Mostly about that time, starting about a month ago, when my apartment building caught on fire… and everything that happened next.
VII. November 7, 2011
The first thing I remember is the dripping.
Then, the scent of… of… The only way I can describe it is the smell of a double-boiler I put in the microwave as a seven-year-old; you know, to boil water. Some grownup stick-in-the mud said you can’t put metal in the microwave, so I did; and watched the lightning dance across the dull gray curves as that burning-smell accumulated… and… and… I figured I should stop the microwave.
Anyway, that’s what it smelled like.
“There’s a man on the fire escape!”
Groggy at first, I snapped to almost total alertness as the flashlight caught us from the fire escape. The comforter was wet.
“The building is on fire!”
What happened next was at once impressive, brief, and anticlimactic.
Impressive, as my quick-witted wife managed to disengage both of our iPhones, stow a laptop, dress all four of us and have us out the door in — I spit you not — one minute. Literally one minute and we were out of the apartment. Cell phones, sure; who knows if we are ever walking back into our apartment? I still can’t believe she had the presence of mind to grab the Mac Air and its electric cord, though. I did a good job with that one.
Anticlimactic in part because it was so brief. By the time we got to the increasingly-crowded foyer, the firemen were already proclaiming it safe to go back to our beds (it was about four or five in the morning).
There had been some kind of a fire on the sixth floor — to this day, about a month later — I still don’t know what happened, exactly. The sixth floor apartment was wholly consumed by fire.
In order to quell that fire, the firemen ended up flooding the apartment directly beneath it on the fifth floor. Mine is directly beneath that one, on the fourth floor. To be honest, we didn’t lose a lot, but it turns out that in order to save the building, the firemen didn’t just flood the fifth floor apartment, but they seeped tons and tons of water into ours, too (and maybe even the one under mine, on the third, but that one was being renovated anyway).
We ran industrial strength dehumidifiers for a week or two, but the damage had been done. There was just too much water in the walls and floor (it turns out the floor was warped like a rainbow, and we just didn’t notice on account of the rugs). We couldn’t close wooden doors any more, as they no longer matched their doorframes.
blah Blah BLAH
… And that’s how I ended up homeless.
I didn’t take a lot of pictures, partly because I didn’t know what was going to happen at the time. Here is the one I did take, on account of it was hilarious:
Katherine painted the paintings; she is good at everything.
Water seeping in from the apartment above created a massive bubble behind the paint. Clark was actually terrified of the ever-growing paint-pregnancy. We weren’t really sure what to do, because at the rate it was happening, it probably would have torn / burst / been a huge mess. I elected to poke a hole in the paint and catch it with a bucket. What remains looks like the remnants of massive weight loss.
We were basically vacated from our apartment soon after; we only thought we were going to be out for maybe six weeks so we didn’t pack very much.
It turns out the damage to our condo was massive, and that we will be out for three or four months, at least, while they tear it all down to put it back together. There are good and bad things to this. Good because I actually love where we are staying, my kids love it, and Katherine (who set it up) loves it. I think there is a strange irony to the fact I haven’t eaten beef in weeks [deliberately changing my diet incrementally] and I now live around the corner from the original Plataforma.
Bad because we don’t have anything. Like I said, we packed for circa six weeks, so we don’t have a lot of basic stuff. I don’t have very many sets of clothes, or socks; my kids have next to no toys. We don’t have our DVDs… None of that.
It was a little jarring to be living in a glorified hotel over Thanksgiving, but now we are going to be living here through Christmas and my anniversary. I am going to Honolulu ironically a week after PT Hawaii in February (we have planned this trip since literally Heezy’s first PT Hawaii) for my anniversary. I know this sounds like first world problems, but none of our things are accessible and Katherine is stressing about stuff like sifting through the kids’ bathing suits and her string of cute little bikinis she bought for the trip amidst the chaos and storage units.
Katherine went back to our apartment last week to see what was going on. It’s basically… Well… Look at the pictures:
This used to be the room where the greatest [Legacy] deck (Legacy or otherwise, actually) was brewed by Billy Moreno.
This used to be my bedroom. On the up-side the apartment looks really spacious.
The bathroom is kind of a heartbreaker; Katherine had just had it re-tiled a week or so before the fire.
And that’s basically it.
How to Grow Taller: What happens to us isn’t even that interesting.
Oh my gosh! Your apartment burned down! You’re homeless! Homeless for the holidays!
Well… Kinda, and not really. My apartment didn’t actually burn down, it flooded (but thank goodness we have fire insurance). As far as homeless goes, I’m living pretty well for a homeless cat to be honest.
What is interesting is what happens next.
I look back and think about what it means to be without the vast majority of my material possessions. I had the foresight to bring my trade binder (admired even by Jon Medina) and most of my physical Standard deck with its in-print dual lands and Snapcaster Mages… Though now that I think about it, I think my Druidic Satchels are in the big trunk with everything else.
It’s a little bit annoying to have no comic books (or books) whatsoever.
I don’t have my shaving mirror, or my superhero t-shirts (Katherine refused to pack any), or my Wii.
But as far as I can tell, very little of any of that matters.
I think about what my apartment represents, and how my outlook might have been different if things really were much worse in terms of material destruction. The things I am separated from represent thousands upon thousands of dollars “worth” of… stuff. Most of what I have worked towards for most of my adult life was in that apartment; things.
And you know what?
I have my iPad, my wife, and my kids… and I don’t really miss much else.
There is this great scene in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. The main character [to that point] had been a kind of ultra-violent (but super cool) zen assassin. However after being captured and grievously wounded, he decided to reinvent himself into a different kind of ultra-cool heroic terrorist (think going from Deadpool to Elijah Snow over night).
To show how starkly — and ultimately how easily — anyone could transform himself, that character blew up the Stately Wayne Manor-like mansion of his billionaire bankroller, with the latter watching.
Is it really so easy to let go of an accumulation of stuff that physically represented your time, for quite some time?
Turns out it is.
Like I said, what’s really interesting is what comes next.
How to Grow Darker: I was halfway through editing the original version of this blog post, which was about how I dealt with a layoff in 2007 when I read a Tweet by my man / longtime Top 8 Magic listener / frequent commenter on this blog Voltaire Abaya:
Part Six was my favorite segment and I realized I really was going to disappoint with the Part Seven I had planned.
While I could tie in my experience four years ago with stuff like Occupy Wall Street or go a different way with pulling yourself up from a massive disappointment (I would not likely have earned what level of professional notoriety I have if not for that layoff, or at least not as quickly and luckily). But in no way was I going to be able to equal 02 02 02′s emotional catfight of tragedy and adoration with “I got laid off. / Best thing that ever happened to me.” [which was the entirety of the pre-"How to Get Taller" section].
So I went with this, instead.
Raise your hand if you noticed the date, noticed the destruction, mixed it in your imagination with the holidays, and felt a little bit of empathy for YT.
Just kidding! I appreciate it, and every drop of well wishing you felt up until this sub-section’s big reveal
How to Grow More Handsome:
Don’t be too old when you die.
Carrie Fisher has this section early in her one-woman show where she talks about how people comment about how hot she was thirty years ago, and that she didn’t realize she was making a pact with half the population of the galaxy when she donned that metal bikini back in 1983.
All the positive reinforcement I have gotten with new Facebook friend requests spurred on by this mini-series to the big props from Pat Chapin, Jon Finkel, and the dozens of other people who have sent Tweets, and Likes, and personal recommendations to the blog this week are much appreciated (though, you’d think as much as everyone proclaims to love “Tall, Dark and Handsome” it might have competed with the voluminous likes of that one wrestling post I did a few weeks ago).
I know how lucky I am and cherish every pixel and byte.
Part of me thought to myself “I could probably keep doing this forever…”
But you know what?
At some point it would probably suck.
So I’m ending it here, for now at least. Sure, we’ll probably get an echo of “Tall, Dark and Handsome” someday in the future, maybe the next time my condo burns down or I learn something, but for now I just want to look back at this as a week I updated my blog seven consecutive times and reminded my readers why they liked me in the first place.
Magical Aftermath: Katherine has actually been getting after me all week.
“Work on your book!”
Lauren Lee has been great, shipping edited chapters back for audio transformation. We are working really hard to get it to you by Christmas (crossing my fingers on this one), and I am skipping the Invitational to get those precious hours into the microphone.
So, of course, because this is how these things go, I lost my voice immediately after recording Part Three of “Tall, Dark and Handsome”. I’ll get you yet, Murphy!
For this section, please consider the following timeline:
August 2, 2001 – A Thursday; my first date with Katherine (aka KFlo)
August 5, 2001 – A Sunday; I officially girlfriend her up
September 9 – A Sunday; last day of Pro Tour New York
September 12 – A Wednesday; (note the date) get engaged
February 2, 2002 – Wedding day
So I met Katherine on a Thursday.
Like I said in the previous section, I had pre-existing plans on Friday and Saturday, which allowed me to seem less-than-overeager about our next date, and granting me important leverage when dating someone several levels above my station (which I would later cede by giving her all my money, complete and slavish lifelong devotion, and so on); that Saturday I was hanging out with BDM and we were debating whether it was the best or worst first date of my good dating year. On the one hand I was already pretty sure I was going to marry her, on the other hand… never mind the other hand. BDM pointed out I should probably clear it with her that she was officially my girlfriend, which I did the next day (you know, the day I had already told my mommy I had met the woman I was going to marry).
About a month later was Pro Tour New York 2001, which was my first Pro Tour money finish, and still my best one, at 17th. At this point, Katherine identified [playing] Magic as a +EV activity.
Two days after that Katherine had to go on a business trip to… Somewhere. We were already spending most of our time together, but I stayed at her place to take care of her then-dog Frank. It turns out I was feeling a bit ill that Tuesday, so I didn’t go to work. I worked in downtown Manhattan at the time, and would often switch trains through the World Trade Center, which was just a few blocks from where I worked, as well as the block of a falafel place I would sometimes frequent.
So… That was lucky!
Many New Yorkers have stories about how they avoided the chaos on September 11, 2001; mine was just that I stayed home sick, dogsitting. My office-mates from that era have pictures of themselves fleeing, mummified head to toe, and covered with snowstorm mantles of gray dust. One of them broke her ankle leaping to the Staten Island Ferry, in retreat; she did nit live on Staten Island.
Katherine was in Queens; LaGuardia Airport, attempting to get out of her cab as she was flooded with a tidal wave of humans fleeing the airport. Obviously she lost her cab, and was stranded without transport. She took in a penniless but wildly attractive Australian couple (if you took her new buddies as a microchosm of “down under” you would be convinced of a populace exclusively composed of young Ben Afflecks and Gwyneth Paltrows), and let them share her hotel room for the night. The Aussies had what we presume is the last-ever footage ever taken from the top of the WTC, which they had acquired sightseeing the previous day.
On September 12 Katherine finally walked in the door, exhausted and crying. “They’re all dead,” she said, talking about a floor full of financial clients her agency had – she had – based in one of the two fallen towers. “And yes,” she concluded. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Now I had started bugging K about marrying me starting with… Probably our first phone call.
Obviously, as an HB10 with quite a bit more dating experience than I had, she thought I was a lunatic. I mean she had told her best friend on August 3, the day after our first date, as she unwrapped the single white orchid I had sent to her office, that she had met the boy she was going to marry; but she still – to my face – accused me of immature hysteria.
So that is the story of how, about one month after we met, we decided to spend the rest of our lives – however long they might be – together.
It’s been ten years, and I realize most of you don’t live in New York. But having even my own small experience, I can tell you that we didn’t know how long those lives were going to be. Was the world going to end tomorrow? Most people weren’t going to work, we didn’t know what the protocol was; we didn’t know what we were supposed to do, or how we were supposed to feel.
Wasn’t this supposed to be the greatest city in the world?
Weren’t we invincible Americans anyway?
For her – she wanted to spend however long she had left with who she wanted to spend it with; lucky for me, that was me. For me – Honestly I had quickly figured out that I was never going to do any better. I have had modest success dating some pretty decent looking girls, but my wife is a stone kold 10. She’s dropped two kids and just crossed into her fourth decade and still has a – I spit you not – a six pack, and is a size 0-2. Given that she eats better than anyone I’ve ever met and loves yoga and running, I can only presume she is going to be exactly this gorgeous well after I have been returned to the earth. Katherine is an unambiguously awesome person; the most loving mother I could ever hope my children could have, and amazingly, good at everything. She’s won awards as both a writer and an advertising executive, modeled for Levis, run a sub-four-hour marathon, finished second in her class in college… and holds Masters Degrees in both Philosophy and Theoretical Physics. I don’t think it is sexist to observe how uncommon it is for a young girl to be completely driven and focused on math, science, and overall excellence at age seven… By my best guess Katherine is more a reason we have one of those than I am.
Sure, she likes to spend money… But luckily (and largely due to her continued support) we make a fair amount of money. All marriages have their ups and downs, trials and tribulations, but I can tell you that given what my little family has been through, she loves me completely and unswervingly and I could not have chosen a better partner. Her greatest quality today — among quite a few fine qualities of intelligence, good looks, and success-driven mindset — is her constant drive for self-improvement. Which is infectious. So in a masterstroke of gamesmanship and decisive bias for action… I had to put the platinum shackle on her before she figured it all out and married someone else! There is no doubt as to who got the better end of the deal.
Katherine had this awesome idea of getting married on 02/02/02, which was the six-month anniversary of our first date. It was also just an awesome day to get married from an aesthetic standpoint. If we didn’t get married then, we would have to get married on 03/03/03, 04/04/04… or like Thea Steele did, 10/10/10 (obviously copied me).
We decided to basically elope, shoestring it together, get married in our new apartment (which we moved into less than a week before 02/02/02) and all of that. We were just going to City Hall it, but 02/02/02 was a Saturday, meaning that City Hall wasn’t open; and we would have to find our own Justice of the Peace or whatever.
I used Google* to find ours and we ended up with this goofy lady with tons of hair who prayed over crystals and was also a part-time life coach or therapist of some kind. Her “office” was the lobby of an Upper East Side luxury hotel (she said “they had an understanding”) and the whole initial interview ended up exactly how you are picturing it in your head right now.
On the downside, getting married with very little notice, in your apartment, by the crystals healer you found on the Internet limits your guest list somewhat, so the birth of Team Filipino Dress Shirt would have to wait for some months. Katherine just had her superhot best friend, her sorta-sister (and that sister’s new husband and rugrats) on her side; I had my parents and kid sister, and in terms of friends, Jeff Wu, altran, Tuna, and John Shuler. So, super small, etc.
I mean there were countless adventures leading up to this date.
For example the previous month Katherine had the trial of meeting my mommy. She was basically terrified of my scary old mommy. Today mommy likes Katherine much more than she likes me (not uncommon amongst non-Josh Ravitz humans who know us both), but that was a stress that could only be alleviated by diamonds. Luckily (or probably unluckily) my parents’ hotel was near New York’s diamond district, and just walking by a showroom window tragically reversed our original decision of not getting a stupid engagement ring.
But she was just so cute bouncing up and down chanting “Ooh can I have one please?”
Or there was the first meal we shared in our new neighborhood. We walked by a local BBQ. Katherine grilled the waitress over every appetizer and side dish. “Is there pork in that? Well… Is there pork in that?” I don’t remember what she ordered but I can be reasonably sure there was no pork in it. So when I got my dinner she gave me the stinkeye, leered over the tops of her Lisa Loeb cat’s-eye glasses, and queried, “Aren’t you going to ask me if I want to try some?”
“Um,” I responded. “I would, but I am pretty sure there is pork in this.”
Or there was the Thursday before 02/02/02, my bachelor party, which – I don’t know how much better or not-better it was than April 1, 1999 – but I declared it the funnest night of my entire life. A cadre of mono-Magic players including Jon Becker – all the way up from Philadephia – Brook North (master of the tournament report), and the local members of Team Discovery Channel took me for an orgy of crackling pork butt, braised lamb shank, and assorted other prime, dead animals served with firecracker apple sauce (exactly what it sounds like).
Because New York is awesome like that, we came into our Round Two venue at the same time as Ice-T from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Brook went up to Ice-T, stuck out his hand with that friendly Southern boy man-shake of his, and said “Mr. T, great to meet you; I am a big fan of your work.”
I was at this point unused to the luxury that my friends were heaping on me.
“Never get divorced,” said Brook. “Because if you do, the party’s all on you.”
How to Grow Taller:
I have been trying to step up to this challenge for literally the last nine years. Katherine challenges me like no one else I’ve ever met.
When I talk about the circumstances surrounding the opening salvo of my marriage, listeners are often shocked. We knew each other for the blink of an eye. I really did hire some kind of crystals life coach off the Internet to legally staple us together. We got married in our apartment instead of a synagogue or whatever.
But you know what?
Do exactly what is right for you. Be brave. Take a stand and stand by what you’ve done.
The eleven-year-old version of me would be proud.
How to Grow Darker:
I wish I could tell you. But there is absolutely nothing that stems out of this seemingly-impulsive, best, decision I have ever made that would lead me to believe I could.
How to Get More Handsome:
This is a trick that I have picked up, but unfortunately it is ultimately pointless, like nipples on men, or for that matter, on Joel Shoemacher’s Batman costumes.
All you have to do is stand next to someone super good looking, and you automatically seem more handsome! It’s like it rubs off or something, or maybe actually good looking people have a halo of attractiveness you can share or whatever.
One weird side effect of isolated perceived possible increased attractiveness is that your life flashes into stark relief. Once upon a time I had a lot of women friends, some of them pretty cute. About five minutes after I met Katherine, they all disappeared without a wink, which I didn’t realize for years later.
Additionally Katherine basically jettisoned my entire wardrobe from before we got married (I used to have so many black tee shirts because instead of doing laundry, I would just buy more black tee shirts), and has re-made me in whatever image she thinks I should dress as.
So instead of black tee shirts I mostly have brown tee shirts (she assures me this is better with my coloring). And instead of lots of casual slacks from Banana Republic, I now have lots of Levis jeans. My daily uniform is usually a nice oxford shirt, a kicky tie she probably bought and certainly chose to go with the shirt, and Levis; in addition, I have a girl-like collection of shoes; more than my wife, in fact. I guess the sad part of that is that I almost always wear Crocs sandals in the summer and Adidas Sambas all the rest of the time.
I don’t know how effective this ultimately is, because even if I got infinitely more handsome, I get no utility out of it, on account of being stapled to Katherine in perpetuity.
In 1999 Dave Price told me that the line between his “friends” and his “Magic friends” had blurred almost to nothingness. At the time I still had girls bucketed in a different group, and even if I hung out with certain girls alongside Magician friends, I would still think of the girls one way and the Magicians another way.
Today I still hang out with people I know from Magic. I would wager that I spend more time talking to Brian David-Marshall and Patrick Chapin than anyone other than my wife. My groomsmen and bachelor party friends were all Magicicians. Today – almost ten years later – the social center of my week is Movie Klub, the stone nuts put together by Lan D. Ho at Jon Finkel’s apartment.
Who are some of the founding members? Jon’s Antarctica teammate Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz, troll-slaying Tom Martell, and secret MTGO grinder Webb Allen. An early irregular was – and this was amazing to me – Eric Tam, Canadian National Champion and alumnus of the Top 8 of Pro Tour One. Who did I bring in later? Luis Neiman (aka Luis not-Vargas), who himself brought in the first-ever StarCityGames.com Premium writer Mark Young to join the squad. Late Wednesday nights who am I hanging out with after Movie Klub? Tony “the Shark” Tsai and his lovely gf Hsiao (who isn’t a Magician but actually one of my ex-co-workers)!
Jamie Parke told me if I could guarantee we would just run Role Models every week (or at least switched over to Survivor Klub), he would join, too.
What a stack of misers! Might as well be a squad of Grand Prix grinders. But like, with jobs.
* This is a complete lie. It was 2001 and I used Yahoo. Don’t tell anyone.
Various parties have asked that I flesh this story out, so I will tell the official King James version (more or less).
I was having a bad day, but was in the Barnes & Noble on Union Square, New York, NY. Across a long aisle looking for an Oscar Wilde collection of fairy stories I spied a frankly gorgeous woman flipping through the pages of a children’s picture book. As is generally the case with men in these situations, I stared.
Now usually in one of these situations, the target of our gazing desires in question will go hide behind the nearest book shelf, shuffle off avoiding eye contact, or, depending on how unkempt you are, move to summon the local constabulary.
Instead this one looked me straight in the eye and said, “Hi, my name is Katherine.”
I was like “huh”?
“Hi, I said,” she said. “Katherine. My name is Katherine.”
She — this Katherine apparently — stuck out her hand, as a fella might.
Was she talking to me?
I looked over one shoulder, then the other.
Did I mention “huh”?
“Look,” she continued / concluded / commanded, “You wanna get a Starbucks?”
I finally realized she was attempting conversation with YT and responded, “Starbucks is like my favorite place.”
“How lucky,” she responded. “You get to see your favorite place on every street corner.”
We ended up going to Starbucks, having a famous time over iced teas, and then attempting to dine at Sushi Samba. I was pretty shocked we didn’t get in, despite the fact that Sushi Samba was an it-destination popularized by Sex in the City at that point, because I had gotten in the previous Thursday with a WAY less good looking date. Like WAY. Katherine and I ended up going to a little Chinese / sushi place by West Fourth Street. At the end of a few plates of sashimi, we agreed to cancel our other dates.
She was like, “What about tomorrow?”
I was like “I have plans.” (I had plans to hang out with altran… We lived together but at this point hadn’t been very good at cultivating our once roaring bromance).
She was like, “Okay. How about Saturday?”
I didn’t tell her that I had a PTQ, but that was the reason I turned her down.
I was like “How about Sunday?”
Starting that Sunday, we have spent time apart from each other only due to work-related travel (which, in my case, can probably includes Magic: The Gathering tournaments and appearances).
How to Grow Taller:
Stand up for yourself. I had a date at 11am with Katherine that following Sunday, but called my Mommy before I left Brooklyn.
“So… I pretty much met the girl I am going to marry.”
My mother asked me if I had gotten her pregnant.
“You are a doctor, Mom! I met her three days ago, so even if I had gotten her pregnant, I wouldn’t know. Also I wouldn’t have told you.”
Talk to your father!
My Dad was pretty cool with it.
How to Grow Darker:
Go ahead and look.
Look. Stare even.
Is this terrible advice?
BDM recently told me I am maximally inappropriate during essentially all dealings with women. I was like “Yeah, name who,” and he was like “Lauren Lee.”
“She doesn’t care,” ran BDM; “but you’re still inappropriate.”
What is a LOL to YT is that I was way worse when I was younger. Like unreal worse. At 18 I was coming off of four years at all-boys school, so I had essentially no frame of reference in dealing with any girls I didn’t already know. The only way I knew how to make them notice me was being mean to them in public and pouring salt all over their food.
The odd thing is that most of the women I have IRL interactions with basically love me. I am hilarious. Chats with me – enthusiastic chats, at least – are high value, especially when I am teaching something or I am talking about something I am interested in or at least have an opinion on (which is like everything).
I would suggest becoming hilarious, knowledgeable, or otherwise high value. Did you notice the first interplay between K and YT? She asked me for a Starbucks, and we engaged in a super duper post-modern moment of banter.
Her: You wanna get some Starbucks?
Me: Starbucks is like my favorite place.
Her again: How lucky. You get to see your favorite place on every street corner.
What can girls learn?
In a decidedly un-darker / rather counter-darker sense, I would suggest showing value of a different sort. Katherine’s quick wit immediately earned my respect, which colored the next ten years of dealings between the two of us. For instance:
Early in our dating I was doing something annoying (I don’t remember what, and it doesn’t matter) and she threatened to pour her drink on my head if I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop.
And though I was sitting on her couch, watching her HBO, she calmly got up, poured her drink on my head, and walked to the kitchen for a refill.
She poured her drink on my head.
Katherine was ruthlessly awesome ten years ago and is even more so today.
How to Get More Handsome:
I gotta say: There is nothing more attractive, apparently, than already having someone.
As you know, I was out with altran that next night, and K wasn’t even my official girlfriend yet (but I knew in my heart she was). I was in the West Village, and inexplicably, I caught countless superhot hotties checking me out. I had spent quite a bit of my twenties trying to get superhot hotties to notice me at all, but my success was… Not that successful for the most part. But that night, over and over, had me wondering if I had been missing something all this time.
Via trickery, salesmanship, wordplay, sustained charisma, and a willingness to invest, I had by that point proven capable of making girls like me back… But that usually took work.
This, on balance, was unprecedented. I was pretty sure I could have cold opened on most of them and gotten a number or even instant date. Unfortunately (rather, fortunately) I was already in love, so I spent the evening arm-in-arm, in the West Village, skipping down the street (you read that right, “skipping”) with another dude (‘cause mise).
… So of course I ran into one of my kid sister’s inner circle, from back home in Cleveland while skipping around a brownstone corner locked arms with fella. In the West Village. When I say “ran into” I mean “literally collided with,” like on a sitcom.
Charlie Brown… Will you never win?
Homework – I have never tried this, and to be fair, it has never occurred to me despite having seen the movies Can’t Buy Me Love and Easy A, but why don’t you try intersecting August 1994 and August 2001 superpowers and just declare yourself as having an HB10 girlfriend? If science is any indicator, your con-fusion of frame, reality control, and willpower will trick every girl in every direction into finding you “taken” and therefore increasingly attractive when they wouldn’t normally ever talk to you. Try it and report back!
Being with Katherine radically pruned my tournament attendance.
I used to game, like constantly.
Now if I get one PTQ a season that is probably above average. However, my overall contentedness in life, and how successful I am at being a human being has skyrocketed to such a degree that there has been more than enough of a tradeoff.
That said, I scored my best PT finish – 17th place – within one month of meeting her; and numerous PTQ wins and money finishes throughout 2001 and 2002.
By 2004 I was about to have my first child.
Something, the first of many somethings, changed in me right before Bella appeared. I got serious about my writing, began my run on what would become DailyMTG, and forged what can only be considered almost any Magic writer’s finest run on a Website, over on StarCityGames.com with “Sullivan, Nimble Mongoose, and Sullivan”.
Not too long ago Teddy Card Game wrote me a series of scathing Tweets and emails – not to be mean, and they are none of your business – but they got me thinking. Ted has on a couple of occasions compared the now-me unfavorably to the 2004 or so version of me (when he was my editor). If anything I was much more motivated by money back then. I actually needed the money to pay for my apartment and take care of my family.
Now I care about the money only insofar as we are keeping score. We are all gamers and of course I am intent on winning. I approach writing like a job because the sites that pay me to write for them rely on me; I am what you call “a professional” … I do it for the money from that sense, but I do this for the love, bro; especially as detailed in section VII.
At the time, I was living with my parents in Ohio. I had graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1998, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, so I decided to, as many such undecided people do, go to law school.
I was kind of not sure where I should go and what I should do; I could have gone to NYU and probably have become a Neutral Ground Demonic Attorney like Brook North, Eric Kesselman, and Rob Hahn before me. Or if I had gotten into Penn, I could have just pretended that I was still a senior or whatever, and just hung out with my same friends, who were all a year younger than I was.
However I forgot I had the LSAT one Saturday, on account of being confused about a PTQ date (they were both a Saturday). I didn’t do any LSAT prep and because I missed the first one, I only had one left to go. I had always done well on standardized tests, so it didn’t occur to me to do any prep with a program like Bell Curves (http://bellcurves.com) … But if I had, I probably would have swung like a 98 or 99%, which is consistent with every other standardized test I have ever taken in my life.
My advisor told me I could get into whatever program I wanted with a percentile score of 88%, so I really didn’t think that I needed to do prep. Where was http://bellcurves.com when I needed them?
So I was radically unprepared for the LSAT, which is an unusually specialized standardized test, and I scored a… wait for it… 86%. I subsequently didn’t get into any of the [highly competitive] schools I applied for, except the one where my dad was a professor (MBN / is).
Ultimately I topdecked a scholarship to law school, and decided to go in Cleveland, Ohio.
As you can see where my priorities were at age 22.
Anyway, that year I routinely won PTQs in various states and was just coming off a win in Detroit, MI the previous weekend, which was probably the only reason I was still alive.
Speaking frankly for a moment, I have talked a bit recently about this concept of enthusiasm. I am in some ways a chameleon who can get along with every kind of person but one (people who disagree with me AND are also stupid; I have no problems with people who disagree with me who are smart); however I just wasn’t in a good situation that year.
I was distant from almost all of my friends.
I played Magic like twice a week, but not often with anyone who I was that close with… I just traveled to faraway local stores for tournaments.
I did spend a lot of time in the Cleveland Museum of Art (which is actually an excellent art museum, and that is coming from a New Yorker who attends museums easily 20 times per year); but mostly I went home and ate three-pound bags of M&Ms and hung out with my mom, watching re-runs of The X-Files.
I was an erratic law student. Awesome or awful, depending on how much I personally identified with the subject. Property? Conspiracies? Acquiring stuff? A. Torts? Lamers and losers complaining about stuff and passing off their misfortunes to whoever happened to be standing in the room when something bad happened to them? C+ (or something… No recollection, actually). Writing? A. You get it.
So I never studied-studied, which is pretty consistent with how I have always approached school.
My dad taught me how to get an A in every class with objective answers, so I just used his method when I was not being too lazy (sadly I was too lazy a good percentage of the time); and never acquired less than an A- using this method.
I separately developed my own technique to get an A in every class with subjective criteria; remembered to use it for my Property final but somehow forgot to use it for my Torts final (I spit you not). Probably just lazy and / or completely disengaged from the idea of becoming an attorney.
I can’t think of any time in my life that I was less enthusiastic about my everyday than 1998-1999. I was basically enthusiastic about going to the movies (I saw literally every movie at the gigantic Cineplex in my parents’ neighborhood that year, up to and sadly including I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, which almost ruined me for movies before being rescued by Shakespeare in Love). 1998-1999 was some kind of year to watch literally every movie. There was Titanic (which I saw with the girl who told me to pick up and go to Chicago), and Rounders and Epidsode One (both of which I saw with an ex-boyfriend of hers).
And then there was April 1, 1999.
The new movie that I hadn’t seen was The Matrix.
I somehow hadn’t seen The Matrix yet – probably off winning a PTQ in another state. I decided to make it the cap on what was going to be a long day.
Now remember when I said that I was an erratic student?
I had like a huge paper due and a presentation the same day, but I had been busy testing for the Pro Tour over Apprentice and the academic obligations slipped my mind (I tested approximately 50 hours per week for Pro Tour New York 1999, once I qualified, despite being a full-time law student). If you peel back the point in time we were in, I had also just published a little article you may have heard of, “Who’s the Beatdown?”.
So I stayed up writing the entire previous night, but I knew I had to survive through the entire day to make my final, which was the last period of the day. So my solution was to drink coffee.
I know some of you think you have drunk coffee. However I doubt strenuously you ever had an April 1, 1999. I drank three pots of coffee that day. I was alert, I finished my paper, made it through the entire day, and felt absolutely bonzer the entire time!
And my reward at the end of the day…
… Was sold out.
This was The Matrix. Of course other people wanted to go.
The only available movie I hadn’t seen yet was Ten Things I Hate About You.
I absolutely loved it!
Ten Things I Hate About You featured the yet-to-be-discovered Heath Ledger and Julia Styles, a future multiple Emmy winner from The West Wing, and a Neutral Ground regular who would years later get to play opposite Zooey Deschanel. It was the whimsical retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but with a charming cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”.
On three pots of coffee it was among the best movies I had ever seen (and remains one of my Top 10 favorite movies of all time).
How to Grow Taller: Actually, there is very little in today’s adventure that can help you grow taller. Shorter, sure (drink coffee)… More flexible… Now we are talking.
I really wanted to see The Matrix, but I couldn’t. I could have just bailed, but ended up seeing an unanticipated movie I ended up loving.
How to Grow Darker: Spill coffee all over yourself? Really… three pots.
April 1, 1999 was so not-dark it is almost un-possible to view it with a darkling eye. Like I said, I was riding high from a PTQ win, hopped up on caffeine, and ultimately plopped in front of a heartwarming, hilarious, and star-studded movie event.
How to Get More Handsome: Live.
I said earlier in this post that winning PTQs was basically the only reason I was still alive at that point.
I was so consumed by apathy at my everyday life (I was really not loving law school) that I just had no interest in… Living? It turns out things get better. Lots better. It turns out that life is full of amazing opportunities and that you just have to open your eyes (maybe after a few pots of coffee) and look around.
The chief crime of most sub-optimal introverts is that their perspectives are too limited. Was life boring in 1999? Sure. Especially if I wanted to focus on something I didn’t enjoy, watching re-runs (and movies I for the most part didn’t like), and eating candy. But life was so much more, in so many more places. Life is boring, sure… But also exciting and sexy, engaging and ingenious. I have come to realize that the negative portions of life are a tiny minority of our potential experiences… But sure, if you only want to focus on one tiny part of life, it is certainly going to look glum.
You might as well say that life is all-joy, or all pain, that the government is entirely corrupt, or that we really can trust some of these politicians we elect. Every one of those statements is equally true… Depending on where you put your focus.
Equally true… or not.
Aftermath: For some years, I told everyone that April 1, 1999 was the best day of my life. I still can’t think about it without cracking a smile, to be honest.
But in hindsight, writing and reviewing these seven days from younger years, I find that the so-called best day of my life doesn’t hold a candle to 02/02/02, the births of either of my children, or that one surprise Ani DiFranco concert with John Shuler (later in 1999).
Probably that title — for I would guess it was apt when I so-Christened the day — was a product, itself, from a limited perspective.
Still, it will always have a special place for me.
You have probably already guessed that I spent quite a bit of effort on this series of blog posts.
This episode in particular I wrote and re-wrote several times.
I have come to the conclusion that August 1994 might be considered impossibly egomaniacal (if delicious) and cannot actually be committed to ink (digital or otherwise).
You know how you can punch your best friend in the arm and say “I’m going to kill you,” when he goof-grabs or takes the wrong turn, and you both have a laugh… But if you write “I’m going to kill you” in an email it might be taken completely the wrong way and have the HR rep come a callin’?
That is why I decided not to write down August 1994.
If you want to find out what happened, you have to listen to it:
PS @MyntyFresh on Twitter sez you might not be able to listen to the above on Google Chrome; you can definitely right-click download it, though… I think you can click-and-listen in other browsers (which I have done in many a Safari). Sorry for any confusion (if there was any).
It would take a tremendous amount of triangulation of old credit card receipts from the pre-digital age, or at least poring through my parents’ scrapbooks in deepest darkest Cleveland (and an essentially zero-EV endeavor at that) to determine a particular day for this one, so we will have to just work with a month, which was August; and a year, which was 1989.
My family was on vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, and I decided one day to go climbing on some mountain trail which allegedly didn’t require any particular equipment or expertise, despite ultimately giving you the first look at dawn in North America on account of being a combination of maximally Eastward and maximally tall (or something).
So “not requiring any climbing equipment” meant to the thirteen-year-old me that I could run it in a pair of gray Sebagos deck shoes. I remember that pair of shoes like no other pair my entire life. I always wanted a pair of Sebagos (which were the hip kind at my Catholic school, where you couldn’t wear sneakers day-to-day) but my parents always bought me the cheap off-brand version from like Payless. We weren’t poor or anything; in fact both of my parents are award-winning and / or pioneering physicians (which means that at least up until this year, I have been a constant disappointment in all non-grandchildren-producing endeavors)… But they weren’t hip to buying non-off-brand leather (?) boat shoes for their grade schoolers.
Anyway, there was a pair of not-popular gray Sebagos IN MY SIZE at a hole-in-the-wall shoe store where the local Al Bundy had been a 1970s Penthouse model (complete with mullet and porn stache). Thirteen-year-old michaelj begged his mom for the $14 Sebagos, and proceeded to wear them always, with or without socks, everywhere… apparently including mountain climbing.
artist’s interpretation of the deadly shoe
So in case you haven’t been paying attention, we are talking about an overweight, nearsighted, thirteen-year-old in tread-less boat shoes… Climbing the tallest smooth rock on the East Coast of North America, jutting over the coast of Maine during a wet morning at the end of the summer.
At some point in the expedition, I realized I was halfway across a flat expanse of boulder that was simply too wide for me to bridge. I hugged the side of its sheer face with my entire body; with every crevice of the fingerprints of my increasingly sweaty hands; as I could feel myself inching down it, the first tumble of an inevitable avalanche of human doom. I looked down between my legs, ending in those poorly-chosen gray Sebagos, and saw nothing but jagged rocks, ragged evergreens, destiny, and death.
I am going to die.
I am thirteen years old, and I am going to die.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes or anything. It was just serene. Serene oblivion… And I was okay with it.
And then, before I could even finish being okay with it; I felt my dad’s hand around my wrist, and he yanked me back onto the path.
Unsurprisingly, we headed back down the mountain, before reaching The Precipice.
How to Grow Taller: Live. Ya ain’t getting any bigger fallin’ down no mountains.
How to Grow Darker: It was actually comparatively sunny for Maine that summer; you could go to the beach (albeit a rocky beach relative to, say, Pro Tour Honolulu or even any random weekend in Florida or Long Island).
How to Get More Handsome: There is basically nothing more unattractive than fear.
Girls can smell fear. That’s why they don’t like you.
I was talking to BDM once about how this girl I liked in high school went out with this ridiculous, no-shower, skater pothead. If he had been in another crowd, he would have been a thug. He got bad grades, I couldn’t see any horizon for him, I don’t think he had his own car or anything… I just didn’t understand it. Was a black leather coat and packet of Marlboro Reds really so fetching?
BDM didn’t know the boy, but he could speculate.
“You know, when you are fumbling around with a girl, not knowing what you are doing?”
I mean sure, everyone knows. I am 35 and that is basically still my level of skills.
“Do you think girls like that?”
I mean obviously not. But you know…
“You know what?”
Nothin. I guess.
But there is one thing I can say about that dude. He weren’t scared. No sir.
By the time I had hit my one good dating year (2000-2001, and it actually lasted less than one year), I had finally realized how to harness the power of fearlessness, in at least this one regard.
For years, for all the bullying I endured (man, 1992 was tough); all the disappointments (like that time I cried myself to sleep in 1994 after my off-key audition with “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”); the bait-and-switches (I literally spent 1998 out-living a highly in-demand girl’s boyfriends – a girl I then intended to marry – until she called me the day of my kid sister’s high school graduation – and said “I already paid for my apartment in Chicago all summer; but we had a fight. I’m not going to have any money, and I don’t know what I want to do, but I know finally I want to be with you. Come pick me up.”
I didn’t know what to do… but my mommy asked me if I was crazy and why I wasn’t already gassing up the Mighty Saturn and getting maps together. What are you waiting for? You ALREDY HAVE an invitation? Within one hour she called me back, told me they had made up, and they were going to try to make it work. And to be fair, her rent was paid up for the whole summer. I married someone else [awesome]).
Magical Aftermath: Fear gets you absolutely nowhere.
The biggest fear I see and think of on a regular basis is around mulligans.
A few years ago, GerryT posted a comment on this here blog about what he thinks about every single game of grinding, and what he thinks about when evaluating an opening hand; it literally changed my life. GerryT is so awesome.
At US Nationals last year, I mulled to four against an opponent with three Lightning Bolts… In his opening hand. I had to win the match to stay alive going into Day Two. Got there! His first play was Crystal Ball. My first play was Manic Vandal. It didn’t get any better for him after that, as I showed him how come first pick Foresee was so good in that format.
People still ask me about my Edison Open Series match against Lewis Laskin in Edison (which I lost / spoilers).
I won Game One on the third turn but had a series of terrible hands in the second… I ended up settling on three cards. I would mull to three every time given that situation. I couldn’t win the game with my seven, six, five, or four card hands. My mull to three was a goldfish win on turn three or four! If Lewis didn’t have so much resistance – and obviously he did, no lack of respect there – I would have just killed him. What if he was a no Force of Will deck like Zoo or Goblins?
Man, that would have been a story!
But you know what? I am proud of both the mull to four and the mull to three (though more proud of the mull to four, though I probably shouldn’t be), not based on winning or losing (though see the three, above)… But because I made the fearless – and gosh darn it, right – decisions in both cases. Other players would have balked, but they wouldn’t have been right. In the four, I won; in the three, I had the cards to win when the seven, six, five, and four didn’t (Lewis just had the cards to stop me… two or three times over, actually). You have to put yourself in the best position you can to winj; and fear, like tilt, bad deck decisions, and lack of sleep will leech that from you, no matter how many Jaces are in your deck.
Do you know how it feels to go from willingly living your life on the basis of the packaging of a plastic, Japanese import superhero that turns into a Volkswagen Beetle (a stretch to begin with)… and then find out that’s not even what it says?
A man is moments.
Better, maybe, to say: a man is the sum total of a bunch of different moments; days, decisions.
We either make, or fail to make, important choices on an almost constant basis. Turn left, or turn right? Vote left, or vote right? Move in with all my chips, or hide under a soggy cardboard box in a dank alleyway, while life is passing me by?
Strong traits for success in life unsurprisingly translate into strong traits for a Magic player. As I have gotten older, I have started to take a longer, essentially passionless, look at how I have spent my time, the decisions I’ve made, and tried to contextualize them in terms of not just my everyday, but my favorite hobby.
Who can you make happy?
What is it you do that makes other people unhappy?
Why do people continue to make such low EV decisions (in Magic and in life)?
How can you avoid being a loser?
How do we know who is winning (#WINNING)?
Aside on Charlie Sheen It is superficially easy to point at Charlie Sheen and say that he is a drug-addicted lunatic. Superfically. Easy. Both easy (come on! everyone is doing it!), and superficial (I don’t think that is a particularly accurate or useful way to look at the lord of #TIGERBLOOD. I mean, I did mention (@-mention) to him that #WARLOCK means “oath-breaker” and what he really wants to be is maybe a conjurer or prestidigitator if he is too cool to be a wizard or magician… But I didn’t get any reply.
That said – and this might color your perceptions of YT for all time – I can see where Sheen is coming from, or at least where his frustrations are coming from. I mean obviously I am nowhere near the catalysts that put the President’s prince on the road he is on today (who the hell bad-mouths his employer in a public forum? And in the way he did? … Plus I have essentially no experience with drugs); but I actually think he did a brilliant job turning a mainstream media disaster into a social media opportunity.
Sheen has embraced all different kinds of social media tools with enthusiasm and furor, re-written the language of an ever-increasing base of fans, and translated that popularity into a ton of sold-out IRL shows. From that standpoint, I don’t know that a reasonable student of the game can do much but stand up and clap. He’s like a less hot, less satisfying, less pleasant Lady Gaga.
On the other hand, Charlie has opened up the kimono on a variety of things that are issues for people who have any amount of fame or influence. Trolls… haters… Jealous wannabes; crowds and crowds of lamers and losers who provide no value (or probably revenue) to anyone. The difference is that he has chosen to actually, and loudly, confront on that front… Versus a Madonna who sulks about them quietly while pretending they don’t exist, or a Gaga who obsessively controls the conversation by revealing just enough that she can keep detractors at bay (or at least distracted).
I mean I am anti-drugs, anti-anti-Semitism, and pro-giving customers what they actually want… But from a self-realization (at least to the exclusion of self-destruction) standpoint… I think Charlie has gotten a bit of a bad rap.
Generalizations are pretty much never accurate and always lazy (other than this statement, obviously… as well as any qualifying ones… I mean, oh never mind).
Anyway, following are seven memorable decision points from my life – the birth of a lifelong philosophy, what it means to fall off a mountain, a reinvention, a first date, a comedy of errors, how to get over a layoff… and the best day ever). Some days were flawed, some successful, all of them ultimately etched in my memory, forever. Because, more and more, I find that modeling success – and failure – can give us shortcuts to success (and avoiding failure) in everything we do, each and every one of these has taught me a little bit (or a lot-bit) about all those things that matter in life: Being taller, being darker, being more handsome… and maybe, just maybe, becoming better at Magic: The Gathering (and all that entails).
I. March 15, 1987
I turned 11.
From about age 8 to at least this point in my life, my favorite was Transformers. I was a bit disappointed, in fact, come 1999 when I was first living in New York and I bought a VHS copy of The Return of Optimus Prime at the now-defunct Virgin Megastore in Union Square and… it sucked.
Anyway, there was a new version of Bumblebee (side note – Bumblebee is my daughter Bella’s favorite Transformer) called Goldbug. Basically in the Generation One cartoon universe Bumblebee had been badly damaged but got, I dunno, a new coat of metallic paint and was re-Christened Goldbug.
So for my birthday, amongst other loot, I received a Goldbug.
Now I don’t know how familiar you are with Generation One Transformers toys, but they all came with these little cutout cards on the back of their packaging that told you their job (Cliff Jumper and Sideswipe were Warriors, so-and-so was a Scout, Ravage was a Savage Miser, Rumble and Frenzy were I can only assume Court Jesters); and I read Goldbug’s.
My recollection was that Goldbug didn’t care what anyone else thought of him; he just went his own way. Especially going through what I was going through emotionally at the time (I met precious few ethnic kids my own age until high school; I had essentially no friends who were anything but Jewish or Roman Catholic until college; on the first day of first grade in a tiny Appalachian backwater my mother sent me [i.e. the only yellow and / or little brown kid] to school not with a backpack BUT A BAMBOO BRIEFCASE), this seemed like a pretty good way to live your life.
So that became – in tiny print on the back of a plastic toy I got for my 11th birthday – the template by which I have tried to live my life.
Granted, I have failed on countless individual occasions. Who doesn’t seek conformity at some point? But throughout high school, I was thought of by my teachers as “a non-conformist, but in a good way” and it was almost a point of pride the last week of high school when one of the most popular boys (who had at one point “gone out” with a girl I carried a torch for, for more than four years) asked me why we had grown distant over those four years of high school. I didn’t know, I had never meant to hurt him (if I had), but something about the situation felt if not good, satisfying.
How to Grow Taller: Come on, I was 11. I was going to get taller.
How to Grow Darker: Pretty clearly there is a tension here; there’s a line you don’t want to cross that might be analogous to an ethical line. For example I sometimes say that I have one regret, total, in my career; and that it is in 2008, when I broke Facebook the first time, I could have personally invested $1,000 (which I had handy) and made $750,000 (a pretty good return), or radically accelerated the same earnings with a paltry $30,000 (which I didn’t have handy). I consulted everyone I knew from Tom Martell (who was flabbergasted such returns could even exist, until verified by Josh Ravitz, who was working with me at the time) to Jon Becker (not just one of my best friends, but my son’s godfather as well as my tax attorney). “Generously” I had more than one Magic big timer stepping up and ready to back me (unsurprising). But it was ultimately Josh who stopped me. He said it might be the right thing to do from one standpoint (personal gain), but that I would be crossing an ethical line that I couldn’t un-cross, and he was right. Either you stab your employer in the eye for a few thousand dollars, or you use the skills you learned on the job to do the job, which is to arb up millions that you don’t actually get to enjoy. Josh is an amazing big picture thinker and pointed out I could eventually make a lot of money without doing something I would personally regret, but I would probably have to get out of the situation I was in, in order to do that.
So I basically boiled over inside but never ran the Facebook topdeck; and within one year left the only job I ever held where I can say I had essentially unlimited resources, and everyone did everything I asked yesterday…
So why was it a regret?
BECAUSE I WOULD HAVE THREE QUARTERS OF A MILLION DOLLARS RIGHT NOW IF I HAD CROSSED THE FLICKING ETHICAL LINE.
But I didn’t (thanks Josh).
Of course when I taught the next hire how to break Facebook, shady other VP immediately approached him to do the exact same kind of conflict-of-interest-side-deal (which I didn’t know about for years). Unfortunately everyone knows about the Facebook now, and traffic costs more than 4x what I was paying in 2008; plus consumers are harder to move, due to being used to being bombarded with intrusive messages. So 2008 is never going to happen again; but hopefully I can figure out a way to make my $750,000 some other way (thanks Josh). Thoughts on Magic articles?
Bringing it back to Goldbug, you don’t want to cross over the line between not caring what other people think about you, and not caring about other people at all (which makes you a sociopath). That’s tricky; you don’t want to get “darker” on this.
How to Get More Handsome: Dude. THANK GOD I didn’t have to figure this out by myself.
Aftermath: After 20+ years of holding the memory espoused by a plastic toy’s likely off-canon packaging as the baseline of my life philosophy, I decided to see if I could research the actual text of Goldbug’s player rewards card (or whatever) so I could include it in the life-hacking collection of awesome sauce that is my upcoming book; luckily there were some scans on eBay:
Click to see the mis-remembered mis-read in all its glory.
“Realizes what others think of him isn’t nearly as important as what he thinks of himself.”
WHAT THE!?! RASSIN’ FRASSIN’!?!
So… Apparently that isn’t what it says at all.
Do you know how it feels to go from willingly living your life on the basis of the packaging of a plastic, Japanese import superhero that turns into a Volkswagen Beetle (a stretch to begin with)… and then find out that’s not even what it says?