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Feb. 9th, 2012

tuning fork

a present for your friends to open

So this morning I realized that I have a "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" story—not a personal anecdote that resembles or reflects in any way the lyrics of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", but rather a personal anecdote about the song and what I guess I'd call my "relationship" to it—and it occurred to me that I wanted to tell it. I heard the song this morning on the radio—Nicole had used the car last and she had left it on the classic rock station and, when I started the car, I heard literally the last few words of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" and then the lovely opening chords of "Goodbye [etc]" and my first thought was, predictably, ah, the morning DJ is having a little thematic fun and it reminded me all in an instant—does this happen to you? the thing where you have a memory that spans a snapshot-unfriendly stretch of time and space sort of flood your head all at once, as though you could compress a two-hour film into a single silent photograph and look at it and still have it carry every bit of nuance and impact?—of how years ago, I made mix CDs for the morning staff at the public library to listen to before we opened: everyone nominated "their" song and I downloaded them off of, god, it must have been Morpheus or Kazaa, and tried to make a mix that flowed nicely, but sometimes it was impossible so I just bumped songs together that had some sort of semantic commonality (and now I cannot remember the specific songs; I only remember that someone noticed this, which was gratifying in a tiny way).

Then I thought I'll make this song "my jam"—I use that relatively new online thing called "This Is My Jam" which is ostensibly a way to share music with people, only no one I know who uses the thing actually listens to other people's "jams"; they just use it to broadcast whatever song they're digging at the moment (I include myself in this), which is relatively pointless, but it's ultimately a social toy, and they're all inherently pointless, aren't they? But then I thought that "Goodbye [etc]" is, well, a pretty middle-of-the-road sort of song: my tastes are generally pretty eclectic and, frankly, I thought I might take some shit—even if it went unuttered—for genuinely liking a song that—ghasp!—your or my parents or grandparents or their dentists might have liked; it is a good—no, great—song and it makes complete and utter sense that it would appeal to all sorts of people, regardless of where they sit on the cultural spectrum, and it speaks to my essential insecurity that I'd even consider such a thing, much less consider it a deterrent to sharing my enthusiasm for the song.

But then I realized that my attachment to the song is—well, I hesitate to use the word "interesting"—something of a psychic snapshot I'd like to preserve beyond the confines of a 140-character blurt on Twitter or a simple reposting of the song on Tumblr or whatever, whatever. So I thought about writing it here—I debated it, actually; I sort of went over the whole "continued viability/purpose of LiveJournal" thing in my head, as I do whenever I think about writing here (so many posts have died before they were born!)—and now I'm at work and relatively unencumbered and so here we are, and here it is:

Of course I'd been exposed to the song before that particular summer—my parents listened to nothing, apart from the occasional soundtrack cassette (I believe I covered this here, albeit ages ago), in the car but the classic rock station, and I can't not have heard it—but that summer was when I really dug into it, like burrowed into it like a tiny hungry worm and found comfort and nourishment in it. We had just moved, and I was in mourning—I wouldn't have called it that at the time, but that's exactly what it was—for the friends I'd left behind and felt I'd more or less lost forever. And so I spent day after day in one of the rooms upstairs (a two-story house! practically a palace!) sitting in front of our gigantic, utterly beige IBM PS/2, writing letters to and stories about (seriously! what a dumb kid) my friends that were never meant to be read by anyone. And in this room was my parents' gigantic and, even then, antique (it had only a turntable and an FM receiver) stereo, and from their very limited stash of records I plucked an Elton John "greatest hits" album and wore the fucking grooves off it.

My parents' "stash" (why use that word, when their tastes were not at all secret or subversive?—because they kept their records in a dingy little cabinet under a sink, that's why; they could not be any more literally stashed away) of records was pretty pitiful, honestly. They didn't even have Whipped Cream and Other Delights and I thought that record just appeared by magic if you owned even one piece of vinyl; there were a few of Creedence's not-so-great albums, some soundtracks (two copies of the original Star Wars double soundtrack album), a couple of those "your favorite hits as performed by much more affordable musicians" albums, and that was pretty much it—I was lucky to find the Elton John, still in its record-store shrinkwrap (!).

The stereo was on the other side of the room from the computer desk, and I was lazy, so I'd only go over there to flip the disc, which meant even though I would have liked nothing more than to have listened to "Goodbye [etc]" and maybe "Rocket Man" over and over and over, I couldn't and didn't (plus I hated the imprecision of the needle drop; I loved the organic fade-in of a new track), so there was a real sense of anticipation involved when listening to this album, writing my dumb pre-teenage shit, and playing creaky MS-DOS games.

It wasn't a particularly happy time, but it's a memory I'm happy to have, if that makes sense. It does not necessarily feel good to long for something, especially if that something is thought to be, essentially, lost forever, but it can and does feel good to rub the texture of the memory of that longing, even if the person who did that longing, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists.

Dec. 19th, 2011


starbase one

Make the "OK" sign with your hand. Your index finger is touching the your thumb and your other three fingers are curling off into space.

For some reason, I've lately been doing this with my hands when I have nothing else to do with them, and I've found myself tracing a shape with the tips of my forefingers on the pads of my thumbs. It was only this morning while driving that I realized what that shape essentially is:

It (seen here in the centers of those orange boxes, repeated twice) is the "starbase" icon from the old Intellivision game Space Spartans. There's no particular significance to this; it's just a shape and symbol that always appealed to me and always, for some reason, stuck with me through thirty years of ingesting video game iconography.

Dec. 16th, 2011


conceptions in rescue that can challenge the impossible

Kentaro Haneda – "Challenge of the Unknown" (off Science Rescue Team ‘Technoboygen’, 1982)

Dec. 13th, 2011


base destruction ordered

So it recently came to my attention that there's a relatively new game out which is basically an arena shooter (which is what I call games like Robotron 2084 and Smash TV and I have no idea if that's the actual accepted-and-understood name of the genre or something I just picked up somewhere) with a coat of paint borrowed from the old Atari Centipede franchise—because that's a thing, now, taking familiar bits of old, ostensibly fondly-remembered video games and/or game franchises and strapping them onto/into basically new games, and it's about a hit-or-miss practice as you might imagine, but evidently it's appealing enough to crusty old bastards like myself to be financially viable—called Centipede Infestation. I like the Centipede games and I like arena shooters, so I made a point of remembering to check it out. More about that much later.

The basic concept—old franchise made somewhat new and suffixed with the word "infestation"—must have appealed to me more deeply than I realized, because my brain, bless its squishy little heart, cooked up for me a follow-up to one of my all-time favorite arcade games and called it Xenophobe: Infestation. It's a natural enough hop to make, creatively, since the old game actually used the word "infested" at the beginning of every level:

This was in a dream, of course: one of those dependable old "go to a non-existent arcade" dreams I have probably once or twice a month. The dream wasn't actually all that much about the Xenophobe update; I spent most of the time in the basement of the place, trying to get tokens for the machines, a needlessly complicated (because my dreams are bound and determined to provide me with experiences that are, somehow, even more frustrating than real life) process that involved, for reasons way too complicated and ultimately boring to explain, me taking off my shirt. The best thing about this part of the dream was that there was an arcade machine based on the (presently non-existent) sequel to The Simpsons Movie, which I want to talk about for just a second—

—I remembered having seen this sequel and it having been actually pretty good, is the thing: it was basically The Simpsons doing a feature-length riff on The Cannonball Run, which if you think about it is a pretty goddamn perfect fit for the sprawling galaxy of Simpsons characters and settings and etc etc. Anyway, the game was a two-person side-by-side sit-down racing game that reminded me of nothing so much as the Namco-developed Speed Racer arcade game:

I actually very much would have liked to play this game, but there was the problem of getting tokens, getting my now-somehow-too-small shirt back on, and the organized-crime types that were monopolizing the machine, so once the first two problems were essentially resolved, I went back upstairs and that, my darlings, is where I found Xenophobe: Infestation.

I didn't even know it was an updated version, at first: it looked just like a regular Xenophobe cabinet (the only immediately apparent difference was in the title screen, which I just assumed meant that I was seeing a heretofore-undiscovered bootleg version of the ROM) and the fact that it only had one joystick instead of three (which is just the sort of penny-conscious corner-cutting one would expect from old-school arcade bootleggers).

Anyway. I started up a game and was immediately delighted by the fact that there were, for some reason, way more characters to choose from. One of my favorite things about Xenophobe—which extends to pretty much all the Midway-developed games of and around that era—is the art and character design. Xenophobe had some peculiar-lookin' dudes to choose from—

—and the updated version in my dreams took that peculiarity and ran with it: I ended up choosing to play as a fellow wrapped head-to-toe in bandages who rolled around on a hospital gurney.

The reason for the one-player-ness became eventually apparent. In the original, the screen is divided up into three horizontal slices, and each player occupies a slice, and players can encounter each other as they explore:

In this version, the screen was still divided into those three slices but the player could move freely between them: it was more of an Elevator Action-type thing, if that makes any sense.

The enemies in the original were, as was the case in so many video games of the 80s and 90s, essentially the xenomorphs from Alien/s. They had the whole egg-crawler-adult lifecycle in miniature, the same awful insect fecundity, etc. The half-goofy feeling of Xenophobe makes their presence feel almost like an affectionate parody—at least, I guess I perceive it as such on some level, consciously or otherwise, because the Infestation version had parody-versions of aliens from all sorts of sources. The only thing I really remember from playing the game was a large alien like Lady Cassandra from Doctor Who dispatching a bunch of the little pink slugs from the original arcade version of Alien Syndrome to swarm and overwhelm me.

The context command to get them off of me was "UNSEAT CRITTERS", which I thought was funny.

It was very disappointing to wake up and remember this and realize that it would never be real.

Oh yeah, about Centipede Infestation: I played it and it's good enough—which is pretty much what I expected since it was developed by WayForward—but damned if this isn't one of the only times that I have turned the dialogue volume completely off and skipped past every cutscene. That is really unlike me, but I'll let two things Nicole said while watching me play explain why this is:
1. "Is this Ben 10?"
2. "Whoever did the character design for this game has a DeviantArt account."
I honestly cannot understand why you'd use the Centipede franchise—a set of audiovisuals and contexts which is pretty much meaningless and valueless to anyone beneath a certain age—and then bolt on character design and voice acting that would not be out of place shilling sugar water to tweenage skateboard-owners.

Dec. 8th, 2011


king missile

I don't think I've talked much about my work here since I moved, for a number of reasons, but suffice it to say that I'm the librarian etc. at a nursing college. This is context.

One of the instructors just came in and asked me if I'd seen Aaron, the laboratory manager. I said I hadn't.

- All of our penises are missing.
- I beg your pardon?
- All of our penises are missing.
- That is... exactly what I thought you said.

You see, the mannequins (it was explained to me) in the nursing labs have interchangeable sets of genitals, for educational and economic reasons that ought to be fairly obvious. This morning, however, the mannequins are all equipped with vaginas and, as was previously and emphatically stated, all of our penises are missing.

I have been asked to keep my eye out for any or all of the penises; presumably they are simply in a Rubbermaid storage unit that has been misplaced and have not been made into a necklace or headdress.

Nov. 29th, 2011


proposed livejournal front page redesign

This place is not a place of honor.
No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
Nothing valued is here.
This place is a message and part of a system of messages.
Pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us.
We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.


Nov. 18th, 2011


fake enormous as little man

So we watched the Golgo 13 episode of Game Center CX the other night; Nicole has never played it, much less played through it (on the other hand, beating that game on a single life is and will probably remain my only "hardcore" video game accomplishment), so she didn't know that the plot ends up involving, among other things, cloning Hitler. There's a jar full of Hitler's angry, angry brain, and the very last thing you do in the game is shoot it with a bullet.

Which led, as these things do, to her observing that villainous sorts are always trying to clone Hitler—specifically Hitler, and not other dictators or tyrants or military generals or whatever.

"Everyone wants to clone Hitler. Why doesn't anyone ever try to clone Napoleon?"
"Maybe they did in an anime; ask Wikipedia. No, I think it's because Hitler had that crazy ideology and that's what they want to bring back."

Later, I realized that she was wrong—sort of—and mentioned it to her in an email:

"You forgot that Cobra used Napoleon's DNA when making Serpentor!"
"It's funny, that, since he, y'know, failed."
"That was only because of stubbornness and hemorrhoids."

At which point I realized that "stubbornness and hemorrhoids" would make an excellent name for a leather-bound index of all my bad decisions.

Oct. 19th, 2011


alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride

I don't know why I would have dreamed something like this, but you don't pick your dreams, your dreams pick you, so anyway:

I dreamed I was looking at Tumblr (of all the goddamned things) and came across one that was devoted entirely to photographs of people who write for The Onion with their barbers. It was surprisingly touching and I woke up regretting its non-existence.

I also dreamed about baking something I called a "chocolate caldera cake", which was exactly as gooey and wonderful (in theory; of course I did not get to actually eat the thing because my brain has a strict no-pleasure policy in place, apparently, for my dreams) as it sounds.

Oct. 5th, 2011


Writer's Block: When the moon hits the sky...

Describe your perfect pizza.

I do not normally do these, but this particular question is impossible to resist. It is also an excuse to look at a picture of a pizza.

The perfect pizza has anchovies and pineapple on one half, and artichoke hearts and black olives on the other. It is also three feet wide and in a room with me.

I don't think I'm capable of ever making it entirely clear exactly how much I love pizza.

Oct. 3rd, 2011


go ahead, caller

It was technically very early in the morning, but I didn't know that at the time, and anyway, it was early enough to still qualify as "the middle of the night" to anyone who keeps the old familiar diurnal schedule. Nicole got out of bed and started doing... something in the kitchen, or the living room, and there were a couple of unusual things about this: first, she's normally a pretty sound, solid sleeper that does not get out of bed in the middle of the night without a very good reason, and second, the cats had not, to my knowledge, provided that very good reason as they usually do.

Eventually she came back to bed and I asked her what was up—curious I was, but not curious enough to actually pry myself out of the bed and go find out, and besides, she wasn't gone that long and the sounds of movement from the other room didn't have any sort of frantic or distressed character to them—and she said that she thought she got a text message (i.e. she thought she heard the sound of her text message notification, and do you know that for the life of me, as many times as I've heard that thing, I cannot remember what it sounds like now) and so was looking for her phone. She is not one of those people, thank god, that has the sort of social life and/or friends that could and would be sending her text messages at (and here I squinted at the ten-plus-year-old LCD alarm clock on the nightstand) four-thirty in the morning, so whatever it was was probably important, albeit not important enough to actually place a phone call. Turns out the phone was, like, two feet away, on her computer desk. She looked and—oh, but of course—it's from my mom. Nicole had taken a photo of me and Gidget with her phone earlier in the day, and sent it to my mom, and this was evidently the reply.

This means that (a) my mom was up at 0330 CST sending text messages or (b) the network had fucked up in whatever way it might so that a text message sent at what some would say is a more reasonable hour only farted itself out of the pipe at 0430 EST. I thought about this later and admitted to myself that both scenarios are equally likely.

It was about at this point that various appendices to my central nervous system started getting faint if unjustified whiffs of morning coffee, and so the whole bladder/urethra assembly sent up a request that I get out of bed and do something about this teeming reservoir of urine they have been kind enough to hold back for me through the night. I replied that it certainly couldn't be more urgent than getting back to sleep and having the entire corpus refreshed and ready for the work week ahead, but no, I was informed that look, old man, we were doing you a favor by not informing you of the massive amount of dick pain involved in holding back this flood-tide, but that was a courtesy and optional and you are old and getting out of bed in the middle of the night to piss is what old people do, so suck it up, Matlock. So I did.

This had the unfortunate side effect of giving Spritle the impression that I was Out of Bed and Awake and Functional, i.e. that it was, despite the absurd hour, officially Morning, and Morning time is Breakfast time. Somewhere in his head, though, he must have realized that something wasn't quite right, so he didn't come into the bedroom and demand breakfast; instead, he just sort of wandered around the kitchen and hallway, sing-songing to himself, maybe thinking aloud about how good that breakfast would eventually be once I finally was awake (of course, I hadn't gotten back to sleep, nor would I for some time). Of course, this was also inappropriate feline behavior, so Nicole got out of bed and closed him up in the office. That worked fine for a while, until he started pushing against the door, trying to open it; he has seen us open doors for long enough to have worked out how it's done; in this house, the doors have handles that one has to pull down to open, and sure enough, he will stand on his hind legs and put his paws on a door handle and try to push the damned thing down, but he's not heavy enough and doesn't have enough leverage to pull it off.

The door to the office doesn't shut snug in its frame, though, so as he's doing this, the door is going thumpa-thumpa-thump, much in the same way it does in films when the murderer on the other side of the locked door simply refuses to accept that the door is locked, or realizes that that lock is just one of those flimsy doorknob locks and not a proper deadbolt and thus easily forced if one musters up enough vinegar, so to speak. So I get out of bed (Nicole and I, much like the parents of small children—which these cats essentially are, for Christ's sake—have a taking-turns arrangement for dealing with cat nonsense in the night) and wedge a pair of athletic shorts (which, being mine, have never once been worn in an athletic context) under the door as a sort of doorstop. Problem solved.

That would be the end of disruptions until my alarm clock went off, but here's the thing: from the time I got up to go piss until well after I jammed a pair of shorts under a door to silence the escape attempts of a clever little cat, I could not stop thinking about the Spin Doctors. Yes, that band from the 90s. I have no idea what reminded me of their existence on that first trip to the bathroom; I actually retraced my steps after I had officially Gotten Up to see if there was any sort of peculiar little visual cue that would have put into my head the phrase and/or concept of "spin doctors" or "two princes" or whatever, but no, it appears that the Spin Doctors climbed into the front seat of my conscious thought ex nihilo. And if you think that "Two Princes" song was baseline irritating, just imagine it—or at least the fifteen or twenty seconds everyone remembers of it—on a loop while you're trying to think about nothing so that you can go offline for a bit.

Then of course my thoughts wandered, as they do, to the fact that I actually genuinely liked, at the time, a lot of the 90s songs that are widely considered to be annoying and not-very-good, e.g. "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes, which I have admitted to before. My tastes matured and I developed, I like to think, a sort of basic cultural awareness, but still, the fact is that even though I did not buy Pocket Full of Kryptonite or the "Two Princes" cassingle (yes, I did too buy cassingles. I bought them at Target; the last one I ever bought was "Sabotage" by Beastie Boys, which is a story in and of itself), I liked that song and I looked forward to the instances that it would pop up on MTV. But didn't Spin Doctors have another hit song? I could have sworn that they did; I seemed to remember—lying there in the dark, more or less resigned to the fact that my brain was going to just chew on this nonsense until it wore itself out—them having two inescapable hits at basically around the same time, and I seemed to remember liking them both, but I could not remember the name of that other hit or as much as a single word of its lyrics.

Somewhere around there, I must have crossed over into half-sleep, because then I started thinking about the fact that Spin Doctors are essentially cultural punching bags, now, avatars of a certain special sort of 90s shittiness, and how that's got to be sort of bitter and unpleasant in a way that's hard to turn into a positive; these fellows didn't seem like particularly bad people, and their music, in retrospect, seems too crummy in a janky art-school sort of way to have been crass commercial calculation. They probably really enjoyed being in this band and playing their music and having these little songs of theirs become hits; they probably thought it was neat that they were somehow making a living off of this. I seemed to remember the lead singer having the face of someone that probably goes to the renaissance fair and genuinely enjoys it. At this point my brain was getting extremely wobbly and sympathetic and I imagined that the liner notes to that hit breakthrough album of theirs saying something really earnest about how they just like to hang out together and have a good time. I still couldn't remember the name of their second hit and resolved to look it up when I woke up.

I would then forget to do this until it was too late; I allow myself between fifteen and twenty minutes in the morning to catch up with the internet goings-on while I have breakfast and such and I had straight-up forgotten to simply type "spin doctors" into Wikipedia and now that I had remembered that I had forgotten, the question of that unnamed second hit would nag at me until I could get back in front of a computer (i.e. until I got to work) and in the meantime, that same ubiquitous snippet of "Two Princes" would loop in my head as a reminder.

I looked it up about halfway through writing this, which seems to have exorcised the earworm. I see, too, that they had a song on the soundtrack to the awful Adam Sandler-produced (which is to say the same thing twice) movie Grandma's Boy, which is so much in line with my mental representation of what Spin Doctors represent, culturally, that it's barely even worth noting, except for the fact that that was kind of a recent movie and the fact that they are still recording new songs—to say nothing of having those songs seem culturally viable enough to appear in a movie that was, if not good, at least expensive—was a bit of a surprise, and that they just this last August released a 20th anniversary edition of Pocket Full of Kryptonite, which means that this song has had a tiny but indelible spot in my brain for twenty years, also that I am, as my bladder reminded me, old.

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