This is pretty badass ... my brother-in-law:
No, my brother-in-law is not Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Not yet, and since my sister went and got herself married, apparently not EVER. But that's a story for another day.) No, my bro-in-law is one of those pilots in the FA-18Cs flying over the track at this past Saturday's Nationwide race. Big article on it all coming soon, but for now ... yeah, that's pretty cool.
Sometimes, being a parent actually has a few benefits. My pal Don Povia over at 30 Nothings hooked me up with a Wii system and some games as part of an ongoing semi-scientific study about the benefits of dads and daughters playing video games together. My daughter was extremely excited by the prospect, though her excitement dimmed a touch when she realized she'd have to be playing with me and not just her friends. Anyway, this is the first installment of several in our little Wii odyssey. Today: We party with Wii Party!
When you're an 11-year-old girl, playing Wii isn't just competition with the game or friends, it's performance art. You've got to come up with the right one-liners, insult the online avatars at the appropriate times, and always, always look good doing it. My daughter is half-jock, half-princess, so she's got both the trash-talking and the stylish-gamer sides rocking in full force. And with Wii Party, she hit me with both barrels.
Riley has been able to beat me in certain video games for a few years now; I introduced her to games at a young age, and since she's a millenial, it's encoded in her DNA or something. Sometimes, it's gone well; she's a Pac-Man addict even now and has a healthy respect for Madden. Sometimes, it hasn't, like the time I let her drive a motorcycle all through the streets (and sidewalks, and yards, and malls) of Vice City in Grand Theft Auto. (My explanation to the bride: "But she didn't steal it, honey! I stole it for her!" didn't help matters much.)
Anyway, she's now a Wii wizard, and so I knew what I was getting into when we sat down with Wii Party. Fortunately, this is a game that rewards dumb luck as much as skill, so I stayed in the mix on almost every game.
If you're not familiar with the Wii system, it's got this genius element to it: you can create little "Mii"s, avatars of yourself, your friends, your favorite TV and movie characters, and so on, and these characters will show up throughout the game. Riley and her friends have created Miis of everyone from their teachers to Jack Sparrow and Wolverine. This leads to bizarre collisions of worlds, like the bingo cards that featured a montage of their friends, their math teacher and Taylor Swift. It's like the Facebook of a preadolescent's dreams.
Still, there's something a little disorienting and yet undeniably cool about watching a little avatar of yourself falling through the air or standing beneath a falling barrel. Makes you a lot less likely to sacrifice your onscreen character in a berzerker rage the way I used to do in Robotron.
Anyway, many of the Wii Party games reward guile as much as luck, and that's where I reigned supreme. I'm long past the point of pulling my (onscreen!) punches with my kids; they're old enough and good enough now that I have to go at pretty much full strength to have a chance against them. But they're not quite savvy enough to do things like save their horse in Wii Derby; Riley's steed was gassed by the first quarter-mile, while I laid back and broke out the quirt at the end to win by ten lengths. Small victories, baby!
Bottom line, Wii Party is an absolute perfect game to play with your kids, simply because if you can push a button or wiggle a controller, you've got a good chance of staying in the game. Until your batteries run out, that is.
Earlier this evening, I took my boy to his first-ever live Pokemon tournament. It wasn't a huge affair, just a single room in the local rec center. But oh, this was a pivotal moment in both his life and mine. Geeky beyond measure, yes, but pivotal nonetheless.
My boy loves and respects me, and almost always listens when I tell him to clean his room or wear some freaking underwear. But the moment that we walked in the door, our roles completely reversed. He was in charge. He chatted knowledgeably with the guy running the show, proudly showed off his 60-card deck, and sat down to walk me through the basics of a Pokemon tournament showdown. All around him, kids and adults alike were wheeling and dealing their way through cards and dice and chips and energy and attacks and all kinds of other insanely complicated gamesmanship.
Now, here's the thing. My geek credentials are impeccable. I know every single one of the bounty hunters whom Darth Vader sent to capture Han Solo in "The Empire Strikes Back." I catch almost all the superhero and Lord of the Rings flicks in their first weekend. I write freaking comic books, for God's sake. But here ... here, I was as lost as my mom when she used to talk about Star Trek's "Dr. Spock." (Mo-ooommmm....)
Anyway, the basic plotline of Pokemon is incomprehensible, like all Japanese cartoons. Seriously, the whole backstory and mythology involved makes "Game of Thrones" look about as complex as a one-man stage show. All the little creatures can "evolve" into other, more badass animals, and they get turned loose against other such hopped-up creations in what appears to be some sort of brightly-colored, animated equivalent of cockfighting. (Things would've gone much different for Mike Vick if he'd wrangled Pikachus instead of pit bulls.)
But that's the story behind the cards, which really doesn't matter when you're playing the game. As you can see from the board above, you've got to throw your best cards against the other dude's best cards. It's the equivalent of Texas Hold 'Em, if each player had a deck and stacked it in favor of drawing royal flushes or straights. And if the number of hot chicks serving you drinks was reduced to exactly zero.
After some patient explaining by the guy running the whole event, I sat down to play my son ... and pretty much immediately got waxed. I mean, he was throwing evolving and energy and poison and paralysis and all kinds of other hoo-hah at me. And what was the worst was that he was patiently explaining what he was doing as he was doing it, talking to me like ... like ... like I talk to him when I'm teaching him the crossover dribble or the chip shot.
Seriously, what the hell?
On one hand, this is right and proper, a generational change. I'm not supposed to stay up on every single trend my kids follow. But man, to feel so old and left out, to be looked at with something approaching pity at my ignorance by my son and these other Pokemon devotees ... hey, you cardslinging punks! I can reel off thirty years of X-Men continuity! I actually understood Lost! I'm down with Joss Whedon! Seriously!
I used to chuckle at my dad, who went through the entire Star Wars: Episode I thinking the kid was young Luke, not young Darth Vader. But that kind of benign out-of-touchedness doesn't seem so farfetched any more. And it's going to be this way from now on; my kids will be into bands, books and people whom I don't understand and don't (or shouldn't) care for. At least I've got the Daddy-goes-to-all-the-best-games thing to hold over their heads ... until one of 'em goes to write for ESPN, of course.
A few weeks ago, my sister got married, and she and her fiance gave me the high honor of speaking at their ceremony. (It was held in the Chicago Cultural Center in that room pictured above, which wasn't nearly as creepy, empty and Poelike when it was full of friends and family.) Even better, they placed no restrictions on what I could say. But I could tell that my requests of Metallica-style exploding stage fireworks, dancing midgets and exotic dancers in cages to accompany my performance weren't going over well, so I decided to play it straight. And since another one of my requests that they shot down was a worldwide webcast, here's what I read.
[Side note: Thirty seconds before I was supposed to speak, I couldn't find my speech. So I'm simultaneously trying to compose an ad-lib in my head and thumbing through my iPhone--I'd emailed it to myself to prevent just such an occasion--when I see it kicked under the seat beside me. Crisis averted.]
From Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road"
I do not offer the old smooth prizes,
But offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is called riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve.
However sweet the laid-up stores,
However convenient the dwellings,
You shall not remain there.
However sheltered the port,
And however calm the waters,
You shall not anchor there.
However welcome the hospitality that welcomes you
You are permitted to receive it but a little while
Afoot and lighthearted, take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before you,
The long brown path before you,
leading wherever you choose.
The road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well.
Be not detained!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopened!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearned!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the judge expound the law.
Say only to one another:
I give you my hand!
I give you my love, more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law:
Will you give me yourself?
Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
The daughter and I atop a hill in Sedona, Arizona, part of our monstrous series of vacation photos. Best caption wins a hearty handshake.
That there's my dog Jake. (The one on the left.) A year ago today, I had to put him to sleep. Holding his head and looking into his eyes as he died was one of the toughest things I've ever had to do. I miss him, but man, I hope God doesn't hold it against me that Jake's up there staining His heavenly carpets.