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 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.

Spidey must have such a rubbish time at Haunted House attractions.

It’s been years since I owned a TV. The last time I had frequent access to one was when I flatted with a bunch of friends back in New Zealand. “Frequent access” is a bit of a misnomer, because it was mostly in use already. I’m not hanging lopsided streamers for a pity party here, it was excellent. Not least of all because one flatmate had a PS3 and Wii. Aside from getting verbally abusive playing NBA Jam (2010) and mildly less abusive playing You Don’t Know Jack, access to the PS3 meant I could actually dig in and play quality games, without digging deep in my pockets to get the systems. After my flatmate virtually forced me to play Bioshock (thanks J), he also suggested I give Batman: Arkham City a try.

The game was a revelation. No mere fun romp around the high rises of Arkham, the game made you Batman. Which Batman? Whatever fucking Batman you wanted. Love gizmos? You could be guns-a-blazin’ Batman with all manner of widget stuffed batarangs and bombs in your arsenal. There were stealth components to the game and a plethora of handy nooks, crannies and outcrops for staying out of sight. Then all of a sudden you could swoop in for an unnoticed knockout. Or, if you were like me, you could stick with dickhead brawler Batman and beat the shit out of innocent thugs and louts. The combat system was fluid freeform. You could rack up lengthy combos, even incorporating your fancy whizzbangs and gadgets for more flare. The background characters had fun conversations you could spy on. There were numeros puzzles to solve throughout, unless you took the Riddler route in which case there were hundreds. The boss fights were varied and interesting. The voice acting was impeccable. Top to bottom, the game kicked ass.

Which is why I was so taken with this E3 trailer for the new PS4 Spider-Man game. It’s a near nine minute gameplay trailer that’s worth every second you spend on it. In every way that Arkham City made you Batman, this looks to do the same for Spidey. It’s packed to the brim with all his characteristic quips and webs. Of course this play-through is optimised for presentation, but it looks so goddamn smooth. It moves quickly, with a multitude of options in play style. It’s fun and clever with a bright colour palette. The action is fast and varied. There look to be beat ’em up moments, stealth kills and gadgets galore. This level at least takes into account the surrounding environment in order to aid combat and puzzle solving. There are quick time events like God of War and it flows effortlessly between cut scenes and gameplay. Spider-Man, like Batman, has a fun rogue’s gallery that’ve always been fun in past games (Ultimate Spider-Man was a splendid play through).

I don’t think this is gonna be the title, but one of these days a console game will come along that’s so compelling, I’ll have no choice but to get one. In any case, this definitely has my Spidey Sense tingling.

“Friendly” doesn’t have to imply “nice”.

I usually think I’ve got an okay grasp of people. Reading the situation and the like. Then I’ll have an interaction that’ll make me question how other people read me. Or whether the issue is with me, that I’m an odd duck myself. Mallard-justed, y’know?

I feel like people often mistake politeness for personal interest. It’s rare that I’ll be in a scenario and not feel like being genial. Just because we’re strangers, it doesn’t mean I can’t be friendly. On the other side of this, just because I’m being friendly, it doesn’t mean that I feel like we have any close connection. If my choice was to be friendly, grumpy, or neutral, why wouldn’t I prefer to enjoy a conversation more than less? Aside from times in which I’m feeling super low energy, of course. I’ll very often chat with people with no intention of taking anything further than that one time interaction. I try to delve beyond the more base level stuff because that’s not interesting to me. It happens at parties all the time. I’ll be making conversation with someone while we’re both waiting for the bathroom or they’re in the way when I want something that’s behind them (usually snacks or drinks). I’ll joke around with them purely because it’s less awkward than being rude or blunt. Why not, right? Then the next thing I know they’ve sent me a Facebook request and I have to feel bad because I don’t remember who they are when I walk past them on the TTC.

I dunno, maybe I’m still holding onto something that happened the other day. My girlfriend and I were at a friend’s comedy gig. As excited as I was to watch some comedy, I was also stoked that I’d get to eat the $10 fish and chips meal. Two guys came over and sat down. One was a dude who I’ve chatted with a bunch. Nice guy. The other was some dude who’s in a shared online community space. Friend of a friend kind of thing. I’d met the guy before, but he wasn’t the kind of person who interested me on a fundamental level. You know how you can sometimes sense it on others a few sentences into a conversation. Your brain sends you this reading of oh, this fellow isn’t on my wavelength whatsoever. It doesn’t make them a bad person by any means, just not compatible with you. Maybe it was his brand of confidence or something. The way he seemed to say things matter-of-factly rather than implying that they were his opinions. I found myself uninterested in not only what he was saying, but how he was saying almost everything he said (to note, I would never contradict anyone who held these same opinions of me. I just so happen to be in agreement with the way that I think). I wanted at that moment to be elsewhere, or rather for him to be elsewhere. But we were watching a comedy show and I didn’t want to leave that. So I stuck around.

The gig finished. My girlfriend and I were tired and ready to hit the sack. We stood up and said our goodbyes to friends, passed around hugs. As we were leaving the guy said it was nice to meet us. We did the typical “cheers, goodnight” kind of thing. He said he’d add us on Facebook. We nodded, said goodnight and headed for the door (also my girlfriend is her own autonomous being. We’re not The Borg or anything. She happened to be doing the same stuff). He called out “wait!” and we turned around. He had his phone outstretched, open on Facebook. He passed it to my girlfriend with the search bar highlighted. “Add yourselves” he said. I tried to think of what to do or say to extricate myself from this situation. I didn’t want to be rude, but neither did I want to have this dude in my social sphere. If I had self respect for boundaries in that moment I probably could’ve said “no thanks” and when pressed for an answer respond with “I don’t feel that kind of connection with you” or something of the like. Why did he think that I would? What about my conversation indicated that I had any interest in him as a person, rather than being trapped in a social space? Who would be that presumptuous? What remote commonalities did he see between us? I couldn’t understand what was happening in that moment and my brain shorted a little. So while I could’ve refused and given an entirely justifiable response, I didn’t. I took the phone he handed to me and added myself.

Then as soon as we left the bar, took out my phone and deleted his friend request.

More like nostaljerk.

Why is familiarity so comforting? I’ve been on a nostalgia kick lately (primarily because I’ve deep dived back into the Laser Time archive for my workplace listening enjoyment) and it’s been delightfully tickling my brain. I listened back to the early 90s “Mortal Kombat: The Album” (you’ll surprise yourself by remembering the absurd hit “Techno Syndrome“. The rest of the album is, if possible, even more cheesy. It features songs about the various characters (or in Sonya Blade’s case, a ballad she apparently sings about herself? And she’s been outfitted with a British accent?). The best part is how token most of the lyrics are. The Immortals were never given comprehensive background information about each character, so they had to write about what they know from playing the game. The result is a bunch of songs about assorted special moves each character uses, or in the case of Sub Zero…

“Whoah, Chinese ninja warrior
With your heart so cold sub zero
Whoah, your life is a mystery
Why you wear the mask? Sub zero”

Also a blatant rip off of Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations”, but instead with the dubious line “Freezing Vibrations” (which makes no fucking sense, but I’ll go with it). AllMusic gives it a grand two star rating. It’s a festering piece of shit. Stock 90s techno coupled with the aforementioned flaccid lyrics. It should be a pain to endure, but instead it’s so fucking bonkers that it comes 180° to being a blast to hear. It’s not even a guilty pleasure for me and the only downside is that “Mortal Kombat: The Album” isn’t on Spotify, making me realise what a colossal waste my $9.99 each month is. If I can’t groove out to dancefloor suicide, what am I paying for?

It’s not new to me how much I adore nostalgia, but what is a recent revelation is how much I want the sensation without doing the work. Anime is a great example. I think so fondly of my years spent watching anime. I’d lounge around with friends into the early hours of the weekend and try to marathon an entire show. So many goddamn series. Casting my mind back to those days warms my heart, but whenever I think about getting back into anime, I realise how little I actually want to watch it. I’m way more critical than I was and getting into a new 24 episode series is a hard sell. I don’t have the time I once did. Much like video games, theory wins out over practice 80% of the time. Even knowing that, I still yearn for the underlying emotions they brought. The excitement of experiencing a whole new fictional world. Or in games, of facing and overcoming challenges coming my way.

Both industries were way smaller back then and I honestly think that was a large part of the attraction. Back in high school, anime and video games were super niche interests. We were the nerds and belonging to rare fandoms made it feel like we were venturing into unknown territory. We’d talk about them constantly, but they seemed like conversation topics only for our little group. When we found anyone else with similar interests, sharing those interests was a revelation, like we were sharing a central part of ourselves. We felt special somehow, because we were different. It may have been an illusion, but we clung to it tenaciously. These days fandom is all too easy to find. Hyperconnectivity means that others like you are only a few clicks away. Neither video games nor anime are particularly esoteric these days, they’ve expanded into normalcy. As dumb as it is, inside me there’s the sense that the experience is now cheapened. There’s nothing unique about them and with that gone, this remote concept of being special has dissipated. What’s more, the plots and character progression don’t feel like they’d live up to other available content. There are way too many clever shows to watch now, so why would I spend time on anything flimsy?

Wait, so I think I’m too cool for school now? That gives me freezing vibrations all over.

But it’s not like they made a black Care Bear. The panda doesn’t count.

The weather’s getting warmer, finally. I’ve been taking advantage of it by going for lunchtime jogs when I can. I work on the waterfront and there’s a bike path I can use the whole way. It’s great to get out into the fresh air, no doubt. Finding the motivation to leave my seat at work isn’t always easy, but I feel better (and monstrously hungry) once I’m done. So if anything, it’s having the foresight to appreciate potential satisfaction in hindsight. My main gripe really is sort of silly, so I’ll explain.

You know that bus driver wave? Two bus drivers going in opposite directions will nine times out of ten give a little head nod or wave just to say I see you. It’s neat, it instils a sense of camaraderie. It’s like saying hey, we both know this isn’t the best, but every cloud, eh? As someone who rides in buses all the time, it’s by far my favourite thing about the experience (aside from when that bus driver told me to organise my life because I handed him a $20 note. I was 12. “We’re not a bank for you kids” he went on. Tosspot). If I was a bus driver it’d brighten my day tenfold. But I’m not, so I don’t get to do the wave.

I’ve tried to bring it in on my runs, because I think it’s important. When I’m jogging near my home I do the little customary nod or wave and most of the time the person nods back. Yep, I’m struggling too I hear them think. Because empathy is basically telepathy. I see how they’re pushing themselves and it emboldens me to keep pushing. One foot in front of the other. Life goes on, and it’s only gonna make me strong. Can’t fight the moonlight (my motivational inner monologue is LeAnn Rimes, obviously). It’s also delightful.

When I run on the waterfront though, it doesn’t happen. People avoid eye contact at all costs. It’s a bummer. Is it me? What have I been doing wrong that they won’t meet my eyes? Do I carry a wafting stench? Is my aroma so arresting that it’s easier to look away than consider a human could smell that sweaty? Is my musk offensive? Or is it the way I dress? All black worked for Johnny cash and New Zealand’s national rugby team, but I have neither the cultural capital nor charisma to pull it off in the same manner. I may not be decked out in head to toe Lululemon, but I can still go the distance. Okay, so I may be wearing golf pants, but they’re from the Canadian Olympic team. Doesn’t that make them authentic enough to count? Are they turned off by my knee brace? Damaged goods too much for them to conceive of as a legit contender? I fought hard to tear my PCL (though admittedly that wasn’t the goal). Now I’m nothing but rotting flesh in motion? The fucking audacity of these monstrous perfectionists.

Or I guess they could just be focusing on their own shit. That makes sense too. I just want to make friends wherever I go, like a care bear in human form. Is that too much to ask?

If you prefer your recommendations a little against the grain.

As I kid, I used to abhor live action television. Believe me, it wasn’t that I lacked for things to watch, but with the exception of puppetry, live action shows seemed boring as fuck. Why would you be bound by the limitations of physical actors when cartoons could be anything? I wanted dinosaurs, super heroes and robots and I wanted them always & forever. These days I watch barely any animated content, but my abstinence from flesh and blood actors lasted waaaay into my teens. I feel like I was probably 16 or 17 before I started watching prime time TV and I have no idea what pulled me in. Still, as a teenage I watched way more TV than I do now. What was I watching? Anime. LOADS of anime. I watched so much anime that I started getting desperate and watched some weird stuff. The kinds of anime you’d never expect would exist. Here are two (of the many):

BECK (Mongolian Chop Squad)

The show has nothing to do with the American recording artist of the same name. I already listened to Beck before I started watching and to be honest, it was more out of a bizarre curiosity over licensing/copyright. What was the show even about? Because there’s now way it’d be an animated retelling of the creation of Odelay. What I found was a slice of life anime about a disillusioned Japanese 14 year old nerd slowly becoming obsessed with rock music. It caught me at a time where I’d been going through similar motions and found solace in the sense of community music could bring. This show chronicles his rise and rise, facing hardships but ultimately working his way up to the big time.

I suppose it worked on a similar model to Twilight: Create a central character who’s an empty but relatable shell and suck in lonely viewers to identify with them. I got sucked in hard and started to really cheer for this character. Once I was there, the series was abound with these huge moments of triumph where the stakes pay off. You’re driven to hope for the character’s success and seeing him overcome adversity delivers this huge emotional reward. It may have been a case of this show finding me at exactly the right moment to become a perfect viewing experience, but I absolutely adored it.

Yakitate!! Japan

I often balk at watching a show when I hear it has 24 episodes. It feels like a massive time commitment. Then I remember that I once watched a 69 episode anime series about a kid who bakes bread. The show starts out relatively innocently, but within a few episodes it leans hard on the farce pedal and floors it to the end. The premise is that the central character has this unnatural power where his hands are a few degrees warmer than most people’s. He uses this ability in his quest to become a master baker, since his breads begin to bake even while he’s kneading them. It has a league of increasingly ridiculous characters with all manner of special abilities that aid their bread baking prowess. It very quickly becomes an ode to dumb japanese puns, as the central character aims to create a national bread of Japan, the Ja-pan (“pan” being the Japanese word for bread). Whenever I talk of this show, I’m always quick to point out how utterly absurd it is, and how much goddamn fun too. Somehow it keeps you holding on right till the end without dragging, including a bunch of interesting baking knowledge in there too.  If you want something carefree and delightful to watch, bun appetite!

I hope at least one of you checks these out, because my next few days will inevitably be spent youtubing BECK songs. They’re where it’s at.

I’m nothing but a shifty cond-man.

If you’re into Rick & Morty and missed the surprise season three episode one drop yesterday, maybe you should go take care of that. I’ll wait. Very minor plot details may follow.


Now that you’re back, how tickled were you by the McDonalds Szechuan sauce running gag? It feels like Limited Edition Zelda Nintendo 3DS all over again. At some point I think Justin Roiland like tossing stuff into the show in the hopes of getting freebies. If it makes for entertaining TV, I’m all for it. The Szechuan sauce joke, however, had legs. The conceit is that back in 1998, as a promotional tie-in with the release of Disney’s Mulan, McDonalds had a limited edition Szechuan sauce. According to Rick, it’s the prime motivation in his character arc, getting more of that sweet, spicy sauce. In the real world, because rabid R&M fans exist, there was already a petition that Justin Roiland linked on Twitter. With the future release of a live action Mulan on the horizon, is there any better time to generate groundswell? Fingers crossed. I’m jazzed enough from the bit that I’ve already considered having home made nuggets for dinner tonight, all to go with some sexy szechuan on the side.

Anyway. I’m a condiment person through and through. Here are my favourite condiments (in no particular order), for your consideration:

  • Tomato Sauce (or Ketchup in North America). It’s a classic. It’s sweet and savoury, plus it goes on practically anything. Any time I have mashed potatoes, they’ll run red with sauce. I used to have fish and chips a lot back home and I’d always squeeze on some lemon then douse them in tomato sauce. These days I have greens and carrots pretty damn often. I’ve found that by sprinkling lemon juice and tomato sauce over the top, my brain almost thinks I’m eating fish and chips. It’s like a mind-hack for a brain with crossed wires. In a similar fashion, tomato sauce and yellow mustard as a combo makes me enjoy yellow mustard (otherwise the least exciting of all mustards), because of the mental association with sausages and burgers. My favourite brands is not Heinz, but MasterFoods. It has the sweetness and consistency I enjoy.
  • Sriracha. There’s a low level spice and pleasant combination of flavours that lends itself to a ton of dishes. If I’m wanting to add a tiny kick to a dish, or cheat on blending in spices, I’ll often squirt some in. I’m a fan of the Huy Fong Foods brand, or rather the one with the rooster on the bottle. Because I’m a basic pleb like everyone else. Sriracha Mayo has gotten to be a little overrated, but it’s still bitchin’ with kumara fries.
  • Garlic Aoli. Speaking of kumara fries, garlic aoli is the classic. It’s really easy too, just mayo, salt, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. It’s great thick and cold served with hot roast veggies. I’d eat more of it, but if I made it I’d never stop eating it. My life from that point onwards would be seeking out foods to eat with aoli, ad infinitum.
  • Tartar. What even is tartar sauce? A quick google says it’s basically the same as aoli, but with pickle relish and minced onion in place of garlic/olive oil. Tartar is good specifically with deep fried fish. That’s how it’s earned its place on the list. When I come to think of it though, I probably prefer sriracha mayo or my dear tomato/lemon juice combo. So you know what? Fuck you tartar, you’ve lost your hard won place. The king is dead, long live the king.
  • Mustard. Dijon is fine, multi grain is great, dijonnaise has its place. The king of all mustards though? Colman’s English Mustard. It’s got the right spice and taste. Nothing is better on corned/roast beef or thickly sliced ham. If you’re dining with your grandma and she brings a pottle of this shit out, your night and anal rings are gonna be set ablaze. I fucking love this stuff and it’s been too long since I’ve eaten it.
  • Sweet Chilli Sauce. Not just because of its god tier combo with cream cheese, sweet chilli lightens up most meals. It’s a joy whenever you see it come to the table. Fried stuff? Sweet chilli is great. Mashed potatoes or green veggies? Sweet Chilli does its job. Anything chicken? You’re way past sorted.

The list isn’t exhaustive. BBQ sauce is all well and good. Sweet and sour is fine. There are some really nice, thick satay sauces out there. Really though, my heart is captured by the above condiments, with the exception of the traitorous impostor tartar. Will I ever get to add McDonalds Mulan inspired Szechuan to that list? If there really is a God, I may find out someday.

Who am I kidding? God is dead, long live the sauce!