The Naked Treehouse

Last week I was taking the bus downtown to do a bank and post office run. I was trying to get some checks deposited before 3 so I took the 2:30 bus, which is earlier than I usually go. Turned out the teenagers had just gotten out of school and the bus was packed, so I had to go all the way to the back and sit in the middle of the last row of seats. I pulled out a copy of Honour of the Grave by Robin Laws and started reading. On my left there was a pimply faced teenager with baggy pants half way down his ass, but I didn’t pay him any attention. Not so the two young girls who bounced down the aisle. They had their eyes on him and walked right up to introduce themselves.

“Would you like to join our naked treehouse?” the skinny one asks energetically. Baggy pants looks boggled. “Your what?” he asks.

“Our naked treehouse,” the Latina girl says. “We have a treehouse and if you join our club you can come there and get naked. We also have pool parties.”

“What do I have to do to join?” he asks, the hint of suspicion in his voice.

“Well,” the skinny girl says, “You have to either get naked right here, right now or you have to learn our special handshake.”

I nearly interjected, “Dude, your pants are already half off, go for it!” Instead, I hid my big smirk behind my book and just listened. The teenagers soon established that they were all 16 years old. The girls also said they went to a private Christian school downtown with only 30 students. Ah, Christian school girls, it all made so much sense.

After the guy made it clear he wasn’t going to get naked on the bus, the girls decided to show him the special handshake. It started with with three big jerking off motions and a grunt and got weirder from there. I found it really hard not to laugh.

At this point a police officer got on the bus and girls said, “Oh, maybe we should ask him to join our naked treehouse.” The skinny one starts yelling over the cop. “Excuse me, Mr. police officer!” She finally gets his attention but then changes tactics. She says, “Do you have a dollar? A dollar!”

The cop, to his credit, gives them a whithering glance and says, “J-O-B.”

Soon after the cop and baggy pants get off the bus, so I figure the entertainment is over. But oh no, the girls then turn their attention to me. “What about you? Do you want to join our naked treehouse?”

I said, “Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea, considering.”

The Latina girl says, “Oh, don’t worry, we don’t discriminate based on age. Anyone is welcome in the naked treehouse.”

“Yeah, but I think the authorities frown on that sort of thing.”

They consider this then ask, “If you were 16, would you join our naked treehouse?”

“Oh, absolutely,” I reply. And I’m not lying. Where were these girls when I was 16?

At this piont my stop comes up. I get up to go and say, “Good luck with your naked treehouse, girls.”

“Thanks!” they say, with utmost perkiness.

It was the most entertaining bus ride I’ve had in quite some time. And I got a great reaction out of Nicole at game night when I said, “Two 16 years old girls asked me to join their naked treehouse today.”

The Gits

I saw my second SIFF movie today, a documentary called the Gits about a Seattle punk rock band from the early 90s. I liked the Gits when they were around, though they never came to New York so I never got to see them. Musically, they weren’t groundbreaking or anything, but they had a secret weapon in singer Mia Zapata. She had a great voice and a magnetism that made her a born frontwoman.

The film documents the band from their beginnings at Antioch college to their halcyon Seattle days in the early 90s to their sad end in 1993. This is not a typical band story of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The Gits were at their peak when it all came to an end. The cause: the rape and murder of Mia Zapata in 1993. This was big news in the punk rock scene at the time and I certainly heard about it in NYC. Band members overdosing on heroin was not that surprising, but rape and murder were something else entirely.

The story of the band is told through interviews with surviving members, friends, and family. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a lot of good video footage of the Gits in existence, so most of what’s shown is from two shows (one in Seattle that was actually shot for the film Hype! and one in LA). Nonetheless, the filmmakers carry it off with deft editing, the use of stills, and the occasional cartoon segue.

Although the film is about the band as a whole, it can’t help but focus on Mia, since her death was so tragic and had repercussions throughout the Seattle scene. And for over a decade her murder was unsolved and that just made it worse. None of her friends or bandmates knew why she had been killed or who might have done it. Her loss was bad enough, but the senselessness of it made it that much worse.

Interestingly, the film was well under way when Mia’s cold case was unexpectedly revived. The police had recovered a DNA sample from saliva found on her corpse but there were no matches at the time. Eleven years later her murderer was arrested in Florida and his DNA profile entered the system. He was brought back to Seattle, tried, and sentenced to 36 years for Mia’s rape and murder. This gave her friends and family (and the film for that matter) a sense of closure, which was something at least. Sadly, the crimes did turn out to be entirely random. This guy didn’t know her at all. She was just a convenient target who walked down the wrong Seattle street on the wrong night. A bright young artist’s life cut short for no reason at all. It’s a terribly sad story and the film tells it well.

Afterwards there was a Q + A with the filmmakers and part way through it the ex-drummer for the Gits came up as well (these days he’s a psycho-therapist; coincidence?). This was the world premier of the film. It was quite appropriate that this take place not only in Seattle, but at a theater that’s mere blocks from the Comet Tavern, a central hang out for the band and the last place her friends saw Mia alive.

My SIFF schedule will now shift to things other than punk rock documentaries.

Punk Attitude

The Seattle International Film Festival is going on at the moment and there’s an abundance of interesting movies coming up. Nik and I have a hit or miss history with the SIFF. Some years we make a real effort and see a lot of movies, while in others we’re too caught up in other things to see anything. Last night we went to our first SIFF movie of the year, a film called Punk: Attitude. It was about perfect for me.

Punk: Attitude is a film by Don Letts. You may know Don as the former DJ of the famed Roxy club in London back in the day, or the soundman for the Clash, or the maker of the Punk Rock Movie. If you don’t know his work, suffice to say that he was at ground zero of the British punk explosion and so has the right cred to make this film.

The movie is a documentary that traces the punk attitude through the years. Naturally enough, it also supplies a potted history of punk rock. What makes it really work is that Letts has the participants speak for themselves. This is not a documentary done in the omniscient narrator style. The story is carried forward by interview snippets from a wide range of scenesters, not all of whom were musicians either. The lineup is pretty impressive. Letts interviewed members of the Velvet Underground, MC5, New York Dolls, Ramones, Dictators, the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, the Slits, Siousxie and the Banshees, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, the Screamers, the Contortions, Dead Kennedys, Sonic Youth, and many more. He also interviewed the creators of Punk Magazine, filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Mary Haddon, photographer Bob Gruen, and other people from the various punk scenes. And it’s not stock footage but new interviews done for this film. I liked that because the participants were reflective on what they had done and experienced and many were quite articulate. The shame of it is that so many people weren’t alive to be involved. We’ll never see an old Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators, or Joe Strummer look back on what they had done and that’s too bad.

The first half of the film tells a story familiar to music fans. It follows punk from precursors like the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the MC 5, and the New York Dolls through to the rise and fall of the New York and London scenes in the 74-79 era. If you’ve read the book Please Kill Me, this section of the film is like the live version of the book but with equal time given to the English scene. That narrative up through the rise of hardcore works fairly well in chronological fashion, but after that punk splinters and you it’s no longer an easy story to tell.

After this point the film can’t help but jump around and it sometimes goes from 1980 to 1992 and back again in five minutes. It covers thing like the New York No Wave bands and touches on scenes in DC and CA. It’s here that the limitations of the two hour movie come into play though, because there’s simply too much to talk about. Hardcore is talked about but the band that coined the phrase, DOA, is not. The section on DC talks about straight edge and Minor Threat and then catapults forward to Fugazi, skipping nearly the entirety of the important DC hardcore scene. Several people, notably Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, talk about how music historians often skip from the early 80s to the rise of Nirvana and grunge as if nothing happened in between. The film, however, doesn’t really follow up on this and that’s too bad. There’s no mention at all of hugely influential 80s bands like Mission of Burma, Husker Du, and the Minutemen. The entire anarcho-punk scene in England (Crass, Subhumans, Conflict, Flux of Pink Indians) is ignored in its entirety. Later, when talking about the commercialization of punk, someone comments that bands like Rancid “came from nowhere.” No, no they didn’t. Rancid came out of Operation Ivy, a seminal ska punk band from the Gilman Street scene of the later 80s.

I don’t want to harp on this too much because overall this is a great film and one well-worth seeing if you have any interest in punk rock. I will say though that the decade from 81 to 91 is always given short shrift in discussions about punk. People pretend that punk was dead but that’s not true. I started going to punk rock shows in 1985 and I saw an awful lot of bands in an era when “nothing happened.” More than that, it was during this period that the punk scene really came into its own as a self-supporting network of clubs, record labels, and fanzines. So many of the early bands had problems because they couldn’t tour or get their records made without getting sucked into the hell of major labels. Well, that changed in the 80s. It became possible to put out your record on an independent label and tour North America and Europe without the involvement of the commercial Music Industry. That is an achievement and not one often recognized.

Getting back to the film, it continues on from the so-called “Year That Punk Broke” and to the present day, though it doesn’t do much more than mock MTV bands like Sum 41 and Blink 182 (which was fine by me). It then tries to tie everything up by noting the continuity of punk attitude through the years. And it takes little more than flashing some shorts of Bush and Blair to give the message that the punk attitude is needed now more than ever. It is, in fact, quite illuminating to think back on the social and political situation that helped birth punk in the 70s and compare it to what’s going on today. In many ways, the state of the world has only gotten worse and even more Orwellian. There will almost certainly be a reaction against NeoCon hell we are living in. The question is, what form will it take this time?

As for Punk: Attitude, I recommend it, though I’m not sure where you’ll be able to see it. It is associated with Independent Film Channel, so maybe it’ll end up being show there. Otherwise, watch your local art theaters. If you want a two-hour lesson in punk rock history, there isn’t a better source.

BI, DC, and GR–Oh My!

Yes, it’s true, Black Industries has gotten an RPG license from DC comics.;=threadℴ=0

Many folks are asking me what that means, considering that we are BI’s design house for GW’s properties. Well, it means one of three things:

1) GR will design a new DC game for BI.

2) GR will do a DC variant of Mutants & Masterminds for BI.

3) BI will design its own DC game or hire another design house to do so.

Right now all BI has said is that they have the license. It isn’t GR’s or my place to say anything else until they are ready. All I can do is sit back and watch the wild ass speculation, which admittedly is pretty amusing. And no, I won’t tell you the answer if you e-mail me privately, even if you ask really nicely. It’s not that man wasn’t meant to know, just that man can’t know right now.

Licensed to Mill

My game group has been having a hell of a time meeting with any regularity the last few months. Apart from the three Ronins we’ve got two Microsofties and two guys who work on MMOs for different computer game companies. When events like E3 happen, forget about it. Same for the Ronins during convention season. As a result our James Bond 007 has been going in fits and starts. Several weeks we’ve gotten just about everyone together but the missing guy was the Game Master. Whoops. On those weeks, we’ve played games like Family Business instead and while that’s fun the group generally favors roleplaying.

Monday I decided that what we needed was a back up game. When James Bond goes off, great. When it doesn’t, we play the back up game. I made the decision with the full knowledge that of course I’d have to run the back up game. Since I’ve managed to have a break from being the GM since my WFRP campaign wrapped up, that’s OK.

I ultimately decided to run a Freeport game for three reasons. First, it’s been several years since I’ve run one and it’d be nice to return to Freeport. Second, it’ll allow us to playtest some upcoming GR material. Third, I have a text copy of Shadows in Freeport, an adventure Goodman Games is publishing later this summer that was written by Rob Schwalb, my d20 developer. The last point is important because it means I can run the game without much prep, which is often a must when trying to keep up a casual game night with a busy schedule.

The group started making up characters on Monday. The party is shaping up to be…interesting. Right off the bat we’ve got a Cavalier and an Assassin. How could that not be entertaining?

Now in Stereo

Well, I’ve finally gotten tired enough of having to post anonymous comments on the Live Journals of friends that I decided to mirror my regular blog on LJ. You can’t fight the machine, though you can fight the Man. My LJ name is freeport_pirate.

Kate the Despot Queen

I’ve been looking for a good game to play with Kate for quite some time now. I wanted something that was good with two players, because Nik isn’t interested more often than not. I also wanted something that she could enjoy but that wouldn’t bore me to tears either. Earlier today she was keen to do something, but shot down my first three suggestions (Star Wars Battlefront on the X-box, the Pokemon TGC, and the Lord of the Rings TMG). I returned to my office once again and started scanning the shelves. “For fuck’s sake,” I thought, “I have hundreds and hundreds of games, you’d think I could find one Kate and I could both enjoy.” As I once again ran my eyes over the uppermost level of my big Ikea shelving unit, I noticed a flat folio up amongst the boxed games. I suddenly realized what it was: Mertwig’s Maze. I had picked up a copy years ago and promptly forgot about it.

I took the game downstairs and sold Kate on giving it a try. I think the fact that she could become queen if she won was a big selling point. And the basic concept of going out on adventures, besting foes, and getting treasure is one Kate is well-familiar with from watching us play all kinds of games as she grew up. I had thought several times of trying Talisman with her but I feared it would just take way too long and become an exercise in tedium. Mertwig’s Maze turned out to be perfect. It took us about an hour to play, I was able to explain the rules to her without any problems (it helps that she’s smart), and it was fun for both of us. Kate won fair and square and was delighted to become the queen. Appropriately enough, in a bit of end-of-game roleplaying her first decree seized all my belongings and kicked me out of the kingdom. Just like an absolute monarch!

I’m glad Kate was willing to give it a try and I’m doubly glad I turned up something in my collection we can both enjoy. I don’t think Kate is quite ready for Advanced Squad Leader yet…

At Least There’s No Daggitt

I spent the morning catching up on Battlestar Galactica episodes thanks to the glory of Tivo. I’m watching the reruns so I’m something like halfway through the first season. Appropriately enough, I halfway like it. They get so much right, managing to take what was originally a fairly goofy show and give it serious treatment. The new cast is good, particularly Edward James Olmos. One thing keeps me from fully embracing the show though and that’s the endlessly annoying Baltar plot. Whenever he comes on screen, I groan and grit my teeth until he’s done blubbering to himself and acting like a mental patient. It’s doubly annoying because no one ever seems to notice that he’s a nutter. Here he is having conversations with the president and commander of the BG in which he mumbles to himself, talks to people who aren’t there, and general blathers on like an idiot, and yet somehow he fails to arouse suspicion. In fact, he’s put in charge of the most important task of the fleet—inventing a cylon detector. It just doesn’t work as written and I’m deeply sick of the “cylon in his head” bullshit. I would much prefer Baltar to be a ridiculous caricature of evil like John Colicos in the original show than listen to Mr. Whiny Pants for another six episodes. I’m also a bit sick of the lone human on Caprica storyline with the other Boomer, but at least that one seems like it might go somewhere. Though why the cylons give a rat’s ass about one guy who’s going to die of radiation poisoning anyway I don’t know.

Mmmmm, Satisfyin’

I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about politics in the UK or James Galloway. In fact, I had never even heard of the guy until this week but boy did he make me smile. It’s sad really that it took a Scotsman to come to Washington and tell the Republicans what a bunch of liars they are to their faces. But I’m glad he did because the Democrats have yet to show much spine and the media has all but emasculated itself (see Newsweek’s ridiculous retraction of a story that has been news around the world for two years).

Here’s a choice bit from his statement to a Senate committee chaired by Norm Coleman. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

“I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

“Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq’s wealth.

“Have a look at the real Oil-for-Food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq’s wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq’s money, but the money of the American taxpayer.

“Have a look at the oil that you didn’t even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where? Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.

“Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government.”

The Hell

I swear, my immune system has gone on vacation or something. It’s been 15 days since I got sick and I do not appear to be getting better. It’s not debilitating or anything. I’ve been working every day and it hasn’t really interfered. It hasn’t stopped me from going out either, as you can tell from the previous entry. It’s just really annoying to have this constant head cold. Stupid thing better go away this week. As the Damned would say, I’m sick of being sick.

Today I’m staying in, though I have a bunch of work to do on the next Warhammer book (surprise). We’re trying to get that off to print by Wednesday, so I need to use my Sunday wisely. Probably good I’m staying home today though, as I’ve had a fairly active weekend already. Friday night I saw Kung Fu Hustle and it was terrific. Very creative and very funny—hats off to Steven Chow for that one. We then stayed up until 4 am drinking and talking, which was perhaps not the smartest thing I could have done. Yesterday I played in Tim’s game in the afternoon, then spent two and a half hours getting from damned Renton to Seattle due to bus breakdowns, sporting events, slow people, and missed connections. Finally made it up to Ray’s place at nearly 9 and we went up to the U District for dinner. Met up with Nik and Christine afterwards for more gabbing, but everyone was tired so we knocked off early.

While I may have to do a bunch of stat blocks today, I can at least smile with the knowledge that those of WFRP are a hundred times easier to do than their d20 cousins. And that’s no coincidence.