Home of all things Fantastic

bounce bounce bounce

It’s been almost a year since I’ve written a blog post, and it’s a little odd to start one again. To be honest, it’s a little odd to be writing at all again. I got a little sick of it, or tired of it, or something. When I went to the computer to start something, I’d get really angry and sad simultaneously, then put the computer away. When I brought out my journal, just to write to myself, the same feelings came just as quickly, so I’d put my journal away, then just work on disappearing.

I don’t like that I feel that way. I used to love doing this, and something twisted in the past year or so, to make me feel unlovable and make writing feel unlovely.

Jeez, this post is starting out far too real. I apologize for this. But it’s been a long time since i’ve written to you all and I feel like I should be open and honest with you people for why. And the reason is that I got really sad, and the sadness wouldn’t go away, and writing only amplified it, and so I stopped.

There are some external reasons for me feeling so glum, but it also felt like something soured in me, whatever light I had charging me dimmed way low and made it hard to deal with anything. Because it’s not like I have a hard life, in any sort of way. And you guys are all rooting for me and such, I know I have friends and support and everything. But it’s like a tiny Charlie Brown took up residence in my head to convince me that yeah everthing does suck and yeah you should go away and yeah tomorrow will be the worst. Which is a fucked up feeling to have. Because I have perspective and can take stock of my life and say life is good, but this black cloud comes by and it’s not tethered to anything, I can’t trace it back to its source and fix it, it’s just there darkening everything else. And the cloud is mine, it’s just all in my head, which means I have a part of my brain that’s just there to heckle me.

But today I was having a silly day of small accomplishments and it felt funny and good and suddenly I wanted to write. I didn’t know what I wanted to write, so I just started and out came this. So bear with me I guess. I’m feeling better, and so hopefully this will start getting better too.

I’m having a trivial errand day today, which are always wonderful. I haven’t actually accomplished anything, but I’ve set challenges and tasks and completed them so I feel accomplished. I did the dishes, I’m doing laundry, I put away and organized my comic books, I left my torrent client run all yesterday and all through the night (downloading just legal freeware of course) and now my share ratio is through the roof. My itunes wasn’t working, but I figured out the problem and fixed it. It required using Terminal, repairing disk permissions, and rewriting access privileges so now I feel like a clean, organized hacker who’s great at sharing. Which is cool.

I had a comedy set last night and it went okay. I didn’t kill it, but the audience wasn’t against me. What was cool, though, is that I was happy with the lukewarm response. I had new jokes I was trying out, and I could feel which ones worked and which ones didn’t. I am starting to sense how long I can build and ramble before I need to deliver jokes, and which jokes are too convoluted, and which jokes are tight, ready gems. I’m getting a little less worked up about the performance. I always worry about the response i get, and treat each small performance like I’m Mr. Holland and this is my opus. But I’m seeing that now as silly. I’ve got longer goals in mind and am working my way towards them. Putting all my hope and value into the response of a Tuesday open mic is like a marathon runner stopping every fifty feet and yelling, “give it up for me! Look what I did! I ran all fifty feet!” Half the jokes last night worked, the other half I know how I can work on them. It’s good.

Also, to keep up with the silly accomplishments I was invited to beta test a new website. PRETTY BIG DEAL I KNOW. Do you guys remember blip.fm? Well, it’s basically dead. But now there’s FUZZ.COM, made by the same people. It’s similar music sharing with uneccessary but fun awards and props and such. It still has a charmingly outdated feel put into a web 2.0 shell and I like it. I really like the beginning of websites. I like that early flurry of activity when it’s all potential and going to transform how you use the internet and filled with promise. Young websites feel like new notebooks to me, make you daydream. Fuzz.com is still figuring itself out, but so far it’s pretty great.

I’m feeling done with writing this now, and am looking over the post. If you read the last words of each paragraph it goes from disapearing, unlovely, and heckle to better, good, and great. It looks like writing does help me out. Thank you for reading.

 

Got Words?

Lately I’ve felt l like I’m living in the moment before the montage.  The point when everything is screwy and disordered and low, and I just need to find the right song, the right witty word, and the scene will start–the grand, well-edited, life-change will begin.

I’m listening to Funwater Radio week five as I type this.  Lindsey and I selected and mixed it tonight at the kitchen table as she made Jack Kirby themed cookies for an art show tomorrow.  The major chord of washing machine, dryer, and fan is sustained behind me.   It’s 11:30 and pitch black outside, but I’ve got the front door open and I can smell the warm grass and trees outside.  I’m glad I’ve got enough sense to see that this scene is awesome, this moment is great.  But I still feel low and that bothers me.

I haven’t written you beautiful few for a while and for this I apologize.  I wish I had a good reason like a broken wrist or a multi-million dollar screenplay, but I really don’t.  I reached a weird point where I felt I was writing this thing according to a style sheet, each entry had some formula to follow.  Which could be fine, but it wasn’t a good style nor  a good formula.   I wanted to speak of happy things and make you guys laugh, but all my jokes got really bitter and unrecognizable even as jokes.  I wanted to talk about funny things at work, but they’ve been  coming less and less.

I’ve held strong to the belief that if I’m unhappy it’s mostly my fault, and  I just haven’t looked at the shitty moment from the right, bright viewpoint.    Your surroundings are only as good as  what you put into them, and life is all one shade of gray with your moods casting different colors upon it.  But lately this method has been failing me.  I took a break to find brighter colors, I guess.  It’s not serious or anything, mellow melancholy at best, but still it’s time to be happier.

 

The other day I was walking to the bathroom and saw a semi truck stopped at the light at Washington and Sylvester.  The driver was staring at the road ahead, but he had this crazy big smile and he was rubbing his hands together excitedly.  I was wonderstruck by him.  What could he possibly be so happy about right now?  His hand rubbing was that exaggerated, almost cartoonish excitement–like fat uncles at the thanksgiving table when the turkey’s brought out.  And there wasn’t anyone outside but me, I mean he wasn’t being offensive about some young lady walking by.  He just thought of something that got him super pumped up and I caught him at that exact  moment.  It was kind of fantastic.    It made the walk to the bathroom better.

Barbering’s been bumming me for a while now.  The shop  and the hotel and the cycle of it.  It doesn’t help that there’s a bump in the wall of the urban onion bathroom that looks EXACTLY like a fetus, so in the slow times I build up elaborate fantasies of the space baby being incubated in our walls and what sort of terror it will unleash when born.  The spot has stayed the same size for a while, so at least the terror is not growing.  Then again, I don’t  know the gestation period for astro-babies.  But this story is not going anywhere.  Here’s a better one.

When walking to get coffee this morning I saw a couple guys working in the alley.  They had shirts that said, “Got Carpet?”.  They were working for some carpet company.  This bothered me , cos the slogan sounded linguistically gross, and also  I want people to generally be wittier.  Like, even if you only know carpets and how to run a business installing carpets, you should still have enough humor  to come up with an original tagline.  It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be yours.  ‘Cars, pets, nothing’s too tough for our carpets.”  Something clumsy but new like that.  Eagan’s has the tagline, “Got Goop?”  There’s an auto place on Southbay with the slogan, “Got Tint?” and now this “Got Carpet?”

When it first came out, “Got Milk?” made no sense.  There’s no joke there or anything.  It sounds a little discomforting.    I don’t know why so many businesses have  adopted it as their own.

Then I realized that I’m thinking too hard on this.  All these people want to do is say what kind of service they offer  and “Got Whatever?” is an easy, two word way of doing that.  And then I realized that I was seeing the birth of a new, “…..And Sons”.

Here’s what I mean:  You know all the different businesses that say, “Brooks and Sons” or “Steinway and sons” or  “Schuster and Sons”.  At some point , that “And Sons” didn’t exist.  Some carpet guy would just open a place called “stan’s carpets.”  Then maybe one day his son joined on, but Stan didn’t care for him much, and kept the name.  Then a little later his other son joined on and now Stan had to admit it wasn’t just him running the place anymore, he was getting older and his sons had grown into responsible lads.  So he changed the store to “Stan and Son’s Carpets”.

Other businesses saw this and realized how easy and quickly that new slogan explained the strong, family nature of their work so they changed their names as well, to “Foster and Son’s appliances” or “Cooper and Son’s Nickelodeons” or whatever.  The point is, at one time this idea didn’t exist and someone had to start it.  Now, the “And Sons” is just an affectation most of the time.   You don’t  have to have kids to use it, the title goes unquestioned.  And you dont’ have to have a direct line back to the dairy industry to use, “Got Piano Tunings?”.  The phrase is for everyone.

Thirty years from now, “Got Something?” will be an old-timey affectation to show how you remember the good old days when businesses were honest and just told you they “Got burgers” or whatever.  It’ll be used the same way craft soda companies use the phrase “a revitalizing tonic!” today.  Or how stores will call themselves Shoppes, even that that extra “pes” has no part in their dialect.  We were born during the birth of a new “…Sons”, the beginning of a new cliche galaxy.  .  That’s kind of cool.  We can remember it’s origin point, and we can remember the strange transition period  when you’d see someone in an alley and you’d just want to scream, “hey carpet man!  you’re shirt makes no sense!”

Instead I just went  and got coffee.

So I might be in a lower mood than usual, and I might have just listened to Kathryn Calder’s “So Easily” about 8 times in a row like some sad teen, and I might have felt sad that I only have the song on MP3 because i’d like to hear the needle hit the end of the record and have to physically start it over again, because lifting the needle’s arm and placing it again at the edge  is the gesture of pleasant bummerness.    But I  can change these things.  I don’t need to fixate on the barbering, I can look beyond it, at least to the sidewalks and alleys surrounding the shop and then I’ll carry on from there.

So here was the best part of my day today.  Or at least the funniest (the best part might have been talking about Street Fighter IV, Haruki Murakami, and Stand-up Comedy with a new customer–pleasant twining.)

But this afternoon I was walking to get another cup of coffee(can you see the ebb and flow of my day?)  And the Fifth Avenue Sandwich Shop guy was smoking on the backstoop and talking to my building manager(who I cannot stand because he looks and acts  like a burp).  Tim(the 5th ave man) says, “THERE HE IS!” to me and I smile and say hi.  Then he says, “I haven’t seen you come in for a roast beef sandwich lately.”  And I tell him I was in a couple weeks back and he laughs and says good good.

then my manager says, “You have to try their pulled pork sandwich.”
At this point I’ve walked past them so I say, “I’ll do that.” and keep walking.

But he’s not done talking about the pulled pork, “The sauce was excellent and the meat was perfect.”

I turn around to be polite  but he’s not looking at me, he’s smoking and staring at the asphalt.  I can’t tell if he’s still talking to me so I keep walking.    I dont’ think he knows either because he never directly addresses me , but his voice keeps getting louder as I walk away as if he unconsiously wants to make sure I hear him..

“They used a kaiser roll!”  he bellows out.  I reach the end of the alleyway now and am standing next to Batdorf and this guy is now a good 60 feet away but I can hear him crystal clear cos he’s straight up yelling.

“I THINK HE SLOW-ROASTED THE MEAT!” he cried out, “IT MUST HAVE COOKED ALL NIGHT.  IT CAME WITH POTATO SALAD AND I GOT A DIET COKE!”

The air was perfect, the sky was blue, and I’m listening to a  man scream at the top of his lungs the details of yesterday’s special.  It was so awkward and absurd and so weirdly pleasant and I thought, “I want Funwater to know about this!”

It felt good to think that.  I wanted you to know that too.

Friedrich Review

This article appeared originally on everydayolympia.com.  I am archiving it, publicly, here.

Friedrich

A Game by Richard Sivel

Today we will be reviewing the board game Friedrich.  It is a four to five hour game for 3-4 players that sets out to simulate the Seven Year War between Prussia and the rest of Europe.  It is my second favorite game, a legitimate piece of art, and another example of how beautifully crazy the human mind can work–what grand things can be thought of from disparate sparks of whimsy and then melded into some new whole.  It is also, of course, incredibly fun.

from designer's website, histogames.de

The game pits three players against one.  The three represent the major powers of Europe at the time-Austria, France and Russia along with some other minor powers.  The unlucky player is Prussia-Friedrich the Great- the country and leader that everyone is out to get.  Luckily for Friedrich the three Europeans aren’t actually allied, they all have selfish goals in mind, cities each needs to conquer to be declared sole winner.   Friedrich just needs to survive long enough until the other country leaders either die or surrender out of exhaustion.  It is quite hard to win as Friedrich.  Signing up to play as him is like signing up to play “Stop Hitting Yourself” with your older brother, both of you knowing you can’t stop hitting yourself until he lets go of your hand but you can’t figure out how to make him stop.  The game plays differently each time you depending on which country you choose.  Sometimes you want the slow behemoth of Austria, sometimes the darting nimble France or the desperate, fatalistic Russia.  And sometimes you want to have a small aneurysm while everyone yells at you for four hours and you panic sweat through your shirt so hard it becomes unusable.  Then you’d volunteer to play Friedrich.

The game was created by Richard Sivel, springing from an idea he got while watching TV.  If only all our TV watching led to such results!  He wanted to make a game that combined the troop management and tactical maneuvering of war games with battles fought using only playing cards.  Also, he wanted it to be historically accurate while also endlessly replayable.  And he wanted it simple enough to keep the rules to a few pages.  It took him fourteen years.  Friedrich succeeds on all fronts.  To me, playing Friedrich is similar to reading Nabokov or Flann O’Brien.  The treat is peeking into a gorgeous brain and seeing the Babbage-like machine within producing such wonderful thoughts, thoughts as intricate as the network of branches on a tree.

The game is played with a large battle map of Prussia and its surrounding environs and five decks of playing cards.  Players move their wooden generals around from point to point in a meticulously detailed board where the distance from point to point is based on the actual topography of the land.  The map is overlaid with a grid, with each box of the grid bearing a card suit.  When Friedrich and another country meet they fight using cards, playing only in the suit their pieces are currently located in.  At the end of the round a card of fate is pulled.  Mostly the cards say trivial things like, “Voltaire writes Friedrich a letter.  He thinks Friedrich is cool.”  Other times the card will say, “the Queen of Russia dies.  Russia surrenders.”  If this happens, Russia has to immediately leave the game, no matter how well the player is doing.  When every country has left like this, Friedrich wins.  If one of the countries conquers Prussia before this happens, then they win.

from designer's website, histogames.de

The intricacies of the game are in the subtle rule details.  The different amount of cards each country gets each turn, the rules for retreating and defending cities, the strategic possibilities of the country’s landscapes carried through by the pointillist map.  The game should not work, the battles should not work, but somehow it does.  And it does so dramatically.  You feel the storm and sweep of an epic war.  Friedrich is juggling multiple theatres, the other players have short and long goals they slowly see realized through grand tide-changing battles or just well maneuvered troops that cut off Friedrich’s supply by surprise and make him retreat back to Potsdam.  And all of this happens without the players realizing it.  There’s an embarrassing side effect to boardgaming.  When someone gets really into the game they stand up, as if that extra height perspective will somehow help them.  No one realizes they’re doing it or how stupid they look, like playing guitar with your mouth open.   You’ll go into Olympic Cards and Comics and see some calm game of Magic: the Gathering happening, everyone sitting down except one excitable youth, standing, with his fists planted intensely on the table.  Whenever I play Friedrich, everyone ends up standing.   Every time.  All four of us there with our chairs forgotten, looming over the map, scanning the countryside, shuffling, stressed, through our piles of cards.  Last game, after six hours of the game, it came down to Prussia and Austria in one last battle.  My friend Zatarain was playing Austria, and as he stared at the board and put his first card down he said, “I’m sweating.  Why am I sweating?!”

Also, each time we play Friedrich, all though it takes half a day, as soon as it ends one of us invariably wants to play again.

This game does take a long time, somewhere between two and eight hours depending on how the cards of fate play. You will not notice the time.  This game is an event, as are all the great games.  It is a great testament to what happens when you listen to those plucks of inspiration, and have the patience and discipline to see them realized.  Lucky for us, Richard Sivel had an inspiration that is fantastic to play.  I hope you enjoy the game.

I can’t get past how good this Katy B is.  And this music video is ill.

To Lindsey, on her birthday.  This is one of the first songs I knew, first, as a favorite of hers, so that made it all the more special to me.

You told me why you liked it walking past Freshman dorms, heading back to your room.  Ben Kweller, rain smell, early night, daily show, and taquitos.

In Honor of Lindsey’s upcoming birthday(MAY 15th!) here is one of her favorite songs, of the moment:

Some  sophisticated and wonderful pop right here.  Katy B feels like a grimier, scrappier version of A Guy Called Gerald’s “Essence” album.  Meaning I love it with all my electro-anglophile heart.

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