notes from a man who spends too much time playing video games
This is where you stick random tidbits of information about yourself.
A Few Points Shy of the High Score
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Was in Orlando recently on business. Stayed at a cavernous Sheraton.
Rain fell constantly, blurring the view from my room of the parking lot.
I went downstairs to look for something to eat. The girl in Guest Services informed me that the hotel's restaurant was closed at the moment. "Is there anything close by?" I asked.
"Applebees," she said. She was a small-boned blonde with a pink barrette holding her hair back behind her left ear. "Across the street."
I peered through the front glass doors. There, in the distance, through the drizzle, I could see the neon Applebees sign.
Between me and the Applebees stood six lanes of busy traffic. People in Florida always drove like maniacs. And I noticed that there was no concrete island in the middle of the road.
Lightning flashed. Rain came down harder. It was only four o'clock in the afternoon, but already the parking lot lights were on.
"The hell with this," I said.
I went back to my room and decided to take a nap while waiting for the hotel restaurant to open for dinner. Not feeling especially sleepy, naturally, I turned on the television. And, naturally, this led me to peruse the hotel's porno channels.
It's truly amazing the amount of porno that hotels have now. A mere 20 years ago, people had to drive to ADULT WORLD-type places to watch a scratchy film loop inside a dark, not to mention beyond unsanitary, bleach-soaked booth to get some titillation. Now, press two or three buttons on your hotel room's remote, and you've got hardcore. It's beautiful.
I scrolled through the countless pages, noting the abundance of titles that featured the word "secretary." Secretary Nights. Secret Secretary Sex. Sexy Secretaries: Unleashed. Secretary Hardcore Hotties. Asian Secretary Sluts Of The Orient. Honey, I Banged My Secretary!
I settled on a movie called The Best Of Secret Secretary Sex. I hit the big green ORDER button on the remote.
A warning appeared on the television: ONCE YOU PROCEED BEYOND THIS POINT YOUR ROOM WILL BE CHARGED WITH THE MOVIE AND THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS.
Thunder rumbled overhead.
I hit the OK button, agreeing to spend the exorbitant price of $19.95 for a movie that was, at most, 120 minutes long.
And of the 120 minutes, if history has taught me anything, I would most likely only need about four of those minutes.
Which averages out to be about $5 per minute.
I lowered my pants and waited anxiously for the show to start.
Music started coming out of the TV's speakers. I noted the fact that porno music has improved remarkably over the years. It's not good by any stretch, but it's not as obtrusive as it once was, back when it was made on Casio keyboards by "musicians" who sounded like they were born without fingers.
"Mr. Johnson's office," a woman's voice said. "I'm sorry, he can't take your call right now. He's in meetings all morning. Call back later. Bye."
A picture appeared on screen, but it was all skewed and blurry. I thought I saw part of a leg. Then a fish-net stocking. But then it vanished.
"Ms. Cox," a man's voice said. "Would you come into my office please?"
A wristwatch. A phone. Another leg.
I got up and shuffled over to the TV, pants still around my ankles. "The fuck is going on?" I said as I slapped my open palm on the side of the TV several times. "Fuck!"
A zipper. Something that might have been a leg. Or a wrist.
"Fuck! Fucking shit hell!" I shouted. I pulled up my pants. I sat on the end of the bed, fuming, still watching the $19.95 jarbled-up porno I'd just bought myself.
"Well, this is just fucking great," I said.
I spent about five minutes fuming, hoping the TV would miraculously clear up. Then I did something that surprised me: I called Guest Services.
While the phone rang downstairs, I thought, I'm 38 years old. The fuck do I care if these total strangers, who I will never again see in my life, know that I ordered a porno?
"Guest services, Shari speaking," a voice said. I pictured the pink barrette, the lock of yellow hair pushed behind her ear.
"Hi," I said, suddenly feeling nervous. "I just ordered a movie? Here, in my room? And it's not really working."
Silence. I heard keystrokes on a keyboard.
"What exactly is wrong with it?" the woman asked.
"It's jarbled," I said.
"Jarbled up. I can't see what's going on? On the screen?"
More keystrokes. Silence. I imagined the words THE BEST OF SECRET SECRETARY SEX appearing on her monitor in big, bold letters. "Well," she said. "Everything looks fine down here. Why don't you cancel out of that particular movie. And then reorder it. If you're still having problems, let us know."
"So, I won't be charged twice?" My brain was involuntarily doing the math: $40 for a four minute wank worked out to be $10 per minute, etc.
"No, I'll remove it from your bill."
I thanked her and hung up.
Cancel button. Back out to the main menu. Back into the porno menu. The Best Of Secret Secretary Sex. ORDER. Warning. OK. Pants lowered.
Music. Dialogue. And again, a jarbled picture.
"Fuck! Fucking hell!" I shouted, buckling my pants.
I stared at the phone. Thought, Well, I've carried things this far. I suppose I have to see this through to the end now.
"Guest services, Shari speaking."
"Hi Shari. I just called a minute ago."
"That's me. I reordered my movie, as you suggested, and it's still jarbled."
Silence. Keystrokes. More silence. A sigh. Did I just hear some degree of judgement in that sigh? Because it sounded judgemental to me...
"At this point," she said, "all we can do is send up a technician."
She waited. I was sure that she was sure I'd decline. That I'd cut my losses here. Hang onto whatever shred of dignity I had left.
Well, fuck that, I thought. I imagined that this porno had been out of order for years, that hundreds, maybe thousands, of business men interested in watching The Best Of Secret Secretary Sex had gotten duped by this jarbled porno, but had been too sheepish to do anything about it.
Well, the fucking buck stops here, I thought. "All right, send him up," I said.
"You sure?" she asked.
I looked at the screen. The hem of a skirt. An ankle. A rolodex. Something hair-covered that could have been a man's armpit or a woman's crotch.
"Oh yeah. Send him."
About 45 minutes later there was a polite tap on the door. "Maintenance!" a voice shouted.
I opened the door. A bald black man with a massive keyring on his belt carried a toolbox into the room. He set it down on the bed. "I'm in room 237 now, over," he said into a walkie-talkie. "What's the problem?"
I pointed at the TV. A wrist. A necklace. A woman's mouth. The back of a hand. "I've got sound, but no picture," I said.
The man put his hands on his hips. He furrowed his brow.
"See?" I said. "Jarbled."
"Hmm," he said. "Quit out of this movie. Go to another one. Let's see if you get the same problem. Could just be a bad movie in the system."
I fumbled with the remote. I felt awkward having this stranger in my space. I wished I'd picked up a little, put some of my personal things away. Stray sections from USA Today were scattered around the toilet after a dump I'd taken earlier. My suitcase was on the bed, opened, my Hanes briefs on display.
Cancel button. Main menu. Porno menu. I started aimlessly scrolling through the titles. Secretary Ass Fest. My Secretary Loves Cock. Cocked-Up Secretaries From Barcelona.
I could hear the man breathing through his nose. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.
Rain pounded against the room's air conditioning unit.
I thought, Do I just pick anything? Or, do I pick something that I want to actually watch?
I scrolled through the list, faster and faster, picking up speed.
Finally, as if reading my mind, the man sighed then said, "Pick something. Anything. It doesn't matter."
I landed on something called Secretaries In Da Hood. Or something to that effect.
The WARNING screen came up.
"Hit the 'OK' button," the man said.
Sound came from the TV. And then, miraculously, a picture appeared. A light-skinned black girl was on her knees fellating a man with a cock the size of a Subway foot-long.
Me and the Sheraton maintenance man stood there together, watching the TV screen.
"Well," the man finally said, "it looks like it's working now."
"It does," I said.
He grabbed his toolbox. Said something unintelligible into his walkie-talkie. Headed towards the door.
"So I guess that other one was a bad movie?" I said.
"Guess so," he said.
"It could have been out of order for a long time," I said. I thought of all those business men before, eating that $19.95 charge.
"Who knows, really," the man said.
He stopped in the doorway. Took one look back at the TV. "Don't worry about the movie," the man said. "I'll tell them downstairs to take it off your bill."
I thanked him, shut the door, then locked it.
I stood in the room's entryway, listening hard, my ears straining for the slightest sound. I could hear the hum of the hotel around me. The cooling systems. The inner workings. The elevators going up and down. Rain falling outside.
I was listening for something beyond the hotel's machinery--listening for something human. A snicker maybe. A chorus of snickers, even. The whispers through the place that the man in 237 enjoys a wank on occasion.
Then I thought, Man, what the fuck do I fucking care. Fuck Orlando. Fuck Florida. Fuck these people.
And then I lowered my pants and enjoyed four glorious minutes of the fine piece of cinema known as Secretaries In Da Hood.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Flew down to Florida last Friday. My mother picked me up at the Sarasota airport.
It was late in the day, nearly dinner time. "What are we having tonight?" I asked.
"L.O.'s," my mother said, pulling away from the curb.
My mother's car had been broken into the two nights before. As we drove down I-4, she launched into an agonizingly detailed rendition of the event.
"I thought you lived in a nice neighborhood?" I asked.
"We do live in a nice neighborhood," she said. "That's what the sherriff told us. 'Criminals don't rob the bad neighborhoods.' What's to rob there?"
My mother works for a visiting nurse service. The thief had stolen a bag out of the backseat of her car. The bag contained hypodermics, a stethoscope, thermometers, things like that.
"I blame your father," mom said.
I asked her why.
"His routine is, just before dark, he goes outside and puts up the windows in the vehicles then locks them. But that night, he forgot. He was watching something on TV, and he forgot. When we lived on Powell Road, we never locked our doors at night, on the house or the cars. Most of the time we left the car keys right in the ignition. It's different down here. Bad things happen all the time."
The three of us ate dinner. We sat in front of the TV, hunched over the coffee table. Then my parents squinted at the TV Guide channel for about 20 minutes and complained that there's never anything on. "It's all repeats now," my mother explained.
"What about Hildalgo?" my father asked. Hildago. 2004. Viggo Mortensen plays a Pony Express courier who travels to Arabia to participate in some kind of marathon desert horse race.
"Fine," I said. I'd suffered through far worse during my visits. Far, far worse.
We watched Hildago. It wasn't bad. My dad and I drank beer. When the credits rolled my dad moved the coffee table out of the living room and began to inflate the air bed.
"How firm do you want it?" he asked over the din of the air compressor.
"Pretty firm," I said.
My parents took turns brushing their teeth. Then they went into their room, shut out the light, and the two of them began snoring almost immediately.
My mother has a wall clock in the living room that plays a variety of instrumental themes on the hour. Somewhere Over The Rainbow began to play. Eleven o'clock.
I got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. I checked the sliding glass door, making sure it was locked. I peered through the glass. I could see my mother's car in the April moonlight. I pictured a man. A stranger. Someone bold enough, or crazy enough, or unbalanced enough to walk onto my parents' property and open the door to their car.
That mysterious person, were I there a few nights earlier, would have been only 15 or 20 feet away from where I was standing.
My dad talks tough. He acts like nothing could scare him. He eats his hot mustard, brags about his masculinity. But I think this theft scared him. He tried to lay on some of his tough talk over dinner. It wasn't very convincing.
I'm still peering through the glass. There's nothing outside, no movement. It's a still night. No wind.
But I feel the weight on my shoulders. I feel the air going out of my chest. This is exactly what I do not want to see when I visit mom and dad: their frailties, their insecurities, the ways in which the world threatens them. I listen to them snore in the next room. I look through the glass at the night.
I'm pissed. I'm angry. "Come back, you motherless cocksucker, whoever you are," I whisper. My words are fogging the glass. "Just try to come back here, and I'll break your goddamn pencil neck, you fuck."
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Drank away Labor Day weekend. Phone rang a few times, but I didn't answer. Instead, I sat in the dark, blinds drawn, drinking.
Sunday afternoon, I decided to treat myself. I phoned the Thai place on 79th Street for a pick-up order. As soon as the woman heard my voice, she said, "Let me guesss--you want coconut soup?"
It was exactly what I wanted. "How did you know?" I said, already knowing the answer.
"Because you order it all the time," she said. "Every weekend, coconut soup, coconut soup, coconut soup."
I felt embarrassed. Ashamed of my own predictability. "It's good," I said defensively. "I really like it."
"Sure, sure," the woman said, sounding distracted.
"Maybe next time, I'll try something different. I promised. OK?"
"OK, fine. See you in 10 minutes." She hung up the phone.
I put on some pants and walked over to the Thai place, feeling angry, wanting the soup, but not wanting to confront this woman, not wanting to walk into the restaurant. (They won't deliver unless you order more than $12 worth of food; coconut soup, with a side of rice, is $9.) I braced myself, then walked through the door.
The restaurant was busy. Every table was full. The cute Thai girl was working, the one who always wears a tight pink T-shirt that says, FARMERS DO IT IN THE DIRT. I usually don't stare at women's boobs, but for some reason this girl has such a high, firm pair that I can never seem to help myself.
I handed her the money. She handed me the soup. The whole transaction happened silently.
I went home and ate my soup and watched the Mets lose on TV. For some reason, the soup didn't taste as good as it usually does. It was kind of flat. Watered down. Something was missing. An ingredient that I couldn't put my finger on...
My doorbell rang. It was my neighbors next door. I'd been getting their mail all week while they were away on vacation. The word is out that I'm here all the time, that I rarely go away, so I've become the official mail-retriever for anyone who leaves for a few days. "Here's a token of our appreciation," she said, handing me a big shopping bag that said DUTY FREE on the side.
"You really didn't have to do this," I said. Really meaning it. In fact, I would have preferred that they didn't get me anything.
Once they were gone, I peered into the bag. A big yellow X-large T-shirt with an embroidered sun in the center of the chest above the words CABO SAN LUCAS.
There was also a small bottle of tequila.
Once I settled back onto the couch, I noticed that the cat was missing. Lately, her hiding skills have improved remarkably. Sometimes, it's as if she has the ability to turn herself invisible.
After a few minutes of searching, I realized that this was one of those times where she'd invisibled herself. I looked everywhere for her. Behind the fridge. Underneath the nightstand. Everywhere. Everywhere I could think of.
No cat. Nothing.
My search became desperate. I worried that maybe she'd scampered out the door when I was getting the DUTY FREE bag from my neighbor.
I had tears in my eyes. I put my slippers on and ran up and down the stairs, calling her name.
I could hear TVs playing inside apartments. Low conversations. A telephone ringing in the distance. The hallways were empty. The stairwell was empty.
I tore my apartment to pieces, looking everywhere for her, tears running down my face. If I'd lost her, I'd never be able to forgive myself.
Exhausted from my search, with everything in my apartment upside down and inside out, I realized there was one place I hadn't looked. I pulled the cushions off the couch. And there, holed up inside the corner of the folded sofa bed, was the kitten.
I have no idea how she got in there. I pulled her out and held her to my chest. I buried my nose into her neck, inhaling her kitten smell. I love how she smells. I kissed the top of her head. I rubbed her belly. She let out a meow of protest, but let me kiss her a few more times anyway.
I noticed that the sun was going down. I opened a fresh beer. I put the cushions back on my couch. I searched for something to watch on TV.
What a shit-ass Labor Day.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Was taking my bike out through the basement exit yesterday--per co-op rules, anything you can't carry has to go in or out through the basement--when I saw a man letting his dog shit on the tiny wedge of grass in front of the building.
I rode by the man, on my out to the park. Then decided, Fuck this. I stopped. Turned back.
"Excuse me," I say, trying to be polite. "Did your dog just take a shit back there?"
This is one of those third-person, disembodied moments, when I can't really believe I'm doing what I'm doing. It's like I'm seeing myself do this, and I'm rooting for myself, hoping it all turns out OK for me.
Guy stops. Looks at me. Sunglasses. Vintage T-shirt. Unshaven. Jack Russell terrier. Douche all the way. "Did she shit?" he asks.
Did she shit? I saw her shitting from 20 yards away while riding a bike. Give me a break.
"I think she did," I say. I motion towards the turds in the grass.
He stops. Sighs. Turns. Looks at me.
I say, "I live here. In this building." To explain why I'm complaining about turds on the lawn. I motion towards the building.
He looks at the building. He looks at the turds. I wheel my bike around, and I'm about to ride off, when he says, "Hey, you're riding your bike on the sidewalk. That's against the law."
"What?" I say.
"Yeah. You're breaking the law right now. And when you rode past me, while breaking the law, you almost HIT ME. You almost RAN ME DOWN."
At this point, I'm facing the other way. Towards the park. He's backtracking, moving towards the turds, his dog in tow. "Hit you?" I say, looking over my shoulder. "I didn't even come close."
I step on one of the pedals. I'm about to wheel off.
"What did you say?" he says.
Now I am wheeling off. "I said I wasn't even CLOSE."
He mutters something, but by this time, I'm already on 35th Ave., riding into the wind, towards Flushing Meadow. I'm pumping hard, full of adrenaline. I'm pissed. Really pissed. I ride, faster and faster, thinking of all the things I could have said, but didn't.
-If you don't want to clean up your dog's turds, you shouldn't own a dog.
-Give me your address. That way I can stop by your building later and take a shit on your lawn.
-Hit you? If I hit, belived me, you'd know it.
-Now clean up your dog's shit, and get the fuck out of my neighborhood.
-And don't let me ever see you on my block again.
I burned off all my adrenaline at the park. Most of it. 90-percent of it. When I rode back to the neighborhood, I checked the lawn for the turds. Sure enough, they were still there. I was winded, sweating, too tired to get pissed off all over again.
Since this happened, whenever I go down to the street, I'm thinking about this guy. This douche. Always thinking about him and his fucking Jack Russell. I walk around feeling a mix of bravado and cowering fear. I hate that I'm thinking about him. Hate how this whole thing has tainted my formerly friendly, peaceful neighborhood in a weird way. I'm always half hoping I run into this guy again. And always half hoping I don't.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Was sitting at my desk having a cup of coffee yesterday morning when the kitten, as is her habit these days, leapt onto the desk and began her search for pens, paperclips, rubberbands, batteries, etc. Basically anything she can knock to the floor and bat around for 10 to 15 minutes.
As she surveyed the desk, she spun around, turning her backside towards me. Her tail happened to be hoisted high, giving me a bird's-eye view of her butthole. And there, pinned in the halo of fur surrounding her butthole, was a dark pebble of poop.
With all the time she spends grooming herself, and, in particular, grooming her crotch, I figured I'd leave the pebble there and let her take care of it. It was only a matter of time before she found it. So, I went about my morning, sending various emails, etc. An hour went by, and the pebble was still there. Two hours...and the pebble was still there.
Finally, by noon, I figured I had no choice but to help her out a little.
"Hold still," I said, gently lifting her tail. With nervous fingers, I plucked the pebble of poop off of her. Once the extraction was complete, the kitten let out a polite meow, which I interpreted as, *Thank you.*
If this isn't true love, I don't know what is.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
An ice cream truck has been patrolling my Queens neighborhood nearly 24 hours a day for the past month, always blaring a Casio keyboard rendition of "Turkey In the Straw." I get so fucking depressed during the summer months. It's not just the overwhelming heat and humidity in New York, the blinding sun. It's picnics, watermelon, BBQs, fireworks, popsicles, parks, beaches, pools, margaritas, camping, state fairs, badmitton, hot dogs. It's ice cream trucks that play "Turkey In The Straw" all night. It's summer culture itself.
And it's the way people are hellbent on doing something, going somewhere, desperate to make something, anything, happen. The way everyone is always determined, no matter the cost, to have themselves a ball. The way the newsanchors on the local channels are always pretending to beg the weatherman for a sunshine-filled forecast. (The sun icon used on the screen is inevitably a smiling face.) The way everyone is forever asking one another, "So, what are your plans for the weekend?"
Implying that to not have plans is somehow abnormal.
Well, fuck you. Those are my plans.
There's something false in all this relentless cheeriness. Something that doesn't ring true to me.
One of my neighbors invited me out to his Hamptons house. A college friend tried to get me to go down to Breezey Point in Brooklyn last weekend. Still another invited me to a cookout in his tiny backyard in Park Slope.
Thanks, but no. Instead, I draw the blinds. I run the air conditioner. I sit in the dark and watch DVDs. I drink beer and play videogames. I get more pale, more mushroomy, by the second. I rarely go out, and only then if I absolutely must. (For more beer, or DVDs, or kitty litter.)
Sometimes I think I suffer from a rare brand of seasonal affective disorder. Only instead of being afflicted during the dark, bitter months of winter, as most people are, I get it during the summer.
Or maybe I'm just on my way to becoming a cranky old fuck.
Monday, July 18, 2005
So I got a cat. A kitten. 10 weeks old. 2 pounds. She was a street cat who was rescued a few blocks away from my apartment. (It's a rags to riches story; she was homeless, but now she's moved on up to my deluxe apartment in the sky. And yes, I'm quoting The Jefferson's theme song.)
I named her Humtum, but I usually call her Pewey (which is short for Pewey-head). I'm not sure why I do this.
I love her dearly, but she's a pain in the ass sometimes. I've got steel wool stuffed into cracks and crevices around the apartment, which is designed to keep out bugs and mice. Pewey has made it her personal mission to locate every bit of steel wool she can find. This drives me insane, and I'm terrified that she's going to eat some of it. And she climbs all over my keyboard when I'm at the computer. This was sort of endearing at first, but quickly became annoying, especially whenever I'm on deadline.
I realize that she won't be a kitten for very long, so I wanted to make sure that I properly record her kittenhood for posterity. So I follow her around nearly every day with a camera, snapping pictures of her, trying to catch her in the act of napping (not hard to do), or doing something cute.
One day last week as I followed her from room to room with my camera at the ready, it struck me that there might be something more than a little sad about a 36-year-old man alone in his apartment in Queens trying to take photographs of his cat.