Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Have a Problem

As you can tell from my earlier post, I like to read. I don't think that reading is a dying art, though I think the way in which we read is changing. David L. Ulin has a great book on the subject, entitled The Lost Art of Reading. I highly recommend it. I, however, prefer to read the old fashioned way, sitting in my orchid greenhouse, dressed in my smoking jacket, a pipe at my elbow, occasionally gazing into my Victorian relecting orb.... I keep all my books to be read in a little pile at my side. And this is my problem. This pile continues to grow.

Currently residing in this pile is:

The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer
Sunshine, Robin McKinley
The Demon and the City, Liz Williams
City of Glass, Cassandra Clare
Ironside, Holly Black
The Horns of Ruin, Tim Akers
Matter, Iain M. Banks
Biomega, Vols. 4 & 5, Tsutomu Nihei
Wastelands (Anthology)

This doesn't even count the books currently living on my Nook:
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, Robert E. Howard
Elric: The Stealer of Souls, Michael Moorcock
The Kensai, Jon F. Merz
Darkfever, Karen Marie Moning
A Dreamer's Tales, Lord Dunsany
The Book of Wonder, Lord Dunsany
The Next 100 Years, George Friedman

Yes, I know the Nook was supposed to keep me from buying hardcopy books. First, as I stated in a previous post, the Nook lags woefully behind in keeping current with publications both old and new. I wouldn't have to buy these books in hardcopy if Barnes & Noble would helpfully provide these books in ePub format (by strong-arming publishers into providing them). Which leads me to my second reason for buying books that reside in meatspace, and my problem: I can't not buy a book when I come across it.

Here's what I mean. I walk along the aisles of my Barnes & Noble, and something pops out at me. I generally like to swing by the tables in the front of the store, because that's where the put books that either the store or the publishers want you to see. I'm a particular fan of the "Strange and Unexpected" table; it's the place where you'll find books like Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife (drat! Add another book to the "to be read" pile) and the history of salt. I also like the section where the staff recommends stuff. When I worked for Barnes & Noble, I took my suggestions seriously, and I always thrilled when I saw someone pick up a book I recommended. So when I see a book that strikes my fancy, I generally buy it. Immediately. Because I'm horrible about remembering things, even if I write them down.

I just know that if I don't get Atlas of Remote Islands, I will never get it. Then, I'll miss out on whatever drew me to the book in the first place. Even if I put the book on my wish list, I know I'll lose the fire for it. I'll go back and discover I didn't want the book after all. Or more likely, new books will demand my attention, and I'll buy those instead.

So you see, I have a problem. I like to read. Now, where's my velvet smoking jacket?

My Nook Problem

Like most men, I'm a technophile. For those who didn't pass basic English, that means I'm a fan of technology. The Fortress of Solitude is stuffed with it, from my multiple big screen TVs to this cold fusion reactor I've got stuffed in a corner (I never seem to have enough banana peels to stuff into that thing, and it makes a terrible racket). If it comes in black and has blinking lights, I love it. The Japanese actually did research on the subject (of course they did), and they discovered that black pieces of technology with blinking lights (preferably in many colors) appeals to men more than anything else. Which is why your stereo, TV, DVD player, cell phone, and blender are all black with lots of blinking lights. If they could coat a woman in black plastic and give her lots of useless blinking lights, they would. Because the Japanese are strange.

One of the devices I recently purchased is a Nook Color. It's sleek. It's got a touch screen. It's in color. Though why that's important to me is beyond my understanding, because 90 percent of what I do on my Nook Color is read books, which is strictly a black-and-white affair. I choose the Nook C)olor over the Kindle and iPad because the former is basically a giant Motorola Droid; it runs Android and can be hacked to access the Droid marketplace. I've even been told by the Nook people at Barnes & Noble that they plan a massive update to turn it into a tablet. My nerd mind reels.

What I love about my Nook is the functionality. Believe it or not, I read a lot. I spend a good two hours a day on subways, and I need something to do besides look at some guy across the train pleasuring himself. ( Yes, men whip it out and do "that" on subways, in front of women. There is even a website where women post pictures of the offenders taken with their cellphone cameras, but I decided not to include that link. For more information on the problem, click this link: Click on and support women with a donation.) Anyway, when I'm not trying to avoid contact with my fellow human beings on a train, I'm at home reading (and also trying to avoid human contact). What's great about the Nook is that I can carry dozens of books with me at the same time. I'm currently reading Elric: The Stealer of Souls and The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian at the same time (to compare and contrast them. But that's another post). Without the Nook, I'd easily be lugging eight books around at the same time.

Really, my problem isn't with the device per se. My problem is with the publishers. See, there are books I can't get on the Nook. Admittedly, my reading tastes are pretty obscure. When I tried to find Fritz Lieber's Lankhmar series, I discovered they didn't have this in Nook format. Okay. I was disappointed, but I kind of understood. Apparently those books are out of print anyway. Then I went to look for an e-book version of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. That wasn't available in Nook format, either. How about Michael Moorcock's Cornelius Chronicles? Nope.

The problem is not unlike the early days of DVDs. Back when DVD players first came out, you could get all the latest films, but you couldn't get movies like Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz. This made a certain amount of economic sense. Hollywood studios had an incentive to rush out more recent movies, because they wanted to capitalize in the viewer's interest in what they'd just seen. Besides, the film was more readily available for conversion to the DVD format; in other words, they didn't have to go down to the cold storage vaults to get Casablanca out of storage (Yes, they have them; I've seen the ones at Paramount). They could eventually get around to putting out movies in their catalog sometime later. So I understand that publishers don't want to pay some desk monkey to convert a bunch of old books no one really wants into an e-reader format.

(Though I'll note that I can get Analysis of the Gospel of St. Matthew and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, as well as a bunch of other obscure stuff. If I can find Lord Dunsany in e-reader format, I should be able to find The Last Unicorn, don't you think?)

Okay. So publishers just haven't gotten around to putting everything in Nook's ePub format. Surely, then, I should be able to find new stuff for my Nook. I searched for Elfsorrow, by James Barclay. No dice. How about Tim Aker's The Horns of Ruin? No, that's not available, either. Glen Cook's Darkwar (which just came out in an omnibus trade paperback)? Uh, no. And this is where I start to get steamed.

It would seem to me that since the publisher has a book in digital format already (in the form of a Word file on some editor's desktop), it would be a simple matter of converting it to the ePub format and making it available. I mean, wouldn't a publisher want to take advantage of the maximum number of avenues to sell their books? Even if only ten people buy Horns of Ruin as a Nook file, doesn't that mean they've sold ten more books than they otherwise would? How many people wanted to buy that book, discovered it wasn't in Nook format, and simply walked away from the sale? Not only that, but once the book is in the Nook format, the publisher never has to return to the book again. It's in their Nook catalog. They won't have to pay that desk monkey to convert the book later.

Maybe the answer lies in the Betamax/VHS wars of the 80s (or the HD-DVD/Blu-ray wars of the 21st century, for you youngsters out there). No one wants to spend all that time and energy (which converts to money in the MBA's mind) to convert books to a format when the winning format hasn't been decided upon. Only problem with that is, they're okay with the present situation enough to produce something, just enough content to keep me buying. It's not like it's that hard. I could publish in the ePub format. I looked into it; and quite a few people are self-publishing in this way. So it can't be that hard. It seems to me that publishers want it both ways.

All I want is my @!^$ book.

The Nook's functionality is severely reduced when I can't get what I want, when I want it. That's the whole point of the e-reader. You'd think B&N would use their muscle in the marketplace to force publishers to convert their already digital files into the ePub format. As in "No, we won't buy 25,000 copies of your book unless you also support the Nook. Have fun selling your book out of the trunk of your car...." Moreover, publishers should stop being mired in the "we publish books" mentality, which I believe may be part of the problem, too. If you put your newest releases in ePub format, I'll bet you sell more books, guys.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The CIA Wants YOU?!

It's been an eternity since I wrote anything here. I've been spending a great deal of time posting to my game design blog ( And that's in between all my time attempting to write the definitive history of the Scythians. They had horses. They had gold. They out Mongol'd the Mongols for a time. Then, they disappeared. I propose that aliens had something to do with it, and one day space-Scythians will return to conquer Earth. So I've also been busy hardening the Fortress of Solitude against attack.

Since Studio Manta is where I post my thoughts on the hobby games industry and game design, this blog seems more appropriate to what I want to ruminate on today. Because it has nothing to do with game design. See, lately I've been getting this ad on Facebook about joining the CIA. We're going to chat about that.

When you click the link on Facebook, this is what you get:

Go click on it. You need to see the page in order to understand the rest of this article. Go on. I'll wait.

Okay, you looked at it? There is all kinds of wrong on this page, not the least of which is that the CIA does NOT advertise on Facebook. The CIA does not need you. They already have tons of people working for them. The CIA prefers it if you come to them. Moreover, this ad does not scream "we're a secret organization looking to hire". It screams "COPS!"

Look at those pull down menus. Associates degree? GED? The CIA I know prefers its employees to have a minimum of a Bachelors degree, preferably in something useful, like Russian politics, Chinese cultural studies, or agricultural studies. I'm completely serious about that last one. See, what the CIA will do is look at satellite photos of farmland and predict yield based on crop density, in order to predict whether there'll be a famine in the Ukraine this year. Doesn't that sounds exciting? Yeah, that ad doesn't really communicate that, does it?

There are really three tiers of employment at the CIA, and they break down like this:

Analysts: This is ninety percent of your CIA. You sit and listen to NSA intercepts about what General Chernenkov had for dinner last night. Or you read a newspapers from the country to which you've been assigned (this last one is actually pretty instructive. For example, the Chinese Communist Party will tell you what's important to it by the language they use in their mass media. Also, they'll tell you what they're focusing on, policy-wise, by the articles they publish. So an analyst needs to know how to read between the lines. When they use "running capitalist dogs" in an article on bicycle safety that means something is going on, but not that bad. When it's about corruption in the army, that may mean a purge is in the offing.). Or you may spend the day going cross-eyed looking at satellite photos of the port of Aden to see which ships are there, what they may be loading aboard, and where they're going. Basically, working for the CIA is a lot like working for any other corporate environment.

It looks a lot like this:

Pictured: Spying
 Now go back to that web page from above. Totally does not look like what you do all day at the CIA. I see bullet holes. I see a cop car. I see a dude in SWAT gear. What I don't see is a fat guy who also happens to be an expert in industrial production trying to figure out how many refrigerators the Iranians are making this year... Maybe they're advertising for the next tier.

Field Operations: You may think that the CIA is about actual spying. They must give someone a laser watch and toothpaste explosives and send them to Upper Slobovia to sleep with hottie Eastern Europeans and play baccerat. Yes, and that person is likely to be Upper Slobovian. See, they reserve these field operations for foreigners. You know, the people upon whom we're spying. When the CIA recruits for field ops, they want people who are familiar with the cultural landscape, people who speak the language, people who are pro-USA and would like to demonstrate this by spying on their own country. Let's put it this way: who do you think would be better at spying on China? Some blond, six foot tall guy, with maybe four years of Chinese language study under his belt OR a Chinese guy? At least he's not going to stick out like a sore thumb at the PLA Family Barbeque. 

That's not to say there are no American spies in other countries. If you do get field operations, you'll be sent to some embassy, posing as an undersecretary for the Department of Education, sent to advise the locals on the best of educational techniques. That's your cover, because they can't put "CIA Handler" on your office door. Alright! Let's get the spying on! Bring on the cloak, and the dagger! You know what you'll actually be doing? That's right: sitting in an office at the embassy, collecting reports from foreign nationals, and forwarding them on to Langley.

This office is TOTALLY in Moscow.
Okay. So clearly the Criminal Justice Department is not talking about Americans involved in field operations, either. There's action and excitement in that photo, so maybe they're talking about the last tier of CIA operatives.

SOG: The Studies and Operations Group. SOG is the private army of the CIA. These guys are bad ass. They're trained in nothing but combat. They're pulled from the uniform services (typically Special Ops like the Green Berets) and given the cool stuff to do. Because they're technically part of the Executive Branch, the President can send them anywhere he wants and without Congressional approval. So if the President totally wants to blow up some cocaine labs in Colombia, he sends SOG. SOG operatives jumped out of airplanes prior to the Afghanistan invasion, carrying anodized briefcases stuffed with cash, in order to buy off tribal leaders. When we wanted to buy Russian-made helicopters in Vladivostok, a SOG team went along to protect the "businessman" sent to make the deal. Maybe this ad is all about joining SOG....

But there's already a way to get hired by the CIA for this work. In fact, it's pretty much the only way. It's called joining the Army.

I mean look at that guy in the ad. He's dressed in SWAT gear. The CIA doesn't kick in doors and haul out bad guys. Even if they did, they wouldn't dress up like that. And what's up with the cop car? The CIA prefers nondescript Chevy Suburbans. The advertisement looks like you'll be doing all kinds of exciting stuff for the CIA. And in as little as 18 months! When the reality is this:

Oh, and did I mention that you should replace the woman with a fat, balding guy?
So I have to call shenanigans on this ad. I don't know what it's advertising for, but it's clearly NOT the CIA.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Love Smoking

I was up late last night, wandering the halls of the Fortress of Solitude, adjusting the frames of my extensive 17th century portraiture. And I noticed something. I smoke a lot. For some odd reason, my smoking has increased in the last week, to almost double what I used to smoke. I've gone from a pack-a-day to almost two-packs a day in the space of a week. I don't know why, because I'm not stressed about anything. But I'm not really bothered by my smoking increase; I'm bothered by the fact that the price has just gone up.

Here in New York, in an effort to close a $9 billion budget gap, they've raised the tax on cigarettes to something like $5.85 a pack. It's as though they're hoping to close their little budget gap just with smokers alone. I could buy the original excuse, that it's a sin tax because we smokers use up so many medical resources, but the truth is the state knows it has a captive audience. It has nothing to do with sin; the state just knows smokers will pay the goddamned tax. Why don't they raise the tax on gasoline? How about alcohol? Really, there are a million things they could tax that would get them unelected pretty quickly. Politicians are cowards. I think the tobacco companies should drop their price each and every time the state raises the tax, as a nice "fuck you" to the politicians. Take the price down to a buck. Hell, sell them at a loss.

Those of you who have met me (and really, God help you if you have) already know that I love to smoke. I love it like I love nothing else in the world. Because it's always been there for me. When I am sad, smoking is there to tell me "it'll be okay." When I'm happy, smoking says "let's celebrate with a smoke of victory!" When I'm nervous, smoking says "it's okay, I'm right here with you." It's really the longest, most successful relationship I've ever had. It doesn't judge me. It doesn't ask me to change. It always gives me what I want without all the begging or sucking up. And it really doesn't demand much from me in return; it doesn't ask me to take out the garbage, or do the dishes, or go to the party with all the people I really can't stand....

First, there's the ritual of smoking. There's the tamping of the tobacco. They opening of the cellophane, and removal of the foil. Pulling out the cigarette. The satisfying click of the Zippo snapping open. Oh, and that first drag. It's especially pleasant in the morning, that wave of nicotine rolling across your brain like the incoming tide. It's perfect when you're enjoying a tasty cocktail. This is where the smoking ban in bars really hurts. You can drink inside, but not smoke. You can smoke outside, but not drink. Really, the state just wants to make everyone miserable by not letting them enjoy both alcohol and tobacco at the same time. But the two go together, like peanut butter and jelly.

And I think the ban on smoking indoors is a crock. Allegedly, it's to protect all us service workers from having to breathe second hand smoke. I have a secret to tell you: ninety percent of restaurant and bar employees smoke. Your chef smokes. Your server smokes. They busboys smoke. Hell, the cat downstairs in the kitchen to keep away the mice -- he smokes. Note to government: You're not helping anyone in the service industry. You want to help us, pass paid sick leave for hourly employees or fix the goddamned economy. Otherwise, you're just humorless killjoys.

I learned to smoke in 1988, when I was studying at Fudan University (Motto: thanks for the money round-eye). That was the big year when Deng's reforms started to bite; people were allowed to open their own businesses, and were doing so with gusto. The entire country was like a boomtown right out of Deadwood. It was four in the morning, and we found ourselves in a "bar" in a giant, soul-crushing Stalinist apartment bloc. I use quotations because the "bar" was thrown together by some guy in his basement. I told you, everyone was opening up their own businesses. The "bar" consisted of a plank of wood over two milk crates and some wooden crates for chairs. It was 5 am, and this Chinese guy (who I'm convinced was a gangster) offered me a cigarette. Now, Chinese are very polite, so when I said I didn't smoke, Chinese gangster dude got serious pissed off. Cut my throat and leave me in the Huangpo river kinda pissed. I took the cigarette and never looked back.

I remember getting off the airplane at JFK that summer. I'd been standing in passport control for an hour. Waited another hour for my luggage to appear and pass through customs. By that point, I really needed a cigarette. My dad met me at the airport, and when we walked outside I whipped out a blessed cigarette and lit up. Non-plussed, my dad looked at me and said "I hope you learned how to speak Chinese, too." God, I miss dad.

He died of cancer at the age of 55. He smoked three packs a day. I tell people that, and they can't imagine it. Chain smoking just isn't something you see much of any more. He'd keep a lit cigarette in every room of the house, all of them going at the same time. It's ironic that I'm the only one left in the family who continues to smoke. Mom quit. My sister quit. I do the morbid thing where I subtract my age from my father's age to see how much longer I have left before I die (12 years). I've tried to quit many times. I've done the gum, the patch, Zyban, accupuncture, hypnosis and cold turkey. None of it works. I enjoy smoking too much. Hell, I'm jonesing for a cigarette right now.

But I think the time is rapidly approaching where I must give up smoking. Much like a person finally realizing it's time to give up on an abusive relationship. Because I'm up to two-packs a day, and packs cost $12.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Confessions: Reunion Edition

Believe it or not, this weekend is my 25th high school reunion. It's hard to believe that high school was 25 years ago, considering that I'm still just a big teenager. I haven't really aged that much at all, at least to my perceptions. Which brings to mind: If what I perceive is shaped by my perceptions, then what happens when those perceptions clash with your perceptions, and how does that conflict of perceptions alter what I perceive? Anyway, I am not attending my reunion this year, primarily because the windows in the solarium at the Fortress need to be cleaned. However, in honor of the 25th reunion of the Class of '85, I present to you the Reunion Edition of Confessions.

First, let's recall 1985. Reagan was President. Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Terry Anderson was taken prisoner in Lebannon. The mayor of Philadelpha orders the bombing of the MOVE headquarters, killing 11. Live Aid occurred. Back to the Future opened. Coke released New Coke. And the United Kingdom held its first Glow Worm Day. It was an exciting year. It was also the year I left high school and never looked back. Because I hated high school, and everyone inside it.

I was (actually still am) the kid who got picked on. Mercilessly. Books knocked out of my hands on the way to class? Check. No one would sit with me at lunch? Check. Insulting graffiti on my locker? Check. Laughed at by cheerleaders, football players, stoners, and even the foreign exchange students? You guessed it; check. I was even made fun of by the kids who rode the short bus to school and had to wear protective helmets. It was pretty bad.

I would regale you with individual stories of the nightmare that was high school, but, quite frankly, I can't remember any of them. I did my level best to forget anything and everything about Stroudsburg Area High School. There may or may not have been therapy. The only story I recall is actually one of triumph: I was in a creative writing class, where it was the teacher's policy (Hi, Mr. Steen! You were my favorite teacher!) to read one student's story anonymously. Mr. Steen started reading, and I instantly knew who wrote it. When he finished, Becky Weinstein demanded to know who had written the story. Becky was a cheerleader, and auteur of my never-ending persecution, and apparently she liked what she'd heard. Mr. Steen looked at me, I nodded, and Becky looked like she'd eaten a pickled jalapeno pepper when she heard my name. Victory!

I only really had two friends at the time -- John Higgins and Brian Sullivan. We played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in John's basement. We'd get together on Friday night and play straight through til Sunday night. Considering that I became an award-winning game designer (Origins Award, 1998, Best Roleplaying Game), I suppose I should thank all the jocks and preppies who systematically destroyed my self-esteem and forced me to retreat into my nerd cave in the first place.

Don't even make me recall my ineffective attempts at dating. No one liked me. I didn't have my first kiss until I got to college. 'Nuff said.

I find it ironic that I'm not attending reunion this year (or any other year, for that matter). I used to dream of actually attending reunion. In my revenge fantasy, I would drive up to the banquet hall in my fire engine red Ferrari, clutching my multiple Academy Awards, a beautiful woman on each arm. We would sweep into the room, where I would regale everyone with tales of my exploits: Climbing Kilamanjaro; hanging out with the Dalai Lama, and winning my aforementioned Academy Awards. Then, Angelina, Giselle and I would be picked up by helicopter, abandoning my Ferrari like so much used tissue. There might have been a speech by the mayor, in which I was presented with the key to the city. It would have been a very small key. Let's just say, I totally get why Lady Gaga showed up at her old high school dressed the way she did. It's because she, like I, hated everyone associated with high school.

When I joined Facebook, a curious thing began to happen. I started getting friend requests from people in my graduating class. Did they not recall that they persecuted me for four years? Didn't they remember that they used to throw pennies at me because I was the only Jew in the class? They didn't remember sticking a dead fetal pig in my locker? Or the time a pretty girl passed me a note, telling me she liked me, and asking me to meet her after school, only to have everyone there to mock me? To be honest, I really didn't remember half the names of the people from whom I was getting requests. Bill Hoffner? Adrianne Burkholder? Curtiss Pepe? I dimly recall those names, but can't put a face to them. If Facebook says we went to high school together, then it must be true.

To be honest, I had a really hard time actually accepting their friend requests. Each one elicited a good twenty minutes of consideration. I don't know, call me old fashioned, but I believe that if you're going to accept a friend request you should actually, you know, be friends. And, recall, I hated each and every one of them just on general principle. I swallowed, hard, and started adding them as friends. Even though I was convinced this was going to end up being some kind of strange, internet bullying incident.

And this is where the curious thing started happening. I discovered that bygones could actually be bygones. That I actually liked these people, and they actually liked me. I get periodic love and support from Jenny Hayes. Adrianne Burkholder has sent me enough virtual drinks that, if they were real, I'd have died of alcohol poisoning long ago. Kip Woods has a beautiful family, and Becky Hannon (upon whom I had a tremendous crush) just graduated a beautiful daughter. These people, my nemesis (nemesi?), follow my triumphs and sorrows as closely as I follow theirs.

It's as though we all came to the same, mutual agreement. We all grew up, matured, and seem to be saying to each other "hey, we went through this formative period in our lives together. Let's be friends." I'm glad I reconnected with these people. And so it is in this spirit that I wish you all a great reunion weekend. I'm genuinely sorry I can't be there this year.

But the Ferrari is in the shop, and Giselle has a headache.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kids are Just Miniature Drunk Adults

As I was strolling through the extensive gardens here at the Fortress of Solitude, plucking withered leaves from my prized peony flowers, I began to wonder. Is our belief in a hereafter the mind's attempt to deal with the finite nature of life, are we in fact fooling ourselves, or is our desire for eternity somehow linked to the ego? Also, Pedro my Guatamalan gardner is clearly watering the plants too much. I can be a bit ADD when I'm gardening.

Speaking of gardening, I realize I may have given all nine of you the impression that I don't like children. That's not true. I love children. I'd love them to stay the hell out of my restaurant, so I don't have to wait on them. Other than that, kids are great. And that's because they're basically just miniature, drunk adults.

As I've said before, they share all the qualities of the inebriated. They're clumsy. They're impulsive. They slur their words. There may or may not be public urination (GOD! I love public urination. It makes me feel liberated, as though I'm shunning not only society's mores but also the bounds of basic, human decency). I love watching some kid stomp his way through a store, picking up and putting down his feet like he's just had a fifth of gin. Arms outstretched in front of him, ready to fall. Hell, kid, I know what you're going through. I've had those kinds of nights, too. Last night, to be precise.

In the end, what I find the most entertaining is that kids have absolutely no filter. They have no idea what's acceptable and what's not according to society's dictates. They don't know they're not supposed to stare at the guy with the giant, flaming red mohawk. Nor do they know they're not supposed to shout out "Mommy, what's wrong with that guy's hair?!" Kid, I'm right there with you. What the hell were you thinking red mohawk dude? Hell, we're all thinking it. The kid is just saying what we're all thinking. I totally think that when I have a kid (God help you all), I will encourage him or her to speak their little minds; which means I'll tell Little Daquan or Yuan Min to point and loudly yell "dude! That look died with Joey Ramone!" Because in the end, we all give kids a pass when they commit these social faux pas. So why not take advantage of it?

As I was moving through the NYC subway system carrying my bastard sword (don't ask, but it's a practice sword. Again, don't ask), kids had no problem staring at me, pointing, and laughing. And I wasn't even drunk at the time. The really savvy ones knew exactly what it was, too. "Mommy! That man has a sword!" made me smile. Becuse these kids are clearly nerds and "with it." And they didn't question why I had a sword; maybe they assumed I was going to hunt orc in the subway system (which actually, I do on Thursday nights). All the other kids would just gape and point. I call these stupid ones "future Welfare recipients."

Back to the lack of impulse control. I've seen kids insist that they would prefer the toro maki, not the california roll, and hold their breath to get it. And I'm sure I'm by no means unique. We've all seen some kid throwing a temper tantrum in a store. I just assume when a kid comes into a store that he is a tantrum waiting to happen. Sometimes, I'll bet with friends on which kid will blow first. I had one kid pay off on the trifecta at $280. Sometimes, I'll help to push them over the edge (like the time this kid wanted a Nerf gun, and his mom said "no", and he insisted on it, and she said "no", and I casually strode up and put two in my cart. Then winked at him).

Kids know what they want, and they want it now. They don't care that you don't have enough money to buy it. They don't care if it's not healthy. Kinda like me, actually. They want ice cream before dinner. They want the 12" Master Chief action figure. They want to stay up late to watch South Park. Swap out "South Park" for "porn", and I want the same things.

In fact, I'm not sure why we torture kids with this kind of stuff? Why do we try to inculcate in them a sense of responsibility and restraint? They're just going to max out their credit cards to buy a bunch of useless shit anyway. They're going to buy houses they can't afford, cars they can't afford, big screen TVs... In the end, the only reason to grow up is so we can start earning money, so we can start slavishly following our stupid impulses.

It just seems to me that kids are more honest about it. And I respect them for that. Now if you excuse me, I want to get some ice cream before dinner, and pick up the Futurama DVD set. Because I can. So nyah, nyah, nyah!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Birthday Bus

Yesterday was my birthday, and found me back in the great city of Albany (Motto: We got your goverment dysfunction right here). I was going to go to Vegas, but I hear Paris Hilton will be there; she and I had a fling a few years back and I don't want to bump into her and cause a scene. So I thought to myself "where else can I debase myself in new and unusual ways?" and the answer was Albany. Because small, middle-American cities are kinky that way.

In order to get here, I had to spend the day on the bus. You all know of my deep and abiding love of bus transportation. It's a chance for me to get to hobnob with a vast cross-section of America, who all smell vaguely of cheese. There's the douchebag in the Ed Hardy t-shirt with his pregnant girlfriend, bickering the entire way. Oh, and here's the fat businessman who likes to snore. Over there is the chick noisily eating Doritos out of an incredibly loud mylar bag. She was talking to the woman who couldn't stop laughing with this annoying "snort-laugh" (you know the kind that's part snort, part laugh, and is all annoying). I would rather be transported in the hold of a Chinese freighter, because at least then there would be tasty Chinese food.

I would be all for a seating system similar to the airlines. There could be a first class and a coach. All the mouth-breathing pinheads who wear "Free Lindsay" t-shirts could sit in coach. Or as I would call it "isolation". And I could sit in first class. I would pay an extra $20 to sit in the front of the bus with a nice, but flimsy, barricade between me and the denizens of Innsmouth who ride the bus. I actually believe H.P. Lovecraft got the ideas for most of his degenerate, inbred cultists because he rode Greyhound busses all the time.

I'm a reader by nature. I like to read. I refuse to read on the bus. Firstly, because there's no point. The bickering couple and Queen Laughita were too much of a distraction. Secondly, I'm convinced the rest of the bus is just waiting for me to nod off (because I tend to fall asleep when I read), and then eat me. After they sacrifice me to their noisome, rugrose, gibbering Elder God, of course.

Really, the whole experience is oppressive. There's the giant yellow sign at the front of the bus that says "REMAIN SEATED!" The bus driver rattles off a list of rules (no eating, no drinking alcoholic beverages, no loud music playing and no cell phone calls), which everyone on the goddamned bus violates. Don't get me started on the toxic dump passing itself off as a restroom either (and really, guys, stop trying to pee standing up in a moving vehicle. Your aim isn't that good.). In the end, I feel like I'm being taken to prison, not Albany. All that's missing is the cop with a shotgun standing at the front of the bus. And I wouldn't be opposed to them including that feature, quite frankly.

Happily, my time in Albany more than makes up for the hellish experience that is traveling by bus. Now, I just have to go back.