40

When my wife first suggested Vegas for my 40th birthday, I was bothered. 40 meant for me, what I suspect it means to a lot of people, that a part of me was dead. Maybe not 100% of me, but somewhere in the lower 60% range. That left me with, not coincidentally I suspect, 40% of me left to work with till I actually die.

Now for some, that 40% is more than enough to work with. For me, it’s like trying to build a skyscraper with legos. Possible, but christ it would suck. There’s just not a whole lot of raw materials to work with, unless you count the McRib pudge I wear around my stomach/thigh/face region and enough self loathing to spackle that wall they’re going to build between Mexico and Texas.

I figured that between the time my wife made that suggestion and the time my birthday would actually happen, I had about 6 months to make some serious changes. If I was going to go to Vegas at 40, I wanted to be hot, or a close approximation thereof.

I dieted and exercised, and I was well on my way to my goal. I had dropped 15lbs and a pant size. I went to the beach without a fucking shirt on. I was getting confidence in myself, I could see the goal ahead and it actually seemed possible: Hotness.

Then, I got laid off. Resigned? Forced resignation? Spending some time ruminating on the topic, I think the technical term is, Dicked Over.

Those 15lbs I lost? I found them, plus some of their friends.

I worked at that job for 4 years, and I had developed some incredibly close relationships. One even got me in trouble at home because, lesson here guys, don’t choose your friends over your wife. It’s stupid. I’ll provide a diagram later.

Those close friends seemingly evaporated once I got laid off. I did my best to keep up with everyone: texting, emailing, hitting the occasional bar, etc. But after the first month, it got harder and harder for anyone to respond. “Hey how goes it?”, would lead to an inevitable, and conversation ending, “Ok”.

Those close relationships I had developed turned out to be less substantial than the friends my missing pounds brought to my ass.

The thing that really drove home the apathy was as my 40th birthday approached, I suspected it would suck. Vegas was a dead plan, losing my job saw to that. That also meant that doing much of anything was out, because some asshole in Washington thinks it’s more important to feed and clothe my kids than to get drunk and go strip-club hopping. Libertarians unite, am I right?

No, the real blow came when my wife, reluctantly (bless her heart), told me that she had tried contacting a half dozen or so of my friends to have a party for me. No one responded.

I suspected that she’d try to do something like that. A small part of me hoped that the whole reason I didn’t hear from anyone was that she somehow managed this elaborate silence scheme. That all my friends were going to shout “Surprise!” when I came home from work on October 18th and give me my very first heart attack. That they were all being silent because she cleverly told them how much happier I’d be to hear from them all at once.

Yeah, ok I lied. A big part of me hoped that.

I’ve heard the term ‘work-friend’ for most of my life, and I always thought it was a silly monicker. I have friends I still keep in touch with from nearly every job I’ve ever had, with the exception of the grocery store when I was 16. Cause really, fuck those guys. But never has that term felt more poignant than it does these last few months.

I don’t have friends. I have work friends.

Could I have some work pounds? I suspect those will be easier to lose than pounds.

Cops. Be better than this.

I’d like to say that I have lots of great experiences with cops, but the simple fact of the matter is I really don’t get the point of them.

Most of my life I never had encounters with constables on ptatrol. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I kept running into situations where I scratched my head and asked, “What the hell?”

The first time was when my home was robbed over Christmas. The police showed up, basically said that was a shame, took fingerprints and then left. My family was a wreck, everyone felt scared, uncertain and violated, and all we got were a bunch of vague promises that it would be looked into.

Months later they seemed to think that the people who stole our stuff were the druggies who lived down the street. They ended up going to jail, but only because they had tried to rob a convenience store, and the woman in that dynamic duo decided to roll on her boyfriend. Seriously, how the fuck do we have a system where two addicts can escape charges on something like that unless one of them rats the other out?

Plus, the only way the cops got their lead about those two stealing our stuff was by using my wife to pose as a buyer for a fence. Let me repeat that. The police wanted my wife to do their fucking job. They sent the person whose stuff was stolen to serve as an undercover officer. To her credit, my god, what balls of steel she has. She told me after the fact and I was both impressed and horrified.

The next time our lives intersected with the law was when our renters next door decided to have a going away party. And by going away party, I meant we served them an eviction notice because they weren’t paying the rent, and they decided to trash the place. I’m not talking about leaving a mess, these assholes threw knives at the walls (they left a few sticking out), and took a sledgehammer to those same walls to finish the job. No lie, a sledgehammer. It was still laying on the floor next to one of the (many) holes.

We called the police, they showed up and said it was pretty open and shut since we had the renters names, the signed rental agreement, and a nearly destroyed apartment. Then, they looked at the name of one of the two occupants and they got quiet.

He was the son of the chief of police.

Now, it was more like an open and really-open case. They said that this kid had done this kind of stuff before, and that their boss, the mother-fucking-chief-of-police, would contact the families and offer to pay restitution. They said we’d be much better off that way, because we’d see some money for the damage. More than five years later and we haven’t seen a dime, and I have to wonder how many other people and properties were hurt and damaged since then.

Then tonight. Oh man, tonight.

Our little puppy was abused by a groomer. It was obvious what happened, he’s a tiny little thing, about as dangerous and threatening as a box of kleenex. He was dropped off in the morning and the groomer kept putting us off about when to pick him up. When we finally got him, he was drugged out of his mind, and he yelped whenever we touched his leg.

Thanks to an amazing local vet, we found out this little puppy’s flexible leg bone was snapped in half, consistent with someone hitting him with a bat.

My wife, again being the badass that she is, hit the internet and started to research this groomer’s past based on the smallest scraps of information. Turns out, the groomer had another business before this one and Yelp was filled with reviews of people posting x-rays of their poor broken dogs. Then my wife found out the groomer had not one, not two, but five aliases.

We were crushed and floored. How did this person keep getting away with this? Well it turns out the groomer’s spouse would follow behind the path of broken bones left behind and would offer to pay the vet bills, at least according to one of the Yelp reviews. Of course, we didn’t know for certain that was the case until he contacted us with that same offer.

We decided it had to stop, so we sucked up the cost of the vet bill and began amassing all of the x-rays, Yelp reviews, text messages and every other little scrap of information there was about the groomer. We contacted the police and they in-turn contacted animal control, and in a joint venture between them they arrested the groomer. We handed the investigator a giant folder filled with information, again doing the cops job for them, figuring there was no way this horrible person could get away with it again.

Then tonight I asked my wife if she had heard anything about the case. I wish I hadn’t asked.

The groomer was convicted, but she had filed an appeal. The investigator who took all of our information was no longer with the department. The new investigator treated us as if the case didn’t matter, plus said that because my wife’s phone was now wiped months later that the case will likely be thrown out. Bear in mind, she had asked the original investigator if she could reformat her phone because (as iPhone users know) the phone was getting progressively glitchy. That investigator, you know, the one who no longer works there? said it was fine.

What the hell.

What. The. Hell.

I realize a robbery, vandalism and animal abuse aren’t the worst crimes in the world. I understand that no human was physically hurt in any of this. But when any crime is treated so liberally and callously by the people who supposedly are sworn to protect the community, it’s hard not to hate them, or at least monumentally doubt them.

I want my kids to note be afraid of police, to respect them and feel safe around them, but I certainly don’t feel that way. Why should anyone when things like this happen? If they can’t take care of the small things, how can I ever trust them to take care of the big things? To not shoot my daughter’s dark-skinned boyfriend because he’s driving a nice car. To help my wife when she’s having a seizure instead of tazing her because her arm flailed and hit them.

I don’t trust them, and that’s a serious fucking problem.

Writing Me

When I was 11, my mom made me take piano lessons. This, I discovered, was the fastest route to realizing I had no musical ability whatsoever. Not long after that, I joined a soccer team and I attempted to play with my non-existent athleticism. Somewhere in my mid teens I discovered I had some passable talent for drawing and painting, but quickly realized I was a ball of suck compared to real artists.

The one thing that I could do that set me apart was writing. I attracted the attention of multiple teachers in high school to this fact, and they encouraged me to focus on it. I even wrote a play that won me a scholarship and introduced me to my first wife. Although in retrospect that whole wife thing wasn’t as good as the scholarship.

But writing really wasn’t that much different from all the other talents I attempted to not suck at. It was hard. Even as I write this post, I’ve written and rewritten sentences in the same way a painter makes multiple brush strokes to get that happy-little-tree just right.

My wife and I talked about natural talent yesterday and it got me thinking about my writing. I may have gotten a scholarship, attention from teachers, and compliments from friends, but why do I think I suck at it?

It seems that human nature is for people to always think they are bad at what they’re good at, which is kind of a dick move on human nature’s part. Even Kanye West probably thinks he sucks from time to time, he’s just perfected the ability to not project those feelings. He’s gotten damn good at that. It does make me wonder though, when do people begin to accept that they’re good at something?

Back in college I had a friend who was by far the best comic artist I’ve ever known. His ability is what made me realize my own artistic skill was painfully lacking, and I envied the hell out of him. After twenty years, I still have an amazing drawing of Magneto being assaulted by all of the X-Men that he drew for me. I framed it. But not once did I ever hear him say he was good at it, quite the opposite actually.

In high school I was acquainted with the varsity quarterback. He was incredibly smart, ridiculously good looking, supremely kind, and immensely talented at throwing the pigskin to moving walls of meat in uniform. Yet despite all of his ability, never once did he take himself or compliments seriously. To this day he stands in my mind as an example of how amazing a person can be, yet his humility about it all was oddly infuriating.

We all seem to spend our lives trying to find something we both enjoy and are good at, and at the same time we knock ourselves for doing it. I don’t generally like to make broad generalizations like that; I personally believe the word We shouldn’t be used lightly. But when I think about it, nearly every famous person I can think of never has claimed that they were good at what it was that made them famous.

If you’ve never listened to The Nerdist I highly suggest you do. The host, Chris Hardwick, is an amazing interviewer and he’s had a staggering number of incredibly famous people on his show. One of Chris’s best abilities is to get people to let their guard down and have a regular conversation with them. It’s less like interviewing and more like eavesdropping on a couple having a first date, and that, as it turns out, is immensely interesting.

One of the most common threads in these interviews, particularly with those who are mega famous (Sir Ian McKellen and Jeff Bridges for example) is the lack of hubris. These guys won’t say they’re good at what they do, only that they enjoy it. Is it that they don’t believe they’re good at what they’re paid millions to do, or that they’re afraid what people will think of them?

Most of the people I’ve met in my life, whether it’s acquaintances, friends or family, seem to enjoy taking others down a peg. And believe me, I’m not removing myself from that group as I have been known to do it as well. We all have enough time to knock someone down a rung on a ladder while we try to climb up our own.

And that makes me wonder. If I acknowledge that I have some skill at writing, does that make me an ass? Does it make me delusional? Or does it make me confident enough to try and pursue it? Haters are always going to hate, that’s a lesson Taylor Swift taught me, so maybe I should just try to accept what I’m capable of. Maybe I should go for that novel, or try to make more regular blog posts, or even just try to enjoy the talent I have.

I’d at least be better than Kanye. Dude’s such a talentless hack.

Friendly Fire

When I was 16 I got a glamorous job that kids my age could only dream of getting: produce stock-boy at the local grocery store. I got up at 4am, worked long hours, got paid minimum wage, and had absolutely no life. It was hot.

To be fair, I didn’t have a life to begin with. I was a geek before it was chic and I read books long before there was such a thing as the Young Adult genre. Outcast, nerd, loser, those were my monikers.

Lucky for me, something great happened while I worked at that grocery store, I made a friend. His name was, Brad, and to me he was immensely cool. He had a beautiful wife, owned a house, was a manager, and he was a giant freaking geek. Whereas most people would write off a nerdy, dorky teenager such as myself, I think Brad saw something of himself in me and we hit it off right away despite our rather large age difference.

He introduced me to his circle of friends shortly thereafter, and although they were a little more hesitant to welcome me into the fold because of my age, it didn’t take long before I hung out with them on a regular basis. We played Magic the Gathering™, Dungeons and Dragons, board games, computer games, went to see the latest movies and basically just hung out together for years.

Over that time, Brad and I had gotten to be close friends. When I lost my virginity it was a huge deal to me because of my religious upbringing, and it was Brad who I talked to about it. When his wife had a miscarriage, he and I got a movie and watched it with her to try and make her feel less bad. I would often hang around and have long talks with his grandmother, he helped me and my dad put up drywall. Brad was a good friend, and in a lot of ways like a big brother to me.

It sucked when it started to fall apart. Brad and his wife were going through a very extended rough patch while they were trying to adopt a pair of kids from across the ocean. They had to find the time and money for (frequent) airfare, fill out mountains of paperwork and deal with miles of red-tape. He was stressed, and to say he was handling it badly was something of an understatement. The once cool-headed and jovial guy I had known for years was lashing out at everyone in our circle, and I was losing my patience.

This all happened when I was in my early 20’s and didn’t know jack-shit about being an adult. I had a girlfriend, a job and a college career, but that’s it. No mortgage, no wife and certainly nothing on the scale of adopting kids from another country. My friend was going through something huge and I had no capacity for understanding it, I had only my own narrow vision of the world.

It was a Thursday night when our friendship died. I remember because we always played pencil and paper games on Thursdays, a holdover from when he worked second shift at the grocery store. He and I ended up exploding at each other over something inane, probably on what we should spend imaginary gold pieces on. Obviously that’s not what really broke up our friendship but it was a convenient, if not stupid, excuse to yell at each other.

Our fight broke up our group of friends and it took years for everyone to start talking with each other again. That is, everyone except for me and Brad. I guess maybe two Alphas really can’t coexist, no matter how nerdy they are.

It’s been almost twenty years since that fight and it’s hard for me to go more than a week without thinking about it. Being a dad and husband has given me a better understanding of how he might have felt all those years ago. I still can’t honestly say I’ve let the grudge go though, I’m a master at clinging to the slights made against me.

Nevertheless, I wish I could have settled down and followed him up the stairs he stormed. Maybe we could’ve talked about all the crazy shit he was going through while chugging back some Mountain Dews. I honestly don’t know.

When I get right down to it, that was the only time where I actively chose to lose a friend. It’s hard not to think about where I am in my life when I come to that realization. I’ve made some hard choices that have been to further my career and to start my family, and I’m keenly aware that those choices have had a cost measured in friendships.

Friendships aren’t cheap, yet I tossed one away like it was an old Atari E.T. cartridge, buried in some landfill in New Mexico. Yet, I haven’t lost all hope. It took almost 30 years, but even those sad, maligned and immensely poor examples of gaming history saw the light of day again.

If those pieces of crap have a shot, maybe I do too.

The MMO Dilemma

I remember the very first time I ever played Everquest. It happened more than one failed marriage and three kids ago, yet eerily it feels like it was just last week. At the time, I didn’t get the appeal. Why did everyone go nuts over this ‘virtual world’ stuff? You kill an orc, get a couple copper pieces, gain a few levels… big whoop. Sounds pretty much like any other video game.

But then while I was running around killing virtual monsters, I realized I was lost in the game world. This was a bad thing in the game, because virtual death was a serious penalty. I knew that I needed to find someplace safe, so I picked a direction and decided if I went far enough I’d probably find some sort of refuge. After a few minutes of running I saw what I could only describe as a mystical glow emanating ahead between the trees. I realized I had little to lose except time, so I decided to head towards it. Within a minute, I was standing before the great gates of Felwithe, the city of the High Elves.

I went inside, I explored, and eventually I even found an inn. I picked a room, closed the door, sat on the bed. I was safe.

That moment is forever burned into my mind, the time where I was lost in the woods and found a magic city that I could rest in. Real life was never that cool.

From that point on I had a on-off again love affair with the genre that became the MMO. I played Everquest until I realized it was far too geared towards people who really only wanted a virtual life. Then I jumped into Dark Age of Camelot, Earth & Beyond, City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, Champions Online and now, Star Trek Online.

As is often the case with people my age, responsibility for people other than myself crept into my life. That is what eventually curtailed my ability to enjoy these games. I needed to be able to drop a game in a second in case my kids or my wife needed my help, and games that necessitated every moment of my attention just weren’t a luxury I could afford.

Fortunately, the last two that I’ve been playing, Champions Online and Star Trek Online, were designed much more for someone in my situation. They both have a system where I can enjoy playing for short periods of time, but most importantly I can get up and walk away if I hear the kids fighting and not worry about my virtual progress. Plus, super heroes and Star Trek, so there’s that.

But I’ve often wondered what it is about these games that are compelling to so many. Hell, to me. When I started to lose interest in the genre, I asked one of my friends who loves these games why he loves them so much. In his words,

“The adventures we have in those games, adventures with my real life friends but in these worlds, are far more memorable to me than any story someone else comes up with.”

Now I personally don’t agree. I love a good, well crafted story, and “Rember the time that Kanthur got drunk and fell off the boat on the way to Freeport?” just doesn’t quite do it for me. But I get the notion, that sense of hyper-reality.

This morning I logged onto Star Trek Online and knew I didn’t have much time to accomplish anything, but I just wanted to be in Star Trek for a few minutes. I brought up the galactic map trying to figure out where I was supposed to go for my next mission, when I realized I could actually visit Deep Space Nine, the location of one of the Star Trek spinoff series. I got chills.

The chance to visit the space station guarding the wormhole to the Gamma quadrant? Where Captain Sisko defended the Alpha Quadrant from the nefarious Dominion? Where Odo questioned his origins only to discover the horrible truth about them?! Where Nog went from young miscreant to the first Ferengi Startfleet Cadet?!?! Whew, I need a moment to compose myself after that nerdgasm.

It’s that feeling that ropes me in. The chance to exist in the intimate familiarity and love that I have for things that have only existed in my imagination or on the TV screen. How can someone resist that? And I wonder if that’s the heart of any hobby or love, being inside it, part of it.

Deep thought for a guy who originally got into these games because $15 for a month of entertainment was a bargain.

 

LoL at League of Legends

Have you ever heard of League of Legends? It’s a game that is entirely multiplayer, 10 players pitted against each other on a handful of maps. The cost, free. The art style, cute and cartoony. The characters, fun and incredibly varied. The community, a crapload of assholes. I used to play League of Legends with some regularity, but I stopped entirely because of the community.

Vitriol? Hatred? Malice? They were born on Summoner’s Rift. Learning the game? Stupid noob. Trying something new? Stupid noob. Made a mistake? Mother effing stupid noob.

To make it worse, I even named my account after my favorite moniker, Cheap Dad. What the hell was I thinking? Flagging the fact that I’m an older gamer in that sea of piranha was probably my crowning noob achievement.

So to wrap up my feelings about the game, fuck it.

But lets get to the reason I wanted to write about it. Recently Penny Arcade did a great strip in reaction to a certain forum post about League of Legends entitled, The Open Letter to Parents of League of Legends Players.

It’s a well written post to be sure. It’s thoughtful, non-confrontational and completely ignorant about being a parent. How can I tell? First off they are instructing, in essence, every god-damned parent of a child who plays the game, how to be a parent.You just don’t do that. Second… ah screw it, lets just just stick with First, shall we?

The heart of the post is, don’t tell your kids to turn off the computer and leave in the middle of a match. It’d be irresponsible, because them leaving in the middle of a match will affect everyone elses imaginary e-peen score (link provided for science).

So, to tell your kids to turn off your computer is wrong. When, oh I don’t know, they’ve been playing too long. Or, it’s time for bed. Or they didn’t ask. Or, ok yeah, I’m not coming up with more reasons. My kids screw up a lot and I don’t have time to write down every scenario.

Here’s responsibility, an example if you will. My son does his chores and gets time on the computer. He got half an hour to play and he chose to play a game whose average match time goes for about 45 minutes. He knew that going in, but he chose a game that lasts substantially longer. So am I teaching him a lesson about responsibility by letting him continue to play, or that it’s ok to be an idiot? I’m going with the latter.

I’m not going to speak about everyone elses home, cuz you know, that might be considered pretentious. But I can tell you that in my house responsibility has nothing to do with digital points. If it did, I’d play League of Legends solely to avoid doing dishes.

But that’d be a noob move, right?

 

Cheap Reasons to Switch to Android

Ever since the iPhone 3G, I was a stalwart iOS fan. I loved the games, the simplicity, the style… pretty much everything about it. When Android first came on the scene, I didn’t really get the big deal. There weren’t many developers, the games just weren’t there and in general it was pretty darn rough around the edges.

Then, iOS 7 happened. I had a 4S at the time and to say it struggled with the new update was something of an understatement. Then 8 came out and my phone begged for mercy because it just couldn’t handle the steep requirements. And what were the requirements you ask? To upgrade to the latest iPhone.

Americans (me being one of them) really have the short end of the stick when it comes to cell carriers. Yeah sure, we can get a new phone for $200 if we’re willing to sign our life away for 2 years, but aside from the digital indentured servitude we also end up paying even more for the device. It’s just spread out over that two year contract. Plus, the biggest cell providers in the states really twist their mustaches when it comes to the iPhone. There’s extra charges just for those specific data plans.

As a man who’s into technology but doesn’t have a ton of money to spend on it, this is an unpleasant situation.

So finally, I decided to make the jump to Android. The platform had years to develop into something that didn’t suck and I was more than ready to give it a shot. There are a lot of draws to moving to Android, probably more than I’m going to talk about here, but I’m going to give you some of the highlights.

 

1) CHEAP BARRIER TO ENTRY

In other words, it doesn’t cost that much if you decide to jump ship because there are some quality options. Right out of the gate I picked up a 2014 Moto G, which cost me under $200, brand new, unlocked, with tax. This is an amazing phone for the price, but I found that when I wanted to customize it (more on that later) it struggled. Still, for someone who wants a stock Android device and doesn’t plan to use many widgets (MORE ON THIS LATER TOO!) or custom launchers, it’s amazing.

This lead me to getting a OnePlus One, which for $350 netted me a device that gives any other flagship device a serious run for the money. I have to admit I got lucky getting this phone. Currently you can only get one with an invitation, and in my first five minutes of hunting for one of these coveted golden tickets I managed to track one down. Most people aren’t that fortunate. Yay me.

2) MORE CARRIER OPTIONS

When you own your device, you’re not bound to the carriers and it allows you to find alternatives. This lead me to Cricket, which uses AT&T’s network but at a much cheaper cost. I went from spending nearly $200 a month with an AT&T family plan to a bit over $100 on Cricket. No brainer.

3) CUSTOMIZATION GALORE

Now full disclosure, I actually owned two Android devices before I got either of these phones, a Nexus 7 (original) and an Xperia Play. The play actually is a phone, but I bought it for the emulators and never used it for its primary role. I mean come on, it has a built in gamepad, how could I not get it?

Lots of people extol Android for the ability to root their devices. This gives all sorts of customization options that mere mortals envy with jealous hearts, but it also makes Android appear to be inaccessible to the common man. I attempted rooting the Nexus 7 and failed, and I successfully rooted my Xperia Play with a LOT of trial and error. My come-away from the experience? Way too friggin’ complicated for people to use rooting as a reason to switch.

My mom will never leave her iPhone for the promise of an unlocked bootloader.

But then, I started doing some research and I found out that there are a TON of other options for customizing Android. One of the biggest changes you can make is installing a custom Launcher. These can let you customize your phone to a staggering degree, allowing you to add custom gestures, new animations, custom themes… there’s nearly no limit to what can be done.

Then there’s widgets, which let you put tiny little programs onto your phone’s desktop. I myself have my Evernote todo list on my second screen. One swipe to the left and I can add a new note or check off something on my list, all without having to start the app.

There’s far more options than that, from being able to make a control panel that lets you toggle off wifi or bluetooth, to being able to glance at the weather or time, to seeing what’s trending on twitter.

Most importantly? Nearly all of these are independent on what version of Android your phone is running. That means that even if you have an older device, one that didn’t cost that much, all these wonderful toys are available to you.

~~~

These three reasons are the basis for my love of the Android platform. It’s not perfect, but the freedom Android has given me, and my wallet, make me a happy Cheap Dad.