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Crowd control

Lately, I’ve begun to have a problem with crowds. I don’t think anyone actually likes them, but in my case, they’re starting to make me feel mildly nervous and/or anxious. It’s not like I feel the need run screaming for the nearest exit, but I just don’t like being in a crowded area for more than a little while. It’s not claustrophia, either; I’ve been in packed elevators recently with no problem. I can also handle things if I’m on the move, like wandering through busy stores, casinos, or cities.

I started to notice this problem off an over the past few years when I’d attend mass gatherings like metal shows (more on that in a minute), conventions, and even Free Comic Book Day. Last year I thought it was just other stuff annoying me, but now I’m not so sure. That’s why I didn’t work at my local shop for FCBD this year. I dropped by for a bit later in the afternoon to see my friends, but that’s about all I could muster. Feeling nervous is a world of difference from rolling ones’ eyes at turbonerds.

This is immensely irritating to me, especially in the case of metal shows, which I thoroughly enjoy. Oddly, the issue here is a unique one, as I deal with some odd symptoms that don’t present themselves in other crowded situations. About an hour into a show, I start feeling itchy, and my guts start roiling. No nausea, thankfully, but still uncomfortable. This lasts until the show ends; once I’m outside, the feelings stop immediately. Couple that with my spinal and foot problems, which often flare up when I’m standing around for five to six hours, and you can understand my predicament. To be honest, the pain in my back and feet is much more annoying than the other stuff, but it’s still no fun when they’re all mixed together. When it gets to the point that my physical ailments are detracting and often overpowering my enjoyment of the show, I want to snap.

I’m sure some of you are screaming “Just get some help, you idiot!” at me right now, and don’t worry, I’m not against seeking medical assistance. I’m just not sure it’s that serious yet. For the time being, I can deal with it simply by not putting myself in crowded situations. I know I shouldn’t have to give up on things I enjoy, like seeing my favorite bands, but my other health issues are already taking care of that. (And those I have sought treatment for.)

I should be fine for the time being. Fear not, I won’t let something like this spiral out of control! In fact, just talking about it here has made me feel a bit better. Strange how that works, eh?

Bright screen of death

At a recent metal show I attended, I saw something that was both mind-bogglingly stupid and annoying. No, not some fans’ questionable fashion choices. No, not some drunk dude in the pit who thought it would be a good idea to sweat on everybody. (Though I did see plenty of that, thankfully from a distance.)

What I saw were flyers placed all over the venue by members of the event staff. The notes actually encouraged fans to take photos with their cellphones during the show, then quickly share them on Instagram and other social media platforms.

During the show.

You might recognize this as the exact same irritant as people who use their cellphones in theaters during a movie. You’re in a dark room, yet someone’s got a glaring bright screen that’s immediately distracting you from what you paid to see up front. Actually, at shows it’s even worse as the cellphones get right in your field of vision when these dipshits hold them up!

Cellphone photography at concerts has gotten ridiculously out of hand, to the point where it almost ruins every show I go to now. Fans doing this are annoying as hell, and now that venues are actually encouraging it? Fuck that noise. It’s bad enough my health issues are beginning to prevent me from attending shows, but if this cellphone photo promotion bullshit is the new normal, then I won’t miss it much.

My favorite Legend of Zelda game

Most folks’ favorite game from the Legend of Zelda series is one of the true classics, like the original game for the NES or Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. Those are both fantastic titles, and the latter is rightfully considered to be one of the best (if not the best) video games of all times. Neither is my preferred Zelda adventure, however. As usual, I walk a different path.

© Nintendo

For decades, my favorite has been The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I very briefly mentioned this in passing in a post about the Game Boy days, but now it’s time for more detail.

I bought a Game Boy in the fall of 1993, but didn’t get Link’s Awakening until my birthday the following year. I would’ve bought it myself, but I was flat broke as a teen, and the few video games I got before then were Mortal Kombat (when I bought the system) and a few Mega Man titles. Priorities, people. Anyway, once I got my hands on Link’s Awakening, I was more than excited; aside from the wow factor of playing a Zelda adventure on a portable system, it was also the first game in the series that I ever owned. I guess it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to latch on to Link’s Awakening no matter what, but fortunately it turned out to be a phenomenal game.

Despite the tiny greenish screen, as Link explored all manner of dungeons and other locales across Koholint island, the game drew me in so much that the outside world faded into the background. The gameplay was great, the story was great, the graphics and music were great, and even the non-player characters were great. Link’s Awakening was loaded with awesome townsfolk and other supporting cast with plenty of personality, and I recall all of them fondly. The clever cameos from other Nintendo properties, like Mario, Kirby, and even Wart, all brought a smile to my face. (Link’s Awakening is also notable for being the only game in which Princess Zelda does not appear. She’s mentioned at the beginning, but that’s it.)

I hung out a lot in the woods behind my house during high school and college, as I enjoyed the solitude. While much of my time was spent just walking the trails or contemplating the universe under a tree, sometimes I’d bring my Game Boy along. In some small way, I felt like I was journeying through the forest of Koholint with Link, albeit sans sword and shield. (My woods also didn’t have any talking owls or wiseass raccoons.) Laugh if you must, but Link’s Awakening was one of those things that helped me during those stretches of depression and self-loathing.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played through Link’s Awakening, both the original version and the DX upgrade, which featured fancy colors and an all-new dungeon. I still remember all of the secrets, hidden items, boss patterns…you name it. There are very few other games that have etched themselves into my memory to such a degree.

If for some reason you’ve never experienced Link’s Awakening yourself, trust me, it’s an underrated gem that completely stands the test of time. Find a copy, and go play it. I’m going to.

Jigglyball

I’ve been spending the better part of a decade trying to forget my college years. Recalling that era almost always brings nothing but sorrow and depression, as I’m reminded of all of the time and money I wasted, not to mention how much of a shitty human being I was.

However, once in a blue moon, I can recall a good memory without any remorse or negativity attached to it. This is one of those tales, as it concerns an event that was as ingenious as it was patently ridiculous. I recalled this randomly one day during lunch, with nothing to trigger it; to quote a famous scientist, “It just…popped in there.”

I am speaking of the brutal sport known as Jigglyball.

First of all…get your minds out of the gutter. It has nothing to do with male anatomy, so don’t be disgusting. In reality, Jigglyball was a game created by myself and three other graphic design students in the art building’s computer lab late one night in 1999. (Yes, there was only one dedicated computer lab for art students back then; scary, huh?) We all spent many hours outside of class in that lab, working hard on projects; it was practically my second home, and I’m sure it was no different for the others.

Anyway, we were working late on a group 3D animation project, I believe. When it came to render the whole scene, we were able to use the entire lab as a render farm, vastly speeding up the process. Regardless, it was going to take at least an hour to complete, and we had to kill time somehow. Surfing the ‘net was out, as every ounce of processing power and bandwidth was being squeezed out of the computers to get the rendering done faster. So instead, we had to come up with other amusements, and using a few random items we found around the lab…Jigglyball was born.

The equipment needed for the game is a magazine (ours was likely a copy of Macworld or Adbusters), a styrofoam cup, and a baseball-sized Jigglypuff stress toy.

art by Ken Sugimori
Yes, the pink singing Pokémon that haunts your nightmares.

I don’t know where the toy came from, or why it was in the lab. Maybe it was mine, because I hated the character and could physically abuse it? I really don’t remember. Jigglypuff was annoying enough in Pokémon Red and Blue, but the creature’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. made me despise the little pink bastard with a vengeance. In fact, one of my 3D animation projects was Jigglypuff singing its trademark song, then getting blown up by a cruise missile. (Not the project we were working on that night, however. I don’t recall what that was; clearly it was overshadowed by our new sport.)

But I digress.

The object of Jigglyball is to knock the cup down using Jigglypuff as a projectile. You roll the magazine into a cone, stuff Jigglypuff in the end like a scoop of ice cream, then fling it from the back of the room towards your target at the front. Here’s the catch: the cup must be held by another person, preferably on top of their head. These rules codified themselves fairly rapidly; somehow, it all just came to us at once, with few permutations necessary to arrive at our final design.

As you might imagine, successfully hitting the target took a lot of practice. More often than not, Jigglypuff smacked into a wall. Once our aim improved a bit, we ended up just hitting the person holding the cup. Eventually, we were able to jai alai that shit across the length of the room with increasing speed and accuracy. Overhand, underhand, and sidearm shots were all legal. This kept us quite amused until the telltale beep from the lead computer let us know that our project was done rendering. We checked it over for errors…then played Jigglyball for another hour. The game soon became a staple for those late-night projects. Sadly, our attempts to establish Jigglyball as a collegiate intramural sport went unfulfilled.

I haven’t played the game since, but it’s ripe for a comeback. (Everything from the ’90s is fair game for that retro-nostalgia shit anyway, right?) I don’t even hate Jigglypuff anymore, but I’d start up the sport again without hesitation. I just need to hunt down another Jigglypuff stress toy, and we’ll be good to go.

Any takers?

What Star Trek means to me

image from Memory AlphaTo even a casual reader of this blog, my long-running love of Star Trek should be evident. I grew up watching reruns of the original and animated series, then watched Star Trek: The Next Generation from day one. When further spinoffs came along, I was all aboard for those, too. Movies? Yep, opening weekend for every single one starting with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Toys, comics, books…I even dug into that stuff. Star Trek is clearly my favorite science fiction universe by a huge margin, but I don’t know if I’ve ever articulated exactly why it’s so important to me. (This will also reinforce the fact that I’m a huge fucking dork.)

My father was the one who got me into Star Trek, explaining what it was when I happened upon reruns as a child. From there I was immediately hooked, and it was convenient that the show often aired after school amongst my usual cartoons. I learned about the then-upcoming TNG from magazine covers, I think. Starting with “Encounter at Farpoint,” I watched every new Star Trek episode as it aired all the way through “These are the Voyages…”, the finale of Star Trek: Enterprise. That’s eighteen years spanning my childhood to adult life, from the middle of grade school to many years past college.

It wasn’t just the onscreen action that drew me in, though. The stories that the Star Trek series were trying to tell really resonated with me, and those are much more important than phaser blasts and space battles. As I grew, I noticed the social allegories and morality plays, and those fascinated me; no other show I was watching did anything remotely like that! (They still don’t.) Once the more serialized storytelling of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine rolled around, that challenged my assumptions all over again. Series creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a “utopian future” is laughable and unrealistic to many, and I suppose I can understand that. But it gave rise to such amazing stories and characters, and that’s what really matters.

Then there was the science behind the show, both real and proposed. Androids, astronomy, faster-than-light travel, biology, psychology and sociology…I soaked it all up like a sponge. That’s probably why I love the various Star Trek technical manuals, blueprints, and star charts alongside the many behind-the-scenes books. It makes the Star Trek universe seem much more real, because in many ways…it is.

Much ado is made nowadays about geeky stuff being cool and socially accepted, and that apparently includes Star Trek…but I have yet to see it. I know maybe two or three people who like Star Trek among my group of local friends, and even they are just original series and TNG guys more than anything else. By and large around here I don’t see much love for Star Trek. And when I was growing up, it was far worse: Star Trek was most assuredly not cool during public school and college, despite my undergraduate studies taking place during the height of the franchise’s popularity. I knew maybe one or two people who casually watched it, and that was about it.

I didn’t have many friends when I was a kid, and none of them were into science fiction. Often, when I was lonely, I’d make myself feel better by “hanging out” with the Enterprise crew via their televised adventures. Yes, I realize that sounds a lot like Fry’s lament in the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before.” Sad but true, in my case. I sadly remember that I wrote a book report in seventh grade on Howard Weinstein’s TNG novel Exiles. We had to present our reports in front of the rest of the class…and it went over about as well as you’d expect.

I guess I was just used to ridicule at that point, because my classmates’ mockery didn’t affect my enjoyment of Star Trek. Even through the turmoil of high school and the brave new world of college, where being a fan of something like Star Trek was social suicide, I still watched my favorite series on a regular basis. Granted, there were plenty of occasions in high school and college where I wasn’t around to watch the broadcast live, so I’d just tape the show and watch it whenever I got home. It’s a wonder I ever got laid.

As for Star Trek‘s more direct effects on my life, they will probably make you roll your eyes and laugh like everyone else, but here they are nonetheless. The series amplified my already intense interest in science and spaceflight. Mister Spock inspired me to try to approach things — dare I say it — logically. (Which everyone seems to hate.) I gained a new appreciation for the works of Hector Berlioz because of Star Trek: First Contact. I even started drinking Earl Grey tea because it was Captain Picard’s beverage of choice, and it’s my preferred blend to this day. Oh, and after college graduation, I would usually do my laundry around the time that Star Trek: Voyager (and later Enterprise) was airing on Wednesday nights…and I still do my laundry on that same night as a matter of habit. And those few examples only begin scratch the surface!

Most folks complain that I’m a very negative person; I actually consider myself a realist. Life simply isn’t all sunshine and roses, and amount of positive thinking can change that. (Maybe I’m just cantankerous like Doctor McCoy.) However, during my depressing childhood and adolesence when I was really down in the dumps, Star Trek gave me something incredibly rare: hope. If things didn’t improve for me personally, the show still made me feel like maybe, just maybe, humanity could truly end up among the stars. The show sometimes still makes me feel this way, and I’m likely more nihilistic and misanthropic now than I was before. Given the astounding amount of real-world technology that was directly inspired by Star Trek, perhaps we’re on our way already to a better future, piece by piece. Well, one can dream.

Moving on to tie-in media and other stuff beyond the television shows and movies, you might be surprised to know that I was never a huge fan of Star Trek comic books; most of them just weren’t very good, and my meager budget went towards the superhero fare I was more interested in. I read plenty of Star Trek novels, as mentioned before, and I’ll get more into detail about those in a bit. As for toys, even as a kid, I thought that the TNG figures and such looked pretty cheesy. Sure, I wanted the toy starships, but those were way out of my price range! Only much later in life, in the early 2000s, did I start getting a few ships from the Art Asylum line (later Diamond Select Toys). Even then, I don’t have a large collection due to space and price.

More surprises: I don’t frequent Star Trek message boards or anything like that. I learned from a young age that nerds love to argue, and on the Web, fights over the dumbest shit are taken to extremes. Star Trek is no different, but I want no part of that. (I avoid message boards in general for this very reason; I could count the number I visit regularly on one hand.) The most I do is converse with a few authors and fans via Twitter. I’ve never been to a dedicated Star Trek convention! I don’t know if I could handle the crowds anymore. (That’s why I also I rarely if ever attend comic book conventions nowadays.)

Star Trek has been off the air for a decade now, but my enjoyment has not wavered. TNG is still my favorite television show of all time, while Wrath of Khan and First Contact remain two of my favorite movies. I’m not a big fan of the J. J. Abrams relaunch movies, though; the first movie had its share of problems, and I thought Star Trek Into Darkness was horrendous. I’d tie it with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as the worst film in the entire series. But I can understand that since it’s profitable, then that’s what the powers-that-be want Star Trek to be for new fans: just another action-adventure explosion-fest in space. It’s a shame that it’s fallen so low, but at least there’s still over seven hundred classic episodes and films to enjoy time and time again.

I’ve accepted the fact that the “Prime Universe” — the setting for the Star Trek shows and first ten movies — is never coming back to the screen. That sucks, but them’s the breaks; I just stick with the novels for my classic Star Trek fix when I’m not watching old episodes. The older books generally weren’t so hot due to strict editorial constraints, but there were a few diamonds in the rough. However, since the early 2000s the Star Trek literary saga has been fantastic. Starting with DS9 but eventually encompassing all series, authors were finally allowed to properly pick up where the shows and movies left off, effectively relaunching the properties and giving us the continuing adventures we crave. (Hey, Star Wars did it with their novels starting in the early 1990s, so it was about time that Star Trek got on board.) Not only that, they all reference and tie in to one another just as the shows did. The fact that these books aren’t “canon” doesn’t bother me in the slightest; I’d much rather have a great non-canon story than a shitty canon one, and many of these books are easily on par with the greatest Star Trek televised stories. In particular, works by Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, David Mack, Greg Cox, S.D. Perry, and Una McCormack are nothing short of stunning. Seriously, go read the Destiny or Vanguard series and prepare to have your mind blown.

Just like heavy metal (but obviously in a different form), Star Trek has always been there to get me through the rough patches. It’s one of my many solitary interests, but a lifelong and very important one.