Quota Is Eternal

It’s Monday, the calendar is empty,
I need to answer messages sent me,
No consolation could ever tempt me
To see scheduling without enmity.
It’s Tuesday, and my coworkers rally
And fill up these slots without me,
Each counts for their personal tally,
And I assist as I can quite happily.
It’s Wednesday, and I’m no longer tired,
Able to focus on tasks that require
My attention, and there is no dire
Cause for a calendar fire.
It’s Thursday, and the weekend is looming,
An eventual stress that starts blooming,
And I don’t mean to be dooming-and-glooming,
But that weekend is going to screw me.
It’s Friday, and I have lots of meetings,
Time taken from typical proceedings,
So between all these catch-ups and greetings
My serenity is woefully fleeting.

The weekend is here; the days are infernal.
There is no forgetting the quota’s eternal.
And when Sunday closes, there’s nothing that curdles
My blood more than Monday’s return.

Were It So Easy: Halo Infinite Review

I’ve waited a long time to review a new Halo game. I didn’t have this blog back when Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians came out. But ever since I made one, I’ve been champing at the bit to review Halo things.

The problem is, Halo things don’t just fall from trees. It’s been seven years since Halo 5 came out. Presumably, some of those years were taken up developing Halo Infinite.

And I spent all of those years yearning for a new Halo experience.

I’ve loved Halo for a long, long time.

I’m in no way the best Halo player out there. Far from it. In fact, you could probably count me as one of the worst players. I’m too brash in multiplayer, with no skills to back it up. I don’t bother spending time learning new tricks to make myself a better player either. I am the bane of my teammates’ existence.

But god help me, I love the games. I love the feel of them, the sound of them, the story of them, everything.

The soundtrack sends me in raptures.

I used to annoy my sister all the time, asking her to replay the campaigns with me. She got so fed up with me, my mother eventually had to step in and guilt-trip her into playing with me so I wouldn’t sulk and play alone.

My closest friends have all played Halo with me couch co-op style at some point during our friendship. Even the ones who don’t play video games.

I have more Halo books on my shelves than I do Stephen King books, and if you know how much I love Stephen King, you know that’s saying something.

So when I say I was “excited” for Halo Infinite, you’ll know that’s the understatement of the year.

This past December, Halo Infinite’s campaign released. Admittedly, it started off on the wrong foot for me because it released without a co-op option, but I kept an open mind.

And now, after having played it, I can say that Halo Infinite…

…is good.

It isn’t perfect, but it is good.

And I am thoroughly okay with that.

The Story

To briefly summarize Halo’s narrative is rough. A ton of things have happened over the course of the five mainline games, six spin-offs, and the multitude of novels centered around its universe.

So I’m not even going to try to summarize everything. Rather, I’ll just let you know what you can expect from Halo Infinite’s story alone.

Halo 5 saw Cortana’s rise to power over the whole galaxy, using Forerunner technology to bring every sentient species to its knees. Master Chief and the rest of humanity have to rally what little they can muster to counterattack.

Infinite starts with the Chief and the UNSC forces interrupted in the midst of eliminating Cortana by a force of grumpy ex-Covenant known as the Banished. The leader of the Banished actually defeats Master Chief, which means six months later, Chief has to pick up the pieces of what happened while he was out of commission.

The plan to defeat Cortana worked, but the Banished now have control of Zeta Halo, one of the giant ring-shaped superweapons the Forerunners left hanging around the universe. Given the temperament of the Brute in charge of the Banished, the notion of them having such a superweapon at their disposal is terrifying.

Master Chief, along with a reluctant Pelican pilot who just wants to go home and an eager-to-please AI known as the Weapon, has to reclaim Zeta Halo inch by inch, defeat the Banished at every turn, and contend with a new foe that is lingering on the ringworld as well.

Right off the bat, you can kind of tell that Halo Infinite ignores most of the story from Halo 5: Guardians. Though it uses its predecessor’s narrative to jumpstart its plot, Infinite charts its own course when it comes to the story. Gone is the excessive amount of characters introduced in Halo 5. Infinite focuses on a smaller, core group of characters, which means the emotional journey each one takes feels more impactful.

Things are able to breathe with fewer characters. It was hard to care about Locke, Vale, Tanaka, Buck, Chief, Linda, Kelly, and Fred in Halo 5: Guardians because that’s eight people indirectly vying for attention.

In Infinite, we are happily limited to caring about Chief, the Weapon, and the Pilot. When they go through a trauma, express reservations, or crack a joke, you just feel more because they are our human connections to the world we’re exploring and the narrative we’re traversing.

Infinite also improves upon the antagonists this time around. Fuck Prometheans. The Banished are where it’s at. Damn, I have missed Brutes.

In Halo 4 and Halo 5, these Promethean warriors were your enemies, but they were basically robots. They didn’t have a “personality.”

Brutes do.

They will get angry at Chief, taunt Chief, bum-rush him when they land in nearby drop pods.

Escharum, the leader of the Banished by the time Chief wakes up from his six-month nap, also has such a presence throughout the game. He’ll leave these long-winded messages gloating over the Chief. In a weird way, Escharum is happy the Chief survived because he wants a challenge in his life.

And it’s kind of nice to have a villain who wants you around.

That’s not to say I didn’t miss characters I was introduced to in the prior two games. Lasky is briefly mentioned in audio logs, and I found myself hungering for more information about him. I seriously wanted to know if he survived the destruction of the Infinity.

Hell, even Locke was referred to in an audio log, and I found myself wishing I knew more about what he and Osiris were up to during the events of Halo Infinite.

If you were unsatisfied with Halo 5: Guardian’s story, I think Infinite will be a balm to your soul. It feels more like a “Halo story,” if that makes sense, with less exposition and more experiences than in Halo 5.

The Open World

Many were surprised to learn that Halo Infinite would have an open-world structure to its campaign. While the series has definitely dabbled with an open world in levels like The Silent Cartographer, the games have all consisted of linear mission design.

When you’re first dropped onto Zeta Halo, there is this sense of wonder. You can see mountains in the distance, lightly touched by the rising sun, and you can feel awed at the assurance that you can in fact walk (and by walk, I mean sprint/grapple) to the top of that mountain.

Infinite encourages this sense of wonder at every turn. Fall damage is completely gone. You can shuttle up and down cliffs without having to worry about spraining the Chief’s ankle. And the addition of the Grappleshot means you can scale the tallest mountainsides with a few quick thrusts.

Sprinkled throughout the map are story objectives, upgrade locations, boss fights, unlockable FOBs, hidden audio logs, and rescue missions.

When I was in the middle of playing the game, I bemusedly asked my coworker if he thought they had cluttered the game with useless side content, like in current Assassin’s Creed titles.

He said, and I quote, “Yeah, I guess they did Ubisoft [Halo], but they did it in a classy way.”

The spacing of these missions and collectibles feels right, not too cluttered, not too far out. I never groaned to myself and thought, “Oh damn, another FOB to unlock.” I had fun opening up the map for myself.

However, I have two big complaints about the way Infinite is structured.

For one thing, while what we see of Zeta Halo feels grand and gorgeous when we first step onto its surface, it quickly becomes a bit monotonous. Gone is the variety of environments that we used to see in Halo games. There are no snowy levels, desert levels, swampy levels, or city levels.

You are either on the wooded surface of the ring or in the metallic interior. Those two environments are what you will constantly see while playing Halo Infinite, and while traversing the ring never gets tiring, the setting eventually wears out its welcome.

My second complaint deals in nostalgia.

As I said earlier, I love replaying the Halo campaigns. Every so often, I’ll still say, “You know what? I want to play Truth and Reconciliation.” And I’ll pop in Halo: CE and load up that third mission.

You can’t have that in Infinite.

The open-world format means no self-contained missions, and I kind of miss the cleanliness of being able to pick out one I like and replay it. If I want to replay a moment from Halo Infinite…I’m going to have to start the campaign from scratch.

The Combat

Oh my god.

I love the way combat feels in Halo Infinite.

The physics-fun nature of it, the glory of the Grappleshot, the sheer joy of a weapons sandbox that finally feels useful again.

Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians suffered from a terrible weapons sandbox. Half of the weapons in those games didn’t feel fun to use, so you never bothered with them. Of the roughly twenty-five weapons in Halo Infinite, on the other hand, I think I’m not fond of only two.

My favorite weapons to use were the Sidekick (the new pistol that has replaced the Magnum from previous Halo games), the Shock Rifle (this zappy sniper rifle thing that just looks super cool), and the Heatwave (a total Dead Space plasma cutter rip-off, but I love it).

Fighting the different enemies on Zeta Halo is also more fun than dealing with the Wardern Eternal a gazillion times.

The Banished have such a personality. I already said this in the story section, but it’s true in the combat too. Brutes either rush you in this mad rage, or they relentlessly shoot you with weapons as they taunt you. Elites are more reserved, and you have to deal with their shields. Jackals now have a new way to hold their shields as they fire at you, making them surprisingly tough to get used to as an enemy type. And Grunts…

…they’re just adorable.

Halo Infinite has given Grunts the best bits of dialogue I’ve yet heard from them in a Halo game. They’re cowardly, they’re snarky, they shriek, they cackle. And someone needs to give that Grunt Propaganda Officer a raise.

One of the new ways Infinite places you in a combat scenario is through boss fights. In both open-world areas and in story moments, the Master Chief has to go up against some tough Banished baddies, and overall, it’s a fun and challenging experience.

That said, there were some moments that just utterly ticked me off.

I’m going to go right out and say it, I was not fond of the Escharum boss battle. Close quarters with a rampaging Brute holding a Gravity Hammer that practically one-shots you with a health bar that diminishes in millimeters?

Color me not interested.

I like tough fights, don’t get me wrong. But Escharum bordered a bit on the unfair and unfun. My boss fight with him devolved into me swinging from one side of a cramped room to another, shooting at him for two seconds, then repeating. I whittled his health down bit by bit, and I was grimacing the whole time.

Conclusion

I desperately missed the couch co-op element of Halo games while I was playing Infinite, not just because it’s fun to play games with friends, but because Infinite itself feels like it would reach pinnacles of greatness if you had a buddy by your side playing it with you.

It captures the wonder of the original games almost perfectly, and it maintains it for a surprising amount of time given the lack of variety in environments.

The combat has also never felt better to me. It might not be the “competitive” type of gameplay fans of Halo 5: Guardians preferred, but it feels like Halo.

Approaching encounters and enemies in Halo Infinite is different every time. I could be tackling the same objective as someone else, but we could both go about it in very different ways, which heightens the game’s replay value.

And that’s considering that it may be harder to replay Halo Infinite because that means starting from the very beginning.

But I can definitely say it will be worth it.

I rate Halo Infinite a joy-to-play-for-a-long-time-Halo-fan-and-a-massive-relief-like-I-swear-a-weight-has-dropped-from-my-shoulders-faster-than-a-Scorpion-tank-drops-on-an-unsuspecting-ODST.

Cosmically Extraordinary: The Artful Escape Review

I’m going to take this moment and say thank god for Xbox Game Pass. I’m not one to needlessly promote things, but dude, if you like video games and you own an Xbox, you need to get Xbox Game Pass. It is such a good deal.

If I didn’t have Xbox Game Pass, I never would have gotten the opportunity to play The Artful Escape.

Forgive me for sounding hoity-toity (and for sounding like Captain Obvious), but this is a game that is more than a game; it’s goddamn art. The Artful Escape is not a story that needs to be told. It’s an experience that needs to be absorbed.

I picked it up on a lark, downloading it because of its small file size and eye-catching cover art. However, going into The Artful Escape blind was a blessing, so while I am going to go over spoilers in this post, if you have any intention of playing it, I recommend stopping right here. Not knowing what to expect is a large part of its charm.

On the surface, The Artful Escape is just a 2D platformer with some light Simon-says QTEs thrown in. You move your character left or right as you travel through various areas, occasionally jumping over gaps and ridges. As for the button-pressing, you just have to remember musical patterns and input them in the correct order.

But boiling it down to these gameplay components is doing the title a grave disservice. The game as a whole is so much more than that.

You play as one Francis Vendetti, an aspiring young musician who lives under the shadow of his “Bob Dylan” uncle. Okay, so at no point does the game outright say that Johnson Vendetti (Francis’ uncle) is Bob Dylan, but just give one of his songs a listen. We all know who they were trying to emulate.

Anyways, the legend of Johnson Vendetti, folk singer extraordinaire, is immense, so it’s no wonder that Francis feels a weighted obligation to live up to his reputation. However, it’s clear Francis is yearning to forge a bold new identity for himself.

With the help of some new friends, Francis thus begins a cosmic journey to find himself.

Technically speaking, Francis starts his journey to help famed guitarist Lightman perform for the ever-discerning Glamourgonn. But even though typing that sentence was really cool, it’s beside the point.

You see, even though Francis is being teleported across the Cosmic Extraordinary, meeting zany musicians and absurdly brilliant rockstar alien cultures, zooming across mind-blowingly colorful landscapes, and emitting star-studded melodies, The Artful Escape is not about his physical journey.

It’s more about his spiritual/mental one.

Not all of us have ever hopped aboard a Cosmic Lung and performed for millions of tentacled, cheering aliens.

But all of us have felt as if we couldn’t safely be ourselves in front of people, at least at some point in our lives.

Francis’ journey to gain confidence in himself and who he wants to be is one that resonates, and what makes The Artful Escape so great is that it resonates with such unabashed style. The visuals of the game are astounding, and even though Francis states he’s out of his element, he clearly belongs with these surroundings.

Oh. And the music. The soundtrack of the game matches the out-of-this-world vibe. It is one of the best things about this indie title, and even if you don’t want to play it, you should give the whole thing a listen.

There are portions of the game where you get to choose Francis’ cosmic rockstar name and arrange his stellar get-up, and this is part of where the magic of The Artful Escape hits home.

Even though this is Francis’ adventure, and you’re along for the ride, at times the game seems to transcend this. The choices you make when you name yourself, choose your origin story, and select your outfit define who you want your Francis to be.

I named myself The Cheeky Froley, so of course I was thrilled.

And the whole thing culminates with a spectacular interstellar cosmic light show. With lasers.

It’s not every day that I’ll play a game and just…feel good about being myself. Usually I’m playing a game to be diverted or to experience someone else’s story. But Francis’ galactic adventure felt like it was mine, even though I’ve never played for the Glamourgonn, ridden on the Cosmic Lung, or hell, picked up an electric guitar in my life.

I rate The Artful Escape an outer-space-roaming-inner-journey-I-will-never-forget.

Sand, Spice, and Half a Movie: Dune Review

Let me just come right out and say it: If Dune had not gotten approved for a sequel and just remained as a single, giant half-told story, that would have been a major case of blue balls.

Hi.

It’s me, your Below Average Blogger who hasn’t posted in about a month and is belatedly talking about Dune.

But that’s okay. My Below Average Blog, my Below Average rules.

If you don’t want to read any more about Dune because you haven’t seen it yet, all you need to know is that it is very much made for Dune fans. It’s also made for fans of sci-fi films that focus on atmosphere, i.e. Blade Runner or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

That’s not to say it isn’t a fairly nifty experience for newcomers, but this is clearly the Dune movie that fans of Frank Herbert’s novel have been waiting for for decades.

Spoilers ahead!

(Even though the movie came out, like, a month ago, and god, I am so sorry for covering it so late, I shouldn’t apologize, but I can’t help feeling guilty, work has been piling up and now the holidays are here, but I still feel so ashamed for not keeping up with my blogging, guilt is my ever-present companion in life.)

I summarized the first Dune novel pretty concisely (i.e. not concisely at all) in my post about the book a few months ago. So I’m not going to waste anybody’s time in summarizing the plot here. However, you should know that the movie only covers half of what’s in the book. It covers the events from the beginning to right after Paul has his duel with Jamis.

And then it just ends.

This is by far the movie’s biggest flaw. If you were following the sinister plots of the Harkonnens and hoping to uncover the mystery of Paul’s burgeoning powers, then the manner in which this movie ends will leave you reeling. It doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger a la The Empire Strikes Back, so much as it feels like someone cut The Empire Strikes Back in half and said that the movie ends right when Luke has that vision in the tree-cave thing.

It’s strange because the movie covers so much. It has to. World-building, galactic political maneuverings, and genetic manipulation take time to properly explain to an audience. But even though the movie is jam-packed with this kind of exposition, the way it ends leaves the whole thing feeling unfinished.

The second flaw of the movie in my Below Average opinion is how little time is spent developing characters. (Yikes, doesn’t that sound like a dime-store critic’s opinion?) So much of the movie is spent showing the world, which is great, because the world of Dune is so mesmerizing, but it comes at the cost of character development.

For example, Gurney Halleck is this gruff soldier type who stands alongside Duke Leto during the move to Arrakis, but you actually don’t know much about him beyond that. In point of fact, he disappears halfway through the movie and is not seen again; you don’t even miss him when he’s gone.

‘But wait!’ the angry Dune fan might shout at me. ‘Gurney’s a side character. He’s not meant to be developed.’

All right, angry fan. What about Jessica, Paul’s mother? She’s a pretty pivotal character. Would you say you know her motivations?

Of course, if you’ve read the books, you know that Jessica is an ambitious woman who hopes to see her son become the Kwisatz Haderach. She does a lot of things most would consider unseemly in order to achieve this goal.

The movie follows this same plotline, but your understanding of what she gains from it is dramatically lessened.

And Jessica and Gurney are not the only ones who get shafted when it comes to development. Thufir Hawat, who played a prominent role in the book, is largely absent from proceedings. Dr. Yueh, a key player in the fall of House Atreides, only pops in a couple of times before this betrayal. And Rabban’s job in the film, apparently, is to just walk around menacingly without actually doing or saying much.

All of this character development is sacrificed at the altar of sci-fi world-building, and while I do miss it, I’m not actually too torn up about it. Why?

Because the world of Dune is just that fucking cool.

The intricacies of Landsraad politics, the dark training of the Sardaukar, the spice harvesting on Arrakis, the mental powers of the Bene Gesserit, these are all things that interweave to make Dune’s universe a fascinating place. And say what you will about the lack of time spent on character motivations, the clear investment in creating a riveting atmosphere is well worth it.

From the visual designs of hard-to-imagine objects from the books to the musical accompaniments to mostly silent scenes, everything in Dune harmonizes to make you feel like this place exists. It’s not just some fantasy story created in someone’s overactive mind. It’s a real place somewhere out in the unknown reaches of our universe.

And what makes the whole thing even more staggering is the fact that Dune is one of the forefathers of the sci-fi genre. Frank Herbert created concepts that might seem like par for the course these days, but you have to remember that he wrote Dune in 1965. So even though we lucky audience members are seeing Dune realized in all of its glory, we’re reaping the benefits of Herbert’s creativity.

The first half of this post might make it seem like I abhorred Dune, but I actually loved it. It’s one of those movies that makes you forget you’re watching a movie. All too often, now that I’m an adult, whenever I watch a movie, I am laser-focused on the fact that this is a narrative product that someone is trying to sell me. It has become rarer and rarer that I can truly sink back and forget that fact while sitting in a theater.

Dune immersed me more fully into its world than a sandworm immerses its prey into its mouth.

The ending left me hanging so badly because I wanted to stay immersed for a while longer.

I worry a bit that non-Dune fans will be left scratching their heads in puzzlement after the credits start rolling, wondering what on earth they just saw and if they even want to return for a sequel. But I went to go see it with two of my D&D buddies, one a die-hard Dune fan, the other a complete newcomer to the series. Both of them adored it, so I have hope.

I rate Dune a mind-blowing-sci-fi-experience-that-feels-more-immersive-and-astounding-than-a-half-finished-story-ought-to-feel-and-it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end.

So…Oops

I goofed.

So remember when I said, “Oh no! Work is becoming a bit too much to handle and I need to pace myself when it comes to blog writing?”

I also said I would be sticking to a new publishing-a-post-every-eight-days schedule.

I unintentionally lied.

Holy heck, did I underestimate my work load for the coming weeks, not to mention the numerous social engagements I had planned (i.e., not that many, but it just felt like a lot).

Guilt has been wracking my mind the entire time. As soon as I knew that I had missed the eight-day mark for my next post, I thought “Well, there you go. You’re a liar to the public now.”

But one of my best friends reassured me that it was no big deal if I missed out on writing a blog post for a few weeks. I’m under no obligation. Writing a blog is supposed to be fun.

The thing is, I’ve always been such a schedule-oriented person. I’ve taken a lot of pride in how disciplined I am regarding how I stick to my work and leisure agenda. So abandoning a self-prescribed schedule was akin to sacrilege.

But damn if it wasn’t nice to ease the load a bit.

In my downtime, I’ve been focusing on watching movies (saw Dune), reading books (I’m finishing Anna Karenina for the second time), and playing games (Back 4 Blood, The Artful Escape, Superliminal, Yakuza: Like a Dragon). I have posts planned for all of these.

I just need time.

So let me make another bold statement that will not be a lie (I promise).

I’m going to write in this blog when and where I want about whatever I want, and I’m not going to needlessly stress myself about it.

Pinky swear.

I Love My Old Movies

I have a small VHS player/TV in my bedroom.

I have access to a pretty large amount of movies through streaming services on other, more modern devices.

But that doesn’t stop me from popping in an old VHS tape and watching something in my room every now and then.

The sound quality is quite terrible, and the volume button is broken (all the buttons are broken in some way). If you press it too much, it starts to rewind the tape, so the volume is stuck at 14 (unless you want to fiddle with it). The speakers are also tinny-sounding, like the movie characters are literally stuck inside the boxy TV screaming at you.

The screen is small, probably 10 inches by 10 inches, a puny square. It practically demands you watch your movies fullscreen instead of widescreen.

My bed is situated on the opposite wall from the TV, but the head of the bed is blocked from directly viewing the screen thanks to a large dresser. I have to lie down with my head at the foot of the bed to properly watch things.

Sometimes I’ll watch a movie while I fold clothes in my room. I’ll push a tape inside and the player will seem to accept it gladly. If I’m packing for a trip to see Alya, a movie will help speed the time it takes. Or if I’m doing some much-needed stretching, a brief story on this sad, square screen will occupy my mind while my body is just protesting.

Other times, I don’t want my mind to be occupied. I’ll lie on my bed and put on a movie just so I can ignore it. I’ll stare at the ceiling and zone out for a good hour and a half.

I have a collection of classic Disney animated films courtesy of my mother’s assiduousness when it came to keeping me and my sister entertained. I also have a pile of rom-coms that my mother was gifted (that she forgot about), a handful of random 90s movies (for some reason), and The Ten Commandments (the obvious jewel in my movie collection).

Recently, when Alya took me to a used bookstore that also sells VHS tapes, I bought The Matrix Reloaded and The Last Crusade. I bought them specifically so I could watch them on this cruddy little TV.

I’m terrified it will break down one day, and I will be unable to fix it.

But for now, it’s one of the best things I own.

Literary Sins: Cujo Is Not About a Killer Dog

I still feel bitterly guilty that I haven’t read every single book that Stephen King has written, so yes, I’m calling it a sin that I just barely got around to reading Cujo.

I was rather hesitant to pick up Cujo, which is completely out of the norm for me when it comes to devouring Stephen King books. I read Stephen King more easily than I breathe sometimes.

But Cujo is about a dog, and I love dogs.

I was more than a little reluctant to plunk myself down and read hundreds of pages about a killer dog that terrifies a small town, which is what I thought the book was going to be about. I mean, who else thought that? “Cujo” is a name synonymous with “giant killer dog” the same way “Pennywise” is synonymous with “giant killer clown.”

Imagine my utter surprise upon finishing Cujo and realizing that the book is less about a monstrous canine creature and more about the terrifying nature of pure happenstance.

That’s right, folks. Cujo is less about the dog and more about how downright terrifying the notion is that a series of events happening in a precise manner can lead to the worst day of your life.

I haven’t felt this lied to since I finished Moby-Dick.

The big difference this time is that I’m not upset over how many whale facts that I had to suffer through.

I’m delighted.

Low-key horrified after reading the last page, but delighted with the experience overall.

If you have any intention of reading Cujo, DO NOT CONTINUE READING AFTER THIS POINT. I’m about to just deep-dive into spoiler territory. It’s the only way I can gush. But just know that I was impressed with the novel, and I would recommend it not as some kind of monster book, but more as a slice-of-life horror novel.

Cujo starts with two families: the Trentons and the Cambers.

Donna and Vic Trenton have a very young son named Tad. He’s an imaginative little tyke who is terrified of a potential monster in his closet, but a good kid nonetheless. Donna and Vic are going through a rough patch. Donna cheated on Vic with this guy named Steve Kemp. She called things off with Steve, but in a fit or revenge, Steve sent a letter to Vic (a very not-pleasant letter) making him aware of his trysts with Donna. Vic is made miserable by this information, but has to depart to New York for a meeting that could potentially save his business. Donna is left alone at home with Tad and a car that needs to be taken to a mechanic’s.

Joe Camber is a great mechanic, but a bit of a rough husband to his wife, Charity. They and their son, Brett, live in the boonies, out at the end of a country road. Charity does not want her son to end up a deadbeat mechanic at the end of a country road, so after winning the lottery (literally), she negotiates a trip to her sister’s with Joe as a way to introduce Brett to a better side of life. She buys Joe a fancy piece of equipment in exchange for allowing this, leaving Joe behind to take care of the family dog, Cujo.

What then follows is a sequence of events that leads to tragedy.

  1. Cujo chases a rabbit into a cave that has some bats and gets nipped on the nose after startling them with his bark. This gives him rabies.
  2. Donna’s car breaks down on a grocery shopping trip, so she decides to take it in to a mechanic that Vic recommended the next day, i.e. Joe Camber.
  3. Charity and Brett leave to visit her sister, with Brett noticing that Cujo is behaving oddly the morning that they depart.
  4. Joe decides to take advantage of Charity and Brett’s absence and plans to go to Atlantic City with his neighbor.
  5. His neighbor, in a drunken state, is attacked by a fully rabid Cujo. He is killed.
  6. When Joe goes to pick up his neighbor, he too is also killed at the neighbor’s house.
  7. Tad does not want to be left alone at the house with a sitter while Donna takes the car to Joe Camber’s. He begs to go with her and she relents.
  8. Just as they arrive at Camber’s garage out in the middle of nowhere, the car finally breaks down for good.
  9. Cujo attacks them, but they are able to safely retreat into the vehicle. However, they are stuck there, with no one living close by for miles. (The closest neighbor is dead.)
  10. Steve Kemp, Donna’s former lover, is so incredibly steamed she broke things off, he decides to confront her at her house. Seeing no one is home, he goes around breaking things and ejaculating on the bed in the strangest fit of rage I’ve ever read.
  11. Donna and Tad are stuck in the car for an entire day at this point because no one knows they went there and Vic, her husband, does not think it too odd that they have not called yet. He is also consumed with thoughts about saving his business.
  12. Donna hopes to wait for the mailman to come along and then honk for help, but it turns out that Joe called ahead of time to hold his mail for his pending trip to Atlantic City. She and Tad spend another day in the car. (Cujo is being preternaturally watchful of their vehicle and has attacked several times.) It is summer. It is hot. They have no food or water to last them.
  13. Vic, finally nervous that his wife hasn’t called him or answered his calls, calls the police to check on their place. The cops think he is just being overly worried, but they change their tune when they get to his place and find it trashed. Vic heads home.
  14. After examining the wreckage and the ejaculate, Vic knows for a fact that it was Steve Kemp who did this, and everyone assumes that Steve abducted Donna and Tad. The one thing that is odd is that her car is missing, but given the abundance of evidence that Steve was in the house, he is the prime suspect.
  15. Donna tries to make a run for the house to get to the Cambers’ phone, but she is tired, dehydrated, and hungry. Cujo attacks her and is able to wound her leg and stomach before she is able to escape back into the car. Tad starts having seizures. He is having severe heatstroke.
  16. The police find Kemp, and he admits to breaking in but swears he had nothing to do with kidnapping Donna or Tad. The police learn from Vic when he arrives that Camber’s garage is a place she might have gone to get the car fixed. A cop is sent there.
  17. The cop arrives and sees Donna’s car. Instead of calling this in immediately, he gets out of his car first. He sees them inside, but is attacked and killed by Cujo before he can relay this information to others.
  18. The next day, Vic has an epiphany after seeing that his son’s “monster words” (a paper used to protect him from the monster in the closet) are missing from his room. He connects this with the fact that Joe Camber has a really big dog at his place, and hey, maybe that’s where they are after all.
  19. Donna makes one last-ditch effort to escape to the house after Tad has another seizure. She actually succeeds in killing Cujo just as Vic pulls up.
  20. Vic runs over to help, but by the time he has gotten there, Tad has passed away from heatstroke. Everyone was just too late.

And…well…there you have it. That’s the basic plot to Cujo.

This is Stephen King at his finest, if you ask me. He does excel with B-movie horror and Cthulhu mythos type stuff, but I really feel like he has total mastery over the many wiles of human evil and random chance.

More than Cujo’s brutality, you fear Steve Kemp’s outbursts or Joe Camber’s grim abuse. And you also fear the just insane amount of randomness that led to Tad Trenton’s death.

As I turned every page, my jaw dropped not from shocking scenes but from the sheer suckiness of how one person’s decisions could lead to someone being stuck in a car in the middle of the country in the middle of summer with a rabid St. Bernard patrolling outside.

So many little choices led to Donna and Tad not being found in time.

And that was goddamn terrifying.

More than the poor pooch who got rabies.

I rate Cujo a chilling-book-that-is-less-about-canine-terror-and-more-about-how-random-events-can-just-fuck-you-up.

Making Changes for my Schedule

So work has been more or less kind of kicking my butt harder than ever.

And by that, I mean I’ve had to pull 10-hour days of just sitting in front of a computer.

And I know I previously talked about enjoying the grind of working at a job I love, but it’s gotten so that posting and scheduling here on the blog every five days is getting to be too much. I can’t even imagine posting every three days the way I used to.

I want blogging to be something I do for enjoyment, but lately it’s felt like something I have to rush at the end of a work day.

So even though it feels a little bit like giving up, I’m now going to post once every eight days instead of every five. It actually really pains me to do this, because it feels like I just can’t hack it. It makes me feel like some kind of writing failure.

But as several people have told me, I started this blog to get my writing out there and to have fun with it.

And if holding myself to a schedule is stressing me out, it’s not fun anymore. So I’m going to try out every eight days and see how it goes.

I’m really sorry if any of you guys are put off by this, but I promise that I will still keep blogging for as long as I’m able!

Which means a) until I die, b) until my body is so broken I can’t type, or c) until WordPress ceases to exist and my blog is eradicated from the face of the universe.

Thanks for being understanding, which I already know you will be because all of you readers are supremely Above Average people.

The Whole Production of Cleaning a Bird’s Cage

Like any animal on this planet, my bird Froley poops. Since he spends a lot of his time in his cage, on his cage, or flying over his cage, a lot of that poop ends up encrusted on those bars.

As such, his cages need to be cleaned regularly.

Cleaning his cages (there are two of them) becomes a big production because his regular cage, the one he spends his waking hours in, is rather big. And given the fact that it gets full of poop and feather dust, I have to take it outside to clean it. Wrangling that massive cage through the front door is one way to exercise your arm muscles, that’s for sure.

The first thing you have to do when attempting a thorough cleaning of Froley’s cage is remove all of the toys he has hanging from the roof. Froley watches me in alarm whenever I unclasp his favorite ornaments and put them away in his toy box. If he is feeing especially anxious about their safety, he hisses at me and nips at my arms.

After clearing up the clutter of toys, I have to move Froley to whatever cage I’m not cleaning. He will be bitter about it.

I then have to squat down, grasp the cage by the underside, heave it up, and carry it outside. After that, I also gather Froley’s cage-scrubbing brush, a plastic shopping bag, and some paper towels and take them out too.

In order to wash up every inch of the cage, I have to disassemble it. There are four parts to each cage. There is the plastic bottom that comprises the lower fifth of the cage. There is the plastic tray that slides in and out of the bottom and holds Froley’s poopy papers. There is the single barred floor that rests over the tray and prevents Froley from stepping on his poopy papers. Lastly, there is the interconnected barred surfaces of his cage walls and ceiling.

Each of these parts has to be hosed down and scrubbed. Even if there is no poop clinging to a surface, I spray it with some water just to be safe. The poopy papers have to be thrown out before any watering happens, but after that, it’s seriously just a lot of scrubbing.

Once you’ve eliminated every iota of bird poop, you dry each individual part. I use paper towels, but you could probably also use a more environmentally conscious option.

Then you bring every individual piece of the bird cage back inside, piece by piece. In the safety of my home and under the supervision of Froley, I reassemble his cage. I spread out new poopy papers, hang up new toys so his museum home remains interesting (have I mentioned Froley doesn’t really play with his toys so much as he visually appreciates them?), and then I set up new food bowls.

Froley has to be enticed back into his cage because he seems to prefer it when it’s slightly dirty. He’s really one for the lived-in feel. I have to put millet and Cheerios in his bowls to have him walk in and inspect his freshly cleaned surroundings.

He eyes me grumpily and ungratefully, but deep down I know he appreciates me.

My Top Ten Stresses

I am not the most anxious person in the world (I can actually hear my sister rolling her eyes when she reads this), but there are a couple things that stress me out to varying degrees.

I mean, I’m only human. Who hasn’t felt stress at some point in their lives?

Different problems will wreck my nerves more so than others, so for today’s post, I thought it would be fun (and de-stressing) to talk about some of the things that just get my stomach churning, my mind racing, and my palms sweating.

Here are the top ten issues that stress me out in order from least to most stressful.

10. Environmental Hazards

Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it. I’m very much a homebody. I stay in my house for both work and play because I’m a flabby, lazy couch potato who does not do well in the outdoors. I take walks around my neighborhood every evening, but that’s about it.

As a result, the few times I have gone hiking or visited a National Park have filled me with a bit of trepidation.

That’s not to say I’m terrified of the great outdoors. I mean, clearly this is my lowest-ranked stressor. But I have to admit I scan the ground nervously for snakes and spiders whenever I’m walking out and about away from civilization. And I’ve only recently learned what poison ivy looks like, so now I’ll be on the lookout for that too.

9. Family Disagreements

It is very rare that I get into a blow-out with members of my family. For one thing, I’m a fairly amiable person, if I do say so myself. I don’t like to make waves, and I adore my family, foibles and all.

But when we do butt heads…

Man, nothing stresses me out more than knowing that my family is mad at me.

8. Work Confrontations

I like to know I’ve done a good job at the end of every work day. Knowing that I have helped assist in keeping things running or that I got a coworker out of a tight spot are very gratifying aspects of my job.

But I can get uber anxious at the thought that I messed something up or that a higher-up believes I did a poor job. I live in a forever-terrified state that my boss will one day think, “Huh, she just sucks at her job. But it’d be too much of a hassle to replace her. She might as well stay.”

And being in a position where people work under me is just as stress-inducing. I always wonder if they respect me or if they think I’m too impersonal or if they think I’m a laughingstock.

7. Health Issues

Funnily enough, I’ve gotten better about stressing about my health. While the notion of falling ill and having to see a doctor or getting a shot or needing stitches is stressful, I’m way more chill about it than I used to be.

After years of WebMD telling me I have cancer when I looked up “itchy sore throat” or “stomach cramps,” I have become inured to the idea of getting a major disease.

Fun side fact: I’ve always kind of thought I would die from some health-related problem.

6. Social Relations

Damn, other people can be the cause of most of my anxiety. I really wish I didn’t spend half as much time thinking about what other people think.

COVID-19 has actually kind of helped in that regard, because now I’m so people starved, I don’t care if I look or sound like an idiot to them.

But almost nothing beats saying something stupid in front of a person I’d like to impress, and then standing in the shower with shampoo in my hair hours later wondering, “Why the fuck did I say that?”

5. Driving

Yeah, driving in traffic stresses me out. Sue me. (Don’t sue me.)

I also don’t like driving with another person in the car because both my mother and my sister, FOR SOME REASON, get hyper-freaked-out whenever I’m driving. They think I’m going to be some reckless driver or something, and I kind of want to look at them and be like, “You are getting on my case for being a bad driver?” They have forever damaged my confidence in my driving skills.

(Alya, mom, I love you very much. Please don’t be mad. Refer to Stressor #9.)

4. Performance Anxiety

If I’m doing anything and I know people are watching, my performance suffers. Like when I’m playing a video game, and I’m playing with people who are a) better than me, b) super competitive, or c) men, my skills just nose-dive.

It’s gotten so bad that I’ll start preemptively putting myself down first in order to lower expectations on how well I’ll play.

I think I tried trash-talking once, and I got blasted into tomorrow by everyone else. It’s like they went out of their way to put me down. Never again.

3. Money Issues

Yeah, anyone who needs to survive has felt this one.

I don’t make the best money, but thanks to recent promotions, I’m finally in a financially safe place.

However, nothing stresses me out more than having something go wrong with my finances, be it a missing check, a problem with my bank account, or an error with some online banking. If something like that happens, it will consume my every waking thought, and it will make falling asleep a nightmare.

2. Tech Woes

Oofsies.

So I make my living working from home. In order to do this, I need a functioning computer, phone, and Wi-Fi connection. If something amiss happens with any of these three things, my world is turned upside down. It turns into a cavalcade of stresses that leak into other anxiety-inducing areas.

I lose access to work, I lose my ability to earn money, I lose my ability to stay connected and in touch with people. It just sucks.

In addition to that, it can also affect my relaxation time if, let’s say, my Xbox or TV starts to crap out on me.

And the only ways to fix these problems…are usually expensive.

1. Pet Problems

Nothing churns my stomach more than when an issue regarding Froley arises. When he gets sickie or when his poops are not right or even when I have a nightmare that he flew out of the house and I couldn’t find him that shatters any equilibrium I could have had in a day.