If I owned an arcade my official title would be Cabinet Minister.

I live every day in the shadow of my past. I know full well that life peaked years ago and with each sunrise, that gets easier to bear. Maybe as the years continue to stack, I’ll discover some shallow reflection of my former glory. Hope isn’t dead. Not yet.

The peak that I so fondly recall was after my brother’s bar mitzvah. Not the service, that was the usual ceremonial boredom. But the after party? My parents hired arcade machines. IN OUR GARAGE. There was Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Bad Dudes, Ninja Turtles and other stuff that wasn’t the aforementioned collection. When you have titles like those, why would you need anything else? The after party wasn’t even the peak. There were so many people, games were in use and I had to interact with others. There were arcade machines in our house. What need had I of non-player people? If they weren’t engaged in my game, I wasn’t engaged by them.

After everyone left, however, we had another couple of days with the cabinets. My best friend came over and we clocked as many as we could. Endless free play on Mortal Kombat? How could life get better than that? YOU COULD UPPERCUT PEOPLE INTO SPIKES. This was pre-internet, so we had no idea how to do fatalities. Instead, we’d select our characters and hope we’d get to the spikes level. Once we were there we’d swap turns of letting the other player beat us so they could have a go at spike uppercutting. THERE WERE DECAPITATED HEADS AND EVERYTHING. We also beat Bad Dudes a bunch of times, to prove that we were bad enough dudes to rescue the president. These days, perhaps not.

Today a bunch of us all visited the house of a mutual friend. She had a newborn and was planning to fly away to visit family in Fiji. If we were gonna see the kid before he left on an airplane, we had to take the chance. More importantly, the house we were visiting had a fucking pinball basement. I’d read about it in Toronto Life last year and didn’t realise we were heading to the same place. My childhood was dominated by arcade cabinets like our bar mitzvah hires. I didn’t play as much as I watched (and pretended to be playing while the demos were on screen), but I adored the flashing lights and tactile nature of the towering machines. I’d never sunk much time into pinball (outside of Space Pinball, of course). Holy hell, it’s a blast.

This house had a row of 15 machines, all lovingly taken care of. Some with custom mods. A plethora of flashing lights and bonus modes. Of course pinball looks busy, but I had no idea how expansive the games were. It was such a different experience to the games I’m used to playing. There were large pieces that moved while the cabinet shook. On Medieval Madness for instance, if you knock open the castle door and hit it three times, you destroy the castle. The parapets shake and fall down. Hitting a certain target sends the game into troll mode, where troll heads pop up and you’ve gotta bop them a certain number of times. It’s so much goddamn fun. Also having a multi-ball with four simultaneous balls is pure insanity. Most of the games were from hugely popular IPs. Spider-Man, The Avengers, AC/DC, Metallica, Ghostbusters, Tron. The Game of Thrones one was amazing. You could choose your house allegiance and conduct missions against the other houses. There was a miniature pinball table in the top left corner with a dragon mini game. It had cut scenes and bonus balls and so many flashing lights. Stimulation overload!

Awww. I miss sketchy old Yifan’s. Maybe it’s finally time to check out Tilt Bar.

If I was a contender, I’d go by the name MeLeeon.

When I was around seven or eight years old, I thought medieval stuff was the coolest. I still loved super heroes and transformers, dinosaurs were right up there, but medieval anything was a newfound obsession. It started exactly where you’d expect: Reading King Arthur. Here was a person who came to rule through exceptional circumstance. He started with nothing and ended up a king. If that wasn’t enough, he surrounded himself with a bunch of badass knights who all had their unique skills and attributes. To an eight year old, Arthur was pretty rad, but Lancelot was where it was at. The greatest swordsman in the land, but not an infallible hero. Even at that age I was drawn to characters with flaws, anti-heroes or those whose moral compass veered slightly off due north. I thought the whole affair with Guinevere thing was a bit shit, but created an interesting conflict. Then along came Galahad, who seemed too righteous to be any fun.

Finishing the book caused me to dive deep into fantasy novels. Courageous heroes wielding swords, shields and axes. Grizzly monsters and fire-breathing dragons. Magic and back-stabbery galore. I fucking ate it up. I fell hard for Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series and its diverse skillsets of magika and mental abilities. I loved Diablo and Warcraft, tried Dungeons and Dragons. I devoured Song of Ice and Fire, which went on to become the biggest fucking thing in the world. To this day I still play Magic the Gathering heavily. As it stands though, there’s still one thing I have yet to do to really harness my love of fantasy. In three hours, there won’t be.

I’ve never visited Medieval Times.

I first saw it on the 1996 Jim Carrey film The Cable Guy. It looked amazing, but also didn’t seem real. I was convinced that it was just invented for the film. Keep in mind that this was pre-internet and I lived across the other side of the world where it certainly didn’t exist. A friend and I took a trip to Chicago once and found out they had one. Without a car though, it would’ve been way too far out of the way. Disappointed. We then did a road trip across America, but still didn’t come close enough to one. Then I moved to Toronto and discovered that not only was there a Medieval Times, but they did birthday discounts. HOLY SHIT.

Three years have passed since then and I still have yet to go. Tonight however, tonight is the knight. I get a 45% discount through work, which makes it pretty damn reasonable for a night out. I’m pumped. It’s not logical how stoked I am right now. Friends are coming over, we’re gonna have drinks then go out to see the fantasy world of my childhood come to life. You know those moments where you’re reduced to that state of youthful wonder? I feel like that already and I’m not even dressed yet. Thing is, I don’t even know what I’m in for. It sounds dumb, but I’m not actually sure what the show contains. I assume jousting and sword fights. People have said you get a crown. I know that one of my co-workers used to play the executioner as a part time job back in college. We’re gonna get a big meal and drink beer. I may go hoarse from cheering on our very own Lancelot. I’ll likely be amped up from a little pre-drink before we go.

Goddamn I’m excited and the more I talk about it, the more excited I’m getting. Is this how normal people feel about watching sports? Why don’t we go out to watch athletes joust and melee any more?

Who cares? I WILL TONIGHT!

Our plane had dark wings. We had dark words.

Probably spoilers for Game of Thrones season six to follow. I haven’t decided yet.

Taking yesterday as a day of rest (rather than the traditional day of sex, being hump day and all), my girlfriend and I decided to unwind and watch a few Game of Thrones episodes. It’d been long enough since we’d last watched that we’d forgotten we were in season six, let alone which episode we were on. It was a fun world to dive back into and we quickly devoured three episodes before crashing out. We’re now five or so minutes away from having finished the fifth episode (laptop battery died on the plane flight at the climactic moment). While we were watching though, we’d both noticed a change in the air. I remembered that while the series diverged from the books a while back, this was the first season that didn’t have a corresponding book. The obvious outcome is that we were watching Game of Thrones that hadn’t been written (scenes or an overview at least) by George R.R. Martin. The difference was kind of noticeable. As always, one of my favourite things about watching a film or show with someone is unpacking and comparing thoughts and feelings. Sharing the experience has a somewhat vicarious feel to it, as it helps provide alternate views to your own which in turn expand your own perspective. Comparing season six to the previous ones, here were some things we noticed:

  • Gratuitous nudity down, gratuitous swearing up: “Tits and dragons” has scaled down both the tits and dragons. The language on the other hand is bluer than ever. I’m not complaining, it’s just different. Ser Davos, while a sailor at heart, never used to curse like one. Now it’s “fuck” and “cunt” as punctuation. I understand that Mr Seaworth has lost close friendships and family, but I’m not sure that it’d immediately change Mr Seaworth into Mr C-Word. He’s always been honest, humble and blunt, but rarely crude, as far as I remember. Unless my memory is the issue. It’s been a while since we last watched.
  • Characters becoming closer to caricatures: My girlfriend pointed out how many of the characters feel less dynamic than they did. As if they ran focus groups and discovered well this is what people liked about Daario, so let’s make him like that all the time. Characters being defined by specific features instead of being given depth. It’s kind of changed how the show feels. Less prestige, more pulpy. Ramsay Bolton, for instance, always had an exquisite sadism about him. He delighted in causing suffering. Now it feels like he’s cruel or violent for the sake of it. At the same time, there hasn’t been much telegraphing of him slowly unraveling, so it feels unearned. Tyrion’s trademark barbed wit needs sharpening and his ability to turn around a situation feels lacking. Self-interest was always one of his primary motivations (while essentially having a moral compass that’d get the better of him). His arc into selflessness feels too all-encompassing.
  • Fanservice at the behest of storytelling: My longstanding issue with Parks and Recreation (a show I really did adore) is that eventually it fell too deeply in love with its own characters. As a result, the show was loathe to let them really face strife and it became obvious that everything would work out okay. Game of Thrones is known for its abrupt twists and turns, throwing you off balance and not knowing what to expect. Now it feels like the fan favourite characters are gonna be alright no matter what happens. Of course Jon Snow is fine. Tyrion will be okay. Daenerys will come out on top time after time. Everything in its right place. Arya’s trials with blindness could’ve been far more of a depraved struggle, but instead were overcome with a tight little training montage (and this is coming from someone who loves training montages). The twists, when they do come, seem far more obvious than they did. Dialogue is predictable and runs on safe patterns. George R.R. Martin seemed to take pleasure in withholding what the audience wanted and the series felt stronger for it.

It’s not like the show is terrible now. Being basically the most popular show in the world, having so much time, money and talent pumped into it, obviously it’s great fun. Mid season six, however, doesn’t feel like its golden age. Valar morghulis, of course, but can’t it wait till the end?

And in the end, he died after the first film. Valar Morghulis indeed.

I’d love to bury you all under a mountain of planned prose, but frankly nothing is looming as important right now. It’s the afternoon, I’m tired after a listless sleep and the only mountain I’m thinking of right now crushed a man’s face. I’m several seasons behind on Game of Thrones and slowly catching up. I’m sure that’s what you’re all looking for here, a recap of shows and seasons long past. Like a poor time traveller, warning you about things that haven’t been relevant for ages. I watched last night’s (last year’s) episode as a palate cleanser from the second Air Bud film. Wait, aren’t I Air Bud’s staunchest champion? Am I not helming a Pawdcast on our golden furred hero? Why, pray tell, would a palate cleanser be necessary?
Here’s the thing about reviewing or critiquing. I’m not sure how it affects other people, but when I’m involved it pulls me out. It’s not an immersive experience, as I’m laser focused on trying to find the right details to extract. Whether it’s live music, comedy or any entrant in the Air Bud Cinematic Universe, it’s a tough sell to give myself over without stepping back. When I review live music or comedy I’m doing so with a little notebook. The performance will be spending alternating between watching and scribbling furiously. I want to make sure I’m not gonna miss important information to the detriment of the review. Unwittingly, this is to the detriment of the viewing experience. I still enjoy seeing shows, don’t get me wrong. It’s a privileged position and I’m not knocking it. I get to see gigs for free in exchange for an hour or so of writing. That’s a good deal. However, some value is stripped with that step back from the full sensory experience. It’s made me more selective about what I choose to review and what I choose to pay for instead. Is it worth $15 to get more out of the performance? If you can afford to, it’s hard to say no.
In the case of watching one of the many (many) obviously fantastic, well crafted and sublime Air Bud films, it’s a process. My split screen set up has half the screen taken by whichever Air Bud cinematic masterpiece I’m watching. The other half is a word document with which to take notes. It’s not as simple as merely watching a brilliant and captivating exploration of silver screen potential, I need to ensure I’ve got as much information as possible to bring to the Pawdcast. This means jotting down character notes, quotes, important plot points, foreshadowing and thematic choices. The point is not to merely talk about these artful masterpieces, but to dissect them on unnecessary levels. These transcendent marvels weren’t sculpted by the touch of a higher being for nothing. It seems an injustice most severe to not ponder as to the true purpose of their creation and the divine messages hidden between the heroic sporting prowess. It’s kind of exhausting and, between the pausing/rewinding, means it takes about three hours to watch a 90 minute film. Am I focusing way too much on things that don’t matter? I’m not yet prepared to imply that anything in these films is at all less than essential.
It’s like any new job. With time, these things get easier. I’ll figure out which details are important and those that I can leave. It’ll be less of an effort to watch a kids movie about a dog jock and maybe, just maybe, it’ll seem less like work.
Until then, well I guess I’ve got an excuse to keep catching up on Game of Thrones. Valar Morghulis!

I hope you’re ready for some more bitching and moaning. Ugh, when’s winter coming?

It’s hot and unpleasant in this house. In the least it’s unpleasantly hot enough that I’m content to sit and whine about it. “Why not open a window?” I bet you’d say if you were here (which would likely be creepy, random internet stranger). Thing is, it’s just as hot outside, so no dice. You know what? This is a house with air conditioning, we should be fine. “What are you complaining about?” You’d remark again (which would still be a little alarming, but I’d be more used to your presence by now), to which I’d reply that the house temperature is outside of my direct control. Our downstairs neighbour holds the power in her hands. It used to be so simple, our previous downstairs neighbour was a homebody. He was quiet, pleasant and always home. I’d flick him a text asking to chance the thermostat and within a minute or two I’d feel the air shift. Seeing how little I knew of his personality, his lack of outdoor exploration was a defining characteristic. I mean, there was that peculiar breathing I’d hear from around 4pm each day. I wondered if he had some kind of ghoul tethered downstairs, or perhaps just one of those sleep apnea respirator thingies. If you were here you’d know what I was talking about. Well, if you were here back when he used to live downstairs. Unfortunately our new neighbour is an outgoing sort. I mean, that’s great and all in that my girlfriend says she’s pretty nice, but if we don’t interact then that’s no good to me. Where’s my thermostat slave? I WANT AN OOMPA LOOMPA NOW, DADDY.

So instead I’m melting like The Wicked Witch of the West and my brain is following suit. I’ve stripped down as much clothing as possible without going full on Robbie Williams. I’m trawling Deezer for some appropriate music to enliven my spirit, but so far Surf Songs, Samba/Pagode, Sunny Wake Up and Happy Hour have done little to quell my colossal whininess. Maybe Brazillian Music holds the key. Something upbeat with lyrics I can ignore. The answer, of course, is that I should probably be in the shade sipping a chilled alcoholic beverage adorned with a little umbrella. I intend to do just that in a friend’s backyard inflatable pool, but I kind of need to finish this first.

My girlfriend and I tucked into the Game of Thrones Telltalle game. That sentence was confusing. It’s a cinematic adventure game made by Telltale Games which functions as an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure style experience. As she’s someone without much gaming experience, it was neat seeing her come to grips with the mechanics. Things I’d take for granted weren’t as instinctive and that was a joy to watch, especially how she honed in on it as we played more. Her reactions grew faster and it seemed more immersive. I was more than happy to sit in the passenger’s seat watching her make difficult choices and seeing how that played out. Video games were a bit part of my life for quite some time and being able to share that is a massive joy. Telltale handled the GoT IP really well (unlike my gratuitous use of acronyms), creating a family/house that closely mirrored the Starks, enabling brushes with familiar characters while still crafting a separate story. I’m kind of pumped to jump back into the Game of Thrones mythos and catch up from my location in early season four. I can’t just wait for the books, GRRM is gonna pull a Robert Jordan and I might as well try to catch up to the Westerosi focused water cooler talk best I can. Maaan, why can’t I be in Westeros now? I’d take a trip to the Iron Islands and the Drowned God would solve all my of my issues with overheating. I’m definitely not a child of summer.

Kidding. Westeros is possibly one of the worst fictional universes to jump into. I might as well enter Dante’s Inferno.

Is this what a break from comedy feels like?

Holy shit, taking it easy last night and tapping out after John Hodgman was the best possible idea. I can’t really be bothered doing a huge review for John Hodgman. He was charming and deliciously verbose. He wasn’t side-splittingly funny, but seeing him perform gave the same feeling as enjoying a well crafted This American Life segment. It was a comforting shift from the standup overdose of the past few days and helped me relax. I was so relaxed that I got 8 hours sleep for the first time in too long and I feel human again.

My mind feels like a well maintained engine, slick and smooth in its operation. Perhaps this is what happens when you don’t rely entirely on caffeine for brain function. After absorbing all this comedy, my brain has tried doing bits and I decided to jot a few of them down. I don’t know if I’m gonna try standup again, but I may as well keep these somewhere in case I want to revisit them. They’re raw and not tuned, in no way would they resemble the finished product. Enough disclaimer? What’s my brain been cooking up?

 

At some stage when being a nerd was cool again, we decided to spin the wheel of cooldom a bit more and reach for hipster status. Don’t believe me? Have you ever heard someone say “I was reading Game of Thrones (well, actually… A Song of Ice and Fire) before it was a TV show”? If you have, it was probably me.

I’ve stopped watching the show though. Great show, too much rape. Too much rape. For some reason though, people try to justify it. The number of people I’ve heard say “that’s what it was like in those days, rape everywhere.” Seriously? Game of Thrones is a book. It never happened. You’re applying your “historical knowledge” to a fictional fantasy land. Don’t try to justify the rape, it’s unnecessary and gratuitous. If you’re the kind of person trying to justify Game of Thrones rape you’re probably the kind of person who’s already spent hours trying to justify your purchase of truck nuts.

I’ve stopped watching that show though and it’s not because I’m a hipster and it got too mainstream, it’s just that I wanted to get ahead on the next big thing before everyone else. Okay, so maybe I am a hipster nerd, but I’m convinced we’re two years away at max from HBO picking up James Joyce’s Ulysses.

I’m not a “cool nerd” and that’s ok. I’m a nerd, as in loving knowledge and academia. I’m the kind of nerd who treats the site TV Tropes as a leisure activity. I’ve spent so much time on there  I’ve become a trope myself. You can find me under the entry “makes friends with the corn chips at a party”.

Because being overly critical isn’t fun. If you’re the kind of person who begins most of your sentences with “well, actually…” you probably couldn’t wait to tell everybody the Sixth Sense twist in the first act.

We get it, you’re smart and that’s great, but you don’t have to give us an unsolicited red dragon with your brain boner.

So I’m one of those guys (otherwise known as a buzzkill) and it’s hard for me to sustain suspension of disbelief. I thought I was finished, that big Hollywood blockbusters were a bust and I couldn’t enjoy a film for simply being entertaining without holding greater meaning and symbolism.

Then I saw Jurassic World.

When you see the park there are these sweeping aerial shots of this dinosaur utopia. It’s beautiful, there are kids riding little triceratopses, monorails surrounding gorgeous enclosures and a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. What more could you want? I saw this and my brain immediately said “I want to go there”. Now the wording here is important, my brain didn’t say “I would love to go there”, that implies some amount of conditionality. The condition being that this movie is fictional. Isla Nublar does not exist. My disbelief was so suspended that I forgot how reality worked.

No spoilers, but eventually something goes wrong. I mean, did you expect there to be no conflict? The big bad dinosaur they make gets lose and things go south. Immediately my brain started yelling “holy shit, they need to get this under control before it starts killing people”. Not because I cared about Chris Pratt (okay that’s a lie. Love that guy) and the safety of park visitors, purely because of personal investment. My brain was telling me “if the security measures take care of it and nobody dies, then regulatory bodies won’t close the park, I can leave this theatre and immediately book my flight.” My brain was so excited by this prospect that it had turned Jurassic World into a documentary.

Wait, is this what happens to Game of Thrones fans? They get so excited by the prospect of dragons it makes the whole thing seem real? Perhaps I’ve gotta reconsider my whole stance on the franchise. Now that I think about it, maybe truck nuts would look funny on my tow bar.

I do like ideas in it, but if I ever used those premises, my “tight five” would be a lot tighter than that. It tries too hard to be clever, without actually succeeding. It needs more callbacks, a better overarching theme. At least I stored it somewhere for me to tweak at a later date. Now to get back to watching real comedians do real comedy. Bring on JFL42 day 6.

Do you think most fruit farms have a secret backup plan to grow green leafy vegetables? Check the name: OrChard.

I’ve got nothing in my forebrain urging itself to be committed to the page. I’m not driven to write right now and the only thing that’s pushing me forward is the proverbial carrot I’m dangling in front of my face. My proverbial carrot in this case is an apple, which I’ll give myself as a reward for getting ‘er done. I’ve stooped to bribery now, this is how dire things are getting. What’s worse is how lame that bribery is. An apple as a reward for hard work? Jeez, how joyless my life has become. Well, it’d be easier claiming that if I hadn’t spent the weekend with friends. Hanging out (literally) at the clothing optional Hanlans Point beach, brunching and catching up with my favourite ex. A pinch of close time with my girlfriend and more brunch, this time with Turkish coffee and a beef/walnut/quinoa calzone that’d make Ben Wyatt smile with glee, even in a Batman costume.

I’ve also been reading for the first time in yonks. Paper Towns by John Green. If it doesn’t seem like my kind of fare, that’s ’cause it isn’t. I picked it up to read in an effort to push back against a mentality I subscribe to that I’d rather not. I don’t know when it happened (probably during puberty), but I bought into this notion of cool and the idea that it could be accessible. If only I placed a premium on liking niche or esoteric things, I could define myself by the things I liked and better, define myself by the things I didn’t. The fetishisation of the non-mainstream seems so cool until it becomes draining. Take Game of Thrones for instance. In all my hipsterism, I was reading the books long before the TV show came out. Once they became beloved by all, the series lost a little lustre in my eyes. Thing is, it’s still great and mainstream enthusiasm does little to inhibit its quality. It didn’t change the books I read and enjoyed. How could it? If accessibility had no bearing on quality, why should I care about this mainstream thing at all? I’m not a teenager any more.

So why am I reading a novel pitched primarily at a teen demographic? Because it was there. Because I wanted something light to read. Because it’s been 6+ months since I last read a book and that’s many kinds of reprehensible. Because if a book can nestle itself into the hearts of many, maybe there’s something there to enjoy. Young Adult fiction doesn’t discount adults from reading it and if there’s something I might enjoy, I’m only doing myself a disservice by acting “too cool” to pick it up. I can think of endless occasions where I’ve scoffed at certain pop cultural IP without knowing anything behind it. It seems a poor vantage point to judge from. If I’ve grown enough to discard the dichotomous “things I like//shit things” mentality, I’ve still got room in me for giving things a chance.

As for the book, I’m engaged. I’ve read 200 or so pages in the last two mornings while waiting for my girlfriend to wake. I feel like I’m rounding the end of the 2nd act and about to be showered in character development. It’s a fun, harmless book. It’s got a good sense of humour and some clever prose thrown in. While most of the teen stuff has as little effect on me as The Breakfast Club does now, that’s not the point. If I wasn’t enjoying it, I would’ve put it down by now. Not every text you consume has to change your life and sometimes it’s just nice to be entertained. There’s nothing to be proven by intellectual elitism and if you constantly place yourself on a pedestal, it can be a pretty lonely place to stand. I’m 28, I don’t know if I can afford to adopt the same kind of arrogant narcissism I have thus far. At some point we all need to grow up, right? It just so happens I’m working on it by reading Young Adult fiction.

Okay, I’m a developed mature adult human now. Can I have my apple?