Sunday, December 19, 2010

Writing from the Front Lines of Xmas

> rant get

Let me just preface this with a disclaimer: I am part of the problem, not part of the solution. I have multiple China patterns, enough scarves to strangle all the elves at the North Pole (I'm not getting rid of any of them) and I'm a gadget-junkie. I consume too much and give back too little. I'm from one of the most affluent places in the world but I'm broke and I owe the government money. Seriously -- there are people a LOT worse off than me living just a few miles down the road.

So what the hell is wrong with our society? Why do we need to sell 30 different styles of what is basically a long-sleeved T-shirt in 20 different colors, and why do we lose all sense of propriety when the decanter of infinite options runs dry?

I haven't worked a retail position over a major holiday since I was in high school, and -- to be fair -- I think I slept through most of those shifts. As a post-grad living in a major recession, I was thrilled to get a full-time job and start paying off student loans. But people are on the brink of absurdity, and as a person who finds a perverse thrill in the ridiculous I think I'm qualified to say that this is very quickly passing the point of amusement for all parties involved.

For anyone who has ever called the 20-something crowd the "Entitlement Generation," I encourage you to try telling a 50 year-old housewife from Alabama that the top she wanted is not available in Azalea Pink and that she will have to settle for Carnation Pink instead. I double-dog dare you. If I told a 25 year old that they couldn't have a top in Azalea Pink, do you know what they would say? "That sucks." Succinct, to-the-point and largely on-topic. Even most octogenarians would brush it off, mumble about cats/grandchildren/medicare/Florida and move on. But that 40-60 crowd?

What the hell happened to you as children?

> end rant

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tis the Season for Disappointment

So, not only did I miss the Harrisburg Zombie March AND The Rally to Restore Sanity / Fear at the end of October, it's becoming increasingly apparent to me that no manner of finagling is going to open up my schedule and wallet for this year's Anime USA convention. I'm thrilled to have a real job at the moment so I can save up for what I hope to be an early 2011 move, but this was supposed to be my first proper descent into the nerd hive-mind.

To add additional insult to injury, I had to back out on the Con's tech-supervisor. Daniel, a redheaded drinking mate of mine from college, asked me to help with the mobile tech squad in exchange for free room, board, and weekend passes. I was really looking forward to be helping behind the scenes with sound equipment and sarcasm all weekend -- if a single mic screeches or a single "that's what she said" goes unspoken, I'm going to feel personally responsible. So, if anyone out there reading this is planning on going to Anime USA this year, have fun. If anyone's planning on attending AUSA next year -- look for me! I'll be there yucking it up next to the kid with fire engine hair and a pint of Guinness in his hand.

On a marginally brighter note, I have every intention of posting my forays into interior decorating on this blog once I set up house in 2011. I'm just going to keep telling myself that every day I'm in Warren working is an extra day I have to look for work -- as opposed to taking the first bit of fluff I find -- when I finally do make that move.

And, you know, maybe I'll get around to finally making that Montreal Grand Prix post I've been putting off since summer.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Arizona III: The Family Road Trip

As Chrissie and I plotted out our Spring Break scheme, we realized quite horrifyingly that she had never seen anything in the US west of the Mississippi River. Insistent that we would not spend our entire vacation belly-up to the bar, gaining 5 pounds drinking Guinness and eating chips, we asked my Aunt if she would take us to the Grand Canyon for a day. Granted, a good bit of soulful sojourning in the mountains and exploring the city took place over our stay, but the drive out to the Grand Canyon was our major exploratory outing.

After a harsh winter, the northern portion of Arizona found itself snuggled under a blanket of rapidly melting snow by mid-March. There's not an extremely detailed or interesting story to tell here: the desert was in bloom -- a rare treat -- and we haggled with Chrissie for 30 minutes to get her to hug a cactus. We spent the hours we didn't spend doing assorted outdoors activities picking fruit from my Aunt's orchard and stuffing our faces with organic blood oranges, navel oranges, kumquats and grapefruits. Yum!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Arizona II: Éirinn go Brách!

The St. Paddy's Day Special -- Flogging Molly LIVE at Tempe Beach Park.

Anyone who knew me in college can vouch for me when I say that I've been talking about going to see Flogging Molly live on St. Patrick's Day since my freshman year. They've always been just out of reach -- or St. Paddy's fell one or two days before Spring Break ended, and the scheduling went all to hell. I refused to give up on my dream in my Senior year of college, so I planned ahead and saved all of my Christmas money to buy two tickets: one to Phoenix, AZ, and one to the Irish Punk Rock nirvana. I'm lucky enough to have a kind-hearted Aunt in Phoenix, but more on that later. This is about black beer and whiskey.

Chrissie, Era (a friend of Chrissie's who was our self-appointed Arizona tour guide) and I made a point of completely screwing up our ticketing options, but the nice gentlemen at the box-office helped us get it all sorted. After that near-fiasco, we cheerfully made our way over to the beer stalls and let the Harp and Guinness flow! The bands opening for Flogging Molly -- Metric, The Bollox, and Keltic Cowboys -- all held their own with a bit of Irish flair. It was really weird to hear Metric playing Irish covers, back in their pre-Scott Pilgrim days, but in retrospect it added a great deal of diversity to the evening.

At $7 a glass for Guinness, I had to do a fair bit of flirting to keep the free drinks coming, but it was well worth the effort as the night wore on; I mean, I can't be expected to stand 20 minutes in the beer line for myself, yeah? We got properly sloshed, stinking of sweat, spilled drinks, and gritty Arizona sand, and we danced something that passed for a reel with our fellow concert-mates the entire night. The nice folks at Tempe Beach Park did us all a favor by keeping the under-21s penned up in a separate portion of the field, so if we all got a little carried away -- and I'm not saying that we did, but IF -- no one was seriously injured. Beer makes you immune to things like sprained ankles and open-palmed slaps. We did see a few lads vomiting in the evening heat, but I can proudly say that we two Pennsylvania Girls kept our $7 beers in-gut without a problem.

So, while the Bacchanalia (Bonus Question: what is the Irish Mythos equivalent of Bacchanalia? No, really. Stop laughing. Someone figure it out and get back to me) took us to the brink of insanity, the real star of the night was the music. We sang, we screamed, we smiled... I'm going to sum this post up with a play list, it's really the only appropriate way to resolve the grinning nostalgia flitting about in my head tonight.

Oh, and lest I forget my typical end-of-post rant: do you want to know what really bothers me about St. Patrick's Day? The kilt. Kilts are just barely Irish. Just barely. Scots can wear them year-round without censure, but the one-night-Cuchulains among us need to remember that those of us with a family tartan will know in about 20 seconds if you're faking it or not; and even I don't wear mine on St. Paddy's because it's effing North Irish. That's right, I'm from a family of filthy Loyalists. (It makes me feel better to know that my branch expatriated in the late 18th Century.)

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is Irish on St. Paddy's day. If you frat-slatherasses want to wear the Emerald Isle's generic green tartan once a year, that's your business, but don't just slap on any-old tartan and expect to be welcomed with open arms. Wear it because you're proud, not because that was the only color of plaid available at the Good Will that week. You non-Irish hangers-on from the Ren Faire circuit need to redirect your attention to the heritage-ambiguous UtiliKilt from now on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Arizona I: Some Thoughts on Spring Break

It seems somehow appropriate to me that this blog, which started back in 2008 with a couple of daft college students plotting the world's most epic Spring Break extravaganza, has come full-circle to my very last Spring Break post series. My darlingest Laura, the inspiration for that original road trip, is married and still hasn't been to any of the places we planned on visiting. It's not a complete tragedy, though; she and her best friend went on an amazing road trip through New England chronicled here. Anyway... I've graduated from Messiah, Ye Olde Moral Conundrum, despite doing my damnedest to get kicked to the curb. Even though I'm largely unemployed, I'm still sitting here planning my next traveling scheme -- it's good to know that some things never change. No spoilers, but it's going to be choice (even if it is a long time coming).

Spring Break 2010 falls especially close to my heart, because it was the first time my sister-from-another-mister, the indefatigable Chrissie, joined me on my sophomoric quest for the best "Never Have I Ever..." stories ever told. The fact that she went to meet a long-time pen-pal and enjoy an estrogen-fueled period of Bad Man Rehab and good music shall remain ignored; she went to spend time with me, dammit!

And let me tell you what, we had a hell of a time getting there. We both had different flight schedules on numerous airlines, I got delayed a whole day at departure, and the bastards bumped Chrissie several hours back returning to Harrisburg. In addition, I swore to my dying day that I would give Continental AirLines burning polemic herpes for being the worst all-around provider of domestic flights I've ever encountered. Go ahead, click that link. I dare you. I will never fly Continental to save $80 ever again. In a tangential bit of news, I have some pretty spectacular stories about this trip that both took place in the airport and had nothing to do with those C-word bastards; however, do to federal and international regulations, I'm going to have to insist that this particular bit of lunacy remain firmly planted in the oral tradition.

But enough about all of that. I'm feeling introspective and failing spectacularly make sense of my impending adult life. Time for a list!

5 Things that Haven't Changed Since 2008

5) David Bowie is still the most likely reason that I will one day end up living alone, divorced in England with two queens for friends and my cat Ziggy for company. What am I saying? David Bowie is the only reason for anything. Ever.

4) This is still hilarious. As a LHC side-note, I think I lost money betting that we'd turn ourselves into a black hole by now. No one tell Brice.

3) American women in college still dress like trashy Eskimos in the summer and wear those ridiculous 3/4 leggings in the winter.

2) I don't think I have any more answers to The Big Questions today than I did two years ago, and most of the answers I do have came verbatim out of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And, as in 2008, I'm still stunningly OK with that. Douglas Adams and I are tight.

1) My flip-flops. I'm still wearing the same pair of basic-black Maurice's flip-flops I wore to Kentucky on that first road trip. Far from the sheltered shower shoes of yesteryear, these babies have been with me over three continents and what feels like several lifetimes. They are the world's most cosmopolitan piece of closed-cell foam. Talk about getting some bang for your buck...

Update: one of my poor, poor flip flops is currently stranded somewhere in East Stroudsburg, PA. If you're in East Stroud, and you see a black flip-flop so trod-upon that the stratigraphic nature of its white-striped sole is bared to the world, pick it up and save it for me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

LARPing: The New Staycation?

For every reader familiar with the term "LARP," I really don't have to explain the kind of ludicrous shenanigans to which this article alludes. You may skip to paragraph three if you wish to keep reading. Now for the rest of you Nerd Nation drop-outs: LARP stands for Live-Action Role Playing. Ever heard of Dungeons and Dragons? How about World of Warcraft? Now imagine that people run around in the woods hitting each other with foam swords and bean-bag fire balls instead of dice and pencil shavings (or worse, carpal tunnel and "Leeroy Jenkins!") while acting out scenes like those weird Civil War guys.

It's the same basic principle as any RPG (that's role-playing game, for you tr00 n00bs), except magnified about ten-fold and given free-range to abuse NERF weapons. Think of it as improvised theater fused with fantasy writing. Here are the two key points that make a LARP's philosophy so different from other forms of entertainment: 1) You can act as any character you want (within reasonable -- Meta Tag: what's reasonable about a LARP? -- limits), and instead of basing your skill-set off of a piece of paper, you get to base your skill-set off a piece of paper and personal aptitude. 2) You can meet some truly fabulous, albeit completely insane, people face to face and turn a weekend camping trip into an unforgettable fantasy vacation.

And that's my angle on LARPs: they make a fantastic, affordable "staycation" that everyone will remember for years to come. If for no other reason than the economic imperative of remaining close to home, you proud souls still soldiering through this post should definitely LARP at least once before you die.

I've been fortunate enough to fall-in with a relatively small, close-knit group known as "Haven LARP." Based out of New Jersey, these guys host events year-round all over Central PA and South NJ. If this is your region and sounds like it might be your cuppa, check out their website and get in touch with them on their forum. They'll make sure you know what to expect going into your first event, and give you the most up-t0-date pricing information. Keep in mind: Haven LARP is a branch of the Boy Scouts of America, and they don't tolerate what I'm going to sum-up Eliza Bennet style as "ungentlemanly conduct." (Ladies, that include you too; don't get your ovaries in a twist.)

As of this post, the cost to register in Haven as a PC (playable character, you are in control of your own gaming experience) was $35, and NPCs (non-playable characters, the plot directors are in control of your gaming experience) cost $15. That covers shelter, major meals for the weekend, and the paperwork that goes into making Haven such an exciting game. Granted, there are some incidentals: you need to bring at least one set of black, weather-appropriate clothes. They'll loan you some fantasy garb to put on top of the basic black if it's your first time, but most people put a lot of effort into their costume. You should also invest in a set of boffers if you're planning to attend multiple events, but again -- they'll loan you some if you're new. Bottled water and snacks for the wee-hours are also a must, as LARPers tend to stay awake nearly round-the-clock to complete their missions. And, for the love of God, bring more socks, blankets, and hand warmers than an Alaskan trucker takes on a mid-winter haul. A happy Alaskan trucker.

Tl;Dr? Google LARPs in your area and gtfo my blog.

Now that we've got the boring parts out of the way, let me say one thing about LARPing: I hated my first event. Loathed it. I was cold, I didn't know enough about the gaming system to care about its continuity, and I was with a friend (another first-timer) who wouldn't get off her cell phone long enough to try anything interesting with me. I also thought the people I met were freakishly friendly, and we know I don't do well with... perky. Alas, my good friends and pro-LARPers, the Silvas, convinced me to give it a try under better barometric circumstances. I'm a glutton for punishment, so -- naturally -- I said yes.

As fate would have it, my next foray into the realm of Haven was at the same camp site as my first. I knew what to expect in terms of bedding (Alaskan truckers, people!), I knew the camp layout, and I had a pretty solid grasp of the game mechanics. Since it typically doesn't snow in the Poconos in mid-August, I had all of my bases covered with one plastic tote full of necessaries and a garment bag. And, in what I deem a stunningly ballsy move of universal kismet, I had a really good time!

One of the other things that makes Haven an especially fantastic LARP is the food. The kitchen is directed by a professional-LARPer-turned-professional-chef, and staffed entirely by volunteers (so be prepared to take a shift of dish-washing or onion chopping). They provide a really filling stew or rice dish on Friday night and a tasty brunch on Saturday morning, but the pièce de résistance comes on Saturday night: the Feast. Everyone comes together in the evening, fresh from battling Owl-Bears (don't ask), doing kitschy dances (definitely don't ask), and defending against the forces of Darkness to dig into what I can only describe as the gastronomical equivalent of a night out in The Green Dragon's hotter, older sister back from her second year of culinary school. The Feast alone is worth the registration fee.

So what are the low-points of LARPing? I'm here to tell you, the whole thing does take some getting used to. Expect angry eyes for "breaking character," a low tolerance for out-of-game remarks, and a penchant for boffer safety. The boffer safety is kind of a no-brainer, even if emotionally repressed Amazon Women like me do get a little carried away with the beat-down on occasion. So, yeah... don't seriously injure anyone. Pretty self-explanatory. Staying in character and / or "in-game" is a bit more of a challenge. I found it easier to maintain the continuity of Haven as a PC than as an NPC, but even then it takes a pretty high degree of jargon to navigate your way through the weekend. No worries, though. Someone will always be there to help new players above and beyond the basic orientation meeting, and it's all because they're so committed to providing a really compelling, safe gaming environment.

Focusing on the continuity of the role playing environment is probably the biggest key to having a successful first LARP. Right after the happy Alaskan trucker bit. I mean, if Rockstar Games started popping up Muppets in the middle of GTA, that would be 1) effing amazing for the 30 seconds it would take to text every other meat-head gamer in your phone and 2) a total buzz-kill 2 hours later as you mugged the fully-clothed and largely incoherent Swedish Chef instead of some poorly-rendered hooker. LARPs (and LARPers) without good RP standards are like Jim Henson's Grand Theft Auto; it's useful for a quick laugh, but more or less functionally retarded after that.

I find that this is a perfect moment for a bit of Douglas Adams rhetoric to anyone considering a LARP: don't panic. Everyone knows it's your first time. They'll always take the time to answer questions for you, and the exasperated sighs aren't personal. Really. I can't stress that enough.

So, members of the ever-growing Nerd Nation, families looking for a weekend away from the office, and perversely curious strags looking to cross-over into the Nation's ranks -- LARPing is the way to go. It's cheaper than a trip to New Zealand, and you can actually fight some goblins instead of walking around old Lord of the Rings sets and daydreaming about fighting goblins. It's even cheaper than normal camping, since you're splitting the cost of a campground with a group of like-minded individuals and don't need any expensive equipment. Now, it is NOT cheaper than a trip to the video rental store (or even a NetFlix subscription, but who really pays for movies anymore?). I'll admit defeat on that point, but you'll get a great workout and some fresh air all weekend instead of staying cooped up on the sofa with the blinds drawn.

And for anyone who just thought "why would I want to do that?" GO OUTSIDE AND TAKE A WALK RIGHT NOW.