King of the Lake

Time for a good ole’ disc golf writeup of a tourney (followed by, what else, stats!)

King of the Lake is a fantastic multi-day, multi-course tournament that had existed for many years (it used to be 3 or 4 courses in one day, and has since expanded to 5 courses over 3 days) but went on haitus a few years back. With the blessing of the original TD, it has resurfaced as an A-Tier and part of the Sierra Tahoe series. Needless to say, I was glad to hear it was coming back – it was always one of my favorites, from my first time playing where I came in third (in a much smaller field than this year). Anyway, let’s get to the goods…

Round 1: Bijou

Ahh, Bijou, a course that I usually poop all over because it’s set up as deuce-or-die. This year’s layout wasn’t all in the shorts, but it was still a course you could mow through (the best score ended up being -11 for 27 holes). I started out on admittedly a difficult stretch of holes, beginning in the middle 9 on hole 11. I end up throwing 12 pars to start my round, which isn’t terrible, but isn’t great. I wasn’t leaving myself putts, which was frustrating, but that also meant that I wasn’t in terrible danger at any point. Once the back 9 happened and especially the front 9, I expected to pick up some of those birdies. Well, I sorta did. I finally nabbed a birdie on hole 23, a pretty difficult hole. I also got hole 25. Then we got to hole 1, the start of “birdie row”. Well, the first two baskets were positions I’d never seen before (they changed the holes when they built a second dog-park at the course). I parred the first (after being told the hole was 280′, not the 333′ that it actually was) and bogeyed the second after landing in the dog run for an OB. I managed to birdie holes 3, 8 and 9 to pull me back to -4, which was decent. After a HUGE lucky break on my final drive, I managed to throw the worst upshot of the tournament and miss the 30′ putt to give me a bogey to finish and a -3 total. 8 off the lead, and not the start I wanted, but not abysmal either. It did manage to get rated over 970, which was decent. After one round, I was just below the middle of the pack, but just barely. Plenty of time.

Round 2: Zephyr

Zephyr started a weird trend that continued through most of this tournament – crushing the first half of the course and then struggling to finish. Perhaps it’s that I play 4-5 rounds a month, and here I was playing that many in 3 days. Anyway, I started on hole 4, a VERY tough 3, and had my best drive ever, giving me a putt for a birdie. I ended up parring, and then parring the next 2 holes which was as good as I was going to do, really. Then a bunch of birdie holes came and I got two of them, followed by a par on the only par 4 for the course. So far, so good. Then there’s another mini-gauntlet (holes 11-13 are very difficult 3s) and I birdie hole 12 with a near-ace. So through the toughest stretch of the entire course, I’m -3 coming up to holes that are either fairly easy pars or birdie holes. I had visions of grandeur in my eyes. I proceeded to bogey hole 14, a pretty tough hole, but I did it in spectacular fashion:

– It’s an open hugely uphill hole with really only one tree to miss. And I hit it, and it sent me backwards behind the teepad into a bush. So I had the same hole, only slightly longer and with no runup. I manage to throw an okay shot which landed in another tree. So with no footing, I throw a third shot just to try to give myself a putt, but yank it UP the hill (bad idea). So I’m looking at a 50′ putt with a HUGE dropoff behind the basket. The way I saw it, I had played so well this round, I just KNEW I would make it. And bang it I did, to cheers from my group.

Figuring I had momentum on my side, I drove sloppily on the next hole, which is a hard birdie, but should have been an easy par (I ended up missing a 25′ par putt) and carded a bogey. It’s okay, I thought, there are birdie holes up ahead! Which I miss. All of them. I proceed to par out and end up with a -1, which is still good (rated 989) but it could have been SO much better. With eliminating those two dumb mistakes and even getting one of those last birdie holes, it would have made for a HUGE round. But oh well, I still moved up in the overall standings.

Round 3: Sierra College

I’ve realized the one thing I need more than anything else to be successful at disc golf is a good night’s sleep. I play bad when I’m tired. And the night before rounds 3 and 4, I lay in bed, eyes wide awake, unable to sleep. I don’t know if Tournament Insomnia is a thing, but I’ve had it all year, and it’s really getting old. So I show up to my favorite course very tired and hopped up on a 5 hour energy drink (the first time I’ve even ever tried one).

I begin on hole 4 (holes 4-7 are a very tough stretch of holes) by throwing a PERFECT anny and giving myself a 25′ birdie putt on a hole that is rarely birdied. I miss it. Oh well. I par 5 and move on to 6, a par 4 hole I’ve never even had a putt for birdie. After an okay drive and an AMAZING up shot, I tap in my 10′ birdie and I’m feeling good. After parring 7 (nothing to be ashamed about), I go to “birdie row”, a string of 7 holes that are all ripe for picking. I manage to get only 1 of them (I missed a 20′ putt on one for a 2nd birdie). Either way, being -2 after that large string of holes is boding pretty well, as there are a couple of dinkers later on I could get.

Except I bogey 13, a tricky hole which is sorta poke-and-hope. I hit the first tree, and despite a very good up (which hit a tree I couldn’t see or else I’d have been under the basket), I bogey. Then I miss a 40′ putt for birdie on the next one, and have to settle for par on the par 4 15th hole after a DUMB upshot. I figure if I can par out 16-18, and maybe get one or two of the last three birdies, I’d have a great round. WHY DO I THINK LIKE THAT!? STOP THINKING BIG PICTURE, dink. Of course I bogey 17-18 (bad drive on the former, bad up on the latter), and I miss the super easy hole 1. At least I managed to birdie the par 4 hole 3 to finish at an even, a wholly underwhelming round. It ended up as a 960 rated round, my worst in the tourney. It dropped me from the cash-line, but not by much.

Round 4: Truckee Regional

I have a love/hate relationship with this course. I hate it, but I love that I tend to shoot it very well in tournaments. And sure enough, that trend continued. The whole course is a birdie-fest, though in the medium layout where it was, it wasn’t all simple. Plus there was a swirling wind (good for me!) I start on hole 5, having dropped to the 5th card. I get past it (I have never birdied it) and get to the first of several birdie rows. I end up going 2 3 2 2 2 (I missed a 25′ putt on hole 7, the easiest hole on the course, and one I rarely birdie). I have a putt on the difficult 11, but miss it. On hole 13, the hardest hole on the course, I have a great drive but hit a tree and get a TERRIBLE placement leaving me an extremely difficult up. I end up missing the hole for a tough-luck bogey. I resolve not to let this be the start of another bad second half (it was the 10th hole of the round after all) and after a couple of pars, I manage to turkey out on holes 16-18. On hole 1, I have bad luck but pick up a great up shot to give myself the 18′ tapin for par. BUT I MISS IT! Grrr. I manage to birdie 2 and have a terrific save for a par on hole 3 after a terrible drive. On the tricky hole 4, I leave myself a 25′ putt to finish with a birdie, but miss that one just a few inches high. This leaves me at a -6, which I felt was solid, but could have been a -8 with just two more putts at the end. Oh well, as of now, it still just crept into 1000-rated territory (other people tend to get in their heads about Truckee and/or the wind, so there were many problems out there). And that put me 1 stroke in the cash with one more round to play.

Round 5: Tahoe Vista

Man, this is my Jeckyl/Hyde course. I rarely shoot an average round there – it’s either crush or be crushed for me there. So I wanted that strong start to really put the pressure on my group. Since we did a trickle start, it means everyone started on hole one, so that meant I had to face my nemesis, hole #3, a little later than I would have otherwise (I ended up on 3rd card and would have started on hole three in a traditional round).

I miss holes 1 and 2 for birdie, which is a shame because they’re both pretty gettable. Then, we wait for ~40 mins because of an obscene backup. There were 4 groups already waiting on the hole. After all that wait, I step up to Evil Hole 3 and FINALLY put the disc exactly how I want it, not hitting either of the early guardians. Only I hit a tree in the fairway that I can’t see off the tee. Bad luck there. How do I respond? With the 2nd worst upshot of the tournament, putting me 50′ away for a par. I miss by an inch or two and bogey my nemesis. YET AGAIN. I move on and miss hole 4 (a bit of bad luck there too, as the drive could have been good but just nicked a branch). And then to describe what happens next, it needs its own paragraph:

– Hole 5 is par 4, but one of the easier par 4s out there. It’s long and usually windy, and there is some OB (a soccer field), but really if your first drive is straight and in the open, you’re left with a 200-250′ upshot with no danger unless you go long. Well, I turn my drive over and land further right than I wanted. I am in the sand pits. In terms of distance, it’s not a big deal, I am 300′ away, not 200-250. But I have no run-up being in the sand and I am in a ditch to boot. I try a miracle forehand and go long, but thankfully it hits a tree and I imagine I probably have a 40-50′ shot, perhaps even a putt. Nope. I discover that I rolled down the hill, so I’m 60 away with NO SHOT WHATSOEVER. I mean, not even really an upshot at that point because of this massive pine in my face. All I have is a wide flick shot to get me my par save. Unfortunately, I choose that moment to TEST MY POWER and flick it over 100′ into the field. So now, in a round where every stroke is precious and I’ve already given up a few to my competition, I am staring at a 50′ putt with a death cliff immediately behind the basket. I think to myself “I can’t give up a single stroke” and I proceed to BANG the death putt. Par saved and even though I lost a stroke to everyone on my card, I still feel like it was a victory.

I missed the extremely easy hole 6, and then we got our second wait of the tournament, this one even longer. There were 5 cards in line before us when we arrived. When we finally tee, I had a drop-in par on the very difficult par 4 hole 7, and then we approached the “birdie row” of this course. How did I respond? By more boring parring. So far, this round is everything I feared it would be – I was Jeckyling the course. Finally, hole 12, which is a pretty easy deuce hole, I ran my disc RIGHT by, nearly an ace, but instead finding myself with a 40′ putt with a hill sloping away behind it. Not a death-putt, per se, but certainly one I could three-putt if I run it too hard and miss. I ended up hit that one (making me 3-3 on the weekend in must-hit deathputts). Okay, that’s a confidence booster. The end of the course is pretty difficult, but there are a few birds to be had and nothing else incredibly difficult. I parred the next (JUST missing a sick birdie putt), and then had a 20′ putt for par on the very difficult hole 14. WHICH I MISSED!

So now I think I’ve played myself out of the cash. I am at a +1 with 4 holes left, and only two of those are really in my wheelhouse in terms of birdies. My mental game is shot, and my elbow is tender from that much golf. I step up to the lefty-friendly hole 15 with nothing to lose and I throw it 20′ away. I make the putt with the 4 groups waiting on hole 18 looking on. One down, three to go.

Hole 16 is a pretty easy birdie for me now that I’ve figured out how to play it. I execute my hyzer shot and put myself 12′ away for birdie. I caned that one too. Now I’m back to even. I still don’t think it’s good enough for cash, but certainly better than it had been two holes before.

Hole 17 is the signature hole of the course, for which you either play a putter or midrange straight down a huge downhill sloped fairway, or cheat and throw a thumber over everything. I would love to say I pured a midrange, but no, I cheated with my thumber and put myself 18′ away for birdie. After nearly missing it (the high putt goes in), I’ve gotten a turkey to put myself into respectability. Possibly cash, but I’m not sure. During the next 40 minute wait we have on the final tee, I talk to my buddy on the next card and ask if anyone’s killing it (trying to find out how to play the final hole, a massively tricky 1000+ foot par 5). He thinks my “respectable” for the round should put me “safely” in the cash as nobody is really doing anything on his card. So that changes my strategy. I was originally going to try to 4 the hole which I’d never done, but instead I opt to play a “safe” drive, not going for distance, but just making sure I’m out of the gap which could be a round-killer. Mission accomplished. My second shot, however, changes everything. It’s perfect. I mean, it’s the single best throw I could have had on the hole. It puts me within striking distance of the basket (maybe 350′ away) and with a good gap. I smell blood now. I choose the wrong disc and put myself right in line but 30′ short. AND I BANG the putt, giving myself a 4 stroke swing on my last four holes to card a -3 (which ended up being quite good). I did lose ground to one person while beating the one I was tied with, so it was almost a wash.

Had I not gotten my last 4 holes, I wouldn’t have cashed. It turned out I didn’t need the birdie on hole 18, a 5 would have still given me 15th place, but I’m glad I got it.

Either way, there were a few things to take away from this tournament. I have never driven so well with my katana in my life. Every time I threw it, I got a great hyzer-flip out of it. It was so consistent and I was really happy with that. My putting in general was probably about even, missing a few too many <30 foot putts, but making a few long ones when I absolutely needed to. And I had a handful of either really long or really tricky putts that were only inches away, so while the score didn’t show it, I was definitely on my game. My ups were somewhere between ordinary and above average. Also, I found I can overcome poor sleep, but it takes all my concentration to do so. And I cashed. For the third straight A-Tier I’ve done. Woo!

Which brings me to my last nerdy stat. A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about how I seem to do better the higher the Tier of tournaments, but to make that point I felt like I had sorta pick dates that would facilitate my hypothesis (I ended up including my amateur tournaments). Now I feel like trying it again, but picking from a time where I feel like I actually deserved to be playing pro. So we’re going to start with the beginning of 2008, when my rating would more or less stay above 960 until present. It was also coincidentally when I moved west, so it was a fresh start for a number of reasons. In that time, here are my stats:

NTs and Majors: 3 events, 0 cashes – 0% cash

A Tiers: 6 events, 3 cashes – 50% cash

B Tiers: 21 events, 9 cashes – 43% cash

C Tiers: 19 events, 7 cashes – 37% cash

Okay, so I’m not nuts. With the exception of NTs and majors, which I don’t expect to cash at, I do seem to step my game up in bigger tournaments. Some of it might be that bigger tournaments pay deeper, but it might just be that one-day events aren’t my cup of tea. Either way, interesting findings.

Now go rest your eyes.

The Final Day of Oral Freedom

Tomorrow I go to my orthodontist Dr. O to get my braces put on. I personally don’t care about aesthetics all that much (though when I look at the pictures taken in-office of my teeth from the underside, I find that this is not at all true), but I did opt to get the clear braces instead of the “normal” ones. First, they weren’t any different in price. Also, I want to make some of these transitions easier for my kids. They don’t like change all that much, and considering how much change I’ll be going through in the next year, if I can ease them into things, it’ll be better for everyone involved.

Braces aren’t a big deal – it seems like half the kids in the country have them when they’re growing up and they do just fine. However, in trying to actually make this entire process a truly healthy one for my face/teeth/jaw, I’m likely going to cut out soda. I was initially going to say for the entire duration, but I’m going to be realistic – especially since my boss was nice enough to buy me 2 large cases of Dew when I moved into my new office a couple of weeks ago. But the plan is to cut it out nonetheless because soda + braces = not a good combination down the line. I will also probably enjoy AT LEAST two pouches of microwaved popcorn tonight while I still don’t have to pick out the remnants later.

Truth be told, I’d been on the verge of cutting it soda (again) anyway. On the way home from my San Francisco trip with Landen, I bought a 1L bottle of Dew, and by the time I’d finished, my stomach was just miserable. I know, I know, moderation. But I used to have more than that every day with no ill effects. I guess a lifetime of not giving a crap about my insides has caught up to me. So the soda will be gone for at least a while – if all goes well through it will be through this summer.

Then we play the waiting game – see just when I’ll have to have my teeth removed to create more room for pulling/tugging, etc. There’ll be some flexibility with time, which is a good thing as I have a couple of MAJOR disc golf tournaments coming up (a 3-day A tier right in Tahoe at the end of June, and Worlds in August) and I’d rather not be dealing with extreme mouth pain during those events. As it is I’ll be dealing with the fact that I’ve become terribly out of shape.

I will take some “before” pictures of my mouth/face (in addition to the ones I’d already taken in Dr. O’s office) and probably post them. I am less sure about posting pictures of my recovery after surgery. a) they won’t be pretty and b) as was evidence by my ill-fated “DPOD” experiment, when I put a daily responsibility on myself, I fail, and that’s without coughing up blood every day. But three years from now, it’ll be nice to look at a before/after comparison.

So yeah, let’s roll. Feel free to comment along with these posts. When it comes to surgery time, I’ll appreciate the banter, even if it’s Aaron saying I have a dumb choice of something or other (pain meds?)

Today, I start a journey…

Today, I started a journey, and it all happened in an orthodontist’s office. Dr. O.

Of course, the journey started years and years and years and years ago, when I was thigh-high to an averaged-size adult. I had gone to another orthodontist, whose name is forever lost in time, and he gave me the prognosis as being an excellent tongue-thruster. I was advised I’d need to go to a “swallowing specialist” and then I would need braces. He also saw my twin brother. What happened next is still a matter of debate.

In my mother’s memory, I complained so much that they just got the necessary work done for Mitch – he had a more immediate orthodontic need. For my memory – and remember, this is the same memory that produced a very vivid impression of Mitch removing my stitches from an accident I had when I was 4 – my parents said they didn’t have the money for both of us to receive treatment and Mitch got it, again because of the immediacy factor. Anyhow, I never got any sort of treatment. That was when I was around 7.

Fast forward until a couple of years ago, when my dentist, Dr. B, suggested that I might want to see an orthodontist. He also was the first expert who uttered the term “surgery” to me. I’d heard from friends/family/others some rumblings that I might need it, but never had a person who actually knew much about teeth confirm it. He did. And he referred me to the aforementioned Dr. O, who took a whole bunch of photos, X-rays, and pink-goop-molds of my teeth. I’ve always known that my teeth were UGLY (as an acting major in college, I was told never to get them fixed as it gave me a great “character actor” look), but it never really bothered me looking from the front. But seeing huge pictures on a wall displaying my teeth in ghastly detail from the underside, the top-side, and wide open – my God I’ve seen assassinations that were less traumatizing. Before even getting all the results back, he pretty much assured me that surgery was in order and he referred me to an maxillofacial surgeon named Dr. M.

After more tests, pictures, Xrays, and discussion, Dr. M. confirmed that I’d need orthognathic surgery. I nodded since I’d heard that that’s where I was heading. Then he actually told me what that entailed.

And that’s when the shoe dropped. The thousand pound shoe. Onto my soul.

The process is awful and there is exactly no part of this I am looking forward to. The rough timeline of what to expect:

 

Today – final molds made of my teeth

Next Wed – braces go on. I’ll be one of those “cool” adults who rocks braces this late in life.

A few months from now – after my teeth have been pulled into better place with clear braces (I’m so going to rock white after Labor Day, bitches!), Dr. M. will do the first procedure, the “easy” one. He will remove eight (8!) of my teeth: the wisdoms and I believe the inner bicuspids. Then they will reattach the braces to do more pulling and getting stuff in line.

About a year from now – the surgery.

 

My work has come through BIG time and agreed to pay/reimburse me for all my regular expenses. We may have a bridge to cross if there are complications, but either way, I at least can have this procedure done without worry that it will cripple us financially.

Oh, I suppose I neglected to mention WHY I’m getting it done. Is it simply because I have horrible looking teeth? No, my vanity has taken plenty of other hits with my stomach issues and Middle Earth complexion. Dr. M. showed me some xrays of my jaw/neck/throat. The average width of the windpipe is (from memory) 12mm. Mine gap, because my jaws are essentially separating and are no longer parallel, has been constricted to about 5.5mm. That’s less than half. The result of which will utlimately be sleep apnea, eventually leading to needing oxygen at night. There are also problems that are only recently beginning such as pain while chewing very difficult things (such as nut-bars or tough steaks). I’ve long had clicking in my jaws too, which I can’t imagine to be “good”. These will all be fixed. Other secondary benefits will be aesthetics, improved smell, and maybe even less fatigue (even though I am not actually waking fully up, the doctor believes my body is waking up for short periods each night).

So where does that leave us? With a blog. Why am I blogging? I’m not the first person to have this surgery. Hell, I’m not the first to blog about this surgery.This guy already did, and he’s a veritable font of great information. I’m doing it for a few reasons. 1) To chronicle for myself what I’m going through. This will be, by far, the single biggest decision I’ve ever made about my health. This will also almost certainly be the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life (and remember, I saw the movie version of Mama Mia in the theaters). 2) For the first few weeks after surgery, I won’t have much else to do, so I figure blogging will be a healthy way to keep connected with the outside world. After all, there’s only so much GTA V I can play, right? Right? 3) I hope it will entertain. Even in the depths of self-pity, I hope to be able to make a few people smile.

The blogs won’t be too frequent at first, but I’ll try to keep it up. I’ve made a new category (“Surgery”) on the bottom-left of the blog, so you can click on that if you just want to filter out everything but tooth/jaw/face posts.

Come along for the ride and strap in. It’s gonna be something.

Memorial “Final” Thoughts

I’m sure I’ll have more to say, but the tee-times are up for the Memorial (which doesn’t start until next week, even if my trip starts tomorrow). There are now 88 players in open, and by rating alone I am T72. That’s… not so promising. Although if I cheat and bump myself up to a rating of 978 (the highest I was last year), I’m in 52nd (quite close to top half). I’ve got my work cut out for me.

I don’t know any of the guys I’m playing with – but there’s no huge name either. I’m the lowest-rated in my group, but not by much (ratings are 963, 979, 986, 992). I think that’s good. That way if I am not at the bottom of my card, I’ve at least beat someone “above” me.  But I won’t feel deflated by someone beating me by 15 strokes or more. At least, I hope that won’t happen.

Now, I should probably get to packing…

My Trip East – Part 2 (What Went Wrong)

Note: this is probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written. Forgive the typos and tense-shifting, I’m not proofreading.

By now, you’ve probably read why I went east. The reason wasn’t fun, but I was looking forward to it. However, Ash was going with me on the flight, and as you know, when Ash flies anywhere, things just go wrong. Not only was this trip not an exception, it might have set the standard for all future shitty trips.

This is as comprehensive a list as I could remember of what went wrong. I’m leaving off minor things like the food we ordered not coming out right (which happened a few times during the trip) or the muggy weather. This is everything else, broken down by day.

THURSDAY

We heard the bad news and booked a flight. Landen had less than 24 hours notice, but he handled it like a champion. While not totally packed, we were pretty good that night. Our flight left Friday at 10:40, enough time for me to get an hour or two of work in.

FRIDAY

After a little more packing (but not everything), I head to the office to work. Landen comes in a few minutes later saying, “Mommy needs your help.” I go to her and she says “Call 9-1-1.” Duncan had been choking and vomiting and crying for about 20 seconds by this point. I call them and the responders show up almost immediately. This is a little over 3 hours before our flight. By the time they arrived, whatever he’d swallowed made it past and he was okay, though shaken up. Ash had found an envelope with some coins and he had a penny in his hand. We assumed it was a coin, but we weren’t sure.

Because we weren’t sure, they recommended going to the ER to get an X-Ray, make sure it wasn’t a) anything sharp or b) a quarter. Ash says she still needs to pack, but I tell her to take Duncan to the ER and I will get Landen ready and we’ll go. At worst, Landen and I would still make the trip, but Ash and Duncan might not. Turns out they did make it (after security, we were there about 45 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off – our flight was actually late anyway, but we didn’t know that at the time.)

But in my haste to pack, which I wasn’t ready for, I left some stuff at home: Landen’s blankie and stuffed monkey Buddy, Duncan’s birth certificate, and some berries. Most of these would actually be irrelevant, but not all. In the process of packing, my back gave out. It would continue to get worse every day of the trip.

The flights were fine, and the airline didn’t ask for Duncan’s birth certificate at all, so we dodged a bullet there. Actually, somehow (and I’m still not 100% sure of how this happened), Landen managed to flush his underwear down the airplane toilet, and for the rest of the trip, every time he went to the bathroom he was deathly afraid of losing his underwear.

SATURDAY

This was a day where we were just going to take it easy. For the most part we did. We even managed to sneak away and see some friends so they could meet the boys. Landen and Nathaniel (Aaron’s son) got along great and played with cars and trains until they were well-past bedtime. It was this night that I broke my diet. I will have more about that in Part 3 of this journey.

SUNDAY

Because of the last-minute nature of this trip, we didn’t work out many logistics. Thankfully, Tracy and Jerry were AWESOME and flexible and extremely accommodating. They let us use their car to drive to CT for the wake and burial, for which we were extremely grateful, and they even watched Landen for two days while we did it. The drive up was rather uneventful, though we later heard we just missed a mega accident that forced Aaron and Julia to turn around and not make it. That might have been the one bit of luck that actually found its way to us.

A second thing we didn’t have planned was where we were going to sleep while in CT. Worst came to worst, we’d get a hotel. But Jaymar had given me the # of a buddy of his. I never got ahold of him, but while at the viewing, Jay and Jen hooked us up with this lovely couple (very good family friends of Jen’s) who volunteered to put us – total strangers – up for the night. They even gave us their GPS to find their place. They simply said “punch in HOME and you’re good to go.” Maybe things WERE looking up.

After the very painful viewing, Jay and Jen invited anyone who wanted to to come out for dinner and drinks and just some camaraderie. During dinner Duncan started getting fussy, so we made new plans. Ash would take the car to get Duncan back to Gail and Kevin’s (the very nice couple). I would hang with Jay, have a drink or two, and mooch a ride from somewhere back to their place. Great.

About twenty minutes later, I get a call. Ash says there’s a problem. She’d already been driving 20 minutes and the next direction on the GPS was to follow that road for 25 miles. Knowing something was wrong, she pulled over. Just then, she notices the AC in the car stopped. And the hood started smoking. GET OUT OF THE CAR! She pulled Duncan to safety, but now she had two problems. She was lost despite having a GPS and her car was leaking fluids in a not-at-all-good way. The next twenty minutes are spent in a mad game of Operator. Ash can’t reach Gail. She calls Triple A. Gail’s daughter (who happens to be at the bar – one of Jen’s close friends) is trying to reach Kevin, her dad, who is both a firefighter and a mechanic (convenient!) Finally, we make new plans. Kevin and Gail will take two cars to pick Ash up (she is probably 40 minutes from their house). Gail will drive Ash and Duncan back to their house, Kevin will wait for AAA to tow the car back to a VW dealership in the same town as the burial the next day.

We found out what happened with the GPS too – they have a summer home in Vermont, and they still had that address set at “home”, and Ash who is not from the area, didn’t realize it until too late. Yeah, that actually happened.

Meanwhile, at the bar, I decide to order one more very stiff drink, knock it back quickly, and head out with Gail and Kevin’s two kids and Jen’s sister to get back. I finally do make it back (before Ash) and at last we all arrive at Gail and Kevin’s house. The car was towed to the dealership, we hoped it wouldn’t be bad, and we tried to sleep. Nobody really succeeded, though. Duncan barely slept and Ash hardly slept because the only way Duncan would sleep is if they shared their (single) bed. I had a tough time sleeping because of my back.

MONDAY – After Gail made breakfast (seriously, they went ABOVE AND BEYOND the call of duty for complete strangers) and we finally determined that our car would be looked at that day, we went to the burial. After the burial and before lunch, Kevin took us to the dealership, where they told us they had no news. Ash told them that we’d need to rent a car soon and we needed to know as soon as possible. They said they’d try.

After lunch, at Jay and Jen’s insistence, we headed back to their house for a few hours. This was to buy us time so hopefully we would get news of the car. We DID get a call saying it was a hose or belt, and that it wasn’t too big a deal, but they were going to replace it and run it a while to make sure nothing else had gone. Best case scenario (ha!!) Ash would be on her way with Duncan that night – Landen was getting very antsy without us by then – and she would drop me off at my boss’ place in south CT to stay with him.

They called back to say that the water pump had also gone and that would take a long time. Kevin agreed that that was a definite possibility given what he saw, and there’s NO WAY it would get done (they told us this news at 2). We begged and pleaded and explained our situation, and he said he’d try, but no promises. Ash gave up and just ordered a rental car. She and Duncan left and I was to wait for the car. Either I would be staying with Jay and Jen (which I had wanted to avoid – to give them their space) or I would have a car and would drive down to my boss’ house.

Jay and some friends decide he needs a walk, so we take a 2-3 mile walk at a nearby park. It was nice when we got there. With about 1/2 mile left, the winds pick up and the sky darkens. Suddenly, THROUGH THE WOODS we see a storm moving in. Someone’s phone rings – it’s a relative saying that the area is basically getting hurricane conditions. The skies open up. DOWNPOUR. Hail, lightning directly overhead. We assumed it was Gavin who had just found the weather control console and REALLY liked pushing the red button. Over and over again. We get back to the car drenched but okay. Just before the walk I had gotten confirmation that the maintenance crew busted their ass and the car was ready. Following a change into dry clothes, Jay and I have dinner and he drops me off to get it.

I bid farewell to my friend, pack up, and head to south CT. I meet my boss there and explain what has happened so far. I needed two drinks in me to even get it all out.

TUESDAY

My company asked me to come in for one day during the trip to meet some new employees. Also, Ken, the original boss, was celebrating his last day with the company at his upper west side home that night, so it just made sense. But now we had a problem. Ash was supposed to drop off her rental car in NJ, then wouldn’t have a way to get her, Landen, Duncan, two car seats, and a stroller into NYC, and Tracy wouldn’t be able to drive her because it was Knox’ first day of  daycare. I was in the city with Tracy’s now-fixed car, but had no way of getting to Jersey. After many many many phone calls and planning, Ash changes her location to drop-off the car to a Hertz in NYC, not far from Ken’s, and that’s that.

However, at work, I spent an hour fighting with my computer, as it isn’t working properly. The IT team does a fix that works for about twenty minutes. Bear in mind, I hadn’t worked much of the last few days because of Gavin’s funeral, so I’m very far behind and need every minute I can get (particularly because the office was closing early for the party and 4th of July). Another hour passes and I give up and go to another computer. THAT one isn’t working properly either. We end up having a 2 hour conference call, further reducing the time I have to get stuff done. Add to that my cell phone stopped placing calls while in the city. I was not a happy camper.

Finally Ash comes in with the boys a little late and we start to head over in 90+ degree heat. We divert our trip a bit so we can hit the subway (Landen was promised a train ride). He had a great time on the trains, though they were too loud for his liking. The party itself was quite enjoyable, and I think I ate more red meat than I had in the past two years combined. Scrumptious.

By the time we finally made it back to West Milford, it was after 9. I had to lay down immediately because my back (remember that?) was in so much pain that basically utilizing the muscles hurt so so much. I had a glass of wine and went to bed, hoping it would be better in the morning.

WEDNESDAY

Fourth of July. And my back was worse than ever. I took two ibuprofen in the morning just to make it through the morning. After some pictures and last-minute packing, we head out to the airport about 1.5 hours early. When we check in, the guy asks us for Duncan’s birth certificate. We don’t have it. He says he can’t go on the flight. Ash and I don’t quite realize right away that he’s totally serious. He asks again and we tell him we really don’t have it – it’s in Reno. Ash points out that he has no teeth, can’t talk, and can’t stand. The guy replies: “I know old people that don’t have any teeth. I need proof of his date of birth. It’s on our website.” He tells us to have it faxed. By the time someone were to go to our house and get it and fax it over, we would have missed the flight. Ash breaks down while I try to get the hospital on the phone. (The Doctor’s office is closed, mind you, because it’s a holiday).

After two calls and speaking to 4 people, Ash gets this unpleasant woman who won’t help us – it’s against company policy to give out that information. Finally, the Southwest guy asks to speak to her. He runs around in circles for more than five minutes. The hospital wants authorization – we’re right here! We give it! – and then says that won’t work, they aren’t allowed to give that out. Finally, the Southwest guy says “Just say yes or no. Was Duncan born on 10/12/11? And she keeps fighting him, though at one point she says “yes, but I can’t fax you anything.” After more than five minutes of fighting (we’d probably been in line 25 minutes at this point), the guy instructs me to just hang up on her. He is willing to accept that very unofficial acknowledgment of his date of birth. He (fortunately) ushers us to the front of the security line and we make it through with about 15 minutes before our flight boards.

The flights themselves were okay – Duncan wouldn’t sleep unless he was being nursed, so Ash basically fed him for four hours. Landen did great on all the flights, but he’s still a 3-year-old and that’s draining.

At our layover, my back hurt now so much that I laid on the floor to try to fix it. And when I tried to get up, I couldn’t. I tried three times and I literally couldn’t use my back muscles to help me up. Ash brings more ibuprofen and I suck them down. We instruct Granny to meet us at the Reno airport with something stronger. It is probably the most (prolonged) pain I’ve ever been in.

The rest of the trip went without too much hassle and we made it home.

The results? My back is better now. Duncan DID swallow a penny (it came out during the wake), and all our hosts rocked our socks. We  were able to be there for Jay and Jen, a few friends got to meet our kids, I got to have a send-off for the one-time boss who basically enabled me to move across country and marry Ashley… it wasn’t all bad.

But most of it sucked.

Back up and running!

Something was going screwy with my blog page, and Jason fixed it up (THANK YOU!) So I’m back. I hope to have a few different blogs coming up.

– I’m going to write what will be a lengthy blog post about religion.

– Starting June 1, I will be going on a pretty strict diet. No gluten, no dairy, no caffeine, no liquor. That will be for 6 weeks, then I’ll phase other things back in (likely keeping gluten-free). I’m going to blog about it, because I’m definitely going to need support.

– I’ll probably write-up a review of Chrono Trigger, because even though it isn’t a Final Fantasy game, it was done by the same people, and it really plays like one.

– Hopefully I’ll get some pics of the boys up. Lots happening. Hopefully I find time for it.

Best of 2011 – Music

All right, time for the best music I bought in 2011.  Same rules apply to the Worst of, which can be found HERE.

7.  Ken Burns Jazz – Louis Armstrong (2000) – It’s no surprise that I like big band music.  But I have very little Louis Armstrong for a guy who likes it so much.  When I saw this one, I had to pick it up.  It’s a great collection, from his early Dixieland-esque work with several groups, to his later more familiar style.  It’s just a great selection of songs.  That Ken Burns knows an awful lot about many things.

6.  The Rhythm of the Saints – Paul Simon (1990) – Here is an admission – I think this CD is on the list because I WANT to like it so very badly.  The truth is I do like it, and although Simon gets a bit too much credit for his inclusion of “world musicians” (read: pretty much strictly African), you can’t deny that the music on this album is pretty great.  Noteworthy tracks include “Can’t Run But”, “The Coast”, “Thelma”, and of course the famous(ish) “The Obvious Child”.

5.  Undercard – The Extra Lens (2010) – I was pretty stoked to hear that John Darnielle’s side-project The Extra Lens (formerly Extra Glenns) was coming out with a new release.  For a while, this album was my favorite thing that Darnielle had released since Sunset Tree.  However, after repeated listenings, it is very good, but perhaps not on quite the pedestal it once was.  First off, it’s only 12 songs, and one is an oldie he’s done for years, and another is a cover.  However, two of the songs on here are probably among the best in his entire massive catalog: “How I Left the Ministry” and “Some Other Way”.  In fact, the only real dud on the album is the version of “Rockin’ Rockin’ Twilight of the Gods”, which is particularly not-rocking.  They should have just given it the frenzied energy they give it live.  Definitely worth a listen, especially if you are a Mountain Goats fan.

4.  All Eternals Deck – The Mountain Goats (2011) – Speaking of Mountain Goats, Darnielle somehow sneaks onto my list twice this year.  That seems unfair.  This is his 7th release with his full band, and like the last few, it seems to have few stand-out blow-your-socks-off songs, but conversely no duds.  That’s right, not one song that’s worse than 3 out of 5 stars on my iTunes.  I will say this – unlike the last few, he did at least play with the sounds of the songs a bit.  I found that, before this album, their songs tended to start to sound much too much alike, and on this one, using instrumentation and composition, he varied up the sounds, particularly on “Age of Kings”.  Oh, and for the record, “Never Quite Free” might be the best song of 2011.

3.  Jurassic Park Sountrack – John Williams (1993) – I always assumed Danny Elfman’s soundtracks would comprise pretty much all of my top 10 lists.  But I think as much as I love the man, and as much as his soundtracks are the BEST accompaniment for the film they belong to, you can’t deny that Williams is probably the best theme-writer out there.  It showcases here, as Jurassic Park may have finally vaulted over Edward Scissorhands and Braveheart as my favorite score of all time.  Epic.

2.  Mighty Wind Soundtrack – Various (2003) – I’d seen this movie first probably a year or two after it came out, thought it was charming with a few chuckles, and was happy to have seen it.  Then, many years later, I was still haunted by the song “Kiss at the End of the Rainbow”.  When the came on television recently and I watched it again, I was just captured by the music in it.  Sure, it was written by Michael McKean and not an actual folk artist, per se, but man does he do the genre justice.  I always felt all the styles that the Christopher Guest movies parody are less about parody and more about homage.  That is most true here, where they write genuine folk music that’s tongue-in-cheek, and not trying to be super funny.  I rated about half this album as 4-star songs, including all the songs that are featured in the movie and “Fare Away”, “Blood on the Coal”, and the harmony-solid “When You’re Next to Me.”  This is a great buy for anyone even remotely tolerant of folk music.

1.  Artificial Heart – Jonathan Coulton (2011) – I was nervous that Jonathan Coulton was going mainstream.  He made his calling as an internet darling, doing the Thing a Day series, and that was great.  He was the lovable nerd.  Now that he was under the tutelage of John Flansburg of TMBG (who was once a loveable nerd, but has become too mainstream for my liking), I feared that the album would fall into some of the same traps as TMBG’s recent efforts.  How wrong I was.  Sure, the first 10 seconds of the album sound exactly like a TMBG album, but after that, it is pure Coulton from start to finish.  At 17 tracks, I get the impression he put most of what he recorded on it, and there are a few ones that I pass over (I’m looking at you “Je Suis Rick Springfield”), but the album showcases what Coulton does best: has you cracking up one minute, and quietly reflecting the next.  There’s few artists who can achieve this: Moxy Fruvous and Eddie From Ohio are pretty much the only other two I can think of.  What I appreciate most about the album is that it is a return to melody.  I swear, music today has completely unforgettable melodies, and Coulton deftly carves out a dozen of them on this album alone.  The first half of the album is great, but it is the second half, tracks 10-16 specifically, where it takes off.  Aside from “Good Morning Tucson”, that clump of songs is possibly the strongest string of songs on any album I own, reaching its apex in the trilogy “Down Today”, “Dissolve” and the simple-but-amazing “Nobody Loves You Like Me”.  I heartily recommend this to anyone you know.

 

How to Tell if your Son is Gay

There’s a viral app going around which is a 20-question test that proves to worried mothers if their sons are gay.  Most people’s problem with it is that it shamelessly perpetuates the [often false] stereotypes of the gay lifestyle.  I can’t argue these issues people have – it’s a pretty terrible app, and worse yet it’s being passed around like a tray of pigs in a blanket.  But my biggest problem with it is that it’s a TERRIBLE indicator of a boy’s gayness.  Dressing well?  I have several gay friends who dress like crap.  Liking musicals?  Well then most of my friends are gay.  Are your parents divorced?  Then HALF OF THE WORLD IS GAY!  Put simply, the test is lousy.

So I’ve decided to write my own test that is a much truer indication as to whether or not your son is actually gay.  Better yet, it’s only 10 questions.  Feel free to share this, as I think it will really put the issue to rest, and mothers can sleep well at night knowing that they’re complete idiots for disseminating this type of tripe.

 

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR SON IS GAY

1.  Is your son married to a man?

2.  If he lives in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, has he eloped with a man or moved to another state with him?

3.  Have you seen your son have sex with a man?

4.  Has your son ever taken a man up to his bedroom after asking if you have any errands you need to run?

5.  Is your son’s favorite color “other men”?

6.  Does your son like Liza Minella?  (Note: this isn’t the best indicator of the gayness of your son, but it could well be an indication that he’s got shit taste in music.)

7.  Does he like musical tragedies? (think Repression: The Musical)

8.  Does he spend all of his time inside a closet?

9.  When you talk disparagingly about “those queers,” does he avoid making eye-contact with you?

10.  Have you asked him if he’s gay and he responded “yes”?

HOW TO SCORE:

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you need to continue to the bonus question below:

BONUS) Do you feel that the “How to Tell if your Son is Gay” app is a more useful tool than talking to your son?

If you answered yes, it doesn’t matter if your son is gay, you’re a douche.

Best and Worst Christmas Songs

In light of a recent article I read about the composer of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” calling it the worst song ever written, period, I have given some thought to my favorite and least favorite Christmas songs.  And without giving it too much thought, here’s what I came up with.

Worst Christmas Songs (note: there are any number of comedy songs out there that are horrible – I’m excluding them and sticking to songs that were meant to be genuine)

5.  Good King Wenceslas – This probably wouldn’t have made the list except I found out there are like a billion verses.  That song isn’t good short, never mind exceptionally long.

4.  Little Saint Nick – I’m not a fan of the Beach Boys, and them doing their exact same shtick for winter?  Yeah, not any better.

3.  Do They Know It’s Christmas – No, no they don’t.  They often don’t know when their next meal will be.  Even for charity, this is a terrible song, but not the worst of all time (not even on of the worst two Christmas songs.)

2.  Wonderful Christmastime – Sir Paul McCartney, please please please stick to Hey Jude.  I’d rather hear the end of that song on an endless loop than this song.

1. What Made the Baby Cry – Nothing says the celebration of a baby quite like pointing out as frequently as possible that he will die.

Best Christmas Songs (traditional – doesn’t matter the version)

5.  O Come All Ye Faithful – Perhaps it’s the memory of the midnight mass I went to and their timpani player, but this one is still awesome when it’s in full blast mode.

4.  Once in Royal David’s City – A lesser known song, but the melody is soaring.

3.  Let it Snow – I’m not as big a fan of the jaunty songs like Jingle Bells, but this one is good no matter who sings it.

2.  Carol of the Bells – It doesn’t HAVE to be played by a bell choir, but that certainly doesn’t hurt.

1.  Oh Holy Night – This is really the only time I’d prefer a tenor singing a song over anyone else.  Like literally the only time.

Honorable Mentions: Feliz Navidad, Deck the Halls, Hallelujah Chorus, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Best Christmas Songs (specific version)

5.  Twelve Days of Christmas – Bob and Doug McKenzie – Most people know I don’t like the original of this song (because it’s long and repetitious), and I usually like their parodies less.  But this one is funny from start to finish.  Rick Moranis never ceases to amaze.

4.  Baby It’s Cold Outside – Zooey Dachanel & Leon Redbone – Many versions of this song are too fast and chose “whiter” harmonies.  This version is the right combination of swanky and sentimental.

3.  Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) – Trans-Siberian Orchestra – It’s probably only due to oversaturation that this song isn’t higher.  But seeing one lone guy standing and headbanging to it in concert was a sight I’ll never forget.

2.  Santa Claus – Harry Connick Jr. – The best original Christmas song written in the last 40 years, probably longer.

1.  White Christmas – Bing Crosby – This song, more appropriately this version of this song, IS Christmas.  Much like the Macy’s Day Parade is supposed to usher in the season, my Christmas season doesn’t start until I’ve heard this song.

Honorable Mentions: You’re a Mean One (Mr Grinch) – Rockapella, Christmas Collage – Kathy Mattea, Little Drummer Boy – The Flaming Lips (it contains the lyric: “Baby Jesus, ba rum pa pum pum… is floating somewhere outside, ba rum pa pum pum.”)

Bad stuff follows me around

So many know about my airplane issues – flight canceled, got a new set of flights (3) to Hartford, those were delayed, got in at 2 am.  That’s all fine and dandy.  Usually my luck with airplanes is pretty good, so I won’t complain.

I’m in 2nd in my tournament after the first day, so all I need is a good night’s sleep, right?  Dave’s buddy Gary offered us his place (very kindly).  So we get in and I’m in bed before 11.  SCORE.

And then at 4am, all Gary’s smoke detectors start going off.  For over an hour.  Those things are very loud.

Well, at least I am up and at ’em early.

July 7, 2010

For each day in 2010 (give or take) I’ll be showing a picture from somewhere in my life with a little explanation as to what it is.  Enjoy the trip down memory lane.  (CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ARCHIVES!)

On_Chair

Tiny Me on a Chair
Date: September 22, 2007
Location: Sugarbush, VT

Description: In anticipation of Colorado States, a mountainous tournament, I figured I’d revisit the first one I ever played, at the Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont.  Hitting it at the peak of autumn, there were certainly a number of beautiful sights to behold, none of which, incidentally, were my scores.  Aside from witnessing an ace by the eventual winner of the tournament, Markus Källström, I got to witness another unusual gem, and that was when I later looked at my pictures.  After teeing off on the scenic hole 9 of the Peak Course, I couldn’t help but notice, is that me looking pensively at my drive, or tiny me on a chair?  So far, the votes are overwhelmingly for the latter.

King of the Lake Goals

This weekend (starting tomorrow) is King of the Lake, the tourney I’ve looked forward to most this year, and I’m scheduled to play an NT.  Not only is it a 3-day A tier, I’ve actually played and practiced the courses beforehand!  They’re my “home” courses in that they’re all under 2 hours away.  I wanted to make some “realistic” goals, and so I did some research.  Holy crap I’m surprised what I found.

My problem in golf is I can never put two good rounds together in one day.  If I kill it one round, I blow up the next.  Or I’ll have two average rounds.  So my goal was to throw two 980+ rounds in one day (preferably for every round, but I won’t get greedy.)  So then I did some research.  When was the last time I threw two 980+ rounds in one day?  Well, I was surprised to see I only ever did it once, back in 2006 (1010, 991) – FOUR YEARS AGO!

Well, when was the last time I did 970+ rated rounds in one day?  I was equally shocked to see I’d only done that 4 times.  King of the Lake ’08 being the most recent (979, 986).  Then back to ’06, where I did it twice, and ’05 where I did it once.

I’ve only broken 960+ twice in a day 9 times, and not since ’08.

How in the blue hell is that even possible?  I have been rated above 960 since ’08 (and over 970 for half of that.)  How can I be rated so high but never throw consecutive good rounds?  Easy.  Let’s look at my 9 1000 rated rounds and the OTHER round I threw the same day I threw that one.

1025  1010  1010  1006  1004  1004  1000  1000  1000
933     948   991    949   944     953    898    961    961

Well that explains it.

So my goal is 5 rounds above 960, and at least one day where I throw 970+ twice.  That way I’m not thinking “I gotta cash!” but I’m just working on a round.  I suppose my goal should REALLY be good shot after good shot, but I just thought these numbers were interesting.  Last year I got last cash while AVERAGING 978, and this year’s field will be tougher.

Let’s have some fun.

Final Fantasy Rankings (Part III)

All right, this is it.  The authoritative list of the best Final Fantasy titles.  This one is bound to cause some discussion, especially among people who think VI is a good game.  I’ve looked at dozens of other people’s lists across the boards, and needless to say, my opinions are not popular.  But here they are: the best and worst of the main Final Fantasy Titles.  (I say main because, of course, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest would be #1 otherwise.)

12.  Final Fantasy III

FFIII

The problems with Final Fantasy III aren’t necessarily numerous, but they are certainly glaring.  The biggest problem I have is with the characters, or the fact that there aren’t any.  It’s the quest of four people nobody knows anything about and how they try to save the world.  The story for all the early Final Fantasies (basically up until 6) aren’t exactly very diverse.  It involves good guys trying to round up crystals to beat bad guys.  So when you already have a flimsy plotline, and no interesting characters to back it up, you’re going to have a game that simply isn’t enjoyable.  Add to that the music (even ignoring its very limited NES capabilities) is downright annoying.  While there are glimmers of interesting developments (the job system is introduced, even though it is fairly useless at this point, as well as summon magic), the game isn’t worth playing if you want an enjoyable experience.

11.  Final Fantasy II

FFII

Truthfully, this game is sorta interchangeable with FFIII in terms of likability.  It’s interesting to note – when US developers were deciding which FF title to bring to the states after FFI, they had two real options – go with the actual FFII or go with FFIV, which had just come out in Japan.  They picked IV, not because it was a better game, but just because it was more recent.  I think that was probably the best decision the franchise made in its history.  II is okay, but it has its share of issues as well.  It is telling that the method of leveling up – the more you do something, the stronger at it you become – was never used in subsequent games.  It’s a weak way to level up that requires lots of mindless battles.  Also, magic in this game is totally utterly useless.  The strongest spell in the game, Ultima 9, does about 1/4 of the damage of a normal attack.  The story isn’t developed enough to note improvements over FFI, although you do see seeds of some of the later titles and the stories (notably FFIV).  The one “improvement” of having to learn and recite key phrases could have been done away with.  Pretty forgettable overall.

10.  Final Fantasy X-2

FFX2

I might be unnecessarily harsh on FFX-2.  It is a pretty enjoyable game to play on face value.  The battle system, although animated in a way that makes it very difficult to follow, isn’t laborious and I found myself enjoying the fights.  The idea of oversouling is great.  The game even contains one of the most awesome, challenging locations in the entire series (The Via Infinito).  My problems with the game, though, are immense, mainly because I am not a young teenage bisexual girl, which I am firmly convinced is the demographic they were targeting.  They essentially eliminated all that was good about FFX (interesting diverse characters, a bad guy I could understand wanting to destroy, blitzball, the music) and substituted it with costumes and hand-holding.  It is markedly dumbed down, even more than American FFII.  There isn’t even anything fresh to enjoy, as the world and nearly all the characters are rehashed from FFX.  It strikes me as they had a couple of ideas that didn’t make it into FFX, and rather than let it go, they made an entirely new game out of it that simply does not stand on its own, and it follows X very poorly.  The best thing they did was getting rid of those abhorrent Cloister of Trials.

9.  Final Fantasy VI

FFVI

That’s right, the golden boy of the series, FFVI, sitting here just barely beating out FFX-2.  How did that happen? I’ll tell you.  First off, the entire game is just shrouded in a deep depression.  There is very little uplifting in the entire game, from the characters conflicts to the music to the towns.  Then there are the characters, which are way too many in number.  If they all served a use, then fine.  But a good 1/3 of them are useless and, aside from giving “options” to the player, they more or less sit in the background, unused.  The first half of the game is an endless series of my least-favorite-sequences of the series.  The actual events they have you go through are annoying and simply not fun.  Finally, I already made my opinions of Kefka known; many fans love him, but I don’t.  In wrestling terms, he’s like X-Pac: people jeer him not because he’s good at making people hate him, but because he’s so annoying and ludicrous that you just want him off your television screen.  The game is not totally bad, though.  This was the first real departure in storyline for the franchise, and it was, if nothing else, a noble effort.  The game’s scope is also very ambitious.  Having a truly shocking change halfway through the game (which literally changes the landscape for the rest of the game) is a great idea, and it breaks up the monotony of the storyline which many FF titles fall into.  When all is said and done, though, this is simply an overrated game that I don’t actually enjoy playing.

8.  Final Fantasy

FFI

It pains me just a little to rate this game only at 8th, since it was the one that started the entire ball rolling.  The story of the creation of the game is pretty fascinating, as the company was on its last legs, so this was the final game it was creating, and they wanted it to be a fantasy game (hence the name.)  That it became some widely successful is the sole reason Square even exists today.  Ultimately, though, this game is ranked so low because the ones that came after it were so good.  The game is rough, no doubt, but when you consider what came before it, it is revolutionary in so many ways.  Sure, there are issues with plot (fairly contrived), characters (there really aren’t any), and annoying glitches (the phantom enemy swipes).  They were ironing out the way the entire genre would work.  It is a classic to this day and still enjoyable to play, and featured themes that Uematsu would incorporate into many of his later masterpieces. 

7.  Final Fantasy VIII


FFVIII

Final Fantasy 8 is probably the most polarizing game in the series (with the exception of maybe XII).  While few would put it as the best in the series, most would put it as the very worst.  The flip side is the people who would argue that it is a superior game to VII.  For a very long time (up until this project), I was one of those people.  I’ve softened my tone slightly, but still say that FFVIII is a solid game.  The bad parts are, indeed, bad.  The junctioning system is very complex and a hassle, having to draw magic to increase in strength is tedious, and the main character, as you’ll remember, ranks as the worst character in any FF game.  That being said, there are a number of plusses.  The simplest ones to see are the advances in technology – VIII really became the benchmark for CGI videos and their ability to enhance a story.  Also, the fact that enemies level up with you is a very interesting take which I wouldn’t mind seeing make a comeback as it leads to interesting replay value.  The card minigame is among the best diversions in the series, and the ending is also among the best.  I think what ultimately hurt this game is there is no one standout positive feature, but I also think the negatives are not as bad as people make them out to be.

6.  Final Fantasy V

FFV

I was a little surprised to see this game did so well on the list.  Truthfully, it could probably swap with the next game on the list, and in fact it did at least once while I was trying to order them.  I always felt that V was the “middle child” of the series, never really getting the attention it should.  Among the games with class systems (III, V and X2), this one was clearly the best of the bunch.  Admittedly, some of the jobs are useless, but they’re all fun to at least try once or twice.  The storyline is nothing fantastic, and not even something we hadn’t seen in the prior game or two, but they seemed to trim the unnecessary parts (five people is a bit much to control at once, but they still retained the interesting characters and character progression.)  If my memory serves me, this was the first time they had a main character die, although some of that novelty was lost when an exact replica character took his place.  It’s a start, though.  The game does frankly take a while to get going, but by the end, it is really a fun game.  It’s major suffering would be that it was way too sylistically close to FFIV, and while I do love IV, there wasn’t much progress made between the two of them.

5.  Final Fantasy VII

FFVII

Many like FFVII best and I think it’s because, for the most part, it was their first exposure to the franchise, as it was the first one to come out on a system other than Nintendo.  I’ve long speculated the same thing with the Evil Dead franchise – whichever you watch first will likely be your favorite (Evil Dead II for me).  As a “purist” who had played the NES and SNES ones first, I had trouble rolling with the punches for this one.  Over time, I’ve come to appreciate it for what it is, though I still stand by my assertion that it is an overrated game.  However, it is incredibly ambitious, as not only were they designing for a new system with better capabilities, they also added countless extras and expanded the idea of an RPG tenfold with this game.  Also in hindsight, I realize how lame those “awesome” graphics were.  Even the movies seemed like cheap anime.  But, there were a number of good things about this game: the death of a major character is definitely one of the biggest shocks of all games, not just this series.  Sephiroth is everything that Kefka isn’t (read: actually interesting.)  While the story is confusing, what FF title doesn’t have a convoluted plotline?  7 certainly has replay value, though not perhaps as much as some later titles.

4.  Final Fantasy XII

FFXII

 

Another game that surprised me when I saw how well it did.  Since this game is freshest in my mind, I think I tend to remember the aggravating bits more than I should.  Also, it should be noted that I played the majority of the game with no walkthroughs (unlike every other title except IX), so there was an element of aggravation in having to do things twice or trying things that didn’t work.  The experiments they made with the game were largely successful: the new battle system, while I wouldn’t want it permanently, was quite nice.  The gambit system was definitely interesting (once you acquire good enough gambits, at least.)  I had no problem with the plot whatsoever, as far as two warring nations.  My major beef was the total lack of interesting characters and character development, but I don’t know that that was their main impulse.  They never even truly assigned a main character (Vaan, who is generally accepted as the main character, is probably only 4th or 5th most important in terms of plot.)  Their concentration seemed to be on the creation of the world and the battle systems.  But the joy of the game, aside from its amazing movies, was definitely its scope.  It’s enormous.  And very free.  You can go almost anywhere off the bat, you can clearly get in over your head doing so, and it’s a pleasure trying to see what secrets you can unlock on your own.  The hunt is a great idea, and the amount of optional stuff makes the replay value of this one very great (as long as you don’t particularly have anywhere important to go for a while.)

3.  Final Fantasy IX

FFIX

I once played this game for an hour and vowed never to play it again.  I was so very wrong.  FFIX for a while was listed at #2 on this list, and only very recently got switched back to where it is.  I think having only played it once and not done “everything” bumped it up higher than it might have gotten otherwise, so I have moved it to the well-earned #3.  It is heralded as a return to the “old style” FF game, and it is that and more.  Characters that are very defined, not just in terms of personality, but ability (I got tired of anyone being able to do anything with the right equipment.)  Here, your mages were mages and your fighters were fighters.  Having a main character who was not an abomination helped.  This game is simply fun with very few minuses.  They got rid of the confusing junctioning system, didn’t try to throw a messy materia system, and nothing as complex as the later sphere grid.  You got a weapon that also assists other attributes, try it.  It seemed oddly strategy-based, especially considering it is the simplest method of leveling up in any game.  While I could have done without the “active time mode” which replaced the “meanwhile” cut scenes from earlier games, and seen a different mini-game other than the card game which was in no way an improvement over VIIIs card game, there isn’t much else I’d change.  Having one of the better endings of the games helped too.  Just a truly fun game.

2.  Final Fantasy X

FFX

Here was another difficult choice, between this one and Final Fantasy IX, and they are also primarily interchangeable.  The Cloisters of Trials, one of the worst things ever, almost single-handedly knocked this down a peg.  Aside from that, though, FFX offers almost everything else you could want.  A very deep world with plenty to do.  Characters that are vivid and diverse within the game.  A bad guy (Sin) who truly seems unbeatable, and a bad guy (Seymour) who is evil all on his own.  Hidden subquests.  An awesome, time-sucking minigame (Blitzball).  A very good score.  Excellent movies.  It’s hard not to like this game, though some say it’s too easy.  There’s always ways to make games harder (try to beat it with only one character alive, for instance.)  I do have a few issues with the game, which I touched on briefly in the worst-characters post (lookin’ at you, Tidus.)  Additionally, the voice acting was okay at best, and painful at other times.  It subsequently got better in newer games.  Also, the game was incredibly limiting, not being able to access most of the world until the last 10% of the game.  But these negatives don’t overcome the fun this game holds.  Clearly deserving of the top 3.

1.  Final Fantasy IV

FFIV

This should surprise nobody who knows me at all. Long listed as my favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy IV is truly an epic game.  On the SNES, we actually played this game so much that we wore out the memory capability of it.  When we called Square, they said they knew it could happen with FFI (whose NES system had a very limited capability for memory) but that they’d never heard of it happened on the SNES.  Why is it the best?  Well, its strength lies in its story and characters.  It’s got betrayal, it’s got moral dilemmas, it’s got a redemption story, it’s got tragic (yet meaningful) loss.  The characters as a whole are the most fleshed out of any game – while others in the series may have a good character or two, IV has an entire roster of very detailed characters with fitting backstories.  It is often overshadowed by VI for some reason, I’m guessing because there aren’t an awful lot of side-quests.  But when the story is so good, why bog it down?  The score is also, as already noted, the best of the series, with countless memorable melodies.  The main negatives are that I always felt Golbez should have been the final end guy, and the actual ending (although I appreciate how it actually gives updates on the characters) is a bit bubble-gum happy for me (the twins should have stayed dead at the very least.)

Now that I’ve completed this completely asinine quest, I might play FFIV one more time, for old time’s sake.  Or, you know, see my wife and kid.

Final Fantasy Rankings (Part II)

This will just be about my favorite and least favorite PLAYABLE characters – ones you can actually use in battle.  This is deliberately to avoid picking ten supporting characters from FFX-2.  I’ll even add some graphics to break up the monotony of the font for a moment.  As before, let me know what you think – agree or disagree.  I think this is pretty much aimed at about 4 people that I know have played most of these.

TOP 10 WORST CHARACTERS

10.  Cloud Strife (FFVII)

Cloud

While it technically started with FFVI, I always viewed Cloud as the start of the whiny emo main characters in the series.  There were times when I was hoping Sephiroth would just kill him already, because I was sick of him clutching at his head and emoting.  His name wasn’t a help either.  Cloud Strife?  Better than Humidity Angst, I suppose.


9.  Gau (FFVI)

Gau

The first of what promises to be many blue mages on my list, Gau is perhaps the least worst of them.  But in many ways, he is also more aggravating.  To achieve new skills, you have to go back to a certain area in the world and fight partially-random monsters, have him LEAP onto one of them, go missing for several fights, and then come back.  At that point, he will learn a skill that will pale in comparison to what your party is already doing.  Talk about doing a whole lot of work and getting very little in return.

8.  Cait Sith (FFVII)

Cait Sith

I’m hard pressed to think of a more annoying character in the series.  Ignoring the fact that he’s a cat riding on a robotic moogle, all being controlled by some member of Shinra, his point appears to be to show up and muck up your party a bit.  If any of this was an attempt at humor, I’d have to question it.  If it was an attempt at plot development, I’d have to question it more.  He’s a useless character whose attacks are paltry.  There’s no reason whatsoever to use him.

7. Tidus (FFX)

Tidus

I always thought of Tidus as Cloud Lite, which is saying something because Cloud himself was pretty light, if you get my drift.  Tidus spent most of the game alternating between whining about something or other and yelling that something else wasn’t right.  He made that kid on Youtube crying about Britney Spears seem pretty well adjusted.  Add to that the voice actor who portrayed him didn’t do the character any favors by doing his best slightly matured Dennis the Menace impression. 

6.  Paine (FFX-2)

Paine

In doing research about this, I read that Paine’s character was inspired by someone else who is still yet to come on my sucky character list.  Whoever thought that was a good idea ought to be dragged out into the street and then dragged around more in the street.  In my playthrough I described her as the lovechild of Auron and Lulu after having had all her personality surgically removed.  I think that’s fairly accurate.  She is as bland a character as they come.

5.  Onion Kids (FFIII)

Onion Kids

After compiling my list, I went online and found someone else did a top 10 list of worst characters.  Not only did 6 of ours overlap, I was surprised to see I wasn’t the only person to include these guys.  These are the “characters” of Final Fantasy III.  I put that in quotes because there’s no distinct personality traits, no quirks… no characters.  They didn’t even have names until they remade the game for the DS.  I’ve never not cared about a protagonist so much in my life. 

4.  Quina Quen (FFIX)

Quina

I wish I was at the meeting where this character was developed.  I could hear the pitch now.  “Let’s take the annoying aspects of Cait Sith, add the laborious uselessness of Gau, and mush them into one character.  Good.  Next, let’s not give them any distinct gender, because that’s a laugh riot.  All on board?  Great.  Finally, let’s give that character one joke – no more – for the duration of the very long game.  This character likes food.  Everything this character will do will be about food.  We can make this character optional too, but why wouldn’t anyone want to use them as much as possible?”  I’ll tell you why: Quina blows.

3. Edward Chris von Muir (FFIV)

Edward

I am unsure of who Square is trying to target when they continue to put effeminate characters and job classes into their games that are useless.  Edward the Bard is probably the prime example of such a character.  One of his actual moves – and I’m not making this up – is to hide so he doesn’t get hit.  That strikes me as pretty useless ability.  His other “attacks” involve singing songs that COULD POSSIBLY (but rarely do) inflict some type of status ailment.  He makes Zell from FFVIII seem straight.  Even Edward’s lute song sucks.

2.  Relm Arrowny (FFVI)

Relm

Utterly utterly useless.  During most playthroughs of FFVI, you could see at the end of the game that Relm had been used in exactly one battle – the one that I was obligated to use her to complete the storyline.  Her one ability, Draw, seems to work only on creatures that are so week a good cough would kill them anyway.  Against anything with any difficulty, her best ability is to get killed so I don’t have to worry about her anymore.  When I later found out that she was supposedly the daughter of Shadow, it bumped Shadow off my top-10 cool characters list simply by producing such a crappy daughter.

1. Squall Leonhart (FFVIII)

Squall

How much does Squall suck?  Let me count the ways.  1)  He is supposed to be a tortured mind.  He’s just whiny.  2)  I have no reason why anyone appoints him leader in the game – he is terrible at being a leader.  3)  What did Rinoa see in him?  Was it just a scar she liked?  There’s no way it could have been his “personality.”  4)  He was the inspiration for Paine.  5)  His name is Squall Leonhart.  I think Hailstorm Bunnybutt would have been a better name.  6)  I was rooting for Ultimecia to win. 

Honorable mentions: Bartz Klauser (FFV), Strago (FFVI), Zell Dincht (FFVIII), Adelbert Steiner (FFIX), Yuna (FFX-2)

TOP 10 BEST CHARACTERS

10.  Warrior (FFI)

Fighter

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  How can I like the Fighter and hate on the Onion Kids?  Well, with FFI, they were breaking new ground.  It wasn’t about characters at this point, it was about storyline and gameplay, both of which were pretty revolutionary.  And even though I’ve always been a thief guy, I’ve more than anything fought fought fought through all the Final Fantasies.  As a model for all future fighters that I would use, this red-haired guy had to make the list.

9. Vivi Orunitia (FFIX)

Vivi

I have to be honest – I’m not the biggest Vivi fan in the world.  However, I have to concede that he is a very interesting character.  Constantly battling his own inner demons about his own existence and what it means to be alive vs. manufactured, as well as seeing people somehow related to him being manipulated for evil.  It’s pretty existential for these games.  He might have ranked higher if he didn’t spent the first two thirds of the game tripping over his own robes.

8.  Rydia of Mist (FFIV)

Rydia

The characters of FFIV have very deep emotional issues – more so than most games.  Cecil coming to grips with the evils he’s been forced to do in the past.  Edge overcoming the horrible disfigurement of his parents.  The Mysidian people having their inhabitants voluntarily turn themselves to stone.  But none (okay one) is more tragic than Rydia, whose mother is slain, her town is destroyed, and she is raised by summoned monsters underground.  Her having an actual transformative story arc is what puts her on the list – one of the first times in the series a character is shown overcoming a horrific past to propel her cause. 

7.  General Leo Christophe (FFVI)

General Leo

You know a game isn’t one of my favorites when the (2nd) best character in it is one who is, technically, an enemy and who dies pretty early on in the game.  But there is a reason everyone has stories of being able to revive him and use him in your party – because he’s pretty damn awesome.  One of those good guy in a bad situation stories. 

6.  Garnet til Alexandrios XVII (FFIX)

Garnet

Women don’t get a fair shake in many of the Final Fantasy games.  They are often very docile and tagalongs.  With the only exception before FFIX that I can think of being Tifa, really, the women are all just curative magic users.  Now, in battle, Garnet (also called Dagger) is very much the same.  But her actual character has her getting right in the gritty to solve the problems of her populace (she is a princess.)  Ashe would later do it in a more kick-ass, although infinitely more bland, way in FFXII.

5.  Balthier (FFXII)

Balthier

In a game where all the characters could have been plucked as small one-line bit parts of any Victorian drama, it isn’t hard to stand out.  Balthier does, and not in an anachronistic way like Vaan does.  Balthier is a cocky, smarmy sky pirate who was given the task of having discernible charisma.  It helps that he was given about 98% of all the good lines in the game.  And not in a corny comic-relief sort of way.  He was genuinely witty and made the drudgery quite a bit lighter. 

4.  Zidane Tribal (FFIX)

Zidane

Following Cloud and Squall, the producers of the game could have probably had the leading man been a jar of mayonnaise and it would have been a drastic improvement.  What they gave us instead was a very different protagonist – a lead character who was selfish, womanizing, and actually enjoyed what he was doing.  Sure, he ended up getting sucked into a whirlwind story of come-uppance and even a romance angle, but he did it all while stealing along the way.  He was sorta what Locke from FFVI was meant to be if he hadn’t got sucked into a sappy melodrama about a half-human who was all weepy about her powers. 

3.  Auron (FFX)

Auron

He is the bad-assest character in any game.  Everything, from his calm demeanor, to his Jedi-Master-like tutoring, to his just calmly saying “Farewell” before kicking the shit out of somebody… everything about him screamed awesome.  Points got taken away for him not actually being alive at any point. 

2.  Umaro (FFVI)

Umaro - Chocobo

Seen here riding on an imaginary chocobo, Umaro – better known as the YETI – is the most unique character in the series.  He is optional, but why anybody would pass him up is beyond me.  He has two specialized attacks besides swinging with an axe.  1)  He hurls himself at the enemies causing extensive damage. 2)  He picks up HIS OWN PARTY MEMBERS and THROWS THEM at the enemies for extensive damage.  He’s like a hairy suicide bomber with an acute sense of irony.  I just want to hug him. 

1.  Kain Highwind (FFIV)

Kain

Kain is a very complex character.  In addition to being a dragoon, a class of character that only begun getting any depth in this game, he is also the first (and best) example of treason.  He is a traitor and, though it is not of his own doing, he continually comes back into the scenario to cast doubt on his allegiance.  Looking at it from his perspective, it has to be a hell of a roller coaster ride, not knowing if, at any minute, you’re going to turn your lance on your best friend.  It always struck me as a very fitting ending to his story when he refused to go to his best friend’s wedding because he needed to atone for his past crimes.  It makes me wonder if this theme is explored more in his sub-chapter in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years.  Looks like I’ll have to get a Wii now.

Honorable Mentions: Cecil Harvey (FFIV), Shadow (FFVI), Yuffie Kisaragi (FFVII), Rikku (FFX, NOT FFX-2), Basch fon Rosenburg (FFXII)


Musings from the Motherlode II

First round – The first hole is pretty tough, and there was a risk-reward type shot.  The safe shot is a backhand so you steer clear of the slope to the water on the right.  There is also a roller which I managed to put twice for a putt in practice.  I try the roller.  Shanked right.  I start the whole tournament 5 4 3 3 4.  That’s right, +4 after 5 holes, and this is pretty duecable course (though maybe not these holes in particular)  I proceed to throw 3 pars but 6 bogeys and a double bogey.  +5.  The leader was -8.  The sad thing, I was trying a new putting style and it worked pretty well, all in all.  Missed one or two but made some nice ones.  I was 2 strokes away from 2nd-to-last.

2nd Round: 16 new pin positions.  I’m inclined to just say “look at round 1” but that’s lazy.  I started 3 4 4 4 4.  Yup, +4 on the first five holes again.  While the back 9 (where I started) were harder in the afternoon, the front nine were considerably easier.  So hopefully I could…. forget it, I didn’t.  I shot 6 bogeys and one birdie.  I had a stretch of 3 out of four holes where I missed 3 putts within 20′ (including two airballs from within 15′, both straddle putts.)

Without knowing my exact ratings yet (I think they’ll both be between 890 – 910), you have to go back to May 2007 to see two consecutive rounds that bad (in that case, it was a 907 and 807 – thankfully it wasn’t THAT bad)

This was the closest I’ve come to not finishing a tournament.  But I paid $80 worth and I can still try to ace a hole and get maybe that much in dollars.

March 16, 2010

For each day in 2010 (give or take) I’ll be showing a picture from somewhere in my life with a little explanation as to what it is.  Enjoy the trip down memory lane.  (CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ARCHIVES!)

03162010

Sunset at 65

Date: ~2000

Location: New Jersey

Description: For a short period of time, I carried a [non-digital] camera with me wherever I went so that I could capture cool moments.  This was back in the day when you developed your photos and each photo counted and you couldn’t take dozen of pictures of cat poop because, well, you have a huge flash drive to store them on.  Photos mattered.  Often times, I would see such moments while in my car.  Years before, I had developed my own style of photography because I hated how candid photos seemed awkward and staged photos seemed fake.  This hybrid photography involved holding the camera away from my body but aimed at somebody – I would often keep it like that for minutes at a time.  This way, people were consciously aware I could take their photo at any second, but didn’t feel obligated to pose for it because they had consciously forgotten about the camera.  As an accidental consequence of this, I became quite good at aiming my camera while not actually looking through the viewfinder.  This came in handy while snapping pictures of objects located outside of a car moving 60+ mph – I could snap a decent photo while never taking my eyes off the road.  This was one such photo of a cool sunset.  I believe it was taken on a trip to or from Rutgers, though my memory is starting to fail me now.

Update on lack of pics

For the hundreds dozens couple of people who have asked, we seem to have lost our digital camera and haven’t been able to take any photos in a while, at least none of Landen.  Ash has a very adorable video which I anticipate her putting up any day now.

In the meantime, I do have a milestone that I managed to take a photo while driving.  Errm, while totally safely on the side of the road.  Yeah, that second one.

OnesS