"Did you keep a calendar?" said the lady on the phone.
"They had a calendar?"
"I kept one. It's around here somewhere."
"Was it - well, you know the matches. The way they tricked people -"
"Did it have the spirit of the matches?"
She laughed. "It was wonderful."
The lady called the paper to tell me she liked something I wrote, and we got talking about the U, about Dinkytown, about Ralph & Jerry's grocery store, where I worked for a while. I had no idea they made a calendar. The line about the matches had to do with the false black strip on one side, which the uninitiated believed was the emory. You could tell a newbie by which side of the matchbook they used. That was Ralph & Jerry's. That spirit, in calendar form? I could only imagine.
Hung up and realized that was the first phone call I took in my new office. The ghost of the 80s sanctifying my new place. The journo across the aisle doesn't remember the 80s. She was two.
Watched a documentary on Netflix last night about the search for the ET Atari game carts dumped in a New Mexico landfill. A bit too much on garbage-dump forensics, and not enough on Atari or the rise and fall of home gaming systems, but there was enough of the latter to keep me interested. I never played those things. A part of 80s culture I never shared, because I had the real thing: coin-operated machines in arcades and bars. I can close my eyes and see them now; I can remember who played what. Rick was a Joust and Vortex man - the former I never liked, because you were flying on ostriches spearing opponents and I wanted ROCKETS, man, not combat fowl. The Giant Swede played Missile Command for hours, a game I hated for its resonant mood of nuclear dread. We all suspected the decade would end with a planet-scouring war, and the idea of forestalling the destruction of your pixillated cities with airbursts until eventually GAME OVER rolled across the screen, well - soon enough, I fear, soon enough. I played Asteroids and Centipede. After the bar closed we would stay around for another hour in the darkness, feeding quarters into the machine, blowing up rocks and slapping the Hyperspace button until two in the morning.
Fond memories, although it just testifies to our datelessness. Now and then one of us would become attached and drift off, but after sufficient time, after the relationship had eased itself into that state of unconsecrated routine, the boys would drift back to great acclaim. Regular appearances meant trouble in paradise.
So the idea of moving blocky blips around a screen by yourself in the family room had no appeal - but of course we were collegians, not 80s kids living at home. Still, the subject put a hook in my heart, and made me think A) how much I enjoyed the 80s, and B) how the previous statement is something I have come to believe despite all the evidence at the time. But they're both true. In retrospect the anguishes of your twenties smooths out - what seemed at the time like an interminable dirge of muted brass becomes a ten-bar oboe line in a minor key. Doubts that were resolved seem like nothing more than a few minutes spent on a train platform wondering when the 5:15 would arrive - ahh, there it is, step aboard. Doubts that were not resolved are like pieces of wood you tried to whittle into something useful, but discarded. All wrongs are forgiven, in the hopes your mistakes were likewise absolved - in both cases, the secret ingredients being Time and Indifference. You remember some people with a pang; some seem like walk-on parts with no lines, or a line that spears them to a moment and a place. I remember a tall bartender at the Valli who was an architecture student, and had handed in his final project. A house. "I gave it a bleeping hipped roof," he grinned, delighting in his apostasy. Everyone else turned in houses with flat roofs. I remember the night three of us walked home a a waiter who seemed 20 years older than the rest of us - a bit dim, courtly, obese, fastidious, and in this instance utterly drunk. He took this to mean we were all friends. We were not all friends. Twenty years later I was standing outside the newspaper building and a bus pulled up and I looked through the door and he was driving. He smiled and waved.
But that's my 20s, and it has nothing to do with the 80s - except that the setting and decor and soundtrack and colors and mood and fears were all bound to the post-70s world, which is to say the reaction to the curdled counterculture and the co-opting of the counterculture into a yuppie vibe that wanted all the freedom and disdain for The Man and corrosive cynicism, but all the material glories. Every era has its own way of expressing Fun, but there was something about the 80s that seemed to rediscover fun for the hell-of-it sake of Fun Itself. Disco was not fun. Disco was full of dark imperatives. You should be dancing. Staying alive. Burn baby burn. All pitch and tinder in gloomy rooms with a mirror ball overhead like the skull of some minor god who got drunk and allowed the mortals to chop it off, hang it like a trophy.
Anyway: never played those games. I played something else, a text adventure on my TI/99. Typing one-word commands at the prompt, hoping a door would open, waiting for a line of text to describe the room I'd just entered. It was to modern games like radio was to IMAX. I remember just where I was when I played that game, waiting for Overnight to come on, listening to Dire Straits or Elvis Costello, going to school, working on columns for the paper. It's a nice memory.
Two years later everything was horrible. But that's the next novel. That's the Ralph & Jerry's novel.
I would rather be playing Cities: Skylines, a new game I got a few weeks ago. I don’t know why I told you I got it a few weeks ago. Well, no, I do; saying “A new game I got” looks ungainly and incorrect, and “a few weeks ago” pretends to give you some relevant information, knowing you’ll be into the next sentence before you realize how unnecessary the information really was. (“Really was,” as opposed to simply “was”.) I’ll stand by the first half of the sentence, though. So why aren’t I?
Playing it. Because I’m at the office. If you haven’t heard of the game, it’s SimCity as it should be. Huge maps, lots of detail, forgiving gameplay. After one starter city to learn the basics you know enough to build a good little city and not run into debt. As I’ve said before, I don’t want to play against the game, anymore than a kid wants the point of playing in a sandbox to avoid being swallowed by the implacable hand of viscous sand, and what’s more, I don’t think I could have written that sentence without using “sand” twice. I just want to build a city.
It’s strange that you have to get X number of people before you can build a school or a fire station, and must wait for growth to zone for medium-density housing. But it’s fun and simple and I wish there wasn’t any internet, because I would play it for hours. As I did on SimCity 2000.
Some notes: you can tell the game was written by Europeans.
Or maybe not; perhaps the Europeans would have said Greatly Decreased Happiness. If they were over 30.
An annoying aspect: excessive hashtagging.
Here's the level of detail you can get if you zoom way in. Trees wave, cars move, people walk around - it's quite alive.
I put in one park, and zoomed in on it when there seemed to be some action. A communal levitation exercize?
If you click on them, they have names, and they have houses and jobs. It's everything you really wanted in a city-building sim, and I'm glad I bought it. A few weeks ago, of course.
Who's walked around the corner into Judge-Crater territory today?
This is from March of 1922, so he was born in 1907.
Picture here. Is he using the proper hand? Is that how a lefty would do it?
Behold, a brand new serial! By which I mean a very old one, but of course new to this site. I've learned much about the genre, and I hope you have internalized the basics as well. Any bets on whether this one will tick every box? Let's begin the thrilling tale of . . .
Cool! Except . . . well, radar? Radar men? I guess it's meant to reassure us of Science Villains. But who's our hero?
Oh, new character. Really? C'mon. It's the Wokateah,* is who it is. Well, that's okay, because it means running and flying and peril galore when he falls to certain death. Where shall we begin?
Figures. But first we start the way serials are supposed to start, with explosions galore and fires and spinning newspapers and poorly lettered banner headlines:
Yes, America is under attack, and in particular the Area Defense Headquarters, the most generically named org I've heard in a while. Are they a government body? No; seems to be one of those groups made up of Scientists who are altruistic and also don't mind a little profit on the side, but mostly are concerned with Defending the Area with nifty science things.
We meet the team: the spunky gal, the sidekick guy, and Commander Cody - a rather underwhelming introduction; we only know that's his name when he's called it by Mr. Henderson, a mysterious figure from The Government. He says the attacks have been Atomic in nature. But, says sidekick scientist, no one on Earth can do that!
Here's Top Men coming to the only possible conclusion:
As usual, the guys helping out the enemy are criminals in suits.
Someone saw them, so it's time to call in Commander Cody. We have no backstory on him whatsoever. Or what he commands. Or how he got this flying suit. All you need know is that he is a Sensational Super Science Star:
But not so much of a Science Star that he doesn't know the most effective way to deal with traitors who blow up troop trains on behalf of some hypothetical Moon civilization. He brings a gun and shoots at the bad guys, during which we learn that the helmet really screws with his aim, because he can't hit anything. Everyone runs out of bullets, and it's curtains for Cody, right? Because the criminals have a truck that can travel fast and a ray gun in the back that can destroy almost anything. So they point the ray gun at Cody, and that's that. Sorry, kids! Short serial.
Of course, no.
What else, indeed. Now we meet the Moon Guy:
Play that again: it's like the crook is actually looking to the director to see if they're going to stop and retake. Isn't it Commander Cody? No? It's Commando? Okay. They have to get the ray gun back! So the criminals go to Commando Cody's office - er, his lab - and it's fistfight time! It's a real roundhouse festival, and 50% of the hats are knocked off. Cody is defeated, the ray gun is stolen, and an additional 11 episodes are guaranteed when the criminals do not shoot Cody or his sidekick. They just run out saying "Don't try to follow us!" like it's some boy's game with rules. You can't follow us! That's no fair!
Meanwhile, on the moon:
Oh, for heaven's sake. Their fearless leader:
It's President Aleister Crowley! He assures his earth minion - who's named Crock, I think - that they will be prepared for the Earthmen when they arrive. The gang gets into the ship after some banter about women on a moon trip (she assures them they'll be happy she came along once she starts cooking their meals) and then we're off. Nothing says "prepared to pull some Gs" like office chairs on wheels:
Takes them about two hours to get to the Moon, and they find the city right away. There's no stunned silence as they realize that there is a civilization on the Moon; they react like someone who spies a McDonald's in a suburb. Of course the gravity is the same and of course it has air because this is Serial Moon. They also speak English.
Well, Commando Cody gets right into Moon City, and finds out that the Leader of the Moon has an office right off the front door. Convenient. Mr. Moon President says Earth will be invaded because the Moon is becoming inhabitable. What superior technology will they use?
Hey, wait a minute. That was the stuff the Moon People had in the Brick Bradford series. Well, we've set everything up nicely; time to get to the cliffhanger.
There isn't a single original element in this thing. Not one.
I'm loving it.
* “Wokateah” is a reference to the movie “Rocketeer,” which I saw at the Janus in DC when it first came out. There was a small child in the audience who became agitated with uncontrollable delight when the Rocketeer appeared on the screen, and he cried out Wokateah! Wokateah!
Work blog today, and Tumblr's already going on. See you around!