Monday, October 25, 2021

Another stroll around the neighborhood

I have a good idea who the mockingbird is mocking as I pass him on my morning walks.

“Come here. Come here, you silly thing. See what I can do. Come fly with me above the trees. You can’t? Ha ha ha.

But I don’t speak mockingbird. It’s all music to my ears. Beethoven, Mozart, Dylan, Sting, Lyle Lovett alighting on tree limbs to enthrall the audience, then back into the air and onto the next gig. Tomorrow San Antonio, next week Denver.

On the road again, I always wonder what a ‘possum is contemplating as it wobbles by.

Probably: “Just keep moving, moving – wait a minute – what light through yonder nightfall breaks? It looks like two suns, and I am but potential roadkill unless I keep moving, moving – wow, that was a close call – moving, moving, moving.”

It’s possible ‘possums are sharper than they appear, but you never know.

I imagine a tree, after sucking up as much nutrients as it can from the soil below, takes a twinkling to catch its breath then turns to its neighbor and whispers, “See, I told you I could chug-a-lug just as good as those young cedars. Looks like the next round is on you, bucko.”

Have you ever noticed that trees are always whispering? It makes me wonder what they’re saying behind my back. More than likely: “Look. Only four limbs. How sad.”

Sometimes when I walk around the block, a small little yappy dog sneaks up on me from behind; yap, yap, yapping up a storm with a bark three times its own bite, making my heart beat a whole lot faster than it was a second before, which is probably good for my health, as long as I survive my ankles being mauled.

“I got’cha, I got’cha, I got’cha; just slow down an itsy-bitsy bit and I’ll bite that ankle clear off,” I can just hear it yapping. “Your meat might be a bit old and tough, but I won’t know until you stop moving and you’re down on the ground, yeppity-yep-yep.”

It’s best to just keep walking because once you’re down on the ground, you’re only inviting trouble from the circling scavengers up above.

VULTURE 1: So, what do you wanna do?
VULTURE 2: I don’t know, what do YOU wanna do?
VULTURE 1: He might be playing ‘possum, so let’s give him a couple of days.
VULTURE 2: Sounds good to me.

I don’t see Death as some hooded dude standing behind me holding a scythe. Death to me is a middle-aged, overweight white guy, lounging on the couch watching reruns of “Wheel of Fortune.” He’s always trying to get me to “come sit down. You’ll love this episode. I’ll even share my pizza with you. No? Well, you go on your little walk. I’ll wait for you right here. I’ve got some time to kill.”

The other day on my “little walk,” I saw a squirrel turning the tree limbs above my head into its own personal superhighway. Climb, climb, climb, up and over, take the next exit – don’t look down – jump to the next tree going one way, my way, jump again, higher and higher, never touch the ground, and around – now hide.

I imagine a squirrel’s thinking process is simple: “Find a nut, hide a nut, climb a tree, contemplate the existence of dark matter throughout the known universe, go find more nuts.”

Walking is good for the heart, good for the soul, good for waving at your neighbors as they drive by heading to work or the grocery store. Walking gives you the time to ask yourself who you really are, and what’s your purpose in this old world. Better yet, it gives you the time to make up whatever answers suit you best.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Growing up in the Age of Pong

I don’t know if life was much easier during the “Pong” dynasty, but it certainly seems like it was, now that I’m looking back at it through the cloudy pink mist of years.

I guess I was in junior high during that time. The early 70s. A time when every mall arcade worth its weight in quarters had Skee-Ball lanes and pinball machines. You’d make a high score, get rewarded with rolls of coupons, then trade in those coupons for anything from neon-colored pencils to silly-stuffed animals. 

“Skee-Ball or pinball. Pinball or Skee-Ball. That’s your choice. Only cost you a quarter. Ah, too bad. Maybe you’ll do better next time. Win the big prize. Impress the girl. It’ll only cost you another quarter.”

And then a couple of years later, things seemed to change practically overnight. There was Pac-Man, and Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong, and my personal all-time favorite – Asteroids. So many games to play; not enough pocket change. “But dear father, lead me no longer into the temptation of pinball. Better yet, push me into the valley of outer-space to fly a little wedge of a ship bent on destroying two-dimensional space rocks floating on a screen of black; for thine is the kingdom, and your hard-earned quarters given to me because I begged them of you are the glory, forever and ever, Yee-Haw!”

And then came the first and absolute king of home gaming – Pong, by Atari. 

I was at a high school band party the first time I ever played Pong. I think there was a swimming pool; there may have been some snacks; I vaguely remember music over a home stereo system. But the biggest impression on me was the Atari home console that contained Pong. Its components were black. The wires seemed like tentacles from an alien squid. Somehow it plugged itself into the television set. Somehow, we manipulated a couple of vertical “paddles,” raising them and lowering them on the screen. Somehow a digital ball was passed back and forth between the paddles. And somehow, we all waited our turn to play the winner without falling into a riotous digital feeding frenzy. And it was the best party ever.

Growing up, I never had a home gaming console. I guess it was just too expensive. “So much money for to do what? Play games? Go outside and play. You have a bicycle, don’t you?” But every trip to the local mall included me forgoing looking for new clothes in favor of me spending my fair share of my parents’ quarters at the mall arcade, and I was as happy as could be.

I’ve been thinking about Pong and Asteroids and Space Invaders lately, wondering if it’s possible to recreate those carefree days during these trying times; wondering if I can poke my head into some reincarnations of games long past as a temporary cure-all for what ails me. And since it’s cheaper than buying liquor, I’m sure my better half would half-way approve.