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Archive for February, 2012

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn

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If you’ve been looking to spend countless hours playing great old role-playing games on your computer, Gamersgate has a deal for you.  I’ve collected all of the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games separately over the years, along with Planescape, which might just be the greatest RPG ever made.   I don’t know how long this deal will last, but the whole thing would probably still be worth it for full price.

This also makes me want to play some Baldur’s Gate II and Icewind Dale II.  I never got around to beating those.

And now I want to replay Planescape.  This is not good for my video game queue.

 

 

 

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I haven’t felt inspired to post much this week, so I thought I’d make up for that (or make it worse depending on your point-of-view) by posting a rough draft of a story I wrote a few years ago.  I apologize for any formatting problems.  I just cut and pasted it from Word.  Let’s pretend that any grammatical errors are also Word’s fault and not from my own overzealous use of commas.  It’s not at all like things that I usually write, which is probably why my wife refuses to read it and insists it’s based on some secret experience.  It’s not.  I did pick up a hitchhiker once, but that story is not at all like this one.  Not even the same genre.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy this.  If you’re in a critical mood when you read it, feel free to mock my work to the person standing next to you, unless that person is me.  

Falling

I was just beginning to accelerate when I saw her standing at the joint between the on-ramp and the pavement of US-67/167 just south of Beebe, Arkansas.  She didn’t have her thumb stuck out, but it was still pretty obvious that she wanted a ride.  I slowed.  I never pick up hitchhikers as a general rule, but there was something so desperate about her that I couldn’t help it.  I found myself pulling onto the shoulder before I realized what I was doing.

My girlfriend would be angry.  Not because I was giving a girl a ride; she trusts me more than that.  She’d be mad because I always tell her not to pick people up.  She says it’s her Christian duty; I say she can be a better Christian alive than dead in a ditch somewhere.  The conversation would usually end the way a lot of ours did – she’d walk

away fuming, and I’d watch TV.  It was never worth it.  I’d probably keep this little event to myself just so I could avoid another incident.

The girl runs up to the passenger window but she doesn’t immediately throw open the door and get in.  Good. I think, Smart girl.  I push the button and the glass begins to disappear.   With the barrier gone, she’s in my life and there’s no going back.

“Hi.” She says, almost timidly.

“Hey,” I reply.  “Can I help you?”

“Honestly?  I told myself I wouldn’t take a ride from a lone guy.”

“Yeah, I don’t blame you.  We’re mostly creeps.”

She laughs.  It’s musical, and I mentally kick myself for noticing.  “You seem okay, though.”  She bites her lip and looks around.  No cars are coming our direction.  It’s nine o’clock on a weekday and everyone is either already at work or still sleeping.   “I really need a ride.”

“What can I do to convince you?”  I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“I have a girlfriend.  She thinks I’m mostly alright.”

“That helps a little, but not much.  Lots of creeps get girlfriends.”

Now I laugh.  “I guess that’s true.  Do you have a car or something?  I mean, if I can’t give you a ride, maybe I can help fix your car.”

“No.  My car’s already in one of the shops in town.  I sold it when it quit working.  I didn’t have time to wait on it getting fixed.”

“That’s okay.  I don’t know crap about fixing cars anyway.”

She laughs again, and I keep kicking.  It’s not helping.  Suddenly she throws the door open and jumps in.  “I guess I don’t have a choice.  I’m in too much of a hurry.”

She buckles her seat belt and smoothes out her skirt.  It’s either black with white swirls or white with black swirls.  There aren’t any rings on her fingers.  I put the car in drive and check my mirrors to have something else to look at.  No one’s coming.

“I’ll be as gentlemanly as I know how.  Where to, madam?”

“Little Rock, if you can go that far.  If not, just take me as far as you can and let me out.  I need to get to a Greyhound station.”

“I know where one is.  I’ll drop you off at the door.”

She looks at me with her head cocked to the side and smiles.  It’s the perfect smile.  The whiteness of her teeth contrast with the dark tone of her skin and the deep brown, almost black of her eyes.  It’s a beautiful smile.  The kind of smile that can melt men and make them forget…well…everything.  The kind of smile that could change the world.

I try and smile back charmingly, but I probably just look goofy.

“Thanks.” She says.  She doesn’t even have to say it.  That smile was thanks enough.  A strand of black hair falls in her face and she brushes it back.  I wonder if she knows what effect she can have on people and is using it to manipulate me, or if she’s totally oblivious of her own charms.

“Anything to help a damsel in distress.”

“A knight, eh?  How chivalrous.”

“I do what I can.”

Silence falls like snow.  It’s not awkward though.  It’s comfortable – like lying in a field and watching the clouds pass.  I’m enjoying it.  I don’t want to break it.  But my desire to talk to her again is stronger.

“Do you like ghost stories?”  It’s in my head and it’s the first thing I can think of to say.

“Wow.  I expect the small talk to be a little more mundane, and here you surprise me.”

“Surprise you?  Is that good?”

“I think so.  It means our conversation will be more interesting.”

“Good.  I’m glad.  So?”

“So what?”

“Do you like ghost stories.”

She taps her finger against her mouth and stares down the road for a moment as if the question deserves the same deep thought as the meaning of life.  “Yes,” she finally answers, “I do.  Mostly.  I always loved reading those ghost story books when I was a kid.  You know, the ones with titles like Twelve Tales of Terror and stuff.  I don’t get much out of the stupid horror movies that they put out now though.  They’re just an excuse to splash blood on the screen and scream a lot.”

“I agree.”

“Now why did you ask?”

“I was thinking of a ghost story I remembered.  It was probably in those same books you’re talking about.  It’s about a guy that picks up a girl on the side of the road.  She really needs to get home, and he gives her a ride.”

Her eyes light up and it brightens the day better than the sun could ever dream of. “I think I know this one!  He takes her to a little house and drops her off, but on the way home he realizes she forgot her sweater or her hair bow or something.”

“Yeah, but when he goes back to the house to return it the next day, an old lady answers.”

“It’s the girls mom and she says that the girl doesn’t live there anymore.”

“Because she’s been dead for years.”  I say it in a mock spooky voice like a bad actor playing a ghost, and we both laugh.  It’s a duet.

She shifts in the seat so that now her legs are pulled up under her and she’s sitting on them.  Her skirt spills over the edge of the seat, a cascade of black and white.

“I always liked that one.” She says, “don’t worry, though.  I promise not to disappear or anything when you let me out.”

I smile, but it falters a little at the last few words.  We’re past Cabot now, and there’s probably only twenty minutes or so left of our ride.

“Would you rather talk about something more mundane now?” I ask.

“Such as?”

“Part of me wants to ask your name, but part of me doesn’t.”

“Then don’t.  That’ll make the story more mysterious when you tell it to your friends later.”

“Okay.”  Lot’s of other questions flash through my mind.  Questions that I want to know the answer to.  What did she do?  Where was she from?  Where was she going?  Was she married?  What was her favorite movie?  What was her favorite food?  None of them seemed like the right questions – the important questions.  They seem like the kind of questions that you’d ask when you meet any old girl in a bar.  This was different.  I didn’t know why, and I still don’t, not fully anyway, but it was and I felt it.

“Do you mind if I turn on the radio?”

“No.” I say, even though I do.  I want to talk to her, not listen to music.  My fears are alleviated when she turns the volume down so that we can still easily hear each other over the music.  I have a CD in the player and it starts instead of the radio.

She claps, and her joy is infectious.  “This is one of my favorite songs!”

It’s one of my favorites too, but I don’t say it out loud.  She dances in her seat and sings softly along, swaying her shoulders and arms in time with the music.  Her movements are subtle, hypnotic, like a snake-charmer.  I find myself glancing over at her and away from the road.  She finally catches me watching and I expect her to stop and turn away.  Instead she smiles and I feel my breath hitch.

“So,” I say when I trust myself to speak, “this may sound stupid, but is this something you’ve done before?”

“This?”

“Yeah – you know – hitchhiking.”

“Oh…no.  Of course, I’ve never really needed to before.  If I weren’t desperate, I wouldn’t be doing it now.”

“I see.”

There’s silence again.  It’s thick, like a fog in the car.  She leans towards me through the mist and breaks it.

“Are you going to ask why I’m desperate?”

“No.”

“Really?  Why not?”

“I figure it’s none of my business.  If you want to tell me you can tell me.  If you don’t-“ I shrug my shoulders, “Besides, I was kind of afraid that if I asked, it might mess things up.”

“Mess things up?”

“Yeah, you know.”

She looks at me thoughtfully for a moment, and I find myself cutting quick glances between her and the road as she stares.

“What is it?  Are you okay?” I ask.

She smiles and laughs again, and by now I think I should be nothing but a puddle collecting in the seat and soaking into the upholstery. “Everything’s fine.  I’m glad you didn’t ask.  Now I have a question for you.”

“Oh yeah?  It’s not something mundane is it?” I ask.

“Kind of, but probably not in this context.” She answers.

“Okay, now I’m interested.  Fire away.”

“Should I color my hair blonde?”

“What?”

“Should I?”

I look at her as if, instead of being blonde, her hair has just floated off of her head and gotten sucked out the window.  “Please don’t.”

“Really?”

“No.  Just- no.  You’re hair is beautiful.”  I say, and it is.  Her hair is jet black and curly.  She has it pulled back in a ponytail at the moment, — except, of course, for that stray strand of ringlets that she keeps brushing out of her face — but I can imagine it as an ebony flow framing her slender neck and resting on her shoulders.

I suddenly realize that I’m staring…and driving.  I quickly turn back to the road just in time to keep the car from drifting all the way into the left lane.  She laughs again.  If I had a CD of that sound, I would play it continuously.

“Careful there, hero,” she says as she watches me.  She pulls the sun-visor down and looks at her hair in the mirror.  “You really like it?”

“I think it’s gorgeous.”

“Black it is then.  I don’t think I would’ve made a very good blonde anyway.”

“Yeah, it takes a certain demeanor to pull it off.”

“I hope what you mean is that I could never be mistaken for a ‘dumb blonde’.”

“Of course you couldn’t.”

We’re past Jacksonville; the last suburb.  It’s a clear day, and I can already make out the skyline ofLittle Rock.  The Metropolitan National Bank Building stands head and shoulders above the others, but it will probably be theTCBYTowerin my mind for the rest of my life.  It just about marks the end of our trip, although the Greyhound terminal is really on the north side of the river.  I don’t want to get any closer, but there’s nothing to stop it.  It keeps getting larger and larger in my windshield with every mile we cover.

The rest of the drive passes in much the same way.  We talk.  We refrain from talking about the normal stuff that new acquaintances feel the need to ask; all the inconsequential small talk.  It’s as if there is an unspoken agreement to stay clear of any topics that might mark us as strangers and remind us that we only just met.  Instead we talk and laugh and smile as if we’ve known each other and been friends for years.  The road rushes by underneath us, and the signs flash past.  The city grows closer.  The Greyhound bus terminal nears.  I laugh at a joke she tells, but I keep glancing out the front window, and I realize that I didn’t really hear that one.  I’m thinking about dropping her off, and I feel a knot in my stomach.  There’s nothing I can do to stop it.  The sun goes up and falls again.  The second hand ticks along.  Time passes, and all beginnings come to an end.   I force myself out of my reverie and back into the conversation.  We’re almost there, and I don’t want to waste what’s left.

I ease the car onto the off ramp.  She’s quiet now, and looking out of the window so I can’t see her face.  I want to imagine that this is hard for her, but she probably has other things on her mind.  She’s probably in a different world – one where she’s worried about wherever it is she has to get to and not agonizing over the fact that she’s about to

leave behind someone who was a complete stranger only an hour ago.  We’re turning onto Broadway.  There’s only a couple of blocks left and I can see the sign for the terminal up ahead.  She turns from the window and looks at me.  She’s not smiling now.

“You could’ve just driven for a while – missed the turn or something.”

“I thought you needed to get here fast?”

“I did.  But…I wouldn’t have minded.”

“Oh…”  I don’t know what else to say.  My stomach twists as my mind follows that tangent and conjures a reality where we did keep going and talking and laughing indefinitely.

I pull to a stop in front of the brick building.  We sit in silence and nobody moves.  My thoughts are a jumbled mess, and I’m afraid of what might come out if I open my mouth.  My ideas run the gamut from asking about the weather to asking her to stay and talk for a while longer and everything in between.  I do nothing before she turns to me.

“Thank you for being a gentleman and getting me here.”  That same strand of hair is in her face again.  She looks beautiful and I find myself wanting to kiss her even though I still have no idea what her name is.  I settle for reaching up to brush back her hair.  I move slowly, as if I’m afraid that when she sees movement she’ll leap from the car like a skittish rabbit.  She doesn’t.  I take the stray hairs between my fingers and move them back out of her face.  It feels silky, and I’m close enough that I can smell the faint aroma of coconut left from her shampoo.

“I’m not that much of a gentleman.  Now I’m wishing I had kept driving.”

She smiles, but it’s crooked and sad and not at all like it was.  “Yeah,” she says, “I kinda wish you had too.”  She looks out at the terminal once more before leaning in close to me.  So close that I close my eyes, half-expecting my wish to be granted.  Instead she leans in so that her lips are almost touching my ear.

She whispers her name.

I tell her mine.

She leans back slowly, achingly, letting our cheeks brush on the return journey for the briefest moment.  Finally – eventually – she sits back in her seat, looks at me, and smiles again.  A happier smile this time, more like before.

“Pleased to meet you.” She says.

And then she opens the door, steps out onto the curb, and shuts it behind her.

I’m not a believer in love at first sight.  That phrase is for cheesy movies and romance novels.  I’ve never believed in it, and still don’t.  But sometimes there’s a connection that you share with someone you’ve just met.  That’s the counterpart in the real world, the reality on which the myth is based.  A connection that’s so strong you ache for it for a time after it’s severed.

I don’t think about that as I watch her walk up the steps and into the terminal, but I feel it.  She looks small in my rearview mirror.  Instead, a civil war is being waged in my body.  There is a small coffee shop just across the street from that terminal, and what I want is to go find her, take her to that coffee shop, and sit and talk to her for hours.  Opposing that desire is the sensible plan of going home, sleeping, forgetting, and getting on with my life.  I have a girlfriend.  We have our problems, but we’ve been together a long time and we’re serious about a future.  In fact, for the sake of accuracy, I have a girlfriend who is expecting to find me with knee bent and ring in hand any day now.  Of course I haven’t bought anything yet, but she doesn’t know that.  Now, for the first time, I’m wondering if I should buy her something.  But that is stupid.  I just met a girl hitchhiking so she could catch a bus to God knows where.  She might be dying and want to get home one last time, or she might be running from a psycho ex or even the cops.  I know nothing about her.  There were a billion possibilities, and just as many reasons why I shouldn’t leave my safe little car and my safe little life and chase after her.

But that laugh – that beautiful, aria of a laugh.

I turn the car off, but I don’t take the keys out of the ignition.

Not yet.

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Why do you want to kill me, Mario? Why?

I wish I could have sat in on the pitch meeting 25 years ago when Nintendo was developing Super Mario Bros.  I want to know who when posed the question “What is this plumber going to fight?”, answered “Turtles”.  I imagine the room going quiet before he says it, everyone’s mind racing, running through all of the possible villains, but knowing that none of them were quite right.  And then:

Turtles.

They all look at one another and nod wisely.  Of course.  Turtles.   What else could possibly serve so well?

I wonder why he chose turtles.  Maybe he has some deep-seated fear stemming from a traumatic terrapinian past occurrence known to his family as “The Turtle Incident”, that may or may not have involved a fat mustachioed man jumping on one’s back.

I guess some questions are best left for the philosophers.

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I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Eddie Vedder is going to be performing  a solo show at the Orpheum in Memphis on May 1st.  Tickets went on sale this morning, and I’m pleased to say that I ordered mine!  There are still tickets left if you hurry.

What’s doubly exciting about this show is that the opening act is Glen Hansard of The Swell Season/The Frames/Once.  Speaking of which, if you’ve never seen the movie Once, you should find it and watch it.  I can’t wait to see both of these guys live.

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It was a long day at work.  Normal school was over at 2:00 for parent-teacher conferences, which I got to enjoy for about an hour and a half before I had to head to the concession stand to work my last game of the year.  All that being said, I’m tire.  The subject of this week’s random Wikipedia article is:

History of the Cyclades.

Man, that article is long.  I’ll finish reading it tomorrow.

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I miss Bill Watterson.  I almost wish he would come out of retirement, but the last Calvin and Hobbes strip was such a perfect ending that any more might diminish the whole.  And that would be a tragic loss.  Anyway, I saw this yesterday and thought it was smart and insightful, like most of his strips.  The snow man in the last panel makes the whole thing work.

Calvin and Hobbes

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English: St Nicholas, Pyrford, in snow Not som...

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So I got up this morning, looked out the wind, and saw nothing.  When I was on outside duty, the snow finally started sputtering a little.  When second period was over, it really started coming down and I was sure they were going to send us home.  All the surrounding schools had already cancelled.

But thank goodness we were the stubborn ones.

You see, I get a have a four day weekend coming up, but that four day weekend is contingent on us not having any snow days.  A four day weekend sounds much better to me than a three day weekend plus one random day where I get up, get ready, and show up for work only to be sent home an hour or two later.

And you know what?  By the time the buses ran the ground was nothing but wet.

Good call today, Beebe School District.  Your employees thank you.  Bring on the four day weekend.

 

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