There was a time when I would head out for a night or two of adventure in parts unknown with little more than the clothes on my back and what was in my pockets. Too often, I would find myself crashing on someone’s floor in the attire I’d been wearing all day, and waking up with gummy contact lenses and a mouth that tasted like a gecko with eczema had spent the night in there. My excursions into the wider world have lessened since I’ve gotten older, but the lessons I learned in my younger days are not forgotten. At least, I had believed they were not forgotten. At a crucial moment, the harsh school of experience failed me.
Although the Boy Scouts is an organization that always gave me a slight case of low-level creeps, I do admire their motto. I try never to leave the house, even if it’s just to work or to the store, without a rucksack of items I might need when away from home base. Ninety-eight out of 100 times, I have no need of most of what I bring. But on the rare occasion when I find myself in need of my effects and they’re not with me, I’m quite miserable.
Such was the case a few weeks ago while heading out for the San Francisco Giants game with my good friends Mark and Will. I collected Will (pictured on the left, before the day went sour), and we met Mark at his north Sacramento home. Mark would then navigate the three of us from his house to AT&T Park. Here’s the crux: I almost grabbed my backpack from my car before getting into his, but at the last possible second decided it would be an unnecessary encumbrance at a ballpark. My wallet and phone, plus a dab of sunscreen borrowed from Will, would be all I needed.
If only the ballpark had been the only stop on our itinerary…
We had close to a perfect time at the game. The Giants handily defeated the Astros, and Uribe hit one out, which was good news for my beleaguered fantasy team. As we headed out of the parking lot, Mark got news which fired up his dangerous enthusiasm, and his enthusiasm in full cry is a slavering beast not to be resisted by earthly measures. (He created a bi-annual athletic competition, the Idle Time Games, purely through force of will.) The situation that aroused his legendary keenness that day was so jaw-droppingly lame that I could not, at first, fathom that it would be the ruin of my entire evening. Are you ready? His younger brother, Matt — an inhabitant of San Francisco and under ordinary circumstances one of the Holy Bee’s carefully chosen Favorite People — had secretly begun playing the fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering. Emphasis on “secretly,” because Magic is a stupid fucking game targeted at asthmatic, house-bound 12-year-olds (more on that later.)
When he heard there was going to be a Magic tournament in the vicinity, Mark — a proud comic book collector, a former employee of a “gaming” store in Davis, etc. — could barely contain his joy, and immediately announced we were all going to participate in a few rousing rounds (as it turned out, about 5,000 rounds) with his brother and his brother’s social circle (more on them later), ignoring the daggers I was staring at him from the passenger seat.
For those lucky souls unfamiliar with it, Magic: The Gathering is a fantasy-themed “collectible card game” devised by mathematics professor and social pariah Richard Garfield in 1993. The players assume the role of “planeswalkers,” or powerful wizards, and the cards feature lavishly illustrated “lands” and “spells.” Once you strip away the Dungeons & Dragons horseshit, all you’re really doing is trying to beat your opponent’s set of numbers with your own. It’s basically blackjack with monsters, and for awhile MTG was played obsessively by a certain type of maladjusted, neck-bearded professional virgin, reaching its peak of popularity about fifteen years ago. Evidently, it continues to be played — furtively, mind you — by a new generation.
I’m not a “gamer” of any kind. From tiddlywinks to Monopoly to whichever sociopathic first-person shooter video game is currently popular with the arrested-development set, I derive no pleasure from playing games. (I grimly submit to fantasy baseball as a social obligation, which requires a commitment of about five minutes per day.) And everyone I know has tried to apply some bullshit psychological reason for this tendency, from “you’re too competitive and can’t handle losing” to a succinct “you just suck.” None of these are true. I really don’t think “games” are “fun,” with the exception of bar trivia. Some people will tell you that having your scrotum clamped to a car battery is the bee’s knees, and more power to them, but like anything vomited up by Milton Bradley or Activision, it’s just not for me. However — and this is important — my enmity toward games does not extend to being around others playing games. I have spent many a pleasant hour sitting on the sidelines as others played tennis, or Texas Hold ‘Em, or Mario Kart, and I enjoyed the socialization, rambling conversations, and humorous shit-talking that always went along with these occasions.
So Mark decided we were all crashing his little brother’s clubhouse “Fernwood” in the distant, distant S.F. neighborhood of Monterey Heights (more on that later), and I gave a deafening inward scream. Will chuckled contentedly in that grand-uncle way of his. He was, in fact, an old Magic hand, and used to regale me about marathon sessions back in the heady days of ’95, when the end of a tournament was signaled by the 5-disc CD changer falling silent after a full rotation. Memories of these stories filled my head as Mark gleefully steered the car — the car that moments ago was going to deliver me home — toward the nearest “gaming” store to load up on “sealed decks,” for it was to be a “sealed deck” tournament. (Evidently, according to Mark, S.F. has a “cool” gaming store and an “asshole” gaming store, judged on some mysterious criteria in his own mind.) At this early stage, both Mark and Will assumed my sourpuss facade would at some point crack, and I would heartily join the festivities. My angry refusal to buy several “sealed decks” for myself on the spot was the first shot fired in this war of attrition I was destined to win, but it would be a bloody, Pyrrhic victory. As we headed from the gaming store to Fernwood, my oft-stated desire to go home was cavalierly waved away as those two — allegedly my best friends — geared up for an evening of selfish, nerdy pleasure that consigned their heretofore boon companion to an evening of wall-climbing boredom.
Not since I spent eleven hours in the drunk tank have I been as uncomfortable as I was that night. Matt’s Magic-playing pals are a gaggle of thirty-ish guys who live in a million-dollar house inherited from someone’s parents who have moved on to other lucrative real-estate holdings. From the perspective of someone raised in a lower middle-class family on his share of boxed mac and cheese dinners, the stink of entitlement coming off these guys was eye-watering. They all make more than me at various computer-oriented Bay Area-type jobs, have clearly never missed a meal or wanted for anything in their lives, and treat their living space (for which I suspect they pay a pittance, or not one thin dime) like an Old School-style frat house. Empty bookshelves. Video game controllers strewn across the floor. A glass-topped coffee table rendered opaque by crusty rings of dubious origins. Several water glasses that contained, for reasons unexplained, cling peach slices. A mysterious sound of constantly running water from somewhere in the bowels of the house. And so on. (There is a Magic card called the “Rod of Ruin,” and I may have found a real-life example in Fernwood’s biohazard bathroom. In the bathtub was a long, narrow toilet brush, the first three inches of which was stained a rusty brownish color. The only conclusion one could draw was that someone, in the spirit of experimentation, had inserted this brush into the house’s plumbing, or, conceivably, their own personal plumbing, and dissatisfied with the data yielded, tossed the probe carelessly into the clearly-unused tub.)
All of the Fernwood inhabitants were swilling vodka-cranberries, or red wine with ice cubes, out of milk glasses. Pizza was ordered. Nothing, of any kind, was offered to the guests — in particular, the lone guest who was clearly not participating in the tournament. No one suggested I turn on the TV, or amuse myself with a video game, or have a slice of pizza or a cocktail. I got the feeling if I were to help myself to any of these things, it would be totally accepted and/or ignored. But that’s not how I was raised. One waits to be offered or invited. It never happened in five hours. Just goes to show you can be raised in wealth and still have no class.
Yes, you read that right. Five hours. I sat and stared at snot-green walls for five hours, and by the last two of which, I was seething silently. Ever seethed silently for two hours? It’s quite draining. The Fernwood clubhouse was not within walking distance of anything, and even if it was, the evening was taking a typically frigid Bay Area turn.
Worst of all? The conversation, the witty repartee, that made other gaming evenings passable, even pleasurable to me, was nowhere in evidence. These guys could not, or would not, and most certainly did not, talk about anything other than the Magic cards in front their fat, stupid, fat smug faces. Believe me, I started keeping track partway into the second hour, as I ground my teeth and feigned sleep with my Giants cap pulled down over my eyes. No non-Magic phrase ever escaped their lips for the duration of my time amongst them.
Matt, attempting to hide his shame
It would be within my rights to hold this evening against Will and Mark and hate them forever (and subsequently have no friends whatsoever), but I chose to magnanimously forgive them and take comfort in the fact that I never broke down and played, and will never play.
Ultimate point being, if I had my stuff with me, I could have happily whiled away the five hours reading and listening to music or podcasts, or writing a Holy Bee post about Magic and the Fernwood crew that was more affectionate ribbing than the vicious hatchet job you just read.
Two weeks later, and it was Memorial Day weekend. Saturday was the Idle Time Games and subsequent wild party, and Sunday I would be heading to Yuba City for a barbeque at my parents’ house. I wasn’t 100% sure where I would be sleeping Saturday night, and Sunday night’s rest would be fifty miles from home. Potentially two nights away from home base, and I was not about to be caught unprepared again. The Giants/Magic night was an aberration. As I said in the second paragraph above, I usually bring a full set of supplies when I leave the house for any reason. Over the years, I’ve come up with a pretty standard list. Based specifically on my Memorial Day 2010 weekend, here is a complete catalog of what I bring for a couple of days away from my cave:
The clothes on my back:
Dockers button-down short-sleeved shirt (conservative blue & white plaid)
Gray Volcom shorts
Gray-and-blue Champion running shoes
My “unmentionables” (only listed for completeness, try to control your nausea, Faithful Reader)
The basic gear I take whenever I leave the house:
One (1) Under Armor backpack, containing:
Black leather wallet (with ID/debit/gas/library/Starbucks gift cards, and on a good day, cash)
One (1) pair of sunglasses (slides neatly into a small backpack side pocket on cloudy days)
One (1) Samsung touch-screen cellphone, w/Internet capability (and charger)
One (1) 120-gb Apple iPod mp3 player w/Koss adjustable earbuds
One (1) 4-gb Dane-Elec USB flash drive
One (1) olive-green 16-oz. travel coffee mug
One (1) bottle of American Falls drinking water
One (1) yellow Staples writing tablet in dark-blue leather folder
Three (3) Sharpies, assorted tip styles and colors
One (1) highlighter
One (1) Papermate felt-tip pen (green)
One (1) Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine rolling ball pen (blue)
Five (5) Phillies Titans cigars
One (1) Zippo lighter
One (1) pack of Orbit sugarless chewing gum (wintermint)
One (1) travel-size bottle of Purel hand sanitizer
One (1) Tide bleach pen
Two (2) books – in the most recent case, A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White, and Queen: The Definitive Biography by Laura Jackson.
Additional gear for traveling to potentially unknown destinations, possibly overnight:
One (1) Nike gym bag, size “small,” containing:
Button-down Hawaiian-print short-sleeved shirt (subdued as opposed to garish; I proudly own both kinds)
Khaki cargo shorts
San Francisco Giants baseball cap
Dri-Power polyester jersey-style running shirt (white)
Athletec jersey-style running shorts (black, gray, and blue — with pockets)
Change of socks and underwear
One (1) pair of swimming trunks
One (1) pair of tan Vans slip-on shoes
One (1) pair of rubber sandals (brand unkown)
One (1) black cotton t-shirt
One (1) reversible black/brown leather belt
One (1) medium-sized towel (the lessons of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not lost on me.)
One (1) plastic bag for safe containment of damp/dirty clothes
One (1) small Crown Royal bag, serving as a toiletries bag, containing
- One (1) toothbrush
- One (1) tube of Arm & Hammer Advance White toothpaste (containing baking soda and peroxide)
- Three (3) floss swords
- One (1) stick of Arm & Hammer Essentials natural deodorant (containing no aluminum or paraben)
- One (1) pair of eyeglasses, w/case
- One (1) bottle of Aquify multi-purpose contact lens solution
- One (1) contact lens case
- One (1) small bottle of cologne
One (1) magazine (in the most recent case, a special edition of Life – “Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of All
Time,” but usually it’s Spin or Rolling Stone)
Three (3) albums on compact disc (in this case, Radiohead’s The Bends, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and the 4-disc set by The Faces Five Guys Walk Into A Bar…)
One (1) stainless-steel 8-oz. flask containing Canadian Club blended whiskey
One (1) additional bottle of American Falls drinking water
Again, all of this easily fits into a backpack and small gym bag, and can be (and has been) carried by me on foot for miles, or tossed in someone’s trunk, or stashed behind someone’s couch. No matter where I am, I’m loaded for bear. (If I went without books, I could cut the weight almost in half.) A lightweight laptop computer would be a nice addition, but unless someone wants to buy it for me, the combination of pen and paper and a cellphone browser will have to do.
I never pack food. I can either acquire it on the road, at the destination, or accept that it wouldn’t hurt to skip a meal. The above list can easily be adapted for winter by adding a jacket, replacing short sleeves with long sleeves, replacing the running shorts with sweats, and the other shorts with jeans.
Be prepared…you never know when an evening of Magic awaits…