Is there anything mo 90s than Space Jam Pogs?

I had Pogs as a kid, but I didn’t really know why. I think I primarily just wanted to order from Consumers Distributing. I may have been living halfway across the world, but how would a spread like this ever not be enticing? There was some kind of cheap multi pack of pogs complete with a slammer, special mat and some shiny ones.

I may have had Pogs, but I’m not gonna say that I got Pogs. Understood the ethos, anyway. Pogs didn’t make a dent in New Zealand. Ostensibly they had something to do with milk bottle tops? I had my set of ten, but nobody to battle with. I think I tried to figure out how to play solitaire. So mostly, they sat there, destiny unfulfilled. I probably threw them out, eventually. It’s weird, but even at the age of eight, I saw them as a thinly veiled marketing tool. This is saying something, I wasn’t a savvy kid. If it weren’t for my more pragmatic parents I probably would’ve been shaped into the perfect little consumer. I’d read Toyworld brochures for fun. I knew what I was getting into, but I jumped in with both feet anyway, because I wanted to know what it felt like to get a package in the mail. Shit, imagine if we’d had Amazon at that age. I would’ve never left the house.

I remember so badly wanting to get mail. My parents would get letters constantly while I stared with wide-eyed envy. “They’re all bills.” They’d say. “Trust me, when you’re my age you’re not gonna want this mail.” I didn’t care, in a way I think I just wanted to be surprised. When I mentioned how badly I wanted to get letters (it happened in movies and cartoons all the time), my mum turned it back on me. “You want to get letters, but how often do you send anyone letters?” I shook my head “no, I don’t want to send letters. I want to get them.” With the patience of an adult, she explained “but if you never send anyone letters, why would they send them back to you? If you send one of your friends a letter with a question, maybe they’ll send you a response.”

It was a light bulb moment. My bulb switched on. Dimly.

A friend was having a birthday and I saw my chance. I got a birthday card and wrote the following message:

Dear ______

Happy Birthday!

Is today Thursday?

Love Leon

Keep in mind these were pre-internet times, otherwise I’d obviously check out isitthursday.org. I gave him the card. He responded “no, today is Saturday.” I had my answer, but I was in no way satisfied. It wasn’t about the question. Over time, I’d get letters here and there. Our former Japanese au pair girls were lovely and sent the most beautiful letters. Invariably they were on cutesy cartoon themed stationary (Disney was a hot favourite), written with delicate penmanship. They became cherished possessions, tucked away in a special drawer for nice things I liked looking at (as well as many Christmas cards I never looked at again. I didn’t think I was allowed to throw away anything that had intended sentimental value. Once I learned that wasn’t true, I threw out almost everything of intended sentimental value).

I haven’t yet reached the age Mum was when she told me that bills sucked, but I’m old enough to have caught her drift. It’s rare to get anything great in the mail these days (whether E or IRL). A couple of times a year I’ll get a tax return slip that puts a smile on my face (last time I got a whole nine dollars!).

If only Consumers Distributing still existed.

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You win some, you Cthulhu’s some.

I’m excited. Today we’re playing Arkham Horror for likely my first time in three years. It’s a tremendously complicated and difficult Lovecraftian board game with a strong overarching narrative. You play a group of investigators in 1920s Massachusetts looking into strange happenings around town. A disconnected bunch, there’s a drifter, scientist, professor, nun and all kinds of characters who’ve experienced the supernatural. This was a pre-Ghostbusters era, obviously, but this motley crew have tasked themselves with exploring otherworldly locations to prevent the rise of the horrifying Ancient Ones from destroying our world. It’s atmospheric and at times staggeringly oppressive, but with the odds stacked against you there’s no choice but to fight back against the rising tide of evil.

There was a period of about two years where I’d play multiple times per week most weeks. I loved this game to bits. My friends and I composed rigorous strategies to attain victory. We’d seek to understand the game better on a macro level, breaking down what really made it tick, working out lines of play and crunching statistics. One of my friends started putting together an excel spreadsheet tracking our win/loss percentage, whether we won by closing gates or defeating the Ancient One and which investigators we used. We’d add expansion packs one by one, which would drastically change how it played. To say that we were obsessive would be both fair and accurate. It was intoxicating to dive head first into something new with a core group, developing our own lingo and shortcuts. In jokes too, of course. I’ve got rosy memories of those late nights and I want to recapture that feeling.

When I got to Toronto, one of the first things I did was seek out an Arkham playgroup. In fact, at a concert on my second night in the city I met a guy who played. Serendipity on my side. A bunch of us would visit his friend who had stacks of board games and have these great days spent playing through them. We’d throw on atmospheric music and have a blast. Then Fantasy Flight games’ updated Eldritch Horror came out and we dove in, exploring all the nuances and updated mechanics. Being new to the city, it was a damn swell time. Sadly the main guy who owned all the games moved away to Vancouver and it kind of fell apart. Before he left, however, he sold me his base copy of Arkham Horror for dirt cheap so I could keep up with this game I loved so much.

After buying it, I haven’t played it once.

Today though, today I get to crack it open and relive those past experiences with a fresh perspective. Back to the mean streets of 20s Massachusettes. Sifting through the stacks at Miskatonic University, searching for treasure at the Curiositie Shoppe, canvassing for allies at Ma’s Boarding House. Or frankly, just trying to avoid getting devoured by The Hound of Tindalos. With so many ways to die or be driven insane, what’re the odds of survival without at least one major psychosis?

Where’s that damned excel spreadsheet when I need it?

If you took him to jail, would you be committing Scumocide?

When did you last walk into a room pulled straight from your heartfelt dreams and wishes? When were you last face to face with a tangible manifestation of hope? How did your mind react, knowing that the architects of your imagination had erected their monument within your arm’s reach?

Were you also at Tilt last night?

As a kid I adored arcade machines, or “Spacies” as we called them (the moniker derived from Space Invaders, of course). They’d sit in the entrance of takeaway shops or movie theatre lobbies. My parents would rarely give me money to play, so often I watched or pretended to play. On the odd occasions (a friend’s birthday or something) that I actually got to play, I lost my mind. Fighting games such as Street Fighter 2, King of the Monsters or Mortal Kombat 3, side scrollers like Captain Commando or puzzle games in the vein of Snow Bros or Bubble Bobble. I guess I wrote about it a bunch here.

I walked into the doors at Tilt, paid my $5 and had free rein on a collection of 40 or so machines, all set to free play. The aforementioned Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat 3, Captain Commando and Bubble Bobble all made an appearance. Live DJs played a cavalcade of cheesy 80s hits (including a chiptune cover of Haddaway’s “What is Love?”) and the bar was stocked with great beer. I couldn’t imagine anywhere I would’ve rather been.

Playing arcade games with an adult perspective is interesting. With their revenue stream dependent on players pumping in quarter after quarter, you can see how they’ve specifically engineered the games to feed the addiction. Captain Commando and other similar games featured unique and powerful character moves that would do area-of-effect damage at the cost of HP. Health items were few and far between, meaning that the more you used these moves, the more likely you’d have to keep paying the toll to stay in the game. NBA Jam was fucking great. A four player machine. In the years since childhood I’d forgotten that players had to pay per quarter (time period, not currency), with the winning team getting the next quarter free. For that genre of plane games like Raiden, so many bullets were flying through the air that it was nigh impossible to survive without repeated cash infusions. They knew what they were doing.

On free play however, none of that mattered. A friend and I fulfilled a childhood dream and clocked Captain Commando. I finally got to use Mack the Knife (instead of my older brother repeatedly hogging him), the purple alien mummy with twin blades. I’d like to believe that even as a child I would’ve cringed at least a little to learn that the final boss’ name was Scumocide. Let’s be real though, I sincerely thought Street Sharks were jawsome. I was no critic.

I also didn’t realise how physically demanding it was to toggle and mash repeatedly. Some of those beat ’em ups were a one way trip down a long carpal tunnel. If I needed yet another sign that my body is succumbing to the ravages of time, my mangled hands tell the truth.

OH WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.

You know something? I used that middle urinal and I felt like a god.

At improv yesterday we were learning about status and our teacher told us something interesting. She said that status is a choice. It’s not something that can be taken from us, it can only be volunteered. She said to imagine status as some kind of liquid within us. We wake up each day with it filled to the brim. Countless interactions throughout the day allow us to tip out or refill that status, depending on our response. When our status is lowered, that’s a choice we’ve made. It went deeper, but let’s keep things pretty simple.

Status exists on two poles; high and low. Those poles each have tiers to them. The highest is happiness, then anger and lastly sadness. Status is also largely a concept that we buy into societally. We’ve decided that attributes such as wealth, power and attractiveness dictate our status. We see those who possess these traits as opinion leaders or somehow more capable than those without. It sucks, but when you think of high status, what image comes to your mind? Is it a tall white dude wearing a nice blue suit getting into his Mercedes? Society is all kinds of biased. It’s sexist, racist, ableist and, well, facist too. It’s systematically drilled into us a certain image of status and over time we’ve chosen to accept that.

I started to think about the way I roam the world and how I exchange status. A lot of the time in public, I aim to be as considerate as possible. This can involve stepping out of the way on the footpath, standing on public transport, making myself as small as I can to let people through. I’m not a tiny person or physically unimposing, but I’m aware of how I could be perceived as thus. I’m conscious that as a dude, I tread upon a mountain of privilege every day and I intentionally try not to take it for granted. I know that if I didn’t go out of my way to consider others, it’d seem like I was any other white dude imposing himself upon the world. That sounds shit in my book, so I try to mitigate it. I try to lower my status to even the playing field. Whether this works, I have no idea. Most people tend to find me pretty non-threatening, so maybe I’m on track.

Our teacher said something else. She said that the difference between confidence and arrogance involves whether or not you ever choose to willingly lower your status. If you refuse to ever yield status, you come off as an asshole. Cocky and unfriendly. People will resent that you seem to put yourself above them. I thought about this and wondered what balance I could strike to raise my status without trampling on others. I often joke about what the world must seem like to a confident person (doing power moves like pissing in the middle urinal of three), but it’s not like I don’t have that option in front of me. Recently I’ve been trying small tricks to see if they’ll help. I’ve been checking my posture more regularly. An upright chest with neutral spine, shoulders back, pelvis tilted forwards. I’ve been trying to smile more often in a fake it till you make it kind of fashion. If I do move aside or let someone through, I do it with a smile. Happiness is a status move, whether intentional or not. I’ve been heeding another lesson learned in improv- that it’s okay to pause before responding. You don’t need to always have an answer right away. Taking a second to consider isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows you’re thinking about the right answer.

Status is a privilege and it’s also a choice. It’s weird to think that I had a say in this all along.

Sounds choice to me.

Beetloaf? How would anyone ever figure that out?

I was listening to a playlist and David Bowie’s “Heroes” came on. It’s a great song, obviously. This ain’t no hot take. It’s not like you were in doubt about Bowie’s discography until I came down from on high and anointed it with my blessing. Oh, Leon thinks it’s a sweet jam? I better slide this one into my A rotation tout de suite. Bowie don’t need my help. Also, having passed into the pale, he’s beyond my reach.

It got me thinking, when did I get into Bowie? It was likely after hearing a bunch of his stuff on Radio Hauraki. I was 20 or so, working part time at a party store. Despite his legendary status in the rock canon, I didn’t know his stuff intimately. I liked that “Ziggy Stardust” one, but knew piss-all outside of that. I downloaded the rest of the Spiders from Mars album and soaked it in. Then Diamond Dogs. My appreciation of Bowie never passed into true idolatry. Since listening more intently, I’ve always thought he was great, but didn’t get sucked into the orbit of his mythos. I think I missed the boat, his contemporary relevance having happened before my time.

Then Bowie passed away and, well, nothing much changed. I still think he’s pretty great, but even more so than my own appreciation of his work, I love how his music and persona inspired so many. The pop cultural sphere was overflowing with tributes and it was hard to escape (not that I’d care to) from his pervasive oeuvre. Watching interviews where he clearly thought in a manner that was beyond his time, knowing that he constantly championed new and emerging artists only increased my admiration.

I noticed all the furore after his death (partly sparked by his late game release of Blackstar and the oddly prescient “Lazurus”) and wondered, cynically, if any artists had considered faking their death for the sweet, sweet tributes. I thought back to Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, how the boost to their discography rotations must’ve aided their estates. In poker you’ve gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. For an established, but fading artist (like Kenny Rogers himself), could it be time to cash out and escape to serene seclusion? Set up getaway plans, have lawyers plot everything out, then disappear leaving only grim fiction of your demise in your wake.

How hard would it be to fake your identity, buy a small plot of land and enjoy the quiet life somewhere outside of public scrutiny? You could chop wood and portage, whittle and play the fiddle. Plus other shit that country people do day in day out. How am I supposed to know? I’ve never shoved my arm up a cow’s butt. Royals and residuals lining your coffers, leaving the rest of your days unencumbered by the need to perform for others. For someone who’d lived in the public eye, wouldn’t that be idyllic? Meatloaf would do anything for love, would he fake his death? C’mon dude, it shouldn’t be hard to create some plant-based persona and find the sweet bliss of obscurity. Kill your public persona and live for yourself, not for anyone else. Then if you need a huge cash infusion, re-emerge from the grave like a Bat Out of Hell.

What are you waiting for? Your career has written itself to this moment.

Not that the word “flaccid” was important. I just wanted to add texture.

It’s been some time since I’ve talked about anything polyamory and that’s likely because it’s been some time since polyamory was relevant in my day to day. Neither my partner nor I have had much interest in dating other people, so neither of us have. When enough’s going on in your life that you’re having difficulty spending time with those you love, it’s hard to muster up enthusiasm for getting to know even more people you’ll eventually have to cancel on. Hell, it’s hard enough failing at re-working a sentence not to end on a preposition.

I figure that still being relatively new to the practice of extending romantic connection beyond monogamous commitment, there are muscles to be worked. It’s not like those muscles atrophy without use, but have you tried going for a run after a weeks spent marathoning The Wire? One of these things is only an exercise in patience. I haven’t had to think about romantic/sexual connections with others in yonks. Nor have I put myself through the mental gymnastics of working around the abundant social programming of a largely monogamous society. I haven’t been considering my anchor partner meeting others and how my brain reacts to that idea. She hasn’t dated anyone in an age. The last time I dated anyone was maybe ten months ago. It ended amicably enough, but I also didn’t yearn to get back out there. So we’ve been nesting comfortably.

My girlfriend and I went to a party the other night. I noticed she was getting close to a guy there. Nothing remotely explicit. A light brush here, a hand on the upper arm or waist. My immediate response wasn’t anything apocalyptic, but more aw geez, now I’m gonna have to do the work of mental unpacking. I was bracing myself for the thought of dealing with feelings that could potentially be challenging at some point. Like standing behind a wall holding a shield encased in a suit of armour. Are feelings that monstrous?

I tried poking and prodding at them a little. I’d met this dude a couple of times before. He’s always been a friendly, welcoming fellow. He’s open and honest, fun to be around and a warm soul. He’s a tall, good looking guy, so I understand her attraction. It’s not like I harbour any ill will for him, so why would I bristle at the thought of my girlfriend wanting to spend time with him? Because my italicised counter-thoughts chimed in, if she thinks he’s attractive, then she doesn’t think you are. That was silly. I find other women attractive, does that mean I don’t consider my girlfriend to be a knockout? Hell no. She’ll get infatuated with him and you’ll feel lonely, sad, holding your flaccid dick in your hand. I mean, this was getting to the heart of it. I didn’t want to be left behind or put out. The assumption that she’d no longer want me was ridiculous. I went off and had another relationship while living with her. Did I desire her less? Hell no. It made me appreciate even deeper all the things that made her special. But she’s a hyper-desirable person. She’ll be constantly out at parties finding people to fuck while you circle the snack table and talk to people about Air Bud like a child or adult with severe arrested development issues. Like a textbook narcissist, this was all a big plea of “what about me?”

I’m sure I sell myself short, but my base assumption is that nobody is interested ever. Straight up, my brain tells me that nobody wants to fuck me. The fact that a) I’m not a virgin and b) don’t think I have it in me to coerce anyone, should contradict this all to hell. It’s a worthless mental affirmation that I constructed years before I’d ever had sex. I don’t know why I’m still holding onto it. I’ve got a strong conviction against making anyone feel unwelcome or uncomfortable and it’s really hard to shirk the notion that my advances would cause discomfort. To be thought of as That Creepy Dude is anathema to my M.O. My involuntary response is to never hit on anyone at a party ever. Then I feel like a fucking child as people are getting frisky around me. It’s not that I don’t get hot under the collar when I meet someone sexy at a party. It’s more akin to having a mental collar that threatens to blow my brain to giblets if I were to act on that. I’ve conditioned myself to be harmless and in so, severely damaged my self-esteem.

I’ve got work to do. I need to train those mental muscles to relax and chill out. I need to accept that my partner will be attracted to others and it’s fine for her to act on that attraction. If this relationship is to have the sustainability we both desire, then I need to work on compersion, to be happy for her finding connection. But also that it’s okay for me to do the same. I also need to understand that I’m not a burden or continually unwanted, that sending out flirty vibes is not the same thing as assuming the woman I’m talking to has no agency or choice in the matter. That it’s possible for someone to look at me and think I want to put my lips on his and maybe touch his butt.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

If you can’t handle me at pukana, you don’t deserve me at Haka.

I met someone at a party last night who’d lived in Auckland for four years. She and I sung the New Zealand National Anthem in Maori. It was bittersweet. Wonderful to experience that part of my culture, especially the Maori version that’s always sounded sweeter to my ears. Disappointing to realise that aside from the first verse, I don’t actually know the entirety of my national anthem. That’s weird, right? Or is it okay to be enough of a fairweather Kiwi to aim for the bare minimum? I was also surprised to hear her recount the words to the Haka, something I’ve never fully known.

My culture is part of me, of course. It may not have defined my upbringing, but it certainly heavily contributed to who I am today. One thing I’ve always wanted to be able to do was a solid Haka. I love the Haka. It’s powerful and emotionally stirring. It reminds me that I come from a country with a rich and storied history. A country that’s dealt with brutal colonialism and unforgivable atrocities. A country that hasn’t attempted to whitewash any of this and has for years accepted that reparations are to be made (and will most likely never be paid in full). In school we were taught of the proud Maori heritage inherent to our country. We had Maori lessons and learned of the historical culture. Particularly in the last year of high school, my history teacher took great pains to present a balanced portrayal of colonial New Zealand. In particular, he emphasised just how culturally, militarily, numerically and politically dominant the Maori were over the Pakeha for decades into their arrival on New Zealand shores.

It’s kind of surprising by now that it’s not something I’ve learned, the Haka. I’m sure we were taught in schools. If I’d been more of an avid rugby head I’d have seen enough games for it to be etched into my memory. At age 30, notions of potential cultural appropriation have started circling in my mind. Concurrently, the more I think about usage, the less prevalent those thoughts seem to be. I can’t imagine pulling out the Haka in any situation without full respect. It’s not some joke or party trick. It’s a declaration of war or powerful show of emotion. If it’s to be performed, it’s always to be done with integrity. I don’t know what kind of situation would demand such a response, but I feel almost unarmed to not have it in my arsenal.

There are YouTube videos, the lyrics are widely available (for the most common Haka, certainly). The internet brings the means to learn right in front of my nose. The potential is there. I’m sure it would feel strange to practice in my bedroom. I may get worried texts from my upstairs and downstairs neighbours. Seems a small sacrifice to fill in the blanks of an important cultural practice.

If I ever develop enemies, best I leave them quaking in fear.