Pimple Poem

To all the pimples I’ve ever known:
You’ve never left my face alone.
On my forehead, chin, and cheeks,
Complexion prospects were very bleak,
From achy red bumps I couldn’t pop
To embarrassing ones with white tops.
Scores of blackheads on my nose;
I never could get rid of those.
You sprouted at the worst of times,
Made my appearance a social crime.
No matter what ointments I would use
My facial features seemed to lose.
But for all the shame and misery
At least you kept me company.

Cutting in Line

The strangest, silliest, and most awkward thing happened to me and my mother.

We were staying at this fancy hotel in Tucson. We came over to visit my sister for her husband’s birthday, but since a friend of his was also planning to come over at the same time, we couldn’t stay at their place. I honestly didn’t mind that too much. Being able to relax in a spa-like environment was a consolation. 

After an early wake-up thanks to my mother’s internal alarm clock being set to three in the morning, the two of us went to go get coffee. We meandered past the hotel’s lobby, drinking in the do-nothing leisure of the morning. The resort’s coffee bar was located past this bridge/walkway connecting the lobby to a part of the building that housed conference rooms and ballrooms. On this bridge, you can look out on a gorgeous view of the Arizona desert. The sky was a silvery grey and the land was a muted red speckled with cacti. My mom and I paused a bit to admire the scenery.

Since it was so early, there weren’t many people out and about. Only one other person stood on the walkway, a bearded man in work-out clothes, earbuds plugged into his ears, his eyes glued to the phone in his hand instead of the horizon. He was leaning against the walkway’s railing, and he ignored my mom and me as we stepped past him.

The coffee bar was situated right by the entrance onto the walkway. So as soon as we entered the chill, air-conditioned space, we could see the line to order. Only two people were ahead of us, and we walked forward, chatting about my sister and her visit. Nonchalantly, the man from the walkway stepped past us and cut us in line. He did this almost unobtrusively, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. My mom even halted her progress forward in the queue because it seemed like the man knew his business. It seemed like he was going somewhere else, that’s how officious and I-know-what-I’m-doing his demeanor was.

I exclaimed once to my mother in dismay, but then we shrugged in acceptance. People being unfair or thoughtless is just part of life. We settled in behind this man and continued our conversation.

“Excuse me,” a homely, Southern drawl sounded behind us. My mother and I turned. A large bald man, with an American flag tattooed on his arm and emblazoned on his shirt,  was standing over us. “Did that man just cut you off in line?”

Surprised at having our shame addressed so openly and also amiably embarrassed about the whole thing, we nodded our heads and said, “Yeah, but it’s okay.”

The bald man shook his head in grim consternation. “Man, it really burns my asshole when folks do that. It’s rude, and they think they can just get away with it.”

His genuine outrage at what we considered a minor misfortune caught us off guard. “Sorry,” we mumbled apologetically.

Then, after speaking a few more words of dissatisfaction, he strode past us and just got up in the other man’s grill. This man, the bearded one with earbuds, was still plugged into his phone, so he flinched and his eyes widened in shock when the big bald man thrust a finger in his shoulder and started scolding him for his audacity. Our “defender” gesticulated angrily, imparting his disdain in direct fashion. He pointed at my mom and me a few times. His victim was nonplussed, flabbergasted, and his gaze flicked back and forth between the behemoth in front of him and us.

As soon as his anger was spent, the bald man picked up his coffee and left. The man with the earbuds stared after him, stunned, but then made a derisive snorting sound at the back of his throat. He spared one more glance toward us, then went back to his phone.

My mom and I looked at each other, her with social panic and me with amused hysteria. What were we supposed to do or say after that? The people at the coffee bar were all staring at us. The scene had been quite loud.

Afterwards, the whole thing made for a fun story to regale my sister with. She laughed at the awkwardness we had been placed in. But she also commented on how the situation was a prime example of how people’s perspectives differ. Exploring the different viewpoints of everyone there perfectly showcases how people can approach courtesy and right versus wrong. Justifying your actions can take different forms.

The man with the earbuds justified getting ahead of me and my mom because he was planning on just ordering a water. We found this out when I tried apologizing to him for the altercation. I don’t think he heard what I was saying. He never acknowledged my words. He just kept repeating, “I’m just getting a water.” He probably thought the bald man made a mountain into a mole hill. 

The bald man, on the other hand, felt justified in berating another person out of a sense of chivalry, perhaps. Or maybe he had had a real bad day and the sight of an unrelated injustice enraged him as a result.

As my friends know by now, since I’ve bored their ears off retelling this tale over and over again. I’m having a lot of fun analyzing the situation. It fascinates me. 

Rolling a Natural 1 – Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance Review

I’ve related my Dungeons & Dragons misadventures here before. From ill-timed invisibility to challenging monster fights, my band of D&D friends and I have gone through quite a bit together. Truly, we have run the gamut of hilarious D&D escapades a group campaigning together can go through.

However, despite my positive experiences playing around a tabletop with my friends, I haven’t really explored the world of D&D when it comes to video games. None of them really called to me, especially because my favorite aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is the downright goofiness that can occur when fails happen. (Failing in a video game the way I fail in D&D would be gutting.)

So when I found out that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance would be available to play on Xbox Game Pass, I thought it would be nifty to grab a friend and give it a whirl. ‘Why not dabble in a D&D video game?’ I thought to myself.

It’s disappointing. That’s why.

Dark Alliance is an overall letdown, and I’ll tell you why in just a sec. I first want to admit that I only played around two sessions of the game, each of which lasted maybe a few hours. I did not complete it, and maybe the game has more to offer down the road. All I know is that it did not offer enough to make me want to continue playing it.

Dark Alliance pulls its characters and some of its story from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. I am only loosely versed in its lore. However, noteworthy character Drizzt Do’Urden is one of the four characters you and your friends can choose to play as during missions.

If you are familiar with the gameplay structure of Left 4 Dead or Vermintide 2, you will know what to expect when booting up Dark Alliance. You and up to three friends go through these fairly linear missions, fight off monsters you find, and complete rudimentary objectives.

If you’ve played those two games I mentioned, then you know that this formula can be very successful. However, Dark Alliance messes it up in multiple ways.

For one thing, the characters feel very uninteresting. It sucks because they each have a backstory that fans of the Forgotten Realms universe will know about, but the manner in which this is conveyed to you is either through dry narration or through these one-liners the characters will occasionally speak during a mission. And the snippets of cutscenes you see at the start and end of missions don’t inform you much on the characters or the events at large.

If only the story itself was lacking, I would be fine with that. But the gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired. I played as the character Wulfgar during one session, and Cattie-brie in the next, and no matter which I played as, it was not fun.

Any action in the game felt unresponsive. Whether I was swinging my hammer or firing my bow, there was this laggy, molasses feeling that persisted. Even picking up objects from the ground took an age and a half. And I don’t think this was input lag on my controller’s part. I would swing at a rock outcropping to get some loot, the hit would connect, and then two seconds later, the rock would crumble. It was that slow.

And the enemies were uninspired at best. They would always be clustered by some door or square-looking area, arranged like stodgy chess pieces, and sometimes they would not even react when you hit them. They’d take it, slowly turn to you, and only gradually start to attack you. This is a far cry from when I played Left 4 Dead 2, and zombies would rush at you from every which way, and certain special types would attack in a specific fashion.

In addition to that, cooperative play was unrewarding as heck. My coworker friend and I felt like our characters did not interact with each other in a meaningful way at all. They had a few abilities that could be beneficial for a group, but it did not feel like an impactful interaction.

Lastly, the bosses felt laughable. They are appreciably difficult in comparison to regular enemies, but each encounter feels similar. Do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away.

Playing Dark Alliance made me hunger for the simplistic artistry of Risk of Rain 2.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance was disappointing because it wasn’t fun. One of the basic tenets of D&D (for me at least) is that no matter who my DM is, who my fellow party members are, or what story is being told, the game has to be fun. Dark Alliance did not hold up to this standard.

I rate Dark Alliance a poor-representation-of-how-much-fun-D&D-can-be-and-a-sucky-game-at-launch-to-boot.

Can You Feel the Heat Tonight?

Hello, my Above Average readers!

Another summer, another incredible rise in temperatures.

It feels like every summer I have to make a post commenting about how hot it is where I live.

But such is the drama of my life.

Holy hell, it is hot outside right now. Baking temperatures. I feel like a piece of bread that has been placed in an oven to crisp. My evening walks, even if the sun is down, feel as hot as a midday stroll. In order to maintain my physical health (of which I’m doing a very poor job), I’ve had to do some exercises indoors. And when I do go for a walk outside, it’s an absolute must to bring a bottle of water with me. (And a pair of clothes that I don’t mind getting drenched in sweat.)

My sister lives in a desert that has an active monsoon season around this time of year. So while it is still warm weather, these summer storms laden with heavy, lightning-filled clouds will roll in, giving the land a much-needed moisture dump.

The heat almost matches the broiling summers in the desert where I live, but petrichor-smelling winds and cool droplets of rain make her desert a lot more enjoyable.

Of course, the summer isn’t without its perks. I get to hear news stations along the United States’ East Coast talking about how it is a “sweltering ninety degrees.” I’d like to see them melt alongside me in 120 degree heat.

Your mouth dries up with every breath, and there is a heaviness to your lungs that you can’t shake. All your body’s moisture migrates to your armpits, your brows, the small of your back, and behind your knees. If it’s really hot, your eyeballs sort of start to ache.

But sometimes I find the heat welcoming, like a really large, overbearing sweater. The air conditioning inside a building can feel harsh, chill, and artificial; summer heat can feel like a natural blanket of warmth that wants to smother you with affection.

I like it and dislike it.

So just as I wait for summer during winter, I am now waiting for winter during summer.

My love for summer is currently sweating itself away like an hourglass full of sand that trickles down.

Work Work Work

To put it mildly, work has largely taken over my life.

I work six days a week, from about 7:30 to 3:00, depending on the workload, and it’s gotten so I no longer use my computer for pleasure. It’s either work, blogging, or a video chat with someone.

This might sound like the beginning to a tirade about my overly lengthy work hours but I’ve got to be honest.

I freakin’ love it.

I feel pumped almost every time I hop online to work. I’m writing about video games, polishing up other people’s articles, collaborating with people who have the same passions that I do. It’s just all so fantastically unreal to me that I have reached this point in my life.

I never thought I would be the kind of person to be swept up by a “career,” but it’s accurate to say that (aside from family), my life now revolves around work.

This could all implode in my face one day.

I might find that my work-life balance is not being met, and that my downtime is just being wholly subsumed by my work.

Side note: I’ve actually had days where that has happened, where I’ve stayed in my computer chair till 7 at night and my eyeballs are dying and my back is aching and I am just fed up with words.

But for right now, I am reveling in it.

It feels so mentally active. I’m loving it.

And I just thought I would let you all know that.

Life Update #10: The Power of the Sippy Cup

Lately, I’ve faced a quandary.

I have been trying to increase my water intake, which means I always keep a cup of water by my side when I work.

However, my entire career is basically housed in this computer. If I were to accidentally spill water on this baby, I would be in big doo-doo. So keeping a mug of water on hand dances with danger.

I’ve dabbled with plastic water bottles. They come complete with cap, and I can take a quick swig without worrying about sloshing water all over the place. The downside is that you can only reuse them so many times before they start to stink, and they are rather wasteful when it comes to the environment.

So then I tried using a reusable metal water bottle. I could wash it and use it as many times as I wanted. Problem solved, right?

No!

See, in order to be able to properly wash these water containers so they don’t smell to high heavens, the neck and mouth of the bottle have to be wide enough to stick my scrubber brush down when I clean it. And if the neck of the bottle is too wide, I run into the same problem as when I was using glasses and mugs. I can’t recklessly swig down water without fearing for the dryness of my shirt and my keyboard.

What’s a girl to do?

I’ll tell you what.

You get a sippy cup.

My tias (my aunts) gifted me a blue sippy cup, and it is the answer to my water-drinking prayers. It is a metal cup with a plastic lid that has a small opening. It can keep chilled drinks super cool, and it solves the issue of improper water output.

It has seriously changed my life, transformed the way I drink water.

I like it so much, and professed my liking so much, that my mom even gave me the one she got from my tias, which is why I have a blue and a pink sippy cup.

Honestly, this isn’t a very big life update to be called a Life Update. In fact, calling it a Life Update seems laughable in retrospect.

But I’m drinking a lot more water, which is an essential element to living life, so that counts for something. Right?

What Is the Point of Zack Snyder’s Justice League?

I get it, okay?

Sometimes, a movie comes out, and you’re not happy with the results. I have more than once been irked by a movie that got on my nerves for how awful it was. For your reading pleasure, here is what I thought of Wonder Woman 1984, here is what I thought of Cats, and here is what I thought of Alita: Battle Angel.

As you can see by these examples, I am no stranger to vitriol.

But never in my life have I thought to myself, “Hmm, that movie was so bad. I hope it is redone, made twice as long, but still retains the same plot points.”

That’s basically what Zack Snyder’s Justice League is.

When Justice League first came out, there were good bits and there were bad bits. I enjoyed the movie for what it was (a rushed attempt to capitalize on the Marvel Cinematic Universe trend of mashing up heroes in one movie) and got on with my life.

But then I started hearing whispers about how “the Snyder cut is the true vision of what the film could be” and other such stuff. I never thought anything would come of it.

And that’s right around when the Snyder cut was announced.

I like 300 and Watchmen as much as the next person, but some of Zack Snyder’s fans talk about him like he is the filmmaking equivalent of Jesus. And I just don’t understand it, especially after watching the four-hour-long version of a movie I already saw.

The plot remains largely the same. For those of you who saw Justice League, rest assured that the Snyder cut only offers a few meaningful differences. The one aspect worthy of attention in this bloated movie is Cyborg’s story. Man, this character got shafted in the first one if this was his original intended storyline. I appreciated the expansion of his history and his inclusion in moving the film along. He actually plays a more important role and gets some much deserved screentime.

However, the rest of the film felt stuffed with unnecessary chaff.

I don’t need to see someone’s disturbed expression for thirty seconds after something upsetting happens.

I don’t need to see measured stares between characters that last way longer than they should.

And I don’t need to see slow-motion walking for no goddamn reason.

I mean, criminy, a quarter of the Snyder cut is made of slo-mo scenes. I don’t even think I’m exaggerating. And it’s one thing if I saddle myself up for a stylistic movie like 300, where I am aware of what I’m getting myself into.

But it’s like Justice League tried to be both stylistic-artsy-fartsy and MCU-generated-popcorn-fluff. PICK A LANE, PEOPLE.

And don’t get me started on the “ancient lamentation music” that played nearly every time Wonder Woman was on the screen.

Snyder fans might hate me for not liking this massive movie, but I swear, I like other films he has done. It’s just…

This one feels so unnecessary. I can’t comprehend why people were so hyped for it.

And I guess maybe part of my displeasure stems from that. If people hadn’t been praising the heck out of it like it was the neatest thing since sliced bread, maybe I wouldn’t be so irritated after watching it and finding out it was as absurd as canned bread.

I rate Zack Snyder’s Justice League a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Vaccine Time

So I have officially gotten vaccinated, both doses.

After the first shot, my arm was just sore for about a day afterward. I couldn’t sleep on my favorite side, but that was the most inconvenienced I was.

After the second dose, I got some chills a few hours later. I went to bed and ended up waking up in the middle of the night with a heavy head and achy limbs. I struggled to go back to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling more or less the same way. I took a dose of children’s Tylenol (I’m a terrible pill-swallower), and my symptoms almost immediately cleared up and did not return.

Getting the vaccine has felt totally unreal. It’s been this talked-of thing for the longest time, and the rollout felt like it would take years. Never have I felt a vaccine was so important.

I mean, I’ve gotten the annual flu shot every once in a while, but this felt serious on an almost Contagion level of seriousness.

Side note: This is the perfect time to watch Contagion. Watching it back in March 2020 was a bit of a mistake for me. I was riddled with anxiety and horror for a few days after.

I feel safer after getting vaccinated, but my relief stems mostly from having my mom’s safety ensured. She got vaccinated, and I got vaccinated. My biggest fear has been passing something on to her, which is why I shut myself in most thoroughly last year.

It’s strange to live in such times, but I’m sure that is something everyone who has ever lived has thought at some point.

I Ate a Snail! (And Spent Time with My Family)

A few days ago, I celebrated my Tia Kaki’s birthday with my mom and the rest of my tias. And by a few days ago, I mean weeks at this point. I am seriously scheduling/writing way in advance of these posts actually being published. I figure if I keep this up, I can build myself a nice buffer and go on a vacation one day.

Yeah.

Right.

Side note: For those of you who don’t know, “tia” means “aunt.”

My Tia Kaki wanted to get together with her sisters and have a nice meal out and about, and since they were all vaccinated and COVID restrictions were lifting, we all decided to take her out for lunch. So one bright and sunny morning, my Tia Kaki, my Tia Esther, my Tia Martha, my mom, and me piled into a car together and drove to San Diego.

It was seriously one of the best moments of my life. It might not seem like much, jamming five people into a car and driving somewhere for lunch, but it had been so long since I had done anything of the sort. I used to be the kind of family member at large gatherings who would greet everyone once, then settle down in one spot to read quietly. I was never much for socializing.

But during this trip, it’s like I hung onto every word my tias said. I wanted to know what they had been up, where we were going, what they thought of this-and-this piece of gossip. I just relished every minute of that two-hour car drive.

When we arrived in downtown San Diego, our first order of business was parking. My mother nervously circled around blocks looking for an open space. We found one not too far from the restaurant we had a reservation at. And while we waited for our appointed time, we went into this little boutique.

Never has browsing through a store seemed so appealing. It was empty except for us, and we were all masked and hushed as we entered. We spent no more than fifteen minutes looking at little scarves, bracelets, and hats, but it felt so reminiscent of a different time. My Tia Martha bought me a black headband with little golden bees strewn across the top.

Side note: My tias are the queens of spoiling both my sister and I and their various nieces. They have perfected the art of spoiling.

I was nervous when we went into the restaurant since it was my first time eating at a public place since quarantining and social distancing first became a thing here, but the novelty of what used to be a familiar experience soon had me enjoying the moment. Plus, I wanted to milk all the time I had with my tias.

It was a fairly swanky restaurant, and my tias ordered their dishes like pros. My Tia Esther ordered an appetizer of (get this) snails.

That’s right, folks. We had ourselves some escargot.

For the first time in my life, I ate a snail.

I’m not normally too daring when it comes to food, but I have been making an effort to try new things. So when my Tia Esther offered me the snail…I took it.

It was absolutely drenched in this garlic butter sauce, so flavor-wise, it tasted like garlic and butter. Drench anything in garlic and butter, and that is what it will taste like.

Side note: Maybe this is too much information, but for like…four hours after I ate that, every time I burped, this garlicy, buttery aroma filled my mouth.

Texture-wise, the snail felt like a mushroom. I’m not overly fond of mushrooms, so I think it’s safe to say I’m not overly fond of snails. Regardless, I’m still glad I tried it.

We all had buckets full of fun trying out the food and sharing from each other’s plates. My Tia Kaki got ceviche (lemony as heck), my Tia Martha got this crab cake thing (that was not to my liking at all), my mom got a beet salad (it looked like her plate was bleeding), and my Tia Esther got this lamb salad (interesting, very interesting). I am not joking by calling this one of my best days.

Afterwards, we drove to a shopping center, and we listened to 80s songs and sang along to them. We were all a bit off key, but that didn’t matter. We were having fun.

If you were ever to go shopping with my tias, you would immediately note their practiced eye as they meandered through stores. They have a keen understanding of the value of brand names, more than I ever have or will. They could estimate the current worth (and the eventual worth) of a Louis Vuitton bag faster than I could snap a finger.

My mom is the odd one out, where she prefers to just sit down at a shady table and people-watch, so after walking around with my tias, we reconvened with her and then departed for home.

The whole day felt gloriously ordinary, and I’m happy I got to spend that time with my family. COVID has placed a lot of things I took for granted into sharp perspective. I appreciated every second of that day, and I am looking forward to spending more with my mom and my tias.

Doing Dune Justice

Dune is an epic adventure that I’m a bit ashamed to admit I read rather late in life. While I read The Lord of the Rings when I was eight years old, I read Dune when I was already in my twenties.

With the Dune movie coming out soon, I thought it would be the perfect time to recommend this classic to my favorite Above Average readers, i.e. all of you.

Dune is a sci-fi book that combines high-tech escapades and ideas with a mystical flavor. It does so with dense political history, religious ideologies, and risky thematic overtones.

I’m usually hesitant to recommend hefty sci-fi tomes to people because there is so much diversity in the genre. Even if someone says they like it, there’s no telling what part of it they enjoy. For example, someone who enjoys a realistic tale like The Martian might not like the zany humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In addition to that, sci-fi books are usually a huge time investment to read, and they’ll put forth downright weird notions that can prove difficult to swallow.

So when I say I recommend you read Dune, know that it will take a decent time investment to read it (especially if you want to read its sequels), it has an occasional bout of weirdness (like strange marital practices and cannibalistic tendencies), and it focuses on a mix of predestination, heightened mental awareness, ecological consciousness, and space politics.

The story follows the young Paul Atreides as his family moves to the desert world of Arrakis. They have been relegated there from their lush homeworld of Caladan thanks to the political maneuverings of the Emperor. Different families rule the galaxy, like a sci-fi aristocracy, together under this one Emperor, and the Emperor is not supposed to show favoritism to one family over another.

Unfortunately for the Atreides, this Emperor has decided to ally with the Harkonnen family in an attempt to eradicate them from the galaxy. (The Harkonnens and the Atreides have this epic feud going on between them.)

Paul and his family have to contend with this betrayal while trying to survive on Arrakis. While Arrakis is a dry dump of a place, it is home to a valuable spice that is worth a lot to the ruling families of the galaxy, including the unaffiliated Guild, who needs the spice for their trade.

Arrakis has a population of native Fremen who protect and harvest the spice, but the Fremen are hiding a secret that Paul must uncover if he hopes to have the Atreides line survive. Not only does he have to deal with this, he has to contend with these amazing mental powers bestowed on him by his mother’s Bene Gesserit training. (Think something like telepathy plus hyper-analytical thinking, bordering on precognition.)

The whole book culminates with a revolution on a planetary scale.

I’m rather fond of sci-fi stories that don’t hold your hand. Dune is that kind of book. While it does come with a helpful glossary at the end, it does not do much to introduce you slowly to its world. It just dumps you into it and you have to get used to using context clues to figure out what’s going on.

I have to be in the mood to read these kinds of books, so be sure you’re up to it yourself if you pick up Dune.

The book strikes an awful middle ground with its female characters. Most of the ones you meet are all incredibly powerful in their own way, especially those who have been trained as Bene Gesserit. This group of women has intense skills when it comes to controlling their minds and their bodies, so much so that they can easily manipulate other people.

However, even the most powerful female is subservient to men. Influential Bene Gesserit exist to serve male leaders. The most prominent female character is Paul’s mother, and she is a concubine to Paul’s father because he has to remain marriageable if he wants to continue to negotiate with other ruling families. The whole system of every society we encounter in Dune is patriarchal in nature. This is something I sincerely hope they change in the new movie.

In addition to that, it sometimes seems like emotional moments, moments that would make for a deeply impactful, character-development kind of scene, are just skipped. For instance, there is a death of a person whom you would assume is very close to Paul, and in the book, you don’t even see it. It’s told to you that it happened.

These leaps in time can be confusing if you’re trying to follow the emotional beats of the story, but Dune seems to prefer to focus a hell of a lot more on the aspects of fate and precognition that it sets forth from the very beginning of the novel.

But when it comes to detailing mental processes, Dune excels. There is nothing I like more than reading through Paul’s thoughts before he makes any decision. It makes you believe in the power of positive thinking, if that makes sense.

I rate Dune a decent-read-that-was-groundbreaking-in-its-day-for-its-ecological-themes-and-is-still-fantastic-even-though-it-is-showing-its-age.