That was the last thing I wrote last night (this update’s actually Nov. 27), and I went to bed and after a few minutes lying there, I thought, "Dude," (you can tell I’m upset when I call myself "dude,") "that was some weak, cop-out bullshit." I’d been working on that Field’s Edge stuff for awhile, I was ready to crash, and the blog post here was last-minute. Still, the whole "what I’d really wanted to write was…" wouldn’t shut up in my head, and even though I’d already shut my computer down, I got up anyway, went to the trusty, instant-on WP-2 that I keep on hand, as Foghorn Leghorn would say, for just such an em-UH-gency, and banged out some notes that went something like this:
Wheaton’s writing is awesome and it scares me how much I like this because it feels so damn real and close. I love that he writes about Lando Calrissian action figures and video games and Dungeons & Dragons, even though I never reached the role-playing levels of geekdom I wanted to because I grew up in a small town and there was really just me and my friend Mike playing, and neither of us ever really wanted to run the games, so we really faked our way through the adventures.
So there’s that. But there’s also all these other things beyond the nostalgia – how, as a parent, I marvel at how he embraced the raising of two teenagers even though he’s two years younger than I am, and how, as a writer, I admire the persistence with which he’s pursued the craft and the skill he’s developed, and how, as just another former kid who grew up in the 1980s all the way across the country, I can read his stuff and feel like he was growing up in one of those houses just down the street.
There. I feel better. Thanks, Wil.
…holding "Crossing Decembers" aloft and yawping atop of Wowio’s fiction list :)
In other reading news, I’m fiddling about with Goodreads, thanks to a certain sushi-filming friend, and if I can keep it current, it seems like a decent way to clear up this cluttered drawer I have full of slips of paper where I’ve jotted down authors or titles in the car or at work or wherever they strike me. (My list so far is here, and yes, you’ll see Crossing Decembers on there, but you’ll also note that to be fair, I didn’t rate it.)
Until today, I hadn’t seen Jacob – the guy who introduced me to The Police – since I got married eleven years ago. And even that time broke a decade-plus stretch where we hadn’t talked or written. That means I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen him in the past 20 years and still have fingers to spare.
Jake moved into our school district in Hartville when we were in second or third grade, and until his family moved to Roanoke after fourth grade, we were best friends. Carried our Star Wars guys on every trip to each other’s house, played like we were crewers on the Space Cruiser Yamato, rode our bikes through the dirt trails that looped through the fields near his neighborhood, played elementary-school-league basketball (poorly, we admit) on the same team, and saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time together. Even after he moved to Virginia (and later to Mason, Ohio), we stayed in touch by letter and saw each other about once, maybe twice a year on spring or summer vacations.
Late junior high, I think, we drifted apart, but our parents stayed in touch by Christmas card, which is how, out of the blue, I wound up inviting him to my wedding in 1996. He joined my buddies (several of whom he’d also known in elementary school) and me for a night out, and then there was the day of the backyard wedding and reception. After that, again, we lost touch after maybe one or two e-mails, until this summer, when I wrote that Police essay and it became important to send it to Jacob, and we’ve sent a few notes back-and-forth since.
When it came up that he and his wife were coming to Ohio for Thanksgiving, we made plans to meet at my mom’s house this morning. And even though so much time’s passed, we fell ridiculously easily into conversations – catch-up stuff and recollections and books and life and just, you know, stuff. Arcades and vacation trips and kids and brothers and sisters. I couldn’t get over how crazy it seemed that it was all just so natural – at one point, we were talking about what we like to read, and as Jacob’s telling me about this "out there" kind of author he’s recently discovered, I knew for sure before he said it that he was talking about Murakami.
There’s an awful lot of life between who we were and who we are, but it’s good to find that some important pieces have survived the trip so far.
IGN’s posting a list of the Top 100 Games of All Time, and even though so far most of the entries are outside of my own video-gaming era, I have to say I was pretty psyched to see Archon right off the bat. Archon goes back to the time when we had our Commodore 64 hooked up to our old TV in the basement and play while on the worn-out couch that used to be in the living room. Long after our Atari (it was just an "Atari" even then, screw that after-the-fact "2600" designator) was shuffled off to the side, we still used its joysticks and wore them out playing games on the Commodore, and Archon was a big contributor.
The great thing about Archon was the way it combined some of the strategy of chess with video gaming skills: Yeah, your pawns were slow and weak and armed only with swords or clubs, but now and then it was still possible to take down even that hyper-speedy unicorn that shot frickin’ laser beams from its horn. (Worst battle: Phoenix vs. Shapeshifter. Yeah, two birds flying around trying to get close enough to burst into impervious flames and burn each other. It was either a matter of tremendous timing and tricking the other guy into lighting up, then hitting him in the dead time after he dimmed, or a long battle that ended with a "screw this, you can have this one.")
The only other games on the IGN list that I identify with so far are the Atari version of Star Wars – at No. 88, although they use a home video system screenshot instead of the vector graphics arcade version – and Space Invaders at No. 81, which I remember being the first video game to grace our local Noble Roman’s pizza place in Canton.
The cool thing about Noble Roman’s when I was a kid was that the place had a little viewing area with a window into the kitchen where you could watch them make the pizzas. My friend Trevor and I were there once with a little deck of cards, playing "War" on the ledge by the window, and one of the cooks picked up some pepperoni slices and fanned them out in his hands like playing cards. We thought this was funny and mimed the question, "Can we come in there?" And he came around the counter and gave us a tour of the kitchen, which completely blew us away. Come on: We were little kids, and seeing the pizza ovens and the freezers and everything was awfully damn neat.
And then Noble Roman’s put in Space Invaders and I don’t think I ever watched them make another pizza again, unless I’d already run through my quarters for the night. After Space Invaders came Asteroids, then Asteroids Deluxe (Noble Roman’s only ever had one game at a time), and then Pac-Man, and then some others, I’m sure, but the last one I remember was the original Mario Bros. game. I remember how great it was that instead of having to take turns, I could team up and play right alongside Dad or my little brothers.
Noble Roman’s was converted into a dentist’s office years ago, but the company says they’re trying to get back into Northeast Ohio with their new franchises. I’m guessing it won’t be quite like I remember.
So Saturday was my birthday, and while I’m shocked to suddenly find that the square root of 1600 seems uncomfortably close, I had a great weekend.
Stopped at Adam’s house on the way home from work Friday. He gave me one of those sound-effect birthday cards with a clip from Airplane!, which my wife and I have watched ever since we started dating. He also started that journal of letters we’ve been talking about sending back and forth.
Got home to find that my daughter was spending the night at her aunt and uncle’s house and there were candles and wine on the table waiting, and Jenn was making her chicken cacciatore (which, in all fairness, belongs in an Iron Chef competition along with her beef stroganoff, mushroom stuffing and vindaloo) for the two of us. After dinner, we settled into the family room and watched Knocked Up, which made me like Judd Apatow even more.
Saturday, a friend from my Bowling Green days – which cannot possibly be almost two decades ago – and her husband came up Saturday from Columbus for the Ohio State-Michigan game, and then we headed down to grill steaks and spend the night at my parents’ big house in the dark woods. Between another great dinner and ping-pong and Catchphrase, could things have been better? I will say yes, because there was also a Baby Pac-Man machine in the basement. See, I grew up in the 1980s, and no matter how amazingly kick-ass any computer game or home console system gets, to someone who used to spend arcade tokens by the pound, nothing is as cool as seeing a real honest-to-Namco video game sitting in someone’s house like on Silver Spoons and in The Toy. Free plays all night, folks, no quarters necessary. (No kidding: There’s a Black Knight pinball machine down there, too – the story behind these will have to be told another time – and if we can get that bad mother working, I just may re-part my hair down the middle like I did in seventh grade and dig up my three-quarter-length-sleeved shirt with the Lamborghini airbrushed on it.)
On the drive home Sunday, I got one of those nausea-inducing headaches, so I went back to bed until about noon, when I woke up feeling tons better and as though I were starting a completely new day. It was a mostly quiet day spent watching the Browns beat the Ravens. Sort of. After having watched the Browns seemingly blow the game, I left to get a haircut after watching Phil Dawson’s kick bounce around and fall back into the end zone. I was pretty peeved about the team having blown the second-half lead, after all. Yeah, that’s right: I was already in the car and on the road listening to the post-game when they decided the kick was good and the Browns went on to win in overtime.
Oh, and Jim sent me a couple vinyl figures for my birthday: A burger Dunny from the fourth series and Greene from Unkl’s HazMaPo line. ("He’s a sucker for the mayonnaise and isn’t afraid to share it.")
That’s a weekend worth not feeling old over.
To borrow a phrase from Han Solo, I like the sound of that.
Many thanks, then, to Wred Fright of the Underground Literary Alliance – and author of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus – who used it to describe Crossing Decembers in this review, which was a nice surprise this week.
Last night, I drove up to Warren for a get-together with friends and former co-workers from the
Tribune-Chronicle. Left home just before 5 p.m.,
with the sun low in a clear, pale sky, and that brilliant gold late-fall glow
just lying over the fields and the trees. Perfect Ohio
afternoon for driving back into the past a ways.
Not much has changed along the drive I used to make every
day: North on Route 44 to Rootstown, east on Ohio 5the rest of the way. This is still the best
time of year to make the trip. In Randolph,
I passed a bunch of kids playing football in someone’s side yard, one of them
wearing a Green Bay Packers helmet.
Heading east, I turned off onto a side road for a quick
visit to a bridge. It had (still has) a kind of familiarity about it that I
liked. Sometimes on the way home from Warren, if I could see a westbound train
on the tracks running parallel to the road, I’d try to get ahead of it and
reach the bridge in time to see it pass beneath.
Did this once in the winter,
when the side roads were snowier than I’d anticipated, had a moment of panic
when my car got stuck briefly during my turnaround in the middle of nowhere.
This time, I stopped long enough to take westward-looking picture.
Being back in Warren tugged in a few different ways: The Trib was my first full-time reporting job,
after years of trying to convince an editor someplace to give me a shot. Great
newsroom, too: Amazing people to work with and learn
from. Being back there
among familiar faces and landmarks strummed a few mental chords I hadn’t heard
in a long time, like when I drove past the store where I remembered that I bought
my daughter her first baseball glove one afternoon on my lunch break.
Still, it also reminded me how I never really felt quite
like I fit. Not at the paper, but in the Mahoning Valley. Just a different corner of Ohio,
with its own echoes and moods, like the northwestern farm counties or the
tucked-away central towns beyond the big-city suburbs.
We all got together at the Sunset Inn, the place the
newsroom always called for pizza and chicken and pasta when we’d work late on
election nights. I was only at the Trib for a little over three years, so there
were a lot of longtime former employees I didn’t know, but there were at least
a half-dozen or so I spent my time working alongside, and it was good seeing
The drive home was dark, the way I remembered, since the
two-lane roads thread between a lot of farmland and woods, and a good stretch
of highway passes by the shuttered Ravenna Arsenal. I picked up the Canton AM station almost all the way out in Warren,
and listened to a high school football playoff game on the way home.