Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wii Wii Wii All The Way Home

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I'm in the "wired" generation, though I'm on the tail end that secretly pines for simpler times when software came on 5.25" floppy disks. As such, I am now proud to announce that C. and I finally added the required gaming system for our "why do these new game controllers have so dang many buttons, sonny?!?" demographic a few weeks ago: the Nintendo Wii.

In a vain attempt to make this thing seem like a practical purchase instead of just a way to bowl virtually with Weebles (pardon me, Wii-bles) that look vaguely like us, we also bought EA Sports Active: More Workouts to turn our Wii into a cross between Dance, Dance Revolution and the world's weirdest (and loneliest) aerobics class. However, before I could even step up to the challenge of jumping in one place in my living room with a Wile E. Coyote ACME rubber band, I had to create the Tron-jock version of me. Hairstyle, hair color, skin tone, weight, outfit type, outfit color, shoe color, accessories, glasses... okay, I'm exhausted. Workout one done! Time for a snack.

The next day, I fired up the machine, took a look at the pixellated me, looked down at the flabellated me, and realized that rather than design some wild who-I-want-to-be in the game world, I'd generated a pudgy guy with no hair wearing black shorts, a gray t-shirt, and biker sunglasses... in other words, an exact match for boring old reality. I grappled with the ramifications for a while... am I already my idealized self? Or have my dreams been so dulled that I can no longer imagine myself as more than what I already am? What does "identity" mean in our interconnected virtual world, anyway? All that grappling wore me out, so I counted it as workout two and took a nap.

Of course, Day 3 didn't mean I was ready to work out just yet. I still hadn't selected the virtual trainer who would guide me through my daily routines. The game offered two options: Studly McAbs, the drill sergeant with a heart of gold; and Buffy the Endomorph Slayer, the perky pixellated dominatrix. (Note to Electronic Arts: You didn't name the trainers, but the names I used are for sale -- call me.) One attempted workout with Studly barking orders was enough to induce junior high wrestling flashbacks, so I quickly submitted to the cruel-yet-dulcet-toned whims of Buffy instead. I started to ponder the Freudian implications of that choice (so you'd rather be yelled at by a woman? how does that make you feel?), but then I realized that pondering was a lot like grappling (something I'd done plenty of the day before) so I really needed to cross-train a different muscle group.

Finally, having chosen my identity and the identity of my tormentor, I was ready to work out. Each exercise was introduced in a short video featuring the non-pixellated, real-person pile of perk that Carla and I have come to know as Smiley. Where normal humans grimace during a workout, Smiley flashes an orthodontist's-boat-payment worth of gleaming teeth. It's disturbing. Nobody should enjoy exercise that much. But she has served as a great incentive to learn all the exercises so I can skip the videos.

Once I escaped Smiley, I figured I was in a no-perk zone. Not so fast, pal. Turns out, Buffy has a virtual encyclopedia of canned motivational phrases and she's not afraid to use them. For instance:
  • "This is what good looks like!" Huh? You mean what you're doing, as in, "Hey, dummy, what you're doing is bad. Here's good." Or are you somehow complimenting me? And how can you see me, anyway? Maybe I'm just lying on the couch waving the controller around to psych you out. Or did you already know that? Spooky...
  • "Oh yeah!" C'mon, are you the Kool-Aid Man? What's that all about?
  • "You don't seem to be making progress." Just what I needed: A passive-aggressive virtual trainer politely calling me a clumsy lout.
  • "You're on the way to reaching your goals." This has to be the least motivational thing I've ever heard. What am I, some kind of fat, step-aerobics Sisyphus? Just tell me when I actually reach my goal so I can stop and eat a cheeseburger. 
After about a half hour of jumping around the living room to that, I collapsed into a dripping heap, convinced that I was going to die with a Wii-mote in one hand and a Wii nunchuck in the other while Buffy performed CPR on my lifeless avatar. But despite such an inauspicious beginning, I have managed to drag myself through several workouts since then. I'm not exactly ready to un-pudge my virtual self just yet, but I must grudgingly admit that I've seen some small progress. There are a few tough, stringy fibers running through my fat layers that -- according to WebMD -- are called "muscles." We'll have to see if I can develop enough of them to do me any good once bike season kicks in. 

Now where did I put that bowling game again?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meet My Midlife Crisis

For some guys, it's a car. Not me.

For others, it's a woman. Definitely not -- got a darn fine one of those already.

You might think I'm getting ready to describe a bike, right?


My midlife crisis is this job at the Des Moines Bicycle Collective. Even though I really like my current job.

Please, could some incredibly qualified, passionate bike person step up and fill this thing ASAP? I fear that if it stays open too long, I'll start getting stupid ideas like, "Well, my 401k is in the can anyway, and health insurance is overrated, and besides, I'm sure the bank would be more than happy to let a couple mortgage payments slide from time to time..."


Monday, February 15, 2010

Random Notes From The Road

Alas, fans of bicycle-related writing, it's yet another off-topic post. Feel free to shout "Digression!" at me in the comments section (he said, in a lame attempt at a veiled homage to the late, great J.D. Salinger.)

Better Half and I just spent the weekend with my sis, bro-in-law, mom, and the World's Greatest Pair of Nephews (Wacky Wilson and J.T. #2) to celebrate the littlest dude's first birthday. This was the first time we got to see the not-so-tiny one (the younger J.T. eats like his initial-sharing uncle, I kid thee not) getting around on two feet. He is also the LOUDEST happy baby I've ever seen -- imagine noises of contentment as played through a Marshall stack. Elder brother is also more of a hoot every day. It's so much fun to watch the tiny gears grinding as he pieces together almost-3-year-old logic.

I confess, though, the most fun I had was tagging along with my "little" sister (just two years my junior, though she'll always be a third-grader in my head) as she directed her State-bound pep band at a basketball game (this not long after her kids made a KILLER showing at the All-State music festival). It was a proud moment for the older bro watching his all-growed-up sis as a professional educator and the leader of a darn-tight musical ensemble. She's good. Really good. Although she did have a brief lapse in judgment when she let me sit in on bass for Smoke on the Water. I count myself lucky that I was able to start and end at the same time as the rest of the band, and I'm hoping nobody noticed the middle. Let's just say I've gotten a little rusty since the days when she and I went to state with our high school pep band (which can be seen on the periphery during the movie Hoop Dreams -- no, I'm not kidding!)

Better Half and I also got to celebrate Valentine's Day at the Hamburg Inn, a legendary Iowa City greasy spoon. I'd link 'em, but they seem to be addicted to astonishingly annoying Flash, and who needs that? Just ask anyone who's ever been in or around Iowa City -- they'll be able to direct you. Anyway, as non-romantic as Valentine's Day diner food sounds, the Hamburg was the site of our second date way, way back before the turn of the century (we were still using dial-up modems to get on Web 1.0 back then, if you can believe that), so it was a worthy choice for a made-up holiday. After a decade and a half, this amazing woman still hasn't noticed that she's married to a balding gnome-dork -- I think there may be an ongoing problem with her glasses prescription. If you happen to know her in real life, please don't let on.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Buddy, This Ain't A Phone Booth

Two early warnings. One, this post has NOTHING to do with bicycles. Two, I'm probably going to sound like Andy Rooney. It can't be helped.

So I'm getting ready to enjoy a lunch with Dear Spouse at one of the local Panera Bread joints. The place is pretty crowded, but D.S. scouts a table in a packed corner while I wait out the grub. When I sit, she gives me a look that -- being tuned to the same frequency after 12 years of marriage -- I correctly interpret as, "Please do not say a word, because I'm really listening intently to someone else's loud cell phone conversation, and you're going to want to listen too." Our brains really work like that. It's sweet yet kind of sad.

Here's the thing. I like living in a connected world. I like that I can drag a laptop out of The Cycle World Headquarters, set up camp at a coffee joint, grab their wi-fi, and make silly words appear on the Interwebs. I like that when I fell down and cracked my femur like a wishbone, I had a device handy that could summon paramedics within minutes (a cell phone, not an "I've fallen and I can't get up!" button). We don't have a land line, the 21st century's answer to the rotary-dial phone (kids, ask your parents). We are firmly in the wired generation, though more toward the "phones with big buttons" end of it.

With all that said, please explain to me WHY anyone would choose to have the following conversation (paraphrased slightly, but both D.S. and I can corroborate that it's very true to the actual found dialogue) loudly in a crowded restaurant:

"You really screwed the pooch."
 [inaudible response on other end of call from -- I assume -- the pooch-screwer] 

"How much did you spend on strippers yesterday?"
[inaudible again, though apparently this person's carnal interests transcend canines]

"That's $600. You know what I did with $600 yesterday? I got glasses for me and my wife."
[ah, so we've answered the previous question -- and determined the exchange rate between pooch-screwing at the gentlemen's club and professional optometry]

"Your boy's still in diapers. You know how many diapers you could buy for $600?"
[great, the pooch-screwer has reproduced -- just what the gene pool needs]

"When somebody asks your son where his dad is, do you want him to say that you're with the strippers?"
[wasn't paying attention to his answer here, as I was still trying to work out the pooch-screwing/glasses/diapers story problem in my head]

"How old are you now?"
 [geez, wonder if this guy knew how much math he was going to have to do for a 2-pair-of-glasses/undetermined-number-of-diapers trip to see naked ladies]

"When I was 24, I was shootin' Eye-rack-ees."
[Gulf War 1.0, I assume -- though I'm starting to feel like this guy is the type to just hop a civilian 747 to Baghdad and go all Rambo-style free agent, which only adds more fun to the imagined backstory]

NOTE: At this point, an older gentleman at the next table pipes up to his wife (with more volume and sarcasm that my passive-aggressive "I'll just blog about this later" pansy self would have ever dared), "Oh, so he was shootin' Eye-rack-ees!" She shushes him.

"Because I care for you, and because I used to DJ there and I know the guy who owns the place, I called him and got you banned there for a year."
[even I don't know what to do with this one]

Now part of me feels kind of bad sharing all this (and part of me worries that my snark will somehow make it back to Panera Rambo who will hunt me like the sniveling blog-weasel I am), but it's not like I opened the guy's mail or something. He was pretty much shouting in a small space filled with total strangers, as if somehow his phone plan included unlimited soundproof bubble minutes. If anything, I feel bad for the pooch-screwer, who probably had no idea that he was on quasi-speakerphone having his life choices and parenting skills dressed down in front of a lunch crowd.

I have no point. Other than maybe this: Interested in writing fiction? Don't worry about coming up with creative stuff. Reality is much better, and it usually falls in your lap when you're just trying to enjoy a tasty sandwich.

Extra-special thanks to my wife for the memory assistance -- and more importantly, proving yet again why we're together. I never dreamed I'd be lucky enough to marry someone who shares my sick and twisted appreciation of schadenfreude*. Peas in a pod, we are. 

*Don't have a useless and/or pretentious postgraduate degree in a liberal arts field? Wikipedia can help, as can the -- WARNING, NOISY LINK THAT'S NOT SAFE FOR WORK -- musical Avenue Q. Proof that I have a useless and pretentious postgraduate degree in creative writing? I spelled "schadenfreude" correctly without looking.