I just got back from a trip I used to make more regularly - to New York City, home of one of my alma maters and the place I lived for a chunk of the 1990s.
This time I also went to Connecticut (I went to Connecticut last time I visited New York as well, back in November, but I didn’t write about it for some reason) to see some friends that I’ve made through gaming: the “Fantastic” family, Josh Look, Bernie Frick, Jeff Luce, Michael Fralish, Peter “Tootsie” Putnam, Al and Shellie Rose, and Zev “Z-man” Schlesinger.
A lot happened. Many games got played, many beers and bottles of liquor and cups of coffee got drunk, many good times were had. Josh Look killed six or seven banshees with his car. Strangely, though, as I sat down and decided what to write about regarding last week’s excursion, I came up with the following three things. These aren’t game session accounts, or tales of drunken bawdiness, or even shout outs to people I met and will only see when I head up north again. But these are the things I’ve been thinking about now that I’m home.
New York’s Lack of Color
Isn’t New York supposed to be one of the most fashionable cities in the world? If so, then what’s with the decades old INSISTENCE on wearing black from head to toe? Did I wear that much black when I lived there?
It’s been many, many years since I lived in New York City, and recently quite a length of time passed between visits. At the same time, I’ve added color to my wardrobe - specifically different shades of blue, gray, and green, which are colors that look good on me (as does black). When I got out of my cab near Times Square last Wednesday, wearing my subdued but definitely blue sweater, my blue jeans, and my light blue shirt, I must have stood out. Around me was a sea of black, punctuated only occasionally by people who dared wear something else. Sure, their cuts and fabrics and weaves were fashionable and modern. But everything was black. And unlike every other time I visited New York, and unlike the years I lived there, I noticed. In other towns across our great nation, they say again and again that X and Y are the “new black.” Apparently, no one told New York.
Now, I like New York as a city much more than I like Atlanta, but now I have to say that at least Atlanta has people dressed in all the colors of the rainbow. And I rather like the variety.
The Cigarette Generation
We were sitting on the couch in Matt Loter’s mom’s house on Thursday when Matt made an off-handed comment. I’ll paraphrase: “Man, the generation before us - everybody smoked. Now, even though people smoke, it’s NOTHING like they did before.” For some reason, that struck me.
He’s right, you know. When I think about how many people I know who smoked when I was a kid, it’s overwhelming. No one thought anything of it, even when it came out about how bad smoking was for you. People just shrugged and said, “Quitting smoking is more difficult than the crap I’m going to go through because I smoke, so fuck it.”
Really! That’s what they said! More or less.
I see my generation as the one that did the most quitting. I never smoked, but I had a lot of peers who did. MOST of them don’t any more, and the ones who still do really are saying “Fuck it.” But I’d be willing to lay hard money on the probability that if they have kids, they will ACTIVELY discourage their kids from taking up the habit. Way I see it, it’s only a matter of time before cigarette smoking becomes a novelty pastime. The rules are finally in place to control it, and even people who smoke admit that the drawbacks are steadily outweighing the benefits. (And what are the benefits, anyway? The euphoria? The perception of coolness?)
When you get a bunch of us together over alcohol and games, smack talk will occur. I am a proud talker of much smack, and that includes pointing out the foibles in someone’s gaming skill (ask my friend Jay Elgin about his math). This past week, much smack talk occurred, and we laughed good-naturedly at it. BUT, as Josh and I were tooling around post-gaming on both Friday and Saturday, we were laughing even more - without resorting to insulting anyone. What we were laughing at was just a silly bunch of non sequiturs and absurdist observations, but they had us giggling like little boys looking at their first girlie magazine.
Now, by insult, I mean latching onto something genuine about a person - something about the way he looks, or acts - and milking it for its humor. Insult humor can be funny, but I think it takes a special way of doing it to make it funny. Otherwise, it’s just… insulting.
There are people who are funny - they have comedic timing, a way of saying things, a certain something in their voice - which makes you smile when they tell you a story, or makes you laugh at yourself when they do even a shitty imitation of you. When those people make a joke, you laugh.
But let’s face it, there are also people who simply aren’t funny. When they tell you a “funny” story, you usually get bored after the second sentence. When they make a comment, you CAN help breaking into a smile. And when they employ insult humor, they really only succeed in insulting their subject.
I think it comes partially from the delivery, sure. But I think a big part of it comes from WHY the person is attempting humor in the first place. I’d be pulling your leg, or outright lying, if I told you there was not a narcissistic motive behind anybody who tries to make a joke. We ALL like it when people laugh at us (as long as we’re trying to make them laugh at us). But if you think belittling someone, and failing to respect that person at the same time, will lead to comedic success, well… you’re really no better than those kids who poked fun of the fat kid in fourth grade.
But if you actually like and respect the person you’re making fun of, it somehow comes across differently. You don’t come off as one-upping them. You don’t come off as a bully. The object of your ridicule may actually feel affection coming from you, and not derision. THAT’S when you know you’re doing it right.
Oh, and people laugh, too.
Even so, there are people - I could name THREE right now off the top of my head - who are WAY sensitive. As good-natured as your ribbing might be, they’re gonna take offense. Also, you have to be careful. If there’s a subject someone is sensitive about - her weight, his hairline, his height, the fact that she’s 40 and single - then it’s best to learn early what that subject is, and to avoid it. Find something else.
And if you come across an overly sensitive person, avoid THEM.
I don’t mean avoid making fun of them. I mean avoid them altogether.
Fuck those people.
So, yeah. That’s what I came away with. Insults, cigarettes, and the color black.
Next time I go up, I think maybe I’ll come back and write about chimneys, salt and pepper shakers, and whether or not farting in elevators makes a good occupation.