If I started a town of things I hated, he’d be the Mayer.

As I’ve aged, my edges have softened. There was no avoiding it. Whether by natural decline or deliberate change, I’ve tapered down the animosity and upped the empathy. It felt unavoidable. The more I went through, the less simply I could blindly judge without consideration. Is that what growing old is? Innate understanding through experience? Inescapable worldly wisdom? Compassion as a rite of passage?

I’m burying the lede, but what I’m trying to say is that despite all this, sometimes it’s really fucking fun to hate on things with no good reason.

John Mayer. My distaste for John Mayer originated in that same petty part of my teen existence that shunned pop music because it wasn’t tailored to my tastes. It was cool to act like you were better than others (believe me, I knew I wasn’t. Social hierarchy and my affinity for fedoras taught me as much). The early 2000s were my height of needless animosity. All the dime store Hootie and the Blowfish imitation acts, anything bubblegum or “techno” or syrupy ballads. To teenage Leon it was all shite. John Mayer fit squarely into this mould. “Your Body is a Wonderland” had vast reach and all of that saccharine bollocks I loathed. Plus he was popular with girls and I wasn’t. That was about all it took. The fact that he was an quite very accomplished guitarist was just fuel for the fire (not that which I desired). Jesus, just listen to Neon for fuck’s sake. What a smug bastard.

I was overjoyed, then, to discover that he was apparently a total prick. Snide and arrogant, rude and self-centred. Plus he was (intentionally or not) rude to Kumail. What’s not to hate? He was on this week’s Harmontown, surprising by any yardstick. He just didn’t seem the kind of guest they’d have on. I had no idea how I’d feel about him, given all that growth talk I shoehorned into the intro. Would I have gotten over it all, given that I’ve changed in leaps and bounds since I was a teen? Well, it doesn’t sound like Mayer has changed all that much. It wasn’t so much that Mayer was rude, but was still as self-absorbed as ever (though that’s rich coming from a Harmontown fan). His attempts to sound self-deprecating came off as endless bragging. He was nowhere near as clever or funny as he thought he was (as evidenced by his past stand-up material). All in all, I was vindicated.

Why any of this should matter, I have no idea. I don’t know this guy. His material has no bearing on my life. Still, I get some perverse joy from holding the guy in low esteem. Then again, Mayer isn’t the only thing I purposefully hate on. Without further commentary, here’s some other stuff I loathe for no good reason:

  • The DC Comics universe.
  • Stella Artois.
  • Marble cheese.
  • Mark McGrath.
  • Star Wars branding on produce.
  • Portable media.
  • The Emoji Movie.
  • The Big Bang Theory.
  • The Munchkin games.
  • The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ band name.
  • Carlos Mencia.
  • Canadian bus stop ads.
  • Wearing more than two layers.
  • Orange Pekoe tea.
  • Katherine Heigl.
  • Jimmy Fallon.
  • Instagram.
  • Digg.
  • Starbucks.
  • Kevin James.
  • Boss Baby.
  • People complaining about award ceremonies.

But mostly John Mayer. My life has no room for squares.

There’s a VR game we could all use.

I may have overdone it with the coffee today and I think my body is imploding. You’d think I’d be bouncing off the walls, but instead my corporeal form is in disrepair attempting to process it all. I’m wading through mental sludge and progress is both slow and plodding. Can you plod in a swamp? Is plodding tied to speed or specificity of action? In my head it’s onomatopoeic and relies on heavy footfalls. Do you make heavy footfalls in a swamp if any evidence is mired within dense and viscous liquid? Does a foot fall of nobody can see or hear it?

Why is there no Buddhist film making team called the Kōan Brothers?

I bought a VR headset yesterday simply because it was cheap. $10 down from $50. Came with a bluetooth controller and earphones. It’s not advanced and for the most part it’s just plastic housing for a mobile phone. Still, I’ve been curious to give VR tech a try for a while. I’ve always had issues with motion sickness and my pre-eminent worry is that VR will be a quick way to throw up. In the past it’s been a depth of field issue. With First Person Shooters if I can’t see the character’s hands, I get queasy. I tried downloading this game Zombie Shooter last night, but five minutes in I got sorta nauseous. I’m hoping it’s not a VR-wide issue. Youtube has a ton of 360 degree videos. Perhaps I’ll try one of them. It’d be sort of shit to be pushed out of an emergent technology because my brain can’t handle choppy visuals.

Wait. Maybe the secret is to overdose on coffee first. How many cups have I had today? Four or five? If my brain is too tired to properly process the information being fed into it, maybe that’ll smooth out the lacklustre frame rate. I can hack my body chemistry with bro science! Or I’ll see what my innards look like on the floor. Bad end.

I got distracted and stopped typing. I’ve gotta keep this train rolling by any means necessary. Is Barney the Dinosaur still around? Apparently it finished back in 2009. Odd as it sounds, when I was younger I half wished I was even younger so I could’ve enjoyed it. Of course I would’ve wanted to learn math from a dinosaur. Still, when it premiered I was old enough to take joy in mocking the show. I remember hearing about a Doom 2 mod called Barney Doom. Back in those pre-internet days, everything was hearsay and bootlegs. It was rare to get a hold of those prized rarities. They were like contraband. I’d heard of Barney Doom but never played it. As a seven year old, nothing sounded funnier than blowing Barney to bits with the BFG. Was it some latent counter-culture manifesting at my young age? Rebelling against what exactly? Saccharine educational content aimed at a younger generation? Woah, don’t cut yourself on that edge, kiddo. Then again, it sounds like the wheel has turned and Barney now has lessons I’d benefit from.

Now all that free love he was spouting makes an awful lot of sense.

What does She do? Well She does Ra a lot. Is that a verb?

I was listening to my theme song playlist this morning. Why do I have a playlist featuring four or five hours of TV themes (also consider just how many theme songs that consists of. How long are most? 60-80 seconds)? Because when I left home for the Great North, I had a Comic Con themed leaving party. I thought, in my infinite wisdom, that it’d be neat to have background music composed entirely of TV themes. In practice it was silly and underwhelming. The tracks all varied in quality and volume. Some were obnoxiously loud and others far too quiet. I’d hoped the playlist would stimulate discussion, but that was mostly a wash. Every now and again a friend would comment on some theme song and that was enough for me. One large booster shot of ego validation. Considering the party revolved around me, it was like I was double dipping into narcissistic territory. Could you blame me?

Listening this morning was all kinds of choice. First up, it was an IV drip of nostalgia straight to my cerebral cortex. I got to relive all my Saturday Morning Cartoons. I even got to relive all the Saturday Morning Cartoons my parents watched. Years of animation binging meant my tastes spanned decades before my birth. Thanks Cartoon Network. It made waiting for a bus in the heart of Canadian winter mildly more pleasant. Anyway, here are some thoughts.

I miss the convention of TV themes that blatantly explain the plot so kids can plug in at any time. Not only is this Fantastic Four intro fabulously campy, but it tells me precisely what I need to know: Reed Richards is elastic, Sue can fade from sight, Johnny is The Human Torch, The Thing just loves to fight. I’m sold. Count me in. Or what about the She Ra theme? Not only does it explicitly get into the nitty gritty, but She Ra has a bizarrely antediluvian voice. Why does she sound like she’s 200 years old? Is that just a holdover from old timey radio dramas and whatever the US equivalent of Received Pronunciation was?

Other songs reminded me just how great some of our shows were. Samurai Pizza Cats was righteous. This isn’t just me being needlessly nostalgic. Filled with madcap quick-witted writing and stuffed to the brim with pop culture references, I’m sure certain elements haven’t aged well, but it’s a great little time capsule. One of the coolest thing about this little gem was how they basically had to reconstruct a ton of it from scratch. Back in the pre-internet days of 1991, translations weren’t as comprehensive as they could’ve been. The writers, then, had to make do with what made either made sense or dipped into total irreverence. I remember Lupin III being rather similar. The English version had to be contextualised, because the humour in the original was so culturally resonant. Thus you got references to Halle Berry and other Western cultural artifacts in the US one. Nifty.

If I can’t turn back time and be a kid again, I might as well engage in a little bit of mental time travel.

Bye bye Mr American Pie.

It’s easy to forget what it was like to be a teenager. With the wisdom of retrospection, I now openly mock the emotional struggles of teens. Wait, that sounds actively spiteful. What I meant to say is that looking back at some of the instances in which my hormones brought me to my knees, I can see how trivial they were. I was almost an entirely different person, chemicals viciously clashing through my body. My brain was a volatile beaker of testosterone, spunk and sadness. I saw the world with a mixture of curiousity, envy and anger. Why was it all chaotic and where was my part in that madness? The future seemed both distant and immediate. Moreover, I just wanted to get laid.

Perhaps that’s uncharitable. Having sex wasn’t the only thought on my mind. I also spent a bunch of time thinking about anime and Pokémon. Still, sex probably ruled 90% of my thoughts. Why?

Sex was everywhere. It was in the advertising I absorbed every day. It was on the internet (and how). Sex was walking past me every day at school (in short skirts, no less). Sex was in the shows I watched and the movies we’d put on when we hung out. Oh those teen sex comedies. In the tradition of Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the late 90s and early 2000s saw the resurgence of the genre. American Pie was the tentpole property (pun kinda intended), but it was far from the only one. Road Trip, The Girl Next Door, EuroTrip, Van Wilder and in a sterling example that both parodied and exemplified the genre: Not Another Teen Movie. My friends and I all loved them. How could we not? They were comedy and wish fulfilment wrapped into a single package. They also irrevocably shaped our attitudes towards sex and relationships on the path to adulthood.

On a whim, my girlfriend and I watched American Pie last night. In my memory it was just a typical teen movie irrespective of gender. All of my teenage female friends loved it, so I had no reason to think otherwise. It’s hard to see it the same way at 31. The women in the film are mostly without agency and almost exclusively seen as objectives. They’re tools through which the male leads can gain control over their sexual destinies. Prizes to be won. Personalities only as far as they can create obstacles for Jim and Co. It’s just dudes wanting to get laid. I mean, of course it is. I don’t know how the years dulled my notion that the entire plot was predicated upon that. It places sex on such a pedestal that all purpose for these guys pales in comparison to putting their dick in someone. Yes, the film has thinly applied lessons in the end. Oz discovers a different side to himself through his pursuit of pretending to be something he’s not for a girl. Finch’s plot resolution is maybe the most cringeworthy scene committed to celluloid I’ve seen in some time. It’s basically the personification of m’lady mentality and guys who think watching Rick and Morty gives them a genius level intellect.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. There was nostalgia in the rewatch. I didn’t hate it, but it felt great realising I’d grown past it. It’s not a good film by any metric, but there’s still some amusement in giving it a gander. Eugene Levy is a treasure. Plus I’d forgotten good ol’ John Cho gave worldwide public vernacular the word “MILF”.

The biggest revelation was how heavily I’d absorbed all the wrong messages it spread. American Pie and its ilk made me thirst for sex all the more. I was desperate for it. What’s worse is that I saw it as something I was owed, that was being kept from me. To teenage Leon, girls were gatekeepers of a treasure that was mine for the taking, but hidden within a locked vault. How do you think this shaped my attitudes towards the women in my life? It’s not like I treated them like trash. Still, underlying so many my interactions was the notion of looking for ways to unlock the opportunity for sex. As if ladies (m’ladies. Oh god, I did own a trilby), were a game to be played for the underlying goal of sex. Typical of someone my age? I’m sure. Still, gross as fuck.

As a teenager it never happened. You know what? Thank fuck. I’m glad I never put anyone through that. By the time I did start having sex I’d at least developed some modicum of emotional maturity. My heart was in the right place to treat women as people, not opportunities. Would getting laid as a teen have changed how I now approach the act? Would I still have learned to respect women in the same way?

Perhaps that’s an alternate reality I’m happy to not think about. At least I never got desperate enough to fuck a pie.

Am my rite?

I have no idea where this is going, but I can only stare at a blank page for so long. It’s funny, but I’ve been doing this for so long now that I make it harder for myself than it needs to be. In thinking about an entry, I set up all these boundaries to keep me moving ahead, but who’s to say that they’re worth anything? Example: Years ago I did an entry where I thought about a theme and applied myself to it. It went well and the end result came together better than my random ramblings. So of course I took that and ran with it. Think of a theme before you touch the keyboard became, if not a mantra, then a guideline. I’m unsure of how many hours I’ve lost through trying to think of a theme. I’m writing every single day, I don’t have the luxury of producing a polished mass of condensed thought. Furthermore, expecting a theme to blossom in order to ensure a quality entry is a wash. Just because I have a general direction, it doesn’t mean I’ll end up following it. Hell, the point of this entire project was to go with the flow, stroll down tangential pathways and embrace meandering mental footsteps. Furthermore, the notion that certain entries were good because I’d thought of a theme doesn’t presuppose that entries with a starting point are the only good ones. I’ve probably had just as many stream of consciousness brain dumps that’ve led to interesting conclusions. Why should order matter?

I also try not to repeat myself if I can. Of course I have. How could I not? When did I start this? Something like the 22nd of March 2013? That’s 58 or so months. If we guess that a month on average has 30 days, we’re looking at 1740 entries. Wait, I can actually confirm this. Gimme a sec (he says when he’s the one who sets all the time boundaries. As if you have any idea)… Looks like this is my 1,771st entry in a row. I don’t think I could have 1,771 conversations without repeating myself, let alone 1,771 bouts of 30 minutes typing. Okay, so that means at the very least I’ve spent 885 hours on my current output. “At least” I say, because most often the half hour I say I’ll spend writing takes around 45 minutes to an hour. I start and stop, pause the timer. Sheesh. I’d start going into all the things I could’ve learned in that time, but I’m certain I did that entry some while ago. I just have this vague nagging feeling. It’s nibbling away at me and while I know that there’s no point in getting bent out of shape, that’s different than realising that there’s no point in getting bent out of shape. Facts and cognition are not identical.

Why is it that I care? It’s the height of silliness, but I know deep down that if I ever wrote an entry and someone pointed out that I’d done it previously, one of my horcruxes would go kaput. I mean, what are those previous 1,770 entries but little nuggets of my soul embodied by digital ink? Ugh, now I recalled having used the phrase “digital ink” and that’s making me feel sour. What’d be worse would be repeating a topic, but discovering that I’d done it far more eloquently previously. My inner being would be trapped in some kind of Soul Asylum bolting away from my body like a “Runaway Train”. Holy fuckers, did you know Soul Asylum had 11 albums? That they’d released them as recently as 2016? I kinda thought they released the aforementioned locomotive hit and “Misery” then called it quits. I bet Soul Asylum never repeated themselves like some hack I know…

At the centre of this distaste for repetition has to be a seed of utter narcissism, right? As if anyone out there has read all my entries. Even if they had, as if they’d take the effort to go out of their way and let me know I’d copied something from myself. Perhaps in repeating concepts there’s the chance I’ll get them better the second time. Or what if I found a new angle to explore? In a sense, my predilection for inhibition towards repetition is needless submission. What if there are creative drippings awaiting their time under my fingertips? I mean, real writers edit, right? My wry rite of writing is rightfully frightful, if not trite, what have I to be contrite?

Cut the crap. Just write.

Though you can’t deny that I’m what’s left.

I got tagged in a Facebook missed connection group today. Turns out the guy was also called Leon, was also 31, but worked with computers. Don’t be sad, two out of three ain’t bad. Thing is, it made me realise that being someone’s missed connection is a bucket list experience I’ve been subconsciously hoping for. Just the idea that some stranger was thinking of me, that I’d lingered in their brain. That I’d made a solid enough impression that they sought me out. Isn’t that the nicest sentiment? How would you not feel chuffed knowing that someone thought you were worth pursuing? That they wanted to see you again in any capacity? Seems swell.

Of course here’s where male privilege kicks in, right? To me the idea of being desired holds appeal, because it’d rarely come with fears for my own safety. It’s not often I have to put up with that bullshit. For most women it’s an unfortunate element of their lives. One that’s become so ingrained that they’re resigned to it. It’s not that mutual attraction doesn’t happen, but the majority of times I’m sure it’s both one-sided and unwanted. Why must we ruin all that is good? How many male missed connections run the line of “we made eye contact, so I decided I wanted to fuck her”? I’m sure her side often involves minimising herself in the hopes that he’d lose interest and wander off. The equivalent of playing dead with a bear. Society sure could use a shake up.

Still, that doesn’t lessen my faint wish that someone on a bus or in a department store would think fondly of me in retrospect. Maybe I’ve had missed connections that remained missed. Who knows? I have a habit of chatting amicably with strangers because the alternative would be dense silence. Surely that’s gone over well once or twice? I remember when I first arrived in Toronto how shocked people would be when I talked. That because of my accent and latent Manic Pixie Dream Guy elements, I’d end up having short, sprightly chats then disappearing. I felt like a magical being. Some oddly knowledgeable NPC in the lives of others. I’m sure some thought me a figment of their imagination. Wait, maybe I was. Fuck.

Screw it, we’re all merely random molecules colliding. Who cares? We’re all gonna die, if we even existed at all. Perhaps we never missed connections because they didn’t occur in the first place. Merely the fever dreams of racks of Matrix style battery farms. Missed connections are merely faulty wiring that creates sparks. Anomalies in an otherwise routine world. Chaos within a system of order. Brief blazes in the dark. To put yourself out there, then, is heroism. To strive for that which is otherwise absent in an unforgiving reality. Aren’t we all searching for meaning? Purpose? Convergence? Don’t we all desire that which lifts us? Ascension?

What I’m saying is, perhaps we missed nothing. Perhaps some connections are meant to be fleeting. Perhaps they were exactly what both of you needed at that precise time.

Or perhaps I’m just trying to console myself that I wasn’t the right Leon.

Entering MiSophomore year.

I’ve always had an issue with certain sounds. Eating noises, mostly. Chewing, lip licking or sucking, the scrape of metal on plates or glass. For the longest time I assumed I was just fussy or pedantic. In recent times I’ve discovered that it’s a relatively common disorder. As time goes by, things are getting worse. It’s becoming intolerable to deal with and I don’t have strong coping strategies. Where did it all start?

That was a peculiar segue, cause honestly I’ve got nothing more than speculation. As kids our parents would chide us for open mouth chewing or pushing too hard with our utensils. My thought is that perhaps it shaped me into mentally acknowledging it as aberrant behaviour? That when I heard other people making those noises it triggered off some response in my brain. I knew innately that I wasn’t supposed to do that, so when others did, it conflicted with an internal boundary. Over time that tread deeper and deeper into my subconscious, creating an automatic negative response. See, I didn’t always have this issue. I noticed it as a teenager, but it’s been steadily growing as I’ve aged. It’s at the point now where it’s become actively intrusive, affecting my day to day. In short, it’s a problem.

I’ve been talking a bunch about how it started, most likely because that was the segue used to spark that paragraph. What I haven’t done is explain how it manifests for me. Let’s say, in a totally hypothetical example, that my co-worker eats approximately 30 crunchy baby carrots around 11.30am every day. I’ll hear a crunch and it’ll spark off a fight or flight response in my brain. I’ll get simultaneously furious and panicked. My heart rate will begin to race, muscles will tense and most of the time I’ll swear involuntarily. Or I’ll be on public transit and someone will chew gum. Or an old person will just be chewing nothing. I dunno, old people do their own things. Or I’ll be at a movie and I’ll hear open mouthed chewing of popcorn. Or my girlfriend will lick her lips in another room and I’ll hear it. My brain will zoom right in on that noise and I’ll barely be able to concentrate on anything else. To be clear, these people aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re not some worthless uncouth hooligans that cause me to sputter my tea and crumpets. It’s not their fault that I’m affected by these sounds or the degree to which I struggle with them.

For that reason, it’s not plausible or functional for me to politely ask everyone in public to chew with their mouths closed. I’m not gonna tell my co-worker that they can’t eat a certain food that they enjoy because I have an adverse reaction. I’m not going to interrupt other people’s movie experiences because they’re unwittingly hindering mine. I once mentioned to an ex-flatmate that she was chewing with her mouth open and she got embarrassed, upset, furious, then locked herself in her room and refused to talk to me for about three weeks. In retrospect, that was awesome. But I digress… Because I can’t expect everyone else to change for my sake, my only recourse is to take avoidant tactics to salve my reactions. Loud music on headphones comes in handy. I listen to music/podcasts all day at work. I’ll usually try to take a break when I’m transiting home, but if someone starts chewing those headphones come out lightning fast.

Thing is, these aren’t solutions. They’re band aids over a gaping wound. I need to address these issues with meaningful remedies. I need to embark upon Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or see an Audiologist. Perhaps hypnosis could help to ease the triggers. I have to choose to do something about it, because I know the other path this could take. I can easily see a future where this all gets worse. Maybe I’ll decide that instead of going out for dinner with friends, I’ll stay home where those noises won’t be present. Perhaps I’ll start carrying earplugs or white noise headphones on me at all times. What if I retreat further and further into these avoidance tactics instead of facing my issues head on? I’m a social guy. The concept of habitually retracting from others isn’t one I’m comfortable with. I could very easily see myself falling into the bad habit of letting misophonia dictate my behaviour.

Frankly, that sounds awful to me.

Ad-Just my type.

I lately feel like I’ve lost the ability to type and furthered my ability to typo. Why? Because I made seven typos in that first sentence. I’m not shitting you (and I swear it was by no means intentional). My fingers have recently become leaden and clumsy like a golem trying to tango. I wish it weren’t so, but I’ve clearly inherited a voracious brain disease and it’s chowing down on all my synapses. Sure, I never actually learned to touch type and that could be a large part of this whole mess. Maybe I’m just getting lazy and assuming my fingers will get to where they need to be without actually visualising the keyboard. Or perhaps I’ve gotten reliant on my phone’s swype functionality. Whatever it is, if you’ve been wondering why my entries have been shorter lately, it could be because I’ve used the backspace key more than any one letter.

When I was a kid I thought the “spacebar” sounded cooler than any other key. Escape was a close second. I had no idea what that little cluster of Insert to Page Down did. The F keys occasionally got used in games, but beyond that I was clueless. There’s no moral to this story or hidden parable. I just thought it was cute to mention.

I could probably fill a week with little “when I was a kid” anecdotes. Let’s put my money (a sliver of it) where my mouth is and see if I can do one entry.

When I was a kid I split more than one pair of pants by farting. I don’t know if I had a propensity for bending over and flexing the butt fabric as much as possible. Maybe I just lucked out. For sure though, I’d push those little seams as far as they could go and toot my way through. This wasn’t sabotage. I was mortified. It was quite possibly even psychologically damaging. Perhaps that’s why I started wearing almost exclusively track pants on my lower half.

When I was a kid I’d find toy adverts exciting beyond all else. Even toys I had no interest in. I just got excited seeing the child actors getting excited and that made me want to join in. Perhaps I was super empathic or something. In the event that I did get something advertised on TV there was this whole “monkey see” aspect. I’d repeat the action I saw onscreen. Then I’d usually become oddly disillusioned when I wasn’t having as much fun as the kids in the ad did. I remember interrupting an adult discussion of ads that deserved to win at the annual Fair Go ad awards. I told the adults in no uncertain terms that the Power Rangers toy ad was a shoe in, because it showcased the full line of toys and which looked fun to play with. What else could an ad possibly do? I mean, it’d worked on me, for one.

When I was a kid my Nana used to make the coolest jelly. It’d be three colours in layers, then have little bits of banana in there. As an adult I’ve thought about that jelly on a weekly basis, but I don’t think I’ve ever completed the simple steps of a) looking up a recipe or b) following through on that recipe. My Nana never had the internet and I’ve never had a good excuse.

When I was a kid I’d develop crushes on actresses and cartoon characters all the time. Cameron Diaz in The Mask, the Pink Ranger in the aforementioned Power Rangers. Lola Bunny for obvious reasons. Nala from The Lion King for less obvious (though I think I identified with Simba because… actually I don’t know. Maybe there was something in my brain about my name meaning “lion” and having some illusory kinship because of it?) reasons. Thing was, I’m pretty sure there was nothing sexual about it. I was immensely sexually naive as a child, but hyper-romantic. I fell in love with girls from school every second day from the slightest gesture. They lent me a pencil? SOUL MATES FO LYFE, YO. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with that notion. I think I kind of liked the idea of kissing/being kissed. Holding hands with a girl was basically a tacit marriage contract. The concept of sharing something secret that existed only between myself and a girl inhabited this forbidden space walled off by shame and self-loathing. Of course they wouldn’t like me back, but a guy could dream, right? To be clear, this all kicked in around age six. I was a fast learner.

When I was a kid I never got my pen licence. My handwriting was abhorrent and I often had to stay after class to finish lines. I guess the educational system thought that rote learning could fix my aesthetic inability. I guess they were wrong. At some stage I wrote tiny letters and decided it looked neater, so from then on I made my handwriting tiny. To be clear, it was still borderline indecipherable. The habit, however, stuck. By the time I was in university, I’d be writing these dense essays that weren’t merely crammed full of polysyllabic words, but in joined letters with minuscule letters. I’m surprised I ever got a passing grade.

Maybe constant typos are my fingers’ way of getting nostalgic.

Sure, we’ll end up at TGI Fridays, but it’ll be the BEST TGI Fridays.

I couldn’t be further away right now. Or more accurately, I could and that’s worth changing. Give me a month. Wait, why am I trying to speak cryptically about something that’s neither a) clandestine or b) shameful? I’m going on holiday to Austin this time next month. GET HYPE.

Back in 2011 we rolled through the U.S. in an RV. It was monstrously sized, handled like a house and gobbled gas. The road trip was great fun. The one blemish in an otherwise bright spot was that we crammed our drive across a continent into 27 days. Most of the holiday was driving. Most days we’d stop off somewhere to eat, maybe grab a drink, then head off the next morning. We gave ourselves two days in Austin. They weren’t nearly enough. Austin was amazing. A vibrant live music scene, with a rip snorting shit ton of great bars. The food kicked ass, the architecture was pretty and everyone was young. I was tempted to go AWOL or stage some kind of mutiny, but instead bought a shirt I liked and headed on. I was less pirate than I was irate. Austin was a liberal oasis in the heart of rootin’-tootin’ Texas.

Last week a friend messaged me talking about wanting to go on a trip with her boyfriend. She asked if I was interested in going too. I basically told her that whatever she was planning I was in. Carte blanche. She came back with Austin and I instantly agreed. I’d been waiting years to get back and this was my chance. We did some preliminary planning and booked a day or two later. It’s a month away, we’ve booked our flights and accommodation. So today I sunk my teeth in to sort out what we’re doing (a.k.a. Where we’re eating and drinking). I’ve got a method for this kind of stuff. It worked gangbusters in Portland, so why not get the jump on this trip? Okay, here it is:

I create a custom Google Map. I input a bunch of layers. Coffee, happy hours, dive bars, theme bars, cheap food, restaurants, daytime activities and nighttime activities. I give each section its own colour and icon. Next I head to Reddit. I do a bunch of research for each trip, but hands down Reddit has the best suggestions. Rather than just taking Trip Advisor’s word for everything, Reddit offers tips from locals. I don’t want to end up at some corporate high end BBQ joint. Talk about Bad End. In Austin’s case, Reddit was extremely thorough. They listed the top three of each cuisine, then extended their top rankings to categories as far reaching as burlesque acts or specific bartenders. I systematically went through and added anything that seemed intriguing to the map. The best part about Google Maps is it’s easy to annotate places. Instead of just listing that a place has a solid happy hour, you can list exactly why they stand out.

After Reddit it’s onto local events sites to see what’s on. Granted, we’re still a month out. More events will be added closer to the time, but it doesn’t hurt to get some idea. I go night by night and add anything that catches my fancy to a list. By the end of combing through these, I should have a rough idea of potential things to do each evening. Nothing nailed down, but the opportunity to get up to something regardless of my mood on the day. Atlas Obscura is a treasure trove of oddities, which help bring a city’s local flavour to life. Once more I pick and choose, then add them to the map.

The end result is a top down view of the city that allows the freedom to find whatever I need while on the go. Restaurants are vaguely vetted, with the best of the best listed by cuisine. Anywhere I go, I have options for coffee. If I’m trying to decide where to go for the day, I’ve got a visual outlay of what’s around. There’s a wealth of information in front of me which can dictate where I head, then allow me to go with the flow once I get there. I don’t get stuck, because I’ve always got stuff to fall back on. My itinerary isn’t locked down by any means, but open to whimsy. It’s the perfect cross section of control freak and laissez-faire.

The only issue now is waiting a month.

Wandering aloud.

Yesterday’s Magic post made me a little nostalgic. Looking at origin stories is some high quality navel gazing. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I don’t know if I’m entirely done with the topic. Instead of rehashing my experiences playing the game, I’d like to pull back the curtains and take a greater look at the environment in which I flourished. I’m sure you think you know where this is going, right? I’m gonna veer into either a) a wonderfully supportive group of youngsters who bolstered one another into good sportsmanship or b) overcoming adversity and discovering my own self worth through rising above it.

How about c) I played in a hovel surrounded by constant weirdness and barely legal business activity?

Vagabond Takapuna. Neither of those words should mean much of anything to most people. For my teenage years, they were the entirety of my Sundays. Vagabond Takapuna was a small hobby shop located in the bustling heart of the Takapuna Village. When I say bustling I mean a cluster of dilapidated foreclosed storefronts. I think back in the 80s it was well regarded as a boutique shopping experience. I’d say it was our safe haven, but I hesitate to use the word “safe” anywhere near to Vagabonds. The area was filthy and spottily maintained. There was rubbish everywhere. The homeless dudes were entirely harmless, though you’d often find an empty bottle or two of methylated spirits lying on the ground. For us, however, it was paradise.

The store owner was a character unto himself. Dodgy Dave, we called him. An entrepreneur through and through. He bought the place in his first year out of high school on what I think was a small loan. He was all of 18 years old. For some time he couldn’t afford a phone line, so he’d siphon one from the hairdresser upstairs for outgoing calls. He didn’t play any of the games, but Dave had a knack for sniffing out a trend. He was a dealer by any other word. He was one of the few small stores around that not only sold Warhammer, D&D and Magic products, but provided play space. Best of all, there was a ne’er used courtyard with tables and chairs that doubled as an outdoor play zone in the summer. If it rained we’d just play on the dirty old village floors upstairs. At least they were covered. We made do.

Dave did alright for himself, especially as a young small business owner. The game that put him on the map, however, was Pokémon. He sunk everything he had into the Pokémon TCG and it made him a household name in the surrounding areas. A vibrant playground arose from the phenomenon and the Vagabond family grew. I don’t know why parents felt safe leaving their kids there. Hell, I’m not sure why my parents thought it was a positive environment for an 11 year old, but things worked out. Despite how dire everything looked, I never heard of anything happening to a single child. We took care of our own. With a bit more money coming in, Dave hired a couple of guys to run the store while he pursued a business degree. Oh, and bought a Porsche. I think he was still in his early 20s. Vagabond bubbled along happily, with its constant crowd of misfits and weirdos.

As the years passed, Dave would rarely come into the store. If he did, it’d usually be to brag about some kind of business venture he’d discovered. I still remember clear as day this one time he walked in with an ear to ear grin. “Hey guys” he said “you’re looking at a soon-to-be millionaire.” We figured it was Dave just talking shit, but we listened anyway. “There’s this new show in Japan, it’s massive. Nobody here knows about it yet. It’s about this card game, like Magic, but here’s the thing: You can buy the cards in real life. I’m already set to become Auckland’s prime distributor. I feel like getting a boat!”

As always, Dave was right. Turns out Yu-Gi-Oh was a smash hit.

With all the cash, Vagabond moved away from the Takapuna Village and into a high end strip shopping area. It was bigger. Cleaner. It had a dedicated phone line. The atmosphere was brighter too. Things were great. Dave bought his boat. He opened a downtown location. We saw less of Dave as the years went by, but he’d pop in periodically. He kept the stores, but began investing in property. I think at some stage he was sourcing medical supplies for in demand nations. Interesting guy.

So that’s the backdrop for my formative years as a burgeoning geek. Nothing fancy, but a lot of substance. You know what? I’m glad for all the grit. Despite how it sounds, there really was something special about the place. The community was as patchwork as the environs, but you know what? It was ours.

Now the players? Well there are some stories there…