After my last post describing the history of the game Maryann and I invented, I didn’t write for awhile. I was quiet while waiting for the results of the contests I applied to, and the results were mixed. Sort of.
For the competition I was most concerned with, Boston FIG, I received my rejection and, as you could guess, was a bit dejected. But then, about two weeks ago, I received their feedback on the game, and it was… All positive. Literally. The curator who gave me the review said things like, “This is a great party game, best played with people you know well and aren’t afraid of acting foolish in front of. Would make a great drinking game, too” –the last of which is exceptionally fitting since it was originally solely a drinking game. It was also described as, “Easily learned and quite intuitive.”
Most importantly, though, was that the review included one sentence which so perfectly stated a sentiment I’d been grasping with describing ever since the game concept really was solidified back in January:
“[The game is] totally fair or completely unfair, depending on who is playing, but that’s kind of the point.”
After all this jabber, and now that I have some renewed vigor after hearing such great things by people who aren’t completely obligated to be nice to me, let me actually tell you about the game.
You and your “friends” are all in Dictator Preschool. Your goal is to learn how to undermine and arbitrarily impose rules on your peers, while doing your best to avoid having to follow rules yourself. The more conniving you are, the better supreme leader you will make. Every turn, one player – “The Dictator” – pits other players against each other in challenges to vie for their approval. This game isn’t fun for the whole family, but it’s exciting and hilarious for anyone who enjoys the chance to let out their inner dictator.
Summary: Players compete in Playground challenges, doing their best to avoid getting Punishments while imposing Punishments on others. Punishments are rules that players must follow or else suffer a consequence. To start, everyone draws a Tyrant card and agrees on a consequence for breaking rules. Every round, someone becomes The Dictator and draws a Playground card, which gives a challenge to other players. After they compete, The Dictator arbitrarily chooses a winner, who gets to arbitrarily make another player draw a Punishment card. The game ends when one player has 7 Punishments in front of them, or
when everyone’s lust for power is sated.
Starting the Game: The game starts when people agree on an easily completed but suitably harsh consequence for inevitable rule breaking (e.g., take a drink, do a sit up, etc.). Then, every player draws a Tyrant card, and the Tyrant with the highest Tyrant Level goes first. After this, Tyrant cards can be ignored though acting like Hitler for the remainder of the game is, of course, encouraged. Play continues clockwise. Sequence of Events: Each player becomes The Dictator on his or her
turn as soon as they draw a Playground Card. The Dictator, as the supreme ruler of the land, does not have to follow any rules. The Dictator has two jobs: first, they get to decide how long the players have to complete a Playground Card; second, they decide the winner of that challenge. There are three phases to a turn:
1. The Dictator draws a card from the Playground deck and reads it out loud. After the card is read, the players listed on that card must vie for The Dictator’s approval by completing the challenge associated with
2. The Dictator chooses a winner of the round by whatever standards they want.
3. The winner gets to make another player of their choosing (EXCEPT for The Dictator) draw a Punishment card, which is read
aloud and placed in front of the person who drew it.
Playground Cards: Playground Cards are divided into four categories, all of which are shuffled together.
● Tantrums: These cards require two players of The Dictator’s choosing to argue that they are the best or most likely to be
something. Whether it is something they want to be the best at or not, players must argue in favor of themselves.
● Tattle Telling: The Dictator reads a sentence on the card, which includes a blank. All other players must write down how they think The Dictator would most likely complete the statement.
● Acting Out: Each one of these cards has a category written on it. The Dictator chooses a word or short phrase that fits the category and then choose two other players to simultaneously act out the chosen word or phrase silently.
● Fingerpainting: Fingerpainting cards consist of questions. If the Dictator draws a Fingerpainting card, he reads the card out loud and then answers the question however he wants. The other players then draw The Dictator’s answer.
Supreme Judge: The Dictator chooses a winner of each challenge based on what he liked best. For instance, in a Fingerpainting challenge, The Dictator could choose the picture he thought was prettiest, or the one that best depicted his sexy abs, or give a pity win to the worst artist.
Punishment Cards: Punishment cards are rules (e.g., “End every sentence with ‘Amen!’”), with a penalty enforced for rule breaking determined by the players at the start of the game. Most of the time, the player who draws a Punishment card places it in front of himself and has to follow that rule for the rest of the game, even while competing in Playground challenges. There are also four special types of Punishment cards, which are explained directly on the cards. If any Punishments seem to conflict, do your best to follow both. All Punishment cards are shuffled together into their own pile.
Ending the Game: If you are a stickler for tradition and feel that the game must officially “end,” you can choose to declare a game over when someone has 7 Punishment cards in front of them. Whoever has the fewest doesn’t win so much as they lose the least.
Do you like being evil? Acting like a child? Competing in various ridiculous challenges? Then you just might like the game I have sort of made and done nothing with!!!
I am not a good salesman. But I do think I’ve done something good.
In October, my friend Maryann and I decided to finally run with one of our many, many (like, infinite) ideas, and make a card game that we had had an idea for. The original concept was a judicial themed (no joke) card game tentatively called Crime and Punishment, which was a mash up of trivia, debating, and filling in the blanks. It was a lot like Cranium… But evil.
See, at first the important thing we focused on was not just the actual game play, but the fact that this was a game that — you might have guessed — hinged on punishments. Specifically, punishing other players, by making them follow rules. Think King’s Cup, the drinking game (in fact, originally this WAS a drinking game), where there are rules to follow and you must drink if you forget them, only in our game there aren’t simply four rules at most for the whole group; there are countless rules that can affect one or all the players. The point of the game was and always has been to wait until one player is crushed under the weight of all their rules.
My friend and I are cruel.
Eventually, Maryann and I scrapped the drinking component of this, because even when we played it ourselves for the first time we didn’t all want to drink. Plus, marketability! We also debated what to call it, deciding that, not only did the name not fit, but we didn’t need to involve Dostoyevsky in our terror. For a while there, our very proper friend Chloe suggested DGBF *coughcoughdon’tgetbuttfuckedcough* (something you want to avoid in prison), which we used as yet another tentative title. During this time, we also realized that trivia was not a good category because it simply wasn’t replayable, like our other categories: the answer to who won the World Cup in 2010 won’t change unless Doctor Who intervened (new game idea!!!). Plus…writing trivia is hard.
Amid all these talks of change, Maryann and I did something very appropriate for us: we dropped it. About two weeks after we played our first test round of this in November, we stopped planning it, figuring it would never amount to anything, and feeling like we could spend our time better — like watching Lightning Point, an Australian show about aliens who love surfing.
Thankfully, Joe exists.
In January, I began debating what to get my boyfriend, Joe, for his birthday. Unfortunately, I was practically broke at that time, and on a (short-lived) path to being utterly broke. So what could I get for his 30th birthday that would be worthy? Well, there was one idea I had that wouldn’t cost too much. See, Joe Maryann and I have all these truly fantastic — I mean, FANTASTIC, right!? — ideas, but we never followed through and really finished any, and Joe said he wished we would. So DGBF was the perfect opportunity to do something for Joe and even something productive.
kidnapped talked Maryann into resuming the game, and she agreed, reluctantly happily. We resumed by adding new categories, but, mostly, focusing on making the game more unified. What we decided was that the game wasn’t just about challenges and unrelated punishments for the loser, which may or may not be decided by others, but instead ALL challenges and punishment recipients would be decided by someone. More than that, there was a new emphasis on replayability, with the person who decides the winner of each round also having more control over what happens during the challenges.
We were set, so close to making this game ready to play, not just as something that two nerds created in their spare time (by spare time, I mean “at work on G-chat and sometimes in between eating Pommes Frites, bahn mi, and Big Gay Ice Cream in rapid succession), but something they actually thought about to excess. We just had one problem: the theme and the name. Our game was still DGBF, a game vaguely about the legal system and jail, but we weren’t happy with it. Then I had an epiphany.
I’m a bit of a control freak, sometimes. I am the kind of person who likes things a certain way, and thinks way too much about things, and when other people act in a way I like to let them know why I think they should do things the way I have painstakingly determined was best. Basically, I’m a control freak. This intermittent action eventually led Joe to call me a tyrant, and, one day, while thinking of this after the fact, I thought, “I’m not a big tyrant… I’m a tiny tyrant.”
In that instant the heavens opened up, and naked, winged babies flew around me, singing hymns. We had a name, and we had a theme: our game was now about Hitler. Or rather, young dictators through the ages. Given this, the challenges became kids testing each other in horrible ways, and the punishments and rules were, well, what happens when you are in a room of dictators, even preschool-aged ones.
Once we had this, I begged my father — a kind, loving man who is too nice to his kids — to make me some art, and he gladly did. Tiny Tyrants was finally printed out and ready to play roughly four hours before Joe’s birthday party. Ironically, we didn’t play the game because people showed up over the course of two hours, but we did draw pictures on the white boards for it.
Even after the birthday, Maryann and I continued making the game, and did some more play testing and fine tuning. We now have four delightful categories that test people’s willingness be creative, funny, earnest, and/or ass-kissing. Similarly, more and more control has been given to The Dictator, the person in control each round, who can literally decide the fates of others on his or her whim. No longer is it just a game of high replayability with some rules to follow, but it’s a game that is unique in that players get to control how they “score” and even determine how much time they have to complete their challenges.
Two weeks ago, I submitted this game to the Boston Festival of Indie Games, today I sent them a prototype because they requested it (and my bank account feels it, eek!), and on Friday I’ll be entering Tabletop Deathmatch, a competition created by the makers of Cards Against Humanity. If nothing happens with any of these, or other competitions that may come up, I may do a Kickstarter. Even after eight months of work, this game is still not really anything more than a few cards on my shelf and way too much time spent thinking of everything I’d want to experience in a party game, but maybe, one day, you could see Tiny Tyrants in the stores, and that’s pretty cool to think about.
Oil. Black gold. Texas jitterbug juice. It seems like in today’s society, all of us are greatly effected in almost invisible ways by this sludge, whether it makes us yell at coworkers because, “The price of gas went up another 4 cents! It used to be cheaper than cola in my day! Grumble grumble gr!” or simply because we can’t live without imported mangoes year round. But for some of us, the effect isn’t just in the back of our heads; it is always palpable. One of these places where the entire landscape has been changed drastically because of recently accessible oil is in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Otherwise known as Murder Alley.
Murder Alley is a term my friend, Hannah, and I invented right before we were embarking on a road trip through the region. See, it turns out that when an oil boom starts, a lot of young men with few or no family ties go where the money is. This influx of young men means there will be a lack of women, children, and elderly permanent citizens who actually care about establishing a community. It’s basically like the cast of Animal House, only replace John Belushi with a disgruntled guy that works out all day and has no real incentive to be decent.
And thus we have the term Murder Alley (alternatively, you could call it Rape Lane, Arson Road, or Pushing-Old-Ladies-Down-Wells Boulevard).
As you could guess, my friend and I were super excited to go through there.
I was going to visit my then boyfriend in Fargo-Moorhead (Moorhead is the town in Minnesota that’s basically integrated into Fargo) — because long distance relations were in vogue back then, and I always stay trendy — and my friend was visiting family in Bismarck, so we both had great conviction when we embarked on this journey. We had a plan: we’d drive for nine or so hours, I’d drop her off, and then I’d complete the last two or three hours alone. Nothing could go wrong!
Unfortunately, apparently there was nothing good on cable that day, so God/Gaia/His Supreme Lord Spaghetti Monster decided it wouldn’t be that simple.
Five hours into the trip, we entered the outskirts of this aforementioned Murder Alley when my oil light mysteriously came on. My friend and I pulled over off the side of the road, which happened to be next to a dead end running perpendicular to the highway. Because we had left after work, it was already pitch black by then. Stars illuminated the sprawling plains eastern Montana and North Dakota are so famous for, a chill immediately hitting us as we exited the car. Hannah and I bundled up against the brisk Montana winter air and went out to check the oil level, but as I took out the dipstick Hannah whispered something.
“Greg,” Hannah quietly muttered next to me, warily looking behind us.
“Hrm?” I asked nonchalantly, focused on getting this done with as soon as possible.
Out of the corner of my sight I noticed her eyes wide as small cookies (which are, you know, wider than most eyes). “There’s a car there.”
I turned around, confused, when I saw it: forty feet from us, dimly illuminated by my headlights, was a dark car. No one stirred within it, no noise coming from the ghostly vehicle. In a time when you hear rumors of uncouth people feigning help only for their scraggly gang buddies to lunge out at potential helpers and steal their vehicles, seeing this deserted car off the side of the street seemed like an omen of doom — especially in a place we’d jokingly said would result in our untimely deaths. So Hannah and I did the only natural thing and pissed ourselves.
“Fuck shit!” I yelled as I put the dipstick back in and closed the hood, bolting back into the driver’s seat. Hannah was already in the passenger’s side, having deftly translated my exclamation of terror into its intended signal to flee.
We drove off back into the highway, catching our breath and trying to avoid cardiac arrest, when I noticed an acrid smell in the air.
“Do you smell that?” I asked my companion.
“Uhh, yeah,” she weakly said, her adrenaline beginning to pump again after it’s 4 second reprieve.
Before we could exchange anymore commentary, I noticed something else: ebony smoke, billowing forth from the front of my car. Quickly following this succession of terrible smell and terrible sight was a terrible sound, as my car’s engine imitated a dying hoard of kittens, a series of hissing mewls and grunts escaping its metal maw. The car stopped accelerating and I pulled off the side urgently, Hannah yelling a string of expletives rivaled only by Game of Thrones dialogue.
On account of the smoke, potential burning, and barely-avoided dismemberment, we forewent leaving our seats and checking the hood once more, opting instead to simply call a truck to take us to the nearest town (or maybe it’s more appropriate to call it a village), Glendive. Then we waited.
We waited in my car for three hours, and it was quite apparent that, with my car’s engine going super nova, that we wouldn’t reach North Dakota anytime soon, much less our destinations past Murder Alley. So when the truck came, with a jovial, stereotypically small town driver, we had him take us to a hotel that still used faxes as their primary form of electronic communications. We restlessly fell asleep, ready to spring awake and defend ourselves from rapscallions at any moment.
The next morning we waited as Hannah’s father came for us, and Murder Alley was almost behind us by midday. But when we finally got to Bismarck, I looked for another way to Fargo, only to discover the buses between Bismarck and Fargo were cancelled due to one of the blizzards so common in the area.
It seemed like I was doomed to fail, and my entire trip had been in vain. In fact, not only had I inadvertently blown up my mom’s car’s engine, but I was now almost-certainly stranded in Bismarck as the sixth wheel in my friend’s family get together. There remained one chance at salvation, though: two friends who lived in Fargo-Moorhead. I pleaded with them, begged them, to come and bring me back to Fargo, despite the danger. Ah yes, infatuation truly makes people super smart and selfless.
They acquiesced, persuaded by my pitiful cries and offer to buy them dinner at a North Dakota staple, Space Aliens — basically Pizza Palace from Toy Story. After dinner, we set off into the raging blizzard, and I look back thankfully that I was blinded by love’s rosy shades, ’cause otherwise I would’ve been blind with pure terror.
If you desperately need to make a bowel movement, I suggest you drive through a blizzard in North Dakota. There are few times of extended horror that match driving in a North Dakota blizzard, where spectral semis appear next to you as you glide down the highway, only becoming visible as you get so close you could reach out and touch them. The flat plains of North Dakota turn into a never ending, time-sucking vortex during a storm, where the road seems to continue on and on forever. There are no turns, no stops, just a line that, after hours of silent snowfall, seems to extend infinitely.
We managed to arrive in Fargo safely, and I was dropped off in front of my boyfriend’s door. There was a moment of tired ecstasy; despite the blizzard, and the car engine melting, and the ever present danger of being taken prisoner by maligned miners, I had gotten to where I needed to. Soon I would be in the arms of my love. I had escaped Murder Alley!
He broke up with me as soon as I saw him.
A few years ago, when I was in high school, I’d take many, many dumb online quizzes. There were few things to do online that could so thoroughly engross me as, “Which TV Show Sidekick Are You?” or “Which Power Ranger Should You Marry?” Eventually, I grew bored of these because I realized that whether I’m more like Liz Lemon or Jack Donaghy doesn’t actually make my life less boring. It seemed like most people felt the same way as I did, because these internet quizzes petered out around the same time I became disillusioned with them.
Then BuzzFeed happened.
BuzzFeed, the internet purveyor of all things not really important to your life, recently began doing their own online quizzes in this same vein, including ones as asinine as, “What Is Your Inner Potato?” (The link is to prove I didn’t just come up with a terrible idea; someone else did.) If the internet quiz hype continues at the astounding rate that BuzzFeed puts these quizzes out — I’m pretty sure they’re all done by a room of malnourished interns who are told they’ll only get food if they make a quiz every half hour — they’ll just get more and more moronic. In a perfect cycle of meta stupidity, BuzzFeed will probably make a “57 Worst BuzzFeed Personality Quizzes” later this year.
Despite my distaste for these quizzes, I also love to jump on the bandwagon and leech onto anything vaguely popular for all it’s worth, which is why I now present to you my own online quiz inspired by the mavin of terrible, lazy, and unnecessary food creations: Sandra Lee (post about her forthcoming).
Be sure to share your results!
I walked down the street in Clinton Hill, my hopes low. My stomach gurgled familiarly, demanding ice cream in penance for putting my psyche through such torture. The light was fading as the sun set, twilight silence engulfing the neighborhood where neither man nor beast seemed to be awake. I studied the buildings and the streets with attentive disinterest, the same way you might look at that thousand dollar dessert in Manhattan, knowing it was probably delicious but that you would never taste it unless you seduced a rich widow. And in the back of my mind, I remembered being in this same position one year ago.
I strolled across the south side of Prospect Park, enjoying the view of autumnal leaves cascading around me. I was on my way to Sunset Terrace to view a three bedroom. The meeting was in a half hour, so I might arrive a bit early, but I knew it’d offer me the perfect opportunity to surround what was, I hoped, to be my future neighborhood.
I casually took my phone from my pocket, completing another neurotic check to make sure I had the right address and time. As I searched for the email, a new one from the very man I was about to meet loaded. Confused, I opened it hastily.
The message was brief: “Hey Greg, we found someone to fill the room. Good luck!”
Well, crap. I turned around.
As I turned the corned I quickly saw the building I was heading towards. A young man in his 20’s was adjusting the blinds as I peered up, and our eyes met for a moment. He waved like he knew me as more than someone answering a Craigslist ad, and I waved gingerly back, knowing if I let myself feel any form of enthusiasm my hopes and dreams will be as crushed as when I discovered Santa was a farce.
Moving to the door, I pressed the buzzer. I bit my lower lip in nervousness like a teenage girl who had been asked to prom by the most popular boy in school but suspected it was just a ruse to get covered in pigs’ blood.
A few moments later, the door opened to the the same friendly man from before. “Hey, Greg? Nice to meet you.”
As I walked up the stairs to the house in Astoria, I began dialing the number I was given. As it rang a girl went to the window and looked at me briefly, before turning around. Through the glass I could hear a muffled, “Shit! He’s here already!” Then she fled from my view as I stood, baffled.
I waited five minutes in the dark, confused by what had happened, a constant inner monologue about whether I should leave or not. As I began walking down the stairs in bafflement, the door opened. The same girl I had seen earlier greeted me. “Oh, hi, Greg? I’m sorry, I just noticed your call, my phone was off…”
She showed me the room, her words slurred and her footing wobbly, as three of her friends stood awkwardly in the kitchen, their voices a whisper as if they were afraid I was keeping track of what they were saying. As she took me back down the stairs into the living room she turned to me briefly and sputtered, “Okay, I have a confession; I’m a little wasted.”
Well, no duh.
“That’s fine,” I simply said. She stammered a bit more and introduced me to her friends who were also sloshed, and I feigned interest while mostly questioning my ability to get into these situations.
She turns to me and starts talking about the other guy who would be living there, and I feign interest as I prefer to actually meet someone. In her drunken stupor she insists on showing me his room even though he’s gone, and I appease her, fearing the wrath of a drunken event planner scorned.
She knocks on her roommate’s door briefly before opening the door. “Oops,” she happily stutters, a hiccup almost escaping her lips. She quickly closes the door of the other man who lives there and turns to me once more. “They’re in there.” I can only imagine what she saw.
At that point, I politely flee. A day later she offered me the place, but I decide I’d rather not live with the woman who seems to regularly get drunk on Tuesday and the guy who I first encountered when I almost walked in on him and his girlfriend.
“This is Phoebe, the other roommate,” the man explains as we enter the apartment on the second door, gesturing to a woman in her late 20’s eating a huge sandwich. She waves to me, her mouth full of meat and cheese.
The man, Josh, shows me my room, the bathroom, the living room, before we sit down with Phoebe. Everything is gorgeous, and, with the exception of my room being a bit small and lacking windows, it’s perfect. So perfect that I knew that, in the shadows, there must be something sinister lurking. There always is.
I sat in the apartment in Carroll Gardens, my legs going numb. The man on the couch with me continued talking, changing subjects like a stereotypical teenage girl debating what to wear. Four others stood in the room, too, listening to him talk, barely saying a word as they couldn’t keep up with his word diarrhea. Half of what he said wasn’t about the apartment or himself at all, but rather things like the pros and cons of Trader Joe’s or the effects of Celiac Disease.
As we were leaving, he somberly said, “What I’m looking for in a roommate is someone who is clean, nice, and, mostly, someone who can put up with my shit.” I turned without saying a word, knowing that I had no desire to handle anyone else’s shit.
Phoebe, Josh and I talked for 20 minutes — which might be about as much bonding as I did with my previous roommate after 3 months. Despite my gloomy nature at this process and the impending sense of doom I generally felt, I was actually hopeful.
We parted ways, both sides making it clear that we were interested in — to use as sterile of terms possible — interested in proceeding with this venture. I walked out the door, my heart uplifted at the prospect of living with sane people in a neighborhood I liked and an apartment that wasn’t haunted. I would hear back from them that night, they had said.
I waited for an email from the man in Prospect Heights, and when I opened it I was a little despondent; he said everyone he had shown had loved the apartment and a bidding war had erupted. But then, the silver lining; he had liked me more than any of them and would be happy to have me be his roommate if I would simply pay him $300 more per month than he had originally said I would.
I tensed, my reptilian brain slithering about, debating what to do. “$300 is a lot of money! … But it’s in Prospect Heights. But $300 is a lot of money! But he seemed cool. But $300 is a lot and this is probably me being a sucker. BUT I LIKE THE APARTMENT!”
In the end, I took the apartment, and my hunch that I had been a sucker was consistently reaffirmed. But that was coming to an end.
The email arrived 3 hours and 20 minutes after I had left. As it loaded my brain was in turmoil, a mix of fear, hope, hunger, anger, happiness, and zestiness clouding my thoughts.
The email started nicely enough, saying the pair had enjoyed meeting me and would like to have me as their new roommate but — at that word my stomach always lurches — their current roommate had decided to stay.
My head did a free fall onto the desk, my brain turning into a puddle of mush and seeping out of my ears, pooling into a formless mass in front of my face. After so many terrible run-ins I thought I had finally found freedom, only to be gunned down all the same.
And that’s why looking for an apartment makes me want ice cream.
This is a story of my experience working in the sponsor area of the Komen Greater NYC’s Race for the Cure. 110%. No embellishment. NOPE!
The participants came in hordes, ravenous after their run. They flocked about each table, gobbling up Tropicana from the north all the way to Skim Plus in the south, leaving not one cluster of Honey Bunches of Oats in their wake. Sometimes, they made the trek through multiple times, sating their appetites and filling their bags with epic loot.
I stood in the middle of the chaos. Not even my zipties — useless and unfamiliar to most of these people — were safe from the out pour of runners gaining their second wind.
During one brief respite of calm, I went to the privy, leaving my beautiful, blonde, Bond-girl of a coworker in charge of our tent, the Sponsor Concierge Table. When I returned, my bombastic companion greeted me, flustered, her bosoms heaving in a way I thoroughly noted but ignored.
“Greg,” she hissed, “This woman asked me to watch her bags!” Her voice was sultry and smooth, a slight drawl left from her southern roots that could lilt any man into a stupor unless he liked dudes like I do.
I looked at where she motioned and, indeed, saw three bags: a purse flanked by two Duane Reade bags that had been supplied for sponsor items. I knew enough to never look through a woman’s purse, lest I come across a hidden sand-snake or tampon, but I peered inside the two bags she had gotten from us and discovered a mess of food, including at least twenty bananas.
I pivoted to face my lustrous cohort once more, taking off my glasses in a dramatic way Laura Roslin would’ve been proud of. “I think she took this all from us.”
Before more needless exposition occurred, the woman in question waddled towards her bags. She was a mango shaped Asian woman in her 40’s. As she passed me and my partner, doing her best to ignore our presence, I questioned her, my voice strong and powerful like a Tahitian monsoon; “Ma’am, did you actually participate in the race.”
She looked at me furtively. Then she began priming her hoard for quick transport.
So that’s your game, wench? “Ma’am, did you actually participate in the race?” I repeated, my voice steely and cool, like the Terminator’s without that indiscernible accent. Again, she looked at me, a veneer of sweat forming on her bushy eyebrows.
I tried once more, putting on my friendliest intimidation face. “Ma’am, are you involved in the race at all?”
She knew she couldn’t ignore me any longer, so she finally responded. She looked at me, eyes glazed in fake confusion, and waved behind her. With a thick Chinese accent she uttered one word: “Husband.” I looked at her, my brow raising in a face that clearly illustrated What the frack she talkin’ about? Again, she gestured behind herself in a vague way and said, slightly more confidently, “Husband,” before meandering off as if in a stupor.
I regarded my companion. “Well, I guess she didn’t speak English very well.”
My sexy, voluptuous comrade looked at me gravely. “When she asked me to watch her bag she spoke English fine.”
I had been conned. That day I was had, grifted by the classic, “Take two or three bags worth of free stuff and then pretend I can’t speak English,” and had been powerless to stop it.
But I promise you this, Three Bag Lady: next year it’ll be different.
This isn’t awkward. This isn’t awkward. It isn’t awkward! I kept repeating the phrase to myself, the thoughts becoming louder and louder until my ears almost hurt, as my parents and my friends sat in our living room, eating sausages and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol (NOTE: for my family, one drink is excessive). I tried my hardest to will the not-awkwardness into reality, but — just like when I tried to will being Tina Fey’s long lost son to be true — nothing happened.
Outside, snow fell, blanketing our home, and making the scenery perfect for the day: it was Christmas Eve.
As we sat, chatting and imbibing, the lack of someone’s presence was easily noted. We pretended it wasn’t an issue, that there was nothing amiss, but we all knew the terrible truth; my brother should’ve been there. But he wasn’t.
I can’t believe this happened. That jerk. If only I had said something else. Oh, this terrible!… Oh well, I thought, mentally going through all five stages of grief in under 3 seconds.
My dad began to joke about something with my friend’s mother. What did he say? I don’t know, I was too distracted, but, knowing them, it probably involved feces, The Bachelorette, or blowing up fruit, because we are classy people.
A few minutes more passed, and then I heard footsteps coming upstairs. I looked expectantly, and it was him: the prodigal brother. He had returned, after 30 horrible minutes of uncertainty.
The last fateful time I had seen my brother was, as said, half an hour before. Upon seeing him I made an inquiry about the one request I had given him for the evening, and it set him fuming.
“What? You were serious!?” His arms came up like a comic book character, showing his frustration and disbelief.
“Um…. Yes.” I looked at him simply, perplexed at his confusion and shocked at such a dire reaction.
“I thought you were joking!”
“Um… No.” Again, I looked him up and down, one eyebrow raised in skepticism at this reaction. I saw the steam building up inside his body with nowhere for it to escape except through his mouth in loud bursts of frustration.
“You can’t do this! You can’t be serious! Greg, this is Christmas Eve, you can’t take over!” He bellowed all this at me, his indignation matched only by his incredible rate of speech.
My dad, hearing this (not unusual) level of volume and passion from my brother’s voice hurried over to resolve the conflict. Ah, my father, always the mediator; I knew I could rely on him. “What’s going on?” he asked, his voice serene as two sleeping kittens.
“Greg was serious earlier!”
My dad simply laughed. “Hah, no he wasn’t! Greg, you were joking, right?”
I looked at them both plainly, aghast at this turn of events. “Um… Nooo?”
Then my dad’s face, generally calm and kind, changed, as he too was filled with anger. “Greg, you can’t tell me what to do in my own house! I dress like this for meetings and I won’t let you tell me what to wear in my own house!”
My brother pointed one finger at me and poked me squarely in my chest, basically bowling me over because he was in good physical condition and I have the physique of a pudding cup. “Greg, you’re a Christmas dictator.” He decided he could no longer look at someone as atrocious as Kim Jong Un and went downstairs in a huff, never to be seen again (for 30 awkward minutes). My father called to him to come back, but his words fell on deaf ears. He looked at me once more, angry that I would make a request that so thoroughly destroyed our family, before returning to his work getting dinner ready.
All I could think about was the previous day’s phone call that sent this whole thing into motion.
“Hey Greg, can I bring anything tomorrow?”
“No, I’ve got the food covered. I was just wondering if you could wear something other than jeans so it’s a bit nicer.”
“Hah, right, okay. See you then.”