notes from a man who spends too much time playing video games

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This is where you stick random tidbits of information about yourself.

A Few Points Shy of the High Score
Monday, September 29, 2003  
Was walking to the office last Friday morning, cutting through Madison Square Park as I always do, when something strange happened. There's a fountain at the north end of the park, and I was passing near the fountain, self-possessed and half out of it as I always am in the mornings, when something small and hard struck me square in the chest.

I stopped and tried to figure out what had just happened. The projectile--a penny--was on the asphalt at my feet. Took me a few moments to process this: someone had thrown a penny and it had hit me in the chest.

I wasn't sure how to respond to this, couldn't be certain whether the penny was thrown maliciously or not. I turned in the direction that I guessed the penny had been thrown from and saw a well-dressed man looking sheepishly at me from about 10 yards away.

"Sorry," he said. "I was, um, aiming for the fountain and--"

I didn't respond, just gave him a dirty look--it was a scowl; scowls aren't terribly hard for me to conjure in the mornings--then hurried on my way.

Once I arrived at the office, I drank coffee and checked my email, but for an hour or so that morning I could still feel the dull ache in my chest where the man's misfired penny had hit me.

Once, on my birthday two years ago, my office mates offered to take me out to lunch to celebrate. I sat in my office, passing the time, certain someone would fetch me when it was time to go to the restaurant. Around 12:30 I noticed that my office mates were missing. The phone on my desk rang.

"Where the hell are you?" It was Mark, the art director. "We're all at the restaurant, waiting for you."

"I thought you guys were going to get me when it was time to go...." I sounded desperate, whiny. I couldn't believe they'd left without me--wasn't I the fucking guest of honor?

Then Mark's voice got muffled, and I could tell he was covering the receiver on his cell phone. "We forgot to get Scott," he said. All at once, the whole table, all my office mates, erupted with laughter.

Then Mark came back on the line. "Just get your ass over here."

I hung up the phone and sat at my desk, feeling lousy, hollow. Was I fucking invisible? Some days I really do feel invisible, like people can't see me. I pulled my coat on and crossed the street to the restaurant. I did my best to be a good sport about the whole thing. I ordered a couple lunch-time beers which helped take the edge off the situation, and made me feel better all around. Later, when I was recounting the story for John, he said, "That sounds like a Dilbert cartoon." And we both laughed, because he was right, it really was exactly the sort of situation that seems to happen to Dilbert.

Getting hit in the chest with a make-a-wish penny while passing near a fountain--that sounds like a goddamn Dilbert cartoon, too.

3:58 PM

Thursday, September 25, 2003  
Smells like smoke in here...and I'm starting to think it might be me.

Feeling burned out on the weblog the past couple days, so I'm taking the rest of the week off.

Back Monday.

2:00 PM

Monday, September 22, 2003  
I met this guy named Brian during the blackout last month. Tall, affable guy. Newsweek reporter. By chance, he and I wound up sitting next to each other in a candle-lit barroom just off 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. He scribbled down a few of my pithier quotes regarding the blackout in his reporter's notebook, but explicity told me that he couldn't make any promises about my words winding up in the magazine. (They didn't.)

Brian and I sort of hit it off and made tentative plans to get together to visit some of the Irish bars in Kensington, the neighborhood south of where I live. He gave me his various phone numbers, we shook hands, and I staggered off into the night, trying to find my way home.

About a week after the blackout, I decided to phone his office number at Newsweek. A woman answered the phone. "I'm sorry," she said in a woeful voice, "but Brian doesn't work here any longer."

This was curious. Newsweek wasn't the sort of place a young reporter just walks away from.

I still had his cell and home numbers, but for some reason I put off calling. The days soon turned into weeks, and now an entire month has passed and I still haven't called. I can't even imagine how I'd go about it at this point. "Hi Brian, this is Scott. We, uh, met during the blackout. Remember?"

Honestly, it was so damn dark in the bar, I can't even really recall what he looked like. I probably wouldn't know him if I passed him on the street.

I have the little scrap of paper with his phone numbers on it here on my desk. I look at the scrap every damn day and I think, Today I'll make the call. Today is the day, goddammit.

But I never do.

3:52 PM

Thursday, September 18, 2003  
Wrote girl copy today. I'm telling you, nothing saps my chi quite like girl copy. It's the most Bartleby-like thing I do. I actually have learned to do it quickly, just burn through it, getting it over with as fast as humanly possible. Lord knows if I sit around dreading it for too long, hours will go by and the stacks of girl sets will still be sitting on my desk at five o'clock, and nothing will have been accomplished. So I just burn rubber, get through them, pull the bandage off, endure the pain.

Girl copy is the bit of text that accompanies each pictorial. It's all fake, all fiction, with absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever. It's always written in the voice of the girl. If the pictorial is a boy/girl, or a boy/boy/girl, it's still written in the voice of the girl. In the case of a boy/girl/girl, I pick one of the two girls and write it in her voice.

Try to imagine writing a plausible (or even semi-plausible) story about how a woman ended up nude (except for a straw hat) and spread-eagled in a vegetable garden with cucumbers protruding from every one of her orifi and you'll begin to understand why I dread writing this stuff so much. Honestly, what the hell can you say, really? Don't the photos pretty much say it all?

For years I've actually lobbied for the banishment of girl copy at the magazine, using that same exact argument. No one listens to me. Girl copy is a moldy leftover from another era, an era when the girl copy was actual biographical information about the girl. Now, with so much of the stuff we buy coming from European photographers, the girls in the photo sets are empty vessels, unknown quantities. Sometimes they'll give us a fake name to use--girl's real name is Svetlana Glatshossinklavo (actual name), but she wants to be known as "Daisy" in the States. Most of the time, they don't even give us the name, and I'll have to sit here and eyeball the photos of the girl and think things like, "She sort of looks like a Michelle. Or maybe a Margo...."

I used to take girl copy seriously, used to spend hours trying to make it sound convincing and credible, crafting the stuff. I used to care about the girls, and care about the identities I was creating for them. That route burned me out fairly quickly. Lately my girl copy has gotten increasingly absurd. I mean, it's completely absurd that a woman would be lying prone in a vegetable garden (wearing only a straw hat) with a cucumber occupying her every opening, so why shouldn't my girl copy be a reflection of that absurdity? I actually think my absurdity has served the magazine well in a strange, back-handed kind of way....

Reconciling these bizarre elements--straw hat, nude woman, vegetable garden, cumcumbers, etc.--is really the key. Here's a few other girl sets I've had to write in recent months, just in case you'd like to try your hand at this:

blonde/Mexican hat/phallic-shaped morroccos
brunette/chef hat/turkey baster
blonde/dirty garage/assorted wrenches
redhead/police uniform/bowling ball
blonde/bee-keeper outfit/removes all clothes (except for netted hat)

Today I wrote one for a boy/boy/girl/girl, only I tried something a little different and wrote it from one of the guy's perspectives (daring!). The pictorial had something to do with a food service table on a film shoot, and the girls start kissing at some point and the guys get involved. Here's what I wrote (warning, this gets a little raw in spots, you must be this tall to ride this ride, etc.):

I got a job for one of the catering companies out in L.A. The boss was this dude named Silvio. He kept telling me that crazy shit went down on the back lot all the time. “You’ll see, you’ll see,” he kept saying with a wink. Boy, was Silvio ever right.
We were working on this low-budget action movie when the two female stars—get this—started making out right in front of us! Silvio dropped his spatula, elbowed me once, and whispered, “It’s showtime, honey.” He just walked right up to the kissing girls, whipped out his ham (and it was a nasty-looking piece of ham, if I do say so) and said, “You girls mind pulling my goddamn pud for me?” To my amazement, they did! Silvio was waving me over, trying to get me in on the action, but I was feeling shy. “Matt, get your ass over here and get your damn ham out,” he shouted. So, I walked over to the girls, took out my ham, and sure enough, the girls sucked on my ham, too. Silvio and I pounded their pussies for hours, blew our loads all over them. It was fucking great. I couldn’t believe things like this ever really happened. Once the girls were gone, Silvio and I were alone again. He fussed with his belt buckle and said, “These uptight Hollywood bitches get stressed out sometimes. A little bit of ham keeps them sane.” We high-fived, then broke down the catering tables and called it a day.

Voila. Looks easy enough, right? Well, I'm telling you, this stuff is killing me. Everytime I write one of these, a little part of me dies.

And you wonder why I drink.

4:01 PM

Wednesday, September 17, 2003  
My F-Zero GX review was posted on today. People who know me know how difficult it is for me to say this, but I'm actually kind of proud of the review. No, not "kind of;" I'm proud. One hundred percent, full-on, grade-A proud.

Feels good to be proud of something. Damn good. Reminds me of the fact that I've had very little to be proud of over the past five, six years.... Christ, I really need to find myself more things to be proud of, maybe make this into a habit of some kind.

4:04 PM

Tuesday, September 16, 2003  
Went home two weeks ago, my first visit upstate since last Christmas. I'd been promising to make the trip for months, but could never quite get it together enough to actually go. Feels like the end of an era up there, what with my brother and his wife building a house, my grandparents deathly ill in a nursing home, and my parents selling their house and moving to Florida this November. The visit represented the beginning of the end of something, which is no doubt why I'd put it off for so long.

My brother proudly showed me around his half-finished house, the floors strewn with stray nails and sheetrock dust. "This is going to be the nursery," he said, leading me into a corner bedroom room, pink insulation hanging from the walls. "Hopefully, you'll have some nieces and nephews soon." I stood there, hungover, looking out the window at the pine trees blowing in the wind, not knowing what to say to this. "It's nice," I said in a weak voice. He also showed me another room, which he described as "your room." "My room?" I said. "For what?" "Whenever you visit," he said, "you'll stay here. With us." That broke my heart a little, to tell you the truth. I felt comforted by this. Taken care of. By my younger brother. Aren't I supposed to take care of him? Maybe he senses that I need a little caring for these days. I felt grateful for this. Even his wife referred to the room as "Scott's room" in conversation several times, which meant this was something they'd determined well in advance of my visit.

There's a maturity about my brother these days. Every time I see him, he seems older to me now, more grown up. Guess getting married and building a house will have that effect on you.... I'm proud of him. The little fucker.

There was one small moment that stands out in my memory for some reason. We were standing together in the hallway of his house, when he handed me a lightbulb and asked me to screw it into a socket in the ceiling for him. "Can't you do it?" I said, getting up on tip-toe, straining to reach the socket. "You're taller than me," he said. I said, "I always thought we were the same size." And it's true; I've always thought we were about the same height. "No," he said, correcting me, "you're the taller one." I think the subtext of what he was saying was, Let's recognize who we are, and what we are capable of, once and for all. A few years ago, when he was younger, more proud, I'm pretty sure he would not have asked me to do this; he would've simply gotten something to stand on and done it himself. I've never really appreciated my brother much, always summing up our relationship with "we're as different as night and day," but I'm starting to. I'm learning to appreciate him. And it feels good.

Seeing my grandparents was pure hell. Their tiny cell-like room in the nursing home, with the hideous green walls. The frustration on their faces. My grandmother can't wear her wig anymore, and the sight of her always startles me now, her fringe of dry white hair flying in all directions, like a terrible clown. Grandpa wears a neck brace and can't hear or see very well. They both sit in wheelchairs. I sat close to Grandpa, tried to talk/shout with him.

"The other day, your grandmother had to wait over an hour to use the toilet," he said. "The aid wouldn't come."

"Oh," I said.

"When the aid did come, I said to her, 'How would you like it if you had to wait an hour to use the toilet?' "

Grandma kept smiling at me across the room, this big, goofy smile. My Dad had brought Grandpa a lottery ticket, his one vice, but he said he couldn't see well enough anymore to scratch it off. So the duty fell to my brother. We all sat there, waiting and watching as Sean scratched away at the ticket. Finally, he said, "It's a loser." My Dad asked for the ticket, studied it to make sure Sean had read it correctly, then quietly slipped it into a nearby trash can. "Yep, a loser," Dad said. Grandpa didn't seem terribly surprised by this news.

I kissed my grandmother goodbye, shook Grandpa's hand. I lingered in the doorway while my father tended to them (they're his parents), trying to help them out of their wheelchairs, back into their beds. I looked at them, so frail, so small, so drained, so utterly devoid of life. I felt lousy that this is what they get, this is where they end up, in this half-assed nursing home, after living all these years. This is why I didn't want to come home--I didn't want to have to bear witness to this, didn't want to come to terms with it. I looked at the two of them, covered to their necks with blankets, like children, and I wondered if I'd ever see them again.

Mostly I feel bad for dad. He drove the car home aggressively, revving the engine, which I know from my childhood means he's upset, angry. My mother and I sat in the backseat. She tried making small talk with me. "Are you using the coffee maker we bought you?" she asked.

"Only when I have company," I said.

"How do you make your coffee in the mornings?"

"The press-pot. Like always."

"Do you like it like that?"

I glared at her for a few seconds. It's not hard for me to lose patience with my mother. "Of course I like it like that. That's why I make it like that."

"Well, I can't drink it like that," she said. "Too strong. I don't like strong coffee."

A few seconds later she dug a pack of gum out of her purse and offered me a stick. I took one. "Take the whole pack," she said. "Go ahead."

"I don't want the whole pack," I said.

"Take it. I don't want it. I can't even stand that gum. I don't even know why I bought it."

I took the goddamn pack. I looked out the window and chewed my gum in silence, hoping she'd leave me alone for awhile.

They dropped me at the train station on Sunday morning. Mom wandered off by herself, as she always does when it's time to say goodbye. Dad stood close, talked to me for a few minutes. I told him about the ESPN interview, and generally tried to give him the impression that I had things together, that I was a guy on the make. Finally, my train came. I got on board, and intended to look for the two of them out the window, give them a final wave, but I got tangled up with the conductor, some problem with my ticket, and before I had a chance, I was already pulling out of the station and picking up speed, already moving back towards New York.

3:27 PM

Friday, September 12, 2003  
I saw a giant girl on 32nd Street today over by Macy's. She wasn't attractive or anything, just remarkably huge, an Amazon. I'm huge too--almost 6'4", 200-plus pounds--and when we passed one another, our eyes met briefly and we exchanged a knowing glance. It wasn't a flirtation, but merely an acknowledgement of our mutual hugeness. "Hello, fellow huge person," my glance said. "Nice to see you, huge person," her glance said in return.

Huge people are freaks in New York. I'm forever bumping my head on things, as if the whole city wasn't built to my scale. I don't often see other huge people here, so whenever I do, I'm comforted by them, I'm glad to know they exist. We're like aliens, us huge people, aliens from a distant planet where everything is just a few sizes bigger.

Games I've been playing, and enjoying, this week: Dynasty Warriors 4 (PS2), Wipeout Fusion (PS2), Alter Echo (PS2), Otogi (Xbox), F-Zero GX (GC).

And I'm thinking about buying a new Xbox. I've got one of those dreaded "dirty disc error" Xboxes, which means the fucking thing crashes on a regular basis. My instincts tell me to hold out until the holidays, wait and see if there's another price drop. (New Xbox goes for $180, and I'd like it to drop down to about a $100.) Hate having to spend money on a machine I use so infrequently... but when I need it, especially if I'm reviewing something, I need the damn thing to work.

I've complained to Microsoft, but they aren't in the least bit interested in making me happy. I have great relationships with 99% of the gaming companies out there, but Bill Gates and his minions for some reason has always given me the big cold shoulder....

4:03 PM

Thursday, September 11, 2003  
It's 9/11, but I don't really feel like talking about 9/11. Mostly I just wish it wasn't 9/11, that it didn't mean the things that it now means. And I wish my jackass co-worker who still has a yellowed Osama bin Laden WANTED poster taped to his door would fucking take the goddamned thing down, please. Once and for all, take the thing down, man.

Because I can't look at it anymore.

4:09 PM

Tuesday, September 09, 2003  
Coverline meeting at the office today. We all sat down in the conference room with the sales and marketing departments, and together tried to hammer out the lines for the December issue. The meetings are, at best, antagonistic; it's a classic case of creative types versus MBA grads. At worst, they're painfully dull, though I do admit that I always look forward to the meetings for the same reason I always looked forward to assemblies in elementary school: they're a welcome respite from our otherwise prosaic workdays.

Part of my job is to come up with a few ideas before the meeting, and I arrived, as usual, with a list of proposed coverlines--about a page long--and proudly distributed copies to everyone around the conference room table.

Much to my chagrin, everyone gave my lines a cursory glance, set them aside, then began shouting out their own ideas for lines.

Let me say that my lines have long been revered at the magazine--I have a real knack for writing these things--but lately I seem to have fallen out of favor. I have no idea why. When I saw that my lines were once again being dismissed--this has happened at the last three meetings-- I felt angry, frustrated, pissed off. Sure, I didn't spend a lot of time on them--10, 15 minutes tops--but I did do some work here, and I wanted to be praised for it. If not praised, at least acknowledged. Can I get a little acknowledgement over here? Please?

When I saw that wasn't going to happen, that the tide was turning against me once again, I got punchy. My co-workers were trying to come up with a description for the cover model's ample breasts, but soon found themselves in a creative jam.

"What about this," I said, waiting for two, three beats until I had everyone's attention. "Wonder Tits."

The room was silent.

I said it again. "Wonder Tits."

Still no one said anything.

"So, no one likes 'Wonder Tits'?" I asked.

One of the marketing reps spoke up. " 'Wonder Tits.' I know it sounds crazy, but I actually like it."

"Sounds kind of like a super hero," another rep said.

A few people laughed.

"Wonder Tits," a third rep said. "Let's go with it."

I meant "Wonder Tits" to be a joke, never thinking anyone would take it seriously, not for a second. I was simply trying to remind the room that I was there--me, the formerly revered coverline writer who has lately fallen out of favor.

Hey, maybe "Wonder Tits" represents a comeback of some kind. Maybe "Wonder Tits" officially puts me back on the map, and makes me a contender again....

Anyway, that's the story of how "Wonder Tits" ended up on the December cover. Be sure to look for it at newsstands everywhere.

5:01 PM

Monday, September 08, 2003  
About a week and a half ago I wrote the Soul Calibur 2 second opinion for and got into a bit of hot water. (Gamecritics has a Siskel/Ebert dynamic; one critic writes the main review, another does the "second op," as we call it.) The main review for the game read like a love letter, and the critic very generously awarded the game a 9.5.

My feelings towards Soul Calibur 2 were more ambivalent, so I decided to lowball the game a little--a mistake, in retrospect--and pinned a 6.5 to my review.

I sent the review off, then left town for Labor Day weekend. When I returned, I found a 100-message-long thread on the website debating the validity of my Soul Calibur 2 review...among other things.

I obviously couldn't defend myself properly since I was out of town, and posters intepreted my silence as a dis, and quickly turned bitter. "Maybe he'll come down from Mt. Sinai or wherever the hell he is and explain this 6.5 for us," one poster wrote. Eventually, another poster wisely pointed out that it was indeed a holiday weekend, and that there was a good chance that I was away. (...And had better things to do than read videogame message boards.)

A postage-stamp size photo of myself--it's quite handsome--is now attached to my reviews, and soon the message board community, frustrated by my silence, began commenting on my eyeglass frames. My bio on the site says that I work at a "men's sophisticate" magazine, and many posters were speculating on the meaning of the term "men's sophisticate." "Perhaps it has something to do with those glasses...they look quite 'sophisticated,' don't they?" a poster wrote. My email address is also listed on the site, and a few members quietly sent me unnerving, stalker-ish emails, saying things like, "dude, your review is getting ripped to fucking shreds on the boards. where the hell are you? you need to respond. we're all waiting."

I felt flattered in a strange way--it was gratifying to think of all these strangers not only reading my writing, but also attributing so much importance to it. I've oftened wondered if anybody gives any of the things I write a second thought. And what I found was a community of people deconstructing my writing with a passion.

I ended up revising the review (but keeping the 6.5), trying to address some of the posters' legitimate criticisms. When I posted my revision, and proudly announced it on the boards, I waited to see if I could polarize the community again. I couldn't. Aside from a few stray posts, there was nothing but the sound of crickets chirping out there. All the posters had gone off to debate other reviews, other games, other reviewers eyeglass frames. I was old news. My vanity had me scanning the boards, hoping to see my name, wondering if anyone was still paying attention to me. No one was. I felt humbled for a few days, then slowly returned to playing and writing about games, happily working in obscurity again.

5:03 PM

Tuesday, September 02, 2003  
Went to Lorenzo's for a lunch-time haircut today. He really gave me one too, the mad man, going wild with his razors and scissors. This is probably the shortest my hair has been since that ill-conceived buzz-cut I got in college. I hate it when my hair is too short because it makes my face look too goddamn big. I need more hair to off-set my huge face. Now I have no choice but to go around the rest of the week with my big fucking face hanging out, just flapping in the fucking breeze....

Fell out of touch with everything last week, what with preparing for the ESPN thing on Friday, filing my Soul Calibur 2 review, etc. I'm usually not this busy, and in a perverse way, I'm sort of enjoying it. Suffice it to say that the ESPN thing went well. Well enough. Though I could easily comb over the event and locate all the things I did wrong, I'm trying like hell not to do that. In fact, I'm trying like hell to recall all the things that I did right. And I did a lot of right things. I truly did.

In an odd, long-shot kind of way, I feel like I'm going to get the job. I feel it in my stomach, my heart.

Then again, my stomach and heart haven't always been one-hundred percent truthful with me....

4:50 PM

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