Monday, April 28, 2008


In Rockstar Games' hugely anticipated release Grand Theft Auto IV, which comes out tomorrow, the Statue of Liberty has been rechristened the Statue of Happiness, and she holds aloft not a torch, but a cup of coffee. "Give me your tired," indeed.

I think this is a brilliant little detail. I've spent my fair share of time working in coffee shops, and I'm of the opinion that while many people come in because they genuinely appreciate coffee as coffee, plenty of others have made Starbucks and other coffee shops part of their daily routine not because of any particular appreciation of espresso, but because the act of drinking a grande vanilla soy latte or a caramel Frappuccino each morning is a way of saying to others and to themselves, "Yes, I am someone in our consumer society! Behold, I can afford to spend four dollars each day on a cup of coffee! And with every precious sip, I keep the voices of doubt at bay, and restore meaning and value to my life! Doesn't this branded coffee cup in my hand go great with my iPod and my RAZR?" Meanwhile, despite the tremendous success and proliferation of such shops, the people who work them can often barely afford to shop them. From Naomi Klein's blistering 2000 book No Logo:

"They expect us to look like a Gap ad, professional, clean and neat all the time, and I can't even pay to do laundry," says Laurie Bonang of Starbucks. "You can buy two grande mocha cappuccinos with my hourly salary." Like millions of her demographic coevals on the payrolls of all-star brands like the Gap, Nike and Barnes & Noble, Bonang is living inside a stunning corporate success story -- though you'd never know it from the resignation and anger in her voice. All the brand-name retail workers I spoke with expressed their frustration at helping their stores rake in, to them, unimaginable profits, and then having to watch that profit get funneled into compulsive expansion. Employee wages, meanwhile, stagnate or even decline. At Starbucks in British Columbia new workers faced an actual wage decrease -- from Can$7.50 to $7 an hour -- during a period when the chain was doubling its profits and opening 350 new stores a year. "I do the banking. I know how much the store pulls in a week," Laurie Bonang says. "They just take all that revenue and open up new stores."

Anyway, enough quoting of left-wing text on my part. I just want to say that to me, in addition to everything else that they were, the earlier GTA games were also truly incisive satire of American culture, and that I'm really looking forward, not only to wreaking havoc in Liberty City and getting into plenty of shootouts and high-speed car chases (though I am most definitely looking forward to that stuff -- A LOT!), but also to discovering the game's humor, to cruising around and listening to, sorry, Weazel News, and to seeing what GTA IV has to say about the America we're living in now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Get a haircut and get a real job.

Yesterday, I had my hair cut for the first time in years. I liked having it long, and I was scared to trust it to anyone new, but I was also starting to feel like maybe my hair was a factor in me not getting the jobs I was interviewing for--maybe potential employers were inferring that I was one of those pot-smoking ne'er-do-wells or something.

Naturally, after deciding to get it cut, rather than doing research and making an informed decision about where to go, I decided to just go any old place, so long as it didn't look too expensive. I walked to a shop that obviously caters to the Spanish-speaking population in my area.

At one point the woman who was about to cut my hair asked me, "Do you want letters?" "What?!" I said. "Small letters in your hair?" I was just about to run screaming, but then I decided she was actually saying "lattice." This, I understood perfectly. "Uhm." I said. "A little?"

I didn't really know exactly what I wanted, except for it to be shorter, and I probably wouldn't have been able to communicate what I wanted to her that well regardless, so I sort of just let her do her thing. I thought about telling her not to do anything too "boyish" with it, but I was, as usual, too much of a wuss to try to communicate this sentiment.

It's a pretty drastic change and is shorter than I went in wanting. My first horrifying thought was that it looks sort of like a Sawyer-on-Lost haircut (:why:!!!) but it's not that bad, nor quite so boyish. Now that I've had a bit of time to adjust, I kind of like it, and anyway, it'll grow out again.

Today, I had a job interview. It's hard for me to say how it went. I felt a bit iffy when I walked out, like I stumbled over a few of my answers, and didn't give the best responses to those kinds of dumb, generic job interview questions like "What's the one quality that's most important to you in a co-worker?" ("Ummm...hardworking? Hardworking is good, right? Yeah, I'm gonna have to go with hardworking on this one. Next question!") But I've learned that how I feel about something isn't necessarily the best gauge of how it went. This dates back to college, when frequently the papers I felt the least confident about would be the ones on which I got the highest marks. In this case, who knows? Things I make a big deal of in my head may not have been a big deal to them. On the whole, I think it went fine. Now it's just a matter of waiting to hear back from them. I'm also sending a thank-you letter in the mail tomorrow, since that seems to be customary these days if you want a job.

Wish me luck!

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Watch this"

I was walking to work the other day. It was a truly glorious spring morning. Obama signs abound on the lawns and in the windows of many a house along my way, but one in particular caught my eye, homemade, with rays of sunlight emanating from the O. It seemed a genuine sign of hope. And right around that moment, "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits got shuffled up on my iPod. That's not a song I ever thought was especially great, until I saw the finale of season two of The West Wing. And now, every time I hear it, I see that scene again in my mind. A storm is raging against the president in both a literal and figurative sense. A question is asked. Jed Bartlet, great showman that he is, lets it hang in the air for a moment. The flashbulbs crackle, the air is electric, and Leo says "Watch this," and the president's hands go into his pockets, and he fixes his gaze, and I get chills. It's almost enough to make me proud to be an American.

Barack Obama, like Jed Bartlet, understands that a large part of politics is theater, and that's just fine with me.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

World War II, now in convenient beverage form!

Sure, World War II may be played out as a setting for video games, but what about as a setting for...that's drinks! I was perusing the aisles at my local Grocery Outlet here in Berkeley when I found all three varieties of ACE Energy Drink available for just $.50 a can, so naturally I grabbed one of each.

The cans have a pin-up girl/bullet-riddled airplane motif that's actually kinda cool. They also helpfully remind us, "It's a dog fight out there! To win, you need to stay sharp. Crack open an ACE Energy for an immediate physical and mental lift. Ace will get you flying high and keep you in control. THROW DOWN AN ACE!"

The drink's official website says, "The can design strongly communicates the brand’s core values. ACE Energy’s bullet riddled cockpit with alluring imagery directly connects with the danger, excitement and honor of military fascination." Why yes, it is a tremendous honor to be fascinated by the military. It's also extremely dangerous.

If ACE Energy is any indication, WWII tasted like somewhat flat orange soda cut with cough syrup, and noticeably hit you with its jolt of caffeine and taurine and stuff within just a few moments of your first sip.

Yeah, I think five sips of ACE is about enough for me. I'm gonna switch to the Thomas Kemper Vanilla Cream Soda which I also scored at the Grocery Outlet. That's delicious, and it doesn't carry with it any of the dangers of military fascination.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


She started her lunch break by reading the end of a short story by Raymond Carver. She wasn't a big fan of short stories, but she liked finishing things, and she could finish a few of these a day, even during her broken up workday.

After she finished the story, there was nothing to take up the space in her head, so it went where it often went during lunch breaks, to that point in the very near future when the break would be over. She could see it in her mind. It was like a photograph of herself back behind the counter, and it started out so small it was almost invisible, like a fixed point of light in the center of a tremendous movie screen, but it was flying towards her, getting bigger and bigger until it would swallow her up. She shook her head and decided to do something instead of sitting there thinking about this. Acting was usually better than thinking, she believed. Maybe she should eat something. She considered for a moment buying a sandwich. Then her mind calculated roughly what percentage of one hour of work that sandwich would represent, and the number was like a little weight inside her. She sighed. Then she wondered what percentage of people who came into her shop ever thought about what percentage of an hour they were eating and drinking up on the things they bought. Then she thought that this thought was a clear sign that she was at least a little bit crazy. She knew that some people said that if you think you're crazy, you're not crazy, because crazy people never think they're crazy. She thought that was a bunch of crap.

It was only a few hours until her shift was over. She decided she could wait to eat, and that she would go over to the drugstore across the street and maybe buy some things to use for making a sandwich when she got home.

It was hot outside. She saw a young woman with pigtails walking down the street strumming a guitar. The woman wasn't doing it for money. She didn't look angry or lost. She looked well-loved. She was, it seemed, just walking down the street and strumming the guitar because she wanted to. Seeing this woman made her glad. Of course, she knew she could be wrong about the woman. But she felt she had a good sense about these things. It was strange to her that even though people mystified her in the easy way they spoke to each other, she still felt she had a good sense of the inherent goodness of some people. But that was the way it was. And she figured that maybe someday, if she felt more like herself, she might understand how people spoke to each other, too, that everything there might fall into place and it would all be easy. Then she thought that might be too much to hope for, that maybe it was a little hard for everyone from time to time, but maybe it would be a bit easier, anyway.

In the drugstore, she walked to where they kept things you might use with sandwiches. There were two young men standing nearby. They looked to her like they might be students at the university.

"Well," one of them said, "I mean, she feels pretty strongly about her feelings, you know?"

"That's the point, though," said the other. "I sort of attacked her to upset her," he said. "That was kind of the point."

"But you don't really know her very well," said the other. "You haven't really earned the right to attack her like that yet, you know?"

There was nothing here that she had any desire to put on a sandwich. She sighed and walked out.

As she walked back up the street to her shop, she glanced at the image in her mind to see that it was now almost at the size where it was going to swallow her up. She came to the door of her shop. She knew she really should go in.

She grabbed her ponytail and pulled it over her eyes, but she couldn't block out the sun.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Aunt Ikaruga Is In Town

According to the Wikipedia, "Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity." It's an elusive feeling for me. I'd say that, in some of my better theatrical performances in college, the ones where everything just sort of fell into place, I experienced it. And there are times when I experience it playing certain video games. Sometimes it can happen when I'm writing, and almost invariably the things I write the most effortlessly are also the things I think are the best. Also, if I get into a good rhythm at work, whether it's firing off email after email or producing latte after latte, I can hit it for a while, though it's extremely challenging to maintain your singular focus when you must look into the visages of customers and see the existential despair that people only seem to experience during those three minutes before their triple soy mocha is delivered into their hands, restoring a sense of meaning to their lives.

As I was doing just that today at work, I was thinking about Ikaruga. If you don't know what Ikaruga is, it's a vertically scrolling shooter that was first released in 2001, and was made available this past Wednesday on Xbox Live Arcade. It's a very special example of the genre. (If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Don Pachi's lovely appreciation of the game.) What sets it apart in gameplay terms is a simple but very effective polarity mechanic. You can switch your ship's polarity at any time between black and white. While black, black bullets cannot hurt you, and while white, white bullets cannot hurt you. However, while black, you do twice as much damage to white ships, and vice-versa.

I'd never played the game before Wednesday. I have to admit, before playing it, there was this part of me that thought that maybe I'd have what it takes to be an outstanding Ikaruga player. I knew that the game had a reputation for intense difficulty, but I also knew that there are those players who excel at it. As it turns out, I am not one of them.

One of my favorite features of the XBLA release of Ikaruga is the ability to download and watch replays of high scoring performances. I always enjoy it when games include a feature like this. It was a neat addition to Gameloft's excellent XBLA remake of the 1989 classic Prince of Persia, and in that game, watching replays of great performances helped me to improve my own performance. I don't think that's going to happen with Ikaruga. But what I like so much about the replay feature is that Ikaruga is the sort of game that seems downright impossible if you're not very good at it. You'll find yourself in a situation where it might appear to you that there's no way to emerge unscathed from the hail of black and white bullets headed your way. The game might seem unfair. Well, it isn't. All you gotta do is download a replay from the leaderboards of someone totally acing that section, and you'll know it's not impossible. It's just that you suck at it. And what makes these stellar performances all the more impressive is that these players manage to rack up chain after chain of enemy kills (by destroying three white or three black enemies in a row) to earn the really big points. As if just surviving wasn't difficult enough.

Ikaruga is a beautiful game, and it's especially beautiful when it's being played well, because those performances make it look easy and graceful and natural. I could be wrong, of course, but I suspect that, for the players who can perform on that level, it actually is kind of easy. I suspect that they've gotten to the point where, when playing Ikaruga, they enter that place we call flow. And that is a beautiful thing.

Obama Commits Political Faux Pas, Says Something True

I don't blame Hillary Clinton for trying to take advantage of this opportunity to win over voters by jumping on Obama's recent remarks, but really, is there anyone out there who honestly doesn't think that some Americans are bitter in exactly the way Obama said some Americans are bitter? You're Goddamn right some Americans are bitter, and with good reason, too.

Clinton supporters are handing out "I'm Not Bitter" bumper stickers. Clinton herself is telling people what they want to hear by saying things like, "The people of faith I know don't 'cling' to religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich." Actually, Hillary, there are a certain number of people out there who latch on to religion because they're poor or bitter or empty inside, and you damn well know it. But it's a smart thing to say strategically, because it makes it sound as if Obama characterized all religious people as being religious for negative reasons, which of course he didn't.

Yes, this is sound political strategy. It just makes me sad that a statement reflecting an unfortunate truth of today's political climate is apparently too much for some people to handle, that Hillary Clinton, who must know in her heart of hearts that Obama was right, has more to gain by denying this truth than by acknowledging it. As David Cross once said about our current president's tendency to put things in idiotically simplistic and downright false terms, "Are we a nation of six-year-olds? Answer: yes."

(The opinions expressed here are mine alone, certainly not those of Barack Obama or any other Obama supporter, all of whom believe that all Americans are totally optimistic people who harbor no feelings of disappointment or bitterness whatsoever.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Slam Dunk, Strindberg Style...

(...or "It's Okay, the French Dude Said")

I had a job interview one afternoon last week. The story of that job interview is probably interesting only to me, but what the hell, I'm gonna tell it anyway.

My interview was at 4:00, in San Francisco. I was working at the coffee shop until 2:00. This left me plenty of time to BART across the Bay. No problem.

At a few minutes after 2:00, literally just as I'm about to head down the stairs into the depths of the Downtown Berkeley BART station, my phone starts to vibrate. It's this dude from a staffing agency, the same dude who got me the seasonal position I had from October through January, which paid pretty well by customer service standards and which I'd hoped might become permanent, but didn't. He says he's got a perfect opportunity for me. He thinks there's basically no chance that I won't get this position. He calls it a "slam dunk." He tells me what it pays. It pays a bit more even than the last job.

Great. I'm definitely interested.

I just need you to email me your most recent resume, he says.

Sure thing, I'll do that as soon as I get home this evening.

Yeah, see, that's probably gonna be too late. I really need it immediately. They want this position filled, like, now.

I couldn't believe this was happening. Weeks go by without any significant developments in my job search and now, here I am, with two important things colliding in the same moment. What do I do? Do I go home and send off the resume for this sure thing, this slam dunk, realizing that if I do this I probably won't make the interview in San Francisco in less than two hours? Or do I pass up the slam dunk and stick to this scheduled interview, which came after a few phone interviews and some bizarre online psychological profile survey which somehow did not detect that I'm a total weirdo?

In keeping with my longtime commitment to indecisiveness, I figured I would try to do both. I hopped on the next bus home, ran the four blocks from the bus stop to my home faster than I've probably ran any distance in years, fired up my computer and emailed the resume off, darted back out the door, hustled the four blocks back to the bus stop, hopped on the next bus to the BART station, and jumped on the next train that would get me headed towards San Francisco.

Just as the train came up on the undersea tunnel, I got a call from the staffing agency dude. Bad news, he says. We were too late in getting your resume over there. They'd just filled the position.
So much for the slam dunk. And I was pretty sure I was going to be late for my interview, as well. Terrific, I'd blown this job interview for nothing.

Actually, miraculously, I walked through the door of the office at 3:58 PM. Definitely not ideal for a job interview to show up two minutes before the scheduled time, but I figured it was better than not showing up at all. I probably also looked a bit disheveled from all the running I'd been doing. Nothing I could do about that at this point.

During the interview, I felt pretty good about things. I somehow forgot about the stress and disappointment I'd been experiencing only moments before, and focused on the interview itself. I think I answered their questions well. I felt warm and sincere and genuine, and I think I did the best that I can expect myself to do in an interview, which is pretty good. I liked the people I interviewed with, and came away from the interview really feeling like I might be a good fit for the company.

On the BART ride home, suddenly all the stress and disappointment I'd somehow managed to put aside during the interview came flooding back to me. I suddenly felt caught up in the grip of tremendous despair. Everything seemed so bleak and hopeless. There was no way I was going to get this job, or any other decent job, ever again. I felt like August Strindberg. I must have been wringing my hands and sighing theatrically or something, because my despair was apparent to a guy standing next to me.

It's okay, it's okay, he said to me. I'm pretty sure he was French.

Yesterday, as I was searching for jobs online, I saw that the company I interviewed with has reposted the position. I guess I didn't get the job. They didn't even contact me to tell me I didn't get the job. That was disappointing.

But it's okay.

I have a job for the moment, one that should, at least, prevent me from starving and becoming homeless, if only barely. And I walk to and from work down gorgeous Berkeley streets on beautiful Berkeley days and it's just not possible for me to despair all the time. And I've made a bit of money selling stuff I wasn't using and don't really need on amazon, and selling one thing I didn't want to part with on craigslist, but I can do without for the moment. It's only for now.

Of course, I'll never know if it was the fact that I showed up a bit dishevelled, only two minutes before 4:00, that cost me my shot at that position. I'm sure it didn't help. But then, the fact that I was fired from a job last year probably didn't help either. It's definitely extra-challenging finding a job in the wake of being fired, trying to convince potential employers that that one failure is not the sum total of who you are, that in fact, if anything, you've learned and grown from that experience. Still, despite this challenge, most of the time I remain hopeful that, in the long run, I might end up with a permanent position that's better than the one I lost. It wasn't a job I especially liked, or that paid much at all. I was just complacent in it, is all.

I'm trying to do more networking these days. So many people I know got their jobs at least in part because they knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone. It's amazing to me how big of a thing networking is, how hugely important it can be. Networking has always been a bit difficult for me, because I'm not the most socially comfortable person in the world and because I have a hard time promoting myself and using people I genuinely like and respect to try to get a leg up. But there are opportunities out there, and I want to give myself the best chance I can of taking advantage of them.

Monday, April 07, 2008

You Have To Burn The Rope

Go play this game, now. It made my day. I think you'll love it, too.

P.S. It's Swedish.

Blogistical Stuff

Mad props to my good friend Aaron--you can follow his adventures and, most importantly, see pictures and videos of his adorable son Ezra, at Two Body Problem--for turning me on to a few nifty new doodads available to blogspot users. My new blogroll now updates when the blogs I read and recommend are updated! Neat-o! And you can now subscribe to this blog using the subscription whatchamacallit located right underneath my Xbox 360 gamercard! Enjoy!

(If you're a blogspot user who's interested in these or other Not Ready for Primetime features, check out

Sunday, April 06, 2008

It's all in the game: NHL 08 edition.

EA should replace that dude they've had aggressively declaring "It's in the game!" in their EA Sports titles for as long as I can remember with The Wire's Omar Little saying "It's all in the game," mainly because, as I mentioned on Tuesday, Omar is awesome, but also because, at least in the case of their latest NHL game, it really seems to be true. At least, I have it on good authority that it's true from a few die-hard hockey fan friends of mine. I understand that the coaching and management aspects of the game are handled really well, and add a lot to the experience for those players who are into that sort of thing. All I really know is that, when you're on the ice, the game is tremendous fun. I've liked many a hockey game over the years, but I don't think I've ever loved a hockey game as much as I love NHL 08.

I'm pretty ill-equipped to review these sorts of annually released sports games, because I'm not a big enough sports fan to know how authentically they capture the sport on which they're based, and because I don't play them each year, so I can't really tell how significant the changes to each new edition are. But who cares about those technical details, anyway? For me, games and sports are primarily about emotion. I've never liked a sport or a team enough to follow it throughout an entire, interminable regular season. But I occasionally get swept up in the intense emotions that can surround a championship series, and I was crushed when the Ducks lost game 7 in their bid for the Stanley Cup in 2003. Just as that series had me screaming at my television like a crazy person, NHL 08 has induced me to take the Lord's name in vain many, many times, not out of frustration with poor design choices or unfair AI, but simply because the game creates in me the exact same investment of emotion that the sport itself has done on occasion.

A big part of the game's success is in the "skill stick" system, which isn't new in this edition but was new to me. This control scheme has you using the right thumbstick to deke and shoot. After years of playing hockey games where shooting was done with the push of a button, it took a bit of adjustment on my part, but ultimately this came to feel far more intuitive, and although it's a relatively small change, it goes a long way in making me feel more connected to the action on the ice.

Although I've never had the attention span to follow a full season of actual hockey, I did play a full season as the Ducks, attempting to help them defend the Cup after their victory last year. Playing through the season on the Pro difficulty, I wound up as the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and was totally outplayed by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Who knows, maybe if I'd bothered with the deeper aspects of the game, the coaching and management stuff, designing plays, trading players, my team would have fared better. But although I'm really glad those aspects are there and are so well done for those players who enjoy them, I'm especially glad that the on-ice action feels so authentic, for people like me, who just want to get swept up in the emotion of that moment when you send the puck home.

NHL 08: Five/Five for fighting

I killed Charlton Heston!

When I was young, I had this idea that our internal monolgues, every thought that runs through our heads, are being printed out in heaven or the alien's command center or wherever. I envisioned this endless room full of dot-matrix printers constantly screeching away, one for every one of us, and imagined that some poor sod has to look over all this stuff. I think this notion may have been a side effect of my Catholic upbringing, something some guilt-ridden part of my psyche devised to try to scare me into only thinking pure thoughts. If so, it failed miserably.

Anyway, yesterday morning, I swear that at one point the thought ran through my head, "It's kinda weird that Charlton Heston is still alive." Then, when I got home from work late last night and glanced at Yahoo!, I found out that this was no longer the case. Whoever's in charge of these things must have seen the printout of my thought and said to himself, "Shit, I knew I was forgetting to do something!"

If I'm supposed to feel bad about this, it's not working either.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

It's all in the game.

So here I am, working at a coffee shop again for the time being. I don't mind the work. The people are cool. And this shop is in the heart of Downtown Berkeley, a colorful and fascinating neighborhood, which helps keep things interesting. Stuff is always happening. The other day, a few hundred people marched by the shop, protesting China's occupation of Tibet. That was pretty cool.

But I do mind the low rate of pay, and the low number of hours. To be honest, I'm still a little surprised that I've had as much trouble as I've had finding a job that pays at least a bit better. I've got another interview lined up this Thursday, which I really hope I get. (Agonizing pre-interview decision: Do I spend the money on getting my hair trimmed, for fear that my long hair isn't making the best impression on prospective employers?) I'd feel like a bit of a jerk, jumping ship so soon after taking this job at the coffee shop, accepting another job, but I suppose it's not as if people don't leave these jobs after a brief period all the time, and I suppose it's not as if they deserve my loyalty, considering what they're paying me. As my man Omar on The Wire is fond of saying, "It's all in the game."

"Help my union? For 25 years, we been dying slow down there. Dry docks rustin', piers standin' empty. My friends and their kids like we got the cancer. No lifeline got throwed all that time, nothin' from nobody. And now you want to help us? Help me?" -Frank Sobotka

So, yeah, The Wire. Watched the first, I dunno, six episodes way back when, thought it was boring. Then recently I decided to give it another chance. Somewhere around episode nine, something clicked. I finally acquired the taste for The Wire, I guess. And I just finished the second season, which for me was even more powerful than the first. Frank Sobotka, the union leader who gets caught up in criminal dealings and becomes the focus of the task force's investigation, is one of the more compelling criminals I've ever come across. I really feel for him. The things he does are wrong, and he makes some bad choices, but his personal reasons for doing those things are all basically good. There's been a kind of betrayal of the way of life that he and his fellow dockworkers have essentially been born into. The work dries up. The men no longer have enough money to provide for themselves and their families. And Sobotka does what he does in an attempt to help them, to provide.

It is, as many critics have said, a literary show. In terms of its pacing, its characters, the way it grapples with themes and social issues, the way it holds up a mirror to our society, it feels like a really good book, only one you watch instead of read.

I think Omar's expression resonates with me because I have a tendency to think of things, even extremely important real-life situations, as if they are games. Right now, the big game for me is the money game. Scrounging by on coffee shop pay at 20 hours a week or whatever is going to be extremely challenging, if not impossible. I've made some significant adjustments. I've cancelled my few small monthly charitable donations, to the ACLU and the HRC. I've put my Netflix account on hold, desperate as I am to see The Wire Season Three. My on-again, off-again subscription to World of Warcraft has gone off again, despite the fact that, as shows us, we can learn a lot about money from the game. (getrichslowly continues to be a source of encouragement, knowledge and inspiration. J.D. has been through some tough times, and his frankness about his mistakes and struggles, and his subsequent success feels like a source of comfort and support as I struggle with the situation I find myself in.) I'm selling off some stuff on I've even cancelled GameFly for the time being, which, for me, was the hardest decision, because of course I love playing, thinking about and writing about games, and still entertain thoughts of doing it professionally at some point. I'll be taking a break from new games for a little while, but hopefully not for too long. I don't want to miss out on Grand Theft Auto IV.

I'm really excited about this game, not just because the previous games have been astounding from a gameplay perspective, but also because I think this game has tremendous potential in terms of its story. I really think the Grand Theft Auto games have been scathing works of social satire, that they've had something meaningful to say. If The Wire holds up a mirror to our society, the Grand Theft Auto games filter our society through video games and action movies and still wind up with a significant amount of truth, and IV seems poised to follow in that tradition. The fact that the central character is an immigrant from Eastern Europe opens up all kinds of terrific possibilities. Heck, just reading this blurb from the game's information page is enough to get me excited:

What does the American dream mean today?

For Niko Bellic, fresh off the boat from Europe, it is the hope he can escape his past.

For his cousin, Roman, it is the vision that together they canfind fortune in Liberty City, gateway to the land of opportunity.

As they slip into debt and are dragged into a criminal underworld by a series of shysters, thieves and sociopaths, they discover that the reality is very different from the dream in a city that worships money and status, and is heaven for those who have them and a living nightmare for those who don't.

Mercifully, I haven't been dragged into a criminal underworld myself. Yeah, times are a bit tough. And I see myself being a bit more callous about some things. Walking to work the other day, a young woman, somewhat younger than me, asked me for money, and I'm certainly in no position to be giving anyone anything. Not that I would have given her anything anyway. But in the past, Iwould have really felt something, this sense of, I don't know, guilt or fear, this "There but for the grace of God go I" punch to the stomach. But now I just felt kind of removed about it. "Sorry," I said, and walked on without a second thought. I've hit a rough patch, and you're on the street. That's how it goes. It's all in the game.

Most of the time, I know things are gonna be okay. Some of the time I'm terrified. Most of the time, I remember that many people have found themselves in tough situations at one point or another. Some of the time, I feel like the biggest failure, the most colossal fuck-up in the whole history of the world.

But I feel alright.

Yeah, I feel alright tonight.

The Wire Season Two: 10/10 stevedore-replacing robots