Monday, August 26, 2019

Canada by Mike Myers

Well, I went to Canada and I didn't die. So I would consider this vacation a success. I don't even know exactly where in Canada I was, but the locals appear to subsist entirely on lobsters and potatoes, so I'm sure some geo-nerd out there can figure it out. And there are lots of cliffs that an old man can "accidentally" fall off of, but I kept my distance from my son-in-law Gerry while we were sightseeing, so no worries. I picked up this book to learn about this country before I visited, but it turns out that it was not a reference book or a travel guide, and this Mike Myers isn't even a historian. He did apparently write some pretty funny shit for a TV show once, so it wasn't that bad.

I'm sure the narrative from my family will be that I ruined this vacation for everyone, but it really was an honest mistake, and they forced my hand in the first place. We were staying in this big cabin not too far from the beach, and a short walk away (even for me) was this little bench behind some bushes with a great view of the ocean. It was a great reading spot, and I sure as hell didn't want the rest of my family to ruin it for me, so I didn't tell anyone about it. Which, as I later explained, was perfectly within my rights.

Now here's something that really pisses me off about Gerry. Whenever we go on vacation, he will pick up pamphlets from the visitor center and then - I shit you not - expound upon what he just read to the rest of us as if he were an expert on local history. I mean, come on. My son Lawrence is an actual historian, and he can't even button his damn shirts correctly, but he doesn't do shit like that. So when Gerry was on a particularly boring diatribe about the origins of confederation, I slipped out the side door and shuffled down to my bench.

At some point while I was reading, I must have fallen asleep (the book was about Canada, after all), but I think I was vaguely aware of some sort of commotion on the beach. When the police started arriving (in cars, not on horses, and without any funny hats to speak of, disappointingly), I stood up and encountered one of Canada's finest. The conversation went approximately like this:

"So, you're missing, eh?"
"I don't think so," (looking at myself to ascertain that I still exist), "Yup. Still here."
"You might want to tell your family that."
"Oh...Well, since you took the trouble to come out here, I wouldn't want to steal your thunder."
"I see. I'll take care of it then."

And that was the last I heard from him. And that was the nicest thing anyone said to me for the rest of the trip!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Today's youth are being corrupted by a host of perverse, corrosive influences - things like strawberry milk, house music, carnival rides that go upside down, and sweet pickles, just to name a few. And I have always counted video games among those destructive forces. I mean, have you even had a conversation with a teenager lately? If you somehow manage to get them to put their phones down for a minute, it's all they talk about!

When I was a kid, we played a game called Tougher, or "Tuffs." Essentially, you took turns punching each other in the chest until one person quit. If you didn't quit, then you were Tuffs. It was a great way to pass the time, built character, and multi-player games required no extra equipment. Nowadays, everyone wants to blow up aliens or monsters or whatever it is, but it's all fake! Instead of getting character, teenagers are getting tendinitis. What a world.

The other day, I was sitting in my front lawn guarding it against my neighbor's schnauzer, who had that look she gets when she's ready to do her business, when I heard the sound of my grandson's skateboard (don't get me started) coming my way. I do appreciate it when he chooses this route home, but I was dismayed to look up and see him 1) on a skateboard, 2) in the street, 3) without a helmet, and 4) LOOKING AT HIS PHONE THE WHOLE TIME! After telling him that the fact that he was still alive was a minor miracle, I demanded that he show me this Fortnite or whatever it was he was playing, but he said that I wasn't ready for Fortnite and offered to show me a different game instead.

Now I don't know what Fortnite is like, but the game he showed me was mind-blowing. It is a kind of wartime simulation, and your job is to defuse a series of bombs before they blow up, killing everyone! I can't even describe the tension as you start looking for bombs. I was sweating terrible old man sweat after only two minutes! There is this grid, and numbers that give you clues about how many bombs are around you, and each time you click on one, you might die! It is called Minesweeper, and I have never done something so intense! The numbers don't really make that much sense, and a bomb could go off any minute! By the time I finished, I was so in need of a gimlet that I made Jackson pour it for me while I tried to slow my breathing down. It took me 624 seconds, but I saved the world! Apparently, there are intermediate and advanced levels as well, but maybe for another day.

There is a truism about war that nothing you can read can really make you understand what it feels like to be there. So we rely on books like this, written with craft, insight, and power to shed a little light on the experience. After reading this book, I felt like I understood the Iraq War in a new way. But thanks to Minesweeper, it's like I was actually there!