RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: September 2013

The First Month at University

The First Month at University

My psychiatry 101 teacher would appreciate the analogy: I feel like I’m stepping into the world without any clothes on. I started my second college go-round at the beginning of this month, and it looks like I’ve survived for now. Still though, its definitely been a very odd adjustment. My body – which is ordinarily one of those perfect wake-up bodies – has been violently rejecting the 5 AM wake-up times on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so I often find just the right amount of time for a little bit more shut eye on the bus and subway. My textbooks have been slow in the coming and inexcusably expensive. I’ve lost a little bit of step in my normal exercise routines because the University of Buffalo has its own definition of exercise, which is called “Traversing Campus from One Side to the Other.” I’ve been accosted by more Christians than I can wave a copy Percy Shelley’s The Necessity of Atheism at.

In the meantime, my body and brain are both giving me the constant message: Hey, you wanted this, big boy, you’ve fucking got it! Welcome to late teenage hell in a 32-year-old body. Welcome to big league university life.

I like to believe I wasn’t walking into this unprepared. After all, I have a college degree already. That was from a community college, though, and as I stepped up to my first day at UB, I wondered how much different this could possibly be. I believe the popular expression is famous last words. As I stumbled into my first-ever chemistry class, my first reaction was to gape at the massive size of the stadium-seating theater which was going to be doubling as my classroom for some reason. My first thought was dear god, how the hell is anyone able to ask questions in here? As I listened to lecture, it became clear that I wasn’t supposed to ask anything; my duty in chemistry was to sit down, shut up, and write until my wrist snapped off again. My first psychiatry class, I entered through the front of the room completely by accident and stood there blinded like a deer in a headlight, carefully scanning for any open seats. The professor spotted me and told me to just get in the room and sit somewhere. I quickly ran up the stairs, and learned there were more people than seats in the room when I saw at least a dozen other students sitting in the aisle at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t my shining moment, but I put it behind me. The professor apologized for putting me on the spot when I spoke to her after class, and psychiatry 101 actually went on to be my favorite class.

My nutrition class also takes place in a lecture hall, but at least it’s a lecture hall small enough for the professor to hear me if I try to ask a question. Only my math class takes place in a real classroom.

It’s not that I’m not enjoying my classes. Actually, I like all of them. (Even math!) But I wasn’t prepared to deal with the change in college size on a scale like this. The lecture halls at ECC were made to hold only about 150 people, in contrast to the nearly 500 people I share chemistry and psychiatry with. The lecture halls at ECC also managed to be a bit more intimate, and it wasn’t unusual for the professors there to engage in active, back and forth dialogues with the students.

Of course, that could also be because of the subject material I decided to shoulder this time. My degree from ECC is in Communication and Media Arts. Now, I did well at ECC, but that major wasn’t a great challenge to a brainpan which everyone realizes is capable of doing a lot more. Communications dealt with a lot of abstract ideas; basically, stuff which students could – and were in fact encouraged to – endlessly bicker over. Philosophies were on my plate, and I learned about a whole slew of literary genres as electives. Exercise Science, my major at UB, deals with hard data and stuff which is established fact about the human body. After all of a month of classes, well, I can say I’m a little overwhelmed by how impressive these weird vessels we’re stuck living in really are.

Also overwhelming is getting the sense of just how much I’ve changed along the road. I actually want to learn math now. Yes, getting it down is difficult, but damn if you don’t feel like a god once you master it. I know I have a circuit somewhere in my head’s machine which is fully capable of learning it rather easily if the teacher presses the right buttons. Its happened before. When I went to summer school for ninth grade algebra, my teacher found it, and I passed her course with a final grade in the high 80’s. My favorite math teacher ever was in ECC. She hit every right note, and I liked her class so much that I was an active participant in it, regularly trying to give out answers. Every time I missed something, it was always on the tip of the tongue.

Furthermore, who are all these weird creatures who are going to school with me? Did I land on a different planet? Was I sucked through some kind of interdimensional warp? My age and life experiences are causing a rather askew viewpoint, and I’m constantly surprised at the generational gaps. One day, as I sat on the shuttle to North Campus, the radio station was playing the old hit “Freak Like Me” by Adina Howard. I looked around the bus, and realized that if the others there were even alive when that song was being played out, they certainly weren’t old enough to remember it. A couple of weeks later, my psychiatry teacher brought up the Leftorium episode of The Simpsons, and I thought it odd that she had to reference that it was “a show called The Simpsons.” 20 years, ago, it was merely The Simpsons; no qualifier was necessary, because everyone would have known what it was. I like to joke frequently about how I’m old enough to remember when The Simpsons was good, but now it was a little scary to realize that the show – and not just the show, but the very episode she was referring to, which I caught the first time it ever aired – was older than the other students. In the latest class, she made a reference to 9/11 in talking about flashpoint memory and had to ask if the class remembered it.

This is going to be a huge learning experience in every possible way.

Buildings in Buffalo that Look Like they Could be Found in Star Wars

Buildings in Buffalo that Look Like they Could be Found in Star Wars

Listening to any architecture expert yakking incessantly about the marvels of architecture in the city of Buffalo, New York, one can almost hear the voice of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother: “Fun fact! Did you know Buffalo is one of only two cities in the United States to feature architecture from Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, HH Richardson, and Frederick Law Olmsted? The only other American city with that combination is Chicago!” And, ’tis true. Very few other cities can boast the kinds of architectural heritage contained within the Buffalo city limits.

If you were to drive down the thruway above downtown Buffalo taking the occasional cursory glance over to see what you’re missing, your primary reflex would be a look of awe. Unfortunately, it’s not a good kind of awe. The later buildings of Buffalo have a way of standing well above the good architecture, and those later buildings seem to have all been built at a time when Buffalo city planners were obsessed with the 50’s and 60’s version of what the future would look like. The result is a series of prominent monstrosities whose presence gives Buffalo one hell of a butt-ugly skyline. Some of the buildings look like they can be spotted as set decoration in the background of the Star Wars movies. Now, I’m one of the biggest Star Wars fans you’ll ever meet. Star Wars is famous, beloved, and popular for many reasons, but its displays of futuristic buildings is definitely not one of them.

Main Place Mall
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if you were to take the Death Star, crush it into a rectangular shape, and plop it right down into the middle of downtown Buffalo, you would be wasting your time, because it looks very much as if someone has already done so. The Death Star analogy is appropriate because of what was ripped up in order to make room for Main Place Mall: Several blocks of handsome Victorian buildings as well as the stunning Erie County Savings Bank. It was one of many projects done in the name of urban renewal in 1969, in a misguided attempt to bring people back to shop downtown instead of in the suburban strip malls. Now instead of a powerful testament to the city’s heritage, there’s just a hulking, black, horizontal slab. The most depressing aspect of it, though, is not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside: Pretty much nothing. Main Place Mall may be the most useless shopping mall you’ve ever seen. There are two floors. The first floor has a decent pizzeria and good coffee shop, but mostly there’s a Key Bank, a dollar store, an optometrist, a newsstand…. And that’s literally about it, them and a few others. The second floor has nothing but a food court for the people who work downtown. There’s literally more space in Main Place Mall for rent than there is being rented.

Main Place Tower
This is part of Main Place Mall. Take the description above and make it vertical, and you’ve got it. I can’t be the only one who thinks the city is missing out on a golden tourist opportunity by not renaming this building the Galactic Empire Stock Exchange Building.

Buffalo Convention Center
The Convention Center is a remainder of the Brutalist style of architecture, which flourished from the 50’s to the 70’s. One of the identifying marks of the Brutalist style is the look of a concrete prison. From the outside, the Buffalo Convention Center looks like a Rebel Alliance base on a lucid world like Yavin or Endor. In fact, it’s easy to look at the Convention Center and see it standing in for the brief shot of the Alliance base on Yavin in Episode IV, and it’s even easier to picture the Millennium Falcon launching from it. A former indie rag in Buffalo, the Buffalo Beast, actually made a list about the worst things in downtown Buffalo. It named the convention center and transfixed a photoshopped picture with the Falcon in front of the Convention Center, going on to accuse it of choking off the roads to other streets. It raised the question, at least to me, of just how much damage it could actually do, since it’s basically right across the street from Main Place Mall.

Buffalo City Court Building
Wait a minute, are you sure this is a courthouse and not the actual prison? That’s exactly what it looks like. It’s another example of Brutalist architecture, and it was built with minimal windows, so for the better because judges might want to look out the windows instead of doing their jobs. Seriously, that’s the reasoning that came into play while building this thing. I know the Empire usually likes to avoid the mess of prisons and dispose of people by shipping them off to the mines of Kessel, but this place would make a fine prison, or a great Sith Palace, or a small cottage befitting of the Hutt clan.

One HSBC Center
This one might be stretching the Star Wars theme a little bit, but anyone who has ever seen this place knows that if the Yavin Temple ever needed a parking garage, this sucker is it. The tallest and most prominent building on the Buffalo skyline is easily the city’s biggest architectural blight, and a mistake of such epic proportions that the skyline would become about 40 percent prettier upon its razing. In the Star Wars universe, it could also possibly be used as a good slum building on Coruscant. Being as how the One HSBC Center is the butt-ugliest building on Earth, maybe we could also count the fact that, when I’m crowned Galactic Emperor, my first act will be to have this thing demolished by statement – a nice hailstorm from TIE Fighters, providing, of course, that the tower isn’t actually capable of withstanding a full fighter assault. From the looks of the place, that’s entirely possible.

One M&T Plaza
This building doesn’t fit in with the classic Buffalo motif, but then again, neither do any of the other buildings on this list. One M&T Plaza, though, actually doesn’t look bad. It was the brainchild of architect Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the original World Trade Towers. The design similarities include the long, slender windows and the way the building is handsomely capped off on the top. It will be a fitting place to start if the Empire ever expands to the point which requires the inevitable Earth Empire College to open a Buffalo chapter.

Buffalo and Erie County Public Library
It’s not in my nature to decry libraries, but the Central Branch looks like the architect was trying to mock up a nice fortress designed for the Imperials before deciding to redesign the ends to show support for the Rebels.

Manning vs. Brady: The Ultimate Battle!

Manning vs. Brady: The Ultimate Battle!

Words like greatness and champion tend to conjure images of our greatest athletes soaring above and beyond the limits of our imaginations. Imaginations which you’ll have to use for the purposes of this article, because being saccharine when it comes to professional sports has never been a great specialty of mine.

So anyway, the battle lines have long been drawn in the NFL fandom. You’re either a Peyton Manning man or a Tom Brady man; one of these two is going to go down in history as the greatest quarterback of all time, and the other is going to be remembered as 1a. It’s the closest thing the NFL has to a good against evil rivalry right now, although the roles have managed to invert themselves: The gifted, strong-armed man who was the son of a quarterback and the brother of another quarterback and was raised almost purely to epitomize everything a proper pocket passer should be is the good guy in this case, while the scrappy underdog who was inconspicuously raised in California, had to prove himself at the University of Michigan, was drafted in the fifth round, and whose big break was one of Drew Bledsoe’s bones is considered the bad guy. While so-called analysts were debating stat and MVP King Manning against Super Bowl Champion Brady for years, both Rob and I were devoted Manning men. Then something funny happened: Brady started putting up video game numbers himself, and the debate between Manning and Brady was suddenly a real debate. Rob stuck with Manning through and through, but I began questioning who was the true superior of the two. Lately, it seems like everything between them has been a one-upsmanship contest which the rest of the NFL just got stuck in. Just when I think Brady proved himself the inarguable superior by throwing for over 500 yards in a single game, Manning will heave seven touchdown passes in a single game. Forget the hype; the NFL is a battlefield between Manning and Brady, and every other team is just caught in the middle. So who is actually better? Well, it’s time to throw my own five cents into this bloodletting. So let’s do this! Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. One day, I’ll learn.

Coaching
Peyton Manning played for a bunch of coaches – Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, and Jim Caldwell with the Indianapolis Colts. Upon his move to the Denver Broncos, Manning switched to coach John Fox. Non-fans might not notice this at first glance, but that’s not a particularly impressive spate of coaches. Dungy is the only coach of that bunch who could give fans any bragging rights – he’s the team’s all-time winningest coach, at least in Indy – and even he struggled to fix a defense which constantly played like a screen door on a submarine. So it was left on Manning’s head to lead all of those coaches to 13-win years at one point or another. Consider that: Four different head coaches, four new systems to learn, and one of them came with a move to a city where there’s no atmosphere and athletes have to be told to remember to breathe. Tom Brady has had only one single coach throughout the entirety of his NFL career. Not just any coach either, but Darth freaking Vader…. I mean, Bill freaking Belichick, a man who specialized in defense when he began his tenure with the New England Patriots and, when his guys got old, pulled a switcheroo and morphed into Air Belichick. That’s not only stability, it’s stability with a coach who can teach you rocket science.
Edge
Peyton Manning. For everything we know about what a natural athlete he is, Peyton Manning clearly put in extra credit to learn every new system thrown at him. He’s done that so often that any discussion over the league MVP revolves around who will be second to Manning. Tom Brady knows only his one guy. I’d like to see how he does without a wizard calling his shots before coming back to review this decision.

Beginning Situation
Quarterback is a difficult position to really get ahold of in the NFL. It’s why so few teams come up with even one serviceable QB they can safely call their franchise guy, so it’s safe to factor in just what they did when they were first thrown to the wolves. Manning won all of three games in his rookie season with the Colts. In his first real season as a starter, Brady didn’t do very much better. He only took the New England Patriots to, uh, their first ever Super Bowl victory. However, what should be be remembered here is that Tom Brady was drafted in 2000 and spent his first season sitting on his ass watching and learning from Drew Bledsoe, a 40,000-yard clubber himself who took the Patriots to a nigh-unwinnable Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers a few years earlier. In practices, he was learning the system of Bill Belichick. What does it all mean? That by the time Tom Brady won his promotion, he knew all the ropes, an advantage Peyton Manning didn’t have. I won’t factor in what Manning did during his first year in Denver, because by the time he got there, the Broncos were such an awesome team that Tim Tebow was able to get them into the playoffs.
Edge
Peyton Manning. Tom Brady never had to deal with a team that was a disorganized mess even before Marshall Faulk left.

Clutch Reputations
Peyton Manning has 38 fourth-quarter comebacks. Tom Brady has 27. Now, this can easily be nullified by pointing out the fact that if the quarterbacks are any good, they don’t find themselves playing from behind very often, and with Brady there’s certainly a case in that. Brady’s top year for comebacks was seven in 2003, when the Patriots weren’t leaking like drunks on defense. He seems to be playing from behind less and less. Manning has more comebacks to his name despite his reputation as a choker, and three times in his career he managed to lead his team to seven comebacks in a single season. Blame his defense. The dirty little secret of the New England Patriots is that, in spite of his fearless leader reputation, Tom Brady’s props as the clutch man in the Super Bowl are overblown. He’s played in the Big Game five times. The first two times, he merely brought his team to ties. In both final drives – which cemented his reputation, I might add – he wasn’t imitating Joe Montana or Eli Manning. All he did was lead the Patriots down the field, into…. Field goal position! Where his uber-clutch kicker broke tie games in the closing seconds! Kind of removes the sense of urgency, doesn’t it? In the third Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles had a real shot at winning. Brady had no control over the end drives, but reeled in the Lombardi Trophy anyway because Philly’s coach couldn’t remember the time. Fourth Super Bowl against the New York Giants? That was a big one. Truly down by three points, Brady really needed a touchdown. There was a real sense of urgency because even if the Patriots kicked a field goal, that meant time would run out and the Giants would get another shot in overtime. And Tom Terrific couldn’t even get his team into field goal range. In his fifth Super Bowl, again against the Giants, Brady led the Pats on the final drive again, and this time his team was down by four so no touchdown, no ring, game, set, and match. Not only did Brady blow it, he didn’t even get within a reach of the endzone which was safe enough for New England to try anything other than a hail mary. I’m taking pleasure in Brady-bashing because while no one points this out, everyone loves to mock Manning’s one big comeback failure in the Super Bowl: The interception to Tracy Porter against the New Orleans Saints.
Edge
Take your chance. On the one hand, Peyton Manning comes back more often, but he’s more prone to mistakes. On the other, there’s Tom Brady, who looks lost when he’s truly behind in the Super Bowl under assault because he isn’t used to having to come back, but at least he doesn’t throw game-sealing interceptions.

Playing Style
Neither of these guys can be called a bad runner, but they’re both traditional pocket passers, which makes both of them relics in the new, mobile NFL. Of course, that doesn’t mean a whole lot because even in their career twilights, both are still capable of killing you. They just have different ways of going about it. Manning has always been more of a big play quarterback. Watching him, one gets the sense that he’s going for broke on each and every pass he throws. It’s high risk, high reward for Manning, a man who never heard of such a thing as game management until late in his career. He is a regular scrimmage line maestro who frequently calls his own plays and changes them at will if his gut is telling him the other defense is going to pull something. Tom Brady clearly knew the concept of game management from the moment he took over the starting job from Bledsoe in New England. Hell, it’s the reason he’s been so successful. Brady is more willing to spread the ball out, change receivers, and throw short-yardage passes for small gains to hack away at a defense if his team is on the ropes. It’s not the most exciting way to get the job done, but it works, and the risks aren’t as great. This shows in the interception numbers for both players – Manning has thrown considerably more career interceptions (209 to Brady’s 123) and his single-season interception high of 28 is twice that of Brady’s 14.
Edge
Tom Brady. If I have to protect a small lead, I need to know the ball is going to actually be safe.

Personnel
The common perception is that Peyton Manning lifted the NFL version of The Mighty Ducks while Tom Brady coasted by on the cream of the crop. When it comes to defense, Manning has always been shafted, while Brady only started getting screwed over around 2006. Manning had the career entirety of receiver Marvin Harrison for the bulk of both their careers, and Harrison is a guy who ranks in the Jerry Rice suites in several receiving categories, including career receptions – he’s one of only four to reel in 1000 balls, and he ranks first in average receptions per season. Manning also enjoyed the sustained ground support of Edgerrin James for an enormous chunk of time, and James was no half-ass runner – he holds five career rushing records for the Colts. Over his career, Manning also got the considerable services of other Pro Bowlers like center Jeff Saturday, wide receiver Reggie Wayne lining up opposite Harrison, running back Joseph Addai, and tight end Ken Dilger. Now, do you know who Antowain Smith is? He was the running back for the Patriots in New England’s first two Super Bowl victories, and a reject from the Buffalo Bills who really didn’t have much to offer beyond his willingness to take a few hits. It’s true that like Manning, Tom Brady enjoyed the protection of an all-world offensive line, an all-time great receiver (Randy Moss) and an all-time great running back (Corey Dillon). However, Moss and Dillon came years apart and played for the Patriots for less than three years! Dillon retired soon after helping the Patriots to their third Super Bowl, and Moss was shipped. New England is infamously unsentimental when it comes to keeping its guys, and Brady has had to get used to seeing his running backs and receivers get knocked down the depth chart and ditched entirely. Receiver Troy Brown had a Pro Bowl in an otherwise inconspicuous career, and he needed Brady to get it. Deion Branch was a Super Bowl MVP, an honor which probably topped his otherwise ordinary career. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski are the closest things Brady ever had to favorite targets, but Welker is catching Peyton’s bombs in Denver now, and Gronk hasn’t been around for very long yet. Of course, the reverse arguments came when both players were injured; when Brady went down for the 2008 season, Matt Cassel won eleven games in his absence. When Manning was hurt in 2011, the Colts won two games.
Edge
Tom Brady. Manning has had the kind of stability with his players that Brady has had only with his coach. Yes, Manning-less Indianapolis won just two games, but that wasn’t a particularly good personnel year for them from any standpoint. You couldn’t say that about the 2008 Patriots.

Opposition
Yeah, I know, what the hell kind of a category is this? It isn’t like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are facing the 1983 quarterback draft class twice every season. Brady plies his trade in the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets. During his career, the Jets have had a few nice runs, but they didn’t come off as a wake-up call to the Patriots even at their best. The Bills and Dolphins have been in some of the weirdest messes in league history – Buffalo’s playoff drought is the league’s longest, and Miami once had a potential all-time great running back quit to go find himself before returning a couple of years later. Not that Manning spent his career in any less of a comfy situation – the league’s divisional layout was rearranged in 2002 to create the AFC South for the expansion Houston Texans, who just happen to share their division with the Colts. Manning also got to pick on the perpetually hapless Jacksonville Jaguars. The only team which was enough to threaten Indy was the Tennessee Titans, but even they were a spotty, frustrating team which could win twelve games one season then five the next. And when Manning went to Denver, his quality of opposition somehow managed to get even worse. The Kansas City Chiefs have fans pausing for thought with new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith, but that might well turn out to be a tease. The days of the San Diego Chargers being an offensive dynamo are gone and their window is firmly nailed shut for now, while the Oakland Raiders might be the worst team in the league.
Edge
Tom Brady. First of all, no player has ever tormented a single team the way Brady has beat on the Buffalo Bills. Yes, it’s the bizarro version of the Bills, but even so, a 23-2 record against a divisional rival is something to behold. Also, for all my complaining about his clutch Super Bowl performances not being all that clutch, Brady won his first Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, still in their Greatest Show on Turf years. He won one of the most exciting shootouts in Super Bowl history against the Carolina Panthers, and the next year he played outstanding football against a Philadelphia Eagles team which many onlookers believe lost to itself more than it lost to the Patriots. Manning’s first Super Bowl opponent was the Chicago Bears, who won 13 games, but only because they hit their apex and had a weak schedule during a stretch when the NFC had a serious power void.. Manning’s second Super Bowl was against the visibly superior New Orleans Saints, and fuck the gambling line because the oddsmakers aren’t football fans anyway.

Accomplishments
This one can keep us up for awhile. Both have done an impressive number of things. Peyton Manning broke the record for touchdowns thrown in a single season in 2006, then Brady broke Manning’s record the following year. Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns in his last game, something which hasn’t happened since 1944. Brady threw for 500 yards in a single game a couple of years ago. Brady also has a still-rare 5000-yard season under his belt now, and is second on the list for consecutive games with one touchdown pass with 49. Manning won four league MVP awards, Brady two. Manning was the fastest player to ever reach several large career milestones, including 50,000 passing yards and 400 touchdown passes. Both have been Super Bowl MVPs, and both are all-time leaders for their teams in several categories.
Edge
Tom Brady. This came down to what bragging rights these guys give the fans, and a 3-2 record in the Super Bowl trumps everything. Yes, Manning may be statistically better in a lot of categories, but I guarantee you no one in Indianapolis is walking around in a T-shirt touting Manning’s MVP years.

Biases
Peyton Manning played in a fellow Rust Belt city. Tom Brady is an All-American Golden Boy who became a celebrity being a fucking Patriot.
Edge
Peyton Manning. Even New England’s most diehard fans accept the fact that they’d probably hate Brady’s guts if he wasn’t playing on their team.

Have all my bases been covered? I love Peyton Manning. I love Tom Brady, at least the extent to which a non-Patriots fan can love Tom Brady. But in a heartbeat, my money is on Brady. At least in real life because his team-first philosophy is costing me fantasy points. Next year I’m taking Manning in fantasy football. But overall, Brady is better. Watch Rob limply attempt to debate this in our next book, Nick and Rob Explode the NFL.

Surrendering My Most Identifiable Hobby

Surrendering My Most Identifiable Hobby

It’s an odd experience. One week of university is now behind me and my head feels like someone set off a shrapnel bomb on the inside. I’m still not exactly settled back into a routine physically. Mentally, my psyche is doing backflips.

I wasn’t exactly prepared for the onslaught of new information that I’m going to receive in order to become an expert in my field. Since I want to do this right, though, I’m prepared to make a couple of hobbyist sacrifices to make things easier on myself. The first that has to go is Lit Bases, my blog on baseball literature. Now, in the greater sense, this blog isn’t really going anywhere at all – it will stay up for everyone to read. But my actual writings for the site won’t be coming in once a month like before. My readings on the subject just can’t be done at the rate I used to do them because there’s a real dearth of interesting material in this city. Even if that wasn’t the case, I just can’t afford to spend hours at a time poring over each and every review I write for Lit Bases.

That’s one thing, but in mulling over my options, it became apparent that it might not be enough. Then a very radical idea hit me: Why don’t I stop following video games?

(Stop laughing, Rob.)

If you know me, you now know the insane level of dedication with which I’m attacking my newest adventure. Nicholas Croston, giving up video games? Calling this a gun-to-the-head level of sacrifice doesn’t quite do it justice. For this to happen, it would take someone using the National Guard to tie me down Hannibal Lecter-style after I had already taken his gun and beat him to a bloody pulp. Upon hearing this idea, me ten years ago rips your head off and beats the rest of you to death with the dangling spine (heyo, Mortal Kombat shout out). Me now is willing to hear out the idea, and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

I can’t think of a hobby I developed when I was young which was so useful to me then and became so outdated now. Back then, they were my escape from a harsh outside world which hated me even when I tried to conform to it. Now, I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin. When was young, gaming was a bonding activity between me and other friends. Video games are still able to do that for me, but trouble comes in because I’m an adult, and my friends are adults, and we can rarely get enough time to hang out in the same place at the same time. Even on the increasingly rare occasions that happens now, we tend to meet in locations where video games aren’t available, or in situations which don’t allow for hours of playtime. If THAT happens, the idea of video game bonding has been irreparably damaged from what it was in the 90’s. There’s no junk food and Mountain Dew involved anymore, because we’re mature adults who want to stay healthy. Bonding over video games isn’t practical for the grown-ups unless it’s through an online game – a thought which is blasphemous to anyone raised in the 16-bit Era.

I’ve developed hobbies over the last decade which have managed to supplant video games, too. First and foremost, there’s writing, something I honestly believe I can make a living doing in some way or another. There’s also bicycling and photography, and all three of those things are largely portable, so I can do them around other people. To play video games, I have to stay in one place. I watch movies and sports a lot, which are two of life’s great small pleasures that are enhanced by company without anyone fighting over a controller. Besides, I’ve long been watching games evolve into something unrecognizable. Today’s games are beasts compared to what I was playing as a kid. Now, I’m not complaining about the evolution of the medium, but growing up has meant being very slow and resilient to being sucked into today’s behemoths. I’ve become something all kids swear they’ll never become: A victim of generational disconnect. Gaming made me realize for all time that I’m now out of the loop, possibly for good.

Of all the forms of mass media, video games are easily the one that requires the most amount of effort to pull out the reward. Movies and music require little time during the day, so it’s easy to run through several a day, or one several times. Video games need to be played over periods of at least days. Sometimes they take months. Now one might point out that so do books, but books don’t require a giant learning curve or exact cursor precision in order to advance. They don’t frustrate because of something the computer did to spite you personally.

Now, in a larger sense, this doesn’t mean I’m going to quit playing video games. What it does mean is that my game intake is about to drop, and I won’t be buying nearly as many games as I used to. I won’t be scouring websites for the latest news on Square-Enix’s newest apocalyptic RPG the way I used to in the past. I won’t be bitching about the next move by Electronic Arts which will cause the death of video games as we know them. My game reviewing – which is what awakened the online world to my writing – isn’t nearly as frequent as it used to be. There won’t be any more randomly buying games in the hopes that I’ve uncovered some hidden gem. Gaming is expensive, after all, and I want to know that what I’m getting is quality. When I was writing for Netjak, I thought nothing of renting or buying games I knew probably wouldn’t be any good just to see what they were really like. Also, time to let go of the Youtube walkthroughs and speed runs. I’ll still buy rare games and play them, but I’m not going to lose my head over some hard to get titles. If you find Secret of Monkey Island for the Playstation 2, let me know. I don’t care about Sonic the Hedgehog, even if it’s a full return to two dimensions.

If I’m being honest with myself, I know that video games haven’t been my primary hobby for years – I have several friends now who think of me as either Nick the Writer and/or Nick the Cyclist before Nick the Gamer. Even Rob encourages me to keep writing. The likelihood of my buying a console in the upcoming console generation is becoming less and less, partly because the games are too big for their own good and partly because I don’t want to fight through endless feature menus with everything else they’ll have. So this is it. Let me know if there’s a rare game and I might be interested. If there’s not, well, this chapter of my life will be closing.

The Coolest Thing I Learned in School Today

The Coolest Thing I Learned in School Today

Today was my first day of school since 2005, and if there was one theme of the day, it was running. Running to catch two lightrail lines in Downtown Buffalo, running to make classes while being late, running into one of the registrar offices to have my final class added to my schedule, running to the inter-campus shuttle. For spending the day in a pair of lecture halls, I certainly managed a good workout.

I had two classes today, chemistry and psy 101. It was certainly interesting to get information on how the elements of the Periodic Table were named, and how to measure ionic and atomic weight. But a real interesting show awaited me in psy.

I get a lot of questions about just what it feels like to live with my deformed arm, and I always answer them the same way: Damned if I know. I have never felt qualified to give an answer to that question because my arm is a birth defect. I’ve had it my whole life. My two other fingers are never going to grow in, and so I’m never going to have anything to compare NOT having a birth defect to. My closest parallel is my right elbow, which lost a little bit of movement after an operation I had on it when I was eleven years old. I feel like I should be able to stretch my right arm further, even though that full function is permanently gone.

My biggest problem with my deformed arm is my immobile wrist, but I don’t notice that either, or at least my nerve system doesn’t. Sure, I’m always aware that it’s there and will hinder me in doing some things, but in operating it, nothing feels off unless I try to do something it was never meant to do. Usually when I try to explain this to a questioner, the response I get is a backhand mention of a symptom called the Phantom Limb. The Phantom Limb is something that amputated people are known to feel. It’s a sensation in the missing limb, and the statistics on Wikipedia say that some 60 to 80 percent of amputees are known to feel it. Most of the sensations are painful, but other symptoms include itching, warmth, cold, tightness, squeezing, and tingling.

From what I concluded in class today, I think I go without phantom limbs because to my own brain, my deformity is normal, and its never known any other way to live. Therefore, my brain has adjusted itself accordingly, and the parts of my brain which control my would-be finger and wrist movement simply aren’t there. Now, I trust everyone reading this knows that we basically think about every movement we make before we actually make it – the basics are that the brain sends a signal to the nerve endings which come down through the spine and stretch out to the other parts of your nerve system. We have little parts of our brains devoted to each and every moveable part of our bodies. Now consider for a moment that if you lose one of those parts, that’s an entire section of the brain basically going dormant. To the other parts of your brain, that simply won’t do, and they slowly move in and take over the part that doesn’t work. This is apparently a part of where the Phantom Limb comes from.

It would also explain why I don’t feel anything like the Phantom Limb. Of course, being quite unlearned in this field yet, this idea could prove to be wrong, so I’m not betting the farm on it until I know more. Still, now you have a possible explanation as to why I can’t tell you what having a deformed arm is like.