Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wall Street Kid

Mike and I make it a point to hang out two or three times a week doing a variety of no-cost activities that usually include movies and/or video games. Recently, Mike discovered an old Nintendo ROM ridiculously titled Wall Street Kid that we made fun of for a solid half hour before we sat down and seriously attempted to beat it.

The premise of Wall Street Kid is simple. Our title character is the only surviving heir of the recently deceased Mr. Bendict, whose estate is valued at over 600 billion dollars (or so the opening cartoon informs us in its Archie Comics animation style). You start with the paltry sum of half a million to invest in the stock market, build your fortune, pamper your sweetheart Prisilla, and carry on the Benedict standard of living. That means buying endless presents for your girlfriend, a nice million-dollar house, a yacht (we haven’t made it this far yet) and eventually the family castle back in Europe that our hero will no doubt use as a quaint vacation getaway.

The gameplay consists of you sitting in your office, reading the Wall Street Times (sic) and trading stocks like Reebucks Sneakers, Boing Airlines, ATNT Telephone, or Centipede Construction through your circa-1990 compact computer system (presumably a Yapple). The Times gives you information on hot stocks, which types of stocks are likely to rise, and humorous news articles such as muggers becoming patrons at the local shopping mall. You can also pass the day by exercising or spending quality time with your sweetheart (Going shopping with her takes up four hours. Please, kill me now). Smaller icons at the bottom of the screen let you obtain game help from Stanley (“Would you like me to explain the stock market to you for $500?”) or go over to Connie’s office where she’ll give you a hot investment tip and a blow job (not shown). Ridiculously, your initial goal is to double your money by the end of the first month so that you can afford that million-dollar home. It would be far too easy for our hero to simply rent a classy apartment in the city or buy some moderately-priced Long Island real estate—for that would go against the “Benedict standard of living” the lawyer alludes to in the opening scene; and this was the reason Mike and I lost the game.

Our spirits were further dampened after reading a walkthrough and numerous online reviews that emphasized how easy the game is. The secret to Wall Street Kid, it would seem, lies not in accumulating a diverse investment portfolio with losses spread out over a number of years, but in finding which stock will make you the most money in a given week and dumping every cent of your capital into it. Sadly, the game doesn’t allow you to engage in heavy drinking sessions with your office buddies or carry on steamy affairs reminiscent of Bob Slocum’s; but you will start to feel sick if you go too long without exercising, and Prisilla will leave you if she thinks that you’re neglecting her by devoting too much time to your work. (Much like the real office world, I imagine.) You can make Prisilla happy by buying her a nice dog or a Fairrari convertible, implying what really keeps the relationship alive.

Still, if Wall Street Kid is any indicator, the business world is a rough place where only the cleverest succeed—leaving the rest of us to drive off in our broken-down old Chryer automobiles and play Dr. Mario instead.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ian and Tiff Go For Pizza

A Play in One Act


22, tall, with glasses and dashing good looks.

23, short and soft-spoken.

17, female, blonde.

Various PARENTS, CHILDREN, and TEENAGERS, all non-speaking roles.

The scene is Sal’s Pizzeria, a small wood-paneled eatery in an outdated shopping plaza off of Main Street in Concord, New Hampshire. Several families sit eating at tables. Framed newspaper articles and photographs of past customers adorn one wall. A female CLERK, bored, stands behind the counter beneath a menu listing pizza and calzone toppings. It is nearing the end of the night. IAN and TIFF enter and approach the counter, IAN in mid-sentence.

IAN. If I’d known you had never been here we would have come sooner. The pizza’s almost as good as Ramunto’s, and the selection’s still superb.
Tiff stands silent. They study the menu.
IAN. (Cont) There’s only two of us, and I know you won’t eat much. Would you rather get slices, or order a full pizza and have lots of leftovers?
TIFF. (Shrugging) It doesn’t matter.
IAN. Let’s get a full pizza then. I could use lunch for tomorrow.
TIFF. All right.
IAN. What would you like for toppings?
TIFF. (As before) It doesn’t matter.
IAN. All right. (To CLERK) What’s the Sal’s Special?
CLERK. It’s got olives, onions, mushrooms, and green peppers.
IAN. That sounds great. What do you think? (Tiff makes a face in reply.) Or not. Do you see anything that you like?
TIFF. I don’t like a lot.
IAN. (Not giving up) But what do you like?
TIFF. Whatever you want is fine. I really don’t care.
IAN. (Scanning menu) How about garlic? The garlic pizza’s wicked strong; it’s great.
TIFF. (Disgusted) No thanks.
IAN. How about pineapple then? Do you like Hawaiian pizza?
TIFF. I like pineapple, just not on pizza.
IAN. (In disbelief) Have you ever tried it?
TIFF. Yes.
IAN. Do you have any other suggestions?
TIFF. I don’t really care.
IAN. Mushrooms?
TIFF. Yuck.
IAN. (Slightly frustrated) Why don’t you suggest something then?
TIFF. I don’t really have a preference.
IAN. (Searching for something simple) How about pepperoni? Tell me you like pepperoni?
TIFF. (Finally, deadpan) Pepperoni’s fine.
IAN. Success! Now, what about something else? Pepperoni and bacon go well together.
TIFF. That’s too much meat.
IAN. (Astounded) Too much meat? What’s wrong with too much meat? How can you have too much meat on a pizza?
TIFF. I’m sorry!
IAN. How about peppers? Do peppers and pepperoni go well together?
TIFF. When I said that I don’t like a lot, I mean that I don’t like a lot of toppings on one pizza.
IAN. I thought you meant that there weren’t many toppings that you liked at all. (The CLERK snickers)
TIFF. Well, that too.
IAN. You should have said so! (Starting all over again) Is there anything that you like with pepperoni?
TIFF. (As before) It doesn’t matter.
IAN. (Resisting the urge to be sarcastic) What about pepperoni and extra cheese? That’s simple. Would you like that?
TIFF. That’s fine.
IAN. (To CLERK, who is already writing) We’ll have that then, for here. And I’ll take that bottle of Moxie in the cooler. (To TIFF) What would you like?
TIFF: I’ll have a water.

They pay and IAN chooses a table in the center row. They sit in silence until IAN can no longer contain his frustration.

IAN. (Almost at a shout) There are so many good kinds of pizza here, and we just ordered the plainest kind imaginable! What was that all about!?
TIFF. (Ignoring his tone) It’s because I’m Irish. I like simple things.
IAN. Then you should have asked for potatoes! Why do you have to be so indecisive all the time? Is it that hard for you to say what kind of pizza you like? You could have just told me outright and saved us all that trouble! What do you do when you go somewhere alone and order a pizza?
TIFF. I usually just get cheese.


Monday, December 3, 2007

An Axe for the Frozen Sea

Last night I finished a collection of Franz Kafka's shorter works (I highly reccomend "The Metamorphosis;" it's a story for any young person who's ever woken up and realized that they might not be able to face the challenges ahead of them), and while his more complex work eludes me, I find other pieces of his writing chillingly perceptive. Most of his stories and aphorisms are about the havoc of bureaucracy or man's inferiority, while his personal writing reveals his understanding that he can only live fully through his writing. I've decided to quote a portion of Kafka's letter to Oskar Pollak dated January 27th, 1904, which struck a particular chord:

...I read Hebbel's diaries (some 1800 pages) all at once, whereas previously I had always just bitten out small pieces that struck me as insipid....I simply could not take a pen in hand during these days. Because when you're surveying a life like that, which towers higher and higher without a gap, so high you can scarcely reach it with your field glasses, your conscience cannot settle down. But it's good when your conscience receives big wounds, because that makes it more sensitive to every twinge. I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

Ironically, I did not feel this way about a few of of Kafka's stories, but kept reading anyway. I won't attempt to mimic Kafka's description, but I agree that certain books do stir us like a disaster, and to feel that twinge within should be the goal of everyone who ever picks up a book and begins to read.