September 2006

OK, kids, so it’s storytime with Uncle Robust.

First, check this: Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida – not just any ol’ Republican, but the chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, who introduced bills earlier this year designed specifically to punish online predation of children by adults – resigned today because the media got hold of some emails he’d sent to a Congressional page and some instant messaging logs that included such winning lines as “Do I make you a little horny?” and “You in your boxers, too? … Well, strip down and get naked.”

I just hope we all realize how much classier it is when we get our sleaze from a “values conservative” like this. No well liquor here, ladies and gentlemen, this is top shelf, Grade A+ pervy hornball behavior. This cradle-robber wears a tux to dinner at the golf club, and don’t you forget it.

So, there’s the setup. My reaction: this guy deserves zero pity. Closet case? Too fucking bad. Step into the light with the rest of us and then stand there and call yourself a “values conservative,” buddy, because you know what I value? Honesty. Maybe that’s just a liberal thing, I dunno.

The other reason why he deserves zero pity is why it’s time for story time with Uncle Robust. Oh, damn, now that sounds really, really creepy. OK, nobody has to sit on my knee. If The Boyf wants to sit on my knee, hey, no problem, but the rest of you can shove off.

Anyway, here’s the story: when I was 18, I spent my Winter Break from UNC working in my hometown. The job was a short-term gig working for a company that produces criss-cross directories for municipalities. If you’re unfamiliar with the criss-cross directory, it’s a reverse phonebook. They’re used by emergency services and other first-responders, and often by journalists, to look up the identifying information attached to a given phone number. Sometimes you can find them in your public library; they’re very expensive to purchase, in part because they’re expensive to produce and in part to try to keep them out of the hands of the general public given that they contain a great deal of personal information (is the home to which a number registered owned or rented, is the resident employed full or part time, where, etc.). Back when I had this job, the company hired by my hometown to produce the updated criss-cross directory was required by make the new volumes for sale to the public, if I remember correctly, but the price for private purchase was absurd. I can’t actually remember those details because this was, what, 15 years ago? The job I had was to go door to door in my hometown, verifying or updating the information from the previous edition, produced several years before. It was a pretty standard survey job, but once we got to the nitty-gritty details (do you work business hours or another shift, how can you be reached at work in an emergency, if your house is owned do you still have a mortgage payment – very personal information) then we got a lot of doors slammed in our faces. It was demoralizing, but it was easy, I spent all day walking around, I got a lot of fresh air and I made $5/hr which was a damned sight better than going back to the research farm for a few weeks if they even had any work for me in December.

My boss – a full-time management employee of the company hired by my town – ran the show, and he hired exclusively teens for the job. His job was to go from town to town, spending a few weeks at a time in each one, assembling and training the local temps and then closing up shop when the project was concluded. I would guess he was in his 50’s at the time, though to be honest I’m not sure I’d recognize him if I saw him on the street.

His son, who was in his late 20’s, was his assistant manager. He handled a lot of the office stuff, taking calls from the people who would call to verify that our questions were legit, or to complain that we were bothersome and nosy; he also took applications from walk-ins for the few weeks they’d be hiring in a given town.

They both, I shit you not, hit on me.

It started with the father, who had come out and picked me up on my assigned route and on the way back went out of his way to graze my knee with his hand, then put his hand on my knee for a second while he apologized, then asked me what I liked to do on Friday nights. I was shocked, because as naive as I was I knew exactly what was happening. You don’t have to watch many episodes of Perry Mason to solve that mystery, y’know? So there I am, grossed out and glad I only have a few days left, and glad to get the fuck out of the car when we get back. He’d spent the entire time making increasingly uncomfortable conversation – filled with pregnant pauses and hesitations in all the right places – and I wanted out of his sight.

I had something to do at the office that afternoon – maybe that’s why he picked me up? I honestly can’t remember – and ended up sitting up there alone with his son, the assistant manager. His son asks a very similar question – what did I like to do on the weekend? Then he stands up from the banquet table “desk” he’s using, unzips his pants, lets them drop halfway to his knees and proceeds to “tuck his shirt in,” very slowly. Just standing there in his underwear with his jeans shoved down, pointing his junk at me as he talks, asking questions that are innocent enough on their own, I guess, but still – dude’s junk is eye level and six feet away and he’s pointing it at me, standing there tucking the back of his shirt into his pants as though his pants are anywhere in reach.

I’ll be the first to tell you that this was not, actually, very traumatic. In part I think that’s because I’m a guy and as such I had a false sense that sexual harassment would never happen to me, and was kind of naively immune to it when it did. In part I think it’s because I was too dumb to think about it very much. Mainly I was just really squicked by them and stunned at how pathetic they were – they’re running a crap show like this, and the highlight of their week is to wave their dicks at a chunky hick like me, in this town? Please, gods, these guys needed to get out more. Just sad.

When I was done with the reports I was doing – I think I remember now, we used to have to go through at the end of the day every two or three days and mark any information from the old data that was now outright false, numbers or addresses that simply didn’t exist, for example, because they seeded the data with bad entries to make sure we were actually doing our job – I handed it all to the assistant and said, “I can’t come back tomorrow. Today was my last day,” or something like that. Now that I think about it I might have done one more day. I remember telling them I was done, but I don’t remember whether it was immediate. Like I said, it’s been a few years. At any rate, whatever I said, it wasn’t eloquent or witty or smart or in any way indicated why I was quitting, but I sure as shit was quitting because of these two jokers.

I don’t even think they knew they were both doing shit like that, and I don’t think for even one second that I was the only one to whom they did it. In fact, I would expect I was one of the last on the list – we were nearly done anyway, and we’d had a pretty high turnover rate of employees, so they had probably trotted those tricks out for everyone else already.

And that, my friends, is why I hope Mark Foley has a long, quiet break from public life. I’d like him to spend some time coming to terms with who he is and where he’s gotten himself, and I’d like him to spend just a little time, at least, sweating over what other skeletons are about to spill out of his closet.

Update:  My favorite part of MSNBC’s story?  Hastert knew but didn’t do shit to Foley about it:

The page worked for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who said Friday that when he learned of the e-mail exchanges 10 to 11 months ago, he called the teen’s parents. Alexander told the Ruston Daily Leader, “We also notified the House leadership that there might be a potential problem,” a reference to the House’s Republican leaders.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Friday he had asked the chairman of the House’s page board, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., to investigate the page system. “We want to make sure that all our pages are safe and the page system is safe,” Hastert said.

Saturday night I was fortunate enough to witness the start of a new era for the Carolina Rollergirls – the use of Dorton Arena to host the ever-growing matches and, most especially, the ever-growing crowds. With seating for 5,000 and half the stadium open to fans, the place sold out. 2,500 seats, people. Plus track-side seating. I don’t know how many people were there, but we were many, and we were loud. Take a look at the CRG main page, linked above – the montage of photos is from before the bout started. Take a gander at those stands, filled with screaming fans. This was intense, and easily the best roller derby I’ve seen yet.

First off, the important thing: Carolina whupped the Sin City Rollergirls 127-65. Yes, 127 to 65. The lop-sided score hides just how good the beskated ladies of Las Vegas are at the game, however. They are a team of serious, athletic and very physical players with some amazing teamwork. Oh yes, they’re rough, too. I mean, c’mon, their nickname for themselves is “the Neanderdolls.” Much like Minnesota, the Sin City team play hardball – as amply demonstrated by Trish the Dish, who could skate on one foot with both arms tied behind her back and probably bite someone’s ear off on her way by. Here’s the thing – word on the street is that Trish is super-awesome, and that’s good, because when she’s on the track she is scary. Come to think of it, that’s good, too. I’ll confess I yelled some unkind things from the stands, something I choose not to remember, but no matter what anyone thought of her style – including the refs, who tossed her in the penalty box for two minutes for insubordination after they ignored a couple of blatant fouls against her and she let them know about it in a very direct way – she was all anyone could talk about after the bout. Our gang’s traditional post-bout burrito klatch talked nothing but Trish the Dish. She was the topic on everyone’s mind – we all knew who wore #99. Girlfriend, you can’t buy a solid rep like that.

Of course, the score tells the ultimate story: while Sin City was good at bogging jammers down coming through the pack, Carolina put together some of the most physical blocking I’ve seen in any bout. Mad-At-You might as well have strapped a saddle to Trish at one point, riding her all the way through Turn 3, into Turn 4 and right out into the crowd while the Carolina jammer sailed past. Roxy Rockett took turns on both defense and offense, surprising everyone by not scoring lead jammer a few times but surprising no one by immediately passing the jammer as soon as she was free of the brick wall the Sin City girls are so good at putting up. The star jammers of the night were Princess America, whose locomotive run and single-minded focus on scoring points stood the Carolina Rollergirls in good stead, Violet Femme – who was in top form, just speed and agility on the track – and finally Eris Discordia who, I swear to the gods, must surely be wearing fake skates to move the way she did on the track.

Here’s the gods’ honest truth: I don’t know how she does it, but she is the master of the fake-out. I have no idea where her center of gravity is, but she can dodge like she’s going to go right and then go left instead without appearing to even consider her own balance. It’s like she’s a running back who’s jogging on foot, not a jammer who’s in skates and moving at twice the speed. Here’s a tip, though, Eris: keep the elbows out of the face of the opposing pivot. Getting away with it doesn’t make it look any nicer and Trish the Dish didn’t look like someone I’d go out of my way to piss off.

And speaking of pissed, if you want tickets to the next bout you might go ahead and buy them now or you’ll be pissed at yourself for missing out. Even with the move to Dorton, all things derby are best done ahead of time: buying a ticket, getting in line, hitting the gents’/ladies’, lining up for a soda and, most of all, buying a beer. You know it’s a big crowd when it manages to drink Dorton dry. I do not lie, gentle reader, when I tell you that the roller derby crowd managed to drain Dorton of its last drop of brew by the beginning of the third period. Might I remind you that Dorton used to be home to a hockey team? This is not some church lobby unused to the ravages of a thirsty crowd.

Next bout at Dorton: November 19, vs. Providence Roller Derby, ranked 11 in the nation. Don your red and black if you’re going to cheer for the right team…

Now, surely if you have read this far you are wondering what the hell the title of this post is supposed to be about. Here’s the thing: I mentioned to apostropher that I’d just been to a derby bout and he pointed me to a post at Twisty about derby. One of the many quotable quotes:

Take, for example, that, despite the Rollergirls’ impressive skaterly talents, the “sport” is only nominally about skating. You have already guessed what it’s actually about, but I’ll tell you anyway: sex. That’s right, sex, only not real sex, such as the kind we could all be having if Hugh Hefner hadn’t ruined it for everybody, but phony sex as defined by the horndog ideology of the pornocracy.

Also, this:

The Texas Rollergirls are packaged as raunchy lumps of lower-class hetero feminine fun for an audience whose expectations adhere to a pre-programmed narrative affirming one of patriarchy’s most beloved bogus dichotomies, the bogus virgin-whore dichotomy (at the virgin end of the spectrum, proto-porn figures include Barbie, Wonder Woman, and Miss America). No matter how much fun the skaters are having—and it looks like they’re having quite lot of it—the fact remains that anytime a bunch of women change their names to “Lucille Brawl” or “Apoca Lippz,” squeeze into purple hot pants and set about grabbing each other in front of a crowd that’s paid $12 a head to see the sex class on wheels, patriarchy takes over. It dictates that women can’t own this experience, since according to patriarchal code, women on a stage are by their very nature commodities to be consumed in a purely sexual context by male voyeurs. Hence the glamorshots of the skaters on the website, the Playboyesque biographies, the plaid-skirt-and-white-cotton-underwear capitulation to juvenile male fantasy. Whoever these women are in real life, and regardless of their stature as genuine athletes, for the purposes of roller derby fan consumption, they are all of a type: loose-moraled proto-whores.

The pornocracy? I’m sorry, but I’m not finding that one in my Funk & Wagnall’s. Check the comments, as apostropher suggested to me, for the real action. See, these people watched movies about derby made in the ’70s, so now they’re experts. I’m so glad none of them had to be bothered with experiencing any portion of it first-hand in order to form their opinion! Now, pardon while I rework a comment I’ve already left on another blog into a post of my own.

The thing is, maybe that’s what it’s like in Texas. I’ve never seen them skate, though they have a reputation for being even more physically intimidating and much tougher than other leagues, but for all I know they really just skate around in little plaid skirts and wave their asses at anyone who happens to be standing around with their hand in their pants. So, I don’t know. What I do know is that skaters here in NC tend to view what they are doing as a very serious sport first and, if they consider a political message or subtext or theme, they think of derby as a sort of warning shot fired across the bow of any sexists who might be around. There are definitely skaters who see what they are doing as the utterly legal and in many additional ways similarly smarter equivalent of extremely violent protest in favor of sex and gender equality.

Now, I’m neither so gay nor so blind as to pretend that there is no element of sexual play or expression in derby. However, it’s at the initiative of the skaters themselves. No one requires it of them, and they do not all engage in it. Each skater sets her own standard of behavior, and it is 100% the skaters who set the tone of the bout and the crowd follows along – not the other way around.

Twisty throws in the $12/head thing, leaving it open to infer that skaters get paid to play, and a commenter comes along and states that explicitly. However, they play derby as volunteers. They train every day, they scrimmage, they practice, they volunteer, they sell tickets, they advertise, they do fundraisers, they do every bit of the work and no one is getting paid to do so. They do it because they love the game. Do some of them love it because they are, for some fans, the focus of sexual attention as well as sports enthusiasm? Maybe so – I don’t know, because I’ve never played the sport. And even if they are, isn’t it okay for a self-respecting and respected woman to acknowledge her sexuality?

If it’s not okay for a physically and psychologically powerful and empowered woman to express her physicality and her mental prowess in an arena – metaphorical and physical – which is set up and controlled by that same woman and her teammates, in a sport run by and for women, then when is it?

If it’s not okay for there to be expression of sexuality by a woman who is in total control of how much or how little she decides to make her participation an example of sexual play, when is it?

If a woman facing and overcoming her own limitations and working for years to increase her own skills and abilities and being respected and admired for it is misogyny, then what isn’t?

If it’s not okay for women of all sizes and shapes to step onto the rink and earn the respect of their peers and their fans, where and when and how should they work to achieve that level of respect?

Twisty makes it sound like it’s Miss America on fast-forward, that there is no substance whatsoever to the game. I would be interested to see Twisty tell that to a rollergirl who’s spent the last couple of years sweating day in and day out to hone her skills, learn the strategies, learn the tactics, the management skills, the skills required to be managed, run the committees, do the heavy lifting – well, anyway, I’d be interested to see Twisty say that to a rollergirl’s face. I’m willing to bet the response would be something along the lines of, “Oh yeah? Strap on the skates and let’s go.”

Even if I leave aside the simple falsehood of Twisty’s characterization of derby – I have never seen a fake or preordained fight in a bout, have never seen a faked injury, have seen enough friends on crutches and canes and limping for weeks to feel confident that this sport is for real and the scare-quotes around “sport” are just snobbish bullshit – it’s still patently condescending to the women involved. To go to two bouts and then announce that the Texas Rollergirls “are packaged as raunchy lumps of lower-class hetero feminine fun” doesn’t just denote a complete lack of understanding or empathy, it indicates total condescension. Who’s telling whom what role they’re allowed to fill, anyway? Who’s defining women’s role in sports in this situation? Who’s using the virgin-whore dichotomy to pigeonhole everyone involved, to paint with a too-wide brush? Believe me, I’m thrilled that Twisty is around to point out the patriarchy where it looms, but sitting there on the interwebs and patting them on the head and telling that that even if it’s fun they have no idea how it hurts them is, itself, offensive.

And, in the end, Twisty does a lot of telling us what’s wrong with derby, but what alternative is offered? If this isn’t empowering, what is? If this isn’t a real sport, what is? What’s real sex? What’s real equality? If it needs to be torn down, what shall we build in its place?

I’m not sure what life under the pornocracy looks like (though I’m sure the music sucks – ha ha) but I’d be surprised if it’s derby. Twisty suggests that it’s a bunch of trailer-park GAP models getting dolled up to be ogled by rednecks for money. As I’ve said, no one gets paid to skate and the women are of diverse body styles, intentions and presentations. So what about the crowd? Yes, there are rednecks there – it’s NC, you’d be hard-pressed finding someplace without a couple of them – but there are also parents & grandparents of skaters, children of skaters, husbands of skaters, wives of skaters, bikers, goths, thugs, chavs, yuppies, Bible-beaters, drag monarchs and sports writers. [/jameswatt] It’s not a bunch of drooling misogynists with one hand down their collective pants. If it were, I’d be awfully surprised by the participation of my skater friends who see what they’re doing as making a public and very fun statement of empowerment. And, yes, there’s a lot of class and educational diversity among skaters – some never finished high school, some have Master’s degrees – but none of them are dumb (the game requires too much of both strategy and tactics, too quick a mind, for any good player to qualify as “dumb”) and any element that makes them “raunchy” or “lower-class” is either purely ironic or entirely in the eye of the beholder.

And really, that’s the core of it, isn’t it? Twisty went to one bout and apparently loved it. She went to another and all of a sudden it was all Hugh Hefner’s fault (side note: why give that sad old lech so much power over sex? if you don’t like the way he defined it, define it yourself) and “inane.” Now, given what I’ve seen of CRG, and given what I’ve heard about Texas’ sustained mastery of the sport, I’d lay one dollar down on the side of the table that says it was not that the game was different from one bout to another. The only interpretation I can come up with is that Twisty went looking for a reason to hate it and this is what came of it. At any rate, given that the skaters I know are intelligent, articulate people – how many athletes do you know who go out to dinner after a game and wind up discussing art films? – I don’t see many of them marketing themselves as “low-class” or “raunchy” without a tongue firmly tucked inside their cheek. If ironic raunch doesn’t undermine the patriarchy, what does? If ironic play doesn’t subvert the dominant paradigm, what does? That there’s a skater with the name “Barbie” is so self-evidently ironic, so obviously, on its face, an effort to make fun of the idea that a woman has to have lethally constrained physical dimensions and an idiotic smile on her face, that I cannot help but assume Twisty has chosen to ignore the irony and the play and focus on whatever Twisty wants it to be.

Nice way to live up to the pseudonym, there.

If Twisty is choosing to ignore the realities that make it harder to turn derby into one big patriarchic fuck-fest, how is derby supposed to defend itself? Arguing with someone who ignores inconvenient facts is impossible; trust me, I’ve had the misfortune to talk to conservatives and other nutjobs from time to time and it is just impossible to get through their reality filters. So, out the window goes rational debate; out the window goes a sensible and honest interpretation of derby; out the window goes respect for skaters who’ve given years of their lives to becoming better and better at this sport and want nothing but respect for their work.

So why am I bothering to defend them, and why does it get my knickers in such a knot to see them attacked at random by someone who clearly does not or will not take into account the realities of self-awareness and self-expression and personal initiative involved in all the cultural codes on display at a derby match? In part it’s because I suspect Twisty and I would agree about a lot of things and so I find it vaguely unsettling to find her in possession of an opinion which so plainly does not reflect reality. Mostly, however, it’s because I know women to whom this is the most important thing that’s ever happened. I’ve watched a little girl ask a player for her autograph and beam when she got it, like meeting a rock star. I’ve seen friends who had no intention of joining the team strap on their skates for the first time in ten or twenty years because just being around women who are working that hard and being that honored for it is inspiring.

Yes, there are mountains of inequality in the world. We could devote every day of the rest of our lives to eradicating inequality and live a million years and we’d never see the end of sexism or hate or fear because that’s just how it is. That there are terrible things in the world does not necessitate that derby be ranked among them. That there are injustices in the world is not remedied by undermining the efforts and the self-respect and the community some women achieve in a sport that some people don’t enjoy.

Derby builds confidence and respect and authority and cultural capital for every woman involved in it. Tearing that down does nothing to assault the patriarchy. It only tears down the women who play the game, and the men and women with genuine respect for those who do.

Oh, interesting note: there is an entry for “pornocracy” in Wikipedia. It describes a time in the 10th century CE when the Catholic Church was viewed as being under the control of a number of powerful women who were pulling the strings of the popes. I don’t guess it really qualifies as ironic, but I certainly find it interesting that Twisty would use as a pejorative against derby – a sport played and controlled by women, with no one’s satisfaction required except their own – a term originally coined to mock women who were feared for wielding real power, on their own terms, shaping and directing an institution so frequently used through history to hurt women rather than to help them.

But what the hell do I know, anyway? I’m a gay guy. I’m not about to lay odds on whether that makes me A-OK or simply patriarchy^2.

So, here are some before and after screenshots of my User Interface for World of Warcraft.

Before: Setherax, my Dwarf Hunter.

After: Setherax, alone, in a small party and in a large party. And yes, he totally has a pet boar named BossHogg. Just try and tell me that isn’t awesome.

While I’m at it, here are Leeritan (Night Elf Druid) and Brawk (Human Warrior) after the switch.

The main point of this change, for me, was the ability to move and resize buttons in the interface, eliminate bars that were not entirely full, and (in the case of Setherax) create some white-space in the bars so that I could break apart various functions to some degree. Note that traps are at the far right, tracks slightly in from there, then the middle is occupied entirely by combat, spell and trade buttons. He’s a Hunter, so he has an ass-load of buttons. Note the pristine beauty of Leeritan’s tidy buttons in comparison, however – or Brawk, whose screen is practically naked.

Nice thing about Leeritan’s: the bottom row switches out to shapeshift-based abilities when he swaps forms.


I have a previously never-confessed fear – a deep and mortal fear – that I will one day bite my own tongue off while sneezing.

Every time I sneeze, I am stunned and sort of tingly because it hasn’t yet happened.

Watch this.

But don’t watch it at work, or at least wear headphones if you do.

(Oh shit!  It’s Dr. Tran!)

Have you seen Bascha’s pictures of Dorian? Holy. Cow. My brain just blew a cuteness fuse.

Also, the whole Fortuny thing. That link goes to a Wired blog, from there you can get to the (ahem) raw data if you want. In other words, the link in this post, the one you’re reading right now, is work-safe, but anything past there is totally uncharted territory. My take? Fortuny’s a tool and I don’t wish actual physical retribution on him but I do expect he’ll spend a while hiding behind someone or another’s couch every time he happens to see some huge ‘roid-hound looking his direction at the mall, and he deserves every ounce of fear he suffers for it. I mean, seriously, pick a better target if you’re going to play stupid bullying pranks, kid. I thought RandroidsObjectivists were supposed to be all rational and shit, but he couldn’t work that one out for himself? Really? That maybe it wouldn’t be smart to piss off a couple hundred guys who derive sexual gratification from inflicting physical and verbal abuse? Oy! Ayn should have gotten a smarter batch of disciples.

Now, a few notes for people whose Google searches lead them here:

  • Please, for fuck’s sake, I’ll say it again: Just buy The American Astronaut if you want to watch it, there’s even a “Buy Now!” link right there on the goddamn page, I cannot believe you would rip off an indie movie by trying to download it. Jerks.
  • Are you ready for one giant skate for derbykind? This weekend sees The Carolina Rollergirls take on the Sin City Rollergirls (of Vegas, naturally) in their first ever bout at Dorton Arena.
  • No, really, I have no idea what happens to you if you hide from a cop in Virginia. I’m betting it means eventual arrest, however!

In videogames news: LEGO Star Wars II. The original trilogy. Aw yeah!

I have also signed up for NetFlix recently, and so we’re working our way through a whole slew of noir mysteries and documentaries on a variety of topics. I’ve finally rated enough movies that NetFlix is starting to recommend things that might be to my liking – such as Depeche Mode concert DVDs – but it’s also making some surprising remarks on my entertainment tastes. I currently have Wigstock in my queue – I cannot watch that movie enough times, I should just buy the damn thing – and have highly rated a few other queer-themed films and chosen “Not Interested” for the plethora of Bible stories they wanted me to watch. This apparently means, in NetFlix’ opinion, that I should watch a saucy teen drama from France titled Come Together. Ahem. The cover has two teenage boys shirtlessly making eyes at you. I did not add it to my queue, because if I want porn there’s a whole internet of it out here, but I was amused by the user review that concluded the film, which offers a richly acted, tense and complicated drama, “sadly does not include as much nudity as the cover suggests.” Eek.

At any rate, if you want to “Friends” me on NetFlix – which I take is all the rage on these webbertron things – then email me and I’ll let you know the address by which I signed up.

Finally, I’ve spent much of this week playing with my User Interface in World of Warcraft. My new flavor is Insomniax, a combination of Discord Unit Frames, BibBars and CT_Mod. Bottom line: I’ve totally smashed my old UI to pieces and rearranged it to buy back a lot of real estate on the screen. Tasty. I’ll have some before-and-after screenshots up sometime, probably tomorrow.

This week has marked my first foray into Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft – specifically, Alterac Valley. The setup of this particular BG is that the two sides – the Alliance and the Horde – are in a race to destroy one another’s strongholds and defeat one another’s non-player, computer-controlled leaders. You start at one end of an enormously long map and basically run straight at – and hopefully through – one another and try to complete your objectives before the other side.

I’ve been playing WoW for over a year at this point, and I had never tried Battlegrounds because, frankly, I had a prejudice against it. It seemed to me like it would appeal to a certain type of player I’d simply rather avoid: the power-gaming, twitch-centric FPS fiend accustomed to deathmatches and approaching it with the attitude that all the fun to be had consists of pwning n00bs. What drew me in, finally, was the fact that there’s some damned good gear to be gotten from PvPing, and I needed to gear up my Hunter alt if he was ever going to be worth taking to a real instance.

I would like to say that I was, with qualifications, very wrong about PvP.

I think it’s important to note those qualifications, though: there is definitely a “gankster” attitude present in BG. It is deeply chaotic. It is all about killing each other just as much as it’s about killing NPC objectives. That said, for the most part it surprised me with how much strategy and tactics could be found there.

  • There is one particular set of small outcrops over the valley, at one point of the map, where it is always useful to stand and rain death from above. The fact that people cannot see you on their screens, or don’t angle the game-camera such that they can see you, is an absurdly good tactical advantage.
  • A well-used pet can create tremendous chaos in a given exchange.
  • Everyone, on both sides, always ignores pets. This only adds to the chaos they can create.
  • Besides the real presence of n00b-pwning – and I am the n00best of the n00bs in battlegrounds, I assure you – there is also some genuine teamwork that happens. It’s largely spontaneous, because the chaos of BG does not lend itself to organized efforts, but in a way that makes the teamwork all that more satisfying when it does happen. The presence of a healer who actually heals is a pleasant surprise. The presence of a healer who will heal a pet? That’s like shitting a diamond the size of your fist: it hurts when your pet pulls enough aggro to start taking damage, but heavens, that healing is nice to see.
  • Almost everyone from Medivh I’ve seen in BGs has been a complete cock. Yes, yes, they were the first ones to open the gates. They are also pushy assholes.

Last night I dreamt that I had acquired – I had not purchased, but I had taken legal ownership of, as though it were an inheritance or a prize – an amazingly, stupendously fast late-1960’s convertible American car.  It looked a lot like, say, a late ’60s Cutlass Supreme, though the one linked there isn’t a convertible and is the wrong shade; the one in my dream was a faded black or very, very dark grey, with some orange-red and white on it in various places.

I had to go far into the desert to pick it up, where it had been stored, and there was some condition of my getting it that I had to store it in the same place.  I remember thinking it would be a pain to park it in Arizona, but totally worth it.  I had gone to pick it up and learned that it was not just souped up, its speed reached into the realm of science-fiction.  It had a steering wheel that could stretch out to forty or fifty feet, and I had to drive it wearing roller skates and strap my hands to the wheel so that when I over-accelerated and it threw me out the back of the car I could land on my skates and cling to the wheel – far behind the body of the car itself – and steer long enough to reel myself back in.

Driving down the interstate to bring it back home, I passed through an area hit by a hurricane and suffering terrible flash floods.  As water poured onto the road I saw the cars ahead of me braking.  I braked, as well, learning that the brakes were as unnaturally capable as the engine; I stopped on a dime, going from hundreds of miles per hour to a dead stop in a matter of feet.  (This had the advantage of propelling me forwards, back into the driver’s seat.)  I wondered if the cars behind us would stop in time and saw that some did, but others didn’t, rear-ending those immediately behind me.  A pile-up started to form in terrible slow-motion, and I wondered if the cars were just going to keep running up on top of each other like that, building a mountain of wreckage so high it would topple forward onto the rest of us.  It occured to me that I should get out of the road – by now I was standing in it, outside my car, skating around to get a better look at the on-going pile-up – and then it I wondered if I should move my car, too, and then whether I should simply drive it onto the median, hit the gas real hard and see if I could outrun both the pile-up and the hurricane.

When I awoke, Gogo was snuggled in between The Boyf and me, purring his head off, and Didi was curled up in The Boyf’s nightstand (yes, in, it’s complicated) and peeking at me with one eye.

I just finished – even sealed and addressed and stamped – a letter to my nephew, who turned 18 three months ago.  The letter accompanies his present.  In the letter I give him some advice.  I thought about just pasting it in here, but honestly, it’s a letter to him, not an excuse for a blog post.  It just seemed wrong somehow.  I will say, however, that I tried to give him the sort of advice my eldest sister gave me, right before I went off to college.  I tried not to sound stuffy, but I came off as stuffy.  I tried not to sound too slack, but I came off as slack.  I encouraged him to travel, to read every book he can get his hands on, to watch True Stories, to create.  It’s a good letter, if I do say so myself.

He’s 18, so he’ll probably read it to his girlfriend in a mocking voice.  I’m OK with that.  I was 18, once, too.

At any rate, since I’m not going to blog the letter itself, I’m blogging about not blogging the letter.  Just pretend we had a moment, you and I, and leave it at that.

I do think it’s a pretty good letter, though.