Monday, December 6, 2010

Nuzlocke - LeafGreen #1

Pokemon is ordinarily a children's game wherein the player collects and battles creatures know as Pocket Monsters, or Pokemon for short. However, when the player's ability has been tempered by years of experience, there is another challenge: the Nuzlocke Challenge. The rules here are:
  • Any Pokemon that faints is dead.
  • You are only allowed one chance to capture a Pokemon in a single area. If that Pokemon flees or faints, you cannot try again in that area.
  • If all of your Pokemon die, you die, and the game ends.
And so I, Pokemon Trainer Mark, set out from Pallet Town in Pokemon LeafGreen, a remake of the first set of titles released on the Game Boy. I've chosen Charmander because the number of fire types are extremely scarce and the number of grass and water ty
pes are high, so I'm making it just a little bit easier on myself. I've also nicknamed h
im Jeff, after Joel McHale's character on Community.

Anyway, my asshole rival, Ryan, chose Squirtle. Of course he/she would, because he/she's an asshole who would pick Charmander's weakness. But whatever, Jeff tore the thing a new blowhole. Now to begin my adventure! ...after some chores.

Now that those were over, I could catch my first Pokemon! And... it's a Pidgey! And after coming quite close to screwing this up, I've got her! I will call her Britta, and she and my Charmander will hatefuck until getting over their damn selves and becoming close friends while they attend community college.

These two are soon (after nearly losing Britta while trying to level her up...)
joined by a Mankey, who strikes me as a Shirley. It only strikes me now that I can only have six Pokemon with me at a time, which makes me consider which characters I dislike most. I don't like thinking about it.

Soon following that was a Rattata, Joey, for obvious reasons. For less obvious reasons, Ryan shows up. For obvious reasons, I win. For even further obvious reasons, I laugh in his face, go catch a Weedle named Toxie in the forest, and dream about throwing the bug like a lawn dart at him/her. What an annoying asshole.

I emerged from Viridian Forest, ready to conquer the first Gym Leader, Brock Obama. He's a user of rock Pokemon, probably because only they can come close to resembling his rock-hard abs. Ripping off his shirt, he exposed his six-pack to the dimly lit gym r
oom, which still produced just enough light to shine brightly into my eyes. They also shone into his eyes, forcing his eyes closed, hidden away from the brilliance of his own washboard abs. I myself caught a short glimpse, but I was blinded for several seconds. When I came to, there was a man. A man with no legs. A man with two arms. A man with two arms coming out of the sides of his head. That man... was a dude. He drove a 1995 Geo. He was the Geo dude. And he was angry. He foamed at the mouth, but so brittle was he that the froth eroded his jaw. The Geo dude howled in pain that shook the mountains, but because he no longer had a jaw, it came out more like "myuhhhhhhhh." It seemed only polite for Shirley to kick him low, right where his rockbuttchin would have been. Crumbling to pieces, the Geo dude thanked us for our kindness.

Brock Obama fumed. His designated driver had been destroyed. He had but one ally left, and it was the writhing stone serpent Onix. Made out 57 individual stones, the serpent was massive, but too massive. A sly kick from Shirley, however, broke this magical chain of crag even swifter than The Dude had fallen. Barock the Rock collapsed, his magical abdominals too weak to save him from my power and comrades, the members of Greendale Community College and a few stupid animals, one of which was encased in a shell, soon to metamorphosize into a new, beautiful creature. Then there was Toxie the Kakuna, the big yellow bug. But we were tight, and that is why we won against B-Rock. As I pinned the victory badge to my lapel, I knew that we were bound for greatness. Not all of my friends would be, of course. They had terrible stats and movesets and they knew it. But the others... yes. They were bound to become legends.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Animal Celebration

There is a dog eatin' a piece of cake.
There is a cat lickin' an abalone steak.
Horse found a fruit medley for him to take,
and a nice cheese omelette is there for snake.

Come all, and be witnesses and partake
in this animal celebration for heaven's sake!
It's Sara's birthday, 22 years, I think, give or take!
But listen to the animals, they caution this mistake:
Don't eat too much, or you'll get a stomach ache!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Size Matters

I seem to be noticing size – specifically differences in it – a lot lately. So and so is getting fatter. This person is getting shorter. A tall person's height is permanently felt and the difference between him and a shorter person has this powerful significance, like all of a star's mass blasting outwards from a supernova.

It's to the point where I'm noticing this rift between others and myself in the most tangible fashion, like how two magnetic objects tremble when next to each other. But this trembling speaks to some larger idea within me, which ends up producing my own trembling (which I hope isn't visible).

Though this is not to say this happens to me and only me; obviously, physical presence makes a difference: you expect certain personalities from certain kinds of builds, shapes, and sizes. But what I mean to say is that these tremblings occur not just because I stand six-foot-two and I'm dating a girl at five-foot-five. The tremblings instead usually arise from something that stands out, attracting me towards a new direction I hadn't seen before for one reason or another.

It's hard to go into specifics when so many people will read this and immediately know what I'm talking about. But what I can say is that these differences aren't obvious: the height difference doesn't mean that I'm a giant pillar of stability or that the shorter person is looking up to me or is an underdog of sorts. That would be stereotypical and, well, boring and not worth writing about at all.

Furthermore, it speaks to how different this year is for me. I'm a senior. 21 years old. Practically an adult. I noticed how foreign my face looks to me. Anyone on Facebook can attest to that change, but it's especially scary when you fear maturity, because with maturity comes aging, responsibility, bill payments, and dying. Sarah Vowell once recalled realizing that, while for the first time in her life preparing the family Thanksgiving meal, that that was it – she was going to die.

And it does feel like I'm on the precipice of some major dip in my optimism. Things are changing. Friends have graduated or just left school, the exes I loved but were rejected by now all have boyfriends, and somehow, I have a girlfriend. I feel like I'm living a memory from twenty years in the future. It doesn't help that I look at people and wonder how stupid we'll think we dressed back at the turn of the millenium.

But I've experienced change before. What's really striking, though, is the feeling I get from things. The school is under heavy construction. Everything will be gone in a few years, and it'll all be replaced by eerie doppelganger buildings, instead. Turn around, and a building with the same exact design from the same exact architect's catalogue will be right there, staring at you with its big, round glass eyes staring blankly at you. It wants to frighten you, as if you've landed on a movie set, but you just feel emptiness, like nothing's changed, nothing is changing, and nothing will ever change. And you might ask yourself, "Well... how did I get here?"

Rare, then, is it to actually feel something within your gut tell you that things are changing, and that things are different now, and will forever be different in the future. Though while everything is changing for me, this change is really something that has happened to countless people before in every time period, in every country, in every town, in every home, and it is happening to countless people, and forever will it happen – though in a slightly different manner to each of us – for the rest of time.

How weird it is, then, to physically feel a change that isn't changing, to feel myself be forced into one direction while others reposition themselves in the universe. To truly feel that someone is becoming bigger, not just physically but in his or her relation to me personally. To feel weak in the stomach, like I'm yearning for something to be different, when I have no control over it at all. Yeah, size does matter.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Twitter Novels

About a month ago, Richmond's alt-weekly, Style Weekly, asked readers to submit novels that were the length of a Twitter message – 140 characters or less – and published three of them in last week's issue, which can be read online here. My first story (which was published) was this:

His sweaty palms slid his last token into the machine and he pulled the lever. On the 2nd reel, he blanched. By the 3rd, he bled.

Here are the ones that didn't make the cut:

"Mom," shouted Timmy, "there's a ghost in my closet!" His mother opened the door and narrowed her eyes. "You're adopted."

"Let's go on an adventure," beamed the teen. "But we live in the West End and have no money," the other said. They silently wept.

"We hope LA doesn't change you, Conan," they all said. What they all secretly hoped, though, is that LA would change Andy Richter.

Man wants promotion, makes dubious claim to boss and invites him to his home for dinner. In covering up his lie, hilarity ensues.

He pressed return. "My God... I've done it! I've done it! I've made Twitter useful!"

Each candy wrapper has the chance for Charlie to win a tour of the chocolate factory. He unwraps it. It reads, "Sorry, try again."

And, after writing these, I summed up writing a Twitter novel thusly:
The key to writing a Twitter novel: crush your character's dreams before they can even arise.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What I wrote after I finished part one of Gogol's Dead Souls

First and foremost: is this translation right for you? I read somewhere that Garnett is comparable to eating a healthy salad while Pevear and Volokhonsky are akin to a spicy dish. And that's exactly what you'll get here: more subtle humor in a very tidy package.

At any rate, Dead Souls is different from most anything most immediately because Gogol uses it as an opportunity to teach the reader how to look beyond the text and between the lines to discover why things are in the book and how they relate to the story - he compares one man's living room accents to the man himself, for example. For long stretches, he maintains a healthy dialogue that is never boring, condescending, or excessive.

It's also through this method that Gogol pushes the reader to realize that good characters can't be merely honorable and without blemishes, because such people are boring and, furthermore, nonexistent. The story's "hero," Chichikov, is hardly introduced at the beginning and is therefore easily comparable to a sleazy businessman with some clever plot to become rich and famous. It's not until the final chapter of Book One (the only one that Gogol truly finished) that we really get any background on him, which is when we learn how he got to his desperate situation and we realize that, while he is truly a "bad guy," his motives aren't entirely selfish, that he is desperately trying to build an estate to bequeath to his future progeny. And it's this kind of mixture that Gogol spreads across the town of N.: characters that probably don't exist in real life, but highlight some positive and negative aspects of contemporary Russian society.

And that leads to the last important aspect of Dead Souls: Gogol's sometimes-strained love for Russia. These characters show problems in Russian society, but he explains that most of these are universal (at least amongst the Russian person). Gogol's main argument is against the ever-present theme of contemporary Russian literature: the battle between East and West Europe. In short, we see the influence of an outsider (Chichikov) and that of the countries themselves, especially the infiltration of French culture in Russia's aristocracy.

But what is most remarkable is how Gogol pushes the reader to realize all these things while maintaining the levity and complexity of his short stories (though nowhere near as outlandish as "The Nose"). It's a bit sad that Gogol destroyed much of what he had composed for Book Two, but what is there is undoubtedly a classic.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Transformers: The Hypermasculine World of Michael Bay

Do not see the new "Transformers" film. Even if you're a fan. Even on the surface, the movie trods along for over two hours as the good robots (Autobots) try to keep the bad robots (Decepticons) from blowing up the sun to gain its energy or something like that. There are so many characters that are so forgettable, so extraneous, that you forget entire sections of the movie by the time the credits roll. I will give Michael Bay this, though: there wasn't a scene that I felt had no place in the film and things ended very quickly once the evil sun explosion plot was resolved.

But what is most immediate and most striking about the film is its total disregard for both female intelligence and other races. There is only one positive character for each, and both are either reduced to a single line or a parade of action movie standards. The black soldier even dons a do-rag when the army makes a mostly useless stand in Egypt. Why Egypt? I can only assume that Michael Bay enjoys his conspiracy theories, as evidenced by the college "nerds" (only one qualifies as a nerd, the others are certifiably nuts) who, on the first day of classes, are running a conspiracy website about the Transformers and by the fact that the machine used to blow up the sun is buried underneath a pyramid. Yes, the Egyptians literally built on top of a giant metallic weapon.

The stupidity doesn't end there. Bay detractors typically point out that he loves his explosions, and the film is no exception. Everything explodes, shoots off fireworks, and flashes past the camera, which is constantly moving. Need to make a car moving at 25 miles per hour look like it's going fast? Shake it! Are your main characters in love? Swirl around them! Unfortunately, when this happens, Bay keeps the camera moving around and around, sending me into an experience topping the worst roller coaster. Bay also think that a fight scene can consisted of a bunch of brain metal twisting around the shot he got when he threw a camera into the air.

The weirdest part about the camera work is the obviously spliced footage from low-quality cameras and shots that could probably come from army promotional material. It's as if Bay said, "Well, hey, I'd like to have a shot of somebody skydiving. I also wanna see some airplanes and tanks!" It also bothered me that they had shots of faces close to computer screens that reflected a different color than what they displayed.

Speaking of color, let's return to the obvious racism in the film. There are two twin robots that transform into Chevy smart cars (red and lime green) who play no real role in the plot beyond a distraction for the giant robot made of 20-some vehicles (and even then, that's only the red one). But when in robot form, they have bug eyes, long ears, and – and this is the worst part – one gold tooth each. They talk like they are right out of the ghetto, bizzatch, and boy, aren't they a wild and crazy bunch! Only good for goofing around and providing a cheap laugh, like this gem: when Shia LeBeouf asks them if they can translate the ancient robot language, the red one comments that he "don't do much readin'." Oh yeah, he's named Mudflap, too. Stay classy, Michael.

Females fair little better. The first woman we meet, Shia's mother, is a slave to her emotions, though there wasn't much of a brain to override in the first place. She's reduced to a babbling child when, as Shia moves out for college, she finds his baby shoes. At college, she buys pot brownies because they were sold as "100% green" (haha, silly environmentalists) and eats it in defiance of her "restrictive" husband. After dropping him off, they vacation in Paris, where the dad drinks a Budweiser and mom gets the escargot, which, of course, is disgusting. Other countries, by the way, are completely ignored. France is demolished, no other country could possibly help the US army fight the Decepticons, and all Egyptians are either goat farmers or evil midgets with an affinity for family members and friends. Haha, he's short and angry!

Anyway, back to the women, who are just as stereotyped as the Arabs and the blacks and the girly Presidential advisor (more on him in a second). If you must watch, notice how every single female (except the soldier who relays an IMPORTANT PIECE OF DATA for about two seconds!) is supermodel material and have no actual lines. Leo, the "hot but crazy roommate," even has set up a system where he'll have sex with 55 girls before the year's out.

Shia's girlfriend fairs little better as she clearly symbolizes the hottest girl that Bay could possibly think of. She's a mechanic, but stunningly hot, unlike all those other female mechanics. She wears short shorts, a low-cut shirt, and her hair down. She's got power, but she's also a mother (as evidenced by the Decepticon "pet"), and is willing to relinquish that power when a strong man is around. She tries to break up with him, but Shia's persistance keeps her tethered to him! When the pair are running, Shia is of course pulling her by the arm in every single scene. What she really wants, though, is for him to tell her that he loves her. Oh women, always trying to goad men into commitment!

Speaking of women, guess which man is portrayed as womanly? You guessed it, it's the aide to the President (Bay had the balls to mention Obama!), who is SHORTSIGHTED enough to PULL OUT OF THE CONFLICT which would ultimately lead to the sun blowing up or whatever the Decepticons were trying to do. Hoho, subtlety! I award thee a plaque, Michael Bay! He drives the point further home when he places the aide (for some reason) on an army plane over Egypt as they attempt to place Optimus Prime on the ground. When called to action, the aide doesn't know how to use the parachute and desperately seeks the help of the army general. Rather than assigning a man to parachute with him, the general tricks the aide into opening his chute on the plane. Hoho, silly aide! Even worse for him is that he is in a FOREIGN PLACE where all his smart-aleck knowledge can't help him because he can't communicate with these Arabs!

I also have one final question, beyond all the racism, misogyny, and ball jokes aside ("Hey, let's have the camera focus on two wrecking balls – HEH, GET IT? BALLS! – for five seconds!"): if Starscream emitted an EMP that wrecked the army's radio signals, then how do the robots still function?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sarsaparilla Alphabet #11


I used to abhor jeans. They're stiff, itchy, and blue. Who the hell wears blue pants? Instead, I preferred the khaki jeans family whenever the weather called for them. Sure, it's not as bad as a jean shorts phase, but it was weird all the same. I didn't come around to them until one or two years ago, mostly because I had gained the Freshman Negative Fifteen and a lot of the clothes I had brought with me to college no longer fit. Somehow, the pair of jeans that I had brought "just in case" were suddenly an option.

What was worse was coming home to a closet packed with shirts that were a size too large. Some of them hadn't even been worn; there were others that I wish I could put in that same category. At some point, I had seriously considered wearing a red Hawaiian shirt with a neon teal floral pattern. Another shirt stated that, now that the room was in complete disorder, I had done my job. Wow Kohl's, your selection of shirts really speak to the kind of person I am!

To my credit, I didn't start growing until 10th grade and I didn't care what I looked like for at least another year. Sure, I was a huge dork, but I didn't really care. I went to the information technology center at my high school at my high school, went home, and spent the rest of the day trying to dissociate myself from there. A lot of people consider high school to be the playground for real-life social functionality. For me, it was 8 hours of Chinese water torture. The therapy for that, apparently, is a healthy dose of video games.

To say I'm ashamed of my teenage years is to say eating a pufferfish might upset your tummy. At one point, I figured that I had read all of the books that were worth reading, after I spent my middle school years devouring the formulaic Redwall series and every Calvin and Hobbes collection the library had. The light at the end of the tunnel didn't show until I somehow ran across Kurt Vonnegut and began to branch out musically past They Might Be Giants.

What happened – especially around sophomore year of college – felt like a fog was being lifted, like I was actually able to realize what I was doing and what that meant to myself and others. In that sense, my life resembles that of a robot who learns how to express emotions despite not having them programmed into its hardware. It was almost as if my life were a movie, but instead of acting, I was watching. In terms of Myers-Briggs personality types, it was as if I was a pure Feeler, governed completely by my heart.

The worst example of this was when I played football with a few of my neighbors and I'd run back to my house in the middle of the game to quench my thirst – quite literally – with a Sprite. No, not water, because Sprite tastes good. Oddly enough, being hot and sweaty ruins it. Anyway, when I had finished chugging the thing, I'd wander back out and finish playing rather poorly. At least there were grass stains on my khakis.