Gifts

Always remember to graciously accept a Valentine. What happens to it from there is nobody’s business.

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The scene opens as I stroll into the library.

I walk in and inhale an odd combination of fragrances that is unique to the building. I can’t really tell you “it smells like _______” because it’s like describing the scent of salt. I walk by a man at the clerk’s podium, a man who has twice interviewed me for a job. We smile and nod in recognition, both genuinely delivering the facial greeting. I haven’t received any job offers from him.

After browsing the new books, I head to the catalog computers to figure out if they have a copy of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which my buddy Casey’s been raving about ever since we started talking about things that involve science fiction. A random dude takes up the keyboard next to me. Cordial greetings are exchanged. I search for the new Pierce Brown novel, having recently worked my way through the Red Rising trilogy, which can now be renamed a series. They don’t have it.

My neighbor offers up a gift to me, for no particular reason. It’s a small, folded piece of paper that looks like he clipped it out of a children’s magazine, the kind that the editors place in the pages to give kids shit to do other than just look at the pictures. Clip n’ Snip Greetings for your friends! Page 50.

Immediately, a series of thoughts stream through my head, brought about by a healthy dose of exposure to transient people and stories of child-poisoners who do things like use a syringe to inject ebola into the safety caps of vitamins and lace postage stamps with LSD. That last in the days when we actually needed to lick stamps. Days when people actually used stamps. Thoughts:

  • Why is this guy giving me this?
  • Is it dangerous or nasty?
  • Preliminary scans reveal that it is not, as I instantly assumed, a flyer for rediscovering Christ or this weekend’s rave.
  • I’ve touched it now, there’s no going back.

A name was written on the card, which I’m now mis-remembering as Ralph. He said something about spreading good will, as if (I hate being this judgemental, but if you don’t find this funny, the rest of the blog probably won’t interest you either.) his AA group had a mission this week that was to do a random good deed. He walks away, and I pry open the tiny square of paper, which has been stickered shut. Inside is what I identify as another small sticker, this one of Goofy. Other Characters are Available!

I find that Anathem is in the building and mock myself for being such a nonfiction reader that I’d forgotten you can just walk up to fiction shelves and browse them by author. I do a quick scan to make sure the gift-giver doesn’t have line-of-sight. Tiny paper square goes into the trash.

I go into the bathroom to wash my hands, thoroughly.

Deindustrialization Simulator

I have an idea! Let’s see if we can turn a general sense of failure and entropy into a game. Go.

I enjoy a voyeur-ish relationship with video games. Have done for some time. It was always a bit more fun watching my buddy Matt play Final Fantasy than actually grabbing a controller and making my own damned decisions. I continue this sort of thing today, watching more YouTube content produced by the Yogscast than I am comfortable admitting. Twitch uses quite a bit of electricity in my house. There’s something really juicy about watching how other people play and the decisions they make.

Alternately, I have very little relationship with the creation of video games. A coworker and I once wrote up a game design document for a railroad-themed multiplayer game, which was fun until I realized that I’m really only good at the brainstorming. This hasn’t stopped me from attempting to come up with an idea for another rip-roaringly good way to spend time: a game based on tearing down a society.

We’ve been through post-apocalyptic and seem to be cresting the zombie outbreak wave in our culture, so the timing might be right for this. It would be a game (although in all honesty, it should probably be written “game”) about taking a civilization from, well, whatever the hell you call ours to something a bit more logical and self-sustaining. The goal? Have a habitable world with enough things alive to habitate in it. Activities would include things like decommissioning power plants and shuttering factories while dealing with civil unrest and acceptable losses.

Too many games are of the expand, expand, keep expanding, build an expansion, then win variety. Due to my penchant for being a bit of a contrarian asshole, I wanted to go the other way. I have absolutely no idea how to make something like this playable, let alone get people to like it. Not that people need to like the game in order for it to be sale-able.

I’m still working on it.

Cancerous Associations

Don’t equate material wealth with virtue. Or at least, consider it safer to make them inversely proportional.

I’ve written about how I feel about luck before. The odd and somewhat repulsive political climate leads me to think about it again.

I can’t be objective here: our president is a horrible person. Even if we were to set aside the overt misogyny, the subliminal racism, and the petulant social media usage, there is still the fact that he has turned into a cutthroat businessman. All of these things were well-known about him before we voted him into office, and yet this didn’t seem to discourage people from giving him keys to the kingdom.

So I begin to question why. The only thing that makes sense to me is that people view his financial wealth and social capital as markers of success. Seeing that success, they automatically assume that the man in possession of it is intelligent, hard working, and worthy of emulation. Who better to run the country? After all, everyone knows that hard work, intelligence, and quality moral fiber are what create success, right?

He owns a gold toilet.

Let that sink in for a bit. What type of person shits into precious metals? Maybe he doesn’t actually shit in it and just likes the form of a toilet. The motives aren’t as important as the fact that it exists because he wanted it to. This is a businessman who loves money and power, proving time and again that he is willing to tell lies to acquire more of it, that there’s never enough.

Yet somehow people still believe that this is a person who will act for their benefit. There was an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette some months ago about two Trump voters who still supported him after one of the dozens of stupid acts for which he is now almost celebrated. One of them related that he voted for Trump because (paraphrasing here) he was so rich that he already had everything and couldn’t be bought.(Note that information about cooperation with Russia was becoming very difficult to refute at this point also.) This voter equated rich with incorruptible, ignoring the fact that wealthy people aren’t wealthy because they have a habit of saying, “You know what? I already have more than I need. Let’s just call this good enough.”

A person doesn’t become wealthy, powerful, successful (whatever that’s defined to be) simply because they’re intelligent, hard working, or virtuous. Some of them legitimately got lucky. Some of them cheated their way to “success”. These are not necessarily people who stick up for the well-being of the millions of others upon which their fortune depends.  The hordes of groping male celebrities are reinforcing this point. Just because a person has a gold toilet doesn’t mean he’s worth the shit it flushes.

A Cynical Portrait of Transportation in Pittsburgh

Just because everyone does it doesn’t mean that it should ever be done by anyone. Ever.

I’ve learned the following by observing my fellow vehicle operators. These are apparently taught in Pennsylvania schools. I wish the Pittsburgh Left were the worst of it:

  1. (Note: this is not a Pittsburgh Left. I’ve omitted that one.) When turning left across traffic, it is perfectly acceptable behavior to pull out into one lane, forcing it to stop, and then to wait there for an opening in the other lane. Beeping at a person who does this means you just don’t understand.
  2. If you’re not doing at least 10-15MPH above the posted speed limit, you should be tailgated immediately at a distance not to exceed 10 feet.
  3. Tailgating actually works as a method to modify the behavior of another driver.
  4. Tailgating is the acceptable way to approach on-ramps and other merge points. That’s your highway and those other merging losers need to yield.
  5. Tailgating is actually the default method of vehicle positioning, and it is not to be referred to as tailgating, but rather “driving”. Tailgating is what you do at a Steelers game.
  6. When the person in front of you is allowed the space to merge at an on-ramp, that automatically means everyone in line has just been allowed to merge at that spot and should follow that person into it.
  7. Use your horn. For everything.
  8. When changing lanes, do so as rapidly and with as little warning as possible. Everyone else will understand that you’re about to change lanes by the way you’re driving.
  9. Every four-lane road is a highway, the left lane of which is for passing only. If you’re in it and not passing, you must be destroyed.
  10. You can actually see around blind corners and what’s on the other side of the crests of hills. Don’t worry about it.

As a pedestrian:

  1. Crosswalks are for tourists. When you’re ready for the pro circuit, try jaywalking.
  2. As a walking parent, always lead with the stroller. This will ensure the traffic will stop.
  3. If someone doesn’t stop for you when crossing at mid-block, that person should be cussed at. They’re always supposed to yield because you’re a pedestrian.
  4. Help your spouse into parallel parking spots from the street, holding up your hand like a traffic cop so that the traffic doesn’t kill you. Under no circumstances should this be done from the wide sidewalk immediately next to the car. (Okay, I only saw this once, but I have NEVER seen it before.)

Hope you had a good Memorial Day holiday, and remember to buckle up!

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Roll for Fortune

On a result of 1, you end up penniless with a TEDx beer cozy.

I’ve once again been rendered inadequate by xkcd.

It’s difficult for me to describe why it bothers me so much to see successful people giving talks about their good fortune, attributing it instead to hard work and trivializing the luck involved. There’s probably a more appropriate logical fallacy to describe it, but this idea that a person can simply work hard to achieve success seems to be an odd form of legitimizing one’s outsized results in a socially acceptable format, presumably to escape the “Why me?” feeling that ought to accompany ridiculous success.

I’m jealous, to be sure. I’d love to be able to never worry about money, food, or housing ever again. I’d like to be swimming in job offers and never need to take any of them. Who wouldn’t be envious? It’s just that the “hard” work thing sticks in my craw. What does that mean, hard work? Does that mean long hours? Doing things that make you morally uncomfortable? Does it mean physically challenging?

According to Maynard James Keenan’s biography, the band Tool was signed to a record label after just a handful of live shows. Less than ten. (I’m being vague here because I can’t remember the number and I can’t be bothered to look it up. The impact is the same. I think it was eight.) I love Tool’s music and it’s been great to see their success. I truly believe that they deserve it. Certainly they worked “hard” to make their music, but I can’t help but point out that they got ridiculously lucky in being signed to a record contract so soon, and I can’t help but think that it was the luck that played the more significant role. There are countless acts working their asses off, touring, playing shows everywhere, and they either get ignored or end up producing their own stuff to lukewarm reception. Go ahead and try the ol’ ten-show record contract plan today.

So when does the work end up determining the success? Is it possible to be successful without the work? Of course it is, and not just because “successful” is also a moving target. However, keep a D6 in your pocket, and when listening to these successful folks describing the roots of their success, roll it to remind yourself of the role chance plays, because a great many of these people will be, consciously or not, reluctant to admit that they probably didn’t work any harder or better than the hordes of less-prominent people around them.  While I enjoy a good inspirational talk as much as the next person, simply saying “I got lucky” tends to take the wind out of the sails a bit, though it shouldn’t.

This might be a peculiarly American thing, or a feature of any culture that tends to over-emphasize the value of labor. Randall Munroe has succinctly described my thoughts on the matter in one frame, in either case.

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On a result of 4, your job pays really well, but also gives you hemorrhoids.