Passing Time

       While there are many stories of the more glorious events that we hold forth as both great and stupid accomplishments, few exist of the lesser things we did to pass the time day to day. I’m sure with that line alone you are now at the edge of your seat, ears cocked and filled with giddy excitement at the prospect of hearing tales of the dreary minutia of some assholes in a house. Not everyday, however, could be filled with toilet paticulae flying though the air, drunken revelry, or even square head young men being trapped on a roof. To anyone not involved, reading this entry may prove less exciting than cleaning the oven or listening to the full blown 20 minute story of the time Aaron couldn’t find his left shoe, but for those of you who around, it’s a nice trip down memory lane.            

       Much has already been said about the gaming, most of it disparaging if not outright mocking on my part. I make no apology except to refrain from the cattiness in this story; primarily as I am directly involved. Gaming played a huge role in the entertainment life of the majority of this group, a thing not surprising giving the near universal lack of success with the coeds, being vehicularly challenged except for visitors and Knaus, and a frightening lack of cable TV outside the cesspit of Jason’s room. In such circumstances a young man’s fancy turns to magic wands and Oompa Loompas. OK, I said I wouldn’t do that, but let’s face it, I’m a liar. Despite the disdain I obviously felt for the genre, I found myself being sucked in from time to time for lack of anything better to do. The alternative was often to hear Knaus explain in grayscale detail the infinite intricacies of Timeslip; a game he had either invented or was in the protracted process of inventing. Only JP had the patience to question the phone book of rules.           

       In those times I did join in, it was often necessary to create a character whom to play. The basic strategy (for those of you reading this who actually dated in high school) was to invent a character with the right mix of skills and talents to survive the adventure, have some fun, and become a better, stronger, richer imaginary character. I diverged from this strategy early on, choosing instead to make my goal be the irritation and eventual destruction of the characters the other players so lovingly invested in. I made them as strong as possible and as clued in as Helen Keller five years before that buttinsky ‘miracle worker’. While convention dictated the naming process follow something appropriately geeky and Harry Potterish like “Volmor” and “Trogon”, I generally gravitated toward the more familiar, like “Filthy Pierre” and “Aquaman”. The sadistic fucks who designed the character sheet included a box where one was meant to drawn in their character. I drew a neck and a large block of granite. What, was I to be some art school wannbe drawing ‘Tippy’ the turtle in the back of a magazine and sending it in? I spit on the intention.            

       Every character was meant to have a purpose, a raison d’être if you will, that drove him, her, or it forward. This was to explain why Fuqnut the Orc bounced around through dangerous territory with a suspect band of brigands, fighting dragons, wizards and Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things instead of staying home and watching  ‘Greatest American Hero’ on DVD. My purpose, boldly worn on my sleeve, was to get the rest of the group killed, or to kill them myself if the opportunity arose. This did nothing to increase my popularity at gaming sessions and it’s a wonder why I was not banned all together as occasionally I was successful. Aquaman was the last character I created, and he met his end at the hand of another character I attempted to stab in the back or push down a well. After that I lacked the initiative to think of another cleverly unoriginal name and draw another block for a portrait.            

       I mentioned Timeslip in passing and must take a moment and give it its due. Although it is not often brought up, but Knaus was a consummate gamer geek as well.  Like Aaron and some others, he got his parents to wisely invest a cool grand in the dynamic money machine that is Larry. I won’t say they were foolish as Larry is one hell of a pitch man, but the end result was along the lines of Enron, albeit on a much smaller scale. Inspired by the anticipated earth shattering success of Battlelords, Knaus decided to grab a piece of the action and come up with his own gaming module. I will say he worked diligently and tirelessly on the endeavor. The result was the most unimaginably complicated system, to my knowledge, ever conceived. I know it was science-fictiony with fantasy elements thrown in as well, and of course time travel and the literally thousands of rules associated with that. I’m not saying it wasn’t clever; hell it allowed for you going back in time and killing yourself as an infant, but the level of complexity made it all but unintelligible; I think anyway. Knaus took great delight in explaining in excruciating detail each and every subtle aspect of the game, the rules, the universe or multiverse it took place in, etc. JP is the only one who took to it to the point of being able to create an effective character and really get anything to happen those few times we played. Much I’m sure to the author’s dismay; it was never published or made its way outside the dining room at Comstock.           

       Before you get the wrong impression, we didn’t necessarily limit ourselves to D&D type play. I’m going to credit Louis with the invention of Calvinball, although he might have nicked it off someone else. Calvinball was named for a ridiculous game invented by comic strip character Calvin in the long defunct ‘Calvin and Hobbes’. Calvin, an imaginative miscreant, invents a game that he plays with his stuffed tiger that is either animated or a product of psychosis. I favor the latter as the game he invents is one of fluid rules that change randomly and nonsensically with a meaningless score and penalty system. We of course loved the idea and Louis thought of a way to apply it to a card game which we also loved. I believe the game starts out as something ordinary but with the person winning the hand being able to add or remove a new rule. While some of the rules were quite witty, the majority were enacted for the purposes of name calling or otherwise inconveniencing someone who made a rule aimed at you for that same purpose. By the end of a round, we all sported titles such as “10th Level Master Shrimper”. It was great fun and I’m not sure whatever happened to it.           

       We did occasionally engage in more physical activities, but it was a rare thing indeed. Shortly after moving in, some of us did get into basketball for a time being, usually spurned on by Dave. Dave’s love of the game bordered on fanatical, and I was easily sucked into the madness. On one occasion in January, we were so jonesing for a game that we actually shoveled off the court behind Lindbergh School. When done we were so tired that we only managed to play a few minutes before calling it a day. Dave later parlayed his organizations skills toward arranging the First Invitational Mac Tournament. This was held on the same day after my father’s annual football party and was scheduled for late afternoon on a warm October day. He managed to bring in quite a few people, including Aaron, Matt, Chris Keith, Knaus (who watched but would not play), Jeff Siuda, Little Dave, Dan Earhart and some of the punk ass kids who hung out at his gas station. It was a gala event with a cheesy trophy promised (and never delivered) and everything. I remember this so well as by some miracle the final game to take it all was me against Schultz. I took the prize that day, much to the consternation of Dave who had been under the impression that as the organizer would be the obvious winner. The first Mac invitational proved to be the last.           

       Less stimulating by several orders of magnitude, yet still worth mentioning is solitaire. That you are seeing this in print is testament to the raw excitement of our daily lives. Nevertheless, an odd phenomenon occurred our second winter at Comstock right around finals time. It seemed as though the four of us simultaneously became obsessed with playing solitaire at every opportunity during study breaks. We would discuss methodology, our win records, and the types of cards we liked, but mainly kept silent, dealing, sorting, arranging and cursing. I would come out of my room to see Knaus shuffling at his desk, then descend to find Aaron crouched over the coffee table counting fast, then spy Jason at the dining room table bending down to pick up the deck he dropped again in the shuffle. Through that finals period we must have each played hundreds of hands. Then suddenly, before the year was even out, we all just stopped. It was a very weird thing.           

       One of the more explosive activities engaged in and not otherwise mentioned elsewhere was the creation of the dry ice bombs. The physics of it was elementary. If one stuffs shavings of dry ice in a fixed sized container, seals it, and then dumps it into a vat of warm water, the rate of expansion becomes so rapid as to explode the container all together. Unfortunately, I was not so blessed to be present at this undertaking, though I wish I had been. I did get to watch the videos which proved to be not much of a consolation prize as one would think.           

       Fairly low on the priority list of things to do were home improvements. Well, it wasn’t our house and we’d be damned before we let old man Kobol reap the benefits of our hard labor. We did like to decorate though, and the living room bore the results of our finest efforts. First up was the beeraymid, lovingly constructed from a collection of Schlitz and American Beer cans. A full 11 stories high, it lasted far longer than anyone expected, quite possibly because it was glued somewhat together by sticky old beer. Sean was directly responsible for its demise, although I can’t remember if he crashed into it himself, or pushed the person who did. We were never again able to reconstruct it to the full glory of 11 levels, save for a few moments or days at a time. I wish I could say that was the most whiskey-tango redneck piece of décor we introduced, but alas, it never came close and actually was considered our classiest display.           

       The first October we moved in I took great delight in decorating the place for Halloween. Lots of fake cobwebs, a ceramic skull, fake spiders, and some cheesy old shit I got from my mom, like a Day-Glo witch and such. None of this, of course, came down until we were moving out. When Christmas time came the day after Thanksgiving (not the day after Halloween as it does now), I added to the Halloween décor by introducing a fake tree, wreath, a bazillion lights both downstairs and up, and of course fake snow that people immediately began writing profanities in to the point where the landlord demanded I remove it that next July. Rounding things out were the stolen No Standing sign, the spare tire I stole from that guy who was in the middle of changing it (I still kind of feel bad about that), a orange road cone, the body painting from Mints, the house comics, the paper reading ‘Matter Eater Lad Darryl Talley and Green Arrow Mark Pike’, the jar of Evil, the Man With the Golden Hat (who I claimed as my grandfather), and of course the Ugly Lamp. Paradise, I would think as I sipped a frosty brew hoisted with Daisy Duke Girl can holder Knaus got me. By and by though, we abided.             

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