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
Wednesday, October 29, 2003  
So the guy who works in the office next door to me put in his notice. Two weeks and he's gone. I'm envious. Wish to christ it was me.

He's a quiet guy. A little strange. Quirky. Big into old cameras, always dealing for them on ebay. Have to say, his work habits around here weren't the greatest. He really hasn't made much of an effort to help out in nearly a year. We've all quietly complained about his laziness to one another, but nobody ever confronted him, so he kept getting away with doing next to nothing.

Now he's leaving. The sonofabitch.

Cleaning out his desk even as I type this.

He's making it look easy, too. Just made the decision in his mind to walk out. Has no contingency plan whatsoever, just knows that he needs to get away from here. Says he's worried about being broke, about not having health insurance, but felt so fed up with this place that he's willing to take the risk.

Those were his words. "I'm fed up with this place." And he's worked here about half as long as I have. He's in his 40s. Says he's going to become a yoga teacher, says it's always been a dream of his. "If I don't do it now," he said, "when am I going to do it?"

Lately I've been waking up late at night feeling like there's a plaque growing on my soul, courtesy of this place. My system is getting corroded, corrupted--gummed up. I'm worried that this stuff has gotten into my blood, and that I won't be able to get it out.

I'm sick of my co-workers too. Bitter spirits, all of them. Used to think of these as misfits, as the misunderstood, but now I'm starting to think they might all be budding sociopaths. Everyone around here is so goddamn bitter. Worried that I'm turning bitter too.

Maybe this is what the end looks like.

This certainly isn't the way I imagined it.

But I don't think it ever looks the way we imagine it.

I'm looking for a new job, trying to drum up some alternate sources of income. I'm going to try to sock a little money away the next couple months. Need to try selling DVDs again (got a possible lead on a website that might accomodate me). Need to follow up on that resume over at Rockstar games.

And I need to work on getting myself fired. That's the proper route--to get fired. That way, at least I'll have the unemployment checks to fall back on.

My plan is to be fired by January.

If I'm not fired, then I'll walk. Because it's time for a fresh start. Time to clear the decks. Time to start showing myself a little self-respect. Time to pull myself together, once and for all....

Anything has to be more interesting than another year here.

3:50 PM

Tuesday, October 28, 2003  
Don't normally do things like this, but I read a passage in Jonathon Alter's column in Newsweek last week regarding the Red Sox-Cubs losses that I found interesting:

The defining characterisitc of fanaticism--in the Middle East or the Middle West--is that it turns reality on its head. We convince ourselves that we somehow influence how superstars put runs on the board. But when it comes to something in our own lives, we assume we're powerless to change the outcome. We can control Pedro Martinez's pitching but can't possibly prevent ourselves from reaching for another potato chip.

This is one reason "The Fan" in Chicago took so much abuse for the sixth-game fiasco that he may have to go into the Witness Protection Program. Instead of blaming Alex Gonzalez for booting a grounder or Mark Prior for throwing a wild pitch or even the umpire for not calling interference, Chicagoans settled on 26-year-old "Steve Bartman."

In retrospect, I find it odd the way I found myself--as someone who's no fan of baseball--following the Red Sox-Yankees series. I hurried home each day after work to watch the games, feverishly discussing the outcomes the following day with my co-workers. I shut the game off--disgusted!--when the Yankees were losing. (Something about the whole head-shaving deal and the catchphrase "Cowboy up" really turned me off to the Red Sox.) I got caught up in it for reasons I have yet to fully understand.

The morning after the Red Sox lost, I walked to work whistling, a little spring in my step. I felt lucky. Blessed. Strange.... What I wanted to happen, happened. To some extent, I guess I felt in some small way personally responsible for the Yankees winning. I was pulling for them in my own quiet way. And they won.

And I had something to do with it. Little old me.

Derek Jeter should probably send me a frigging thank-you note.

4:37 PM

Friday, October 24, 2003  
So I was on TV this morning. ESPN2, their morning show, Cold Pizza. Last minute thing, obviously. The producer called me late yesterday afternoon as I was putting my jacket on to head home for the night. She needed help--needed someone to challenge their resident game expert (i.e. the guy who got the job I was angling for a couple months back) to some kind of showdown. Would I be interested? I said yes. What the hell.

Got up at 4:30, showered, fixed coffee, dressed, then ran out the door. Got on a very slow F train (@#%&*), and sat there worrying that I might not make it to the show on time--the producer wanted me there by 6. I ended up sprinting down 34th Street at 6:10. I lost my wind at 8th Avenue, and twisted my knee a little, but managed to limp my way into the studio by 6:15.

Was led into the green room, which was small and cold. They had a space heater going, and this morning's guests were huddled around it for warmth. The green room had a small window which looked out on the studio.

I wanted to say witty things, establish my presence somehow, but mostly I felt nervous and dry-mouthed. My breath, I think, was bad from my nerves. I had one of those Listerine packets in my pocket, and I kept going to it.

I got a little makeup--"to reduce the glare"--drank a bottled water, then...waited. There was a little TV in the room, and so we all sat around watching the show. It's a new show, and obviously still rough around the edges. Most of the segments just seemed designed to kill time--two hours is an awful lot of time to fill.

There was another gamer there--a young, nerdy dude named Dan--and when they asked for a volunteer to go down to the studio, Dan jumped at the chance. I was content to sit still for awhile, to rest my twisted knee.

People kept coming in and out of the green room every few minutes. They'd be sitting next to me one minute, then the next they'd be down there on the TV. Nobody particularly famous. A guy from one of the sports talk radio stations that I listen to. I tried being friendly with him, but he wasn't having it. Oh, and Tony Hawk was there, but he must have had his own green room, because he didn't use ours. I went to the window and could see the nerdy guy Dan playing against the show's "expert"--Sundance Giovanni. (That's what he calls himself--Sundance. No kidding.)

Around 8:20 or so I was ushered into the studio. It was strange being down there. The room was smaller than I expected it to be. It was full of people, but felt disinfected, soundless, airless. It smelled like...nothing. Nothing at all. Dan reluctantly gave up his seat so I could take a few turns with the game before our segment. It was a snowboarding game called Amped 2. Real crap. And I couldn't seem to figure out the controls, so I asked Sundance to help me out. He was grinding a rail, and I asked him how he did the grind. "You, uh, kind of just do this," he said, holding his Xbox controller up. I had no idea what he was talking about. He didn't seem to like me. I asked him at one point if he moved to NYC for the job, and he said, "No, I live here. In Tribeca." End of conversation.

I kept playing, kept trying to get the controls down. Usually the learning curve for a game is anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. I had about 5-10 minutes to get it sorted out.

I was supposed to pretend to be a viewer who'd accepted Sundance's Amped 2 challenge--which was, beat him and he'd shave his head. They had the clippers standing by and everything.

After a few more minutes of practice, I was starting to get the controls down, starting to put together some good runs. It was time for our segment. The girl from the Road Rules is one of the hosts--Kit Hoover, funny name, something like that--and she came over and wedged herself between us, looking all bright and smiley and TV-like.

Suddenly the lights went bright--every piece of equipment in the studio and every person, were suddenly focused on us. On me.

I was on TV.

The rest of it is kind of a blur. Kit Hoover peppered me with questions. I'd been beating Sundance, was in the lead, but answering the questions distracted me, and suddenly I was stuck between this rock and a big ramp.

"Doesn't look like you're doing very good," Kit Hoover said.

"I'm stuck," I said, sounding helpless, as my character snowboarded around in a tiny circle. "I'm stuck."

"Well," Kit Hoover said, "how does Amped 2 compare to Amped 1?" I've never played Amped 1.

I said, "The graphics are better, and some of the challenges seem more rich and varied." Some dead air. "And the game seems...more challenging overall."

A few seconds later, the lights went down. It was over.

I didn't beat Sundance. He kept his hair. Me, I didn't lose anything, except maybe some of my dignity. I wasn't really making any use of that dignity anyway....

After the segment, the producer came out of the control booth with a mad face. She thanked me, then one of her assistants led me to the exit. "No one leaves without a goodie bag," she said brightly, handing me a small glossy shopping bag.

Outside the studio, 34th Street was filled with people hustling to work, wearing overcoats, newspapers stuffed under their arms. Whole armies of people. I pulled up my collar against the bitter October wind, took a deep breath, then joined the ranks.

I wish I could say it was a success. I can't. I just did my best, nothing more. The whole time I was there, I kept hoping the extrovert in me would wake up suddenly and really light the place up, really set it ablaze. I wanted the producers to shout "We totally love you!" then fire Sundance on the spot and let me take over his job. That obviously didn't happen. I was just myself this morning--a little quiet, a little tired, a little nervous, a little hungover. Me--for better or worse.

Ah, fuck TV anyway.

10:40 AM

Wednesday, October 22, 2003  
A porn star who we privately refer to as "Marty Feldman" stopped by the office yesterday. Most girls will phone a few days in advance to let me know when they're going to be in New York, but Marty Feldman always seems to show up out of the clear blue. She thinks of herself as an industry V.I.P., and assumes a kinship with the magazine, and with me, which makes me uncomfortable. She's also one of these porn stars who'll insist on a hug and a kiss each time she sees me, which I really can't bear. "Tell her I'm not in," I said to the receptionist.

"I can't do that," the receptionist said.

I asked her why she couldn't do this.

"Because she barged right past me," she said. "She's on her way back to your office."

I could already hear the sound of Marty Feldman's high heels stalking down the hall, coming towards me, sounding very much like hoof beats. For some reason I thought of the Minotaur in the labyrinth....

So I did something strange. I impulsively clicked off my desk lamp, then quickly tip-toed across my office and quietly closed the door. Outside the door, I could hear the high heels coming closer, winding their way through the halls. I crouched down on the floor of my office, my knees pressed into the gray, industrial carpeting.

My plan: to hide until Marty Feldman went away.

We call her Marty Feldman because she unfortunately suffers from an awful breast implant operation--a "Tijuana boob job," as we sometimes call them. To save a few dollars, the more budget-minded adult stars will actually travel to foreign countries to get second- and sometimes third-rate implants. The result of Marty Feldman's botched operation left her with a left nipple that points southwest and a right nipple that points northeast. Thus the name "Marty Feldman."

She knocked on my door, gently at first, then with more urgency. "Dear, are you in there? They told me you were here. Scott, darling? I simply must see you. I have some rather important business to discuss...."

Even through the door I could smell her suffocating perfume, like rotting orchids. It was really too much.

Down on the floor, hiding from Marty Feldman, waiting for her to go away, I remembered something from my childhood. I must have been about eight years old. My mother was running the vacuum on a Saturday morning when she suddenly switched off the Electrolux and pulled my brother and me off the couch and down to the floor. "It's Helen," she said. She quickly locked the door, then got down on the floor with us.

Helen was the Avon lady, though she didn't really look the part. She was hugely fat, and had a large strawberry birthmark covering half her face. She wore a blown-out winter coat and constantly smelled of dog food.

My brother and I were hunched on the floor with mom when Helen began knocking on the door.

"What are we doing, Mom?" I asked.

"We're hiding," she whispered. "I can't deal with Helen right now. I've got too much to do today. She'll come in and drink coffee for hours and I won't be able to get rid of her."

This was very much out of character for Mom. She was a church-goer, a Bible-reader, the one who constantly lobbied against lies and secrets of any kind. Not only did she reveal herself as a bit of hypocrite in that moment, this woman who was normally perfect and beyond reproach, she also let us see that she was fallible and human too. The message was, Sometimes it's OK to avoid people we aren't in the mood to see. Sometimes it's OK to hide.

Helen kept knocking steadily for several minutes before finally giving up. We could hear her voice outside. "Funny," Helen said to herself, "the car's in the driveway, but no one's home." Then she got into her rusted-out Dodge and backfired her way down the road.

"Has anyone around here seen Scott?" Marty Feldman said outside my door. She was talking to Siobhan, the managing editor. "He was here a little while ago," Siobhan said. "Maybe he stepped out."

Marty Feldman stalked up and down the hall, trying to find someone willing to meet with her. "Then is Mark in?" she asked Siobhan. Mark is the art director for the magazine--or rather, the "creative director," as he calls himself. Like me, he's also no great fan of Marty Feldman. "I believe so," Siobhan said. Marty Feldman stalked off down the hall towards Mark's office. I crawled over to the phone and dialed Mark's extension. "Marty Feldman's here," I said. "And she's on her way down to see you."

"Why aren't you meeting with her?" he asked.

"I've got my door closed," I said.

"You're hiding?"

"I'm hiding."

"Shit," he said. "Then I'm hiding too."

He closed his door, then came back on the line, voice lowered to a hush. "She's right outside," he said, whispering. "I can't deal with that old bat today."

"Neither can I," I said.

I could hear Marty Feldman's voice faintly in the background. "Mark, dear, are you in there? Mark..."

"We're a couple of classy guys, aren't we?" Mark whispered.

"Oh, we're the classiest," I said.

10:07 AM

Monday, October 20, 2003  
Long, quiet weekend alone in my apartment. So long and so quiet that I was actually anxious to get back to work this morning. Suffered a touch of the old cabin fever, I think.

Ended up leaving my apartment twice all weekend long. Once to bring a load of laundry to the basement, and once to see a Sunday morning showing of Kill Bill (which I still regret going to). Otherwise, I kept the door firmly bolted--kept the world out and kept myself in.

Spent much of my time and energy trying not to think about Joelle. Tried not to think about the fact that she was out with another guy all weekend. For the most part, I was successful. Beer helped. And videogames. Hours of videogames.

She told me one night last week that she had a date this weekend, that she was going out with someone else. Though we were probably never officially back together, I saw fit to break up with her when she informed me of this. Seemed like a reasonable response to me.

Funny thing is, I felt so goddamn close to her when we were in Vermont last weekend. Felt real intimacy between us. I ate dinner with her parents. I slept on the couch in their living room, Joelle's high school photos sitting on the nearby mantle.

And then this. I know she wasn't happy with our weekends-only arrangement, that it was driving her crazy. I'm not giving her what she wants, what she needs. Guess this was her way of forcing the issue. So she forced it. It's forced.

Honestly, I don't feel malicious towards her, don't harbor any ill-will. She's doing what she needs to do.

Had everything under control for much of the weekend. Then last night, around 2 am, I woke up and couldn't breathe. "She's gone," I thought. "I've lost her. I've really lost her. I'm such a fucking, no good fool. What a fuck-head I am." Took me awhile to get the images of her with someone else out of my head. (My subconscious always seems to attack me when I'm most vulnerable.)

I've felt strange all day long, like I've got a head full of hot wires. I spent a little extra time in front of the bathroom mirror this morning, playing with my hair, which is what I tend to do when I'm feeling insecure about myself.

What a crappy, nothing day this has been. What a fucking Monday.

4:27 PM

Friday, October 17, 2003  
Recently had a situation with my downstairs neighbor. He's a smoker--a very heavy smoker I'd guess, since it's not uncommon for me to come home from the office to find my nice, new Brooklyn apartment foggy with second-hand smoke. As a life-long non-smoker, this was fairly upsetting (not to mention unsettling) to me. My towels smelled of smoke, my clothes smelled of smoke, my closets smelled--you get the idea.

Kept hoping the problem would somehow go away, or at least dissipate to a point where it would become bearable. I didn't really feel comfortable with the idea of asking the guy to change his behavior, wasn't comfortable with the precedent that would set. After all, it's his home, he's free to do what he pleases. And I think I was probably more afraid of what his response to me would be, worried that he'd simply tell me to "Go fuck myself." Smokers, by nature, tend to be nihilistic creatures. If the man obviously has no respect for his lungs, how could I expect him to respect the air quality in my apartment?

All this led to feelings of futility and despair. I grew to despise The Man Downstairs. He'd invaded my sanctuary, ruined my 700-sq.-feet of Brooklyn paradise. Last Friday, in a drunken fit, I cranked my TV up to the maximum volume. It's a pretty powerful TV. I wanted him to "feel my thunder from above."

Then I picked up a shoe and began throwing it at the floor repeatedly. Like an insane person.

Once my rage had been spent, I went to bed and woke up the next morning determined to do something more constructive than beat on floors and play my TV at full volume.

I spent hours discussing the situation with Joelle, pushing her until she finally said, "Look, I don't want to hear anymore about the smoker. That's it."

I talked to a woman on the co-op board. She said they would send the man a formal letter, threatening him in a formal, co-op board kind of way. Before having the co-op board do this, I decided I might try a more friendly approach first. I typed up a brief note, then early Wednesday morning I scampered downstairs and taped it to his door.

The note read:

Dear #4E Neighbor,

I wanted to make you aware of the fact that second-hand smoke from your apartment is invading my apartment. It's rising up through my floorboards, radiators and closets; it's drifting in through my open windows. My towels and clothes constantly smell of stale cigarette smoke. As a non-smoker, this is troubling to me.

Any effort on your part to alleviate this problem would be much appreciated.

And should I ever offend you in any way, please let me know as soon as possible. Call me any time, at work or at home, and I'd be happy to accomodate you.

Looking forward to many peaceful years together as neighbors.


Scott Jones
Apt. #4F

I added my phone numbers at the end, both home and office, hoping he'd call me, so we wouldn't have to deal with this face to face.

Last night, I'm sitting in my apartment in my undershirt and eating spaghetti from a big pot (this is how I eat my dinner) and watching the Yankee game when my doorbell suddenly rings.

It's him. I knew it was him. He's out there, outside my door, and he wants to talk. The Man Downstairs.

I muted the TV, found a shirt to cover myself with, then opened the door.

He was a slight guy in his 40s, out of shape, a little stooped. He wore a forest-green windbreaker.

"I got your note..." he said. "I have to apologize. I'm so sorry. I really wished that you'd told me about this sooner."

Turns out the guy works as a prop guy on the Conan O'Brien show (he said he often appears on the show), and he couldn't have been nicer or more decent about the whole situation.

He said he's actually tried to quit smoking, and failed, a few times. "But I have to quit, I'm really trying to, this is another incentive to do it," he said.

I wished him luck with the quitting, and we shook hands a few times and agreed to have a beer sometime soon.

Tell you the truth, I feel a little foolish now. A man that I'd spent weeks--months, actually--demonizing (at one point I said to Joelle "What if he's cooking crystal-meth in his bathtub?") turns out to be just a regular, decent guy.

There really are good people out there, decent people who actually give a damn about their neighbors' comfort. Living in New York, where everyone is always elbowing everyone else out of the way, it's easy for me to forget that sometimes.

4:05 PM

Wednesday, October 15, 2003  
Past few days I've been playing quite a bit of Freedom Fighters (PS2) and enjoying every war-torn second of it. The premise of this poorly-titled game (could it be any more innocuous?) is that the Russians have invaded modern-day New York City, and it's my job--as a lowly plumber, a member of the proletariat ironically--to take it back.

The gameplay is typical third-person action, with a few important twists thrown in to make the game feel fresh. For one, the game world is absolutely huge and very detailed. If there's a Russian sniper perched on a nearby rooftop, you can bet there's a back way up to the roof (which can be used to quietly sneak up behind him and "relieve him of his duties").

The other aspect of the Freedom Fighters that sets it apart from the genre is the fact that I can "recruit" fighters to join me. After the first level, I was able to assemble a nice little squad for myself. Squad-based shooters are typically plagued with overly complex commands, but controlling the recruits in Freedom Fighters is actually a snap: simply point at the spot on the battlefield where you want them to go to, hit the triangle button, and the guys head out, most ricky-tick. The first time I sent my guys into battle was truly an empowering moment. And unlike the A.I.-controlled teammates in other squad-based shooters, the recruits in Freedom Fighters are actually surprisingly effective. They shoot with great accuracy, and basically fight their balls off until the bitter end. (It's kind of heart-breaking when they go down, but fortunately you have the ability to heal them with medicine.)

All that aside, the real reason why I'm spending so much time with Freedom Fighters is probably because it awakens something old in me, something boyish. It's evocative of the war games my brother and I played in the woods behind our house growing up. The way I feel playing Freedom Fighters is the way I felt out in the trees with my brother: we were two lone soldiers, facing impossible odds, feeling giddy that we were still somehow winning despite everything.

It's a good game, and with all the high-powered releases rolling out in the coming weeks, it's bound to get lost in the shuffle. If you've got a spare $50, by all means pick it up.

4:04 PM

Tuesday, October 14, 2003  
Spent the weekend in Vermont with Joelle. That's right--we're back together. After four Joelle-less weeks, we met to ostensibly "exchange our stuff." One thing led to another and, well...heh, heh... here we are. Right back where we started from.

She's still unhappy with our long-distance situation, still unhappy with seeing each other on weekends. Me, I'm not entirely happy...but I'm not entirely unhappy either. In a perverse way, our long-distance situation works for me. I require quite a bit of space; if I don't spend at least a couple hours alone at night, phone off the hook, blinds drawn, the world completely shut out, I tend to get cranky.

But I know the truth is that I can't be single-and-loving-it forever. I've always romanticized single-dom, always envied the single person at dinner parties, always wanted to be that person. Single people seem mysterious. Interesting things happen to single people at dinner parties. The couples, well, they just go home together. Where's the drama in that?

Funny thing is, I'm starting to long for more stability, more continuity in my life. I'm getting tired, in an existential way. Maybe I'm simply getting old. Or maybe all the uncertainty of being single is wearing me out, I think. I want to find a safe place where my heart can rest for little while.

Joelle feels like a safe place.

Still not sure how we're going to reconcile our differences--the abstract and literal differences. But for the first time in my life, I feel like I'm open to negotiation. And that has to be recognized as progress.

Still, doubts persist....

A few weekends ago, Joelle and I watched The King of Comedy together, absolutely one of my favorite movies of all time. The movie didn't seem to really have much of an impact on her. I wondered how disappointed I should be in this, wondered if I needed a girl who could appreciate the nuances of The King of Comedy. Was this evidence of some deep-seated, fundamental, irreconciliable difference between us? Had I found a fatal flaw?

While visiting her parents in Vermont last weekend, I noticed that her mother had taped About Schmidt. "Oh, I wanted to see that," I said.

"It's not very good," Joelle's mom said.

"He might like it, Mom," Joelle said. "He likes weird movies."

I bristled at this, assuming she was referring to The King of Comedy. I thought, Doesn't she understand me at all? How can she *not* see the inherent greatness in that goddamn great movie? How can she be so goddamn narrow-minded?

My anger faded eventually, and I started thinking more rationally again. No, we don't have to have identical values, don't have to celebrate the same movies and books and music. She has her things, I have mine. She doesn't need to understand my love of The King of Comedy, doesn't need to share in my love of videogames and beer and Woody Allen films and bacon and eggs and hot coffee on a Sunday morning.

She only need to accept them as part of me.

Which she does.

Which, I think if my logic is correct, makes me kind of lucky.

I think.

4:09 PM

Wednesday, October 08, 2003  
A few months ago this guy at the office loaned me his copy of Ninja Scroll. He's a Puerto Rican guy who lives in Sunset Park. Richie. Anyway, Richie and I got talking about anime one day, and he brought in the dvd because, according to him, "Ninja Scroll is a good place to start." His plan was to educate me on the wonderful world of anime.

I kept the dvd for weeks and just could never seem to find the time to sit down and watch it. The thing became a kind of albatross. I started feeling guilty over keeping it for so long, yet never quite guilty enough to actually watch it. "Did you watch it yet?" Richie would ask anxiously each day. "No," I'd say, and give him some weak excuse. Got to the point where I started avoiding him at work. If I spotted him walking towards me down the hall, I'd quickly turn a corner and hide, just so I wouldn't have to deal with him.

Finally, one night I watched the dvd. It wasn't half bad, either. I enjoyed all the fights, though I couldn't make much sense of the plot. I was shocked by how explicitly sexual and violent it was. The next morning I proudly returned the dvd to Richie. "Here it is!" I said. I spent a few minutes talking about it. "I liked it," I said, "but I couldn't really make any sense of the narrative." He looked at me like I was insane, then launched into a point-by-point explanation of the movie's events. Honestly, even with his help, I still couldn't understand it.

I thanked him for sharing the dvd with me, and apologized for keeping it for so long. I also told him that if he had any other animes he'd like to share, I'd be interested in seeing them. A couple weeks have passed now and Richie has yet to offer any other dvds to me. I guess that's the end of my anime education.

I'm a little relieved, actually.

Small victory this week: My Xbox is unfortunately one the infamous "dirty disc error" machines that Bill Gates foisted upon the masses. Was watching a dvd recently (no, it wasn't Ninja Scroll) when it started hiccuping and finally froze. Arrrgh. This happens all too regularly with games and dvds on the Xbox, and every time it does, I swear a blue streak and vow to get revenge on Bill Gates and Microsoft for making me spend $299 this piece of utter junk.

Anyway, each time this happens I entertain a little fantasy of 1. driving a sledgehammer through the top of the Xbox, 2. taking a shit on top of it and 3. boxing up said sledgehammered-and-shat-upon Xbox and mailing it directly to Bill himself. Let me tell you, that fantasy got me through some tough moments....

While running through this fantasy again over the weekend, I actually came up with a more practical solution: I could sell the faulty machine back to the store. Eureka--why the hell hadn't I thought of this before? Game stores are always offering to buy old machines and games. Monday I had the day off for Yom Kippur. I phoned the local GameSpot on 7th Avenue and asked how much they paid for an Xbox. "If it has all the cords and the controller," the guys said, "100 dollars."

A hundred dollars? This was far more than I could have hoped for. (Game stores are famous for low-balling.) I promptly gathered up my Xbox, wound up all the cords, boxed it up nicely (always save those boxes, kids!), and headed out for the GameSpot.

The Xbox is fucking heavy, and within a few blocks I was heaving and gasping for air. I had to stop and take rests a few times. Twenty minutes later, I finally made it to the store. "I'm the guy who called about the Xbox," I said, huffing as I put the huge green box on the counter.

The guy eyed me suspiciously. "Well..." he said, already unpacking the box, "I'll need to see if it actually works."

"Oh sure, fine by me," I said as I casually strolled off down the aisles, trying not to show how worried I was. My concern was that he'd get the "dirty disc error," which would ruin the whole deal. Be just my luck if I had to haul this heavy bastard all the way back to my apartment again....

I pretended to browse (they had some old N64 titles that I was interested in), but kept nonchalantly glancing at the guy as he hooked my old Xbox up to one of the in-store TVs. A few moments later, he hit the power switch. This was the moment of truth....

To my relief, it worked fine. The guy loaded up Halo, one of the few games that actually worked consistently on my old, flawed Xbox. A stroke of good luck.

Moments later, I walked out of the store with a cool 100 bucks (but in store credit). I wanted to shout "Suckers!" and kick up my heels. Ethically, I do feel sort of bad for whatever poor soul who winds up buying my old Xbox.... Still, those GameStop bastards sold me a lemon, and I did nothing more than sell their lemon right back to them.

Yesterday, on my way home from the office, I stopped at the nearby GameStop (obviously I couldn't go back to the same store where I sold my old Xbox) and picked up a brand-spanking-new, non-crashing Xbox. (Price is $180, so minus the store credit, I'm really only out $80. Plus I get two free games out of the deal, though they're really suck-ass games--The Clone Wars and Tetris Worlds.) New Xbox seems to be working fine so far, though I do keep my fingers crossed every time I power her up....

You know, it's nice to have reasonable response to a completely unreasonable situation for a change. If you've got a dirty disc error Xbox, do what I did! Don't give into your base impulses to destroy then defecate on it! Take the high road! I'm telling you, it's the better way to go!

4:04 PM

Friday, October 03, 2003  
The East Coast Video Show was this week down in Atlantic City. I had plans to go—C. and I were going to go down together, split a room at the Tropicana—but at the last minute, as usual, the plans went to hell. This happens every damn year. For one reason or another, something always comes along and I end up not going. It's probably for the best anyway. I have no love for Atlantic City, or gambling, and the porn stars would have been everywhere. (Porn stars make me nervous.) I inevitably would have spent my time down there walking alone on the boardwalk, hands buried in my pockets, maybe visiting the old run-down Ripley's Believe It Or Not! museum.

M. from the office went down. He fancies himself a bit of a gambler, a wheeler-dealer, a card shark. He left on Tuesday morning, then returned Wednesday afternoon. When he passed through the art room, I started singing, "...And the Gambler he broke even, and in his final words I found an ace that I could keep."

"No," he said soberly. "The gambler didn't break even. The gambler didn't even come close to breaking even."

Whole rest of the week he's been moping around the office. Probably gambled away his rent money, poor bastard. Each day around five or six boxes of new porn are delivered to the office—videos, DVDs—and I noticed that M. had rummaged through them all, looking for the DVDs, no doubt. When any of us are in financial trouble, we sell the DVDs.

I used to be able to get five dollars a DVD a year ago, but with the crappy economy, the DVD market is pretty much all but dried up. I've got a place on St. Marks where I sell them, this cruddy little used record shop. I'd take a batch of them down once a month or so, and the guy behind the counter would gladly hand over the cash on the spot.

I went down a couple weeks back to try to move some, and first thing the guy says to me is, "I'm only paying three a piece for DVDs now. Hope that's cool with you." I've never been much of a haggler, so I take a second to process this change of affairs--once the price goes down, I'm thinking, there's little chance it will ever go up again.

I'm about to say, "That's fine" to the guy's offer when he suddenly blurts out, "OK, four a piece. But that's my final, final offer."

He's sort of a nervous, hippie guy, who usually wears a daishiki and puffy denim engineer's cap.

"That's fine," I say.

Unfortunately, the guy doesn't have any cash at the moment, and asks if I'd mind an I.O.U. He's given me I.O.U.s in the past, and always made good on them, so I don't mind. Instead of cash, now I've got I.O.U.s in my wallet--from a guy named "Seth"--totalling over sixty dollars.

M. says that he's also having trouble moving DVDs. "You can't give this shit away anymore!" he said this afternoon while rifling through today's delivery of boxes. M. is much more of an operator than I am, and if he can't sell them, then things must be really bad out there. Funny, because I always thought porn was recession-proof, like liquor. No matter how bad things get, people would always need porn, right?

Guess that's not the case. If you don't have any money, you can always look at your old porn. That's what people must be doing these days--looking at their old porn. Because you can always look at the same old porn over and over, but you certainly can't drink the same old booze over and over.

3:29 PM

Wednesday, October 01, 2003  
It's gotten a little brisk in New York lately, and frankly I don't mind at all. Far as I'm concerned this is the very best time of the year here. I was happy to put an extra blanket on the bed last night, happy to wear a jacket to the office this morning. Another couple weeks and the radiators will no doubt be clanging, and it will sound like music to me....

A few days ago someone began papering my Brooklyn neighborhood with signs that read: Lost Large Blue Parrot! Bird is on medication! Will not survive!

All of this handwritten in a desperate, frantic script, with lots of exclamation points and everything underlined several times.

Since seeing those signs, each night when I walk home from the subway I find myself subconsciously scanning the trees along my block, thinking of that large blue parrot, so big and beautiful and utterly foreign, wondering what became of him, wondering--I know it's a long shot--if just maybe I might be the one who finds him.

In the early 90s I worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Chicago where one of my fellow waiters lost a bird. The bird owner was a 40-year-old black woman named Vanessa. We privately referred to her as "Aunt Nester." The day she lost her bird, she came to work crying. "Frankie flew out the window," she said. "We need to find him. He's out there somewhere." She asked us to help her, to go out and walk the streets, to look for him. I think we all knew how completely futile this was. Once Vanessa left the kitchen, one of the other waiters said, "It probably flew out the window to get the hell away from her." And we all broke up laughing.

I always felt bad about not helping Vanessa. A few weeks later I quit that particular restaurant and went to work for another restaurant, one of those expensive dinner-cruise boats that floats on Lake Michigan. It was a bad move on my part. The job turned out to be terrible, much worse than the previous job.

Several months later, on one of my final nights in Chicago, I spotted Vanessa in an Osco drugstore. She was a few aisles away and didn't see me. It was very late at night and cold, like it is now in New York. I was on my way to my girlfriend's small apartment in Lincoln Park and had stopped to pick up some ice cream. Vanessa, still wearing her white shirt and bow tie and nametag from the restaurant, made a beeline for the liquour department. She pulled a huge jug of chilled rose out of the cooler--the biggest bottle they sold--and hauled it up to the register.

I considered saying hello to Vanessa, to ask her if she ever found Frankie, to see how she was doing, how she was making out in life, but I knew her well enough to know that she was in a bad mood. I could see quite clearly that the skin between her eyes was pinched, and when it was pinched it was best to stay clear of Vanessa. She could be mean.

Vanessa, with her bottle of rose in a paper bag and cradled in her arms, hustled through the pneumatic doors and into the night.

1:38 PM

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