A Writing Exercise

Today, I went for my usual walk with Lilly B and I was listening to The Moth podcast.  I don’t usually listen to this podcast because while some episodes are the funniest things ever, there are equal parts heart-breaking poignancy.  And I just can’t always handle that. Today, for instance, a woman recounted the story of her husband’s suicide and the heart-break she felt in the wake of that. Killed me.

But there was another story from a blind man who went to the largest rattlesnake round-up in the world. HILARIOUS.

That got me to thinking about writing, though, and how to describe things.

If you were leading a blind person around, how would you describe the scene in front of you to them?

There are basic things like, “There are two men sitting on the sofa.” But for emotional weight, you’d want to describe the scene with figurative language. “The leafless white-bark trees were a precarious pile of dry bones balanced beside the grave-quiet lane.”

But I think the ideal situation would tie visual elements to input from other senses.  So, as I was walking along, I tried to imagine how I might accomplish this.

Some things are easy. “The pedestrian crossing sign radiated hot, yellow caution onto the street with the neglected park.”  But other things were more difficult.  I saw a red camellia bush with dead blossoms scattered beneath it.  The metaphor was easy: it looked like it had been stabbed. The blossoms on the ground looked like blood spatters.  But if someone hasn’t ever seen that, how would you describe that to them? It’s not so easy

The great camellia bush in the corner of the yard slumped against the fence as if wounded.  Red blossoms were spattered beneath its boughs. Each blotch of red against the green lawn radiated blame like hot, narrow beams of sunlight on an otherwise chilly tile floor.

I had a dream

I woke up at 3:30 this morning. That’s probably just because the BF and I have been going to bed very early lately and because it was a long day yesterday.  Anyway, I woke up this morning very abruptly from a dream.

Now, I know no one likes hearing about other people’s dreams, but this one was so… linear.. and kind of poignant that I’m going to share it anyway.

I was in a classroom in my hometown back in south Georgia. It was set up like a grade school classroom, but everyone was adults.  For some reason that was actually relevant to whatever was going on in the room (or at least my dreaming mind thought so at the time) a handsome but very straight-laced man stands up and starts delivering a speech. For reasons that will be apparent in a moment, he is a heterosexual, white male.

He says that he has always wanted the wife-kids-and-white-picket-fence life and that’s why he has elected to be friends with other cis-gendered, heterosexual, anglo-saxon people.  It’s actually a very nice speech he’s giving. It’s full of cozy houses, manicured lawns, apple pie, and other bits of Americana whatnot.  And I look around the room and I notice that nearly everyone else in the room seems to fit his description. And a lot of people are nodding their heads along with his speech as if to say, “Yes, that’s what I want and have always wanted, too.”

And at the end of his speech, he says something to the effect — I wish I could remember his exact wording because he was very eloquent — of, “It’s not that I am opposed to LGBT rights.  It’s that I have worked my whole life to achieve this particular dream, which has no focus on those issues, and so I have no connection to those communities.”

There is a bit of an outcry from a few voices in the classroom and the teacher tells everyone to calm down. I raise my hand and interject without waiting to be given permission to speak, “I have only one comment here and I promise it’s brief.”

The classroom got quiet as I stood up and walked over to the man and shook his hand and said, “Yes, you do.”

That’s when I woke up.The point I was trying to make in my dream was that this guy just could not see his connections to the LGBT community. Apparently, my sleeping mind is really preoccupied with ideas about privilege.

People who know me will agree with me when I say it’s very obvious that I’m gay.  I make no secret or apologies about it.  I am, in fact, gay. But there are still some people out there who don’t know it or recognize this fact.

Case in point: at a Christmas party for alumni of the business school I went to, I was asked if I had a wife by a man that was in my classes for over two years. We’d been in group projects together and regarded one another as friendly acquaintances.  But he was so in his wife-kids-and-white-picket-fence world that he just didn’t know.  When I reacted as if he’d sprouted another head from his shoulders and laughed and told him I’m gay, he wasn’t offended. He didn’t say anything nasty. He was just surprised and said he didn’t know.

This is the thing, though: that world of exclusively cis-gendered, heterosexual euro-American people exists only in people’s heads. And because so many things in America are designed to cater to that, people who fit that image don’t usually have to think about anything else. That’s privilege.

I think one of the reasons LGBT issues have become such a lightning rod for so many people is because we’re a less visible community than other minorities. (I will resist any urge to delve into issues of “passing.”) And now, all of a sudden, LGBT people have started becoming more and more visible.  It’s impossible — except through some pretty severe denial — for people to deny that we’ve been here the whole time.  And that can be a shocking and scary realization.

Some people do indulge in that sort of denial, for sure. These people seem to think that there are more gay people today than there were yesterday. The only part about that which is true is that more LGBT people are coming out and more people who might have repressed their sexuality are refusing to do so.  But there’s no reason to think that the distribution of human sexualities across the spectrum has shifted toward purple all of a sudden.

Back to privilege and my dream.  Part of what I realized is that having kids and a white picket fence is really, truly an option for me.  I grew up with quite a bit of existential dread around the notion that I could not have that because I’m gay.  But it’s just not an option for me, or anyone, to sit around thinking they have no connection to LGBT people… or any other minority for that matter.

Anyway. Imma stop there because this is already far too much bloviating about a dream.

2015 Theme: Vanity

I was catching up with a friend on the phone last night and I realized that I had not recapped 2014 or announced my theme for 2015.  Since I don’t remember what happened in 2014, I will skip to the second part.  My theme for 2015 is Vanity.

noun, plural vanities.
1. excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities,achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit:

I don’t really mean exactly that, but I kind of do.

See, when I lived in New York (I can’t believe that was almost five years ago now.) I had a personal trainer and I used to shop for clothes quite a bit.  I used to whiten my teeth on occasion and I got good haircuts. I was more careful with my diet — although I’ve never been very rigorous about that. Basically, I spent a lot of time trying to make myself look as good on the outside as I felt on the inside.

Then I moved to Nashville. Nashville is a great town, but it is culturally more relaxed than NYC. A man wearing a suit stands out in ways that aren’t appealing to me, ways that make people cook casseroles and issue condolences.  So, I reverted back to a more casual style of dress.  No problem.

But then I became a home-based employee and although I still got dressed every day (Working in my jammies does not appeal to me.) I was not really paying much attention to style.

And blah blah blah… less time in the gym… blah blah blah… moved to Miami… blah blah blah… now in California.

Basically, at some point I fell out of those habits of investing time and effort into my appearance.  And I realized a few months ago that that disappoints me.  So, this year, my theme is to focus more energy on my appearance.  I like calling it vanity, but I am of the mind that caring about how you look reflects a certain aspect of inner health and flourishing as well.

I have some other reasons for this effort that I can’t talk about right now. Trust me. I will tell you about it later.

That means I need to get over my dislike for crowds and strangers and go to the gym. I need to get rid of old clothes and get some new ones that fit me better as I am today.  I need to get back in the gym more so that I can get rid of my new clothes and buy newer clothes that fit a sexy new body.

I’ve already started doing a few things to help.

Trunk Club

I joined Trunk Club. It’s a clothing service for men. You get a stylist. You give them your sizes and some sense of your needs and preferences. And then upon request they will send you a box of clothes.  You try on the clothes and keep what you like and send the rest back.  All the shipping is free!

It’s a good thing the shipping is free because the prices on these clothes is high.  So, it’s a splurge. I’ve only received one trunk so far, but what I like best about it — aside from being able to avoid stores and strangers and tedious shopping excisions — is that my stylist, Kathleen, picks out things that I would probably gloss over.  But she calls them out and organizes them into outfits and all that. I was also very impressed by the quality and how well things fit.

So, Trunk Club has been a very nice fashion treat for myself.

Invisalign

I am fortunate to have really pretty great teeth. For a long time, when I would go to a new dentist they would ask if I had braces when I was younger.  They aren’t perfect, but they used to be close enough that it seemed like maybe they had been at one time.

Well, in the past ten years or so, I’ve noticed that my teeth have shifted a little more. I have one tooth that has sort of twisted slightly.  You probably wouldn’t notice unless you really looked closely at my teeth.  But I’ve also noticed that I get more food caught in my teeth these days… especially by that one tooth.

Anyway, I’ve wanted to get Invisalign or minor corrective braces for some time… I talked about it a little even when I lived in New York.  And now I have them!

As I write this, I haven’t even been wearing them for 24 hours, so it’s too early to tell how this will be for the next eight months, but I have observed that there are some unintended benefits of these things including:

I can’t bite my nails. This is great because that’s another vanity-related thing I wanted to change.

I can’t eat or drink anything other than water while they’re in and it’s recommended that I wear them 22 hours a day.  That means less snacking, less drinking things that are probably bad for me, etc.

I have to brush my teeth. I am religious about brushing my teeth once a day. But I really should do it more often than that. With Invisalign, they tell me I need to brush my teeth after I eat because I don’t want to create a bacteria acid poop party inside these plastic trays right up against my teeth.

Blepharoplasty

Yep. Plastic surgery.  Don’t worry, I have no desire to look like Justin Beiber or Madonna or a house cat or an iguana or anything. I just want to get my eyes done.

See, I have a pretty attractive western european genetic heritage. High cheek bones, strong brow.  Unfortunately, some of these features collaborate to make me look tired a lot.  I’ve actually had multiple people (well-meaning, I’m sure) remark that I look tired even after a night where I had 8 hours of sleep. Thanks, bitches.

I consulted with a surgeon who pointed out that it’s actually the shape of my face that creates this tired look. It makes bags under my eyes. It cases my brow to obscure my eyes a little. Yadda yadda.

Anyway, this is another thing I’ve talked about having done for years. In fact, I was considering it back when I lived in Georgia over ten years ago!

So, I’m going to get this done, too.

The Gym

Oh god. There are SO many things I hate about the gym. I don’t even want to get into it.  But I need to start exercising more and putting forth more effort to exercise. *shudder*

So, that’s it. Those are my present ideas for upholding the year of Vanity and so far it’s zooming right along!

Rape Culture

Sex is wonderful.  It’s fun and relaxing and energizing and joyful.  It’s so powerful and expressive.  You can say a lot in sex without using any words.  It’s astonishing. The way you can lose yourself in a sexual experience but at the same time have the clearest sense of your humanity and individuality and self. “Transcendent” is an inapt description of sex, I think, because it’s hard to think of a more real experience than really good sex — especially with someone you love.

Thinking about how to describe the profundity of sex calls to mind a scene from Ayn Rand’s We the Living in which Kira and her sister are at a play or a movie (It’s been a while since I’ve read it, so I am paraphrasing) and the sister remarks, “It’s so beautiful, it almost looks real,” to which Kira replies, “It’s so beautiful, it almost looks fake.”  Life is beautiful like that. Sex is beautiful like that.

I assume everyone knows what I mean, so I assume we can all agree that rape is one of the most vile, disgusting, and despicable crimes that can be committed. In a certain sense, I think it’s worse than murder because the victim has to deal with the fact that a core part of their humanity has been violated.

Recently, I saw a thread on Facebook in which someone was satirizing — they say and I don’t think they grasped the irony — the concept of “rape culture.” To be clear, they weren’t satirizing rape culture, but the concept of rape culture. When confronted about it, they said it wasn’t a useful concept and they treated it with derision and contempt. And it brought to mind a poem I saw very recently that really opened my eyes about what rape culture means.

“Rape Joke” by Patricia Lockwood.  I’m not going to excerpt any part of it because I think you should read the whole thing to get what I’m driving at here.

When presented with the reality of rape — or even story lines on Law & Order: SVU — I have always felt outrage and sadness.  I am shocked and dismayed by stories where people suggest or even say the victim of rape was “asking for it.” I’m sent into a tailspin of anger when someone says that simply because someone has a drink or two with another in their hotel room they can no longer revoke consent to sex until that other is satisfied.  When I watched the Sopranos and Tony’s therapist was raped, I really wanted her to tell Tony and have her rapist killed.

But I’ve made jokes about rape before. I’ve used references to rape in a light-hearted way, as a laughable hyperbole.  That’s not because I’m a misogynist or because I think rape is in any way acceptable. It was, I think, because on some level rape wasn’t real.

That’s rape culture.

As I type this post and keep writing the word, it does seem strange and alien. Rape. Raperaperaperape. In Game of Thrones, they call rapists “rapers.” And it seems even more strange. I had to re-read and actually sound it out the first time I saw “raper.” Rape is a small word and it’s sort of like a slap, but only a very small slap. Not a slap that hurts. The sound and shape of it don’t even come close to capturing how devastating and terrible the crime is. You’d think the name of it should have more Ss, Ks, Gs, and maybe a Q or something. It should be unpleasant to even see, let alone pronounce. But it’s not. It’s just “rape.”

That’s rape culture.

No, logography is not rape culture. Rape culture is this hole in some people’s psyche about rape.  It’s this cognitive dissonance.  It’s the holding of two contradictory ideas about rape in your head at the same time.

Cops know that rape is terrible bad and wrong. But victims of rape still get asked if they were out drinking or if they were dressing provocatively or if they were flirting with their rapist before it happened.

It’s being completely terrified and desperate for Ripley when she is stuck on that prison planet and is nearly raped in Alien 3, but also saying, “I raped it,” to describe having done well on an exam or to joke that it raped you if you didn’t do well.

It’s nodding your head in approval at a Take Back the Night Rally — or maybe even going with your friends to one — but also kind of thinking that if you let him pay for dinner you owe him a handy J at a minimum.

I saw recently a manifestation of rape culture in the form of someone arguing that it’s like institutional racism and, in their eyes, white women can’t be raped because white women are in a position of power by virtue of their race.

It’s knowing you have friends and relatives and coworkers and acquaintances who are victims of rape and sexual assault but also thinking “rape” works well in hyperbole because it’s so absurd and rare and unheard of and far from home.

When someone says, “rape,” rape culture calls to mind a masked man grabbing a white woman who is out for a jog at 10pm and forcing himself inside her while ignoring the man who had too much to drink and wakes up in someone else’s dorm room praying that they used a condom because he doesn’t even remember taking his clothes off.

Rape culture is the way our society allows and even makes room for rape in a million little ways like this. Men and women alike contribute to rape culture.  The victims of rape are men and women. Rape is far, far too common. And the concept of “rape culture” is coined to express how common rape is and how commonly our society glosses over and trivializes it. Remember: people live with this crime and with a not insignificant number of people suggesting it’s not even a crime sometimes.

Yes, there are a million “gray areas;” mitigating and exacerbating circumstances; plausible scenarios; and times when you can’t prove that a rape took place.  That’s why we need to rail against the ways in which our culture allows, condones rape. Rape is a crime and it has to be proven in order to make a conviction, but we can’t keep allowing ourselves — people who love life and sex and justice — to be taken in by these she-said-she-said stories. We need to get better as a society, culture.

Some people would argue in a Popperian way that the concept of “rape culture” is invalid because they think rape culture begs the question, arguing against rape culture is a manifestation of rape culture. As illustrated above, I think we can safely come up with a million other examples of rape culture without pointing at those who say rape culture doesn’t exist as examples thereof. It’s a real thing worthy of discussion.

People often talk about creating a society that is sex-positive; one in which people are free to love their bodies and their partners as they see fit; a society in which the morality of sexual conduct is one of private personal conviction, but one’s individual right to one’s person receives public defense. But how can that ever really be when our society regards rape — an assault against the joy of sex itself — as joke-worthy?

Mountain View: The Anti-Miami

Miami is a wonderful city. I want to make it clear that I don’t hate Miami. I just don’t want to live there.

It has some beautiful places. It’s summer all year.  There are fancy cars, fake boobs, washboard abs, and booty shorts for days… months, even! And even though I don’t think it’s ever actually happened, I can easily imagine someone driving a jet ski to work. Badass.

But I do think you have to be the sort of person who appreciates those things to really live there.  Otherwise, it’s just a great vacation destination.

I’m all for fake boobs, washboard abs, and booty shorts. Don’t get me wrong. But I like blue jeans and weather for a portion of the year than makes me proud to be a member of a species that invented seat warmers.

Miami just rubbed me wrong from the very beginning.

Before we moved I went on a city forum site to ask some questions of locals about what it was like to live there.  I got trolled.  One guy told me I clearly didn’t have what it takes to move to a new city, let alone Miami. (For those new to my story, as an adult I moved from Georgia to New York to Tennessee before moving to Florida. And now I’ve moved to California. To paraphrase Britney, “Bitch, I got your crazy.”) And he proceeded to insult me for “not doing my research” even though my purpose for being on the site was to do some research.

After moving to Miami we discovered that people don’t take their shopping carts back to the store or to the cart return. They just leave them sitting wherever they finish unloading things. Traffic in Miami is terrible largely due to the fact that drivers apparently don’t know or don’t care about traffic laws or safe conduct.  Crossing the street as a pedestrian in Miami should be part of the X-Games. When you think about how hard the city was hit by the bursting of the housing bubble, the cost of living is unreasonably high, but if you think about the rate of fraud it suddenly adds up. From insurance rates to paying for hit and runs (Yes, someone hit my car and left without leaving any information.) the people of Miami are paying for their neighbors’ criminal activity. Litter! So much litter! Day after day, we saw people doing things that were short-sighted, exploitive, and rude — and frequently just dangerous. Nothing Florida Man or Woman does surprises me any more.

I want to take care to point out that there are cool people in Miami. And a lot our experience was the result of where we lived.  From what we saw, other areas did not have the same proliferation of obnoxious behavior.

We were there for about ten months before we moved to California.  Our five-year plan had us in Miami for two years, but being completely forthright about it: we’re happy to get a great opportunity to move.

Moving to Mountain View has already presented us with a number of stark contrasts to our life in Miami.

We got here Thursday evening and we weren’t done unloading our car before one of our neighbors came over and introduced himself.

In Miami, we didn’t meet any of our neighbors until our last day in the place. Yes, we could have approached our neighbors in Miami, but many seemed to actively avoid us and the others only spoke Spanish. The bigger obstacle to chance, friendly meetings in Miami, though is the weather. It’s just too hot most of the year to lollygag about hoping to meet strangers. Bottom line: we really didn’t feel welcome.  Oh, and the neighbors who introduced themselves as we were moving out? They moved from California.

In general, the people of Mountain View seem to spend a lot of time outside of their homes.  There are lots of people walking around, running, riding bikes, walking their dogs, and whatever. There are greenways and trails here.

Again, the weather in Miami is a factor. Unless it’s out on the water, people aren’t really trying to spend a lot of time outside where they sweat while sitting still. It’s a different way of life.

In Mountain View, unless you’re crossing a major highway cars stop for pedestrians. It’s really amazing how deferential drivers are here in California.  Yes, there are some crazies, but overall drivers are very polite even if there are a lot of them. (Note: things are certainly very different during rush hour on the freeways, but I have yet to see anything on the same scale of consistent, aggressive, dangerous driving that I saw in Miami.)

Yesterday morning, the BF and I walked the dog to a local coffee shop. It was a nice little stroll where we saw lots of people out and about doing their thing.

When we got to the shop, the BF sat at a table outside with Lilly B while I stood in line to get our coffees.  The shop is kind of a hipstery place and the service was rather slow.  But while I was waiting I watching local folks chatting, reading their papers, and doing their thing. It was nice… but, WOW. The line was slow.  And then I got all the way up to where I was next in line and I noticed a sign taped to the back of the register: CASH ONLY.

This is something I don’t think I am going to like about California. There are a LOT of places that only take cash.  And the cheapest gas we’ve been able to find — which is about $0.30 more expensive per gallon than Miami on average — requires that you pay cash to get it at the cheap rate.

So, I had to get out of line and go to the ATM at the back of the shop. I didn’t ask anyone to save my spot or anything; I just resolved myself to be fine with paying the $1.89 ATM fee and then standing in line again.  But when I got back to the line, the lady who was in line behind me had save my spot!

It was an incredibly friendly gesture.

Later, we were enjoying our coffee at a table on the sidewalk. It was a beautiful day and the street was actually blocked because some peopleguys were setting up for the Family Day parade that would happen later. Suddenly, a gust of wind took the top of the BF’s cup and blew it into the street along with another from the next table.  The BF jumped up and got them both and sat down after returning the other top to its owner.  Minutes later, the guy from the next table came over with a new, clean lid for the BF.

So nice!

We’ve only been here for a few days, but we’ve seen countless similar examples of nice, friendly, benevolent gestures. In stores, in traffic, on sidewalks, in our own driveway… it’s been a very pleasant shock and a stark contrast to everything we experienced in Miami.

We’re not under any illusions that Mountain View, CA is some sort of utopia or anything. As mentioned, we’ve seen some things we don’t like, too, along with some “interesting” decision-making. (We refer to these outbursts of insanity as “Miami-style.”) So, I am sure that we’ll have our share of rough days and frustrating adventures.

But so far, Mountain View is proving to be the Anti-Miami in just about every way.

Secrets Revealed, Our Big News of 2014: We’re Moving to the San Francisco Bay area!

*SIGH* The past year and a half has been absolutely insane.

I moved across town in Nashville in order to be closer to the BF.  Then, my mom needed a lung transplant and moved in with me.  She got her new lungs and then my apartment flooded. So, we moved to a new apartment.  Six months later, the BF and I moved to Miami together.

I’ve mentioned in comments and implied in some posts on social media that something big was going on with me. At the BF’s request because he had not yet told people at his work, I have not publicly disclosed the details of this big thing until now.  So, here goes!

In January, my company went through some restructuring and my team was shuffled around a lot. Some people were moved to other teams and some people were laid off. I was fortunate in that I wasn’t laid off; however, I was given an ultimatum: move to California or find a new job.

That sounds extreme and, in fairness, my boss did not phrase it that way. He really went the extra mile to make the proposal appealing and easy for me and the BF. So, apart from being pressed to make a big decision in a rather short period of time, it’s been a good experience.

That’s not to say it’s been an easy thing for the BF and I to weigh out.  There are pretty big pros and cons to this decision no matter how you look at it. Jobs, cost of living, traffic… I’ll spare you all the ruminations.

But we’ve decided to take the plunge! We’re going to move to the San Francisco Bay Area!

To those wondering, yes, I am well-aware that this is my fourth time moving in an 18 month period.  We’re hoping to find a place where we will be happy to stay for at LEAST two years.  But there you have it!

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

  • We have not yet found a place to live. We’re heading out this weekend to find a place, actually.
  • Yes, we do know it’s expensive to live out there.
  • Yes, we have heard the traffic can be bad at times.
  • No, seriously, we know it’s expensive to live out there and that there’s traffic.  We also know the average high and low temps, average precipitation, and other aspects of living there. Both the BF and I are big on research and there’s a spreadsheet we maintain comparing cost of living and benefits of living in various cities across the country. Why? Because we’re looking for a place to put down roots and we plan ahead.
  • We’re actually going to be looking for some place between San Mateo/Foster City and Mountain View/Sunnyvale.
  • The actual moving process will kick off April 17th and will conclude in phases over the following two weeks.
  • Yes, the BF has a job out there; his start date (and mine) is May 1.
  • We have movers helping us, so we’re just doing a road trip across the country with Lilly B.
  • We’re planning on making the drive in 7-ish days although the actual driving time is about 45 hours. The exact timing of everything is still in a state of flux due to a lot of things that can’t be determined until the move is actually underway.
  • We’re shipping one car and driving the other.
  • Yes, I repeat, yes, we do know it’s expensive to live there! This has got to be the biggest piece of “advice” we’re offered. We’ve examined our budgets and adjusted them in ways that we believe are appropriate for this decision.  Trust us. We are financially healthy grown-ups with very, very good credit scores. We didn’t make the decision casually. We can handle it.
  • Lilly B is going to ride with us in the car. She’s good at road trips.
  • We’re planning to do a little bit of sightseeing on our drive, but it depends on what the timeline with the movers can actually support.

I think that’s it.

We’re very excited about the move. After months of planning and research, we’re also very anxious to have the move done and complete.

Game Review – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The very first game I played on my new PS4 was Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the Nth installment in the Assassin’s Creed series. I don’t know which installment it is because there are a bunch and they aren’t all really numbered in a sequential way.

The Story
AC4 follows the same basic premise as the previous games: in modern times there’s a person tapping into their “genetic memory” to trace the life of one of their ancestors who is involved in the millennia-long battle between the Templars and the Assassins. The origin of this conflict involves aliens or something. I haven’t paid close enough attention to all the cut scenes in these games to really understand what’s going on with that.

In the modern times, though, Desmond is dead and you’re a brand new guy who has been hired by Abstergo Studios, an entertainment company who is using the footage of your memories to create movies. Obvs, they’re a front for the Templars just as the Abstergo labs was in the previous games.

The ancestor story is that of the pirate Edward Kenway who impersonates a traitor assassin in an opportunistic ploy to win some unknown treasure called “The Observatory” and ends up getting sucked into the Templar-Assassin conflict while sailing the seas of the Caribbean.

The Good
I like the story. I do wish they spent a little more time developing the bad guys but the richness of the various “good guy” characters is really enjoyable. I also like the various betrayals and shifting alliances that happen throughout.

They also seem to have worked out the issues with the ships. I could be wrong here, but in previous games I just could not really get the hang of the ship controls and I won the short battles by accident.  At first, I dreaded this game when I realize that a lot of time would be spent on ship, but I got used to it and really enjoyed the ship controls and battles.

I do also like that they kept the hunting side-tasks although the crafting elements were overly simplified from AC3’s very complicated crafting recipes.

Instead of assassin contracts, they have fleet tasks.  As you capture other ships on the seas you can add them to your fleet and then you send them off to do things along trading routes.  There is this weird little mini-game thing where you can change the risk-level of a given map by staging ship battles which makes the contracts very easy.  I like the ship capturing to build a fleet. I did not care for the ship battle thing.

I LOVE the ability to hide in bushes in this game.  Previous games have felt limited in terms of finding hiding spots and so many hiding spots limit what you can do. This game clears that up nicely by allowing you to hide in bushes.  Unfortunately, this makes some of the challenges exceptionally easy because you can hide so very readily.

The art and graphics are really amazing. That’s part PS4 and part, I think, because the team making these games has a lot of practice.

Speaking of which, I really like how they switch things up with each installment in the series. They don’t merely eliminate the bad and improve the good things, they try something new each time.  The result is that they steadily push the bar forward while also delivering a really enjoyable game.

One of the new things they threw in were swimming missions.  You have a diving bell that takes you to the bottom of the ocean and you swim around collecting treasures and avoiding sharks and jelly fish.  I found these to be pretty fun. I’ll note my complaints below.

The Ultimate Ships are OSSUM. When you first start sailing around fighting other ships it’s somewhat challenging because your ship is the base model. But as soon as you start upgrading things it becomes ridiculously easy and so it gets boring.  To mix things up, they have these huge ships out in the ocean that you can attack for big money, but they’re really hard to kill even when your ship is completely upgraded.  It’s nice to have those challenges out there.

And speaking of the sailing, I loved the way the weather and time of day would change in AC3 and AC4 continues to improve on that theme with lots of very rich environmental elements that are just beautiful. They’re so convincing and immersive, in fact, that on some missions if the sun started to come up or the rain stopped I got anxious that the guards would be able to see me more easily. They couldn’t, but still.

The Bad
My biggest complaint about this game: glitches.  This could be because I am an early adopter, but still. There were several scenarios where I had to restart the game because it messed up.  Sometimes things would start happening with a particular memory or critical part of the action without my having clearly seen what was going on.  MANY MANY MANY times the game did not respond to my controller and so my little pirate guy got into trouble. For instance, he would put his swords away in the middle of a battle and get stabbed in the face. Or he’d prefer to jump around on things rather than stopping and fighting. Of course, there were times when the game didn’t respond and it was a good thing for my little pirate guy, too. The map messed up at several points, too.  Blah blah blah. Glitches. Glitches everywhere. And they got worse later in the game.

I mentioned that stupid ship battle mini-game in the fleet mission area, right? Well, the reason this sucks is because it’s kind one of those retro handheld game things we had back in the 80s. These battles were very easy and mostly just a waste of time.

The story. Yes, I know the story was something I liked about this game, but there were pacing problems I had with the story.  The shifts in Kenway’s character were really stilted and lurching.  One minute he was a hedonistic, carefree, opportunistic pirate guy and the next he was pining for his wife back in Wales.  And then he goes to prison and suddenly he’s all philosophical about life and wants to be an Assassin or something.  Putting aside the development issues the rising action is so long and then the climax is rushed with a too short denouement. In fact, when the game ended I was like, “Wait. What?”  So, while I loved the story in this one for some of the complexities that they introduced, I felt like they almost needed another six memory sequences to really make it flow more naturally. (There are 12 memory sequences.)

Also, the modern-day storyline is complete loose end.  Actually, this is not a complaint. I think that part is fine, though I wonder why there are any tasks or missions associated with the modern world at all when you’ll never really get an opportunity in that storyline to finish them. But whatevs. I love that the AC series carries a story between games. That brings me back for more! So, ignore this as a complaint.

There are WAY too many treasure chests and stuff in this game. In past games there were a lot and you could spend a fair amount of time running around a city collecting them all.  Well, on this game there are hundreds and hundreds of them strewn around the ocean.  Yes, you can go collect them all, but to do so you have to stop your boat, swim to the location, run to the island, collect the treasure, run back on the land, swim back to your boat, and climb back up to your wheel so you can move to the next location. It quickly becomes so tedious to attempt to collect these things that I ended up ignoring them unless they were DIRECTLY in my path to my next destination… which by the end of the game was never because I didn’t want to spend 10 minutes sailing to the next place and so I just used Fast Travel to get around.

The swimming missions were fun, but they were kind of flat. You’re basically unarmed, so you have no way to fight the sharks, eels, and what not.  Also, the swimming controls are kind of annoying. It’s easy to get turned around and confused about where you’re going.

It’s hard to see on the map what you missed.  For instance, I missed two treasure chest maps because I didn’t know from the beginning of the game that you have to talk to the barkeepers. Moreover, when the barkeepers tell you a secret, it seems you have to pursue that secret before you’re allowed to ask for another. So, if they tell you about a stupid convoy you have to go attack that convoy before you can go to another barkeeper for another secret. I have no idea which barkeeper knows where the other treasure maps are. I gave up on that even though I kind of like the treasure map thing. Another example: There are these “Templar Hunt” missions that you need to do in order to get some keys to a closet in a house you stole and I didn’t know where those where.  I was actually over 75% done with the game when I realized I was missing one of them and then I had to hunt all over the map to find it.

I’ll stop complaining there. Anything else in the game that bothered me was minor and I would just be indulging in whining to bring them up.

One whine: I hate how you don’t get all your weapons until the game is almost over! That doesn’t give me any time to perfect my technique or appreciate what it means to use them. Specifically, I never once hanged anyone with a rope dart. Why? The first, best opportunity I had was glitch-afflicted and then there was only really one (and a half?) memory sequences left after that.

The Summary
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Assassin’s Creed games since the very first one and I think the studio has done a great job of improving over previous games and constantly pushing the bar and finding new things to do. They also write good stories for these games; I’m a person who plays games for the stories a lot.

I will say that when I was tired of the game I was TIRED OF THE GAME. And I ended up rushing through the final memory sequences just to be done playing it already.  But I blame that less on the game than on the limitations of my playing schedule and the way I approach playing games like this which — I admit — tends to magnify tedious aspects of the game.  So, yeah.

Bottom line: I really enjoyed AC4! Scale of 10, I give this an 8.

I actually think I liked this game more than previous AC games because I found myself avoiding the main mission just to do side missions and exploring other areas of the world. I loved being a pirate and doing the ship battles. I think my favorite part is the little cannon I have on the sides of my boat and the rope swing that allows me to swoop over to other boats.

And the weather! THE WEATHER! I just couldn’t get over the rain and the bushes and the light and the fog… the whole texture of the environment was so lush and wonderful and beautiful.

So, yes, I totally recommend this game.

My PS4: One Month Review

After months of watching and waiting for Amazon to get more PS4’s in stock, I finally got mine on January 10th.  You’d think in a month I’d have had plenty of time to explore all the features and really kick the tires, but I don’t like tinkering, so I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface.  That won’t stop me from writing this review, though!

As usual, this will be a scattershot of my various thoughts on it.

I like the controller. I saw the reviews about how great it is, but I didn’t see anyone describe exactly what makes it so great.  A few things, I think make it good. First, the little prongs are thicker and sit really well in my hands.  The L2/R2 buttons are shaped like triggers so it’s lots easier to press those.  The analog sticks feel better to me, too, but I can’t really say why. There’s also a speaker in the controller, which I think is pretty cool.

I love the slimmer profile of the box itself, too. My PS3 looks like a hippo sitting on the shelf next to the dark 2001-Space-Odyssey-monolith-esque PS4.  This will sound crazy, but I am especially thankful for the top being flat!!! The rounded top on the PS3 made it a challenge to work into tight spaces when I lived in NYC and, frankly, I found the rounded top to be aesthetically obnoxious.

The interface is nice.  They’ve changed things up, but not so much that you can’t find your way around. In fact, it’s very intuitive. A couple of things I really like: they have a stand by mode which, if I understand it correctly, allows the system to update itself when I’m not using it.  This is great because I use my consoles at very irregular intervals and I have having to do updates just to play a quick game.

The app installations are easy. They already had Netflix, Hulu, Redbox, Amazon Prime, and everything ready for me to just install and log in. WOO!

Since I’m a social media nerd, I was excited to discover that they have it where it’s supposed to let me share things like trophies to Facebook easily/automatically. I have yet to see the social sharing feature work in the way I expected, though. And since I hate tinkering I have yet to really look into why my friends aren’t getting bombarded with those updates.

I’ve only played two games since I got the system: Resogun and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Resogun is a great arcade-style title. It’s fun for when you only have 10 minutes to kill on a game.  It’s a little bit of sensory overload with all the noises and flashing and explosions, but, hey, that’s what makes that kind of game fun. Highly recommended.

I’ll write a review of AC4 in a separate post. Back to the PS4 review.

My biggest complaint about PS4 is that it doesn’t support PS3 games. I understand that they completely re-engineered the platform and all that, so there’s a big technical barrier to this. I also understand they’re trying to run a little side business off of letting people play PS3 games via their network, which is a minor business barrier.  But as a customer, I think they should have worked it out.  There are PS3 games I wanted to buy and play yet, but now I probably never will because it’s unlikely I’ll ever go back to my PS3.  Also, I hate having two gadgets that do basically the same thing.

Beyond that, I love my PS4 and have no other real complaints. I love it! And considering the fact that I got five good years of use out of my PS3, I hope to get several years out of this new gadget.

Dear Lady in Front of Us at Publix

First of all, you knew this was the Express lane when you walked up. And while we can all see that you have more than the 11 items you claimed to have, the sign clearly says the limit is 10.  For the purposes of this letter, I’m just going to say that THAT moment is the beginning of your wrongness this evening. However, please trust me when I say I’m practicing significant restraint not to cite the moment you composed that outfit as the apparent beginning of your wrongness today.

SIGNIFICANT. RESTRAINT.

So, you had “one” too many items for the express lane.

Does it matter than no one was allegedly in line when you walked up with your “one” too many items? No, it actually doesn’t. Because you had too many items.

Most people would be willing to forgive you for having “one” too many items if your transaction had been quick and efficient, but you had coupons.

Don’t get me wrong: part of me admires the diligence of you extreme couponers.  And although your $40 of groceries wasn’t free, I was still kind of impressed that you got it all for less than $5. Not enough to excuse your behavior, though.

Let me spell it out for you: the EXPRESS LANE is not the place to expose the rest of us to the turgidity of your thriftiness.  Not to put too fine a point on it, this situation just makes you a dick. You’re probably thinking, “There’s no rule against using coupons in the express lane.” There’s also no rule against sneezing on other people in line, picking your boogers and eating them while in line, or picking at your underwear in line.  You see, there is an infinite number of things about which there is no “rule” posted on a sign at the beginning of the line, but common sense and basic courtesy do dictate that you avoid these things.

I want to impress upon you again that I don’t buy your coy excuses about not being aware of how wrong you are. You’re an adult. This is not your first rodeo. So, don’t piss on my leg and tell me it raining. (PS. There’s no sign against that in the express lane, either, but I just dare you.)

Your third wrongness that I observed this evening was when you asked the cashier to deal with your coupons before she finished scanning all of your items.  I know this isn’t your first time purchasing four jars of ranch dressing with twice as many coupons, lady. You know how this is supposed to work. HOLD YOUR COUPONS UNTIL THE END.

So, no, I did not believe you when you laughingly tossed a “Sorry, guys” our way.  You knew you were wrong. Pretty much all day long. Wrong. Again, I wish to emphasize the restraint I practiced this evening. See, I can be extremely outspoken in stressful situations. But instead of taking that faux apology as an invitation to explain how rude you are and how I don’t believe your apology I chose to simply give you a blank stare that I hope at least hinted at my disapproval. I don’t think a simple stare can really communicate the depths of my disapproval, but perhaps its mere existence became known in that moment.

I could tell you didn’t like it when the manager asked you not to get into the express lane. And I could tell you had no intention of heeding her request in the future. I believe you actually think you were the one wronged in this situation.  I believe that you left the store thinking you were completely innocent and even though other people made it through nearby lines after leaving the express lane before your transaction was complete there was nothing you could do about that. I believe that you actually see yourself as a blameless martyr suffering at the hands of store managers and other customers who just don’t understand how wise you are for using coupons like you do.

Bless your heart.

But did you stop there?  Nope. I watched you push your shopping cart — and, yes, I do also have an opinion on you and your man friend using a cart for “eleven” items — into the parking spot next to your vehicle instead of taking it to the cart return.  As far as I am concerned that was the end of your wrongness for the day.  It was the icing on the the poop cake you baked this evening at Publix. Chef Asshole at La Cuisine du Fart. That’s you.

Anyway, I gotta go watch the Grammy’s with my BF right now. I just thought I would spell out the number of ways you’re wrong just so that perhaps other assholes like you might realize that you aren’t fooling anyone.  Everyone knows you’re an asshole and unless you stop being an asshole there’s no way we won’t think that about you.

SMOOCHES
Trey

PS. I hope all that “diet” ranch dressing pays off for you.

An Idea for Sony to Fix My PS4 Complaint

My PS4 arrived from Amazon yesterday! YAAYY!!

It’s so pretty. I love how much smaller and FLAT it is compared to the PS3. (That rounded case on the PS3 drove me bananas.)  In some ways, the PS4 looks more like just another media device sitting on my entertainment center. In others, it looks more like a gaming console.  The first part is a compliment. The latter is not.

The new interface is a little different and it’s NOISY. I’m going to have to tinker with the sound settings or something.

I do like the Facebook integration and the way they have apps set up.

I also like that you can set it to “stand by” mode instead of turning it all the way off. But I wonder if it will automatically update itself while in standby. That would be really cool. I was telling a friend this morning that I am only a casual gamer and sometimes weeks and months go by between times when I actually use my Playstation.  Those updates that take 20 or 30 minutes to complete before I cam play a game get REALLY annoying.

I’m still exploring the PS4, so this isn’t a complete review by any stretch, but there is one thing about the PS4 that REALLY irks me: you can’t play your PS3 games on it.

Now, I do understand why this is the case. Sony went through a lot of trouble to invent a new platform and all kinds of technology stuff blah blah blah. And so the games just won’t work on PS4.

They have “generously” engineered this new online forum where you can play PS3 games that way, but you have to pay again even if you already own the game.

That potential revenue stream is the biggest reason why I think my idea will fall on deaf ears, but here’s what I imagine could be done to allow the PS4 to play PS3 games for folks like me who still have and enjoy them — and kind of want to buy some more and play those, too.

I imagine I could put a PS3 disc into my PS4.  When the PS4 detects that the disc is not PS4 compatible and it’s not a DVD or anything, it could check against the online system to make sure it’s a PS3 disc and that it’s a PS3 disc for a game that they support online.  If both of those things are true, then the PS4 could then play the online version so long as that disc is present. TAADAA!!

I imagine this would allow the PS4 to get around having to actually “understand” what it “reads” on a disc it finds inside it. It just listens to what the PSN tells it to do.

Yeah, so anyway. Sony should jump right on this so that I can get rid of my PS3 and clear up some space in my entertainment center.

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