn’t in vogue these days. It’s one for one and all for none, it seems. I watch the television and it’s not more about team sports, its about the individual stars. A trophy for this, a medal for that.

It seems to me that nowadays, our fortress team games are obsessed with personal milestones. What sort of whacky combination of numbers have to be achieved today, I wonder. When I was younger, you just worried about how many times you fragged, and how many times you got fragged, and that was that. Now there are silly hats and punny little titles given to any number of strange number crunching.

Lately I’ve been wondering if it doesn’t have to do a little bit with things. What I mean is, too many people are in a rush to get things, get into the city, say, pick up a newer version of a pair of pants that have been perfectly fine these past five years. It’s not that I wouldn’t do it myself, if was a little bit younger, a little less wise, but it’s a shame all the same.

And seemingly, the company that, to be honest, makes me think more often of plumbing supplies than video gaming, has attached their weird and wonderful number crunching to getting more things. What’s wrong with a rocket launcher, I ask? Now you want a rocket launcher that does more splash damage, or less splash damage, maybe heats up your car on a cold morning.

It might be a bit much, I wonder.

But things move on, sure as taxes, or your toast getting inedibly dry after an endless conversation with a coworker you don’t like too much. I’m not one to complain about things. But it seems to me that the Team Fortress of today is a little too friendly, maybe, a little less fortressy. I don’t think we ever needed hats to really enjoy the game. We sure don’t need more things.

At least, I’d like to think so.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Look Vs Is

Idea courtesy of a Mysteriouuus Straaanger with a surprising amount of Ben Gay in his medicine cabinet and a voracious appetite for Reader's Digest "Humor In Uniform".


What He Looks Like : A former Airborne Ranger for the 501st who operates a heavy machinery leasing company while doing heli-rescue work on his spare time.
What He Is : A man who's spent more time in his barcalounger than he has commuting, sleeping and eating. Combined

What He Looks Like : The in-house emotions counsellor at HP.
What He Is : Chronically distant technophobe who has a powerful fear of barber shops and small talk.

What She Looks Like : An army field nurse who has seen more action than a platoon of Foreign Legionnaires.
What She Is : A fundamentalist Mennonite who insists on affecting a Dutch accent.

What She Looks Like : State fair runner-up for "Best Baked Dish Using Rutabaga", 1982.
What She Is : Vice-President for a private para-military outfit that operates mostly in Tangiers.

What She Looks Like : Thirty four year Bogata timeshare tele-rep.
What She Is : Thirty three year Bogata timeshare tele-rep.

What He Looks Like : Primary field researcher for the E. Bola vaccine.
What He Is : Rabid collector of 'WKRP In Cincinnati' memorabilia, Dunkin Donuts Branch manager.

What She Looks Like :President, four years running, of the "Whalebone Supported 18th Century Women's Wear Appreciation Society", New Hampshire Chapter. Office manager of a Fortune 5000 company nearing retirement.
What She Is : Ethnogeographer specializing in cannibalistic cultures, South East Asia.

What He Looks Like : Intelligence agent, operating out of a rather ignored nation-state that sprouted from the former Soviet Bloc. For hire services include assassination, seduction of baronesses, counter-insurgency guerilla warfare, demolitions, light massage.
What He Is : Ostrich farmer.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Art & Crap

There's a fantastic book out there that I've been meaning to get, Art & Fear. It has great anecdotes and advice about making art, or Art. I have a few nonfiction books to work through, so I'm not overly concerned about getting it just yet, but the book certainly comes to mind now and again. Mainly when I'm writing stories.

It came right to the fore when I was slogging through the 30 Days Project. Hell, or hell-like. Certainly reminiscent of brimstone and repurposed Pan imagery, anyways. Because, as you'll notice, through my thirty posts (15,000+ words(!!!)), and to be fair, through almost every other participants thirty posts, there are nearly no comments. Which, I assumed, was one of the draws of the 30 Day Project. Get feedback, support, community of artists, etc.

Poor naive me of thirty plus days ago.

The whole process helped me with come up with a revelation I call "Art & Crap". Which is tangentially related to the bits of Art & Fear I've read that really rung true to me.

Art & Crap goes like this:
1) No one cares about your crap.*
2) Those who care about your crap will only care enough to tell you how crap you crap is.
3) People will genuinely care about your crap when it's too late.
4) Only you can give a crap about your crap.

Which is kinda related to this. A most excellent comment about the whole creative endeavour by one of my mostest favouritest web comics, Subnormality (the comic is easier to read when you think of it more as a blog with pictures, as opposed to a webcomic).

This rule of mine, that I made up and I'm sure is just a poor rendition of a better observation by a more learned mind is immensely helpful to me now. Waiting or hoping for feedback from people in order to keep you doing your work is the quickest way to drink or an alarming bill at the nearest transgendered clown and pony brothel.

And yet, don't you know, it's something I tend to fall in sometimes. But thankfully I have a little series of pat rules to get me out of it. They may not be entirely true, but true enough for my purposes, anyways.


*friends and family don't count, they pretty much have to either feign interest or develop a rare and temporary vision impairment.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

30 Days Project

This June I'll be participating in the 30 Days Project. Create something new every day, for 30 days. I suspect it was first set up with visual and audio artists in mind: sculpture, painting, music, etc. Art forms that have a relatively high barrier to entry.

Not writing.¹

It was added later, a sort of nod to us lesser creative types. Which, I suppose I should qualify. There's just so many of us, that, on average, our quality has to be lesser, only stands to reason. You can't throw in 6,291 blogs about Iron Man & Hulk slash fic with the odd brilliant pieces and hope to come out with a positive whole number on an arbitrary scale of quality.

So, feeling like a bit of an imposter and in intruder, I'll attempt to write at least 500 words of fiction a day. About what theme, I'm not sure. Maybe just a smattering of different things.

This is a fair warning (and perhaps another bit of pressure upon myself to not abandon it), that the next 30 days in June will be FICTION FICTION FICTION!! A writing genre I was doing with utmost earnestness, but, sadly, with not a small variation of quality. More misses than hits, in retrospect, which likely lead to my sputtering stop.

So, if you don't like my fiction bits, maybe wait until July to tune in.

You've been warned.


¹(Anyone who has a keyboard and is filled with the delusion that people will read their writing voluntarily can, and invariably, will write. First it was Geocities, then mySpace, then that all got pulled into thing called 'blogs' because 'personal website' was a bit too much to remember, then twitter. If there's a platform, and a theoretical readership, there will be people who'll call themselves scribes or wordsmith or some other tiresome phrase and hack away. I am, sadly, one of those people. )

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Playgrounds

We went and saw old friends for a small picnic at Stanley Park. Cold cuts, muffins, cookies, the awkward pause as you try and ascertain whether you're doing the 'brought enough for everyone let's all share' or the 'brought just enough for me and my own, thank-you-very-much' type of picnic.

It was slightly chilly, enough to warrant a wind-breaker, and strong enough that any attempt to cover up one's pudge with baggy garments was sure to be thwarted. Stupid low pressure systems.

We had Molly, a baby and a toddler, and they a little one (1 ish). There were also two playgrounds and a beach to explore. When one has small children, doubly so if one is visiting friends who also has small children, you don't so much 'visit' as you tag team trying to supervise them, all the while attempting some form of small-talk and catch up. I might have exchanged all of 10 words with my old college buddy that was not related to immediate childcare.

It's an experience going to a play ground with a toddler. It becomes this communal parenting situation as you watch other parent's styles, how uptight they are, or lax. Eventually some sort of acceptable average is followed: somewhere between 'put them in a safety bubble of high impact styrofoam' and 'hand them a loaded 9mm with the safety off and trust their judgement'.

It becomes this constant evaluation of risk/reward. Do we risk them breaking an arm to reward them with a little bit of confidence? If they are too shy, do we push them into some 'acceptable' level of risk taking, with the possibility that we topple them into 'heart-explodingly recklessness'? If they are fearless, do we warn them to slow down, again with the possibility that we might make them the sort of overly-cautious person who becomes a 3rd level library clerk for life in charge of the Typing Pool's social committee of which they are the only member?

Luckily I subscribed more to the nature than to the nurture side of child rearing. Barring a really tragic upbringing I'm not going to scar and damage Owlet for life. Hopefully. My rule of thumb is, if the possible injury won't break skin or break a bone, go for it. This, I think, is reasonable. We have friends who subscribe to the 'if the spinal damage isnt' permanent, let er rip' school, and I'm sure we have friends (who would never admit it) who subscribe to the 'injuries only happen to wards of the state' school.

But a public playground is an interesting normalizing influence. Subconsciously or not, parents try to toe the average level of care/freedom. There are those that don't, myopic folks who invariably are getting their visiting rights for the week and haven't the foggiest clue how much they can or cannot let their child do. And there are the 'rugged individualist' parents, almost always dads, who let their 2 year old run full speed through the Striking Zone of the big kid's swings.

Sure, it ends up being slightly dangerous for the poor children, but it's great for the parents, who get to feel like they're doing a good job, and at least gave me something to say to my college buddy other than, 'Oh Christ, are you gonna go get her or should I?'.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Shots

I have a deathly phobia of needles. Not pointwork or gramophones, but the kind you jab into your arm or thigh. This among other things -- lack of work ethic, not enough free time, self-body image not as damaged as need be-- have kept me from professional body building. Zoroastra help me if I ever get adult-onset diabetes. I tend to get the shakes and start to squirm like The Dude in The Big Lebowski when a ferret was thrown into his bubble-bath.

I recall having my wisdom teeth extracted under general anesthetic. The oral surgeon walked in, all freshly tanned from his likely month-long vacation in some place tropical, expensive, and littered with Sands resorts (it's a sobering thought that the cultures of umpteen number of Melanesian and Micronesian nations are kept afloat by overfed Americans, heat-stroked stupefied and blazing sunburnt, watching disinterestedly to a thousand year old dance while devouring some endangered tropical fish that tastes 'just like chicken').

He had the sort of professional ease and casual boredom that comes from folks who do one or two things repetitively, for vast sums of money. Obviously someone who'd seen quite a few extracted wisdom teeth.

So they get the needles ready, and I start to shake, only a bit, I thought. But at some point the surgeon says, with not negligible amount of alarm in his voice 'easy, easy'. There's a current of panic there, like he just remembered he left his tazer in his six-figure sports sedan (complete with a set of keys attached to a logo keychain that'd make Flavor Flav do a double take). It's then that I realized that my phobia of needles was, er, exceptional?

Several months ago I went to get flu shots with the family.

That is, all in a small examining room, all taking shots.

It's a burden for those of us less self-possessed; for those of us more harried and continuously aware of our shortcomings, that children, specifically, your children, learn by what you do, not by what you say. Many of your actions, likely the ones you least like, will manifest themselves in your brood. I mean, many will not too, and there will be innumerable things that they do that come from the ether, or from their genes, or from Elmo.

But you have to control for the things you bestow them. Fear of needles, terror of doctors, or the innoble memory of their father losing his shit were not things I wanted to bestow to them. Not if I could help it, which, let's face it, I wasn't sure that I could.

So I dug deep, as the sports cliche goes, clenched the jaw, went into the fray. I volunteered to be first, bared the arm, and looked straight ahead. I took the shots. They didn't seem to hurt as much, inner turmoil and the looming spectre of parent failure, I assume, dulls the pain.

So I'd like to say that my fear of needles has been overcome. But it'd be far more accurate to say that my fear of needles can be sufficiently repressed given enough pressure.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Interior Dialogue of My Children & Dog

Owl Jr.
Upon seeing the door open to the laundry room, a room which he is STRICTLY barred from. Stops whatever he's doing in the family room, rushes over, totters inside.
"Oh hey, what sort of parties are going on here."

Upon seeing the dog food and water lowered.
"Although I've been told not to splash in the water and play with the dog food multiple times, the ban has surely been lifted."


Molly (the dog)

Upon seeing her food lowered.
"I've been famished for HOURS, what sort of wonderment do we have here for my gastronomical pleasure, a small fillet of sole, perhaps? A rare porterhouse? Perhaps a... Oh. Oh.. Uh. Did you know you have dog food in there?"
Slowly turns around and walks away.

Greeting you after you've left for more than 30 seconds.

"Sweet mercy how I've MISSED you, Where have you been, what trials and tribulations have kept you away!? Life isn'' worth THINKING about without you around.
After about 20 seconds of that.
"Oh god, you're STILL here?"


Owlet
When watching TV.
"There is no other entity on the planet but you oh TV, tell me your bidding."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Aquarium

I had the day off, so I went to the aquarium with Owlet.

The aquarium -- like any large institution that happens to have a death-grip on some of your fonder childhood memories -- skirts around very serious issues and manages to be viewed, by different people and at different times, to be something between Dachau and a historical site commemorating a local battle and the signing of an important document (that, among other things, ensures that the making moonshine whiskey with Idaho potatoes between the hours of 3am and 7pm for people of non-Irish descent to be completely illegal and subject to fine of four cents or the family's 3 largest hens).

In this case the issue is animal captivity. Particularly animals a bit higher on the evolutionary tree (I've yet to see a protest over the forced imprisonment of a small, relatively unsightly pelagic mollusc). Vertebrate, good, mammal, even better. I'm not one to argue against that, however; in an ideal world we wouldn't have Flipper inside a tank of water barely large enough to pass as an underfunded public pool. I mean, I saw Star Trek IV, for crying out loud.

I tend to be on the other side of the debate, though, and not only because I have small children and trying to find activities that one of you don't find brain stabbingly boring is between nil and whatever the probability is that Boss Hogg will get the Duke boys. It's simply, or so I tell myself, that those indelible memories of youth, that seemingly universal attachment to wildlife that pervades Western culture and I'm sure is responsible for 99% of all conservation efforts, is tempered and cast in titanium when a child visits a zoo/wildlife sanctuary/aquarium.

They are evil, in their own way, but the good they do. I'm not sure you're going to get that with anything else, I don't care how high-def your edition of Planet Earth is.

So we went there and we saw frogs, sharks, tortoises, the largest freshwater fish in the world, otters, belugas, dolphins.... and well, with a 3-year-old, that goes by pretty fast. They aren't there for the spiel or to even read the invariably sparse plaque. They go, are amazed, wonder-struck, bored, then fidget. All in the span of about 5 seconds. They are the fruit flies of novelty.

Owlet also asked questions, nothing mind-blowing, I think one of them had me answering, 'the other one died', which she took in stride. Toddlers, or the ones I've met, seem to take the whole death thing in stride pretty well, I'm not sure when the horror and panic sets in about it. Most of questions she asked were mundane or nonsensical or something she answered herself with logic that defied examination or physics.

But it wasn't her questions that really stuck in my mind that day. We were watching the belugas, and a hosh posh overly-fit mother of some adorable children were making a day of it, it seemed, with snacks and a picnic blanket. One of the kids said something, and the mother replied, 'You shouldn't be asking that question, some questions just shouldn't be asked.'. And I thought, that's either the making of a bow-tie wearing, Invisible Hand worshipping, GOP stalwart or the hippiest scientist bum ever.