Thursday, January 18, 2007

3-Day Novel: The Series

It's a reality (hyuk).

Eight episodes, Tuesdays @ 8pm, starting February 6.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Back to work

Hi! Where was I? Gone, I guess. Please enjoy two months' worth of updates, below. It's a new era!

photo: zdx

The last Wii column (for a while)

You’re a fly named Yar
on a quest in space
You attack the shield
Of the Qotile’s base
But watch out, Yar!
He knows where you are!

Boy, does he ever. With only a few seconds of space-piercing siren as a warning, the savage bastard will transform into his deadly “Swirl” form, hurtling unerringly through the void to make astro-dust of the plucky Yar warrior who’s dared this suicide mission in defense of his peaceful insectoid race. Not even the weapons-jamming electromagnetic environment of the Neautral Zone – the phosphorescent band of ionized particles that is all that remains of the Qotile-destroyed Yar colony of Razak IV – can protect our chitinous hero. His only hope is to fly… to fly! To fly as only a mutated housefly can fly!

Yars' Revenge is a game from Atari… have you played Atari today? Probably not. Why would you? I’m nostalgically loyal, a conservative at heart, but I won’t try to argue that a 1981 joint, even a top-notch cart like Yars' Revenge, truly stands up 26 years later – even back in the golden dawn of the Reagan years we had to hypno-program our little minds with elaborate offscreen backstories in order to make each blinking dot or blocky blob resonate with meaning and excitement. Can you believe it? Even after blowing hundreds of dollars – post-boom, post-NEP dollars; Eighties dollars! – on console and cartridges, we still had to use our own imaginations to stave off boredom.

Actually, I could use a little bit more of that childlike facility for fantasy and make-believe right now; laying here on the couch, wracked with some kind boneache/stomachwreck strain of influenza, I’m obviously bored beyond reason and right thinking. This is what I’m reduced to: watching old Atari TV commercials on YouTube through the new Wii internet browser. I think I might be running a fever.

As neat-o as (surfing? Do we still say “surfing”?) experiencing the internet via a videogame system might be, it’s not all that convenient or practical compared to using, say, the perfectly good laptop sitting six feet away. This is the beta release, though, and future iterations of the Opera-based browser will certainly have more and more useful features, but the only situation in which I can imagine using it for any length of time is the situation I’m currently in: nearly immobilized, couch-and-blanket-bound, capable of only a few feeble gestures, with that six feet to the laptop looking like six miles. Sickday surfing. Can I download a plugin that gives me a virtual bell, where all I have to do is waggle the Wiimote pathetically and my mom gets an email asking for more ginger ale?

Hey, by the way, folks… this is going to be my last Wii-themed column for a while, honestly. I know I’ve been kind of fixated, but this business feeds on novelty like a whale feeds on zooplankton, and Nintendo’s basically dumped a bargeload of krill into my metaphoric ocean. Wii's social accessibility and arm-waving tech raise issues I haven’t in the past had much call to examine. Like, have you considered the high-five problem? Believe me, it’ll come up if you play doubles Wii Sports tennis -- that awkward moment after a particularly awesome shot where you and your partner would normally high-five, except you’ve both got Wiimotes tethered to your wrists, so you kind of clumsily clonk controllers together, or do some kind of a self-conscious two-handed thing. Obviously we’re looking a point of emerging social etiquette, here: will Wiitards develop their own kind of swordsman-style remote-to-remote salute… or will we just get better at accurately slapping skin with our left hands?

Which reminds me. To answer your question, Yes; it took about three seconds after the launch of the Opera browser beta for Wii-optimized porn sites (, etc) to make the scene. Thinking about it now, I’m kind of glad I didn’t install that sick-bell plugin…

New Year’s Eve in the barroom of the Auditorium Hotel in Nanton, stuffed with double-helpings of all-the-trimmings roast-beef dinner washed down with bottles of Pilsner, rocking out to a jukebox plugged full of Willie Nelson, AC/DC and Creedence while waiting for the country band to cover our way into ’07… kickin’ it small-town style. The oddly-stuffed wildcat above the bar snarls down at the gathered regulars through the smoke-haze (remember bar smoke, city folk?) while its domesticated cousin crouches under the couch in the lobby, waiting for the human traffic to clear so it can claim its cozy spot on (or maybe in; there are rumours) the popcorn machine. Mood-lighting is provided by an illuminated case of rifles and shotguns. In this nearly countriest of country settings – missing: stagefront chickenwire and a mechanical bull – it seems a bit perverse to be thinking about videogames.

Yeah, I’ll cop to a bit of withdrawal, a little joystick jones; after a month of nearly nonstop Wiiving, seven days in the sticks with nothing to entertain me but love, liquor and landscape have left me itching for a bit of the ol’ bleep-blorp. Not only for personal pleasure, but for professional purposes: with no new electronic diversion in hand, I’m looking at phoning in the ol’ year-end Top Ten, the lazy coluumnist’s annual holiday. This place doesn’t even have an old Ms. Pac-Man cocktail cabinet for me to rhapsodize on.

Do VLTs count as videogames? I’d throw a few loonies to the row of armless bandits lined up over there by the majestic mounted buffalo head, but they’ve all got stools tipped onto them, marking each as some dream-chaser’s personal preserve. So, like a kid in the car on the way home from the games store, I read the manual instead; Please Game Responsibly somehow fails to grip my imagination.

I should look on this gameless time as a sort of year-end cleanse, an organic system-flush after four seasons of industrial intensity. Though I’m pretty far off the salivating cycle of fanboy anticipation (with occasional savage and mind-consuming exceptions) this generational turnover year got under even my jaded skin, put the itch under my calloused thumbs. Dawning with the XBox 360’s momentum and preoccupied with speculation, rumor, revelation and smack-talk over Sony and Nintendo’s new machines, 2006 was an agony of waiting, a ten-month Prelude to November. A scenario like this leads to some moments of existential nausea, especially if you’re given to paranoid introspection in the first place: "Am I really standing here, AT A PARTY, debating Sony’s processor fabrication capacity… while the world falls to shit?!” But that's showbizness, right?

By Solsticetide, dark time of magic, wonder, rebirth and giftshop mysticism, the first act of this ultimately pointless (aren’t they all?) drama had drawn to its cliffhanger close: Sony’s PlayStation 3 stood as the tragic King – powerful beyond belief, but by the price of that power bound – while the Wii (nee Revolution; that name-change stands as one of the masterstroke moments of corporate theatre) cavorted about, trickster, buffoon, accessible crowd favorite. There’s much yet to be played – including a probable recession between now and 2010’s curtain call – but the groundlings are already chanting Wii’s name and quoting his routines to each other: I don’t overhear fiftysomething office ladies in snowman sweaters gushing to their elevator-trapped friends about how much “oh my God super FUN!” they had with the PlayStation over holidays.

But for me, personally, 2006 will always (well, someways; we all know how brains work) be remembered as the year of Oblivion, that fantastic (and fantastically flawed) wonder of solo fantasy gaming. I went from those dark winter days of underemployed screenbound self-hypnosis – I think it's pretty much all I wrote about for three months – to watching a friend fall even deeper into the same pit this past season. Into a borrowed 360 (mine, but I’d fear for my safety if I tried to take it back at this point) this guy poured and continues to pour his wintertime hours. An obsessive collector and organizer in meatlife, he’s spent his gametime painstakingly assembling a virtual cabinet of Cyrodillic curiosities, collections of books, shields, gems, swords, bottles, helmets, people, all carefully organized and displayed in his frosty electronic castle.

And, Goddamnit, part of me itches to be there right now, laughing at the wonders he’s gathered, marveling at the staircase of paintbrushes and skulls he’s created over Azura knows how many dozens of hours. But it’s a small part, getting smaller as the band cranks up, shots are downed and boots begin to scoot. Videogames are for the City… tonight belongs to rare beef, domestic bottles, paper hats, Eaglesmith covers and a girl in a swirling polka-dot skirt – anitelectronic detox, country-style…

12-25-2006 – Xmas in the ol’ homeplace

Sitting here in the sleepy-warm semisilent afternoon afterglow, echoes of the morning’s orgy of unwrapping and delight-squeals dying down and its festive remains long since stuffed into two or three guilty blue bags, sipping on the best kind of wine: freely offered, freely poured, freely enjoyed in an atmosphere of… exuberant moderation.

Picking out favorite Christmas memories is tough when your Christmases have been so stable – 26 years of same or similar traditions in the same house, tree in the same corner, erected and decorated by the same parents. Memories hang on hooks of exception, while my field of holiday recollection is a mostly smooth surface of warmth, love and general niceness. This year, though, saw the gruesome resolution of a controversy that’d been simmering since last year: the issue of the Boner Angel.

“I can’t get over it,” my sister-in-law said over her second seasonal Caesar. “That angel has a huge penis!”

“Ah, come on,” my dad replied; “it’s just a Christmas angel! It’s holding up its songbook!”

He was trying to revert the ornament to innocence, but just as you can’t unbreak an egg, you can’t unsee a cock; after two years of repetition, my sister’s bawdy bit of pattern recognition had taken hold of the family’s psyche. Though the angel’s designer might have meant its gilt wireframe to represent a freakishly long-armed angel holding tiny music sheets at a weirdly acute angle, all we could see was a giant golden filigree wang with a squarish knob.

When a few weak suggestions for fixing the problem (“Maybe I could glue a little book on there, so people would know what it was supposed to be…”) failed to generate much enthusiasm, Dad defaulted to direct action. Grabbing hold of the offending unit, he wrenched, bent and twisted the wire until it came off with a metallic snap and the angel was properly sexless. Disturbed, I went into the kitchen to pour myself another as the swirl of vanilla ribaldry (“Now he’s putting it up its butt!”) peaked and faded.

Some people have certain Christmases etched into memory by epic highs or lows: a tree fire, a surprise proposal. I’ll forever have the time my father castrated a Messenger of Joy.

The holiday season, though, is a borderland, the zone of the calendar where old meets new, and I’d already had my winter’s real Magic Memory moment a few weeks previously, with the swearing-in of Steady Eddie Stelmach on the steps of the Legislature. All the changes in every facet of my life found themselves reflected in the public sphere there on the snowpack and drift of the plaza as the Ukrainian men’s chorus hymned in the Year Zero.

Here’s where memories came back to me. How many times had I stood and stomped on those sandblasted sidewalks, chanting against education cuts, health-care cuts, privatization, de-regulation, the gutting of the social state, trying along with hundreds of other desperate Albertans to make our smug fucker of an elected monarch BLINK? To hear the words “I hereby submit my resignation” come out of Klein’s mouth, even ten-odd years after we’d really wanted them to come, raised goosebumps. I joined in the Isotoner-padded applause; it was the only time I’ve clapped for the man.

It’s not exactly time for dancing in the streets to celebrate the Glorious Victory of the People – Steddie’s about as red as Smurf, and anyway the money-black goldrush of provincial pillage and plunder has by now spun unstoppably out of political control – but in this situation, a rest is as good as a change. There was a feeling of humility in the whole affair, from the simplicity of the ceremony to the church-hall cookies n’ coffee served afterward. Even anthemist Paul Lorieau refrained from his trademarked rockstar manoeuvre, though the fact the mic was bolted down might’ve had something to do with that.

All in all, I’m approaching 2007 with good ol’ fashioned “cautious optimism.” I’ve got a fine family, a good woman, a tolerable job, reliable wheels and a government (at every level) that’s at least a half-step back from imperial invincible impunity. Humanity’s staring suicide down the trembling barrel of its handmade shotgun, sure, but… same as it ever was, right?

I’ve gotta run; my brother’s downstairs gearing up for his first-ever round of scrotoss, on the icy city-boundary street where for years we played and fought – the Mountie learning an Indian game on Christmas day. Take care of yourselves in the new year, kids; keep it so real it stops bullets.

Madness, Military and otherwise

Outside of the digitally sampled jangling that provides ambience to the shitty carols being pumped out over the grouchy, kid-smacking crowds of holiday shoppers, I have yet this year to hear the sound of sleigh-bells in the snow – though I have heard the meeping grind of graders in the night, so I guess at least a few squeaky-wheel taxpayers are getting their Xmas wishes. My own reaffirmation of the possibility for Christmas Miracles came courtesy of jolly ol’ Saint Nintendo.

I finally got the Wii talking to my wireless internet connection – turns out all highly-designed white boxes can’t automatically speak to each other; my Apple AirPort needed careful introduction – and was busy downloading Virtual Console games, spending my Wii Points like they were going out of style (which they might be, if the contrarian “Wii is a fad” line is correct). Seeing all those old TurboGrafx titles in the shopping channel had me all nostalgic and wistful.

“Oh, man… if they put Military Madness up there, that’d be sooo sweet.”

And lo, it came to pass, in the pre-Christmas week when all was stillness upon the land and nothing was stirring save the new Metal Slug anthology, that Military Madness did once more come to comfort me, at the low-low price of five-odd dollars.

Originally released in 1990, Military Madness (Japanese title: Nectaris; they changed it for North American release to avoid confusion with an organic hippie thirst-quencher that cost seven bucks a bottle) is a turn-based strategy game involving vaguely defined “Axis” and “Allied” armies doing battle for control of the Moon and its valuable resources. One of the best of the medium-core tactics games, I first played MM while working the holidays at the Radio Shack in Westmount Mall. At that time, the ‘Shack was basically panic-dumping shiploads of the already-failed TurboGrafx 16 console at fire-sale prices.

Stacked in a “please, somebody, anybody, shoplift these things away from us” pyramid right at the front of the store, the consoles were marked at something like forty bucks each, and I got a ten-dollar cash spiff every time I managed to unload one (“Seriously, this is the hottest game system right now!”) on some geriatric sucker who wandered in from the Adult Living complex across the road. Since the store in Westmount was the slowest in the city, basically a hearing-aid battery depot, I had lots of time to get addicted to MM, and in a beautiful example of the Circle of Life I took the dirty dough I raked in from all five TG16s I’d managed to sell and bought one of my own.

I was living away from home for the first time, then, and had just begun making my first discoveries in the world of marijuana and alcohol abuse; with the introduction of a videogame system to the living room of my shared University-area house, the picture was complete. Cheapass Imaginus prints (Escher) on the dingy wall (Behr paint no. 3451, “Landlord Beige”) above the fourth-hand sofa, skanky skunkweed ash dribbling out of the “bowl” of a makeshift beer-can pipe (I hadn’t yet bought a bong) onto a pile of uncracked psychology and anthropology textbooks... and me, callow and pimple-faced, still a virgin, clutching a controller in the bright winter light (no curtains), occasionally flapping my hands in stoned excitement over my brilliant successes as a Moon-man warlord.

Sweet holiday memories! Granted, Military Madness – along with every other game ever made – was/is/will be easily available through underground emulation… but there’s something about having it for real, on my television, that makes it more than worth the price of a pint to download. Same for Super Mario 64, and the old NES Ice Hockey, which some friends and I tripped out on for a while. And then there’s Golden Axe, second (well, third, maybe) only to Black Tiger in my high-school class-skipping arcade pantheon. And Space Harrier? “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone! Get ready!” Hahaha! I love that shit! Or Bomberman 93, the craziest-ass party action game that ever came out of Clinton’s first term? And that’s just the stuff available on Wii; what about the XBox Live Arcade, where I picked up…um…Joust, and… GauntletDig Dug

Oh, holy shit. Did I just spend a hundred bucks on archaic gaming? Merry Christmas to me, I guess… [sobs]

12-9-2006 – Whitecourt, AB

“What’re you drinkin’ wine for?”

Eyes narrowed just a touch from totally friendly, smile with a bit of steel in it. Not necessarily a fight-picking face, but a face that’s seeing if there’s a fight to be picked. Family Christmas in a big one-room cabin somewhere in the unpulped forests of Blue Ridge, and I’m a stranger – a recent introduction via a recent introduction, needing to be checked out. Who am I? Will I scare? Thin hoser disguise of plaid flannel and army jacket is shredded by the truth of bottom-shelf shiraz burbling into a beer cup: I’m as White City as they come… am I some kind of fuckin’ asshole?

“Well, I guess I just feel like drinkin’ wine.”

“See, we drink whisky.” Plastic tumbler held up by example, five fingers and a thumb – a fist, really – of Jack sloshing around its knuckles of crushed ice. “Who are you here with?”

I indicate my fiancée across the room, laughing with newfound family. Half-cut eyes soften in understanding; all is explained and I’m off the hook. “Ah. That’s the prim n’ proper side of the family.”

We introduce ourselves, exchange a few pleasantries re. the value of fighting (since his last assault conviction, Jody’s got himself a good job and don’t do that much no more, though he’s proud to see his son showing a bit of two-fistedness) and I head back to the circle of prim n’ propers to guzzle my goblet of pussy city-boy Christmas Cheer in peace.

So strange a situation. This is my girl’s recently revealed birth family, people she’s known only slightly longer than she’s known me, and here we are in the middle of ancient annual tradition, speed-reading the room for maps and monuments, the lines of fault and force that bind and divide, the Albertan intricacies of race and role, position and priorities. Handshakes and hugs, turkey and cabbage rolls, liquor and cigarettes… yes. Cigarettes. Good idea!

Outside on the unrailinged deck, the kids are doing flips down into a five-foot snowbank as the smokers chuckle and chatter and create those wonder double-clouds of secondhand smoke and breath-vapor. I light up, wondering for a moment whether my fussy Dutch clove cigarettes’ll earn me the same ride my wine did. Feeling speculative, sentimental… I was born around here, too, and also adopted away; wonder if any of these laughing folk are blood cousins, kin… or… oh, shit… if my girl’s family's from around here, then maybe…?

No! No way. Now’s not the time to let my mind ride down that line, man. Just enjoy the bubblegum taste of herb-laced tobacco reacting with wine-buzz and contemplate the moon…

Oh, yeah! The motherfuckin’ moon. Hey, does anybody mind if I set aside this fuzzy family holiday tale for another time in order to talk about the moon for a second? OK. So, I just read about how NASA’s announced its intention to establish a permanent manned moonbase by 2024. Neat-o space cadet wish fulfillment value aside, this is the stupidest goddamn moneywasting idea in the cosmos.

Look, I know astronauts are cool and everything, but the only thing a human in space can do better than a robot is die. The main task of a moonbase, on a tonne-for-tonne, kilowatt-for-killowatt basis, will be keeping people alive. It will be its own reason for existing.

There is no legitimate science reason for putting people on the moon – the FIVE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS this dumbfuck space clubhouse will cost to get up and running could launch a thousand robotic probes on a thousand different missions – to Mars, to the Sun, to our own beautiful Earth -- and immeasurably enrich humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos and our wonderful, mysterious home.

Fuck the fucking moonbase; there is nothing there for us, respite what the ridiculous ‘40s-vintage helium-mining fantasies they’re spinning say. Here is a complete list of the moon’s benefits to humanity:

- It looks nice

I mean, it really, really looks nice. Hanging there, waning away, outshining the stars on a cloudless night. Its only competition is the orange glowing steamcloud of the pulp mill on the horizon.

“Come on, dad! Just do it!”

I snap back from space. Tough-guy Jody’s being goaded by the apple of his pugilistic eye into flipping off the deck. He peers over the edge like it’s the lip of a canyon rather than a six-inch drop into five feet of snow. Sense and sobriety do battle with whisky and lifelong daredevil instinct across his nervous-smiling face until his wife (or whatever; I just got here, myself) puts in her $0.02:

“For fuck’s sake, Jody! You’ve got a good job; don’t break your fucking back!”

FLOOMP into the snowbank, a perfectly cushioned backflop. Sometimes all it takes is the concern of a good woman to remind a man of his party responsibilities… and these people take their responsibilities seriously.

Wii: the opposite of a "niche product"

Stopping by the annual madness of the Black Dog’s customer appreciation nite, I got wrapped up into a brass-rail conversation about videogames, mostly regarding the Wii. Standing me a shot of Jager, he gave me a line I’ve been starting to hear around a bit: Wii is a fad that’ll fade, it’s too “niche” to have legs, soon Wiis in their millions will be gathering dust in closets around the world.

Now, inasmuch as I get out to the bar anymore, this guy’s my bartender, and I respect bartenders’ opinions very highly – as information aggregators and transmitters of popular wisdom they’re peerless. But in this case he’s kind of got his head up his ass. The Wii doesn’t appeal to a niche… it appeals to the opposite of a niche – its appeal is general. Multimillion-dollar hardcore blockbuster gun-man technical showcases like Gears of War are the niche products; it’s just that the niche they appeal to happens to have a lot of money and the willingness to spend it. With its pick-up-and-play wireless controller and a packed-in party demo like Wii Sports, Wii is aimed straight at an even greater prize: the millions of people who aren’t playing (and buying) games right now, but who would be if they were presented with games whose aesthetics they could tolerate.

Game aesthetics extend beyond graphics into an aesthetics of experience. The whimsical art direction of something like Katamari Damacy can provide the necessary mass-friendly face, but what’s really driving the migration of videogames from nerd-niche to social acceptance – beyond the simple demographic mathematics of a come-of-age vidiot generation – is a growing understanding of what it takes to get non-gamers gaming. In this area -- with wildly successful E-for-Everyone experiments like Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, Brain Age, the entire DS concept and now Wii – Nintendo is leading the way.

At least, it’s leading in the console and portables segments; the real megamarket is still the PC “casual games” space, the rough-and-tumble chaos of desktop downloadables churning in the foam of umpteen riffs on color-and-shape matching puzzles, the roiling fight to be THE THING people do while they’re pretending to work. Here, in the hands of thousands of indie developers and solitary games artisans, countless recipes for videogame crack are being cooked up and distributed every day.

I have a buddy (“Bob the Angry Flower” creator Stephen Notley, to be specific) who works in this industry, and for the last two years pretty much all I’ve heard from him is a constant stream of anecdote after excited anecdote about this great project, “Bookworm Adventures”, that he’s been grinding on for Seattle’s PopCap games. He’s been a real evangelist, talking the ass off anybody who’ll stand still long enough to hear his spiel.

“So, this is… what? Dungeons & Dragons meets Boggle? A game where you, like, defeat the minotaur and rescue the priness by spelling ‘astronaut’?”

“Yeah! It’s awesome! Dude... [tight cigarette drag]... trust me... [pffft]… it’s awesome.”

“And your job is to fill it with wisecracks?”

I was skeptical until I loaded it onto (appropriately) my office computer at the end of a workday; as it turns out, D&D Boggle, blasting through monsters with sheer word power, is pretty damn fun… or, at least, hypnotic. It’s a very easy game, pretty much a cakewalk through the hours I’ve played so far, but it does much to create The Zone, the clicktrance space-out that leads to obliterated productivity. Addictive.

At about six p.m., two hours after I could have left the office, I hit one of Bookworm Adventures’ several minigames, a word-matching challenge. Was it Steve’s doing, or a cosmic message emerging from randomness that the first word I had to guess was “BONED”?

Of course, timewasting games like this are a decadent drain on humanity, right? A useless pursuit that separates people and kills culture? A lot of people think this. That’s the sign of an emerging genre or artform’s relevance: a lot of people think it’s destroying society. It happened historically with rock n’ roll, jazz, cinema, the novel… The thing is, people who see the doom of current culture in videogames may be right. In fact, they certainly are right; barring global catastrophe that knocks civilization back a tech level or two, the un-rebottlable genie of videogames is going to transform the way humanity interacts with itself. What we don’t know yet is how that will play out -- our culture hasn’t finished having that discussion.

And that’s what I’m enjoying most about Wii in these early days… it catalyzes discussions on the nature and role of videogames -- and on the aesthetics of the videogame experience -- among people who would never have otherwise entered the conversation. By being so accessible while being simultaneously so different than what came before, it offers us an opportunity to talk about not what videogames are, but about what videogames could and should be…an opportunity for those who had no stake and no interest in having a stake to get curious, or excited, or horrified as they choose. As far as niches go, Wii’s seems pretty important and valuable.

11-25-06 -- The Studio

“Live tooo flyyyy… flyyyy to liiiiiive…!”

Ok, you know, punk rock n’ everything, but when you bust out the Maiden and everyone’s going “no way!” and you just totally do it and it’s all pretty much perfect eedledeedledeedledeedledeedle complete with foursquare synchro rock-strut up to the lip of the stage… well. Nice work. I think these guys are called Aces & Hearts or something like that, and they’ve got the frostbitten party patrol eating out of their hands like 4H llamas. Aces High is basically a folk song ‘round here.

It’s a good room for timetravelling, dingy postindustrial ruin above a bottle depot, fair cover, BYOB and a grand foyer crammed pillar to post with ancient arcade cabinets, some of which even work. Reaching around the kickdrum filling the cockpit of a defunct vector Star Wars, I fondled the X-Wing yoke: “Dude… remember how this feels?” Dude does indeed remember.

Remember, also, smoking indoors, countless duMauriers providing the bass notes of the Rock Reek? Thirty goddamn degrees below motherfuckin’ zero outside for the fifth or sixth or sixtieth day running… and here the smokers don’t have to huddle; piled-up jacket geology – layercake strata of flannel, hoodie, coat, scarf, toque – in the corners absorbs the atmosphere, just like in the old days. Cigarettes, malt liquor, happy friends, headbanging to Powerslave – it feels like nostalgia...

...but these are memories borrowed from others and self-implanted; remember, please, that you were a nerd, and high school was three years of sobriety and Paul Simon tapes.

The Get Down rock as expected, as demanded of veterans. We wouldn’t let them get away with less! The feeling in the room is good – it’s been too long for some of us, and it feels like longer… winter’s laid its social-dampening hand down early and hard, and many have been holed up; even tonight, a heavy wing of party pals couldn’t make the dogfight on account of there being no cabs to be had anywhere in the city, all the companies’ robodispatchers (“WHELcome to Co-Op Taxi!”) jammed busy with a quarter-million shivering Shackletons anachronistically radioing for airlift.

Man, I just thought of something. You know how we Edmonites do things, how after a cold spell we explode like crazy people into summerlike activity the moment the climatometer dials back a notch from LETHAL? Well, when this particular deepfreeze breaks, shit’s going to go insane. The minute we hit the minus-single-digits, people are going to be rollerblading, suntanning, sidewalk-cafeing like it’s mid-May. Eight degrees below zero and everybody shirtsleeves going “Damn, it’s nice out!”

Meanwhile, back in the rockatorium, things are getting raucous, the line between entertained and entertainer properly blurred. Bottles are being passed – well, sometimes taken -- into my hands, swills of palm-warmed Black Label from a widemouth Forty alternating with swigs of a bruisingly fruity Pinot Grigio, all spilling around a cigarette I somehow find myself smoking. My roommate’s feeling particularly Russian, her Doukhobor eyes glinting with mischief as she tries her secret wrestling moves and sneaky trips on anyone within range. Through the rock, I think I can somehow hear the tweedling soundtrack of Bubble Bobble from the entryway arcade… is that one couple still playing their way down into the 100-level pit…?

WHUMP! A tumble into snow. What? Where am I? When did we decide that going outside was a good idea? Oh, right… we’re walking home, thirteen blocks, because we couldn’t get a cab; the details are hazy. All I know is I’m down on the frozen ground and my roomie's tackling me, growling like a bear cub, punch-swatting me over the chest and shoulders. Goddamn Russians, always with the… oh, no. No! Please, no!