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When I was Your Age: The Real Version

When I was Your Age: The Real Version

Here’s a post that’s been popping up on Facebook a lot from my Buffalo people:

“I grew up on (random street name) in Buffalo, NY during the 80’s and 90’s, during a time when everyone treated each other like family. We went outside to play, got dirty, and we didn’t eat fast food, well maybe McDonald’s but not very often. We ate bologna and salami and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cooked food, and got ice cream from the ice cream truck. We ate penny candy, yes I said “penny,” because that’s how much it cost back then. We played Mother May I, 1 2 3, Red Light Green Light, Hide and Seek, Truth or Dare, Monkey in the Middle, Tag, Dodgeball, softball, basketball, baseball, kickball, football, rode bikes, and raced against each other in the street. We cried if we couldn’t go outside and play. There was no bottled water, we drank from the tap. We watched cartoons on Saturday morning, we walked to the corner store, and we rode our bikes for hours without a cell phone. We weren’t AFRAID OF ANYTHING. If someone had a fight, that’s what it was – a fist fight. Kids didn’t have guns when I grew up. The street lights were our curfew. School was mandatory and we watched our mouths around our elders because ALL of our neighbors were our parents so we knew if we didn’t we were in big trouble when we got home.

Re-post if you’re glad that you came from a close-knit community and will never forget where you came from!”

This is idyllic-binder bullshit. All of it. While this is the prevailing oral myth passed from generation to generation about Buffalo these days, I have a unique hatred for this version of it because it seems to be snaring people who I thought wouldn’t become so Buffalo-ized. In other words, I see it being posted by people whom I’ve long believed know better.

This post is the ultimate embodiment of Buffalo’s refusal to change its guard. It drives me nuts, and not just because its platitudes revolve around a generic kidsville where every Boomer claims to have been raised.

Let’s break this ridiculous sucker down. First, you’ll notice that there’s nothing unique about it. It’s the life of kids from 80’s sitcoms, which does sum up the city in its desire to stay inside its fake little bubble. A post like this says to the rest of the world, “we never moved on.” It says that yes, someone saying it has seen that the planet left the past behind, but their little corner of the world has refused to acknowledge it.

The first delusion of this post is right in the first sentence: The whole neighborhood treated each other like family. It’s true that Buffalo has some close-bonded neighborhoods, but in this case, the bonds are all a bit TOO close. If you’re thinking of moving in with the hopes of integrating yourself into the action straight off, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. What this post doesn’t say anything about is the way they welcomed the newcomers with baked gifts. That’s because that doesn’t happen. You’re going to be welcomed by a lot of closed doors and binds, and that’s in the best-case scenario. There’s a good chance the people in your new neighborhood are never going to come around, and if you’re a minority moving into a white neighborhood, just forget it. My close-knit neighborhood where everyone treated each other like family chased every minority that tried to move in right back out in a matter of months.

For next couple of sentences, the food comes up, and it’s purely kiddie food culture. You can tell because processed junk gets brought up in a nostalgic way. Now, anyone who really missed processed meat sandwiches can go out, buy the ingredients from the grocery store, and make them at home, but I’m guessing they don’t. That’s because we know it’s bad for people. That line about not eating fast food just isn’t true – fast food is one of the primary dietary staples of the city. The people of my generation in Buffalo ate it all the fucking time. They just don’t recognize anything outside of national chains as fast food, which is why all the pizza and chicken wings they chowed down aren’t being counted. I’ll give them this: At least they’re eating local fast food. But as for the platitude about not eating fast food, don’t believe a word of it. And no, nobody cooked food, either, unless microwaving frozen and boxed dinners from the grocery store suddenly counts as “cooking food.” Ice cream from the ice cream trucks was an occasional treat, but most people got theirs from grocery stores as well. And anyone who repeats that penny candy bullshit to you just needs to be smacked in their fucking face as hard as possible. Penny candy has never existed in our lifetimes, so anyone feeding you that line better be a grandparent.

Now we come to the point of the activities, which is just funny to me now. People claim they used to do these things, which got them outside for fresh air and exercise. Now the question is, what’s stopping them now? There are organized leagues dedicated to most, if not all, of those games mentioned. It’s not that someone who posted that can’t go back out and do those things. It’s that they won’t. I chalk this one up to being a bad side effect of what happens when people develop too much of an obsession with the interests and habits of “proper” adults, and that phrase holds almost no meaning in Buffalo. Proper adults drink beer and watch TV. And no one cried about not getting to go outside and play. They played video games, because this was the time the age of video games was starting.

Or they played with the toys that their favorite Saturday morning cartoons were created to sell. I hate to come down so hard on this part, because I have the same fondness for those same cartoons as everyone else in my generation. So after all my anti-corporate, anti-studio ranting, it was grounding to learn that toy companies were busy back then making cartoons to sell already-existent toy lines, and not the other way around.

The original author of this post seems to have a thing for kids bicycling. He makes two references to it. This is another thing that’s funny to me, because if the author is native to Buffalo, they probably have a cold heart toward cyclists. I’ve already spent a lot of words in this blog writing about Buffalo’s attitude toward cyclists, so the only thing to think about now is how many people who were brainless enough to repeat this post have assaulted cyclists after becoming adults. Cyclists are like door-to-door salespeople in that the older they are, the less people are eager to see them. Little kids? Great! Teenagers? Just don’t pull anything outrageous, you little shit. Adults? You need to be killed. I can only hope repeat posters are cyclists themselves, because if they’re not, there’s a good chance they hate cyclists and have verbally – and maybe physically – assaulted a cyclist at some point, since bicycle hate is a prevailing ethos in Buffalo.

My friends and I were never afraid of anything either, and here are some things we did: One friend broke another’s arm; we climbed on top of a moldy and old tool shed that was older than our parents but still being used; climbed down to the bottom of a bridge; climbed back up that same bridge using a vertical pillar with lots of sharp rocks below; ran through mazes of tall sidewalk grass while onlookers threw rocks; brought down a phone line; ran screaming across backyards which weren’t ours; fell off low-hanging tree branches; and chased cars which were driving down the street. No, we weren’t afraid of much, even if we could be killed. Fistfights were part of playtime, and bullying was seen as a toughen-up tactic rather than a mental scar. (I had a neighbor who swore by the advice that a bully would leave me alone if I ignored them. This has never been true in any time or space. I’m pretty sure said neighbor hasn’t been very far outside of Western New York.) If someone had a REAL problem with someone else, the knives came out. The Police were called in at school at least five times.

School? Mandatory? You don’t say! Well, I guess it would have to be. Where else could a teenager find a teacher to try to beat up? Yes, this happened at my school; in fact it was so commonplace that, after one particular assault which was covered on the news, the big deal in school was that the footage showed by the station was of a student/teacher attack that happened at a different school. It amazes me that anyone could write with any pride about how school was mandated, because my schools all specialized in propaganda. Most of my schooling took place in the inner city, where City Hall didn’t care for real education. They cared that we knew just enough about the American Dream to let our corporate overlords do our thinking for us and were blatantly grooming students for 50 years in the nearest factory. Or the Military.

I’m sorry, but if all your neighbors are your parents, you’re from a creepy neighborhood. People complain about how social media invades privacy, but if you’re from a place like this, you probably never had much of it in the first place.

Naturally, here was my response to this post, altered to be realistic:

“I grew up on (street deleted) in Buffalo, NY, during the 80’s and 90’s, during a time when everyone treated each other like family unless they were outsiders, who were all suspicious intruders. We chased every minority that tried to move in off the block. We didn’t go to McDonald’s; well, maybe once a week, but we fucking gorged on fast food – pizza and wings from local joints ARE fast food. We ate bologna and salami and other kinds of unhealthy processed trash, microwaved food, and got ice cream from ice cream trucks if we were lucky. We ate penny candy – yes I said “penny,” because I’ve now confused reality with stories my grandparents told me about their childhoods. We played Mother May I, 1 2 3, Red Light Green Light, Hide and Seek, Truth or Dare, Monkey in the Middle, tag, dodgeball, softball, basketball, kickball, football, baseball, rode bikes and raced against each other in the street; healthy activities that got us fresh air and sunshine but which we now get together and deride and disparage people who do those things as adults while we sit on our asses drinking beer and watching football. If we couldn’t go outside to play, we stayed inside and played video games; hell, we did that anyway. There was bottled water, but we were too smart to buy it; we bought ice water for a nickel at local fast food places instead. We watched corporate advertising disguised as cartoons on Saturday morning. We walked to the corner store for junk and rode our bikes for hours without a cell phone but but now hate and try to kill anyone we see on a bike. We weren’t AFRAID OF ANYTHING, which is how my best friend nearly killed himself climbing a bridge on Cazenovia Creek and brought down a telephone line. If someone had a fight, someone would get stabbed. Kids didn’t have guns when I grew up. They just had knives. School was mandatory but we never worked or studied. We watched our mouths around our elders because ALL of your neighbors were fucking creeps who despised anything that was different and didn’t meet their weird obsession with “normality.”

Re-post if you’re proud that you shed your when-I-was-your-age binders and have vowed to never repeat the same lines of bullshit to any kids that grown-ups used to tell you about what things were like when they were kids!”

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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.

Introvert Blues

Introvert Blues

I get mistaken for being a shy person a lot, and to be fair, that’s because I used to be – my junior high experience left me that way, with a trust in humanity that was almost completely destitute. Still though, I did manage to knock out that particular social hangup, and so I can often hold my own in social situations. There is, however, a difference between being shy and not having anything to say to people you don’t know, and so if there’s a big crowd that I’m locked in the middle of somewhere, I’m going to be the weird guy standing off in the corner. Or, more likely, somewhere near the bar, slamming rum and cokes.

It’s not because of anxiety, but because of pressure. It’s an awkward feeling trying to mingle in a big crowd of people I don’t know, had no idea even existed until that day, and will most likely never see again. What am I supposed to do, walk up to some random person and bug him about the weather and football team? If I’m in a big crowd where I don’t know anyone, most of the time there are very few subjects I’m really able to talk about as a common point because all the politically correct subjects bore me to tears. This is part of the reason I follow professional sports – sports are a uniting subject which are followed by many people, frequently out of civic pride. Even then, though, I tend to screw up a lot of the time because I tend to go all out in my fandom – hockey, baseball, and soccer are my favorites, and you can’t be anything less than devoted to follow them – and take a viewpoint which is a lot more analytical than most people are used to. If the subject turns to a subject besides sports which I’m truly interested in, someone is definitely going to want to kill someone else by the end of the party.

I’m an introvert, and wish me luck in trying to get anyone at all to understand this; or at the least, trying to get extroverts to understand this. This doesn’t mean I’m antisocial or shy, although it makes me come off very awkwardly sometimes. What it means is that I like being alone or in very small crowds consisting of a handful of close friends – friends I know well enough so they’re not offended or surprised by very much of what I say or do. It also means I’m prone to spending long periods of time lost in my own head, in some sort of trance, and that if I get disturbed over your own trivial matters, you’re going to be on the giving end of a single-sided conversation. It also means – and this is the part the extroverts truly fail to ever fucking understand – is that my introversion is never, ever going to change. It’s not a choice or a mental block. It’s an orientation, and whining about it will be like whining about my race, deformity, or sexual preference: Complaining about it, setting rules against it, or trying to force a difference isn’t going to end well. I’m not going to change. You’re stuck with what you’ve got.

Unfortunately, the extroverts are the ones ruling the world, and so I’m the one who has to make the adjustments accordingly. I’m very good at that, and it helps that I have an adventurous side which masks my introversion quite nicely. But like every introvert, I take socialization in chunks, and eventually I’m going to need to head off to the corner and hit the refresh button.

What most people don’t realize is that my silence doesn’t mean I’m upset or rejecting anyone. It means I just don’t have anything to say at the time – get me going on something I’m interested in and you’ll want to cut your ears off to escape. Yes, I get lonely, but there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely, and being alone is something I can handle most of the time. If I’m reading or writing alone and the phone rings, I’m not prepared to hold a conversation and anyone on the other end who has to listen to what is little more than my surprised grunting has to live with it. This being the case, my phone conversations tend to be blissfully short even on the occasions I do have them. The sound of a ringing phone might as well be that of a nuclear bomb – loud, scary, and I want to dive under something for cover.

On the outside, there gets to be a time when I don’t want to be around everyone else anymore. Even at my best, I try not to bog myself down with too many social plans, and at large gatherings, I usually don’t want to stay the whole night. (This is where the booze comes in.) If I’m at a really big event for a long time, it will take me time to recover – sometimes a couple of days. I’ll read a lot, write a lot, and vegitate during my recharge period, and frequently not say very much. This is pretty easy living where I do for now because it’s so far off. Yet, living in a more crowded place, there’s more pressure to socialize from people who don’t quite get the fact that I do want to socialize, but I prefer to do it on my own terms. If someone stops by, I try to make them feel at home, but this also requires a rechagring period.

And yes, it’s harder for me to make friends. I’m well past that kids’ part of life where people can just meet anyone at random and be best buds. For introverts to develop friendships, there has to be a lot of common ground, and if there’s uncommon ground, my new friend has to be very good about understanding my viewpoint. Smaller crowds of people I know well and like are where my introvert shell falls off and I feel liberated. I do have many friends outside of this little inner friend sanctuary whose company I truly enjoy, and yes, this inner circle does make it exceedingly hard to get to know the real me. If you make your way in, though, I’ll be your loyal ally for the rest of your life.

Which, depending on your view of me, may be a good thing or a bad thing.

Blood Pressure

Blood Pressure

I’m beginning to think my body hates me for something. As I’ve said before, I have a rare blood type and am therefore a regular donor over at the local branch of the Red Cross. Last year I started receiving frequent deferrals because my blood lacked iron. I did some digging about bodily nutrition, though, and once I learn just what the problem was, I finally learned an effective way to counter it. Unfortunately, our bodies tend to evolve and develop, and with its first line of defense against the needle gone, my body has found a second way to stay safe from the vampires: High blood pressure.

Naturally, this new development drove me right back to my nutritional research to see if I could pinpoint a problem. What I learned was that I’m actually getting my blood pressure routine mostly right. I exercise regularly, every day. Although I’m not Mr. Healthy Eating Choice, I do watch what goes into my body. While I’m an alcohol enthusiast, I don’t actually drink that much of it. My cardio exercise routines have been slipping lately, though, because the weather has been less than permitting, and a couple of days before my Red Cross appointment, I did enjoy a beer upon completion of well-written essay I was working on. These aren’t huge indiscretions, though. I still try to get out for exercise whenever I can, and my alcohol consumption is still largely minimal.

The big mistake I may have been making is my caffeine intake, which is comparatively massive. I drink several cups of coffee a day. This isn’t good for my blood pressure, and I don’t think it’s particularly good for my muscle growth, either. I know I have to cut back, but for now it’s easier to merely say that. Doing it is another act, seeing as how I happen to really, really like my coffee. Maybe it’s my old soda addiction cropping up to haunt me in a different corporeal form, but the idea of giving up my daily black go-get-’em nectar doesn’t appeal very much.

I’m making another effort again in another couple of weeks. Hopefully I can manage to knock off some of my caffeine intake and get my bicycle repaired in order to actually be eligible this time. We’ll see.

Gonna Make a Resolution

Gonna Make a Resolution

Usually I’m not privy to saying very much about my New Year’s Resolutions because so many people don’t take them seriously, and until a few years ago I was one of those people who was doing the mocking. I made a lot of phony resolutions which, to say the least, were kept easily and didn’t require very much work on my own part. If it wasn’t that, I would resolve to do something totally outlandish and absurd which I didn’t stand a chance in hell of accomplishing. When my resolution to quit drinking so much soda at the start of 2010 became an unexpected success, though, I decided to think through the idea from that point out a bit more.

I thought about resolutions this year and came to these, mostly because I don’t see any other good ones. Much of my endeavoring this year is going to the goal of getting me back out of Buffalo, either soon or in due time. I expect it will be the latter, and I’m not sure where I’ll wind up. Chicago would be the ideal, but I can’t say I’m so dead set on it that I’m going to blind myself to opportunities in other places.

Number one is something I’ve been trying to do for a few years. I’ve been wanting to get back into college for some time, but just when I was starting to get off the ground back when I decided I wanted to do it, it would get tangled up in some other thing I wanted to do. Or I wouldn’t be able to afford the application fee. Or, back during my messenger days, my debts would get in the way; I was poor enough as it was when the economy went to hell because my income was entirely commission, and there was no work for me to do. Right now there isn’t much of an excuse for me to not be able to focus on this goal, and I’ve also finally narrowed down something I want to specialize in. I knew I was interested in a medical-based field and gave serious thought to therapy, but then an out-of-nowhere candidate came in and took the top spot: Nutrition. My sudden interest in nutrition was sparked by my body’s apparent inability to stay at the nutrient levels required by blood donors, and I began being more careful about what I eat. (Well, more so.) It also had to do with my next resolution.

After years of doing just enough to stay in the decent shape I’m in, I’ve decided to try to build real muscle. Although I normally eat and act in healthy ways, this is going to require a much greater commitment on my own part. Watching food portions and exercising every day are great starts, but actually going out and – well, dare I actually use this term? – bodybuilding will be putting my body through an ultimate challenge it hasn’t been through before, and certainly my mutation will add an extra dimension to finding a reasonably workable program which can get me off the ground. The ruling logic behind this radical idea is the same logic which caused me to make my pop-quitting resolution back in 2010: I’ve tried to do it on a more gradual basis, and kept blowing it. So I decided that, in an instant, that would be that and I was going to go all the way with it or it wasn’t going to happen at all.

I’m going to finish my book and start trying to submit more writing samples. My book is actually almost finished as it is. As for general writing, I’ve been stuck for far too many occasions, and to a point I’ve been afraid of sending queries because it seems like all the publications I want to send them to use regular staff members to do their writing instead of contributors. Although I’ve tried to get published in the past, I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner, because what’s the worst that can happen? It isn’t as if I haven’t been rejected from anything before. The only difficult part is finding a unique and interesting topic to write about.

I’ve been wanting to try stand-up, since I’ve been listening to it since I was about six or seven years old. I used to tell stories at slams in Chicago, and a few years ago, with a little encouragement (actually it was more like a challenge) from my friend Dana, I began writing an act. I would like to have the chance to finally try it, and to learn what works and what doesn’t work for me. I’m also going to continue writing for it more. Speaking of writing, I will maybe get a bit more serious about journal-keeping, because there are some thoughts that I just shouldn’t say out loud or on a computer, or really in public at all.

What’s the point of living if you’re not expanding your list of interests, after all? Hell, ten years ago I didn’t know anything about global politics or alcohol, but I learned a bit about those subjects in short order. Ten years ago, I never had never seen a full baseball game, and now baseball is one of the sports whose teams I have genuine emotional attachments to, plus a little internet fame as a baseball book reviewer. Unless it can be proven otherwise, I’m still convinced that we’re here to learn and grow as much as we can. First, though, I have a little stop to make in Chicago!