Grandma and the Medicine Men

Arizona sunsets don’t mess around.

My grandmother Betty, from my mother’s side of the family, had some great stories of strange things she witnessed and experienced in her life. Most of them are intertwined with the Arizona desert, as she lived many, many years in a hilltop house a few miles outside of Winslow, AZ. While some of the finer details of this one are fuzzy (due to nobody ever writing them down), the main bit has always stuck with me.

Everett, my grandfather, was an art teacher as well as a skilled jeweler of desert stones. He was especially fond of Navajo (Diné) jewelry made with turquoise and silver, and through this he came to know some Navajo artists who eventually became friends of the family. They both had great respect for Navajo people and culture.

Sometime early in their marriage in the 1950s, Betty suddenly had some kind of health issue. This is where my memory gets fuzzy, because I can’t remember exactly what was wrong…but whatever it was, it was fairly serious and her doctor’s treatment wasn’t doing much to help. With some desperation, Everett reached out to his Navajo friends and asked them if their medicine men (tribal healers) could help.

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Is pointlessness the point?

I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions.

Robert Anton Wilson

I vaguely remember when death used to be this abstract, far-in-the-future thing that I didn’t need to think or worry about. These days, at age 50, I think about it quite a bit. People I know and love are dying with more and more frequency (I actually just learned of one today), and eventually it’ll be my turn. I keep having grim thoughts like: “Will I go before my husband? Will he be OK without me? What if he goes before me? We don’t have kids and we don’t live close to family — am I gonna die alone? Will I go peacefully in my sleep, or after weeks/months of pain? Who will remember me 10-15 years after I’m gone? It’ll be like I was never here at all! Like, death is unfair, you guyyyyyys!” (That was my best whiny teenage voice. You’re welcome.)

At the same time, I feel a stab of guilt for even having the audacity to expect my memory to live on. I haven’t done anything great or noteworthy to earn that. And what a privilege it is to be able to contemplate this stuff when so many are suffering in the world, struggling to even survive. Just who do I think I am, anyway? Bad Dobby, bad!! *slap*

But honestly, I think most of us have these thoughts at some point. Contemplating your death can be healthy, or so they say, because nobody escapes it…but if you dwell on it too much, life can turn into a nihilistic “What’s the point in doing anything??” slog. And the past few years I’ve been feeling that way a lot. Probably more than I should. Hell, it’s taken me six months of stopping/starting/rewriting this post to finally finish it, because I keep hearing Bette Midler’s voice whining: “Why bother?” (She really nailed it with that bit, folks! It’s hilariously apathetic.)

It can get more complicated when you don’t believe in God or things like Heaven and Hell, as in my case, because sometimes it feels like your existence boils down to “I’m a bag of meat on a rock hurtling through space.” Which itself may not be 100% terrible, depending on your attitude… But I need more than that. And looking back at the books I’ve been reading the past few years, it’s pretty obvious that I’m searching for a more optimistic view of The End™.

So here are some thoughts I’ve been having on all this stuff. I’ve come to believe that being atheist or agnostic on religious topics doesn’t mean your mind must be also closed to…other things. Just like there are 500 varieties of vegetarians, there are 500 varieties of nonbelievers. Sorry, that’s probably a crappy comparison but you know what I mean.

My philosophizing is armchair-level at best, so maybe expect kiddie pool wading vs. deep dives…

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Gadget graveyard

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at purging junk when things start to pile up too much. Except when it comes to gadgets, that is! Some bring back memories of a certain time of my life, some are oddities that were hot for 5 minutes before vanishing from the market (anyone remember the MiniDisc?), some made an impact on my life in some way…and some I just really enjoyed using. I also think it’s fun to look back at old gadgets and see what made them popular, and what’s replaced them since. It’s a mixture of things, but overall they just appeal to my geek side and I’m not quite ready to get rid of them, even if they’re just sitting in a box in the garage. (Some of them I did get rid of, which I now regret — see “Gone but not forgotten” at the bottom.)

Not my actual gadget pile.

Does this mean I have a gadget hoarding problem? Maaaaaybe.

Anyway, a few years ago I decided to round up all the old gadgets that were sitting in various junk boxes and see what I ended up with, and here’s the more interesting stuff I found. I’ll present them in roughly the order I had/used them, just to be all organized and stuff.

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What happens in Amsterdam…

NOT an exaggeration.

Based on my travel journal from 9/15/2006.

On our way back to the hotel we passed a mushroom shop, and I really wanted to check it out.  The shop was amazing inside, designed to look like the inside of a giant melting tree.  They had just about every kind of mind-altering drug you’d ever want, and the mushrooms were all laid out in a case with little cards detailing what kind of trip you could expect from each.  Some were high on visual effects and energy, others gave more of a “brain high”, and others were a mix of other things.  After talking with the sales guy, who seemed very knowledgable, he recommended “philosophers stones” (psilocybin truffles) since we had never taken shrooms before and they usually gave a smoother experience.  So I bought two packages of those, at 13 grams each.  He fetched them out of a refrigerated case — apparently it’s only legal to sell fresh shrooms in Amsterdam, nothing dried — and we headed out.

We stopped by New York Pizza for dinner (piping hot and ridiculously huge slices), and then went back to the hotel and took a nap before launching into hyperspace!

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Learning to say “nope”

Quick note: this isn’t the same grandma from my earlier post. This grandma is from my Dad’s side. Grandmas everywhere!

When we were kids, my brother and I had a weekly routine. Rather, it was our parents’ routine: they’d drop us off at our grandparents’ house every Saturday evening, where we’d have some Grandma & Grandpa time, stay the night, and go to church with them on Sunday morning. More accurately, they would go to church and we would go to Sunday School. Afterwards, my brother and I would walk home and enjoy the rest of our weekend. It worked out well — our parents would get Saturday nights off from the kids, and our grandparents would get some time with us. (Our parents were what we’d call “spiritual but not religious” today, and definitely not the go-to-church types.)

This was the weekly routine for years, until one morning when I was 10 or 11. I woke up and just didn’t feel like going to Sunday School. The thought of getting dressed up and sitting in the church basement doing Bible-centered “activities” was suddenly the last thing in the world I wanted to do. So I informed my grandma that I was just going to hang out and wait for them to get back from church. And boy, she was not pleased with this development.

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Frown

RuPaul’s new song “Smile” is a rake dragged across the chalkboard of my soul. It’s pure, cold-pressed, thrice-distilled, artisinally-autotuned peepeecaca. And that’s what I get from just the first minute. I didn’t get further than that before furiously closing the tab, bleeding from both ears. Somehow this song manages to encapsulate everything I loathe about a lot of today’s popular music, which is pretty impressive, so…congrats? Even the video (linked in the article) is kinda lame, looking like someone shot it live on Zoom. What happened, Roople? Also, get off my lawn!

Anyway, NPR recently featured this song on “Now Listening” and read it to absolute filth. They listened to it so you don’t have to! I do love a good public service.

RuPaul, ‘Smile’

The most egregious rip-off comes in the form of the third track, “Smile,” a song that could be mistaken for a karaoke version of Charli XCX’s “anthems” if I heard it from outside of the club. To say the song is exactly the same would be an insult to Charli: It’s like if Mamaru’s producers heard how i’m feeling now and tried to recreate it from memory after a blackout-inducing hit of poppers. Everything feels lifted, from the overprocessed Auto-Tune to the jittery synth riff in the chorus.

Note: I sometimes call him Roople just for fun. We’re big Drag Race fans, despite the very real possibility of burnout from all the international variants…

At last, my petty annoyance has been validated

For at least a decade, whenever I see an article/blog post/whatever ending with “Wait, what?” I feel two things: 1) Contempt for the writer’s lazy, clickbait approach to headlines, and 2) sudden, irrational rage.

I can’t really explain why, but there’s just something about seeing that stupid phrase tacked to the end of a headline that makes me roll my eyes hard enough to see the back of my skull. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it done LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF TIMES, and it stopped being amusing after the first two or three.

But after so many years of personal anguish, I finally know that someone else out there feels my pain! Behold: the 2022 list of misused, bullshitty words and phrases that everyone (including you) should stop using:

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So…real-life Quidditch is a thing

I should say this up front: I’m not a sports guy. I don’t follow sports at all, it’s just nowhere on my radar at any time. I’m the guy who never knows when there’s a Big Game™ on, and I don’t know what team is from where, or what they even play. And if asked, I honestly couldn’t give two shits about this team leading that other team in the 4-3 zone at the bottom of the whatever while the backcourt defense runs offensive interference for the tight-end shortstop with 7 hours left on the clock. I played a few when I was younger, though — leading up to high school, my parents made me play at least one season of baseball, football, and soccer before they finally relented and just let me be the band nerd I was meant to be.

When it comes to sports scenes in movies or T.V., I’m just as indifferent. (I do enjoy those Ninja Warrior shows, especially the UK and Australian ones. Do those count?) Even fictional sports like quidditch or pro-bending on “Korra” are pretty ho-hum to me. It just feels like an interruption in the story, you know?

However! When I spotted some recent headlines about quidditch teams, I had to stop and read more to make sure I wasn’t just having a senility moment.

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Paging George R.R. Jordan…

We recently watched an old episode of the fantastic and sorely-missed “@midnight”, and there was a joke about George R.R. Martin still not having his next book finished.

This episode aired OVER SIX YEARS AGO.

We’re never getting that book, folks. I have a feeling he’s gonna pull a Robert Jordan and leave us all hanging!

Bomb threat pranks: what could go wrong?

Ridiculous video “challenges” have been around for years, mostly on Instagram and YouTube. Remember people eating detergent pods and poisoning themselves? And choking to death trying to swallow mouthfuls of cinnamon? And licking public surfaces to get COVID? And pouring boiling water on sleeping friends? And “surfing” on top of moving cars? Good times! For idiots, I mean.

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Grandma and the merchant

One evening, while visiting my grandma at the age of three or four, I ended up on her lap (as I often did!). I began to feel a little drowsy, and as she rocked me and stroked my hair, my eyelids began to droop. I wasn’t sleeping, but somewhere in that in-between place. My grandma, being open-minded and curious, chose that moment to gently ask me if I remembered who I was…before.

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Twitchin’ your life away?

Here’s the story of a guy who makes millions of dollars by streaming his videogames every day for 10 hours. He has no other life to speak of. No friends, no relationships other than a girlfriend and a mom he pays to bring him dinner every night (seriously). Just gaming and sleep, and trips to the gym so he doesn’t turn into a mouse-clicking blob of biomass. And depression, and paranoia, and exhaustion, and stalkers. But apparently allllll the attention and huge paychecks make it worth it. Kind of. Maybe?

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From the mouths of bears

Well, that can’t be good.

I am not easily scared by a movie these days. I went through my teens on a steady diet of horror movies and Fangoria magazines, and over the years I’ve absorbed tons of scary movies/books/shows, so few things really get to me anymore. But a scene in one particular movie really hit me a few years ago, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had such a visceral reaction. Not only was it terrifying in a visual sense, but on an existential level as well.

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Music formats: a journey of inconvenience

Warning: rambling ahead.

Memory time!  In the 70’s, my dad was a DJ at the Los Angeles mega-station KFI (his call name was Roger Collins — he passed a few years ago but his legacy lives on via his Facebook page).  My brother and I still lived in Arizona, but my dad would mail promo LPs to us when they went out of rotation — so as kids we had a steady stream of cool records coming to us, which was how we enjoyed a lot of music that was otherwise hard to come by in our little country-music town.  We had a lot of records by a lot of popular bands, but I remember The Bee Gees and Donna Summer most.

This is exactly what I had. ‘Cause I was classy.

I mostly grew out of LPs when tapes came along. I loved buying them, but I loved recording them more. I kept them in those ugly-ass plastic cases with the fake wood look. Several of those were needed, mostly because of all my horrible mixtapes… It’s kinda funny to think about this now, knowing I’d later be listening to so much music in so many new ways, and also having to find a way to store (and re-store) it all.

Side note: even after getting to tapes as a teen, I did still listen to a lot of records when I discovered 12″ remixes.  This was long before the 90’s came along and ruined remixes for me almost forever — they’d take a song you loved and completely annihilate it, leaving barely a lyric or two to remind you of the original.  But I digress…

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Game savin’

Videogames, especially on home consoles, have had a massive impact on our culture for decades. If you’re old enough, you remember when they suddenly came onto the scene and forever changed how we use our T.V.s. If you’re young enough, you’ve never known a time when videogames didn’t exist. Knowing all this, why wouldn’t we want to preserve older games for future generations to enjoy, as well as appreciate for their historical value? Predictably, two of the main obstacles to this are rights-holders and money. But gaming geeks have been finding workarounds for quite a while, and they’re finally getting some support from one of today’s biggest gaming companies. It’s about damn time!

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A facepalm 30 years late

In my late teens I wrote some dumb freeware games for the Atari ST computer. They were just silly fluff, but fun to make and somewhat educational programming-wise. One in particular was a bit on the tacky side and is best left forgotten (though it had a decent number of downloads). Aside from that, I played a ton of games on that thing and had a blast.

Cut to today. I’m able to emulate the old Atari ST on my modern PC and run all those games I used to play. So I downloaded a ridiculously large collection of games and started digging thru and playing my old favorites.

And then I spotted it: that tacky game I made in 1990, the Gulf War one that would be borderline offensive it wasn’t so completely dumb. Right in there with far more respectable titles. They even included screenshots and the original doc file I wrote for it…both of which include my full name and address in AZ where I used to live with my parents. OMG. 🤦

Naturally I did some searching to see if the game surfaced anywhere else, and behold: some French guy actually “reviewed” it on YouTube a few years ago. He thought it was as dumb and pointless as it was meant to be. It’s also pretty difficult, and I have to admit feeling a little smug watching him try to play it. (No, I’m not linking to the video!)

Why couldn’t it have been one of my other games, like “Zit Blaster”? Or its inevitable sequel “Zit Blaster II: Revenge of the Whiteheads”?

Digital ghosts

This is a re-worked and updated 2016 post from my other blog.

In November 2014 I got on Facebook and there were all these messages posted to a friend’s profile saying things like: “Steve, why??” “What happened?”  “i miss you my best friend.”  I thought “WTF?”, with a sinking feeling.  Many more messages followed, referring to him in the past tense, and finally it hit me that he had taken his own life.  For weeks afterward, people posted messages on there as more and more people found out about it.

Coming to terms with his death and that horrible sense of loss was one thing — but this business of someone’s Facebook profile staying active after their death, and people posting messages to it (and each other), was something new for me.

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