Annie

Annie, you silly, silly pup!

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She was the most beautiful spaniel and not because of her coat or posture but because she took to my wife Melissa and was her “protector” and my wife was her favorite person. Annie was originally dropped off at a vet in Nebraska because she had breast cancer. I think her original family gave Annie up, but I don’t know. The vet that removed the cancer was Melissa’s cousin. So now they have this cancer-free dog around…

Well, Melissa and her cousin have the same grandfather. Who lives in Nebraska! And was living alone and wanted a dog, so Annie went to live with Grandpa in his assisted living home. The two were inseparable!

Annie and Grandpa would golf together and walk to Walmart together and basically lived together. I know now what a wonderful companion Annie was.

About a year after this, Grandpa passed away. Grandpa fell at his assisted living home and was bleeding on the floor for hours and nobody knew. So poor Annie was inside the home and witnessed this. Someone eventually did notice, got Grandpa to a hospital – where he died a few days later. Melissa drove to Nebraska and brought Annie back to us. I believe I was with Roody in Milwaukee when Annie first came home. So from her perspective, Annie had a couple of days with Melissa and then THIS GUY (me) shows up. We drove to Grandpa’s funeral in Nebraska and brought Annie along for the ride. Thus began my life with the absolute sweetest, silliest, most caring, most loving dog I’ve ever known.

Annie decided that Melissa was now her person and she never left her side. I worked from home each day in 2020 and Annie would curl into a ball underneath my computer desk for work. We spent 12 hours together but she would race upstairs when my wife was home to see her. She was her person!

She went waterboarding, on car rides, and on all manner of walks in the mountains. She would figure out when we were leaving and get in the mud room. Waiting, hoping that she could come with us.

“Okay Annie, you can come with for the ride!”

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She didn’t want to be left behind. While our Golden retriever, in her old age will do a circle to go back to the house if she sees a car, Annie always wanted to join us. Freddy’s, the burger joint, would give her a pup cup!

She died on Wednesday. She had been shivering while she was breathing and we tried to get her a biopsy and surgery and a CT scan and all the other stuff we needed to have done. We got her all the medicine we could to try to help for this last month. (There is a need for streamlining in the lung surgery process for dogs, let me tell you.) I spent Tuesday with her. I had to leave that night for corporate onboarding in a different city for a few days. Melissa had Wednesday off and Annie got much, much worse. Melissa comforted her the entire day — but on Wednesday, Annie stopped moving on her own and stopped drinking water. She wasn’t getting air very well and had a high fever. We brought someone to the house and she got to sleep and take a (literal) nap and then passed away, cradled by the one she loved most.

“Annie! Silly, happy girl!”

But look.

When dogs or kids came over, she made sure they did not get too close to Melissa. If other dogs were around and started playing, a lot of times she would break it up. We called her “the sheriff” because of that. We also called Annie-Banany and then sometimes just “Banany” and Mel got her a collar with little bananas all over it but I’ve never known a dog that knew her name so well and would come to you when called. And while she loved my wife more than anything, Annie’s tail would go a million miles an hour when she saw me and she would (confident that Melissa was safe asleep at night) inch her way towards curling up to me every night when I slept. I have woken up in my bed every day for the last four years with Annie laying on me.

When we first got her, she threw up on the floor while we were in the room and went to the corner of the kitchen like she was going to get yelled at. And I just went over and said, Annie, look. You can’t get in trouble here. You just can’t. For anything. And she wagged her tail and I cleaned up the mess and I don’t know what happened to her before Melissa’s grandfather got her, but I hope we were everything she wanted out of people for the four amazing, glorious years we got to spend with her. The earth is – I’m sorry but the earth is a demonstrable worse place now than it was a few weeks ago because this beautiful angel has left us.

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One last thing. A few months ago, Melissa had taken both of our dogs and gone to her sister’s house, where there are two dogs. Some neighbors of her sisters brought their dogs over. All of the dogs are just running in and out of the house, having a wonderful time on a summer day. I arrived hours after Mel and Annie got there. After a day of playing and being surrounded by pup chaos, Annie saw me and stopped what she doing and came over, tail wagging with the biggest smile. She could SMILE. I have never seen a dog truly smile as she did. And for me! Reader, I’ve got some self-worth issues. Goddamn it is nice to have a dog be happy to see you like that.

Annie, I am going to miss you, sweetheart. I did not get enough time with you. I thought I would have years more. This is why this hurts so badly, I just thought you being here was normal and we’d have years, Banany. You are the sweetest pup there has ever been and all I want to do is live my life from here on out like the person you seemed to think I was. I will be the one to protect Melissa again, I promise. She’ll be safe. I love you, baby girl. I love you and miss you so much.

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Our Visit to Arkadia Retrocade

Flack's former Commando game, yesterday

I’m not going to be able to do justice to the incredible experience that is Shea Mathis’s arcade, Arkadia Retrocade. My wife surprised me with a trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas this previous weekend and on Tuesday we were able to say hello and take in the wonder that is this place. I don’t know how the pandemic has been going for you, but I’ve had a substandard one, so this trip was much appreciated. I also got jabbed to hell a while ago because I donned a tiger costume and sat with my hiney in the air in the Bronx Zoo, awaiting my vaxx shot with Harvey Weinstein and O.J., and every other American criminal they were testing multiple times a year ago as the rest of us chumps obeyed the law and had to figure out if we had it or not by the science of “guessing.”

(But first! Wait, before anything else I’d like to recommend a couple articles that my friend Flack wrote so that you can get additional perspectives. Ok, then come back here.)

Flack is also important to this story because we got into Fayetteville and then drove to Oklahoma City to see Flack and his wife Susan. We were at an arcade in OKC called Up/Down and I can contrast these two arcades as follows: At Up/Down, a barcade, the pedal was constantly depressed for the blue driver in “Ironman” Ivan Stewart’s Offroad game and the girls in the game were in bikinis. At Arkadia Retrocade, a regular or “non-alcoholic” arcade, the setting was active to put the girls in dresses because it’s more of a family friendly place and the only thing depressed was me before I got inside.

It’s not possible to be depressed inside Arkadia Retrocade, and it’s the best arcade I’ve ever been to in my life.

I first met Shea in 2012 at the Oklahoma Video Game Expo and he was talking about the arcade that he was going to create. If ever one man was going to be a success in a difficult field through pure energy, enthusiasm and force of personality, it was Shea and this arcade of his. And I am delighted to say that — after getting a few hours to experience it — he did it. He realized the dream. I think every one that starts collecting games has an idle wish to one day open an arcade, but for most of us we get derailed. Not Shea and not here. In addition to games, the pure amount of retro items is almost overwhelming once you’re inside.

But yeah, as soon as you walk in you’ll see the full size cabinet of Donkey Kong! Donkey Kong Jr.! Pengo! Paperboy! Crystal Castles! A cocktail Popeye in one corner. Satan’s Hollow along a row of classics. I couldn’t decide what to play first. Tony Temple wrote a great book on Missile Command that is heavy with lunatics. MC was on my mind due to his book and I think that was the first game I had to try. It had been a little while since I played Missile Command and it holds up so well, unlike the descending nuclear missiles in every game manned by me of Missile Command.

There is interesting detail everywhere inside the building. A local artist created a huge mural along the back wall of the second area, but to even get to that point you’ll pass so many items that will make people in my generation go, “Ooh, I had that!” or if you grew up in my town something like, “Oh, I had that, but then that piece of trash in my grade stole it when I brought it to school!” There are mini handheld arcade games on walls (the ones that Coleco made, I think? You know the ones) and Shea also has the first trackball (“trak-ball”) that I had ever encountered, the Atari 2600 one. A lifelong obsession! These are a few items but there’s hundreds if not thousands of similar items everywhere on the walls and on shelves.

But I love this view as you look over the second area in Arkadia. I didn’t bring my camera because we were on a “Frontier” flight, the airline that enlists pictures of wild animals in dark patterns to try to get you to pay them hundreds of extra dollars for this new invention called “luggage” which I guess the CEO of Frontier thinks is a fad. So these are phone pics that don’t represent me as an artist. You walk past this doorway and you get to see dozens more arcade games, the weird and obscure stuff, all ready for you at the bottom of a long walkway. If the new area was the entire arcade it would be worth it. The space on both levels is used really well, too – at no point did my wife or I think we were cramped. (That would have changed if I had gotten her in the Environmental Discs of Tron at AK, but I already played that card years ago in Colorado. And, well, she’s not stupid. She’s not falling for that again. Even though to me the absolute height of comedy is having Sark chortle at a now-angry game player awkwardly trying to expunge themselves from Environmental Discs of Tron after playing it badly and failing, you don’t do that to someone when you get married. It showed up in our vows.)

I’ve been interested in arcade games for a long time and had many of them fall on me and Arkadia had games that I had never heard of. It would have been a delight to have them fall on me, crushing my bones to powder as I said, “I didn’t know about this game. This is incredibly painful.”

I got one wish. There’s one thing I wish! The only thing I wish is that I had some way to represent Arkadia out where I live with various forms of swag. Shirts, mugs, hats, that kind of thing. I know that small business owners get a zillion people telling them what they should do, so that’s not me here doing that, just reiterating that America wants to shows its love for the Arkadia Retrocade. We had a great time and I’m trying to figure out when we can return.

Shea, thanks for everything!

Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos

I made a new game with Mike Sousa! It’s called Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos. Let me see if I can in-line the blurb.

There was an aye-aye behind the bar, staring at me horribly. Or maybe its face just froze that way. I was waiting for my client at ten at night in a dusty, dirty town in the middle of nowhere. Clouds out here were apparently one of the thirty million newly unemployed. There was a missing woman and my client was about to hire an amateur private detective with the world’s most technologically advanced cellular phone. This was going to be a cinch. Seriously. It’ll take me like two searches with it to close this case. Three if mid-investigation I check on my torrents.

Y-You’re a player of the 2020 Interactive Fiction competition. I’m Jay. Let’s straddle the edge.

Download Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos (Story File)

Download the TADS game runner for Windows – HTML TADS, Linux or OSX – QTads.

The Comp

Many, many years ago I was trying to get a job with any of the three computer game companies in Colorado. I interviewed with two of them and noticed how they used the term THE INDUSTRY to talk about the video game-making industry. I’ve seen that same thing as a casual observer to other fields like photography. It’s always been a “stop for a second” kind of phrasing to me, where people that speak that way are almost sounding to me like they are on the edge of a cult. But then I realized that I refer to the yearly Interactive Fiction Competition that way. THE COMP. It makes me happy to think of it that way, I’m okay with doing it too.

After a 15 year hiatus, I have entered a small game into this year’s comp. And I’m really excited and nervous about it, I feel like a kid again. I never meant to stop entering. I did a little better each time I entered a game and learned a lot each time. (Though I give mad credit to Mike Sousa for our collaboration on our last game together that we did in 2004.) I just got going on a Spring Competition game, so no fall comp that release for me… and then five years of development for what has become a commercial game, then a quick one for a Hugo Competition, and then the last seven years I’ve been doing the text game / RPG. I took a break from it for my entry for this year’s Comp. I took a break from that for a couple of months to do this.

The making-text-games scene has changed a great deal since 2004. I got a chance to meet the great majority of my Internet online text game eFriends in 2009 and it was awesome. And over the years I’ve had more chances to meet up when they have come to where I live, or when I have flown out to where they are. The community has been a real positive for me, I’m very lucky in that regard. There’s a dude somewhere out there really into frogs who went to a frog convention and wound up sitting in a room with 15 unwashed enthusiasts of Pepe. This has not been that for me.

I don’t mean to be cagey with the game I am submitting, that all comes out on October 1st and I’ll make an update here. It’s good to be back.

Everyone Has a Frobozz Story

Frobozz died on Wednesday, January 23rd. It is the worst day of my life.

Frobozz was killed by a rescue dog that we had adopted. The rescue dog got downstairs. She wanted to get downstairs because that was where we kept the dry cat food and the wet cat food. She was food obsessed and I didn’t train that out of her, not yet. I had a camera pointed to the stairs so I could see if she was trying to get downstairs. I checked around 10:40AM on the 23rd and saw that the stuff I put in front of the stairs had been knocked away.¬† As soon as I saw what happened I drove home from work.

Reggie was sitting in a dry sink. He was OK. Two of our dogs were still downstairs in the arcade. Everything I had placed to block the stairs (some pots filled with dirt, two gates, some chairs) had been knocked down the stairs. Everything I had placed as a barrier was broken. Chunks of the pots lay scattered against the floor of the basement. Dirt had been tracked everywhere. I searched the normal spots that Frobozz had hid in since we moved into our home. He would hide behind the water heater, in the storage room, behind the furnace, on top of the Asteroids machine. He wasn’t at any of those places.

I saw that a stool had been knocked over and I looked into an arcade game of mine that didn’t have a back door. That is where I saw Frobozz’s body. He had wedged himself into the game. I don’t know what happened. He was too far in there for the rescue dog to have bit him and killed him. He was just frozen in place. The dog was covered in slashes and cuts – presumably she attacked him and Frobozz fought back and somehow in the process he died.

* * *

My ex-girlfriend Dayna brought Frobozz home as a four-week old barn kitten on a day in August of 2006. We had just moved into a house in Thornton, Colorado. She had brought two older female cats to the relationship before we got Frobozz. We had a lot of space in that house. I had never really had a pet that was my sole responsibility before. She had mentioned that she encountered litters of kittens all the time in her job for county invasive vegetation species enforcement. I remember just saying that I wanted a cat with a” preposterously large head in proportion to his body.” She brought this fuzzy, nigh-feral kitten home and he definitely had a head that was way too big for the rest of his body.

The name “Frobozz” is from the text adventure computer game Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz – Frobozz itself is a province in the game where you attempt to get treasure, solve puzzles, outsmart a wizard and type curse words into the prompt. Frobozz (I’m back to my cat now) as a 4 week kitten had these shocks of hair just jumping off him. He looked that he had just been struck by lightning and as a way to chop up the rest of his day, decided to go toaster bathing. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at cats on the Internet in my day … and your day … and I have never seen any cat go from bizarrely-sketched oddball to a shining example of the perfect feline form like he did. Of course I loved him from the moment I saw him, but I became a little proud in how he prospered and bloomed.

We would wrestle all the time as I took the role of father, mother and sibling for him. I would go to work with long scratches over my arms in order to give him someone to rough house with. He never attacked anyone or anything for any length of time out of malice, it was just the way we played together, the two of us. We played less as he got older as he was more content to sit and nap and observe. I moved out of Thornton, got married to my wife Melissa and we brought all our pets together. My wife spent so much time with Frobozz, he had two people in his life that cared for him terribly.

In telling people what happened, I’ve learned that Frobozz (of course) didn’t cease to exist when people were over and when people spent the night at our place. Everybody has a Frobozz story. Guests at my place(s) tend to wake up before I do a lot of the time. I learned that Frobozz would be the cool companion hanging out while my friends played arcade games. (While Frobozz usually would sleep on the bed with me, he is the only cat I knew that would wake up earlier than myself but not also wake me up.) He liked being around people and I don’t get the sense that he was annoying about demanding attention from them. He just liked watching, liked hanging out. He liked being chill.

He would make a trilling sound when he was about to jump towards me and an “Eh!” sound when he was asleep and someone (the someone usually being me) would pick him up. He was probably taken from his mother cat too early, although there wasn’t any protection from some hawk getting him where he came from. He imprinted on me. We imprinted on each other. Looking back at the years we had together, Jesus, we spent an enormous amount of time just staring at each other as morons together. He would jump onto my lap wherever I was sitting. I would stop what I was doing and we would just look at each other, happy in that.

He was an indoor cat, but occasionally I would think to let him outside so he could experience the outdoors. There was a small storage shed across from the fence at my old house. One day when I had let Frobozz out for a second to get some sunshine, he got away from me. He scaled the fence and hopped over to the barn’s roof… and had no idea how to get down. He cried for help! I was able to knock on the neighbor’s door and get a ladder and get him down. He wasn’t great with being held by most other people for the first few years of his life. When I had him neutered, he was kept in a series of cat cages until he woke up. I had to go back there to get him out because he was back there, squashed as far back as he could go, hissing at the vets that were trying to get him. He came right out when he saw me and we went home. He had been the constant companion in my life for so many years. I had a long period of time when I was single before I met my wife and for the most part it was me living with Frobozz, Boggit and Reggie in a house that was big but not at all empty because I had those three happy¬† clowns to share it with.

* * *

He’s gone forever and it still hasn’t hit me. It hits me all the time, but it hasn’t fully hit me, if that makes any sense. There was a mix up when it came to getting his ashes. I took him to the crematorium the day he died while my wife took the rescue dog back to the rescue. Someone was ahead of me in line at the crematorium trying to negotiate some multi-animal plan or discount or something. I went to one of the rooms they had there with Frobozz’s body. I had wrapped him in blankets and we just sat there waiting. I’m glad I had that time now. He was as long as a cat should be, he weighed what a cat should weigh. In the end wrapped up tight and had to leave him and drove home.

I got a call a couple days later. His ashes were ready for me to pick up. There was a mistake though and it’s funny to me just how little you parse in grief. The weight of the ashes was wrong, it was too low. The wrong name was written on the container. None of this registered with me. I got a call a few days later from the crematorium. They had given the wrong ashes to me. I drove back and made the exchange and all is right now.

* * *

What really hurts the most right now is that I failed him. I utterly and totally failed him. Maybe if you are stacking obstacles in front of the downstairs to stop a new dog to where you are spontaneously generating a new Q*bert level before heading to work, you should consider your housing situation and adjust. I told this four-week old kitten that I would protect him and raise him and ensure he had a good life. Every time someone stayed at our place I would have to explain or have my wife explain the rules about closing the outside doors. He could get hurt outside. We’ve been in endless construction since we moved into our place and contractors, without exception, do not fucking shut doors. So I would have to make sure that he and his brothers and sisters were locked in a room with what they needed so they wouldn’t get outside, get lost, get hurt. I was a paranoid lunatic about all of that because Frobozz needed a paranoid lunatic to stick up for him. He was friendly, sociable and handsome. He was happy to see people and ever curious. He was always kind to his brothers and got along effortless with girl cats. He was all the things that I can’t be but admire in others and I couldn’t imagine raising a creature of any species that would have turned out better than he did.

Each day I get up and feel either grief or rage. It’s usually one or the other. I think of him fighting for his life in an arcade game and how I was too late to save the day. I think of all the wishes I had, I wish that I had worked from home that day or called it on the rescue dog or found a better way to buy time. I didn’t and it haunts me. There is a loss I cannot comprehend because he was the first and only creature that has ever walked the earth that was 100% truly dependent on me from start to finish and I failed him.

He died weeks ago and I do still see him out of the corner of my eye. My brain is tricked into thinking he is just around the corner and then he is not. He was truly the greatest guy there has ever been and if you spent any time in real life with me you liked him too. I hope you know, buddy, that I am so, so sorry.

I love you, Frobozz.


Frobozz, my baby

Frobozz, 2006-2013

We Are All Who Remain

My cat died four months ago today. I was going to write this a month after Boggit died, but before I could, Willow died.

I was going to write this a month after Willow died, but before I could, Noelani died.

We didn’t grow up with a lot of death in our family and I am experiencing now what millions of others have. I should have taken Boggit in at two weeks and not assumed that him bouncing back with strength was just good health and not the steroids. Maybe I could have switched treatments. I would have drained my saving to put him on chemo now, easily.

But yes, I hadn’t finished grieving the premature death of my tuxedo kitty before Willow and Noelani died.

This has been the worst thing that has ever happened to me. They were beautiful. I think, aside from all the anger, the worst part is that my wife and I became “good” at our pets dying. What I mean by that is when Willow died and my wife handed her body to the vet, she didn’t support her head and it rolled backwards. When Noelani died, I made sure to cradle her head as I gave her to the vet because we’d had so much experience at this by now.

I’m going to post some photos now.


Willow


Noelani


Boggit

Steve Miller and Deep Dish

Last night, my girlfriend and I went to a Chicago Pizza Deep Dish Style Joint. That’s its name. I’ll wait for Tdarcos to look that up and confirm there’s no place in Denver called that and return.

All right, thanks. So you can get many diffe– everyone wants the pepperoni deep dish but sometimes you don’t want to look like a ham machine in front of your lady, so you entertain the idea of going in there and getting a health pie.

Okay, she’s not a killjoy, it was me. For some reason I started enjoying green peppers, onions and artichoke on pizza now in a way that is a complete betrayal to young me. I ordered the deep dish for us with those toppings. To young me, I might as well have done so in a Yankees jersey.

They say that it takes them 35 minutes to make the deep dish pie, so that means everyone else in the place is gonna get theirs first because some people go in there and order thin crust, which is this whole other thing. The couple in the booth behind us got their deep dish and they ordered a pizza with bacon on it.

I know that bacon as a meme is a really tired thing the Internet ruined, but like Kate Upton on the cover of Sports Illustrated, sometimes you get a reminder why something got popular in the first place. The entire place smelled briefly of bacon. That’s a pretty great scent to have wafting around.

I said to my girlfriend that ordering a bacon deep dish pie is the exact opposite of going to a bar’s jukebox and queuing up the entirety of The Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits.

Now, regardless of what you thought of that line, she didn’t think it was funny and I insisted that it was. I tweeted it and one person clicked “favorite” and that person has the exact same sense of humor I do.

So MAYBE it’s not as uproarious as I thought it was.

But the point I was making is that we’ve all heard The Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits 1974-1978 a million times. That is not an exaggeration.

Look at this thing. Everyone has seen this and heard it way too many times:



I don’t mean “Everyone born in North America has heard it,” I mean everyone on Earth. When those scientists found that one tribe in the Amazon that hadn’t made contact with civilization, the natives shot arrows toward their boat, and the arrowheads all had inscribed some runes upon them that directly translated into the tabs for “Dance Dance Dance.”

I am not even saying it is a BAD album. Wintertime is one of the 200 best songs ever made. The Joker would have been as well if not for the fact that America’s radio stations haven’t gone more than 5 minutes without playing it since its release (helpfully noted in the album’s title to be sometime between 1974 and 1978).

I’m just saying that trapping the denizens of a bar with that album — it’s 14 tracks long and it’s important to remember that you’ve got to endure “True Fine Love” and “The Stake” before getting to The Joker — is the opposite of a nice smell in a bar.

Anyway, so, here’s the thing: someone playing the entirety of the Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits 1974-1978 on a jukebox actually happened to me in a bowling alley when I went home to Rochester one year. Doing this in a bowling alley is even more fiendish than doing it in a bar because you’ve already paid for the lane after someone in your party throws that first gutterball. You’re locked in! At least with a bar there exists the possibility of putting down cash and leaving. I’m not even getting into the fact that this happened in Rochester, another notch for my hometown’s belt. That is what is what I am saying.

(Well, I’m not saying that any more because nobody enjoys this.)

Anyway, if I had more drive, my version of Taken with Robb Sherwin instead of Liam Neeson would have me finding the jukebox guy who did this. 10 years later I’m still reeling.