Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking Backwards At 2011 And Laughing Like A Giddy Monkey

Another year bites the proverbial dust, another 365 days fade into history. Turns out 2011 was another year of milk and honey, prosperity, pain and tumultuousness. What can I say? Shit happens, and it seems to loom around me. I’m misfortune’s favorite customer.

Yet 2011 wasn’t all that bad, as far as years go. Looking back at the madness, I realize now I was genuinely happy. While I end the year with back problems and blood pressure higher than an air traffic controller on crank, things were relatively okay for me in ’11. I attribute this happiness to my girlfriend, who is a loving and constant companion. My Filipina sex machine has been there for the entire ride around the sun, and I wish she'll be around for many more.

Presuming the Mayans were full of shit and the world isn’t hit by an asteroid in December 2012, I hope to report new and exciting things next year.

For now, here are some of the bizarre things that happened to me in 2011:

* Sold my motherfucking house! Chateau le Schei├če is gone, outta here, and not my problem anymore, thanks to a nice woman from upstate who purchased it in October.

* Won an award from the New Jersey Press Association. This one was for a story I did on law enforcement’s efforts to stem the rising tide of drugs in the community.

* Performed three standup acts and even got paid. Now I’m a real standup comedian. Watch out, Hollywood!

* It was a busy year writing-wise. Finished writing Ravaged Earth Revised. I’m quite pleased at the final result, a year-long effort of writing and editing. Slated for a 2012 release, this new iteration of Ravaged Earth reworks powers and contains a few surprises, such as information on Martians, Martian tech, and a thrilling plot-point campaign. In addition, I also wrote four guidebooks for Ravaged Earth and four companion adventures.

* Attended Philcon and got to speak about Ravaged Earth and gaming at a few panels.

* Attended Gencon with my girlfriend and had an absolute blast. Dating a girl geek is comforting, since we share several areas of interest. I ran two Ravaged Earth games, talked about the upcoming releases from Reality Blurs (like Agents of Oblivion, which was released in October to great acclaim) and hung out with several people from the gaming industry. We even went to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, something you should definitely do if you find yourself in Indianapolis.

* Attended my first steampunk-themed costume ball in July at Dorian’s Parlor. This is a fantastic event, a place where Victorian costumes mingle with the latest in cutting edge steam technology. Corsets, tophats and goggles. All that plus quirky bands, a fashion show and open bar make it the ultimate debonair swankfest and neo-vintage salon.

* Took my father to see Bill Cosby in concert for Father’s Day. My father introduced me to Cosby’s comedy via record albums in the 1970s. Seeing this old man on stage cracking wise and relating his own brand of homespun humor was cathartic in a way.

* Speaking of the Cos, Cosbython 2 was a rollicking success! Celebrating Bill Cosby’s birthday in July in style with ugly sweaters, pudding pops and Kids Say The Darndest Things the board game.

* Held a party celebrating Tommy Wiseau’s birthday, the longhaired, mumbling actor and director of The Room. I called the event Room-A-Palooza. We watched The Room, played board games and ate pizza. Any photos of me dressed as Wiseau have since been destroyed.

* Survived both an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week. An earthquake rumbled across New Jersey and the house shook like two elephants fucking in the parlor. Less than a few days later, Hurricane Irene swung through the eastern seaboard. We get it! God hates shoobies!

* Performed on an Internet comedy show, the Jersey Comedy Syndicate on UStream, and brought back my character, Lazlo Fink.

* Watched several movie classics from the American Film Institute’s top 100 films. While I’m not finished the list, I did make a severe dent in it, viewing such treasures as Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca, It Happened One Night, All About Eve, Double Indemnity and The Searchers.

* Recorded more lines for HG World, a zombie audio drama. The show garnered a Parsec award in 2011, making it an award-winning zombie audio drama!

Next year I hope to run away with my little pineapple Asian persuasion, get my novel published, do more standup, and demo my RPG at Gencon and who knows, maybe even Origins. Gods willing! Hail Eris! Hail Cthulhu! Let's make it happen!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Retro Gaming

Back in the primordial epoch, circa 1980, I was a greasy little urchin with copious free time and a pocketful of quarters. I whiled away countless hours in video arcades, surrounded by flashing lights, bleeping pixels and a cavalcade of Japanese electronic entertainment. The early 1980s was a boom time for video games. They lurched from their humble beginnings with Pong and Space Invaders to a more evolved state of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. At the dawn of the 21st Century, video games have advanced plots, lifelike graphics and more violence and gore than All You Can Kill Day at the Roman Colosseum.
Still, the simpler times showed us video games could be clever, friendly and outright weird.
I discovered a cabinet game at my local arcade filled with several arcade classics from the 1980s, and was transported back through time to my hometown in New Jersey. I was 11 or 12, had braces and a penchant for playing video games. Memories washed over me as I was treated to games I hadn't seen and played in almost 30 years. Nostalgic? Hells yeah!


If this arcade game were a woman, I'd marry it, then fuck it repeatedly with a shitload of quarters.

The game lets you select from the following arcade legends: 1942, 1943, Amidar, Arkanoid, Burger Time, Bomb Jack, Centipede, Congo Bongo, Crush Roller, Dig Dug, Dig Dug 2, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, Galaga, Galaxian, Jr. Pac-Man, Frogger, Juno First, Jumping Jack, King and Balloon, Lady Bug, Mappy, Millipede, Moon Cresta, Mr. Do, Mr. Do's Castle, Mrs. Pac-Man, New Rally X, Pac-Man, Pengo, Pinball Action, Pooyan, Pleiads, Phoenix, Qix, Scramble, Space Panic, Space Invaders, Super Break Out, Super Cobra, Super Pac-Man, Tank Battalion, Time Pilot, The End, Sho - Lin's Road, Van-Van Car, Xevious and Zaxxon. Many of these I haven't heard of, like Moon Cresta and King and Balloon. After playing them, I understand why. Some of these games are easily forgettable, but others are hidden video game gems that should stand the test of time.


Like Donkey Kong. The classic Nintendo arcade game that introduced Mario and the titular gorilla, Donkey Kong was one of my early favorites. If you play the second stage right, Mario scores with the princess while Kong falls headfirst to an ignoble if not hilarious death.



Donkey Kong Jr., the popular sequel, has players in the role of Donkey Kong's son on a mission to save daddy Donkey Kong. This game is incredibly hard, as players will be climbing vines and dodging these snap-jawed critters and aggressive birds. It's insane how many things are out to get you in this game.


If gorillas are your thing, Congo Bongo is another classic arcade game. You play a hunter who has to climb through what looks like an M.C. Escher painting of passageways, bridges and annoying monkeys. I loathe Congo Bongo because I get killed and can't finish the first level. The perspective throws me off and I end up plummeting to my doom or being skull-raped by one of those monkeys. I want to find whoever designed Congo Bongo and kill them with a shovel.


I remember playing Crush Roller (or Make Trax as it was sometimes called) at a Chi-Chi's restaurant during my youth. If that reference doesn't date me, recalling the game was freakin' hard will. You play a paint brush being chased by two flounder-looking creatures. Your task is to paint the entire maze and use two rollers to crush your pursuers. A cat, a mouse, a bird and a tire roll over your nice paint job and force you to backtrack. If you thought painting your house was a thankless, labor-intensive undertaking, play this game. This is why people should hire professional painters.


I learned more about the natural world by playing Frogger than I did in my high school life science class. Frogger has everything: a Darwinian struggle of survival in a cold and unforgiving world, where aggressive predators thrive on devouring the innocent frog, who only wants to mate, eat flies and go home. This game may look cute, but it's survival of the fittest. To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, "it's not easy being green, homey."



Mappy. Goddamn it, how I love Mappy. Holy fuck on melba toast do I love this game. One of the shining examples of arcade games from the early 1980s, Mappy puts the player in the guise of a mouse in a policeman's uniform. The goal here is to bounce through a house and snag stolen loot from a gang of cats, who desire only one thing: to devour Mappy for lunch. Fast-paced, with a pleasant musical score and challenging bonus stages, Mappy is video game Nirvana.


Mr. Do.
Jumpin' Jesus with a strap-on are you ever a weird game. One of my favorites as a kid, Mr. Do is a trippy game where you play a clown digging for cherries underground.


Mr. Do is patterned after Dig-Dug, another one of my favorite arcade games. Whoever wrote these games must've been doing some heavy acid, because this game, as I mentioned above, is really trippy. Mr. Do must dig passages underground and kill these creatures by throwing a ball at them or by squashing them with gigantic apples. Periodically, a bonus item will manifest in the middle of the screen. Snag it and a chorus of fucked-up looking Muppets will descend upon our hero. It's not a bad game if you're a student of Dada artists and stoned out of your mind.


Mr. Do was so popular, it launched a sequel - Mr. Do's Castle. This one pits Mr. Do against some unicorn creatures in a castle. The clown must knock blocks from the floors of the castle and crush his enemies. If Mr. Do wasn't motivated, he'd be called Mr. Don't. He's a badass. You know it, I know it and Mr. Do knows it. So don't fuck with him.


I never heard of Pooyan before. This game makes me so angry, I want to throw a baby in a woodchipper.


A retelling of the Three Little Pigs, Pooyan pits the player against wolves with balloons. The player is suspended from a gondola and shoots arrows at the wolves, attempting to pop the balloons before the wolves make it to the ground, where presumably, they rape the pigs.


I can't figure out how Jumping Jack got green lit. The premise of the game, to leap across the board, propelled with a bunch of seesaws and dodging pretty much everything in sight. One of the most bizarre things in the game is in the upper corner. See that character up there? The black Sambo-looking dude with giant red lips? Who programmed this game? David Duke? Was it popular to include racial stereotypes in video games in the 1980s? I realize back then, political correctness didn't run amok as it does today, but having a giant-lipped African native hurling boulders at you is wrong.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge

My entry in Chuck Wendig's latest flash fiction challenge: "An Affliction of Alliteration." Contestants had to write a story whose title uses alliteration.
Here's my story:



WOBBILY WOMBATS WEARING WATCHES

By Eric Avedissian



When things grew rough for the miners of Kingsbury Colony, when the bodies began stacking up like fucking dried cordwood in the sun, that’s when management flew into a tizzy. Too many men were lost in the bowels of this godforsaken world, buried under the rock, suffocated like dogs in an oil drum.

That’s when they brought in the scientists with their genetic splicing and cloning and diddling around with DNA.

The scientists created wombats four feet high and programmed their brains to tell time. Each wombat was given the ability through conditioning and biological programming to understand exactly when their shifts would start and end via special wristwatches strapped around their paws.

The blasted critters worked harder than any of the slackers they replaced.

The creatures stood on their hind legs and walked upright, wore dirt-covered overalls and mining helmets. They wielded pickaxes, drills and planted explosives better than most of their human counterparts.

What’s more, they made the Kingsbury Colony Mining Consortium a lot of money.

Their exploits were known throughout the Australian Confederation, from the twin planets Dingo and Walleroo to the crumbing remnants of Bixby’s Forge.

Russell Cobb, captain of class 7 ion-drive mining ship “Waltzing Matilda”, was less than thrilled.

“Bloody wombats,” Cobb muttered as he leaned against the railing overlooking the quarry. “How many of these fucking rodents you got?”

“About 200, I reckon,” said the mining overseer everybody called Snake. Snake wore goggles and covered his face with a cloth mask, protecting it from the planet’s dust storms. Kingsbury Colony was an arid, hellish world, with litter precipitation and immense sandy deserts. Snake, as his nickname suggested, felt at home here.

“The consortium likes this sort of thing?” Cobb asked.

“Consortium reassigned them offworld months ago,” Snake said, leaning back in his chair. “Thought it best to assign them less dangerous tasks. Some went to Dingo to harvest grain. Others went to the breeding pits of Bixby’s Forge to help repopulate the colony.”

“Yeah. Fair dinkum, I suppose.”

In the mine, a wombat paused, scratched its chin and extended its furry arm in front of its face. Eyeing the giant wristwatch, it saw the blinking LED display and recognized the digital numbers signified quitting time. The creature shuffled towards the lift, and pulled a lever mounted on a control panel. The hydraulic lift ascended, shimmying with a rusty groan, taking the wombat with it, up towards the mine’s surface.

Cobb drained another 12-ounce tinny of Foster’s pale lager, the brew cooling his parched throat. He cracked open another can and offered it to Snake, who declined.

“Never touch the stuff, mate. Ever since the wife birthed two ankle biters,” Snake said.

It never occurred to Cobb that Snake was a family man. He always thought Snake was an antisocial tosser with as much likability as a road accident.

Cobb turned his attention to the wombats, who marched out of the mine single-file, like a conga-line of marsupial zombies.

“I know it’s none of my bizzo, but is that normal?” Cobb asked.

“Shift’s over. Time to rest. We give ‘em six hour’s sleep and it’s back to the mines,” Snake said.
Cobb rolled his eyes.

Snake smirked behind his mask. As far as he was concerned, Cobb’s only function was hauling ore back to Bixby’s Forge.

A titanic crane scooped a dozen containers of ore, lifted them from the ground and loaded them onto the spaceship. Robots with bulbous heads and four arms each transported the containers via lift into the ship’s filthy, crowded hull. Cobb observed this from a metallic gangplank, counting the containers as the robots handled them.

Ever since the wombats took over, output increased tenfold.

The fucking furry bastards were ripper.

A straggling wombat, still staring blankly at his wristwatch, stumbled upon a few cans of Cobb’s lager.

With chaffed hands, the creature picked up the beer can and regarded it with a curious stare. It sniffed the opening, then poured some of the liquid in its mouth. its eager tongue lapped the rest of the beer with wild abandon until it emptied the can. It tossed the can, which landed on the ground with a loud metallic clatter before lunging for another one.

For the first time, one of the genetically engineered wombats was off his face. It was full. It has a gutful of piss. It was bloody rotten.

In short, it was drunk.

Another wombat approached and fumbled with a can. The second marsupial observed his compatriot tear open the tab and imbibe the strange, yeasty concoction within.

The scenario repeated itself until the wombats, every one of them, consumed at least one beer. Apparently, the alcohol tolerance of the bipedal wombat critters was embarrassingly low. Some laughed, while others chundered on each other.

When Snake saw the wombats dancing and shambling in alcohol-induced euphoria, he shouted towards the gangplank.
Cobb peered from his perch and witnessed the chaos below. He slid down the ladders and landed with thud near the mine entrance, where Snake stood, fists balled in rage.

“Look what your lager has done! They’re bloody pissed! Every one of them useless!”

“Oi! Enough earbashing! I get it!” Cobb said. “Let ‘em sober up. Be right as rain in a few.”

“That ain’t the point, mate! Alcohol destroys their programming. Unhinges whatever chemical program the scientists jiggered up in there. These things will be lucky to know how to shit,” Snake said.

Cobb reached into his holster and pulled out his Ellerson Mark V laser gun. Behind his goggles, Snake’s eyes widened.

“You can’t, man! The conglomerate…”

“They’ll make more of these abominations, mate,” Cobb said with a sneer. “We tell ‘em raiders hit the mine and you were the only survivor. Spend some time with the wife and kids. You deserve a holiday.”

Snake nodded meekly and backed away. He realized stranger things happened in this part of space.

“Good onya, mate!” Snake exclaimed, as Cobb fired.

Friday, November 25, 2011

America the Lazy

Remember the good old days, say 1985, when Americans had a sense of manners and did the right thing simply because it was the right thing to do?

Remember when we weren't a nation of self-absorbed, obsessed dicks pepper spraying our way through a Walmart to get some stupid plastic piece of shit manufactured in China?

Remember when America had standards, a timeless sense of finesse and aplomb?

Those days of the Protestant work ethic and social etiquette are deader than Judge Reinhold's career. We're a nation that simply doesn't give a shit, about ourselves, about each other and about our impending crash and burn on the world stage.

America now is like a sloppy drunk Hollywood celebrity staggering out of her limo and flopping onto the red carpet, face marred with white powder and naked crotch exposed for the paperazzi. We're an international trainwreck because we've let our standards plummet disastrously.

Here are four signs that America is on the path to cultural and social suicide:

1. Our Food Sucks. I'm not talking about the quality. If you like the McRib, that's a personal preference of shoddy tastebuds and low income. I'm talking about presentation. We are a nation of wraps, where food is slopped into a doughy rap and rolled up and consumed. The sandwich is too complicated. Mass producing these slipshod wraps takes little effort and I want my food-slinging professionals to earn their minimum wage. Also, the bowls. Kentucky Fried Chicken has mashed potato bowls stuffed with chicken strips and corn. Just plopped into a bowl like some sad bachelor and consumed in bitter silence in front of the TV while Ultimate Fighting Championship is on. Wraps and bowls show no effort. It's like slackers control our food industry.

2. We're Note Polite. We as a society lack basic courtesy. When we cut in line at the supermarket to buy our frozen wraps, do we not offer a slight apology? No! America is becoming a very rude, naughty little boy who smears feces on the drapes just to get a reaction. We need a national nanny to scold us and give us discipline, to point out our shortcomings and correct our behavior. Or at least a national dominatrix to suspend us from the ceiling and spit on us should we err.

3. Reality TV is Awful. If one could say anything positive about the Holocaust, that catastrophic event in history where six million Jews were barbarically executed, it's this: at least those poor souls aren't alive to witness the cultural abortion that is The X Factor. Or American Idol. Or Dancing with the Stars. Or The Real Housewives of New York City. Or The Jersey Shore. Or a dozen more mediocre turd nuggets that pass for entertainment. Here's why reality TV is turning America into a dystopian gulag only Kafka could admire: it's utter manipulation so appealing, the masses don't realize they're being brainwashed by a cast of hedonistic, banal bottom dwellers. You know times have changed when Beavis and Butthead isn't the stupidest thing on television. Mike Judge's creation was a satirical look at culturally backward, ignorant youth. It was anti-intellectualism on a grand scale. Now we have a festival of retards parading around proclaiming their ignorance and getting cut fat paychecks to do so.

4. Our Leaders Are Corrupt. Not since the days of ancient Rome when Caligula made his horse Incitatus a counsel and fucked his sister have human leaders been so decadent. In America, Congress' approval rating hovers at 9 percent. That's no joke. As of today, Nov. 25, 2011, only 9 percent of the public approves the way Congress is operating. Even Al-Quaeda has a higher approval rating. Why this abysmal performance? American politics is about winning, not doing the right thing. Both parties - the Democrats and Republicans - are dysfunctional and incalcitrant, preferring to appease their financial backers and lobbyists instead of doing the right thing for the people. They also circumvent the Constitution like it's some hot new game at a swanky Washington D.C. cocktail party. The latest bumper crop of Republican presidential candidates have garnered vast support and present a plethora of ideas before the public, most of which are reactionary and thwart progress. The Democrats are too wimpy to embolden themselves and only tout bigger government. American politics breaks down like this: they're all crooks who whine when they don't get their way, but remind us of how good compromising is, even though that's the last thing they would ever do. Meanwhile, the money-filled dumptrucks keep unloading into their personal coffers.

That pretty much covers it. We're lazy, slovenly, the bearer of low standards and we just don't give a shit. The Chinese are communists and we're in debt to them. Our politicians are spewing such hateful venom at anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus, guns and the cleansing power of brutal violence.

America is like a sickly patient in need of a life-saving operation, and the only surgeon we have has beefy, clumsy, twitching hands. If we're going to get out of this alive and pull ourselves up, we've got to get our collective national shit together. We've got to focus on the things that really matter and delete the trivial, mundane bullshit that make political pundits chortle with orgasmic glee.

We've got to dare ourselves to be a kinder, respectful and better country.

We have a reputation to uphold.

Let's not lose sight of that now, people.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Song of the Occupiers

I've suspended any opinions on the Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99 percenters for weeks, because I wanted to educate myself on their organization beyond the reports from the mainstream media outlets.

This is a very contentious issue.

On one hand, you have people who truly feel disenfranchised and alienated by what they perceive as a culture of corporate greed, where the chips are stacked against them and success and the American Dream are inconceivable.

On the other hand, you have people who view the protesters as a horde of unwashed freaks, the bastard children of Woodstock and the commune culture of the 1960s who wish to embrace socialism and forego personal hygiene.

Ask any member of the Tea Party movement about the Occupy Wall Street crowd, and you'll get prune-faced grimaces and hear derisive critiques such as "Nobody knows what they stand for" or "They don't even know what they're protesting."

Bullshit.

The mainstream media characterizes the protestors as hippies and losers who chant, wear Guy Fawkes masks and tote signs with pithy slogans chastising Wall Street for their insatiable greed.

I think some of the protestors are truly concerned about falling behind and being forgotten, while others are there for the carnival-like atmosphere. Most are young and glom on to any movement just to blow off steam. Some are ranting about the war, while others blame Washington.

The fact that it's a leaderless movement doesn't help their cause, either. There should be organization and a concise message to the movement.

What we see now are protests all over this great nation of ours, mobs of angry youths who essentially have no confidence in unfettered capitalism.

The Tea Party stand behind Wall Street and capitalism, because they represent the God-fearing American right to make as much money as possible.

Not only does Wall Street and the corporate robber barons make a boatload of money, but they have a penchant for sticking it to the little guy who is struggling for survival.

According to a new census measure, 49.1 million Americans are poor. These are people having problems with medical expenses and paying bills.

God bless America!

Presidential candidate Herman Cain, who claims God persuaded him to run for president, said if you're poor, it's your own fault.

If Horatio Alger saw what was going on today, he'd wonder why the Occupiers didn't get any old job and be happy with it, for struggling and labor are the pathways to success.

Writer Ayn Rand wrote: "In the normal conditions of existence, man has to choose his goals, project them in time, pursue them and achieve them by his own effort. He cannot do it if his goals are at the mercy of and must be sacrificed to any misfortune happening to others."

Jesus Christ, who many politicians invoke and wouldn't mind breaking bread with at their local country clubs (the ones that don't restrict Jews), once said: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

It should be noted that Jesus hated rich people. He loathed the hypocrisy.

Seems the hypocrites who own everything in America and who treat the unwashed masses like cattle are fond of proselytizing and attend church. They laud family values and God all the while greed consumes them and they take more and more.

If one works hard, one should be entitled to the fruits of their labor. However, you are only entitled to the fruits of your labor, not the entire orchard.

A century from now, how will America be remembered? When our descendants look back at the beginning of the 21st Century, will they view us with jaundiced eyes, embarrassed of our bickering and fighting? Will they see the Tea Party labeling President Obama as a foreign-born socialist and the Democrats as unpatriotic traitors? Will they see the Occupy Wall Street movement as condemning the Republicans as rich elitists and Nazis? Will future Americans, watching old videos of our civilization wonder why Congress didn't act sooner to avert the financial crisis?

What will they think of us, these people in the far distant future?

Will we have failed them?

Will they view the incalcitrant Congress as creating a logjam via divisiveness and hate?

If America sinks, it won't be at the hands of a foreign terrorist or an army of Mexicans streaming across the border.

It will be because of our stubborness and pride.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Houseless



Against all odds, I sold my house. Specifically, my ex-wife and I sold our house.

Why quibble over semantics, eh?

The hovel we called home is now somebody else's, thanks to an aggressive real estate agent and a prime location near the Delaware Bay.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the fucker sold.

Hurrah and huzzah!

In a shitty housing market where home prices are falling faster than Michelle Bachman's chances of becoming president, we pulled the ultimate real estate coup de grace and unloaded this hipster den upon an unsuspecting buyer.

There's a grand myth about homeownership, one told around campfires for generations. Said tale goes something like this: owning a home is an investment, and one of the ultimate accomplishments of the American Dream, the other being getting a blowjob from Olivia Munn. If you don't know who Olivia Munn is, you're probably too old. Check your pulse, grandpa. Olivia Munn is like Betty Grable for Gen Y.

Owning a home is not the apex of human achievement. It's a millstone around your scrawny neck, thick steel manacles around your wrists, a one-way trip to the gulag. It's a lot of work and requires maintenance and thankless drudgery, much like dating a Jewish woman.

Truth be told, I never felt that place was home. It was just a building where I ate and slept and had to clean. Yard work? Don't get me started on yard work! I sweated like a suburbanite lost in the inner city ghetto every time I mowed that lawn. Grueling, back-breaking work.

So I'm glad that house, with all its petty annoyances is no longer my responsibility.

It took years to finally sell the house, many months of nary a nibble before the big fish came knocking. many people are desperately trying to unload their properties. Some don't make it and face foreclosures and other grim realities in this sluggish and cruel economy.

I can put this wretched chapter of homeownership behind me. That place and me, we weren't a right fit. We just occupied the same space. True, the Bohemian hovel did provide shelter from the harsh elements and warmth from winter's icy touch. Air conditioning kept me cool during the summer's inferno. Yet the house just didn't suit me. Even the rock garden I built was overgrown with weeds. Try meditating looking at that. No inner peace there.

Good luck, house. Hope your new owners enjoy you.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Living in an iWorld



“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
- Steve Jobs


My introduction to the Macintosh came during college. The student newspaper I wrote for, The Whit at Glassboro State College used the Macintosh Classic, a weird hybrid of monitor and CPU in one package. Back then, I was a Windows/PC guy, and thought Bill Gates was a silicon-breathing computer god. To me, the artists and hippies of the college publishing suite used Macs.

I became a true Mac convert in 2003, after plodding along with Windows 95 on a Compaq Presario of all things. The newspaper I worked for then used Apple products and I was forced to assimilate to the iMac. Around that same time, I bought my first iPod, a seemingly magical music player. I hopped onto iTunes, purchased a few songs and listened to my heart’s content. The marriage of iTunes and the iPod was truly revolutionary.

The Mac OS, named after big cats, put Windows to shame. Where Windows frequently crashed and hit my with blue screens, the Mac OS is tightly-programmed, and easy for customers to use. Those funky icons, including a trash can and dreaded twirling beach ball of death only added to the mystique of using a Mac.

I took the plunge and purchased a Mac PowerBook in 2004. It was a beautiful, sleek machine. It became my music library, film studio, library and writing desk.

In 2008, I bought an iMac and in 2009 an iPhone. I love how these products work, how they integrate well with each other and how their various functions are user-friendly. Each time I switch that iMac on and hear that signature gong reverberate from its metallic heart, I swell with pride.

Steve Jobs, the founder and former CEO of Apple Inc. brought innovation and new technology to the world. His revolutionary decisions changed the way we use personal computing, how we listen to music, watch movies and communicate with each other.

For me, Apple computers were about functionality, aesthetic perfection, sublime design and a hip coolness you didn’t get with any other computer. The IBM clones were always boxy-looking, grey or tan boxes sitting on your desktop. Apple products, with their gentle curves and futuristic shapes made you take notice.

Apple computers made you realize the future was now and “Think Different” more than an advertising slogan.

Jobs, the creative and innovative force behind Apple, is gone.

Yet his legacy is one of pushing boundaries, of experimentation, of trial and error. Some notable failures, the Apple Lisa and Newton pad, gave way to the stunning successes of the iBook and iMac.

The indelible mark Jobs left on personal computing cannot be understated, and his personal style was reflected in the company's creative and inventive output.

Apple keynote addresses, when they rolled out new products, were always great. Jobs, in his signature jeans and black shirt, appeared like a tech-savvy Everyman instead of a corporate CEO. We sat in rapt attention as he explained the features of the iPone, iPad or tweaks and improvements to the OS software. Jobs nurtured the brand into a relevant cultural phenomenon, and the Apple Inc. logo became synonymous with high-end computing. He was the guru leading us into a digital Nirvana, a tranquil place with tools enabling us to do wondrous things. Apps became our means of recreation and productivity and brought the wider world to our palms and literally at our fingertips. A geek with an appreciation of pop culture, rock music and the arts, Jobs made it possible for us creative types to express ourselves through his products. Apple devices became the conduit for our energies and passions and functioned as digital playgrounds and workplaces.

Jobs had an innate ability of tapping into the technical zeitgeist of his times. Through his innovation, Apple revolutionized computing. Where others only gave us glorified calculators, Apple gave us the future and all of the possibilities that go with it. Within the silicon guts of his machines lay the foundation of productivity, of breaking down barriers, of communicating, obtaining information and consuming media.

We’re a better world because of Steve Jobs’ dedication and genius.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Digging My Own Grave

So here's the thing: My father calls me up today and tells me my uncle and aunt were in town to purchase their cemetery plots. My father says this got my mother thinking (and when that happens, look out! Armageddon usually follows!) about purchasing grave sites for the whole family. She wanted to know if I wanted a cemetery plot with them.

What a pleasant way to start the day: dwelling on your own mortality.

My father said my uncle wanted a cemetery plot, while my aunt didn't want to be buried and instead stored in a mausoleum.

Dad wanted to know what my plans for interring my earthly remains were.

I'm in my 40s, so the thought hadn't crossed my mind.

Unless you're dying, who really contemplates such morbid things?

My cousin wants to be cremated and have her ashes scattered in the ocean. What kind of depressive state does one have to be in to make such plans?

I told my dad I want to have traps installed in my crypt to deter grave robbers, like a rolling boulder or spikes shooting from the walls like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. How about mummifying my body and enshrining it inside a sarcophagus decorated with Anubis and Horus? Oh, and naked chicks. Lots of gratuitous nudity in my tomb so the family wonders if I was really Larry Flynt.

My mom worried if I die before her, my body would not rest in the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. She also worried because I don't have children, nobody would mourn me.

I think the entire concept of western burial is overblown. You saddle your loved ones with paying for a coffin which costs thousands of dollars, then thousands of dollars for funeral arrangements, then buying a burial plot and headstone. An extravagant funeral is the ultimate "fuck you" to cash-strapped, grieving family members.

Why should I have a burial plot now? I plan on living for another 50 years. A grave site is so final. I can take my girlfriend there on the weekends and look down at this grassy piece of earth and tell her, "When I die, I will be laid to rest right here, for worms to gnaw my face off."

After that date, she'd dump me.

What about donating your body to medical research? Having some fidgeting medical student dissect you like a bloated frog? Or a perverted necrophiliac lab tech molest your cold corpse? Actually, that last one describes sex when I was married. Banging away on something cold an immovable.

How about cremation? Stored in an urn and placed on someone's mantle for decades? What happens when they die? Do they suck you into the vacuum cleaner and toss you out?

Who obsesses about this crap? Dark, brooding goth teenagers, maybe.

What if you marry somebody your family hates and both of you are buried side by side. Your family, visiting your grave has to stand near the grave of the person they despise. They lay flowers on your half while taking a piss on the other half.

"Shame about Eric. I always hated that bitch!"

I don't know where my bones will rest, whether in a marble tomb in some distant graveyard with haunting willow trees blowing in the wind, in a pauper's grave for failed writers or in a serial killer's cabin in a jar with the remains of a dozen hookers.

Don't really know where I'll end up.

When you're dead, you're dead.

It isn't how you die, but how you live, right?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Photo Bomb

A photo is going around the Internet, one of President Obama with a group of dignitaries at the United Nations. Obama is waving to the camera, and in so doing his hand blocks the face of Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj. Remember when President Bush tried leaving through a locked door after a press conference in China? Or when President Ford lost his balance like a three-legged schnauzer and fell? The press is always looking for that one awkward photo to make our leaders seem, well, goofy. This photo might be Obama's photographic Waterloo. That is, until the photo of him in the Lincoln Bedroom kneeling toward Mecca is found.

Use the following captions with the photo.



"'Talk to the hand, Mongol boy!'"

"Whoever has had a gay experience, raise their hand."

"No, Barry; you cannot use the bathroom now."

"Any socialists in the room?"

"Let someone else in class answer the question, Barry."

"'Kiss my ring, Tsakhia!'"

"Show of hands, who has the worst national economic clusterfuck?"

"Anyone want to see Snooki naked?"

"'I will pimp slap that smile off your Mongol face!'"

"Who wants fried okra?"

"Does anyone know Ricky Martin's phone number?"

"Who just farted?"

"Ooooh! Call on me! Me! I know! I know! Call on me, teacher! Please! I know! Call on me!"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later

On September 1, 2001, terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and killed 3,000 people.

The world hasn't been the same ever since.

A decade has gone by, and here we are.

The event, memorialized in the date, is commonly referred to as 9/11.

Back then, smoke, debris and tears filled Lower Manhattan as the World Trade Center fell like a house made of burning playing cards.

Another airplane smashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., killing our best and brightest.

In a field in rural Pennsylvania, another airplane crashed, brought down by passengers who courageously fought back.

Today, ceremonies remembered and mourned the dead, those who perished in the worst terrorist attacks in history.
With great aplomb, solemn pageantry and fluttering American flags we remember them. We honor their memory because they were Americans and English and French and German and Indian and from countries that aren't familiar to the average American.

They were our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and children.

Ordinary folks who went to work not knowing history, like an unforgiving, dispassionate juggernaut, would crush them and consume them.

They would be the ashes of burning skyscrapers, flaming gasoline from airplane fuselages and photographs left behind.

Incidentally, 9/11 occurred on the United Nations International Day of Peace. That's one factoid the news doesn't relate much.

Where were you on 9/11?

I was a 31-year old numbskull cleaning the garage in the morning, putting clutter in cardboard boxes, sweeping the floor and rolling out a cheap rug I bought somewhere. As I tidied up, I had no idea the momentous things happening north of me in New York City, until my then-wife called and told me something big had occurred.

I switched on the TV just in time to see the United Airlines Flight 175 slam into the south side of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I remember talking to my father on the phone about the attack. He later told me he went to high school with someone who died in the World Trade Center.

The day was chaos, confusion, sadness and anger. Felled low by an unseen enemy, we were wounded, but not defeated. That night, as I did my night shift work for a daily newspaper I was working for at the time, the newsroom watched on TV as President Bush spoke of resolve in the face of evil, for Al-Qaeda was truly evil.

We witnessed acts of heroism and a new appreciation and reverence for firemen, policemen and rescue workers who died in the World Trade Center collapse and were buried in the smoldering rubble.

We flew our American flags and didn't question the wisdom of our leaders, who stood on the steps of the Capitol and sung "God Bless America."

Trembling, we watched history unfold, and shed bitter tears, yet we slowly went through the motions of getting our lives back in this new, horrible world of international terrorism.

Ten years later, what have we wrought in this new reality of paranoia and madness?

A war grinding on in Iraq and Afghanistan, an erosion of our U.S. Constitution, an entrenched Congress filled with political rancor, and a political climate where gridlock and bickering rules. We saw the election of a black president and the rise of the Tea Party who views that black president as a foreign Muslim spy. We have the politics of hate, a fractured economy and massive unemployment.

Our military operations have killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11, as well as his foot soldiers and confidants. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was likewise killed following the U.S. invasion of that country, and the Taliban was yanked from power in Afghanistan.

We became bombastic, headstrong and swaggering, which alienated many who sympathized with us. But despite the volatile rhetoric about this country, despite every blunder and misstep, despite the hue and cry, ten years after 9/11, we are still here.
Our indomitable spirit and sense that we're the good guys, never tarnished.

We didn't allow ourselves to be bullied, cajoled or intimidated by terror. We relinquished a little sense of privacy, submitted to body searches at the airport, removes our shoes and belts and had everything scanned. We allowed our phones to be tapped, our personal information scrutinized and our personal beliefs held under a microscope for Big Brother at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

We became this dystopian, science fictiony, alternate universe America, ruled by a gang of thuggish idiots who waved the flag and told us to choose our criticisms wisely. Yet those tactics ultimately failed. The mighty government who would muzzle the people found themselves turned out of power by the people.

Now we're inhabitants of a science fictiony country where the political leaders are engorged vegetables fighting and breeding with each other.

Despite the fact most leaders and elected representatives in Washington are ready to destroy each other in grisly bloodsports, we could set our differences aside for one day and remember a time ten years ago when America was a more innocent, optimistic place; a nation where elected officials didn't e-mail shots of their penises to mistresses; a nation where the Jersey Shore was a vacation destination and not a show about Italian retards; a place where the Twin Towers stood tall above the Manhattan skyline.

We should not dwell upon the horror, but gaze forward with hope.

Those terrorists may have destroyed buildings and murdered innocent lives, but they didn't kill our hope.

America is an idea, and an idea like America is too big. You can't murder such an ideas like of freedom, equality and justice.

Those ideas define us, they encompass our grandparents and parents and children.

We are America and we are still here.

May we learn the wisdom from 9/11 and never forget the sacrifices made, that in our darkest hour, Americans responded and triumphed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Angry Reporter's Creed

We are the bastard children of H.L. Mencken, Hunter S. Thompson, Dorothy Parker, Nellie Bly and countless others who create words like a chef does a fine meal.
We subsist on a steady diet of cigarettes, coffee, alcohol and curiosity.
Hunched over keyboards, our fingers engage in a complex tango as we form stories from the ether.
Thirsting for knowledge, for justice, for a sense of the little guy needs to become informed.
Missionaries bringing Scripture to the ignorant savages, the diving light of Truth.
Pulling back the curtain and exposing things as they really are, revealing the wonderment as well as the hideous and malformed.
Corralling the privileged and mighty from their powerful perches into a space on the page.
In black and white, for the world to see, for the people to judge.
We are not martyrs but outcasts, paupers with low salaries toiling away for some grandiose cause larger than ourselves.
No pensions or creature comforts await the reporter, merely a deluge of words, ink-stained hands and the glut of pixels on a screen.
Crucify us as we crucify you, you pot-bellied, morally bankrupt fiends.
You slayers of hope, supping on corruption and convenience, thinking the party will never end because the great unwashed masses are stupid in their apathy.
Yet you didn't count on us, did you?
You didn't realize we would be paying attention, jotting notes and recording everything.
We are the nuclear lightsaber wielded by a teflon Jedi warrior monk, and we've honed in on you.
We, the fucking reporters, the dirty journalists, the media whores, will expose you because the public, in their lethargic Hollywood comas, have a right to know all of the shit you've done.
You've been naughty little monkeys and the people will be told.
We'll carve your specified sins on your forehead with a red hot stylus, then chronicle your misdeeds in your own blood.
You can threaten us, you can protest, you can cajole and even blackmail us.
Yet that shows what titanic scum you are, what a heap of ridiculous misery you've become.
Because people like you always need someone to blame: the poor, the foreigners, the blacks, the liberals, the Jews.
With your money and influence, you may even try to muzzle us, to discredit us, to shut us down.
But here's the kicker you haven't foreseen: You can't keep us out forever.
You can't bury the Truth.
It has a way of popping out of the grave like a score of zombies in a George A. Romero movie.
And these zombies aren't the slow-witted shambling kind.
They're the ravenous, sprinting, never-get-tired-and-never-give-up kind.
Putting it bluntly, you're as fucked as a drunken bead-wearing whore during Mardi Gras and nothing, not your money, your lawyers or your sterling reputation will help against the truth.
Call it karma with a byline.
Your recklessness and disdain for the very values you purport to defend, and the morality you truck out in the public square are merely convenient facades you employ for the masses, who so desperately believe the bullshit you propagate.
By our wrath shall you know us and with every word shall we will vivisect you on the page.
You will be held accountable to the public and your misdeeds made a matter of record.
There are journalists in this country who aren't corporate controlled cyborgs, aren't cynical to the point of useless and aren't fixated on television like an infant with a shiny plastic toy.
To those reporters, scribes, full-time journos and part-time freelancers who believe the First Amendment isn't something you only trot out during a political rally, rise up.
Hear me, you newshounds, newshawks and bloggers who realize the only way to stop corruption and improve life in the zoo we call planet Earth is to make the zookeepers realize they're mistreating the animals.
In today's age of technological wonders, we are as disconnected and an embittered as ever before.
The multi-armed hydra points fingers and ascribes blame effortlessly without pointing a digit at itself.
The hydra is scared because ascribing self-blame is bad for business, and after all, a hydra can do no wrong.
It's incumbent upon every journalist with a conscience to grab a pen and kill that fucking hydra.
Pulverize them into a fine powder and snort it like a coke fiend from Studio 54, using a $100 bill on a tacky velvet picture of Jesus Christ.
Mutilate those hijacking the culture, those with deep pockets and no souls, those flagrantly violating the law because they see us as insignificant and can get away with it.
Ask the tough questions, make those bastards sweat it out like a police interrogation in a Cambodian jail.
These conniving hucksters will give you no quarter and may lash out like enraged pitbulls, yet never give up.
Only through digging deeper, through persistence, can you triumph.
We need to triumph.
This blasted world needs heroes, good people who do the right thing not out of promised financial compensation or public glory but because it's the right thing to do.
There are very few people like that left.
Be a messenger of Truth, a bringer of swift justice, a person of ideas and words.
Take up your pen, your keyboard, your high-speed Internet connection.
Go forth and do great things with your career.
Make them respect you.
Make them fear you.
Make them loathe you.
Loathe them in return.
And curse their names over a sweaty glass of whiskey.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Hello, I'm a Reporter. May I Scare the Shit Out of You?"

Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey on Sunday, a Category 1 hurricane with 60 mile per hour winds, storm surges and torrential rains. As I sat huddled in my basement Journalism Bunker and Global Command Center, urine dribbling down my right leg and hyperventilating into a Dunkin’ Donuts bag in the throes of a panic attack, I wondered why I was frightened.

Then I remembered; I watched the entire hurricane play out on local television news.

The Philadelphia news stations had round the clock coverage of Hurricane Irene as she flew up the eastern coast, dumping rain, causing tornadoes and creating more havoc than a 200-megaton nuclear bomb. Watching the meteorologists and weather reporters on TV painting a shitty picture of widespread chaos and disorder, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they interviewed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

TV reporters engaged in a choreographed circle-jerk of pathos and destruction that made a weather event seem like one of those mental indoctrination “Duck and Cover” films of the 1950s.

The poor bastards reporting live, wearing ponchos and standing on the Boardwalk, blasted by torrential rains and buffeted by a typhoon, can’t be taken seriously.

“Well, Don, as you can see behind me the 20-foot wall of water breaching the dunes and flooding the entire town makes the Japan tsunami look like a trickle of beer piss. I’m holed up in a hotel without electricity and things are pretty bad. Pretty bad indeed. We’ve resorted to cannibalism like in that ‘Alive’ movie. We gnawed off the cameraman’s leg. It’s only a matter of time before the entire eastern seaboard drowns in this thing, Don. Once again, a reminder that humanity is only the mere playthings of a wrathful and vengeful God.”

Philly TV reporters have a fetish for death and destruction. They pray for the worst scenario at any given time because it means pictures of dead bodies, carnage and destroyed buildings. They can hone their acting abilities by staring at the camera and feigning concern.

Because Hurricane Irene turned out to be a dud in the southern New Jersey shore, there’s nothing to exaggerate or inflate for ratings. The doom and gloom train is derailed and the pathos party over.

“Don, I’m standing on the Boardwalk during the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Unlike Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there aren’t waterlogged corpses floating through the town, nor are there any widespread instances of looting or vandalism. We do have a few uprooted bushes though, and somebody scraped their finger trying to open a can of Mr. Pibb. We will bring you that shocking story after more stock footage of tornadoes and euthanized kittens.”

By deliberately ramping up the situation and over-saturating the airwaves with pandemonium, they create a frightened population of jittery sheep. If the situation is bad, tell them. If an expert predicts a storm will be bad, tell the people that with attribution. Just don't stand in a puddle of water and tell people of a theoretic deluge.

Emergency management officials made a good call telling people to evacuate Cape May County. But telling the public if they choose not to evacuate, to "write the names of their next of kin on an index card and put it in your shoe" isn't productive. Scare tactics can have the opposite effect.

The one place this frenzied fervor didn’t thrive was online. Social media sites and instant messaging such as Twitter and Facebook gave people living in the hurricane’s path a way to communicate with each other and exchange information without a filter.

Those who remained shared their experiences online with evacuees. Reporters from the local news affiliate, NBC40, provided updates through social media sites.

Public disdain for traditional media continues to increase, and with it, distrust and skepticism. Traditional media outlets prove they are obsolete and can’t deliver unvarnished accounts when such reporting matters most. Idealistically, reporters should tell the public what is happening, free of embellishment. Prognostications of a horrible cataclysmic storm when the reality doesn’t match do a disservice to a public already edgy and nervous.

When the storm was over, we learned Irene killed 42 people and caused $7 billion in damage in the United States. Most of the deaths were caused by falling trees and inland flooding. In New Jersey, seven people were killed. Cape May County suffered no fatalities or severe damage. Instead of the 14 feet of water forecasted, Hurricane Irene sped up before high tide, sparing the New Jersey coastline. Random luck we dodged a bullet, and the damage could have been much worse.

In the storm’s aftermath, the sun came out, temperatures warmed and surfers headed to the beach to ride epic waves. TV stations turned their attention northward, to the severe flooding in Vermont and Massachusetts.

Because when there’s a hint of a disaster, there’s always some schmuck with a microphone and camera to scare the shit out of us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

Surveying the apartment, I decided what to pack and what would remain. Hurricane Irene threatens New Jersey and where I live, on a barrier island in Cape May County, is particularly vulnerable. Meteorologists and emergency management officials I interviewed spun tales of the “100 year hurricane”, that one mighty storm which manifested once every century over the New Jersey coast and wreaked havoc and destruction. They said we were long overdue for a hurricane to make landfall over New Jersey.

Irene granted their wish.

The county issued a mandatory evacuation effective today. On the Boardwalk, shops shuttered, plywood over their windows. Gas stations are inundated with cars and traffic off the island is bumper to bumper. Such dire scenarios play themselves out on TV in the Carolinas and Florida, but not in New Jersey.

Like the Chinese say, “May you live in interesting times.”

An earthquake on Tuesday and hurricane on Sunday. How about we go for the tornado of human feces or flaming asteroid strike for a trifecta?

Officials tell us Hurricane Irene will strike New Jersey and we should secure our properties and evacuate.

Get bottled water, a flashlight and head for the fucking hills.

So I’m sorting out my life in a lone duffel bag and backpack, deciding what’s important enough to take and what will be left to nature’s cruel elemental forces. A change of clothes necessary toiletries, important papers and two computers made the cut. I'm also taking two jump drives with my current writing projects and a list of work contacts. My cat Smuttynose will also accompany me, although he has no choice in the matter.

There’s a real possibility the storm surge will inundate the island, that the apartment will suffer water damage and my furniture, books and other possessions will be lost. This apprehension and worry kept me up for most of the night, a fretful insomnia born from the knowledge my home of four years will be an aquarium.

In emergencies like these, you do the best you can. You think rationally about what you need to take and move on. When you return and find waterlogged wreckage, you take stock, do what you can and survive.

I don’t know if I’m going to return to damp carpets or floating debris. Nothing of this magnitude has happened here, and people are muddling along the best they can, devouring as much information as it becomes available, making preparations and evacuating inland where the flooding and storm surge risks are severely minimized.

Still, you wonder: Will our island home be uncomfortably damp or a new Atlantis?

We’ll have to wait until Monday to discover whether Irene is a shameless flirt or a sadistic, ballgag-choking dominatrix.

Until then, I’m packing up my shit and getting out of Dodge.

Stay dry, people.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gencon 2011 Report

I've been back from Gencon since Sunday, but it's taken me a few days to decompress and gather my thoughts. Traveling to and from Indianapolis was time-consuming, especially with delays at the airport, and the hotel's air conditioning system being broken and switching hotels and all of the hassles that come with modern metropolitan living.

Still, the convention was probably the best I've ever attended.

It marked my girlfriend's induction into playing RPGs and the gamer culture. She's a self-admitted geek with a penchant for SyFy shows, Doctor Who and unicorns.

Yes, unicorns. Oy. Don't ask.

For her, Gencon was an opportunity to see me rubbing shoulders with fellow gamers and those in the gaming industry who produce the wonderful products people play. It was also our first real vacation together, since our hectic and hellish schedules leave us little time for travel.

Day One: Thursday, Aug. 4
Because of a delay our flight, which was scheduled to leave at 2 p.m., didn't actually leave until 2:30 p.m. We arrived at Indianapolis after 4 p.m. which gave us precious little time. When we arrive at our hotel we're informed the air conditioning was broken and the rooms would be ready for Saturday. The hotel was nice enough to arrange for our stay at a hotel located across the parking lot from theirs. We settled into our new temporary digs, then walked to the convention center where Gencon was underway. After some wrangling we got our badges and headed into the exhibit hall with a half hour to spare.

I made a beeline for the Studio 2 booth and snagged a copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe and chatted with some colleagues from Reality Blurs and Pinnacle.

After that, the girlfriend and I had dinner at Claddagh Irish Pub before heading back to the hotel and sleepyland.


Day Two: Friday, Aug. 5
After a power breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to the convention center. Gencon affords one the rare and unique opportunity to witness an abundant amount of cosplay. There are only so many photos one can take of women dressed like Princess Leia or Japanese ninja schoolgirls.


Like this chick.



Or this Smurf/fish girl or whatever the hell she's supposed to be.


Putting the eye candy aside, we spent the morning in the exhibit hall.

Since it was my girlfriend's first gaming experience, we procured her a dice bag and set of polyhedral dice. I obtained a few more goodies: a copy of Hellfrost Player's Guide signed by creators Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams and Robin Elliott; The Path of Kane , an adventure book for The Savage World of Solomon Kane; the Sticks & Stones card game and Echo Nouveau, a book of Art Nouveau illustrations by artist Echo Chernik.


There's no such thing as having "too many" dice.



Reality Blurs products! Note they only had the Deluxe Edition of Ravaged Earth left.


Following lunch at Noodles & Company, we went to JW Marriott, a brand spanking new hotel where my Ravaged Earth game was scheduled.

I ran a Ravaged Earth game I wrote, "The Vril Machine". The party consisted of Dawn Star (hobo psionicist), Conroy Rockefeller (dilettante), Coleston Baker (explorer), Thomas Alloy (gadgeteer), Abdul ul-Rashid (mystic) and an unnamed Man of Mystery. The adventure lasted four hours and pitted the intrepid explorers against the Vril Society in Germany. The group sneaked into a secret Nazi research base, freed two trapped Martians and battled members of the SS. The players had such a good time they applauded my game mastering talents.


Behold! The elusive and powerful Vril Machine!



Following the game, we visited to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors and the prospect of an entire library/museum dedicated to his life and work filled me with childish glee. Chatting to the staff and viewing the artwork, murals and artifacts (including Vonnegut's typewriter and Purple Heart from World War II), only rekindled my appreciation of the man's work. He had a unique style and vision and his writing spoke to me during my teenage years. I remember heading to the shore for summer vacation and buying his paperback novels at a hole-in-the-wall bookshop and devouring his words on the beach. When I got to college, Hocus Pocus was published, and I wrote him a letter gushing about how wonderful I thought he was and what advice he had for young writers like myself. He never replied to my query, but I remained a devoted fan of his work for many years.




If Warehouse 13 needs another artifact, try Vonnegut's typewriter.




We had a delicious dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory, then headed to the Subterra Lounge for drinking and dancing. Actually, my girlfriend drank and danced. I just chaperoned and escorted her back to the hotel. Chivalry or just too damn tired? You decide.

Day Three: Saturday, Aug. 6
We relocated back to our original hotel and spent most of the day at the exhibit hall, making final purchases and soaking up the rich geeky atmosphere. Gaming is a hobby I enjoy and its participants are intelligent and funny people. Just walking around the exhibit hall and watching the cosplay, the vendors and playing a few demos was a great way to unwind. Though it's a chaotic, noisy exhibit hall, everywhere you look you saw a reference to pop culture, science fiction or fantasy. I'm proud to belong to an industry with such eclectic and creative people and some of the best fans on the planet.


Gamers gaming.



I would play Flapjacks and Sasquatches based on the name alone.



Redneck Life is like Milton Bradley's Life only with rednecks and trailers. The object is to not lose your teeth. I AM NOT KIDDING!


After hanging around the exhibit hall, we went to the Pinnacle seminar in the Marriott. As a licensee, I spoke about the wonderful products in the works from Reality Blurs, including Agents of Oblivion, a game of supernatural espionage, a revamped Ravaged Earth, and more Mythos Tales for Realms of Cthulhu and additional Old School Fantasy adventures.

Following a much-deserved nap, girlfriend and I had dinner, then went to Savage Saturday Night at the Omni Hotel, where I ran another Ravaged Earth game I authored, "Slave Pits of Agharta." The Jennings Ballroom was packed with tables filled with gamers playing various Savage Worlds games. In "Slave Pits", a group of daring explorers ventured deep into the dark caverns underneath a small town to locate a missing child prodigy, only to find themselves emerging into a new world - the Hollow Earth realm of Agharta! The players battled a dinosaur, brigands, warriors, a wizard and a dragon and had a blast doing it. This group also gave me a standing ovation following the adventure's epic finale. Savage Worlds fans are some of the best in the industry.


Thog the Jungle Lord maneuvers onto a pissed off T-Rex.


Day Four: Sunday, Aug. 7
Homeward bound. Not much to report here, save the Indianapolis International Airport has a clean and pleasant terminal. Oh, and there was also this to remind us of how things still suck in the publishing world:



Gencon 2011 was the best gaming convention I've ever attended. Within that whirlwind of bizarre costumes, pop culture references and RPGs and boardgames and card decks lies the heart of how important this hobby is to me. It's a strong community of people who share an interest in gaming. It's a group of strangers distanced by geography and time sitting around a table and adopting an alternate identity to cooperate and achieve goals as one. These goals may be epic quests over fantasy realms, or epic battles during World War II or exploring the uncharted depths of outer space. Whether they're fighting flesh-eating zombies, shooting Nazis or slaying dragons, these strangers interact together and share stories and laughter. I can think of no other panacea for loneliness than gaming. The chance to meet some wonderful people and build friendships makes Gencon special every year for me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meatgrinder World

Occasionally I become lethargic and mired in the quicksand of mundane existence and my writing suffers. In the past few months, I've been writing, head down buried in my keyboard sluggishly churning away at two adventures I'm running at Gencon. Besides this creative outlet, there;s been precious little else on my proverbial writing plate, save the drudgery of work.

Work is drudgery, you ask?

Journalism is not the exciting, adrenaline-pumping, whip you around by your nutsack world of orgasmic thrills and spine-tingling adventure?

In a word, no. Not everything you write will grab you, shake you by the lapels and slug you with the pearl handle of a snub-nosed .44.

The meatgrinder world sucks sometimes, and the mannequins floating by you glower with plastic, emotionless faces. And you have to interview them and draw words out of them like thick molasses, laboriously gathering their quotes and crafting them into readable prose.

Yet its this insane craft of writing, this bizarre exercise of downloading thoughts from my brain and dribbling them onto the screen via keyboard that both intrigues and horrifies me. Finger taps a few select keys, words form and suddenly I'm the Writing God, splitting the atom and breathing life into characters.

I haven't been able to partake in this wonderful exercise, this primitive creative process lately because my meatgrinder world job gets in the way. Though the meatgrinder world job grants me a salary, keeps me from homelessness and hunger and gives me a meager sense of accomplishment (journalism, yay!), I still long to stretch my wings and fly out into the ether, past the mundane atmosphere to where dreams grow.

The problem with journalism is it's boring. Gathering information, interviewing subjects, sifting through official documents is time-consuming and about as exciting as listening to David Attenborough drone on in detail about the planting and care of hydrangeas.

The most successful journalists are the ones who can stay awake. If you can, you begin fashioning this mountain of information into your story. Here's where the meatgrinder world erupts into a geyser of suck. Journalism writing, the actual way news stories are written, are simplistic and bare-bones. You present the facts without embellishment, without a hint of bias or personal flavor. It's like cooking a steak without spices. You just have a bland piece of cooked meat.

Over 45 years ago a group of eccentric madmen geniuses (Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Gay Talese, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer) created a style of reporting called the New Journalism, which put the writer in the story. News read like novels, with descriptive and rich prose that both entertained and informed. It was the written equivalent of today's infotainment news channels except it didn't pander to the audience or insult the reader's intelligence. The New Journalism brought writing back into the news room, with journalists flogging the meatgrinder world through fascinating, well-written stories.

When you write brain dead, bland stories, you might be an objective journalist only sticking to the facts. You might use basic words a fourth grader could easily comprehend. You might be a wizard in your J-school writing class. Yet as far as engaging your brain and opening the third eye of a true writer, as far as pulling the tiny imps hiding in your imagination out and fasten them to the page with a nailgun, then you fail.

For me, writing must engage me thoroughly, and when it doesn't I feel out of place, as if I'd lost equilibrium. Merging the meatgrinder world job and the grandiose craft of writing will only make me shine as both a journalist and writer.

If I lose passion at any time, it reflects in my work.

The secret is to never lose passion and to regain momentum.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Geek Pilgrimage

I've been busy lately and haven't time to blog much this month. The past several weeks my head's been down writing two Ravaged Earth adventures I'm scheduled to run at Gencon in Indianapolis next week.

This will be my fourth Gencon. The first time I attended Gencon was in 2000 in Milwaukee. I played a game of Deadlands and had a blast chatting with fellow gamers and ogling the eye candy in the gaming hall, prowling the bars and restaurants and generally enjoying this insane hobby I share with thousands of geeks who participated.

I'm part of the gaming industry now, and while the sense of delight and wonder hasn't left me when I walk into that crowded gaming hall, I'm viewing everything from a different perspective. the girls in chainmail bikinis have been replaced by fans eager to learn about my game, the bars and restaurants replaced by late night talking sessions in hotel rooms with other industry writers and designers. Sometimes there is pizza. Mostly there's alcohol and laughter.

We share anecdotes around the table and immerse ourselves in all manner of games.

This year I'm running two games; one on Friday afternoon and the other on Saturday night. I've put everything on hold, scribbling like a madman on a cocaine binge and fretting about the quality of design and writing for these two gems of thrilling excitement and adventure.

Both games have already been sold out, so if you're one of the lucky few who signed up early, congratulations. You're in for one hell of a ride, Ravaged Earth style. Depending on which game you'll be playing, you'll square off against Nazis, occultists, dinosaurs and robots. You'll be at the mercy of Martian technology and a lost race of people who dwell in the Hollow Earth. You will laugh. You will tremble with terror. You will have fun.

That's what gaming should be about.

Next week I'll pack my dicebag, minis and assorted gaming paraphernalia, haul myself onto an airplane and fly to Indianapolis. There will be crappy food along the way, and long lines of frantic passengers. I don't attend Gencon for the publicity or the trendiness (that's what Comicon is for). I do it for the pleasure of gaming, of weaving my tales and telling my stories for a group of strangers who interact with the world I've created and cobbled together with blood, sweat and grey matter. All these Herculean efforts pay off after the first few dice rolls, when I've immersed them into my bizarre realm. They let slip a few laughs as I ham it up. Soon everyone is enjoying themselves.

Thanks for playing.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Phone Hacking

I’m enthralled over the News International phone-hacking scandal, primarily because it involves so many threads twisting into a shitstorm of Biblical proportions. It involves the media, the police and politicians. It proves that even if American journalism is vile and contemptible, British journalism is much worse, like Hitler performing open-heart surgery on Mother Theresa with a chainsaw.

It disgraced the News of the World, which folded after 168 years, and turned the head up on Rupert Murdoch and News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation.

The scandal involved journalists acting as low-rent versions of James Bond, hacking into the cellphones of prominent figures and listening to voicemails. The News of the World hacked into the voicemails of the Royal Family, of celebrities and of politicians.

Journalists paid private investigators to hack into voicemails of the 7/7 bombing victims. But the most unforgivable was the hacking of Milly Dowler’s cellphone. Dowler was 13 when she went missing in March 2002. News of the World hacked into Dowler’s voicemail. Unbeknownst to her parents, Dowler had been murdered. Wanting to hear more details from new voicemails, the hackers deleted voicemails when the mailbox was full, giving Dowler’s parents false hope that there daughter was still alive.

In their quest for information, the News of the World paid off police officers, private detectives and employed tactics only Cold War spy agencies would envy.

The public’s trust in journalism has failed with this scandal. In poll after poll, the media receives low overall ratings in credibility and honesty. Perhaps that’s deserved.

When you overstep your bounds and pry into the privacy of citizens, you’re not a newspaper. You’re the NSA.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Advice for the Interns

So you're the new intern, eh?

You must be; you don't have that forlorn look of abandonment and soul-crushing despair everyone else in the newsroom has.

Listen up, jackwagon! Now that you've decided to intern at the newspaper, you're going to learn a few things about journalism that just might save your life in the field.

Yeah, I'm your drill sergeant, your mentor, your god. Now stop texting or I'll cut your thumbs off, slapnuts! This is serious! You want to be a reporter, right? Believe the public's got a right to know? Support First Amendment freedoms? Think journalism is an honorable and necessary profession?

Horse dung! Every word of it!

You know why people become journalists? Because they're too untalented to be novelists and too talented to be English teachers, that's why!

First rule of journalism is: Everybody hates you and nothing you write will ever be the truth. Today, everybody's a goddamn media critic. Doesn't matter if you crap Pulitzer prizes, someone somewhere will think you're a biased hack. In this business, like every other occupation, you're not going to please everybody.

Second rule of journalism: Politicians lie. They fib through their teeth, great whoppers of lies, massaging the truth like a 19-year-old Vietnamese prostitute touches her clients. These bastards have no qualms about lying their asses off and recanting their lies, even blaming you for misquoting them and spreading misinformation. So it's your job to catch them in the lie and expose them for the ethically bankrupt phonies they are.

Third rule of journalism: Devour all media, all the time. Read as much as you can, plug into every social networking site and blog your ass off. Stay connected to media and the world, because you don't want to be a bitter old fart who doesn't know what Twitter is.

Fourth rule: Develop sources in the area you cover. Make friends in city hall. Take a bureaucrat to lunch. Diversify your contacts. The more sources a journo has, the easier the job. Many people trusting you means more information flows your way. You'll be breaking stories and scooping the competition in no time.

Fifth and final rule: Have fun. Sure, journalism is an arduous climb up a shit-covered slope, but at times it could be rewarding. Writing stories about issues shaping a community helps these turnipheads understand their world. Sure, most of them are gawping hayseeds or cynical bumpkins, so consider yourself a missionary, brining the good word of factual information to the unenlightened minions.

To your critics, you're a liberal media elitist, a left-wing commie, a degenerate parasite and blood-hungry vulture. They will brand you these things, even if it isn't true, even if you're a right-wing Republican with pictures of Ronald Reagan on your desk. To them, you're just a lefty reporter who wants America to fail.

Want to know a secret? Put that damn iPhone down and pay attention! My secret is, I know something my critics don't. I know who I am. I understand my abilities as a writer and a reporter. I weed through all of the bullshit and sift through the disgusting chunks of smelly fecal matter to find the nuggets of truth, and distill those down to their clearest, most cohesive points, extricating the fluff and nailing down the important and factual.

The greatest weapon you can have as a reporter isn't a loaded Remington 700, although having one helps. It's your moxie, your chutzpah, your dogged determination. Refuse the word "no". Ignore defeatism and plow through rejection as though your life depended on it. Become a pain in their ass and cling to them unrelentingly like a barnacle on a ship. You're there to do the public's good, serving their interests, not a specific segment of the public but all of those unwashed, ungrateful bastards.

I'll leave you with the words of journalist Edward R. Murrow. You might have heard about him in class when you weren't stoned off your asses or texting your friends: "To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dick Jokes Galore!

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner got caught sexting a bevy of women. If you don't know what sexting is, ask a teenager - they're probably doing it right now.

Weiner's lack of judgment to engage in posting lewd correspondence online didn't stop at the written word. Not content with chatting up bimbos with flirtatious banter that read like a really awful "Dear Penthouse" letter, Weiner sent photos of his erect penis, then denied the offending organ, which was tucked in a banana hammock, was his.

First, I'm amazed men would even contemplate sending photos of their junk to females. First Brett Favre, now Anthony Weiner. What do they expect to accomplish by flashing their dicks via the Internet, a cluster of naughty pixels meant to stimulate a women into orgasmic frenzy? It only shows that these morons are clueless when it comes to women. Men are visually-oriented. We can look at a picture of a lingerie model and become instantly stimulated. Women, on the other hand, are more cerebral and are aroused with a touch or an aroma. They're about imagination and letting themselves go. Men just need to be in visual range of a Hooter's waitress.

Even more disturbing than Weiner's poor online chatting habits are the news media's coverage of this scandal. Most commentators, journalists and editors are regressing back to junior high school and treating the story like a constantly multiplying dick joke. Because his name is Weiner - as in dick, get it? - the media sees this as carte blanche with the wee-wee references. If his name were Throbbington Hardwang IV or Titus Hugemember or Biggels Thickscrotum, I don't think it would have the same effect as Weiner.

The New York Post's headlines reflect a juvenile proclivity for bad taste. Weiner was manna from heaven for the headline writers. The following headlines actually appeared in the Post:

"Weiner: I'll Stick It Out"
"Weiner Exposed"
"Weiner's Pickle"
"Hide the Weiner"
"Weiner Pulls Out"
"Obama Beats Weiner"

Apparently in the New York Post's editorial department, dick jokes never get stale. What if the headline writer uses these stories in their portfolios for future employment?

"I'm exceedingly happy about this one. It's a doozy! 'Obama Beats Weiner'. Yep. My first headline double entendre referencing masturbation. Took me a pack of cigarettes and two bottles of Bud Light to think that prize-winner up!"

The media is supposed to explain, expose and inform, not act as comedian with a 10-minute set about how a politician's name sounds like slang for male genitals.

Making fun of Anthony Weiner is easy, and he probably deserves it. He betrayed the public's trust by engaging in improper online relationships like a horny college student. He must resign office and fade into the political woodwork as soon as possible.

His career in politics is over. He can't run in the wake of the scandal. What would his campaign slogan be? "Anthony Weiner: The reformer you want, the boner shots you need!"

But the media should at least attempt to be professional and not snigger like a group of school boys sitting in sex education class. Nothing is humorous about a politician falling from grace due to lascivious urges, losing their marriages, friendships and the public's trust. Except if the politician's name is Irving Sloppytwat.

That's shit's funny.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Doggy Dancer



One of many things the iPhone is capable of: recording stupid movies. Ain't technology swell?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Guinness, Muthafucka!





POTUS drinking Guinness. Your argument is irrelevant.