Category Archives: Rant

My Natural Enemy

My natural enemy is a half British-half French, Steelers fan, who has a career in finance or politics (but he really doesn’t do any work), he cheats on his wife, he doesn’t tip and he’s illiterate. He’s a management level Scientologist whose investment portfolio is diverse and whose assets helps with his regular donations to Republican PAC’s. He mostly watches the Discovery Channel and hunts animals he doesn’t skin himself or eat. He prays to himself and finds Dane Cook to be hilarious.  He plays Xbox Live more than he talks to other people. He drives a white F150 and doesn’t ever put anything heavier than his golf clubs in the bed. He borrows tools and doesn’t actually use them. He always leaves the heat on because he doesn’t want to come home to a cold house. His favorite band is U2 and he gloats about getting backstage passes. He tells people when his birthday is coming up, and when it is his birthday. He comes from a privileged background and knows no hardship. He gets his daily opinions from the editorial section of the New York Times (read out loud to him by his cuckolded wife, as he is illiterate) and doesn’t bother with the rest of the paper. He tries to control everything in his world, fails, but still operates under the assumption he has control. He brags about his earnings on Facebook.  He doesn’t have any friends, only acquaintances. He throws away the heels of bread loaves. He calls every food-service employee “Sir”.  He uses a Bluetooth device.  He resents his mother. He thinks he is complicated but he is really very simple. His needs override everyone else’s needs. He pays for guitar lessons and doesn’t practice.  He vacations.  His love is a form of hatred.

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Hack Words

I’m not one to particularly exclaim writing rules. However, there are certain words, when used, trap otherwise tolerable writing into the category of hack, amateurish writing. The kind of stuff I will just put down. I’m not saying I’ve never used any of these words (I have done much worse) but I would suggest that writers should consider why they use these certain words, and reconsider their usefulness.

1) ennui

You mean ‘boredom’. Just say ‘boredom’. Using ‘ennui’ makes you sound pompous and unsure (two things (most) writers try to avoid) and trying to use a fancy vocabulary to elevate yourself into that ether world of serious writing typically stinks of trying too hard, and nothing stinks worse, or is more obvious, then when a writer tries too hard. It’s like when a person of the opposite sex is trying too hard for your attention: it’s obvious and you can’t really say anything about it because their intentions make their actions look manipulative, and critiquing someone in such a meta fashion is more than just awkward. Someone might cry. And besides, nobody really says ‘ennui’ – and if someone did they are probably by themselves because they don’t have any friends, mostly because nobody you know says ‘ennui.’

2) banal

A word whose usage applies distinctly to its definition. Just seeing this word creates an involuntary physical reaction that causes my eyes to roll. The above explanation would probably suffice if you just replaced ‘ennui’ for ‘banal’.

3) obtuse

A striking word that is often used incorrectly, which often leaves the reader thinking the writer has put less time into the piece than the reader.

4) illuminated

You may think Everything is Illuminated is a pretty grabbing title. However, nothing is ever illuminated. Ever. Think about it. Tell me something you have seen that is illuminated. If you have to think about it, you’re wrong. If you think you have seen something that is illuminated, you are also wrong. So, don’t use it. Because your intention to sound poetic and verbose comes off as confusing and trendy.

5) magical

This is a word that may seem meaningful and rich to you, but in fact it really doesn’t describe anything. In fact, it actually limits your ability to describe anything further. This would fall into the show, don’t tell rule.

6) suddenly

This is something a professor drilled into my head in college. Don’t say something happened ‘suddenly’. Don’t begin a sentence with ‘Suddenly,’ because it comes off as incredibly lazy. This is one of those things that perhaps may sound better in writing, but in fact doesn’t mirror reality in much of any way – nothing really ever happens ‘suddenly’. It is amazing how well you can anticipate things or sense things. Describing something as happening ‘suddenly’ makes me think your characters may not be sentient (which might be your intention, but is probably going to make for a boring story).  There are a multitude of much more interesting methods to describe a development in the story, such as not using ‘suddenly’, and simply describing what happened or is happening, as the reader is prepared for some sort of action to happen in the story (usually the point of all this business) and saying “suddenly,” makes you come off as a hack or an amateur.

7) obeisance

A good rule of thumb for using a brainy word, is that unless it is the absolutely, utterly, perfect word to use to describe something, simply don’t use it. Michael Chabon is a master of this. If it isn’t perfect, and you’ve forced your reader to go about looking a word up, and it isn’t absolutely perfect, or absolutely necessary, you’ve annoyed the hell out of them (I am looking at you Cormac McCarthy). In fact, if you’re describing something and it isn’t doing anything for the story, isn’t building a character, isn’t establishing setting or reality of the story, just get rid of it. If the story will remain essentially the same without the artful, writerly sentence that you’ve been working on, it really just be done away with.  Most of the good advice on polish I’ve gotten is always take away, never add anything.

Here is some further reading from a much more authoritative source: George Orwell, On Language.

And here is your reward for tolerating my grumbling:

New York City Novels

I hate stories set in New York City. They are always about orphans caught up in something outside their normal bounds – racketeering, art, politics – some unseemly underbelly that reveals the garish and ugly roots of humanity and society – the unpromising face or series of gears that keeps the mechanical world alive, but draws at the spiritual center for energy. These stories are an escape. And escape requires conditions of loneliness, of defeat, of dissatisfaction, elements of despair.

These stories: they are not about any world I see and know. Any world you see and care about – otherwise you, the you-you, you would be not be reading this. It’d be boring, stulting, dead. You live in Manhattan after all. The center of the world. Who gives a fuck about regular people?

Why can’t anyone be direct and convincing about their life without an angle of artifice, a dollar dangling in front, another pretense or a complication? Everything now is a reference, an illusion, a lonely work towered upon other lonely works done by lonely people. Most of these writers seem to be loneliness within loneliness, trapped in some insufferable maze. The world has enough metaphors. The world is plenty confused without any more cringing equivocations or reached symbols. The world has enough clutter.

So don’t tell me another a story about New York City. Don’t give me another novel about a kid growing up rough in the city, how New Yorkers only care to know about New York City – don’t give me that story because I won’t take it with me. Don’t give me another weak metaphor for NYC as a father, or a brother, or the gridded connectivity of our lives in the invisible connections just past our reach, don’t tell me that the power and the money hide away the mysteries of the world, don’t suggest the subway can be the arteries of our blood, don’t take the shit that the changing, breathing tide, the city its epicenter, is a life-giving force. Don’t tell me the city is a metaphor for everything we can or won’t be.

Because it’s bullshit. All of it. Every word is a deceit, a gimmick for a dollar. Every metaphor is a drawn-out lie by someone who doesn’t know how to be direct, how barely knows who they are as a person. And though I have never been to New York City, it seems like an apt enough description of everyone there to sate whatever lingering curiosities exist.

So don’t give me anymore stories about New York City. Because nobody outside of it really gives a shit.

 

The Business in Baltimore

“Well there is this guy named Adam Jones.”

“Yeah?” she said.

“And everyone knew he was going to be really good but he was this central piece in a trade for Baltimore’s ace, this guy Bedard.”

“So?”

“The trade backfired and the guy needed labrum surgery and we resigned him though because he is good.”

“So why what’s the point?”

“Someone might use their names while heckling us.”

One person did. We drove through traffic for three hours to get to Baltimore. There was a rain delay and the game started half an hour late. This worked perfect – we would arrive during the second inning.

“This used to be a smoking room.” I said.

“Oh yeah.”

She turned on the heat later that night: the smell of burning cardboard, mold-growing-upon-mold and cat farts blew through the room. I went to pull the tv out of the stand. There was no slide. I caught the tv a few feet off the ground.

“This lamp doesn’t work.” she said.

It wasn’t plugged in.

“You know how they say that purgatory is just like everything else in the world, how it all seems the same, but really, everything is just a little bit worse, but only just enough to frustrate you?” she said.

“Yeah?”

“That’s like Baltimore.”

Her description was startlingly accurate.

We walked around for half-hour and couldn’t find a place to eat after 10pm. The only places we found that night were a liquor store and two ‘gentlemen’ clubs. Apparently, down by the waterfront, there was a decent nightlife.  And we had seen The Wire: and we knew how something could be portrayed and how it could truly be.

“I have no idea where the water is.”

We also knew someone could see a portrayal and realize things needed to change. Apparently Baltimore was trying to clean itself up, or at least gain some exposure.

“This isn’t New York or Chicago or LA,” she said. “This is a real modern American city.”

ʘ

There is a big brown warehouse that fares prominently over the right-field wall.

When I was a kid, I wanted to go to the field for every franchise in the major leagues. I went to Candlestick Park. I have been to Fenway. I went to the place-where-the-A’s-play. There is some shame in my family that I have never been conscious or what the American Supreme Courts defined as “alive” at Wrigley Field.

I have been to the Kingdome and Safeco countless times.

The official attendance is eight thousand. An easy fifteen-hundred are wearing Mariners gear. I am not used to seeing a mostly-empty stadium. Safeco’s attendance numbers are pretty good – it appeals to a certain crowd and it is a nice stadium – but more on that later. Typically the attendance there is above twenty, at the very least. Twenty is empty.

I wonder who roots for the Orioles. I never meet Jacksonville Jaguars fans. I never meet Milwaukee Bucks fans. Until a couple years ago, I had never met a Baltimore Orioles fan.

We had tickets for back-to-back games. The Mariners were in town, and there was a game Wednesday night and a game Thursday afternoon.

“Let’s just say in Baltimore for the night.”

And thus the hotel.

I imagine that my opinion of the Orioles, and the Camden Yard experience would be very different if I only went once. Like every baseball team, they have cute and fun between inning activities. They have the standards: the blooper real, the team trivia questions, the “guess-that-year” game, a variation on three-card-Monty (there’s involves a crab and a boat and a squid and at one point a meta-fourth-wall-breaking-hand entering the scene ala Looney Tunes.) There was a kiss camera that encouraged couples to kiss when they were on camera. Not surprisingly, no same-sex couples were featured. Although I suspect a few sibling couples were.

Regardless, some baseball was played, the intricacies and situations I will not go into here. Bottom line is that we lost both games, although the second loss was an exciting loss.

It was my first experience rooting for the visiting team at a stadium. I remembered my feelings for these people at all of my exclusively home-team experiences. I expected some minor backlash. So I wasn’t surprised when a guy called me a “faggot Mariners fan” as I entered the men’s room. I briefly considered asking them if they were coming onto me, but this didn’t seem like the crowd that would either understand irony, sarcasm and assertive  masculinity that didn’t involve  guns, hunting and/or ambiguous histories of sexual assault.

They are the Baltimore version of the “bridge-and-tunnel” club. These are the type of people that slur five words into one, and generally think of tolerance as I beat you to near-death instead of beating you to death and thus you got off easy.

On another non-linear occasion, I went into the bathroom as the crowd had really thinned out. There were two people in the bathroom before the top of the ninth. I feel like bathroom and concession lines are the true mark of attendance figures.

A man and a woman yelled each others names back and forth through the door.

“Andy!!!”

“Audrey?”

“Hey ANNNNNDY!”

“AUDREY! I’M TAKING A SHIT!”

“ANNNNNNNDY!”

“GODDAMITAUDREYI’MTAKINGAFUCKINGSHIT!”

There was a pause.

“ANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNDYYYYYYYYY CMONNNN!”

“I SAID I AM TAKINGAFUCKINGSHIT AUDREY.”

I asked the man washing his hands next to me if he thought it was his wife, his daughter or both.

ʘ

The mystery and wonder of going to a park has fallen off for me.

There is still that immediate sensory readjustment when you can see the grass through a tunnel and then you get the view. That, will never go away.

I was writing about the differences between Camden and Safeco and I realized there wasn’t much of a point to it. So I deleted it. Safeco is nicer, yes, but they spent five times as much money on it and it was built by a “progressive-city” in a boom era. And the niceties and differences in sports and social hierarchy, and everything in our culture pretty much comes down to one thing, of course. Money. And talking about the difference sonly further highlights the amount of value and priority we grant to money.

At a bar, The Girl and I had gotten into the same dispute we always get into during the NBA playoffs – the motivation and moral management of the referees. (Go ahead and read Donaghyu’s book or look at this.)  

The refs basically want to keep the games close, the series close and the on-court product as watchable as possible. The reason that there is 162, 82 and now potentially 17 or 18 games in a season is only being discussed to make more money. The players know this – all of the veteran NBA and NFL players more-than-jocularly refer to the regular season as “the pre-season.” This why they say it only matters how you finish – because these players are ultimately here to win championships and further glory, not to entertain you. This is why Griffey sleeps in the locker room, players drive home after the 5th inning, Randy Moss quits on routes, basketball games are generally not entertaining until the 4th quarter if you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the sport. This is also why ESPN bombards you with “breaking news” and scores to distract you in case you ever start wondering if what Phil Jackson has to say about Ron Artest’s Twitter posts is actually worth any of your time.

If they are getting played millions to win, and they know there are far more important things in life, and there is a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to keeping you tuned in – what does that tell you?

And the bitter finality and implications of that very thought dawned on me in that way that I always wanted to deny or look around my whole life when a beer man in Baltimore had a few words with me when he saw my Mariners cap.

“You from Seattle?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s a sick fucking thing what those bastards did to your Sonic’s. I fucking hate that.”

I nodded.

“I have been working here, for the Ravens and the Orioles for thirty-five years, and you know what the goddamned truth is?”

I could guess. He leaned in close.

“They are all a bunch of spoiled fucking whores and you know it.”

He leaned back.

“I am sorry about your team.”

And he walked away and I understood what he meant. He was probably a fan of the Baltimore Colts.

ʘ

I was still happy. Probably because I knew everything he told me and I felt sort of vindicated in a way that I didn’t really like but helped with the retinal fact that we just lost a frankly boring-ass game.

But he was right about something. It wasn’t Seattle’s team or the NBA’s team or Payton’s team or Kemp’s team or Wilken’s team or Sikma’s team. It was my team – the fan’s team.

And I had to take ownership of that.

But I don’t think it is ever possible for me to fully reconcile the business aspects of sports versus the fandom aspects of sports. I am hooked in. I check ESPN regularly (and not just because I am still secretly waiting for a necrophilia scandal to break.)

The teams exist in the places they exist, with the games being broadcast because they are the games that can convert the most amount of money. New York, Boston, LA or Chicago wants to be in the finals to draw bigger audience numbers to increase their advertising rates for next season. They work PR better than corporate America. Then I remember each one of these teams is corporate America.

But then I remember they are spending money to open the stadium and keep the lights on and to field a competitive team, and that all of the money gets circulated around anyway. So what’s the difference?

But the difference to me is that for some reason it seems funny to identify with the Tigers or the Mets or the Steelers or any other team and to carry that as part of your identity. I carry the Mariners history as my own history. If there were thirty – or ninety – kinds of soda and they were all produced locally in each respective franchise city, would you carry that brand of soda as a part of your identity?

So this non-metaphorical brand loyalty is really just another mechanic of our economy. But we cheer and wear (and buy) hats and shirts because of a geographical history and a team history, and we share it with each other.

And every time I see my team lose or watch at a bar when a player has played in all likelihood his last game in Cleveland, I try to take a breath and keep it in perspective.

It’s just a game. And it hurts less. And then it ceases to matter.

So I don’t worry ten minutes after the game is over.

But it also makes me wonder why I spend so much time worrying and caring in the first place! Then my heart sinks when I think of all the reading I could have gotten done.

But I don’t remember that, and I don’t carry it with me. What I do carry with me are the people – the Mariner fans behind center field cheering until the last out, the Asian couple in front of us literally sprinting to the front of the fence to get a word into Ichiro, the British man who was going to his first game of baseball and his friend and I coherently explained the rules, and he was following along and cheering and yelling after the seventh inning. Even the brutish fans in the bathroom using slurs. It transcends reason, time and money, our three main utilities. It’s like a church of the willing, of people believing, remembering and reliving, a silly game or three involving balls, gloves, hoops and poles. It takes away from our comfort zone into something more or less human I guess. I don’t think money would transcend someones humanity when nothing else could.

It makes me feel like a kid to love and hate and boo and cheer for those most irrational and ultimately human of reasons. It’s never rational or conductive to fear something – why should it need to be rational and productive to love something too?

And I’ll be a happy man if I have a son or a daughter, and I get to sit them down at Safeco and explain to them: “There was a man named Ken Griffey Jr., and this building wouldn’t exist if…”

What Sucks, What Doesn’t Suck – May 2010

The Sports

Eric Byrnes sucks and should die in a field somewhere (and it looks like he will.) Cliff Lee is awesome but his agent sucks. Milton Bradley sucks. Gutierrez sucks at batting. Jason Heyward, I like. Joe Mauers foot sucks. Mike Sweeney sucks at not hugging. Ichiro is a goofy bitch. Wakamatsu makes me want to throw a tire iron at my tv (as in a computer screen.) On that note, MLBTV is great, if you have a great computer. Orlando Magic suck and I now suddenly hate them for no apparent reason, Joey Crawford sucks, David Stern sucks, Mark Cuban is walking on a balance beam between awesome and death, the second round starting before the first is over sounds like a nightmare, the Spurs suck (the penises of the referees, possibly at halftime and during tv timeouts and of course before the game.) Brandon Jennings still seems like he doesn’t suck, Melo sucks, Lebron James entourage/PR machine falls into the I-don’t-really-give-a-shit realm but that kind of means it sucks doesn’t it?

The Arts

MIA sucks so much I want to throw her down a flight of stairs, that stupid hypocrite, naive hack-artist. I got a minute into her new music video for that noise-crap song and turned it off. Terrible. Just fucking terrible beyond words. New Hold Steady sucks. New BSS sucks. New Murder By Death is sweet. New Jurado sounds sweet. New Callahan live record is great. Old Sunny Day Real Estate is good. Das Racist is fantastic (Combination Pizza Hut Taco Bell.) King Lear is great. Seven Samurai is the best. Shakespeare in Love is okay. We Live in Public was interesting. David Sedaris should try fiction. Graham Greene is number one stunna.

Stuff that Matters(ed)

Arizona clearly sucks, Arizona Iced Tea is cool, Adrian Gonzalez is cool, Google sucks, Facebook sucks bags of dicks on a minute by minute basis, Iceland is the knees, buying plane tickets sucks. Not having a ps3 sucks. Working full-time while working on a novel sucks. Netflix is cool.

Current Nation Standings

1.China

2. Russia

3. The United States of America

4. Brazil (Health Minister)

T-5. Iceland

T-5. Arizona

Bottom Five Places as of News

1. Queens

2. Queens

3. Kryzgstan

4. Iceland

5.  Arizona

Individual Standings

1. Mitch McConnell

2.  Jack Nicholson

3. Jan Brewer

4. Julian Inclan

5. Ray Odierno

All standings formulated through precise data collated from winning qoutient over last thirty days, collated and divided by the cosine of winning quotient from lifetime.

A Conversation: In the Future: Written In the Future: Involving the Future

“Billy, hey Billy, you need to listen to me. I know your glowing robot-truck is fun, but we need to have a talk. You are six years old now. Your mother and I see that you are interested in sports. As you might be able to tell, I am a sports fan. Billy, Billy, please put down the robot-truck. Or take out the batteries….it has screws? What the hell? Why would that thing need screws? You know what, just give it to me.

Billy, I am worried. It appears that football, or worse, the NFL is your favorite sport. I know Peyton Manning, Jr. is good and cool at all, I would probably think the same thing if the older Peyton Manning had tattoos on his face too, and was an open homosexual, and that’s fine. I am not going to tell you that you can’t like football the most. That’s cool you like football, I guess. It’s better then if you didn’t like sports at all or at least a feigned a passing interest.. But I will tell you that I will be deeply disappointed if it stays that way.

No, Billy, baseball isn’t boring. It’s just your ADD makes it difficult to pay attention to something longer than ten seconds. In my day, my ADD only made it two minutes. And we thought that was bad. Jesus, where did you go? I turned around to grab a beer and… alright, Billy, sit down, stop spinning around and singing, it’s driving us fucking crazy. It’s really unacceptable. Your mother is in therapy. That isn’t cheap. Your not even listening are you? Do I have to turn off all the lights in here and make you lay down with your eyes closed again? Because last time you fell asleep, and I had no idea when you drifted of exactly, and that whole conversation we had about pre-marital sex was pretty much me talking to myself twice. I don’t want that again. Look…I’ll strike a deal with you. I’ll give you ten cookies if you pay attention to me…the whole time. No, after I’m done, otherwise you’ll just think about the cookies while you’re eating them and not pay attention. Well, maybe your right, you will think about getting the cookies and fake it. Shit. Okay two cookies now, as good faith, then the rest after, and after you pass the quiz.

Football is stupid, Billy. It’s really dumb. You don’t have to pay attention to watch it, ut appeals to the lowest common-denominator, and your mother and I have wasted enough money throwing bribes at those gifted pre-schools to ensure you won’t be a lowest common-denominator. So for the love of god, stop multitasking. It’ s just not wise to invest time and energy on stuff that’s easy, like a hooker for example. People who care about about football are people who care about hookers.

I want you to follow sports Billy. It’s important to being a man. I know that sounds stupid right now, but trust me. You are young. Just follow the teams and like the guys, and you will have a whole litany of information later in life to impress your first girlfriends dad, and he won’t think your a twerp. And if he doesn’t follow sports, he’s the twerp. Also, you can have real conversations with grown men about things besides the weather or traffic. Billy, sports will always be there for you. It’s really the best investment you’ll ever make. And it’s absolutely free too, if you want it to be.

Intelligent fans won’t respect you too much if you only know stuff about  football. I mean watch football, it’s cool and fine, but it shouldn’t be number one.

It’s all about baseball and basketball, Billy. The rest is a crock of shit, no matter what ESPN says, even if Brett Farve is coming back at the age of 60. They’re just trying to sell you stuff and keep on watching, just like CNN, Fox News and MSNBCBS, except they sell fear, which I guess exacerbates an entirely different process and STOP LOOKING OUT THAT FUCKING WINDOW. Jesus Christ, we should’ve made you sleep in the basement! I am giving you some solid fatherly advice here! I thought about this for almost thirty minutes before I pulled you out of school today. Your in a good spot here Billy. If you stick to sports now, when you’re twenty you’ll have a dozen years of knowledge and memories. It’s fantastic. You can watch a guy get drafted at your age, and his career will be over when you’re in college.

Ot’s important to know the difference between following and liking a team, and being a stupid fan who invests a bunch of emotional stock into a team and loves them, and actually feels pain and gets sad when they lose. People forget it’s just a game, and it’s not too important. It’s like the opening act, or a stack of rice in the show or meal of life or whatever. Yeah, have pride in your team and in your city, but this isn’t a girlfriend. It’s more like a hooker. You know what it’s for and respect it, and when you’re done with it, you leave it alone. This will come up again later in life. Your generation has the advantage of robohookers though, which…well we didn’t get to enjoy really. Anyway, if you end up like one of those losers who paints his entire body in team colors, or goes to the game and is wearing a hat, a jersey and a team jacket while keeping score in your personal score book, and knows the ages, birthplaces and statistics to every guy on the major league roster or the farm team, and it’s all you think about…then, I may have to disown you. Yes, even if your rich. Loving a team too much is kind of pathetic. Everything in moderation, Billy. Especially those robohookers. Keep it in check.

So my mother was a Cubs fan, Billy. The Cubs? They were a team in Chicago that lost forever and everyone still loved them. They were cooler than the Red Sox too, because generally people who were from Chicago weren’t the kind of caustic assholes, that dripped with the stilted concept that losing more makes you deserve to win more. I’d like to see if they were so adamant if they were in a smaller market like Kansas City or Oakland. Anyway, you only used to see those type of whiners from Boston. Boston fans were the worst, Billy. But their teams started losing again after 2012 and they all stopped caring again, as usual. And then that mushroom cloud drifted over the Northeast…Yes Billy, now Boston is essentially a home for roaming cannibals and mutated cats. But it’s really not that different from before.

Anyway, she was a Chicago Cubs fan. Chicago? Jesus, Billy you know what Chicago was. Chicago was a mostly nice city until that nuclear blast happened a while before you were born. Do you ever listen, or do you only care about history that involves cannibals? Anyway your grandmother raised me into sports as I will be raising you into sports. And those Cubs suffered, but they took it in stride. They were genuinely sad. But it was only temporal. They took a shot and forgot about it, the way a good fan is. Sports is like a hooker right? You are either completely satisfied or skipping in the street or it’s just disappointed and worth forgetting. When it comes to hookers and sports, have an emotional memory of thirty minutes. This is the best advice I can ever give you, Billy.

It went on for over a hundred years Billy. It just got into the blood…or the water or something. It was accepted that they would lose and they’d be sad, but not crushed. And they always said “There’s Always Next Year.” Which was true…until that nuclear holocaust. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because they’re all dead now. For chrissakes Billy, stop crying. Here’s another cookie. There you go!

My mother became a Mariners fan when our family moved to Seattle when I was an infant. We also had a great basketball team called the Super Sonics, but I’ll tell you all about that soon enough. Let’s stick to baseball. In the mid-1990’s, when I was a little older then you, we had a certifiably great team. Now falling in love with a basketball or baseball team is like falling in love with a gorgeous, tall, intelligent brunette or blonde like your mother. It’s not like your typical hooker. At first, it’s not easy. But it’s a lot easier if you’re familiar with the ins and outs before you hit puberty and your ability to comprehend difficult things throughout life plummets faster than President Petraeus’s approval rating after we attempted that counter-insurgency operation with those Martians. Holy fucking shit Billy. When that Martian held Will Smith’s severed head in front of the camera and then he took off…well we never thought that was going to happen. What was that? Oh you’ll see the pictures someday. Anyway, good-looking, smart women are worth your time, even if you don’t like sports and you end up being gay or asexual like your mother suspects.”

Okay. Stop right there. Just stop right there. You cannot go on like this. This has no point. You know you actually don’t believe in any of this stuff. You like football. You just don’t like the NFL.  This whole bit with a fake kid from the future? It’s a formula. Well actually, it’s not even a formula. There isn’t any math or thought-out ideas – I just actually wanted to make jokes about a weird son and Peyton Manning Jr. with tattoos on his face and sneak in some jabs against Boston. But the future jokes – I know it’s pretty much the exact same thing I did before with Emma Watson. Are you paying attention now? Is anyone reading this far?

This sports as a hooker business – bullshit

This Boston hating – mostly bullshit that isn’t worth thinking out farther into an elegant setence.

Implying the sons malformities originate from a nuclear blast- halfway decent.

The fact that ESPN sucks and just another business that doesn’t do even a half-assed job and just repeats stop-gaps and uses interjection, maximizing minimal stories because they are on the air 24/7 just like CNN and Fox News – totally worth exploring.

Football – pretty great, it’s just the NFL and ESPN make me want to stab myself like the guy does in Equus. (See that? I am the next Bill Simmons! I JUST MADE AN EQUUS REFERENCE!)

But knowing something about sports is very helpful in interacting with adult males, especially as a young male then they have pretty much immediately (and rightfully) dismissed you – totally true.

So don’t expect more of that formulaic stuff – although it is sweet beiung able to sneak in a joke about Will Smith getting skullfucked post mortum.

Also I didn’t edit any of this.

HOW ARE YOU!?!?!

Do Adults Play Videogames?

One of my first memories is when my father brought home the Nintendo Entertainment System. It seemed like the systems grew up with my sister and I: we got the SNES and played Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country like fiends. I remember being excited beyond all description when we got an N64 for Christmas, and my friends and I all tried to be the first to get 120 stars in Super Mario 64 (no one was surprised when Ryan accomplished this first) and we played GoldenEye and Perfect Dark together on the weekends. When I was in high school, I got a job and bought an Xbox, and my friends and I played Halo 2 to the point of hyper-competitvness, and after some time I stopped enjoying playing the game with strangers because my friends and I got too good at it. It was no longer a challenge when I played outside of the group. At a certain point I mostly drifted away from videogames and stopped thinking about them, and stopped wanting to play the new ones.

A few months ago, I was doing deliveries at a restaurant and I noticed something. My boss (early to mid 40’s) and one of our line cooks (late 30’s) were discussing strategies and aspects of a current videogame. They were discussing one of the games on a next-gen console that I had never owned. They were talking about Mass Effect or BioShock or something, one of those games that combines the aspects of an FPS and an RPG into a non-linear structure, sort of like Grand Theft Auto, minus the sarcasm and satiric sense of humor. What struck me, was that I considered these people adults, and since they were older than me by a distinct measure, presumed they must be more mature than me. Of course maturity has nothing to do with it. Regardless they were discussing something I associated with adolescence or college-aged time-wasting. But here were two people, both married, one with children talking about videogames. And not just talking about them, but in an erudite and eloquent fashion, with passionate  knowledge. I heard them, and older males at the restaurant, talk shop about games and watched them swap games around. It came to light that the line cooks wife allocates hours that he is allowed to play Xbox, and if he disappoints her or screws up, she takes his Xbox time away from him, like a mother punishing a child.

The question became this: what does an attachment to videogames do to the concept of the modern adult male?

To be fair, these men played videogames about as long as I did, the NES was, for the sake of this argument, the first true home console game. Instead of starting to play at the age of two or three, they started at sixteen or seventeen, and became adult, married men as the games grew up. They could watch it from start to finish. But it was still strange to hear adult men talk about current video games; hearing the boss get nostalgic about the arcade 8-bit classics was one thing, but hearing him talk about the new ones? It felt weird. It felt like something a grown man with a wife and kids wouldn’t be interested in. It sounded…childish.

The tools of the modern hunter-gatherers

It’s important to consider the mental and physical ramifications that increased usage of simulations and increased attention to digital stimuli in this burgeoning digital world. And to avoid a sprawling poorly directed New Yorker type piece, I will contain my analysis to videogames. But, it is important to remember that the changes videogames have on male archetypes can have similar or common parallels in other parts of our lives. How does our attention to glowing entertaining objects, effect our identities, our perception of nature, and how we perceive and sense our physical surroundings? And not just now but for the coming generation, who won’t know a world without cell phones or the internet? Ultimately the psychological undercurrent of the choices these current adults make is secondary – what strikes me is what it may be doing to the next generation as to how they see their elders. Specifically what they see as a male role model. Is your five-year old son watching you play Halo 3 and achieving Killtacular going to associate this as a strong male archetype?

Of course, the male role has evolved over time. In the Western world, men are not taking their sons on hunter-gathererish weeks-long excursions to kill and cut up animals for survival, where the sons will do most of his learning about being a man. If directed to do that, most men wouldn’t even know where to begin, much less not get themselves and everyone else killed in a matter of hours. The modern world has increasing retreated away from nature into simulations of what we did hundreds of years ago; and like all progressions in society there are some good parts and bad parts to this, but definitely substantially more good. Much, much, much more good. Otherwise, we would still be doing the arcane method. Today, we drive instead of ride horses, when we rode horses instead of walked. Just as today we use stoves and ovens instead of open flames, and we used open flames instead of eating our meat raw and getting infections and dying at the age of 30. It is a sign of progress. Overall, shit is looking pretty good.

And outside of our instinctual advantages – food, shelter and procreation – things are also looking pretty different. For this essay I will (attempt) to focus on how men currently entertained themselves, be it intellectually or not (which is all pretty subjective usage anyway,) and the resultant ramifications of those choices.  I will also make a concerted effort to not to come off like some hippy-dippy wacko hypocrite Luddite.

The man actually looked a lot like this.

There was a man I used to make deliveries to regularly on Friday nights. From what I could tell, he was divorced and took the kids on the weekends, and in all likelihood probably wasn’t the greatest cook so I’m guessing he ordered out on Friday’s so he could relax and enjoy the limited time he had with his kids. What was interesting, was that each time I made this delivery (roughly fifty times) the man was sitting behind his computer playing World of Warcraft with his son sitting next to him, watching him play and asking questions about what he was doing. Without him or his son looking up, he directed the younger daughter in making out a check to me, while I stood in the doorway. He described to his daughter where to sign. She always signed. This man had no concept of what I look like. Frankly, I found the whole thing kind of disturbing, not because of the mans lifestyle choices ( which he has the right to make,) but because of the seeming comfort and ease the children existed in this environment (which they did not have a choice or concept of how weird it was) – with Daddy leaning forward into a glowing screen, seemingly unable to interact in the physical world. I could also make the logical leap that these choices, and this environment may have some reason to do with his apparent divorce or separation and consequent singledom. He was slightly overweight, balding and looked like he didn’t care much for personal hygiene or physical appearance. The man was completely disconnected from physical reality. And he was a role model for two young children, if not setting a horrible standard, then at least screwing them up for a good chunk of their lives. WOW is a game most adults cannot even keep in check, I knew guys who played at least ten or so hours a day and not doing much else (well one thing..) so good luck to children who are watching their primary main role model choose to use maximal free time playing it.

This is of course a worst-case scenario, and obviously not what every man who plays MMORPG’s and has children sets as an example. I do not look down on men who play videogames: as I stated before I played them for a long time myself. I can understand the allure of the game, of the relaxation and calmness that it can give. In small doses, it can be refreshing and a positive thing. However, it has the potential to become dangerous. One could make the argument that television and movies can have the same negative impact; yes it can, but not to the dangerous degree or potential that videogames and the internet offers. Consider that a movie ends, that a program ends, that commercials come on, or sometimes there is nothing on or nothing that you would enjoy watching. There are limits and prescribed ends.

The internet offers a limitless option, sort of like Pandora’s Box or smoking inside. It’s a bit of a game changer. The allure of non-linear games isn’t just total gameplay freedom, but that it can in theory never end. You can play GTA or Morrowind or Fallout 3 for the rest of eternity. And aside from going to the bathroom and eating, which can be remedied by having a subservient significant other or a phone on the desk, or a bag strapped to your leg to piss in, you can theoretically never get up, with provided financial freedom. It only ends when you want it to end. The same thing with the internet versus a newspaper. A newspaper has only so many articles, you read it all then you’re done for the day. But you can read or watch videos or do whatever you want on the internet; it only ends when you want it to end. Be it cigarettes, cat food or a television channel, that is the ultimate goal of any business or product, to keep you using it for the longest possible time. And they will deceive and entreat you to keep you using the product, to have your consumer loyalty. Confusing these products as entertainment or toys is not recognizing it for what it is – just because you torrented the game doesn’t make it not a business interaction. They usually don’t care if you didn’t pay the first time, as long as you pay sometime. It’s like how a bar gives you a free drink on your 21st birthday, or how a businessperson treats their client to dinner, drinks and a ballgame. If they can’t get their money, they’re happy they got your time, because it wasn’t going to their competitions product and affecting their market share.

I used to say i would play a game for an hour or so, and would play past that and lose track of time. I found myself not wanting to quit, wanting to go another level or another life, until I actually had to force myself to stop, and the next thing I knew it was four in the morning. You will find you will nearly always play longer than you imagine you would – you are a gaming time-optimist, and you tell yourself the wrong figure because the product is addictive. And like all addictive things, be it food, cigarettes, drugs, or videogames, there is a degree of shame involved. And like most things that involve complete and utter focus- you lose all concept of time passing (which is also probably something worth a whole essay to discuss.) Time flies when you’re having fun, and I think we can all admit the fun choice isn’t always the right choice. Like sticking up a convenience store, or driving your car off the road and through a park.

Would this man play WOW?

My father was fifty-two years old when he had me, his youngest child. I am thankful that my father is and for the most part still isn’t plugged in. My father doesn’t give a shit about the internet, Google, YouTube or ever talk about his computer. Actually I am pretty sure he doesn’t know what YouTube is. He is still what I would consider a man involved and dedicated to physical-reality. He is more active and alert then many twenty year old males I know. Today, I would say my male idols are Steve McQueen, Ivan Illich and Graham Greene.  All of these people are pretty old-school, so for the sake of having one of my idols being alive and an active participant in contemporary culture, Christian Bale. My perspective on what makes a good man is a strong work ethic, a giving nature, consistency, openness, moderation and an inquisitively observative outlook. I cannot even begin to imagine Steve McQueen sitting Indian-style in front of a big screen, with a few beers out and a bag of Doritos playing Mass Effect. It’s just impossible to visualize.  So clearly there has been a transition in male role models, or in at least how males choose to spend their leisure time.

I clarify this because my father made an interesting point to me – does his evening leisure time activity – doing the crossword and eating cheese with a knife – equal to playing videogames for leisure?

I am an advocate that video games do not make actively make you dumber (please read Everything Bad is Good for You if you’re interested in this topic.) However, I don’t believe that when you’ve become a fully developed sentient adult (for the sake of argument let’s just say 25) that the popular games my coworkers were playing will make you any smarter in a useful way. Sure, it may benefit a child or a teenager in developing problem solving skills with a real world example by letting them raise taxes in Sim City, but once you’ve reached adulthood and you actually pay taxes, the exercise loses its value.  I am skeptical that the skills acquired in any popular game can be communed to things outside of the game in any sort of way that makes it worth your time to play a game more than two or three hours a week.

The only skill being good at Madden may have is that it makes you good at Madden ( and NCAA after you get over the control issues.) Sure, maybe playing Dynasty mode may get you interested in the actual career of sports management, so maybe you attend a university that has a sports management degree (Washington State University) and you learn the ins-and-outs of managing a professional sports organization and maybe you get a job with a team and have a nice comfortable career. But since maybe seventeen people ever have done that or will do that, using that as an excuse to play too much isn’t really just. The skills that are acquired playing games may only help you play other or different video games better – and work to keep you plugged in, because if you’ve developed the skill you may as well use it…right? If you didn’t it would become a total waste of time. Staying plugged in is good for the self-esteem, it avoids admittance.

An addiction is an addiction – it works to keep you thinking about, pining for, and strategizing playing the game when you are not playing it. You may have an extremely advanced understanding of a game or a certain level in a game (I have had  a three-hour long conversation,while sober, regarding the absolute perfection that is Ascension in Halo 2, divulging strategies, tips, thoughts and team-battle philosophies on that map. (A sniper-shotgun two-man team well executed is absolutely unbeatable when played intelligently.)) Does this PhD level of understanding of a videogame have any practical knowledge? If the bomb dropped or if the Rapture occurred, or if the zombie acapolypse happened, would it serve in any way to help me survive, live sustainably or feed my children? Better yet, if there was no magically no such thing as television or videogames, and I somehow still had the skills – would they be of any use? Can one argue that the amount of time spent learning, studying and creating a guide like this, anything a but a complete practical waste? And that this isn’t the only one and that they aren’t being done by one or two people but thousands of young men who have decided this is the way to spend time?

And even more, if you took a week off from playing the game and tried to play it again with your buddies, wouldn’t you not be as good as before?

And this is my answer for my father: that crosswords have a larger benefit because they actively test your cultural I.Q. If you don’t know an answer it exposes you to ideas, people or places you are completely unfamiliar with. And if you do know at least half, it is a great mental exercise. Like a great piece of art, a crossword points outside of the crossword itself into the real tangible world. A videogame ultimately points inwards – what you learn in a videogame, e.g. the proper time to use the lightning bolt in Wario Stadium or the weapon respawn time on Ascension, is limited to the imaginary world of videogames – sort of like when rappers get successful and all they can do is rap about money and fame. It’s not really very useful or entertaining unless you are drinking the Kool-Aid.

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid!

As preachy and condemning as all this may come off, I actually do believe that videogames can be healthy to play. As I have said before I enjoy playing sports-franchise simulations. I like to take my favorite team in the world, the Seattle Mariners, and rework their roster to my liking, make a few trades, and pretend I am the G.M. or alternately the players. I am aware that this is silly, and am slightly embarrassed by it; before now, only a small handful of my friends were aware of my intellectual involvement with it and the number of years and amount of time I have played  pretend with my alternative universe version of the Seahawks or Mariners or Bulls or Bears or Sonics (ahhhh!)

I know a few people who have gone to the extreme and made videogames the central focus of their lives. They played games so much, that it wasn’t even entertaining, it was simply it, and they got so good that they learned code, became programmers, wrote games, made a shit ton of money and have great lives. What separates them from everyone else is that they don’t see games as the only fun to be had. They saw how games could improve their lives and took advantage of it, akin to the person who thinks they can work for the sports club because they play Madden. These people went the full-nine yards and saw something as more than just entertainment. It’s just like the film-student who studies films and also gets to enjoy them. This is the crucial difference. It became neither work or play. It became craft.

So I don’t play the game anymore, because I didn’t bring a system with me when I left Washington.  I am aware that the real-world implications and capacity for intellectual growth by playing videogames even a few hours a week is severely limited  at this stage in my life. However, if I did still have a PS2 and my copy of 2K Sports Baseball, I may have been playing it rather than writing this.  If I had made the decision to pony up the money for an Xbox 360, I may not have been able to travel and see parts of the world and experience things I never thought I would have done. I may have never met my girlfriend, I may have never had the close wonderful relationships I have had with my friends and family.

Like a drug, if I chose to regularly abuse drugs for a continual portion of my life, I would be an entirely different person. The person I was before this decision, easily would’ve outlined my life with the presence of drugs. I never could have been able to come close to guessing, much less outline, the person I became without them. Yeah, go ahead and play the game for a few hours a week if that’s what you know you need sometimes, drink a few beers to relax or smoke a bowl. But for the love of god don’t play videogames all day, everyday or drink all day, everyday or smoke pot all day, everyday. Recognize the positive use and take advantage of it if it works for you. Everything in moderation;and yeah sometimes even moderation.

I like to think about the advice that a doctor gave to my friend when he told him he really enjoyed getting high. I’ll paraphrase it for you:

Think of all the things you didn’t do because you were playing videogames, and think of the example you are setting for your children.