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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: March 8-March 25, 2004

Wednesday, March 24, 2004:

Screw trying to think of an opening hook. Lorenzo and I went down to Chicago last Thursday, due to Lorenzo's desire to visit a "big city" on his spring break and my desire to see Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven play at the Vic Theatre. The concert was on Thursday night, and we planned to meet USA Today's Dave Weigel at Chicago's Pizza before the show, as he's a nice guy and CVB fan. So after Lars and I checked into the Courtyard Marriott hotel and I scanned the el train map in the hotel room, I determined that we needed to ride the blue line train to Belmont.

We got off the train at Belmont, and following some wandering and a panicked call to Adrienne and her friend Anna, it was determined that we should actually have taken the red line to a Belmont stop several miles east. So Lars and I took a bus to the correct area, where we met Dave a half hour later than we were supposed to. I didn't have the presence of mind to make up a lie about monochromatism, so I just told him the truth: that I'm a moron. He graciously didn't make a big deal out of it.

After some wonderful pizza, we headed up the block to the Vic, which was still empty enough for us to snag a front-row-center spot on the floor by the stage. Lorenzo had attended only one other concert in his life, which was last year's Eminem show at Ford Field in Detroit. He seemed mightily impressed by the Vic, which was a nice, small-to-mid-sized venue. Dave and I got along tremendously well, drowning the pre-show anticipation in a sea of Futurama quotations and catty discussion of our fellow Music Babble denizens. Lorenzo got antsy and walked around, talking to people and helping himself to a Cracker sticker that read, "It ain't gonna suck itself," at the merch table.

I commandeered Lorenzo's FunSaver camera as Cracker took the stage, and snapped away roughly half the roll during the night. (I'll post the pictures when Lorenzo gets them developed; I think bassist Victor Krummenacher tossed a smile my way when I was taking his picture.) Cracker's lineup here basically consisted of Camper Van Beethoven with a cheerful Johnny Hickman on lead guitar instead of Greg Lisher. However, Johnny basically stole their set with his engaging bag of lead guitar tricks. Cracker opened with a tremendous "I'm a Little Rocketship," and plowed through a bunch of their catchier, more aggressive alt-alternative tunes ("Movie Star," "Teen Angst," "100 Flower Power Maximum") with an energy that surprised me. They then opened up the show to include more laid-back numbers like "Duty Free" and a lengthy "Euro-Trash Girl," which contained an accordion solo and is therefore great, as well as fun covers of the Kinks' "Victoria" and Dylan's "The Man in Me." The highlight of Cracker's set, though, was Forever's superb "One Fine Day," which found frontman David Lowery singing with a rueful intensity that matched Hickman's gripping determination in his solos. It was a flawless performance that would've left me satisfied even if the show had ended at that point.

But it didn't! Oh, heavens no! After a short break, during which time Lars decided to watch the remainder of the show from the balcony, Camper Van Beethoven took the stage.

And then quickly left the stage when it became clear that Jonathan Segel's equipment had been improperly hooked up and needed some fiddling.

But then they took the stage again! And played the beautiful "All Her Favorite Fruit," which remains perhaps the most emotional and gorgeous song ever to pass David Lowery's lips! From there, it was all gravy. Here, not 20 feet from me, was a band that I grew up with, and that I never expected to be able to see live. (They broke up in 1989, before reforming to assemble a rarities compilation a couple years ago.) Though I don't mention them nearly as much as certain other bands, CVB are one of my all-time favorites. I vividly remember the day my parents took me to Harmony House and I bought a copy of Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart in one of those antiquated cardboard longboxes. I did a brief presentation on "Eye of Fatima, pt. 1" in my seventh grade English class. I remember becoming frustrated to the point of tears by being unable to find a copy of Telephone Free Landslide Victory that same year. To this day, the only song I've bothered to learn on harmonica is "Hoe Yourself Down." Their wholly unique smoothies of classic rock, country, folk, ska, psychedelica, and traditional ethnic songs, combined with lyrics that could move effortlessly between undergraduate sardonicism and genuine feeling, immediately struck me as something incredibly special when I first heard them on an old 120 Minutes compilation. And they've remained vastly important to me for the past 12-or-so years, though I'd always been forced to think of them in the past tense. But no longer! Here they were- Lowery, Krummenacher, Lisher, Segel- all enthusiastically plowing through songs that've been ingrained in my head for nearly as long as I started to care about music that didn't come from the likes of Technotronic and Young MC. I've really never had that experience before. Of the five bands I consider the most important in my adolescent development into this rock snob I am today, R.E.M. has never performed at a venue small enough for me to feel a real connection with them, the two They Might Be Giants shows I've seen left me underwhelmed, and I never had a chance to see the Ramones or the Dead Milkmen.

So yes, I'm a thoroughly biased fanboy, but you can believe me anyway when I say that the Camper show was incredible. (Or ask Dave; he's more level-headed.) Their song selection hit a perfect balance between the "hits" ("Take the Skinheads Bowling," "Eye of Fatima," "Good Guys & Bad Guys") and their weirder material, like "Tania," a ska tango whose sheer, giddy absurdity never fully hit me until I saw these guys crank it out. I smiled like a goon through the whole thing, and laughed out loud when they thumped out smartass hillbilly covers of the Clash's "White Riot" and Black Flag's "Wasted." I gasped in excitement when they expertly delivered the stomping faux-Greek instrumental "Balalaika Gap." This really means nothing to you if you're not a Camper fan, but why aren't you?

The night ended with Hickman striding back out onstage and joining the band in a raucous, four-guitar rendition of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive," during which Lowery and Krummenacher held down the melody while the other three guitarists joyfully tried to top one another in a game of freewheeling solos and noisemaking. I fervently hope that there's a CVB live album on the horizon, because I can't imagine that even at the height of their popularity and at the top of their game, this band was ever as thrillingly on as they were Thursday night. I'm going to have to put it in my top five concertgoing experiences of all time, and if you should ever hear about this double bill coming to your town, please please please do yourself a favor and go. No buts! Just go.

Yeah, so we went out for milkshakes with Dave afterward, and I was pleased to discover that he shares my habit of stopping conversations in their tracks to identify aloud the songs that are being played on public radio stations or music loops. (In the middle of an anecdote, he pointed to the speaker in the ceiling of Clarke's diner and said, "Tom Petty, 'Don't Do Me Like That,' from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979.") He showed Lorenzo and I where to board the proper train back to our hotel, and we said goodbye. Really nice guy, that Dave. I enjoyed his company. 

On Friday morning, we decided to go shopping. Lorenzo and I headed toward Michigan Avenue, and were stopped by a homeless guy who started to ask us for money, but then grabbed my unbuttoned coat and said, "Hey! Is that the devil on your shirt?"

It was David Bowie. So no money for that guy.

At H&M, I bought some T-shirts of the sort that Erica says look good on me. I also bought a yellow button-up shirt that reads, "SAVE ME FROM WHAT I AM." I realize that the self-loathing "shock value" of the shirt is somewhat undercut by the fact that it's a slogan on a mass-produced garment from an international clothing chain. It's no edgier than those "LOSER" Sub Pop shirts that were popular for awhile, and as far as trendy, emo self-hatred goes, it would probably be much more effective and eye-catching to wear a homemade sandwich board with magnetic letters spelling out, "I'm only still alive because I fear what comes next might be even worse." Nevertheless, I thought the shirt suited me. I spent the remainder of the afternoon fighting off pangs of buyer's remorse for having spent $50 on six shirts.

Luckily, that remorse was ultimately cancelled out by the smart-shopper euphoria I felt at having picked up the new albums from David Byrne and Zero 7, along with a two-disc import set of Plaid's remix work, for $50 at the Virgin store.

Lars and I ate lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (unremarkable pasta, good cheesecake), during which time I announced that I was tired of shopping and ready to return to the hotel for a nap. Lorenzo said, "Well, I'm going to keep shopping. You don't need to babysit me, ya know!"

I immediately thought back to the hour previous, when he and I had boarded an elevator on the sixth floor of a local mall. A man with a cane had boarded alongside us and pressed the button for the second floor. We were headed to the ground floor in order that we might leave the mall, but although Lorenzo was standing right next to the button panel, he didn't push the "G" button.

ME: Lorenzo, we want the ground floor.
LORENZO: [stares blankly at me]
ME: Hit the button for the ground floor.
LORENZO: [stares blankly at me]
[I reach past him and hit the "G" button.]
LORENZO: But that man wants to get off at the second floor.
ME: Yes, but if we don't push the button for the ground floor, the elevator will stop only at the second floor and go no further.
ME: We want the ground floor.

So I was hesitant to let him amble about the streets of Chicago unattended, but my fear that he might get stuck on the second floor of some building was outweighed by my need to sleep. Lorenzo returned after I'd awoke and was busy watching Everybody Loves Raymond reruns in an unfamiliar time zone. He'd purchased some jeans and some flip-flops from H&M. As Raymond ended and I started watching Playing It Straight for some reason, Lorenzo decided to go check out the hotel pool. He returned 40 minutes later, saying, "Yeah, I got lost in the hotel. I wound up in a totally different hotel, and the guy in their lobby had to buzz me back in to this one."

By that point, I'd decided that I was through with activities for the evening, but Lars is a much more inherently energetic person than me, so he decided to go explore the downtown area some more. I took a shower and watched the news. The top story on Friday was the Chicago PD's preparations for an anti-war protest that was planned for the following afternoon, to mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. Although no permit had been issued for the peace rally, some group had decided to hold it anyway, with the intention of marching down Michigan Avenue. The anchorman said that the police were on alert because an anti-war rally in the same area last year had led to 500 arrests when the cops clashed with demonstrators, and he promised that the police would be outfitted in "Robocop-style riot gear."

"Hey!" I thought. "I'm against the war..."

On Saturday morning, I arose early and walked down Michigan Avenue toward Water Tower Place, where the anchorman had said the protest would occur. As I walked, I noticed that there were at least a dozen cops stationed at various points along each block. I noticed a guy walking slightly ahead of me with a blank placard tucked under one arm. Since I wasn't particularly familiar with the area, I ran up to him and asked if I could tag along. He cheerfully shook my hand and introduced himself as Justin, a mathematics student from Aurora, Illinois. He reminded me of Paul Bettany in A Beautiful Mind, though I can't say why. (He was much more entertaining than A Beautiful Mind, I should add.) We walked together to Water Tower Place and saw very few other protesters... but dozens and dozens of cops standing around on the corners.

"That's a little intimidating," Justin said.

We were an hour early, so we stopped in front of Marshall Field's so Justin could pull out a Sharpie and write slogans on his sign. On one side, he wrote, "Say NO to fascism: BAN THE PATRIOT ACT!" and on the other side, he wrote, "News flash, Mr. Bush: Human lives are NOT WORTHLESS!" At one point, a cop approached us, which freaked me out, but he merely borrowed the Sharpie so he could sign his name to the bottom of the sign in a show of support. I thought that was cool. Several gawkers stared at us, and one woman haughtily asked, "So, what exactly are you protesting?" in a tone of voice meant to indicate that Sean Hannity told her we were liberal hippie nogoodniks.

"Specifically, I'm protesting the Patriot Act," Justin said.

"Oh," said the woman, who was obviously banking on him saying "the war" so she could use the witty rejoinder she'd prepared, and was now deflated because he referred to a piece of legislation that she was unfamiliar with. She moved along.

Justin and I crossed the street, into a little park area where a crowd was slowly assembling. As we stood around, waiting for something to happen, we were approached by several fellow protesters who handed us assorted propaganda flyers and pamphlets. The most entertaining one was a rant against "Jewish Chauvinism" that was written by a batshit loonball named Joffre Stewart. Justin looked at the flyer, said, "Ugh," and immediately handed it back to the grubby guy who'd given him a copy. I kept mine because it's funny. Now, I certainly don't want to develop a reputation for spreading hate literature or anything, but I'm always entertained by the product of psychotic minds. (Which is why I've purchased a subscription to the New York Post! -Love, Pat Proft.) And I found this fascinatingly garbled, so I thought I'd share it:



By destroying The State--
as by the NONVIOLENCE of
eliminate the LEGAL privilege
Jews have in dual citizenship
at the same time that we
destroy Israel which is
embedded in the tax base
getting ourselves off the
backs of Palestinians &
3rd World. democracy
is not the answer.

Now, as horrible and Ludacris as that obviously is, the back of the screed is a photocopy of an evaluation form from the Chicago Social Forum in January. In response to the question, "What did you enjoy most about your experience at the Chicago Social Forum?" Joffre writes, "Reaching out to people, I enjoyed most. Food was good. I needed to learn what World & Chicago Social Forum were about and how they work. Seeing friends." And when asked what improvements he'd suggest for Chicago Social Forums, Joffre offers, "A person should not be shut up, SUPPRESSED AS I was in workshop 2, when I tried to show how Jews in the Democratic Party, by controlling the party, help the Republicans to win when they want that for Zionism. This suppression defeats spirit & intent of Forum where it reads: 'we encourage you to share with us your own perspective' Another world is not possible this way."

I just found it funny the way he juxtaposed his rant against "Zionism" with a compliment about the food provided: Joffre want crush Israel and also want more of these divine cocktail wieners!

As the park started to fill up, it was literally surrounded by cops in full riot gear: kevlar shields, hippie-whackin' clubs, scary helmets, and thick black padding that made them look like they had futuristic exoskeletons. Someone pointed out that, at the Borders across the street, there was a high-pressure fire hose trained on the crowd in case the peace demonstration became unruly. A somewhat frenzied representative of the National Lawyers Guild handed us reference guides entitled "How to Handle the Heat: Police Confrontations at Protests," which I found very interesting. ("The most important things to remember at the protest are: You do not need to speak to cops. Be sure that you do not accidentally consent to any part of a search. Always use your judgement; consider factors such as de-escalation, protection of others, and tactics. Remember that rights do not always equal reality.") It was a really tense environment for awhile.

But luckily, my tension was alleviated by the impromptu hippie drum circle that suddenly sprung up next to Justin and me. And by "alleviated by," I mean "redirected at." We started chatting with a friendly girl who had a peace symbol painted on her face, and who was carrying about six posterboard signs. My favorite one read, "THE ONLY BUSH I TRUST IS MY OWN." She also had one that read, "SUP BITCHES?"

"It was a long bus ride here," she explained.

Starting a little after noon, a bunch of speakers started rambling through a loudspeaker that wasn't powerful enough to allow those of us standing in the back to understand much of what was being said. The event organizer said that they were in negotiations with the police about how the march would proceed. As I mentioned, the protesters had planned to march down Michigan Avenue, but the cops weren't going to allow that because we didn't have a permit. Later, Jesse Jackson spoke and announced that the cops had agreed to march alongside us as an escort/to keep us corralled. Then some Abbie Hoffman wannabe took the mike, called the cops "motherfuckers," and mocked their riot gear by comparing it to hockey equipment. I don't know.

As the march started, the girl with all the signs asked if I'd like one, since I was signless. I said sure, though preferably not the Bush one she made. I got one that said, "SAY NO TO EMPIRE," which I was fine with. I unfortunately lost track of Justin as we marched down Chicago Avenue, and then turned left onto Ontario Street-Or-Avenue-I-Forget-Which, where the march went for a couple miles. Cops jogged alongside us the whole way, and at certain points, there were police cruisers diverting the crowd onto side streets. The cruisers were quickly festooned with anti-Bush stickers.

As the march progressed, a couple people with mobile loudspeakers started leading chants for us all to shout along with. For awhile, it went well, as they were chanting catchy, easy-to-remember slogans like "No blood for oil!" and "Q: What do we want? A: Peace! Q: When do we want it? A: Now!" But then they started getting all fancy, coming up with really wordy chants like, "The blood of the innocent is on Bush's hands, along with the hands of Ashcroft, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and to a lesser degree, Colin Powell, even though it seems like the others were kind of setting him up to be the fall guy in some ways, not that it excuses his behavior and lies! Oh, and also, even though Ari Fleischer has retired, we still think he's a douchebag!" Naturally, the protesters started falling out of rhythm with these chants, and forgetting parts of them, and the chanting pretty much petered out after that.

"I think they should really just stick to the classic chants, don't you?" said the girl marching next to me, who was carrying a sign that read, "A village in Texas is missing its idiot!"

I laughed and said, "Yeah, or they should at least have given us a protest hymnal beforehand, with a list of all the chants we'd be expected to perform."

She was very friendly, and we chatted for a little while as we walked along. After a mile or so, it was time for me to meet Lorenzo back at the hotel, so I slipped out of the parade and headed back. I felt good about having participated, though I wish everyone had been on the same page as far as what, exactly, we were protesting. That is, while it was first and foremost a protest against the war in Iraq and, more broadly, Bush in general, there were a number of other factions there who were competing to get their own message across: "The government murdered Paul Wellstone!" "Free Mumia!" "Stop Caterpillar!" Several signs called for the election of Howard Dean, which seems unlikely at this point, what with him having dropped out of the race and all. I thought that made the whole rally seem a smidge disorganized and fractured, and therefore too easy for the public to dismiss.

And it may very well be that it was an event conceived out of naivete to begin with: several of my fellow marchers were visibly taken aback when I pointed out that Bush obviously doesn't care what we have to say. (I based this on Bush's comments a year ago, just before he launched the Iraq invasion, where he flat-out stated that he didn't care what the millions of people opposed to the war had to say.) My reason for participating in the protest was that I hoped it would raise awareness of the Bush administration's crimes among the voting public, or at least remind them why it's imperative that we dump Bush in November. However, it seemed as though some of the marchers actually thought Bush might have a change of heart if we voiced our opposition fervently enough. I guess that's kind of sweet, but dumb at the same time.

Lars and I had tickets to Second City that night, but for the 11 P.M. show, which meant we had plenty of time to kill. We did that in Evanston, after I cockily asserted my ability to find the Northwestern campus and proceeded to completely miss our stop in each direction the el was headed, and earned myself the nickname "Mr. Maze." We went to Urban Outfitters, since Lorenzo sports a self-proclaimed "vintage, organic" style of dress but will buy clothes only if they're brand new, thus eliminating actually going to a thrift store to look for thrift store-style clothes. (He says that he wants to be the one who makes the memories for his clothes, rather than wearing someone else's memories. I think that's kind of poetic, in a way.) I got some belated birthday shopping done there by picking up a pair of Muppet Babies socks for Adrienne and a fuzzy green journal marked, "Conspiracy Theories" for Erica. Lorenzo got a "Jesus is my homebody" T-shirt.

Second City was a blast that night. I wasn't impressed by the Toronto show I'd attended a few years back, but the Chicago cast was very smart. Still a lot of crowd-pleasing SNL-style slapsticky stuff, but the show contained a lot of very sharp political comedy, which is right up my alley. (Best line of the evening, though not the most subtle: "I'm voting for John Kerry because he looks like someone I can trust. Frankenberry.")  Also, it turns out my friend Luke went to high school with Second City cast member Maribeth Monroe, and they're still friends. Funny coincidence. After we returned to the hotel, Lorenzo rode around in taxis for a few hours, looking for a late-night sushi place.

Guess that's about it unless you want to hear about the drive home, during which Lorenzo slept and I saw nothing of note. Basically, it was a really great trip. I know I goof on Lorenzo a lot for being off in LorenzoLand a lot of the time, but I do feel enormously lucky to have him as a friend. He's one of the nicest people I've ever met, and easily the most genuine. Therefore, it did my heart good to see him breaking out of his sheltered suburban lifestyle a bit, and busting with happiness and wonder at things the world has to offer; things of which he used to be oblivious. I was happy to accompany him, and even though I'm obviously not as city-savvy as I like to pretend I am, it felt terrific to be able to act as a sort of guide for him as he tried to decide the best way to use his "freedom," as he called it. 'Twas nice seeing through his eyes, because I truly don't think anyone else our age has been able to fully maintain the childlike curiosity and hyperactive zeal that Lorenzo evinces in his every move. I came back from Chicago feeling refreshed, and he really had a lot to do with that.

CURRENT MUSIC: Underachievers Please Try Harder by the Camera Obscura.
Adrienne pointing out, quite accurately, that my ever-growing and increasingly curly hair makes me resemble a member of the Proclaimers. There will be a hair-cut by the week-end.
12:56 AM.

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Monday, March 15, 2004:

I can't sleep again. This is the fourth night in the past week that I've lay awake in bed for at least an hour and a half. This time, I gave up and took some Benedryl, and I'm typing in here while I wait for it to kick in. Bev told me the other day that it takes the average person only seven minutes to get to sleep, and this advertisement for the Chillow seems to concur. Can that possibly be right? Seven minutes? I can't recall ever getting to sleep that quickly without the aid of Benedryl, NyQuil, alcohol, or Dances with Wolves.

Someone has already put a used copy of my album up on Amazon. And also, customers who shopped for my album also shopped for Songs in the Key of Beaver by Dave Coulier. Neither of these is an encouraging sign. In other news, the All Music Guide has inexplicably placed Disclaimer in the "Vocal" genre, alongside Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Torme. That's the type of accuracy I've come to expect from AMG, but again, not helpful to me. However, the German radio station Alooga has apparently added my song "Like the Backside of a Bulimic's Teeth" into their current rotation, which is pretty cool despite the fact that it's the worst song on the album.

Does anyone want me to pick anything up for them in Chicago this week? Bootleg liquor? A big tube o' jazz? Some Jell-O made from the hooves of Mrs. O'Leary's cow?

Aw, screw writing. I'm gonna flip through channels in the hopes of seeing that Scientology infomercial again.

CURRENT MUSIC: Ambient 4: On Land by Brian Eno.
CURRENT MOOD: Insomnia-drenched.
That can't be good.
1:39 AM.

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Thursday, March 11, 2004:

Dave Blood, the bassist from The Dead Milkmen, killed himself last night. I don't have any words for this. I cried for an entire evening when the Dead Milkmen broke up (I was 17) and I expect to do the same thing tonight.

3:19 PM.

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Monday, March 8, 2004:

Somehow, the work day today devolved into an hours-long discussion of old-school video games between Jon and me. Inevitably, I brought up one of my favorites, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!:

ME: I could beat the first five or six guys every time, except then you got into the characters who had all those special punches that required you to figure out a single trick to beat them. Like you had to punch Bald Bull on the third hop when he charged you. [Here I do a dignity-draining impression of the Bull Charge.] Or when that Indian guy would vanish and spin all over the ring really fast. What was his name?

JON: I don't remember. Hey, did you ever play any of the Castlevania games?

ME: Fuck! What was his name? Glass Tiger? Magic Tiger? Magic Dragon? Dragon Tiger? No, that wouldn't make sense... Hang on, I'll be right back.

[I wander around the store, asking five or six people if they can summon the character's name. No one knows what I'm talking about. Finally, I get to Mike, who works in the cafe. He's making a drink for some woman.]

ME: Hey, Mike- have you ever played Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for Nintendo?

MIKE: Yeah.

ME: Alright. Can you remember the name of that one Indian guy who'd do that super punch where he zips all around the ring, super-fast, that's like impossible to beat?

MIKE: Ummm...

ME: This is driving me nuts.

MIKE: Wasn't it Chief something?

ME: No, it was like Magic Tiger...

MIKE: No, it was Something Big Chief.

ME: No no- not Native American "Indian," Indian Indian. As in, a guy from India.

MIKE: Are you sure? Because he had that headdress thing.

ME: It's a turban. [Mike's customer starts laughing.] The jewel in the middle glistens before he throws a punch.

MIKE: Oh. I don't know then.

ME: Well, let me know if you think of it.

[I return to the receiving room and peevishly start rocking back and forth on a v-cart, muttering to myself: "Lessee, it was Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, that Japanese guy... dammit, what was his name? Don Flamenco, King Hippo... GAH!" I finally decide to call my brother. I get his voicemail.]

ME: Hey, Tim, it's Chris. Your brother. I need to know the name of the Indian guy from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! who did that one magic spinny punch where he'd fly all over the ring and it was like impossible to stop. No one here knows, but I figured you would, so give me a call at work and help me. Thanks. Bye.

[Jon and I return to discussions of other NES games. We struggle to remember what the villains from Super Mario Bros. 2 look like, as well as anything about Mighty Bomb Jack. Kevin then buzzes me on the receiving room intercom, telling me I have a call.]

ME: This is Chris.

TIM: Hey.

ME: Hey.

TIM: It's Great Tiger.

ME: Great Tiger! Yes! You rule!

TIM: Yeah, you definitely picked a hard one. I admit that I had to look it up.

ME: Well, I appreciate it. Oh! What was the name of the Japanese guy?

TIM: Piston Honda.

ME: That's it.

TIM: Do you remember the name of your fighter?

ME: Little Mac.

TIM: Good job.

[I hear murmuring in the background.]

TIM: Dave wants to know if you can remember the name of Little Mac's trainer.

ME: Doc.

TIM: It's Doc Louis, actually.

ME: Well, I always just call him "Carl Winslow," so you're lucky I remembered as much as I did.

TIM: Hee!

Jon and I also waxed nostalgic about Vegas Dream, which, on the NES anyway, was a suite of four casino games (blackjack, roulette, slots, and keno). The games themselves were glacially slow, particularly keno, but the fun arrived when you'd be approached by other characters between the games. They'd usually ask to borrow money from you, either in an attempt to defraud you or out of genuine need (which would wind up with you being repaid and then some), but you didn't know which was which until you said "yes" or "no." You'd then see a news broadcaster with a disturbingly undersized head telling you whether you'd made the right decision, because in Las Vegas, someone loaning money to someone else and possibly being repaid merits airtime on the local news. There was no downside to turning down the black guy's requests for money, though; you'd usually wind up being rewarded anyway, since the casino would be horrified that you'd had to deal with such filth and would give you some apology cash. So there's your thesis topic, undergraduate sociology students.

Also, you'd occasionally be approached by someone of your opposing gender who would want to take you out for a drink, and, one date later, marriage. If you were playing as a man, most likely under a name like "Mr. BUTT," your admirer would be a young, comely lass of virtue fair. Or as much of one as could be rendered in NES graphics. However, if you were playing as a woman, most likely under a name like "Ms. STUPID" (or "Ms. FUCK" if no adults were around), your suitor would be a really old guy who looked kind of like Leslie Nielsen. Creepy double-standard there. So there's your thesis topic, humorless women's studies doctoral candidates.

CURRENT MUSIC: Look Into the Eyeball by David Byrne.
Missing my squandered childhood.
According to this FAQ, Soda Popinski was originally called "Vodka Drunkenski," but Nintendo changed it at the last second.
TIME: 7:05 PM.

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