My Shaka Brah

Bet you forgot this picture existed, huh, Bubba?

To talk about my friend Bubba is to embark on a million stories.

I’m surprised I haven’t written a post dedicated solely to him yet, but keen readers of my Below Average Blog will no doubt have seen mention of him in numerous posts. He’s traveled with me to many places, played countless games with me, and indulged my weirder habits.

He’s one of my bestest friends, and this post is for him.

Side note: Hey, Bubba! I know you’re reading this!

The first thing you should know about Bubba is that his real name isn’t actually Bubba. It’s Genaro.

The story of how he got the nickname “Bubba” is before my time. I think when he was in elementary, some friends of his just decided to call him that.

The second thing you should know about Bubba is that he’s a fantastic human being.

We kind of met during freshman year of high school. Our lunch tables were close to each other, and we were aware of each other’s existence, but we didn’t really talk.

Our friendship really started chugging along come junior year of high school.

And we reached maximum levels of buddiness during our college years.

We would have manversations while playing Halo. We tried starting a YouTube channel that hasn’t seen any activity in years now. We would stay up till early hours just talking about goddamn anything.

And I don’t know if Bubba feels this way, but I think the universe confirmed we’re supposed to be friends when it gave us jury duty at the same time.

One of the greatest things about Bubba is his sense of playfulness. There is no one (aside from my sister) who I would rather explore a new place with or try a new game with, than Bubba. He taps into my inner goofball and we can both have insane amounts of fun just being stupid together.

We played though Alien: Isolation together because I was too afraid to play it alone, and the game got so stressful for us, we set a timer for ten minutes, effectively limiting how long one of us would play before handing the controller off to another person. Eventually, we would actually throw the controller at the other person when the timer sounded, no mater if the Xenomorph was inches away from killing us.

We have gone to the beach at six in the morning, and because we’re so eager to just jump into the water, we freeze our tits off by wading in before the sun has properly come out. I remember complaining about how my recently shaved legs were blistering from the icy salt water, and as Bubba laughed at me, a perfectly timed, frigid wave just slapped him in the sack.

We once even braved an epic knife fight at a casino together while trying to escape a dreaded Oompa Loompa bonus.

Side note: I’m exaggerating, Bubba, I know. But come on! It was intense!

We’ve also waited in line after line at Disneyland together like a couple of motherflubbin’ champs.

And there is no one I would rather camp with outside of a movie theater, waiting for a premiere, for twelve hours.

The ability to be “stupid” with a person doesn’t sound like a compliment on the surface. But it’s one of the highest pieces of praise I can lay on Bubba’s shoulders. He doesn’t make me think about how I’m behaving or what words are coming out of my mouth or what my face looks like. I can be totally natural in front of Bubba, and I hope the reverse is true for him.

He is the first person I think of when I consider going out to have fun. He is one of those rare people who can truly make you forget anything wrong going on in your life. Seriously, the apocalypse could be happening, and Bubba and I would be able to laugh about it while playing Minecraft.

During this pandemic, he’s been the person keeping me sane. We play together over Xbox Live, and even though miles separate us, it feels like he’s sitting right next to me as we mess around in the Nether. I can picture his expressions perfectly.

You might be wondering at this point why this post calls him “my shaka brah.”

Well, see, I got a free download of the game Life Is Strange, in which a bunch of whiny hipster teenagers go through some trials and tribulations. At one point, the main character makes a joke and says, I shit you not, “Ready for the mosh pit, shaka brah.”

Bubba had been watching me play through this game the whole time. As soon as this line was spoken, we looked at each other and just shared the biggest groan/chuckle/screech you’ve ever heard. It was like our humor and our disgust got together, had a baby, and this was the baby’s first noise.

After that, we started calling each other “shaka brah,” you know, to be ironic.

And, well, it stuck.

It’s gotten so bad that we actually label gifts to each other as being from “shaka brah” to “shaka brah.”

And the rest is history.

Friends You Can Rely On

Today, I wanted to make an appreciation post for two of my best friends.

Alya was basically born to be my best friend. Or maybe I was born to be hers. Either way, she’s my sister and my best friend. As many siblings might know, those terms can be mutually exclusive, and I am lucky that this is not the case with me and Alya.

Mia met me and Alya when she was entering Kindergarten, I was going into first grade, and Alya was going into third. We shared a bag of Skittles and played with wooden building blocks in my mom’s classroom. And that was it. We have been friends, the three of us, ever since.

We were never really into the same things that our classmates were into. All three of us liked to read, and we had a special obsession with The Lord of the Rings. We liked playing games of pretend, imagining we were on Middle-Earth slaying Orcs and trolls. (But never Balrogs. Since none of us were wizards, we would have been totally outclassed, even in our imaginations.)

Alya was (and still is) the leader of our games. She was the director of our adventures, the decider of our futures. To this day, Mia and I say we can’t make proper decisions without her. (Which kind of spells doom for our personal lives, but I think we’re fine with that.) When our games took a turn for the sci-fi, she was the Commander to my Navigator and Mia’s Engineer.

I have Alya to thank for helping me in all of my writing endeavors. She’s supported me in so many ways. Even more than I support myself. (Which, again, spells doom for my life if she ever decides to abandon me, but that would never happen.) She might have a terrible sense of direction, but she’s still the one who takes charge whenever she, Mia, and I get together.

One time, Alya decided we were going to pluck oranges from Mia’s grandmother’s orange tree. The ground was muddy, and our mother warned us that we were not to get dirty. She threatened us with never letting us see Mia again, which she would never have followed through with, but we were young. We believed our friendship was on the line.

Mia and I were reluctant, but Alya kept pointing out these super amazing oranges on the branches above us. These were like Tropicana-cover oranges. Just one more, Alya kept saying.

Alya had her eye on a perfect orange, but it was really high up. We couldn’t climb to it, and it was dangling right over a particularly muddy piece of ground. Alya said she was going to jump for it. Before she did, Mia tore off the slide from her plastic play-place and laid it over the mud just in case Alya fell.

Then Alya took the leap.

She hung in the air for one interminable second before the stem snapped off and she fell on the slide. Unfortunately, the slide slipped out from under her sneakers, and she landed smack on her bum in the middle of the mud. We spent the rest of our visit to Mia’s grandparents’ house learning how to use a washing machine.

Mia was (and is) the solid backbone of our group. She’s the level-headed one. When Alya comes up a crazy idea, Mia is the one who grounds it in practicality. She is the string to Alya’s kite. Mia is the strongest of us all, and also the kindest. Plus, she has an iron will and a delicious sense of justice.

One time, I had to do something humiliating for a group project in a college class. I won’t go into specifics because it really was embarrassing for me and out of my control. However, the humiliating task was typed up on a piece of paper, and Mia came up with the idea of burning it once the assignment was complete. It was a therapeutic notion, and we all thought it was a great idea.

But Mia went the extra mile. She actually placed the paper in a hollowed-out cinder block, in order to keep the fire from spreading anywhere else, lit the paper with some matches, and then declared she was going to salt what was left when the flames died down.

We looked at her confused for a moment, and then we laughed at the realization that she was talking about the ancient practice of salting the earth of conquered lands so nothing would ever grow there. Mia was symbolically planning to curse the assignment into oblivion.

So when the paper was just ashes, Mia stepped inside, then came out with a salt grinder and ground some cooking salt over the gray remains.

It was hilarious and put a fun spin on something that otherwise would have been a stain on my memory.

I don’t make new friends these days. I don’t really leave my place of residence to go out to places of socialization. Why would I when I have books, video games, and myself to keep me company?

That sounds like a pity statement, but IT’S NOT. (Capitalized letters to emphasize my seriousness.)

I don’t need a lot of people in my life to feel happy. I feel happy with the ones I have. And if I happen to stumble along some others by chance, then that’s great, too.

So here’s to my two best friends in the whole wide world. No matter where we go, when we see each other next, or what we do, I know I can rely on the two of you for all the years to come.

My Ultimate (Video Game) Firefight Squad

When I’m not playing video games by myself, I have a cool collection of people that I like to play games with. Playing a video game cooperatively with another person is an experience I live for. That might sound like a gross exaggeration, but I’m not joking. Besides, you can live for multiple reasons.

But of course, “cooperation” is a relative term.

Here is a list of my favorite people to game with:

Bubba: I’ve gamed with Bubba for ages. Since high school, I think. He is a better gamer than he’ll admit to being. (He’s also a supporter of my writing. HEY, BUBBA!) He takes to games the way a fish takes to water. When we play any game together, he’s the ultimate partner. We have each other’s back. If I’m rushing forward, he’ll hang back and cover me. If he’s the one who decides to yolo ahead, I’ll stay behind and try to keep him alive. One of the best things about gaming with Bubba is how he’s willing to just have fun with the game. I never feel like we absolutely have to win a match. We’re just there to have a good time. Plus, he’s the best person to goof around with. He’s an absolute must whenever I play a horror game. 

Mia: As my longtime childhood friend, Mia has played countless video games with me. She doesn’t own a PC or console of her own, so her only gaming experiences have been shared with me. Her skills with a controller are indicative of her unfamiliarity with gaming, but she makes up for it with enthusiasm. So while she might charge into a room blindly and struggle to adjust the camera when she moves, she’ll give out hoarse battle cries every time she does, guns blazing. Plus, she  gets really invested in the story. I truly believe that video games are one of the best ways to experience a narrative (and I adore books) because you are placed in a position where you are the main character. Mia is able to appreciate the story of a video game on an almost instinctual level, even in games where the narrative has taken a back seat to other gameplay elements.

Danny: I do play video games with my boyfriend. He’s pretty particular when it comes to his taste in video games. I’ve begged him to play certain games with me, but he staunchly refuses if he knows ahead of time that he won’t like it. However, the games he does choose to play with me are given his undivided attention. For a person who does not show enthusiasm easily, Danny sure does play these games with a relentless fervor. Wouldn’t you know, he’s a completionist. Plus, he is a bit of a strategist too. He considers ways we could improve our gameplay in order to achieve objectives. Once he sinks his teeth into a video game, he doesn’t easily let go.

Carlos/Fro: Carlos is my sister’s husband, and Fro is his best friend. Over the past few months, I’ve been playing games with them more often. I think Tuesday nights are our designated gaming nights. They are a rush to play with. They’re both extremely competitive gamers, which is usually not the type of people I like to play with, but they allow for my blegh-ness levels. They constantly trash-talk each other, and I have to admit, since I’ve started playing with them, my trash-talking skills have risen. They both seriously outclass me in terms of gaming. When it comes to arena matches in Halo, I’m always the bait/distraction. Fro and Carlos are the elite soldiers who wipe out the enemy forces. 

Alya: She’s my sister, so of course I would want to play video games with her. She is by far my favorite person to play video games with. It’s rare that I can get her to myself, but when I do, I always want to try gaming with her. She’s not as bad as she thinks she is. She just has the unfortunate situation of being married to a really competitive husband. She took to gaming quite naturally when she was younger. We used to huddle around our small TV and play the original Star Wars: Battlefront together. Whenever I got a new Halo game, she would be the person to play the campaign with me first. Like Mia, Alya gets invested in the game. She’s the type who will scream if she’s close to dying, exult if she kills someone, and whoop if the team wins. She’s also the queen of perfect timing. When we played Halo 3’s campaign for the first time and we had to go inside this creepy Flood-infested corridor, she muttered, “I’m afraid.” At that exact moment, the Gravemind spoke to Master Chief, rumbling out a throaty, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” I bust a gut laughing at Alya’s expression. Hands down, she’s my favorite.

So who do you like to play video games with? ūüôā 

How Hogwarts Are You?

My friend Andreya and I have spent a lot of time discussing the nuances of Hogwarts House personalities.

And by a lot of time, I mean a lot of time.

At first, we were just interested in our own. We took the Pottermore quiz (you can find it right here if you haven’t already taken it yourself) and focused a lot of our discussions on the results.

Eventually though, we started using the Hogwarts House personalities to describe people to each other.

If, for instance, Andreya was trying to tell me a story about a fellow classmate of hers who I had never met, she would say something like, “He’s annoying, but in a Gryffindor kind of way.”

Things escalated quickly, and we began to talk for hours about how each House differed from the other.

Just in case you have no clue what I’m talking about when I say “Hogwarts Houses,” let me get you up to speed. Hogwarts is the magical school that Harry Potter goes to in J.K. Rowling’s famous book series. The students at this school are separated into four different houses based partially on their personality and partially on their desires.

The Houses and their base traits are as follows:

Gryffindor–Bravery and determination
Slytherin–Cunning and resourcefulness
Ravenclaw–Intelligence and Wisdom
Hufflepuff–Loyalty and Patience

Now, obviously a person can’t be summed up with just a few adjectives. I’ve met more than a few Ravenclaws, and none of them are solely “intelligent” and “wise.”

When Andreya and I discuss a person using Hogwarts Houses as descriptors, we attribute more than these traits to them. We have also gone into more depth concerning each House and what they are like.

And here are our thoughts for your reading pleasure.

  • Gryffindors:¬†Alongside bravery, Gryffindors are also very outgoing. They enjoy trying new things, meeting new people, and going to new places. New experiences are part of what they love about life. If you have a group of friends, the Gryffindors are the go-getters, the planners, the leaders. They always have an idea about what to do next. It may not be a good idea, but at least it’s an idea. The best thing about them is how engaging they can be. They ooze personality, so they draw people to them like a magnet. You’re never bored when you’re with a Gryffindor. You might get exhausted or drained after spending a day with them, but never bored. The worst quality a Gryffindor can possess is how unabashedly insensitive they can be. In their rush to find the next thing, they can be pretty inconsiderate. They are not even trying to be mean. They’re just heedless. My sister is a Gryffindor, and she’s responsible for all the scrapes we’ve gotten into. However, she’s also responsible for the best times we’ve ever had as well.
  • Slytherins:¬†A huge misconception about Slytherins is that they’re all evil. In the¬†Harry Potter¬†books, the whole of Slytherin House is filled with jerks. In real life, Andreya and I have made Slytherins less one-dimensional. They have a good dose of self-interest and the ambition to achieve their goals. That doesn’t make them bad. If anything, that just makes them honest with themselves. Andreya and I agree that one of the best things about Slytherins is how self-aware they can be. A Slytherin may lie to other people about how things are going, but a true Slytherin will never lie to themselves. And yes, just in case you were wondering, Andreya is a Slytherin. One of the reasons she’s one of my closest friends is that she has a firm grasp of her flaws. She knows she’s a tad self-absorbed and she knows she’s a “trash” person (I have¬†never¬†called her that). But the best thing about Andreya is her ability to adapt to fit a situation. And Slytherins make the best of friends. When you’re mad at someone, a Ravenclaw will be logical about the whole situation and try to smooth things over. A Slytherin will be able to suss out what you want to hear and give it to you, whether that’s some good old trash-talk or a complete denial of the real problem.
  • Ravenclaws:¬†I know two Ravenclaws really well: my boyfriend and my long-time friend Mia. They are perfect embodiments of everything the House stands for. Reason is the underlying force that allows them to function, but one thing I’ve noticed is that they can be very passionate. People assume that Ravenclaws are these dried-up scholarly types, but I have found that Ravenclaws usually have an undercurrent of enthusiasm for whatever it is they want to set their minds to. Mia, for example, loves¬†The Lord of the Rings.¬†Even though it is a fantasy series, Mia knows more tidbits and facts about that world than a mathematician knows about Calculus. I swear, enthusiasm that is supported with rationality is one of the most refreshing traits I’ve ever encountered in a person. The best thing about Ravenclaws is that they can always tell you the logical approach to a situation. I don’t know how many times I’ve face-palmed in disbelief at my own stupidity when Danny or Mia told me how to go about a certain scenario that I originally had no idea how to handle. Unfortunately, Ravenclaws can forget about emotions, and in this regard they can share the insensitivity that Gryffindors have. They also have a tendency to get hung up on the little things.
  • Hufflepuffs:¬†I’m a Hufflepuff. So I’m probably a bit biased. Just putting that out there. Hufflepuffs are kind of considered to be the throwaway House in Hogwarts. When all the other Founders of Hogwarts were fighting over who would keep the brave students, the cunning students, and the intelligent students, Hufflepuff’s founder simply said that she would “take the rest.” I feel like that’s the undercurrent that should run through every true Hufflepuff. It’s an acceptance of others and a willingness to trust in others no matter how lowly, unqualified, or dumb they appear to be. I think the best quality about us is that we’re the best kind of support anyone could ask for. We know how to bolster others. We’re indecisive as hell though. We have no standards. We’re occasionally too trusting. Being in Hufflepuff is a bit of a running joke. We’re considered the lame ones. The average ones. (Or below average, in my case.)

Andreya and I both agree that the traits of several Houses can reside in one person. I, for example, have a bit of Ravenclaw in me aside from Hufflepuff. (We blur the lines between each House and allow people to be more than one adjective.)

And we both agree that Pottermore can sometime not truly capture what a person is like. Instead, based on the answers people select in the quiz, Pottermore will give them the House they want to be in.

Still, it’s fun to talk about. Both Andreya and I are avid¬†Harry Potter¬†fans (along with most of the world), so we clutch onto any reason to talk about Hogwarts.

Any fellow Puffs out there? What Hogwarts House are you in?

Till next time!

Trouble in the Kitchen: Overcooked 2!

Hey, guys!

Are you desperately looking for a video game you can play on the couch with some buddies?

Also, does the idea of saving the world from a zombie invasion by cooking the most delicious gourmet meals appeal to you?

Welcome to Overcooked 2! 

Overcooked 2

Overcooked 2¬†is the sequel to a simple but fun game that you can play with up to four people. You and your friends play as rookie chefs who work for the Onion King. You have to clean up the King’s mess when he tries invoking a new recipe from the Necro-nom-nom-icon. (I know, it’s just too cute.) Instead of learning the steps to make a tasty new dish, the Onion King unknowingly raises the ravenous UN-BREAD. (Get it?)

The game is super easy to learn. You basically move your character around with a stick, with a button to pick items up and another to use them. It’s that simple. Using those straightforward controls, you and you team of cooks have to learn new recipes and prepare many dishes in a timely fashion in order to defeat the Un-bread.

Each area comes with its own theme, and every level sees your group in a little kitchen. If you deliver your food orders on time, you earn points. If you fail to deliver the order on time or if the order is delivered incorrectly, you lose points.

Note: You can get a score in the negative numbers.

My sister, Alya, is the one who introduced me to this game. And since we have remarkable chemistry when it comes to any cooperative exercise, we can play Overcooked like a couple of top chefs. We work together seamlessly.

I’ve cajoled many of my other friends into playing¬†Overcooked¬†with me as well.

Bubba and I can play really well together. (Admittedly, I think I’m a bit of a bully in the kitchen when he and I play together.) He always remarks on the sanitary conditions of our kitchens. We constantly have to drop ingredients on the floor while we’re playing, but then we’ll pick them up and cook with them anyways. Bubba does not think we’re up to code.

Nick and I goof off a lot. Nick likes to leave frying pans alone just to watch our entire kitchen go up in flames.

Andreya gets super stressed out when the timer begins to run out. She does not handle pressure in video games well.

Danny is a fricking completionist, so every kitchen has to be completed to perfection whenever I play with him.

Video games can seem like a daunting arena for those who don’t often play, but I think¬†Overcooked 2¬†is a good example of how open and amenable a video game can be for regulars and newcomers alike.

It’s currently out right now on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.

I’d rate it a party-game-you-always-want-to-play-but-never-seem-to-have-enough-controllers-for-so-you-have-to-go-out-of-your-way-to-buy-more-so-that-you-can-finally-have-a-full-kitchen-but-then-you-regret-it-immediately-because-some-of-your-friends-don’t-work-well-with-others kind of game.


I never liked the word “boyfriend,” even when I was younger. One, it sounds so teeny bopperish at the best of times. Two, it seems far too self-explanatory. I mean, seriously, a boyfriend is a “boy” who is a tad bit more than a “friend.”

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

When I was younger, I also swore to any adult who would listen that I would never get a boyfriend. Never get married, never have kids, none of it. Ew. Gross. Yucky.

The times they have a-changed. (By the by, I love Bob Dylan.)

These days, I do in fact have a boyfriend.

His name is Danny, and he is a boy and my friend.

Actually, his age makes him more of a man than a boy, and he is my best friend.

I was reluctant to write about him on this blog because a large part of me is still kind of holding on to keeping things private. It feels stereotypically girly to write about him too. But after sitting on a comfortable couch and re-watching¬†Pacific Rim¬†while ruminating on this subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is only fair to be open and honest about Danny here as I have been about everything else I’ve written on this blog.

So here goes.

I first met Danny at one of my friends’ house. She invited me over to hang out while a short film was being shot there. I said yes, so bright and early the next morning, I went over right as they were setting up. Breakfast was available, and I was hungry, so she and I piled food on our plates and dug in while some people I had never met before began preparing for the filming.

One of those persons was Danny.

While I was stuffing my face at the kitchen table with my friend, Danny was sitting on a nearby couch cleaning a camera lens. As I was eating, I began complaining to my friend about deaths in comic books (over-utilized, underwhelming, and ultimately meaningless).

I was ranting, going on a tirade about how stupid death has become in comics, and as my complaints piled on in intensity, from the corner of my eye, I could see this stranger smiling. When he caught me looking at him, he said, “Everything you just said, I completely agree with.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Danny and I began an email correspondence, and we got to know each other better and better as the months passed by. Eventually, after many anecdotes had been shared and inside jokes made, I worked up the courage and asked him out. (Don’t believe him if he ever says that he asked me out. It was me. I did it. I grew a pair and made the first move.)

I could tell you a million things about Danny. He does not like oatmeal. He has a fondness for trivia. He has mastered the art of the perfect comeback. His ability to analyze complex situations and come up with simple solutions is unparalleled. His ability to play¬†Halo,¬†not so much. He thinks¬†Ocarina of Time¬†is the best video game of all time. His favorite super hero is Nightwing. He likes to ramble, and he’s the best at telling stories. He has absolutely no sense of rhythm and he can’t hold a tune to save his life.

Is it corny to say we suit each other? We’re both laid-back. We would rather stay home and watch a movie than go out and party. One of my favorite things to do is to read at the table with him while he’s focused on doing something else.

I’m not embarrassed (okay, maybe just a little) to say that I love him. It’s funny that his first words to me were about agreeing with me. Because if I had to describe how Danny and I fit together, the best way to say it is that we are in agreement with each other. And by agreement, I don’t mean that we are of the same mind about different topics and that we never disagree with each other. What I mean to say is that we correspond with each other, we fit like two puzzle pieces, differently shaped, yet perfectly formed to be placed side by side together.

Like peanut butter and jelly, barbecue sauce and ribs, Master Chief and a Halo ring, Danny and I completely agree with each other.

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.

A 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

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 gr√Ęce, 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.”

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.



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?

The Ice Cream Kid

When I’m in a crowded place and I’m bored, my first inclination is to pull out a book and read. Occasionally, I’ll forego burying myself in a story and I’ll observe the people around me.

This post is about one of those times.

I was in a crowded mall food court. Since it was a weekend, the place was packed. The smells of the different kinds of mall food conflicted with each other. Cheesy pizza fought with frijoles which fought with stir fry. There was a loud hum of people talking at the same time, numerous conversations blending into a cloud of white noise.

I think I was waiting for someone. I don’t remember for sure. I was sitting alone at my own table, a small miracle on such a mall-enticing day. And a short distance away, at another table, a small chubby kid sat eating a chocolate banana sundae.

You should have seen this kid. He was truly enjoying his food. I don’t think I eat anything with that much joy and absorption. Had I ever? I started thinking. Do I even taste what I put in my mouth anymore?

Earlier, I had been spacing out, just randomly glancing from person to person, but now, this kid was the center of my attention. He didn’t notice me watching him. How could he? From the look of him, he was eating the best sundae in the world. He was adorable. He would jam his spoon into the chocolate-smothered ice cream eagerly, and scooped each spoonful into his mouth with a smile, as if this was the pinnacle of existence.

And, true story, I started to cry in the middle of this crowded mall food court.

This mortifies me to no end, but, for some reason that I haven’t figured out yet, I feel like this random-ass moment was a turning point for me. Don’t know why. It’s just a feeling.

Unstoppable, uncontrollable thoughts began to unfurl in my brain. Ice cream was providing this kid so much happiness, but would it always inspire such delight? One day, this kid would grow up, and he would have to count every calorie resting coldly on that spoon. One day, this kid might lose interest in the simple pleasure of a sundae because he would be too busy worrying about looking acceptable for other people. One day, this kid might forget what it feels like to be happy.

I don’t know why my thoughts took a turn for the morbid. But it felt important. Like an epiphany, except I had no clue what I was suddenly realizing.

I tried telling some of my closest friends about this moment, but not a single one of them understood. The comments I received varied. Here’s a collection of paraphrased responses:

  • “Geez, Mandy, that’s a really dark thing to think.”
  • “Were you on your period?”
  • “That’s a little messed up of you, proscribing a future for that kid. Why are you just assuming he’s going to get fat?
  • “Okay.”
  • “Are you feeling all right?”
  • “Oh, Amanda, that is so like you.”

I don’t blame them for not getting it because, hell, I don’t even get it. I still don’t get it. It’s like I was sucked into a vortex of downward spiraling musings about this stranger. I worried about his future happiness, my future happiness, and the unfortunate proclivity of society to judge people based on appearances.

The moment ended abruptly. I got a call on my cell phone, and then I left the food court. I never saw the kid again.

I do try tasting my food now. Like honestly tasting it. And I always try to remember to enjoy the little things.

This moment may have been stupid. It may have been nothing more than me feeling irrationally emotional.

Ah, well.