My First Last Words

    There was a tornado warning in Howard County today. A real one–not the kind that beeps during reruns of Friends. That kind, you ignore. This kind, we couldn’t.

    I was at Howard County Community College. I had commandeered one of their private study rooms for my own selfish purposes, and was cheerfully plugging away at the novel. I was on a roll, and nothing needed doing for a couple of hours. Such freedom should have been my first clue a natural disaster was afoot.

    Some guy brandishing a walkie-talkie burst in and shouted something about the windows being bad. I rather like windows, but this fellow was telling me they were bad. As I said, he had a walkie-talkie–I believed him about the windows.

    I started to pack my laptop and journals. The walkie-talkie guy started shouting at me again. He thought I should hurry up.

    “You don’t understand,” I explained. “I’m writing a novel.”

    He was not impressed.

    “I don’t give a God-damn,” he said; and really, who was I to argue?

    I managed to grab all of my stuff and schlep over to where a gaggle of students and teachers were crowding a stairwell. The door to the stairwell was marked, “Tornado Safety Zone”. I wondered if the sign had been there before today.

    When I finally squeezed in, people seemed more giddy than afraid. I liked that.

    I have this tendency, to try and ease uncomfortable social situations. I find awkwardness unbearable, and rather than allow the pressure of it to crush me, I combat it by spitting dopey one-liners at everybody, in hopes of getting people to lighten up. I wish I didn’t do things like this.

    “Who brought the weed?” I declared–the star of the damned tornado show. “If we’re gonna die, we might as well get high, right?”

    This got some laughs, though not as many as I had expected. I made my way to the back, by an exit door where two professors were busily tapping away on their smart-phones. I set my backpack to the ground, and whipped out one of my journals. I like this one because it has the initials, “MJC” engraved into the leather. Three pens protruded from my pocket like arrows in a quiver. I removed one, and set it to the paper. Only one thought was guiding my every movement.

    I haven’t finished my book.

    Immediately I began to scrawl instructions into the journal. I felt light-headed, but in a pleasurable way. I think I was excited by the prospect of writing my last words. At some point, I remembered a mom and a girlfriend were out there, so I paused to text-message them and ask if they were somewhere safe. I went back to the writing. The phone buzzed in my pocket a couple of times after that, so I assumed the ladies were at least safe enough to have responded.

    Not much else happened. It got pretty windy, but that was about it. Outside, everything looked pretty much the same as when I had arrived.

    Disaster or no, I thought it would be neat to post what I wrote in the stairwell onto the Bloggery. So here it is, folks. My very first last words.

———-

    A tornado warning has come to Howard County. Students of the local community college have been moved to a Tornado Safety Zone, which is in fact a stairwell. I am among them.

    If I am dead, and you are reading this, please finish my novel. In my laptop, which is in a bright orange case inside a black backpack, search for a file called, “chrochester”. This is the novel. It’s not called ChRochester; it’s called Khush. There is another copy in a black memory stick at [address has been removed due to author paranoia]. It is on the nightstand, next to my bed.

    This journal–as well as the owl journal inside the laptop case–contains information that should assist with completion, assuming you can read my handwriting.

    As a child, I had many nightmares in which I was suddenly sucked into the air–rising up, up, up until, finally, I would awaken. If such a death is my fate, I hope this is not the one to do it. I don’t fear death, mind you. I just want to finish my book.

    I am planning a second novel, called–wait. They just announced we can leave the stairwell.

    I’m a little disappointed.

———-

    In case you’re wondering… yes, all of this is true. That’s really what’s in my journal and, like a teaser, they really did announce we could leave just as I started to write about my second novel. And yes, I really did blurt out that weed comment to the inhabitants of the stairwell.

    I feel like I should conclude on a profound note, but I think I’ll just let it linger there. Death, when you think about, isn’t all that profound, is it?

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Spray-Tan Xenocide

    My name is Michael J. Coene–proprietor of the Bloggery–and I am very upset. If you would lend me your ear… eye? Ear. Ear sounds better. If you would lend me your ear, I will tell you exactly why I feel this way.

    A certain mantra is being bantered about cyberspace. Self-proclaimed writers of all shapes and sizes are playing volleyball, gleefully smacking the motto back and forth over the net, congratulating themselves on a job-well-done. All fine and dandy, but it seems the ball is deflated. It’s a wrinkled mass of rubber and seams, and it keeps flopping into the sand by their tender little spray-tanned feet. Yet these volleyball writers continue to pat themselves on the back. Good show, people. Good show.

    Versions of the incantation are numerous and varied, despite Twitter’s 160-character limit. The volleyball writers manipulate these variations deftly–which is shocking, given the context.

    The following is a quote which seeks to replicate the hymn’s general philosophy. If I accidentally write something you actually tweeted (that word is almost as awful as blog), then I sincerely apologize.

    Wait… no I don’t. If you ever tweeted this nonsense, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    Okay… here goes…

    *ahem*

    “Writers who like their work aren’t good writers at all! : )”

    …

    …

    … come again?

    Have you ever read a book? Have you ever met a writer? These people are veritable emblems of arrogance. A writer’s ability is quantifiable by varying degrees of pomp. It’s no secret.

    What? You think Poe was a modest little birdie? You think when Twain revolutionized narrative vernacular, he berated himself for the failure? Do you honestly expect me to believe Shelley considered “Frankenstein” the pinnacle of mediocrity?

    Any recorded moments of insecurity on behalf of literary geniuses are due only to their massive egos. The larger the ego, the more fragile it is (bigger they are, harder they fall–you know the drill). Not because the writer thinks the work is bad, but because somebody in the world has failed to recognize the sheer genius of it. The writer cannot cope with this, and thus becomes fueled and inspired to prove the critic wrong. At no point does lack of skill enter as a possibility.

    The reason for this phenomenon is simple. Excessive confidence is absolutely necessary, in becoming a noteworthy artist. This fact applies to every art form. Convinced of genius, an artist can readily, easily share the conclusion with others. How? With words, folks. With words.

    According to these volleyball writers, a bad writer who acknowledges a lack of skill is a good writer, and a confident, skilled writer is, in fact, remarkably terrible.

    Well, you know what? Fuck. You.

    Look, I’m not saying I love everything I’ve ever written. Certainly, there is work I think is weaker than others. Each work is better than the last, every time–such is the nature of the craft. The older the piece, the worse the prose.

    That said, do I think I’m a bad writer? Not at all. Actually, I think I’m pretty damn good. I love what I do because I’m good at it. If I thought I sucked, I would take up plumbing or occupational therapy or something.

    Volleyball writers would have us be ashamed of our prowess. Quite frankly, I am insulted. Thinking you suck does not make you better, people. That doesn’t make any sense. Modesty does not equal ability.

    It works both ways, you know. Just because some English major has a fancy vocabulary and a published Young Adult Vampire novel does not make the person talented. Excessive confidence, though necessary, is not the only ingredient in aptitude.

    Assert yourself. Be proud of your work. Write like you fucking mean it. Then re-write, re-write, re-write, and re-write some more, until the arrogance is scraped away, and what’s left is solid, effective, vibrant prose. That’s all there is to it. Nowhere does meekness enter the equation.

    Please, volleyball writers, I beg of you–stop tossing this airless ball around. You are misguided. You are misguiding other, impressionable writers who are just starting-out. Because of you, they’ll think their crappy fan-fiction piece about Buzz Lightyear facing Lady Gaga in a dance-off is good, and as a result, they will never, ever grow.

    I work as an IEP Assistant for a special education school. The biggest problem we have is parents who are unwilling to accept their child’s shortcomings. If we don’t work on the parts that need to be worked on, then the kid will continue to masturbate in public long after the parents are dead. In other words, the kid will think the fact that he sucks is a good thing. Get what I’m saying?

    Stop patting yourselves on the back for feeling insecure. Self-doubt is not a positive attribute, so stop trying to convince everyone it is. You are disguising passive-aggressiveness and anxiety as pep-talk. The longer you refuse to re-write the same ten paragraphs for five hours straight, the longer you refuse to read enough quality literature to actually grow in your craft, the longer you will continue to suck. No amount of spray-tan can fix your voice, folks.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write “Gaga vs. Buzz – The Lady Years” before somebody takes my idea.

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 9:16 am  Comments (2)  
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Don’t Judge a Game by it’s Cover – A Review of ‘Klunker’

    Klunker is a bidding game, similar to Bohnanza. Actually, I would be so bold as to suggest the tactics involved in Klunker are more complex than Bohnanza. Maybe.

    The mechanics are pretty straightforward; immediately a good sign.

———-

    1) Players have three sections in front of them. The ‘Window’, the ‘Safe’ and the ‘Bank’. The ‘Bank’ begins with one Bank Note, which is one of the regular cards turned upside down (a la Bohnanza). Hand size begins with 6.

    2) Step 1 – place cards from hand into the ‘Window’. There must be at least 1 card in the ‘Window’.

    3) Step 2 – place cards, one at a time AND alternating between players, into the ‘Safe’. Thus, in a three-player game, Player A puts 1 card down, then Player B puts 1 card down, then Player C puts 1 card down, then Player A puts another card down, then Player B, etc.) This ceases once all players have Passed. The first player to Pass receives a “1” card, the second to Pass receives a “2” card, and so forth.

    4) Step 3, purchase items in the ‘Windows’. Turn-order is decided by the aforesaid numbered cards acquired through Passing. Players can purchase their own ‘Window’ for free. Purchase of another player’s ‘Window’ costs 1 Bank Note. When buying a ‘Window’, be it their own or another player’s, the entire window is purchased.

    5) Purchased items go into the ‘Safe’ of the player who purchased them. The goal is to make groups of 4 of the same type of jewelry. For every other type of jewelry in the ‘Safe’, the value of the group of 4 is reduced by 1! Meaning, if a set of 3 Earrings is still building towards 4, then a set of 4 necklaces just acquired is worth 3 Bank Notes, instead of the full 4.

    6) Players refill hands back to 6, and start again. The game ends once the deck is no longer able to fill all players’ hands back to 6. The player with the most money wins.

———-

    Okay, that’s the raw basics of it. Pretty simple, right? Well, in truth, it is. However, designer Uwe Rosenberg added some very subtle mechanics to create more strategic options than originally implied.

    For example, if a player has no items in the ‘Window’ during Step 3, the player can choose to purchase nothing. Purchasing nothing ends the purchase phase for all players, even if other players have not had a chance to buy anything.

    Having nothing in the ‘Window’ is no easy feat. Another player has to have purchased what was there beforehand. Thus, players have to make desirable jewelry available in the ‘Window’, potentially making sacrifices and most certainly assisting other players, in the process.

    All players’ ‘Safes’ are visible. This means players can put in their ‘Window’ exactly what a certain other player needs. Of course, players can also put what they need for themselves in their own ‘Windows’, with hopes of taking the jewelry for free.

    The trick seems to be in the purchase turn-order cards (the cards numbered “1-5”, which dictate the order in which players will make purchases). A players who wishes to cancel a certain other player’s purchase phase does not want to go first; but it would still have to be before the targeted player’s turn, in order to successfully cancel.

    This is crucial, and becomes quite intense, since players can pretty much see what everybody else is up to. The gamble is when they’re going to do it.

    I’m getting bogged down in mechanics and strategy here. Sorry about that. Those aspects of the game had to be explained in order for readers to truly understand what separates Klunker from other, similar bidding games.

    I’ve only played with three players, and I worry perhaps more than three would be too much for the mechanic to handle, since three works so seamlessly. I could be totally wrong, of course.

    There is a downside to Klunker, though it is purely aesthetic. The artwork is simply unforgivable. I’m not sure what went wrong here. The cards are bland, pencil sketches of people wearing jewelry. There is an even blander splash of pale color spread across each one, which doesn’t even cover the whole picture. It’s horrible, honestly, and gives people a bad impression of the game from the get-go. I actually had to talk my friends into playing, because they thought it looked like something they could print and play off the internet.

    Some of the models wearing the jewelry are borderline racist, as well. A man with a turban bends his legs behind his neck, wearing pointy gold sandals. A big-toothed black man grins to reveal a gleaming gold tooth for sale. You get the idea.

    I suppose I should mention I got Klunker in a trade (for Killer Bunnies REMIX; a terrible game). The person who traded it to me included printed-off Player Mats he made himself. Maybe they’re on the Board Game Geek; I haven’t looked. Anyway, I assume playing without a Player Mat could make the cards difficult to manage, but I’m not sure how big of a deal this really is.

    My friends and I had a great time with Klunker, far more than any of us anticipated. For the time being, it has become our staple filler. I highly recommend it to everyone out there, be they hardcore gamer or casual or something in-between. The rules are simple, and the little tricks involved really help pack-in more strategic depth than meets the eye. Sure, the artwork is hideous; but we don’t play board games for pretty pictures.

    For more information on Klunker, click here.
    For more information on Bohnanza, click here.
    For more information on Killer Bunnies REMIX, click here.

Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Everything is Medium: Plug Horse

    Since the beginning of 2011, digital photographer Chris Schatz has been hard at work on his ambitious new project, “One Photograph a Day”. From the first day of the year to the last, Chris is going to take one photograph for each of those days and post it on his blog.
    I am excited to announce I will be collaborating with Mr. Schatz on his effort. For one in every five of his daily photographs, I will write a short story inspired by the image. The stories, and the pictures, will be posted on both of our blogs.
    For more of Chris Schatz’ photography, including photos from the project I have not written about, check out his blog.
    I hope you enjoy The Bloggery of Michael J. Coene’s collaborative effort with Christopher Schatz, “Everything is Medium: Literary Interpretations, One Photograph a Day!”

———-

    Baljeet padded about the kitchen, her feet sticking every so often to the area nearest the sink. She was terribly bored, and frustrated that no solution had yet presented itself. One could only pad about for so long.
    She carried a cowgirl in her left hand, made of felt and stuffed with a small handful of cotton. The thing was tiny enough to fit her palm, and it was light. Baljeet had lost the doll on more than one occasion.
    When her family had first moved to Maryland from Punjab, Baljeet’s mother–Anoopbir–made for her and her older brother a cowboy and a cowgirl; respective genders considered upon distribution. Gurpal was dead now–sometimes Baljeet missed her older brother too much.
    Baljeet opened the back door, which connected the kitchen to the outside world. Tiny cowgirl tucked into her chunni, she stepped down the cast-iron stairs, into the small backyard. Her father insisted she still wear traditional garb around the house, even though they were technically “Americans” now. He had shaved his beard, which seemed worse than wearing jeans, but Baljeet knew better than to argue.
    It turned out there wasn’t much to look at in the outside world, really. Just a tree and a bench, and some trash cans modestly tucked away, beneath the stairs. An inflatable ball, the kind that made a hollow plink when bounced on the sidewalk, rested by the base of the tree. It was turquoise and swirling with white, like vapors from an aquamarine factory.
    It was a nice day. The sun was crystalline, high and bright in the center of blue. Defiant, the Maryland breeze writhed and slithered by, staving off humidity, for the time being. Baljeet decided to kick the ball against the bricks for a while, like she used to do with Gurpal. They had invented a game in which one would kick the ball into the wall, to ricochet it into the other, who wasn’t allowed to move or dodge the attack. If the other moved, it meant three laps around the house; if the other got hit, it meant five.
    Gurpal usually won these games, but Baljeet never minded. She just enjoyed playing. Besides, those few times she did win were all the more sweet, being so rare.
    She stopped. The ball bounced off somewhere, near the garage belonging to her neighbors, who made weird art projects Baljeet’s parents often complained about.
    Gurpal, whenever Baljeet won, always called her the strangest name. She had forgotten all about it until just now, as the ball landed against a garden statue of an ant, made from coffee cans and dressed as a 1940’s Baltimore waitress.
    Her brother would point at her, insisting he didn’t care that she had won, and chant, “Plug Horse! Plug Horse! Plug Horse!”
    “Poopie Nose! Poopie Nose! Poopie Nose!” was naturally her response, to which he would laugh as if a ‘kick me’ sign was taped to her back.
    Baljeet, suddenly gripped by an irrational yearning for rotti, tromped up the iron stairs, back into the kitchen. She tucked away all thoughts of Gurpal and the Plug Horse and the teal ball, just like the trash cans hidden beneath her feet. She would continue to think about Gurpal and the ball for years to come–her brother far longer than the toy.
    As for the moniker, Plug Horse, she would not remember it until forty-three years later, upon which the mystery would eat away at her, dominating her thoughts and distracting her from her successful career in marketing communications. This desire to know why would become so pervasive, Baljeet would visit her parents for a week, away from her family. She would have, by then, married a very understanding husband, who also worked in marketing communications and who understood the importance of ‘me time’.
    Without explaining to her father–Anoopbir would have recently passed away–Baljeet would attack the boxes of Gurpal’s things, which were not many and stored in the attic of that same old house in Maryland. She would rummage through like a rabid scavenger in search of just one decayed morsel until, finally, she came upon it.
    The Plug Horse.
    Sitting atop a protruding electrical outlet, perched there as if by interior design, Baljeet would notice a little blue horse, made of felt and stuffed with a small handful of cotton. She would approach it, stunned and crouching to the floor. She would shove some boxes aside. Dust would be ubiquitous. She would sneeze, and cobwebs would be attracted to that.
    So many questions would drift into her mind as a result of that odd moment in the attic. She would never even be sure whether the doll was the Plug Horse to which Gurpal had referred. That same night, regardless, Baljeet would begin the early outlines of a children’s book, about a horse who lived and travelled from house to house through electricity, and she would refuse to call it Plug Horse.

Plug Horse

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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