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
Saturday, January 15, 2005
One final heart-warming holiday story: Even though my parents live in Florida, they've retained their Upstate New York doctors. Whenever they're home--they continue to refer to New York State as "home"--they make appointments to see them. Monday morning after Christmas--the morning of my Amtrak departure--my parents not surprisingly made his-and-hers appointments with their eye doctor. And since their eye doctor's office was located near the train station, I had no choice but to accompany them to their appointment.
There's something devastatingly depressing about Upstate New York doctor's offices. They're usually these brown-brick, one-story bunker-like buildings set on a bare acre of land punctuated with a single tree and a massive parking lot. The windows are the size of postage stamps, filled with thick glass that lets in light, but makes me dizzy to look through. The hallways are wide and overlit, with banks of greenish flourescent lights and decorated with fake Currier and Ives reprints hung in Wal-mart frames. The waiting rooms are filled with cheaply made furniture that's designed to look expensive, like antiques, but it's all obviously made from the cheapest materials imaginable. The wallpaper looks new, but it's already peeling in the corners. Even the doctor's diploma hanging on the wall looks like it came from a gumball machine. There's always a roach cap discretely tucked away in the corner, usually covered with dust. Look for it--because I'm telling you, every waiting room up there has one.
After my parents checked in with the receptionist, the three of us found seats in the waiting room. Dad was quiet, but mom began needling him about their afternoon plans, and before long, a quiet argument had broken out. "Will you two please give it a rest?" I said. Honestly, I was tempted to tell my mother to go sit on the far side of the waiting room, just to prevent any subsequent squabbles.
Finally my mother was called in by the doctor. Moments later, my father was called in. About five minutes later, they both came back out to the waiting room and sat down next to me. "Finished already?" I asked.
"The doctor told us to wait," mom said.
"Wait for what?"
"For our pupils to dilate," she said.
I suddenly realized what was going on. The doctor had put those despicable dilating drops in their eyes. I hate those drops, hate not being able to read or look at a computer screen for hours. I remembered a time in New York when I got pupils dilated. I had to stumble back to the office like a blind man. A cab nearly ran me over on 23rd Street.
My parents both sat there, staring at the wall, blinking. Wind pressed against the tiny waiting room window.
They had a big afternoon planned--two malls were on the schedule, along with a visit to the nursing home to visit my father's mother, then an early dinner with some friends. And since nothing up there is nearby anyplace else, they'd be doing a substantial amount of driving. Hours worth of driving.
"If you both have your pupils dilated, who's going to do the driving this afternoon?" I asked.
"Your father can drive," mom said.
"No, he can't," I said.
"These drops don't bother him," she said.
"They don't bother me," dad said. "I'm tough."
I could already see that the two of them were having a hard time focusing on anything. I told them the story about almost getting hit by a cab on 23rd Street.
"That's the difference between you and me," dad said. "I'm tough. You're a wimp."
For dad, everything could be reduced to one simple truth: He was tough. The rest of the world, particularly his sons, were "wimps." He sat there, his arms folded across his chest, looking satisfied with himself.
I told him that he was insane if he thought he'd be able drive with his pupils dilated. "What are you talking about? I've done this a hundred times before," he said.
The drops were already starting to work on mom. Her pupils were big and black. She looked like a member of a cult. "Don't you know your father can do anything? He's superman," she said sarcastically.
The nurse came and ushered them both back into the examining room. A few minutes later, mom emerged. "Guess what? I have the beginnings of cataracts. Your mother is getting old," she said.
"I don't want him driving with his eyes like that," I said.
"Then who's going to drive?" she asked.
"I'll drive," I said. "At least until the effect of the drops wears off a little."
Mom looked at me like I was being silly. "You worry too much. Here comes your father now."
He emerged from the examining room. He said something inaudible to the receptionist, then began waving his arms in distress. Mom blinked in his direction. "He's waving his arms, mom," I said. "I think he needs you."
Mom sighed. Before heading off to assist dad, she said, "I swear, he's helpless. He can't do a thing without me."
Once dad had squared everything with the receptionist, the three of us put on our coats and headed outside. The temperature had dropped a few degrees, and the clouds had burned off. With the sun glancing off the frozen snow banks, the glare was oppressive. With their pupils dilated, mom and dad were practically lost. Like a team of arctic explorers, the three of us set off across the lunar landscape of the parking lot, with me in the lead.
At the van, I made my last stand. "Dad, give me the keys, let me drive, if only for a few minutes..." Mom was already inside the van, sitting in the passenger seat.
"I TOLD you, I'm fine. I can drive. We're not all WIMPS like you are, you know."
Dad got in and started the van. I stood outside the van, in protest. I felt like I was standing on the cusp of something here. I could hold my ground, establish myself as the adult here (clearly, the situation called for adult behavior). Or, I could climb into the backseat, same way I've been doing for the past 35 years.
Dad laid on the horn. I could hear him screaming behind the wheel. "Get in! We're behind SCHEDULE!"
In the end, I got in. I pulled my seatbelt across my chest. I felt dad give the van some gas. The snow crunched under our wheels. I closed my eyes tight, gave myself over to the situation. I felt the momentum of the van as we picked up speed. Dad was a fool. I was a fool, too. But for better or worse, for one more day at least, he retained his title as father. And I remain his son.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
On Christmas: spent three nights sleeping on the cold floor in an unfurnished bedroom in my brother's house. My air mattress, fittingly, had a hole in it and slowly lost air over the course of each night.
My parents were there, having made the 20-hour drive up from Florida. After last year's debacle, both were on their best behavior. Still, they managed to get on everyone's nerves. They both walk around absent-mindedly whistling and singing to themselves.
Dad, while fixing breakfast one morning (shirtless, despite the presence of my brother's wife), started whistling Jingle Bells one morning. A few minutes later, while he worked the toaster, the whistling gave way to singing.
"DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW, IN A ONE-HORSE OPEN SLEIGH..."
He whistled the next few bars, then, while buttering the toast, he returned to singing. Only this time he sang the more obscure version of the song.
"JINGLE BELLS, BATMAN SMELLS, ROBIN LAID AN EGG... BAT MOBILE LOST ITS WHEEL, AND THE JOKER GOT AWAY."
I looked at my watch and calculated the number of hours until my train back to New York would be leaving.
My parents seem more bizarre than ever. They brought their own popcorn popper all the way from Florida. They also brought their own popcorn bowl. And their own popcorn. They also brought their own snacks--potato chips, peanuts, pretzels--which they kept locked away in their own bedroom. My brother and I are still scratching our heads over that one.
There's something sad about my parents. Something pathetic. They seem so weak to me now, so foolish and vulnerable. They frequent the Dollar stores. My mother will drive for hours from mall to mall, just so they can save a few cents on a purse. They study sales papers like they're reading the Dead Sea scrolls.
Christmas day, I opened a beer around three in the afternoon. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, HAVING BEER FOR DINNER?" Mom said. They watch my every move, scrutinize and study my every gesture. No wonder I ran screaming from the house when I was 18.
And they can't sit still, not for five minutes. They pace. They whistle. My brother and his wife have a dog, so my parents, if no one else will talk to them, will start talking to the dog. "WHAT DO YOU WANT, BARON? ARE YOU A GOOD BOY? GO GET YOUR TREATS! WHERE ARE YOUR TREATS? WANT TO GO OUTSIDE? GO GET YOUR TREATS!"
Mom still clings to her antiquated notions of Christmas. She buys me little candies, goofy little treats, hoping, I suppose, that my face will light up the way it did when I was 8 years old. She bought me the de rigeur package of underwear, only this year she bought me a size that I probably haven't worn since I was 14. She seems to want me to regress. She has no idea what to buy a 35-year-old man living in New York. But she definitely knows what to buy for an 8 year old.
She still puts herself in charge of Christmas morning. She still makes us all sit in a circle and open presents one at a time, proceeding from youngest to oldest. She still leaves the price tags on things, so we'll know what she spent, then will pretend to be embarrassed when we notice them.
My brother later told me that his wife is losing her patience with this Christmas morning ritual. "She thinks we're all a little too old to be sitting in a circle and opening presents, and I have to say, I agree with her," he said.
I had to endure my parents for two and a half days, but my brother and his wife had to put up with them for two weeks. My brother privately complained to me about it afterwards. His wife wants him to put his foot down about it. I told him that he needs to start drawing some lines here. "Mom will cry probably," I said, trying to prepare him. "But stand your ground. Stay strong. She'll get over it."
Maybe he will stand his ground. My brother fears my parents more than I do. They bailed him out a great many times, so he owes them more. Dad even helped build the house that my brother and his wife live in, so dad has this sense of entitlement now. Which isn't entirely unjustified, I suppose.
Despite my best efforts, I try to stay out of it. Try not to referee. My brother wants to start his own Christmas traditions, wants to move my parents to a more peripheral role. I understand that. I'm not sure how I fit into all of this. This was probably one of the last times we'll all be together for Christmas. None of this has really felt right in a long time anyway.
And now it's January, and I'm still feeling the lingering effects of all of this, still trying to see my way through this annual low-level post-Christmas depression. Looks like I'm finally almost out of the woods...
Thursday, January 06, 2005
It's January, and, as usual, I'm trying to lay off the booze. This is day five. Last Saturday night, knowing that this was officially my last night, I drank everything I had in the refrigerator. Everything. Stray cans of Budweiser in the produce drawer. An old 40-ouncer. Everything. This was going to be it for awhile.
Funny how long the days seem when you don't drink. I have all this free time now... Funny, too, how fat my wallet is. Drinking, even when you buy the low-grade stuff like I do, is an expensive habit.
Had to grind out the first couple days. Long, restless hours. I didn't really know what to do with myself at first. Paced the floors. I borrowed DVDs from friends. I watched movies late into the night.
It's nice waking up every day with a clear head. Nice not having to try to cut through the beery fog in my brain with cups of black coffee. Nice not having to look into the refrigerator and assess my beer situation daily, and decide whether or not I need to drag a fresh case home from the store. Nice not having to reach for the bottle of Advil. Nice not feeling like I'm going to shit myself every five seconds. All nice.
It's only been a few days, but I can already see a difference. I'm not quite as heavy in the face. My coloring is better. My stomach is losing its bloat. My attention span is longer. And for the first time in a long time, I feel a little of the old ambition coming back. A little of the optimism. I like that.
Laying off the beer equals taking pride in myself--something, I've realized, that I haven't really done much of in recent years. Seems like such a jackass way to go through life, always fighting this stupid, wasteful battle. Trouble is, I'll feel good for a few days/weeks, and then I'll start to wonder where my reward is. Being clear-headed/clear-minded won't seem like enough anymore. Nobody pats me on the back and tells me that I'm doing a good job. And then one day I'll decide to reward myself for some nebulous reason, and that reward will come in the form of a twelve pack. And this time next year, I'll probably be typing up a post eeriely similar to this one.
Probably. But let's hope not.