Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Oma

My Oma and her great granddaughter on her penultimate Hannukah. Oma's the one on the left.
When Milton Doner, my Opa (German for "grandfather"), died, I was driving across the country to a new home in California; I received a call from my parents telling me when I got to Utah.  In a flurry of phone calls my father managed to figure out how to get me back to Michigan in time for the funeral.

Jewish funerals are funny.  We're a bit creeped out by dead bodies.  Instead of making them pretty and displaying them a week or two after death, we keep them safely locked in a casket and get them in the ground as quickly as possible.  I think we're worried the dead body will put us off dinner.  The 11th commandment in the Torah is "Thou Shalt Not Ruin the Brisket for Everyone."

Anyway, I was anxiously accepting the idea of making a last-minute flight with six connections and leaving my new wife (a woman we now call She Who Must Not Be Named) to drive a thousand miles alone.

A few minutes later, I got a call from my Ilse, my Oma (German for "grandmother"), letting me off the hook.  She told me weddings take precedence over funerals in Jewish culture.  Starting a new family should come first.

That whole new family thing didn't work out, but you have to be impressed with her strength.  She didn't cry.  She didn't selfishly insist I come pay my respects to her husband.  Oma just said "She was kind to him at last."  God was a woman according to Oma.

Last week, she died.  My son is ill, and I didn't want to leave him to travel to the funeral.  This time, my mother called to let me off the hook.  Still, I'm disappointed I won't be able to be with my family and talk about Oma's life.  Here's what I'd say:
  • Oma lived to be 101 years old.  She was a triumph of nature (and life extension medicine).
  • Oma survived the Nazis and the Reagan administration.  If the woman who built her had built the Titanic, it would have arrived in New York ahead of schedule with tiny pieces of iceberg stuck in her prow.
  • Oma had three children, one of whom made good by giving birth to me.
  • Oma went from humble beginnings as a refugee to the wealthy head of a family, proving the validity of the American dream (and the lucrativeness of the lighting business she helped start in Michigan).

So let us cheer her life.  Let us beat the shit out of those who say "the good die young."  Let us revel in the America that gave her a new life.  Let us laugh at the Nazis who could topple nations and kill millions but failed to stop one Jewish lady.


Most of all, when the time comes, let us let others off the hook.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Birthday 2015 - Part 2: Contentment


In preparing for my Regret Crushing Birthday (see last week) I wrote a list of things I regretted never accompishing.  Problem was the list kept growing.  While adding:
  • Cartwheels
  • Bike without using hands

I realized I should be listing those things I no longer regret.  It's a short list.  Really, it's just one thing:
  • Never becoming a BATS Sunday Player

A few months after my divorce, I went to my brother's wedding (Hi Jon!).  During the reception, someone pointed out he met his wife (Hi Laura!) at an improvisational comedy class.  At least three people came up to me and said "Hey, you're a funny guy..."

Ah, to be newly single at a wedding.
Yeah, I'll just skip that bouquet toss.
I took improvisational comedy classes at BATS (Bay Area Theater Sports) in San Francisco.  It was... painful.  I can't act and many of the exercises seemed aimed at making the participants as uncomfortable as possible.  The aim of the Impro Movement is to break down those barriers that keep us from creativity, to tell our inner naysayers to shut the fuck up.

It was hard.  I was about to quit when my brother casually mentioned he'd been offered a part as a regular player in his local Imrpov group.

I don't have an adversarial relationship with my brother because I'm awesome and he lives near Seattle.  However, I signed up for more classes.  Now I had a goal to light the darkness of my spinsterhood.

I'll just follow that light.  What could possibly go wrong?
I took class after class, working my way up into more advanced scenework.  I expected, someday, to be invited into the select group of Sunday Players, the first step into becoming part of the regular players.  It never happened.

One day, I overheard them invite a student who'd never taken improv classes before to join the Sunday Players.  I was crushed.

Then I realized they were looking for something I would never give them.  They wanted an actor, someone who could subtly express emotions, someone who was interested in helping the group shine.  I wanted to be creative, to make the audience laugh.

And, yeah, to be as good at something as my brother.
It's tough being a younger brother.
"You know, there are other spaces where you can perform," one teacher said as I explained I was quitting.  She was right.  I found myself.  We all know the Shakespeare quote "All the world's a stage."  That's true, but you are a stage unto yourself.

Class after class, month after month improv taught me to break down the barriers in my own mind to open up to the creativity buried there.  Along the way, I met some of the best friends I've ever had (Hi Mike and Cindi!).  No, I never became a Sunday Player, but I did learn to write, teach, and design games.

So, no, I don't regret failing to become a Sunday Player.  The things I do regret?  I'll start on those next week.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Birthday 2015 - Part 1: Regret


If any of you have read my novel (on sale for 99 cents at Amazon if you buy now!), you'll remember the story of Mitchell.

Yeah, this is a spoiler alert.  Feel free to skip
[SPOILER]
Mitchell travels back in time to fix his life.  He becomes rich on the stock market, dates all the women he loved from afar, and eventually realizes he wants his old family back.  It's too late, though.  He's changed his life too much, and his daughter is never born.
[END SPOILER]
The point of Mitchell's story is that regret is a trap.  If you changed anything about your past, no matter how horrible, you'd be a different person today.  You might as well kill yourself and let another person take over your life.

I remind myself of this aphorism at least once a month, because I'm a heavily regretful person.  There are things I can't change, shouldn't change, but it still makes me wistful sometimes.

Hence my 2015 birthday plans.  If you're just joining this blog, I've been trying to do something new and wild every year as a way of staving off my inevitable slide into dementia.  I've gone on a quest, I've jumped out of an airplane, I've fired guns, I've swum naked with a dozen nubile virgins...
Wait, that didn't happen?  Man dementia kicks in fast.
Anyway, this year I've decided to deal with some of my long-standing regrets.  I'm going to accomplish all the things I never accomplished, learn to do all those things I never learned.

Dream the impossible dream...

Over the next few weeks I'll be reporting (sporadically) on my progress or lack thereof.  Some might go easily and others... Well, it's not always easy to set these things up.


Speaking of which, if any of you know where I can get a dozen nubile young virgins, please drop me a line.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Coat Hanger Zodiac


The idea of the stars affecting our personalities goes back thousands of years and has never been disproven by modern science.  In spite of the constant skepticism heaped on those who look to the sky for guidance, millions still read their horoscopes.

Could those millions of people be wrong?  I don't think so.  Could the billions of Chinese who use the Shēngxiào be wrong?  I don't think so.

Skeptics are shallow, narrow-minded, and-

Never mind.  I can't keep that up.

We all know astrology is bullshit, right?  We all know the month or year you were born has nothing to do with who you become, right?  Okay, good.  I don't have to post this video.

Oh, shoot, too late.

If you really want to know more about yourself, you look at your coat hangers.  You heard me, coat hangers!  Go grab a random coat hanger from your closet and match it to the chart below to see what it says about your personality and your fortune!

Hookless Pantholder
About you:
You are reliable, organized, and detail-oriented.  You also have a darker side.  What I'm trying to say is you stole this coat hanger from a hotel.

Your fortune:
You will suffer through a dead-end job until finally being arrested for a petty crime.  You will die after kicking "whippersnappers" off your lawn.  In bed.


Legless Slippy
About you:
You can't handle great burdens.  Like your hanger, if someone makes the mistake of giving you a difficult task (like hanging a winter coat) it will slide right off onto the floor.  Also, you have no legs.

Your fortune:
You have no legs.  You'll need years of physical therapy.  Maybe a wheelchair.  Also, install those little handle things in the bathroom to help you to the toilet.  In bed.
Tiny Pony Sunshine
About you:
You're incapable of handling difficulties.  You are small and ignorant.  You have never accomplished anything important in your life, even graduating school.  You are slow and easily scared.  In other words, you are a small child.

Your fortune:
I dunno.  Grow up?  In bed.


Not a Snowflake
About you:
You have no distinguishing features (good if you want to become a career criminal, bad if you want to become an actor).  People ignore you because they think you have nothing interesting to say, which is true.  You shop at Costco or Sam's Club far too often.

Your fortune:
You will live a horrible life and die a slow and painful death.  In bed.
Ready on Friday
About you:
You're a cheap bastard.  Your clothes are probably in bad shape, too, as you're using free clothes hangers from a dry cleaner.  You are vehemently pro-choice.  People like to have you around the campfire when it's time to make s'mores.  You easily get bent out of shape over trivial issues.

Your fortune:
Hopefully you'll get enough money together to marry a Not a Snowflake and have more children than you can afford.  Then they'll all be like you.  In bed.



What, you don't think these horoscopes are accurate?  Well, I can guarantee they're as accurate as the astrology or the Chinese zodiac!

Friday, March 6, 2015

GDC 2015 Booth Babe Report

The last day of the Game Developers Conference is always sad.  The show closes early and the Moscone Convention Center feels... Empty.  It's like a school after the students have gone away.

(Well, except for all the students are hanging around trying to get some value out of their overpriced badges.)

There is only one way to make myself feel better: make passes at booth babes!

For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept of a booth babe, it's a derogatory term for the women who stand at the different areas of the show floor and try to attract you by wearing skimpy, bizarre, or degrading outfits.

It's my practice to approach these spokes-models and make them as uncomfortable as possible (Examples: 2012, 2013, 2014).  Last year, there were only two sets of booth babes.  This year...

None.

Zero. Zilch. Zippo.  Nada.  No booth babes.  Seriously, here's what I found:

Three guys in Dr. Horrible outfits.
Actual quote: Just make sure you get SkookumScript in the picture.
Two guys dressed as bacon.
Actual quote: Most of our bacon strips are women. Funny, they disappeared right when you came by.
And that's it.  I mean, sure, there were a couple women in fancy dresses and one who tied her t-shirt up in front, but nothing...  I don't know... What's the word?

Oh yeah, degrading.  This is the best I could do after spending a whole week looking for booth babes.
Actual quote: No, you can't have our numbers. We're out of your league.
I spoke to them for a while.  One has two bachelor degrees; we talked about the spiritual foundations of Islam and the beauty of Jewish rituals.  The other was working on her masters thesis; we talked about her work growing breast cancer cells in a lab.

So, not only are their outfits decidedly not degrading, but they're both smarter than 99.8% of the conference attendees.  That's right, they're too smart to even act dumb.

What happened?  GamerGate happened.  If you aren't familiar with GamerGate...  Well, good for you.  It's like not being familiar with segregation; if you haven't lived through it, you're better off.

There are two schools of thought about what GamerGate really is.  The first camp thinks GamerGate is a bunch of sexist guys harassing women who make games.  The other camp thinks women are ruining the game industry because they have breasts and periods and icky stuff like that.  The game industry took both of these ideas to heart and (after a brief, chaotic period) acted decisively by removing all the sexist crap at GDC.

Anyway, here is the problem: games are no longer a strictly male entertainment and profession.  We can't treat women as fixtures, decorations, sex objects.  Now we have to see them as actual people.  No, not just people, but people who might be smarter than we are, more successful than we are, better than we are.

Hell, do I have to be the booth babe next year?

There is one bright spot.  I found this magazine in a machine outside the convention center.

An entire strip club promo geared to GDC attendees.
Ah, sexism lives on...