theferrett: (Meazel)

In 1996, I had become a grownup and I didn’t much like it at all.

If you’d reduced my life to a checklist, it would have appeared I had everything: My first corporate job, with an actual salary, working at Borders Book Shop headquarters?  Check.  My first apartment, living on my own, having finally moved out of my mom’s house?  Check.  My girlfriend, having moved out to Michigan with me? Checkity-check.

But the job was stressful, and my girlfriend and I were tearing each other apart.

My girlfriend and I had matching social anxieties; we were both terrible about meeting new people, and so for two years we never made a friend.  All we had was each other, trapped in an apartment because we didn’t have the money to go out – and the apartment was a hoarders-style horror of comic books and ferret shit and sculpie clay smeared all over the floor, junk piled up in such quantities that we had to adopt a rolling seaman’s gait just to cross the living room.  You could not see our carpet, lost under a sea of things.

We fought all the time.

And when I say we fought all the time, I meant it.  There were daggers in our laughs, in-jokes made at each other’s expense, so even our fun times had boxcutters clutched within soft gloves.  Her strain of messiness stressed me out and mine stressed her out, and we didn’t agree on money, or the lives we wanted to lead – but we had no friends.  And we were both terrified of the other leaving, of being locked up alone with literally no one.

But that’s how couples worked, I thought.  I’d been raised in a welter of psychotherapy, so I believed that if we just aired our grievances honestly enough, for long enough enough, then this abscess would drain.  It had to.

This is where I met Gini.

Because at the end of the day, I had my closet.  The apartment was too small for an office, but there was a walk-in closet where I’d stuffed my computer, and in my retreat I found the Compuserve Star Wars Discussion Forum.

We tell our friends “Oh, we met in a Star Wars chat room,” but that’s actually a lie because nobody remembers BBSes.  I’d call out on my modem, download individual forum threads at an exorbitant rate, and then reply to all my online friends – the only friends I had.

Gini was one of a gang of regulars.  She was married, and lived in Alaska, and we argued about everything.  Everything.  We debated politics, and abortion, and America’s reliance on oil, and I didn’t bother to hold back to tell her when she was a fool because that’s the way this chat room worked, and she schooled me on any number of topics and actively demonstrated how I was an idiot….

…and for four years?  Not a spark of romance.  Just good old-fashioned internet tussling.

But goddamn if Gini didn’t make me smile.  She was smart.  She was cutting.  And she held her fucking own against anybody.

She was one of the dim sparks that held me together while my girlfriend and I slowly tore each other apart.

Then my girlfriend, quite sanely, left.

I was astonished.  We hadn’t been happy in some time, but… we’d been arguing.  And still, I was convinced that if we just analyzed what was wrong, endlessly churning up all the ways we were incompatible, we’d stumble upon a solution.

That’s how therapy worked, you see.  You talked until it worked.

My girlfriend was tired of talking.  And so she moved back to Connecticut.  Where she made herself a much better life without me, and I say Godspeed to you, sweetie, thank God you were smart enough to go.

And I did not die of loneliness.  Driven by desperation, I made some friends.  I dated around in Michigan.  And still, I spent time on the Compuserve Star Wars forum, because I loved the people there, and…

…I loved Gini.

That was a slow revelation, of course.  I got a flicker of it when she mentioned she was getting divorced.  And another when she was flirting with someone else in the chat room and I got jealous.  And I emailed to tell her that I’d never flirted with her only because I was “half a heartbeat away from falling in love with you,” and…

…she loved me too.

This was, of course crazy.  I still credit my mother for keeping a straight face when I told her, “I’m quitting my job to move up to Alaska and marry this divorced woman I met on the Internet, and take care of her two kids.”

But damn if that’s not what we did.

And Gini and I moved in together, and in a beautiful world I would have learned all the lessons from my ex-girlfriend and she would have learned all the lessons from her ex-husband, and the story would be over.

But as it turns out, Gini and I argued all the time.  Over a lot of the same issues.  We had screaming arguments over money, and jealousy, and messiness….

…but there was one difference.

I still remember that beautiful day dawning – and it was literally dawning, because Gini and I had fought all night.  Ten hours of debate over who was fucking up more in this relationship, that kind of agonizing argument that continued because we both sensed the other was almost reachable, just a few inches away from seeing our point, and so even as Gini washed up for work I sat by the tub and we fucking kept arguing.

And the light dawned.

And she turned to me and said, “You’re right.  I’m being shitty here.  I shouldn’t do that.  I’m sorry.”

And a miracle happened.

The thing was, she was being shitty and I was being shitty and our relationship was this feces-encrusted tangle of unforgiveness.  And I could have fucked up badly at that point, so badly, if I’d crowed and said, “Yeah, goddamned straight, you are fucking up, see what a horrible person you are?”

But when Gini saw her faults…

…I saw mine.

And I apologized, too.

I don’t even remember what the fight was about, which is terribly stupid, considering it ate an entire day for both of us.  All I remember is the golden light of the sun playing across our bathroom, Gini with shampoo in her hair, us holding hands, feeling like something tremendous had changed.

And it had.

And that was when I learned there were two kinds of arguments: the kind that just keeps knocking you down, and the kind that knocks over the rotten parts so you can rebuild.  And with my ex-girlfriend, I had made the stupid mistake of needing to be Right so often that I was dead-set on Godzilla-stomping her dreams to prove my point, and she dug in deep trenches and gave nothing because she wasn’t wrong…

…but when Gini admitted she was wrong, everything changed.

Everything.

I don’t think we could have survived without that single moment in the tub.  Because of the two of us, only she had the strength to be wrong.

And here we are.  Today is our fifteenth anniversary.  Fifteen fucking years together, and we have grown to support each other.  We are a construction project continually in the making, investigating what’s not working, knocking down the bad parts, finding ways to bolster the weak parts.  Remaking.

What we have made is beautiful.

We’ve endured heart attacks, and death, and more death, and the inevitable fractures that come with polyamory, and financial stress, and job stress, and all of that has been accompanied with, as Gini wisely said during our vows – because even then, she could see things far better than I – us “cheerfully bickering our way through life.”

We argue.  A lot.  Continually.  Fiercely.  Sometimes angrily.  But that works for us because we are passionate, and we are builders, and what I didn’t understand back in 1996 was that the arguments only work if you’re willing to be wrong.

In 1996, I had become a grownup and I didn’t much like it at all.

In 2014, I had become a husband.  And I loved it.  I loved every moment of it.

As I love her.

Happy anniversary, Gini.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m never sure why I write about depression.

I mean, I know why I’ve written about depression – it helps other depressives to feel normal, knowing that other people have gone through it.  But I’ve written enough entries on being depressed that frankly, you can go look it up.

And the big secret to being depressed is that it’s repetitive.  It’s like writing about breathing.  It’s a fact in your life, and not much changes when it arrives: Woke up depressed.  Again.  Didn’t feel much like getting out of bed.  Again.  Pondered calling in sick to work.  Again.  Went to work and did what was required.  Again.  Hated my novel.  Again.  Wrote 800 words anyway.  Again.  Felt guilty for not writing 1,500 like I’d promised.  Again.  Did the bare minimum of socializing so as not to worry people.  Again.

It’s not that I’m sad this time around, exactly, I’m just… unmotivated.  I appear to be a functional human being because I have accreted tons of habits to keep me going until such a time as I’m loving life again, and I am working on the novel (which I hate, which will take longer to finish now, and I really wanted this fucking thing done by October but I don’t think that’s happening), but I’m feeling very dead inside.

Gini tells me it’s probably Rebecca.  Could be.  Could also be that my Seasonal Affective Disorder, which usually strikes in the spring, has finally flipped and people will stop annoying me by saying, “You know, SAD happens in the fall, not the spring!”

But the fundamental problem with depression is that as a writer, it doesn’t give you much to work with.  You have no strong motivations except, perhaps, to dissolve into nothingness for a time.  You have nothing interesting to discuss because you don’t find much interesting.  I can fake passion in my essays because they’re reflexive now, but even so I feel a sort of Oh, that’s what I should write about instead of the solid Yes! that pulls me out of my chair.

There’s but one thing I’m looking forward to in life right now, and that’s tomorrow.  I’ll write about that then. That’s important.

But today, I’m writing about my depression because – well, I don’t know why.  It’s not like you don’t know I get depressed.  It’s not like I’m desiring support – honestly, I feel overwhelmed by all the social interaction as it is.

I think I’m writing it because it feels vaguely dishonest to be writing semi-daily entries about life and to pretend this isn’t saturating everything I do.  I’m working.  I’m writing.  I’m talking to people, albeit sporadically and in fits.  But inside, I’m just this gray numbness, waiting in life like you’d wait in line at the bank, waiting for something to change so I can feel again.

Right now, I’m just a mass of old habits, ticking along, more clockwork than man.  If I were in a better mood, I’d write about how habits become a survival trait when you’re depressed, but that would require energy I have.  But at the moment, I’m on auto-pilot, a degrading collection of learned behaviors acting in sequence.  Maybe it’s not important that you know that.  Maybe it is.

But now you know.  Take whatever you can get from it.  And move on.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

…I recommend Critical Hit Games, in Cleveland Heights.

They were a complete surprise to me, as we had driven to dinner on that side of town and I saw a gaming shop out of nowhere.  “GINI!” I said, grabbing her sleeve.  “A NEW GAME SHOP CAN WE STOPCANWESTOPCANWESTOP” and I kept yelling the words over and over and over again until she pulled the car over.

I wasn’t expecting much.  Most game shops are surly places, warehouses for a meager supply of stock, and since it was 8:00 I expected a single clerk to glare at me balefully as I wandered around a mostly empty place.

But no!  I was greeted by not one but two people, both of whom made eye contact – a rarity akin to platinum coins in the world of gaming shops – and unbelievably, on a Wednesday night, the store was filled with gamers.  Two roleplaying games going on, each with at least five people, a pretty rousing game of Dominion, and some third card game I didn’t know.  And the store was – hold your breath – clean.

I talked with one of the owners, and they’d only opened up two months ago.  But they’d made the very wise decision of reaching out to local gamer groups and saying, “Hey, come play here, you don’t have to buy anything.”  (Which is a really smart strategy for game stores, as it gets people trained to go to their store and makes them look successful when strangers like me walk in.)  So they’d contacted the Cleveland Pathfinder’s Group – there is one, apparently – and gotten people in the door, and they’re already sold out on their Khans of Tarkir Magic prerelease tournament.

So that’s going well.

Still, any gaming store needs a little love to thrive in this day and age, and so if you’re interested and on that side of town, I’d check it out.  Their stock is more weighted towards board games than RPGs at this point, sadly – that’s standard, these days – but they’re well organized and super-friendly and they have a signup board for games where if you’re interested in, say, playing Hero System or Vampire, they’ll put you on a list and notify you when they find a GM.  That, I kinda like.

(And I bought the new D&D Player’s Guide.  Because I am a goddamned sheep, my friends, I am a goddamned sheep.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

This was too awesome to sum up on Twitter, so I’m just gonna point you to this awesome fucking web page on The Occult Dangers of Pokemon.  Your highlights!

What if [children] carry their favorite monsters like magical charms or fetishes in their pockets, trusting them to bring power in times of need?

What if?  What if?  I remember the Tamagotchi plagues of the 1990s, when children routinely walked into the dens of rabid lions and trusted their plastic pets to shield them from danger.  Those children are now lion dung.  Can Pikachu be any less harmful to the feeble-minded?

He told her that during recess on the playground the children would “summon” the forces on the cards they collect by raising sticks into the air and saying, “‘Spirits enter me.’ They call it ‘being possessed.’”

Dude, you’re – you’re not playing according to tournament rules here.  Put the stick down and fucking tap your Mewtwo.

Share your observations. Spark awareness in a young child with comments such as, “That monster looks mean!” or “That creature reminds me of a dragon,” along with “Did you know that in the Bible, serpents and dragons always represent Satan and evil?”

Now I want to go to the Prerelease this weekend and just say this during every goddamned match.

The last line, the Pokemon mantra, fuels the craving for more occult cards, games, toys, gadgets, and comic books. There’s no end to the supply, for where the Pokemon world ends, there beckons an ever-growing empire of new, more thrilling, occult, and violent products. Each can transport the child into a fantasy world that eventually seems far more normal and exciting than the real world. Here, evil looks good and good is dismissed as boring. Family, relationships, and responsibilities diminish in the wake of the social and media pressures to master the powers unleashed by the massive global entertainment industry.

This is literally how I think of the Internet.

…Any child exploring the most popular Pokemon websites will be linked to a selection of occult games such as Sailor Moon, Star Wars, and others more overtly evil.

I wish I had known which overtly evil games they were discussing here.  Aside from “Fuckmenace: the Gathering,” which encourages you to remove your pants for gain.

Oh wait.

Anyway, it’s an awesome read for any Magic player and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It’s like The Room of Collectible Card Games.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So as it turns out, I had a database that was missing critical data.  It was possible to “fill in” that data from other sources, as this was a rarely-used database, so I did what programmers since time eternal have done: I whipped up a script to fix the problem.

But after running the script, I discovered that the quick-fix script had only filled in about 90% of the necessary data.  Investigation showed there were edge cases that needed some special handling – and so I changed my script to handle those special edge cases and ran it again.

That got us to about 97% completion.  But – you guessed it – there was a tricky 3% that needed to be handled with an entirely different method, so I changed the script to handle those edge cases, reran it, and got us to 100% completion.  Awesome!  We fixed the problem!

Now, months later, the database has grown, and once again it is missing critical data.  Normally, this would be a trivial fix.  After all, I’d already filled in the data!  I can just take the logic I’d created in that quick-fix script, apply a filter so that the critical data is filled in whenever a new row is inserted, and have things up and running within an hour or two!  We’ll fix this lack of data forever!

Except.

Except.

I didn’t actually save that first script.  I just kept saving the old script, modifying it to handle the current edge case, and re-running it.  So what I have now is not the script that fixes 90% of the data in one run, but some messed-up tangle of code that handles a 3% edge case.  What happened to the 90% fix logic I created?

Well, I saved over it.  Basically, I deleted it in stages.  So I’m going to have to recreate all that logic from scratch today.

I AM GENIUS.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Some people sleep on soft mattresses. I sleep on a hard mattress, and that makes me better.  In fact, I sleep fitfully on an Olympic-grade mattress, a cold and merciless sheet of titanium, a pillowless place where only most-trained slumbernauts can find any rest at all.

And my only meal is the ortolan, a crunchy bird literally drowned in alcohol, which I devour whole a bite at a time, my face draped in a towel so you can not see my bloodied gums sharded with tiny, needlelike bird bones.  This is Olympic-style eating.  It is the best -

- oh, drop the bullshit, can we?

This essay’s inspired by another essay on FetLife titled Double black diamond sex, which ostensibly has the positive (and correct!) message that you have to find the sexual partner who loves doing what you do, but is sadly wrapped up in the bullshit idea that there’s a style of sex that is superior simply because it is difficult.  According to that essay, there’s “beginner” sex and “intermediate” sex and then the dreaded double black-diamond super-ski magnate sex, which not anyone can aspire to.

(Guess what kind of sex the author of this essay has?  G’wan.  Guess.  It’ll be totes surprising.)

And let me say here that difficulty is not goodness.  Unless the only music you enjoy is the tweedliest of prog-rock where the musicians play in time-signatures that don’t exist within human thought.  Unless the only movie you like is Primer, a time-travel movie so complex that even Wikipedia seems vaguely confused about what actually happened.

The fact is that this Saturday, I went to the Velvet Tango Room, literally one of the top five bars in the entire world, a place where I had $18 cocktails using only the freshest ingredients, with ice cubes that tumbled out of a $10,000 ice machine designed to create perfectly-cubical cubes at zero degrees so they wouldn’t melt your drink, everything squeezed and shaken by hand.

Then I went to Old Fashion Hot Dogs, a dive so divey that I’m not even sure they’re aware enough of the Internet to *have* a website, and paid $3.25 for a bacon-and-egg sandwich.

Both were delicious, in their own ways.  Except according to the Double Black-Diamond guy, “a good skier won’t bother with the bunny hill,” and I would never of course be caught dead eating simple food.

Fuck that.

There’s this ridiculous hierarchy assholes keep trying to build, where it’s not enough to have found the sex/food/movie they like to experience, but they actively have to start ranking things so what they like is on the goddamned top.

Sex is about enjoyment.  And yes, I have my “double black-diamond days” where I feel like breaking out all the skill and equipment and the whipped cream and the gimp suit and the team of Clydesdales, and that can be fucking awesome.

I can also have a quick missionary lay.  And that can be just as good.

And it’s not for some people.  I get that.  Some people need all the acoutrement and the seven-hour fuckfest to get off, and I completely am behind that.  They should find like-minded people to swing from the chandeliers with.

But do you have to malign the people who like the quick missionary stuff to do it?

In a world filled with kink, the last thing we fucking need is to take our own preferences and turn them into some sort of objective superiority in order to make people feel like, “Gee, I can’t have the *good* kind of sex.”  The good kind of sex is the one that makes all people satisfied.  That is not the same as complexity, because I know of some skiers who *can* do the double black-diamond but prefer the gentler slopes because they don’t have to worry as much.

We fuck.  We love.  We enjoy.  Let’s not make this complicated.

Or maybe, according to this fucked-up scale some people are espousing, the more complicated we can make it the better it’ll be.  But I think if we apply that logic to relationships, we’ll see how quickly that shit falls apart.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

A friend of mine got some wonderful news the other day: her cancer is in remission.

And she felt a terrible guilt.

Because she is a friend of mine, she knows all about Rebecca, and the brain cancer that took her life on her sixth birthday, and she had the reaction of, “Why did I live when that beautiful little girl didn’t?” And perhaps that reaction is natural, and human – survivor’s guilt is a very real thing – but I said something to her, and I want to say it to all of you:

I am thrilled that you’re alive.

I want you healthy.

I want no one on this Earth to die of cancer, ever again.  Not a little girl, not an old man, not a middle-aged genderqueer, nobody.

That won’t happen in my lifetime, sadly – “cancer” is an umbrella name for a thousand different different kinds of diseases, and we could completely cure breast cancer and still have the astrocytoma that ravaged Rebecca’s brain running rampant – but I am never going to be angry when someone else lives.  I was not in the least comforted by thinking, “Well, other children went through this.”  I would have been far more comforted by the knowledge that this was a unique situation, that in all the billions of humans who lived we were the only ones who were watching a child die of a disease we could not cure, and that all the other families were living peacefully and thriving.

If you live, it is a triumph to me.  It’s a middle finger thrust into the face of a cold biological process that, God willing, one day science will manage to stop.  And in your case, it looks like science did stop it, and good.

I speak for no one else, of course.  I don’t know how my wife feels, I don’t know how the Meyers feel, I don’t know what’s normal.  But if you’ve had some life-threatening disease and you made it when Rebecca didn’t, I will clap my hands and sing your joy and praise whatever powers that be that you will continue to be ambulatory.

I’m thankful you’re here.  Live long.  Live well.  Live beautifully.

Live.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

A few months ago, on Facebook, I asked people for a recommendation of a good local tattoo artist.  And then, because I am stupid and Facebook is impossible to search, I lost about ten good recommendations from people.

I’m going to be getting a tattoo of Rebecca – a silhouette of a photo taken of her, so I need someone who’s very good at doing photo-perfect work on flabby skin.  My friend Kat will also be getting a tattoo to commemorate Rebecca’s life, but hers will be a design that she needs help with, so I need an artist who can also translate rough sketches into actual beauty.

This will be my only tattoo, I think.  God willing.  So make it good.

And it has to be a local tattoo artist – we have someone good in Pennsylvania, but we don’t want to drive three hours to what might be a multiple-session tattoo.  So while I know there are many fine artists in your town, I’m not interested unless your town is near Cleveland.

(I’m also smart enough to know that tattoo artist > tattoo parlor, so specific names will be weighted better.)

Anyway.  Thanks for everyone who did recommend last time, and I’m sorry I’m sufficiently dumb to forget to bookmark a Facebook post.  If you can recommend here, I will at least be able to Google this post when I find it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My friend Geoff Hunt asked a great question: What are you most happy to have left behind from your life as a 20-something?  And my answer was immediate:

That wandering feeling of uncertainty.

Which is to say that my teenaged years were about trying on masks really rapidly – one week I was seriously into prog rock, then I was a punk because I liked Billy Idol, and then I was soooo into reading 17 Magazine and pop for a while before I figured out that it was for girls.  I had no idea who I was, so I kept experimenting – which was totally healthy, of course, because how are you going to know what you really like doing unless you try them all on?

And that’s why a lot of us don’t hang out with our teenaged buddies.  It’s not that they’re not nice people.  But there’s often these distinct and unpleasant reminders, usually in the form of embarrassing anecdotes, that they knew you before you were fully formed, and they keep highlighting these failed trial runs of Who You Might Be.

I thought I’d left that behind in my twenties, but the truth was that I’d left behind the wild experimentation but kept the idea that there was some role I had to play.  I was a Rebel Punk.  I was a Rowdy Drinker.  I was a Guy Who Slept Around A Lot.  I was a Bookseller.  I was an Intellectual. I was a Jokester Who Told Funny Stories.

I spent a lot of time feeling like I was doing those roles pretty terribly.  Mainly because I was an Intellectual but I hadn’t read all the right books – and more importantly, I didn’t want to, but I kept throwing myself at musty classics I didn’t enjoy because hey, that’s what Intellectuals did.  I actually hated going out and getting drunk every night, but everyone else did it after work and it was what Rowdy Drinkers did, and so I did that.  Plus, I had to Tell Funny Stories, so the drinking helped with that, even if sometimes I felt like I was exposing way too much of my life with these stories at inappropriate times, but that’s what my heroes did and so did I.

Oh, and I was a Rebel Punk!  So I couldn’t enjoy a fine glass of Scotch and a nice meal, I had to be Rebellious and drink crappy beer at clubs that were sometimes fun dives but other times were just fucking uncomfortable pits I couldn’t wait to get out of.

And by the time I got to the end of my twenties, I was coming to realize that roles were like training wheels on a bike.  They might be helpful when you’re starting out to give you an idea of how things go, but soon enough they start constraining your journey and they look totally dorky.

So I cast that off.

And I also cast this idea off, in my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon of all time:

calvin_and_hobbes_adlibbed

Because I had the idea that I had to be A Grown-Up, and A Grown-Up knew How To Do Things, and when my car got broken into then someone would hand me the Big Book Of Insurance Information and I would be magically gifted with all the knowledge.  And I spent an inordinate amount of time chastising myself for not knowing how to buy a house, or not understanding how the stock market worked, or having no idea how my furnace worked in my apartment.

The truth was, I eventually realized, that yes, it’s all ad-libbed, and the best skill you can have as a grown-up is Investigation.  I don’t know how much about to make a claim on insurance!  But I know that there’s a number, and I can call someone there, and have them explain it to me, and then read whatever forms they send me.  Today, there’s an Internet I can look at, which is also fantastically helpful.

Which is freeing.  I still don’t know much about buying a house.  That’s because Gini had bought seven houses in her lifetime, and I let her be good at what she does, and in the unlikely chance I ever have to buy a house solo, I can do research.  I don’t have to know it all, and in fact the world is too damned big to carry all of this information I don’t need right now with me, so what if I don’t know how to start a fire in the woods or change my own oil?  It’s not relevant.  And if I want to learn it, great – certainly I’ve acquired all this silly info on beekeeping, despite the terrible job of it I’ve done this particular summer – but the point is that I’ve shifted away from the idea of Being A Grown-Up, and so I don’t have to memorize this arbitrary list of Things I Feel A Grown-Up Should Know.

And basically, my thirties and forties have become a journey in leaving roles aside and being me.  I still sleep around a lot, but I do it because I enjoy it, not because I feel it’s some sort of identity I must project.  I know a little more about the stock market, but my investments are mostly simple 401ks and a couple of IRAs, and I am comfortable knowing that my money isn’t completely optimized.  And I’ve discovered I’m not an Intellectual at all, I don’t enjoy many of the great classics, and while I can occasionally be smart in public I’m in no way diminished if I haven’t read War and Peace or if someone knows more about the Scottish independence movement than I do.

Basically, in my twenties, I felt this constant, vague shame that I wasn’t living up to something.  Now that I’m forty, I’m okay with being ignorant, and not fitting into anyone’s conception of me.

That’s a gift.  It’s a wonderful freedom.

I can’t wait to find out what an idiot I’ll think forty-year-old me was, once I get to be sixty.  I think that’ll be awesome.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’d take a couple million from my last movie, and hire some very good hackers to set up an anonymous website.  Then I would hire a couple of paparazzi and a private investigator.

This website would be called The Abyss Looks Back At You.com, and its entire purpose would be to:

1)  Pick random users on Reddit who have posted links to, or otherwise supported, nude pictures stolen from celebrity cameras.  Random.  Could be anyone.

2)  Have a hacker trace them back to their home address.

3)  Get the private investigator to spend five days investigating them.

4)  Send the paparazzi to stand outside their houses and take pictures of them.  Only them.  Not their family.  That would be cruel.

Then periodically, I’d just post lengthy exposes of their lives, similar to what the Washington Post did with John Menese, the guy who started The Fappening.  Not outright malicious stuff, of course, though if anything horrific turned up, well, we’d have to post that.  Making excerpts of their Reddit-anonymized persona and linking it back to their real name, their job, their other hobbies.  Posting pictures of them, coming out of their home, eating at restaurants, going to work.  Just making it clear that anyone who decided that celebrities were exempt from the normal rules of privacy because they’re celebrities could be, to a very real extent, turned into a celebrity against their will.

Just a little chill, mind you.  Just so that anyone passing that kind of thing would know there was a chance – a chance – that posting today’s naked pictures might have someone track back their burner account and show them what happens when someone turned that merciless eye back upon them.

I’d do that.  But then again, I’m not a nice guy. And thankfully, I’m neither rich nor famous.

But I’d sure think about it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My goddaughter Rebecca wore a rainbow princess dress that we got her for Christmas.  She loved that thing.  I saw her wear that dress more than anything else, wearing it to school, wearing it to play in, tearing around the house in this gaudy, frilly thing.

Last night, Gini and I put the dress in the corner with my dead Grampa’s chair, my dead stepfather’s lumberjack shirt, and my dead Uncle Tommy’s cane.  Our little shrine to the fallen.   And then we drank a couple of glasses of wine and read Cracked articles aloud to each other to laugh and finally, at two in the morning, I realized I needed an Ativan to sleep on top of that.  Now I feel stomach-sick and logy.

I’m coming to realize that this grief is like arthritis, a lifelong condition with flareups.  I’ll have good-Rebecca days and bad-Rebecca days, and… they’re all boring.  It’s the same emotions over and over again, and I don’t want to talk about them because there’s nothing to be said.

So this is not a particularly good morning.  But not quite bad enough to call in sick.

On most days, I keep myself amused through the day by reading comments as they come in (though I often wait until the end of the day to respond).  To do that, I usually have to write an entry.  And I was in the process of writing an interesting one about how you disclose your relationships to your other partners in poly, because that “How much should I tell them?” is one of the trickiest things about managing multiple partners, and… I just fell apart.  I’ll probably do it tonight, God willing.  It’s a solid topic.

But on the days I have nothing to offer, I ask you to give me amusement by asking me questions that you honestly want to know the answer to.  Not bullshit questions like “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?” but anything else ranging from “So what’s your opinion on curling?” to “How do you manage a girlfriend and a wife?” to “What’s your favorite bit about writing?” to, well, whatever.  I’ll answer honestly.  And you’ll distract me a bit on a day when I could use some distraction.  So it’s a mitzvah.  If you can manage it.

 

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Lakewood’s been having a weird trend lately: nerd bars.  Or at least two nerd bars, one dedicated to board games and the other to classic arcade gaming, have opened up in the past two weeks.  And since my good friend and TOTES NERDCORE RAP SUPERFAN Angie was visiting, we decided to head out and see how this whole nerdy thing worked.

Our first stop was the Barcade, which was a brilliant concept: why not put a bunch of arcade machines in a place where people serve drinks?  Oh, wait, Dave and Buster’s did that, busted.  Except Barcade has what one newspaper called the “reverse casino” model: all the games are free, but you pay for the drinks.

Okay, that’s not technically true.  The selection of pinball machines (which include the Best Pinball Game of All Time, Attack from Mars) cost fifty cents, presumably because repairing pinball machines costs lots of money for spare parts.  But you walk in, buy a drink, and get to play classic videogames all night.

This sounds great, and largely it is, but Barcade was so packed this early on that we literally had to elbow people aside to move.  You know that rocking convention party where people are jammed in a room hip-to-hip and if you take a step back without warning you’ll knock someone over?  Yeah, that crowded.  So actually getting to the games was a problem.  But the interior was pleasantly designed and clean, with lots of fun drinks – I had the Kevin Bacon, a bourbon-and-candied-bacon drink that was quite tasty, and Angie had the Punky Brewster, which was like cotton candy in a glass.

We would have more and larger drinks, but a) the bar had sadly sold out of their oversized novelty glasses already, and b) it was such a struggle getting to the bar that ordering one drink was enough.  (Though the bartenders were a selection of hipster eye candy of both sexes.)

The bar had a really superb selection of classic videogames from the 80s and 90s, and they held Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat tournaments during the week.  We watched a guy pile up a million-point score on Robotron 2084.  We played Frogger, where Angie schooled me.  We played Gyruss, where I schooled Angie.

But the issue was the crowds, which made it hard to play – you had to push through narrow corridors packed with people to get to your machine, and then wait a while for your turn, though thankfully most people were good about the “you lose, you walk” and not abusing the infinite credits.  The main exception was a group of superbly annoying Woo Girls who’d camped out by the fucking Ms. Pac-Man machine, which inexplicably allowed continues, so they squealed and stayed for literally an hour as they were all like, “We’re up to 500,000 points now!  Look how many screens we’ve gotten!” And everyone else went, “Yes, you fucking morons, you can get to 500,000 if you put infinite quarters in a badly-configured machine.”  Why the hell would any free arcade allow continues on a Ms. Pac-Man?

Yet there was something happily convivial about getting snookered and playing the games of our youth.  People were happily giving advice, if you needed it, and it would be pretty easy to strike up a conversation if you both found yourself waiting in line for the Street Fighter machine.  So the crowds were both a plus and a minus, and I think when the blush is off the rose and there’s enough space to at least walk down the aisles without having to hip-check people out of the way, this will be truly awesome.

I do worry about the hammering, though, as three games were out of commission by the time we got there at 9:30 on a Saturday, and the Centipede machine’s fire button was well on its way to breaking.  A bunch of drunks playing arcade machines are an unforgiving bunch, and I hope they have a repairman on call full-time, or soon this place will be a bunch of snapped joysticks.

(One other fascinating bit: there were several really attractive women in total club garb, standing about and looking confused.  I think they were just hitting all the clubs in Lakewood and this was an obligatory stop – and while there were no shortage of women piling onto the NBA Jam and Simpsons machines, the club girls kept craning their necks about as if trying to see the appeal of this place.)

Then Angie and I walked down to the Side Quest Bar, which was about twenty minutes away on foot.  The Side Quest Bar is devoted to board games – they have a selection that you can pay $1 to rent, and you’re encouraged to bring your own.  They were in a soft open, with no food and limited beer selection (though honestly, their limited selection was pretty comprehensive).

Alas, the Side Quest bar was pretty much a solid dive bar with themed drinks, Dr. Who on the overhead screens, and a lot of games.  The games were good, but part of the bar is the social aspect, and there weren’t really enough tables to play games on – only two or three big tables that I saw, whereas most of the space was taken up by the bar itself.  So when we got there at around 11:00, I wouldn’t have found a place to join in.  And I think this bar will succeed on whether it can get strangers to mix, i.e., finding multiple gamers willing to go to a bar to find a pickup game of Dominion or Cards Against Humanity, and I didn’t necessarily see that mixing – mostly groups keeping to themselves.  (Though who knows, maybe those groups got there early as mixed people and had formed solid friendships by the time I’d arrived.)

But the atmosphere doesn’t really say “nerd,” unlike Barcade’s cool black themed bar and uniformed servers – it says “bar” with stuff thrown in.  But the drinks were nice – I had a butterbeer that was surprisingly cinnamony (which is a nice change of pace from all the butterscotch-o-rama butterbeers I’ve had, if not necessarily superior), and Angie had a Sonic Screwdriver that I would have had more of were it not brimming with Red Bull.

I’ll probably go back to Barcade, as I’ll always play videogames.  The Side Quest I may check out later on, to see how it’s evolved after the initial rush of curiosity is over – I suspect that will stand or fall on how creative the owners are at making events that get people in there to play games together.  I’d play a Magic tournament there, if there were enough tables, and that spot would be perfect for a good round of pub trivia.  So let’s hope.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Just in case you’d like to meet a weasel/hear him speak on panels/throw tomatoes at him, my physical form will be schlepping around the Context convention in Columbus, Ohio in a few scant weeks.  You’re welcome to drop by and say hello.

If you’re curious as to what I’ll be talking about there, well, it’s:

9:00 p.m. Friday:
Putting the “Horror” in Cosmic Horror

2:00 p.m. Saturday
Ferrett Steinmetz reads a story for you, maybe even an excerpt from Flex, I dunno, something good

3:00 p.m. Saturday
Social Media for Authors and Readers

5:00 p.m. Saturday
The Art of the Short Story

A nice enough mix, really.  Or you can just buy me a drink. I like drinks.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So the Economist fucked up yesterday, posting a review of a book called “Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” which had this whopper of an excerpt:

Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

And I think I know why that happened, really.

Well, first off this review was an “online extra,” which in terms of most big magazines these days means “extra content that we don’t really look at.”  They’re basically blogs, and sometimes people get paid for this and sometimes people don’t, but certainly nobody’s looking too closely at it.  So you had a throwaway article that slipped under the radar.  That has to be taken into context.

Still.  Someone had to glance at it.  So why did this pass muster?

See, the thing about slavery in the South – and perhaps one of its greatest horrors – is that it was, above all else, a business.  Why were people enslaving other humans and forcing them into slave labor?  Well, it was profitable.   You had a lot of people making large amounts of money off of it.

So like any business, they found ways to keep refining it.  A slave escaped?  Let’s close up that security hole.  Slaves don’t have a lot of motivation to work?  Let’s find ways to terrorize them into being more efficient.  Say, how much cotton are those guys picking, anyway? We can’t improve what we can’t measure!  So let’s start weighing in, setting quotients, looking for ways to get better yield!

And the blind spot of the Economist is that it thinks all businessmen are good people.  It thinks all business is good.  And so when someone said, “Hey, these guys who were doing everything that businessmen do right are being maligned!” they shrugged and said Yeah, sure, and let it pass.  Because a guy in a suit who’s squeezing profits out of people with reliable, established business practices?

How can he be evil?

Look at the whole of the review, and it’s pretty much a gut reflex of “Why, these men aren’t so different than me, in what they were doing!  And yet they’re being treated like they’re villains!”  Except, you know, you can be a businessman with great practices and still be a scumbag.  It’s called war profiteering.  It’s called slavery.  It’s called all sorts of things, and yes, it’s still business, because capitalism is not an unfettered good.

In fact, if you look at slavery, it was a very fettered evil.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

city_of_stairsCity of Stairs is the tarnish on R2D2′s dome.

Which is to say that I watched Star Wars again the other day, and what struck me about it this time around is how grungy the technology is.  The droids and spaceships are battered, they need polishing, they have the feel of a world that’s been lived in long before you came along.  They have the feel of a place that’s been used to serve a purpose other than set dressing.

And City of Stairs, Robert J. Bennett’s latest book, does that with a whole goddamned city.

Characterizing a city is one of the trickiest things a writer can do, and I can think of only one other person who does it consistently; that would be China Mieville.  Most writers sort of hand-wave a city the way they do background characters, giving it a single, easily-memorable trait – this is the city of commerce!  This is the war city!  This is the poor city! – and, if you’re lucky, a couple of districts.  And the cities serve well enough as places for the characters to exchange witty dialogue before running out into the wilderness to hack at Sauron’s bones, but there’s always that feeling like they’re not real.

You could live in Bulikov. I don’t know that you’d want to.

It’s a city that has paperwork.  And history.  And a lot of cultures sloshing around in it. It feels as grungy as C3PO’s battered brass ass, and that is an accomplishment.

The short version of Bulikov is that once, it was a magical city ruled by several marginally-sane and powerful Gods, the seat of an empire that conquered much of the known world – and then a rebellion killed the Gods, and the city fell apart.  Literally.  A lot of the architecture in the town only worked because the Gods willed it, and so Bulikov – the City of Stairs – is now this dysfunctional and conquered province, and even mentioning that the Gods existed will get you hauled into court.  The people are proud and secretive and maybe just a touch resentful that their power’s gone, maybe just a touch relieved because the Gods could rip you to tatters and were not, shall we say, stable creatures.

And of course, there is a murder that triggers an investigation.  Because plot.

I don’t mean to make it seem like the city is all the book is about, because that would be boring.  Yet Robert J. Bennett is one of the greatest fantasy stylists I know of – if you haven’t read American Elsewhere, which was the first book I read after my heart attack and the perfect book to bring me back to reading after major surgery, then go purchase that – and he writes one of those rare books where I don’t really care what happens, I just lie back and bathe in his words, let them carry me along to strange and distant lands.

But there are characters, vibrant ones – Shara Thivani, the diplomat/spy, who is determined to find out who killed her old professor, and her stoic companion Sigrud.

Sigrud, I will tell you, is the breakout star of this fucking show.  Sigrud is… well, at one point he strips naked on an icy river and greases himself up in whale fat, gripping a harpoon, and what happened next was one of the highlights of my literary year.  You need a Sigrud in your life, you really do.

In any case, for me, I’ll be honest and say that though I loved it very much, this book didn’t hit the heights of American Elsewhere for me – but American Elsewhere was one of those sacred texts where I read it and it just seemed to sync up with some hidden broadcast signal embedded in my medulla oblongata.  City of Stairs, however, seems to be on a different and perhaps more popular frequency, where my Twitter-feed has been ignited with various cries of ZOMG SIGRUD and THE GODS OF BULIKOV and people frantically intellectually masturbating to his pantheon of broken deities.

And Bennett is one of those people where I can say, quite honestly, that you can pick up any book of his and have it be good, and City of Stairs seems poised to be his breakout hit.  So get it on it today.  It’s coming out next Tuesday.  I’d get it now, if I were you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Here’s the deal: I’m going to remember the Joan Rivers who was a trailblazing comedienne, someone so strong that she transformed comedy for women almost single-handedly, a genuinely funny and heartfelt person.  And I’ll be sad she’s dead.

The other Joan Rivers, the one unleashed by the Internet?  An almost-forgotten relic of the old days suddenly reinvigorated by Twitter?  The one who seemed to thrive on the nastiest of insults, a professional troll, who fobbed off actually hurtful statements with, “Well, it’s just comedy!” and then bristled whenever anyone called her on her shit?  The reverse George Takei, the person who seemed to really thrive on getting under people’s skin and drawing blood?

I won’t be sad to see that Joan Rivers gone.

So I’ll just delight in her early success, and I’m glad she had a good life, and I’m proud of what she did to forward comedy.  Thanks for that, Joan.

The rest, I’ll leave unsaid.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You don’t really think about how monstrously useful banks are until you don’t have them.

I say this because people in ghettos – and specifically drug dealers – often don’t have access to banks.  That changes the whole way they have to live.  In Sudir Ventakesh’s excellent book “Gang Leader For A Day,” his drug dealer friend JT explains how hard it is to live when all your money is on the premises.  If you get a hundred (a lot of cash on those streets) and keep it on you, someone might mug you or pickpocket you.  Keep it in your house, and one of your roommates or relatives might take it.

Now everyone’s got some good, common-sense advice to get around – “Don’t tell anyone when you get some money!” “Hide your cash under the refrigerator!”  – but those aren’t proof against getting your filthy lucre stolen.  Sometimes it’s someone else who snitches that you’re carrying $250, often the person who gave it to you and hopes to get a cut back, and if your roommate knows the refrigerator trick, well, you’re gonna wake up to find your ass broke.

Carrying cash becomes a constant worry.  You have to be always on your guard.

And if you get real money, like a couple thousand, and you can’t put that in the bank, then what the hell do you do?  You become a full-on target when people know.  People start making organized attempts to take your cash, rival gangs or desperate bands of addicts or even just friends of yours who think maybe you’re a pushover and it’s worth pissing you off to get that $10k.  You can spread it out, give smaller amounts to people you trust for safekeeping, but what if those people betray you?

When you don’t have access to a bank, basically you have a problem that peasants have had since the dawn of time: where can you put money that people can’t beat you up and take it? 

And that’s been a problem since, well, forever.  You’ll see peasants who buried their scant piece of gold under the tree trunk in the yard, just in case the barbarians came.  Which worked well until Grandpa Joe died and forgot to tell people where the gold was, or until the barbarians tortured you until you spilled the beans, or the barbarians had raided enough villages to know all the usual hiding places.

For much of history, the “We were smart enough to accumulate a little cash to help us with future problems, now what?” has been a constant issue that people wrestled with.  And, again, there was practical, helpful advice that wouldn’t save you, but it was better than nothing: Bury it under the earthDon’t tell anybodyRun when the raiders come.

But really, the advice that truly would have helped these people is, “How can I stop the barbarians from breaking into my house and stealing all my shit?

And the answer given back then was probably what it’s given right now, which is, “That’s just the way the world is.  Only an idiot keeps a big treasure and doesn’t hire five crossbowmen to defend his life!  Everyone knows it’s foolish to amass treasure, spend it all now!”

The trick is, we actually solved this fucking problem.  Banks?  Are amazing!  I can keep, you know, a 401k worth enough to buy a house, and don’t have to worry about some douche with a gun stepping into my house and taking it all in one fell swoop!  That change has allowed for fantastic changes to society, where ordinary people can save up for retirement in a place where practically no amount of force on Earth can physically steal their cash, and we don’t even think about how safe we are these days.

That took a lot of complex societal changes.  We had to say, “We need to work together to ensure no random barbarians come and kill us.”  We had to say, “Fuck, people just breaking into homes is horrible, let’s create a police force to stop that.”  We had to say, “How do we pay for the police force to stop burglaries?” and fund them with tax dollars.  We had to say, “You know, it’s really not cool to steal, let’s create a culture that stops thinking it’s kind of clever,” and did that.  We had to say, “People who put their money in banks need to be protected from bad business practices,” and enacted all sorts of regulations and protections.

There were a thousand complex changes that had to happen for this miracle of safe savings to happen.  Some of them are more successful than others.  (And yes, maybe bank regulations are really uncomfortably lax right now, but I think we all agree it’s a damn sight better than stuffing your $100,000 retirement fund in your closet.)

There were two pieces of advice you could give:

The practical “shrug” advice to deal with the current situation.  “Bury your gold.”  “Don’t tell anyone about your wealth.”  “Just give everything to the barbarians, it’s safer than fighting them.”

The advice that actually starts to transform society to a place that fixes the problem for future generations.  “What can we build that’ll ward off the barbarians?”  “How do we make a place that’s safe for our money?”

And there were doubtlessly people who said, “Well, it’s useless to think about building something to ward off the barbarians!  There’s no guaranteed solution!”  And what they never considered was that the shrug advice was pretty shitty, too – you could bury your gold and have someone else dig it up, you could not tell anyone and still have it leak out, or you could just, you know, stop trying to acquire money and settle in for a long life in peasantry.

And that’s the advice we give about rape.

See, the thing is, on some practical level, “Don’t wear skimpy clothes!” “Don’t drink in strange places!” and that old happiness, “Don’t be alone ever with a man!” are all fine advice to reduce your personal risk of rape.  That’s reduce, mind you, because you can follow all the rules and get yourself violated – something the shruggers forget – but yes, in the day-to-day scheme of things, you’ll lower your risks of rape by restricting your behavior.

But the problem with that “shrug” advice to deal with the current situation is that, like the peasants trying to deal with barbarians, the advice to get by for today condemns women everywhere to a horrible future forevermore.  You are, in a very real sense, saying, “The world is a place where women get raped, and you’ll deal with this, and your daughters will, and your granddaughters will – an endless future of women living in terror.”

Is it any wonder women react poorly to this message?

I know y’all are trying to be helpful.  And sure, in one sense, “Bury your gold/don’t get drunk” is fine, practical advice to deal with today’s real challenges.  But in another, it’s completely abandoning the fight, assuming there’s nothing we can do as a society to stop the complex series of factors that make women unsafe.  It’s telling them that their bodies are the gold, and they can’t just choose to be poor, they’re always going to be carrying this treasure that people want to steal.

But the idea that they could one day pretty much eradicate the barbarians was unimaginable to a bunch of peasants living near Venice.  But they managed it.  It took generations, and a lot of blood, and a lot of change, and shit, as judged by a lot of the ways some people live in ghettos today (or some non-ghetto folks had their retirement funds chewed up by predatory bankers) we still clearly haven’t spread this glory to everyone, but damn if we as a society didn’t work up some solutions a fuck of a lot better than “Hide your gold.”

So when you give advice to, say, Jennifer Lawrence of “Don’t take nude pictures ever,” you can.   Just realize what you’re doing is shrugging and saying, “I don’t feel like we can change the world ever to make it safer for people.”

Then look back at all of history.  Look at the millions of people who died to getting burned by their cooking fires, and realize how easily you’ve tamed flame in your own kitchen.  Look at the millions who died due to unsafe water, and look at how easily you can pull yourself a glass of cholera-free drinking water in your kitchen.  Think of the millions who died due to plague and disease and broken bodies, and go to your local hospital and take a look around.

Think about all the miracles we’ve worked, things like the bank that you fucking don’t even consider because, well, it just works.

Then contemplate what kind of future you can build.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

This is big news: my debut novel Flex will not be coming out at the end of this month.

It will, instead, be arriving on April 6th, 2015.  (Or, if you’re in England, you get it on 4/2/15, you lucky dogs.)

I’m sorry for everyone who was looking forward to cracking open my words in a few weeks.  But if you’re in the publishing industry, you know that six months from acquisition to publishing is an incredibly tight turnaround time for a book – a compressed timeline that depended on everything going perfectly right, which it did not.  The good news is that this means that Angry Robot will have time to get out ARCs to more reviewers, and tweak what’s shaping up to be a breathtaking cover.

(I should also note that if you go to Amazon and B&N and Powells, it appears they do not know of this changed date yet.  They have been informed, but it’ll take a few days for the information to percolate through their system.)

There is a hidden upside to this unexpected shift, though – when I sold the book in April, I’d already committed all of my vacation time for the year to my Italy trip, meaning that I could only get in a handful of release parties.  A 2015 release date means that I can plan an honest-to-God book tour, which will involve probably doing multiple cities over the course of a few weeks if I can manage it.  So if you want me to come to your fair town, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.  (The preexisting events at Borderlands in San Francisco and the Word bookstore in Brooklyn are still on – we’re just renegotiating dates.)

In the meantime, if you’d like to wet your whistle on Flex, you can go to my official book page and read the praises from the authors who’ve liked it well enough to give it a blurb - which currently includes the all-star roster of Seanan McGuire, Cherie Priest, Dan Wells, James Patrick Kelly, Ken Liu, Mur Lafferty, John Scott Tynes, and Robert Jackson Bennett.  Also, if you’re a book reviewer who wants an advance copy when it’s ready, contact me and I’ll make sure to put you on the list.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you’ll recall, my wife and I got drunk on a heady mixture of MasterChef and the Food Network, and decided to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants this year.  A Michelin Star is like every other award in existence – which is to say that it claims to reward “the best,” while covertly defining “the best” to be a narrow range of tastes.  (If “the best” movies are Oscar winners, then comedies and horror movies apparently suck.)

Michelin defines “the best” to be expensive, hard-to-prepare food with attention to detail and impeccable service.  Which generally implies pretty good food, but it leaves out, you know, that clam shack down at the beach that serves perfectly-steamed mussels taken straight from the ocean.  Yet still, when we dined at Babbo (one star), it was still one of our top ten restaurant experiences ever, and La Terrazza del’Eden in Rome was also very good, so…

…we had to upgrade.  Enough with these paltry one-star restaurants.  Let’s see what two Michelin stars gets us!  And so we booked a meal at Sixteen in Chicago.

Now I will walk you through our meal, which was overwhelming on every level. Thirteen courses of food.

Dinner at Sixteen

Sixteen clearly set out to dazzle from moment one, wherein they laid out a map of Chicago’s waterfront and laid out the menu in little plastic blocks. The menu, which changes seasonally, is a very upscale version of surf and turf, and each course was a melding of seafood and the meat district that Upton Sinclair helped make famous. This was all to hide the reality that when you came to Sixteen, you ate what the chef damn well felt like making from you, but it did lend a festive Lego-style atmosphere to the dining.

Dinner at Sixteen

Now, the surprise appetizer course was utterly adorable, in that they said, “We’re at the beach now, so we’re having a picnic” and laid out all sorts of little picnic foods for us. This was a great start, because every mini-food on here was quite above the cut:

  • The mini-sandwich was tomato, Italian ham, and mozzarella, if I recall, and it was perfect.  Every bite brought out the tomato and the meat and the cheese and the toasted bread in a different combination, a little tooth-inspired dance of flavors and textures interplaying with each other, so this was good right up through the last swallow.
  • The quail legs were dark meat, and I usually don’t like dark meat because it’s monotone and oily… but this was firm, cooked well, and seasoned so that it had a wonderful texture between the crispy skin and the salted meat.
  • The potato chip had a tiny piece of smelt actually woven into the chip, which was a piece of starchy sewing that we could only admire, and what that got us was a slightly soggy potato chip that melded quite nicely with the salty fish taste of the smelt, so what you got was kind of a crunchy fish with a sharp burst of salt around the edges.  Awesome.
  • Finally, there were sangria popsicles.  Which were the disappointment.  They weren’t like sorbet, as we’d expected, but rather creamy, which I suspect was some sort of chemical adhesion so they didn’t melt instantly while we were eating sandwiches.  But the cream in the center completely obliterated any sangria flavor – if you hadn’t told me, “Hey, this is supposed to be sangria,” I would have thought it to be some sort of bland fruit pop.  Still fun, but meh.

This came with a tiny glass of sweet peach tea and whiskey, and boy did that work well.  The only complaint I had about that drink was the glass was very small.
 

The remaining eleven courses, with photos, cut for your mercy )

So Was It Worth It?
Look, Sixteen was worth a mortgage payment and then some.  We’ll be paying for this sucker for some time.

The relevant questions are: a) was it the best meal we ever had? and b) was it significantly better than the one Michelin star meal we had?

The answer as to the Michelin star question is unquestionably no.  When you’re paying as much as a used car to get your meal, you want flawless service, and there were a couple of significant bobbles – the wrong foods being given to the wrong people, the forgetting of a drink, and unforgivably, giving us the wrong check.

It is very hard to be moral when someone gives you a check that is worth several hundred less than you actually owe.  It’s even harder when they go “Whoops, our bad” and bring you the full check, with nothing written off on it, no discount for this honesty.  Hey, the cheese tray was $35, you coulda given that to us for free and we would have felt moral and frugal.  As it was, I don’t exactly mind paying full price, but the restaurant really hit home just how much this cost, leaving a tremendously sour taste on the way out the door.

But that aside, I was of two minds: I personally don’t mind a bobbled check, or having to switch plates with my wife when the wrong dessert arrives.  But when I’m paying premium price for what is, literally, world-class service, getting elementary mistakes becomes a weird question: Should I let this slide? I mean, I could buy a large portion of a woodworking workshop for what I paid for this meal, and part of that cost was the promised flawless service.  And what I got was very good in many ways, but world-class?

No.

Now, it could be that Sixteen no longer deserves its two-star rating, and we’ll see them slide down to one star next year.  (Ratings are dynamic things, you see.) It could be that they had a bad night.  Either way, though, I paid about $200 above what I paid for Babbo, and Babbo was not exactly cheap.

As for the food, Gini rates it the best meal she’s ever had.  Me, I’d rank two above it: Victoria and Albert’s in Disneyworld, and Babbo in New York City.  This was a very good experience, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know if Michelin was correct on this one.  There’s also the fact that, frankly, both Victoria and Albert’s and Babbo tend to be conservative in their meal choices, whereas obviously Sixteen had some playful experiments that were aiming higher and fell harder.  (Agnolotti is hard to do, but you have a clear idea of what the perfected state of it should be; more difficult to find the perfect porktopus.)

So I liked it.  Very much.  But the expense really carved the edge off.  Were this the same price as a Babbo meal, well, I woulda said this kicked the crap out of Babbo.  But value enters into the equation, and with that much on the line, well, I’d probably go with Babbo again.

Still very good.  Memorable.  Awesome.  But spendy. Let’s see how other restaurants compare, once we’ve grown back our meager savings.

Oh, as an extra bonus, here’s how I looked in The Suit that day:

The suit.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

….as a reminder, tomorrow at 1:00 I shall be at:

Sheffield’s
3258 N Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL 60657

In case anyone local wants to say hi.  I believe we have one confirmed attendee, as all the others have fallen sick or turned out to be unavailable.  But you are welcome to show up and say hello to me anyway; I’ll be the guy in the hat and the fine Italian suit.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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