Secret to happiness: "If you often find yourself eating food you like in the company of people you like, you have probably done something right with your life."

National Poetry Month

April 8th, 2016

Thanks to Tom Lehrer, I cannot say “National Poetry Month” without singing “National Brotherhood Week” in my head, since it scans the same. Nonetheless, it is indeed National Poetry Month, and as per usual I am writing 30 poems in 30 days. Here’s the one I wrote yesterday:

“Poem By A Star-Bellied Sneetch”

I am a Star-Bellied Sneetch.
I have an elegantly long neck,
Beautiful white tufts,
And a pleasantly round yellow belly,
On which, yes, there is a small green star.

I didn’t ask for the star, I was born with it.
I didn’t ask to be treated better than anyone in the pre-McBean era.
I didn’t ask to be treated worse than anyone in McBean era One.
Or better in McBean era Two
Or worse in McBean era Three
You get the idea.
I didn’t ever give McBean any money to remove my star,
Because that green star is part of who I am.

But it’s not who I am.
I’m a Sneetch who likes reading under a truffular tree.
I’m a Sneetch who enjoys cooking
No, not green eggs or ham, that’s racist.
My specialty is actually potatoes au gratin.
They are delicious.

I’m a Sneetch who goes out to the theatre sometimes.
I’m a Sneetch who probably watches too much TV,
But hey, I’m only Sneetch.
I never claimed to be perfect.

I’m a Sneetch who fell in love once,
And it was wonderful,
And then it was terrible,
And then it was over.

I’m a Sneetch who fell in love a second time,
And so far it’s going well,
But I’ve learned not to count your elephant-birds before they hatch.

I’m a Sneetch who has lived his entire life
With this green star on my belly
This small green star
Such a silly little thing
Over which so many Sneetches have made such a big deal
And then some want to pretend like it’s not there?
I am a Star-Bellied Sneetch.
That green star is part of who I am.

But it’s not who I am.

******

Meanwhile April kicked off with the Night of Fools just off Main St. that went so well that my monthly comedy mic has moved to that venue (next show: April 21st!). As usual, I’m still writing my column, most recently about Classic April Fools Pranks. And I have continued my humorous advice podcastwith Lex, we’re up to more than half a dozen episodes of Problem Solvers …ish, most recently an episode where we discuss What do to when kids ask about Santa. We still could really use some more listener problems, so if you have any issues you’d like to briefly summarize so we can help you find a solution and/or entertainment, please do go to our site and click on the link to leave an anonymous voicemail.

Videogame-wise, I’ve still been playing through Divinity: Original Sin with a friend, and it’s a pretty fun co-op RPG. Also picked up the South Park game for myself, which is amusing IFF you like South Park. And boardgame-wise I realize I’m late to the party, but Codenames is amazingly good fun and Vlaada Chvatil is a mad genius. Best party game in a long time.

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Problem Solvers …Ish

March 1st, 2016

While Leap Day may now be over, I’m taking my own leap forward with a brand new podcast:

Problem Solvers …ish

Each week, Lex Friedman and I will apply our not not inconsiderable problem-solving prowess to a listener-submitted issue. Since we’ve just launched, we’re short on said listeners and submissions, so it would be quite helpful if you wanted to give a listen and/or click the button to leave us a voice message (anonymously) with your problem you want solved.

Boardgame-wise, newest games I’ve played include Mystery! Motive for Murder (which features Edward Gorey art) and Booty, although Zavandor and Grand Austria Hotel are the two I’ve continued to enjoy the most. Videogame-wise, in addition to the ever-present SolForge addiction, I’ve fallen back into Marvel Heroes. Yes, as an aRPG, it’s not nearly as in-depth as the (also free, delightful) Path of Exile, but where PoE is very hardcore, MH provides a pleasant casual experience branded with my favorite Marvel characters, so I can run around as Luke Cage while Deadpool follows me and tells pirate jokes.

I’ll be telling a few jokes of my own in less than two weeks at the High Mud Comedy Festival, as will Ophira Eisenberg, Dave Hill, Sean Patton, Tom Lewis, Mark Jagiello, and the amazing Tig Notaro. If you are (or can be) in the Berkshires, and like comedy, you should buy tickets and come enjoy some live stand-up.

If you will not be in the Berkshires, but still want to laugh, go back to the top of this post and listen to my new podcast. Or you can read some of my recent columns about Leap Year and Spring Cleaning. Or you could inhale some nitrous oxide, but listening to and reading my comedy is probably better for your health.

January 35th!

February 4th, 2016

You’d think monthly updates would not be so difficult, but it’s so easy to lose track of things.

Hopefully by next post I’ll have big updates on my collaborative comedy, both musical and podcast. What I can say now is that I am proud, excited, and honored to be doing a few minutes of stand-up to open for Tig Notaro in March, which is clearly a new high point for my stand-up comedy career.* I also wrote columns about how I needed new shoes and dealt with jury duty.

A number of new boardgame reviews up in the past two months, although my two favorite games were probably King Chocolate and Grand Austria Hotel. Interestingly, the two games are almost opposite; Grand Austria hotel is a number of interesting mechanics and random cards all interwoven into a very satisfying colorful game with a lot going on, while King Chocolate is a no-frills elegant little game with simple rules and pieces but tons of emergent gameplay.

In the video game world, finally beat Risen, which like most of the Gothic-series games, had a slow difficult start but certainly got more and more compelling as the game continued. Started playing Divinity: Original Sin with a friend in Canada**, and still mucking about with SolForge and enjoying the deckbuilding even if I’m not terribly good at it.

Speaking of things I’m not terribly good at, so far so bad with my usual new years resolution of getting together with local friends more often. But the year is young yet, even if I feel older*** every day.

*Sorry, 2-hour-long gig to unsuspecting patrons at Applebee’s, you’ve been demoted.

**”We are living in the future, and it is glorious.” This continues to be my reaction to real-time gaming with friends in other countries.

***Mostly due to aches and pains. Although since I technically am older every day, I’m not wrong.

Unfounded Optimism

December 9th, 2015

I’m the first to admit that I do not have a reputation for optimism. I tend to take a more realistic view of most things, that other people might call cynical. But in terms of big-picture things, like “is a pervailing racist sentiment gathering steam or the last throes of a fading mindset”, I am perhaps more optimistic than the current polls warrant. In a few decades it will be better, not worse, I tell myself.

I am also optimistic about my comedic writing, since next year should see me collaborating with old and new friends to make some funny; further details once there is something to show you. But in the meantime, you can read about my plea to our town’s mayor to stop the War on Thanksgiving, or you can take my fast, fun, and frustrating multiple choice quiz of Name That Fascist!

In gaming news, I’ve got a review up for a newish little filler game called Trambahn, and most recently have been playing the Echoes expansion for Innovation, which remains one of my favored boardgames. Videogame-wise, having finally finished Arx Fatalis (an old game, but an interesting one to explore), I have started up Risen.

Also, in spite of being sick recently, I am in love and so life is good. Optimism.

Rented Lance

October 23rd, 2015

This lance ain’t free. Although I am freelancing for Fodor’s Guides once again, so have been traveling all over the Berkshires. Meanwhile, in addition to my often-followed but rarely-read Leaf-Peeping Guide for Tourists, I wrote a column I’m quite proud of, which I like to call Anagram Augury: Bernie Sanders. In the boardgame world, I have a review up for the new co-op game Star Trek: Five Year Mission.

Today I had the thought that tribalism is one of the most destructive forces in modern society, and yet is harnessed to do good for members of the ingroup almost as often as it is used to make things worse for outgroups. So many groups will raise money and work hard to help those in need of their tribe, whether it’s religious charities helping fellow members of said religion, or a big fundraiser I saw recently on BoardGameGeek for gamers in need.

I think sharing a tribe is often a shortcut to empathy, and I think the great problem of modern times is getting people to have empathy for all of humanity even those who seem differently, thus the challenge is to convince people that all of humanity is their tribe. I saw a news story the other week about a hummus restaurant in Israel that gives discounts to Arabs and Jews who eat together. A good start.

Post-Performance Palaver

September 21st, 2015

The past month and a half were fairly exciting for me. I got to participate in the annual WordXWord Festival, as a finalist in both the Poetry Slam and Story Slam. And then I got to open for comedian Solomon Georgio, with a set that was very well received by a pretty good crowd. All of that was a very exciting two weeks of performances.

On the boardgame front, earlier this month was my annual Alphabetic Boardgame Challenge, where I play 26 boardgames with Debbie over the course of a few days. I have new reviews up for Le Havre: Inland Port (A 2p mini-Le Havre) and Isle of Skye (which is probably the best new tile-placement game since at least Vikings, if not ever.)

On a walk this evening, I passed a couple swearing at each other, as happens all too often. My emotions went from irritation to sadness to pity. So I decided to make a BLT when I got home, and that improved my day. If you’re wondering who deserves the credit for that, I refer you to my column about the Earl of Sandwich.

Hobo Sewer Bacon

August 1st, 2015

This post’s title is my favorite clue that I gave in my most recent game of Train of Thought, the party board game I oft describe as “Taboo for smart people”. It remains one of my favorite games to bring to gatherings. As for newer board games, my most recent review is of a game about putting together a newspaper called Extra Extra. The print newspaper industry may be dying, but at least it’s an interesting theme for a boardgame.

I could tell you about recent columns on topics like marriage equality and vegetables, but I’d rather share with you this random verse I wrote. A friend had linked to an article about Marvel’s hip-hop covers, suggesting that heroes battle rap instead. I was amused by the idea, and found myself inspired to write a quick 16 from Iron Man dissing Captain America:

Awwww snap, it’s a rap where Cap gets capped.
I put on my Hulkbuster suit to give daps,
That is a testament to my genius,

Both for invest-a-ment and science, I mean this.
Seen this billionaire,
Fillin’ the air, killin’ it there,
Willing to share my wealth and power;
Built the Avengers their whole fuckin’ Tower.

You? I already told ya,
Unfrozen Caveman Soldier,
Hold yourself as morally superior?
Guess I’ll have to kick your posterior.
You’re inferior to my tech.
Without your serum, you’d get no respect,
So protect ya neck, and you best believe,
I’m a Stark; Winter is coming, Steve.

Spamalot

June 9th, 2015

I’ve been getting a lot of spam comments lately, for reasons unbeknownst* to me.

My Comedy Open Mics have been moved to Third Thursdays**, which means the next one is a lot sooner than I’d expected — June 18th! Anyone who enjoys seeing free live comedy, or attempting live comedy, or cafes that sell tasty food and drink, should come join us at 7pm at the Parlor Cafe on that date.

Life has been very good lately. I say this not to boast, but to encourage/remind people that if you spend a lot of time laughing in good company, that can end up matter more than whatever little negatives may occur. So if you can’t attend my comedy nights, I encourage you to find free comedy near you — or more importantly, funny people whose company you enjoy!

Meanwhile, my most recent column has even more puns than usual.

*Does anyone ever use the word “knownst”? I think I’ve only ever seen it in Spaceballs.

**Or as we call them in the portmanteau business, “Thirdsdays”

Rappin’ Reviews

June 2nd, 2015

So, roughly four years ago, as an experiment, I posted a freestyle rapped boardgame review* of the game Belfort. For whatever reason, I never did a second one until a few weeks ago, but I have now added reviews of the boardgames Twilight Struggle and Flea Market. I am definitely still in the learning process of how to freestyle reviews, and thanks to a 4-year hiatus I learned nothing from my first review because I forgot everything. From my second review, I learned that the background music needs to be much softer compared to my vocals, so everything I say is easy to hear. From my third review, I learned that these videos may be too long, and consequently my next (fourth) review will probably skip the rules summary entirely and just be a review. And hopefully I can start to make these into something that people (like you!) will want to watch.

My poetry and comedy performances continue, as I’ve been hitting the monthly WordXWord poetry events in the lead-up to the August festival, as well as continuing to host my 4th Thursday Comedy Open Mic at the Parlor Cafe. I’ve been thrilled at the wonderful comedians who have been coming, including in some cases the hosts of the comedy open mics in Albany and Northhampton. It makes me feel like my tiny town of North Adams matters, and not just because we were in the news recently for drunken bear-chasing antics.

I could mention that we continue eating all sorts of delectable homemade food ranging from shrimp egg rolls to lomo saltado, but that seems like it’s not good manners. I don’t really have a clever way to end this post, but hopefully I’ll think of one later.

*  I have been told that my projects seem to pick bizarre target demographics which are the center of a Venn Diagram most people have never considered. But I think rhyming and gaming absolutely should go together — that’s why I’d designed that rapping card game a few years back. It’s also why last time I played an auction game, I offered free poetry along with the spices to whoever won the auction. Debbie responded that she would pay more if the winning lot did not include my poetry.

National Poetry Month

April 10th, 2015

Yep, it’s National Poetry Month. I am once again taking the 30/30 Challenge to write a poem a day all month long. If that’s not enough poetry for you, you can read my newsman’s ode to the esteemed Dr. Seuss in a column I call Headline Seuss. And later this month I’ll be giving a presentation on From God To Verse through a local Jewish group. National poetry month is the perfect time to buy my rhyming translation of the Torah/Pentateuch.

The other day Debbie made lamb and potatoes, which was delicious. I love potatoes cooked in lamb fat, which I have affectionately termed “lambtaters”, which* in turn led me to wonder what a good example of a lambtater would be. Muttonleany?

My 4th Thursday Comedy Open Mic nights continue at the Parlor Cafe; anyone who finds themselves local during the appropriate time should stop by for free laughs and reasonably priced food and drink. Non-locals can content themselves with my ranting in written form. Last month the Williams Alumni Fund sent me half a dozen emails of solicitation within a 2-week period, prompting me to write this column about The Alumni Fund. If that sounds too bitter, maybe I just need some Hobbies**.

And I have finally started using Twitter. Don’t worry though, I’m not really joining the 21st century, I still don’t have a cell phone or ipad or car or anything like that. I recently joined a local boardgaming meetup group, so I’ll just be hanging out doing some old-fashioned analog Luddite gaming***

*When shall we three meet again?

**Like measuring temperature from absolute zero. Everyone loves Kelvin & Hobbies.

***Amish pair o’ dice.