Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Apophenia Chapter Two

School 8/16/08
Hoover University does not have a beautiful, idyllic campus. There is some pleasant landscaping and a slender clock tower that stretches two-hundred feet into the sky, but for the most part it’s a nondescript environment. All the buildings are utilitarian and brick, flat-roofed, with sterile insides and windowless classrooms. There are kids riding their bikes, walking around with headsets, moving in great crowds like the migratory herds of African megafauna. I fade in and march with the stream, flowing down the main strip, heading toward the Victor B. Tooms Liberal Arts Center, a hulking rectangular structure. There is a mulberry tree near the entrance, and a stick-limbed boy with disheveled hair is reaching into the branches, plucking berries and tossing them into his mouth. He sees me staring and nods, murmuring to himself. His lips are purplish-red, and he’s gotten stains all over the collar of his yellow-green soccer shirt. His backpack is tiny and pink, like a little girl’s. I want to punch him in the throat, but the odds aren’t with me, so I walk past and enter the Tooms building. My classroom is the first door on the right. I sit down at a desk and stare at the diminutive form of Peter Gibbons, professor of Creative Writing extraordinaire, AKA the Great Communicator, a friend to students, a lover of discussion and its inherent chaos.
            “Hey Leona!” he says. We are the only people in the classroom. “I think, uuh, I’m afraid we may have an issue.” Professor Gibbons has a nasal voice, thick beard, and wide-rimmed glasses. He’s dressed in black jeans and a black turtle neck, looking quite the poet, I must say.
            “What do you mean?” I ask in my most innocent voice.
            “Apparently you, uumm, assaulted Chad Arroyo outside of class yesterday. I found him gasping for breath and holding his throat. He wrote your name on a piece of paper.”
            “That’s odd,” I reply. “I don’t recall punching Chad, and I don’t really understand why anyone would want to.”
            “Come on, you, uuuhh, you have to admit that you and Chad don’t agree on much, and your disagreements are rarely civil,” he says, his eyebrows arching. Gibbons is a frequent devotee of the filled pause, a curious habit, I guess, for a professor.
            “Can you see me hitting anyone?” I ask, showing him my tiny fists. “These are women’s hands. I can rarely find gloves that fit them. They aren’t made for fighting.”
            “Leona, I can’t, uuuhhh, verify this incident, but I feel like you should resolve your differences with Chad before the situation, you know, escalates.”
            “Let me ask you something: did anybody see me hit Chad? Were there any witnesses? Where’s the evidence, I guess, is what I’m saying.”
            Professor Gibbons shakes his head, his shoulders rising spastically. I can tell he doesn’t believe me, but other students have entered the classroom. He doesn’t have anything on me, just a scrawled name, and I’m not about to confess to hurting Chad Arroyo, who walks in and takes the seat right next to mine. He’s looking at me, trying to bore a hole through my head, but I open my notebook and begin to mindlessly doodle. “Leona,” he whispers. A featureless face has taken nascent form on the paper before me, a great head with owl-like eyes. “Hey, hey! Excuse me!” says Chad. I give the thing a bloated torso and stubby limbs. Its eyes are disquieting. They are dream eyes, eyes that stare out from blackness, empty and cold. They say things to me, things I can’t recall while conscious. A hand appears on my desk, fleshy, covered in fine hairs. It is a well-manicured hand, one that does not know hard labor, and once again a violent urge seizes me and I almost stab it with my pencil.
            “What do you need, Chadwick?” I ask, still working on my drawing.
            “Can you look at me while I’m talking to you?” he says.
            “I would rather not,” I reply.
            “Why did you hit me yesterday?” he asks.
            “You must be mistaken,” I say. “I would never hit someone.”
            “You know, I could’ve reported you, and then you might have been expelled.”
            I look at Chad. He’s short, oval-faced, his hair combed off to the right side of his head, giving it an almost toupee appearance. His jeans are too tight, and he’s wearing skateboard shoes with no laces and no socks.
            “You’d tell administration that you got beat up by a girl?” I say.
            “I didn’t get beat up. You punched me in the throat.”
            “So do something about it, you pussy,” I say, looking back at my drawing.
            “Besides report you? What do you mean, like hit you? You think I should’ve hit you?”    
            “Or go tattle. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
            “There’s something wrong with you,” he says, moving to another desk.      
“How is everybody today?” says Professor Gibbons, his voice modulating upward. “What did everybody do over the weekend?” Gibbons always starts off class like this; he gets all excited and energetic, like he feeds off of sunny vibes and reckless youth, and suddenly the ums and uhs vanish, and his sentences rattle off like machine gun fire. 
            “I played the new Fallout and kind of forgot about life,” says Dexter, last name unknown, some starched shirt wearing, long-legged, wannabe poet.
            “Me and my sorority sisters went up to Chicago and ate pizza and hit the bars and visited family, and like, totally drank too much, and, you know, had like a great time!” says Roxanne, clad in pink sweats, hair in a bun, her eyes too far apart.
            “Fuckin’ A,” says Chad.
            “To be young. Yes, the exciting adventures of youth! Language, though, Chad,” says Gibbons.
              “There’s some dude eating berries off of the tree by the doors,” says Chad. “Did anybody see this weirdo?”
            “Yeah, that guy does that like every other day,” says Robert or Rupert, I can’t ever remember. He’s a fat kid with an enormous toad-like head who always wears flip flops no matter the weather. I loathe the sight of his pasty white feet, large-nailed, soft and translucent.
            “Let’s talk about poetry!” yells Gibbons. “This is creative writing, remember? Everyone get out a piece of paper and write twenty words. No thinking, just do it.” This is a typical exercise, one that the prof likes to use about once a week. He loves free-writing, just absolutely adores it; I am fairly certain that if given the option, he would spend his days vomiting out onto the page one disparate sentence after another, the end result being a pretentious mess of incomprehensible nonsense.
            “Chad, read what you wrote,” says Gibbons.
            Punk hardcore twee remodifier, twisted at the hip, nailed to the cross, cigarette in the pocket: I’m blessed. Love: Mom.
            “Yeah, that’s good, yeah, uuummm, excellent!” says Gibbons. “This is what I tell you people: you don’t have to labor over art. You don’t have to rack your brain and cut off your ear. I mean, that might help—passion’s great and all—but the amount of time spent on a piece doesn’t necessarily ensure its quality. It’s subjective, of course, what exactly constitutes great art. People have wildly differing opinions. Britney Spears and the Beatles, you know, which is better? I have my opinion and you have yours.”
            “But my opinion’s the best,” I say.
            “How is it the best?” asks Chad.
            “Well, you like Radiohead, for instance, as everyone here well knows. I can give you a million reasons why they suck. Thom York looks like a sleepy-eyed gnome, and he caterwauls to no end, and after Ok Computer they started putting out tuneless nonsense. Kid A sounded like B-sides married to Aphex Twin drum beats. They don’t play their guitars much anymore. Thom exchanged them for Pro Tools.”
            “Leona, would you please…” begins Gibbons.
            “And the Beatles are objectively better than Britney Spears, who came from the Mickey Mouse Club and MTV, and who had like a billion songwriters working side by side with marketers trying to figure out how best to sell her sex appeal to adolescents and make her record company millions. She can’t sing, she can’t write, he’s just hot,” I finish, not knowing why I’m so agitated.
            “The Beatles are overrated,” says Robert/Rupert.
            “I’ve never been too fond of them,” responds Dexter.
            “The Velvet Underground are the indie Beatles,” states Chad.
            “So what you’re saying is that her art lacks integrity,” says Gibbons. “Is that right, Leona?”
            “Yeah, I guess,” I say.
              “And you don’t think the Beatles made music for money?”
            “Well, no, I know they did, but they wrote their own stuff and played their own instruments,” I reply.
            “So all music must be written by performers in order to be good?” asks Gibbons.
            “No,” I say, while knowing where he’s going with this.
            “When you have a piece of art, you divorce it from its creator and the creator’s intentions,” says Gibbons. “You judge it on its own merits.”
            “Why can’t you have criteria for judging art?” I ask. The rest of the class sighs; they’re tired of my arguing and my contrarian disposition. I don’t particularly care.
            “A good piece of art is successful in doing whatever it was created to do. By that criterion, Womanizer is a fine song. You, Leona, obviously have your own criteria by which you judge art. Is your opinion better than mine? Who decides? Writing music or poetry isn’t like building a bridge or solving an equation. Do you understand what I’m getting at?” asks Gibbons.
            “Maybe you should be a math major,” suggests Chad.
            “Maybe you should stop wearing women’s jeans,” I say.
            “Okay, discussion time has ended,” says Gibbons. I listen to his lecture for a while, but I soon start to drift into the hazy netherworld of the daydream. Doodles fill my notebook, surrealistic creatures and geometric shapes. I manage to draw a decent caricature of Diesel, his head a football-shaped moon, saliva dripping from his yawning maw. Most of the class is paying attention except for a boy in a green army jacket. He always wears a Stetson hat with a turkey feather emerging from the band, and he has this hat pulled down low; his hand moves fast over a notebook, a large hand with big knuckles and protruding veins. He could be drawing the same things that I am—maybe he even has a brother named after a type of engine. I read an article the other day that suggested it was possible and maybe even probable that we are all living in a simulation based on mathematical laws. Like, there’s some advanced posthuman civilization that decides to simulate life using unimaginably powerful computers. Since simulating the entire universe on an atomic level would require an infinite amount of energy, it is reasonable to assume that they would look to conserve resources, hence, this could all be a show put on for my benefit. Professor Gibbons, Chad, Stetson hat guy, they’re all shadow people, zombies, and if I go and look at Stetson guy’s notebook, drawings will magically appear. A connection will be forged on the basis of randomly generated data. Of course, maybe I’m the shadow person. Maybe I don’t have thoughts. Maybe this is the first second of my life, and as soon as I walk out of this classroom, I shall cease to be.
            The rustling of papers disturbs my reverie. I hear the tail-end of a sentence from Gibbons mentioning that there will be a quiz on Wednesday, which is interesting, since we never have quizzes. I look around to ask someone what he said, but there’s no one sitting next to me.
            Arroyo flicks a wad of paper at me as he gets up for the door. It hits me in the tits. I unroll it and discover a ten digit code that I presume to be a phone number. Instead of throwing it in the garbage, I stuff the paper in my pocket.
            “Leona,” says Gibbons as I prepare to leave.
            “What,” I say.
            “We can’t have these frequent, um, distractions every, uuuhhh, class. I know you have strong views on, uuumm, art, but we can’t rehash the same conversation. I’d appreciate it if you kept that in mind.”
            “What are we having a quiz over?” I ask, figuring I can’t fall any lower in Gibbons’ eyes.
            Stalin’s Mustache,” he says, looking at me shrewdly from behind his thick frames. The aforementioned volume is a two-hundred page collection of poems written by the prof about, you guessed it, Joseph Stalin’s facial hair.
            “Any particular poem I should read over?” I ask.
            “Just read as many as you can,” says Gibbons.
            “Sure,” I replying, wondering how many cups of spiked coffee that will take.
            I’m sorry to do this to you, dear reader, but I have to insert one of Gibbons’ poems. You need to suffer as I did. Imagine reading a small novel of this stuff.

Stalin’s Mustache: An Affirmation
It wasn’t unexpected, you furry wet leach, that your sexy shimmering shaking would lead to something of an affair, which, now don’t get me wrong, brotha (reduced to the vernacular, yet again) I enjoyed as much as a man/boy/woman/transvestite could, especially when considering the rather fecal circumstances that you are undoubtedly loath to remember, seeing how you shat spanked cummed your way through the interview, filthy hobo that you are, you dirty girl/boy/baby, you ridiculous fat swine, you smelly flee-bitten poopy-eared Commie, you hairy twat, you stinky taint, you delicate beautiful busty whore, I really, really, really, really want to forget/preserve/consume/digest you, but alas, the Dictator prevents it, he is always getting in the way of our bristly porcine love, and I like to think that some day, you and I shall walk together, man and mustache, hand in hand, foot in mouth, genitals joined in whiskery abandon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Poem from Apophenia

What am I but an extension of my mother’s labyrinth,
 a creature meant to bend and slide through corridors of refuse,
walking on the chipped pavement till my shoes rot away and my soul touches the grimy earth that yearns to swallow me as it has swallowed millions like me,
 women teetering on the tremulous, sharp edged blade of time,
 turning out their pockets for cigarette stubs,
 shrugging off advances and bills and weak paychecks and everyday people who would
eat your heart if they could,
 slice it up and spice it up on a plate,
 the inevitable pull of currents dragging us downward,
 pregnant and dilapidated, maids to trolls, keepers of the brood,
 a sorry lot of bed-wetters, prospective alcoholics,
 future drug addicts and wife beaters,
 little boys and girls who just weren’t able to be happy,
 just like their mothers, just like their mother’s great sprawling messes,
 abysses that yawn and call for more and more and more,
 their stomachs as endless as the company I keep,
 my kin, my kind, my home.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Music: Lover's Story

I wrote this song today. I think it is pretty. That is all. Listen on Soundcloud.

Video Game Review: Thief (2014)

One thing is certain, Thief is pretty.

Thief is the sequel to the classic first person stealth games developed by the now defunct Looking Glass studios. This is a series frequently cited to be among the greatest games of all time, so the expectations for this new title, which is a reboot, are high. Like the Looking Glass games, you control Garrett, a master Thief who has the ability to disappear in darkness, and who disdains combat as a sign of amateurism. The game, however, still leaves you capable of dispatching your enemies with a variety of arrows, though combat is certainly discouraged. Sneaking up behind enemies and bopping them on the head with the blackjack to render them unconscious is a better idea, or just avoiding them all together. Though the previous games let the player use the blackjack, I wish the game would differentiate between knocking a guard out and killing them, since, in both cases, the end result is the same. Guards could wake up after about three minutes and resume their search, and if the player knocks them out again, it could be lethal. But alas, that might make a hard and unforgiving game, which Thief can be.
 Hey, a Keeper Library. But where are the Keepers?

For a game that wants the player to pay attention to its story, Thief's narrative sure is incomprehensible drivel. During the prologue, Garrett loses his protege, an unlikable noisy, murderous thief named Erin, when she falls to her apparent doom from a roof top into a mystic ceremony involving a magic MacGuffin called the Primal and the city's leader, a totalitarian old fart called the Baron. Garrett is knocked out, somehow for a year, and when he wakes up, he's got a piece of the Primal lodged in his eye, which is the game's explanation for his Focus ability, which lets you see traps and loot easier. Soon, he's involved with Orion, a populist leader who wants to recover the Primal for some reason that's never explained. Nothing gets explained with this game: the only character that isn't a half-written cliche is Garrett's fence Basso, who disappears before the game's third act. The narrative reeks of rewrites and stitches; I wonder how many times they tried to cobble this story together from disparate parts. The end result is an unsatisfactory tale. So what, you might say. This is a video game, not a novel. As long as the gameplay is good, who cares? Well, it matters because the original Thief games had excellent plots with well-developed characters, and it's a shame the reboot is such a mess, and, as I stated before, this game takes its plot seriously, and its discombobulated narrative affects gameplay. Their are plenty of cutscenes which take control away from the player, as well as odd free running sequences in which you aren't certain whether or not you are controlling Garrett. These sequences will be hard to tolerate if you're a fan of the Looking Glass games, for the previous titles emphasized player choice and agency. In the old Thief, Garrett usually had to find his way out after infiltrating a bank or castle; in new Thief, the game pushes you along during its missions, and back tracking is usually impossible. 
Hey, a Hammerite Cathedral. But where are the Hammers?

In-between missions, Thief places you in the City, which is intended to be a playground for Garrett, full of side missions and secrets. This doesn't work like the Assassin Creed games, however, because the City is divided into numerous loading zones, each represented by a glowing window or a pile of stacked debris. Navigating the City, which should be a blast, is therefore a tedious chore. You have to figure out which zone connects to which zone because it's not always apparent on your map. The original two games did large levels very well; Thief 2014 takes after Deadly Shadows, the third entry in the series, which featured a higher level of detail but shoe-box sized environments. I'm assuming this was a concession in order to fit the game on the last generation consoles. In any case, the City is a failure, although many of the side missions are fun and more reminiscent of the previous games' style. 

Hey, burricks. We haven't seen a live one since 1998.

Despite their numerous sins, the developers did get the essential feel of Thief right. The stealth systems work well; you have a light meter with three different settings, and you're only safe (relatively) in complete darkness. Garrett will be heard if he runs or if he steps over broken glass or alerts a caged bird. Guard AI is impressive, and on Master difficulty, challenging. They investigate opened doors and thrown objects, and with a couple slashes of their swords, take Garrett's life. Swoop, a new addition that allows Garrett to glide quickly with a push of the space bar, feels powerful and satisfying. Garrett always moved like a lumbering tap dancer in the previous games; here, he feels more like a master thief. Guards are pretty much your only enemies besides Freaks, supernatural monsters who are blind but have heightened hearing. They are also vulnerable to light, which is a cool reversal of usual gameplay. 

Basso, I wish the entire game was about you and Garrett's adventures. That would've been interesting.

Thief isn't a terrible game. It's a solid modern stealth game that you'll enjoy if you're able to look past its many faults. But we have to compare it to its excellent predecessors, and average doesn't quite cut it. It's a shame they got rid of the dark fantasy lore that was the series hallmark. The Hammerites, an industry-obsessed religious order, are no more, and the Pagans, a creepy bunch of woods people who worship the Trickster God, are never mentioned. There are no Ratmen or Haunts or zombies. Thief has been stripped of its outlandish elements, and what remains is gritty and grim-dark, but ultimately less interesting. 

Final rating: Red Delicious--tastes like cardboard, mushy texture, yet will do in a pinch.

An explanation of Pointless Venture's rating system: We use a five apple system here. A classic is Gold Rush, excellent is Honeycrisp, average is Golden Delicious, poor is Red Delicious, and awful is Winesap. Try the aforementioned apples and see if you don't come up with the same rating.