Miss Again

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I’m perched on a higher table at a Starbucks inside a Barnes & Noble.

Wait. That makes it sound like I’m poised on top of the table, ready to strike out at the old lady checking out Moleskines in front of me. Forgive me; I haven’t done this in a while.

I’m sitting at a taller table in a Starbucks wrapped inside a Barnes & Noble, overlooking a couple women in Hawaiian shirts who are pacing up and down the main aisle looking for specific people to give name tags and adorn with leis. I have no idea what’s going on with that; only that–in intentional J. Alfred Prufrockian fashion–I do not think  they have a lei for me.

The strangest part of it all is that I’m currently outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. And that I now live here.

I’ve been looking for new freedoms for some time: to move out from under my parents’ roof, forge my own path and leave a job whose flexibilities were bending me over backward more often than I liked. The problem with trying to find a new job to move to, however, is that most places are understandably hesitant to extend a chance to someone “foreign” when they have capable people living right next to them. Almost 3 months ago, however, I finally received a chance from a company here in the Grand Rapids area. Admittedly, the only reason they bothered with me was likely because my cousin also works for the company, but that’s another life lesson: connections are everything.

Grand Rapids is a mixed, religious and overall quaint city, possessing the charm of its hometown president, Gerald Ford.

FACT: Gerald Ford may be the only U.S. President who has ever fallen out of Air Force One and survived.

It has its good sections and bad sections, of course, but luckily I’m in a good apartment complex with a fitness center and access to walking trails. Above all, I have a home in this complex that is mine. Sure, I’m responsible for cleaning it and ensuring it doesn’t catch on fire, but the newfound freedoms far outweigh these responsibilities.

Michigan has also decided that major intersections are not for left-hand turns. You need to drive past it to a designated U-turn area, go back and then turn right. It’s weird, but I can’t say it doesn’t work. I’m sure traffic looks more like a ballet from above Michigan than nearly anywhere else.

Anyway, the plan has been simple: use my new job as the stepping stone and foundation to build a new life, find new friends, love, success, etc. All those things that, when you’re old and looking back with the question of whether you lived life well, pat you reassuring on the back and say, “Yeah. Not bad, pal. Now hurry up: it’s bingo and mashed prunes night!”

Unfortunately, I didn’t expect that my stepping stone would be the first thing to grow unstable. I was hired on as a temp with several others in an apparent work force boom. We were to work for 3 months, then they would decide whether they would hire us on fully. It was generally implied that we were shoe-ins, and we did perform admirably–they even said as such when they told us yesterday they’re going to keep us on as temps. It seems somewhere within the 3 months between our hiring and the present, the company as a whole decided it should experiment with localizing our departments, meaning spreading people away from Grand Rapids. We were offered the chance for position openings in San Francisco and New York City, but even if I wanted to go to these places, the 1-year contract on my apartment tells me no.

So I’m still working, which I am definitely thankful for, but the added security of benefits, insurance, retirement plans, paid time off and bonuses that I was so earnestly working for I will now not be receiving. It’s be in a precarious position (a near panic, actually) that I may have placed all my eggs in one basket–and then set this basket on the Titanic.

I will continue working, and do my best, but all wisdom says to be looking for another job in the meantime; for while there’s a chance things will work out and they will fully hire me in the future, they also have the right to cut my strings at any time and send me out without so much as a farewell wave. Please note that I don’t really blame the company or anyone I work with for this. I’ve actually gotten along with my co-workers well, but falling complacent with your position as a temp can be very costly. Hey, that sounds like a pretty good metaphor for life itself, actually. I’ll see if I can register that.

Within all the uncertainty, however, there’s this seed of a thrill. For once I’ve placed myself in a position where I have to make things work no matter what. If I’m cut from my current job, I do at least have a temp agency to fall back on, and I’m still living somewhere with so much more opportunity than where I previously lived. Even if it’s not the biggest, it’s a city, and I may finally find The Right Things here.

And even if that all fails, through the tiniest graces I have never had a better opportunity to play this clip:

If you have any advice, I would certainly love to hear it. And you know what? Updating this blog after so long has felt good. Doing it here in B&N on a Saturday with a Green Tea Latte also feels good. I think I’ll start doing this weekly. Just, you know, probably with fewer humongous life updates.

Friends don’t let friends text other friends while driving with friends

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I don’t watch early afternoon TV often, so the following PSA may have already been around for a while:

This was the winning entry in a contest hosted by Bridgestone where teens could submit their own driving-related PSAs. I appreciate the values behind it and the overlying message certainly rings true, but the message at the end seemed a bit odd:

“use a designated texter”

I understand the desire to relate texting while driving to drinking while driving, but is texting really such a necessity that we should establish someone as our extra set of fingers?

“Mavis, please dictext the following to Bruce: ‘dawg want 2 meet up 2nite 4 buds n wwe?’ Please read that back to me. Mhm… still feels a little too… formal. Please add a semicolon and closing parenthesis at the end. Thank you.”

I know I might be aging myself to the early 2000s here, but what’s wrong with just calling someone on a hands-free set if you can’t wait until you stop driving to send a message? Not only is it safer, but you can still talk while keeping both hands on your Big Mac (elbows at 10 and 2).

So a good message overall, but perhaps a little superfluous at the end. It also drowns out the real secondary message in the video: If you’re walking across the street and see a car slowly creeping up on you, don’t just stand and hold out your hand like Superman–run out of the stinkin’ way.

The Gallop Poll

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Every year, editors who are part of the Associated Press network of newsrooms decide upon the stories and people of the year. Among these picks is the “Female Athlete of the Year,” of which U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn was recently chosen.

In case you forgot why she was a candidate.

However, not only does Vonn have the distinction of being the AP’s top female athlete, she can also boast that she’s the only woman to have beaten out a horse.

Yeah, a horse. You don’t see the word “human” in the award name, do you? Finishing second in the poll of AP editors was Zenyatta, a racehorse who received 32 first-place votes to Vonn’s 77. College basketball player Maya Moore and tennis star Serena Williams finished third and fourth, respectively.

I’m not trying to take anything away from Zenyatta. She only lost one race in her career, which is definitely remarkable. It takes a great amount of willpower and dedication, balancing one’s other horsely duties in their busy world while finding the time to train, and saying less would be nothing less than an insult to her. If she could understand you. BECAUSE SHE’S A HORSE.

Horses are born to run and racehorses are bred to run faster. It’s not really something they have a choice in doing, as evidenced in the fact that Vonn doesn’t need a short man in a funny jersey sitting on her shoulders to make her go down a hill. Is Zenyatta a fine, conditioned specimen? Absolutely. Is she an athlete? I argue no. She seems more of a piece of equipment to me, tuned and operated. Could we nominate Jimmie Johnson’s stock car for “Male Athlete of the Year” if we hung one of those hideous rubber “nutsacks” off its back end?

Finally, a symbol of jackassery for those who can't afford a BMW.

There is a swell of support for the horse, with a significant number of web commenters stating strong points such as her excellent behavior and “personality.” No drugs, no tirades, no scandals, right? That should be befitting of an awarded athlete–especially a woman! But who have recent male awardees been? Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Michael Phelps. Not the best records, but no one seems to complain–and as far as I’ve found, an animal has never cracked the male top five.

Should Zenyatta (who, by the way, finished second in 2009 as well) be considered a sound and creative choice, or is it an insult to female athletes to have her on the list at all? And can you believe I got through all of this without making a Sarah Jessica Parker joke?

‘What has this yutz been up to?’

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Hey there! It’s been a while.

I was actually a bit surprised to come back and see my last post was Aug. 9. It had felt even longer than that, but a recent e-mail showed me it was time to get back into gear and push some text:

Just a short note to say that I have appreciated your writing (you are bookmarked in my favourites), but I am getting a bit tired of seeing a bear’s behind every time I check your page.  I do realise that you also write elsewhere (and have checked out your gaming articles as my family is big on gaming), but was wondering if you could maybe do a short ‘I’m really busy living my life’ kind of blog to just get the bear off the top.

How could I deny such a simple request? And in case you haven’t noticed, the “bear bottom” commercials are all but non-existent anymore and I don’t want to be the last one foisting that image upon innocent people.

So, why have I not written here for a few months? It’s really not an airtight excuse, but the truth is I’ve been concentrating more on my video games writing, and for an astounding reason.

In August, I decided I should try testing the waters more for a potential career in games journalism. I began to submit work not only to the awesome LeftStickRight, but also a unique open community called Bitmob. I was thrilled to see some of my pieces get feature on Bitmob’s front page, and toward the end of August I saddled up to meet the LeftStickRight boss and other writer to cover FanExpo Canada.

On the way up, at a rest stop, I grabbed a burger and checked my e-mail. There I found a new message from Susan Arendt, senior editor at an online magazine called The Escapist. She had seen my Bitmob submissions, enjoyed them, and thought I should write some stuff for their publication. At that point my brain was carpet bombed my various reasons for elation:

1. Prominent members of the gaming/technology community were actually reading my stuff.

2. They want me to try writing more stuff for more people to read.

3. Apparently, they’d even consider paying me to do it.

Freelance writing has always been one of those ideas wisping through the back of my mind, but I never considered myself a viable candidate. I just never thought I was the sort of “type” editors would be looking for. But now I had someone literally suggesting I try it for them and the feeling that I could somehow make it into this industry became too tangible not to attempt.

So after an incredibly fun time at FanExpo where I took a number of photos  depicting the deaths of Ian Yuan at the hands of cosplayers, I came home and tried my hand. I learned there were no instant assignments; you had to submit short pitches based around various topics and if one caught their eye, they’d order a full-blown article. Luckily, one of the three initial pitches I’ve made was chosen–on silly weaponry in video games–and I went straight to work.

After submitting my draft, I quickly learned The Escapist edits more thoroughly than my newspaper ever has. I received it back with multiple requests and suggestions. What worried me most was Arendt telling me I was trying to be “too cute” at several points. I went back to work, mustering up the confidence that I could produce something better, and she was much happier the second time around. That’s when I realized that she had been right: I was trying to be too cute. In my earnestness in such a new situation, I was trying to fall back on my oldest style of writing, trying to be Dave Barry instead of letting the voice I’ve developed over time be at the forefront. And then I realized that I actually had my writing edited by a prominent member of the gaming/technology community and I gave a little squee. Writers can be weird like that.

The whole process for the piece took around a couple weeks, but it’s been a blast. It will appear in The Escapist this Tuesday, and I’ve been counting the days with much anticipation. Ideally, I’ll gain more exposure and maybe even the attention of people who’d like to give me a full-time gig. At the worst, I’ll be shipped out of the publication’s forums on a rail, but I’ll still make more writing that one piece than I would for a full week of work at the newspaper.

Whatever happens, I really, really hope I get the chance to do it again. But that’s my main reason for not writing: my head has mostly been occupied by this opportunity. I’m hoping that after this all comes to its climax, I’ll be a little more balanced because I don’t want to give this blog up entirely.

Think I managed to bury that bear? If not, then hopefully this picture of a red panda licking a grape can provide some much-needed balance:



The Teetotaller Groomsman’s Guide to Pubhunting in Sandusky, Ohio

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The duties of the groomsman are three-fold:

  1. Get the groom to the church on time.
  2. Ensure the groom is physically and mentally prepared to undergo the wedding ceremony.
  3. Throw a bachelor party that makes accomplishing duties 1 and 2 as difficult as possible.

All right, so I’m exaggerating. The recent bachelor party for my now-wed cousin was a rather tame affair, not involving any of the hazing, strippers, or minivans full of illegally-acquired donkeys that now seem so common to such an event. The most dangerous activity we did was ride the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, which launches you from rest to 120 mph, takes you straight up 420 feet, hits a peak and then sends you screaming straight down to earth before you can grasp what exactly is happening. If there is a better metaphor for love and marriage, I have yet to find one.

I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t said a word about booze! It’s the fuel of most bachelor parties, after all; the liquid of fun with tendency to harden overnight into solid — or in some unfortunate cases, semi-solid — regret. We did try to make alcohol part of our festivities, but circumstances just weren’t with us.

Upon leaving Cedar Point, we stayed in a campground in Sandusky, Ohio. It was a beautiful location, with lush greenery and chirping cicadas — at least while you stayed on the grounds. As soon as you stepped out, you realized it was merely in an oasis on an industrialized strip in the not-so-shiny part of town. Still, it served our needs well all the way up until one of the groomsmen started inquiring about finding a “pub.”

For convenience and protection, I will refer to this groomsman as Euro. An anglophile through and through, he would never use the word “bar.” No, he was insisting upon finding a well-groomed establishment within which food and spirits could be delivered, through the pleasing din of background chatter and lively music, by lovely, mannered women in dresses whose lasciviousness may extend to performing a non-revealing fan dance onstage.

Let me just break you out of that description to remind you we were in the middle of Ohio, just coming out of a hot, humid day trying to escape our own sweat on roller coasters. Still, Euro kept bringing it up, and the thought of being in a “pub” was, honestly, somewhat inviting. The groom-to-be eventually conceded as long as — AS LONG AS — no one mentioned anything about him getting married or try to get him to drink anything particularly Mick Jaggerifying.

Euro went to speak with the manager of the campground for her recommendation, and was told there was a destination a little up the road. Whether it was from the habitations and the towns she knows, I was unfortunately not there to learn. So with varied expectations, we all set out to discover what this place would hold.

Not to toot my own horn, but I believe it was I who located the spot first and alerted my peers.

“It has a giant clown head on the sign.” I said.

Seeing clown heads on anything is usually a bad enough omen. Seeing them on empty, dimly-lit streets in unfamiliar industrial sectors is just asking for Stephen King to write your short and tragic biography. Yet still, whether through hope or stupidity, we decided to go in.

I don’t assume any of our expectations were still at “pub” upon entering, but they quickly dropped past “bar” and flirted with “craphole” before bungeeing back up to “dive.” The primary forms of decoration were darkness and old Dale Earnhardt Jr. signs. The jukebox selection I can only describe as “crap speckled with Korn.” And the bartender — a short, fluffy-haired woman in her late 20s or early 30s — was not the type who was against drinking the profits.

Since the only other patrons at the time were a few men in ragged T-shirts at the other end of the bar and a middle-aged woman who brought her own giant mug for her beer, we sort of stood out. Lisa started peppering us with questions, and we tried to remain as loyal to our groom as possible, but a man can only take so much heat and, after about 15 seconds of the barmaid’s browbeating, one of us yielded the fact that our groom was getting married.

Somewhere inside that addled mind, two dots were joined by a blurred, squiggly line and her eyes lit up.

“Oh!” she cooed. “Your bride musta been here earlier today! 5-foot-4, dark hair, with her father?”

Unless the bride and her father had taken a spontaneous cross-country bar crawl, they were still in Michigan. Six of us shook our heads. One of us, however, nodded. Let’s call him Jackass.

“Yeah, I knew it!” the bairmaid said, pointing at Jackass. Obviously, this was not a land of democratic rule. “They were in here earlier. She’s very good-looking! Father said something about getting a bus…”

She went down the line asking what we’ll have. Some ordered drinks. Others, myself included, ordered water — probably on the thought that we’d want to get out as soon as possible. Euro attempted the only means of salvaging his quest he knew how.

“Do you have any imports?” he asked.

“Corona and Labatt’s,” the barmaid replied.

Euro’s crests had fallen. “I’ll just have water.”

“You know, your best bet would be a Coor’s Light.”

“Nah. Water.”

The groom also attempted a water, but the barmaid would have none of it. She demanded from the rest of us what we should give him, but everyone was dumbstruck. We all know the groom doesn’t really drink a whole lot and no one seemed to have thought ahead as to what he should actually drink after being dragged to a bar. The barmaid, however, took matters in her own hands and said she’d make something “halfway between water and liquor.” This turned out to be a “Washington apple,” made with whiskey, apple schnapps and cranberry juice. The groom looked at it like it would burst into flames any second. The barmaid stared expectantly, then her mind switched to other… helpful hints.

“Oh, wow! You guys are so close to the ti–y bar!” she squealed.

She also pointed to the ring on her finger.

“This finger’s had a ring four times and I still haven’t been married once,” she said with murky pride.

After several more complimentary shouts of there being a “ti—y bar,” just in case we hadn’t heard, she went back to goading the groom to drink. Finally, he handed the full glass back to her and, in an educational moment, she downed the whole thing in three seconds and handed the groom a Twix bar from behind the counter. This he ate.

Some of us looked at each other, trying to figure out what the best “Let’s get the heck out of here!” face would be, when an older lady walked in from a back room.

“Hey, this guy’s getting married!” the barmaid yelled, pointing at the groom.

“Oh yeah??” the older lady said, smiling.

“Yeah! The bride was in here earlier, remember? Five-foot-four, dark hair, with her father!”

“Oh, right!”

“He was thinking of a bus!”

The older lady offered her congratulations as she pulled a tray out of the refrigerator, going down the line of young men with a warm smile on her face.

“I made these myself!” she beamed, placing two Jell-O shots in front of each of us. Again, the attention remained mainly on the groom, who wasn’t into Washington apple and didn’t want Ohio lime or cherry, either. In an attempt to draw some of the heat away from him (and, well… because the barmaid called me a puss), I sucked down the tequila-lime shot in front of me. It actually wasn’t that bad, and I’m not sure if it had much of an effect on me as I was tired at the time and the whole building was enough to put someone in a funky mood by pure ambiance. But the distraction did seem to work a bit and eventually some of the other guys got the barmaid to play pool with them.

We were able to leave afterward, so I guess you could say we spent part of the bachelor party letting ourselves be held hostage by a 4-times-engaged bartender and Kindly Grandma Hooch, but it’s one of those events we can look back upon now and laugh. I think. Yeah, probably. And even if not, the groom’s now married and on his honeymoon, so he’s definitely won out.

Just a word of warning, though: If you’re in a non-too-attractive, industrialized section of Sandusky, Ohio and find yourself behind a swerving bus with a 5-foot-4, dark-haired girl in a bridal gown at the wheel, you may just want to take the next turn out of there.

To the People of Cleveland

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No doubt the imminent departure of your figurehead and hope for the future, LeBron James, has hit with full, soul-crushing force by now. LeBron has left you for Miami, a city that is much prettier, warmer and more fun at parties than you, and things are looking quite bleak.

You may be pondering at this moment just ripping the expensive LeBron jersey off your body and throwing yourself into your once-flammable river in despair, but I am here to tell you that is the wrong choice to make. For one, there’s probably a long line backed up at the river right now. But also, there are several things Cleveland as a city still has going for it. You just need to be reminded at this time of grief.

Things Cleveland Still Has Going for It

  1. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–A building that is not only the bastion of music history and culture, but also serves as a pointy foot-spearer of any mutated creature that should rise from the sludge of Lake Erie.
  2. Drew Carey–A man who was able to rise from the ranks of inconspicuous, down-on-his-luck people from Cleveland by playing an inconspicuous, down-on-his-luck person from Cleveland.
  3. That new show on basic cable, “Hot In Cleveland”–I haven’t seen it, but it has Betty White. White can be your new LeBron!
  4. Um…
  5. Er….
  6. How do I turn the numbering off on this–ah! Here we go.

OK, so it’s somewhat of a meager list for now, but I’m sure there are plenty more reasons! And even if there aren’t, just take a look to your left and right. You’re in good company, Cleveland: Detroit and Buffalo are here for you. The Ladies of the Great Lakes have fallen on some hard times, all with industry not being what it once was in this great country and all of our sports teams abject failures. We’re sad to see you come back into the fold with LeBron’s departure–that last crush of hope is the worst–but we’ll get through. How about you wipe those eyes now, eh? We’ll go get some beer and wings, and then we can all make fun of Kansas City’s sports teams together.

Soon you’ll forget all about your turncoat prince. Just as long as you don’t watch ESPN for the next 8 or so years.

The Absolute Best Job in the World This Week

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AP Photo

Oooh... Ahhh...

If there is anyone who can not possibly have a cooler job as the Fourth of July nears, it is our brave officers and explosives experts who produce all those bits for the local news on how utterly dangerous fireworks can be in the hands of haphazard, ignorant rubes (i.e. us).

Many a mannequin and watermelon is sacrificed in this yearly ritual, but all vaporize honorably for public service… and entertainment. To say anyone whose duty is to blow things up to show people not to blow things up is not having fun is blasphemy against the very laws of the universe. The police are not only trained in explosives; they are trained in hiding their juvenile glee behind their mustaches as tiny crumbs of Molly the CPR Doll fly into the next county (which is all right since they likely stole the next county’s Molly for the demonstration in the first place). Blowing stuff up when you have the right conditions and opportunity is inherently and inescapably fun. It is the unwritten myth proven by the Mythbusters in nearly every episode they’ve ever made.

You know the only thing that makes this job not fun for the authorities. When after they spend a good day vaporizing produce and test dummies they still have to spend the next day responding to accidents where people blow off their hands and kill themselves with fireworks anyway. In fact, that kills everyone’s buzz. Seriously. So after you have your giggles with the safety videos, just take that extra few seconds, spark that bit of imagination that hasn’t yet been killed by quitting books and just superimpose your head over that mannequin’s. Yeah. When it comes to fireworks, you’re a schmuck. I’m a schmuck. Your Dos Equis-drinking uncle is a schmuck. DON’T LIGHT YOUR OWN FIREWORKS.

Maybe–just maybe–if we’re all good this year, the cops will be in a good enough mood to continue warning us about other things, like the hazards of walking under monster trucks, running in front of out-of-control flamethrowers or falling out of planes while strapped with live grenades.

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