Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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My grandfather

It’s completely optional, of course…but if you’d like to help me make my grandfather’s day, I’d appreciate it. Read on to find out how.

I’m lucky enough to still have my paternal grandparents in my life. I know they won’t be here forever…and I don’t even know how much longer they will be here. It’s a thought that frightens and saddens me, because they’ve been there for me more than anybody else I’ve known. They’ve supported me, encouraged me, and been family to me even when it felt like I had none.

I care about them. And on June 4, President Obama is flying my grandfather out — along with many other veterans — to see the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It’s something called an Honor Flight. I don’t know all of the details. But I do know that my grandfather fought in that war, and never got to see the memorial.

He was injured in the line of duty, and only a few years ago did a congressman manage to award him the Purple Heart he earned, which had been held up in red tape. I wrote a bit about it here. I had no idea my grandfather was even entitled to one. He didn’t talk much about the war. There’s probably good reason for that.

Anyway, I don’t know all of the details about the Honor Flight, but my grandmother told me that I could write something for him to be delivered (or perhaps read) at the event. Again, I’m hazy on the details, but either way, I’m going to write something.

I know readers here don’t know him. But I also know that readers here would understand that I wouldn’t be talking about him at all if he didn’t mean a lot to me.

So if you want to write something, anything, even if it’s literally nothing more than “Thank you for your service,” please email it to me. His name is Philip J. Reed, Jr.

I’m sure he would appreciate any words of thanks, especially on a day like that, when a lot of memories are going to come back to him.

If you’d like to send something, please do so by Wednesday, May 25. I’ll print out whatever I have and send it all together.

Thanks in advance. I appreciate you guys.

MASH, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen"

Fake Plastic Teeth

February 8th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (4 Comments)

BIRD

I’m mainly writing this because I didn’t want my last post to stand for too long on its own, lest someone assume I…y’know.

I didn’t.

And, honestly, I’ve been doing pretty well this year so far. I write about depression because it helps me to voice things, and to get them out…and because every single time I do, somebody writes in and thanks me for saying what they haven’t been able to articulate themselves. If anyone, ever, feels just a little less alone when I open my mouth and talk about it, that makes the discomfort and difficulty of doing so worth it.

But things have been quiet for a couple of reasons, neither of which is depressive! One, the writing of a new novel project, which I’ve already talked about. Two, SEVERE DISCOMFORT.

See the photo above? That was taken two days ago. It might be the only time you get to see my mouth full of teeth that aren’t actually teeth.

I had dental surgery on my birthday (five hours of dental surgery…), and for the next two weeks or so, I’ve got a fake set in there. They’re over my real teeth, so, don’t worry, I didn’t pull a Pnin or anything, but they’re there until I can go back to the dentist and have my work completed.

It’s…odd so far. They feel much different in my mouth, and it’s often painful to bring my teeth together. The rest of the time, there’s just a feeling of vague discomfort. And eating under these conditions is, to borrow a phrase, exquisite torture.

I’m more or less on an all-soup diet, which might be good for my weight but bad for my sodium intake. Who cares. Life is just a long balancing act involving the thousands of things that are trying to kill you, anyway.

Much more excitingly, I bought some of that liquid astronaut food Facebook is always trying to sell me, and I look forward to eating something that doesn’t have CAMPBELL’S written on the label. I’ll report back if anyone’s interested to know which color sock it tastes like.

So, dentistry. Needless to say I’m bedridden and miserable. Right?

No! Look at the fucking picture! I met birds!

Things are fine. I feel, on the whole, great. But, oddly, writing is more difficult.

I can’t really explain why that is. I don’t know. But when I sit down to write (articles for this site, pages of the novel, even emails and texts to friends) I end up making loads of easily avoided mistakes and typos. The pain doesn’t bother me, really…I’ve felt far worse…but I guess it’s just enough that it distracts my mind. It’s strange that a pain so relatively mild can still interfere with your ability to do good work. Or, at least, work you can be proud of.

So I’m here. I’m still working on this. I’m not violently depressed or in oral agony. I’m just full of soup and typos. And appreciation for readers who allow me to make fun of a sex-crazed puppet one day, and open up about depression and mental health issues the next. I don’t know of any other site that could get away with that, and I really do appreciate all of you.

It means the world, and I’m always glad to see folks sharing posts like that and discussing it on their own. I’ll say what I say. It may not apply to you, or help you. But I truly, genuinely hope that discussing it does.

Anyway, one final footnote for now: yesterday I attended The Balki Bowl, which was a live-streamed event in which eight episodes of Perfect Strangers, along with vintage commercials, music videos, and other curios, were screened with live chat.

Sound familiar? It’s a total coincidence, I’m sure, but that was pretty Xmas Bash!!!-like, and I think I might have found my technical solution for the Bash!!! moving forward.

…at least, potentially. We’ll try out this new platform for the Project: ALF live stream, and I’ll definitely ask for your opinions then, but, for now…it looks promising. So get excited! I’m already putting together next year’s torturous playlist.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed your Super, Puppy, or Balki Bowl of choice. Thanks for being beautiful.

Every God-Damned Day.

February 4th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (9 Comments)

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I made a new friend recently. She struggles with depression. It’s part of why we get along, I’m sure. It’s part of why I get along with most of the people I get along with. She asked me if I struggle with it, too. I told her the truth: every single day.

It’s unfair. I know that. I’m down on myself and rarely see beyond my own, many flaws, but even I know that it’s unfair the way my mind treats me.

Does it have to be every day? Is that really necessary? Do I deserve to have to fight every single day I’m alive just to be okay? Does anyone deserve that?

I don’t think anyone does. And yet, I know I’m not alone. I know it isn’t just me. If it’s unfair that I need to struggle, to fight, to work hard just to keep going every single god-damned day of my life, how much less fair is it that so many others do, too?

I don’t mean to oversell it. Some days aren’t as bad, but it’s always there. And I win plenty of battles against myself, but the victories are small, and fleeting. The losses are devastating.

With depression, you don’t fight to win. You fight to survive. At some point, for many people, you lose enough times in a row, or hard enough, or unfairly enough, and you stop fighting. I don’t blame anyone who stops fighting. I know it’s hard. I know how it feels. I know lying down and giving up seems like a very tempting prospect at times. To be honest, I wonder if I’ll ever do that. To be more honest, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if I did.

It’s hard. It doesn’t end. You never win. You just fight it until you lose for good.

Another friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago if I’d be dead if it weren’t for my writing. The answer I gave him was more conversational. The actual answer is yes. Yes, I would.

Writing is my weapon, I could say on certain days. On other days, I’d say it’s my defense. Whatever the perspective, I need it. Whatever the perspective, it’s all, sometimes, that I have.

Birthdays are difficult for me. Holidays are difficult for me. Compliments and kind words and presents and people who wish me well are all extremely difficult for me. I’ve worked very hard for everything I have and every inch I’ve gained, and still my mind is unsatisfied both because I could have more, and because I might not deserve what I do have.

There’s no progress. There’s no advancement. There’s change, but no way forward. The struggle is inside. I can change the outside as much as I want, and it means nothing. The inside is where the battle plays out, endlessly, continuously, starting over every day.

Every god-damned day.

I take a few days every year for personal reflection. It’s around this time, which is convenient, because I tend to isolate around my birthday anyway. It’s rough for me. It’s rougher for many others.

I have friends. I have friends who care and who understand. I have the funniest, sharpest set of readers and commenters on the internet, as far as I’m concerned. I have an audience. I write some piece of crap, and people read it. People read it! That’s miraculous. I’ve known writers, and know writers, who would kill for that.

I have a passion. I have a weapon or a defense or whatever you want to call it that keeps me steady. Something I can turn to when I’m feeling at my lowest that helps me to get back to a healthier place. I have people I can talk to. I have a steady writing job. (A writer with a steady job! That‘s miraculous.)

I have so fucking much, and other people don’t. They don’t have that. They face what I face — and worse — every god-damned day…and they don’t have what I have. They fight harder than I or you could ever know, just to make it through a day. And then the next day comes…and they have to do it again. Depression is a Sisyphean punishment. The boulder always rolls back down. Every god-damned day.

I’m sharing this here because you know at least one of those people that’s worse off than I am. I have a voice, and some small platform. They don’t. I have the strength, for whatever reason, to talk about the difficulties I have. They don’t.

It’s my birthday today. I’m thirty-five. If I live another thirty-five years, I’ll have struggled with depression and actively fought it for 70 years. 25,550 god-damned days.

So, do me a favor today. Okay?

Reach out to someone.

Someone you care about.

Maybe you know they have problems of their own. Maybe you have no idea.

But reach out.

Okay?

Just let them know you care about them, and leave it at that. If you want to be really great, let them know you’re there if they ever need somebody to talk to.

It’s a small gesture. I’m not asking for much. They aren’t, either. And you’re not going to change a life.

But I can promise you one thing: you’ll make their day a little easier. And when you struggle for 365 days out of the year, you feel every day that’s “a little easier.”

Thanks in advance, on behalf of someone who needs you right now. You can make a difference, and be a hero, just by reminding somebody that they aren’t alone.

It’s Just Another Year

January 1st, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta | personal - (1 Comments)

New Year

It’s just another year. 2015, 2016, 2014. What’s the difference, really?

Probably nothing. It happens. December 31 is one day, January 1 is the next day. There’s no significance aside from whatever we decide to give it.

Big deal.

But…here we are. Celebrating — or at least acknowledging — it anyway. And it’s difficult to resist looking back at what the previous year has been. People say it’s better to look ahead to the next. It probably is. That doesn’t really change anything; nobody knows how things will work out.

2015, if you’d like to know, was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had. I try hard not to turn this into a personal blog, and, largely, I succeed at that. There’s no reason to keep that stuff out of here — it’s my site, after all — but I like the fact that I can turn to Noiseless Chatter as an escape. As something apart from whatever else it is I’m dealing with at the time…even if I inevitably have to go back to it.

A new year is a new year. It means nothing and feels like it should mean everything. When 2015 started, I was in probably the best situation I’ve ever been in. About halfway through, that changed, and I was probably in the worst. Month to month, week to week, day to day, you never really know what to expect. A few years back I made all the wrong decisions and ended up in a very bad place. No surprise there. This year I made all the right ones…and ended up in a very bad place anyway.

What’s the moral? What’s the lesson? Why bother? Isn’t it easier to be a shit? A miser? A pain in the ass? If you end up in the same place…why do it the hard way? Why put your trust in people? Why hope for anything? Why work for anything?

It’s all fleeting. At best you find what you wanted and keep it until you die. More likely you don’t hold onto it that long, or don’t find it at all. In the end, does it matter?

Of course it matters.

Of course it matters, and it matters because you don’t know how things will work out. I started last year high, found myself low. But you know what? I ended it in a good place again. Just as things can pivot and change for the worst tomorrow, they can pivot again the day after that.

Everybody’s going to experience their ups and downs. Bad things will happen to good people and good things will happen to bad people. So why bother being good? Because when you’re good, you deserve those good things. And when you’re good and bad things happen to you, people will be there to help. That’s the difference. It’s not karma or any kind of cosmic balance that’s gone askew. It’s life. And you’re going to go through the worst things imaginable, no matter who you are. The difference is that if you’re good, people will be there to help you through those times. And if you’re good, you’ll be there to help them as well.

This year won’t be any easier than the last. It might even be a little harder, for all of us. We’re all older. Our metabolism is slowing down. We’re closer to grey hair, or no hair. We’re closer to death.

2015 is over, and none of us are getting it back. If we had a shit year and want to try again, too bad. If we had a great year, too bad. It’s gone.

Do something this year.

I don’t care what it is. Nobody but you should care what it is. Do something.

If it costs money, spend the money. If it costs time, invest the time. Because this is it. Whatever amount of time you have left on this planet, it’s decreasing. That arrow only points in one direction.

Figure it out. There’s something that will make you happy. What is it? What’s stopping you from getting there? Figure it out. Now. Do it. There will never be a better time. There will be less time, but never a better time.

We live in a scary world. We live in a confusing world. Above all, we live in a world that has no interest in our personal definitions of fairness.

Figure out what you want to do, and do it. Do it for you. Nobody else in the world is going to do it for you, so do it for yourself.

Maybe the thing you need is really getting rid of something else you don’t need. Something holding you back or breaking your spirit or slowing you down. Maybe getting rid of that thing will hurt somebody you don’t want to hurt. Maybe that’s still for the best.

One day you’ll die, and that’ll be it. The things you did are the things you did, and the things you didn’t do you will never do. If you died tomorrow, would you be satisfied? Why not? What haven’t you done? Why aren’t you doing it? How can you get to the point that you’re doing it?

Do it. One day you will die, and the odds are good that it won’t be on your own terms. It won’t be when you’re ready. It won’t wait for you to get around to that thing you’ve always meant to get around to.

There’s something out there that you want. Go get it. If it’s not something that will impress anyone else, or is important to anyone else, good news: it’s your life. You’re doing it for you.

Do it for you.

It’s just another year. 2016, 2017, 2015. What’s the difference, really?

Probably nothing. It happens. December 31 is one day, January 1 is the next day. There’s no significance aside from whatever we decide to give it.

So give it some significance. New Year’s Day is, if nothing else, a very useful reminder of how quickly an entire year of your life slipped away.

Make it a big deal.

The First Fallout

August 17th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal | video games - (1 Comments)

Not the First FalloutTo date, only three games have ever sold me a console. The first was Metroid Prime, which convinced me the moment I played it on a store’s display that I absolutely needed a Game Cube. The most recent was the announcement of Persona 5 a couple of months ago, which resulted in me breaking down and buying a PS4.

In the middle there was Fallout 3, which sold me an XBox 360 based entirely on the strength of its trailer. A trailer that, as far as I’m concerned, represents a masterclass in games marketing:

Watch it if you haven’t already. It’s more than just a commercial…it’s an introduction to a universe, one hilarious and horrifying, foreign and recognizable, insane and mundane in equal measure. Was I foolish to buy a console based on a video whose centerpiece was a live action dark comedy sketch? Of course. I definitely was. But I gambled, because if the game was even a fraction as clever and interesting as I hoped it would be, it would have been worth it. (Spoiler: it was unquestionably worth it.) (Double spoiler: the animated sequences seem to presage the recent mobile game Fallout Shelter! Pretty neat!)

Now Fallout 4 is coming, and I’m thrilled. And it’s had me reflecting on my Fallout experiences past. I’ll write up some of them, maybe, at some point. And when Fallout 4 gets here I’ll probably never shut the fuck up about it.

But one of my strongest, deepest memories comes from the first Fallout game I’d ever experienced…one released long before Fallout 3.

And it wasn’t Fallout 2. Or Fallout Tactics. Or the Fallout game you see pictured above. No, this predates that as well.

Years ago, there was a game called Fallout, which was entirely text-based. You could only play it online. Indeed, that was the draw and not a limitation.

Back then (1995 or so) you were pretty limited in what you could do on the internet, and unless you wanted to wait for days on end (not an exaggeration, at least not with my connection) most of what you could do was text-based. Music and films and glorious pornography were still available for download (legally and otherwise), but you’d better hope your phone didn’t ring before Thursday if you actually wanted the file to download properly.

Fallout was a discovery I made, but I can’t remember how. I passed it on to a few of my friends, and for a while we played regularly. It was a post-apocalyptic RPG, similar to what the proper Fallout series would become in tone. In fact, the first time I saw the version of Fallout pictured above, I thought it was a cheap ripoff. I didn’t play it; I was just appalled that somebody would so directly plagiarize (right down to the title!) a game I knew so well.

Obviously it’s now clear that similarities were coincidental, even if there were more than a few of them. But at the time I felt somehow wronged, like I’d witnessed a crime I couldn’t report.

Anyway, when I introduced my friends to Fallout they’d play for a while, get bored of it, and move on. Which is what I did as well. But one of my friends, Dave, took to it more enthusiastically than the others.

I don’t know why. I couldn’t begin to explain what the appeal was for him. He was an amateur survivalist, so maybe he saw it as a chance to flex his muscles in that regard. He told me a story once of a time he ran away from home. He packed a survival guide that his parents were dumb enough to give him, took all their pots and pans, took the shower curtain, and hiked deep into the Pine Barrens. He walked for most of the night, having to shed bags and belongings as he grew more tired. Eventually he went home, but was unable to find any of the stuff he left behind on the way out. His parents needed to buy all new cookware.

He and I played Fallout a lot. There were many players online at a time, and you could communicate with each other either publicly or privately. He and I worked together to gather up good gear and get a lay of the land. It worked well. His character’s name was Superfrog, and mine was Banner. I can’t really explain either.

I seem to recall the game taking place in New York, but I could be wrong about that. I do remember that an early-game gathering point was Reagan Square, and whenever you died you’d respawn near that landmark. I saw it a lot, I think.

It was a safe area, and you could barter and talk without much worry. When you felt ready, you could venture out to other areas (including a difficult one based on Army of Darkness, which I never saw because I probably maxed out at around level 15, and one that housed an extraordinarily powerful enemy named after Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider) and hope you came back alive. I remember my weapon of choice was the Translucent Blade, which, in my imagination, looked great. I found a few weapons that were stronger, but I kept going back to the Translucent Blade, because none of the others looked as cool in my own mind. Even in a game that was entirely text-based, looks mattered.

One night I logged off after having played, I’m sure, far too long in one day. The next day I logged back in, and Superfrog was already there. He was also joined by a second character Dave created, called Holyfrog. This one was a healer. There may have been a third. Dave had essentially built his own party in several windows. And they were all something like level 50.

He’d been playing, without a break, all night.

Somewhere around that time, I said some foolish, and probably rude, thing about one of the other players. His character was named Benj. I never knew if it should be pronounced Benge or Ben Jay. But because I impugned his manhood he teleported me to his location — a restroom in one of the game’s restaurants — and pounded the crap out of me. Every time I escaped (I typed “unlock door” “open door” and “w” an awful lot in the course of those few minutes) he’d zap me right back. It was hopeless. He killed me.

I respawned at Regan Square and tried to find my corpse to regain all my gear. He was waiting, and killed me again. I wasn’t getting any of it back. And I stopped playing Fallout not long after that. (Maybe…20 seconds after that.)

But it was fun while it lasted. For Dave, it lasted the better part of a year.

He became obsessed with the game. It was all he ever talked about. He found some other high-level players and took down Pale Rider. He was so proud he emailed me the log of that session, as though it were a photo of himself standing next to the bass he just caught.

He loved Fallout. And it got to be pretty scary.

He stopped going to high school. He stopped sleeping. His younger sister emailed me or IM’d me at some point to ask me to come over and get him out of the house; he didn’t do anything but play Fallout anymore and it was driving her insane. I was in love with that girl, and I’m sure I harbored plenty of fantasies about her contacting me and inviting me over, but the circumstances were not exactly what I was hoping for.

He’d eat, but he wouldn’t talk to his family. He just wanted to finish quickly and get back to Fallout. He ran out of sick days at school, and dropped out. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Eventually he got his GED, which is good. But at the time he was exclusively studying Fallout, which was bad.

Christmas came and went. His family had to force him (physically force him) into the car to go with them to pick out a Christmas tree. He sat with his arms crossed, grumbling for the entire ride, and refused to get out of the car once they got there. He waited in the cold car with no heat, willing them to hurry up and pick a fucking tree so he could go home and play Fallout some more.

At some point, he stopped. I don’t know why. Maybe his parents had him lobotomized. I honestly don’t know, and we don’t keep in touch so there’s no way I can find out. But for such a stupid game, some text-based nonsense that was little more than an accumulation of pop-cultural debris and mindless grinding, it was the closest thing to outright obsession I’d ever witnessed.

His family hated Fallout. If they knew that I was the one who introduced him to it, they probably hated me for that, too. For them, like for me, that whole period must seem now like an odd waking nightmare. Nobody talks about Fallout — that Fallout — anymore. Hell, nobody talked about it then, either. It was some niche little curio stashed away on the fledgling internet, when word of mouth was still about the only way anyone found out about anything. Dave was singularly obsessed with something most people didn’t know — and will never know — even existed.

And it’s odd. Because every time I hear about Fallout now — the major, popular Fallout — my mind thinks back to that black text on a white screen. Reagan Square swarming with newbies. The imaginary heft of a Translucent Blade in my hands. Benj summoning me repeatedly to the bathroom for an asskicking. Being introduced to Holyfrog and Crazyfrog or whatever he was called as the earliest manifestations of Dave’s eventual madness.

I always need to recalibrate my thoughts. Someone mentions Fallout, and as much time as I’ve spent with the proper games, I don’t picture Ghouls and Super Mutants. I don’t picture Deathclaws and Radscorpions. I don’t think about Vaults or the Wasteland.

I think about a game that I’m reasonably convinced none of you knew existed before this post. I can barely find information about it online, and I couldn’t even find a screenshot to use with this article. What little space it occupied in the cultural memory has been almost completely overwritten by the far superior, true Fallout series.

But for me? That can never happen. I remember the original too much. I remember the way it affected someone I actually knew, in a world I actually occupied.

They say Fallout 4 will have around 400 hours of content.

That’s nothing. You could probably play through that game without even having to drop out of school. It’ll never be a patch on the original.

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