Sunday, February 28, 2010

Silver Anniversary Special: "Rufio and Juliet"

To commemorate the 50th article posted on this blog, we present a special literary event. To those of you who've been reading since the start, this is for you. For those who came in later, you owe this enjoyment to the first group of people. Buy them a drink or something. The lesson, because in a perfect world we'd learn lessons from everything: if on your birthday you're providing people with free written entertainment on some sort of pre-determined schedule, you get to write whatever you want. Including Elizabethan drama based on children's movies from the '90s.

Rufio and Juliet: A One-Act Play
Two bands, alike in immaturity
On an island, secreted away
'Tween sheets of land and sky; such purity
Hangs still in time 'twixt the night and the day.
A tribe of boys, bereft their leader Pan,
Hath in fine Rufio confidence shown,
Made him their King although not yet a man,
And 'gainst foul Hook he fights, clove flesh and bone
The markers of their strife. Yet in so much
Squalor there still lives joy: fair Juliet
Waits hand and foot upon each claw and crutch,
Her pain awaits Rufio's touch to soothe it.
So we alight on wings of somnal grace,
And fall with beating wings on war apace.

Scene One: A Path at Night on Nevernever Island
Enter Gregory and Sampson, two pirates.

Gregory: Alert ye!
Sampson: Ho, for which quarry do we seek tonight?
Gregory: For boys! They prowl these woods in twos and threes.
Sampson: And when we find them? Gods of war arise!
Gregory: Gods and rowdy men! Boys, in twos and threes!
Sampson: I mean not to offend, but hungers can be fed. Some favors can be found or bought at camp!
Gregory: Some found in the brush, too! They are like squirrels, the way they scurry.

Enter Mike and Ben, two armed Lost Boys.

Mike: Off with you! These woods are ours by right. Your place, the sea and shore, lies o'er yonder.
Sampson: We'll cut ye to ribbons, as we're sworn!

Enter Rufio on his little steam-powered railroad car.

Mike and Ben: Ho! Ru-fi-o, Ru-fi-o, Ru-fi-oooooooo!
Gregory: In threes, they said, but this one's near a man!
Rufio: A grown-up I'm not; I shant grow to one! But I stand near your size with half the beard! Twice the sword it's safe to say, or thrice! Come hither, I'm eager to prove it. Grown-ups are e'er pirates. We kill pirates!

Rufio lunges forward with sword drawn, as do Mike and Ben. Sampson and Gregory flee.

Ben: They fled so quickly. Do we continue?
Rufio: Indeed, with haste, the night is spent enough. The pirates lair to walk disguised among them.
Mike: The brush, due west! These curs have tramped a path!

The boys exit in the same direction as the pirates.

Scene Two: The Pirates' Tavern
Many pirates fill the smoky room. They're drinking and talking and talking about drinking.

Drunk Pirate: Nights and days wheel round and round, but time stands stopped between each round!
Lusty Pirate: Oy, where could she be? For hours here I've sat, chancing a glimpse of the maid Juliet.
Way Drunk Pirate: Barely more than a girl, snatched off a ship that was burned out at sea. A lovely young woman, she.
Lusty: You ruin our good humor with your casual respect of women. I'll have none of it.

Rufio enters in disguise with an eyepatch and beard. He sits down at an empty seat by Lusty, Drunk and Way Drunk.

Drunk: I say, a stranger here! A fresher face! Give your name, so "stranger" we can replace.
Rufio: A stranger, I? No chance, sir, nay! We've met!
Drunk: Have we, now? I can't recall. So many do come through these halls and vanish here, or die out there. Their names just drift into the air.
Way Drunk: I've seen him, sure. Out on the wharf. His working-mate's a sodding dwarf!
Rufio (laughing): It's true, each word from first to last.
Lusty: Silence, all! Hold tight your mouths. For dawn's bright gaze breaks on our house!

Juliet enters from the bar, dressed like the other workers serving the pirates. She's in her late teens like Rufio, so everything's cool with the law.

Rufio: What in all the world's great splendor is this? An angel fell from Heaven down to Earth! By my mohawk, red and saucy like a cock's crest, I'll have her!
Lusty: Quite a thing, that girl. But every pirate fit to stride the sea covets all that Juliet be.
Rufio (aside): They flap their gums and drink and preen, but Rufio has found his queen!

Captain Hook and Smee enter. Music plays to herald their arrival, and all the pirates, stand and shout for them. Rufio plays along.

Rufio (aside): The villains here, ere I with her can speak! Bad luck, foul play, poor form and all of that. And though night's just begun, I must away. My purpose set, I'll find a way to Juliet.

Rufio gets up from the table and slips out a side door.

Smee (to Hook): Saw you that? The crimson mane? The cheeky grin, un-calloused hands? 'Twas not our man that there did slip into the night, out of our lands.

Hook: I'm Captain here, and good as king in halls
of drink where pirates sing. And yea, I saw
him scurry out. That Rufio, the cur, the lout!
But worry no longer, my right-hand man,
he'll fall with time into our waiting hands.
A lethal plot I've set into motion
Will land our man beneath the briny ocean.

Curtain falls on the tavern. Scene ends.

Scene Three: An outhouse on the edge of the Pirate camp
Rufio enters in the remnants of his disguise; he has shed all but the clothes.

Rufio: Foul luck is better than foul play, 'tis true.
For though my ventures were cut short tonight,
The escape with life and limb I'll take!
But now dilemmas do abound; what ought
I do, what ought I seek? Defeat of Hook?
His men? Of Smee? Or do I look inside
My heart, pull back petals red and irate
To find the molten core hid deep beneath?
The stamen swells, the nectar runs and I,
Not boy nor man, know not quite where to turn.

Juliet's voice: Ay, me.

Rufio: But ho! What's this? A siren sings tonight!

Juliet (inside a privy): Who speaks? I hear a voice somewhere out there
But can't be sure inside this tomb. And yet
I hear a gentle tone that skips a beat
And begs a swoon; who art thou, beneath the moon?

Rufio scampers up to the door, near the port, and presses his ear to it.

Rufio: But stank, what stench through yonder portal breaks!
Pirates drink from dawn's first breath to her last gasp.
And beer, we know even among the Boys
Concocts a mist both pale and foul, offense
To all the senses! What brings you hither?

Juliet: My purpose is my own; though soon enough
It plummets out, into the world. But what of you?
A pirate? No. If else, than what? A Boy?
One of the Lost? Absurd. You stand and move
as though a man! Both fine and strong, it's sure.

Rufio: God, it pleases me to hear you say it!
For here I came, driven out by foul Hook,
In search of you! I knew not where to look,
But something in the night did bid me traipse
Across the swamp and through the black morass
Perchance to find you hear and then to gape.
Your beauty shines and cuts through dark and wood,
Through privy doors and lonely moon-starved nights,
I ask, presumptuous always, for a chance
To look upon it in the light of day.

Juliet: You're not a pirate, that much is certain.
But who? The men around the camp are pirates all.
A boy! THE boy, the one they fear! Your name
I cannot now recall. The boy that crows,
The loudest...yes! You are called Rufio!

Rufio: The very same! Though I'll confess, I heard
Your name back in the camp. It was so rough,
The way 'twas said. Say it again, perchance?

Juliet: You flatter me, King of the Boys. My name
Is as good from one mouth as another.
But I'll give it you, as we've just met:
The maiden, the servant Juliet.

Rufio: You've made me a happy man. Not a boy,
Not least tonight, though in the building morn
I'll have no beard to mark the Moon's passage.
I fear I must away, back to my own
And you as well, I fear and hate to think.
I'll not let long elapse before I come
To camp and beg from your pale hands a drink.

Rufio exits, headed back to the Boys' camp.

Juliet: Oh Rufio! I ache inside. This night feels empty
And alone, where once was full. My heart doth
Align with my bowels, to shed the old and
Seek the new; to fill with life and loving.

Juliet emerges from the outhouse and exits towards the pirate camp.

Scene Four: A jungle path on Nevernever Island.
Enter two armed bands: Lost Boys led by Mike and Ben, Pirates led by Smee.

Mike: Whip your blades and kick your heels high! There's enough and more, all armed as we, so now's the time for bravery!

Smee: Like gnats they be, and swat we shall! Their little screeches all around! Let none survive; we'll feed the rest to crocodiles! Hearts alive!

The parties battle. In the melee, Smee and Mike find each other. They begin to duel.

Smee: Spoiled youths, your numbers dwindle! Even now I see the wounds. You'll run dry of teenaged soldiers...turn to children someday soon!

Mike: We've half your strength but twice the heart.

Smee strikes Mike, who falls.

Smee: Their captain's slain, hah! Twice the heart? I count just one, and here it fades. Say your goodbyes to endless days.

Rufio swoops in on his super cool railroad sail cart. He has paint grenades from the last battle scene in "Hook."

Rufio: I've brought them all, my hearts, the paint grenades! For pirates, know we all, despise them so. But what is this! I am too late; love hath delayed my hands and feet. I come too late to win the day; it is decided in defeat.

Ben: My friend, my lead, my King in all but name; see here, inglorious: Mike is slain!

Rufio (dropping the paint and drawing his sword): The one called Smee; I demand satisfaction.

Smee: I fear I bear ill messages today: no satisfaction to be had! Just death, and grief, and all the many-splendored flavors there within. My steel sings to thee, Rufio! Heed my bloody siren and come hither.

They fight. Rufio injures and disarms Smee, who drops to his knees. The remaining pirates retreat and the remaining Lost Boys stand silent, watching.

Rufio: Mercy, ask you?

Smee: I'd be quite obliged. But this is folly. A pirate I will always be, but there's no price for dignity. Gold doubloons or pearly strands? Would you like that, mohawked Pan? Do as you will, and Hell may swallow all.

Rufio delivers the killing stroke. Smee falls.

Rufio: It's done, for now. Bear our dead back swiftly. Mourn them, tend them, lay them in stony ground.

Ben: And what of you, my prince?

Rufio: I cannot say, but I will see you soon. Your prince would be your king, but needs a queen.

Ben: By my troth, we do always as you say. But will you not reconsider? Dangerous times we seem to see. The Captain will not hear lightly what you've done to his dear Smee. Perhaps it's best to stay at home: more time to bide, more wounds to mend? For I have a premonition this sortie will be your end.

Rufio: Ends we have, dear Ben, and ends we must face.
Every one, even in this magic place
Where days run on and long and never end.
You've never been aught but the truest friend.

Rufio exits. The Lost Boys collect their fallen.

Scene Five: The hold of the pirate ship
Hook holds Juliet, bound, as a hostage. Two other pirates wait with them. There are sounds of fighting. Rufio storms in through the door. He fights the pirate goons and kills them because they're just henchmen and he's awesome. He approaches Hook and Juliet.

Rufio: How knew you this, of hers and my embrace?
It matters not. Too many of your men
Fell tonight by my hand, that needn't have.
They died bravely, Captain, safeguarding you,
But we will have our fight the same, I think.
Release my love, draw steel and then prepare
To meet the end. The curtain falls, I swear.

Hook (releasing Juliet and drawing): Your first question: fair, I thought. But Smee,
The poor lamented soul with coil shuffed loose,
And I did spy you in our camp last night.
Your manner, my good boy, and most! your hair
Did tip their hands into our silk pockets.
The girl was plain, for if I know just one
True thing 'bout ways of men, it's that their wicks
Can burn so hot, the smoke wafts up and clouds their brains!
Men like you, for indeed you've killed enough
To earn the claim, think with one limb of two
And never with the twain.

They fight. During the duel, they speak. Juliet struggles with her bonds on the deck.

Hook: A strong arm, a quick wrist! Young men train themselves so well and readily.

Rufio: You jape and cackle, wicked man. But I match you stroke for stroke; our blades ring out and neither bend.

Hook: I question, sir, if you truly understand how things are done?

Hook grabs a lit lamp and hurls it at Rufio, who dodges. The lamp bursts on the ground near Juliet and she scrambles away from the flames as they lick out. Straw on the floor is catching fire.

Rufio: Look what you've done! In your own house you've laid
A brick of sorry shame. This ship will lie
Upon the ocean's wine-dark breast in time!

Hook: Little you've seen and less you know, brave Rufio!
Wood ships go up in flames so commonly
For just this cause. How many times have I
Re-built my ocean carriage o'er the years?
A dozen? Or more? Convenient fires
Doom my vessels, as they do the plot advance.
This time and always we will build again.

They continue to fight as the fire spreads to the door. Much shouting is heard. Eventually, Rufio out-maneuvers Hook and stabs him.

Rufio: For all the many Pans that ever were!
For all those, yours and mine, who fell today.
A right was done, a wrong unmade and all
May conclude: amor vincit omnia.

Hook dies. Juliet has freed herself and runs over.

Rufio: No last expulsion, cruel old man? I'd think
After our time together, and before,
With all thy savage wicked legacy,
A last cross word might cross thy lips. History!
You have some humor; it is hard to see.

Juliet: O Rufio, your triumph comes too late!
The flames have crawled all the way to the door.
We cannot escape! And even could we,
Hordes of pirates, red with rage and lust for
Blood wait outside, arms aburst with weapons.
I am no warrior; would that I were,
And we two could stride through flames towards our
Bitter enemies. Our strength and skill serve
To carry us through on bright golden wings.
What a dream! I am sorry for us both.

Rufio: Nay, lady, place a smile on your face.
We'll be together at the last. You've said
The truth, I can't deny it. Let's enjoy
The time we have, it's been so brief but well! That's life.

Juliet: The fire spreads on toward the powderkegs!
There's consolation, I suppose: we won't
Suffer near the end. And many pirates
Who now do shout and call the Captain's name
Will travel with us on our merry way.
Braver men I've heard tell of, sweet Rufio,
But never one I thought to someday meet.
We've lost, I know, but I'd have been your queen.
Mother, too, for all the boys you lead.

Rufio: It is not so important that we win.
The best, the strong, the wisest know there comes
A time when victory mustn't be chased.
The battle's over. All my boys are back
At camp and in their cots. Inside their heads
Bright dreams do chase each other, round and round.
It makes me laugh to think of it, but ne'er
Once did I your name to my charges speak.
It is a shame: the team we would have made.
We cannot know what history we've wrought,
But time's long arc remembers what it ought.

They embrace, smiling. The curtain drops and a mighty explosion is heard.

A hazy peace with embers like red flies
Alights on the island that Time forgot.
The Sun comes up veiled like shame from a lie;
Charred spars of lumber left ever to rot.
For never was a story of more woe,
Than this of Juliet and her Rufio.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

No cussin', mo' 'tussin

The California Assembly has passed a resolution declaring the first week of March "Cuss Free Week." It's only a ceremonial resolution, so the Assembly continues its fine work of doing absolutely nothing and letting the state go to hell.

The obvious problem with this: California has enormous problems and the Assembly should probably be focused on those. But that's not my problem. My problem is the name: "Cuss Free Week?" It's not called cussing, it's called cursing. The word has always been "cursing." Are we, the citizens of California, children? No. Are we old men from Tennessee who lost their ability to pronounce the letter "R" in The War? Statistically, at least a few of us must be. You are great Americans. Thank you for your sacrifice. Anyway, the word "cussing" is a vile assault on the chastity of the good Lady English.

My next question: if the sponsor of this bill is handing out penalty jars, who's going to collect them? The state, I presume. And as we know from watching television and listening to frothing maniacs, the establishment of new revenue streams for failing governments is an evil tantamount to kitten rape. So I'd really like the tastefully-named Mr. Anthony Portantino to make his intentions clear vis-a-vis the jars. And who's supposed to collect The Governator's jar? Would he just empty it into his own pocket, or should he turn it in to the Treasury? Are there forms to fill out when making such a deposit? Don't the families with change jars at home need these forms? If they have their own private change jars which the parents of unruly children collect, is that a form of tax evasion? These questions need to be resolved! Ideally with hundreds of hours of pointless debate. The fact that I even need to raise these issues demonstrates how bush-league our state legislators are. I guarantee that the U.S. Congress would get at least 8 months of drawn-out debates, eye-rolling cable news sound bites and bitter recriminations out of this. Do better, California. With all the advancements in technology, civil engineering and social science you've provided the world, you should be able to push the envelope when it comes to legislative gridlock. Yes, we can.

Finally, I would like to address the supposed originator of this whole "Don't Cuss" business: "a Southern California teen whose creation of a "no cussing" school club sparked an international movement". Just what is your problem, buddy? Was adolescence such a breeze that you decided to give yourself a handicap and found this club to guarantee you'd never get laid until grad school? Life is full of actual challenges. You don't need to pile them on. Similarly, the world is full of actual problems. Every quarter wrung from the mouths of decent frustrated people could have gone to Haitian earthquake relief. Every time you set up a "curse jar" (C-U-R-S-E) you're basically punching a homeless Haitian baby in the face. You monster. McKay Hatch, pictured above, claims to be "the most cyberbullied kid in the world." I don't know how this is quantified, but I'm pretty sure the preceding paragraph counts towards it.


I haven't talked about music for a while. This happens because nobody I know shares my musical tastes, and heaps scorn on them wherever possible. To be fair, I bring it on myself with all the metal. Today co-worker challenged me to name a metal song that expresses positive feelings. I was actually prepared to answer, because I've been loving one song in particular that I'd describe as practically joyful. But my preparation was for naught, because the name of that song is "Death by Fire." You try convincing somebody that anything called "Death by Fire" is happy and something they want to be associated with. Particularly if that somebody is a witch--unlikely in this case, but something I always consider. I just had to hunker for the rest of the conversation as it turned to mockery of everything I love.

"Death by Fire" isn't a single and there's no good version of it on Youtube, so I'll share Therefore I Am's latest single instead. Like all music, it's better the louder you play it. What, that's not how your Simon and Garfunkel records work? Well, maybe they should. Paul Simon is like four feet tall and he could use some amplification. And while we're on the subject, ATTENTION ALL INDIE BANDS: I'm sick of your fucking whispers and mumbles. If you've got something to say, speak up and tell the whole class. If not, walk your ass back home in your tight little jeans. The grown-ups are trying to have fun.

You probably hated that and didn't make it past 40 seconds. It's okay. Just know that I don't blame you. You haven't developed a taste for it. Metal (and this is not particularly metal--if anything, it's closer to punk) is like dark, strong coffee. It's an acquired taste, and largely grown in the mountains of Colombia. It's better with some cream? This was not my finest simile. I love the drama and the intensity of this music. You may not like the way that guy sings, but clearly strong emotions are attached to what he's singing. That's really what I'm after. I don't think that music is cool, or should be cool. Maybe a musician is cool, but his product (in most instances) shouldn't be. He should be killing himself onstage and going for every ounce of expression in his recordings. Because honestly, if you aren't so fired up about the creative process that you'll decapitate small animals with your teeth to defend it, what are you doing? Nothin'. You might as well join up with a traveling petting zoo to hock your musical wares in a more appropriate venue to a more appropriate audience.

Let me conclude this highly controversial musical interlude (I know I've blown a lot of minds. Be strong) by stating something we can all agree on: Fuck James Blunt. This no-talent falsetto crooner needs to hop the slow boat back to England, so he'll have plenty of time to mull over his various aural crimes before facing the swift justice of the Protectorate. James, I was not having a bad day. But now I am, and it's because of you. No! No, you can't win me over with flattery. Telling me I'm beautiful doesn't lower my blood pressure or drain my hatred for your newest album: The Sounds of Date Rape. I really like the picture at right because it's clearly all Hulk can do to keep from punching this pale scrawny dude in the face. There is a terrible symmetry in the image. Those arms are like a gun in a stage play: you know they have to go off sooner or later. This relationship isn't working and in a way, it's both of our faults. In a more accurate way, it's your fault. There's a lot of musical talent across the pond. See if you can find some.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Tale of the Bathroom Ninja

I hate QA: "Using the bathroom is hard" edition
Today I encountered a new phenomenon at work. I was standing at the urinal doing the sorts of things you'd normally be doing at a urinal (not masturbating! Peeing while thinking about masturbating) when something caught my eye. A strip of toilet paper was visible through the seam between the wall and the toilet stall next to the urinal. Upon further inspection, I determined there was a two-foot length of toilet paper affixed to the inside of the stall, such that it hung down and blocked all of the seam. This prevented anyone standing at the urinals from seeing even a sliver of the stall. The seam itself is not noteworthy; stall walls are often above the floor and a half-inch off the wall to allow easy cleaning. But the mystery of the paper needed slightly more unraveling.

I couldn't get into the stall because there was somebody inside, and I wasn't about to wait. For one, I was at work testing video games and who's gonna test the games if not me? That's right, nobody. You begin to understand my terrible responsibility. Second, striding into a bathroom stall immediately after it is vacated by a Quality Assurance Tester is...well, let's say it's not done. It would be like Indy striding into the Temple of the Crescent Moon without a care in the world, just after that dude's head came bouncing down the steps. It's dangerous in there and you need to respect that danger. So I contented myself by peering at it from my "peers-eye" perspective. Clearly somebody had placed this strip of toilet paper there for the express purpose of concealing the goings-on in this particular stall.

The first question is obviously "Why?" For the same reason that Big Red dropped his pants down to his ankles: the kids in elementary school never shamed it out of him. Yes, they were remiss in their duties, but there's nothing we can do about it now. Clearly this fellow is under the impression that the goings-on in his particular stall are a) somehow radically different from what happens in other stalls; b) of interest to others besides himself and perhaps his personal physician; c) shameful; or some combination of the above. I will concede point C; my Catholic genes leave me convinced that basically anything to do with the human body is sinful and ought to be hidden.

Aside: my father is a recovering Catholic and while I support his battle, I am ever-mindful of the fact that I am, statistically, at severe risk for Catholicism. It informs everything I do. Just know that if you ever ask me to apologize for anything, I may fall off the wagon altogether.

But let's explore points A and B. I must admit the former may be true. There is an individual at work of such girth that he cannot wear normal clothing. Even the traditional tent-like garb of the QA Tester does him no good; he must send away to his tailors, Messers Barnum & Bailey, for a colorful work-appropriate jumpsuit. Those guys sure know their way around an acre of canvas. Anyway, I have been in the bathroom while this man emerges from a stall. Whatever he does in there is not what I do. I've never looked afterwards, but the smell alone is enough to shake the foundations of my personal belief system. Were anyone to actually enter the stall and look in the bowl, we'd have some serious Lovecraftian shit on our hands. Figuratively speaking. The point is, guys in my line of work endure physical processes you may not be aware of. So we have to concede point A as a possibility.

Point B? That's just silly. Let me be the first to assure you, Nervous Pooper: I have no designs on the information you work so hard to protect. Even had I, the best I could manage given the layout of the bathroom would be to squeeze my face against the tile wall and press an eye to the seam. This would give me access to...what, exactly? Maybe the identity of the man within? Half the time I can tell that just by the sounds of his labored breathing, intense enough that it's practically the guy's voice (QA guys eat a lot of red meat). The picture above is of the actual bathroom that Senator Larry Craig got arrested in! So there are some situations in which authority figured might want to know what's going on in there. But it's also pretty clear that Sen. Craig wasn't entirely sure what was "going on in there." Let's just call that episode a fluke.

Most likely, it's just the personal mania of one poorly-adjusted individual. It's actually kind of brilliant, at least from my perspective as an observer. Why? Because of the deniability. If you have an intensely weird personal quirk (I do!), it's important to shield it from the prying eyes of others. I refer not to the mechanics of this guy's #2 process, but the fact that he sets up a goddamn strip of spy-proof paper. Unless somebody actually saw you putting the paper up, it's completely deniable. After all, nobody aside from the janitor is taking that paper down once it's up. If I got in there and saw it, I would be weirded out. But I wouldn't take it down, because a crazy person put it there and who knows if you'll get crazy by taking it down? So you leave it up. But for this reason, anyone else looking at it from the outside wouldn't know who put it up or when. Thus, total deniability: even the guy who put up the paper could say it was already there when he sat down. I mean, he'd be saying it with tears of potty shame raining down his face. But he could say it, and you'd pretend to believe it.

I'd just like to offer some advance to Mr. Shamey McWorkpoop: go to your happy place. Reach a state of mind that allows you to do your business, then close your eyes and let it fly. Fiber helps with this. I'm in and out of that stall before you're done measuring the proper length of toilet paper to hide your shame. We all believe in you. Spread your wings and fly, much like Willy spread his fins and jumped over that breakwater with the kid going Yeaahhhhhhh! Speaking of which, weren't they at a marina? Wouldn't there have to be a way for boats and things to get out? Yeah, I see through you, "Free Willy." You've lost so much respect that you've gotta deal with the quotation marks. Even Biodome gets italics.

White Trash Recipes
Thought I'd share a few of these. Another way I keep my life simple is to cut corners on food preparation and grocery-buying wherever possible. For example, I rarely buy or cook meat because it has a short shelf life and it forces me to wash a lot of things after preparing it. Lunchmeat doesn't demand these things of me, and that's why it's earned a place on my sandwiches. I've discovered some really nice culinary shortcuts that allow you to enjoy the flavor of delicious foods without actually having to prepare those foods.

White Trash Nachos
1 bag tortilla chips
6oz cheese, in block form (any type, obv. Cheddar works best for our purposes here)

Cut open the bag of chips using a pair of sharp kitchen shears (I mean scissors. If you aren't Asian, these will be found in a room that is not the kitchen). Place the block of cheese on a bare table surface near a television; ideally a surface littered with empty beer cans and desiccated pot stems. Place a tortilla chip in your mouth. With a clean paring knife, slice the cheese to desired thickness. Place the slice of cheese in your mouth along with the tortilla chip, and chew to desired consistency. Swallow as appropriate.

White Trash Cherry Pie
1 container Trader Joe's Cat Cookies
1 bag dried cranberries

This is a nice simple dessert with minimal preparation. Open both packages, and place both cookies and cranberries inside your mouth at the same time. Ratio of cookies:cranberries varies to taste, but best results are reported at around 1:4. Creates a disturbingly accurate cherry pie flavor despite involving neither cherry nor pie. Kinda like how prairie oysters are neither oysters nor products of the prairie. Did you know that oysters are actually a marine animal and are not typically found on prairies? It's true! Anyway, it turns out "prairie oysters" are just balls. Not even balls from the prairie; just balls from balls.

What a disappointment.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Design Doc: "Paradise Lost"

I have been hard on Dante's Inferno. It is a fun game with responsive combat and exciting visuals. But I've leveled all sorts of criticism at the game's creative elements mostly because I think they're rubbish. I'm also really jealous because I would slay fifty men with a giant cartoonish skull-adorned scythe while yelling HARRRRRRR for a chance to write for a game like that. I think that's really what upsets me: the folks who put this game together had an absolutely absurd chance to do something amazing. How many human beings in the history of the world have had the opportunity to write and create for the Divine Comedy in a multi-million dollar mega-project that is taken totally seriously? The answer is two, and they're the guys who wrote this game. Let their names never be uttered again. What sort of self-respecting person-with-an-interest-in-fiction (we won't use expectation-laden nouns like "writer") would get the opportunity to write for Satan in this venue and throw up this kind of airball?

So rather than curse the darkness, I'm going to light a candle. I'm going to get myself into Visceral as a game designer and fight the power from the inside. Like Malcolm X, I'll go along to get along and work with the system. Yes, that's what Malcom X was about. You saw the Spike Lee film? Well, you understood it wrong. It was on TV this weekend and I watched it. That is a fact. I'm going to give Visceral a game proposal they can't refuse, evolving the Inferno concept. It won't be the game I'd really want to make, but the change will come slowly. Just like with puppies and young children, you have to earn their trust before you start yelling and beating them with magazines. Because otherwise they won't understand how you're helping them.

Paradise Lost
A game in the style of God of War, which means Inferno as well. Third-person action game with lots of blood and flashy effects and cool "quicktime events" where you can hit a couple buttons to pull off a ridonkulous attack and like rip a dude's eyeballs out through his butt. If we can model the eyeballs-butt thing, awesome. Here we follow a different epic poem than the Divine Comedy: here we're doing John Milton's Paradise Lost.

The game is played from Satan's perspective; he's cast as an archetypal epic hero. Milton intended this to be ironic, but at Visceral Games we are NOT about irony. It's full-bore awesome all the way. We are also not about taking risks; at least not with stories or characters. Despite our determination to push the envelope in every other department, in this way we must remain vanilla...because gamers hate to see new things. We open with Satan at the enormous battle between his angels and God's angels in Heaven.

Level 1: War in Heaven
We move the contents of Books 5 and 6 to the start, because they are by far the most metal. As we learned from Dante's Inferno, it's important to concentrate your most eye-popping and epic content at the start of the game. Reviewers are often lazy opinionated nerds and they won't make it too far before banging out their 700 words on deadline. Player takes control of Satan in full awesomesauce armor, with gold and red and a bright shining sword. Some brief tutorials instruct the player on how to fight and Lucifer carves his merry way through dozens of weak angel punks. Lots of blood and screaming and explosions and death, even though the entire war scene in the poem is a parody. Angels can't die so the battle is an utter stalemate. Whatever, here you can kill the shit out of them! Then some stuff explodes, and Jesus shows up on his golden chariot with a fiery sword and owns the piss out of Lucifer's minions! There are four big-titted female angels on the chariot and they're wearing clothes, but they're really thin and white so you can see everything. Yeahhh. The ground opens up and the rebellious angels plummet down to a lake of fire in Tartarus.

Level 2: Pandaemonium!
Lucifer has landed with the remnants of his army and they come under attack by the demonic residents of the underworld. This will be a giant two-part level. First you battle demonic hordes along a trail towards the giant castle of Pandaemonium. We introduce larger demon monsters here, and the first quicktime events occur.

The second part of the level occurs at the castle, as Satan kills the boss guarding its gates by ripping its arms off and affixing them to a still-functioning Fallen Angel war machine. Well, and then by beating it to death while at the helm of the war machine in a fun little sequence with more quicktime events. Love them shits. He then storms the castle and reaches the very top tower, where he battles the Queen of Tartarus. She is a giant black four-winged demon with big tits. On her wings are more tits, and the wing tits should jiggle as she flaps them. This is important. The tits also shoot lethal green acid, and Satan kills the boss by ripping her wings off and juicing them over her head like a lime over a bowl of half-prepared guacamole.

We also learn about Lucifer's character from conversations he has along the way with his henchmen Memnon and Beelzebub. Beelzebub will be a fallen female angel with big tits. In keeping with the tradition of stirring main characters at Visceral (the silent Isaac from Dead Space and the I-have-a-different-motivation-in-every-scene Dante), Satan will essentially be Sting's character from the David Lynch adaptation of Dune. Spiky blonde hair and everything. He doesn't say much, but he does have a manic energy and yell all the time! Like the picture at right, he's saying "What up, bitches! I wrote Fields of Gold!" He likes to stick his tongue out and grin and stuff because that shows you how crazy he is. You keep your tongue locked up in your mouth but his'll have none of it! The one thing this character excels at is dire pronouncements, like the immortal line "I WILL KILL HIM!!!" line from the knife fight scene. Gives me chills. Pay attention: characters are supremely important in video games.

Level 3: The Void
Our hero learns about God's creation of Earth when a convenient deus ex machina character appears to inform him. Adam and Eve have been created in God's image, and Satan yells "I WILL KILL THEM!!!" He takes off across the great abyss to the Garden of Eden. This is a rail shooter as Satan shoots fireballs of evil at ghosts in the abyss. Ghosts of what? Ghosts of shut up, they'll be awesome. Lucifer arrives in the Garden and takes the form of a snake to spy on the first people, who by the way were white people. They are naked and Adam's junk will be carefully obscured. Meanwhile, Eve's innocent yet ample bosoms will be on full display. A sample dialogue:
Adam: "I love you, babe!"
Eve: "'Twere only we could sup from the Tree of Knowledge which o'er yond doth lie."
Adam: "No way! God said no!"
Eve: "A shame, truly 'tis. May we commence our fornication?"
Adam: "God said that's cool as long as we don't enjoy it too much."

Level 4: Snake in the Grass
Lucifer is discovered in the garden by angels, who expel him in chains. But he gets loose and breaks into a big-ass grin and sticks his tongue out 'cause he doesn't give a crap. He heads back into the garden and tears through hordes of angels as blood sprays everywhere. There will be periodic minigames and quicktime events, to get through thick jungle growth or suchlike. We can have vine-swinging and platforming as well. Eventually he fights Gabriel, who's nine feet tall with a giant glowing axe. Gabriel will have a fast melee attack, a slow heavy melee attack and a ranged attack. All except the heavy attack are blockable so the player can just mash the Block button to avoid damage between rounds of beating on the boss. After about eight minutes of bashing and blocking, a badass quicktime event plays where Satan saws Gabriel in half with his own axe. This will allow the player to forget the boring repetitive boss fight he's just endured.

At the end of the level, Satan becomes a snake one again and tempts Eve. She eats from the tree of knowledge and tells Adam, who is upset because he's so smart but she's so dumb! Thus we understand Milton's assertion that women are weak and wicked creatures. Bringing these literary values to the gaming public is really cool and I'm excited about it. Adam eats from the tree because he feels guilty for Eve's fall. Then they have dirty fun sex that they enjoy way too much, sealing their fate. Satan returns to Hell in triumph.

Level 5: Retribution
Satan shows up at Pandemonium to a hero's welcome. He's just ruined God's latest creation and doomed humanity to a fallen eternity. But the celebration is interrupted by God himself! He descends into Hell and attacks the gates ofPandaemonium. There's all kinds of heavy metal music playing and stuff starts exploding. Satan grabs Gabriel's axe and heads into battle.

He tears through legions of angels and big mega-angels with sweet quicktime events. God reveals Himself at last. He looks basically like Safer Sephiroth from the end of Final Fantasy VII, but with way bigger muscles because this is America and not Japan. He will spout such fiendishly original taunts as "Foul demon!" and "I damn you to Hell!" He will have an English accent and talk like Jafar from Aladdin. It is imperative that the creator of all the universe come across as pedestrian and petty, so our audience will know who to root for. The battle against God will take place in a single large wide-open arena. He will not really move, but rather slap at the ground feebly as Satan wails away on his various parts. Blood gets everywhere and big-titted angel women are falling dead from the sky with epic music blaring.

The boss fight itself will have two or three phases; we can pick and choose from a smorgasbord of God of War and Devil May Cry boss mechanics and spawn some small enemies periodically. We know the drill at this point. The fight will climax with some sick quicktimage, but Satan is stopped from killing God at the last second by Jesus. Jesus wraps him up in golden chains along with the rest of the Fallen Angels, and led off by the good angels. God and Jesus go back to heaven and we see an epilogue with Adam and Eve departing Paradise forever. They are wearing clothes and Eve's bosoms are no longer visible. That's how much the world sucks now. Before the credits roll, we see one last shot of Satan being led into a cell, where he turns around and grins. And sticks his tongue out. BAM. Credits. Fin.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Run, Dick, Run!

It was one of my life's sublime joys to see Dick Cheney at the podium of the Conservative Political Action Conference. The conference itself is a study in irony, given that "conservative political action" these days amounts to exactly nothing. I'm sorry, but obstruction is not really a legitimate pursuit. That's like me wedging myself into the frame of my bathroom door and yelling to the rest of the house I'M USING THE BATHROOM! Important business going on here; world, take note.

But Dick I can get excited for. The man's been around forever and has decades of admirable experience serving the U.S. Military under his belt. I don't mean serving in the military, but serve it he did. I have also served the military, albeit in a more literal role as a banquet waiter for the Navy during college. We have a lot in common, Dick and I, and we've got the scars to prove it! For example, there's one on my ribs that I got from some broken glass. I hear he has a real shiner on his chest; or rather, he did before getting the full Darth Vader pacemaker system installed. In addition to providing a modicum of protection against lightsaber damage, it keeps your ticker ticking!

Now, I'm not sure he'll run in 2012. He's said he's not interested in seeking the Presidency, but he's just being humble. Like in the new Star Wars trilogy when that nice old Senator really didn't want the Chancellorship because he's such a humble guy, but then he assumes the mantle anyway because it's what the galaxy needs. Whatever happened to that character anyway? Palpatine? Seems like a plot hole, but I was pretty stoned when I saw those movies and I may have missed something. In my defense, it was all medical because I needed something to quell the nausea. Anyway, I thought I'd look forward into the future with my Scrying Eye to see the exciting possibilities of a Cheney run for the White House. Yeah, I have a Scrying Eye. It's right next to my third nipple. No, you're not allowed to see it.

September 2011
Richard B. Cheney formally announces his candidacy for President of the United States of America. The announcement is made at his home on the banks of the river Acheron, in western Nebraska. Cheney is flanked at the announcement by his extended family, including his children and grandchildren. His daughter Mary's partner and their children wait in a cage to the left of the podium, as an example to the rest of the GOP. They are let out and warmly welcomed back into the family as soon as the cameras are turned off. Republican commentators dub the cage move a smashing success and Cheney's campaign gets off to a fast start.

December 2011
The candidate is immersed in preparations for the Iowa Caucus. Through regular meditation and extensive coaching from his handlers, he is able to project lightning from his fingertips for up to five full seconds. Cheney's advisors worry about the strain on his heart, but he reassures them that he is "beyond death, knifed through and into the quiet cold beyond." This is taken as a comforting statement.

January 2012
In the last open-forum debate prior to the Caucus, Cheney commits a minor faux pas by calling Mitt Romney an "[expletive]-guzzling New England fuckwit" on national television, then proceeding to pull his eyeballs out with telekinetic power from across the dais. This is seen by many in the left-wing media as an indication that Cheney is somehow unfit to hold office. National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg holds this up as "perhaps the finest debate performance ever put on by a major national candidate." Goldberg continues, "If he pulled that on Romney, you know he takes the War on Terror seriously. Thank God for Dick Cheney."

July 2012
Although the Republican National Convention has yet to be held, Cheney is the presumptive nominee. He has accomplished this through strong showings in several primaries, most notably Iowa and South Carolina. South Carolina had a huge impact, as it is the major primary state most comfortable with evil. The South Carolinian voters are satisfied that Dick Cheney does not have an illegitimate non-white child. Or an adopted one, because those are pretty sketch too. Adopted Asian babies are okay as long as you give them a name like Jack or Cindy. Later in the month, tragedy strikes the campaign. Cheney incurs an accidental paper cut while aboard his charter plane, and his blood melts through the fuselage before preventative steps can be taken. The cabin decompresses and all personnel outside the cockpit are asphyxiated. The candidate survives through what he describes as "old-fashioned gumption." His staffers' flesh is found flayed from their bones due to the low pressure in the cabin. Again, a tragedy.

September 2012
The Republican National Convention, originally slated to be held in Florida, is moved to the deep southern city of Dis at Cheney's request. Under normal circumstances the venue couldn't be moved at such short notice, but Cheney rips the entire convention hall out of the ground with his mind and transports it to his favored destination. The convention itself goes swimmingly, and the delegates are pleased to see that there are enough fat old wealthy white people around Dis to give a passable imitation of Tampa. The keynote address is given by Trent Lott to thunderous applause. He is enjoying a resurgence in national popularity, and the country as a whole agrees that the whole "segregation was a good idea" episode was overblown. Everyone's got some quirks!

October 2012
The race between Cheney and Obama remains close in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Why is this? Because Americans are idiots and can't decide what the hell they want. Anyway, both camps are expressing confidence. There are concerns among Department of the Interior officials, since Shoggoths have been showing up in National Parks and other federal lands with some regularity. Columnists in the major national newspaper (there's only one left: Murdoch's Wall Street Journal) reflect on the fact that not long ago, there were hardly any Shoggoths at all! How the times change. Cheney enjoys a major surge in popularity after he reaches through the ether and crushes the life out of Osama bin Laden with his mind from across the globe. Even President Obama is forced to acknowledge that it was pretty awesome. Cheney remains humble, remarking that he really wished he had telewaterboarding powers. He asks his advisers to "look into that Internet bullshit my grandspawn keep talking about," but drops it when informed you can't murder people that way.

November 2, 2012
Election Day! Sadly my Scrying Eye doesn't allow me to see the results of such momentous events. This is because I bought it at K-Mart, but you try affording the latest magical technology on a QA tester's salary! I'm just kidding, we're paid in S'Mores-flavored Pop-Tarts. I held out for Strawberry but you can't win 'em all. Pundits agree Cheney overreached slightly in the last days of the campaign, unveiling a new interrogation technique for the War 'Gainst the Moozlims (as it has come to be called). Lavaboarding promises to deliver the results that softer wuss-ball techniques can't always promise. Cheney even brags he could secure a confession for the Kennedy assassination plot if allowed to use it unhindered! This gambit backfires, however, because he makes the announcement during a really important episode of The Jersey Shore's fourth season. Snooki finally gets the procedure to move her buttocks to her chest as replacement boobs! The replacements were needed because she got her boob fat injected into her face. It wasn't a great move, but she was soooo wasted! Hah! (Aside: she is pictured at right, and seems to be in the wrong aspect ratio. That's not the photo. God created the world in 16:9, but Snooki was born in 4:3.) The interruption costs Cheney measurably in the polls, but experts from the newspaper and both print magazines still dub the race "too close to call."

We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Congress to tackle Gravity Reform

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, frustrated by months of fruitless debate on the topic of health care, have set their sights on the next element of President Obama's agenda: reforming the laws of gravity.

It's often surprising to those uneducated in civics, but the laws of gravity we observe today are not originally American laws. Rather, they date back to British statutes enacted by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687. They have remained fundamentally unchanged since that time, though in the past century minor amendments have been made by Congresspeople who were also quantum physicists.

Critics of the current system allege it is broken beyond repair. Specifically, its rules are so universally stringent that it becomes a nonstop hassle to many Americans. "It's similar to what I've been saying for years about the taxation in this country," says Club for Growth President and right-wing fundraiser Grover Norquist. "We know what we're giving up. We're painfully aware, but we don't know what we're getting back. It's an oppressive weight. It stifles freedom and undermines the human spirit. I hate it!" Overweight Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are poor, are hit particularly hard by what some are calling a "gravity crisis." The use of the term itself has become a highly polarizing debate. Scientists who are not Congresspeople insist that gravity in the United States has not changed in any measurable way since the Taft administration vacated the White House on barges down the Potomac.

Many are the changes proposed from both sides of the aisle. Spurred on by charges of obstructionism over the past year, Republican lawmakers have been aggressively pushing their policy ideas and insisting they be heard alongside those of the Democrats. Their opponents counter that the GOP's proposals are unrealistic. Senator Mitch McConnell has laid out a plan that would cut gravity across the board for all Americans to 7.5 m/s/s, down from its current level of 9.8. He would create special gravity exemptions under federal law for the United States military as well as its principal contractors. His plan has come under fire not only for its special-interest giveaways (numerous exempted corporations have donated to McConnell or other RNC candidates) but also its failure to offset those gravity cuts with hikes elsewhere in the budget.

Another plan on the table would link the tax and gravity codes to create one streamlined bureaucracy for both. Specifically, citizens with higher federal income tax burdens would receive gravity credits as a form of "tax relief by proxy." Democratic lawmakers are furious with the plan, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intoning, "One of the greatest facets of our system of gravity is the way it affects all matter to the exact same degree. You take away that built-in equality and we're back in the age of the Robber Barons." Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann put forward perhaps the most radical proposal: she drew a picture on a piece of Congressional stationery of the President with comically outsized ears and a turban. The full details of her plan will be forthcoming over the next few weeks, say her representatives (as she's a member of the lower house of Congress, these would be the representatives of the Representative).

The President's agenda, according to his spokespeople, is designed to "make gravity work for all of you little goofballs." His ideas are ambitious, extending to the orbital periods of most of the solar system's major bodies. Pluto in particular has been marked by President Obama as an example of the system gone wrong. "This, uhh, celestial body suffers from a profoundly unfair relationship with gravity," he said at a campaign-style rally held in a suburb of Cleveland earlier this week. "Its orbit is highly elliptical, much more so than even the fat cats in this neck of the woods. It is bad enough that we've had to drop Pluto's classification as a planet! It can't stay inside or outside Neptune's orbit and there's a chance it may be forced to leave the system entirely one day. If Pluto can't get a fair shake out there, how are any of you working-class people supposed to get a leg up in America?" His words are greeted with thunderous applause.

But Republicans are more skeptical. "Let's see all of this plan before we ring in a brave new world on gravity," one prominent GOP lawmaker grumbles. He suggests that by going for Pluto, the President has badly overreached. "The American people aren't ready for reform to this level. Look at the polls. Most people are actually happy with their gravity. They don't want the government to come in and run everything. They certainly aren't interested in spending tax dollars on gravity reform for Pluto, of all places. Pluto. Talk about far-out-there left-wing stuff. And what's all this about gravity fields warping the space around them? There's quite enough 'bent' things in this country already. Is this the United States of San Francisco? Booyah! Count it!" Indeed, the public has expressed mounting discontent about the extent of the Obama initiative. Specifically, they say they "don't trust them govmints." Polling from the Clinton administration suggests that the public is more inclined to support federal reforms during times of good economic performance. In the current climate, it may be difficult to make headway.

As for vote counts on Capitol Hill, the Democratic leadership is playing their cards close to the vest. After the health care debacle, they want to be sure that legislative support is solid and cohesive. For that reason, the President is suggesting he may extricate himself from the debate entirely and leave the Congress to its own devices. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirms that "the President is concerned he took too harsh an approach on health care. Our allies in the Senate weren't given the time to properly frame the debate. We learn from our mistakes around here, and this time I can assure you the kid gloves are going back on."

Here's hoping they can reach a consensus. Many Americans struggling with gravity simply don't have the time to wait. Marilyn Osterreich is a working-class mother of four from Kentucky who came out to Washington to lobby the President for assistance. She is considered "holy shitballs" obese, two full classifications beyond the more common "morbidly obese." She had to purchase three tickets to make it on the Greyhound bus east to D.C. "Gravity is killing me," she wheezes. "It's no joke. I can barely carry three of my children, let alone the rest." She is a single mother whose four accidental pregnancies by three different fathers in six years all came as surprises. "If President Obama can't help me, I really don't know who can. He's my only hope." The expectations are mounting, despite Republican threats to filibuster any kind of reform that doesn't include both gravity cuts for the wealthy and Snickers-flavored popsicles at every session of Congress. It is not known whether Snickers-flavored popsicles even exist, or whether you'd want to eat them if they did.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Sad, Lonely Lives of Elephant Seals

The waves are roaring today. Boulders stud this isolated rocky shore along the California coast, nearly 200 miles south of San Francisco. In the frothing surf just offshore, spars of rough-hewn granite rear 30 feet into the air. Surf detonates on the rocks and the air is filled with salty mist.

From a distance, the smooth brown boulders on the beach appear to move. This is no illusion; they are moving, and they are not stones at all. They are elephant seals, and they are among the most unique and recognizable aquatic mammals in North America. Their story is long, complicated and often tragic.

The Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris) is among the most unfortunate-looking of all God's creations. Whereas most of the ugliest creatures in the world are among the simplest, a cruel trick has been played by the Creator on this species of pinniped. Or more accurately, the trick was played on the females of the species. Elephant Seals exhibit remarkable sexual dimorphism, with the males growing three to four times larger than the females. Additionally, males sport a loose, dangly construction of skin and mucus membrane on the ends of their noses. The end result is what you see at right. This has always created friction between male and female members of the species: ladies, can you imagine having to roll over every morning to that? And what's more, could you imagine spending your life with a guy who could literally fart with his face? It would be impossible and you would be miserable. Luckily, Elephant Seal cows are known for their frigidity. They have been observed to complain loudly enough to get a bull four times their weight to get off of them. The protests sound like the loudiest, angriest burping you've ever heard. As we've said, these are foul and briny creatures.

In fact, Mirounga angustirostris maintains some of the worst gender relations among all mammals. There is consensus among behavioral biologists that the Elephant Seal is exceptional in this regard, though human radio commentator Rush Limbaugh runs a close second. It is not known whether Mr. Limbaugh's problems stem from his busy career as a radio host, or perhaps his eerie resemblance to an angustirostris bull. Experimental data has been inconclusive, as the sample size of Elephant Seal radio hosts is too small for meaningful statistical analysis. A photograph has been furnished at right for easy comparison.

Adding to the bull's problems are the social norms of his species. Typically males will battle on the beach for real estate and mating rights; the loser slinks off bleeding and defeated while the winner builds a harem of up to 100 females. Squabbling among the females is commonplace, as many of them are jealous bitches. In sociological surveys, Elephant Seal cows express discontent about sharing their bulls. At the same time, they steadfastly refuse to mate with bulls who haven't proven their worth in combat. The only certain thing is that these cows are uncertain about what they really want.

Bulls rarely fight to the death, but their battles are none the less brutal for it. They have developed hard hairless plates on their chests and necks for the express purpose of ramming into each other at high speed. What is meant by "high speed?" Males not infrequently reach weights of 5,000 lbs (over 2,200 kg or 3,500 Canadian kg) and, being seals, lack legs or arms or claws. So "high speed" is relative; it's like two guys in giant Sumo Wrestler suits trying to bite one another. Still, the sheer size of the combatants can lead to grievous injuries on both sides. As for the stakes, they could not be higher: the sole purpose of life is to reproduce and doing so is nearly impossible without asserting oneself in combat. The vast majority of male Elephant Seals will never mate, perishing in adolescence or dying thwarted virgins like so many Ph.D. students.

It is in response to these harsh realities that some enterprising bulls have taken steps to secure their genetic legacies. They have taken to technology, of all things, to give themselves a leg up. Or, really, any leg at all because they're fat-ass seals. In 1969, one undersized male, approximately 6 years of age, was observed to have welded tank treads onto his belly. While he lacked any real weapon systems to speak of, the treads were invaluable in giving the bull a speed edge over his competitors. This particular "adaptation" was doubly effective because it operated considerably better in a loose, sandy environment than would have a more intuitive wheel-based means of locomotion. Artist rendering at right (actual talented artwork done by Josh Lieberman).

The terrifying combat capabilities of such an animal should be obvious without explanation. Even riskier procedures have been attempted in the name of procreation, including a seal in the mid-'80s who was able (through the cooperation of one Col. Oliver North, U.S. Army) to purchase two racks of guided Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and mount them on his back. Rather than closing distance and battling his competitors in typical fashion, he merely blew them to foul-smelling blubbery smithereens from a half-mile down the beach. In the wake of a minor controversy regarding sales of proprietary U.S. Army equipment to unauthorized agents, the seal in question was placed in military custody. No un-classified visual evidence of such modifications exist and thus such claims cannot be independently verified.

In the past several years, concern among environmental activists regarding the mental and emotional health of unsuccessful Mirounga angustirostris bulls has mounted. "Our concerns ought to be obvious," asserts Greenpeace spokesman Mike Aurelia. "And they ought to be something everyone can appreciate. We've got God knows how many thousands of frustrated seals flopping around the West Coast of North America, just trying to get by and live up to the expectations their families have placed on them." The exact numbers haven't been determined, though Aurelia notes efforts by both the University of Washington and Stanford biology department to census these animals. Casual observers often assume a defeated bull simply re-locates to another beach to build his harem, but this is rarely the case. A defeated bull not only lacks for combat ability (which is why he lost in the first place), but he's likely to be physically injured and emotionally troubled by his failure. Thus, his prospects are extremely negative from the moment he loses a fight. This has been part of the evolutionary process for millions of years, but experts believe it may be changing. Specifically, in the current economic climate many established Alpha and Beta bulls are clinging to their harems more tightly than before. Incidences of extra-harem mating are at a 10-year low and as a result, younger less-established bulls simply cannot compete. "Raaawwwgggghrrrhhhrrrrr," belches one 6-year-old male who didn't wish to be identified by name. "Hwaaawwwghhhh awwwg awwwg awwg." The moist salty leavings of his outburst glisten on the underside of his proboscis. Sobering stuff indeed.

But the picture scientists paint is not an altogether gloomy one. The overall population of Elephant Seals in North America and worldwide is on the rise and has been for some time. Both Northern and Southern varieties of the seal are projected to increase their populations by up to 25% in the next decade; encouraging signs from species that were nearly extinct only a century ago. Hunters decimated populations around the globe, seeking the gold nuggets and other precious gems Elephant Seals are known to store in their stomachs. These stones, called gastroliths, assist in the seals' digestion and also serve as a convenient means to transport their considerable monetary wealth. The recovery of worldwide populations is considered a great success, but as Aurelia notes, "We have a ways to go. The modern era has been good to these animals, but the stresses of modern society and the fast pace of the 'Information Age' threatens to leave many of them behind. We owe them better than this."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Even my food is mocking me

You will have an exciting addition
to your life by being the warm
person you are.
6 12 21 26 36, 23

That sage wisdom is from a fortune cookie I got tonight. This wasn't a cookie that somebody else got and shared; it's mine, baked to plastic perfection and stuffed by God himself with a hurtful note just for me. There are many words one could use to describe a cookie-conducted note: "inspirational," "cute," "mangled Engrish." "Sarcastic" is something I haven't seen. There are plenty of fortunes that don't make sense for the person who gets them. I don't mind those. But this was clearly meant for me. Listen to the tone: "by being the warm person you are." There are a dozen different ways to word that, none of them nearly as sarcastic and biting. Yes, fortune cookie, I am a prickly introvert. It has cost me plenty of opportunities to make friends. There is a significant chance I'll die alone in a hillside shanty covered in my own feces because of it. Well, the feces will be a choice. Point is, these are my problems; they're not yours, and I don't appreciate you up in my personal business. I didn't even ask for your opinion, fortune cookie! Nobody paid for you! You ain't Lucy at her psychiatric booth on the roadside, getting a nickel to tell people what's wrong with them. You are a free dessert. FREE. I'd have to pay five dollars for a scoop of "green tea" ice cream that doesn't even taste like ice cream, and you think you get a say?

"The warm person you are." It's not enough to stop at warm person. Tack on "you are" just so it's completely clear that the author of this fortune cookie knows who I am and how I behave. It's seen into the depths of my soul, and my soul has been found wanting. For the record, the particular cookie that I opened was handed to me at the end of dinner by my mother. My actual mother who pushed me out of her uterus. Everyone else in the family got the sorts of meaningless platitudes that you'd like to read while eating a lame dessert. At least they tacked on some lucky numbers at the end, to restore the illusion of being a normal everyday fortune cookie note when it is in fact a barbed arrow loosed directly into my soul. "Hey, you're dying alone. But here are your lucky numbers so you know how many cats to adopt off the street!" One question: why is there a comma after the 36 but not after anything else? Is "36, 23" coordinates to something? Buried treasure? Upon searching for that latitude and longitude, I've found it's a point just off the coast of Crete in the Mediterranean. So maybe treasure? That "treasure" is probably just another note telling me how much I suck.


Video! Haven't done this in a while and a friend linked this to me (you my boy, Paches!) Yeah, I have friends with dog names. What of it? This video is special and I want to give it the credit it deserves. Many music videos are bad; largely as a result of the song, often due to a lack of ideas ("Let's have the band play in a parking lot! And we'll cut it up with shots of the singer arguing with some hot chick. Oh man, the hot chick should have a leather wristband! And while they're arguing it'll be in slow motion and the singer WON'T be lip synching. I am a genius."). This video is fractally bad. What do I mean by this? I mean not only that every element of the video sucks, but every single individual component of the video is bad. It is just as bad as every other component. They are all equally bad in exactly the same way, such that every single frame of the video is basically indistinguishable from every other frame. Every element is identical in that they all suck in exactly the same way to exactly the same extent. You could see one frame or you could see the entire video, and reach the exact same (correct) conclusion.

Let me show you what I mean. Let's take the name of the group: "BrokeNCYDE." Break that name down. Take into account the capitalization. I count no fewer than five ways in which this name can be interpreted, and they all suck. They suck equally; you can't pick which interpretation of the band's name is "correct" or even "less stupid than the others." It's all the sort of meaningless nu-rap-metal detritus I'd normally expect to find floating at the top of a full-to-bursting Port-O-John at a Linkin Park concert.

Which isn't to say there aren't positive elements in the video. BrokeNCYDE has clearly made a real effort to expand their appeal. They've taken the best parts of several genres and mixed them into a thizz-face-inducing musical gazpacho for all to hesitantly sip. What do people love about rap? How about Auto-Tune? Everyone fucking loves Auto-Tune. Let's hook it up! And what do people love about rock music? I think they love it best when some asshole is screaming in the background for no reason. ON IT. Finally, what are the techno kids into? Awww yeah, guys in animal costumes! Throw your Rule Book away, Mr. Stodgy Video Director! We'll have none of it. We...are...BROKEncyde! (I think you're supposed to anti-capitalize when emphasizing letters that are already in caps. Not sure. Another oversight in my Stanford education.)

Top Five "Freaxxx" Moments
5. After the fantastic chorus of "Let's get freaky now; let's get fucking freaky now" (I'm sure the semicolon is in the original notes for the song), at 0:57 we catch Big-Haired Douche convinced that the shot is over. He leans back on his haunches, looks down and starts messing with his hair. CAMERA IS ROLLING. PRETEND YOU ARE SINGING SONG.

4. After only 0:14, Big-Haired Douche decides to crack the seal on his sick-ass screamo skills! He's so fired up that he forgets where he is and just screams in the face of this poor girl. She's a central attraction of the video, though she always looks like she's confused and this was NOT what her cousin who knew these guys said would be going down. She didn't get all made up to get yelled at! And what does the guy yell? What is the sentiment he's got to scream himself hoarse to truly express? "SEXY NOW" is what he's got to say! I guess if it's good enough for a Justin Timberlake album title, it's good enough for me.

3. 2:50 in, Big-Haired Douche is pouring one out for his homies. They lost a lotta boiz on the mean streets of suburban Albequerque. Like my homey Keith who done crashed the SHEE-hit outta his Pops' Land Rover. Never forget; we even got commemorative T-Shirts screened in his honor down at the Big 5. Those sons of bitches forgot how to spell his last name--just like they forgot about Dre--and misprinted it, but it was like the day of the funeral and we went with it. Jesus knows how it's spelled. And my boy B Rabbit who dropped dead right in the parking lot outside that Jamba Juice. Brain freeze, dogg. Brain freeze.

2. 3:08. After the bridge has lulled us to sleep....REMEMBER ME? I'M A SCREAMING ASSHOLE AND I'M DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE. RAAAAAHHHHHHCCCHHHHHH. And we charge into the chorus! We have two more syllables in the second line than the first. Whatever will we do to fill the gap? What words have two syllables? Misanthrope? Way off. Syllogism? That's four syllables; misanthrope was three. We're getting worse! Uhhhh...fucking! We'll just add the word "fucking" to bridge the gap! Skinny Possibly Asian Douche is a motherfucking lyrical genius. The voice of a generation. I think he's Asian because they show him dancing with the Asian girl a lot.

1. At 1:57, the girl I mentioned in #4 is really, really questioning her decision to appear in this video. It was bad enough when just Big-Haired Douche was dancing and yelling at her; now there is a decent chance that he and Fat Douche will murder her. If they don't pony up that Urban Outfitters gift card, she is gonna be PISSED. Here's how I imagine the conversation going:

Director: "Okay, you're gonna put your hands around her neck. Like you're strangling her."
Cute Blonde Girl: "He's gonna do WHAT?"
Director: "Just a little bit! Strangle her just a little bit! Don't really put your hands on her throat, more like on her shoulder. Like she was one of those horses in 'Avatar' with the gills on its neck."
Big-Haired Douche: "Like this?"
Director: "That's great! Love it!"
BHD: "But it makes no sense! What am I supposed to be--"
Fat Douche: "Do we have any more pot?"

The Brothers Douche proceed to yell LIAR comically at a succession of women. They are all liars! Liars who are pretty weirded out by this whole thing. Those women do not look like they're having a good time. Those ungrateful skanks! It's not like just ANYONE gets to have her face yelled at by a fat dude in shorts for a music video.

That's my five. It was harder than usual to make the cuts because that video is so full-to-bursting with comedy gold. You'll notice I couldn't even give the guy in the pig suit (probably Fat Douche) more than a cursory mention. Have a great long weekend; Monday's post will go up as usual, because the comedy train don't slow down for mere Presidents. Necromancers, yes. Necromancers resurrecting Presidents...well, I'll need some time to think about that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sturm + Drang = Storm Drain

Today the depressing realization hit me: football is over. I'm not sure when the next NFL season begins, but it's 7ish months to go without. Brutal. The season always takes forever to arrive and then it's over before you know it and your team is out of the playoffs with an embarassing home defeat to a mediocre team and...well, I'll stop. Or rather, I'll stop so long as the world agrees to formally retire the phrase "Who Dat." See how I said "the world" and not "the people of New Orleans" because I'm still being nice to those people. In that spirit, I pretend you are not the originators of one of the worst, most bandwagony phrases I've heard in my life.

"Who Dat?" First, I shouldn't have to look your cliche up to understand what the hell it means beyond "I enjoy following the travails and pursuits of the New Orleans Saints, who I would prefer won all of their contests regardless of opponent." This is a fine sentiment. But it turns out that "Who Dat" is in fact short for "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" So not only is this phrase gibberish, it is a gibberish shorthand for gibberish. I just spent five minutes trying to conjure up a nonsense-squared saying to rep the Patriots, but the Boston accent is mostly manifested in vowel sounds and it's just accent. In Boston, they don't make up new words for commonplace articles. Just milkshakes, which become frappes. And sandwiches, which become grinders. My point is, these are not the same kind of core language building blocks as the words "who" and "that."

Upon doing some research (we will define "research" as "typing something into the Wikipedia search field"), it seems that the phrase has a longer history. Of course people have been saying the words "Who dat" with that pronunciation since goofy Southern drawls were cooked up in a government language laboratory. They did it to help us tell who we should be listening to. Goofy southern drawl? I don't need to take you seriously any more! Thanks for saving us all some time. But it looks like people have been using this particular phrase to root for bad Southern sports teams for decades. The Jaguars and Saints apparently both have claims, but here's my proposal: because it's a ridiculous eye-rolling thing to say, the Jaguars can keep it and the Saints have to give it up. I understand, Saints fans. You were in the wilderness for a long time. Your team was a joke and "Who dat" made sense under the circumstances. I mean, the list of teams dat gon' beat dem Saints was pretty goddamn long for the majority of your franchise's existence. The "overall rating" for the Saints in my copy of Madden 2010 is 73. It just wasn't a good team. But now you have a Lombardi Trophy, one you captured in awesome and memorable fashion. You're big-time. To quote Matthew Lillard in the seminal Hackers, "when I became a man, I put away childish things!" Retire this and let the stupid Jaguars have it. Their fans can roar it to the rafters as Tim Tebow sidearms his way around the field for the next couple years. It'll be grand.

Finally, all I can think of when I hear "who dat" is those obnoxious Boost Mobile commercials. I know their catchphrase was "where you at," but it's not that big a jump from one meaningless ethnic outburst to another. I actually worked in connection with Boost a few years back when I actually got paid for being creative (the word "paid" in that sentence should be taken as hyperbole), and they were white as driven snow. "Where you at" got cooked up in some boardroom as part of a giant list on a dry-erase board of "Things Black People Say on the Phone." You like how I called it a dry-erase board? They can make it any color they want to! Doesn't have to be white. You're racist.


The reviews for Dante's Inferno are in, and they are not particularly favorable. The consensus seems to be that it's not a genuinely bad game. It's just lame and derivative and some parts are bad. That's what you want to see from your please-please-please-save-our-company title, right? The silver lining for the folks at Visceral is this: EA was gonna lay your asses off anyway, sooner or later. You had a good run and made a good game (Dead Space, one of the most underballyhooed titles last year.

It warms my heart to think of a brief conversation I had with an Inferno producer, where all of my questions and comments were answered with "we tried to make it just like God of War. God of War was awesome so that's what we went for." Resting the creative and financial hopes of your company/studio/self on a self-conscious facsimile of something else that was good is not something you should be doing. Doubly so when the next installment in said patron-deity-of-armed-conflict franchise is due out this fucking year. Why would I buy Inferno when I can wait a few months and play an actually good game? Simple answer: because Nick still works at EA and can use his employee discount on my behalf. Your mileage may vary.

The reviews I've read haven't castigated the story or characters or dialogue. They've just neglected to mention them at all. Success! In a similar vein, the title I'm working on at Namco is a sequel to a relatively popular RPG. It's a pretty fun game--honestly, the most conventionally "fun" title I've worked on. But the story is a goddamn high-fantasy Mad Lib: "The (Paladin) goes into the (Tower) to defeat an ancient evil called (Jareth the Goblin King). Along the way he battles (Goblins) and (Elves) and (Orcs) and Skeletons." Skeletons isn't a field you can fill in. There are always fucking skeletons. Point is, the story is totally lame and half of it has obviously been written by programmers or producers who can barely assemble a complete sentence. They struggle with the distinction between "its" and "it's." They use "their" when they mean "they're." Homonyms are difficult. To be fair, I bet if I were actually making a living wage and getting health insurance I'd go soft too. Guys lose their lean fighter's form when it comes to writing coherently in their own native language. You hate to see it.

Anyway, I went back and read the reviews for the original, and they were pretty uniform: game is fun, story is eyeroll. I'm glad to see they took that criticism to heart. This is why I'm trying my damndest to get out of this industry: the people already making games are such fucking geniuses that jobs are impossible to get. How am I supposed to compete with these titans, who blatantly plagiarize popular lines from Star Wars in their dialogue? It's downright discouraging. I realize this is unfair and borne of frustration; after all, things are the way they are for a reason. I just haven't worked in the industry long enough to understand why it's a great idea to have programmers with no interest in the English language writing your dialogue. The game industry, more and more, resembles the real world around it: everything is fucked. It is so thoroughly fucked that the only way to solve problems is to immerse yourself so thoroughly in the fuckery that you actually understand it. At which point you are so invested in the status quo that you will fight to the death to defend it. So you can fix it.

I'm moving to Australia.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Going Deep on "Bill and Ted"

The Super Bowl is over. The Saints won, which is what I hoped for. I got the Manning Face I waited all season to see. I know a couple people who were rooting for the colts, but they all had money on the game and in my whole life I've never met an honest-to-God Colts fan. Good and reasonable people were rooting for the Saints. Let's be real: their city got destroyed. Leveled almost to the ground, just a couple years ago, because of George W. Bush. He summoned the great storm Katrina by channeling a mighty spell from atop the White House. Like Saruman in The Two Towers when he was on the roof of Orthanc just hurling a never-ending river of storm clouds towards the Misty Mountains. George Bush destroyed the city to prove to the world how little he cared about black people (not at all, as it turns out), and if you were rooting for the Colts you were rooting for Katrina to happen all over again. Yes you were.

Sean Payton called a great game start to finish and you have to admire his ballsy moves throughout. Going for it on fourth down in the first half, even though they didn't make it, put them in a great position to score a field goal as time expired. The onside kick paid off big-time, because that's the real time to try it--not when you have to and they're expecting it. The Saints felt like they needed an extra possession in the second half, and when they got it they capitalized. That drive at the start of the third quarter was enormous and (I believe) the onside kick was the difference in the game. What if Manning had gotten the ball and embarked on a scoring drive at the start of the second half? The game has a totally different complexion. Ultimately, I liked the Saints' approach and it's surprising how often fortune favors the bold.

Something funny happened in the bathroom at work Friday. I walked in having to pee. The urinals were empty and the room was silent. I sidled on up, deployed the landing gear and started my business. I normally pee against the back of the urinal so it doesn't splash or make any noise to speak of, and that's what I did here. However, the second I got my stream going, I heard a loud, sustained splash sound. I freaked out momentarily before noticing the sound came from a stall. Somebody else had been in here the whole time, lying in wait and starting his stream right as I started mine! It was perfect timing, and for a split second I honestly thought my penis had taught itself ventriloquism. I'm not going to say that would be awesome, because honestly I can't think of too many applications for a ventriloquist penis. You could make people believe that somebody else was peeing while you were peeing, but it would be difficult to maintain that ruse for long. Because...well, you'd be peeing. Even if you sold it and never got caught, what would the upside be? You confused a couple folks and pissed all over yourself.

Speaking of upside, here is a decision that I never understood from a very important movie. It's actually a pretty important decision to the aesthetic of the movie, too: in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, why was the time machine a phone booth? My first thought was camouflage. The time machine was designed to be hidden in 20th-century San Dimas. But that doesn't make sense for a couple reasons. First, every time they park the time machine they do so in a place where it doesn't make sense. In the middle of a Circle-K parking lot, on Ted's lawn...this will arouse suspicion. Second, the booth itself looked ridiculous! It had this whole mass of metal antennae on the top of it, and it appeared through a magical sparkling hole in the ground. So even in the absolute best possible time and place for hiding this particular machine, it wouldn't work.

And things would be even worse in other time periods! If something like that phone booth just appeared in a shower of electrical sparks and these guys stepped out of it, some kind of violence or panic would occur. 98% of human beings throughout recorded history would, if they saw this thing materialize, try as hard as they could to just kill whatever came out of it. In fact, Napoleon Bonaparte attempts just that. But then he gets thrown into the air by a cannon and sucked through the time hole in the worst-blocked scene in modern cinematic history. Go back and watch it; you never have any goddamn clue where any of the characters are supposed to be standing relative to each other. But Napoleon makes up for it by demolishing the Ziggy Piggy. I don't really mean to nitpick a movie like Bill and Ted, but that phone booth is a really iconic image and a big-time decision in the movie. And it makes no sense aside from providing a clown-car sight gag when all the various historical figures were aboard.

And finally, let's acknowledge what so many others seem to be afraid to: Ted's little brother Deacon is an asshole. I understand he's just an adolescent kid, but you know what? That's no excuse. Bill and Ted are both adolescent kids and they're the heroes of the movie! They can handle the rigors and complications of time travel "with the greatest of ease." These guys, who are supposed to be particularly dim-witted (though creative enough to found a hair metal band on which a utopian society is one day founded), put together a spectacular future-saving history project through time travel in one night and Deacon can't handle babysitting Napoleon for a couple hours? Outrageous, and I can't believe there wasn't some righteous brother-on-brother retribution for the crap that kid pulled. Ted gave him money, for Christ's sake! When I give bums money to "watch my car," they're still sitting there when I come back!

But no, Deacon's just thinking with his dick. Unlike Bill and Ted (who are, by all appearances and accounts, total losers until the divine intervention of Rufus), Deacon is waist-deep in '80s tail. So he ditches the Emperor of France, the next Caesar made flesh, to hang out with some permed-up side-tail-havin' skanks. And I can understand that on one level, but on another he's got a major historical figure to babysit. Ted told him this was a "very famous French dude," and he just dropped the ball. This was his opportunity to man up and show some responsibility, and he couldn't do it. Very disappointing. While Bill and Ted's phenomenal history report saved their grades and the future of Wyld Stallyns, I have no doubt that Deacon ended up at Colonel Oates' Military Academy. In Alaska. Because there can't be futuristic time-traveling-deus-ex-machina-providing George Carlins for everyone. Deacon isn't going to save the world. But at least he could have made an effort.

Thanks always for reading.