I missed my chance to tag him as he ran across second base and I started chasing him to third. I realized that I’d never catch him so I stopped, reared back, and beaned him in the back with the ball as hard as I could. It caught him right between the shoulder blades and he went straight to the ground, face in the dirt. The coaches and other kids gasped, open-jawed, not believing what I had done.
I had much to learn about baseball. My only knowledge of the game was from playing kickball, so I didn’t really know all the rules on my first day of baseball practice. I thought you tagged people out by hitting them with the ball. I realized pretty quickly that I was not cut out to be a professional athlete.
That same day, I hit a short fly ball during batting practice (one of the rare times I ever connected with the ball) and took off towards third base. After that, all the coaches started talking to me really slowly, using only short words.
They parked me out in deep left field to minimize my impact on the team. I rotated in half the time with a ginger kid who cried every time he got to the plate. He would just stand there at the plate and weep, streaming tears down his sad freckled cheeks.
My job was to stand out in the back of the outfield and try not to mess up the team. If a ball got popped my way, the other fielders would run into my area and take care of it. That was fine by me. I was a bundle of nerves out there, I didn’t really know how the game was played, and I felt like I was a moment away from barfing at all times. I was often not even facing home plate, distracted by kids doing stuff on the playground nearby.
In batting practice, I’d wildly swing and whiff the ball. Each time I’d miss, I’d comedically spin all the way around backwards, sometimes falling down. Or I’d stand in the outfield and chew on the strings of my glove. Or I’d sit in the dugout and wait for Ginger Crybaby to come tag in again. These practices felt like they’d never end.
The big day came for our first game. We were the Yankees and I was randomly assigned #5. I squeezed a blue hat onto my enormous head and wore cleats for the first time. I woke up that day feeling ready to turn the corner on this whole baseball thing. I visualized connecting with the ball, snatching fly balls out of the air, sliding into bases. This would be my Day of Redemption. The coaches were going to notice me today, maybe even learn my name.
In my first at-bat, I stood on home plate and tapped each of my shoes with my bat. I didn’t know why, but I had seen the pros do it on TV and I thought it was a cool move. I gave the pitcher a confident little chin-up move, visually telling him “I’m ready, you better bring your A-game”.
Oh he brought it. Right at my thigh.
I’d find out later that he hit me so hard, the ball bounced almost all the way back to him. I tried to get up, couldn’t, and laid on home plate and cried. Two of the coaches dragged me to first base and reminded me in slow, short words that we’re not supposed to bring the bat around the bases with us.
While I sat on first base, crying, the next batter cracked the next ball right at me. It whizzed past my head, I freaked out, and I ran for the dugout to take cover. From then on, every time I was at bat, I’d flinch and close my eyes and wildly swing in the air like a piñata. It made for some good laughter from the crowd, but I was scared to death of that damn ball.
My baseball career ended after that brief and terrible season. But even though I never got very good at the bat, I did get really good at swinging at piñatas.
You may know a bit about me from the stories I’ve shared in these blogs. If you know me in real life, you’ll know that I’m also a storyteller in person. I’ll talk your head off.
The one person who hears my storytelling the most is my daughter Jules. She doesn’t seem to mind at all, and even seems to get into it. She follows along, and then likes to blurt out my punchlines or story endings. I’ll see her start to grin towards the end of the story, and right as I’m about to deliver the ending, she’ll stand up and interrupt “So then Daddy says, that’s not even my dog!” (followed by her wild kid laughter).
So lately, when I see her listening and starting to grin, I’ll just point at her to finish the story. She stands up and clears her throat…. “So then Daddy says, hey wait,at our house EVERY burger is a Sriracha burger! Hahahahahaha!” That sort of thing. A little storyteller in training.
Just because I enjoy sharing stories with people in real life doesn’t mean I’m very good at it. I end up retelling stories so often, I’ve forgotten which folks have heard them. I sometimes get the “Yes Jeff, I’ve heard this one 5 times. You tried to straddle the wheels around the possum in the road with Mike the Greek’s car and he jumped up at the last second and exploded.”
Or, friends will cut me off and go “Yeah, I read this one on the blog. Your dad ran into the burning trailer when he heard crying children, but they were just kittens.” I read that like 5 years ago.
Or even worse, they go “Dammit man, I was there too. I was literally standing right next to you and saw and heard all the same stuff.”
Some of my friends are brilliant storytellers, much better than I am. My best friend Dre is a master orator. He can really capture an audience, and his way of describing events makes you feel like you were there. But if you know him as well as I do, you sometimes have to quickly stifle a laugh when he gets to parts that you know didn’t happen, like when he casually (and brilliantly) peppers in subtle details like the time he went to truckdriving school.
To counter this, Dre refers to all of my stories as “Jeffsploitations.” As I get to the end of a tale, he’ll do some quick fact-sharing with the audience. “Hey everybody, there weren’t fifty goats in the road, I was there. There were like twelve of them. And none of them were wearing a sombrero.”
I was recently talking to a new group of friends, and when we got to the “so what do you do?” part of the discussion, I casually mentioned that I’m a cat chiropractor and then quickly changed the subject. So right now there’s a small group of people who (1) think that’s a real thing and (2) think I make my living that way. I changed my occupation on Facebook to reflect the same details. I imagine there’s some guy in a fancy office who runs your card for $85, and then takes Mittens into the back room to pet him while he watches Bob’s Burgers for an hour.
But here’s the thing – the joke was on me. I looked it up and cat chiropractors are a real thing. I need to update my cat chiropractor-focused resume and make this thing happen.
I’ve blogged about my friend Spaniel a couple times recently, here and here. Have you ever wondered if the people referenced in my blog ever seek revenge afterwards for making them look silly? The answer is yes. Here is..
The Revenge of Spaniel
Spaniel had just enjoyed a nice meal at a Vietnamese restaurant, paid for by his benevolent friend. As he removed his jacket from the chair, ready to leave the restaurant, he realized that there was also another jacket there, underneath his own. It was his friend Jeff’s jacket, which had been placed under his when they arrived earlier.
He pondered for a moment as he put his arms in his own coat, Should I tell him? Or should I just leave it here? He barely ever wears the thing, maybe I’d be doing him a favor. Or maybe there’s another person who doesn’t have a jacket that could benefit from it?
He thinks he‘s so clever with his blog… screw that guy.
He made his decision. Feeling resolute, he went on his way, pretending as if his friend’s valuable article of clothing wasn’t there at all.
As Spaniel left the restaurant, he was feeling pretty good. He had a full belly and had single-handedly kicked off a divergent version of the future, where Jeff no longer owned a nice coat. He pictured Jeff being cold as he walked across the parking lot in the blustery cold weather, perhaps shivering a little, and a small smile crossed his lips.
That’ll show him.
In the opening shot of the commercial, the camera pans from a sunrise through the window, across a room to a couple in bed at first light. The man sits up. He rubs his face, and his hand catches a large piece of eye junk.
He looks at it, and looks over at his sleeping mate. He rolls it in his fingers.
He’s definitely considering eating it.
Camera cuts to her, she appears to be sound asleep. Camera back to him. He looks around one more time, and feeling pretty safe, pops the eye crunchy into his mouth.
Camera cuts back to her – her eyes are still closed, but she says “Clarence, I want a divorce.”
Then bring up the big product “Boogaway” logo, and the long list of all the awesomely terrible side effects, including anal leakage, the meat sweats, and sensitivity of the nipples. In the background of the dialogue, she’s boxing up her things. Then a deep-voiced voiceover guy says “For gentle relief of overnight eye crunchies. Ask your doctor today about Boogaway. Before she leaves you.”
Then queue the music jingle: ”Boogawaaaaay! …. Don’t eat ‘em, defeat ‘em!”
Don’t Eat ‘em, Defeat ‘em!
If you’re like me, the season snuck up on you again. It hasn’t seemed like Christmastime because the stores have all been celebrating since September. We’re all like, “Look, the Savior is Born!” and the shepherds are like, “You’re late to the party, Holmes, we started way early. Jesus already has a mustache.”
If you’re scrambling to finish decorations, dinner plans, and finishing your shopping, here are some:
Lazy Tips and Tricks to Make it Through the Season
If you’re a procrastinator, Amazon Prime is your friend. If you do the free trial upgrade, you can get most of your stuff sent to your house within a couple days. Set yourself a reminder right afterwards to call and cancel the free trial, or go ahead and keep that meter running.
If you have kids and are a slave to fads like I am, then a tiny magical Elf visits your house and does mischief, makes messes, leaves notes, and other “magical” crap like sitting on a shelf. You are required by law to move the Elf each night, lest you spoil the whole thing and your kids end up being the weirdos at the mall food court wearing black lipstick and debating screamo cover bands and sharing terrible poetry.
The premise is that the kid isn’t allowed to touch the Elf, so the Elf doesn’t lose her powers and remain immobile for a day. But that’s not a good deterrent, because the Elf is basically there as a Santa informant. If I were the kid I’d be waving that sucker around. “Oh you can’t report my activities to Santa again? Oh too bad Elf.”
It is a really good idea to set an alarm to remind you to move the elf. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a mid-morning hurry and put it somewhere new, right as your kid is waking up. In a panic one time, I just grabbed it out of the kitchen and threw it in a jar as I ran across the living room, then let her float in the turtle tank.
The Panic Meal
By this point in the year, everybody is probably sick of the same mixture of tryptophan and carbs and gravy. If you pick up Chinese, no one will be upset. Especially if you pass out bottles of Sriracha as party favors.
The Panic Present
My Mema used to (and maybe still does) keep a stack of extra gifts in her closet, so that if anyone was forgotten or a random family member showed up unexpectedly with an extra person, the gift situation was under control. This is huge foresight on her part, but I’m not nearly that organized. I’m more of a frantic-shopper, and my closet is a wreck. This weekend I found a pocket knife that I meant to give to my brother in law last year.
I’ve shown up at a family event before (more than once) and totally spaced on one person’s gift. Panic moment. If this happens to you, do this: Take something out of that person’s house, wrap it, and then give it to them. The reactions range from “Oh no, I already have a decorative clock that is exactly like this” to “Hey, these are my keys. I’ve been looking for them for an hour,” to “We need to stop having Jeff over.”
I did this one time to my stepmom, and gifted her a lion-print couch pillow that she had actually made. To take it up a notch, later I wrapped it a second time addressed to myself, and then took it home with me.
My first payroll job was at Bolter’s Barbecue by the Northeast Mall. (Name changed to an obvious fake name). I was the order-entry guy at the front of the line and made the baked potatoes. Not a glamorous job, but it beat doing trim work with my uncles for new houses under construction. The houses under construction were incredibly hot in the Texas summers because they didn’t install AC units yet. And there weren’t toilets either, so other construction guys would crap in random bags and boxes. So the houses smelled like hot poop, and I found myself excited to be making baked potatoes in the air conditioning at Bolter’s Barbecue instead.
I learned a few things during my Bolter’s days… some life lessons from my time spent making baked potatoes.
The lines of customers after church on Sundays were legendary back in Bolter’s heyday. They’d wrap around the whole restaurant, out the front door, and through the parking lot. People would stand there and hear the Beach Boys “Kokomo” play several times before they’d get to the front of the line. (I used to spend a portion of my meager income to pump the jukebox full of Kokomo when I got there each morning because the Beach Boys were the only non-country band in there.)
Note: After having done the Kokomo thing, years later I would find John Mulaney’s ‘Salt and Pepper Diner’ the funniest thing I’d ever seen in stand-up comedy. Go check it out.
Being relatively new to company policies of any kind, I was all about pleasing the customer. I’d bust open that baked potato and try to make it actually look like the picture. Early one day, a redneck couple made it through the line with a billion kids (who I distinctly remember licking the glass to the little side-room where they pull the meat out of the pits.) The guy asked for a “Chopped Baker”, which is a loaded baked potato with chopped brisket on it, and I started loading it up with beautiful spherical globs of butter and sour cream.
He leaned over and whispered, “Psst… Hey man, fill that bitch up.” And I was like, “Oh hell yes.”
So I started scooping enormous amounts of every ingredient, making this enormous beautiful assortment of colors that was bigger than his head, and topped the thing with a whole pound of bacon bits.
I was pretty proud of my little creation, and so was the next person in line. She wanted the same. And so did the next person, and the next. Soon enough, I had the whole cafeteria line piled up with mile-high taters. Our general manager (and family friend) John saw the potatoes and he blew a fuse. He was notorious for being very – let’s say “frugal” or one of its more-hilarious synonyms – was not pleased to see his geeky 16-year old Baked Potato Guy single-handedly ruin his food costs for the month.
John sprinted towards me to give me a chewing, and showed me what 2 ounces of sour cream is supposed to look like. But it was already too late. Every customer behind the last guy was already eyehumping the potatoes in front of them and they wanted the same thing. John opened up the warmer drawer and goes, oops, these don’t look good, and angrily whispered to me that we were unfortunately all out of baked potatoes for the day. Instead of lying to all these nice church folks, I just told them “Psst…. Trust me, don’t get the baked potato,” and left it at that.
Don’t be quick to react
The guys who worked the butcher block were masterful meat cutters. They’d take those long, sword-like, razor sharp blades and slice away at that meat in a blur of sweet knife skills. Some were missing fingers for obvious reasons.
My dad was the General Manager at this same site a few years prior, and one time he bumped a knife off of the butcher block. He reacted quickly to try to grab it before it hit the ground, and the knife did its job perfectly, smoothly cutting right through all the meat that holds your thumb on. Surgeons were able to reattach everything, but his scars were a grim reminder that sometimes you should go ahead and just let that knife hit the ground. You can take this lesson out of the restaurant and apply it in broader strokes through life as well. Let that knife hit the ground.
Note: This life lesson does not apply to babies. Go ahead and try to grab any free-falling baby that you see.
Know your boundaries
Every once in a while, I’d be at the other end of the line working the cashier line, and I’d try to be a good face for the business and chat up each customer a little before they took off with their tray. Our other manager Derek was especially eager to do the same if the customer happened to be gorgeous, and he’d hover over me and interrupt me to talk their heads off.
One day, an especially-noticeable female came through the line with a fat stack of ones and started paying for her family. Like 40 bucks in ones. Just making conversation, I said “Whoa that’s a lot of ones, are you a dancer?” and Derek whacked me on the back of the head so hard, it knocked all the ones out of my hand and all over the countertop. Apparently that’s an offensive thing to ask people. Lesson learned.
Outshine or be outshined
Do you know who likes magicians? Nobody. Unless you’re a magician. (The same rule applies to clowns, by the way.) On our busy nights, they’d have a creepy magic guy or a balloon guy go around table-to-table and do random crap and beg for tips. Eventually Creepy McCreeperson found a better magician job or something, and Bolter’s needed another host, so I offered my best friend Phil up for the job.
Right there on his first shift, Phil just knocked everyone’s socks off. He’d get a pitcher of tea for refills and literally run across the restaurant to take it to a thirsty patron. Then he’d literally run across the restaurant for a cornbread refill, and then literally run across the restaurant to bring someone another side of cherry peppers from the condiment island. He ran all over the restaurant.
Sure enough, that jerk got Employee of the Month on his first month there. What the hell, Phil?! (I never made Employee of the Month, by the way, in almost 2 years of employment… even when I got pneumonia from standing out in the freezing rain barefooted on Halloween dressed like Fred Flintstone, changing the marquee board. That was another life lesson learned.)
Phil and I are still best friends to this day. One day I’ll casually nudge him into the Grand Canyon and yell after him “Looks like you’re not Employee of the Month now, bitch!” while he makes the Ya-hoo-hoo sound that Goofy makes when he falls great distances.
Somebody’s always watching
I’m not sure how it came to be that the whole staff was watching the video surveillance of the kitchen area one morning as I arrived, but I picture this scenario (names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty):
“Damon, you’ve been late three times this week, these countertops are a mess, and you didn’t prep enough rolls. I’m going to need you to try harder. Why can’t you be more like Joseph here?”
“Joseph pees in the beans.”
Sure enough, the video doesn’t lie. In the grainy black-and-white footage, you could see Joseph open up his fly about 4 feet away from the handwashing station, arc it into the sink, let Little Joe dangle as he casually walked over to the stove, and then give it a thorough shaking-off into the beans. True story.
(In a funnier, fictitious version, it would be hilarious if everybody in the restaurant office was each eating a bowl of beans while they watched the video, and then all comically drop their spoons at the same time.)
Two life lessons here: 1. Remember that someone is always watching. 2. Don’t pee in the beans.
James and I were preparing for the birthday shindig earlier this month, making sure we had plenty of trashcan punch to keep our friends a bit saucy and enough tasty treats for everyone. I reminded him that some of the attendees, including my sister, brother-in-law, and other friends, are vegetarians. He said “Oh yeah. Let’s chop up some vegetables for them.”
The vegetarians in the audience are surely familiar with this type of “accommodation.” Your life choices are represented at random events with a pile of grapes or a little bowl of black olives. Or you get handed a bowl of an uninspired, 2-ingredient salad that took thirty seconds to throw together, while everyone tears into large hunks of barbecued meat that mercilessly still look like the original animal.
I told James “No way, man. We have to make something good. We’re not going to leave a little pile of celery out for them to nibble on, like they’re a litter of bunnies that we found under the back porch. “
So we made a delicious dip from soy chorizo, salsa, and vegetarian refried beans, along with a spicy cheese dip and a mountain of cheese pizza rolls. Nailed it.
I’m always fascinated by the motivations of the inspired vegetarian. The reasons seem to be varied from person to person, usually some mix of compassion for the animals who take a boltgun in the forehead to give us that Big Mac, or religious beliefs, or for the health benefits, or simply because they don’t like chewing on something that closely resembles their own thigh.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a vegetarian accommodater, but I’m also a meat eater. I support anyone’s choice on what they want to stick in their mouth, but I also have a love affair with beef jerky, smoked meats, and big fat juicy steaks. If I were hungry enough, I’d hit a beaver in the forehead with an arrow just to see what he tastes like on the grill, wrapped in bacon, brushed with a little-based soy marinade and maybe some caramelized onions.
The compassion-based vegetarians make the most sense to me. I can see their point – that they don’t want to support this industry of raising critters in tiny pens, in horrible conditions, pumping them full of hormones, just to slaughter them in some tremendously terrible way. I think if more of us were required to visit these farms and slaughterhouses, that we’d see bean burrito, quinoa, and tofu product sales go through the roof.
I notice that we mostly eat the ugly animals. The otter, with his little human hands and adorable whiskery face, is permanently exempt from the dinner plate based on cuteness alone. But what if they happen to taste amazing? You might be super conflicted if Otter Fajitas were the best thing ever. Or Koala Bear Dumplings.
The one exception to this is the deer. That seems to be the one super-adorable critter that we’ll go ahead and eat. After watching Bambi as a kid, I was super Pro-Baby Deer and did not root for the Hunter. But then when I had my first taste of venison stew, I guess my priorities shifted over to deliciousness over compassion. I may revisit Bambi again and see if it pulls me back to the Pro-Baby Deer side of things.
I’m conflicted. And all this talk about food is making me hungry.
I’m a shameless enthusiast of the food truck park. If you ever go to one of these with me, be warned in advance that I might leave the car running in the street, make joyous sounds like SQUEEEE!, and run in like a kid who can’t wait to see what Santa brought this year.
At the food truck parks, they rotate the different-themed trucks through each week, so every experience is different. I skip around to the see the assortment of delicious offerings, make several orders at various trucks to try everything, and then fidget and pace around impatiently waiting for my new culinary treats like I’m doing the peepee dance.
The food truck concept has evolved dramatically since I was a kid. When I used to work on construction sites as a teen, food trucks were basically a motorized hot dog cart, buzzing with flies and doling out substandard chili dogs and bags of chips. But now they seem to have taken on a new life. They have unique branding, cool themes, serving up fearless versions of chipotle this and gouda that and bacon-encrusted deliciousness, with your choice of spicy sauces. The food truck park is the new foreground for culinary adventure.
I’ve been doing some thinking about why the concept has become so popular. Compared to restaurants, food trucks are relatively cheap to start up, their portability ensures that they can move around to the most populated areas, and they can change their menu overnight in response to customer demand. From my biology background, I recognize this model of rapid adaptation and prolific growth. This is a similar model responsible for the success of bacteria.
I’m sure that bacteria are the last thing that a food truck owner would want to be associated with. I can picture the truck’s owner out there and reading this waving around their tongs in defiance. Curse you Jeff Young! You are going to hurt the sales of my custom crafted Asian-inspired gyros!
But hear me out. Like bacteria, the food truck business is agile. It’s adaptive. You can change the menu or locale in a single day. If your pecan-encrusted fish tacos with jalapeno -tahini sauce and cucumber relish aren’t selling one weekend, you can erase it off the chalkboard and try a new asiago steak sandwich with caramelized onions. After enough time spent fine-tuning your culinary craftsmanship, what comes to life are a set of menu items that knock the socks off most entrees listed on a restaurant’s dusty old menus. The food truck evolves quickly to the demands of the environment.
By design, a brick-and-mortar restaurant has to park their business in one area. If a construction project suddenly pops up in their front yard and shuts down the next four exits in either direction, they might have to close up shop. And restaurant regulars become a large percentage of sales, so it becomes hard to change an established menu. (When I used to wait tables at the Black-eyed Pea, we would actually have customers that complained that the food was served too hot. Sorry grandma, blow on it.) Even the best cooks are required to make the same stuff night after night, with no opportunity for exploration. On top of all the barriers to make changes, the overhead is high – when you buy that $7.99 chimichanga plate, a portion of that also has to go towards supplying their restroom with toilet paper. Ironic.
I can’t think of a better model for creating amazing concoctions of foodie joy. If the food trucks decide to start driving around neighborhoods like the ice cream man, bringing their tasty creations to my front yard, I’m fairly certain I would weigh 700 lbs. Maybe I’ll buy one.
Are you about to pull a couple dozen people away from doing real work to have a chaotic group telephone conversation that could easily be replaced with a couple emails? Well you’re in luck – I have organized a How to Guide for:
How To Host the Worst Teleconference Ever
1. Set the meeting time for at least an hour, even if the discussion only requires ten minutes. Let’s set a precedent right up front that we’re gonna fill that whole hour with something or another, even if people are busy. For extra Irony Points, start off the meeting by complaining that people are too busy with all these damn meetings to finish their action items.
2. As a display of dominance, it’s ideal for the host be fashionably late. This will let all the attendees listen to a few minutes of classical or jazzy Muzak hold music until the host arrives. The music will get their minds right and soften the blow of your upcoming terrible event.
3. If I know anything about a party, I say “More the Merrier.” Invite every person whose name you can remember to your call, but single out one person for a conversation. While the group listens into your conversation, try to calculate how much salary/minute you’re actively wasting while everyone watches you have a discussion that should have been a 1-on-1 call.
4. People like surprises, so don’t give any agenda in advance, and let the conversation stray into random topics. Let the meeting take musical and organic twists and turns, like freeform jazz. Let the meeting ninjas go crazy and hijack your timeslot to talk about something else. While people skiddlybop and doobopshebop into random subjects, encourage their behavior with followup questions that have nothing to do with the subject line of the meeting invite. If someone says “Hey wait. Which meeting are we in?” then you win.
(Side note: For more meeting surprises, you can also organize meeting overlap by accidentally sending out someone else’s conference code, and end up with two simultaneous meetings on the same call.)
5. Instead of hosting the meeting from a meeting room, be adventurous! People enjoy trying to deduce where you’re located based on audible clues, like the ambiance of echoes from your bathroom, random car noises, and barking dogs. Random noises can spice up any meeting. For extra points, yell out your order to the Starbucks barista without using mute. “No, not extra foam! I said no foam! No… foam… It makes me farty!”
For some extra audio quality, you can also get some amazing noises into the group line if you try to use a computer without a microphone. The feedback screeches and echo loops are memorable and exciting. If a real phone is your only option, use the speakerphone function so it sounds like you’re yelling at everyone from down the hall, around the corner, through a waterfall two blocks away.
6. If you must mute, be sure to have some really funky/groovy hold music going. People like a musical intermission (as previously explained, it gets their minds right.) For extra points, come back and announce that you’ve been talking to the group for the last 5 minutes, but were on mute the whole time.
7. Instead of capturing the meeting’s discussion in notes or a followup email, just let that conversation drift into the winds of varying recollections of different memories. Nobody wants to have their action items publicized – c’mon man, don’t be a square. This will leave the opportunity to repeat the entire meeting over at some point in the future, and give a chance for all attendees to reexperience your terrible hosting experience all over again!
This is a followup blog to http://buffman.net/blog/?p=801
1) I was introduced to the world as “Augustus Leon.” Cooler heads prevailed and they named me Jeff after realizing the coincidence that the delivery doctor Jeffery Rhodes and their dog shared the same name.
2) When my mom went into labor, it was a little past 4 in the morning and my dad tried to convince her to go back to sleep. It’s a good thing she didn’t, because I was born less than 30 minutes later.
3) I was born in Hurst, Texas, in a hospital on Airport Freeway that is now a retirement center.
4) The day I was born was the only day I’ve ever been the admitted patient in any hospital.
5) I was born almost nine months to the day after my parents were married. She was 17 and he was 18.
6) My dad listed “Makes Ice Cream” as his occupation on my birth certificate, just to be funny. (Thirty years later, on my daughter’s birth certificate, I continued the tradition and wrote “Makes Tasty Salsa.”)
7) I was brought home from the hospital in a yellow laundry basket. I was 8 lbs, 3 oz and had a huge head – which remained bald as a beet for 3 years.
8) I share a birthday with the current U.S. President, Jeff Gordon, and Billy Bob Thornton.
9) Most of my pets over the years have been shelter rescues or just ended up at my place one way or another. Because of this, as a tradition I celebrate their birthdays on mine.
10) I’m not a big fan of desserts. Whenever someone asks what kind of cake I want for my birthday, my standard answer is “nachos.”
In the decorum of the professional workplace, there aren’t many rooms where you congregate with your colleagues to pull your pants down together. That’s why bathroom etiquette is so important.
Oh, I’ve seen my share of violations. Here are a few characters you might meet in the men’s room.
This guy hangs out on the crapper for hours on end. Maybe he’s playing on his phone, maybe he’s asleep, maybe he’s doing something vile. Either way, you know he can’t be unloading processed food that whole time. If you see someone’s bathroom time exceed one hour, it’s perfectly acceptable to turn off the lights on your way out.
The Early Worm
This guy is so focused on his upcoming urinal activities that he starts getting his hog out of the barn uncomfortably early. The allowable radius to start whipping it out is 3 feet from the urinal -– this rule is in place because if you’re doing the unzipping any farther away, there’s a good chance you’re waving it around before you get to the stall. Some older guy where I used to work would start their unzip clear down the hallway.
Look Ma, No Hands
Just because you’re capable of positioning everything to allow you to put your hands on your hips and go hands-free doesn’t mean you should. You make the rest of us nervous, worried that you’re going to cough or otherwise get distracted and have your pee arc over onto our leg. It’s not like you need both hands available for something else – go ahead and keep a grip on the task at hand.
I first saw this Disneyworld in Orlando – Apparently, people from other countries pull down their pants all the way at the urinal, exposing their butts to the rest of the bathroom. I thought it was one of those funny things that foreign people do, like drive 45 mph in the fast lane, but then I recently had a colleague who did this at work. We all saw his bare butt, once or twice a day.
The Social Butterfly
This guy has no boundaries. He’ll follow you into the restroom talking your ear off, never miss a beat, and engage bathroom activities while he’s talking. He’s completely unaware that we’re having a work discussion while we’re both holding our wieners. My colleague wandered into the bathroom while I was in midstream, rambled on about some work topic, ending with“…. What do you think about that?” So I answered “I prefer not to talk to other dudes while I’m holding my junk, that’s what I think.” Some violators of this category are so clueless that they’ll casually throw an elbow up onto the urinal separator or, God forbid, lean their head over for a peek at your bits. Have you no shame, sir?
This guy lives in his own little world. He seems like he doesn’t realize that he’s in a bathroom with other people because he’s eating a sandwich, singing a song, or talking on his phone “NO MOM, IT’S NOT LIKE I DON’T LIKE YOUR SPAGHETTI, I’M JUST SAYING WE IT’LL MAKE ME FARTY AT THE WEDDING.” Then he’ll drift out of the restroom without washing his hands and turn off the lights while you’re still in there.
A visiting contractor recently walked into our men’s room – but only halfway through the door – and stood there yapping to the guy he had with him. As I looked over my shoulder, I saw a female coworker make eye contact as she walked up the adjacent hallway. So awkward.
Which brings us to…
I spent a long time trying to figure out who our Phantom was. Whoever it was, he used the second urinal every day in the late afternoon, then and left without flushing. Work activities kept me from giving it a proper stakeout, but I do have an office relatively close by and I tried to keep an eye on who it might be. But day after day, I’d fail to identify the Phantom. He was like a ghost, a rude one, peeing in Urinal #2 and then vanishing into thin air.
Perplexed by the mystery, I tried to get into the head of this person. Why did he use Urinal #2? Perhaps because it is the closest one other than the child-height Urinal. Why do the same thing every afternoon? I bet he was one of those who drinks the big water bottles all afternoon. Why such disregard for etiquette? Either he was a sociopath, or a germophobe who didn’t want to touch the handles, or clueless, or some combination…..
Khuu, khuu, khuu….
I had to get into the Phantom’s mind. I waited until 3 pm, went into the restroom, Urinal #2. Did my business, flushed, and thought about what might compel me to do this everyday, and walk out of there without flushing. I pondered these thoughts as I washed my hands, and then…
There was no Phantom. The flow rate on Urinal #2 just sucks. It stays yellow unless you flush it three times. Mystery solved, nailed it.
My friend Spaniel is a “numismatist,” which means he studies cartoon penguins.
No I’m just kidding, of course. A numismatist collects coins as a hobby. If you win a prize on Jeopardy for that bit of knowledge, please send seven mint condition 1972 American Eagle silver dollars with certified appraisals to me, I will give them to him, and he will be very excited if those are a real thing because I just made them up.
In the realm of exciting hobbies, collecting coins is probably on the low end, perhaps just barely north of stamp collecting or classifying bread molds. On the other end of the spectrum are extreme sports enthusiasts, snake and crocodile handlers, and those with bizarre and dangerous fetishes. In general, if your husband says he’s taking on a new hobby, you hope it’s something like collecting coins and not doing some crazy “performance art” where he juggles chainsaws naked wearing rollerskates.
I became aware of Spaniel’s passion for shiny round metal things when he stopped into my office this week and said “Hey, tell me if I got wronged here on this,” and told me the story of his recent visit to a coin shop. He had gone to a new shop to sell some coins, had seller’s remorse, then asked to buy them back. They reluctantly agreed, and he went back to the shop to retrieve his regrettable sales.
A woman came into the shop with a suitcase full of expensive coins, having recently inherited it and eager to cash out some other numismatist’s life’s work for a few bucks. Spaniel, being the knowledgeable collector that he is, realized that she was unloading thousands of dollars of rare collectibles for a fraction of their real value. He started chatting her up, the store clerk got wind of it, and walked him out of the store. The guy chewed him out and basically kicked him out of the store for soliciting.
So back to Spaniel’s question, “Hey, tell me if I got wronged here on this,” that would be a no. He did not get wronged. What he did was the equivalent of setting up a little burrito stand in one of the booths at Taco Bell and encouraged would-be customers to buy burritos for 50 cents from him instead.
“Psst, come here. Buy these burritos instead. Those other guys pee in the beans.”
It’s especially funny when you consider that my poaching friend wasn’t even a regular at this place. His only purchase history with them was his reversed transaction refund he requested because he changed his mind. I think if this was any other buy-and-sell venue, like a pawn shop or at a gun show, there’s a reasonable possibility that he would have been thrown out onto the sidewalk on his rear like in the movies, while someone yelled “…and stay out!”
By the way, if you ever do see a numismatist get knocked unconscious on a sidewalk out front of a coin store for soliciting other customers inside, be sure to go through his pockets. You might find a rare reverse print commemorative 1982 titanium quarter, the limited edition with a Star Wars Stormtrooper in the background.
We all have our quirks. Here are a few of mine.
The event: Backing into a parking space
What it means when other people do it: There’s a high likelihood that the person is pretentiously showing off his vehicle, especially if it’s a sweet ride. If he cocks his wheels to the side, there’s an 88% chance that he’s a d-bag. The other 12% are those who were either lucky enough to pull through from the space behind it or those who strategically park their vehicle for a post-heist getaway.
What it means when I do it: Nothing special at all. The front end of my car is so low that it would hit any curb. My ability to estimate distances is pretty awful – So when I do try to go in front-first, I’ll get out of the car thinking that I came within a foot of the curb, but it’s still a whole car length away. Why can’t I estimate distances?!? I have to back in because of the combined limitations of my vehicle and my brain.
The event: Sneezing (once)
What it means when other people do it: Nothing special, many people sneeze only once. Some people hold their nose and make a crazy muted “KAK-Koop!” sound, which always makes me feel uncomfortable because I imagine the pain of boogery pressure getting shot up into my sinuses. I also know a woman who suffers from the condition known as Man Sneeze, which is very unfortunate.
What it means when I do it: If I sneeze just once and can’t get a second one out, I’m in a weird hazy place for at least an hour. I’m stuck in Half Sneeze Mode, can’t operate any heavy machinery, and shouldn’t be trusted to handle any sharp objects.
The event: Shaking hands
What it means when other people do it: I think for most people, it’s considered a formal gesture for specific situations. It’s our culture’s way of saying “Hi there, this occasion requires that we shake hands, so let’s hold a firm grip for two shakes and then disengage.”
What it means when I do it: I shake everybody’s hand just because I like doing it. It’s my way of saying “I need to touch you. Because I’m touchy.” I would hug everyone if I could get away with it.
The event: Shaking a leg or foot
What it means when other people do it: Some people shake a leg or a foot from time to time as a nervous tic. Whether it’s bouncing a knee or rocking a foot wildly back and forth, it’s like one specific part of their body is having a seizure.
What it means when I do it: I do this all the time whether I’m nervous or not. There is usually some part of me in motion when I’m awake. If I do it just right and I have some part of my leg propped up next to a table in the conference room, it will shake the whole table and disrupt the meeting. “Are we having an earthquake, or is that Jeff’s happyfeet?” I don’t even realize what I’m doing until someone suddenly grabs my leg and says “OH MY GOD YOU’RE DRIVING ME INSANE, STOP IT OR I WILL CHOKE YOU SENSELESS.”
The event: Failure to use a blinker while changing lanes
What it means when other people do it: Unfortunately, this is very commonplace these days, and it probably doesn’t mean anything at all for the average driver. The driver is probably busy flipping through Facebook or Twitter, and she may not even be aware that her vehicle is moving into a different lane right in front of you.
What it means when I do it: I’ve decided that I hate you. As a person who is sensitive to the use of blinkers, any failure to blink on my part is very intentional. If you see me change lanes in front of you without signaling, that is the equivalent of me somehow hanging both hands out of the driver’s side window at the same time to give you the Double Bird while I scream obscenities like a crazyperson.
This is the time of year to assess where we are and decide what our next year holds in store for us. As an annual tradition, I take a good hard look at myself, decide that I am still pretty great, and then write New Year’s Resolutions for everyone else. Here are my
2014 New Year’s Resolutions, But Not For Me
1. There will be a maximum quota of no more than one fist-bump explosion in 2014. They have been overused and are now out of service. On the second one, your hand actually explodes.
2. I resolve that in 2014, no one is allowed to say “For reals” anymore. I have my reasons.
3. Garage sale owners will be required to hold back some of their best loot until after 10 am. It is not fair to those of us who want to sleep in on Saturdays.
4. Not only will the Huy Fong Sriracha plant in California reopen immediately, every state will be required to open a Sriracha factory.
5. In addition to the metric system and the standard system for measuring things, we will be introducing a new third system called the Jeff System. You use normal distance measurements, but exaggerate them all greatly. “Oh man, that took forever. The store was a million miles away.”
6. Weather reporters can stop standing out in hurricanes and snowstorms to do their broadcasts. I can’t tell what they’re saying because the wind is hitting the microphone, and I don’t need to see them in the big poofy blue jackets, struggling…struggling…..
7. People, please make a decision on cats. You hate cats, then out of nowhere love cats fanatically. I’m going to need some consistency.
8. Somehow my turtle craps like 4 times more than he eats. This is defying nature and freaks me out. C’mon DonatelloViggoMortenson, let’s tone it down a bit.
9. Miley Cyrus, you can stop being publicly slutty. We get it, you’re not Hannah Montana now. Your little media stunt is now boring, and everybody is tired of seeing your twerpy little body. Mission accomplished.
10. For some reason many football games and other events show the same four commercials over and over and over. All televisions will start including an automatic sensor that senses commercial redundancy and replacing them with random videos of tiny bobbly-head kittens taking their first steps.
Diva Wife is shopping for a “Lovesac,” a giant couch-sized beanbag furniture thing to replace one of the couches that her cats has shredded into something that resembles fabric coleslaw. We found one on Craigslist that is trying for a price that is much too high. Here is their reply, and then mine back.
Thanks for your offer. Unfortunately, $300 is significantly less than I would be willing to accept. This item costs $1050 + tax new and is only nine months old with very little use (most people selling Lovesacs have had them for years). I believe a 25% price reduction to account for the fact that it is a used item is reasonable. That means I would need your offer to be about $800. If you’re interested at that price level let me know. If not, I do appreciate your interest. Thanks again.
From: Jeff Young
Dear beanbag seller,
Thank you for your well-written reply. It is rare to communicate with people in the land of Craigslist who have mastered subject-verb agreement. Most sellers offer the written equivalent of a chimpanzee while he’s shrieking and throwing poo.
In the verbal mastery area of the world, you are doing very well. However, I fear that too much intelligence in your little skull is devoted to such areas, and not the appraisal of objects. For example, your initial purchase of an $1100 beanbag is noteworthy. You make a good point that most people reselling Lovesacs have had them for a few years. I can only assume that you either had a thousand bucks laying around from a tax return or went on a manic bender of Red Bull, vodka, and Skittles and bought this thing impulsively. The Buyer’s Remorse that you’re experiencing supersedes your better judgment and influences your appraisal skills to try to recover close to the original sale price. If you ever stumble across a time machine, here is a better idea: Don’t spend $1,100, buy one on Craigslist for $300. Because that’s the going rate for great big beanbags. Nobody sells them for $800. That’s why this hasn’t sold for a month.
When you buy a new car off the lot, it depreciates quickly because people like that new car smell and want to enjoy a brief period of time with no dings from getting rammed by grocery carts outside Albertson’s.
But this isn’t a car, it’s a big fabric bag of foam pieces that has been collecting farts for the last 9 months. You might think that you’ve kept it in new condition, but people often have skewed biases about things that are theirs. For example, everyone thinks their kids are beautiful, but some of them do look like little weasels. They parade their little weasels around in cute matching outfits for Christmas cards, but everybody is thinking the same thing.
When you’re ready to come around and sell this for its current Craigslist market value, please let me know. Think of the children.
(They haven’t replied yet, but I will update this post if they do.)
Step 1: Obtain some soup. Any soup will do.
Step 2: Squirt some Sriracha all up in there. Go nuts.
Step 3: Stir it up and eat that spicy awesomeness you have just created.
Feel free to share this recipe with others!
Go visit the Oatmeal!
Many of you out there in the corporate world are familiar with the part of your day where all work stops, the day comes to a screeching halt, and a group of people decide to sit at a table and talk. There is nothing like this in nature. You’ll never see a group of lions or ducks where one of them says “Hey I have a great idea. Instead of finding food and defending ourselves, let’s sit in a circle for an hour and talk about stuff. Afterwards we could send out meeting notes that we’ll never read again.”
If these disruptions of productivity aren’t already the least valuable thing you can collectively do, some people take them a step further with major fouls. I present to you:
The Top Ten Meeting Fouls
(Note: I have witnessed or committed each of these.)
The False Start
This occurs when a critical meeting attendee isn’t there on time. After a long period of waiting the meeting eventually starts, but the person finally appears, requiring everything discussed so far to be repeated. It makes you want to climb over the table and choke them, but it’s usually somebody of relative importance. Your best bet is to just mentally choke them.
The Watering Hole
People who need signatures on documents or need to find department heads can sometimes be found circling around the entrance to a meeting – the same way hungry hyenas will scout watering holes looking for zebras to eat. If these offenders delay the start of your meeting, it is perfectly acceptable to shoo them off with a stick.
The first opportunity you get to obtain information that isn’t available in the room, you volunteer to get it and bolt out of the room. “Oh, I have that data on my desk! I’ll go get it.” You don’t look back under any circumstance. Even when it seems as though you’ve broken the tractor-beam and gotten free, don’t yell WoobWoobWoob! like Curly Stooge. That’s a rookie mistake right there. The conversation will inevitably change to other topics and you will be long forgotten. If asked later about your disappearance, this reply works: “Well you probably don’t want to hear specifics, but let’s just say chili wasn’t a good breakfast choice.”
This person has too much on their plate. They come into the meeting armed with two laptops, piles of other work to do, eating a three course lunch, paying some bills from home, clipping their toenails, maybe even whipping out some crocheting while everyone else is participating. A sure sign that your meeting was not in their top ten priorities is that when the meeting is over, they are so busy continuing their other activities that they don’t even notice everyone else leaving.
A meeting takes place but no handouts are presented and no notes are taken. Weeks later, nobody can remember any decisions that were made, or who was there exactly. There’s only carry a vague reckoning that the meeting took place at all. When all is said and done, the participants would have been more productive replacing light bulbs.
This is where someone attends the meeting, doesn’t say a word, doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t share an opinion or take an action item, and then leaves in silence. They were basically there to keep a chair warm with their buttocks.
The Class Clown
Meetings have different purposes, but this character sees your meeting as a stage for performing comedy bits. I once scooted slowly next to the person on my right for a whole hour, trying to see how far I could make him subconsciously move over in small little segments without getting noticed. I managed to move him six feet, all the way around the far round end of the table. I pointed it out, and at the next meeting we were in he tried to climb over into my chair with me.
Many times a topic emerges that captures the full attention of two meeting participants, but not the whole group. Rather than bog down everyone else, they are usually invited to take that topic to a later time – this is called a Breakout Meeting. However, in some cases the two offenders get so excited about their topic that they’ll derail the whole meeting and do their private meeting right there in front of everyone. That’s a Break-in. The appropriate response to this is “Hey lovebirds, you two get a room.”
Sometimes it’s necessary for a meeting participant to check his or her phone for a quick message or work email. However, if taken to the extreme, some meeting participants occasionally completely detached from their meeting, enthralled with whatever is going on in their little device (streaming videos, playing interactive games, laughing out loud, taking selfies, or texting funny pictures to other meeting participants). The best way to tackle this is to redirect the whole group to hear that person’s thought on the topic of discussion, and then watch them squirm to pretend like they were paying attention.
This is where someone needs some group attention for a topic, but don’t want to call their own meeting, so they sneak intoyour meeting and use their turn to talk about something completely different. If well-executed with the art of meeting-stealth, they’ll hijack your meeting and the participants won’t even realize how far off-topic they are.
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Remember all the card games you used to play as a kid? No? Well, take a moment (or two) and think really hard. OK, that’s enough. Everyone played some type of card game as a youngster, whether it was something as straightforward as Go Fish or Old Maid or something a little more “branded” aka themed after your favorite movie or television show.
To be fair, most of those branded games were simply carbon copies of what you were already playing and probably even owned. Back in the early ’80s, for example, The Dukes of Hazzard basically had their own version of the always-popular Uno. A few years later, He-Man And The Masters of The Universe characters were plastered on to a deck of playing cards to help kids play war, which is … interesting. And for the younger sect—like, ages 4 to 10, though that’s pushing it—there was the Annie spelling card game. Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch Kids had their own games, too, that basically centered on the idea of rescuing kids and recip
es from creepy old men. Like the Purple Pie Man in Strawberry Shortcake who was seemingly always trying to collect your recipe cards.
Others were much less entertaining, including one of the Ewok games that was essentially a puzzle disguised as a pack of cards. C’mon, Star Wars team, that’s the best you could do? At least there was “Favorite Five” game that was basically Go Fish with Ewoks instead of standard playing cards. OK, that was cute and all, but that’s it? At that point, you would have been better off just drawing your own illustrations on your mom or dad’s deck of cards and coming up with your own game. Sure they would have gotten a little peeved the next time they tried to use them, but whatever it takes, right? Also, they would have cooled off once they realized they only needed to buy another deck and not some ridiculously over-priced game with a TV show theme to it.
Now that you’re adult—presumably, of course—you’re probably looking for something a little bit more mature to play. No, that’s not a reference to the not-safe-for-work brand of mature games out there. I’m talking card games that can bring you a bit of money if you’re lucky or skilled enough. On the luck side of the coin, the Exchange games at BetFair offer options like baccarat, bullseye roulette, and blackjack. But if you’re feeling a bit more skilled when it comes to cards, you can always get into a game of Texas Hold’Em and take your (virtual) opponents down—and to the cleaners. Just in case you’re not that familiar with hold’em but want to give it a try, head here to learn the ropes.
Also, you can obviously still play all the games mentioned in the above paragraphs, though you might want to add some drinking rules to make it more entertaining for everyone involved. Don’t go overboard or anything, just add enough to make it, you know, not so mind-numbingly easy. For example, every time someone gets a card in a round of Go Fish, the person who loses the card has to sip his or her beverage.
What were some of your favorite card games to play as a kid? Did you keep it simple and go through rounds of Go Fish with your friends? Or were you more fond of the branded stuff? Let us know in the comments!
“No, I already said we’re playing house. You sit there and you sit there. Now we’re all going to eat dinner together at the table or else I’m moving out and this time I’m taking the kids with me.”
“I can’t eat dinner, I’m an assassin!”
“And I’m a zombie assassin! With a laser gun!”
“Then I’m going to be a zombie ninja, with a bazooka!”
“While you guys are doing assassin stuff, us girls are going to pretend like we’re at the spa. I’m getting my toes done.”
“Why don’t we play freeze tag… PEW PEW PEW! You’re all frozen, I win.”
“I don’t want to do that. Let’s go draw sidewalk art with chalk.”
“No no no, we’re still playing house, and now you’re all grounded. If you don’t eat your chicken I am going to choke every one of you in your sleep.”
It’s fun to watch the neighborhood kids play in the cul de sac. It reminds me of being a kid, running around a trailer park, shooting pretend lasers out of my Care Bear’s belly (because we weren’t allowed to play with guns). Alas, my coolness peaked early.
About 70% of their time is spent negotiating the terms of the next game or thing to play, 10% of the time is doing it, and 20% of the time is spent in the variations that spawn out of the agreed-to game – the sort of carefree chaos that comes with being a kid.
The kids in my neighborhood are great. There is one kid who lives a block over, who every time he sees me roll by, yells “I love your car!” I love my car, too, which is why I make a very conscious effort to wave at each kid when I drive through the street that they’ve adopted as their baseball field. Just in case they become the same destructive type of kids that I associated with when I was 12 years old, I don’t want them to target my sweet ride.
My daughter Jules is six now, so I was curious how she’d hold up with the older kids (mostly 3rd- 5th grade) in these Neighborhood Games. After an hour of negotiations on what and how to play, they agreed to play Hide and Seek. My garage was open, so it became a common hiding place, and I enjoyed the cloudy and misty October evening dodging the kids begging for clues to each other’s whereabouts.
When the majority of the kids found each other after the first round, they congregated near my lawn chair wondering where Jules went. My internal Daddy-radar said she was nearby, probably behind me, and I considered the possibility that she violated Hide and Seek rules by hiding inside our house. After some milling about by the older kids, Jules suddenly burst forth from the garage from under a box, right next to me, fist-pumping the air and shouted “Oh my God I won!”
This is a re-post of an article I wrote over six years ago. After this published in the Dallas Morning News, I received over 50 supportive emails from parents of video gamers, support groups, even counselors who specialize in video game addiction. I’ve never returned to Azeroth.
The man sees the clock on the wall finally crawl around to 5 P.M. and he flies out the door. He’s been Jonesing all day for his fix, and now he can finally have it. Although he has a respectable career, his coworkers don’t know about the secret vice he enjoys at home. After some questionable driving speeds, he runs into his house, once again ignoring his overgrown yard, his neglected dog, and the pile of laundry building up in front of the washer. The man sprints upstairs, anxious to settle into a long night of full-sensory submersion. He closes the door (and shuts out the rest of the world) behind him, sits down at his favorite chair, and logs into World of Warcraft.
Hi, I’m Jeff – I’m a former World of Warcraft addict.
Despite the 40-plus hours a week I put into the game, I was still considered to be a “casual player”. During in-game chatter and through headphone discussions, people would say “Oh, Riddler – He has a family. He’s not committed to a regular raiding schedule.” They said family like it was a bad thing, like “Riddler has alcoholism.” My real life friends and my wife acted the same way about the game: “Jeff plays Warcraft,” with the same tone that one may say “Jeff is a porn fiend.” So I ended up existing in a surreal middle-place where people in my real-world life and in-game life each thought I spent too much with the other side.
It’s hard to explain to muggles what life is like in the WoW Matrix. The world is so expansive, it would take days for your character to walk across the in-game continents. Along with the multitudes of your in-game friends, you live in an obsessive world of continuous collection. It sounds wildly silly to even write this, but there was a time that I’d have given up a toe for the druid hat at the end of Blackrock Spire. You get invested in the progress of your character. In the same way that you’d be miffed if you spent a whole Saturday designing a garden arrangement, only to have the rascally neighborhood kid stomp it to smithereens with a nine iron, you’d crap a brick if an in-game stranger took the reward at the end of a six-hour dungeon.
People who don’t play online games assume that the hard-core Warcraft gamers must be slackers or don’t have personal goals. On the contrary, for people who are goal-driven and motivated by achievements, the game locks in their attention with the lure of continuous successes. Under the surface of the fantasy theme elements, there is a complex world of in-game economy, incremental scaling of powers and abilities, and real people relying on teamwork to complete mutual goals. The same man or woman who might have started a business, invented something useful, or written an insightful book is instead working on his or her Tier 5 gear set. Earning little bits of electronic data for all those hours of strategy and effort.
It is surprising how much you get to know your in-game buds. Through months (or years) of play, you end up spending more time in their virtual companionship than with your real-life friends and family. For example, my wife and I don’t have any inside jokes about the time we spent five hours climbing through a maze of monsters, only to accidentally kill everybody in my group when I fell asleep at the keyboard and didn’t heal anybody. Eventually, I stopped trying to explain how amazing and addictive it was to friends and coworkers. I grew quiet and endured the rituals of real-life – sitting in boredom through work, family birthdays, and obligatory dinners with the wife, all the while glancing impatiently at my watch. And I wondered where I might find a druid-themed watch.
I saw people lose their jobs, fail their marriages, drop out of school, and neglect their kids to fully submerge into their in-game lives. Just like anybody does with geeky hobbies, at first I considered myself a bit too cool for fanaticism, and assumed I’d play a couple or three casual hours a week. Then when my real-life hours started slipping away, I hung onto those stories of the hard-core gamers, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t “as bad as that guy who pees in a thermos.” Before I knew it, I had converted my Date Night with the wife to Raid Night with the guild. I cruised the Ironforge Auction House while I put on my shoes for work in the morning. I made spreadsheets of my goals and marked my progress towards each! Spreadsheets! The whole thing became quite silly, but I was hooked.
When my wife and I started trying for our first baby, I knew that my Life of Warcraft would soon be over. What I didn’t expect, however, is that we’d be successful within eight days (I must have been wearing my Amulet of the Fertile Rabbit, with extra Charisma points). Holy Nefarion – I was suddenly a Dad. I thought about the guys in my guild who, when they spoke into their microphones, you’d hear a baby crying in the background. I quickly uninstalled the game, sold my character for the price of a used car, and broke all my installation disks. I had successfully unplugged from the matrix. No fading out of play – just a quick exit, like quickly pulling off a geeky, life-sucking Bandaid.
The withdrawal was rough at first, but I eventually overcame it. I found myself collecting random things around the house – wine corks, paint cans, Legos, and paperback books. But no more epic adventures – Riddler was dead. It took me about 3 months to get used to a midnight bedtime instead of the normal 3am logoffs. I still hear from in-game buds from time to time, telling me how their Warcrack lives are going – new monsters beaten, new areas unlocked, and sweet, sweet new gear. I write them back and remind them what a sunburn feels like, or what it’s like to go on a date night.
Maybe I’ll log in for just a minute to see how things are going, just a moment for old time’s sake… I can quit anytime…