Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Random 11

It’s one more random than 10!

Last weekend, I not only felt 14 again, I got to act like it.

My best friend Tom came to visit me. We’ve been friends since 1981, brought together by mutual interests in Dungeons & Dragons, Rush, and the NFL. Over the years, we ditched the D&D and added things like spouses, kids, and jobs, but those early nerd experiences still define our friendship.

In 1985, while attending a D&D convention (the event that killed D&D for us), Tom happened to buy a game called Grav-Ball. It’s a board game about a fictional futuristic sport that is like a bloodier version of lacrosse in zero-gravity, minus the sticks and with a 10kg metal ball and fully-armored players. He bought the game on a whim, drawn by the cover art as much as anything, thinking that it would be a fun change-of-pace from D&D.

Instead, Grav-Ball became our new D&D. While literally just a game board and some cardboard pieces, the comic levels of violence in the game coupled with our competitive natures immediately sucked us in.

Tom and I haven’t lived near each other since I moved away in 1984, but during every visit, we play Grav-Ball. This activity annoys our wives, in part because the game takes three hours, more because we act like complete idiots during the game. There is trash talking, one-upsmanship, profanity, and drinking. To avoid irritating them completely, we usually just play one game.

However, right before the trip, Tom’s kids and wife came down with an illness and couldn’t travel. That left just him, with no familial governor to regulate his nerd engine. The Lovely Becky, seeing the dice rolls on the wall, told us to just go crazy, and even secured babysitting for one afternoon so we could play.

Tom and I spent the weekend facing each other across a table, reveling in our freedom to be idiots. Our first game lived up to those expectations, a contest I won on the last turn by scoring with my goalie thanks to a pair of lucky dice rolls. I did a “gooooooaaaaallllll” yell and cranked “We Are the Champions” to celebrate the victory.

Tom would have the last laugh, however, winning a close game the next afternoon, and blowing me out in the last game we managed to get in before we went to bed. Nine hours of Grav-Ball squeezed into two days. While I was very sorry to miss his family, the sheer indulgence of a marathon game session, of returning to the days before jobs and responsibilities and the rationing of free time, had given us a lot of joy.

“Do you realize we’ve been playing this game for 24 years?” I asked him.

“Jesus,” Tom said. “That means next year will be the silver anniversary. You know what else I realized? It’s possible that we might be the best Grav-Ball players in the world.”

I pondered that for a moment. I felt pretty silly about it, sure, but I’d be lying a part of me didn’t let out a, “bitchin’.” And I’m already planning out my strategies for next time.

1) “Burnin’ for You,” Blue Öyster Cult. How do you know this song rocks? Because it doesn’t have time for no “g” on “Burnin’.”

2) “The Well,” Elf Power. It’s a funny phrase, Elf Power. Funny because elves are not intimidating or scary. Funny because it makes me think of mythical races engaged in racial politics. Could you imagine a story about a group of militant elves acting like the Black Panthers? Or like a bunch of inbred white power idiots? Are there redneck elves? I sense a future sketch here.

3) “In the Garage,” Weezer. This was my Facebook update the day after Tom left. Their debut has one of the best guitar sounds of any album. Even though so many bands copied that sound, they never got the right mix of fuzz, crunch, and clean that this album has. Plus how many songs name-check the Dungeon Master’s Guide?

4) “La Costa Brava,” Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. When I hear a short, catchy song that I like, I always think, “I wish that song would keep going.” However, one of the reasons why those songs are appealing is because they don’t overstay their welcomes. Ted Leo’s written a lot of those songs, but here he just stays about two minutes longer than he should. I certainly like long songs, but they have to have a purpose: some interesting instrumental passages, or a story to tell. You know, like a song cycle about Grav-Ball.

5) “Knife,” Grizzly Bear. Grizzly Bear is going to show up on a lot of best-of lists this year, and I admit I don’t get it. They’re not bad, but there’s this tendency among some bands to focus on sound over songcraft, where the concept of being interesting is equated with being enjoyable. Reverb and atmosphere can make for some nice aural foreplay, sure, but at the end of the night, I’d like a little more action.

6) “November Rain,” Guns N’ Roses. Of course, then I get all gooey over something like this, flushing what little credibility I have like heroin down the toilet during a drug raid. I don’t care, I’m still doing a mental Axl shimmy right now.

7) “Lazy Day,” The Flying Burrito Brothers. A rather revved-up song for a lazy day. The only thing I miss from the pre-parent era is the lazy day. It’s pretty hard to have one, the kind of days where the sun would move but I wouldn’t, or TLB and I would watch a half season of Battlestar Galactica. Obviously parenting is way better, but I did love those days.

8) “The Night Is Still Young,” Billy Joel. An excellent song…for me to poop on!

9) “She,” Green Day. I had a conversation this week about 90s music. I think it’s my least-favorite decade for music. There were a lot of great songs and albums and artists, sure, but even stuff I really liked then I don’t play much now. Case in point with Green Day. I played Dookie a lot when it came out—one of those albums that I think became super popular because it was so good, not because it was a watered-down shot of suck. And it got a revival after American Idiot came out. But it doesn’t really hold up for me, and that’s true for a lot of 90s music that I really liked. I play stuff from the 70s, 80s, and 2000s more.

10) “South,” A Cursive Memory. I like to think that, even if I was 15 and oh-so sensitive, I’d still find this a little too wimpy. Even Robert Smith said boys don’t cry.

11) “Blinded by the Lights,” The Streets. Normally, a song about taking too many pills at a club would sound like boring, familiar fodder for music, but the trippy, hypnotic beat of this song always sucks me in. Good stuff.

Have a great weekend, and I hope you have at least a little bit of summer where you are. Somebody should feel warm in August, cause it sure as hell won’t be me.


Jennifer said...

Nice to see you back, Brando. I'm glad you didn't end up in the ICU after that marathon Grav-Ball session.

I can only imagine what you could do to a game of Stratego!

Grizzly Bear... I find myself liking Cheerleader, but I always stop for a bit and wonder why.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Could you imagine a story about a group of militant elves acting like the Black Panthers? Or like a bunch of inbred white power idiots? Are there redneck elves? I sense a future sketch here.

Just dig out your Tolkien, Brando.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Don't diss the Cult.

Churlita said...

The Lovely Becky is incredible, isn't she?

I heart Blue Oyster Cult. I make no apologies for it either.

Kathleen said...

what a cool story

fish said...

I bought and played the original Car Wars for pretty much the same reasons (liked the box art and got addicted). I am not sure I am the best player in the world though...