Friday, March 29, 2013

GDC 2013 - Part 5

I'm totally worn out.  Everything hurts.  It seems sitting in armless chairs all day does something to me.  I'd like to write a humorous, invigorating, eye-opening post, but that's not why you're here, is it?

Instead, I will tell you about the Final Game Design Challenge.  For the last ten years, every GDC has had a Game Design Challenge, where the moderator gives famous game designers a strange concept to work with and they present what they found.  We've seen games about Emily Dickenson and romance and germs.  Sadly, these events aren't all that well-attended anymore, so they're bringing it to a close.

This year, previous winners were challenged to write the last game anyone would play.  Will Wright came up with a system where we record and sort all our experiences to make a game aliens could play long after we're gone to know what it was like to be human.  Steve Meretzky invented a game that would get hackers to break into the nuclear launch codes of several nations and set off World War III, because humanity sucks so bad.

The winner was Jason Rohrer and he's fucking nuts.  Jason decided to make a game that would be played long after he was gone, like 2000 years after.  He made up a game, tested it with computer opponents, and then had it built out of titanium.  Yup, he made a giant, titanium board.  Then he had the pieces made out of titanium and bolted in to the board.  He created a universal language and wrote the rules on acid-free paper, stuck them in a hand-blown, glass tube, and encased it in a titanium tube.

Then he buried it out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada.  Every seat in the room had an envelope containing a million possible GPS coordinates.  As Jason said, someday someone with a metal detector might find it.  I saw a guy collecting as many envelopes as he could.

Parents, don't let your kids grow up to be in games.  It does something to your brain.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

GDC 2013 - Day 4

Okay, guys, I get it.  I really do.  Women who make games are hot.  Really hot.  They’re mostly young.  They dress well.  Most of all, they know what a “nurb” is.  They can optimize code.  They can rig a model.  You’ve spent your whole life toiling in obscurity, working on a tiny piece of a major game, and now there’s a woman who gets what you do.

That doesn’t mean she is you.  We’re guys.  We like when women stare at us, make sexual innuendos and sex jokes, and try to get us back to their hotel rooms.


I'm enjoying that sword too much.
 Actually, that doesn’t happen, but guys would love it if it did.

So, here’s the thing, that woman you’re talking to?  She’s not interested.  Maybe she’s impressed with how you tweaked the dirty rectangles on the binary partition to rectify the specular highlights in the cell shader.  However, she’s not interested in seeing you naked.


 

Let’s face it, you’re you.  Even at a conference, in your element, you’re the same guy.  You didn’t suddenly sprout a six-pack and smoldering eyes.
 
I’m not saying treat her with respect.  I’m saying treat her like a person.  Women at game conferences have a rough time.  They walk by ads for strip clubs.
 
Thanks, Moscone Center!

 
They’re surrounded by booth babes.  They go to industry parties with half-naked women.  There’s even a bingo game for the GDC where they can make a check every time someone treats them badly:


So, put your testicles away for the week.  Be a person not a testosterone machine.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

GDC 2013 - Day 3

Since some of you poor bastards can’t afford to go to the Game Developer’s Conference this year (admission costs as much as a small car), I’ll give you all a rundown of the Indie Games Summit sessions from the past two days.  There were a lot of sessions, so the summaries are brief.

The Making of Fract
“I thought it would be quick to make a game.  Then I made it.  And my wife got pregnant.  It’s still not done.  The game, not the baby.  The baby is done.  Here’s my baby.”

Molyjam: How Twitter Jokes Can Save Video Games
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KEhgp3iGCxQ

Art of Incredipede
I didn’t attend this talk very long because my son got a stomach ache and I had to rush out to take a call from the preschool.  I’m sure it was an amazing talk, because this is what Incredipede looks like:


Free Indie Games
There’s the website where they tell you about free indie games.  They didn’t tell you the URL of the website.  Seriously.  You can’t even find it if you search for “free indie games.”

?? Talk
I missed the title, but it was about the guys who made toys for Melissa and Doug.  The wooden crate they sell the toys in is more expensive than the toys themselves.

Genre and Creativity
There can be creativity in genres.  Or, maybe there can be genres of creativity?  I can’t remember which.

The Stanley Parable
“Once there was a little boy named Stanley who only played Half Life.  He died a miserable person.  The end.”

Crowdfunding for Indies
“Money?  Indies laugh at money!  Ahahahaha!  Who’s buying lunch?  Not me, for sure.”

OCD and the Development of Retrograde
“Two of us wrote 800k lines of code in our game.  I still don’t know why.”

The Marketing of Antichamber
Marketing?  Zzzzzzzzz.

Development of FTL
“We made a game based on a spec we wrote on the back of a napkin!  It still sold well!”

Space Chem
“Like, man, you ever notice how you get some crazy meth and you see trails for the rest of the week.  Blue trails.  Anyone got any peanuts?”

Free to Play Games
“So, we made this game called Chip Chain and we gave it away for free.  Strangely, we made no money.”

Why Freemium Sucks
It just does.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

GDC 2013: Day 2

This week is different.  This week, I’m not an accomplished author with a best-selling book.  This week, I’m a game designer looking to meet like-minded people who might work on my game.  I won’t check my reviews.  I won’t look to see how many people read my work.

Downloads: 75.  Borrowed: 2.  Free copies:1313.

Nice.

No!  No.  I have a game.  A great game.  A fun game.  It just isn’t done yet.  I need more money to get it finished like my book is finished.

Three reviews, all five stars.  One from a person I don’t even know!

I attend a talk about Kickstarter.  Feh.  I don’t need money; I need people.  Is there a Kickstarter where you get people instead of money?  I mean, legal people, not like slave labor.  Slavery is wrong and I can’t house a bunch of slaves.  Where would I put them all?

No.  Stop it.  Ethics.

I get a marketing analysis from an expert in women-centric games.  She points out a few problems.  It looks good for kids, but I built it for Facebook where you have to be over thirteen.  It’s a game about cleaning, which women will relate to, but men run from.  There are monsters, which men relate to and women will run from.

87 paid.  4 Borrowed…

Okay, my pitch needs a little work.  More focus.  Maybe I need to port it from Flash to iOS.  I do need money!  And a producer!  And a programmer.  And a pony!  And lunch. 

Lunch seems more likely than anything else right now.

91 paid…

I meet a friend of a friend who agreed to help me figure out what to do with my game.  He seems as flummoxed as I am.  With little programming ability and money, there aren’t a lot of options.

Someone gave my book only three stars.


I really, really wish you could.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Game Developer's Conference 2013: Day 1

Every year since 1997, I have visited the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco (or Los Angeles or San Jose, or wherever they used to hold it).  I hate it because every year I am reminded how everyone in the game industry is finishing their games and mine isn’t done after three years.

The GDC is also disgustingly expensive.  I’ve been getting increasingly cheaper passes, but this year I got a full pass.  A friend (Hi Susan!) won a contest for a free pass.  I managed to convince her to stay home (“Oh, San Francisco is perfectly safe, except for the radioactive bears!”) and she gave it to me.
New pass in hand, with a hopeful glow in my heard (I really need to have a doctor look at that) I entered the Moscone Center.

The first thing I noticed was that everyone I mentioned my game to suggested I learn to code.  Honey, I’ve been trying to learn how to program since the late 70s.  That ship has sailed.

The second thing I noticed is that the sessions are all really long.  You sit in these armless chairs and wonder how long you have left before your shoulder muscles pop off.
The third thing I noticed was how many game developers have terminal cases of dandruff and no sense of personal space.  They also use odd expressions.  Instead of asking everyone to scoot inward on their seats so more people could sit down, they said “defrag the rows!”

Today I spent at the Indie Game Summit.  Indie games are video games made by people with small budgets and large mental problems.

No, seriously, the last session was about a game called Retrograde, which was made by a man with OCD and clinical depression.  As you might guess from that description, the story was about how he nearly destroyed his life by literally doing the work of 25 people (if you simply count lines of code).  Then, nobody bought it.  I don’t know anything else about the game, except his story nearly drove me to tears.  You should totally buy his game.

More on the Indie Summit tomorrow.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Clark Hitler

Before I launch into today's knee-slappingly funny humor, a quick update on my novel Pinhole:
  • Today is the last day of the "get it free" promotion.
    Or so I think.  Amazon isn't all that transparent with how things work.
  • Over 1000 people have downloaded it for free.
    22 suckers...  I mean, people, have downloaded it for .99 cents.
  • I'm making a new version of the paperback book so it's a regular size.
    If you already bought one, you have a collector's edition.  That'll be worth something some day (not anytime soon)!
So, today I'd like to make an observation:

This is Superman.

This is Adolf Hitler.


Superman was created by two Jewish artists.


Before he was a dictator, Hitler started as an artist who sold his work to Jews.


Hitler was obsessed with the Master Race, whom he considered super men.


Superman is... Well, Superman.


Well, okay, so the link between the two is pretty flimsy.  But tell me this: if there's no connection, why does Superman always do the "Hitler Salute" when he flies?

Aaaand that's where conspiracy theories come from, folks. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Photo Dump

I was planning on writing something brilliant and world shaking, but I've spent the whole day staring at my novel's progress on the Amazon rankings.  Instead, I'm just gonna post some odd pictures I wrote along with my odd feelings about them.

Odd.
 
I can only imagine how people came up with these.
"Hey, you know Cadbury Creme Eggs?"
"Those creepy things that are like a real, raw egg?"
"Yeah, I think I know a way to make them creepier."
"That is an excellent idea."

 
I've frequently posted my opposition to organic food being labelled as a healthier option.  However, I found this carrot in the store and I've been swayed.  What disturbing, genetic modification has been done to make our carrots split like this?  It looks like a person's legs.  Or maybe a squid.  I don't know what it looks like, but it gives me the willies.
 
Oh, wait, I'm told carrots just do that.  Ew.


I realize we have the best trained and armed military in the world.  I realize we've got the insurgency in the Middle East on the run.  However, are we so confident of our success that we need to issue our soldiers SNUGGIES?

 "Were you planning on working today?  Oh.  Too bad."
 

 This is the only time I've ever been threatened by a gas pump before.  The "else" is implied.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fun With Freecycle: Neighbor Revenge Machine

I’m giving away a push toy perfect for small children.  They can ride on it.  They can push their friends in it.  It’s a lot of fun. 



However, there is one thing this toy does better than anything else: get revenge on loud neighbors.  When we first got this toy many years ago, my son used to push it across the condo complex for a morning playdate.  The walkways were made of brick, so they had lots of grooves between them.  When you pushed the toy along, it sounded like: 

BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG! 

After a few visits, the guy living next door to my son’s friend stepped out of his condo, bleary-eyed and in his pyjamas.  He explained we kept waking him up in the morning.  When I mentioned it to the mother of my son’s friend, she said he was the loudest neighbor she had, and he tended to do his (loud) housework after midnight. 

In deference to his request, we decided to roll the toy someplace else to play. 

BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG! 

Then we decided the new place wasn’t fun for our kids, so we rolled back. 

BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG! 

Then, we decided to go somewhere new. 

BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!

I think he got the point after a few hours.  Every morning.  For a year.
 
Watch your neighbors run in fear when they see it coming.
 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

43rd Birthday Preparations: Part 2b


Kinda like that.


Part 2b or not 2b, that is the question.  Whether it is far nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous heraldry, or to take arms against a sea of... Legs.  I forget the rest of the quote.

So, as you all know, I've been trying to get ready for my birthday week.  My hope was to drive around the San Francisco Bay Area helping people do things they didn't want to do, or just silly tasks they wanted to see if I'd be willing to perform.

So far I have been asked to do:
  • Nothing
  • Zip
  • Nada
This might be a very easy/depressing birthday for me.

Anyway, I'm still working on what to put on my shield as my crest.  Continuing on from what I posted last week, I decided I hate everything I posted except for the parrot.  I like the green parrot as a symbol, but not the one I found.  I'd like something that looks more like my parrot really did.
I also thought I should add something more about me as a person.  Nothing big, just one thing I like.  I came up with the fact that I like Halloween.  I always have.  Heck, I even had a Halloween-themed wedding.

So, I finally came up with the idea of the parrot sitting on a jack-o-lantern.  The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. The only problem: I can't draw.

Seriously, I could use some art help!

Now I just need something to put on the top of the shield, like a motto.  I don't have a motto (other than "If I sit here long enough, someone else will do the work for me." and "Seriously, I can't draw.").  Anyone have any suggestions?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pinhole


When I was a child, I wanted to be an author.

Actually, I wanted to be an astronaut first, but I had terrible vision so I knew I couldn’t pass the tests to get in.  Then I wanted to be a veterinarian, but found out I’d have to euthanize animals.  So, I landed on author.

The problem with wanting to be an author: you have to write stuff.  I never wrote.  I had tons of ideas, but none of them ever seemed to make it on to paper.  When they did…

I remember trying to write a science fiction story about a war between two worlds.  A missile went awry and people got mad at each other and used fancy weapons on each other’s planets.  That was pretty much the whole plot.  I stopped writing when I realized I was just describing special effects.

In the fifth grade, I wrote a story called “Adventure in the Land of No Return” about…  Well, let’s just say there was an adventure in a place called The Land of No Return.  I won the Young Authors Contest for my school and got to go to a conference and all.  The next year I wrote poems and came in third.  No conference.

I pretty much stopped writing after that.  It was too painful.  Every time I started a story, it fizzled out.  Sure, I took creative writing classes in college and a screenwriting class in grad school, but I wasn’t driven.  One teacher complained I didn’t produce at half the rate of her other students.

So I just kept a diary.  I learned to touch type, which helped a lot.  Ideas came out more quickly and didn’t give me time to stare at what I had already written and give up.

One day I got fired.  Sitting up at night, something clicked, and I wrote a short story until three in the morning.  It’s fan fiction, but I really liked writing it.  The floodgates opened in my head and all the story ideas I built up over the decades demanded I write them.

Still, I didn’t write often.  The problem was authors are expected to “write for themselves.”  I could never do anything just for me.  So, I started a blog to get me writing.  Although I only had a few readers, it drove me to keep going.  Then National Novel Writing Month came along, and I decided to go for it, but posting online as I wrote so I wouldn’t stop.  Three months and Pinhole was done.

Or, so I thought.  My father (a retired English professor and publisher of children’s books) pointed out what I had written was half the length of a novel.  Six months of writing, and I doubled the length.

I sent the book off to a professional editor, who suggested I use a method described in a book called The 10% Solution.  Another six months of work.  I sent it to Ursula K. LeGuin, who told me to use more pronouns.  Another pass.  At this point, I had read the novel out loud four times.  I got an artist to do the cover and inside art and put it on Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace.  (It'll be out for other e-readers in a few months.  Promise.)

And, just like that, I’m an author.  Only took forty years.

I don’t have a lot of money for a big marketing campaign, so I need your help.  Since all both of you are my special, personal friends, I ask you read and review my book.  Tell your friends to do the same.  Without you, it shall languish anonymously in cyberspace.

Also, I’m taking down my second novel A Thousand Secret Sorrows from the blog this week.  In a year or so, it’ll be published.  Promise.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Search Terms: A New Hope



Every now and then I look at the search terms people use to end up on my site. As you can tell, my site focuses on being rip-roaringly funny. You’d think people would be looking for humor. However, the vast majority are looking for:

jennifer lawrence topless

I’m kinda proud I got to this before the Oscars. After all, she isn’t topless in anything, yet people still come here hoping for it.

dario beck

Still don’t know who that is. Did I use his picture or something?

serinda swan nude

Still don’t know who she is, but I know I used her picture.

felicia day bikini

Wait, did she do a bikini shoot? Man, I got to search for that.
baby bikini

Er, what? Why would anyone put a baby in a bikini? Why would you put a baby in a swimsuit, for that matter? I mean, they just need a diaper, for crying out loud.

bikini tattoo

Here's one I had done:

nazi dominatrix

Best kind of Nazi.  Other than, you know, dead.

red sexuality

The communists weren’t sexy. Look at Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin. They were about as sexy as a tapeworm.

Okay, so some people do come to my blog looking for humor. I got a lot of:

funny camping pictures

Camping, a sport where people who don’t know how to survive in the wilderness stand next to the wilderness and pretend to be rugged, is inherently funny. Pictures of camping? Not so funny.

funny skydiving

Skydiving, a sport where a land-bound species pretends to fly, is inherently funny. Unfortunately, the only funny pictures of skydivers involve them hitting the ground at terminal velocity. Yeah, not going to post those.

funny spanking

Spanking, a sport where… Er. What?

funny fertilizer

Sorry, I can’t think of a single fertilizer joke. No, wait, I got one. Have you heard the one about the surface-applied Treflan derivative? It seemed to Command too much Bladex! Yeah, can you tell I grew up in the Midwest?

There must be some kind of black market for kid’s pee, because I get these:

a child urine

Said the one goldfish cracker to the other goldfish cracker. (Say it out loud. You’ll get it.)

funny kid songs on pee

Anything by Justin Bieber is funnier if a kid pees on it. Better yet, can we find a kid who will pee on Bieber himself?

funny pee pee song

See the aforementioned Bieber joke.

I seem to get a lot of medical searches:

brillian juvelery for teeth

I love this one. I imagine there’s some guy who wants to get the grill in his teeth replaced (with something more gaudy) because his current one makes him talk funny. Somehow, it’s also making him type funny.

my i see your silver fillings

All the better to EAT YOU WITH, my dear!!!

doctors who spank

Sorry, honey, I’ve been looking for one of those for years. We all have to settle. I know a nice, Jewish CPA, if you’d like to meet him.

nurse lamp

That would leave burn marks on your nipples.

nipple men

Yeah, I suppose the nipple men could fix the burns. Problem is, all men are nipple men. The trick is finding an expert with nipples. By the way, I’m in the book and make housecalls.

nipples man

Yeah, man, like… Did you ever get high at a strip club, you know? And then have this, like, mind-blowing epiphany about… Nipples?

british old man

There’s only one old British man with nipples:



Sometimes, I get requests for help:

cake installation

Installing a cake is simple, if you’re using Internet Explorer and Windows 7 or above. Just find the cake’s AUTOEXEC.BAT file, and run it in the MS-DOS shell.

nerd with knives

I suggest you put on an episode of Star Trek and run for it.

Finally, I get a lot of people looking for things I just call “disturbing”:

fandango sucks ass

I feel kinda bad about this one. After my Fandango debacle, they apologized, explained the theater owner had made a mistake, refunded my money, and gave me free tickets. So, Fandango doesn’t suck ass. Unless, you know, you’re into that.

imagination is a lie

This also upsets me. You’re looking for proof that imagination isn’t real and Google sends you to my blog. Nice, Google. Real nice.

“sweating while naked” –porn –sexy –youtube

I’m not sure what disturbs me more: that you ended up on my site, or that you actually think you could find naked people sweating that isn’t porn. Is there anything on the internet that involves sweaty naked people that isn’t porn? I don’t think so.

“wave phones” sen

I have no idea what this means.  It keeps me up at night.

camping rock crawlers guns girls

This keeps me up, too. Does it mean:

• You went camping on rocks, but the crawlers gunned down your girls

• You were listening to “camping rock” by The Crawlers when you heard a song called “guns and girls”

• Some kind of crawling rock camped on your guns with girls?

Help me out, here.

walking dead debunked

Wait, you’re telling me that The Walking Dead isn’t a documentary about life in the Deep South? Say it ain’t so, Frank Darabont! Say it ain’t so!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Legal Tender


I’m worried about our currency.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is suing the US Treasury to remove “In God We Trust” from our money.  I know you’re all shocked that an organization called “The Freedom From Religion Foundation” would try to remove religion from our currency, but I wouldn’t worry about it.  “In God We Trust” has only been our national motto since 1956; before that, we had “E Pluribus Unum” which means “Out of One, Many,” which respects the American tradition of having lots of kids.
In God We Duggar
Oh, wait, it means “Out of Many, One,” which respects the American tradition of…  Well, I think it means we all get along together, which is laudable but not really the current spirit of the country.

The point is, when they take away “In God We Trust,” we’ll just get another motto.  A cooler motto.  Here’s some suggestions I have:

·         Feel Our Awesome
·         We Made English Popular, Suck It Latin!
·         Where Should We Bomb Today?
·         Our Movie Stars Are Skinnier Than Yours
·         Bet You Can Find Us On a Map

So, as I said, I’m not worried about the national motto on our currency.  I’m worried about this phrase:


Yes, our currency claims it is usable for all debts.  Except, of course, it isn’t.  Ever seen a sign like this?

 
I see them everywhere.  How can this possibly be legal?  Are hundred dollar bills not legal tender?


Hm.  Nope.  Seems they are.  Since when have people been allowed to ignore legal tender?  If anyone can choose the forms of cash they can take, I’m going to open a store and only accept money printed before 2010, with even serial numbers, that have the signature of a Treasury Secretary whose name begins with the letter “e.”

Still, even stores and restaurants aren’t as bad as airlines.  Airlines no longer take any cash in the air.  Need a pair of headphones and don’t have a credit card?  Ha ha, sucker!  Hey, airlines, I would like to point you to this line on my money about the legal tender:

Oh, sorry.  Never mind.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fun With Freecycle: Extraterrestrial Tricycle



I'm giving away a Kettler tricycle with push handle that was used as a movie prop.  This is the actual bike used in E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.  You may remember the scene where Elliot and his friends fly up into the sky to escape the police.  Here is that very bike:
 

You may notice some teensy little differences between this tricycle and the bike you remember from the movie:
  • The basket is in the back and is plastic instead of metal.
  • It has a metal pole and handle so a parent can push a child or the child can pedal him or herself. 
  • It's a different color. 
  • It's smaller than it was in the film. 
  • It’s a tricycle instead of a bicycle.
However, I assure you that this is the VERY SAME bike.  Look, here it is in the movie.
Actual scene from the movie.
I wouldn’t lie about something on the internet.  It’s illegal to lie on the internet, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

43rd Birthday Preparations: Part 2

Quick precis: Birthday coming.  Want to go on a quest.  Still waiting on people to offer me things to do.  Link.

I'm working on getting my shield ready.  I already bought one, but it's blank.  You can't just go into battle with a blank shield!  That's like publishing a blank book.
Have at ye, dragon!  No, I just haven't painted it yet.  I'll get around to-  ARRGGHH!
The problem is, what do I put on it?  Some traditions have the shield be a combination of previous coats of arms in your family.
It can get complicated.
 The problem is:
  1. My predecessors didn't have coats of arms.
  2. Er.  Well, that's pretty much it.
So I have to come up with something myself.  What, though?  I spent some time looking into heraldry and decided I like all the animals on people's shields.  I decided I would try a coat of arms based on all of the pets I've had.
Yeah, I don't think so.
 The main problems with this approach are:
  1. I can't draw or paint worth a damn and I'd have to paint it myself.
  2. See #1.

Then I remembered I have children, which was a bit of a surprise to me.  Don't kids count more than pets?  (Don't answer that.)  So I put together another coat of arms based on my children's current tastes.
I can't see anyone being struck with fear at the approach of the B&O.
 The problems are:
  1. I was hoping to keep the coat of arms for a while.  What happens if they get bored of science and trains?
  2. There is no #2.
I'll have to put a little more work into it.  Next week I'll narrow something down.  Honest!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Prince and Pauper: Part II

The Joker at a children’s hospital.  How many innocent people have I seen die at his hand?  How many more would there be before I finally stopped him for good?
I stop thinking, and the world becomes a blur of images as my training takes over.  Out a window, the ground rushing at me.  I studied with acrobats for nearly a year before I could fall five stories and land unhurt.  On the cycle, barreling over crowded sidewalks and through alleys.  I worked as pit crew at motorcross events for six months studying racing and how to fix an engine.  Scaling a building.  I served in the Andes as part of a scientific expedition until I could climb anything with anything.  Sitting on a rooftop and watching, the hospital a tall, square building with wrap-around windows.
Nothing prepares you for the waiting.  Nothing prepares you to look for things about to happen.  Nothing prepares you to fail, to hold your mother in your arms while her heart stops.
I don’t see anything so I swing over to the other side of the hospital.  That’s when I see it.  There’s a van parked in front.  It’s a bright, purple van with orange polka dots painted all over it.  The words “Spanky’s Fun Circus!” are written on one side.  He’s already here.  I hold up my thermal imaging goggles and look again; the van’s engine is cold.  I’m too late.
I scan the windows of the hospital like a madman.  He could be anywhere inside.  I could call in a threat to make them clear the building, but that might take too long.  What is he up to?  It wouldn’t be a bomb, because he returns every year.  He wouldn’t want to do anything that would make it impossible to come back.  No guns.  No knives.  That left something harder to trace.  Poison.  Once a year, he came to this children’s hospital and poisoned someone.
I see it suddenly through a window in the middle of the fifth floor.  A crowd of children in hospital gowns are sitting on the floor.  They’re all bald and stare at a man juggling ten balls, an I.V. bag, and the wheel off a wheelchair.  He drops the balls one by one, catches the wheel with both hands, and lets the bag land on his head.  The children laugh and cheer as he pretends to be knocked silly and wobbles around in front of them.
I take a laser bounce listener out of my belt and point it at the window.
“Thank you, thank you!” the Joker says, bowing.  “You’ve all been wonderful.  I have to go now-”
The children make a sad “awwwww” sound.
“Now, now, children.  All good things must come to an end.  However, before I go, I understand it’s someone’s birthday today!”
He puts a hand over his eyes as if gazing into the distance.
“Dennis?  Where are youuuuuu?”
A little boy, no older than eight, stands.  He’s very ill and has trouble getting to his feet.  The perfect victim: nobody would ever suspect he was poisoned.  The Joker beckons him forward, and he walks sheepishly up to stand at the front.
“I have something special for you!” he says, and takes a piece of green taffy out of his pocket and holds it up.  “Magic candy!”
I’m out of time.  I launch myself off the side of the building at the window of the hospital.  If it’s made of tempered glass, I’ll be scratched but okay.  If it’s not, even if I turn just right, even with my cape and stab vest, there’s a good chance I’ll be sliced in half.  I’m out of time.
I shatter through the window, right shoulder first, and crash to the floor.  Dozens of eyes turn my way.  The children gasp.  Some scream.  The Joker turns towards me and pushes little Dennis aside.
“Oh, no!” he screams.  “It’s The Batman!
He reaches into a pocket under his jacket, going for some weapon.  He’s used guns hidden in teddy bears, marbles filled with acid, and countless other weapons disguised as toys on me in the past.  Before he can pull anything out, I’m on him, punching him in the solar plexus with a right uppercut.  He seems ready for it; his muscles are tensed, and I don’t even knock the wind out of him.  He’s still trying to bring out a weapon.  I hit him across the jaw with a left cross.  I think I feel a bone crack.
He topples to the floor but still digs in his pocket with the single-minded determination of the truly insane.  His hand comes out holding a blue and white plastic hammer.  He takes a swing at me with it from the floor, but I step out of the way.
“Get him, kids!” he shouts at the audience.  I step on his wrist and he drops the hammer.
I’m completely unprepared for what happens next.  The crowd of children, all three dozen or so, charges me at once.  They’re all holding blue and white plastic hammers just like his.
I don’t know what to do.  I can’t hit children.  I dodge and weave, backing away, not letting the hammers touch me.  I manage to avoid them for a few seconds, but I’m overwhelmed, and I can’t fight back.  I trip and fall on the floor as the flood of kids set upon me with the hammers.  I hold up my arm to shield my head.
“Squeak!” the hammers go as they hit me.  “Squeak!  Squeak!  Squeak!”
Nothing happens.  They gleefully pound me with the toys over and over again, screaming with delight, but doing no harm.  After several minutes, I see him.  The Joker is standing behind the kids, watching me with a satisfied smile.  Finally he holds up a hand.
“Okay, kids,” he says, his voice thick as he tries to talk with his injured jaw.  “I think that’s enough.  You’ve beaten the big, bad, Batman.  He’s learned his lesson.”
The children back away, giggling and return to sitting on the floor.  I stand up slowly, warily, watching the Joker hand a card to an orderly and promising to pay for the broken window.  He grabs his bag of props, walks back to me, and holds my arm while he waves and bows to the children.
“Come on, Batsy,” he says out of the side of his mouth.  “We don’t want to traumatize the little kiddies.”
Perhaps he’s drugged me, put something in those plastic hammers, but I let him steer me over to the elevator.  He pushes the down button and waves goodbye to the kids as the door closes.  We’re alone.  My senses return, and I slam him against the far wall, my arm pressing against his neck.
“What are you doing?  Did you put poison in that candy?” I say.
He smiles as if I’m not choking him.
“What, this candy?” he says gruffly, holding up the green taffy.  Then he tosses it in his mouth, wrapper and all, and chews.  When he swallows, I stand back and stare at him.
As we ride down in silence together, I watch him.  I’ve been alone with The Joker before.  He was always fidgety.  He could never seem to sit still or stop moving his hands.  Now, he hardly breathes as he stares at the floor.  I get the impression he’s embarrassed.
“Did you ever read The Prince and the Pauper?” he says.
“No.”  When would I have had the time?
“It’s about a young prince who wants to know what it’s like to be poor, just for a little while.  It’s good to know how your life would be if things had been different.  It’s good to see what you’re missing.  Haven’t you ever wondered what life would be like if you hadn’t been… You know?”
He makes a circle by his right ear with his finger, crosses his eyes, sticks out his tongue, and says “Huh-hoy!”  I feel the familiar anger well up in me again.
“I’m not crazy,” I say.
He looks down at the bat sewn into my tights.
“No.  No, of course not.  Not like me,” he says, and takes a deep breath.  “Once a year, I get to be someone else.  I play the good guy.  I’m a hero to those children.  And you…  Well, now you know what it’s like to be me.”
The doors open and he walks out, still carrying his bag.
“The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain.  You really should read it.  ‘A full belly is little worth where the mind is starved!’” he says and walks off, a spring in his step.
I watch him go.  Just this one day a year, I’ll leave him in peace.  When I return home, I get a glass of wine and retire to the library.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Prince and Pauper: Part I


I found a student learning computer science at Central University.  In exchange for full tuition, he wrote an application for my cell phone that plays games for me.  Basic idea: I run the app, then run a game, and it plays the game.  You may wonder why I’d pay seventy grand for something like that.  Simply put, it lets me look like I’m playing games while I’m actually paying attention.

“Mister Wayne,” Lucius says for the hundredth time.  “Are you paying attention?”

“Yes, yes,” I say, pretending to concentrate on killing a pig with a bird.  “Wayne Electronics is posting a quarterly loss.”

“No, Wayne Medical has higher than expected profits.”

I look up for a moment.

“Well, that’s good isn’t it?”

He sighs.

“Yes, Mister Wayne, it is.”

“Excellent.  Then, let’s open the free clinics 24/7 from now on.  We can afford it.”

I hear a gasp from Stanislav, who directs WM.

“But…  But we just cut back the free clinic hours.  That will eliminate all of the profits this quarter!”

I’m back to pretending I’m playing.  He sputters and tries to get my attention, but I ignore him and he sits down.  Bruce Wayne just made another idiotic decision that, somehow, doesn’t scuttle the company, and thousands of poor Gothamites will get help.

There’s a beep from my phone, a sound that makes my heart leap, and I stand up.  Forcing a blasé smile on my face, I turn to the board.

“Sorry to dash, gentlemen,” I say, buttoning my jacket (Brooks Brothers, $2500 plus tailoring fees).  “I’m late for my weekly shiatsu appointment.”

I walk off, feeling their eyes on me as I go.

“He has a weekly shiatsu appointment?” I hear someone say.

 

* * * * *

 

Half an hour later, I’m in the cave, staring at a map of Gotham City: Three hundred square miles of streets and buildings.  Eight million residents.  All under my protection.  I’m responsible for every life, every inch of this city.  It’s an impossible burden.  I’m Sisyphus with three boulders to push up a hill.  I’m the Little Dutch Boy standing before a tsunami.  I’m the Batman.

I’ve had help.  Robins.  Clark.  Nightwing.  The Gordons.  Sometimes they ease the burden.  Sometimes they make it worse.  That’s why I had a new program designed (under six different shell companies in three countries) to find problems before they happen.  It’s similar to the predictive policing software Gotham PD uses, only mine wasn’t built by a committee of corrupt bureaucrats trying to shield themselves from investigation.  The computer indicates a three square mile area near Port Adams.

“Problem with the Bat Computer, sir?” Alfred says behind me.  It’s his idea of a running joke.  He insists on calling everything “bat this” and “bat that.”  Last week he painted a bat symbol on the bathroom.

“Lack of a problem, really,” I say, pointing at the screen.  “There hasn’t been any crime in this area today.”

He arches one eyebrow at me.

“Well, that certainly seems like a job for the Dark Knight.  Good thing you caught it in time.”

“With one exception, there hasn’t been any crime in that area on this day for nine years.”

He turns serious and looks at the screen.

“Organized crime meeting?  They clear out the area so they don’t attract attention?”

“Maybe.  Something is certainly scaring people away.”

I call up the records of the last victim.  Chapin Donnels.  Two years ago, he was a small-time thug with sixteen priors for assault and pickpocketing.  Then he was found maimed and bloody in the area.  The police report says he insisted his injuries were self-inflicted, but it’s hard for me to believe anyone could cut off his own fingers and leg and stab out his own eye, as the medical report says.  Now he’s living on public assistance on the West Side.

“Prep the cycle, Alfred,” I say, slipping the cowl over my head.

“The Bat Cycle, sir?”

I sigh.

“No, the Irritating, British Butler Cycle.”

“That may have a bit more horsepower than you can handle, sir,” he says, walking off.

 

* * * * *

 

One hour later, I’m crouching in the shadows in the kitchen of a studio apartment.  It’s rank, musty, and it clearly hasn’t been cleaned in months.  Four cats slink around me, staring up curiously and trying to rub themselves against my legs.  I’m trying to shoo them away (where’s Selena when you need her?) when the lock clicks door opens.  Mercifully, the cats run off to greet their owner as he enters.

Chapin is as much of a mess as his home.  He’s dirty, wearing third-hand clothes, and barely managing to hobble in on a crutch.  I watch as he fumbles with the lock -- making due with his one good hand -- then reaching down to pet his cats.

“Hello, sweeties,” he says with a soft voice.  “Miss me?  Ah, you’re hungry.  One minute.”

He hobbles my way, and I realize he’s moving by feel.  His vision is bad, and he stumbles over the garbage (stacks of newspapers, plastic trinkets, broken pots) littering the floor.  He manages to get to the kitchen area and reaches out in the dark to find a can of food.  I hand it to him.

The reaction is, as always, immediate.  He gasps and tries to back away, but forgets he needs a crutch and falls, hard.  He scrambles backwards, knocking away cats and garbage as he tries to get away from me.

“I didn’t go back!” he said.  “I stayed away!  I promise.  Please!”

“Stayed away from what?”

He stops and stares at me with what I assume is his only good eye.

“Not him,” he says, the fear falling from his voice.  It’s a new experience for me.  Most people collapse in terror when I appear out of the darkness.

“I’m not who?”

“Help me up.”

I watch as he fumbles on the ground until he finds his crutch and gets painfully to his feet.

“Who did you think I was?”

“Who do you think?” he says, holding up his fingerless hand.  “This nut case.  I wasn’t born this way.”

He hobbles over to a threadbare recliner and collapses on it.  A cat jumps on to one of the arms, and he pushes it off.

“Where were you,” he says, “when that butcher was chopping me?”

“What happened?”

“I went in the dead zone.  ‘S what he called it.  ‘The Dead Zone.’  Not like I hurt nobody.  Just needed change for coffee.  Made a grab.  Nice and clean.  Nobody saw.  ‘Cept him, of course.  Got me coming through an alley.  Told me I broke the law.”

“A cop?”

He scoffs like I’m an idiot.

“Not the law.  His law.  Nobody does nothing around the children’s hospital before eight.  Came at me with a meat cleaver.  Never had a chance.  Still see him when I sleep.  That creepy smile.  That white skin.  That green hair.”

The Joker.  I’m running before he can say any more.  I’m three flights above where I hid the cycle.  The Gotham Pediatrics Center is on the other side of town.  I have half an hour until eight.