It was, in short, a magic gathering.

I think yesterday was the kind of day I’d come to Portland for. A day spent going with the flow and enjoying where it took me.

In a weird coincidence, The Smiths played at least once in every establishment I set foot into yesterday. Which is even weirder because last night I dreamed that somebody loved me.

The last day or two had me feeling a little lonely and isolated. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of social interaction and the connections I hoped I’d find didn’t eventuate. When travelling, connecting with strangers and interacting with people outside of my usual experience keeps me going. What you see when going from place to place makes for a great backdrop, but the characters you meet provide the flavour. Tinder has proven to be a dead end. Without any matches it’s more a time sink where I get to judge a portfolio of people and marvel at what a terrible human being I am. What did work out though, was Couchsurfing. I was terrified of ending up in another meet up where people said “schwag” on repeat for 20 minutes, but I downloaded the app to try the “hangout” function. Simple but effective, it lists people who are actively seeking others to hang out with. It’ll say what they’re looking for (coffee/tea, drinks, lunch), have a link to their bio and show approximately how far they are from you. I saw that some dude within a 3km radius was looking to grab coffee. He was an aspiring audiophile and well travelled guy. I figured I lost nothing by opting in for a hangout. I sent a message and within minutes he accepted. He said it’d take him about half an hour to get ready and suggested a cafe about half an hour from where I was. What could go wrong?

Nothing, apparently. He was a nice bloke in his late 30s. He’d been constantly on the move for the past nine years or so, periodically coming back to Portland between journeys. He’d taught English in Korea, Japan, backpacked around South America and Columbia. Used to work in PR for tech companies, but got wanderlust and had to sate his thirst. We talked about cultural differences in the places he’d visited and how his language acquisition had gradually increased. I mentioned how I’d had trouble pushing myself to meet people. How I’d felt that I’d be interrupting or forcing myself on others who were just looking for their own space. He said not to worry, that if you’re not being a dick the worst they’re gonna say is “no thanks”. He said that oftentimes he’ll just chat with the bartender if they’re not that busy, which creates the opportunity for others to join in on the dialogue if they’re feeling it. He mentioned the difference smartphones have made over the years. How on one hand they’d made it harder to spontaneously connect with the people around you, as everyone was plugged in. At the same time, they were infinitely useful when travelling alone in order to find your way around a new city, figure out events to check out or make online connections for meet ups. I asked him, with all his travelling, what was the first thing he’d do when arriving in a new place? He said that he wasn’t much of an insta-traveller, that he often stayed somewhere for a few weeks to a few months. He said that establishing a routine made him feel more comfortable, he’d check out coffee shops and local bars. Once he felt settled, he’d engage more with connecting to others. We chatted about music, how we sourced new artists and how our relationship with music had formed and changed over time. We talked podcasts, TV and films. He suggested a few places for me to check out around town, some particularly choice food cart pods. After our coffee he took me around the corner to a pod (that’s what they call clusters of food carts, if that wasn’t immediately obvious) and introduced me to a delicious korean pork belly lettuce wrap. It was the size of a burrito, with a delicious spicy sauce. Food carts are so good here. The quality and prices are both unbelievable. Social batteries recharge, I ventured out to Happy Hour with a renewed vigour.

I stopped back into The Hungry Tiger and sat at the bar. Sipping on a whiskey & coke, I noticed someone looking at her phone and picking at a macaroni & cheese. I thought ‘here goes nothing’ and thought of what the Couchsurfing guy said. If the worst was gonna be “no thanks” I could always just go back to playing on my phone. “How’s the mac here?” I asked. She looked up. “It’s vegan and I’m vegan so it’s pretty good. They use better “cheese” than some other places.” That wasn’t so bad. We talked for a while. She’d been looking to move to this part of the country to do her masters in photography. She’d checked out San Fran and was leaving Portland in a few hours. The cost of living here was lower and she was strongly considering it. She asked me if I watched Game of Thrones and lit up once I said yes, so we talked the ins and outs of Westeros for an hour or so. She was 25 and not the sort that I’d usually hang out with, but that didn’t make her a bad person by any means. Frankly, it was just nice to talk about a mutual interest with someone and kill an hour. I guess the Couchsurfing dude was right.

The only thing I’d actually planned on doing yesterday was checking out Tonic Lounge. A bar on the North East side, it hosted a weekly Monday night Magic event. Given my lack of success with events over the past week, I expected to walk in and find the place empty. Instead there were around 20 or so players by the time I arrived. Everyone was playing, sipping on pints and eating bar snacks. The music was great and they had old episodes of Robotech playing on the projector. Since most of the staff were Magic players themselves, the bar extended the Happy Hour specials all night for anyone who was there to game. I had a great chocolatey stout and ordered a $6 plate of pulled pork nachos. I couldn’t believe how good they were. The pulled pork was sweet and tangy. Super cheesy, there was a dollop of sour cream in the middle, fresh bruschetta on the left and picked carrots/jalapenos on the right. Everyone was really friendly and, while experience levels varied, nobody seemed to be outright cutthroat. It was an amazing space to enjoy the game, see some great plays and have fun hanging out. I had such a fantastic time and only regretted not being able to become a regular.

With one and a half days left here, I haven’t got a lot left to cross off my list. How much debauchery can I get up to before I leave?

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Oat Brick would likely be my Knight Name.

Hey friends. There’ll be Game of Thrones spoilers coming up later. They’ll be very clearly marked.

Well that eclipse was some kind of whelming. It was neat and all, and the science behind it is pretty choice. In the end though, as a partial eclipse it was good for a minute or two of “ooh”s and “aah”s before walking back indoors to resume unremarkable work. Not to brag (I lied, it’s bragging), but it wasn’t my first. Way back when I was sub ten years we had one in New Zealand. I remember making some kind of shoebox pinhole contraption that kinda worked. I was at a friend’s place and his dad went into the garage to grab his welder’s mask. It worked way better, plus I felt like some kind of 70s sci fi cyborg. Which was basically my childhood M.O.

Fuck it’s great to eat bread again. I’ve been trying not to nosedive straight back into excessive eating, but what I’ve had so far has reminded me all too well of the massive sacrifices I’d made giving it up for Tough Mudder Lent. The cafe I often visit on the way to work has a plethora of baked goods. They’re ultra decadent, like these crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside salted chocolate brownies. For months now I’ve had my eye on these breakfast biscuit things. With no idea what they were, they nonetheless seemed like something I wanted to shove in or around my gob. So today for a treat I got one with a flat white. It was sturdier than I expected, but chewy and semi-sweet. Probably about ten centimetres in diameter and three centimetres high. Some kind of oaty, dried fruit brick. I dawdled along to work with my coffee in one hand, oat brick in the other, bliss in the centre of my being.

*** GAME OF THRONES SEASON SEVEN EPISODE SIX SPOILERS TO FOLLOW ***

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Wasn’t that a shit episode? I’m not trying to imply it was boring in any way, because the show has switched into act three action. The shortened half-season is screeching to a halt and they’ve got a lot of stuff to get done by the time it’s over. I certainly enjoyed a bunch of the scenes we got thanks to the Magnif-Ice-nt Seven grouping of fun fan favourite characters. A lot of cool interactions between characters. I’d forgotten the link of Brienne that chained Tormund and Sandor together. The Jorah/Jon Longclaw scene was nicely handled. Still, the entire adventure was a stupid fucking idea that made no logical sense for the characters concerned. Nobody at Dragonstone thought to seriously question just how shitty it all stacked up on a risk/reward scale (no pun intended, surprisingly)? Just a way to waste a bunch of Redshirts. Also for the first time it feels like temporal complaints were pretty fucking valid. They were surrounded by a ring of zombies. How long did it take a) Gendry to reach The Wall, b) the raven from The Wall to reach Dragonstone and c) the dragons to arrive North of The Wall? I’d wager maybe three or four days at the very least. Did they just stand there in the freezing cold for days? They didn’t seem to have a ton of provisions. Dumb, clumsy writing from a show that should know better.

Speaking of clumsy, what about this whole Arya/Sansa thing? It feels disingenuous to the characters that they would’ve gone through their worldly experiences and not be able to resolve their issues without Arya threatening to wear Sansa’s face. Yes, I get that family reunions have a way of making old dynamics resurface, but that seemed like a flimsy excuse to manufacture drama. Plus Sansa didn’t know that Littlefinger had any idea about the incriminating scroll (I mean, Arya wouldn’t take the fact that Sansa wrote it under duress as a valid argument? She knows how soft Sansa was back then), in that context why would she willingly go to him with information? She knows he’s not to be trusted. Furthermore, Bran is in Winterfell right? And he knows everything? Why not ask him? Is he too busy being aloof and watching Sansa’s highlight reel of traumatic experiences? Good show, but that episode was fucking dumb, clunky and sold out its characters for the sake of expediting the plot.

Still, it hasn’t eclipsed an otherwise enjoyable season.

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.