Monday, August 19, 2013

I Remember: video games at age 12

I remember playing video games in my room after school when I was 12 years old.  My room was just starting to become a personal space in which I found refuge, rather than the place I went to sleep.  I had posters on the wall, mostly from Nintendo Power, of video games.  I had posters of games I'd never played and never really intended to play, like StarTropics, just because they were in Nintendo Power and I was in love.  There was brown carpet and an old brown office chair my dad had brought home from the hospital.  It was heavy and noisy.  It would squeak in seven different places when you sat down or shifted your weight.  The fabric was almost like burlap, heavy and a little scratchy.  My Nintendo and TV were on a big particle board entertainment center, where everything had its own compartment.  The TV was a 13-inch tube with dials.  I could watch broadcast television if I wanted, but I didn't.  We had cable on the big TV in the living room and my parents almost always let me watch what I wanted, so TV happened in there.  Video games happened in my room.

I would come inside after mom brought me home from school, and take the snack she made me back into my room.  The afternoon sun would come through the window on the front of the house.  In my memories it never rains.  I only had one or two games I would be working on, and I could play obsessively.  I would hammer at the same levels, the same bosses, for hours.  Games then were different.  There may have been a story but it was hard to decipher, and anyway the stories were always secondary to the playing, the simple act of progressing through the game, beating the enemies, perfecting the jumps, learning the timing of traps or the patterns of bosses.  There were no online FAQs or walkthroughs, no hands to hold through these strange worlds concocted by grown men across the Pacific Ocean.  Secrets, codes and hints were passed around at school like passwords for the French Resistance.  Occasionally a game might be big enough for Nintendo to release a player's guide, and those were also passed around, never to be seen again by the original owner.

I suffered victories and defeats, sometimes witnessed by friends but often just to an audience of one.  I raged at my enemies, at the "cheapness" of unfortunate respawn points or almost impossible jump/enemy combinations.  I thrilled at the first time I would perfectly anticipate Bowser's moves, flowing like water around him to watch him defeat himself.  I loved starting new levels, facing new enemies I'd only heard about from my friends.  Seeing new backdrops, strange mountain plateaus on an alien world, or deep in the jungle here on Earth.  Some games felt like they were mine and mine alone, games I'd picked out on a whim during a trip to the mall or Toys R Us.  Did anyone else on this planet play Godzilla for the NES?  Was that game created by Toho for me and me alone?  Was Dynowarz sold anywhere in the country except my local Toys R Us?  Did I buy the only copy in existence?  I had no way to share this experience, no AOL or Reddit to find others like me.  I was a young boy in a small city but I was also a lone explorer cutting my way deep into the outback of other countries, other worlds.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Job Journal: Office Assistant, private preschool in Manhattan

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.

Job: Temporary Office Assistant, private preschool in Manhattan

Duration: 5 months

Year: 2008

I've talked about my time at the private preschool before, and teased you with a tale of Tiger, the English bulldog.  Well, dear reader, your day of fat slobbery dog-reckoning has arrived.

As mentioned in that previous post, I was given the duty of manning the front door of the building in which the school was housed during the changeover from morning to afternoon session.  You may not be aware of this, but every child is born with the instinct, when they see a door to the outside, to run through it and keep going until they're hit by a car.  Since these children were young and had yet to temper that instinct through teaching, I was the only thing that stood between their lemming-like habits and NoHo traffic.

The school was the second floor of this building, and as far as I know the rest of the building was occupied by tenants, some of whom seemed to be holdouts from a previous era when it wasn't necessary to sell an organ in order to stay in nice places in Manhattan.  Most old, upscale buildings on the island have people like this living in them.  They resisted the buyout when it came along, and like a tree absorbing a fencepost, the building just grows up around them.  For example, the entire second floor of the hotel at which I was a doorman was reserved for people who wouldn't leave the building when it was converted.  They were left to their own devices, like Morlocks.  My coworker said the second floor smelled like his iguana cage.  I've never owned iguanas, but that seemed about right.

I'm stereotyping, and there's certainly a degree of classism in effect here, but I believe Tiger's owner may have been one of these holdouts.  He was a lovely person, but he just didn't seem like the type to pay however many thousands of dollars to live in a loft in a historic Manhattan building.  I would see him when I came over to the school from the offices 10 or 15 minutes before the transition, when he brought Tiger down for their afternoon walk.  I would hear them first, as they lived on the third floor.  The first day I met them, I began to hear an epic procession of wheezing and uneven tramping down the stairs.  This went on for a while, slowly drawing nearer, until finally on the landing at the end of the hallway I saw one of the fattest English bulldogs I've ever seen.  He was, of course, adorable.  He was mostly brown, with darker brindle stripes and white highlights.  His owner was also very large, a late-middle-aged man, and I could not tell for whom the descent was more difficult.  They stepped off the last stair and just stood there for a minute, collecting themselves.  The man introduced his dog as Tiger, and they both limped out the front door, panting.  I don't recall ever seeing them make the climb back home, and I can't imagine how it occurred without some sort of pulley system or winches.  Tiger was a big boy.

I saw them several more times, and we got to "know" each other as you do people in this city whose paths somewhat regularly cross yours.  Always the racket of them wheezing down the steps into the empty hallway, the rest at the end, and the gentle regard from Tiger as they went out the door.  They always did this before the class change, except for the one day they didn't.

The morning class had come down with the teachers, meeting the waiting parents and nannies in the hallway.  Most of the afternoon children were there as well, and the hall was filled with the happy din of parents, teachers and four-year-olds catching up with each other.  Over this I heard the familiar wheezing and stomping, but no one else knew what they were hearing.  Then suddenly Tiger had joined us, tired and happy.  They did not know how to handle his presence.  This fat, sloppy dog had absolutely no place in the allergy-ridden Montessori upper-class worldview of these people, and I was just delighted.  So was Tiger.  It turns out that he loved kids.  He weighed more than any two of them combined, and all he wanted to do was jump on them and lick face.  His owner was responsible enough to keep this from happening, and Tiger was straining as hard as he could against his harness to get his huge tongue on these kids.  Parents, kids and teachers all shrank back so that there was a circle around Tiger wherever he went in the hallway.  Due to the exertion of the stairs and his excitement, he threw up in the middle of the floor.  Everyone but me, Tiger and his owner was horrified.  Finally one of the teachers had the presence of mind to get some paper towels, but not before Tiger tried re-eating his breakfast.  One of the children started weeping.  Tiger's owner apologized, and they waddled out the front door to see what the city had in store for them.  The children made their way upstairs, contemplating what they had just seen like Siddartha after he saw his first old man.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Guidelines for Reporting on Justin Bieber

Remember in the old Clash of the Titans, when Zeus is moving pieces around on a board, plotting out the lives of the mortals below?  Someone, somewhere, is doing the same thing for Justin Bieber, and they're following a beat sheet some hack wrote thirty years ago that lays out the behavior of an idiot child who's been handed everything his entire life.

So here's the thing: as long as Bieber is following that predestined course, no one in the "news" has any business discussing it, because nothing about it is new.  This is just a dog biting a man, over and over.  This is like the Weather Channel announcing every hour that our atmosphere is still 78% nitrogen.  Great.  You should really only let us know when that changes.

What would be "new?"  What could Bieber do that may actually warrant a news report?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Writing an actual novel, all by himself, targeted at anyone over 25.
  • Quietly absorbing a lesson about humanity without tweeting it.
  • Realizing the immaterial nature of reality and giving up his worldly possessions to wander the earth as an enlightened beggar.
  • Keeping his shirt on for eight straight hours.
  • Settling down in Michigan with a plain-faced nurse and going into lumber sales.

Otherwise, news outlets may as well run two minutes of an anchor repeating the alphabet, because that information has as much value as anything else this kid is going to do in the near future.  This also applies to Taylor Swift and breakups, and Amanda Bynes and...whatever it is she's going through.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Struggle of Wills at Gristedes

My basket full, I stepped up to the back of the line at register two.  In front of me was a young man buying ramen and Gatorade; in front of him, an old woman who only spoke Spanish and who seemed to be paying with some form of obscure government documentation that required several witnesses.  I was fine with this delay, because I came here with a mission and I needed a little time to accomplish it.  I brought my own bag, and damned if this cashier was going to make me put my groceries in it yet again.

I have been a whole-hearted supporter of the bring-your-own-bag movement.  Being both practical and environmentally-minded, I never threw away plastic bags.  I never used them either, which meant that several cubic yards of any home I've had as an adult were dedicated to plastic bag storage.  Since it has become generally accepted to bring a bag from home, I haven't touched a plastic bag in years and I have oodles of storage space for other things I never use.

The only problem with bringing your own bag is that cashiers seem not to have gotten the memo that times are a-changin'.  They view bags from home as some alien intrusion into their workplace, some strange new math far above their pay grade and training that requires advanced philosophical understanding and strange Eastern mysticism to truly grasp and utilize.

In short, they won't touch them and generally stand there texting while you rush to put your groceries into this strange thing with which you've violated their place of business.  This was especially true for the cashier in whose line I now waited.

Really, it's just a bag, and that word has a loose definition.  They're lucky I don't bring a sheet with me, lay it at the end of the counter and ask them to tie it up like a hobo's bindle when they're done.  That, too, would more or less fall under the category of "bag," but semantically I'm sticking very close to the device they understand to be a bag.

Back to the line: I wanted a little extra time.  If there's no wait, as I'm unloading my basket they start scanning and attempting to put my food in plastic.  I have to tell them I brought my own bag, at this point still folded under my arm, which always translates to "please, don't do your job.  I'll take it from here."  No, I wanted to unload the basket while the cashier was dealing with the young man's sad, sodium-packed dinner, so that when it was my turn I could put my open bag on the counter and watch her do her thing.

The old woman was wrapping up her transaction.  Translators were indicating that the proper paperwork had been notarized, and witnesses and judges all agreed that this served as legal tender for her food.  I quickly unloaded my basket while the cashier swiped the young man's items, stowed the basket under the counter and snapped open my own shopping bag with a flourish.   Today would be the day.

Before the cashier's hand even touched my yogurt, I blurted "I have my own bag" as I raced to set it on the counter, holding it open with patient optimism.  I watched as she scanned each item, sliding them down next to the stack of New York Posts screaming the headline "BOFFO BLOOMBERG BLASTS BUS BUSKER BUSTERS," which means nothing in any language I know.  I twitched my bag a little, indicating that she was free to put my groceries in there rather than letting them pile up.  Piling up they were.  This was a full trip.  I'd depleted my cabinets with the intention of going for broke today.  Two, then three people formed a line behind me as the cashier kept scanning.  The master of efficiency inside me wanted to start bagging, to get out of the way as soon as possible, but no.  I wasn't here to be polite.  I was here to make a statement.  I was here to win.

Everything scanned, the cashier announced my total.  I gave my bag another feeble twitch before swiping, but she stood idly as I punched in my PIN.  The true test was beginning.  She handed me my receipt.  Our eyes locked.  She was on to me.  We each stood unmoving, daring the other to admit defeat.  We did not break our gaze.  Time stretched, slowed; the store became quiet.  The world at large had ceased to exist.  There was just me, the cashier, my bag, and a pile of food that wanted to go home.

We stood there like two samurai, knowing the first to move would lose the struggle.  We exchanged whole paragraphs without speaking a word.  I could feel the tension, the energy between us shifting, first towards her, then towards me, then holding in the middle.  It was an even match.  A single bead of sweat ran down my temple.  She gave her eyebrow the subtlest of arches, as if to say "had enough?"  I narrowed my eyes—never.

The fool behind me spoke up.  "What the hell are you doing?  Get out of the way!"  We paid him no mind.  If he couldn't understand what was happening here, then no explanation we could provide would make sense.  The loudspeaker crackled.  "Register one is open with no waiting."  Grumbling, the line behind me shifted over.  "I just don't understand some people."  "Is this performance art?"  They were as ants to us.

Time passed.  I was exhausted.  The strain was mounting, but I could tell the same was true for the cashier.  My yogurt was now as sweaty as me.  My bananas called out.  I could practically hear them ripening, begging to be eaten.  My mind started to wander, and I imagined myself on my couch, ripping into these Cool Ranch Doritos as the title screen to Assassin's Creed flickered on my television.  I snapped back to the present, waiting.  A big bald man in a short-sleeved shirt and tie came over to the register.  "Lydia, what the hell is this?"  The cashier's eyes flicked over to him, then back to me.  I had the upper hand and she knew it.  Yet she didn't move.  "Lydia, bag those groceries."  She was a statue.  For the first time in what felt like hours, I smiled.  I saw the end, and I liked it.  "Lydia, I'm counting to three.  One."  She looked to the manager, then to my groceries.  "Two."  I nodded towards my bag.  She had no choice now.  "Alright.  Three.  Turn off your light and go home.  You're done here.  We don't have time for crap like this."  The cashier smiled at me, turned off her light, brushed by the manager and marched right out of the store without a single backward glance.

The manager started bagging my groceries for me.  "I'm sorry, I don't know what came over her.  She's never acted like that before.  I'll give you a five dollar coupon for your trouble, sir."  I just nodded faintly.  I was shocked.  Lydia had known exactly how this would play out.  She was ready for me, and she knew the only way to defeat me in a place where the customer is always right.  She let me take her land, but she salted the earth and slaughtered her animals before letting me in.  Technically I had won, since I didn't bag my own groceries in the end, but it was a hollow victory.  The manager pushed my bag towards me.  "There you go sir.  Are you OK?  You look pale."  I made a noncommittal sound and shambled towards the door, replaying the events of the day in my mind.  I looked for any way I could have truly succeeded, anything I could have done differently.  There was nothing.  Lydia had locked it all down before I even showed up.

I began the long walk home.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Job Journal: Outbound Customer Service, Call Center in Oak Ridge TN

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.

Job: Outbound Customer Service, Call Center, Oak Ridge TN

Duration: Two months

Year: 2002

I first detailed the particular tortures of this job, and what led me to it, in this entry.  Take a moment to refamiliarize yourself.


I mentioned there was one good thing I took away from the job, amongst all the cold calls telling people they couldn't yet get the service they were paying for, watching the redneck next to me obsessively and clumsily hit on the girl next to him for months, and wondering just how much the Starfox poster in my furry boss' cubicle turned him on.  That one good thing was Pocket Tanks*.

My shift would occasionally overlap with Mark's shift.  You may recall him as my friend who was hired the same time as me, but in tech support.  That meant he was somewhere else on the floor, and we only got to hang out on our lunch breaks.  Lunch breaks here were sad, obligatory affairs.  The break room was small, situated between the main part of the floor and the entryway.  There was barely room to sit and have lunch, and if I remember correctly, no real meals were available for purchase.  I brown-bagged it.  However, there were a few computers in there, and when our breaks coincided Mark and I would play Pocket Tanks.

It's an incredibly simple game, variations of which have been around for as long as personal computing.  You set the angle and power of your shot, pick your weapon, and fire.  This continues, one shot per turn, til your enemy on the other side of the screen is exploded.  That's it.  No graphical innovation (nor was any needed), no fast-paced run-and-gun action, barely any sound.  Just a cool, subtle guitar track that can only be described as mid-90s video game music (see also: Spider-Man and X-Men in Arcade's Revenge, and Streets of Rage).

After four hours of obsessively clicking and calling strangers in an otherwise completely silent environment, this game was like Call of Duty.

Pocket Tanks and the drive home were the only bright spots in the dim majority of my day.  Once I got home, life was good.  I was freshly graduated from college and content to simply have a job and hang out with my friends.  We watched TV together, played Xbox (the first Halo) and Gamecube (Super Monkey Ball), and generally goofed around.  This wasn't just Saturday nights, mind you; we all lived close enough to see each other regularly.  We didn't have any other obligations or the strangely crowded lives of people in their 30s.  Most of us were in the same apartment complex.  As such, I actually have fond memories of this time period; memories scored by the sweet, almost-rockin' guitars of Pocket Tanks.

But good god that job was terrible.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

*You can download the game for free at this link.  I see Super DX Ball is also available.  If you'd like to murder the next four hours and fail to accomplish anything else today, go ahead and download them both.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Peter Jackson's Dwarf Problem

There's been plenty of chatter over Peter Jackson's latest film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Nine Hour Adaptation of a Single Book.  Such talk has ranged from the advantages and disadvantages of a high frame rate, to its cutting-edge CGI, to OMG Brad you said Legolas was in this movie I'm going next door to watch the Gerard Butler movie.  But there's one thing the media are strangely silent about:

Peter Jackson is a dwarfist.

Look at the image above.  You see 13 dwarves total.  Twelve interchangeable characters in funny prosthetics made to look inhuman and cartoonish.  Twelve dwarves with almost no characterization or backstory in the film, each serving up a line or two of comic relief throughout the movie.  And then there's Thorin.

Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, the "good" dwarf, the noble dwarf, the dwarf with a compelling background, the dwarf who manages to be an almost-lead in a movie titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Strain on the Devotion of Fans.  Thorin, who just by coincidence happens to look way more like a human than any of his companions.

Where all the other dwarves have funny hats, or weird matted hair, or huge W.C. Fields noses, Thorin strikes a pose several inches taller than them with his flowing black locks, well-trimmed goatee, and well-proportioned nose.  This is typical Hollywood studio-think.  "We can't have a hero with x background; our audience of y background just won't identify with him."  So you get David Carradine playing the lead in "Kung Fu."  You get Mickey Rooney playing the Asian neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany's.  You get the dashing man-like character of Thorin in charge of 12 bumbling dwarves.

Let's turn the tables.  Let's make a movie about 13 African-American men on an adventure.  Let's give 12 of them funny noses and weird clothes and make them all look the same and say funny things that white people think black people say.  They will be indistinguishable from one another.  Then let's make the thirteenth man the leader.  He'll have the conflict, the passion, the awesome action sequences.  I want you to close your eyes.  Can you see him leading his band of adventurers across the land?  I want you to picture him, this man.

Now imagine he's in whiteface.

Shame on you, Mr. Jackson.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer for whom the word "dwarf" has lost all meaning.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What are you people doing at the post office?

I felt the profound ecstasy of waiting in line at the post office this morning to mail a package for my boss.  The sea of post office humor was drained mostly dry in the 80s by men in sport coats standing in front of brick walls, but I want to address one specific thing.  What transactions are people attempting in there that take so long?

I have a box.  There's an address on that box.  You need to make this box go to that address.  Here's money.  BOOM.  Next.

But no, the people in front of me are never that straightforward.  They have so many questions.  What is there to know?  Do you need to know exactly how these things are being delivered?  Do you need the clerk to explain powered flight, or internal combustion engines?  Are you worried that the mail man in Florida doesn't know where your niece lives?  Don't worry about it.  They have this figured out.  For the most part.

Intense negotiations seem to be happening from time to time.  Exotic currencies from forgotten lands are presented and exchanged.  Eldritch powers are called upon to transport money orders through the netherworld, so that they may be used to buy goats on the other side of the globe.  I think I once saw someone offer a newborn babe as payment.

And the clerk accepted it.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.