Friday, March 25, 2016

"God damn it, Tubbs!"

It took less than twenty days for me to wish death on a cat that doesn't actually exist.

On March 5, my friend Summer posted this article about a cellphone game where you collect cats, "Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector", on her Facebook page. A few of us commented, and while reading the article I realized that a few of my other friends had Tweeted screenshots from this game. It sounded stupid, but it also sounded amusing, so I downloaded the game.

Seventeen days later, as several of us in the office were gathering for lunch, I used a minute of waiting time to check on my cats, and blurted, "God damn it, Tubbs!", because this happened again:

Neko Atsume 3

Tubbs, the large cat in the lower left, ate all of the cat food again.

I wish Tubbs would get hit by a car and die.

Games on my cellphone tend not to last very long. I've downloaded several, when I hear about something that sounds interesting. Candy Crush and Blossom Blast both got deleted the minute I reached a level where I could not progress in the game without spending money. Plague, Inc. lasted the longest. I got about halfway through, playing it without spending any money, but when I got to a point where I could no longer make progress, I deleted.

I spent $4 on Neko Atsume the first afternoon that I played it. I haven't spent any other money since then, and refuse to do so.

I spent my money on expanding my yard, so that I could put more things in it. In this game, you have a yard, and you put things in the yard to make cats come. You don't see the cats come or go; you just open the game and they are there or not there. If they're there and it's one you haven't seen before, you take a photo, and save it into your album of cat photos.

I have taken 45 photos of cats that don't actually exist.

Some of the cats are very ordinary:

Neko Atsume 7

They just look like regular cats, playing in the yard. Some of the cats, though, are more exotic:

Neko Atsume 1

That's Xerxes IX. He only comes to your yard if you have that little green cushion that he's sitting on out for a cat to play with.

Bob the Cat, the dapper little fellow with the walking stick and the hiking outfit:

Neko Atsume 6

only comes to the yard if you have that giant cat jungle gym. That thing takes up the space of two objects, so setting it out just to get Bob the Cat to come by is a bit of a sacrifice, although other, more common cats will also come and play on it. It's also expensive, and that's where Tubbs earns my scorn.

Each cat that visits leaves behind some fish. Silver fish aren't worth a lot, but gold fish are. (500 silver fish can be converted into 10 gold fish. That's how worthless silver fish are.) You can use the fish to buy different objects, which makes different cats come. After the cats come enough times, they leave a memento, which signifies that the cat loves you. Cats that have left you a memento also leave more fish each time they visit, so you want the cats that don't actually exist to love you and to visit often. Xerxes IX, for example, leaves me about 40 silver fish each time he comes. Snowball leaves about 5.

More fish means more objects means rarer cats means more fish means even more objects, in a neverending cycle. I need the fish to earn the hanging mouse toy that Senor Don Gato shows up to stab:

Neko Atsume 4

or the baseball for Joe DiMeowgio and the stump for Mr. Meowgi:

Neko Atsume 2

or the incredibly expensive glass vase that Guy Furry shows up to make ice cream sundaes in:

More Neko Atsume

but sometimes I can't afford to buy those things, because sometimes I have to spend my fish on cat food, because Goddamned Tubbs shows up to eat it all. It would be one thing if Tubbs left behind enough fish to buy more food, but he never does, no matter what kind of food you leave out. He also only shows up when you're almost out of food. Most of the food comes in servings of three, and the expanded yard only has space to set out two servings at a time. You have to have food out, or no cats come. The minute I set out that last serving of food, Tubbs always shows up to hoover it, and then I have to buy more to refill the food bowl.

I hate Tubbs so much, which is why I yelled about him in the hallway the other day. My coworker looked at me, eyebrows raised.

"My cats."

"I can't believe you're playing that."

Yeah, me either.

Monday, March 14, 2016

I Drank the Peeps Milk

A few weeks ago, my friend Rod posted an article about Peeps Milk. Actually, several of my friends posted about it, but Rod posted the first one that I saw, so he gets the credit. I immediately went on a quest to find the Peeps Milk, because I was curious.

Several of my friends greeted this curiosity with horror.

Many people assumed the Peeps Milk would be horrible. Some compared the Peeps Milk to harbingers of the apocalypse, while others talked about the death of culture. I have bad news for you, friends: Peeps Milk is American culture. Taking a natural product generated by force from captive animals caged in an industrialized setting, pouring high fructose corn syrup generated by governmental agricultural subsidies into it, then flavoring it with chemicals before packaging it in bright colors and selling it at the average child's eye level in the grocery store? The only thing more American than that would be if every carton had a tiny American flag attached to the side.

I spent a few weeks trying to find the Peeps Milk. Some of the initial articles were slightly unclear about where to locate it, in that they suggested it was exclusive to Walmart. It turns out that only the orange flavor is exclusive to Walmart, but I went to four Walmarts nine times in less than ten days before I realized that. Have you ever been to that many Walmarts in that short a time span? Toward the end of last week I started to feel like Rooney Mara in the cemetery in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" remake, shuddering and whispering, "You have no idea what I've seen," and I decided to give up.

And that's all it took. Yesterday morning I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from the half marathon, and there it was:

Peeps milk 2

Peeps Milk.

Peeps Milk as far as the eye could see.

I looked up to the heavens, hands out, eyes opened. I was like Miss Sofia in "The Color Purple" talking about that day at the store. I knew that there is a God, and that one day I would come home. I searched for the Peeps Milk, and right when I was about to give up, there it was.

Peeps milk 1

Thank you, Jesus.

In the interests of convincing my friends that Peeps Milk is actually a symbol of American Culture, I decided to place it in a cultured setting, and busted out the Make Your Own Museum kit that's been sitting on my bookshelves since I got it in college for some reason.

I started with the Strawberry Crème Peeps Milk:

Peeps milk 4

I was immediately shocked that it wasn't bright pink. I was expecting it to look like a liquefied Peep, but instead it just looks like a slightly tinted regular milk. I also expected it to taste like strawberries, or at least like strawberry milk usually tastes, and I was wrong there as well. It has a hint of strawberries. It has a hint of milk. It also has a hint of... something. After an entire glass, I couldn't figure out exactly what I was tasting, and decided to eat the Peep on the plate as a palate cleanser and then switch flavors.

I moved on to the Egg Nog Peeps Milk:

Peeps milk 5

It looked like egg nog. It smelled like egg nog. The ingredient list suggested that it was some version of egg nog, but it has the consistency of whole milk. It's very thin egg nog, and doesn't have even the slightest hint of nutmeg, so it's not very good eggnog. I'm going to have to repurpose this, because I'm not going to drink any more of it. Egg nog French toast might be good, or maybe a bread pudding. I ate the egg-shaped Peep, again as a palate cleanser, and switched to the last flavor.

I couldn't find a Peep that looked like the one on the Chocolate Marshmallow Peeps Milk carton, so the milk stands alone:

Peeps milk 3

After drinking it, I figured out what the weird underflavor in the Strawberry Crème milk was: marshmallow flavoring. This is chocolate milk with a strong dose of artificial marshmallow, and that's the same thing they did with the strawberry. This is what makes it Peeps-flavored instead of just regular flavored milk. It's not terrible. It's just a surprise.

So, the final verdict on the Peeps Milk is that the Strawberry and Chocolate flavors are drinkable, if you like flavored milk and the taste of marshmallows. Nobody should drink the Egg Nog flavor.

I have no verdict on the Orange Crème flavor, because I cannot bring myself to visit Walmart again to look for it at this time.

Even I have limits.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Use your glutes, ladies!"

"Use your glutes, ladies!"

A woman in red arm sleeves screamed this somewhere around mile five Saturday, at approximately the same time that my internal monologue was saying, "Half marathons are bullshit. This sucks. We're never doing this again." She can be forgiven for saying "ladies" because, for most of the race, I was the only man at the back, surrounded on all sides by women.

Mile five was the fifth mile out of six and a half miles of continuous uphill walking. Three times in the first seven miles one of the race volunteers said, "You're past the worst part! It's all flat and downhill from here on out!" Two of those times were lies.

Let's back the story up a little bit, though.

On Thursday, I drove to Asheville to meet up with my friend Bernadatte, so that we could participate in the Asheville Half Marathon at the Biltmore Estate. We signed up for this kind of impulsively last year, at the expo for the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon. If you haven't done a big race before, the expo is an event the day before when vendors come, and you pick up your rack pack, and everyone gets really excited. Last year we were so excited to be at a half marathon together that signing up for another before I'd even walked my first one seemed like a great idea, and we registered on the spot.

Our trip didn't get off to the best start. We were supposed to meet up to climb Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in North Carolina and the highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River:

Mount Mitchell 9

but there was a closed road in the middle of the park where the mountain is:

Mount Mitchell 4

and after three attempts at navigating around it only to have my car redirect me back to the same stretch of closed road I texted Bernadette that I was giving up and going to hang around the hotel. As part of impulsively deciding to do this race, we also decided to stay on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate, which turned out to be a smart choice for two reasons:

First, it was so peaceful and restful. We went for a walk the day before the race, covering a few miles of the course, and everything was very calm:

Biltmore Estate 1

Biltmore Estate 12

and really pretty.

Biltmore Estate 6

Biltmore Estate 2

Biltmore Estate 3

Biltmore Estate 5

We could also walk to the winery, where I purchased enough bottles of wine for them to give me a box to carry them all, because that is a totally normal thing that adults who live alone do.

Biltmore Estate 8

We walked all of this because the Biltmore was not yet renting bicycles for the season.

"We're trying to have some tomorrow!"

What's there to try? You have a bicycle barn, full of bikes, marked on the map. Unlock it and let the bicycles out, and the problem's solved.

Anyway, the other reason staying on the grounds was a good idea was that we got to wake up in the morning and walk right out to the race a half hour before start time. We had time to have breakfast, pose for photos:

Race day

and didn't have to get up at five AM to sit on a shuttle bus and then stand around for an hour.

We got up at five anyway, because we are crazy people.

I went into the race with doubts, because there was no pacer for the time I expected to finish in. The pacer is a person with a sign who is going to finish in the time printed on their sign. You can use them as your guide to figure out if you are keeping your pace, or need to speed up, and in my other half marathon they had them for every fifteen minutes up until 3 hours and 30 minutes. When you start the race, you find your pacer, and that way people who are faster don't have to push their way around you to get going. With that in mind, I went hopefully searching for the 3:00 pacer, but couldn't locate one.

"I'm the last pacer," 2:45 told me.

"There's no one after you?"

"The sweeper, at 3:30."

The sweeper lets you know that you will not finish in time. If the sweeper passes you, you get pulled off the course and you do not receive a medal. I talked about this last time I wrote about a half marathon, but I'll say it again: the sweeper is failure. You must stay ahead of the sweeper.

This filled me with terror. I'm sort of conscious of my own pace, but I know I get slower the longer we go on, because I get tired. That means my pace starts changing, and it's hard for me to tell because I'm mentally fraying at that point. Everybody before 2:45 got to know where they were plus or minus 15 minutes, but 2:45 to 3:30 was a 45 minute no man's land, where you might be on the verge of succeeding or might get swept up by the sag wagon at any moment.

Since we stayed at the hotel, and got to roll into the race right before the start, I only had ten minutes to agonize over this, which may have been to our advantage, because the gun was going off and the race was starting before I could really psych myself out.

Mile three marked the first lie from a race volunteer: "It flattens out right up ahead."

Mile four was where I realized I wasn't replenishing calories fast enough, and jammed three cubes of Shot Bloks into my mouth because I was lightheaded for a second. Personal recommendation: avoid the strawberry flavor, which is distilled not from strawberries but instead from dust and sadness.

Somewhere in that first few uphill miles a table offered us Girl Scout cookies, which was a charming idea. Unfortunately a milkless Girl Scout cookie when you're panting from several miles of uphill walking is petty much like rubbing your tongue with delicious sandpaper.

I mentioned mile five at the beginning of this. At that point I was among a crew of older ladies who all know each other and race together. They wore matching shirts and all walked at more or less the same speed, except for Judy, who was way ahead. One of the ladies explained to the other lady how much she does and doesn't like Judy, who is faster than all of them.

"I've never liked Judy. I don't dislike her. I've just never liked her."

It sure as hell sounds like you don't like her, but I don't know your life.

Just after mile six one of the volunteers told us that we were past the worst of the hills and the rest of the race would be downhill. I believed he was lying, like the two lying liars before him, but it turned out that he was true.

Just before the mile seven mark we were joined on the path by the staff of the Biltmore House, who were walking from the staff parking lots to the house for their workday. They were very nice, and very supportive.

Miles seven to ten are kind of a blur for me. They were very pretty, with waterfalls and shaded paths and such, and mostly downhill. Eventually the course joined the route Bernadette and I had walked the day before, and I was comforted by the familiar.

At mile ten, we were encouraged onward by Lady Biltmore, who I had met the day before at the expo:

Biltmore Estate 9

and who I saw again at the end of the race:

Asheville Half Marathon 6

There was a sign at the water station by her that informed us that anyone passing mile ten later than 2:10 into the race was going to be pulled off the course. No one pulled us off at that point, so I knew I was still faster than 3:30, but I had no idea at that point how fast or slow I was moving.

At mile 11 I fell into some kind of mental fugue. I have no memory whatsoever of seeing the mile 12 marker. Mile 11 is the last one I remember seeing, and then, all of a sudden, when I was coming toward the finish line, I saw the 2:45 pacer directly in front of me.

Asheville Half Marathon 1

See that little white square toward the right side of the picture? That's her 2:45 sign. And that's me directly next to her.

My initial thought was that I was hallucinating.

My second thought was that she got tired.

"Are you still on pace?" I loudly demanded. "Are you still 2:45?"

She held up her wrist watch. "Yes."

I have no idea how this happened. I should have stayed with her, but I was exhausted. Even though the finish was downhill and Bernadette was screaming at me to run, I was too dazed. Instead, I became a princess.

I'm serious.

I walked that last minute to the finish line giving my best pageant wave and thanking everyone on both sides of the course.

Asheville Half Marathon 3

"Thank you! Thank you so much!"

Asheville Half Marathon 2

"Thank you!"

As I crossed the finish line the announcer said my name:

Asheville Half Marathon 7

and I screamed, "That's me!"

I may not have won the race, but I sure as hell acted like I did.

I finished at 2:46 clock time, and chip time of 2:44. My chip time on the last half marathon was 3:07. I somehow took over twenty minutes off of my time. That's almost two miles, because the stats also say I was averaging a pace between 12 and 13 minute miles.

I just barely made it out of the bottom fourth of finishers, but I still finished:

Asheville Half Marathon 4

and I did it ahead of 300 other people.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bring Your Action Figure To Work Day

Today, according to the many tubes of the internets, was National Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day. I know because when I read about the day last year I put a note on my calendar for a week before the proposed 2016 date, so that I could check and see if this was a real thing that would happen again this year. It turned out that it is a real thing, as much as any holiday invented on the internet can be, which left me with the question of which action figure to bring, as I assumed the ones that hang out in my office all the time didn't count.

For a while I figured I would just bring my default, Superboy, but then I remembered that he gets to go a lot of places already. I considered my Namor figure, which I always think of as Sad Namor (I'm not sure why), or maybe Supergirl, but then I thought, "What about Northstar?" Yes, what about Northstar? He's cute, he's gay, and he likes to sneer derisively at things. Perfect!

So Northstar came to work with me, and immediately began sneering.

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016 (1)

Why is your water bottle empty? Don't you want to stay hydrated? You should, at your age.

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016 (2)

Did they issue you this tape dispenser, or did you go back to 1970 yourself to get it?

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016 (5)

Why do you have so many kinds of Post It notes? How forgetful can one person possibly be to need this many reminders?

I started to feel like Supergirl would have been a little nicer.

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016 (8)

Your tie is hideous. Take it off.

OK, I guess...

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016 (4)

Why are you still staring at Excel? Are you being punished? Who did this to you?

I'm doing some reports. This is what work looks like sometimes.

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016 (6)

Enough of this. Let's put all the calls on hold and go to lunch.

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016

And so we went to lunch, a nice long walk to and from the office. By the end of the day, we'd even come to a sort of quiet understanding.

Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day 2016 (7)

It's after 5. Why are we still here? Haven't you had enough?

I thought about it, and yes, I had.

So Northstar and I went home.