Games, part 2: The arcade

January 21st, 2013 by soundofrain

SpaceInvaders-GameplayPart 1 is here.

I’m proud to say that Space Invaders was the first arcade game I ever played, and I was great at it, though I was only ten when it came out. Again, its simplicity was its strength. You’re running back and forth at the bottom of the screen and the aliens are marching down toward you, slowly at first, then faster and faster as you kill more and more of them. You must shoot them before they reach you, and you must not let them shoot you first. It had very effective game sounds with a Jaws-like simple “tune” as the aliens marched relentlessly closer and closer, faster and faster. Not bad at all for 1978. There was one in the game room of the resort we went to one summer, and I would get a stack of quarters from my dad for Space Invaders and bottles of Pepsi Light from the machine, and play for hours. Good times.

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If hell is other people, what is heaven?

January 16th, 2013 by soundofrain

smiley-face buttonMy cousin sent me a special gift for Christmas. I just got it yesterday.

It’s a smiley-face mug, because she says my mother loved the whole smiley-face thing, and a three page letter. Two paragraphs are about how much she loved my mother, and a couple of memories of her, including one in which she swears my mother, in a hospital miles away, whispered “good-bye” to her at the moment she died.

The rest is about how my cousin got “saved.” All you have to do is admit that you’re unworthy, that nothing you can do can ever make you worthy, and that Jesus is the only truth; and you get to go to heaven where “every desire will be fulfilled.” She doesn’t want to get there, see (and she knows, of course, that she’s going to heaven), and have my mother say, “Where’s my daughter? Didn’t you tell her?”

Because otherwise I’d be completely unaware of the whole Jesus thing, I suppose.

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Games, part 1: Childhood

January 8th, 2013 by soundofrain


I was a child in the 1970s, so the games I played are sort of the classic Gen X American middle class board games. From Candy Land to Monopoly, if my family didn’t have it, someone on the block usually did.

Roll the dice, move your piece, obey the rules or break them. What is a game, and what separates a “game” from just “play”? I would say that a game is inventive play, with rules of varying complexity and rigidity. Often there is an object or a definitive endpoint. You reach “home,” you win all your opponent’s pieces or money, you kill the aliens. Or you don’t, and you lose, or you “die.” Lots of people have written lots of words about games, so let me go ask the internets for an official definition. BRB.

“A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool.”

That’s from Wikipedia. I like the broad definition. I also like how the article distinguishes games from work and art, and then says the lines between them are sometimes blurred.

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Experiments in urban gardening

April 23rd, 2012 by soundofrain

The early days: arugula sprouts in the pot; the tray is half arugula, half flowers. In the windowbox, the peas have just sprouted.

I live in Brooklyn now, and once again have a one bedroom apartment all to myself (halleluiah!). Money’s tight, but I’ve been building up an assortment of plants again. In San Francisco I had lots of plants, and even got a couple of them to flower. It helps my mood to have plants around.

This time, I’ve added a few food-source plants, as an experiment. I’m interested in urban farming and the idea that cities and towns, and even households, can become more self-sufficient. I thought it would be interesting to see if I could grow something edible in spite of that. Read the rest of this entry »


January 10th, 2012 by soundofrain

So, how are your New Year’s resolutions going?

New Year’s resolutions are bullshit, mostly. Everyone goes to the gym for a few weeks, if that, and by February we’re all back to our same old selves. It’s one of the many things I hate about the holidays, that all that stress and expense and schlepping ends with the renewed knowledge that I suck at my own life.

I’ve made the same resolutions every year for close to a decade. Some have been with me since high school. I no longer make formal resolutions, but every new year that rolls around finds me pondering that same old list, that same old self’s desire for a new self. The old, the new. The familiar, the possible.

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New earth on the barrens

July 4th, 2010 by soundofrain

As part of my quest to read every apocalyptic novel ever published, I’ve just finished Riddley Walker by John Russell Hoban (1980). It was recommended to me by a co-worker, and I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before. In case you don’t know it either, it takes place in England roughly two thousand years after planet-wide nuclear holocaust, and the whole thing is written in a dialect Hoban invented, a guess at what the people of Kent might sound like at such time. Read the rest of this entry »


May 10th, 2010 by soundofrain

There are two ways to lose your mother. Actually there are many more than that, but let’s assume that she’s a good woman and you love her and want her around. You can lose her when you’re very young, and never know an adult relationship with her, and have very few, precious memories that you hardly dare think about for fear of wearing them out – that’s where I am. Or, you can lose her when you’re both older, when you’ve had way more history with her, and maybe conflicts and complications, and way more opportunity than I ever had to get to know her and love her.  Read the rest of this entry »


May 6th, 2010 by soundofrain

When I was a child, I made a conscious decision never to lie to myself. No matter how forbidden or unwelcome the thought, I would never try to hide from myself that I had thought it.

All kinds of things occur to a person. You can’t help what thoughts occur to you; all you can do is keep yourself from acting on thoughts that are unacceptable, such as, the desire to kill someone who’s hurt you in a relationship. The thoughts themselves are not under your conscious control. That I recognized this early in life made it easier, in a way, for me to do zazen or sitting meditation. I know I can’t stop the thoughts from coming; what I can do is stop myself from grabbing onto them.

All of this effort to be honest, though, may very well be a contributing factor in my lifelong, chronic depression.  Read the rest of this entry »

The strawberry story

April 28th, 2010 by soundofrain

There’s a famous zen story that you may have heard before. It’s a very old story. I’ll put a woman in it instead of a man, just because.

A woman is running from a tiger that’s chasing her. She runs through the woods until she gets to the edge of a cliff. The tiger is still behind her, so she climbs down a vine. The tiger reaches the top of the cliff and paces back and forth, licking its chops. Midway down the cliff, hanging onto the vine, she sees another tiger below her, pacing back and forth, licking its chops. As she’s hanging there, two mice come out and start gnawing on the vine. She tries to shoo them away, but they won’t go.  Read the rest of this entry »

Just glad February is over

March 1st, 2010 by soundofrain

Today is my birthday, March 1, which makes me a Pisces if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m not doing much, just took the day off from work and plan to go shoot some pool with friends later tonight.

I kind of hate birthdays, but not for the reasons you might think. I don’t even much like other people’s birthdays, and can never remember the dates. I don’t think anyone in my family has ever received a birthday card from me on time, and I seldom buy them for friends. I feel guilty about this, because I know other people do like birthdays. I just really, really don’t.

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