Wed 12

Mo Bad Blues

Max Max develops horrific moAt first it wasn’t too bad. In the right light, my mo looked fairly legit. It was rough and tough and ready to rumble, just like you might think I am, if you don’t know me very well. Seven days in, I could even be considered debonair.

Then the gingers came in.

Now, I don’t have anything against the ginger peoples. Some of my best friends—well, no, all right, that’s not true. I shun them. But I have several close ginger relatives. Lovely people. Really courageous. Also, there’s no problem with ginger if you’re a woman. For chicks, red hair means: “I am so aflame with animal passion, I could burst into fire at any moment.” I think we can all agree on that. But on a man, ginger hair is not popularly translated as “fiery, dangerous love beast.” It’s more “weird pervert from Accounting.”

On top of that, I keep accidentally cruising for gay sex. I don’t mean to. I just haven’t adapted to the signals my mo is sending out. For example, on my run this morning, I jiggled my eyebrows in greeting to a runner passing by. Usually, this means, “Nice morning.” But now, apparently, it means, “Nice thighs.” At least, that’s what I’m getting from the look of terror that crossed the guy’s face.

I’m beginning to catch glimpses of it in my peripheral vision. When I have a drink, it gets there before I do. The other day I blew my nose, and three hours later realized my upper lip was hoarding bits of tissue. Also, despite my private hopes, Jen has not been harboring a secret passion for circa 1970s tennis stars. Hairy, scratchy, ginger lip caterpillar: apparently not a turn-on.

It’s just as well I’m doing this for a good cause. Thanks so much to everyone who donated. I just want you to know, it’s because of you that I’m stuck with this thing until December.

[ Sponsor Max’s Moustache! ]

Fri 24

I’m growing a moustache

Max Max sans moustache“I’m growing a moustache,” I told Jen.

“No you’re not.”

“It’s for Movember. You know about Movember?”

“I know Movember,” she said. “But no. You’re not growing a moustache. They’re creepy.”

“Jen! This isn’t about the moustache. It’s for a good cause. It’s about raising awareness. You think I want to grow a moustache? Do you? Like, what, as if I’ve always secretly wanted to, but until now been denied by social pressure? Honestly!”

She eyed me. “You don’t actually know what the cause is, do you?”

“Of course I do,” I said, offended. “Frankly, it’s that kind of attitude that makes it so hard to get this particular cause taken as seriously as, obviously, this particular cause demands.”

Jen sighed.

“I believe it’s something to do with prostate cancer,” I said. “But I have a whole plan. I’ll announce it on my web site, see, and people can sponsor me.”

“Sponsor your moustache.”

“Right! Yes! They can sponsor my moustache.”

“It’s not just prostate cancer,” Jen said. “It’s men’s health issues in general, including depression.”

“Well, there you go. You can’t say no to that.”

She sighed again. “You’d better get some donations.”

[ Sponsor Max’s Moustache! ]

[ See Max’s Mo Page! ]

Thu 31

House of Cuteness & Horror

Max A lot of parenting is like this: your gorgeous almost-three-year old daughter hops toward you, shouting, “Look, Daddy! Big jumps!” and you think: I hope she doesn’t trip and impale herself on that tree branch.

I don’t think I’m especially paranoid, but when I’m playing with Fin, I get flashes of her horrifically injuring herself about every ten minutes. When she actually does hurt herself, I’m mostly just relieved, because it’s so much better than it was in my head.

It’s a little weird to have your life filled with interlocking moments of joy and abject terror. They don’t mention that in the parenting books.

The other way parenting is like a horror show is how you periodically stumble past dolls arranged as crime scenes. Maybe it’s just me, but when I see something like this, I can’t help but think multi-vehicle pile-up:

Bodies strewn across floorboards following head-on baby smash

And this strikes me not so much as “laundry day for Miffy” as “Hostel 3”:

Miffy awaits punishment

And I’m sorry, I know Baby Puss got wet in the bath and needed to be dried, but there is no way to look at this and not see a baby on a hook:

Baby drying on hook. Not real baby. Doll baby.

But then you see this and forget all about it.

Breakfast goes better with goggles

By the way, sorry for that long break between blogs. What the hell was I doing? I don’t even know.

Tue 24

My Age of Reason

Max I’m not a superstitious person. But I do believe your brain can come to associate particular objects with particular feelings, and this can affect you in ways you don’t consciously notice. So today as I prepared my morning coffee, I thought: Did I have a good writing day yesterday? Because I used my Richmond Football Club cup: they won on the weekend and thus I was feeling good about them. It was a logical choice. But today: would there be a carry-over effect, or would the cup have absorbed too many new vibes from the day before, and if so, were they good vibes or bad?

At this point I realized that I was standing frozen in the kitchen with half a teaspoon of sugar hovering above the cup. I’m glad no-one saw this, because it might have been difficult to explain how I’m not a superstitious person.

Wed 21

Bad Potato

Max A Potentially Evil PotatoI’m feeling irritable. It started last night, halfway through a paragraph of the book I’m reading. Usually I read at night until I realize I don’t care any more, but last night I cared, I was just irritated. Not at the book. Just in general. It is a non-specific irritability.

Now my question is: Why? Am I irritated at something, without realizing it? Is there some psychological problem here I’m in denial about? Or is it more like I ate a lot of starch yesterday, and tetchiness is a biochemical byproduct of my body processing it? I don’t want to dig around for emotional unrest if the real culprit here is a baked potato with bacon and cheese.

Do you think it’s possible to feel pissed at anything? As in, you tell yourself to start feeling irritable, then you try to think what you’re pissed at. Because I think I can do that. So are emotions responses to actual events, or does your brain grope around for convenient excuses for feelings that are more to do with random neurochemical tides?

If emotions are influenced by what you put into your body, is there any such thing as a “true” feeling? And if there’s not, is there any moral reason you wouldn’t, given the technology, pop a pill (or twist a dial) to generate whatever mood you want? Because that’s no different to having a coffee or a smoke, is it? But if we’re doing that—entering artificial states of feeling, emotions decoupled from the world—doesn’t that make us… well, unreal? Is there anything more fundamental to our existence than the validity of our own feelings?

I don’t know. It could be the potato talking.

Mon 24

I have chickens

Max Finlay cheeses up for camera, Patsy and Flo watchI am renting some chickens. They’re out there right now, scratching in the grass outside my study window. You might not have known you can rent chickens—I didn’t, until Jen came home one day with shining eyes and said, “Let’s rent some chickens!” But you can. In fact, there is hot competition in the chicken rental industry, with,, and competing in my local area alone.

I wasn’t so sure about renting chickens, but Jen said, “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just send them back.” That was when I realized how ingenious the scheme is. You can’t say no to rental chickens. It’s a risk-free investment. And so one night a nice lady drove to our house with a chicken coop, a bag of feed, some hay, and Patsy and Flo.

We didn’t name the chickens. They came with little cards with their names and pictures on them, like baseball stars. They’re basically celebrity chickens, on tour. I could tell they were VICs because Deb, the BookAChook lady, didn’t really want to hand them over. As she went through the list of rules (do not feed meat to chickens, do not feed eggs to chickens unless they have been well-disguised, on hot days chickens enjoy settling in with a chilled ice bottle), I could sense her judging me, evaluating whether I was chicken-worthy.

We’ve had them a few weeks now, and I have to say, I’m impressed. They are very low-maintenance: you let them out of their coop in the morning, you lock them up again when they wander back in at night, but except for chilling the odd ice bottle, that’s pretty much all you have to do. They don’t make much noise, although they have begun giving quiet, hopeful squawks every time I come out the door, just in case I have a plate of strawberries. That’s quite nice, to arouse a hopeful feeling in another creature, even if it’s just because of strawberries. I think it was definitely time I got a pet. And on current form, I can recommend you try the chicken.

Tue 12

Dear Leader

Max Two year old tyrant presenting good side for mediaAs a parent, I occasionally wonder where Fin might end up in life. She’s only two and a half, but I can’t help think about what kind of job she might gravitate toward. Based on recent trends, I would say she’s shaping up for a career as “Iron-Fisted Dictator.”

I’ve always been interested in social systems; I just never thought I’d get to see the rise of fascism up close. In the beginning, it seemed like nothing was wrong—sure, our small society was changing, but these were just natural responses to a changing world. Then one day we woke up and realized that every part of our lives had fallen under the sway of an increasingly irrational authoritarian overlord.

We vaguely remembered that life had not always been like this; that there had been a time when we had been free to express opinions such as, “I think it’s time for bed,” without fear of reprisals. In those days, we had been active participants in the decision-making process. We could go about our daily business without being stopped and asked to explain and justify our every action. But those days were over.

Looking back, I missed the early signs. One day, for example, I said, “Finlay, no feet on the table during lunch, please.” She responded by raising her feet approximately one inch above the table surface. “My feet aren’t on the table, Daddy,” she said, in the tone of someone just as amazed as I was. At the time, I was quietly impressed at her burgeoning ability to adhere to the letter of the law while flagrantly violating its spirit—I thought she was just shaping up to be a good lawyer. What I failed to realize was that testing the legal boundaries is classic behavior of the tyrant in training. Sure enough, the next step was the declaration of a state of emergency and the suspension of all civil liberties. And there we were, living under a regime that would make Mugabe blush.

It was because of those Little Princess books. Fin read a few tales of this loud-mouthed, demanding little girl who lives in a castle with a full staff of adults who rush to fulfill her every wish, and she decided that sounded like a blueprint for an ideal society. I tell you, Little Princess is like Mein Kampf for two-year-olds. We got those poisonous tracts out of the house right away, but it was too late: she had a vision.

Since then we’ve made progress. One of the most effective ways to fight tyranny, I found, was to not give the tyrant her pack of Wiggles stickers until she says, “Daddy, could you please give me my Wiggles stickers?” This was a big improvement on previous forms of request (“I WANT WIGGLES STICKERS!”), and proof, I feel, of the effectiveness of economic sanctions.

Now the air rings with, “Daddy, could you please…” She has figured out that I won’t refuse any request that begins that way. I have to wonder: as we shed the shackles of totalitarianism, are we are seeing the rise of special interest pleading?

Wed 23

My Top Video Games

Max A few nights ago, Jen, Moo (Jen’s brother), and I got to talking about our all-time top computer games. Naturally, this quickly devolved into a bitter, insult-strewn debate about whose top-ranked games were ground-breaking titans of their time (mine), and whose were mindless, derivative trifles (theirs, except where overlapping with mine).

We did settle on the criterion that we should rank games based on the impact they had on us personally. This still left plenty of room for argument. Initially we were going to pick our top 5, but this got pushed out to 10. I still had too many classics left over, so successfully argued for 15, plus an “Honorable Mention.”

Three days later, we were still debating and re-arranging our lists. Clearly this was an important topic for us. In fact, it was surprising how much we cared. Games aren’t usually considered up there with books or movies, but these ones all meant a lot to us. They left a lasting impression and we wanted to give them their due.

So here is the result. My list:

  1. Elite (1984, Commodore 64): My mother bought me this for Christmas when I was about 11. I don’t think I did anything else that year. I never made it to “Elite” status, though. At least, not in the game. Ha ha!
  2. Doom (1993, PC): Ranked this highly for the multiplayer: Jen and I played together. Not competitively. Oh no. Jen lacks that part of the brain that lets you distinguish between reality and a computer game, which means if we play head-to-head, she tries to kill me in real life. We play co-operatively. (Fifteen years of marriage, bud. Fifteen years.)
  3. Shattered World (1990, MUD): A MUD is an online text-based game, usually swords-and-sorcery based. You type in commands, like, “kill goblin”, and read the responses, like, “The goblin dodges your swing. The goblin cleaves your head from your shoulders. You die.” I wrote tons of content for this game when I should have been studying for my marketing degree.
  4. Age of Empires II (1999, PC): I wrestled with the ethics of including a sequel when the original was much more, uh, original. But while Jen and I lost countless hours to both, this is the one we really pounded. Our strategy to defeat the computer-controlled hordes was to pour arrows upon the endless tides of units throwing themselves against our walls until our opponents had consumed every single resource in the game, reducing themselves to small groups of peasants standing around with nothing to do. Then we would ride out and butcher them.
  5. Half-Life (1998, PC): I was roundly ridiculed by Jen and Moo for not fitting HL2 into my list as well, but although it’s an amazing technical achievement, I didn’t really feel it, you know? No, Jen and Moo didn’t buy that, either.
  6. Paradroid (1985, Commodore 64): Ah, brave little 001 droid. I used to get up at 5am to play this before school.
  7. Portal (2007, PC): The only game I’ve played through since Fin was born. Portal is wonderful. I especially love how its story evolves from nowhere.
  8. NetHack (1987, PC): Sadistically difficult game that can strike terror into your heart by revealing a “D”.
  9. Warcraft II (1995, PC): The reason that for about five years there every single game on the shelves was a Real Time Strategy. Zug zug!
  10. Diablo (1996, PC): Diablo II was fantastic, too. But this game I knew I wanted the second the demo loaded.
  11. Unreal Tournament (1999, PC)
  12. Rygar (1986, Arcade)
  13. Battlefield 1942 (2002, PC)
  14. Defender of the Crown (1986, Commodore 64)
  15. Speedball (1988, Commodore Amiga)

Honorable Mention: Half-Life 2.

Obviously the mid-80s were very good to me. For comparison, here is Jen’s list: (1) Battlefield 1942 (2) Age of Empires II (3) Diablo 2 (4) Doom (5) Age of Empires (6) Warcraft 2 (7) Prince of Persia (8) SimCity (9) Railroad Tycoon (10) Carnival [for Colecovision] (11) Diablo (12) Venture [for Colecovision] (13) World of Warcraft (14) Warcraft 3 (15) Pancake [Vtech]. Honorable Mention: LadyBug [for Colecovision].

And Moo’s list: (1) Counter-Strike: Source (2) Team Fortress 2 (3) Runescape (4) Dynasty Warriors [for PlayStation 2] (5) Unreal Tournament (6) Half-Life 2 (7) Warcraft 3 (8) The Sims (9) Diablo , (10) Portal (11) Freelancer (12) Populous (13) Age of Empires II (14) Driver [for PlayStation] (15) Hitman: Blood Money. Honorable Mention: DragonBall Z [for PlayStation 2].

Moo is a teenager, by the way. You might have guessed that already.