Early Dragon Slaying

Twenty years ago, I got my first Nintendo game. For my 11th birthday I had begged for and pleaded to have and longed after Dragon Warrior (I had also pleaded for a Swiss army knife). All of the boys in my fifth grade class had been playing it. Because back then, two seemed like everybody. My best friend’s older brothers were playing it. So, of course, I had to play it. It was entirely new to me. I loved fantasy. I didn’t know that it had come out in the US way back in 1989. Because three years for a child is an eternity. And from 1992, ’89 is waaaaaaaay back.

So it came as a surprise to me when I opened my birthday gift packaging and found a Nintendo cartridge labeled Dragon Warrior IV. Four. 4. There were four of them. After the vague initial disappointment of not getting exactly what I wanted (kids are brats), I settled in to play with the video game and my new pocket knife.

I did not stop playing. The first day I sat down with the game, eight hours evaporated. Or, they did for my parents. Me? I accompanied Ragnar on his quest to find the missing children of Izmut village, and learned that Princess Alena was so much more of a badass than any princess Disney ever portrayed; heaviest hitter in the game.

I learned the art of grinding. If there is anything that the Dragon Quest/Warrior franchise is good at, it’s requiring players to grind for days on end in order to survive a single boss fight. For weeks I sat with it, picking at it, amassing power in game, and learning the score by heart. It was very good music.

All that time indoors, staring at pixels on a screen and manipulating controllers with my thumbs. And where does that leave me today? There is not one hour of the time I spent playing that game which I’d like to claim back. I can say that of some films I’ve seen. I can say that of a very short list of books I’ve half-read and then discarded. But I can’t say that about Dragon Warrior. Even as an adult, I enjoy returning to these worlds, wandering through them, even if the path is linear. And I still love the music: I wake to Dragon Warrior IV’s battle theme every morning, and with each text from my love, my phone levels up.

Dragon Warrior was the first game that was really mine. As much as I loved Thexder, as deeply as I enjoyed Arkanoid and Ms. Pac Man, as dear as The Oregon Trail was, these games all belonged to my father, or were installed on a shared PC. I had to ask to play. But Dragon Warrior? Dragon Warrior was all for me. It made gaming mine. The door it opened looked out on years of green 1-up mushrooms, vast future-scapes of radscorpion-filled deserts that had me looking for new water chips, lazy afternoons leaning on the sound string quartet, attempting to disprove that my character— with her fine pistols and jaunty suede jacket— was the second coming of an elf named Nasrudin, and hours engaged in exploring a volcanic island once held entirely by nomadic dark elves. These were all adventures as fulfilling as curling up with a good book. These were tales that taught me to think about strategy, timing, and above all, inference. But most importantly, I learned about message and medium.

Because most of these later games I loved were rich stories— plots with beginning, middle, and end. The best of them had morally challenging quests and brought up difficult questions which didn’t have easy black and white answers. I learned that a tale should fit the method of telling. The epic sweep of these games made the player feel important, but these were not the only tales that could be told in this medium.

Because of that eleventh birthday gift and the hours conversing with the Zenithian Dragon, I want to see what tales I can coax from a bunch of pixels.

Naiveté

Until this weekend, I had never let a stranger buy me a drink. It’s not that it hasn’t been offered on occasion, but rather that I am at least smart enough to know the vague sexual contract that drink buying can but does not always imply. I’d rather not deal with such uncomfy-making things.

I am also a junky for new experiences, large and small. So on St. Patrick’s Day, after a guy elbowed me in the head, I said yes to letting him buy me a drink. He asked me what I was drinking, and I answered “hard cider.” I quickly lost track of him in the crowd.

A little later, he approached me again and asked, “Can I buy you that drink?”

To which I replied, “Yeah, sure. Whatever.”

“You have to come with me, though.” Hmmm.

So I followed him to the bar. He asked for my number (“may I have the honor of getting your digits?”) before ever getting my name, and then introduced himself. Apparently, he was on tour with some hardcore band, and was only in town for an hour or half hour longer, then off to Orlando and from there another state. At least, that’s what he said. I countered with my fair share of lying, placing myself as a local who lived a ways away— hell if I was going to let him know I lived around the corner.

He asked for a kiss. I was okay with that. I kissed him. And then he pressed me for a place to go have sex.

“Oh honey, I’m not sure you want that.”

He insisted. (“I’ll call you a cab.” “What about my vehicle?” “We can have sex in your car.” “My car is a bike.”) So I tried to scare him off with the “I’m freakier than you can handle” defense (I’ve had mixed success with it in the past), which— lo and behold!— backfired. He was unfazed by spanking, bondage, humiliation, or feminization.

“We have to go find somewhere to have sex right now!”

This was the exact situation I did not want to be in. Horny guy who had “accidentally” bumped into me in order to talk to me, who had the very clear notion that a purchased drink means he’s getting laid, even though he’d done me an injury. All the little controls? Likely in the pick up scene. Okay. I could deal with that. I looked him dead in the eye wearing my best impish grin, and handed him back the cider.

“Enjoy your drink.”

And I proceeded to rock out for the rest of the evening.

Though It Might Not Be Windy Then…

It’s windy today. Two weeks ago, I trawled the thrift store and found a kite. Two control lines, a stunt kite shaped like a caret, to insert itself in the sky.

It’s windy today. I opened the kite packaging the day I found it. The fiberglass connectors were all there, the spools for the line, all of it. Primary colors plus green. A happy kite. I bought it.

It’s windy today, but last week I was in Tallahassee, and there are so few open spaces to go fly a kite. It would have taken up too much room on the bus, anyway. So I left it at home while I dashed across the state.

It’s windy today, and I suppose I could have taken my kite along with me to work, stored it in the break room while I fixed gidgets and wizmos until I was free by order of the clock. But I didn’t. I didn’t even take a lunch.

It’s windy today. It’s windy and warm, with a crisp kiss to the air. I want to be up in the air. I could have sent my kite up in my stead, but I’m sitting at a coffee shop table typing, itching for sky.

It’s windy today. Maybe I’ll take the kite out tomorrow.

That’s how I miss all the good stuff.

In These Hills

I’ve missed travel. Since I moved to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, I have barely gotten to travel just around the state, and even then, it’s only been to places known and loved and longed for.

This weekend, I am in Tallahassee, which curls like a tiny sliver of rusted upstate New York embedded in in the muscle tissue of the outskirts of Atlanta. It claims to be a city. I suppose it is, but it feels like a corroded eroded shell of a town. It reeks of politics. It feels like a college wasteland.

Passing by rows of frat houses, I realize how strange my college experience was. I never had to deal with a fraternity, and even mid week, these buildings wore a halo of unkempt decay. I felt like an intruder.

Home crept in around Railroad Square, decked in yarn and spray paint. The old tumble-down warehouses all repurposed for art, it felt like the city of Megaton in Fallout 3, and in the breeze, I could hear metal creak. The red orange sun sliding below the horizon lit the red orange rust gilding the corrugated steel. But even here, except for the rock climbing gym, the dirt paths rolled up at 6pm, an artsy extension of Punta Gorda.

I admit it. I love this place in pieces. I want to carry slices in pockets to take out and devour at odd times by the railroad tracks off Himmarshee, want to crumble it and sprinkle it into forsythia strewn neighborhoods of Queens, want to wear it about Tampa under silent high rises that all close up at night. I want to carry it with me, these parts and pieces to cobble together a vision of home.