It’s 1986, and I’m moving on to the next stage of school. I’m leaving behind the junior high and attending school at the Intermediate Building, which is for grades nine and ten. (I gather that this is unusual, and that most schools have a single building for grades nine through twelve. Perhaps this is due to our class size, which is well over seven hundred students.) The previous school building was an ancient relic from a bygone era, constructed of worn wood and tired bricks. The Intermediate Building is a snazzy new modern thing made with modern sensibilities and following all the latest trends in institutional design. Students describe it as “like a prison, only you never get to go outside for fresh air.”
At a few key points there are large overhead domes to let in the sunlight, like an upscale mall. This is good, because the rest of the hallways seem to be lit with twenty watt bulbs, like a Minecraft tunnel constructed by a guy running low on torches. A majority of the rooms have no windows. Of the few that do, they only get a pair of narrow vertical windows, which are angled carefully so as to avoid the dangers of students being exposed to daylight. These windows are so narrow that an adult would find it impossible to squeeze through one. Not that these windows open. No, these are hermetically sealed, to protect students from the hazards of fresh air.
So the student body mills around in this darkened box like a colony of mole-people, breathing the same air all day and forming wild theories about what sort of weather might be taking place beyond the doors of our vault. I don’t know that anyone has ever done a formal study, but it’s accepted as fact that the Intermediate Building has a higher than average occurrence of fights and sickness.
If you’d like a tour and you have an iron stomach when it comes to shaky-cams, then have a look around. The only thing that’s different is the addition of the Pepsi machine:
(Also, in my time students were not permitted to use the elevator.)
In English class, we’re given an assignment to write an Epic. We’re given a list of attributes common to epic stories, and told to create a story with a similar structure. Thankfully, the list of attributes is fairly small – much smaller than what would be involved in creating a real epic – and it doesn’t need to be poetry.
It’s a freeform assignment, which means I’m interested in doing it. At first I decide to subvert the style by setting the story in a sci-fi future. I hammer away at that idea, but it’s too big and unwieldy for me at this age. The deadline comes and I decide I hate the idea.
A reasonable student would simply plow forward. After all, the assignment is due in the morning. It’s better to finish it than to start over. But I’m not a reasonable student. I’d rather turn in nothing at all than turn in something I hate. I get the idea to simply do a spoof of The Odyssey, which I title the “Odd Essay”. I hammer the whole thing out in a single draft, cursing myself for not thinking of the idea sooner.
This is my first work of parody, and I find it comes naturally to me. The title should give you an idea of the level of sophistication we’re talking about here. My style is a bit slapstick at this stage in my development, and most of my jokes seem to hail from the Mel Brooks area of the comedy spectrum.
I get a B+, which is a very good grade, but short of “excellent”. The teacher adds the note that she really enjoyed the story, but she had to detract points for numerous misspellings, a few small grammatical errors, and the fact that it was done in pencil. This being English class, I realize she was very, very generous towards me, and that my creativity had probably spared me from something much lower. I am gratified to see my work was graded based on originality, instead of exclusively on word count, page count, and neatness. The goal of the assignment was to learn about epics, but my goal was to create something worth reading.
|This is an awful photo, but there are a lot of artifacts in it. On the far left you can see the map from Neighbor John. On the bookshelf you can see Art and the Computer. Here I’m working at my computer, which is hooked up to a television, as was the custom in those primitive days.|
I’m still hanging out in the library in the mornings. I’ve discovered a group of six Dungeons & Dragons players that meet here, and I spend every morning sitting near their table, watching them play.
The DM is fond of traps. Every time the party goes anywhere he makes them roll, and then announces that they have just set off a trap. Then an argument ensues because they haven’t established who was leading the group. In a strange sort of ambiguity only possible in a tabletop game, they know someone in the group has been injured, but they don’t know who. The players all have reasons why their character wouldn’t be in the front of the group right now. Finally they come to some agreement, and one of them grudgingly accepts the consequences. They write down the marching order of the party, to avoid having this same argument the next time a trap is sprung.
Odds are, the note recording their marching order will mysteriously vanish before their next session.
I’m there with them, every day. Nobody questions this stranger dropping in on their game. Nobody gives me a hard time. I find the game exciting, but I never ask to play and they never invite me. I don’t even speak, because I’m afraid of committing some social blunder that will cause them to shun me. I just want to watch. It will be twenty years before I sit down at a table to play for myself.
That’s it. That’s all I remember. Also, there may have been a Queen of some sort at the end of the adventure. Maybe they were fighting drow?
I might never figure out what module they were playing, because my memory is just too hazy. I wish I could remember the box cover. I could probably find it in just a couple of minutes if I knew that.
Why Google sucks, and what made me switch to crowdfunding for this site.
A horrible, railroading, stupid, contrived, and painfully ill-conceived roleplaying campaign. All in good fun.
id Software Coding Style
When the source code for Doom 3 was released, we got a look at some of the style conventions used by the developers. Here I analyze this style and explain what it all means.
The Best of 2017
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2017.
Why Batman Can't Kill
His problem isn't that he's dumb, the problem is that he bends the world he inhabits.