Silky’s Hidden Vault

Call Geraldo, I’ve uncovered Silky’s Hidden Vault!

Some of you may recall Silky, the non-conformist hamster (since passed on). There was one week when Silky escaped from his cage and was missing for several days. We thought that was it for the little guy, since he had no source of water. Kate did sprinkle some of his food on the floor in hopes of tempting him out. One night I was walking by my office and saw the silhouette of Silky standing upright near my desk. I was able to corner him, scoop him up, and return him to his house. He immediately drank greedily from his water bottle.

We had often wondered where exactly he had gotten to those days and yesterday I found out. As part of our general house clean up in preparation for yesterday’s Devil’s Night party (see Nikchick’s blog for details and pictures and wonder at the meatfoot, or “feetloaf” as Kate calls it), I spent some serious time rearranging my office. For the longest time a good half of my RPG collection was more or less inaccessible at the back of the room, obscured by a couple years of detritus. I decided to shift things around, so I could reference books more easily when needed.

Much of my RPG collection is housed in this big shelf system I got at Ikea. It has 25 cubes that are perfectly sized for storing RPGs, and then I have many board games, wargames, and boxed sets on top. I decided to move around the contents of several of the cubes. When I moved the books out, I discovered two things. In one cube, there was a bunch of hamster food. In the cube next door, there was a bunch of hamster crap. Now this shelf unit is big, heavy, and right up against the wall. There’s really not much room to move back there and books blocked access from the front. It looks like Silky, who was always stuffing food into his cheeks and bringing it into his wheel, scouted out this lair and brought supplies back by squeezing in around the back. He was smart enough to realize he shouldn’t eat and shit in the same place, so he used the nearby cube as an outhouse. If you told me he was running perimeter security as well, I wouldn’t be surprised.

So there Silky hid out until I caught him on a nocturnal patrol. That’s probably where I would have found his desiccated corpse if I hadn’t lucked across him that night. Sadly, it was only a month or two later that Kate found Silky dead in his cage.

Now to look for the hidden treasure…

Two Quests Ended

Ever since moving to Seattle I’ve been looking for a place with really good falafel. It has been tough. Living in NYC for so many years, I became spoiled. I could always go to Mamoun’s at 3 am for a $2 falafel/hummous combo sandwich. That was the shit. Other good falafel places abounded as well. Then I moved here and found…a falafel wasteland. The falafel at the otherwise excellent Cedar’s is OK, but they serve it cold for some reason. No, Cedar’s wasn’t going to cut it. Well, six years later and my quest is at an end. The worst is that it has been under my nose for a couple of years now.

When the downtown bus tunnels close at night, I usually catch the 106 home on 3rd Ave. A sign on the corner points up one block. It says “Best Falafel on Earth.” For the longest time I scoffed. “Bah,” I thought, “just another Seattle tease.” A couple of weeks ago though, Nik and I went to the place. It’s called Zaina’s and…it’s good! The falafel is hot and nicely spiced, the pita is grilled and fresh, and the hot sauce complements the whole thing nicely. Tonight I was downtown running some errands and I stopped in again and it was just as good. Also tried their lamb shawarma and that too was excellent. Bus rides home just got a lot more tasty.

When I got home tonight, I went online to check my e-mail and saw the Red Sox had won the World Series. As a Boston native, I was stunned. I pretty much gave up on them back the 70s. I remember being a kid and watching the Sox play the Yankees. My friend Marc and I would run out to the street and write “Yankees Suck” in the dirt in between innings. Then they broke my Dad’s heart in 1986 and that was that as far as I was concerned. I was amazed when the Sox won four and a row to put the Yankees away. Then four more for the series. I thought about calling my Dad when I heard, but figured my parents would be in bed. They then called me! My Dad had become resigned to never seeing this day, so I’m pleased for him. Professional sports still sucks, but at least it finally managed to make my Dad happy. I’m also relieved the win didn’t give him a third heart attack!

I’m a Rocker, I Rock Out

The previous entry got me thinking about my early teenage years and some of the concerts I went to back then. My first was Rush. I was 13 and it was the Signals tour. Good timing, as that was when they began their decline into synth-dominated crapola. At the time I was waaaay into Rush, going so far as to borrow a Rush t-shirt from my next-door neighbor so I could go suitably attired. Later that year I saw “supergroup” Asia. After the show I tried hard to convince myself that it didn’t suck, but really, it sucked. They didn’t have enough songs for a whole concert so every member (including the bass player) got his own solo. Dude, it was like, so dude-tastic. Carl Palmer’s drums rotated and shit. Whoa.

When I was freshman in high school, I got into U2. This was during the War era, before asshole jocks and mall denizens embraced lil’ Bono and the gang. Naturally, I got flipped all kinds of shit for the very daring U2 badge I wore on my coat. Three years later these selfsame assholes were filling concert stadiums for the band. Reminds me of why I hated high school. Anyway, I missed the War tour but caught the next one (Unforgettable Fire, I think; if so, perhaps misnamed).

This was the period when I discovered the “alternative” music that eventually led me to punk. Later that same year, as an awkward and depressive social outcast, I heard the Smiths for the first time. Depression and Morrissey go together like peanut butter and chocolate and for a brief period I was shamefully obsessed with the Smiths. I saw them on the Meat Is Murder tour, with opening act Billy Bragg. Bragg was great and a total riot. It so happened that Tears for Fears had played in Boston the night before and many folks at the Smiths show had their Tears for Fears t-shirts on. Bragg ripped on Tears for Fears from the stage, calling them a bunch of wankers and so on, which caused many of these people to suddenly zip up their coats to hide their t-shirts. That was funny shit. I saw the Alarm in that same period. Don’t remember much about it, except the version of 68 Guns that went for over ten fucking minutes. Ack.

My sophomore year was when I started going to punk shows, catching bands like the Meat Puppets, Black Flag, DOA, and the Dicks. I also saw the Replacements that year, in a small club in Providence, RI. Now that was a great show. The late Naked Bob Stinson did indeed get naked, but the band wasn’t so drunk that they couldn’t play. They did take a break at one point, at which time Washingtonians the Young Fresh Fellows jumped on stage and seized their instruments. They said, “We’re the replacements for the Replacements,” and proceeded to play wacky shit like the Gilligan’s Island theme song until the Replacements came back to finish their set. I remember being really angry at the crowd because no one would slam or pogo or anything. Everyone just kept crushing forward, turning the front of the stage into an airless sardine can.

Musically, the next couple of years were wacky. I was getting more and more into punk, but I didn’t immediately dump the stuff I used to like either. So my junior year Iwould listen to a hardcore band like Minor Threat and then put on a King Crimson album. I did pretty much stop going to big arena rock shows though. I say pretty much because my senior year I had one last hurrah. I was, you guessed, Iron fucking Maiden. Some friends of mine were going to go and they asked me I wanted a ticket. I said what the fuck.

Imagine 15,000 metalheads…and one punk. Let me tell you, I could feel the hate as we walked down to our seats. I got countless “what the fuck are you doing here?” looks from the greasy-haired dude brigade. Luckily, I was with my friend Tony, who was a totally nice guy, but very large and very Italian. I suspect big Tony was the only thing between my head and the pavement that night. The show was a fucking riot. Completely over the top rock and roll bullshit. Lasers, UFO looking things flying through the air, a metric ton of smoke, and of course a giant skeletal Eddie. And that was the last night I ever banged my head. Dude.

Some Random Bits

1) I finally saw the Pianist and it was quite good. It’s interesting how in extremely dire circumstances simple survival can be heroic. The guy doesn’t do anything to end the war himself. He doesn’t fight in either the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the later uprising of the Polish Home Army in 1944. The closest he gets to action is smuggling some guns into the ghetto. Still though, it’s a triumph that he somehow managed to live through the entire war as a Jew in Warsaw, even when the Germans leveled the entire city.

2) I am getting perilously close to finishing the last few chapters of WFRP. Huzzah! Naturally, Kate came home today with strep throat. I am currently rooting for my antibodies. There is no way I can possible afford to get sick right now.

3) The Daily Show did a piece on the Curse of the Bambino tonight. Rob Cordry mentions the Number of the Beast to this young sox fan and the kid stares at him blankly. Cordry quips, “Look, you’re a teenager from Boston. If you haven’t even heard of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, how are you going to worship the devil?” This cracked me up, since during my pre-punk teenage years in the Boston area I used to blast “The Number of the Beast” all the time. Kids today, I tell ya.

4) I picked up the new Bad Religion album, “The Empire Strikes First.” It’s got all the classic BR elements and the political situation has made them extra pissed off, which is good in my book. Best song title: “Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever.”

5) I voted today, via my mail-in ballot. I felt very empowered voting against Bush and Cheney. As ludicrous as it sounds, filling in the little circle made me feel like I was at least doing something.

Take the Lid Off the Pot…

There are days when I wish that I could just go off. The internet generally emboldens people. Let them spend $20 on something you’ve published and they feel they have the automatic right to say things to you via the internet they would never say to your face. We must receive such rants with a smile, embracing them like we’re happy to get this valuable feedback. To do otherwise would not be professional. But you know, it gets real tiresome.

You have a problem, fine, tell me about and I’ll give you an answer. You have a suggestion, great, happy to hear it. But do me the favor of treating my staff and me like we are human beings. It really wouldn’t kill you to show us a small bit of courtesy.

Here’s a letter I’d love to send one day. Well, that or the profanity filled rant I had in mind when I started this entry.

Dearest Patron,

Thanks very much for your letter of last week. You truly have amazing skills. The entire Green Ronin staff agrees that your pointed commentary on our latest project was top-notch. Since you clearly have all the answers, may we suggest starting your own game company? Don’t worry, it’s easy. If you have good credit, you’ll probably only have to max out two credit cards to do that extra large print run of your first game. And you’ll want it to be extra big, because surely all right thinking gamers will embrace your genius instantly and you’ll want to be sure to have enough copies for everyone. Make sure you print at least 10,000, double that if possible. Oh yes, the game industry will never know what hit it. You should launch it at GenCon and get the biggest booth possible. WotC may even have an old castle they can sell you. Then make sure to take out double page ads in all the game magazines in the months leading up to launch. And don’t forget the 1000 page tie-in novel! We’d do all this for you but clearly our humble operation is not big enough to do you and your ideas justice.

And as an aside, if you are literally blowing, no wonder you are having problems. What you really need to do is suck it. Hard. That should clear things up for you.

See you next GenCon!

Little Wars

In Dirty Little Secrets of WWII, wargame-legend-turned-CNN-talking-head Jim Dunnigan wrote of post-1945 conflicts: “This lingering combat occurred because, as usually happens in a major war, there were also a lot of little wars going on at the same time. While the big nations were slugging it out, the simultaneous little wars tended to go unnoticed. But when the principle nations decided to declare the war over, many of the minor players fought on.”

I thought of this passage many times while reading Peter Scott’s fascinating book Lost Crusade: America’s Secret Cambodian Mercenaries. The author was an American officer in Vietnam in the post-Tet era. He was a liaison to a group of “Kit Carson Scouts”, former Communist soldiers that had turned themselves in and were rearmed and trained as American paramilitaries. While many of the scouts were Vietnamese, the Americans also recruited heavily from various ethnic minorities, like the Montagnards and the Nung, who had their own grievances. Scott served near the Cambodian border, in a region known as the Seven Mountains, and his scouts were Khmer Krom, ethnic Cambodians who had been living in Vietnam for a long time.

The Khmer Krom had faced their share of oppression at the hands of the Vietnamese, who they called “yuons.” Like many ethnic minorities in similar positions, they longed to be free from this yoke. This led them into a series of alliances, none of which worked particularly well for them. They aided the French colonizers, which led to severe Viet Minh reprisals during the 40s. Later, they joined the Viet Cong, hoping that Communism would set them free. After years of taxation and privation under the Communists, they rose up and killed their Communist officers and began to fight directly for their own freedom. It was during this era that the Americans got involved. The Khmer Krom were desperately poor and ill-equipped and faced hostile Vietnamese from both north and south. By joining the Kit Carson Scouts, the Khmer Krom got American arms and support.

Scott’s book is part personal memoir and part illuminating history of a little known part of the Vietnam War. He participated in something called the Phoenix Program, a rather nauseating enterprise that also featured a young Oliver North (though not in this book, thankfully). The idea of the Phoenix Program was to root out the Viet Cong by identifying the eliminating their infrastructure in South Vietnam. Scott defends the strategy but even he admits that it wasn’t executed with finesse. High command was interested in body counts and they were expected to be bagging a continuous stream of Communists. Little to no proof was required and it is certain that many thousands of innocent villagers were killed and counted as Communists.

The Phoenix Program largely takes a back seat to the Khmer Krom, their culture, and their struggle and that’s the most fascinating part of the book. Their identity was tied up with that of the region, which used to be part of Cambodia and is rich in mythology. Scott paints a fairly sympathetic picture of the Khmer Krom and their “little war” makes you look at the larger war in a different light. For example, when the US was beginning to reduce its presence, it instituted a policy called Vietnamization. The idea here was to train South Vietnamese troops to US standards and slowly put them in place of the Americans. In short, to teach the Vietnamese to better fight their own war. You can imagine how the Khmer Krom reacted to this policy. The last thing they wanted was to be put under the command of the South Vietnamese! You can also see how an American pull out put people like Khmer Krom, Montagnards, and Nung in a terrible position. They had believed in the American promises and suffered because of it.

In 1970 there was a coup in Cambodia, as General Nol ousted Prince Sihanouk. The Khmer Krom thought their time had come. The North Vietnamese had been running troops through Cambodia for years, despite the secret US bombing of those cross border sanctuaries. General Nol said he was going to kick the Communists out. The Americans agreed to covertly send six units of Khmer Krom soldiers to join Nol. They left with the highest of hopes; few ever returned. Nol squandered these well-trained troops in a series of disastrous campaigns. This paved the way for the Khmer Rouge takeover and the well-known Killing Fields of Pol Pot. Back in Vietnam the Communist victory was not kind to the Khmer Krom villages either. Many were killed, others imprisoned and tortured for a decade or more.

The Lost Crusade is one of the best-written war memoirs I’ve read. The end of the book also had an interesting twist. In the early 90s, through a fluke meeting, Scott was able to track down several of his old Khmer Krom comrades. It turned out that 40 or so families from the villages of Seven Mountains had settled in the USA. He found them in Tacoma, which is all of 30 minutes from where I live. Survivors of these horrific events are practically in my backyard. The world is sometimes frighteningly small.

Teaching You the Fear

While I was heartened to see that pundits declared Kerry the winner in last week’s debate, it is friggin’ scary that the race is even close at this point. Based on Bush’s record (“worst…president…ever”) you’d think people would be preparing toxically foul garbage to hurl at him after he loses next month. Instead, one big slipup and Kerry might lose and I can’t begin to contemplate another four years under Bush. I find myself wishing that it were Dean up there instead of Kerry. The crucial issue of this election is the Iraq war and Dean could have run as a straight up anti-war candidate. I understand Kerry’s position, but it’s so easy for the Republican spin machine to take apart. And honestly I thought the Democrats were cowards to cede war power to Bush when they did in the first place. Dean could have said, “You lied to this country about WMDs, you sold us on a fraudulent bill of goods, and now we’re paying in lives and money for your mistakes.” Kerry, because he voted to empower Bush to go to war, just can’t go all the way. He is trying to claim on the one hand that Bush going to war the way he did was wrong, but on the other that Hussein was a threat that had to be take care of. It is, unfortunately, a more nuanced message than the public can deal with. Big, bold, and easily understood positions are what win elections.

The Republicans have settled on the message: “Your children will die if you vote for John Kerry.” They make it sound like only they can protect the country from those evil terrorists. Complete tool Bill O’Reilly was on the Dailey Show tonight and he argued that one thing we really ought to give this administration credit for is the lack of attacks on the US since 9/11. I would have laughed out loud if Nik weren’t already asleep. Give them credit for that? Shouldn’t we be blaming them for the 9/11 disaster in the first place? Who was it that completely ignored all the warning signs? As has come out in the 9/11 Commission Report, there was ample evidence that something was coming. The Bush administration had every opportunity to protect this country from those attacks and they chose an anti-terrorist policy that amounted to burying their heads in the sand. So no, I won’t give them fucking credit. They don’t get a free pass on 9/11 and they don’t get to “own” it, as if the deaths of all those people was an endorsement for the Republican Party.

The Democrats are surely trying and I sincerely hope they can pull it out. Kerry can’t go full bore against the war, which is too bad. He’ll have to settle for “George Bush is a liar.” Though frankly he isn’t even hitting that message as much as he should be. Nor adding murderer, thief, hypocrite, and traitor. I suppose that would be asking too much of the Democrats though.

Game Shows of the Future

I had a weird ass dream last night. I rarely have dreams so vivid they stay with me after I wake up, but this one was so odd that it did.

In my dream, it was the near future and there was a new breed of “reality” game shows featuring washed up celebrity guests. In one scene a group of celebs were sitting on wire benches playing poker. What’s strange about that? Well, none of them were wearing pants and at a certain point in the game they producers began to run an electric current through the benches. So they had to play poker whilst electricity was jolting their asses. Anyone that got up to escape the current lost automatically.

In another two celebs were suspended under a helicopter by rotating T-bars. The copter flew over Las Vegas (where else?) and the celebs had to manipulate their T-bars so they could perform various acts of sodomy on each other. The winning team would do all the acts the fastest.

On reflecting on these shows, which I’ve dubbed Death Penalty Poker (or perhaps Texas Hold On) and Sodomy Ride, I decided that TV has sunk low enough that these are entirely possible within only a few years. I mean, we’ve already seen shows like Wife Swap and the Littlest Groom (in which they marry off a midget so he can get laid; yes, really) so this stuff doesn’t seem much worse. So who will be brave enough to air these fine programs first, Cinemax or Showtime? And what washed up celebs should be the contestants?