Why do strangers talk to me?

Last night, I went to Walmart to pick up sinus pills, a box of Mrs. Grass soup, elbow noodles to mix into it, and a peanut-buttery snack because I was feeling miserable. It was shaping up as a perfect in-and-out trip until I got to the registers.

I approached the only express lane open, and waited my turn. I was next in line as the cashier caught a peak of my shirt and flashed a goofy grin.

hatebreed keep calm and destroy everything shirt
My Hatebreed “Destroy Everything” shirt looks like this, but I’m not that scrawny.

It’s a look I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, as people who listen to the same music as me are relatively scarce. Usually people notice the band on my shirt, and they remark how cool it is to see someone else that likes that band, and I get roped into an awkward exchange. He fit the stereotypical “heavier music guy” look, but the hesitant smile had nothing to do with Hatebreed.

“Your shirt reminds me of a quote,” he said, as he scanned my box of soup with a widening smile. “Well, it’s a line by a character named Poffo, a 245-year-old vampire, in the novel Poffo: The Strange-Ass Garbage Story of a Vampire by Some Crazy Fucking Author.”  I don’t recall the specifics, but I’m doing my best here.

My eyes widened because I was so taken aback by the introduction. Give me a fucking break, dude, I’ve got four things for you scan.

I hoped my look of incredulous judgment would embarrass him into silence, but he prattled on. “Poffo is often locked in the basement of her master’s manor because she just doesn’t know how to control her own incomprehensible strength,” he said gleefully, trying to pique my interest.

Instead, I focused on the card reader to dissuade further discussion. Undeterred, he continued, “She’s not necessarily an evil vampire — I mean, she feeds on humans, because, duh, she’s a vampire — but she’s a great person, and she just can’t help it. It’s cool because her sister sneaks small mammals down into the basement to feed her when she’s being punished for decimating her playthings. It’s a fascinating look into the domain of…”

I continued staring at the card reader to follow the scanning process. Here’s the box of elbow noodles and peanut butter bars… Almost there! His words stole focus as the absurdity of what he was saying sank in.

“…constrains her ability to transmogrify into a bat, and the chain around her neck actively combats incantations she would normally invoke to…”

Meanwhile, I haven’t said a single word, and I haven’t looked him in the eye since the first glance as I stood next in line.

“There’s one novel where– Oh, I need your I.D. for the, uh, ‘daytime/night-time sinus tablets’ for some reason.” He looked bewildered as though he didn’t realize there was an alternate use for the medicine.

With great disdain, I grumbled, “Dude, I’m 32. I’m sick. I just want to get home.” There was no fucking way I was going to let this guy know my name or address.

“Oh! You do sound sick,” he replied, as he hit the okay button to let the pills through. He hit the total button, selected credit card as the method of payment, and looked back up at me to continue his story while the receipt pooled in his hand. “Anyway, Poffo befriends an imp that’s able to communicate with the real world, despite being kept afloat in purgatory after a mishap with a woodland–”

“Thanks,” I interjected, reaching for the receipt. I had more than enough. He turned to keep talking to me as I walked away. I heard his voice, but I have no idea what he was saying. As I got to the exit, the door-greeter stood up from his stool and took a step toward me. One corner of his lip curled into a sneering grin as he spoke.

“He’s a piece of work, ain’t he?”

You have no idea, man. No fucking idea.

What’s up with the new Ghostbusters?

The New Ghostbusters crew
* not to be confused with The New Ghostbusters.

So there’s a shot of the new Ghostbusters* over on Polygon and there’s a lot of backlash that I’m going to classify under three categories:

  1. Don’t mess with my nostalgia!
  2. Stop being a social justice warrior by having them all be women!
  3. Why is there another fucking reboot?

I’m a self-proclaimed SJW, and I wear that badge proudly. I’m a firm believer in that things aren’t better because that’s the way they have been traditionally, and exposing the fallacy of that argument is important. Women are half (or slightly over half) of the world’s population, and they’re still often considered second rate to men. I like that Hollywood is doing its part in giving us female leads that aren’t just damsels in distress or love interests.

I like that Melissa McCarthy isn’t in movies to be made fun of. She’s there doing funny things, but it’s never cheap shots at her weight. I like that Fantastic Four — sorry, I mean Fant4stic — is bringing in an African-American to play Johnny Storm. Using a larger cross-section of America in your movies is a great thing, and I’m really excited that there’s a movie about transsexual hookers coming out today that doesn’t need to explain itself. It just drops you in on the action, shows us people with an interesting story and let us fill in the blanks as we see fit.

The Ghostbusters was a great story, and the brand has a history of diversity across different mediums. I mean, shit, how many shows can you name that featured a cast which had a person of color, a woman, and someone in a wheelchair?

Leading characters from Extreme Ghostbusters
I can name only one show… Extreme Ghostbusters.

I think that’s my major problem with all these reboots. We can’t just go back and remake movies every 20-30 years because technology is better and we can slap better special effects on them — just ask George Lucas — and we shouldn’t reboot franchises to cash grab because they’re known entities to retell the story because we think we have a better angle on it.

Total Recall and Robocop are perfect examples of what makes me weary of Ghostbusters. They were remade with better graphics, but they cut out all of the things that made the originals special. Let’s hold the hand of the audience and tell them what to think instead of leaving the ending open for interpretation. Let’s take all the dark sarcasm about voyeurism in society and instead turn it into a mockery of opinionated talk shows…

If you’re adamant about showing us a new vision of a story, why do you cling to so many of the design cues of the original? We don’t need a casting director to go out and find four people to fit the mold of the guys in the 80’s movie.

“Okay, here’s the ‘normal’ one, the tall black one, the chubby one, and the quirky science nerd. We’re ready to start principal filming!”

At least if these were kids of the original characters, it’d make some sense why they look the way they do. I can see how some people are saying that it feels like a “checkbox, politically correct reboot.” I also think that’s the easy way out, but I can see why they’d reach that conclusion.

I know I shouldn’t judge it before I see it, but I’m suffering from a major movie meltdown that’s been building up. I’m fucking burnt out on all the reboots, origin story movies, and the lowest common denominator action flicks. I want to see something new. I want stories that are interesting.

Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters (2016)
Why are the new Ghostbusters using a car that looks just like the original one if it wants to be its own movie?

Maybe Ghostbusters will be charming and pique my interest, but I doubt it. Nearly every re-envisioning I’ve seen of a movie I liked has let me down. I don’t need cheap ploys, like nods to the original, or better effects on the proton beams to draw me in.

I predominantly watch documentaries now, and yes there are junkers out there. At least they’re telling unique stories, not some rewritten movie that occupies the same exact space, mere decades later.

I am so hyped up for Jurassic World.

My aunt, Joette, took me to a lot of movies growing up, and there’s a bunch that really stand out to me. Masters of the Universe, BatmanAn American Tail: Fievel Goes WestTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hook, Batman Returns… All of these movies have external memories and feelings attached to them that make those viewings significant to me. Only one movie we went to was the centerpiece of so many more memories: Jurassic Park.

The first time I saw Jurassic Park was opening weekend in 1993, about a week after my 10th birthday. I was a kid fascinated by dinosaurs in elementary school, borrowing the same encyclopedia of dinosaurs from the library so much that they suggested to my parents that they buy me my own copy. I was excited for JP because it was dinosaurs, and my aunt liked Michael Crichton and read the novel. It was the summer movie we were most excited for, and it did not disappoint.

Juarssic Park Dr. Grant and Velociraptor Toys
Some lucky mook’s pictures of Dr. Grant and a Raptor. I still have mine, but they’re not in this good of a condition.

Right after the movie, we took our customary trip to K.B. Toys to pick up a figure related to the film we just saw. After JP, I picked up Dr. Grant and a Velociraptor because, “You can’t have a human and not a dino.” I know now that she was into it as much as I was, but back then I just thought I was getting spoiled as hell.

The next few days, I couldn’t stop talking about the movie. I had Dr. Grant and the Raptor decimate every other toy in my collection. I was obsessed. That next weekend, we went again.

After that trip, there wasn’t a visit to K.B. We went to Border’s instead, where Joette got me my own copy of the book. She kept talking to me about the differences from the book to the movie, and wanted me to experience it the same way. The catch was she didn’t want to give me her copy, because she was revisiting it after she fell in love with the movie.

I read the book in two days, and we saw it again the following weekend. It was the first time we went to the same movie more than once, and after it came out on video, it was on constant rotation on my sleepovers at her house. Hell, 22 years later I still get glued to the screen if I’m looking at the guide and see it on HBO.

I am so excited for Jurassic World tomorrow. It’s a week after my birthday, and I know that Spielberg went through eight different scripts before letting it go to principal shooting. My expectations are high, but deep down I know that 10 year old me won’t let me be disappointed either way.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t “hate” my birthday.

To claim that I despise my birthday is a misnomer; I’m actually quite grateful that my parents had sex, that zygote me was formed and gestated nearly successfully, and that Dr. Jacobs was able to facilitate an emergency c-section at Albany Med to get me out of Ma, and give my heart its first few pumps when my body didn’t get the fucking hint.

I appreciate all of the complications. I understand how fragile life is, even under great conditions. I grasp how the day I tepidly exited the womb was the day that led to fostering relationships with me later on in their lives, and how they’d want to celebrate that. I get it. What I continually fail to grasp is the annual, uncomfortable discussion, about how it’s my birthday, and I can do whatever I want to — so long as the plans coincide with theirs.

“Sooooooo, I’m coming over and we’re spending the night together?”

The body language and tone of voice says that I’m being coy and they’re in on it. They know exactly what I really want. I’m sure the intentions are pure, and I can see how they would supplant my desires with their vision of a perfect birthday. There’s just never any semblance of acceptance that I’m the exact opposite of that. My perfect birthday is a day like any other, without any hullabaloo.

“But we had fun last year!” You’re right, we played a ton of Mario Kart and it was a good time once I got through my unease about it being my birthday. I’m already bad enough at fulfilling your wishes on your special days. I’d like to not have to stress out about another day that’s supposedly mine to begin with.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve gone through an awkward surprise party when every instinct was to run away from it. I’ve done small gatherings, and I’ve made big parties to try them out to see if I had weird hiccups about my family being 1,300 miles away. I’ve done decent-sized dinners at fancy restaurants, and I’ve even (very poorly) tolerated smoke detectors going off when I didn’t want people in the house.

Being alone isn’t a punishment, and asking to be left alone isn’t an affront to our relationship. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate you, or that I don’t love the fact that you care about me.

The way we interact all year long gives me that feeling of love and companionship. I don’t need a culmination of it on one specific day because I was born on it 32 years ago. What I’m comfortable with is just going through the day like the rest of them. If you want to tack on a “Happy birthday, I love you,” with a text about some random thing we’d talk about anyway, go for it.

I’d welcome that above anything else. At some point I’ll have kids and their birthday will have a more special meaning to me than anything else I’ve experienced. Then you can shift excitement onto their days and continue to leave me alone on mine. :)

Pokémon Shuffle is annoying.

When Pokémon Shuffle was announced I was interested because I love matching  games like Bejeweled, but I had reserved expectations because it was a freemium game. Freemium games were introduced on mobile platforms, where the game is released for free, but there are restrictions to game play that can be bypassed in two ways:

  1. Waiting through a “cooldown” period between actions, or
  2. Purchasing “boosts” that exchange real-world currency for additional play time. (Boosts can also make the game easier, by giving you upgraded stats for short period of time.)

In Shuffle, the trick is you get five hearts to play five stages every two and a half hours. You can also trade in jewels (which are awards after certain key battles, every 100 Streetpasses of other Shuffle players, or purchased through the e-shop) to get more hearts. Additionally, the jewels have the option of becoming coins for power-ups before stages begin, or exchanged for five more moves at the end of a round.

The problem with this type of game is that there is a significant amount of frustration from artificial difficulty. The game is developed to push you into making purchases to facilitate additional play, so you’ll often find yourself in a position where there are no skill-based moves to advance, and you’re doomed to hope for the best.

Case in point, the Mega-Glalie battle:

Here, the enemy boss uses two different disruptions — attacks that hinder your Pokémon from being used effectively — to utterly stifle gameplay. It’s a prime example of what drives me crazy about this game.

Very infrequently, you’ll get a nice level where there are consistent patterns to help you out. On Flareon’s fight, you’re able to do two moves to clear all of the disruptions from the stage and open up normal play:

I wish there was more of this “learn and clear” mechanic in the game.

Doing a level ten to fifteen times to defeat and capture a Pokémon isn’t terrible, because I’m used to the grind of seeking a specific Pokémon in the regular games. I enjoy that aspect, and wouldn’t change it.

Infuriating stage without patterns to help you win.
Infuriating stage without patterns to help you win.

I’m just getting frustrated by the stages without patterns, the obstructive disruptions, and blatantly poor suggested moves (that you cannot turn off), which are implemented to hold you back and coerce you into paying.

An example of a poor move, suggested by Pokemon Shuffle
This is not the best move on the board, but it’s the one the game wanted me to make.

I understand game developers are trying to find a way to further monetize their games, like getting you to double-dip on each title, a la DLC, but freemium is a broken paradigm. There’s just enough of an illusion of success that convinces you that patience is a viable strategy. You think that you can play the game just as well as the people spending money, but being stubborn and thinking you’ll outwit the developers pigeonholes your experience. If I wasn’t in a lull between major releases that I’m looking forward to, I’d be very done with this game.

I guess I’m part of the problem, because I’ll just keep playing ten minutes every few hours until something better comes along. To be fair, I’ll probably wind up with about twenty hours of gameplay in this free game. I expect about an hour per dollar I spend on a title, so this is more than I could have hoped for.

PS: I just wanted to point out a rant I published over on Medium two years ago. It’s my complaints about Transformers Legends, a game I was playing on my phone at the time. The issues line up so well with those I have with Pokémon Shuffle.