Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dale begins to report January's re-nerding progress but gets side-tracked preaching about movies

The thing you need to understand is that I am inherently lazy. And not in the “I think I'll sleep in an extra twenty minutes” kind of way. If not for guilt and the ever-increasing and urgent needs of the body for sustenance and, more often, waste disposal, I could probably rationalize myself into a full day's worth of extra sleep. I could do this every day.

But guilt and duty pull me up (eventually) each morning and I rise to take on the world, which I realize will eventually pummel me into submission until I am old and spend my days complaining about how the nursing staff is stealing from me and lying to my grandchildren about bands that I've never seen. I will also in all likelihood hold several petty grudges and nurse elaborate planned vengeances against unsuspecting enemies for minor crimes blown wildly out of proportion by my frenzied imagination. I make this last assumption based on the behaviour of people in my own family who, as they age, have gained the ability to hold grudges like Dick Nixon, but thankfully do not have a team of former CIA operatives to carry out their orders.

I mention my tendency toward laziness to set up my lack of dramatic progress on my re-nerding project. This is not to suggest that I've made no progress, just less than I know I could have made.

So in this post I will lay out the first part of my January progress report.

On the movie front, Friday night movies have been successfully implemented. Troy was over on Friday and, as expected, we watched only one film. Since Warren wasn't present we held off on Shaun of the Dead and opted to watch The Guard. We both loved it and, based on Troy's enjoyment of it, I decided that he will also enjoy In Bruge. Both films feature Brendon Gleeson trading colourful quips with a talented co-star, they both make similar use of their settings, and both combine comedy and drama in a unique way. They also both have really entertaining villains. So we'll be watching that one soon.

After The Guard was done, I suggested that, since it was reasonably early, we could watch a second film. At that point it was explained to me that since we had just watched a movie that we really enjoyed, a second one would be anticlimactic. Or it would be too much of a good thing. Or something. I can't really recall, but suffice to say it made little sense to me. I mean, if we had just listened to a really great song, I wouldn't have told him, “Okay, that's enough music for tonight. We don't want to ruin this feeling.” I guarantee we'll be discussing this on future movie nights.

My wife, Karen, is of the same opinion, by the way, though she leans more to the “I've seen that movie, why would I watch it again” school of thought. My response to this is similar to the one above. I cannot imagine the following scenario:

Warren: Hey Dale, I just got this new remaster of Pearl Jam's Ten album! I'll just pop it into the old CD player, yeah?
Dale: Pfft. I heard those songs once. Why would I want to hear them again?
Warren: Umm, because they're awesome? And the whole album's been remastered.
Dale: Take your CD and get the hell out of my house.
Warren: What? What the hell did I do?
Warren: God, you're such an asshole now.

Correction: I can imagine certain aspects of that scenario, just not the parts where I refuse to listen to Ten.

Anyway, my point is that for people like me, movies are like music. I have certain films that, if I'm flipping channels and run into one of them? Well I'm stuck there for the long haul. This list includes titles like Rio Bravo, The Shawshank Redemption, The Big Lebowski, and rarer these days, Casablanca, All About Eve, and The Maltese Falcon. These are all movies that, to my mind, grow better with age. They are all eminently quotable, and the dialogue becomes more enjoyable the better you know it. This is especially true in Lebowski, where the more you listen to the dialogue the more you note patterns, repetitions, and callbacks that are embedded throughout the movie. Lines like “This aggression will not stand, man”, and “in the parlance of our times” become so much more meaningful and funny on repeated viewings.

None of this, however, can match the outright joy you get when you discover a film that you realize you're going to have a life-long love affair with. And no repeat viewing can ever recapture the experience of seeing that movie for the very first time. There are so many movies that I wish I could erase from my memory just so I could go back and watch them with fresh eyes one more time. The six movies I listed above are all great examples, but there are many more that come to mind, like Rushmore and Blue Velvet, two movies that changed the way I watched movies forever.

But until they actually create one of those little Men in Black flash doodads, we're stuck with our memories.

There is one thing you can do, however, that brings you as close as you can get to actual rediscovery, and is something I do whenever possible - show the movie to someone who hasn't seen it. Believe me, if I find out a friend hasn't seen Casablanca? Well guess what we're doing next Friday? It works, because for a brief few moments you kind of see the movie through their eyes and it makes you remember all those joyful little moments that you had when you first saw it. Trust me, this really works. Unless your friend doesn't like the movie.

Or should I say, ex-friend.

Of course, exceptions sometimes have to be made. Like, for example, if you were to show your wife Almost Famous, almost dancing with gleeful anticipation of the joyful discovery she was about to experience, and then for some reason, she was totally underwhelmed by it? A frivolous disagreement like that couldn't possibly be worth a huge fight followed by hours of silence and glaring, finally culminating in an unspoken agreement to never ever mention that movie again, as long as we both live.

Or so I imagine...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dale reminisces about the D&D glory days and finds pointless, wasteful uses for wondrous technology

I used to play role-playing games a lot. In high school and during university it wasn't uncommon for me and a group of friends to run late night sessions of Dungeons and Dragons or GURPS, crash until noon, and then continue where we left off. I don't recall very many shower breaks for the boys on these weekends. Come to think about it, if we did this for a whole weekend the room would start to smell like some kind of exotic, unrefrigerated meat.

During my adult years, like most of my more nerdish pastimes, rpgs became a less and less frequent activity. These days I still dabble occasionally, but some of my friends have kept it up and continue to run regular weekend sessions, though since they are old like me, these sessions never become gaming marathons like the old days. In fact they rarely make it past 11:00.

On the plus side the room usually smells great.

Part of me is jealous that they've kept up with it while I have not, but they play on Saturday nights and since my wife is not a gamer, I am left with a choice: do things with my wife and family on the one night we generally are all free, or leave them and sit around a table, roll dice, drink soda, and eventually get slain by an elf.

Sometimes this choice is not as easy as it sounds.

Once in a while (a longer and longer while as time goes by) I find myself being invited to start up a regular session with these friends on a non-Saturday night, or as we refer to it, Friday. Fridays are a bit better for me. Karen is usually tired and doesn't care if we do anything. Also, she seems quite happy to get to bed early. My kids have reached the point that they no longer notice if I'm not at home. I have literally left town for days and come back to find out that at least one of them didn't realize I had been gone.

One of the directives of this new project I've begun (you know, the one where I attempt to put all the nerdy things I love into a higher-prioriy area of my life? And decided to devote a blog to? Keep up) was based on the realization that I was not watching anywhere near the amount of movies I used to (I have literally been buying more DVDs than I've been watching, so that now, next to my unread book pile there is a sad unwatched disc pile). I decided to set Friday night as movie night. Every Friday I must watch at least one movie, from any source. Anyone is welcome to join me, but for about a month and a half now I have spent at least two hours in my basement, watching movies. Alone.

The point is, I don't feel as much guilt going out on Fridays. So we've tried to set up rpg campaigns to run every second Friday night, a schedule that I can commit to, excepting the occasional Friday where I'm out of town for work. For some reason, these campaigns always seem to crash and burn, and every time this happens, there's a longer wait period before I get invited to another.

Early last year, I got a call from my friend Dave, who is not in my usual gaming group. A writer, Dave was working on creating a campaign world for the Dungeons and Dragons universe that he hoped to submit, or at the very least get a novel out of. So to get in the mind-set and to work out some world and story ideas, he wanted to get a group together to play Dungeons and Dragons. I agreed and about once every month, we've gotten together to play. And it's not just D&D, it's 1st Edition D&D. For non-Rpers, this is the equivalent of a Halo player suddenly deciding to devote himself to his old copy of Doom. If you're not gamer enough to understand that comparison, I will break it down into total non-gaming terms: it would be like going from Wii Tennis to Pong.

But it's fun. We've all pulled out our old rulebooks, some of which haven't seen the light of day since the early 80s. And unlike my other group, most of these guys haven't played D&D since the early 80s, so I feel like a bigshot.

We were supposed to play last Wednesday night. I, unfortunately, had to be in Dryden that night, but gave my blessing to run the game without me, since this group is tough to pull together, and I was the only one unavailable. I joked about Skyping them to check how things were going and left it at that.

The night of the game, I finished my business in Dryden just after 10:00 and texted Dave to see how things were going, and asked if there happened to be a Skype-enabled laptop at the gaming table. As it happened, there actually was, and a few moments later I was sitting at the table, my disembodied face glowing out at the guys from my accustomed spot at the table.

I had planned on visiting for a few moments but instead found the game progressing and becoming involved. I even had Bob, the guy with the biggest hands, roll dice for me at an angle that created the illusion that it was my hands sticking through the screen and rolling them onto their table. It was awesome, even though my rolls that night sucked for some reason. And for an hour and a half I sat at that table, not feeling like I was missing out, joking with the guys, and playing D&D. We truly are living in a world of wonders when such amazing technology can be utilized for a purpose that ridiculous, aren't we?

The only down side was that I was also forced to watch them gorging themselves on salty snacks of which I could not partake. However, since they were unaware of this particular cruelty, I decided not to take them to task on it or hold a grudge.

As for my solo Friday movie nights, I'm trying something different. This Friday I have invited actual friends to join me. Troy and Warren will be coming over and we're having a double feature of “movies Troy needs to see”. In reality I only expect to get one movie down, since Troy isn't a double-feature kind of guy. I know this because, while discussing which movies to watch, he expressed his “strenuous opposition” to watching two movies. So I expect we'll watch Shaun of the Dead and call it a night. Which is fine with me, as long as we can push things past 11:00.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dale probes the roots of his nerd-rage, works on self-improvement, and eats soup

What is wrong with me?

There I was in the common room of the Holiday Inn Express that is my home for the next two days. Popular for their free hot breakfasts, this one does something I haven't seen before: At 5:00 they put out a cheese and crackers platter and two kinds of soup. Today's choices were gumbo and broccoli with cheese. So, as you can imagine, the place was PACKED. I mean, free gumbo, are you kidding me?

I sat alone with my little paper bowl and my plastic spoon, thinking about the fact that life doesn't get any better than this, and started listening in on the conversation at the table next to me. I couldn't help it because, one, they were pretty loud and, two, they were talking about movies.

Now I am famously dickish when it comes to movie conversations. I admit it and accept that this is just one of the many ways that I can be an asshole. I am aware of this, and am working hard to conquer this articular shortcoming. As Jules in Pulp Fiction would say, I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd. Perhaps in some future post I'll discuss my dickishness at length, but for now I'll just stick to the movies.

Now, these people weren't committing any particularly heinous sins. Nobody in their group praised the work of Michael Bay or Uwe Boll (Yes, I put those two in the same sentence - Boll fucking deserves it). Nobody made that speech about not liking subtitled movies because they "just want to shut off their brains and enjoy the movie". And not one of them mentioned 3D being the saviour of the film industry.

No, their sin was not any sort of wild declaration that offended my soul both as a movie lover and as a human being. Their sin? They said things that were wrong. And not even horribly wrong. One of the women said that she didn't think the remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was worth seeing because Hollywood remakes suck. Now under any normal circumstances I would have smiled quietly to myself and withheld the compulsion to go over and hug her. Because for the most part I completely agree with her. Plus she demonstrated knowledge that a foreign film actually exists, so bonus points.

Under normal circumstances.

In this case though, I just wanted to barge over there; not to hug her, but to announce that it's "not a Hollywood film, it's a David Fincher film!" (Interesting side note - when I thought it, I could hear myself saying it in my own rich baritone voice. But seeing it typed out I can only hear it in the voice of The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy. I am a sad sad man.) I also wanted to ask her if she was nervous that the horrible, upsetting rapes would be too toned down for her in the “Hollywood” version. After all, I seem to recall the tagline for the Swedish original was something along the lines of, “Come for the subtitles, but stay for the brutal raping”. Or something like that.

There were a few other moments like that, none of them really worth getting worked up over, but it got me thinking: that kind of opinionated self-righteousness is a true nerd characteristic. Which becomes even clearer when you can suddenly hear your own words coming out of the mouth of Comic Book Guy. Why the hell was I so bothered by the conversation of those nice people? Maybe it was because they had the nerve to not only exclude me from their conversation, but to not even have the courtesy to consult me before making statements about movies! Are we as nerds so touchy about having our opinions disagreed with that we even get angry at people who not only don’t even realize they’re disagreeing with us, but don’t even know we exist (and are eavesdropping on their conversation)?

Probably not. It’s probably just me.

But since I’m all about self-improvement ( mainly in an attempt to no longer alienate an ever-increasing number of friends and relations), I held my tongue and finished my soup. There’s a lesson there that we all need to learn from time to time. As Emily Post might very well have said, sometimes the best thing you can do is shut the fuck up, finish your soup, and scurry back to your room.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dale concludes his laborious introduction and begins a journey both stupid and clever

So, at the risk of this becoming a thing, I must apologize once again. I got a comment (yes, just the one, but it does help explain why I love Lindsay so damn much) after my last post that referenced the “big reveal” coming up. Let me clarify: there is no “reveal”. All I am doing in this post is concluding the introduction to my blog. There will be no fireworks or children's choirs to celebrate the announcement, and nobody reading this will make any kind of delighted exclamation and read it out loud to their spouse or significant other in gleeful amazement. Trust me, if you've read the first two posts, the point should be mostly apparent by now anyway. At the very least, you must have concluded that I am, at the very least, going to ramble at length about things that are on my mind.

Well, that's at least partially true. I tend to ramble and go off on tangents when I write, and things that I intend to keep short end up being, well, long. So one of my goals with this is to discipline myself and work on brevity. So I will not be going over 1000 words on any post. That's the Krawchuk guarantee! *this is not a guarantee.

Another goal is to get back to writing regularly. I want to keep this thing up and post at least two or three times per week. And since I actually plan to tell people about this blog, the pressure will be on and I will have to write or reveal myself for the all-talk, lying blowhard that I fear deep down in my heart of hearts that I actually am.

Now I realize that so far it seems like this whole thing is for me. What's in it for you, you ask? Well have no fear, I do plan to keep things entertaining. My anecdotes have frequently been described as “enjoyable”, though I have also heard the terms “pointless” and “in need of closure”, but in my opinion all three of those can entertain at some level.

I also plan to be honest. And when I say honest I mean I will be unflinchingly forthright about my opinions, my thoughts and feelings, my fears, my doubts, and most of all, buckets and buckets of self-mockery. I was going to say “self-hate”, but I'm really not sure if I actually hate myself or if it's merely self-loathing. I gave it some thought and decided that either way, there would be self-mockery. Oh, and of course, mockery of others.

Is that it, you ask? You're just going to post a few times every week and ramble about whatever's on your mind?

Well, no I'm not. Though I did try that a couple years ago and found it fun and the posts were amusing (don't believe me? They're still up on Blogspot. Look for Dale's Brain), I feel like I need to hone in a little bit. And that's where the story about my kids from last post comes in. It made me realize: I'm no longer a gamer. The only game I play regularly is World of Warcraft, and trust me, WoW does not count as an actual game. It has several game-like elements, but it is really a social experience and an escape for me at this point. Many may argue with that statement and perhaps I'll devote a post to it some day, but the fact remains, I would finish up my day and sink into my desk chair, fire up my Mac, and holiday in Azeroth for a couple hours each evening. Which is great, don't get me wrong. I have great fun and hang with fun people. But it does not compare to the days when I would log on to Counterstrike every night and battle for my life against incredibly skilled opponents with deadly virtual weaponry.

I have played bits of some awesome games on Xbox and on my computer, but it's always just way more convenient to log on to WoW. Plus there's competition for my Xbox much of the time. It's downstairs set up in my home theatre area, and my kids can be found down there much of the time.

Anyway, I decided that I was going to make time to play more games. Get outside my comfort zone and actually get into some of the games I've been wanting to play. And then I thought, maybe I should write about that. I'm now a lame gamer, I know, and my skills and reflexes are not anywhere near what they once were, and I'm sure I'd have some amusing tales to tell.

Then I thought, “Wait!” There must be tons of guys with similar issues. I mean, I haven't just been neglecting my love of gaming. I don't write as much as I used to. I don't watch movies as much as I used to. I don't read as much as I used to. When you're eighteen, you have energy and time to do all the shit you want, and it doesn't seem to be over in five minutes like all my activities now seem to do (Wait, maybe I should rephrase that, both for grammatical reasons and for the potential unintended implication. No! No time!). But as you get older, and things like jobs, and spouses, and kids start to demand the bulk of your time, and rightly so, how do you still find the time and energy to keep up your more trivial passions?

The answer is that I have no idea.

But I'm going to try. On Boxing Day I bought a second Xbox for my house that I've hooked into my upstairs TV, and damn it! I am going to use it. It's not much, but it's a first step. The rest I'll work at and see what I figure out as I go.

And there you are. I'll keep at it and post regular reports from the field. And I already have a couple of amusing anecdotes from playing Red Dead Redemption. But seeing as how I'm breaking my 1000 word limit guarantee by writing this sentence, I will stop here and express my hope that you'll find my musings worth your time and that you'll pop in once in a while and check out my progress.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Picture Begins to Form. The World's Longest Preamble Begins to Conclude. Is There a Point? Maybe!

Okay, first of all, a couple apologies regarding my last post. First for that comment about my sons eating the equivalent of the Gross Domestic Product of a small to moderate agrarian nation. Reading it over again last night, I couldn't help thinking that I'd started to wander into Erma Bombeck territory. Or at the very least, was now writing the kind of material you see middle-aged lady standups performing: you know, my husband's a macho buffoon, my kids are blah blah blah, yada yada yada my vagina, and so on. So once again, my apologies.

Second, the stuff about paying for autographs. I realized earlier today that one of my closest friends, Kevin, recently took his family to Dragon Con and did exactly that. Now, just to be clear, were I at Dragon Con there would be many things I would be all over, and my envy for Kevin going there is palpable and borders on rage, it's just that lining up to meet celebrities would not be one of my activities. Part of it is probably that I feel that whole process just fuels their hate for their fans, though it is more likely that deep down I believe that it would fuel their hate for me in particular. And Kevin has now met Edward James Olmos while I have not. Furthermore he has a picture of Edward with his arm around Kev's shoulder to prove it, so overall I lose.

Anyway, back to where I left off yesterday. Family man, 40s, no free time, kind of a nerd. Check.

So I love lots of nerd stuff, but to a less obsessive degree than others in my social circle. Except movies. I think most of my friends cede that one to me for the most part, and it is probably the one subject I can discuss with my friends where I don't detect a barely-concealed condescension from them. Hell, I've even gotten the occasional phone call from them to settle a movie argument.

Now coming in second among my great passions (not including Karen; I could give all these things up in a day if that's what you demanded my darling) (Is she gone?) (I think so) (*phew*), and the one that, more than any of the others sets me firmly in nerd territory, has always been gaming. I have always loved board games and have owned, played and enjoyed everything from Monopoly to Squad Leader to Settlers of Catan. I also love role-playing games and my younger days were filled with long nights of Dungeons and Dragons and GURPS. And though I never got an Atari 2600 when I was a kid (though I would have paid any price, up to and including contract murders), our family did get an Intellivision a year or two later, and for a time my life felt complete.

When I hit my 20s I got into computer gaming and started with an Amiga 500 which, a year later, I upgraded to ONE FULL MEGABYTE of RAM. Holy shit! The thing was a beast!

On and on it went through the years, with new computers and console systems flowing in and out of my house (but mostly in, according to Karen; people on our street often hear the cry of, “We don't have room for all this shit!” radiating from our windows). The last two PCs I owned were hand-built by me (with the help of a smarter, nerdier friend), and now I have a sleek, shiny iMac which has served me faithfully for over four years now. All three of my kids are computer and video game addicts, something which I quite frankly consider to be a failing on my part as a Father, but all three of them are also socially well-adjusted and seem to be functioning well in society in general, so it's unlikely that at some point I will have a 30-year old living in my basement drinking Mountain Dew Code Red and eating his weight in Hot Pockets. We take our comforts where we can.

One day, not long ago, I was talking to a couple of my kids about a particular video game and asked how long it takes to play through to the end. The response was, “About eight hours. But for you? I don't know, twenty?”, said with the kind of condescension that only a teen, or maybe an American Idol judge, can muster up.

After their inevitable high-fiving was done, I got to thinking – when did I become the low man on the gaming totem pole in my own house? Wasn't it like, two years ago that I was deliberately driving off cliffs in Mario Kart so these guys would be able to catch up to me?

The answer, of course, is no. I am 46 years old, and one of the by-products of being this age is that everything seems like it happened way more recently than it actually did. So every once in a while you find yourself spouting old guy shit and losing bets to your nephew because you insisted that CSI has only been on the air for five or six years. Turns out it premiered in 2000. So don't make that bet with your nephew. You will lose. And be mocked.

How, you ask, did this epiphany lead to my contributing to the white noise that the blogosphere has become? And holy shit, spellcheck did not try to correct the word, “blogosphere”. It's an official word now. Anyway, tune in for my next post which should wrap up what I intended to be a brief introduction to my “You Magnificent Bastard” blog. All will become clear on that day my friends, and then we will all link hands and sing songs of celebration and joy. Be there! 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why a blog? Why now? What's your point, jackass? The beginnings of an answer!

Here's the thing: I'm in my 40s.

Fine, goddammit, I am well into my 40s.

I have a family. I have a job. I also have a second job.

I have a second job because I also have three teenage sons who are capable of eating the equivalent of the Gross Domestic Product of a small to moderate agrarian nation. Beyond that, there are other rapidly mounting expenses that seem to increase daily, so I took a second job. Because I am a responsible adult male.

I also work out six days a week, and have been doing so for a year and a half now. Being in my 40s, I realized not long ago that if I hit my 50s weighing in at close to 400 pounds, I was doomed to a short and achy life, with various bits constantly failing, breaking, or, God forbid, falling off. So I made some changes. Because I am a responsible adult man. The fact that I have now spent a year and a half being sore is a small price to pay, even if the monthly gym fee is not.

So, let's recap: I have a family. I have a mortgage. I have two vehicles that need to be paid for and maintained. I do home improvement. Badly. But at least our house now has two bathrooms. Because, as I will say for a third time (to help you remember), I am a responsible adult man. Pretty typical. Nothing really special. One of thousands, if I'm being honest.

The problem with all of that is that I am also a nerd. Not the flaming version that is so popular on TV and in movies. I am smart but not a genius. I love certain areas of pop culture, but I rarely obsess over them. I have never participated in a debate regarding the merits of Patrick Stewart vs. William Shatner (lasting more than fifteen minutes). I love music, but have never worried very much about the names and personal histories of the members of my favourite bands. I love movies, but have never... okay, I do tend to obsess over actors and directors, but I still have friends who've forgotten more about film than I will ever know. I love fantasy and science fiction, but have never travelled hundreds of miles to attend a convention (though that would be awesome), and have no interest in standing in a long line and paying $50 to shake hands and get the autograph of Stan Lee. Don't get me wrong, if I ran into Stan out on the street somewhere I would totally love to buy him a beer and hang for awhile, but paying money so I can get his name on a piece of paper and maybe a photo of him with his arm around my shoulder, pretending we're best buds? It kind of seems demeaning to both of us. Me and Stan.

Now, just to be clear, I'm not saying all this to slag off people who are into all those things. To be honest, I've always had a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to my friends and my place in the nerd pecking order. Over the years I've come to terms with the fact that other people in my social circle are either more knowledgeable than I am about most topics, or they're at least more willing to work at memorizing names, facts, and figures, whether that refers to baseball stats, what year a certain album was released, or the cast list of AMC's The Walking Dead.

What is my point? Why a blog now? Those questions and others will be answered (or rambled on about) in the next post. This upcoming post, by the way, is already written, but having posted various essays and short fiction in internet forums before, I think that really long posts are kind of overwhelming. Nobody wants to surf over to a page and then spend the next fifteen minutes reading a long-ass rant, so I've broken up this lengthy preamble into digestible segments. Because I care about you. And because I want you to keep reading. I have things to say. And I promise, there is a point to all this, which I will make clear very soon. And then, once the foundation is laid, I will be able to get on with the actual purpose of this blog. So check in again soon.