Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ace of the Arcade

My son, Caleb, LOVES to play the video game system we have in our home.  Many a time, I have entered my domicile after putting in a full day’s work and seen him with controller in hand. I do manage to get a brief and almost automated “Hello”. In spite of this warm greeting, his eyes never leave the screen. Sometimes I even stare at him for a couple of extra minutes just to be sure he is blinking at regular intervals. Usually, he is engrossed in a race between a plumber, a mushroom, and a princess. Other times, he is engrossed in the adventures of a blue, hasty hedgehog. Sometimes, the plumber and the hedgehog are playing together in the same game. My wife, daughter, and I have also fallen into the tractor beam thrown out by the ensnaring entertainment system.

Admittedly, for the cost of my family’s weekly food budget, this game system has more than paid for itself. But as I gaze upon my son’s intense game play, my mind goes back to my teenage years. Home video games systems were extremely primitive by today’s standards. The first game system my parents provided was a black and white game system with a very simple theme. You had two white stick objects (one on each side of the TV screen). Using a game controller, you had to hit a square “ball” to the opposite side of the screen forcing your opponent to volley it back to you or miss hitting it with his/her stick. If the opponent missed, you scored a point. Just like Caleb, this could have my sister, brother, or me in front of the TV set for hours on end.

Ultimately, I was drawn toward the video game arcade in my neighborhood. My parents were very gracious to provide me with a couple of bucks at least once a week. This served a two-fold purpose for my parents. Firstly, it provided me with a safe, legal, and inexpensive form of entertainment. Secondly, for two dollars they could get me out of the house for 2-3 hours. In retrospect, with as much money as they “invested” in my teenage years, it’s a wonder why they don’t have a controlling interest in several video game companies.

The arcade was located in a mini-plaza within short driving distance of my house. There were several suites in the mini-plaza. Unfortunately, I only remember the pizzeria and the arcade. Sometimes, my friends and I would pool our money together to have some pizza then go next door to the arcade.

Aside from the numerous pubescent, pimply faced patrons, there were two primary figures that were constant to the environment. The first is the arcade attendant. The arcade attendant is easily recognized by the uniform vest and pouched apron. The pouched apron contained extra tokens for game play and dollar bills for making change.  The second is the police officer assigned to the mini-plaza. He was a tall, gentle giant of a man whom we all simply addressed as “Sir”. The officer’s job was simple: keep order and make sure people don’t loiter in the parking lot. Most conversations were simple. “Young man, you have to go inside or leave”. “I am waiting for my mother to pick me up, Sir”. You will have to wait INSIDE or LEAVE, young man”.  “Yes, Sir”.

The ritual was simple. You took your dollar bill and placed it into the change machine and received 6 tokens for one dollar. This was a great deal since most games were one token per game credit. I put countless hours over the years playing Berzerk (“Intruder Alert!”), Tempest (“SuperZapper Recharge”), and Bosconian (“Battle Stations”). For two tokens, I could play Dragon’s Lair (“To slay the dragon, use the magic sword”).

There is one night that sticks in my mind very clearly. After, playing all of the aforementioned games, I had one token left and the arcade was closing in ten minutes. I went to my greatest game fixation at that time — Tag Team Wrestling. I figured I could use my last token on a quick game and end my fun night. I sat in the stool and put my token in the coin slot. I started the game and immediately was in my own world. Nothing else around me existed. I was playing my wrestling game with the same intensity that my son guides his hedgehog. I noticed two people standing beside me using my peripheral vision. Steadfast in my game, my eyes were fixated on my wrestling match. Eventually, I lost my final match and my game ended.  I stood up and let out a deep cleansing breath. Then I noticed something. All of the other pubescent, pimply faced patrons had left. The two people at my side were the arcade attendant and Officer Sir. I looked at my watch. The arcade had been closed for fifteen minutes. The arcade attendant and Officer Sir had been kind enough to allow me to finish my game without interrupting me. Office Sir even said “Good game, young man.” “Thank you, sir”.

I walked out the door and got into the 1975 Chevy Vega my sister had allowed me to borrow for the evening. In the morning, I would go back to chasing pretty girls (no tokens required) and planning my next arcade outing. But, in that misaligned 1975 Chevy Vega, I was the Ace of the Arcade. That was better than being King of the World (That’s right. I’m talking to YOU, Jack Dawson).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Encounter with Plato

This past Memorial Day weekend, I flew to Georgia to spend some quality time with my father, sister, and best friend. Overall, it was a pleasant trip from start to finish. I got from Rochester International Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (and back) without a problem. My best friend promptly picked me up at the airport in Atlanta and I ultimately (despite the need of a jump start after leaving the airport) arrived safely at my sister’s house. I had lived with my sister for a brief while in 2007. I was looking forward to seeing her and her family. I was also looking forward to seeing my Dad. In addition, I was looking forward to seeing Daisy and Stanley; my sister’s two loving beagles.

Unfortunately, there was someone else waiting to meet me at my sister’s house that was not there when I lived with her before. My sister had acquired a third dog — Plato. Plato is a short temperamental little dog known as a feist. If turned on his back, Plato would make a quite sufficient football tee. Feist is a term that derives from an old dialect which means “to break wind”. Knowing this information did not having me waiting to meet Plato with eager anticipation.

My sister had given me some precautions about Plato. Plato is a rescue dog. Most rescue dogs were physically and/or emotionally abused by a previous owner. This resulted in Plato being very self protective and very territorial. This necessitated the following provisos (that’s right folks; another bulleted list):

·         He does not have the gastric disorder that is suggested by his breed.

·         No baseball hats

·         No hoodies

·         No dark sunglasses. This proved a challenge the next day because I wear glasses with transitional lenses.

·         Do not challenge Plato.

·         Do not try to pet Plato upon first meeting him.

I hadn’t even met this dog yet and was already given more riders than Van Halen’s reunion tour. I walked into my sister’s house and was immediately and enthusiastically greeted by the lovable Stanley and Daisy. Plato also eagerly came toward me. However, once Plato recognized I was a stranger to him, he began barking and growling with the ferocity of a…well, a vicious dog. My sister would curb Plato’s barking and growling by interjecting “CHHH!” As a matter of fact, my sister had to say “CHHH!” so many times; I thought MARTA* had set up a subway station behind her house.

I sat down in the recliner while my sister and I got caught up on each other’s lives. After about 30 minutes, Plato left my sister’s lap and jumped into mine. Now, I naively thought, we were making some progress. Plato kept sat with his back to me and only turned his head enough to be able to see me out of the corner of his snooty little eyes. Plato wanted me to be painfully aware it was ME he was ignoring. If my eyes DID meet with Plato, this began the call and response between Plato and my sister: GROWL! CHHH! GROWL! CHHH! BARK! CHHH! CHHH! Eight more bars of this and I could have written a catchy little blues number on the spot. Eventually, Plato reluctantly fell asleep. It was painfully obvious how much he resented having to stop his contempt toward me long enough to get some shut-eye. My sister and I both turned in as we had conversed well into the morning.

I got up the next morning and went to the kitchen. I was immediately greeted by Stanley, Daisy, and Plato. I petted Daisy and Stanley but honored my sister’s proviso not to reach for Plato. As I poured myself some juice, Plato sat there while growling and barking at me. It became immediately clear that Plato no longer wished to devour my ankles. He was growling and barking because he wanted me to give him affection and attention with the same conviction with which he ignored me the night before. Plato was clearly more than a feist, he was a self-righteous jerk.  I sat down and Plato jumped onto my lap. He sat down and “allowed” me to pet him. If I stopped petting him, he would growl. One time he growled at me and I retorted: YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!  At this point my sister pointed at me and said “CHHH!”

By the time I left, Plato and I were getting along quite well. Plato learned that I am not a threat to him or anyone in his house. I learned that Plato treats everyone he meets exactly the same; without exception and without apology (You didn’t really think I was going to let THAT pun  go, did you?)

* MARTA stands for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. The Atlanta area’s bus and subway rail system.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mighty Mona, I Thank You

In 1982, as a junior in high school, I took a class in computer programming. The choice to take this class was not a deliberate one. I did not register for classes at the end of my sophomore year thinking: “Hmmm, I’d love to take a computer programming class”. In the last weeks of my summer vacation, I got a phone call from my school stating that one of the classes I had picked was no longer available. The teacher recommended the computer programming class as a replacement. Incidentally, she was also the computer programming teacher. I reluctantly took her recommendation and registered for the class.

I was less than enthusiastic about this class. Choosing this class forced me to embrace an element I loathed — Math. It was bad enough I had to get my head around things like finding the value of x. Now I had to learn new ways of counting. This wonderful teacher taught us to count in base 2, base 8, and base 16 (and told me that up to this point I had been using base 10). This meant that 8 +8 = 16, 8 + 8 = 10, 10 + 10 = 20, and 1000 + 1000 = 10000 were all correct and the same equation. It was just the first day of class and my head was already spinning.

I wondered how this class was possibly going to benefit me at the end of the school year. I had no use of a computer in 1982. My telephone had a cord and I left it at home (like every other normal human being). People sent mail using pen, paper, an envelope, and a postage stamp. Then again, in 1982, the following was also true: a mouse required a cat (or an exterminator), a keyboard could be heard prominently during a Rush concert, a hard drive occurred only in baseball, and a flash drive would get you arrested by a state trooper.

The teacher then gave us a prediction that made me think she had lost her marbles. She told us that computers would be everywhere in our adult years. She further asserted that computers and other electronic devices would do everything from common household tasks to communicating with people around the world. I quickly dismissed her prediction as false prophecy. I figured this would only happen in a world where Commander James Bond would be having lunch with Captain James Kirk. There was no way a box would run my life. I began to wonder what other ridiculous predictions the teacher would make: the Soviet Union will break up (RIGHT!!!), kids will adore a purple dinosaur (and ignore Captain Kangaroo?), and Ron Howard will win an Academy Award (you mean Ritchie Cunningham...Opie Taylor….now THAT’S just crazy talk).

In the more than 25 years that have passed since my teacher’s predictions, many things have happened. The Soviet Union fell in 1991. Little kids DID become obsessed with a purple dinosaur (completely unaware of Captain Kangaroo). Ron Howard has won two Academy Awards (as of this writing). Alas, I must concede, that some of her other predictions came to pass. My life is centered on my wife and four kids. My life also orbits around a portable media player, a (state trooper safe) flash drive, and a laptop computer. The portable media player holds up to 30 gigabytes of data (which translates into thousands of audio tracks). The flash drive holds up to 16 gigabytes of data (allowing me to store files and carry them in my pocket). The laptop computer holds of to 180 gigabytes of data and has 2 gigabytes of memory. The data is stored on a hard drive and a floppy disk is only useful as a coaster for my drink because a drive for such media is all but obsolete.

The other area where the teacher’s predictions came true is on the job front. At the present time, I make my bread and butter as a software quality tester. Actually, I work as a software tester to afford my whole grain bread and cover it with a non trans-fat spread that would only taste like butter if the coffee I am drinking burns off some nerve endings in my tongue. It’s not a bad career for someone whose teacher reluctantly (and barely) gave me a passing grade.

In conclusion, I’d like to offer Ms. Mona Meddin, my computer programming teacher, my abject apologies for my apathy and my appreciation for the passing grade. Without you, this blog would not be possible. My family thanks you (as well as the people who sold me my laptop computer, my USB flash drive, and my portable media player).


I’d like to take a moment and thank everyone who has read my blog, left a comment, and asked me to continue writing more entries for BDGJM. Furthermore, I’d like to (once again) thank Kevin Cummings for his encouragement and support this week. Kevin runs the “Short Cummings Audio” podcast and I am a huge fan. It is an incredible honor to me that he takes the time to let me benefit from his wisdom and experience. Kevin’s podcast can be found at

I’d also like to thank a friend I have known for 30 years: Janet Beach. Janet has read (and proofread) a lot of things I have written even before I ever thought of starting BDGJM. This post is partly a result of Janet encouraging me to re-work an incomplete essay I had abandoned. Thank you, Janet Holly.

Lastly, I want to thank my wife, Renee, and our four kids: Tom, Shayna, Brianna, and Caleb. The joy you give me daily inspires me to no end.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A (Hopefully) Healthy Helping of News (As Published by HumorPress.Com)

Recently, news has hit our country warning us of a new flu virus. The virus is called H1N1 or the swine flu. The term, swine flu, originates from the fact that the genes in this virus are very similar to influenza viruses found in pigs in North America. Sadly, many pigs who contract this virus never recover. This is due to the fact that most pigs rebuff doctor’s orders to get rest, get plenty of fluids, and take prescribed medication. Most pigs, instead, choose to continue their diet of trash and carrion as well as playing in mud. Swine are nothing if not strong-willed.

There have been many consequences of the swine flu hitting our country. The travel industry has taken a hit. Many have been leery of consuming pork. On top of all of this, parents are afraid to play “This Little Piggy” with their children out of fear of contracting the virus. Even in my workplace, signs began cropping up in the restrooms reminding one and all the rules of basic hygiene. I find this disturbing for several reasons. Why, pray tell, does such signage only go up during a health crisis? Why is it that grown adults need to be reminded to wash their hands and cover their mouths whenever they cough or sneeze? Why is it that these rules only apply in the restrooms? Surely, one is not to start coughing and sneezing willy-nilly with unclean hands the minute they leave a public restroom.  Speaking of public restrooms, why is it that only the employees of stores and restaurants are reminded to wash their hands before leaving said restrooms?

Now, I come to the reason behind this writing. I believe that BDGJM is not only in place to entertain but also to inform. I would like to provide for you the following list of influenza strains that have cropped up in recent years. In addition to swine flu or H1N1, there are the following:

·         There are several strains of NE1 strains including:

o   C4NE1 - This strain results from exposure to certain plastics. C4NE1 hits sufferers hard with explosive symptoms.

o   10SNE1 - This flu strain tends to hit athletic types who are members of a home owner's association (HOA). Rumors that the strain is contracted via the alligator sewn onto the sufferer's knit shirt have been proven to be an urban myth.

o   NE1NE1 - This flu strain leaves suffers with a feeling of extreme solitude.

·         A1H57 - A flu strain contracted due to exposure to certain steak sauces. Vegetarians rarely, if ever, contract this strain.

·         B9V8 - A non-life threatening strain brought on by consuming vegetable juices. Contrary to A1H57, this strain is widespread among vegetarians while very few butchers suffer from it.

·         CBGB1234 - This is a very mild strain contracted by overexposure to 1970's punk rock music. Rest in a quiet peaceful environment can provide relief in as little as ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR days.

·         D2R2 - This flu strain causes an insatiable desire to watch classic sci-fi movies in reverse. Good, restful sleep is recommended. Popular home remedies include taking herbal melatonin or viewing "Terms of Endearment".

·         F1F12 - This flu strain has manifest itself primarily in people working in the information technology (IT) industry. This strain is passed to sufferers via the uppermost computer keyboard "hotkeys".  Treatment for F1F12 can be treated in the same manner as a normal influenza strain. Some, however, use a medication called C-A-F8. C-A-F8 provides sufferers with a controlled, alternative, safe mode of recovering from this virus.

It is my fervent hope that, upon review of the aforementioned strains, the world is a more informed place. So please, I ask of you; wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and pass this information along to your friends and loved ones.  As always, consult with your doctor if you have any concerns. BDGJM is not a substitute for proper medical care. Four out of five doctors dismiss medical information provided by the writer of a humor blog. I do hope, however, that you have a laugh or two from this writing as you sit in the waiting room with a bunch of sick folks.