Sunday, March 06, 2016

But That's Not What We Do



I've never punched anyone in the face. I have likewise never been punched in the face. At nearly thirty-eight years old, I hope both are trends which continue.

I did, however, after many months and repeated efforts, beat Mike Tyson in the titular Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! for the Nintendo Entertainment System when I was ten years old. That game is hard, but never underestimate the tenacity of a video-game-addicted kid. I had fast fingers back then. And a lot of NES-controller-caused calluses. Price you pay to be the champ, man.

I don't even like boxing, but there's something about video game boxing that I enjoy. Perhaps it's the fulfillment of punching something incorporeal and not getting punched back, passively satisfying a more primal urge while ensuring bodily safety.

And that extends to other aspects of gaming, including shooting people, jumping on the heads of anthropomorphic mushrooms, and taking pills to chase away the ghosts that are haunting-hunting me.

It's all just a fantasy. And it's fun. Challenging and fun.

In 2001 I was living in Sinchon, Seoul. On Sunday afternoons, I sometimes ventured into the myriad coin-op video game arcades sprinkled within the neighborhood. Most of them had old, sit-down games like 1941, Tetris, Puzzle Bobble, and the like, which I had a lot of fun playing, but some of the larger arcades had more advanced (and more expensive) coin-op games.

One such game that I was particularly fond of, despite all the 500 won coins it took from me, was a motion-sensor game called Police 911. You had to duck and shit! I wasn't into Dance Dance Revolution, but being a Tokyo cop shooting at and ducking from Yakuza gunfire? Sign me up!

Motion-sensor technology has come a long way, I'm sure, since 2001. Comparing the Nintendo Wii remote to the sensing technology of Police 911 is maybe analogous to comparing a fire-breathing dragon to a skink. And the hardest thing to determine while playing a video game that you want to beat is whether the game is good but you're not good at it, or whether the game isn't very good and that's why you're not good at it.

After a particularly vexing game of Police 911, I took two steps over to a boxing game. After years of searching, I still haven't been able to remember the title, because every Google search of "Japanese arcade boxing game" results in those arcade cushion hardest-punch games or the one where cushions come at you from the side.

This game was motion-sensor. It had two "boxing gloves," connected to the machine, that the player wore which more resembled today's UFC fighting gloves. The opponents weren't memorable, or at least not as memorable as Bald Bull, Glass Joe, or Super Macho Man.

But you still had to duck and move. I played Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! a lot as a kid because, no matter how many times I was defeated, I could always -- often blowing on the cartridge -- start a new game. An arcade is different. Maybe other people want to play. Other people are watching you.

I beat the first two opponents. Then the game got much harder. I was ducking and weaving, trying to save my video game life. I won the third bout, but I was gassed in the next one. I was a lot stronger back then, but my ass was tired.

Instead of throwing in the towel, I started rotating my wrists rapidly with the gloves on. I'm sure motion-sensor technology has found ways to stop such a cheat, but not then. That was a lot less exhausting than punching at a pretend pugilist.

I beat the game, although not in a traditional manner. I cheated, yes, by exploiting a flaw in the system.

I won. EAF.

Patch it later. Or never. Like I fucking care.



Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Fast Friends (The Intouchables)





A few years ago, my wife and I were browsing titles in a DVD-comic book shop (yes, some still exist, this particular one being on the ground floor of the building we lived in at the time).

Because I tend to consume most media via non-traditional means (shakes fist at archaic international distribution methods and stodgy rights holders), I had already seen -- months, and in some cases years, prior -- most of the titles available. But I noticed The Intouchables, a French film that was on my cinephile periphery because it had a high score on IMDB and I'd read a few ephemeral Internet comments praising the film.

We decided to rent the movie, but unfortunately the only subtitles were in Korean. My wife can get by with English subtitles for an entire film, but I alas cannot (although I managed the Korean subtitles for the French and German of Inglourious Basterds when we saw it in the theater, so sticker?).


Around a year or so later, the movie was available for streaming on Cartoon HD, an app that sneaked its way into the App Store for like twelve minutes and which I was fortunate enough to download within that time window. But when I tried to watch it, it was only in French with no English subtitles. Sacre bleu.

Early last month, I learned that Netflix had opened service in Korea. I signed up. Their library so far is embarrassingly bare (and, frustratingly, their Korean content doesn't include English subtitles), but I  was able to download a beta-stage VPN that allows access to Netflix worldwide. The Internet always finds a way.

This afternoon, the Independence Movement Day holiday here, I found The Intouchables available on Netflix Canada via the aforementioned  beta-stage VPN.

And I watched it.

And I loved it.

The premise sounds cliched and cloying. A rich, white quadriplegic hires a black ex-convict as his caregiver. They bond and do stuff, each person learning from the other. If someone described the movie that exact way, I'd take a pass. And if I'd read Roger Ebert's review prior to watching it, I'd similarly be turned off:


A stuffy rich employer finds his life enriched by a wise black man from the Paris ghettos


Ebert was wrong there. Philippe isn't "stuffy" at all (there's no conflict between the two; they become friends almost instantly), and neither is Driss "wise." The film does have cliches, and it certainly qualifies for entrance into the ongoing regrettable list of Magical Negroes in cinema* for having Driss shake up the lives of the people in Philippe's manse, however twee the results are.

But it also contains one of the greatest friendships -- if not the greatest -- I've ever seen in movies. Phillipe and Driss are great friends. Those are two dudes I want to hang out with. Unless I missed something, race is never mentioned in the film, so the rich -white-poor-black dichotomy is carried over from the viewer rather than anything shown explicitly in the film.

The film is also rated R. I'd say that's a shame, because it's a movie young people would enjoy, but I'm not that dumb to know that young people will seek out and enjoy anything they want.

The Intouchables is a great movie.

(and Fran├žois Cluzet totes looks like Dustin Hoffman, right?)


* Red in The Shawshank Redemption is, confusingly, on Wikipedia's list, to which I demand an explanation. And no, his reputation as a "man who can get things" doesn't make him a Magical Negro. He got Andy a rock hammer, not fucking Mjolnir!


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Eighty Two Four



Keep running, keep smiling, keep trying. Just don't give away the ending. 


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Like I Know


My mouth is weird, man. Has been for over a month. (Possibly over a lifetime, if you ask my parents.)

One weekday before the Christmas weekend, I woke up and all of my teeth felt loose. My gums felt like Play-Doh, and my teeth felt as though they were shifting and might fall out. It was not a pleasant feeling.

The next day my teeth felt more secure. My bite was a bit different, and I had some on-and-off nerve pain in a front tooth for about an hour, but that was it.

Then the headaches started.

Let me rewind a bit, though. These past eight months haven't been easy, both emotionally -- although that's getting better -- and physically. To quote Snoop Dogg, if it ain't one thing, it's a motherfucking 'nother. Relationship stress, work stress...that pairing is like bleach and ammonia.

In early October of last year, I broke my rib (at least one). I was drunk, got the spins, and fell into a bus stop bench. The American judge gave me an 8.7. Not my finest hour.

That shit took nine or ten weeks to heal. I never visited a hospital. Want to know if you have a broken rib? No need to see a doctor; the pain will let you know. And by no means is this me endorsing not seeking medical treatment. Quite the opposite. You should seek help if you're injured or sick. I'm a complete dumbass, and I continue to be one. I wish there were a vaccination for idiocy.


Just as my rib was feeling pretty much copacetic, I pulled my lower back while -- ironically, because I had resolved to exercise regularly as soon as I felt physically sound -- trying to pick up a 20 Kg box of dumbbells and hurrying out from my apartment elevator. Always lift with your legs, dummy.

While not as painful as having a broken rib, that shit fucking hurts*. It was another setback in my goal to not be a kvetching invalid.

And then this shit with my mouth. The headaches got more intense, day by day. My teeth seemed to be, ostensibly, shifting in my mouth hour by hour. I had a twenty-four-seven headache that on the pain scale ranged between 2 and ithinkmyentireheadisgoingtoexplode.

Two weeks ago, over dinner with two of my best friends, it was emphasized to me that teeth don't just move around in your mouth, especially hourly. Of course they don't. That's what it felt like, but obviously that wasn't the problem.

This might be the problem.

I reaffirmed two things about my personality during this stretch: 1) I'm a stupid, scared moron who probably won't seek medical attention unless I'm under threat of imminent death, and 2) you could explain to me one hundred times how the U.S. armed forces branches of the Navy and the Marine Corps are different, and still will never get it.

Good news is that I haven't had a headache for two straight days.

Bad news is that I haven't been able to close my mouth in three days. I can make my lips touch so that I don't look like an extra in Deliverance, but my jaw is, to use a British expression, wonky. And the muscle under my tongue cramps up occasionally.

I'll see a doc or a dentist if it gets worse. Or maybe not.

Because part of me -- the part above my shoulders -- enjoys a good mystery.


* My apologies for the colorful language, but if you've ever had a broken rib or a pulled back muscle, you may be able to empathize with my descriptive fucking curse words.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Immigrant Song



I feel bad. I feel like an asshole. I am an asshole a lot of the time, although I don't proudly wear my asshole badge like a narcissist. Instead, I get a new asshole tattoo on my conscious and try to not be another asshole or a bigger asshole the next time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I hate earwigs. I find them repulsive. I'm convinced that H.R. Giger modeled the Xenomorph after an earwig. They look terrifying, with their shiny black exoskeletons and pincers. Also, when I was an adolescent, I stayed with my family at my grandmother's one summer and the place was infested with them. One dropped from the ceiling into my hair while I was in bed, and ever since the sight of an earwig gives me goosebumps and an urge to eliminate the earwig from my environment. With extreme prejudice.

Earwigs, even though their weird name conjures fear, at least in me, are pretty chill insects. They tend to hide in the dark and stay out of the way for the most part. They're not wasps, which are the winged sociopaths of the insect kingdom (and which physically pose a threat to me, because I'm allergic to them). Earwigs are just scary-looking dudes.

Which is why I feel so bad for killing two earwigs today.

I have the same morning routine: wake up, smoke a square, hopefully deliver the mail, shower, get dressed, head to work.

But while I was sitting on the toilet this morning, square newly lit, I saw an earwig and had a conversation with myself:

One might mean there are more. Kill him and hope there aren't any more.I took a mop and mashed the bug into the corner of the shower until I was sure it was dead.

Then I sat back down on the toilet to finish smoking my morning cigarette.

But the earwig moved again. And again. It appeared to have overcome my assault. It writhed from the corner from whence I had intended to crush it, and it started to climb up the wall tile.

I was reminded of my Dachshund, Reggie, another long, diminutive creature, and I started rooting for this insect which I had tried to kill. It was making its way up the wall again, and I felt so terrible for trying to murder such a tenacious guy! I wanted this earwig to live!

Then my alarm went off and I had to go to work and I turned the shower on and flushed the earwig down the drain.

And when I came home after work, there was another earwig. A smaller one. I mushed it with a paper towel and flushed it down the toilet.

I feel bad.

Going to binge watch Fringe on Netflix.



Monday, January 18, 2016

Take It Easy, Mr. Frey

Believe it or not, people care where you've been.




The first time I heard the song above, I had been sitting in my mother's parked 1972 Buick Skylark. I vaguely recall being in the driveway of someone's house, for one reason or another, waiting for my mother to do whatever it is she had to do. As I dialed through radio stations, Glenn Frey's You Belong to the City came into tune. That's all there is to the story, I suppose, but it's enough for me. 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Reginald



"Hey, Reggie. Looks like a quiet night in here. The skyline looks like soup out there. I'll have a beer and a shot of whiskey, doesn't matter what kind. I'll serve myself if you're too tired."

"..."

"Yes sir, it has been a tough day. Tough week, month, year, life. I'm going to have a few -- no more than three -- and then go to bed.

"..."

"Reggie, you have to play music or put on some sports to attract customers. You're a good-looking fella, but looks alone aren't going to keep you prosperous."

"..."

"Well, it's the witching hour. Better knock off before a vampire bites me or I turn into a werewolf. How's my tab, Reg? Are we settled?"

"..."

"I'll take that as a 'Yes.'"


---

Old Pal,

I miss you, dummy.

How's your belly?

Are you chasing the saints around? Trying to steal Gabriel's trumpet?

If they ever get tired of your shit, tell them that they can send you back to me.

I can wait.

Good night, Reggie.

Your Best Friend,
Thomas

P.S. I'm sorry about the time when I cut your toenails and I didn't have anything to give you afterwards as a treat. That Snickers bar would have killed you.
But if I knew that car was going to run you over, I would have given it to you.

Sleep soundly, Paw Prince

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Roman Numeral Seven




Star Wars was my childhood. That's not an overstatement. I was born in 1978 (in Kenya), and from the time I can remember remembering, everything was Star Wars-related: R2D2 birthday cakes; toys; role playing with childhood friends, using invisible lightsabers and trying to replicate the sound they make, and using random pieces of wood as blasters.

My mother always reminds me that, when I was three years old, she took me to a double feature of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. I still remember that, vaguely. Yoda was scary. Then he wasn't.

I grew up with Star Wars.

And then I grew out of Star Wars. The Phantom Menace is cinematic dog shit. I liked a lot of things in Attack of the Clones, but overall it's a bad movie. Revenge of the Sith is...

You know what? I'm going to stop being negative about the prequels. Been there, done that.

Because The Force Awakens is an honest-to-god Star Wars movie, and I'd like to focus on the future rather than reflect negatively on the past.

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. Whenever I have trouble sleeping, I think about my past: places I've been, friends I had. Those are fond memories I'd like to see over and over again, like photographs in a family album.

I paradoxically want to go back and continue on. So, yeah, The Force Awakens is a magic trick I've seen before, a remix of Episode IV. But it has so much genuine soul, such well-written characters, and so many good moments (it's the funniest film in the franchise), that I don't give a shit if it's the same story told in a different way.

Because it's the same story told in a great way.


And BB-8 is my motherfucker.

Friday, December 11, 2015

On Shadow Mountain, Playing the Piano



My father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor when he was fifty-eight years old. He died the day before his fifty-ninth birthday. The doctors couldn't say for sure when the tumor had metastasized, but my mother thinks it was when he started exhibiting strange behavior three years prior to his diagnosis. That's only her guess, though. I was away at college then, and my sister, Nancy, was living with her boyfriend in Sault Ste. Marie, so neither of the Cookston siblings ever witnessed what Mom described first as "odd stuff," like Dad getting up in the middle of the night to scribble pencil drawings of large, menacing faces on the drafting paper in his office, and then later as our father -- who was theretofore the gentlest man I'd ever known -- became increasingly violent, initially to inanimate objects like TV remotes and framed pictures, and then to Mom and, finally, himself.

You learn a lot of things about your parents as you grow up, the first thing being that they're not the perfect guardians you once thought them to be; and some unfortunate sons and daughters learn this more quickly than their peers. But while my parents' marriage wasn't as solid as, say, the Waltons' or the Reagans', I knew, and still know now, that my mother and father were always in love with each other. From the time I developed an understanding of such a concept to the day my father was taken off of his life-support system, I could see that.

I flew back home after winter exams in January, 1999. I hadn't heard from Mom in three weeks, and while I will never blame her for my lack of focus during the weeks preceding, I was continually haunted while studying by the last thing she said after she called me at my dorm one night. We talked regular family stuff -- emphasizing the good (excellent lobster dinner at the church), casually mentioning the bad (broken water main on Brant St. during the Super Bowl) -- for about thirty minutes or so; but as I was about to hang up and call it a night, she said, "I think your father is slowly going insane."

"Dad? How?"

"Let's talk about it when you're home, dear." My mom never called me "dear," but that's the only endearing word I can use to describe the fear, pain, and love in her voice.

I booked a flight home for January 3, 2000.


---

I mean no offense to persons named Janelle or persons of Swiss nationality (it's a pretty name, and a beautiful country, respectively), but that flight home, on a shoebox of a plane, with drunk international college students ("Janelle, look! The wing just fell of the plane!" "Janelle, do you think we're all going to die here?") was trying. The flight was forty minutes, but it felt like forty days. I knew I was in Canada because no one chastised these obnoxious assholes, but everyone had the furrowed-brow visage of fury." People travel for pleasure, yes, but a lot of people travel, especially by air, because bad things have happened, or might happen.

---

I took a taxi from the airport to my parents' place. When I walked in, I didn't hear a sound.

"Hey!" I shouted. "Anyone home?"

Nothing.

I left my luggage at the door and walked down the hallway to the kitchen. The television was at full volume in another room. It was early afternoon, a sunny day, but every light in the house was on. I turned right to walk into the family room (or "the TV room," as it once was called) and saw my father. He was sleeping, snoring, with a near-empty bottle of Jack Daniels on top of his chest, undulating up and down as he breathed. He was wearing a gray pair of Jockey underwear and nothing else. There were cigarette ashes all over the carpet, and my folks didn't smoke.

"Dad?" I said, trying to rouse him. That didn't work. But when I took away the bottle of JD and carefully placed it on the coffee table, he stirred, sat up, and spoke the most haunting words I've ever heard.

"It would have been easy to kill you when you were a baby. I always wanted to do that. You were so little and shitting and pissing everywhere. What a burden you were. I would have strangled you with a curtain cord in your crib when you were a baby if I could have gotten away with it, you fuck. Your face might look like mine, you might have inherited my big dick and smart brain, but you are just a small minnow swimming in a pool of piss on the sidewalk. You're only breathing because I didn't have the money to pay for an abortion when your mother was pregnant with you. So you should thank me. I'm your god. Pray to me!"

I stood, not in awe, but in horror of the man my father had become.

"Your mother is downstairs in the basement. I tried to drown her in the laundry basin. I think it worked, but I might have heard some sounds down there a short time ago. Coughing and gurgling and stuff. Maybe that was her blood clogging up the drain.

My gun is upstairs in the bedroom. The bedroom I used to fuck your mother in, way before your time. You were adopted. From Cambodia!

What do you figure, Ace? You think you can go rescue your mother before I go and get my gun and kill you both?

---

I didn't learn much from college. I'll never be a scholar or a professor. But logically I knew how to take care of the situation.

I strangled my father until he passed out and then called 911. My mother was bleeding and was taken away by ambulance. Spoilers: she's just fine. She made brownies yesterday. They tasted like love.

My dad is somewhere, trying to be alive again.


I'd like to meet him when he gets back to normal.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Swimming



I want to go swimming. In a pool, or in a lake, or in an ocean.

I want to be wet, from head to toe, water encapsulating me.

I don't care where. Saltwater or freshwater; I just want to swim.

The water could be cold or hot.

I don't care.

I just want to swim.