The Doubles Story

Sweat began to form over my palms. I shifted nervously in my gaming chair and tilted my headset’s mic closer to my mouth. “Are you sure about this?” I asked my friend Bubba, who was sitting in a chair twenty miles away in his own house, staring at the same Halo loading screen that I was in my house.

“We’ve got this,” he replied with utter assurance in his voice.

Thus began Bubba’s and my epic conquest in a match of Halo Doubles.

Though it sure didn’t start out epic.

Halo Doubles match means that two players go up against another two players. These kinds of games always feel more intense to me than a regular 4v4 match or a Big Team Battle because every move you make matters. Every death you rack up counts for more against your team. The pressure to do well is insane.

Let me tell you now, I’m an enthusiastic Halo player, but I’m definitely not the best. Bubba convinced me to engage in the madness that is Doubles.

The game started, and right off the bat, the two players against us killed us like it was nothing. One of them had got his hands on a Needler, a gun that shoots tiny pink needles that stick into your armor and then explode. He annihilated the two of us.

Each kill was worth 10 points. The first team to 300 would win the match. Downing Bubba and I got the other team a 20-point lead.

They maintained that lead for a good long while. We killed them back, sure, but when they returned the favor, Bubba and I were back where we started. The slate-grey hallways of the map became claustrophobic as we didn’t know when an enemy player would pop up from around a corner.

I apologized to Bubba profusely every time I died. I felt like my mediocre playing skills were holding us back. He would always say in return, “We’ve got this.”

Eventually, the score was 270 to 250 in their favor.

That’s when (of course) one of them got their hands on a railgun.

A railgun has to be charged before it is fired, but when it is fired, an explosive bolt of energy lances out from the weapon that can kill a player in a single shot.

So this guy, I’ll call him Reginald (just for fun), came dashing around a corner and began firing at Bubba and I with this railgun. Blasts came rocketing from it, and I began jumping like a madman, trying to dodge the incoming fire. Bubba and I brought Reginald down with our puny assault rifles through sheer luck. The score was now 270-260.

Quick as a flash, I snatched up the railgun for myself. Bubba and I decided to hunker down right where we were now that we had decent firepower. The next time Reginald and his friend, who I shall call Frances, came running over, I was able to blast them both to oblivion with the railgun while Bubba distracted them. The score was now 270-280.

We were finally in the lead.

That didn’t last long though. The railgun ran out of ammo, and the next time one of them charged us, Bubba got downed. The score was now tied, 280-280.

When your teammate dies, they spawn at a different place on the map. Which means you’re separated. And if, while you’re all alone, the enemy team shows up to fight you, you have no chance in the world.

In a panic, I began sprinting around the map, practically screaming at Bubba over the headset, asking him to tell me where he spawned at so that we could join forces once again.

The map we were on was comprised of two levels, an upper and a lower. Bubba told me in a rush that he was on the lower level. We agreed to meet at the bottom of the ramp that connected the two levels.

I ran as fast as I could, sprinting down the hallways and keeping an eye on my motion tracker that would let me know if an enemy was nearby.

Just as I turned the corner that led to the top of the ramp, I saw one of the enemy team, let’s say it was Frances, sprinting down the ramp. Gunfire sounded, and I knew that Bubba and Frances were engaging in a gunfight. I continued sprinting, and just then, Reginald also came sprinting towards the ramp.

Reginald had not noticed I was running after him.

Bubba shouted in dismay as Frances continued hounding him with bullets.

I neared Reginald. His back was to me.

Bubba shouted in exultation. He had downed Frances in the one-on-one fight. But he didn’t know that Reginald was coming down for a fresh attack. 280-290.

Reginald took a running leap down the ramp.

I leapt after him.

[Pausing for a moment to give you some information. In Halo, when you melee someone, that means you hit them with your weapon, like a punch almost. If you press the melee button while you’re facing an opponent’s back, you perform an Assassination. It’s rather violent-looking, but at the same time, it’s totally bad-ass. Your perspective shifts from first-person to third, and you can watch as your character yanks your enemy backwards and shoves a combat knife down on them hard. If you press the melee button while you’re facing your opponent’s back and you’re in the air while you do it…well…]

Halo Air Assassination
via: funnyjunk.com

I jammed my finger down on my melee button as Reginald and I were suspended in midair for a brief moment in time. The hit connected

While in midair, my character pulled out her combat knife and slammed it down on my opponent, performing the ultimate coup de grâce, an Air Assassination.

The final score was 280-300, in our favor.

I felt bad for Reginald and Frances. They were undeniably the better players. But I couldn’t help feeling a surge of exhilaration. Bubba and I had won.

All Bubba said was, “I told you so.”

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Solo and the Star Wars Fandom

Saying that you were a fan of Star Wars used to mean that you were part of an exclusive club that everyone was in. (That kind of makes no sense, but if you think about it, it kind of does too.) I feel like Star Wars was the beginning of nerd culture becoming popular with the mainstream. It was a cultural phenomenon that eventually spread beyond the niche it catered to.

But lately, is it just me, or is admitting you are a Star Wars fan starting to have negative connotations? Being a part of the fandom is beginning to mean you are one of the most difficult persons to please when it comes to your entertainment.

Personally, I thought The Last Jedi was a…flawed movie. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the friendly discussions I can now have about its merits and detriments. I loved the fight with Kylo Ren and Rey versus the Praetorian Guards. I wasn’t too keen on the Canto Bight escapades. I’m willing to have hour-long conversations devoted to these things. I feel the exact same enthusiasm for the prequels and the originals as well.

I suppose people are entitled to their own opinion, but since when did our sci-fi/fantasy movies have to be perfect cinema?

Take Solo, for instance. Aside from the fact that Disney is clearly trying to milk Star Wars for all it’s worth, Solo was not a bad movie. It was fun! (Am I going to get ridiculed for thinking so?) It was a lighthearted romp through space, which is what I want my Star Wars to be.

If you were feeling hesitant about watching it because people have been bombing it down from the get-go, don’t let that stop you. Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and Chewbacca are back, and we get to see some new characters as well. There might be things you hate about the movie. But there also might be things you like about it. Don’t let supposed “hard-core” Star Wars fans stop you from enjoying a movie.

Don’t get me started on the people who spend exorbitant amounts of time attacking Star Wars actors either.

People (these anonymous people who we never meet face-to-face) have been hurling insults at the people who make the Star Wars movie in a completely disagreeable fashion. These insults aren’t critiques. They are cruel words that serve no purpose except to be hurtful.

Because of the actions of these haters (and there really is no other word for such volatile and spite-filled people), the Star Wars fandom is now being called toxic.

Like it or lump it, I’m a part of this fandom, this toxic fandom, and, in a way, that makes me culpable for the actions of the others in this group. (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, anyone?)

As such, I want to do my part in making the fandom a better place for us to disagree with each other. Disagreeing, by itself, is not a bad thing. If respectfully done, it’s a wonderful thing. Disagree away! I want to call out the people who are just blindly shouting abuse. I want to invite anyone and everyone to share their opinions about the movies.

Hell, I’ll even let people make cases for how Jar Jar Binks is the best character in the Star Wars universe.

Ushi and Me as an X-Wing Pilot

 

Talking about the End

Every pet owner has to talk about the eventuality that, one day, their pet will pass away. It is a sobering contemplation. I don’t believe that anyone likes the idea that their faithful companion won’t always be around.

As a regular cockatiel, Froley has about twenty to twenty-five years to his lifespan. I got Froley as a very young bird. He was under six months old when I got him at a run-of-the-mill Petco back in 2009. The reason I know he was that young was because his face was covered in grey feathers.

Typically, female cockatiels have duller faces than males, with grey feathers muting whatever color they might have had. When I first got Froley, I seriously thought he was a woman. What I didn’t know was that all young cockatiels, no matter their sex, start out with a grey face. It’s only after six months of maturing that males start to sport their bright yellow and red cheeks.

So Froley was definitely under the six-month mark when I got him. And seeing as how it’s now 2018, I can estimate that Froley is about nine years old.

Froley in my shirt
Hey there

As he nears middle age, I can’t help thinking about what I’m going to do when he dies. It’s like this pit that I can’t seem to stop myself from jumping into. Froley means a shit-ton to me. He’s the first pet I’ve ever cared for on my own. He’s probably the only pet who has ever adored me the way I adore him. (At least I’m pretty sure he adores me.) You can probably tell from the cover image of this blog that I’m kind of obsessed with him.

When I think about Froley dying, I’m overwhelmed by this feeling of premature sorrow. It’s like I’m already missing him. I once told my sister that after Froley dies, I’m never going to get another cockatiel ever again. No other bird could ever replace him. She looked me straight in the eye and told me I was being stupid. Said that it would be a shame to deny another bird a chance to have a competent bird owner.

(My sister is too kind sometimes.)

My sister then reminded me that Froley is living the good life, a life he might not have had if someone else had picked him up from Petco instead of me. I’ve gotten him three cages, one for short trips around town, one for his bedtime, and his main domicile. He has a strictly healthy bird diet with the occasional treat. He has more toys than he knows what to do with, and I switch them out monthly so that he’s never bored with his surroundings. I let him take showers with me, and if he wants to take a bath too, I hum his favorite bath-time song while he rolls around in the water (“Little April Shower” from Bambi). He also gets to cuddle with me whenever he wants to (except when I’m working). I let him climb onto my neck as I’m laying down, and he’ll stay there, fluffed up and happy.

Froleybird on my neck
Cuddles

I shouldn’t be dreading Froley’s passing when he’s currently right in front of me, totally not about to poop on my keyboard ohmygodFroleypleasedonotsquatrighttherethatisnotapoopingplaceohdearlordohheck…

I love Froley, and I’ll be sad when he’s gone. But I’m happy he is here right now. He has changed my life in such a large way for such a small bird.

Bring It On, Beaches!

Me at the beach
Yes, that is teeny-tiny me approaching the ocean in the dead of winter

I live about two hours away from a beach. I used to take that fact for granted, but ever since I’ve grown up and started thinking about the world around me, I’ve realized I’m very fortunate in this regard. Not everyone can take a day-trip to the awesomeness that is a beach.

I’m an early-riser. I come from a family of early-risers too, so whenever I go to the beach, it is usually right as the sun is coming up. And no matter the season, I can’t go to the beach and not touch the ocean. So even though the sun may not have been up long enough to warm the water, the first thing I do at the beach is wade into the waves.

I typically get no farther than my knees before I chicken out from the cold.

I lose all sense of feeling in my toes, but I enjoy every second of it. Goosebumps erupt all over my body. And I’m talking about the painful kind of goosebumps. I don’t know about you guys, but I always shave my legs before sporting my tankini, and the ocean takes sweet vengeance on me for doing so. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. Freshly shaved legs and cold temperatures go together like salt water and paper cuts (which is kind of what we’re dealing with here).

After that exercise in masochism, I decide to just walk along the beach in ankle-deep water picking up shells. I’m not looking for anything amazing; I’m just looking for anything intact. One time, I found a sand dollar. That was a nifty find. Once my hands are full of shells, I return them to my towel, a sad little collection of broken homes.

That’s when I decide to brave the waves again.

It’s still fucking cold, don’t get me wrong. But I plunge ahead anyways. I love the way the waves slap me. (Only waves can get away with this.) Some waves are forceful, splashing against my chest and spraying my face with droplets of water. Others are calmer, gently nudging me backwards on their way to the beach. Still I press on, eagerly awaiting the next wave that will push me off my feet.

I make games for myself as I go along. One of them is just trying to jump over the crests of the waves. This gets harder the farther I go out. I don’t have the strength to lift my legs above the surface of the water. It’s like the ocean won’t let me escape. Sometimes, in a game that’s the opposite of the one I just mentioned, I try burying my toes in the sand and remaining immobile, daring the waves to bowl me over. The waves always win in the end.

Around this time, I start getting hungry. So I say a short good-bye to the ocean and scamper off to get something to munch on. I lean towards the unhealthy kinds of food, unfortunately for me and my future body. I like salty, buttered pretzels and crisp chips right after I leave the water, almost as if my taste buds crave the saltiness of the ocean when I leave it.

(Near Ocean Beach in San Diego, there’s this place called Olive Tree Market that sells the best sandwich in the world. It’s called the Picasso, and I bet it’s called that because it’s a freaking work of art. It has “marinated chicken breast, pesto sauce, melted provolone cheese, served on warm pita bread, topped with lettuce and tomato.” I’m telling you, it’s fan-freaking-tastic.)

After eating, I let my stomach digest before heading back into the water. That means it’s SAND CASTLE TIME. I’m not an expert sand-castler, but I do have a system. First, I dig a bit of a trench in front of where I’m going to build my castle, on the side the waves are coming from. I always make my castle close to the water so that there’s a bit of danger while I’m working. Makes the whole thing exciting. Once the trench is sufficiently deep enough to protect my castle (somewhat), I start making these sand mounds. I usually create three piles of sand, three towers, if you will.

These towers are nothing fancy, literally just lumps of sand. But after making them large enough, I collect wet sand in a bucket and start placing drip-decorations all over them. Since the sand is so wet, you can grab a bunch of it in your hand and let bits of it drip onto the dry sand-mounds like water. Eventually, these drips harden, and you have a drip castle.

Bubba and I at the beach
Making a drip castle with my friend Bubba

These drip castles are by no means pretty. At all. They look like a sand bird flew overhead and shat out sandy poops in one centralized location.

But hey, it’s fun.

The castle must be destroyed after I’m done making it, otherwise nosy kids will take over my work. (Yeah, I’m a bit of a jerk in this regard.) I stomp all over my transient edifice after I’m done, and then head back into the water.

This final foray into the water is always the most fun and the most bittersweet. The sun has definitely climbed higher in the sky at this point, so the water is downright welcoming this time around. It’s a tremendous joy to pretend to be a whale and just belly-flop over a wave. It’s refreshing to dunk my head into water that has probably been peed into more times than I can count, but hey, who cares, right? But the time for having fun at the beach is almost over, so every ounce of fun I’m having is numbered now.

I never say no to going to the ocean. I’m not a surfer or a deep-sea diver or anything hardcore like that. And I’m definitely not one of those photogenic girls who hangs out on a beach and looks fantastic doing it. My hair gets all stringy, my skin gets covered with smears of sunscreen, my nose gets red because I never seem to put enough protection there, and my eyes get red and blurry because waaaaaay too much salt water seeped into them.

But it’s fun.

And that’s what matters.

Right?

 

Dungeons & Dragons & Dorks (Oh My)

I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons by my friend Mia’s father. We were young at the time, me, Mia, and my sister. That didn’t stop Mia’s dad from showing us the ropes.

The way D&D works is not as complex as you may think it is. For the longest time, D&D has been seen as this complicated game that only nerds in basements play. Let me tell you, anybody with a good sense of humor and an active imagination can play Dungeons & Dragons.

You create a character for yourself first, with a small backstory, flaws, preferences, and things like that. Your character also has a Class, which kind of means a job (like Wizard, Paladin, or Fighter). You have varying degrees of Intelligence, Strength, or Charisma, each of which will help or hinder you on your journey. (Kind of like in real life.)

Then you find a Dungeon Master, or DM, who will create the map, world, and story for your game to start in. After that, it’s all up to the players how the adventure goes.

The actual rules of the game might make D&D sound technical as shit, which is why I’m not bogging you down with stats and die rolls. Just trust me, the game is fun.

Mia’s dad led me, Mia, and my sister through a roaring good time. There were laughs, tears, and adventures. I still, to this day, can’t properly express my gratitude that Mia’s dad was willing to sit down with three little girls and teach them how to play Dungeons & Dragons. That was beyond cool. Mia’s dad was a great man.

These days, Mia and I have our own D&D group. We try to meet every Saturday night in order to slay some monsters and find some treasures. Players have come and gone from our group over time, but we still try and keep the game going strong.

(We actually have several games going on at the moment, each set in their own universe and with different characters. A single game is not enough for our adventuring appetites.)

In all honesty, we’re not the smartest group of adventurers to ever delve a dungeon. The only sensible and practical character in our group is Mia’s. The rest of us play as a gaggle of idiots. (Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.) We charge ahead into fights without considering the fact that we may be outclassed by our opponents. We jump into suspicious holes just because we’re curious what’s at the bottom. Some members of our group (*cough, cough* Sidney *cough, cough*) don’t even have a clear understanding of how a door works.

Throughout all of our (mis)adventures, we have tons of fun. Not a single gaming night has gone by when we haven’t bust a gut laughing. D&D allows us to get into (and hopefully out of) absurd situations. And the best thing is we have so much freedom in how we solve our problems. Our more charismatic characters try to talk their way out of their troubles, and our more…barbaric characters simply hack and slash their way to a solution.

D&D has given me a chance to form friendships with really cool people and has given me a taste of what it would be like to exist in a place like Middle-Earth. It’s imaginative and fun-filled. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening. If you’ve played the game before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t played before, I hope you decide to give it a try.

I do plan on writing more about the foolhardy adventures my group has gotten into. (One of us really has to keep a log of our own stupidity.)

So, have you ever played Dungeons & Dragons before? Is it something you’d want to do in the future?

My First Literary Sin: Howards End

I have a list of books I haven’t read yet, and I call each and every one of them my literary sins. These books are the kinds of books that any person who calls themselves an avid reader should have read. They’re typically noteworthy classics.

Unfortunately, there are some pretty embarrassing titles on my list. I have yet to read some really great books (purportedly). Luckily for me, this means I get to spend a lot of my time experiencing these stories for the first time. And you guys get to come along with me for the ride! (Yay!)

Howards End was written by E.M. Forster. Forster also wrote A Passage to India, a soulfully moving book that I have read. While A Passage to India dealt with the numerous issues of Britain’s occupation of India, Howards End dealt with issues closer to home, namely the discord arising from Britain’s strict class system.

I’ve used “low-class” and “high-class” as simple adjectives before, describing movies, shoes, or doorknobs, but after reading Howard’s End, I actually feel uneasy using those words to describe things.

The story mainly revolves around the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen. The two are striving to find a deeper meaning to life by studying art, nature, and poetry. You know, the finer things in life. They meet two families on their somewhat snotty, but still admirable, quest for enlightenment that are on opposing sides of the class spectrum. The Wilcoxes are a rich family, but despite the money that is at their disposal, they aren’t as appreciative of meaningful moments as their riches could allow them to be. The Basts are considered poor people, and they don’t have the means to engage themselves in stoic contemplation like more well-to-do families (the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes specifically).

Howards End immersed me in a world I could never hope to reach, which is weird, because at some point in time, this setting actually existed. I related to Leonard Bast’s situation more than anyone else’s because he’s the only person we meet who seems to work for his income. Everyone else’s profession was being wealthy; they just went to operas and worked on “improving themselves.”

Even though Leonard Bast is the most relatable, the hero of the novel is Margaret Schlegel. She befriends Mrs. Wilcox, the matriarch of the Wilcox family, when they meet each other spontaneously one day. They’re both fond of deeper meanings without being pushy about it. They also share a love for the Wilcoxes’ old home, Howards End. (I always thought it was so cool how some people in British novels have houses that have names.) They form a pretty random friendship quickly, but their sedate and wise natures made it seem natural to do so.

Things get a little weird when Mrs. Wilcox dies, and then later, Mr. Wilcox decides to marry Margaret. I get that they were similar, but yikes. While this is definitely odd, the novel makes it seem like this union was meant to be. And who am I to judge, right?

The women in the novel are treated rather ickily. Their opinions, choices, and bodies are totally dismissed by their male counterparts. In the end, the women of the novel succeed in achieving the peace they desire, but the journey there was rough sailing through the waters of sexism.

Howards End was a fantastic read, just like a A Passage to India. The class disagreements seem foreign to me, and yet, the underlying vibe they produce feel eerily familiar. I know no one who lives like the Wilcoxes. But I can understand how people with more can look down on people with less.

I won’t spoil how the book ends. Just know that the house, Howards End, is really important to the story (duh, it’s in the title), the Schlegel sisters make pretty…unique decisions when it comes to the Wilcoxes and Basts, and that hitting someone with the flat of a sword is just as dangerous as piercing them with the tip.

If you like stodgy British novels (which I ADORE), Howards End might be the book for you. I give it a buy-at-a-used-bookstore-with-a sweet-hardcover-edition-at-a-really-good-price-and-then-keep-it-forever.

Thanks to All the Blogging People

When I first got this thing (yeah, I know, I still have trouble saying the word “blog”), I had no idea what to expect from the community of other bloggers. In fact, I had no clue that there was such a thing as a community of bloggers. I thought that I would just be writing regularly, scheduling posts and publishing them consistently, without any fuss or muss.

But there’s a level of interaction involved while writing a blog that I’m immensely glad I’ve discovered. (At least on WordPress there is. I don’t know if other sites are similar. I hope they are.) Not only am I getting my writing pushed out into the void, I get to read what other people are writing about too. I don’t mean to toot other people’s horns (I totally mean to), but there are some fantastic writers out there.

Looking at the setup of the average blog post, once you are done reading a post, you can like the post and write a comment. Initially, this frightened me. It was reminiscent of various social media platforms I use, and in those cases, the “comments sections” can be very toxic. People use anonymity as a shield as they hurl insults and viciously critique whatever it is you’re posting. And as a poor, sensitive writer/person with varying degrees of low self-esteem, I was dreading the day someone would come along and beat the shit out of what I had written.

But, amazingly, the people I’ve met while writing here have been nothing but kind. Working on this blog has shown me how wonderful social media could be if platforms were not constantly hounded by Internet Trolls. While I may not be raking in the “likes,” not a single person has been discouraging. Everyone has been the epitome of kindness.

And it’s making me feel all warm inside.

So here’s a short little post to anyone who happens to read this who is part of the blogging community. I can barely begin to express the gratitude I feel when I’m interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.

You guys are awesome. Seriously.