Musings

Video Games You Can Watch as Movies – A Trivial Top Ten

I hate playing video games. With a passion. There were two brief moments in time when I exhibited gamer tendencies – once in the 6th grade, and again when StarCraft came out. Those outliers aside, I’ve avoided the money and time sink that is modern gaming.

Well, not entirely true.

While I don’t invest in video games per se, I have been known to watch walkthroughs on YouTube now and again. I viewed the entirety of both Rapture-based BioShock games this way, and I found them quite cinematic. There was a linear story being told, albeit between random eviscerations.

Lately, a new trend has emerged. Kotaku linked to a movie-cut that someone edited together of BioShock Infinite. They’d removed all the gameplay carnage that wasn’t integral to the plot, and left the in-game cutscenes and cinematics. The results were…well…like a movie. Since then, I’ve devoured quite a few games in this manner.

And I’m going to trivially list off my favorites. Here are my…

Top Ten Video Games You Can Watch as Movies

#10 – Final Fantasy XII

I’ll admit it. Like a lot of people, I believe that the Final Fantasy series jumped the shark after that incomprehensible movie. Their crowning achievement was VII. That said, the latter games in the series do hold up to a cinematic eye if a viewer is left with the cutscenes and cinematics. Most, however, are also boring as sin.

Not the case with FFXII.

The return to the rich and vibrant world of Final Fantasy Tactics does this game a great service. It’s a pre-established environment that doesn’t require much explanation, leaving room to explore the characters in-game. I found myself far more invested as a casual viewer than I ever was with any of the other FF installments. This is Final Fantasy done right – gaudy airships and all.

#9 – Portal 2

Portal is a classic…but it’s a short classic. When making a sequel to the breakout hit, some bloating and expansion was mandatory. Enter actors J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant as Cave Johnson and Wheatley, respectively. Their interactions with the voiceless Chell (the heroine) provide a much-needed sense of depth and urgency. Oh, and humor. Can’t forget humor.

The return of Ellen McLain as GlaDOS as a more…uh…humanized (but still psychotic) artificial intelligence also adds enrichment. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to whittle down the edits in the game to just the cutscenes. There aren’t any. The dialogue and voice-overs occur as the player is solving portal-based puzzles. However, if you have many hours to kill, it makes for a hilarious – if lengthy – voyeuristic experience.

#8 – Grand Theft Auto V

With so many unrelated side-missions and tangents that the player can take, GTA5 plays more like a loosely-knit TV miniseries than a movie. A hilarious and politically incorrect miniseries, granted. With three main characters to choose from – each from different motivations and backgrounds – the viewer is able to witness events from different angles.

Cinematically, it fits. Interwoven point-of-view plotlines are a common storytelling device. Effective in movies such as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and…heck any of Tarantino’s oeuvre. Eventually, the events in the game coalesce into an over-arching plot, but it takes a bit of meandering to get there. But what a ride it is.

Just keep in mind, it’s seven hours or more worth of material.

#7 – Injustice: Gods Among Us

This is probably the tightest story of all the video games I’ve listed thus far. The format of the fighting game itself allows for an easy viewing experience. With the melee gameplay cut out, the viewer gets roughly 90 minutes of cutscene footage – enough for a short, breakneck epic of a superhero movie.

The plot is simple. Members of the Justice League (and the Joker) are transplanted to a parallel Earth and must fight to make it back to their own. It’s basically Crisis of Two Earths on a slightly more rigid scale. Loved every superpowered minute of it.

#6 – Tomb Raider

It took me some time to suspend my disbelief watching a British supermodel survive that many pratfalls. But eventually I grew to like the plucky (and pert) Laura Croft prequelette. The events of the game are far darker than previous installments, but they still held true to the game series’ primary dynamic – badass chick surviving booby-traps and mythical creatures in ancient ruins.

I also enjoyed the way they (surprisingly) incorporated aspects of little-known Japanese mythology. I’ve run into mentions of the mythical Himiko before, but didn’t do any further exploration past casual mentions in anime.

#5 – Deadpool

God, I love this character. One of these days, we’ll see the mutant Merc with the Mouth get a proper big screen treatment. Not like that voiceless abomination in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Until then, the video game named after the titular character will have to do. It’s a standard hack-‘n-slash as far as gameplay mechanics go, but it’s the meta-story that really makes it shine.

Deadpool holds High Moon Studios – the makers of the game – hostage and orders them to make the greatest game ever, starring him. The rest of the game plays out like a fever dream. And the best part, he interacts with his own narrator and inner-Id. The prefix “meta” doesn’t even do this justice. It is endlessly entertaining to behold.

#4 – Batman: Arkham

All of them. Any of them.

I don’t even know where to start with this trilogy. The first two games brought back DCAU alums Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and the rest was something even Frank Miller couldn’t come up with in his wettest dreams. The designs were atmospheric and gritty, and it literally felt like you were walking in the footsteps of the Dark Knight.

The third game in the series – actually a prequel – kind of lost some of the narrative punch of the other two, but more than makes up for it in one area. One gets to see how the Joker’s mind works…or rather…doesn’t work. It is a masterpiece of inner-monologuing that not even the six-plus movies managed to pull off.

#3 – Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead

If only the TV series was as well-constructed as this li’l lightning in a bottle. Borrowing designs from the source material (the comic book), and fashioning itself as a parallel prequel to the TV series, this game plays like a choose-your-own-adventure book. (Any of you remember those?)

I watched it straight through, and it felt like perusing a motion comic. When characters died, I felt genuinely sad. And there were moments of actual tension – something the TV series is only just starting to grasp competently. After my brother watched it as a movie, I followed suit. Can’t wait for “Season 2”.

#2 – BioShock Infinite

While any of the BioShock games could be viewed as narrative movies, only Infinite works as a complete story. Part of that is helped by the fact that the POV character – Booker Dewitt – has a distinct personality. Unlike the protagonists of the predecessors.

Plus, the whole thing takes place in a steampunk sky city. F**k yeah. To heck with Rapture, Columbia is where I wanna be. The classical renditions of newer songs were also a treat.

#1 – The Last of Us

Never before has a zombie-esque game packed such a wallop. When cut down to about a three-hour movie, it plays like a grimmer version of Children of Men. However, without the “aid” of Clive Owen in the lead. Gah, he reminds me of an older, British Channing Tatum. But I digress.

I don’t think I’ve “played” a video game all the way through that left me so philosophically torn. These were deeply flawed characters, but they were portrayed (or rather, rendered) so well. One could relate to them without feeling patronized. And the ending…my gawwwww! Pure, unadulterated cinema gold.

And that’s my list. There are many, many more out there. I’m well aware of that. These are just the ten I watched recently that didn’t have me clawing at my face in frustration. Like an actual gamer. If you have any others I need (or want) to look at, let me know.

I’m sure I can find several hours to kill.

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Thursday, December 5th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

The Day [I Became a Fan of] The Doctor

Throughout my thirty-seven years of life, I’ve been exposed to Doctor Who, but I never fell under the Whovian umbrella of fandom. I remember catching reruns on PBS in the 80s late at night when I was younger. Okay, it was probably only about 9PM, but that was “late” for a six-year-old. I never got in trouble for it. In fact, my elder-geek of a dad subtly encouraged it.

Did I understand any of it? Oh heavens, no. My viewings of the cheesy sci-fi show were sporadic, never in order, and half of the concepts presented in the show were incomprehensible to my post-toddler brain. That and British English might as well have been a second language to me back then.

I had questions like: Why was The Doctor always played by different actors? Why are those slow-moving R2D2-looking things considered a dangerous alien race? What the hell is with that blue police box?! (Yes, I used “hell” rather liberally at that age.)

It wasn’t until later that the adventures of the wayward immortal time-traveling alien were made clear. And while that sort of subject matter would’ve grabbed me – and did when I caught glimpses of it – I quickly lost interest.

That isn’t to say that I wasn’t nudged in the Whovian direction in the interim. As coincidence would have it, I was going to school in London when the ‘96 Doctor Who TV movie (starring Paul McGann in the titular role) was to premiere. Unfortunately, I missed it by a day. I flew back, hungover, the next morning. Long story…but I digress.

Shirt Image Owned by Bamboota

Shirt Image Owned by Bamboota

My next Who-sposure occurred on my 30th birthday. While friends and roommates were doing their darnedest to keep me in the dark about a surprise birthday party, I was glued to the SciFi Channel (pre-Siffy). They were having a marathon of the first new series of Doctor Who – the Christopher Eccleston season. It was then that the first fanboy kernels began to pop.

Immortal time-traveling alien that regenerates into different forms (when the replacement of an actor was needed), following the continuity of decades past? I could get behind this. This was sorta my type of sci-fi.

But then I caught the interim special – “A Christmas Invasion – ” where they introduced David Tennant in the regenerated role. And I hated it. Every stinkin’ minute of it. Sci-fi at its worst.

As “luck” would have it, it was Tennant’s run as The Doctor that reinvigorated the series. A whole new generation of Whovians emerged from the Vortex. Most of them were young, and – to my dismay – hip. I wondered why so many late-teens and early-twentysomethings glommed onto Tennant so quickly and I didn’t.

Then it hit me. Pinstripe suit, trench coat, spiky hair, sideburns, Converse…oh my God! Tennant’s Who was a hipster.

What had they done?! After that, I refused to watch it on principle.

Friends showed me some Tennant episodes here and there in the hopes of swaying me to the Who-side of the Force. To their credit, “The Girl in the Fireplace” was a damn good episode, but for the most part, I was uninterested.

When David Tennant’s run ended (to my relief), the role went to Matt Smith. And he was even more hip and more youthfully oddball than Tennant was. Some staunch fan-friends of mine even noted this by dubbing him “The Special Needs Doctor”.

I got a chuckle out of that.

Which brings us to the present…

Last weekend, “The Day of the Doctor” – the 50th anniversary special – was set to premiere. The special promised a team-up of both David Tennant and Matt Smith – the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, respectively. John Hurt was also cast as an earlier incarnation of the Doctor that hadn’t yet been acknowledged in the series continuity. To top that off were two online mini-episodes that acted as tie-ins to the special. And I had no interest in it Who-so-ever. But a curiosity did linger.

I watched both out of sheer curiosity. The one that grabbed me was “The Night of the Doctor“, a seven-minute short that chronicled how Paul McGann’s incarnation became John Hurt. To put it mildly, my appetite was whetted.

Following that, I watched a parallel special called “The Five(-ish) Doctors Reboot”. It was directed by another Doctor alum – Peter Davison. The mockumentary was star-studded and hilarious. That convinced me to hunt down the 50th anniversary special.

I watched it the Sunday after the initial premiere. And it was…

Glorious!

In my lifetime, I can only name three series that succeeded in blowing the ever-living wad of geekgasmy joy on the small-screen. Those honors belonged to the TV miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, Babylon 5 – episode “Into the Fire”, and Firefly‘s cinematic turn in Serenity. Well, “The Day of The Doctor” trumped all of them. It paid homage to the last fifty years of the series, wrapped up old plot threads, and introduced a new direction to the series. All done to almost-note perfection.

Since then, I’ve time-wasted at least two days’ worth of Netflix binges on the show. I developed a lurking respect for Tennant’s and Smith’s runs as The Doctor, while desiring to start the show from scratch with the Hartnell years.

Sunday, November 24th, 2013 marked the day I officially became a fan of The Doctor.

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Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 Musings 7 Comments

In Pursuit of Pitch Perfect Cups

I think I’ve mentioned in prior articles about my soft spot for teeny-bopper movies. It all started in the 80s and 90s, and continued well into the new century. Luckily, for my sanity, very few good ones have emerged since Ten Things I Hate About You. Most were clearly out of my age-range, both in wit and wonderment.

Then came Pitch Perfect.

I first heard about it from its trailers. It looked like yet another Glee knock-off by way of Step Up with the plot of Bring It On. However, something interesting caught my eye. A rather rotund Australian woman was taking center stage in many of the scenes – one Rebel Wilson. She was a riot, and that alone gave me pause. Was it enough to make me see it?

Oh no. Not solo. Not I, a man in his mid-30s.

Several months went by, the movie came and went from theaters, and life returned to relative abnormalcy. I went to work, I wrote, I drank tea; rinse, repeat. While at work, several co-subordinates blasted the local pop station amidst chores. One song stood out from the inanity. I didn’t know the name of it, but it sounded vaguely…folksy? What was this doing on the radio, and why was it talking about bottles of whiskey?

I learned later that the song was called “Cups (When I’m Gone)“, and that it was a redux of another song from the movie…Pitch Perfect!? The artist was actress Anna Kendrick.  I’d never known her by name – save for the informal title of “Scott Pilgrim’s Up in the Air Twilight Sister”.  At one point, I even declared my love for her. I think it was after 50/50. Never knew she could sing on top of…uh…acting all cute. All the time!

The song itself had the most varied of histories. It was first given life by one A.P. Carter of The Carter Family. The Almighty Wiki claims it was written in 1931, while others say it was first performed as early as 1928. Point being: It’s really freakin’ old. That and the rhythm was much slower.

Somehow/someway, it was picked up by a group dubbed Lulu and the Lampshades in 2009 and renamed “You’re Gonna Miss Me“. They’re the ones who added the titular “cup game” rhythm, on top of adding an extra verse. The video went viral.

Fast-forward to two years later, and YouTube vlogger/entertainer Anna Burden recorded her own cover of the song, which also went viral. During filming of Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick caught wind of this version. I’m not sure how she convinced the producers of the film to incorporate this song into the movie, but it was there as her character’s “audition” scene. And for some unknown reason, that went viral.

The attention paid to that half-minute try-out led Anna Kendrick to re-record a new version of the song – now called “Cups (When I’m Gone)” – five months after Pitch Perfect came out in theaters. The song went superviral. Yes, that’s a thing now. Because I said so. It was released in February of 2013, and it’s still being played. (It is currently November.)

Kendrick and “Krew” filmed a new video for the re-release in March of ’13. I didn’t catch it until well into the summer. At first, I thought the video was a part of the movie. Small town girl working a dead-end job, escapes to the big city for a career in music; sounded Hollywood enough to me. I learned later that the music video had nothing to do with the movie, even though it was filmed by Pitch Perfect’s director, Jason Moore.

With a song that had a backstory such as that, now I had to track the movie down. I tried for two months to track it down via Redbox, but it was always out of order. As a result of this repeated failure, I finally broke down and re-signed up for Netflix’s DVD service. Yes, my reason for signing up for DVD rentals…was a teen music movie.

I finally got it. I finally saw it. Twice that day. In a row.

Not a day goes by without me playing one or two musical excerpts from the movie. Was it deep, masterpiece cinema? Not by a longshot. I was right in my original guess. It was Bring It On, only with a capella. And I loved every voiceboxing minute of it.

Well worth the several months and serendipitous history lesson it took to get there.

Wow, I went that whole article without making one boob joke. The title almost demands it. I should compensate somehow. Ummm…oh yeah!

There we go.

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Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 Musings, Reviews 5 Comments

Scribbling in Someone Else’s Sandbox

This summer, a couple of potential writing projects fell on my plate. One was the newly-launched Dark Crystal website, and they were looking for authors for an upcoming prequel novel. The second was a writer “casting call” for an anthology collection called Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. I just about shit a writer’s block.

The Dark Crystal was one of the most influential movies of my childhood – up there with The Neverending Story and Krull. Clive Barker’s Nightbreed remains – to this day – my all-time favorite horror movie. (Only Cabin in the Woods comes close to tying with it.) Both of these opportunities presenting themselves seemed much more than a coincidence. And the fact that their respective deadlines were within a day of each other was far too perfect.

It was fate.

Or so I thought…

As a writer, there was one avenue I never went down. I’d never written fanfiction. Okay, both of these assignments weren’t exactly fanfiction in the strictest sense, but it was writing in some other creator’s universe. A feat I’d never attempted. There were times when I was tempted, but a sticky thing called “pride” got in the way. That and I was unsure as to whether or not I could write in someone else’s world. I’m kinda glad I didn’t. For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll air out the literary laundry.

Fanfic Idea #1.

Title:

Honorblade: A Star Trek Novel

It was no secret that Powers That Be behind the Star Trek franchise were open to new blood. Untested screenwriters were brought in all the time for the TV show(s), and new authors were given opportunities to pitch non-canonical novels. My idea, however…

I didn’t want to deal with the Federation at all, or space for that matter. My idea went back…way back. No human characters, either. Instead, I chose to focus on the Klingons.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was established the Klingon “messiah” figure – Kahless – showed up roughly 1,500 years before the 24th century – when the show took place. So, about the 9th century to humans. In Deep Space Nine, Worf mentioned in passing that his race “killed their gods over a thousand years ago”. In another DS9 episode, it was established that the Klingon homeworld was invaded by a race known as the Hur’q (“outsider” in the Klingon tongue). That also occurred over a thousand years ago.

There was a story in there somewhere.

Plot:

Five hundred years after the death of Kahless the Unforgettable, and the forging of the unified Klingon Empire, Kronos – their homeworld – was invaded. Having never seen an alien race before, the superstitious Klingons believed their gods were descending upon them on the backs of metal dragons. (In reality, starships that looked curiously like bird-of-prey.)

The invading race used their superstition against them, fashioning themselves as rulers of the Klingon people. A few stood against them, however. Yivar, Son of Tarn – a young thief – was one of them. After witnessing an execution, he flees the Klingon capitol.

In his travels, he encounters a wanderer named Bul’roth. The stoic Klingon hailed from the line of Morath, Kahless’s dishonored brother. The two form an unlikely friendship and set about sowing the seeds of revolution against these so-called “gods”.

Why I Never Started It:

In 1997, author Michael Jan Friedman released a TNG novel simply titled Kahless, which…completely ripped apart the Kahless mythos. In so doing, my story was also rendered moot. Sure, even if I did want to publish it, Star Trek novels weren’t considered canon. More than one novel could contradict each other. Still, it was enough to dissuade me from even fanfic-ing the damn thing.

Fanfic Idea #2.

Title:

Serenity: From Operative to Shepherd

Like a lot of geeks in the early 2000s, I was completely enamored with a little show called Firefly. It didn’t last very long. (FOX canceled it after a few episodes.) But the DVD box set sold well, justifying the need for a movie outing to wrap up any loose plot threads. Serenity came out on the week of my birthday, and I chose to see it for my birthday party.

In short, it was amazing. Sure, it tanked at the box office, but I could think of no better send-off for that little ship that could. There was one unanswered question, though: What was the deal with Shepherd Book?

Throughout the show and movie, the mysterious preacher spoke cryptically about his past. A few moments occurred that revealed he had ties with the dreaded Alliance, but it was never established in what capacity. I had a guess, though.

The primary antagonist in the movie was a character simply known as The Operative. No name, no history – he was a ghost. And a monster. I theorized that Shepherd had been one as well.

The Plot:

Taking place during the time of the Alliance slaughter of Shepherd’s home colony of Haven, The Operative arrived to oversee the final culling. He witnessed a lone man with braided hair singlehandedly felling an Alliance troop deployer.

Shepherd and The Operative faced off. Both were evenly matched. As they parried attacks, they also parlayed words. It turned out that The Operative used to be Shepherd’s protégé. Eventually, The Operative succeeded in killing him…but with regret.

Why I Never Started It:

In 2010, Joss Whedon’s brother, Zack Whedon, and artist Chris Samnee penned a comic dubbed Serenity: A Shepherd’s Tale. It finally revealed Book’s true origins. Unfortunately, he wasn’t an Operative.

Besides…who am I to compete with a Whedon?

Bottom Line

As I write this, the deadline for Midian Unbound has already passed. I never even put fingers to keyboard. There was an idea kicking around about a night auditor who was really a member of the Breed. It involved a priest stuck on the crapper, a secret about the Knights Templar, and a Baphomet statue. But I never thought it was any good.

The Dark Crystal “author quest is still alive and well. They’re still accepting submissions until December. I have some semblance of an outline that is equal-parts Dark Crystal and The Seven Samurai. At one point, a McGuffin called a “Conjunction Cannon” shows up. I’m still not sure this novel is a good idea.

Perhaps it’s sheer laziness or stubbornness that are keeping me from playing in someone else’s sandbox. Or maybe I’m just second-guessing myself. Chances are, though – paid or not – a subconscious kernel in the back of my mind would be constantly berating me about writing fanfiction.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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Monday, September 30th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

Killer the Third

In late June, when I was packing up for the inevitable move, I ran across some old heirlooms. Well, that’s a pretty loaded word. It was, rather, a stroll down memory lane. Artwork I’d done at the fragile/fractured age of fourteen.

When I was in the seventh grade, my cousin – Bucky – and I played one of the Bard’s Tale games on my dad’s computer. We created several characters – all with names varying in levels of cheese-factor. My particular favorite of the bunch was a warrior aptly named “Killer the Third”. So inspired was I by this ham-handed protagonist, I wove a fantasy novel yarn idea around him.

His real name was Darick Garvin, and he was a brooding knight who’d lost his ladylove. (Aren’t they all?) After his kingdom was invaded by a demon race known as the Erril, he ventures out on a quest to restore balance to his wartorn land with a questing party of other misfits. The MacGuffin for the quest was also the title of the novel – The Well of Darasia.

I won’t go into the “intricacies” of the plot; I’ll save that for a later entry. Needless to say, this was the best idea I came up with in junior high. On a family trip to a cabin in Wyoming, I even devoted the better part of my downtime to drawing out the characters for my little opus.

This was Darick “Killer the Third” Garvin.

Rediscovering him was like reacquainting myself with an old friend. In my nostalgia, I even posted the old sketch on Facebook. Response was minimal. Perhaps because it didn’t feature a cat. Or a baby. Or a baby with a cat. No matter.

It did grab the attention of my other cousin – artist Jason Norman. To the point where he decided to create his own take on the character. There were a few…changes, however. Killer the Third’s scabbard became a jetpack and his spiked hair became a pompadour.  And it was awesome.

Definitely a far cry from the brooding knight I’d originally conceived, but it helped brighten my mood as I ended my trip down memory lane. Or rather, art walk. Thanks, Jason.

Shortly after that, I began writing in earnest again. I don’t believe in coincidences. Only “Killers”.

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 Musings 1 Comment

A Lament about Dogs, Warriors and Brothers

In a prior article, I made mention of an anime that was influential in my late-adolescence. The title was The Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors, and it was based on a series of Japanese books written in the late 1700s. The story chronicled the do-gooder exploits of eight spiritual brothers destined to bring their grandfather’s samurai clan back to greatness. Of course, I’m skating over some important aspects of the plot in that brief description. (Chiefly, the reason they were called “dog” warriors. Look it up, it’s weird.)

Point being, though I never read the source material, the anime fueled my own imagination in a profound way. Some years later, I concocted an idea that modernized the old feudal tale. I envisioned a supernatural crime drama centering around young men tied to different organized mafia factions. Instead of eight, however, I opted for four, and each were spiritually tied to one another by pieces of a mystical crucifix gifted to them by their foster mother.

Said foster mother ended up the victim of a crime syndicate raid, and the four lads vow revenge. One of the centerpieces I imagined was a climactic shootout in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland. That and a priest with two sawed-off shotguns showing up. (It was the 90s. Bullet ballets were still cool.)

I even had the perfect title for this little opus – Cursed Lament.

I shelved the idea for several years, as was my M.O. back in the day. No one would dare do an idea like that, I thought. Most Hollywood types had never even heard of Hakkenden. Then, in 2005, this happened.

The premise to Four Brothers was near-identical to the adaptation I had in mind. Four foster brothers – each from different backgrounds – vow revenge on a crime lord for the death of their foster mother. What were the friggin’ odds?! I was pissed.

Distraught, I permanently shelved Cursed Lament and ignored any inkling to watch Four Brothers. The desire to still nagged me over the next half-decade, though. Until a month ago…

I noticed the flick finally showed up on Netflix Streaming. Now, I had no excuse for avoiding it, save for…well…responsibility. One uneventful night, I gave in and queued it up, all the while dreading the possibilities. A part of me held out hope that it didn’t tread on my Cursed idea.

And you know what? It didn’t. Boy, didn’t it?!

The story for the film was an absolute mess from the get-go. For one thing, there didn’t appear to be any emotional connection between the brothers. No fault of the actors involved, but rather the script. I got very little sense that there was a real bond between any of them. On top of that, no real character depth was present . No emotion wept from the screen, either.

Only the moment when the foster mother died at the beginning of the film exuded any hint of gravitas. The rest played out like a typical crime caper. Cursing and bloodletting abound. At the end of it…I was relieved.

My vision for a Mafioso Hakkenden was intact. No Lament necessary.

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Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 Musings 5 Comments

Living with Family: A Comedy of Errands

So…my brother is getting married tomorrow. I’m still reeling from that concept. My baby brother is getting married tomorrow.

Anne Geddes - Baby Bride and Groom

For the better part of five months, I was torn as to whether or not I wanted to go to said wedding. My “Ego” was decidedly against. My “Superego” was decidedly for. And my “Id”…uh…wanted to bang a bridesmaid. (He only counts as half a vote.) The “yay”-s won out by a fair margin.

The months leading up to the pending nuptials did give me time to reflect on one thing, though. A simple thought occurred to me as the matrimonial rev-up began – completely selfish, mind you. That thought was, I’ve been living with family members for ALL of my post-collegiate life.

A sad revelation, to say the least.

Even sadder since I was booted from my brother’s place to make way for the new bride, and (mostly) forced back in with my sister and niece. This was a move I did not want to make. Again. I say, “Again,” because his had happened a few times before.

Let me start from the beginning.

After graduating college, I had only one place to go. Like a lot of post-grads, I moved back into my parent’s place. I was at a distinct advantage, though, because they weren’t there, anymore. The three-story house they once occupied was now tenanted by my sister’s family. And now me.

I figured this would be a springboard. I’d save up enough money, find a place of my own, and move on with my life as a super-dee-duper famous writer…or something. This was only for a year, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…but not in the way I wanted. The parents decided to move back to Oregon. Sis, bro-in-law and niece were ousted back to a condo that my sister owned. I followed suit soon after. I didn’t like the idea of being in my late-20s – living with my parents. The move was hectic, but the arrangement worked out. It was only going to be for a couple of years, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…but not in the way I expected. Sis got a job in another part of the state, took niece-y-poo with her. Bro-in-law and I found a third roommate in the form of a redheaded friend of mine, and the reverse-version Three’s Company began. It was like a sitcom, but I didn’t mind. It was only going to be for a year, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…in a way better than I had hoped. My brother had returned from college around the same time, and he wanted to move out of the parental abode. We came up with a roommate situation, found an apartment, and figured we would go in together on a house at some later date. It was only going to be for a year, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…in an even better way than planned. We were both still far too poor to afford a house (or a loan), but the parents decided to high-tail it to Wyoming. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to sell the three-story behemoth. They asked us to “house-sit” for an undetermined period of time. Added bonus: Cheapo rent.

My brother and I ate this s**t up with a spork. Granted, the parents left an added clause in the verbal agreement that they could visit whenever they wanted, but neither of us planned on being around for that long. We told ourselves: It was only going to be for a year…right?

And indeed it was…in the worst possible way. The parents changed the agreement and moved back…while we were still there.

That lasted for maybe three months before the both of us simply had it! We went house-hunting.

I would never in a million years be able to afford a house on my own. My brother would never be able to qualify for a zero-down home loan on his own. But with my name and his financial backing, we both were ideal loan fodder. Especially since this was after the housing bubble burst. My credit score was amazing…at the time.

At…the time.

We found a cozy little place on the fringes of Beaverton. Both of us occupied said small house for three-ish years. In that time, I got a cat; my brother got a dog. I remained single; my brother got a girlfriend. I…still remained single; and my brother…got engaged.

Knowing that a wedding was on the horizon in the next year or so, I made the preliminary strike. There were two vacation trips pending for the summer to follow. Not even during a good financial season would I have been able to afford a move and a vacation.

My brother agreed that we would discuss the “move-out” issue at around midsummer. Well, he couldn’t wait that long. He said, “So…our wedding is in August. I’m not kicking you out right away but…”

Then the panic attacks started en masse.

There was no way I was going to afford a place on my own (as per usual). If I had to move over the summer, then that meant my vacation plans were off. Or so I thought…

Mother came through with the offer of a plane ticket. Sis came through with an offer of a place to live. At first, I was hesitant to live with my other sibling again, having been scarred by this current marital debacle with the other sibling. That…and the deal was tied with my mother’s finances. If I refused to move in with sis, there went my vacation plane ticket.

So, in early July, while sick as a dog, I moved into a new apartment with my sister and niece. The place is quite nice. My room has a great view, and I’m pretty much left to my own devices. It’s not an ideal scenario, but then again…nothing would’ve been.

My idea of ideal is a cobblestone house in the middle of a woodsy nowhere surrounded by trees that emit a really sweet WiFi signal.

Another thought occurred to me in this process. As difficult as the familial racquetball living arrangement game has been, I had to view it from a different angle. I wasn’t the easiest person to live with either. I was slovenly, sloth-like, prone to irritability, and often resistant to change. My family was often putting up with me. It was probably no picnic for them having to shovel me along with all their stuff with every move.

All I can say is, the situation could be much worse. I could have no place to live with at all. And no Internet. And besides…

It’s only for a year…right?

Right?

So, I’m going to enjoy my brother’s wedding. It’s a happy occasion. My “Ego” is picking out ties. My “Superego” is sated. And don’t worry…

I’ll make sure my “Id” uses protection.

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

Bandwagons, Bat-Fleck and Bad Miley

Bandwagons, we all jump on ‘em. They’re fun – a roller-coaster ride away from our tepid normalcy. And, boy, has this been a week (or two?) for bandwagons. The Powers That Be (Buddha, Baby Jesus, Baha’i Superman, what-have-you) bestowed upon the comedians of the world a bounty of material. Within days of each other, Ben Affleck was announced as the new Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, and Miley Cyrus did…horrible things to teddy bears at the MTV Video Music Awards.

The Internet went – well – bat-shit.

I’m not one to usually use this blog for commentary on contemporary pop-culture. Reason being, said subject matter(s?) would be dated within minutes of the post. I prefer such entries to withstand the test of time – “Internet years” or otherwise. However, sometimes, there’s a special case. Let’s start with the first and most “comic”.

The announcement of Batman’s casting in the as-of-yet-untitled Man of Steel sequel left many a jaw agape, including mine. I was still reeling from the July announcement that Batman was going to be in it at all. Yes, there was a love/hate bromance between Batman and Superman. It was canon in every DCU permutation out there, but I felt it was too soon to make that introduction.

True, Warner Bros. was probably on a time-crunch to set up the preludes for the proposed Justice League movie in just two short years. Unfortunately, the new Superman hadn’t been given enough time to fly on his own two feet. Returning to the time-tested Batman trough showed very little confidence in the “super” source material.

Then came Ben.

Everything about that announcement just didn’t bode well. Affleck semi-retired from acting after a string of terribad films, but reinvented himself as a character actor and director in subsequent years. Gone Baby Gone and Argo were nothing short of spectacular. (Seriously, a Matt Damon-penned/Ben Affleck-directed movie would bleed Oscar worthiness.) Affleck donning a mask again, though…um…

Daredevil tried. It really did.

Just picturing Affleck “bro”-ing up Bruce Wayne invited a million yucks. I dished out a few of my own. Then I read a status update by the ever-petulant Patton Oswalt. I won’t post the whole thing, but this paragraph best illustrated the point he was trying to make:

“A Batman portrayed by someone who’s tasted humiliation and a reversal of all personal valences — kind of like Grant Morrison’s “Zen warrior” version of Batman, post-ARKHAM ASYLUM, who was, in the words of Superman, “…the most dangerous man on the planet”? Think for a second and admit that Ben Affleck is closer to THAT top-shelf iteration of The Dark Knight than pretty much anyone in Hollywood right now.”

And that’s when I realized that I had blindingly boarded the bandwagon. I didn’t stop and think for a moment that maybe there is something more to this casting than meets the eye. Let’s be honest, too, he does have the chin for Batman.

Now, on to Miley.

I didn’t watch the VMAs. For me, they haven’t been “a thing” since the late-90s. MTV is about as relevant today as…oh…awards ceremonies in general. Sometimes, though, there are things that happen at the VMAs that grab public attention. The last occurrence that caught my aged eye was the Kanye West/Taylor Swift debacle of a couple o’ years prior. Since then, I hadn’t paid them any heed. I’m in my late-thirties, I have a bedtime now.

Rumblings of Miley Cyrus’s performance surfaced first on Twitter, followed by a smattering of updates from friends on Facebook. Then the ridicule poured out like a deluge. What had happened? What had she done now?

Yes, I was aware that her attempts at an image reinvention were a mixed bag. “We Can’t Stop” was one of the worst pop songs I’d heard in ages. Say what you want about her teeny-bopper stuff; at least it was catchy. That compounded with her makeover into a pseudo-Pink just struck the collective public consciousness as a cry for help. But then…that happened…

A whole new level of “WTF?!” I half-expected Sean Connery to pop out of one of the dancing teddy bears? Don’t get that reference? Well, you should, damn it. Sean Connery in a bear costume is hilarious.

The things she did with a foam finger made me never want to put my hand in a foam finger ever again. I would always wonder where it’d been. And the tongue stuff. What was with the tongue stuff? Not even Billy Idol in his prime used so much tongue. Teddy bears, I can accept. White girls twerking? Pedestrian. KISS tongue? I start pondering.

A day passed, and I had a moment to think on it. Was her performance really that bad? Sure, it was laughable, but was that the point? Was that simply the reaction that her new puppet masters were hoping for?

I thought back to Lady Gaga’s introduction back in ’08. She came across in much the same way – brash, borderline offensive, asexual and…gross. But her shtick caught on like wild fire, pumping her to the top of the charts like her possibly-fictional penis. There’s also that. The penis rumors reeked of “plant”.

Gaga’s meteoric rise differs from Miley’s in that she seemed smart and talented enough to exhibit some control over her image. I’m not so sure that Miley asserts that much authority over her own career. All of this shock-‘n-schlock smells manufactured – drastic, even. But for the moment, it appeared to be working. Until the VMAs.

Given time to think on it, I don’t think her performance was terrible. Quite the opposite in fact. She sang quite well. What the performance was, though, was uneven. Miley was not in tune with the performance around her. Compare it to Russell Crowe in Les Misérables. He didn’t sing particularly badly. He was just bad for the performance that was required of him.

Several years ago, I remember trying to karaoke “St. Elmo’s Fire”.  I was three beers in, and I thought I could handle the extreme octave change toward the end of the song. Boy, was I wrong. It was tragic. Epically tragic. Just like Russell Crowe. Just like Miley. I was not in tune with my performance; it was not within my range.

Being a rebellious wild child is out of Miley’s range.

I still think she has a lot to offer as an artist. She’s trying to show that she’s a mature, sexual presence, but hasn’t quite figured out how to convey it. Y’know…like a college sophomore. And guess what? She’s about the age of a college sophomore – not a coincidence! There’s real talent there, and a beauty to boot. She just needs to ditch her current handlers. They make Disney look like a harmless petting zoo.

In summation, before people go with their gut reaction about a particular performance, news article, meme, or story, it is best to take a moment and reflect. If everyone is voicing the same opinion, there must be something wrong with it. The world doesn’t revolve (or evolve) around a herd mentality. But don’t take my word for it…

I’m writing from the backseat of the bandwagon.

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Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 Musings 3 Comments

Fear and the Friend Zone: A Tale of Two Blondes

To tell you the truth, this blog entry was going to be something entirely different – it would’ve been about beer – but then I saw something that changed my focus entirely. I saw a video on YouTube that compared people who’ve claimed “Friend Zone” status to proto-rapists. The vid was of a poet (a man) relating his experiences with being sidelined by women he liked. Said vid was forwarded via Facebook by friends of mine (all men). The video…angered me.

I’m well aware that taking offense to anything on the Internet is about as futile as herding cats (who own the Internet). Normally, I’m quite immune to the oft-inflammatory rhetoric that clogs the superhighway “of tubes”. Religious debates, political debates, celebrity gossip, and gaming-related gripes – I’ve avoided all of these with seasoned couch-potatoed aplomb. But this…wow, it ground my teeth.

Instead of countering the post and kicking off an epic flame war, I chose the next-best (and cowardly) approach. I took to this here blog. How better could I textually illustrate my disagreements with this hyperbolic prose than with my own mealy-mouthed musings? This might as well be called: “My Life in the Friend Zone”…but that would span volumes. Instead, I’m going to highlight two shining examples of my Friend Zone familiarity.

My first…and my last.

The “Dawn” of an Era

When I was a ninth grader in junior high (yes, I know I just dated myself there), I joined a boy’s fraternity group. It shall remain nameless due to its wanton need for pseudo-secrecy. There were also sister organizations to this fraternal group – yes, gurrels! And dances were often held. My initiation was supposed to be fairly straightforward – ceremony, banquet and dance to follow. I was among several other barely-pubescent boys in the state who’d all just been initiated.

It was my dumb luck that on the day of this particular dance, a certain girl ended a year-long relationship with the State Junior Councilor of my order. She was a junior in high school – two or three years my senior. She also had the unfortunate condition of being drop dead gorgeous, and extremely well-known to everyone in my organization. You can probably guess her name based upon the title of this sub-section, but for the purposes of this diatribe, she’ll simply be known as Blonde-1.

Over the course of the evening, she’d asked me to dance twice. Being new to the whole “woman” thing, I hadn’t even caught on that this was abnormal. My first thought was that it was a “pity dance” – a charity case made to make a newbie feel welcome. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks (and another dance) later that I found out differently.

A male friend of hers came up to me and said, “You know that girl?”

Ninth grade me said, “No.”

He replied with, “You’ve danced with her twice already.”

“Oh yeah, her,” I beamed slowly. “What about her?”

“She likes you,” he teased.

My worldview – and my balls – dropped. Simultaneously.

We got acquainted over the next few weeks, saw each other at other fraternal events, and talked for hours on end on the phone. Keep in mind, this was all pre-Internet! It might as well have been a long-distance relationship. She lived all the way on the other side of Portland. A whole two hours away by mass-transit.

Not only was it my first (kinda) relationship, but also the first time I ever dedicated a song to a girl. To this day, I can’t listen to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” without thinking of her. This was pre-Napster battle, mind you. Metallica was still cool, then.

A break-up was bound to happen sooner or later. The fact that it happened later is still the cause of some debate. The phone call came as any high school-ish “Dear John” would. Blonde-1 uttered the common cliché, “Let’s just be friends.” And fifteen-year-old me held her to it. All the while hoping that there’d be some rekindled romance.

By “friendship”, I should explain. Usually, when a teenage boy thinks of friendships, he thinks: “Someone to play videogames with”…or…”Someone to talk about movies with.” Or at least, that’s how it was for teen geeks in the 90s. A friendship with Blonde-1 was un-delightfully one-sided. It mainly consisted of me hearing about her latest break-ups and/or flings. Keep in mind, my adolescent brain was still trying to process what a relationship even was.

This continued on for a good two years.

Sisyphus picture from http://ssifo.blogspot.com/

Sisyphus picture from http://ssifo.blogspot.com/

We lost contact for a while. She resurfaced when I was a junior in high school, and I joined her and some friends to a place called Council Crest. I had no idea that it was a popular make-out spot. Nor did I have any clue that she was showing signs of interest…again. In reality, she was on the rebound – just like when I first met her.

Since I failed to make a move, we fell out of communication for another year or so. On one random weekday during my senior year, she gave me a call. That sparked a renewed dialogue, and the hours-long phone conversations resumed. As my senior year drew to a close, I even invited her to be my date to prom.

Then a jaded part of me woke up.

Why are you taking her? That bitter part of me asked. She strung you along for years .You owe her nothing!

And, you know what? I listened. I dropped her like a bag of dimes, and ended up going to prom with another girl. One that actually was a friend. Well…except for the fact that there was a mutual attraction, and two years later we…uh…that’s another story.

Blonde-1 wouldn’t talk to me after that. And why should she? I had let her down because I was bitter. I didn’t feel good about it, but I felt justified.

One day, while I was in college, she called the old homestead at random. My stepfather joked that she was calling to string me along again. I chuckled at the thought. I grabbed the phone, metaphoric armor donned. And…

She simply called to tell me that she was getting married, and that her first child was due in three months. That and she hoped I was doing well. The phone call was short but pleasant.

We never talked again.

The Scholarly Groupie

In 2006, I – like everyone else – was addicted to myself…and Myspace. And I – like every guy – used it for one tool above all others (and like a tool). To meet girls.

A common, cowardly tactic for getting a girl’s attention was to simply add her as a friend. No message, no “Hi”, no nothin’, just an add. We let our profiles speak for us and hoped for the best. Problem was, I wasn’t a particularly good-looking or dynamic personality. Er…not like am now. So, my luck was…oh…I averaged about a date a month. If that.

One particular girl showed no interest whatsoever, but we developed a dialogue anyway. We met at a concert. One of her friends was a musician. I brought along a couple of mine, and the evening went mostly okay. Later on, I was perusing her friend’s list and came across a rather striking blonde. (We’ll call her…uh…Blonde-2? Yeah.) I did what I always did, I sent a friend request. No response.

Damn, time for another tactic. Now, I actually had to find out what type of person she was. *LE GASP!* One night I overlooked Blonde-2’s profile and noticed she kept a blog. A very surprisingly eloquent blog, at that. I read one of her poems while working a night shift, and left as insightful a comment as I could. At 5AM, a friend request was sent to me.

We finally met in person a few months down the line at yet another concert of the aforementioned band. At this point, I was weary of several bouts with the Friend Zone, so I decided to beat her to the punch. I made myself the friend from the outset. That’s right, I put myself in the Friend Zone, thus avoiding any heartache. And I almost believed that was all I wanted from the interaction.

She’d shown interest in the keyboardist of said band, and – over the course of weeks – I offered what little advice I could on the subject. All the while, continuing my futile search for Myspace love. We both often lamented in paragraph form about our mutual lack of luck in the love department. That’s about when my resolve shattered. I realized, Crap, I do actually like this girl.

In true wuss-like fashion, I told her. In true out-of-my-league fashion, she didn’t return those feelings. In true Friend Zone fashion, we maintained the status-quo. I tried my darnedest to not hold on to false hope. An eventual slip into radio silence was the result.

In March of ’09, I followed everyone else in the Great Exodus from Myspace to Facebook. One of my first self-appointed tasks was re-adding anyone else I knew from the old era. This included Blonde-2. After almost a year of no contact, she seemed genuinely happy to hear from me. My heart melted. (Stupid heart.)

There was an obvious change in our interaction, though. Our missives, even the public ones over each other’s Walls, were noticeably more…flirty. I had no idea how to deal with this. So, I played along. Heck, it was the most interest someone of the opposite gender had shown me since…uh…the beginning of the year? (Hey, I’m not a complete square.)

When the innuendo-enriched dialogue had reached a crescendo, I did what any red-blooded male would do. I confessed that I liked her. Again. She…took it about as well as could be expected, given our history. The flirtation dialed back considerably. Dialogue was sporadic at best.

I saw her on special occasions – birthdays, concerts, friendly gatherings, and the like. It was an acquaintanceship at best. The distance was actually helpful for me, as it made me maintain clarity when in her presence. By Buddha, she was lovely. And smart. Totally not fair.

Not sure how it happened, not sure why I didn’t notice it, but our interaction began to climb back to that faux-flirty status. This time, though, others were taking notice. Someone even remarked, “I dunno what’s going on…but she seems into you.”

So, again, I broached the subject to her. And again she shot me down like a headlight-frozen deer. After that, I was just about done. Another few months went by, and contact was sparse. Until one day, for some evil reason, she started up with the vague, suggestive comments again.

After four years of this B.S., it was time for an actual move. Not a confession, not a roundabout admission, no…Actual manning up. I sent a simple message asking her what days she had off, then I told her to pick a day. I ended with, “We’re going to tea, no buts.”

Later that week, we had tea. And it was wonderful. It felt like an actual date. There was even a twirly hug at the end of it. I’d always wanted to do a twirly hug.

While we were out she admitted there was a tea she’d been looking for, but she could only find it online. I made it my mission to find it for her. Lo and behold, I did on a random perusal of a local Asian mart. I sent her a snapshot of said tea, and she replied with glee. (Whee! That rhymed!)

Then…nothing.

She wouldn’t return messages, texts, or nudges. I wondered when I could drop off the gift to her, and she gave me a short, noncommittal answer. Something about “having a crazy busy week.”

What did I think? Something about me must’ve creeped her out. It was my greatest fear, being the one considered a creeper. I’d gone my whole life trying to avoid that stigma. It was enough that I was a male that wore glasses, I didn’t need that greasy moniker applied to me.

At the end of the week, I returned the tea to the store…then deleted her as a friend.

Blonde-2 sent me a friend request the following week with a message attached: “I miss you.”

And I fell for it. Dialogue resumed, things got flirty, rinse-repeat, same ol’ tennis match. I deleted her again.

She replied with a, “It kills me that you keep removing me. I miss you.”

Again I accepted. The interaction was as torturous as ever. This hopscotch friending/defriending lasted for a good half a year. Eventually, I had to outright say, “Look, I can’t have anything to do with you. I think I’m in love with you…and not the good kind of love.”

It didn’t work, if anything, that further renewed her resolve to keep me in her life. There was no other way. I had to be frank. So, I lashed out with a…”Go find another pathetic nerd to play with. We’re through!”

And…she accepted that.

But I weakened my resolve and re-added her sometime in December of ’12. By then, she’d found herself a boyfriend, someone who gave her the attention she craved and deserved. My presence on her page was borderline pathetic…and hilarious. I removed myself again.

This time, she blocked me. Around the same time, Gotye came out with “Somebody I Used to Know”. Fitting.

We haven’t spoken since.

*****

The poem that set me off was done by a talented lad named Dylan Garity. He’s insightful, funny, witty, and thought-provoking. He closed his “Friend Zone” poem off with the following phrase:

Well, Dylan. I’ve seen the beast within…and he’s a baby hedgehog. Weak, scared, overly-defensive, and kinda prickly on the outside. On the inside, soft, doughy and nugetine.

In a common/geeky turn-o’-phrase, “Mostly harmless”.

That’s not to say that there aren’t men who transfer their rejections into acts of violence against women. They are very real, and everyone has a dark side in them. However, making a blanket statement that the Friend Zone is a playground of soon-to-be violators is appalling. I’ve known Friend Zoners, I’ve known those who’ve Friend Zoned. Hell, I’ve done my fair share of Friend Zoning. I’ve also known rape victims and rapists.

There’s a fuzzy line between fear and control. Those of us who’ve known the Friend Zone are well within the realm of “Fear”. We’ve never sought to control the unfortunate focuses of our affection. If anything, we’re too cowardly to even view them in a lustful light. Speaking personally, the idea of sex scares me. Always has.

It’s not their fault for putting us in the Friend Zone; it’s our own. We put ourselves there. In a way, it’s safe, noncommittal, and totally Limbo. Rape is about control. The Friend Zone is about handing off that control to someone else.

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Monday, August 19th, 2013 Musings 3 Comments

For the Love “Of the Taco”

I don’t know what this says about my childhood, or the current state of my life, but I grew up falling in love with a fast food restaurant. My family had it for as long as I can remember; it was a part of my life. The tastes are so ingrained on my palate, that I compare other, fancier foods with it. For the sake of this write-up, though, this nostalgic place will not be named. (Mainly for fear of libel and need for laughter.) So, I will call it by its English translation: “Of the Taco.”

When I was a wee lad, my father worked out of town. My mother would always drive my sister and I to see him return from the train station. Immediately after reintroductions, our next stop was always Of the Taco. Their green sauce practically defined my juvenile taste buds – for good or ill.

Image Owned by the Responsible Marketing Blog

Image Owned by the Responsible Marketing Blog

We carried on like this even after my Dad’s work became more centralized. Mom didn’t cook much, neither did Dad. Regular outings out were…well…regular. Sometimes daily. Of the Taco drive-thru might as well have been our living room.

That changed after the divorce. Mother, sis and I migrated northward to Oregon; Dad stayed south in Of the Taco country. I went through most of my adolescence wondering if the chain even went past the California border. Until one day, I ran into one in the middle of nowhere. Can’t remember where I found it, probably next to an A&W…and a unicorn.

Image Owned by Haxx

Image Owned by Haxx

By age 23, I’d finally moved away for college (about three years too late), and somehow ended up in Reno, Nevada. On a drive home after a long, collegiate night of drinking, we chanced upon a beacon of late-night eats. Mere blocks from the university was an Of the Taco. I was reacquainted with its magical green sauced burritos once more. And many times during my “higher” education stint, since.

Once I was all “gradumatated”, I returned to Oregon somewhat victorious. I had a little piece of paper that said I was somebody…who spelled good. For some reason, I went straight into the hospitality field. Not one of my better decisions, but one I stuck with.

In 2010, I took some vacation time and spent a week in Southern California. The latter part of my trip was spent in Orange County. I had two missions: (1) To meet a fellow writer (a female) with the same birthday as me. For the first time. And (2), to reconnect with friends in the area.

Meeting up with the old Internet “flame” took place at – you guessed it – Of the Taco. While sparks didn’t fly on the initial meeting, it was nice to chat with someone in the “meatspace”, after having known them for a year. Sort of. Sometimes, I still think about her when my face is nose deep in a burrito.

On that same trip, the friends I met up with decided to drag me to a bar. There posse was a mixed group of men and women. All geeks. All my type of people. One particular lass caught my attention. Must’ve been the midriff and the bellydancing. After a few hours and a few drinks, we were lip-locked. Only taking breaks to karaoke.

By the end of the night, one friend asked said girl, “So, are you taking him home?”

She looked at me and said, “So, am I taking you home?”

And so…uh…I went to her home.

The next morning, we ended up at Of the Taco.

Around the same time, I reconnected with a couple of old high school friends via Facebook. Both lived in Camas, Washington now, and threw parties on the regular. To get there, I had to occasionally cross into Vancouver for food. One of those friends told me there was an Of the Taco along the Camas/Vancouver border. For the longest time, that was one of my regular contributions to parties. That is, until it closed. R.I.P.

Two years ago, I ended up at a hotel in the upper burbs. On a rather pissy drive home looking for a bar, I came across it. Like a beacon of light, the only local Of the Taco. It became my continuous, cathartic stop after a shit day at work. Why go to a bar when one could stuff their face with chicken soft tacos and green-sauced burritos? Such a better feeling! By a hair.

That went on for a good long while…until one fateful day two weeks ago. I was running errands with my sister, and one such stop-off was going to be an hour wait. Instead of remaining seated, I chose to wander around for a spell. After a couple of blocks, I realized I was within a ten-minute stride of Of the Taco. I acquired my “breakfast” there.

This day, however, it tasted off. Way off. I didn’t understand how “way off” until I got home. My stomach churned, my head pounded, my muscles weakened, and all I could think about was sleep. For a good eight hours, I passed out. The next morning, I was literally sick to my stomach.

You guessed it: Food poisoning.

After three days of combating that, I vowed to never eat Of the Taco again. We were through. It’d been a bittersweet decision, but one that needed to be made. For the sake of my health.

That decision lasted only two weeks. A couple of friends and I went to see Elysium a day before this writing. One said he was “a might peckish” and chose to drive-thru Of the Taco. He offered to get me something as long as it was cheap. I broke down and asked for two green-sauced bean burritos. I might as well have called them “break-up sex burritos” for all the fortitude I had.

I guess I’m not through with “her” just yet. What?! Memories are hard to erase.

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Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 Musings 6 Comments

I work for tea money.

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