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The Ballad of Mom-Mom Giese

Occasionally people, usually friends lacking fear or common sense, ask me to write something for them.  Sometimes they are fans of my work, other times they just know that I try to make my way at least partially via the written word and think something along the lines of “Well, how bad can he be?”  

In this case, a friend recently lost her grandmother, someone who for all intents and purposes raised her.  This friend decided she wanted to hear memories people had of her grandmother, and if we didn’t know her, to make up some.  That’s where I came in.  I decided Mom-Mom Giese was larger than life, half Paul Bunyan, half Paul Revere.  So here, I present to my friend, your grandmother’s story.  I hope you like it, or at least don’t hate it, or at least don’t hate me after reading.  

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The Ballad of Mom-Mom Giese

 

Everyone, in some way, shape, or form, has a grandmother.  You may have never met her, you may barely remember her, but I guarantee you, as long as you are breathing, you indeed had a grandmother.  

 

All grandmothers are different.  Some made cookies or babysat, some made babies and sat on cookies.  My own grandmother was notorious for her flatulence, her distribution of food poisoning at Thanksgiving, and her treatment of her husband via the flagrant use of her middle finger or stabbing motions toward his back.  But I’m not here to tell you the story of my grandmother; this is a tale more fantastic.  This is the story of Mom-Mom Giese, someone whom you’ve never likely met, but would sure love to have backing you up in a dark alley.  My one encounter changed my life, but that comes later in the story.  

 

Mom-Mom Giese was born to this world the last of seventeen brothers and sisters.  With sixteen rivals for love, attention and most importantly food, Mom-Mom learned to fend for herself early on.  Knowing that she would be entering the world with so many siblings, she performed a tube tie on her mother as she was leaving the womb, somehow having learned to make a perfect sea shank knot during her nine months of development.  She weaned herself at seven months, moving directly from the breast to cured meat of a grizzly bear cub she stalked and killed with her bare hands.  Not only did this provide her sustenance, but it also assured her sixteen brothers and sisters that Giese would not be taking even trivial amounts of shit.

 

School was uneventful for Mom-Mom, aside from numerous suspensions for making bullies cry while returning nerds their lunch money.  The opportunity for college arrived, with Mom-Mom ready to accept full scholarships to both Yale and Harvard, double majoring in both law and medicine, but something else arrived which changed her course: the Nazis.

 

World War II erupted across Europe, and Giese was content to do her part as a riveter, until that fateful day when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  She enlisted in the Army but was denied combat operations due to her fairer sex.  She was quickly scheduled to be drummed out of the Army for kicking the ass of the recruiter who denied her combat operations due to her fairer sex, but as she left her Article 13 hearing, she was recruited for an Army Black Ops Super Soldier program, one that was plagiarized by Stan Lee as the basis for Captain America.  

 

It was in Germany that she distinguished herself as not only a competent soldier and spy, but as a scientist.  Looking for a contingency plan to back up the atomic bomb, she developed the Giese Thunderclap Wave Motion Gaiden, a weapon which was comprised of loading her into a bomb, dropping it on the target city, with her clapping her hands as hard as she could when she reached the target altitude.  Initially the plan was to train numerous Mom-Mokazi troops to man the bombs on their suicide missions, however it was quickly learned that recruits couldn’t effectively learn the technique without inflicting serious injury upon themselves.  The program was cancelled when a new recruit literally blew her own arms off attempting the maneuver.  Giese stood ready to do her duty as the sole bomb occupant, but was ordered to stand down when computer simulations of the time indicated a successful detonation would vaporize Japan, the most Pacific islands, and a large percentage of China, as well as causing the instant extinction of the Duck-Billed Platypus globally.  Giese was more concerned about the Platypus.

 

The war over, Giese turned her attentions to her newfound love of science.  Some of the inventions she created but are often attributed to other scientists include:

 

The Polio Vaccine

 

Velcro

 

K-Y (originally designed as a waterless lubricant for indoor Slip and Slides)

 

Pop-Tarts

 

Hot Sauce

 

The Nintendo Entertainment System

 

The Burrito Bowl

 

Pro Wrestling

 

Wi-Fi

 

Bottled Water

 

Years passed and Mom-Mom Giese finally settled down in Maryland, having declined the government’s offer of abolishing the Constitution and establishing her as Eternal High Empress of America, but staying close enough to advise in policy and culinary matters.  She advised not going to war in Vietnam, but assisted when called upon, concentrating her efforts on rescue rather than combat.  It was in Da Nang that she met the love of her life, Pop Pop.  

 

His unit all but obliterated, Private First Class Pop-Pop called in an air strike on his own position in an attempt to neutralize the Viet Cong soldiers surrounding his position, closing in on the documents he was sworn to protect.  Instead, the Army sent in Mom-Mom Giese to extract him and the documents.  Unwilling to put more people in danger, Giese opted not to be airlifted to the combat zone, but rather hitched a ride on a U-2 spy plane and jumped out without a parachute into battle.  The impact of her landing caused a concussive blast which knocked the surrounding forces to the ground, though had the unintended consequences of bursting PFC Pop-Pop’s ear drums, leading to his early hearing loss in the future.

 

The Private had been gravely wounded, having taken three rifle rounds to the torso.  Fearful that the young private would soon lose his life and having watched numerous hours of Wild Kingdom, Giese removed the three bullets from the dying private by sucking on the gaping wounds like one would remove snake venom, even spitting one out at incredible velocity directly into the eye of an approaching enemy soldier, killing him instantly.  

 

Hoisting the private and documents on her back, she began tunnelling into the ground using her bare hands, digging her way back from behind enemy lines 175 miles in less than thirty minutes; a technique she learned from watching Bugs Bunny.  For Mom-Mom, it was another day at the office, but for Pop-Pop it was love at first sight.  He was absolutely smitten with the woman who had saved his life, and spent the next three years trying to woo her, both away from the service and the attention of other potential suitors.  Eventually she accepted his numerous marriage proposals, left public service, and settled down, but of course her story doesn’t end here.  

 

She spend almost the entirety of the ’70s wearing earplugs and learned sign language in hopes of never having to hear a single note of disco music.  She had a similar distaste for all rap aside from the Sugar Hill Gang, though was known for her fondness for Electro.  She became a mother, and as time went on, a grandmother and great grandmother.  It was in her capacities as grandmother that I had my one and only harrowing encounter with her.

 

Time had moved on, and eventually Pop-Pop moved from this world unto the next.  Rumor has it, when the Angels came to take him home she popped two of them with a Taser, blackened one’s eye, and ripped off a fourth’s halo, which she mounted above her front door to warn away any supernatural bastards who would try to take someone away from her again.  They only escaped her home with Pop-Pop’s eternal soul after calling in for reinforcements twice, and finally getting lucky with a supernatural sucker punch.  

 

As a friend of her grand daughter, I was called upon to attend Mom-Mom’s newly departed husband’s viewing; my one and only encounter with her.  My friend had recently had her heart broken by a man, and having recent experiences with a broken heart led Mom-Mom’s concern for her granddaughter to gaze her eyes on me, in fear that I had been the one inflicting pain on her loved one.  As I walked outside to catch a breath of fresh air, I stooped down to pick up the wallet I dropped.  Standing back up, inches away from my face stood Mom-Mom Giese, appearing before me with all of the deadly grace of a puma.  She asked if I had been the one to hurt her granddaughter, but before I could stammer out a response, her right hand flicked out, drawing with lighting speed what looked like a butterfly knife sharp enough to shave layers of steel.  Backing away, she lunged forward, gripping my throat with an iron grip, lifting all 250 pounds of me six inches off the ground before executing a perfect choke slam, knocking the wind from my body and sending stars in my eyes.  The tip of the knife gently touched my chin with just enough pressure to cause a small welt of blood to raise.  She put her lips to my ear and spoke, words that will never leave my mind.

 

“If I find out you were the one to hurt my granddaughter, I will geld you and feed the remains to your mother!  And if you aren’t the man who hurt her, pray that you never do.”  

 

I closed my eyes in disbelief and fear, and in a flash she vanished in a cloud of fire and brimstone.  I picked myself up off the ground, brushed myself off, wiped away the blood from my chin, and went in to excuse myself from the proceedings, fighting every urge I had to run in terror instead.  As I walked back in the funeral home, there she sat, cane next to her, no sign of exertion on her person.  She sat in her high backed chair, accepting condolences with a sad smile, no one the wiser.  I tried my best not to make eye contact, but once I found my eyes upon hers, and in that flash I could have sworn she showed me her teeth in a threatening smile.  I don’t know if she ever caught up with the man who hurt her granddaughter, but I pity the man if she did.

 

I learned of her passing many years later.  The stories say that the Angel of Death himself came to visit her as stories of Giese made other angels wet their robes.  Brave as he was, he still came packing a billy club and pepper spray.  Even in her weakened state, she still managed to kick that angel square in the nuts three times before finally being subdued by Death’s posse of 20.  As she was greeted at the gates of Heaven, she was presented not with the customary harp, but with a 1967 Fender Stratocaster and a glass of Dom Perignon ’45, and Jesus hopped down from his throne to buy her a beer.

 

Other facts about Mom-Mom Giese:

 

She was responsible for the breakup of Van Halen

 

She issued a cease and desist order to Jean Claude Van Damme who had tried to change his name to Giese, on the grounds that sharing her name with him would make her look like a pussy.

 

She singlehandedly saved the crew of Apollo 13 by taking a deep breath, jumping into lunar orbit, shot putting the space ship back to Earth, and finally returning home by exhaling really hard.  

 

She translated Shakespeare from the original Klingon into English.

 

Tribal villagers in South America one mistook Giese as their deity.  She is still worshiped in some tribal cultures.

 

Hitler decided upon killing himself after learning that Giese and her Howling Commandos were nearing the bunker.  His final words: “Oh shit, here she comes!”

 

She could slow cook the world’s most tender pulled pork in 15 minutes.

 

Among the pallbearers at her funeral were action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris.  Chuck Norris wept.

For some reason I’m feeling the need to express myself over my current situation.  It doesn’t really matter if anyone reads it; it’s cheaper and more time effective than therapy I suppose.  

For the past 5 weeks or so, I’ve been working night shift at my IT day job.  There was a need, specifically we couldn’t find anyone decent to work it and as I am on call 24-7, I was getting all of the calls the absent night shift person would have gotten, so in my infinite wisdom I said that I would take on the night shift until we were able to hire and train new nuggets for the shift.  That was 5 weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime.

I arrive at work around midnight.  I perform some housekeeping tasks: check any alerts that might have popped up since the last person left, make sure the generator isn’t alarming, etc.  Then I sit down at my station and wait…for something…anything…to happen.  Occasionally there is some worthwhile, interesting, important work.  A network outage, a server crashing, a needy user who decided to forget their password at 3:30 am.  Sometimes I get a special project, like prepping a bunch of PCs or building a server.  For the most part however, I sit here and wait.

As a writer, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for some massive amounts of freelance work/time to work on the book I’m halfway through writing.  I essentially have between 6 and 8 hours of a 12 hour work day to myself, with very little to do.  Unfortunately, fatigue has reared it’s ugly head, and I can’t seem to shake it.  

I’ve worked night shift before, but of course, the situation was a completely different one.  I spent almost 3 years working overnights for NPR.  The big difference is about 10 years, 3 kids and 2 careers.  It also helped that there were generally things to do at NPR overnight, people to talk to etc.  Now I come into an empty office and bide my time until something happens, and it’s slowly killing me.

Exhaustion has led to a either a complete lack of motivation or worse, the output of beyond substandard work.  In the time I’ve worked nights, I’ve completed two articles: one which has yet to be published, and another so lacking in the basics that I had over a page of edits given to me by my editor…very basic edits…mistakes I haven’t made since high school.  It’s downright embarrassing, and it’s only a small part of what is going on.

My wife is without a doubt a saint.  We lead a rather odd life, with me working weekdays, her weekends.  It’s great for the kids for they are never lacking for a parent, but it’s rough on us.  Our time with each other is pretty limited, and we were exhausted to begin with.  Add to that the fact that my poor wife gets little to no assistance from me with the munchkins during the week just makes it worse.  Granted, we now have a single day of the week where we actually can be a complete family, but so much of that time is spent recovering, it’s still nowhere ideal.  

Working overnight as a single man is pretty simple.  You do your shift, come home, have a drink (or 2, or 3), go to bed, wash rinse repeat.  Adding kids to the mix is a whole new ballgame.  First, kids will be kids.  That means that sleep time will often be interrupted by them letting the puppy in my room (but Petunia WANTED to sleep with you), needing help with something technological (Daddy, Netflix won’t work!), needing help getting past a certain spot in a video game (but this part is so hard and you promised you would help me!), needing help with personal hygiene (Daddy, come wipe my butt!!!!), etc.  I can’t fault them for this, they’re children, and I’ve often had to bite my tongue before lashing out at them (sometimes not fast enough), because they are just being kids.  They don’t disturb me out of spite or malice, but out of love.  It’s great to feel wanted, just not always at my equivalent of 3am.  

But then you have what happened tonight…I remember my exhausted wife climbing in bed around 9:30pm, only to get up a short while later.  Two hours later when my alarm goes off, I come downstairs to find her making me dinner at almost midnight.  It’s these little things that both keep me going and make me miss home at night so much more.  

I have to figure out how I am going to keep up my writing career during this period.  I have about 8 weeks left or so of the night shift, and while I’ve mentioned to my editor that I need to take a break, it’s the last thing I want to do, especially going out on such a poor note.  All I know is, I haven’t been productive.  Aside from the two articles and about 3000 words in my book, I’ve done nothing.  It’s so much easier to sit here at night and rewatch Battlestar Galactica again or try to get past whatever immeasurably high level of Candy Crush I am on (at last check I was in the 500’s).  I wish I had the motivation and the energy to press on, but the night shift is like the weight of an elephant sitting on my shoulders, and it doesn’t particularly feel good.  I suppose that’s why I’ve picked up the blog again; there’s no pressure.  The odds of anyone reading it are slim, and I can just ignore criticism.  

I’m going to see if I can write here occasionally in the meantime.  I was told I needed to put something down on “paper” every day, no matter if it was useful, so if I can produce anything it can’t hurt.  

Ok, first off, I need to clarify the title.  I am in no way trying to persuade my friend from getting hitched today.  He’s not my type, and my wife would be beyond pissed.  This is a letter FOR my friend, not TO my friend (amazing how a simple grammatical change totally changes the connotation).  This friend/co-worker has expressed on numerous occasion his love (or at least a heavy like) for my writing, as as he is getting hitched today, I figured what better gift to give him than a dedication for his wedding (plus I’m a cheap bastard and didn’t buy him anything).

I’ve known R for almost two years now.  We work together… well, I work, not quite sure what he does at that billing office all day that he claims takes up so much of his time :).  R is a nerd/geek type, to the point where in certain topics, his nerdery rivals even my own.  This has it’s advantages, seeing as how we can clear a room in mere seconds after busting into a conversation about who was the most diabolical and powerful Sith Lord (For you non-nerd types, that’s a Star Wars bad guy…and I still think the most diabolical is my ex-wife, even if she isn’t technically included in Star Wars cannon).  Beyond this, he’s the one whom I bounce off writing ideas, my joke guinea pig, and my first draft editor with a hell of a better eye for grammer and spelling than I do.  (see what I did there?)

Between trading sci-fi quips, quoting obscure movies, and trying to outdo each other with Youtube clips, I am delighted to say that after a hard night’s work, he can always get me laughing.  There is however a topic of conversation though that, while generally not involving lightsabers and the Force, captures his attention like a fangirl meeting Nathan Fillion: M.

If memory serves, the first time he mentioned M to me, they were in the middle of an argument.  I have no idea what it was about, and likely I had just mentally put on the Peanut’s teacher filter (wha wha, wha wha whaaa).  The thing that made me turn off said filter was the look on his face, like that of someone who had just watched their dog get hit by a tractor trailer.  Whatever the argument was, most likely something incredibly minor, it devastated him.  He was almost non-functional, like a 12 year old girl who got punished from going tot he Justin Beiber concert.  The only thing he could focus on was resolving the tiff, and that’s when I realized, this dude had it BAD.  So bad that if things went south with M, I would likely come into work the next week to find R in the fetal position under his desk with a 3 day growth of beard, 6 empty bottles of cheap scotch and two dozen empty containers of Top Ramen noodles.  

It’s obvious, particularly since those two kids are getting married today, that things worked out for the best, and I’m here to say hooray and best of luck, especially because I have a stake in this.  For the last few weeks I’ve gotten to watch the supernatural talent of R literally floating a few inches off the floor, glowing with radiance typically found in new mothers and Bruce Leroy.

Between the floating, the nervous excitement, the Facebook post dripping with cuteness, it’s official, I am in complete and total sugar shock.  By the time I left work on Wednesday I was almost in full diabetic ketoacidosis (for you non-medical types, that’s when your body can’t break down sugar anymore).    The world can only take so much cute before there are psychokinetic results.  

I haven’t met M yet, though I’m sure in time I will.  According to my wife, the woman has to be a saint if R’s geek quotent is similar to mine.  This is a woman who is allowing Star Wars to play a role in the wedding….even I couldn’t pull that shit off.  All I wanted was the Queen/Flash Gordon Wedding March to be played.  😦

The fact is, M, you make R the happiest, lovesick puppy I know.  He’s more into you than John Hinkley was into Jodie Foster…without the whole pesky assassination attempt thing.  He would follow you through Hell and back with a smile on his face, all the while asking if you needed more sunscreen, and I get the impression from him that you’d do the same.  I wish the two of you nothing but the best, and in closing, here are a few pieces of advice for you two:

1. M: If you ever have problems getting R away from he TV, Playstation, Computer, Video Games, Cell Phone or an other electronic device, just stand in front of him wearing this:

Image

 

Like Lando says, “it works every time!”

2. R: If/when the concept of kids come into the picture, remember that whatever you name them will stick with them FOR LIFE!!!!  I had a friend who named their kid Anakin…that dude killed younglings!!!!  Might sound cool now, but he still killed younglings.  That would be like naming your kid Stalin or something.  Plus, if your kid hates the franchise you name him after, they’ll tell all their friends how YOU named them off of some NERD show or book or something.  Remember, you will be the ones paying the therapy bills.  So do what I did, sneak nerdy references into middle names.  My wife didn’t figure out my son’s nerdy middle name until we walked out of Tron: Legacy and I was greeted with this:

3. M: With the job R and I both have, we are often called upon to work odd hours, often at the absolute last minute.  It will drive you INSANE (it certainly does with my wife).  Just remember, he’s not enjoying it either, is likely as angry about it as you are, and is doing it because he must.  Plus, you’ll get to spend his overtime!  R: You can often soften the blow of overtime with flowers, jewelry, or trips to Ruth’s Chris.  Trust me, I know.

4. R/M: If indeed you have children, particularly male children, remember that a boy’s “parts” at like Death Blossom in The Last Starfighter.  If he starts to pee sans diaper, you WILL not escape.  R: as gross as it is, your duty is to act as a human shield and dive in front of the biological weapon…it’s gross but eventually you get used to the taste of pee.

5. R/M: Remember that you WILL fight.  Also remember that bad times are temporary and before you know it they’ll be gone, just like Firefly.  

6. Finally, both of you have the time of your lives today, because it is exactly that.  Don’t worry about making sure you get the perfect picture, that the caterer serves the chicken first, or spending enough time with Aunt Edna whom you haven’t seen in 37 years and smells of prunes.  Focus on each other, and having a time you’ll be proud to tell your grandkids about.  

Also, M: my wife wanted me to tell you not to let R drink anywhere near as much alcohol as I did I my wedding.  Painting the venue’s bathroom walls with puke is not very dignifying, can ruin your tux, and will make you give an obnoxious tip to make up for the impending clean up job the bar has for them.  

I hope you both have a fantastic time today, and the rest of your lives.  Good luck, God Bless, May the Force be With You, So Say We All.

I’ve been thinking about Photon a lot recently.  For those too young (or perhaps too old) to remember, Photon was the first mass marketed Laser Tag facility.  Let me put a little perspective on this.  While laser tag has become commonplace in the last decade and a half, with family entertainment centers cropping up all over the planet featuring electronic combat, there was a time when the adventures of Star Wars and other sci-fi films were limited to the imagination of children and confined to the theater.  But in the late 1970’s, inventor and entrepreneur George Carter III saw Star Wars in the theaters and was inspired, he wanted to be able to recreate the epic battles featured in the film and allow children and adults of all ages to experience their fantasies in the real world.  In 1984, the first Photon laser tag center was opened in Houston Texas, the world’s first laser tag facility.

It didn’t stop there.  For starters, Photon centers opened up across the planet.  But Carter wasn’t going to stop there.  Taking a page from George Lucas, he began an unprecedented marketing campaign and turned Photon into a true sci-fi property.  If Photon wasn’t in a town or city near you, you could certainly buy the home game, which was designed to look almost identically like it’s big arena counterpart.  A TV series was developed (albeit poorly) in Japan which aired bother overseas and here in the US, a series of novels was developed as well.  Action figured, lunchboxes, Nintendo games, the Photon brand made every attempt at being as huge as Star Wars.  Over time, thanks to over expansion, a changing economy, and other issues, Photon eventually went the way of the Dodo, with only a handful of centers remaining open, until finally only one was left, located in Laurel Maryland.  Eventually that one closed it’s doors as well, and reopened a few months later under a different name, but using the same equipment and playing field until finally, the needs for modernization called for the final Photon to migrate to new, more sophisticated equipment.  Photon was officially dead, and aside from a valiant attempt by Jim Strother to restart the franchise in recent years, it’s remained for the most part a fond memory and an inspiration for laser tag manufacturers all over the world.  

 

There is a reason I’ve been stuck on Photon recently.  A few months ago I wrote an article for ToplessRobot.com on forgotten ‘80’s Children’s Sci-Fi series (http://www.toplessrobot.com/2012/03/8_forgotten_80s_live-action_childrens_sci-fi_serie.php).  The list covered (and poked fun) at multiple live action series of that era, with a special place for the Photon TV series at Number 1.  If you visit the site and watch the clip, you’ll see why I was a little hard on the series.  But truth be told, as a child, I absolutely loved the series, the books, and especially the game.  The wonderful response I got from the article and inspiration from many great Photon memories triggered me to take a plunge and I put together a proposal for a 30th anniversary follow-up to the novel series.  The big reason I haven’t been actively posting here is not because of copious video game playing, but because I am hard at work on my first sci-fi novel, Photon: Eclipse, due out in Spring of 2014 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Photon.  Now that that shameless self promotion is over, I want to take a second to wax poetic on my own Photon experiences, and why I think they are so important to me.

The first time I walked into a Photon center, it was for my friend Tom’s 10th birthday.  It was located in Dundalk Maryland, just a few miles away from my grandparents.  Had I known about it sooner, I would have been obsessed with it much earlier than I was, but I have the distinct feeling that my mother was conspiring to keep me away from that place, for she knew I would be hooked instantly.  I can’t imagine how much money Tom’s parents spent, at this point you still needed to have a membership to play, and with 20 or so crumbsnatchers, each needing memberships, plus two games apiece, plus pizza, cake, video game tokens, goodie bags etc, I could safely believe that they could still be paying for that party to this day.  

Once gathered together, we waited in line for our first match, all of us laser tag virgins.  A cheesy video ran on TVs mounted above the queue, showing us how to suit up and play the game.  Then it was time to suit up, which for a 10 year old was an exercise in strength and agility.  Today’s laser tag gear can be as little as a laser gun, but usually consists of a light/sensor covered vest and your laser weapon.  Photon’s gear was more like suiting up for a hockey game.  First you strapped on a battery belt, which at the time felt like it weighed 40 pounds, followed by a shower cap which they said was for cleanliness, but was more likely to prevent a massive outbreak of lice.  Next came the chest pod which rested around your neck and clipped around your waist, followed by your helmet.  Finally, you drew your phaser weapon from the wall mounted holster and queued up once again, this time to register for your game.

You walked to the front of a computer terminal where an employee scanned your membership card and registered your code name.  I distinctly remember being told by the staff that I could not be “Butt Buster”, so it was shortened to “B Buster”.  We marched into our holding area and awaited our “Game Commander” to bring us to our starting places.

Aside from the path we were taking to our starting points, the arena was pitch black.  I knew nothing of adrenalin at the time, but it was coursing through my body, with a healthy dose of fear and trepidation.  I was torn between the childhood fear of the dark, and the anticipation of the adventure ahead.  Once corralled into our starting points and after our Game Commander left us with instructions to wait until the end of the countdown to start, the entire arena went pitch black, aside from the steady pulse of the lights emanating from our gear.  One fellow child immediately freaked, begging to be let out and ended up huddled in the corner, others stood quietly or talked to give themselves comfort.  Suddenly, a sultry robotic voice filled the arena: “Welcome Photon Warriors.  Commence strategic maneuvers at audible command signal.  5…4…3…2…1…Begin!”

The Photon arena was a sprawling, multi-floored maze, complete with ramps, tunnels, and a metric crap-ton of other players, most of which were a lot bigger than the flotilla of pre-teens I was a part of.  For six and a half minutes I ran, shot, dodged, ducked and got completely peppered with enemy laser fire, all while desperately holding onto my pants for dear life and wishing I had worn a belt…and underwear.  My score, while not abysmal or reaching into the dreaded negatives, was certainly not good, with older and more experienced players having taken advantage of the ample amount of noobs on the playfield (the laser tag term for a game like this is a “Bunny Hunt”).  As tired as I was though, I had been bitten by the Photon bug.  Pizza, soda, cake and presents came and went with little attention paid to them, the only thing in my mind was the anticipation of our second game.  Even the lure of arcade games seemed to have lost it’s luster, as my tokens were for the first time left abandoned, my time seemingly better spent on the observation deck watching the pros play and contriving a plan for the second game, now having seen a bird’s-eye view of the arena.  

The second game, came and went faster than the first, now that all fear had been extinguished.  Exhaustion was staved off with the thrill of battle, and I fought valiantly and with reckless abandon, thanks to the second hand belt my mother purchased at the flea market next door during our intermission.  The second game ended and our Photon adventure was over.  For some reason, even though it was a two miles from my Grandparents house, my parents wouldn’t take me back there.  

It wasn’t until the next year, for Tom’s 11th birthday, that I returned to play Photon again.  Ironically, earlier that morning I ended up getting a few stitches thanks to doing something stupid during Sunday School, which severely threatened my chances of going to wait for me was the event of the year.  For some reason, I distinctly remembering timing the poor doctor with a stopwatch as he sewed me, for fear that I would be late to the match.  My mother tried to use my injury as an excuse to not go, but somehow I was able to convince her that no further injury would occur.  It was well worth it, for the experience was just as magical for me the second time as it was the first, albeit without the fear aspect from my first visit.  By then I had discovered the Photon marketing juggernaut, and had read every single Photon novel I could get my hands on and would wake every Sunday morning at 5:30 to manipulate our single rabbit eared TV into displaying the absolutely horrible Photon TV series, aired only on channel 54 in Baltimore.  That Christmas brought the Photon home game, Photon action figures, and a Photon lunch box which I proudly carried to school.  

I switched schools late in my 6th grade year and quickly lost touch with Tom.  As obsessed with Photon as I was, it was not looking like I would be going back anytime soon.  That is, until I saw that Photon had opened in the local resort town of Ocean City.

The Boardwalk at Ocean City had always been a favorite attraction for me.  My grandmother would hand my sister and I each five dollars with every visit to the Boardwalk.  Normally, it would be blown by me very quickly at Marty’s Playland, which at it’s height will always remain the arcade by which I judge all arcades.  When Photon opened though, my money would be blown even faster.  For some reason, I seem to remember that $4.50 was enough to buy you a two game special at the OC Photon, and in the much more safe (or naive) era of the late 80’s, I was free to roam the Boardwalk so long as my parents had a general idea of where I was.  I second that five spot hit my fingers, I was off and running down to the Photon, which until that summer had been the home of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not rather than the Ultimate Game of Planet Earth.  The end of my OC vacation that year was highlighted by the purchase of what would be my favorite attire for years, a Photon T-shirt.  

As the years went on, every vacation to Ocean City involved me playing as much Photon as possible.  I even convinced my father, aunt and grandfather to take a trip to planet Photon, all while the rest of the family took pot shots at us from the observation deck.  

A few summers later, I experienced crushing disappointment, when a visit to my beloved Ocean City Photon, which had been closed in the off-season, replaced with a Wax Museum.  To add insult to injury, the museum was built using the Photon playfield, the ramps, hideaways and obstacles now housing wax likenesses of monsters, historic figures and TV characters.  A few years later, the Wax Museum would fail and a new laser tag, Q-zar would replace it.  A handful of years later, that too failed (though I did spend an awesome summer working there), replaced once again by a Ripley’s.  During that period, laser tag exploded, with multiple sites opening across the country, all with different arenas, gameplay systems and styles.  I ended up playing regularly and eventually working at the local Ultrazone, a period which I still consider some of the best of my youth.  A Photon resurgence also took place near my home town.  Over time, I became friends with the owner, started playing it regularly like I always wished I could, and in time, even worked there as well.  Unfortunately, business comes first, and Photon was not equitable to continue.  The last Photon site, XP LaserSport, eventually had to retire the ancient gear in favor of much more reliable, light, and profitable newer equipment.  The economy being what it is, the attempt by Jim Strother didn’t survive more than a few weeks in business.  While laser tag lives on, Photon as I knew it is no more.

No other laser tag though has ever compared to Photon to me.  Maybe it’s the memories of my wonder as a child, or that it was so advanced for it’s time, or that I spent so much time in my youth pursuing it.  Perhaps the lack of Photon is what makes it so special to me.  Dare I say it though, every time I walk onto that Photon field at XP LaserSport, regardless of what brand of equipment I have on, it still manages to choke me up a little bit.  Memories of my childhood flood back, and for just a second, if I close my eyes, I can still hear that computerized voice counting down.

Aside from my forthcoming novel, something else has me thinking about Photon.  In a few days I’m taking my seven year old nerdling to play laser tag for the first time.  I’m sure he will love it, and I wonder, if in 25 years, his memories of laser tag will be similar to my memories of Photon.  I hope they are.  The light shines…

FYI: you can follow me on Twitter for updates on what’s going on as well as random quips on writing, nerd culture etc.  @razgriz1138

It’s been weeks since I posted here.  Hell, it’s been weeks since I’ve posted anywhere, or been published anywhere. It’s not for lack of wanting, but more for a lack of time and energy.

Work has been a nightmare, and where I used to have the occasional bit of downtime to write, or blog, or even research, that seems to have vanished.  Instead, the majority of my day is spent in almost a form of panic, as I try to  accomplish an insane amount of tasks without violating the current company ban on overtime.  Between that and my wife’s new job which essentially removes her from the home every weekend, leaving me in Mr. Mom mode and in a constant state of rush and hurry.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and spending time with them is awesome, but the entire weekend is dedicated to caring for 2-3 kids and trying to maintain the household.  It makes one understand the plight of single parents out there…the level of exhaustion one feels taking care of multiple children is a unique feeling.  Add to that being on call every other week/weekend, and you have a recipe for distraction.

As much as I love writing, I find myself falling asleep at the keyboard long before I can accomplish too much.  I attempted to try another writer’s trick of putting at least 500 words a day to page, but that only lasted a day or two before exhaustion put the nail in the coffin.  Now I find myself with a metric shit-ton of ideas, most of which I quickly jot down in Evernote on my phone just so I don’t forget them.  Novels, poems, essays, the ideas are all there, but finding the time and energy to get them out isn’t.  And that’s not including the other projects I am “working on”, like the podcast that has been sitting stagnant for 6 weeks.  To make matters worse, a magazine has taken interest in a proposal for a short article, and aside from some research, word one has not been written.  

I have to hand it to those who are able to completely dedicate themselves to their hobby, especially if they try to roll the hard 6 and make it into a career.  The last 6 weeks or so, a local casting company has been trying to get me to work on a show being filmed here in Baltimore.  I’ve been called 6 times, and I’ve had to refuse 5 out of those six.  The one time I was available and arranged for the day off, the shoot was cancelled due to weather.  To put some perspective on this, I actually had the opportunity to work with Olivia Wilde, and I turned it down.  Now, work with is a stretch, like saying I worked with the President since I spend a few days working in the Capitol.  But with Ms. Wilde being my nerd crush since Tron: Legacy, I had to fight every ounce of Nerd Instinct to say no to her.  But it did make me think, how many of the people who were called for those shoots dropped everything, including family, job, dates etc for the slightest of shots in the acting world.  The sad thing is, had I not been threatened with getting written up at work for absence, I would have most likely called out, but responsibility for my family overrode my Nerd Fu.  

But it’s that same responsibility that keeps me in my mundane day job that I generally despise.  As much as I would love to use the nuclear option, quit my day job and dedicate myself to writing, I can’t begin to consider doing that…the disservice to my family would be too great.  Thankfully, in my Twitter travels, I’ve found quite a few authors who manage to work day jobs (sometimes more than one), raise families, and remain completely normal (well, as normal as writers can be).  They inspire me to keep going, but when I haven’t put one single PAID word down in paper in a few weeks, one starts to begin to doubt themselves.  

What I have done in this time however is work on some non-paid projects.  I started my children’s book, which progressed well for a time before coming to a screeching halt.  I also took a crack at some poetry, something I haven’t really tried since it was forced upon me in high school.  It’s sad though, seeing as how the majority of the writing I’ve accomplished in the last 6 weeks or so was produced on my smart phone.  While that’s not really the best writing environment, I do get to take it wherever I go, and at least I can keep track of ideas.  

I guess we’ll see where this takes me…I’m afraid I’m losing whatever touch I had, but I guess I just have to try and keep going.  Holy Shit…I actually wrote more than 500 words…maybe something is going to happen!

J

So yesterday i was waxing poetic on returning to the world of interviews.  While I had survived the interview, I didn’t look too highly upon myself and how I worked.  They say you are your own worst critic, and in this case, I absolutley was.

I started working on my transcription last night which, by the way is one of the most awful jobs I could ever imagine having.  I now totally understand why people pay for this service, I spent about an hour and a half, and ended up with 10 minutes of audio transcribed, at around 1000 words.  I only have 27 minutes to go.  The point that I am trying to make is, upon listening to pretty much the whole interview, it really went better than I thought it had.  While I thought my interviewee was annoyed in the beginning, upon listening back, he didn’t sound quite as annoyed as I imagined.  The part where I thought I had offended him, was him speaking directly, and his position even changed mid sentence.  He began saying he would not talk about personal issues, but finished up saying he didn’t think he wanted personal issues out in the open.  In my head I had heard “How dare you ask about my childhood?” when in fact, it was much more mild a redirection.  

It’s obvious that I am pretty hard on myself.  I take a metric shit-ton of pride in my work, to the point where I used to get offended when my work was criticized.  I remember dwelling on it for days, to the point where I actually was considering giving up my writing, when one of my articles offended a small group of people. I felt terrible over it, even though offense was not in my plans.  While criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing when done constructively, constantly second guessing yourself is.  I can’t begin to imagine the number of stories or articles I’ve started, only to abandon 5 word or 15,000 words in.  The thing is, even bad work has it’s merits, at least bad writing is still writing, and if you love it, you have to do it no matter if it is garbage or a masterpiece.  If it had 0 readers or millions.  

Listening to the interview again gave me a good idea of what I truly did wrong, which had been magnified exponentially by my ever turning, self-deprecating brain.  It also showed me what I did well, and now, with a clear head, I can really give myself some constructive criticism, before it gets sent out to the public for them to laud or destroy as they will.  In closing, don’t berate yourself too much for your work, instead take a breath, look back at it, and form constructive ways of improvement.  Leave the berating for your readers 😉

 

J

Last Thursday was the first interview I’ve conducted in a very long time.  Now I’ve interviewed some pretty bad ass people during my radio years, Dir en gray, Tara Strong, quite a few others, and for the most part it went well.  Last night though, I was actually nervous.

Now, of course nerves hit me the first time I interviewed a celebrity…I remember it distinctly.  I was at the radio show’s first Otakon, sitting down with Japanese pop star T.M. Revolution.  I wasn’t prepared at all, the crowd was gathering, and when he and his entourage arrived, i was terrified.  The interview went off ok I suppose, looking back it was certainly not my best work, but I survived it, albiet exhausted afterwards.  I literally had to control myself from shaking while talking to this poor man.  I was frightened of screwing up, and nerding out at the same time, and as much as I was proud in that moment, I was so happy for it to be over.

Last week though, I sat down to the first interview in ages, my victim: Video Game Developer and Renaissance Man American McGee.  Yes, his real name is American (He says that his mother was a hippy).  This is the guy who is behind such titles as Alice, Grimm, and has played a role in games such as Doom, Quake, etc.  In the video game world, the dude is literally a living legend.  And I was scared to death of him for some reason…at least at first.

He was calling from Shanghai China, so there was a little delay in words going back and forth, but nothing particularly bad.  We got started, and immediately I fucked up.  I always research my targets, mainly to not do exactly what I did here, and ask the same question everyone else asks.  In my research, I found a lot about what he’s done, what he’s doing, but not much personal information.  So I asked how he got where he is today, apparently something that had been asked countless times, that I never found in my research.  Of course, now that I work full time, have 4 kids and a wife, and an generally exhausted, my research wasn’t as thurough as it had been in the past, and I made an elementary mistake.  I’m sure he was annoyed, but ever the gentleman he gave the rendition of his story, a facinating one at that, proof that serendipity in fact does exist.  Then, the journalist in me made a second mistake immediatly after, going too personal.

My interview style has never been what you could call standard.  In fact, my interviews generally follow a few simple rules to make them stand out:

1. Don’t ask the same questions everyone else asks.  This one is hard to implement, but easy to understand.  The dude you are  talking to is just as annoyed that you ask the same questions as everyone else, as are the readers who have already read essentially the same interview countless times.  It makes an interview boring, both for the reader and the audience, and if you do it too early, sets the tone going forward, a tone that is very hard to break out from.

2. Get personal.  Once you have your interviewee interested and confortable with you, you generally get them to say things they haven’t said elsewhere.  This makes for a hell of an interview, especially if you’ve followed rule number 1.

3. Don’t get too personal too quickly.  If you don’t have the trust of your target, they aren’t going to open up.  In fact, they can close up, very quickly.  Once you’ve closed up your interviewee, it will take sodium penthol and a crowbar to get them to open up again.  It’s next to impossible.

I had already broken rule number one, but immediatly followed with breaking rule number three.  I had read previously that American’s childhood shaped the stories in his games, which generally were dark and sometimes terrifying twists on classic fairy tales.  My second question in, “What from your childhood inspired your twisted visions of children’s stories?”  He did well with the question, and while he specifically said he would NOT get into specifics, he redirected the question, telling me how studies have shown that situations in your childhood essentially establish your writing style and how you think about things.  Interesting specifically to me, since being made fun of constantly as a child.  I went back and noticed that much of my writing is self-deprecating, quite possibly a pattern established from MY childhood.

The interview went on for another 30 minutes or so without a hitch, aside from me continuing to be stressed the entire time, but it ended on a good note.  I mentioned the development of a podcast specifically talking to Game Developers and other nerd heroes, and asked if he would be a guest if it launched, which he agreed to immedietly.  Listening back to the interview, I got back on track after my initial screw-ups, and it was really pretty smooth the rest of the way.  He gave my readers so pretty cool insight to some video game current events, and towards the end, his opinions really started to come out.

All in all, a successful interview.  I ended it utterly exhausted, but was certainly happy I did it, and I can’t wait to see it all on paper.  To be fair, as much as I wanted to get to it over the weekend, I haven’t even begun the transcription, and need to crank it out in the next 48 hours.

In other news, I have an article that should be published this week on ToplessRobot.com, and I have about 4 more in the works for them.  I’ll post them as soon as they go live, as well as the American McGee interview.  Take care and happy writing!

J

I’ve been trying to start this blog for the past week or so, and Writer’s Block has been rearing her ugly ass head and convinced me to delete every work in progress that I kicked off.  It’s ok, it’s all part of the creative process, and when the block broke yesterday, an almost orgasmic wave of relief hit me…inspiration was back baby!

I had started with this whole, seemingly profound exposition on how it’s ok to be a nerd these days, and back in my day, it wasn’t, so I was treated like shit.  Instead of sounding all inspirational, it sounded more like I was a whiny bitch, complaining about my childhood and how no one liked me.  So what, my childhood sucked, and maybe I will go into it at some point, but not today…I am not going to feel sorry for myself and attempt to get you, my reader (I’m assuming at this point that the only one who might read this is my wife) to feel sorry for me too.

For the uninitiated, I am Jason Helton.  I’ve seen things, you people, wouldn’t believe…just kidding…sort of.  I am a Geek, just ask my wife.  I am a geek who gets bored easily, hence why I’ve had so many careers/projects/evil schemes.  I’ve been a musician (because really, who hasn’t), I’ve rehabilitated dolphins, produced and hosted radio shows, been in a movie (a real one, not some student film…Ladder 49, but don’t blink, you’ll miss the 2/3 of me that’s on screen for .25 seconds), owned a laser tag, sold pinball machines, and a few other things.  But that was then…

These days, I have a mundane day job…I fix computers for a big medical company.  I hate it, to be fair, but it pays the bills and so I endure.  My creativity is sated these days by writing, something that started out as a hobby, then moved on to getting published, then moved even further to actually getting paid to spout off at the mouth.  I have high (and slightly delusional) hope that eventually I could do this for a living, but until then, I remain content to spread the Gospel of Geek to all those who choose to listen.

So if you decide to come here more than once, you will find things like the following:

1. Links to my articles on different publications (because I’m a shameless attention whore)

2. Articles that didn’t get published elsewhere (either because they suck or I didn’t submit them to the right place)

3. Opinions on all things Geeky (because you can’t be a geek without some kind of opinion)

4. Essays that might not be geeky, but might be interesting all the same.

5. Little tidbits of self-help for people who, like me, don’t quite fit in.

One thing you will find, I write totally from the heart, a tree hugging hippie way of saying I pour a lot of emotion into my writing.  Fair warning, you might come to the blog to laugh only to walk away crying or something, so no refunds (like the time I witnessed a lady demand a refund at the theaters for Titanic because she didn’t know the boat sank).

So…if you want a little glimpse into my nerd writings and rantings, check out the following websited:

For classic Jason rantings, check out http://www.denofgeek.com.  It’s a British nerd culture website that is pretty badass.  Some of my articles include an Obituary for the Title Sequence, a Memorial for Carl Macek (Producer of Robotech), and my investigation of the mythical game of doom, Polybius.  Also, if you would like a glimpse into my psyche, check out my series on a personal weight loss journey to hell, the WiiFit Challenge.  You might learn a lot about me, and have a few laughs at the same time.

For my more recent stuff, check out Village Voice Media’s ToplessRobot.com and JoystickDivision.com.  At TR I write the occasional Daily List, where I occasionally have the opportunity to get snarky.  Joystick Division is centered on video games, and I’ve done a few different things for them.  If you want me to write for you, just ask, I’m always looking for jobs.  If you want me to stop writing, just ask, I’ll ignore you, unless you have a truly compelling argument.  Otherwise, sit back, relax, and let’s try to have some fun.

(To steal my fathers phrase)

Your Friend and Mine,

Jason