That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!

Archive for August, 2018

Perhaps the sound he makes is laughter.

Posted by kozemp on August 27, 2018

My current office is across the street from Reading Terminal Market, which is both a good and a bad thing.

It’s a good thing because Reading Terminal Market is basically Disney World for food. There’s more than you could possibly take in. Everything is great but obscenely overpriced. Unless you know the secret cheats you spend a disproportionate amount of your time there waiting in line.

The bad is everything else about it. The food there is good – I will freely admit that a pork sandwich from DiNic’s is literally the worst thing I’ve ever eaten there – but there is so goddamn much of it, and all of it is incredibly bad for you, and it is fucking EXPENSIVE. I realized very early on when I started working across the street that eating regularly at Reading Terminal Market was a losing proposition both in financial and endocrinological terms, so I resolved to only eat there occasionally.

I decided, in what I thought was a fit of extreme largesse, that “occasionally” would mean no more than once a week. My wallet and my cholesterol both tried to thank me but were both too tired and out of breath to really say much.

Today was not going to be a Reading Terminal day. Today was going to be a Panda Express day, which I once again very graciously decided to limit myself to once a week. Panda Express has the dual virtues of being not too expensive and not exceptionally bad for you, as these things go. Panda Express also affords me the chance for what I euphemistically call “healthy living,” which in this specific case I define as “not eating around the vegetables at Panda Express.”

I ate my Panda Express and read my David Sedaris book and, as one is wont to do, got to the fortune cookie at the end. Mine read, “you will find good fortune in love.”

I read this and very quickly I got very unreasonably angry.

I have, over the last few months, devoted a lot of bandwidth to what Steven Moffat called “the man-woman thing” as pertains to my specific experience and I have come to a number of conclusions that I don’t particularly care for. I don’t mean that they’re bad conclusions. They are excellent conclusions. I don’t care for them because it turns out a lot of my assumptions over the last 20ish years were dreadfully wrong and I am far more at fault then I had previously suspected (or, indeed, even wildly imagined).

It turns out “my hilariously rotten luck with women is because all my exes are crazy” doesn’t hold up too well if you think about it for more than eight or nine seconds.

I was sitting there in the Panda Express, staring at this fortune cookie paper and getting angrier and angrier, and I had a sort of acid flashback to getting angry in another restaurant.

It was, I remember very specifically, about 9PM on November 29, 2009. I was at the Outback Steakhouse in Egg Harbor Township with my friend Ken. I was going to turn 32 in a few hours, and we were having dinner before we headed over to Harrah’s, where I planned to mark the moment of the start of my birthday – still my least favorite day of the year – by playing poker during it. While Ken had gone outside to smoke and arrange some manner of shady business deal, I checked Facebook on my phone. Facebook (and checking it on my phone) was still something of a novelty then, before I realized that both of those things were basically pure evil.

I had a Friend Request, and looking at it I was initially a bit frustrated. Friend request spam wasn’t really a thing back then, and I didn’t recognize the name on the request. I assumed it was one of my father’s students looking for him, us having the same name. I usually assumed it was students who didn’t really know him very well, since they thought my father – MY FATHER – would be an early adopter of Facebook with Spider Jerusalem as his profile picture.

I was about to dismiss it entirely as another one of my father’s misguided ex-students when I clicked through to the profile of the person on the other end. Eh, I thought, what the hell.

After staring at the pictures for a few seconds it finally dawned on me – I only didn’t recognize the LAST name.

The woman who had tried to friend me on Facebook was one of my exes from back in college.

I looked at those pictures and… not slowly, but steadily got very, very angry.

I didn’t much know why I was getting so angry, but I was. I could feel my blood pressure rising. I was mad. I was PISSED. Who the hell did she think she was, trying to insert herself into my life all these years later?

I was boiling mad – it’s difficult to describe how mad this made me – but then for whatever reason, Loki’s line from The Kindly Ones popped into my head:

“I am Loki, who is fire and wit and hate. And I will be under an obligation to no one.”

I let that swirl around for a few seconds.

I muttered “I will be under an obligation to no one” under my breath, and deleted her request. It might have been the first time in my life I made a responsible choice when it comes to the man-woman thing.

Ken came back to the table a few seconds later and I said, “you won’t BELIEVE who just tried to friend me on Facebook.”

“Facebook is evil!” Ken shouted. “That’s why I don’t use it.” Ken has always been ahead of the curve on these sorts of things.

I told him the story, we finished eating, and we went to the casino, where if memory serves I won something like $43. Not a good night, back in those days.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized why I had gotten so angry – Blast From The Past trying to friend me on Facebook shouldn’t have done it. If I’d known who it was I would have just deleted it blindly and not given it a second thought.

No, what got me so angry was the pictures.

Her Facebook was overflowing with pictures of her and her family – her and her husband, her husband and her kids, her and her husband and her kids and, I swear I am not making this up, their white picket fence. The fucking fence, I realized, was the one that pushed me over the edge. She had, not just a picture perfect life, but the picture perfect life that I wanted. That, at one time, I had wanted with her. It wasn’t just anger I had been feeling, it was a very potent cocktail of anger and jealousy and regret that might very well have driven me over the edge had not my memory of The Sandman driven a giant spike through the center of my consciousness with “THIS IS ALL BULLSHIT” written on it in big letters.

Which brings me back to today, sitting in the Panda Express, getting unreasonably angry at a fortune cookie telling me I will find good fortune in love. All things being equal, considering the current state of play, etc etc, I don’t think that’s actually true. I do not anticipate finding good fortune in love in the near future. I suppose there is a discussion to be had about what, in the fortune cookie’s terms, constitutes “the near future,” but having an objective disagreement with a fortune cookie over the exact temporal scope of its prediction is, even by my standards, a depressingly extravagant waste of mental energy. I feel like I might be closer to it now than I was… I dunno… a year, three years, five years ago, whatever, but knowing what I know now about the state of the inside of my own head – and, crucially, knowing what I didn’t know then about how that affects one’s prospects at finding good fortune in love – the smart money is on the over.

I wasn’t angry at the fortune cookie for being wrong. I was angry at it for reminding me of all the things that made it wrong while I was just trying to eat lunch and read my book.

But things change, and I will be under an obligation to no one.

See you next week, Panda Express.

JLK

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When I said we needed a ship, I should have been more specific.

Posted by kozemp on August 20, 2018

I got Battlefront 2 on sale last week. I played it over the weekend.

This has greatly angered me.

I’m not talking about gameplay here – it’s a Star Wars game, the gameplay is bad, ’twas ever thus. I DO want to talk about it as a Star Wars story, because that’s what pissed me off about it.

The GOTY pack I bought presents the main game and Resurrection (the DLC) as basically of a piece, but I can recognize what was supposed to be the end of the original game thanks to the 65 point cheevo that pops during the last cutscene. But whether they’re presented together or separately my reaction to both the end of the main campaign and the end of Resurrection is the same:

WHAT THE FUCK?!

I am fine with main characters dying. I am fine with main characters dying in Star Wars. I am not saying this is something that can’t be done and done well – Rogue One may be my favorite Star Wars movie and everyone dies in that.

My issue is not that “the main characters die.”

I had said to a friend of mine as I was playing it that the Inferno Squad face turn happens very, very quickly. I sort of get why this happens. I tried to read the Inferno Squad book and I was really put off by how gung-ho Iden was about the awesomeness of being an Imperial soldier. (The first chapter of the book is her inner monologue about how great the destruction of Alderaan was, and that was not a voice I wanted in my head for however many hours.) I like to think LSG, or whoever was ultimately responsible for the story of the game, recognized that there might have been a limit to how much people wanted to actively advance the Empire’s agenda. So I get why they change sides so fast in terms of the timeline of the game.

The Inferno Squad face turn happens very quickly both in terms of how early in the game it comes and the speed with which it happens when it does. Del meets Luke for 20 minutes and suddenly is willing to renounce everything he’s known his entire life – he literally says at one point “I was raised to believe the Jedi were monsters.” (Whatever the actual line is, I’m paraphrasing.) Iden is a super-SUPER Imperial zealot until Operation Cinder targets her homeworld and she makes the “fuck all THIS” choice in about four seconds flat.

And still I’m fine with those choices. It’s narrative. It’s drama. And we clearly don’t want an RPG-length game here (the campaign, like most shooter campaigns, is criminally short) so we compress things. Okay, fine. Del and Iden join the Rebellion and are instantly welcomed and become a crucial part of post-Endor operations within what the game explicitly tells us is a few weeks. They more or less single-handedly win the Battle of Jakku, crush the Empire, and finally get together (I’d been waiting for that since like the third mission) and enjoy their peaceful life forever.

That last cutscene on Jakku happened and I was like “hey, alright, that’s a solid ending to this good but very short game.”

Then we jump to “decades later” and I’m like “okay, well, an epilogue. Sure.”

This epilogue turns out to be the actual end of the game, which from a pure storytelling perspective is really annoying since the game has clearly already ended. So by about ten minutes into this scene I’m already a little wary because we are getting Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’d. The game is long over. Yet we are still playing. But Kylo Ren is kinda fun, so we go with it.

Then Hask shows up again and I kinda mutter “uh…” Then Hask kills Del and I mutter “you’ve gotta be kidding me” as the notification for that 65-pointer pops and I realize I have reached the end of the original game.

I texted my friend Shawn, the biggest Star Wars fan I know, “I am NOT happy about this.”

But I know there’s still the DLC to come. I roll right into it, relishing the thought of spending a few missions directing what I am certain will be Iden Versio’s bloody and glorious revenge against Gideon Hask.

Then at the end of that Iden dies and I throw my controller into the couch and shout “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!” to my empty living room.

I was not pissed that Del and Iden died, that characters I had grown to like and whose ending together I was satisfied with, died. I was pissed because Del and Iden die for ABSOLUTELY NO GODDAMN REASON. If the point of the story had been that Inferno Squad were bad, and even though they joined the Rebellion they still could never live down what they had done for the Empire, then their deaths might have meant something. Then we have a story about how you can’t escape your past. That isn’t what this story does, though. Inferno Squad joins the Rebellion and are instantly treated as welcome brethren. There is never so much as a passing mention of their past misdeeds. Once Iden and Del defect they are The Good Guys, end of.

Then, at the end of the story, they just die. They don’t even die FOR anything. Del dies because he gets randomly caught by Hask. Iden dies because Hask gets off a lucky shot before he falls off a walkway. (Seriously. First Order. RAILINGS.) Del doesn’t die trying to protect Lor San Tekka. Iden doesn’t die trying to save Zay. They just die.

Compare this with Rogue One, a story about a group of people each deciding to find something worth dying for – and each one of them chooses where and when they’re going to die for it. Hell, compare it with the great “no one is safe” narrative of our time, A Song of Ice and Fire. For however shocking they are in a reading sense, everyone there dies because of something in the story. Ned dies because he’s too stuck in his ways. Robb dies because he trusts the wrong people. Tywin dies because he rejected his son. The list goes on.

Del and Iden just die, which leaves us a story that is about… what, exactly? I’m honestly not even sure. The closest I can come up with is something like “be good, be evil, whatever, it doesn’t matter, we’re all going to get it in the end” and while I suppose you could create a story about that – actually now that I think about it that is sort of what The Departed is about – that isn’t Star Wars. That isn’t close to Star Wars. I’m not saying Star Wars has to be one specific thing but there are definitely things Star Wars is NOT and “eh, <moral relativism>, <shrug>” is definitely one of those things Star Wars isn’t.

So there you have it. Battlefront 2. A not-very-good game that also turned out to have a not-very-good story. At least I didn’t pay full price for it.

JLK

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