Song of the Day: Bright Eyes – Lover I Don’t Have to Love

Artist: Bright Eyes
Album: Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
Song: Lover I Don’t Have to Love

I love Conor Oberst so much. I probably heard Bright Eyes for the first time when I was around 20. From that day through present, Oberst has been my favorite singer-songwriter. The English major in me has always appreciated lyricism, and he’s among the very best. This is not really related, but that’s also why I love rap. Words are cool.

This is one of the few songs that both my now-wife and I liked before we started dating. So listening to it now takes me back to those early days. I can only imagine the kind of nostalgia overload I’d get from it if I’d been listening to Bright Eyes in high school. I would have had much cooler hair and probably fashion sense, if I had been.

Try and appreciate his semi-imperfect voice because, like anything in life, things are better when they’re weird. And I think it is the sound of goddamn angels. Swoon.

Marry me, Conor?

Auctions for Old Things We Can’t Afford

This past Saturday, I was tipped off by my sources as to a pinball and arcade game auction happening a mere town over from me. By which I mean, my sister sent me a picture of their Facebook event page and I audibly said “ooh!”

I love pinball machines. Arcade cabinets too, but not quite the same level. All of my interests somehow fall into the category of “pinball themes.” There are machines based on Ninja Turtles, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park…those are three of my top five movies of all time. I understand that a Clerks pinball machine might not look as flashy as the others in black and white, but there’s no excuse why a Beetlejuice one was never made. Perfect timing of the late 80s, unique theme, so many quotes- argh!

Oh god it could have yelled “NICE FUCKING BONUS *honk honk*” at you : (

Regrets aside, I was pretty excited to go check out the auction. Since Caitlin was out with her family, I went with Jessie and Cliff. Since I am an awkward jellyfish of a man, I felt weird taking pictures of the machines. It seemed, I dunno, like the kind of thing the people in charge would be justified in tackling you over, until security came running. Luckily, Cliff had no such qualms and loves retro video games even more than me. He thus became the official/unofficial photographer for the trip.

The first thing we saw was that the auction was being held in a run-down parking lot with a bunch of truck-docking stations and warehouses. I was more than willing to overlook that, though, because I had neon pinball lights dancing in my eyes. We parked and headed in, where this greeted us:

2014-08-02 10.38.52

I want to climb that like a rock wall. It’s basically a giant pinball board. It looked pretty neat just standing there, but I imagine if it had been lit up in all its glory, I would have taken my sister’s suggestion; quit my job and become a carnival person, traveling the world with this modern marvel of human ingenuity.

The variety of “expensive home entertainment” displayed was impressive. They had pinball, arcade cabinets, those sit-down driving games, pool tables, jukeboxes, and more. We walked around the machines, trying really hard to look like people who had the money to buy one of them. I so very badly wanted to be 12 and made out of quarters. They even had one of those virtual skateboard games where the controller itself is a skateboard. I remember a skiing one from when we used to go to Burger King Castle as kids, and I can’t imagine how much cooler I would have felt skateboarding.

One section featured old touch-screen games. The only one we tried was a mini golf course, where Jessie missed the windmill but Cliff saved the day by sinking it in three strokes for par.

There were a lot of classics there, too, like NARC and, I guess arguably, Crazy Taxi.

We also noticed several machines that clearly were not displaying the games that their cabinets advertised.

Maybe those were just the cabinets being auctioned off, with placeholder screens inserted? I’m not sure how much I would pay for just the frame to an arcade game, but I’m kind of glad I’m in no position to find out. The answer would probably be regrettable, given the right cabinet.

An entire aisle was dedicated to the pinball machines. Sadly, my most-sought after ones were nowhere to be found. I say that as if I would have bought them had they been there, instead of just holding onto the sides and sobbing. But emotional damage be damned, I want to see and play Creature from the Black Lagoon in person.

They did have a Rocky & Bullwinkle, which I can get behind. I also just now realized that this is the second consecutive post to mention Rocky and Bullwinkle in some way. Maybe I’m a bigger fan than I thought. Even so, the main attraction for me by far was the Haunted House machine. Cliff obliged by taking my requested 45 pictures of it, and it is a sight to behold.

This is one of the pinball tables I’ve convinced myself I will one day own. I saved a bunch of pictures of said tables to my phone (not a joke) so I can look at them on a bad day. Or, so I can be ready if some shady guy says he’ll give me any pinball machine I can show him a photo of in the next ten seconds. Some might say that’s crazy, or sad. I say you need goals in life.

That backglass is going to be my kid’s nightlight until he’s twenty, and I will rest easy knowing I have done my job as a parent.

One of my favorite parts of this place was the weird games tucked away in the corner, behind the giant pinball table at the start. Some of them had auction stickers, most didn’t. They might have been broken, or being saved for some other event, or so odd that no one could conceive of a person exchanging currency for the right of ownership. Regardless, I thought they were great.

The best was called Radikal Bikers and it featured the creepiest character of all time, riding a scooter through traffic and plate glass windows and pedestrians.

Also, kicking cars and making them explode.

I couldn’t get a great screenshot off the video Cliff took, so I had to take some creative license, You can totally tell the dude is kicking though. How did this game not catch on? Don’t correct me if I’m wrong.

On the grim side of things was a seemingly abandoned Qbert cabinet. I hope it found a good home, but I do like how his reaction on the side art is so appropriate. Maybe it was meant to be this way.

All in all, there are far worse ways to spend an hour on a rainy Saturday morning. I suggest going to anything of this sort if you have a chance. Especially if you live in North Haven, Connecticut because then this one would be really close to you. Sometimes, you just need to surround yourself with things that remind you of your youth, and maybe  dirty arcades with ugly carpets.

Well said, party-planning alien. Well said.

Mario Kart Madness or My Worst Idea Ever

At first, I was worried that following up my Super Nintendo baseball woes with another video game entry would cement me as forever a nerd. Luckily, this post involves 75% more people than the last one, and 100% more alcohol.

In the name of science and being loud, we set out to determine the effects of repeated drinks on one’s video game-playing abilities. The most obvious choice of game seemed to be Mario Kart. You definitely need your hand-eye coordination and reflexes to be in top form, and there are 850 different things you can use as excuses to drink. We had four individuals, to ensure that our data was diverse and accurate. If nothing else, I pride myself on the integrity of the information I present.

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The players for the evening were my wife Caitlin, my sister-in-law Melissa, my brother-in-law Cliff, and myself.

Thinking ahead, I enlisted my sister, Jessica, to help keep track of everyone and make sure my notes for this post were in English. After much deliberation, we decided on the below rules:

1)      Two drinks if you are hit by a blue shell
2)      Drink for ten seconds if you are passed at the finish line at the last second
3)      Three drinks if you come in first (for each person/opponent you embarrassed)
4)      Drink for however many seconds match your placing (three seconds for 3rd place, four seconds for 4th place, etc)

[Writing this now, before we actually start playing, it seems like a good set of rules to make sure we don’t get absolutely annihilated, but still have fun. I may be reading this sentence back to myself tomorrow, cursing my name.]

I went with Iggy Koopa, my favorite of the Koopa kids. He’s an evil turtle who wears glasses and has what looks like the leafy part of a carrot sticking out of his head. Victory comes clad in many forms, and one of them is knowing that you are using by, far, the best possible character.

Here’s who we were all using.

Characters
Caitlin- Shy Guy
Melissa- Gold Pink Peach
Cliff- Baby Rosalina
Dan- Iggy Koopa

We regrettably selected the entire 32-race marathon, which meant we had to plug away for over two hours. It also took, without exaggeration, two races for the carefully-thought out rules to crumble apart. “Drink when hit by a blue shell” quickly became “drink when anything happens.” Added to the frenzied confusion was the fact that we were live-streaming this debacle on Cliff’s twitch.tv account. We pulled in a monster crowd of four people at our peak, I believe shattering the world record.

As expected, Caitlin took a lead early on, since she’s had the most experience playing this game. I was no slouch, but no matter what I did I’d end up in second, at best, for most of the first half. I also had the disadvantage of getting passed by Caitlin at the last second a few times, made even worse by the fact that each was preceded by me trash-talking. Oops.

Things started to get interesting around track 15. Tempers flared and the alcohol began to kick in. We were all arguing with each other, with the people chatting on the stream (including Melissa’s husband, Ori), and I know that I personally was taking offense to every banana peel and shell. It didn’t help that Caitlin continued to beat and taunt us. Melissa seemed to reach her breaking point as well, following several last place finishes.

All of these factors combined to give me my second ever video game-related injury.The first was when I tried to escape a submission move in a WWF game when I was 16 and tore the skin off of my thumb. And for all you naysayers thinking that wasn’t worth it- correct, I didn’t even escape the hold.

I want to say that it happened in slow motion, like a black and white movie with flashbulbs going off in the background, but the truth is I didn’t even see it coming. As was discovered afterwards, Melissa snapped and tried to yank the controller from Caitlin’s hand. She succeeded, and if the second part of her plan was “crack Dan in the face with the controller,” then that was a success as well.

My unfortunate position right behind the battling siblings put me right in the path of their rage. The controller hit me right in the orbital bone, sending me crumpling to the floor in a heap. My first immediate thought was “Ow,” and the second was “If I get a black eye, I’m going to have to lie about being in a bar fight.” Luckily, it didn’t come to that. I soldiered on and managed to come in second place on the very next race, from my position on the ground, peeking above the bed.

Don't cry for me. I'm a survivor.Don’t cry for me. I’m a survivor.

The worst part of the entire night was that Catlin won. She downed two huge bottles of cider, on top of drinking before we even started playing. At one point, she and Melissa switched controllers, and then Caitlin used both controllers at once to drive into the wall for an entire race. Meanwhile, the concussion that I definitely had at this point had awakened me. I started doing my best racing of the night, and Cliff and I still couldn’t even come close to Caitlin. The final score had her beating us by like 20 points.

At some point I also spilled a beer on the floor. Sorry, Jessie and Cliff.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. I’m glad Cliff was able to live stream it, that everyone had a good time, and that I took a hard piece of plastic to the face because it gave me an extra paragraph for this post. Congratulations to the winner and champion, Caitlin!

But truly, we’re all winners. Each and every one of us.

Check out the below video from Cliff’s Twitch channel. I hope to join him for more videos that I’ll probably cover here. We also hope to have a highlight video of the best moments up soon, so I’ll update with that when it’s ready.

Watch live video from Cliffpro on Twitch

I broke my face for you all. No one can ever accuse me of not giving my body for the art of writing.

OH BABY

For those of you (all of you) who never played Earthbound, let me give you a quick summary. It’s an RPG that came out in the mid-90s for the Super Nintendo, and it’s since gained a big following. It has all the makings of a role-playing game; leveling up characters, item inventories, turn-based fighting system. But that’s pretty much where it stops being typical and starts getting weird.

I’ve never had patience for RPGs. They take a level of dedication that a person who plays video games on a one hour basis just can’t handle. Earthbound, though? Earthbound is different. You really have no problem going through the grind of gaining levels and fighting battles because everything is so ridiculously weird. All of the towns you roll through are a hodge-podge of pure 90s insanity. And the enemies! With names like “Annoying Old Party Man” and “Struttin’ Evil Mushroom,” it’s almost okay when you do end up losing. It’s one thing to get killed by a solider or warrior, but who’s going to be mad after getting mowed down by a Ranboob?

Thanks to my fiancee Caitlin, sister Jessica and brother-in-law Cliff, I recently came into possession of the actual game. It’s fairly rare, ranging in prices upwards of $200. After putting the cartridge into my SNES with the same care one normally reserves for venomous snakes, we were off and running. This is the kind of game that showers you in nostalgia, even if you didn’t play it in its heyday.

Despite adult life being fairly hectic, even limited time spent playing a game like this can bring you back to your favorite summers. Bike rides, all day football games that end in fistfights, and then inside for bouts of Mortal Kombat that also end in fistfights. I didn’t play Earthbound in the mid-90s, but every time I load it up now it feels like the world is wearing one giant pair of Zubaz.

One of the best things about the experience is the ambiance. From the non-playable characters to the unique towns, no area seems generic or a copy of another. One thing that’s crucial to any playthrough is the exploration of your surroundings. You really do need to talk to everybody you see- not just for hints and clues as to where you’re supposed to go next, but for the game’s much-lauded humor. This is an RPG that does not take itself seriously. You probably figured that out back at the Ranboob, but the speeches that the townsfolk give are just so weirdly wonderful. That’s the highest compliment I give to things, so you can take that to the BANK or whatever.

The story is great, too. Not going to go into any details, because it’s my hope that this convinces at least one other person to try it out. I will say, though, that it involves the classic story of a band of kids going up against an all-consuming evil. The fate of the world is in your hands, and you go about saving it by hitting things with yo-yos and eating cheeseburgers out of the trashcan. You ain’t accomplished nothin’ til you rescue humanity fueled by garbage.

I convinced one of my roommates, Chris, to start a game at the same time, so that we could see who got farther the quickest. As I also had an internet acquaintance and Caitlin racing me in separate games, I rapidly became in danger of losing to three people at once. My friends have a lot more gaming experience than me, and I regularly get trounced by ants in battles. The odds were not in my favor, but thanks to a marathon session yesterday, I now have a giant safety buffer on Chris’s game. Oh, and my online friend had to stop for now because his computer crapped out. I don’t know anything about that, and I defy you to find concrete evidence that I was involved

I think it’d be a lot of fun to chronicle my progress in this game, but I again don’t want to ruin the story for anyone. Also, there is the matter of pictures. There are so many amazing things to see in Earthbound- colorful and vibrate things. Great music to hear, dialogue to read, and drugged coffee to drink. You really need to experience it for yourself. And I’m just not going to crouch over the TV screen with my phone taking shitty photos for you.

Okay, just one