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Monthly Archives: October 2016

A Quick Letter to the Chicago Cubs

A Quick Letter to the Chicago Cubs

Dear Chicago Cubs,

I’ve hated you for a long time and a World Series victory isn’t going to change that. Most of the teams I personally really like, including the White Sox, Cardinals, and Yankees, are your archenemies. That being said, I’m pulling for you to win the Series – or at least the damned Pennant – for a few reasons.

Number one, I like baseball and Chicago more than I hate any team, and a Cubs championship would be an awesome story for both.

Two, I have too many friends who are Cubs fans still patiently waiting and hoping. I tend to care about my friends and want them to be happy, and a title would really make their day. Hell, it would make their year, because many of them also have relatives and other friends who lived and died through this horrible drought never wavering in loyalty and belief.

Three, you just OWE it to everyone. Okay? You’re closing in on 108 years, a length of time during which teams and even whole leagues have blinked in and out of existence.

Fourth, when I do my inevitable Cubs post for my blog Every Team Ever, I REALLY want to give your saga the happy ending it deserves.

Fifth, the Buffalo Sports Curse tends to spill into other sports.

And sixth, I don’t want to hear any more about the Billy Goat, the Lovable Losers, the Cubbies, and the Curse and The Greatest Fans in the Entire Universe being let down yet again. I’ve had enough of it, and just one title would lay it all to rest.

So quit acting like a team nicknamed the Lovable Losers or the Cubbies that play in The Friendly Confines. You need to be more like the Blackhawks, or the 2005 White Sox, or hell, the Yankees or Cardinals. In others words, you need to get over your history and shed the cutesy imagery. I don’t want to hear any more about adorable and playful little Cubs. I want you to finish a metamorphosis into a pack of hungry, pissed off Grizzly Bears, charge onto that diamond, and take what’s yours!

Sincerely,
Nicholas

(Year-Late) Dispatches From The Rose City

(Year-Late) Dispatches From The Rose City

Where I took my first breath of the pacific northwest’s crisp air is more a point of contention than one would realize. It has a lot to do with the idea of just where the Rocky Mountains end and the pacific northwest begins. Is it the divide between Idaho and Montana, which would place the popular university city of Boise in Cascadia? Or is it the cultural divide at the Cascade Mountains that splits the western hipsterville from ‘Murica 30 miles out? Some people would say that my first exposure to the elements in the great northwest came in a tired daze, when I awoke in the early AM hours in Spokane and stumbled off my train to stretch while it was making a water stop and splitting in half to take travelers to respective destinations in Oregon and Washington. Or perhaps it was a stop in Pasco, Washington, as the Amtrak crept along the bottom of the Columbia Gorge when I stepped off into the thickest mist and most humid air I’ve ever felt, which soaked my skin and clothes in a pleasant layer of dew. The one part of my journey that comes without argument is that it ended on an early Monday morning in Portland, where I left the Amtrak and took my greeting steps into a part of the country which, until that moment, had never existed as anything but a rumor.

My final stop before my excursion into Oregon was, of course, Chicago. My home for five years of my life was also the only real home I had ever come to know; during my years there, I finally learned to stop hiding. Buffalo was merely a city I lived in for a long time. Although my nativity there gave me access that tourists and n00bs wouldn’t find without an effort, my radical ways of thinking forced Buffalo into defensive mode. As a result, the city was never able to get its arms around me, so my relationship with The Nickel City – always strained a little bit – got outright rocky after the welcome my community in Chicago gave me. Chicago was my shining beacon on a hill. It was there that my true potential started to surface. Chicago became the bar by which I judged every place I’ve been since, and nowhere compared. So it was on this journey that I promised to stop making comparisons of any other city to it.

That being said, Portland made it a hell of a contest. My placements of Portland and Chicago on my list of favorite cities are first and second, and which goes where depends on my mood. I only developed two problems with Portland: One was that crossing the Willamette River was a pain in the ass. The other was the lack of PTA programs where I could finish the line of education I’m pursuing. The first one I was willing to put up with. The second one was more of an issue, which disappointed me because had there been the educational opportunity I needed, I would have cast my anchor right there.

The train station in Portland was set close to the cute, quaint little village part that every city on the west coast seems to have. The first thing I did was hop into a cab and have it take me to my hostel on Hawthorne. Giving the driver my money after the ride, I was delighted to be handed a rare two-dollar bill as part of my change. I was so sure it was a joke that I went to two different stores afterward to ask if it was real, and was assured everywhere that yes, it was legit currency.

Portland was a city of many surprises. It was proof that somewhere, a city planner cracked my skull open and pulled out the “ideal city” folder, then got to work. My hostel was run on rainwater, there were two iconic donut shops and one very large used bookstore, I didn’t pay any sales taxes, there were locally-owned businesses everywhere, there were microbreweries everywhere, cyclists glided fearlessly in small mobs, the street layout made perfect sense, the transit system worked, and it was easy to find good coffee cafes where I could sit down and watch the world go by. In the last couple of years, I’ve fallen in love with the TV show Portlandia. I was aware of Portland’s reputation as an outpost for the quirky and weird. I knew the cliches: Keep Portland weird. Portland, where young people go to retire. Portland, where the dream of the 90’s is alive. But that was TV, so I tried to keep my expectations reigned in. When I got to Portland, though, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein were making less of an affectionate parody and more of a travel documentary. Anyone who’s been to Portland can’t look at me and tell me they would be surprised if a 3D printer just popped up along the Willamette River. And that there wouldn’t be people in Portland trying to build their houses one plastic brick at a time using it!

The freaks and vagrants are magnetized to Portland, and it was easy to see why. As long as you were a decent person, anything you believed or did would be met with a quick shrug and a “that’s cool, man.” I can’t help but believe Portland exists in its own bubble, but I despise that description because it implies the dominance of a narrow set of beliefs that never got penetrated by the larger world. (And we all know what city I have in mind when I say that.) Portland wants the riffraff and will reject any corporation that tries to drop in with the sales pitch of making the city more “normal” or “family-oriented.” They’ll ignore Walmart, but they’ll be happy to accept Wall Marte as long as the profits all circulated in their own city. They hate Domino’s, but if someone thought to set up a Donny Moe’s, that’s okay as long as the pizza is edible. Even my hostel bunkmates were on the far side, even by the standards of hostel people. Politicking punks were typical hosteler fare there. One night, a very friendly surfer-like kid asked me if I wanted to learn how to ride a unicycle. I took him up on the offer, of course. Turns out that riding a unicycle isn’t quite as hard as it looks once you get a sense of balance for it. And it’s not as dangerous, either; if you fall over, your feet will almost automatically be the first parts of your body to hit the ground, and from there it’s easy to right yourself. The kid who was giving me my lesson said there was nothing to worry about. He had taught many people to ride unicycles, and only one of them had gotten hurt. The one who got hurt also happened to be drunk off his ass.

I spent my time in Portland trying to hit up good coffee and microbrew places suggested by a friend who lived in the area, but I also discovered a few spots of my own. I liked Blue Star Donuts, which makes French-style brioche donuts. They took 18 hours to make and were done every day by hand, and turned into unique flavors like Blueberry Bourbon Basil. I also came to understand the fierce rivalry between Blue Star Donuts and the more established and prevalent Voodoo Donuts. As I read and drank my way through the city, I kept getting thrown off by the lack of a sales tax. Oregon is one of five states that doesn’t have a sales tax, and it’s probably the best-known one. Like every other American, I learned early on to hate the sales tax with a passion because it’s a hidden cost. It’s being intentionally dishonest about the price a place will have on a product in order to try to squeeze out a little extra money. It was tempting to end all my monetary transactions with the question, “Are you SURE?!” and that did slip out of my mouth a few times.

I don’t go out of my way to visit kitschy attractions when I travel. I travel to see what’s interesting and unique about places and interact with the people who live there. But Portland had Mill Ends Park, a public park space consisting of a single evergreen tree and 452 square inches of space. No, “inches” is not a typo. The park is a single circle, two feet in diameter, sitting on SW Naito Parkway. It’s the smallest public park in the world, and a part of the best park system in America. But that was the only must-see thing on my Portland List. Everything else, I just went out and happened to stumble into. The Library, the Courthouse, Portland State University, Providence Park, and everywhere I found beer and coffee was a place I happened to walk into. Not that I’m complaining, because the lack of corporatization made every corner in the city look unique. Between that and the easy layout of the city, Portland is a place where it’s difficult to get lost. On the off chance you do manage to get lost, the people there are the types who are friendly enough to give you directions.

It was halfway through the week when I got the chance to see a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I let her know where my dates for being in Portland were set in stone, and she took pains to throw a wedge into an obviously busy schedule in order to see me and catch up. She was also a big help in letting me know what was worth trying, coming through a series of Facebook messages she sent me while I was on my way into the city. Apparently, Portland had stayed fluid even during the years since she moved there. We went to one of the local breweries, and even in there changes were always happening. She explained that the last time she went to that particular brewery, they didn’t serve food, and the place had been smaller at the time.

In Portland, I found something I didn’t think existed: A city that was tailor-made to my own specific tastes. Unfortunately, a possible move there may still be a few years off. I have a specific educational goal to finish pursuing which Portland didn’t offer. Maybe one day, though… In the meantime, I think I’ve found my new favorite vacation spot. You can keep your corporatized McDisney family tourist shit. I’ll go to Portland.

Game Over

Game Over

My latest video game purchase was sometime in the middle of last year. It included the rare Suikoden III for the Playstation 2, one of the most acclaimed video games that came out during the PS2’s console generation. Everyone who ever played Suikoden III loved it, with the exception of a particular staffer at Netjak who believed the customization system overhaul was hellspawn. So I took it home and threw it into the pile with Fable II, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and all those other RPG’s I was hacking through with every intention of beating in my spare time. I bought the game just before my graduation, which meant I wasn’t swimming with the extra time an experienced gamer needs to commit to a 50-hour-long RPG. Someday, though… One of these days, I’m going to find that time and play through it. One of these days, I’m also going to buy that Xbox 360 so I can finish Fable II and Knights, both of which I abandoned just when school started.

Wait now, was that the Xbox 360 or the Xbox One? I always get the two of them confused. I’m also a little unclear on anything that’s going on with the Playstation 4 and the Wii U. Are they even still things? I’ll get to them one day between my bicycle excursions, writing, work, and the school I’m trying to get into. I can’t do everything at once and, aw, fuck it, who am I kidding? I’m a video game nut and an aficionado. I always will be. But in the last year, I’ve turned into a world-class liar in trying to call myself a gamer. Tabletop games have made a surprise – and quite welcome – comeback in my personal life, but I haven’t picked up a video game controller in over a year. It seems hard to believe now, but here I am, barely even thinking about the hobby that spent decades defining my life. All that time dished out exploring every aspect of video games and then going to Netjak to write about those games is in the past. And for those minus-three people who read this blog and were familiar with Netjak, you now know why Netjak hasn’t existed in the last seven years. The staff – mostly in their late-teens and 20’s – grew up and wasn’t able to keep up.

Video games were always a fluid medium. They grew up, evolved, and changed from an outcast hobby for delinquents into an art form acknowledged by academics all over the world. They also embraced better technology to turn from minute-long coin munchers into interactive epics which let the people engaged with them to go at their own pace, exploring the virtual world or uncovering the story as they see fit. Unfortunately, that draws out the length of games to the extent that only outcasts are the ones with the time of day to make a deep run on today’s machines. And time is just the first problem. There’s also the weird business of having video games hooked up to your account; searching everything and trying to blow up every wall for the 100 percent completion rate; online hookups so I can get my ass kicked by someone in East Outer Jahunga; downloadable content; open-world games where travel takes up 50 minutes of an hourlong mission; and padding through eight-piece fetch quests. That’s to say nothing of the aspects of gaming that I was happy to do in games of my own generation: Level grinding; games that shame players for playing on lower difficulty levels; reading box after box of inane text; tutorials; solving surprise puzzles in games that aren’t supposed to have puzzles; and searching for the lost missing items that will let me continue through the final three levels.

I’ve run out of both time and patience to do any of it. If I don’t like a video game right away, I no longer even have the willpower to fight my way through the first four levels in three game hours to see if it gets better. Life is too short and there are good bicycle trails I haven’t explored yet. I no longer care about having ultimate domination over a video game that spent five months kicking my ass in the second level. Simply getting through the game once is accomplishment enough, because with 206 bones in the human body and me needing to know every single one, I don’t want to expend the mental energy trying to memorize layouts and patterns. There’s too much effort in trying to keep track of everything.

Yes, this is me, everyone’s favorite amateur video game historian. This is still me, saying I’ve lost touch with video games because I’ve replaced them with different hobbies and interests. And it’s also me saying that I realized awhile ago that, as an adult, I’m allowed to play video games to two or three in the morning and have, the vast majority of the time, just didn’t. Okay, well, I did have a few Star Wars Battlefront marathons in Buffalo that ran until the early morning after a bad day, but even then I put the games away when too much fatigue set in. I’m not reading about them very often, I’m barely writing about them at all, and when I do keep up with video games, it’s to visit the local used game store to see if there are any rare novelty games that could make a leap in value or to find out what kinds of deals exist. There’s no point to trying to buy the latest game right when it arrives in the store anymore. New games are expensive, and there’s a planet of good games available for under five bucks, so why kill myself over a near-day of wages when I can wait a year for all the new purchasers to get bored?

Portable games have the attraction for me these days, but I don’t yet have my DS and Game Boy Advance so I can play when I go out and am forced to wait for something. But even that attraction is limited, because the evolution of video games has managed to push them to the point where they’re getting to be more than games. There are games now where you pay real, physical money straight out of your bank account to developers who reward you by giving your in-game avatar a new T-shirt. I don’t want to sound like I yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, because if gaming is something they’re into, that’s okay. But the new wave of video games being sold as 100-hour interactive experiences stopped my gaming dead in its tracks. It’s a little ironic for anyone who liked the games that I did growing up: We’ve come to the point where unlimited role-playing is normal and stories run for months. When I was a kid, I dreamed about what video games could be when the technology got to the point where it was that good. But as I get older, the only games I can enjoy with any depth are the simpler games I first played when console gaming was introduced to my generation. It’s not that I wouldn’t be enthralled by the experience; it’s that I don’t have enough time in a session to make a serious dent in one sitting. Everything I did would be hacking through in snippets that were an hour long at best.

The new technology is overwhelming me. Video game irritants used to be limited to what happened in the game’s world. Now they’re showing up in the very act of trying to play the games. We have pay-to-play, wherein developers are basically forcing the gamers to pay by the level. Games are coming with bank account hookups and subscriptions to new content. I don’t care about multiplayer games if I can’t watch the stupid look on the other player’s face when I crush him after performing the super move that caps an incredible comeback; I also don’t like the wave of online bullying the internet’s anonymity included for free. I don’t care about setting up some sort of avatar for the console’s weird little hub.

It’s a little odd to think that one day, people will be wishing tomorrow’s games will be more like today’s games. When I play video games, that’s what I want them to be – games. Nothing fancy. Perhaps this explains why I went to the retro extreme and have embraced the tabletop again.