Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Gaming Moments of 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, it's time to pay homage to my favorite hobby. Rather than simply making a list of my favorite games (many of which you'll see here anyway) I've decided instead to share my favorite moments in gaming over the past year. So, without further ado:

My Favorite Gaming Moments of 2010

Uh, maybe let's let the big alien lead the pack
My Anal Retentiveness Pays Off
(Perfectly) Surviving Mass Effect 2's Final Mission

Mass Effect 2 won me over way before I stepped into the final chapter of the game, but the icing on the cake in Commander Shepard's quest to save the universe was the fact that plot-wise, every single character in the game that I'd spent hours developing a relationship with - racing through the cosmos, fighting aliens, saving planets, or just trying to bone them - were not automatically scripted to survive. Any and all of them (including you, technically) could die in the final mission. For those of you who haven't played many games, this is actually a pretty radical concept. Generally speaking, characters in game are only ever scripted to be killed at certain story-specific points, and the rest of the time you can only watch (or participate in helping) him or her get shot, slashed, drowned or burned alive only to fall unconscious and return to your side moments later.

The way you prevented this from happening mostly depended on how you were playing the game from the very beginning. If you were diligent in spending time with your crew, talking with them between missions, gaining their loyalty through side quests, and upgrading your ship through special tactics each of them knew (and naturally, wouldn't share with you until you became best buds) then you already had a leg-up. At that point, once you actually got to the final mission, it was mostly about just not making stupid decisions (i.e. have the chick with psychic powers to create the psychic force field, send the sentient robot anywhere dangerous, and keep the almost eager to die black guy on the back line of combat).

While there were many strategy guides available explaining what needed to be done, I never had to use a single one. Because I naturally (well, not always apparently as you'll soon see - but if I love a game enough, and I'm still having fun, certainly) play my games this way - with an anal-retentive level of dedication to seeking out every last morsel of content. So to be rewarded with the completion of the last mission, knowing that everyone could have died, but I saved them all thanks to my usually overzealous efforts was the icing on the cake of an altogether fantastic experience.

Not pictured: crippling self-doubt
An Existential Crisis, Overcome?
Creating a Deadly Metaphor Out of Super Meat Boy's Insane Difficulty Level

They say you can judge a man's character by how he faces his failures. There are moments when I'm faced with falling short of a goal, or rejection and disappointment, and during those times I'll mentally shield with myself with a moment of great success, a story of something I've overcome recently that proved that every failure is a chance to learn, and to overcome. And while I have my fair share of life successes, more often than not my go-to thoughts of success often come from a video game. That's a somewhat embarrassing admission, but what you need to understand is that at any given moment if you were to look inside my brain via some sort of brainwave interpreter, you'd realize my thoughts are mostly game-related to begin with. Hmm - that actually might be the more embarrassing admission, now that I think about it. Ah well, bleep blorp boop!

While recently playing the incredibly difficult Super Meat Boy - a game that often involves dying dozens of times in a row in order to complete a level - my ego was suddenly put on the line when I went through this thought process during a recent play session:

"Huh, this is hard. But that's how I like my challenges. The bar's been set, and I'm about to fly right over it. BRING IT ON SUPER MEAT BOY!!!"

24 deaths later:

"Wow. I still can't beat this shit. Maybe I should skip this level, or come back later. No, wait, fuck that, that's what Super Meat Boy WANTS me to do. Get it together, Shafeek! YOU SHALL OVERCOME!!"

17 deaths later:

"What. The. Fffffffffuckkk. This is an impossible stage. This stage is BROKEN. I HATE IT. RGRHGEIRGFGHDKH I HATE EVERYTHHHIINNNNGGGGG!!"

46 deaths later:

"I...I...I can't beat it. This is supposed to be something I do well. And I can't do it. Games are set up to be won. I have no excuses. If I can't do this...can I win at anything? I shouldn't just give up on this game...I should give up on LIFE."

84 deaths later:

"..." (with teeth clenched, and seriously angry controller gripping)

3 death later - Victory!

"WOOOOOOOOo!!! Yes, Yes YES! Oh, thank god, I'm not a complete failure."

Next stage, first death:

"Time for another game, I think."

I talk a lot about threshold that gamers sometimes pass where the game stops being fun, and I think this kind of exemplifies why I sometimes go to the point of masochism. The eventual victory (assuming I don't kill myself first) becomes that much sweeter.

Wow, I had no idea the title was so literal.
There's No Time To Think!
Realizing Sleep Is Death's Limitless Possibilities

I wrote a post a while back on this fantastic game, so I won't go on too long about how awesome it is here. But suffice it to say although I probably didn't invest as much time into playing it as I should have (I think a sequel or version 2.0 that was a bit more user friendly would do wonders for not only me playing it more, but also for me being able to convince others to play), Sleep Is Death's concept - two players creating a story together, where one plays and interacts in the environment while the other generates the entire world and all its content on the fly - is amazing.

I had some truly inspiring moments trying to react to inventive players circumventing the path I was trying to lay out, all the while trying to craft a continuous, plausible and hopefully entertaining narrative. And on the other side of the table, when I was playing I felt like a part of the storytelling experience. Which got me thinking: one particular angle I hadn't considered before now is how this game could potentially bond two gamers more than other cooperative or competitive setting. This game is ultimately about two minds coming together for an interactive, symbiotic storytelling and game playing experience.

Sleep Is Death is the ultimate sandbox game and an experience every gamers owes it to himself to check out.

(Mental note: bring this game to PAX this year to play with others)

Sorry, no time to chat. I've got other games to beat.
On Second Thought, Maybe I'll Just Save The World Now
Shelving Dragon Quest IX's Overwhelming Amount of Content

This is less a 'Favorite Gaming Moment' and more a 'Favorite Moment of Personal Clarity to Occur Whilst Gaming.' It also doesn't just belong to Dragon Quest IX, but this game is the most egregious example of a title that I really enjoyed playing but simply had to draw a line in the sand with, content-wise. I played Dragon Quest IX for easily over 100 hours, and still somehow only managed to scratch the surface.

It's probably not much of an exaggeration to say that Dragon Quest IX has a near endless amount of content. An incredibly large world with dozens of dungeons to explore, treasures to be found (and made, via the game's alchemy system), and of course, character customization. One small example from this last point - you could conceivably make your character(s) a maximum level warrior, then have him jump to a new occupation as a wizard, then a thief, then a priest, etc. Your character(s) would slowly become sort of a god. And you know, there was definitely a moment when I debated doing this. But then I realized that would take more than 3 years of train rides with my DS to do that, and the fact was I had other shit I wanted to do. So I made my half-warrior half-paladin who was just badass enough to beat the final boss - who, in games like this, was not nearly as tough as many of the worlds' other outside-the-main-storyline-enemies - and I put the game down forever, leaving a ton of content on the plate.

As I stated earlier, this sentiment is sort of at-odds with my Mass Effect 2 entry, but even in Mass Effect 2 there were things I chose not to do (ok, one thing - I did not mine every single planet in the galaxy for materials, but that was probably the one really really not fun thing to do in that game). The difference now is my OCD-like behavior in gaming officially has an expiration date - and that date is the moment I stop having a LOT of fun.

Side note: another game blogger's thoughts on this very topic/game. She apparently is still playing (or simply not finishing) DQIX, not seeing the point in beating the final boss both because she doesn't want the experience to end, and because when it does, it will inevitably not be a grand enough punctual mark on the time she invested in it. I say that sometimes that sometimes the punctuation mark really just needs to be the what keeps the game from being an endless run-on sentence in your life, even if that sentence started off awesome but then eventually overstays its welcome and soon makes it clear that no matter where it ends it's probably not gonna be worth all the time that went into reading and/or writing it - but that could just be more of a personal preference...maybe.

Sadly, by the time he built the Paddle Saw, all the zombies had hitched a ride to Miami
The Simple Pleasure Of Splattering Zombies
Killing Zombies in Dead Rising 2 with the Kitchen Sink

When I wrote two posts back in November on why I game, I listed my final reason as "Pure, Unadulterated Fun," and I think if I had to describe a concrete moment of pure joy I experienced this year, it was the simple pleasure I got out of discovering, creating, and using all the ridiculous duct-taped weapons I was able to use to fight the zombie horde that had taken over Fortune City in Dead Rising 2. Weapons like:

A Flaming Tennis Raquet:


A Fireworks Rocket Launcher:


A Shotgun/Pitchfork, or 'Boom Stick':


A Parasol/Leafblower, or 'Parablower':


And Finally, an ELECTRIC WHEELCHAIR:


I literally could not control the smile on my face while playing with these wonderful toys. Zombies are the perfect video game fodder, and this game (once again, only better this time) threw me into a large space with an endless supply of them, along with a ridiculous number of creative ways to destroy them. Good times, indeed.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That should just about do it for this year. I still have plenty to mess with going forward in my backlog, and with Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2 and many others coming out in 2011, I'm confident this little hobby of mine is no danger of lacking new, amazing moments well into the future.

Happy New Year Everyone!
-Matt

PS: A little something silly and non-game related with me that was shared with me, that I loved and feel the need to share with you:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Giving The Devil His Due

I'm also a big Ed Hardy fan!
There's a lot of questioning of the existence of God out there, but not nearly enough questioning of the existence of the Devil. Sure, he's got a popular sort of canonical presence in popular culture, and his diabolicalness ranges from cartoonish buffoon (South Park) to unholy representation of evil (The Devil Wears Prada - I haven't seen this movie, but I hear it's a biopic of Lucifer discovering his preferred fashion designer). I argue there's not nearly enough people out there really looking for signs of his existence in the real world, here and now.

Take this man for example. George Castro, 48, arrested last month for allegedly stealing $5 million dollars from Columbia University. When they caught him, he had $200,000 in a bag, and a brand new $80,000 Audi parked in front of his house. When they asked him where he got the money, he told investigators the money "just appeared" in his account, and he "got greedy and spent it."

At first glance, our buddy George here looks like he got caught with his hands in the cookie jar. And while his thieving skills may up to snuff, his on-the-spot lying skills are clearly total shit. But see, that's what a person who stopped questioning the existence of Satan would say. They'd lock up poor Mr. Castro, and throw away the key, satisfied with the knowledge that the money was safe and the crook was behind bars. I however, have an alternate theory: George Castro was hoodwinked by the Devil.

George Castro: Satan's Bitch
No one ever thinks to listen to statements that initially sound like the words of a crazy person. Especially those of us who are New Yorkers - we hear so much crazy all the time, just on our commute to work, that we simply have to filter out the nonsense immediately, lest we spend our entire workday on wikipedia sorting out exactly which ethnic/religious group have teamed up together to conspire to kill us all. But guys, come on - how often have you seen this scenario in movies with supernatural events/monsters/aliens before? Everyone's skeptical, except for our hero, who always wonders "what if..." and only then is the truth exposed. So guys, get with the program: George Castro clearly asked for $5 million dollars in exchange for his immortal soul, which the Devil delivered without explicitly stating in advance where the money was coming from, which was in fact Columbia University.

You might still be skeptical, and I get that. It's very hard to prove these things definitively. But I ask you this: what sort of person has the intellectual capability to steal millions of dollars from a highly renowned private university, but lacks the social wherewithal to understand that walking around with $200K in cash and a new car might get you the wrong kind of attention should people start asking questions? Ok - most nerds, fair enough. But friends, you have to believe me: George Castro signed a contract with Lucifer in his own blood, and when the cops came knocking on his door he decided the only way out of his situation was to try to tell them the truth, in a matter of speaking (though clearly, his story might have sounded better if he kept the 'devil in the details,' so to speak). 

So yes, he still messed up big time. Now he's gonna go to jail, and when he sheds his mortal coil via shiving - in 2 years or 20, he'll sadly be off to Hell penniless as he was before he signed the contract. But hey, I'm not one to judge. Lord knows I've offered up several enticing propositions to you-know-who in the past to grow an extra foot, get all my hair back, and change my voice to that of Michael Clark Duncan's, but apparently what I have to offer* ain't good enough.

All I'm saying people, is dare to believe...in a chaotic, evil force that's conspiring to ruin our lives, take our souls, and drag us underground to spend an eternity in hell. Because like with God, it's a LOT easier to get through the day being able to blame all your problems on this guy. Try it and see!

-Matt

*No, actually I haven't offered him my soul. But I have offered him comps to many improv shows, free gaming lessons, and the opportunity to guest blog here at any time. You tell me that's not a great deal!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli Hones His Craft


It's easy to look at people who've mastered something and forget that they weren't just born that way. No one exemplifies this more than cool guys, who more than professional athletes, musicians, surgeons, or chefs really seem like they came out of the womb with two thumbs up and not a care in the world.

But at some point or another, even the coolest cats out there didn't have it all figured out. They stumbled, they fumbled, they trialed and they errored. And for me, the idea of the Fonz spending some time learning how to hit that jukebox just right serves as a loving reminder of this fact.

Special thanks to my good friend Rolando Garcia for not only drawing the artwork you see above (which would have otherwise have been a mis-mashed photoshop job or a stick-figured MS Paint drawing), but also for being ever-vigilant in reminding me of the values of perseverance, taking risks, and believing in yourself well before the world's ready to.

-Matt

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Refuse To Be Typecast

So you guys may not know this, but I'm a big fan of the Underworld series*. Recently I discovered they were holding a casting call for fans for the upcoming 4th movie that's going to be shot next year. What an opportunity! So I decided to submit a video audition of the script they provided, which I think came out pretty well, if I may say so:



And yes, I actually did submit this.

-Matt




*Despite the bit, this is actually the truth.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Post-A-Day: Victory Haikus

November blogging
Many lessons learned throughout
Thirty days of growth

That is, as far as I can remember, my first ever haiku. I may have written one in elementary school or something when I first learned, but this is definitely the first one I've written in my adult life.

Poetry is probably the only form of writing/expression I've purposefully neglected my entire life. And it - like many forms of abstract art - was something I probably rejected at an early age not knowing any better and just never bothered to ever revisit. So I figured I'd end this successful month of blogging every day with something I've never done before, just for fun. Here are some other, probably technically and artistically subpar haikus:

Gaming time is fun
Shelter from the cold winter
Mental warmth, you dig?

And finally:

Delicious cookies
Melt all my troubles away
So, sorry salads!

This month has definitely been a great experience for me - I've written some stuff I'm really proud of, pulled out some posts I didn't know I had in me, and as a result I'm sure I'll do it again sometime in the future. I even had a few more posts I left on the cutting room floor which I'll probably get back to at some point. For now though, I'm going to turn my attention to some bigger projects I've been wanting to work on.

Thanks for reading guys - I'll back soon (but making it a point to take the day off tomorrow)!

-Matt

Monday, November 29, 2010

Post-A-Day: How I Never Met Your Mother, Or Why Sitcom Characters Are Never Able To Grow

I'm a huge TV fan - I love a good drama, I love a good comedy. I end most nights winding down over something on my DVR, both for pure entertainment, and to keep it from reaching 100% capacity. A few years ago (almost 2 years to the day, as a matter of fact) I wrote a post describing my love for serialized dramas, and the beauty of a multi-year story arc being paid off for the audience. At the same time I lamented that comedies unfortunately do the opposite - its characters are trapped in an endless cycle of all their (hilarious) flaws. Before I was speaking to all shows needing an expiration date - which I still agree with - but recently I've come to the conclusion that sitcom characters are, in fact, by their nature incapable of any sustained growth, and as long as they remain in front of the camera their lives can never truly improve.

"Please, let's talk about this anger rather than lashing out - haha, tricked you - POKE!"

It's an obvious reason, of course - a well adjusted person who learns from his mistakes and is intent on improving his life does not lend itself to many laughs. Comedy is all about tension - and if after 10 minutes the characters on The Odd Couple learned to play nice, or The Three Stooges all agreed that they'd respect each other's personal space there wouldn't be much of a show. But what's interesting is more modern sitcoms are on the air for so long, it starts to seem strange if the characters stay exactly the same as they are forever. There are the usual sitcom tropes that often alleviate this somewhat - characters get into serious relationships, they get married, they have a baby (which many also regard as the nail in the coffin for any good sitcom), but those are actually mere scripted sleights of hand - characters can still remain just as needy, neurotic, emotional and catty as they've always been, just under slightly different circumstances. The real problem at hand is that these characters often go an entire series learning the same life lessons over and over and over again only to forget it by the opening credits the following week.

Case in point: Barney Stinson had an interesting shift as a character last season in How I Met Your Mother when he started dating love interest (and principal character, which is always key) Robin Scherbatsky, something the writers had been teasing and building up to for some time. Robin finally tamed the testosterone-laden pickup artist, who until that point had treated every other women as a mere object of his desire, a trophy to be won. He finally cared about a member of the opposite sex, a major change for the character. So what happened after a few episodes? They broke up, naturally - and the writers fully admitted it was so they could get old Barney back. Now Barney is back to his old self, without a hint of self-reflection.

Michael Scott of The Office  is still just as clueless as he was 7 years ago, but, speaking from nothing more than personal experience, it's definitely starting to feel old. The most recent episode I've seen involved him getting upset over a night at his boss/coworker's (the fact/question that this character was being called his boss being the reason for his attitude) apartment to have a Glee party. His tantrums and desperate attempts to win over his coworkers have happened so many times I can almost immediately spell out how his scenes are going to play out throughout the episode (he'll get upset, try something small, then fail, try something bigger, fail bigger, he'll pout, he'll have a heart to heart, then he'll say something honest and heartwarming but also inadvertently dumb to camera). Inevitably you lose interest - but of course, having said all of this, I don't want to see Michael Scott having woken up one morning, realized how ignorant he's been for this long, and coming to work being a hard working, quiet and respecting boss.

In a sense there's a sort of inevitability built in with great characters like him - you start off loving them from a distance whenever you see them, like your fun drunk uncle, but over time they become the embarrassing alcoholic uncle you wish you didn't have to see so often. In any event, the silver lining is now that Steve Carrell has decided to move on from the role, the character actually has an expiration date, so it should be interesting to see how they conclude his story.


One last example: Jeff Winger routinely learns on Community how important his friends at the college he's reluctantly attending are to him, and how his career as a lawyer was actually not the rockstar life he thought it was. The show even had a moment where he pretended to be "old Jeff" last season after coming back from winter break, a nod to the classic rubber band character trait seen on sitcoms since time immemorial, only to go "just kidding, give me a hug you guys!" seconds later and actually be the changed Jeff he grew to be over the course of the season (the show, if you haven't seen it, is really good about turning these tropes on their head). But this season, to the extent its needed by the plot he actually snaps right back to the un-ironically selfish, vain jerk he was once was (and of course, he'll relearn his lesson to the extent he's unlearned it by episode's end).

There's clearly a balance these shows are trying to strike each week: having a nice, convenient reset button that allows them to start new stories each week and to continue having fun with the characters, allowing their personalities and quirks bounce off of each other, while at the same time acknowledging the experiences they've all been through together and not ignoring major events in their collective lives. Its a fascinating conundrum, and I'm very curious to see if and how they all pull it off.

It's funny - yesterday I spoke about comedic actors having something of an expiration date on playing big, larger than life characters as leads in movies. I think I just realized (I actually didn't mean to connect these two articles at all initially, I swear!) there's a connection here too - with sitcom characters also eventually wearing out their welcome, especially the more emotionally stunted ones. Look at me, inadvertently creating and finding themes!

-Matt

PS: Final day of 'Post-A-Day: November 2010', where I try something I've never done before!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Post-A-Day: Jack Black's Lament - The Law of Diminishing Returns for the Man-Child


Recognize this guy? That's Jack Black. You're probably familiar with his body (to forgive the pun) of work. And if you've seen a few of his movies, you probably have a strong opinion about him, one way or another. And if the internet and box office sales are any indication - there's a good chance that by now it's a negative one. It's certainly not a guarantee (I personally am still fine with him, though I prefer him in small doses), but I've noticed that a certain subset of comedic actors, specifically ones that play a 'man-child' character regularly - men who are either inept, immature, lazy, or moronic, or some combination of the four - ultimately find themselves out of luck as leading men in a relatively short period of time.

Actors like Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro can pretty much play the types of characters they're known for (the strong, silent type, or the strong, loud type, take your pick) forever. Audiences expect it, they get it, they're happy. But comedic actors who play very heightened characters - Will Ferrell, Mike Meyers, Adam Sandler, almost anyone who's come from SNL really - start at a distinct disadvantage. They can enjoy success with a handful of movies, but once audiences learn their schtick, they seemingly have three choices: go dramatic (/tone it down), go animated, or go home.

Jim Carrey is perhaps the best example of this trend. Consider his career, which started on a sketch comedy show, In Living Color, which lead to his first lead in a motion picture: Ace Ventura, (who was, to date, his most ridiculous human character on the big screen), followed by The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Batman Forever, The Cable Guy, then Liar, Liar. These characters were all either largely comedically flawed, or put into circumstances in which they became something ridiculous. Cable Guy was considered Carrey's first big misstep, having flopped at the box office, and it was shortly after this film that he started to go dramatic - starring in The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and The Majestic (his second big flop). And while he has gone back to comedies since the late 90's, his successes ares mostly limited to voice-over work in animated comedies (Bruce Almighty being a notable exception).

You could argue that this was Carrey's choice - he had done comedy for over 10 years, and wanted to show off his acting chops in more serious, dramatic roles. And it's certainly possible his desires lined up with what needed to happen for him, career-wise. But either way, I'd argue that if he continued to play only comedic roles similar to where he started, his name would be nowhere near as well known as it is now. Let's return once again to Jack Black, who actually has a pretty fantastic resume, playing a supporting role in a LOT of movies and television shows over the course of 20+ years. But his leading man status shows that since his first big lead role as Shallow Hal in 2001, he's been in more flops (Year One, Tenacious D, King Kong, Be Kind Rewind) than successes (Tropic Thunder, Nacho Libre, which IMDB hails as a success, to my surprise). Black is the best example to my knowledge of a known comedic actor who for the most part has stuck to his guns long term, for better or worse. His only notable recent success as a leading man comes in the form of an animated feature, Kung Fu Panda, (and likely, it's forthcoming sequels).

Will Farrell's post-SNL movie career has had similar ups and downs, though his only major attempt at a more dramatic role, Stranger Than Fiction, met with mixed success, and he's since had his biggest box office flop with the comedy Land of the Lost. Of his two most recent films The Other Guys and Megamind, the former live action, the latter animated, Megamind is the much larger success. Ferrell is another actor who most people seem to have made up their mind about at this point - they either love him or they hate him. Animated films offer a small filter that can hide the initial gut feeling seeing an actor on screen might elicit.

Looking at other comedic actors who play less man-child, and more "impish adult", you have your Ben Stillers, your Owen/Luke Wilsons, your Vince Vaughns. These actors have either mixed up their resume from the beginning, playing a combination of dramatic and comedic roles, or they've generally played characters who, at worst, just need a shave, a kick in the ass, and/or an attractive female lead to get their act together, thus avoided the potential comedy pitfall from the beginning (as a side note - as far as I can tell, Vince Vaughn is generally playing either a more irritable or a hornier version of himself) To his credit though, Ben Stiller has both pretended to have his penis get caught in the teeth of his pants zipper and allowed fake semen to appear hanging from his ear, so certainly some credit goes to him.

Other actors worth mentioning - Chris Rock (who I personally love as a comedian but can't stand as an actor) has stopped playing some of the larger-than-life characters he once played in UB4 and Pootie Tang to much more muted characters in I Think I Love My Wife and Death At A Funeral. Adam Sandler has followed a path similar to Jim Carrey, though he's certainly stuck to his comedic roots more than him. Having said this, his characters from his past few comedic roles have all been night and day from his time playing Billy Madison, Little Nicky and The Water Boy.

It's possible that it's just an age thing. Audiences may be willing to accept the man-child performance from an actor in his early to mid 20's, and less if they're older (though I think most of the actors I've listed were doing it in their early 30's, in fact), where from a believability standpoint, its just harder to buy these men surviving in a world so mentally and emotionally stunted. I recently saw David Spade in a scene in Rules of Engagement deflecting all common sense about a woman blowing him off, and seeing him play a middle aged man so completely in the dark struck me as less comedic and more sad than anything. Having said this, Steve Carrell, who I personally love to death, got big in his 40's playing a 40 Year Old Virgin, very recently played another man-child in Dinner For Schmucks, and continues to play one of the most emotionally immature men on television in The Office every week, so he may very well be the exception to the rule.


These actors are of course all adept at their craft, and with the exceptions I've listed I personally still enjoy most of their work - but I find it fascinating to see how audiences slowly turn on them. Often the ridiculous characters these actors play in movies start off as supporting characters - a la Jack Black in High Fidelity or Saving Silverman, so when these characters/actors come to the forefront, it's interesting to see if and how they tone it down.


It's still a bit too early to tell where Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogen (soon to appear in his first semi-dramatic role in The Green Hornet), and many other of the younger, budding post-Apatow comedic actors will wind up eventually, but I'm certainly interested to see if this trend continues.

-Matt

PS: My mother's always a good litmus test for where the actor stands with the general public - if she likes him: "he's so silly!", if she doesn't: "I like that other guy more," or...silence.

PPS: Wow, weird timing of this post - I wouldn't have ever thought to mention Leslie Nielson, and I'm not sure where to fit him in my thesis, but for now I'll just say he definitely used to make me smile, and for that I'm grateful.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Post-A-Day: A Look Into My Inner Soul (Via iPod Shuffle Mix)

I've seen a few people online do this thing where they share a selection of their iPod shuffle songs from their music collection, and through it I've discovered a few new fantastic songs, as well as the knowledge of what I did and did not have in common with them, which both bonds friendships and firmly establishes taste enemies, or "tastenemies," as I've dubbed them (in either case, the clarification is a good thing). So I figured I'd take the time to share my own list for the masses. Here goes:

Matt's iPod Shuffle Playlist - 11/23/10
(I know I'm supposed to list exactly what plays, but I made a couple of small tweaks to duplicate bands and swapped in some songs that came up later instead)

1) 'Mrs.Potters Lullaby' - Counting Crows
Love this song, from their greatest hits album "Films About Ghosts" - through which I firmly established my love for the band in general.

2) 'She's A Rebel' - Green Day
I somehow went 15+ years never buying a Green Day album, despite liking so many of their songs that I knew. It wasn't until playing Green Day Rock Band that I finally bit the bullet and got American Idiot, which is great.

3) 'Attractive Today' - Motion City Soundtrack
I'm admittedly poor when it comes to describing music I like, or why anyone else should listen to it, but I can safely say I love this band to death. This track opens their second album, which may be my favorite of theirs.

4) 'Sell Out' - Reel Big Fish
Almost everyone's heard of this song - and it's actually far from my favorite of theirs. I've seen them in concert a number of times, and they're a lot of fun. Check out "Our Live Album Is Better Than Your Live Album" is you're in the mood for some funky ska.

5) 'Fight' - Unwritten Law
I discovered this song playing Burnout Revenge. Fun fact about me - I discover an embarrassing number of songs/bands from video games, which I only say is embarrassing because it limits me mostly to songs that sound good while killing other people, racing against them, or quickly jumping through menus waiting to get back into the action.

6) 'Surrender' - Cheap Trick
Guitar Hero 2, I think? Ah yes, I suppose I forgot to put this category above, which at least lends itself to a more respectable catalog/knowledge base of music.

7) 'Uncle Walter' - Ben Folds
Ben Folds is my other big love besides Motion City Soundtrack - though he's night and day from them in almost every way. I've written more specifically about him in the past, if you're interested in knowing. This song specifically isn't my favorite, but I love the emotion behind it, and the lyrics are really funny if you're paying attention.

8) 'Saturday' - Fall Out Boy
Saying you love Fall Out Boy un-ironically is like saying you love McDonald's hamburgers better than anyone else out there. People can probably understand it on a certain level, but they can't help but think that perhaps you haven't really tried a lot of the burgers that are out there. Well, here this people: I've listened to a lot of music - and I still love these guys (and I hope they don't stay broken up forever)!

9)' Last Night' - Motion City Soundtrack
Them again? You guys, reminder -  they are still AWESOME. This one's a somber, melodic song from their third album. Wait a minute, melodic? Did I just use a word that describes every song? I think I did! You see why I don't do this, people??

10) 'Final Fantasy IV SNES Battle Medley' - aneurysm, Warmth
Whoa whoa whoa - wait, don't skip past this one just yet! If that's all gibberish to you, that's fine, but if you've ever heard an original song in a video game (say, the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy series), there's a great site called Overclocked Remix that houses tons of mixes from fans that sound great. Also - for the record - this is some great, classic 16-bit era battle music.

11) 'Your Petty Pretty Things' - The Get Up Kids
You may or may not have heard of these guys, but they broke up for a while, and now they're back! They recently put out an EP, and this actually happens to be my favorite track from it.

12) 'Someone Else's War' - Dan Mills
I talked about this guy before too - I saw him perform earlier this year, and I thought he was great. This guy knows his way around an acoustic guitar. Is that a thing people care to be known for? Anyways, he has a free
album online, you should check it out!

13) 'Lovefool' - Cardigans
Got into these guys randomly from a random gmail status, which I suppose is as good a source as any. Everyone knows this song - so check out "Sick & Tired" if you're looking for another great song by them.

14) 'The Rockefeller Skank' - Fatboy Slim
"Right about now, the funk soul brother"
"Check it out now, the funk soul brother"
Remember Fatboy Slim? Yeah, his legacy is pretty much just this song, but boy do I still love it!

15) 'The One You Want' - The Get Up Kids
Another classic - these guys have transformed over the years, and I've dug most everything they've done.

16) 'Landed' - Ben Folds
Hmm - neither of the Ben Folds tracks that have come up have been my favorites. Check out "Ben Folds Live" for a nice mix of tracks. He's another terrific live act.

17) 'In The Garage' - Weezer
LOVE LOVE LOVE this song, to this day. I must have played it every morning before school for a month back in the day, despite never really learning all the words until fairly recently (I had no idea "Ace Frehley" was a person). The Blue Album will always have a place in my heart. Every else past Pinkerton? Not so much.

18) 'Move Your Feet' - Junior Senior
This song almost shouldn't exist without the video. So watch this video, PLEASE:




Mesmerizing, isn't it?

19) 'Absolutely' - Nine Days
Ok, so a lot of my stuff is from the 90's if you haven't noticed. This is another gem from my not-so-angsty teens. I've never known a girl like this (a girl who looks so sad in photographs, but at the same time you absolutely love her when she smiles), but I can totally imagine loving her!

20) 'Reptilia' - The Strokes
Rock Band 2 - or was it 1? Either way, great song - tough solo to play there too, at the end.

Not a bad mix, if I may say so myself.

-Matt

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post-A-Day: FAQ-Tastic

So...I've been meaning to write a FAQ for the blog for some time now. Gonna use today's post to finally write it and set it up. I'll be linking to some older posts, so those of you who may be newer to the site may find some interesting tidbits worth checking out.

(UN)PAUSED FAQ
(by blog author Matt Shafeek)

1) (Un)Paused? What the heck is this blog all about? 

Glad you asked, frequently asking questioner. You see - my whole life I've always been a pretty big gamer. And as such, I made it a point to always carve out a significant portion of my free time to play video games. In 2007, I'd gotten busier than usual, and had to the point where I was barely playing anything at all, and I felt pretty productive, and good. So, on something of a whim, I decided to see if I could go a whole year without playing video games of any kind. And so I did! I went from January 6th, 2008 (a few days after my birthday/one final 'hurrah') - January 6th, 2009 without playing a single video game.

What did I do in the meantime? Well, to make good use of my free time during that year, I opted to read more, write more, exercise more, travel more, and cook more. I managed to run the NYC Half Marathon in 2008, I read a book a month, I managed to do a fair amount of travelling, cooking and of course, I wrote in this blog regularly (which I started the day I gave up games) and has been going strong to this day.

If you interested in more details on my year off from games - I was interviewed about it by a gaming site, and a  gaming-related (that's a great listen even for non-gamers) podcast that I think will cure what ails ya, which in this case, is clearly Matt Shafeek info-starvation.

2) Ok - but this was a while ago - what are you blogging about now? 

The blog has always been more of a general life blog - not so much about my day to day, but more just about my personal musings. I live in New York City, and I write To that end, I've got a large variety of post topics that I've dabbled in over the years, such as:

-Gaming-related stuff, as seen here, here, and here
-Silly lists and bits, as seen here, here and here
-Videos I've done or been featured in, seen here, here and here
-Personal stories, seen here and here and here
-Storytelling, which I've recently started doing, and can be found here, here and here

(Side note - the word "here" just starting becoming "her-e" to me for some reason, and it's freaking me out)

3) So you're playing games again now? I thought you were getting so much done before!

The year I took off from games was a life-changing event, no question. And while, for the first half of 2009 (during which time I was also unemployed) I gorged quite a bit on games, making up for lost time - since then I have cut back quite a bit, and have made gaming something that I indulge in when I have a bit of spare time, but will always take a back seat to some of my bigger projects and goals, something that was flipped in the past.

It's important to me that I not give up this hobby that I truly enjoy because it can be a time sink and its considered a huge waste of time by others. So that end, finding the right balance of game time is something I'm still working on to this day.

4) Very interesting. You seem like a pretty cool guy, Matt Shafeek. Who are you, anyway? And surely you must have other fascinating creative outlets besides this blog.

My oh my - flattery will get you everywhere, my frequent-asking questioneer. I'm a New York native, currently residing in Queens, NY, where I've spent most of my life. By day I work a day job I specifically avoid naming or discussing here (not because I hate it, but just to avoid the possibility of it ever getting me into any kind of trouble), and by night I study, teach and perform at a local improv hotspot known the Magnet Theater several nights a week. Besides gaming, comedy is my other, bigger passion, and I truly love the thrill of performing in front of an audience with no script and no idea what the hell is going to happen. If you're even in town and want to check out one of my shows, I perform with a team called Phooka once a week (usually) on Wednesday nights.

5) I have more questions that I can't think of right now. What do I do!?! Help!!

No need to panic, friend. I'm easily reachable at matt (dot) shafeek (at) gmail (dot) com. Feel free to contact me at anytime. You can also follow me on twitter at @mattshafeek (though as of right now I'm really bad at posting anything other than links to this blog, and spam from contest entries) And thanks for reading!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If I did it right, this should now be a separate page on the blog. If not, well. There's always the next time I decide to post once a day for a month and opt to use one of those days to do some site upkeep.

-Matt

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Post-A-Day: Happy Thanksgiving!

Hey guys - real quick post today. Three things I wanna say about Thanksgiving:

1) I'm incredibly grateful for all the love and support I have in my life, and to anyone reading this blog - you know who you are - thank you for being a part of my life. I don't know where I'd be without you.

2) One of the things I'm most thankful for is not having to do any more commuting than a subway right this Thanksgiving. Holy crap does flying sound annoying this time of year - and traffic is probably a bitch too.

3) Finally, while most people look forward to gorging on all kinds of delicious food today (and that is certainly a bonus for me too), the thing I look most forward to gorging on is the huge stockpile of media I've been building up for months - specifically my slowly filling DVR, my 360 (which I keep buying games for without finishing the others) and the Netflix subscription I barely use anymore. Here's to getting good use out of my TV this weekend!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

-Matt

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Post-A-Day: Garbage Car (By Special Guest Jarret Berenstein)

(Today I'm happy [and thankful, for the day off] to present my first ever guest blog post from my good friend and comedian, Jarret Berenstein. We saw this car while we out the other night and it stopped us dead in our tracks. Truly a fascinating specimen. Enjoy!)


Garbage Car: A Tragedy.
-by Jarret Berenstein

I don't understand garbage car, and I don't think I ever will.  Garbage car is full of garbage.  It is FULL of garbage.  No room for passengers.  No room for a driver.  Just packed to the roof with a shit ton of garbage.

I know what you're thinking.  "Jarret...a car FULL of garbage?  Surely there is at least some room in the back for a baby seat.  How are they going to transport babies around if not?"

Go ahead and examine the photos.  This car is full of garbage.  








Full disclosure - We did not examine the trunk, so we cannot say with any certainty what it was full of.  But based on the evidence at our disposal however, I comfortable offerring this educated guess: Garbage.

The mysteries surrounding garbage car seem endless.  Who owns garbage car?  Why is it so full of garbage?  Isn't there a better place for garbage than every square inch of the inside of a car?  Can a car that is so disgusting and full of garbage even been called a car, as it surely is garbage itself as well?

I'm fine with all of those questions.  I really am.  I can accept any crazy explanation of garbage car that one could come up with.  Aliens?  Sure.  Government conspiracy?  Fine.  Petty divorcee?  I'll take two.

But there is one thing that drives me crazy about garbage car.  And that is that it is parked in lower Manhattan, and there is no street parking in lower Manhattan during the week.

Garbage car, what are you thinking?  What happens when you have to be moved on Monday before 9am?  If you had at least left some room for a driver, then I would understand.  You could be moved to somewhere non-ticketable.  A parking garage, or landfill for example.

But you are driverless, garbage car.  It is impossible to move you, lest we disrupt some of the garbage that gave you your name.  

Why, garbage car?  Why did you decide to exist on a street that gives you only temporary sanctuary?  In a scant two days you will be ticketed, or towed, or emptied of some of your eponymous garbage.  City ordinance has sealed your fate.  You have an expiration date, and it is rapidly approaching.  You are only a moment.  A whisper in the cacophonous annals of time.  You are drawing in smoke.  Garbage car, you have signed your own death warrant.  Your very existence is assuring your inevitable destruction.

Why, garbage car?  Why go through all that work to be so repulsive only to be enjoyed by a handful? By a courageous few?

I have not been back to see garbage car.  I don't think I could bear it.  Either it has sold out and moved some garbage to make room for a driver, or it just sits, awaiting its end like a political prisoner at the steps of the gallows.

Whatever your fate, garbage car, know that I will always remember you.  Not as an anomaly.  Not as a phenomenon fading with time, like a snow man in the spring.  

I will remember you as you are.  A car that is 100% full of garbage.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Post-A-Day: Day 96

(Was gonna do one more Gil entry today, but I've decided instead to mix it up with something different for my last day of blog-related storytelling.)

Day 96

"No gunshot. He didn't do it."

Those were the last six words Sam wanted to hear. As if they didn't have enough shit to deal with already. Now, instead of re-securing every window and door inside the house he had to take care of Burke. Instead of boiling a few gallons of water so everyone would have safe drinking water, he had to deal with that cowardly son of a bitch. Instead of taking a goddamn minute to look himself in the mirror and maybe shave the gnarly beard that was forming on his chin, he had to go into the basement and shoot a man who was no longer a man right between the eyes.

Sam took the necessary precautions - safety goggles and a surgical mask (blood splatter from killing others had been a concern after some of it flew into Kelly's mouth recently - she's still under close watch for signs of infection), as well as his Louisville slugger and his trusty Smith & Wesson. He put Wesley in charge of lookout while he was away. He told him he wouldn't be long - mostly because he didn't want Wesley in charge of lookout any longer than necessary. Wesley seemed like a nice enough guy, but Sam certainly didn't trust him with his life. Hell, he probably wouldn't have even trusted him to handle his stocks, or whatever the fuck he did before.

The plan was to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. He should still be chained to the radiator, where they last left him. There should be a Baretta on the ground, still fully loaded. A lantern, and a sheet paper with whatever the bastard's dying words were. Probably some cockamamie bullshit about his regrets, what he wanted to remembered for. Sam was so pissed off right now that he was tempted to add to the bottom of whatever he wrote "PS: He couldn't pull the trigger." But that'd probably be a new low, even for a son-of-a-bitch like him. Not that it mattered either way. Who was ever going to read the damn thing?

He came to the basement door and pressed his ears up against it. Silence. He knocked on the door. Nothing. This meant one of three things - he was dead but not yet turned, he was turned but not one of the loud ones, or lastly, he was somehow still alive and too ashamed to answer him. Sam prayed for anything but that. He didn't want to have another conversation with Burke. Another argument about what the most humane way to deal with his situation was. If he had had his way, this would all have been over and done with 24 hours ago. But the votes did not swing that way. No, he had to be given a choice. Hell of a lot of good that did.

He opened the door slowly. Still quiet. He called out into the darkness: "Burke?" Finally, from deep down below, off in the distance, he heard a familiar moan. He had turned. Sam breathed a sigh of relief - no more talking. Now it was just a matter of finishing the job. He turned on his flashlight and made his way carefully down the stairs. He reached the bottom and shined the light on him - first on his arm, which was still handcuffed to the radiator, then his face, which was staring directly at him, mouth agape and dead, glazed-over eyes staring up at the ceiling.

As Sam started to make his way towards him, the zombie lurched forth, realizing its purpose for the first time. It met resistance at its left wrist and began to sloppily angle itself forward as best it could. Sam briefly studied the monster, wondering both if there was any trace of Burke left in the husk of the body that once contained him, and if there was anything left to learn from the zombies that they didn't already know. Maybe they could poke and prod this one for a while, see if there was any other weaknesses they had, or how long they could last without feeding. They could break its teeth out, or tape its mouth closed and prevent it from ever being a threat.

He quickly realized none of this was practical, so he pulled out his gun, aimed and fired a carefully placed shot right into Burke's brain. The zombie fell back and hung awkwardly over the radiator, twitching slightly.

Sam turned to leave but realized he forgot about Burke's note. He turned his flashlight to the floor and found the note neatly tucked inside one of Burke's shoes, which must have made sense to him at some point. Curiosity getting the better of him, he unfolded the note and was surprised to see that it was mostly blank, save for the following words, which were bolded and inked over many many times:

"Wish I were as strong as you, Sam. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, I'm sorry too, Burke," Sam said, as he folded up the note and headed back up the stairs.

(Fun week! Back to blogging tomorrow)
(Matt)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Post-A-Day: Gil (Six)

(What's this post all about? See where I started off here)

GIL

Dear Mr. Malhotra:

Northwestern University would like to congratulate you on your recent success, and we'd also like to take this opportunity to ask you to contribute to the Alumni Fund.

Last year, alumni contributed $19 million through the Alumni Fund, 12 percent of our entire operating revenue. In tough economic times, such generosity is as essential as it is impressive, because we employ these gifts to sustain the values at the core of the Northwestern enterprise.

No value is more central than educating outstanding students without regard to financial condition. We now
provide financial assistance to one of every two students, and last year we were able to increase financial aid
(the only budget area we increased) to meet the rising need of students and their families. Alumni Fund gifts
enabled us to do so without compromising other essential educational commitments.

Nearly 560,000 alumni - seven out of every ten - give to the Alumni Fund each year. Those gifts range from $1 to $100,000 and, taken together, make the essential difference as Northwestern defines the standard of quality education.

Please consider donating some of recent winnings to help future Northwestern University students achieve the same level of success you have received in your life.

Sincerely yours,
Mark McNerney '87
Chairman
Northwestern Alumni Fund


"Amir, you know I love you, but why are you coming to me with this nonsense?"

Asha was in no mood to hear Amir complain about his so-called 'problem.' That he had the audacity to come over at 6:30 in the evening, right as she was preparing dinner for her family, told her everything she needed about how much in his own little world he was, unaware or unconcerned with those around him.

"I'm happy to help," Amir offered. "Want me to set the table?"

"Fine, fine. The plates are in that cupboard over there." Asha lowering the flame on three different pots and finally turned to face Amir for the first time. "So you're having difficulty deciding how to spend all this money? This sounds like that movie we saw as children, with that black comedian who passed away."

"Huh? Oh no, it's not Brewster's Millions," Amir smiled, remembering exactly when they saw the movie together. "I don't have to spend the money or anything. I also don't have to give any of it away, technically. It's just - the seed got planted, and now I can't decide what I want to do."

"What are you going to do with 127 million dollars, Amir? You don't need that much money."

"Do you want some of it?" Amir pleaded.

"Hah!" Asha had been anticipating this question in one form or another. "Are you really going to tempt me like this? If you want to give us some of the money Amir, we'll happily accept it. As will our mother and father, and auntie Oshma and uncle Fahad. You want a simple solution, there it is. But ultimately it is your decision Amir. I will not make it for you."

Amir studied his sister as she gave her speech. She had matured quite a bit in just the past few years. Marriage and kids (twins, one boy and one girl, exactly what she wanted, if not at the same time) were certainly something she'd been planning since she was young, but Amir couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if she allowed herself a few more years of freedom before settling down. He later realized he was fantasizing about putting his sister into an ambiguous life position, similar to himself, for the purposes of solidarity and self-assurance. She was clearly happy now, despite the bags and stains on her clothes.

"I choose...naan." Amir, chuckled to himself as he took a bite out of the fresh bread. "Mmm, this is good. You added garlic?"

"Yes, and onion and chili powder. You know, you've always been indecisive Amir, you know that, right? How many colleges did you apply to, eleven? Twelve?"

"Um, it was nine, ok? Ten if you count my safety school, Albany." Amir mumbled with a mouthful of naan, as he dove into the fridge for something to drink.

"Right - you don't know how to make decisions and stick to them. You're so afraid of making mistakes, so you choose nothing." Asha stated very matter-of-fact. She was slowly starting to sound like her own mother, they both realized and hated.

"Hey - I did go to college, remember? Northwestern." Amir rebuffed, with as much school pride as he was capable of mustering.

"After you missed the deadline for early decision at Princeton, which father will never forgive you for."

"I would have been miserable there."

"But you also kind of hated Northwestern, right? Didn't you say you hated every class you took after freshman year?"

"Ah, it was fine. I was just complaining because all of a sudden everything got harder. And not just the classes. The weather was shitty that entire first semester. Girls were all a sudden rejecting me left and right too."

"Maybe they all started to realize what a lazy bum you were."

Amir shrugged. Asha felt a tiny bit guilty for being so blunt, but she knew that particular comment would wash right off of him. Just then two little bolts of energy shoot into the kitchen. Asha's children, now 3, were hungry and also eagerly awaiting their designated one hour of television they were entitled to shortly.

Amir immediately picked them both up, one with each arm - quickly realizing this would probably be one of the last times he'd be able to pull it off. "Well, well, well, look who it is. Hello Hari, hello Anisha."

"I'm Hari!"
"I'm Anisha!"

Amir loved this bit - mixing up the children even though they both non-identical and increasingly more easily distinguishable. He was also sure Asha was sick of it.

"Sorry, sorry. So - who wants to play with my iPhone, hmm?"

"Me!"
"I do!"

Amir took his phone out of his pocket, all the while sporting a devilish grin. He loved being the fun uncle.

"Hey kids, maybe Uncle Amir will buy you guys your own iPhone...or an iPad!

"What's an iPad?"
"Yeah...what's that?"

Asha had to intervene now before things got out of control. "It's nothing, uncle Amir is just being silly - kids go wash up."

The two children immediately do as instructed. With a frown on his face Hari dutifully hands over the iPhone before he scampered away.

Asha turned to Amir again, this time with a stern look on her face. "Do me a favor, Amir. Don't make empty promises to my children."

"Empty? But I..."

"No, ok. Fine. Don't make any promises, period, for now, ok? You don't realize it but offering 3 year old children a $500 electronic device on a whim has repercussions. Think before you act in the future, please."

Amir nodded, then took the plate of naan into the dining room. As he sat down, the children came back in and started to seat themselves as well. Sensing and opportunity, Amir turned on his 'iFart' app and let one rip just as Hari began to sit down.

"That wasn't me!!!" Hari screamed.

They all laughed. Even Asha, still in the kitchen, couldn't help but smile.

(More tomorrow)
(Matt)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Post-A-Day: Gil (Five)


(What's this post all about? See where I started off here)

GIL

The second Amir started spending the money, he knew he'd be opening the floodgates. He'd be leaving behind the life of a comfortably middle class Brooklynite and 'golden jetpacked' into the world of the wealthy - a world he felt he both didn't belong and he'd be rejected from. The latter was something he was dwelling on at the moment. He didn't have any knowledge or proof of it other than perhaps the parodies of it he saw in episodes of 'The Simpsons' or 'My Name Is Earl', but surely it must go without saying that a man who leapfrogged into his current tax bracket through a stroke of luck (brilliant as his number selection process was) wouldn't be welcomed with open arms into high society? 

More than that though, there was that nagging feeling that with all the challenge removed from having to earn a living, Amir would simply grow complacent and never challenge himself ever again. He'd become the perennial slacker his father always accused him of being, whenever he watched television for more than a half hour, or came home from school with anything less than an A. Sure, he'd resist it at first, insist he was going to use the money to enrich his life, to travel, take tango lessons, finally learn to cook something other than pasta and ramen. Maybe even do something big - something important. But on some level, he felt the transformation was inevitable. He was cognizant enough to know he didn't want to be a spoiled, lazy brat, but simply being aware of the traits and pitfalls wasn't enough.

He couldn't help but be reminded about the first time he got high. He was a late bloomer when it came to drugs and alcohol, drinking a bit in college but never really getting drunk, and trying pot a few times unsuccessfully in college, a friend finally devoted a night to popping his cherry one of the first nights after he moved into his first apartment. As the effects of the homemade gravity bong finally started to take hold, there was a strong initial resistance to the effects. Then, slowly but inevitably, he started going through every one of the stereotypes he'd witnessed before from the side of the sober observer. 

First, there was the paranoia - wondering if his neighbors would hear his loud laughs or see smoke coming out from under the door. Then he was confounded - lost in thought for minutes (that felt like hours)  at a time, his eye barely open, and when he finally attempted to speak, nothing but absolute nonsense came from his mouth. Of course the giggles came next. His situation, everything around him, life itself became such a silly little thing. Finally, the munchies hit. Midway through his third mind-blowingly delicious peanut butter and nutella sandwich, he realized how much of a caricature he'd become, going right through the checklist of cliches. Despite all the knowledge and advance warnings he had, he was powerless to stop himself. For the next two hours, the high stopped being fun, and he sat on his futon with his head hanging down, lost in thought, constantly grounding and reminding himself over and over that his feelings were fake. 

He rarely indulged ever again - the loss of control didn't sit well with him (it was similar with drinking, and by now he had perfected the art of drinking slowly enough to stay mostly sober throughout the night) - and the incident creeped into all areas of his life - strong feelings of love, lust, happiness and sadness were heavily scrutinized. Any heightened emotion put him on the defensive. Even his revenge fantasy against Bergstrom was questioned at times because of the pleasure it brought him, just thinking about it. He justified the whole experience rationalizing that letting Bergstrom go unchallenged brought even worse thoughts into his mind, hence some sacrifices needed to be made.

This was another strong argument in favor of giving away the money - on top of all the good he would be doing in the world by donating it, seemed like more than enough justification for giving it all away. He also would be able to stay a semi-hip Williamsburg resident, living paycheck to paycheck (of course, once he found the means to getting a paycheck again), the lifestyle he knew, was comfortable in, and where he belonged. He also wouldn't be tempted to do anything stupid. Getting rid of all the money, as crazy as it sounded, was clearly the most logical solution. He could even keep a tiny portion of it, enough to last him a few lean years, and no one would begrudge him for it. It was a win-win-win situation. Easy-peesy. 

He continued to add items into Column B, but no matter how lopsided the comparison looked, the single  item (rather, the single concept contained with the few items) written in Column A still tipped the scales in its favor. Emotion was still trumping logic. This frustrated Amir to no end.


Soon after he finished his coffee, he decided to put off the decision for yet another day. Unfortunately for him, a new complication would arrive.


Her name was Cherie.


(More tomorrow)
(Matt)