I despise summer on the East Coast. I always have. The Herald Square subway station at 34th Street and Sixth Avenue is the real-world equivalent of the hubs of hell. It’s the epicenter of NYC’s savage summer heat. It’s claustrophobic and dark down there. It reeks of spoiled garbage and urine. You’re a hundred feet below ground, surrounded by trash and darkness, yet the temperature is still as warm as a witch’s oven. Even the track rats seem to openly sweat in the Herald Square station.
[This is a continuation of my account of my first days in Vancouver in May 2009. I think there’s one, maybe two parts left. Oh, and hey! Thanks for reading. I haven’t been posting consistently lately, which you may have noticed. Planning to post more in the coming days. Hope you come back. -Scott.]
As soon as I stepped off the plane in Vancouver, as soon as I set foot in the airport, I left some of the nagging 9/11 gloom behind. My shoulders, it seemed, were relieved of an invisible burden on this arrival. My posture began to automatically self-correct. I felt as if my skeleton was stretching itself out, expanding to its full height. Only minutes into my new life in Canada and already I stood taller, felt stronger.
I was not a visitor here this time. I was, presumably, here to stay. I had a job. And I had immigration paperwork, making it official.
Once I’d finished with immigration, I exited the Vancouver airport and stood on the curb with my two cats, still tucked safely inside their carriers. I filled my chest with Canadian air: inhale, exhale. Despite the nearby line of idling cabs, the air tasted cleaner and earthier to me. I could smell lilies blooming somewhere nearby. Only moments into my new life here and already things seemed less dangerous, less complicated, and more livable.
It was then that my eyes began to water. I didn’t expect this at all. I used the sleeve of my jacket to dry my face.
As I waited in the taxi line, my idle brain questioned why I was in Canada.
But wasn’t New York great? You loved it there!
Yeah, it was great. I loved it so much.
So why did we leave again?
Because it wasn’t safe there. We thought we were going to die there.
Oh. That’s right. Now I remember…
If we went to pick up milk, we thought we were going to die. If we went to fetch dry cleaning, we thought we were going to die.
That was awful.
Yep. Pretty awful.
An eerily silent taxi (a Prius, of course) sped me and the cats to the new apartment, in a neighbourhood known as Gastown. I sat in the backseat and opened up the local map on my phone. With a series of finger-pinches and swipes, I found New York. I was 2,900 miles away from it now. I found a webcam on the Internet overlooking midtown Manhattan. Thanks to the time difference, it was almost dawn in New York.
The city looked lonely and gargantuan. Despite the pre-dawn hour, it was still twinkling like mad, as usual. New York, it seemed, could still twinkle without me.
I had a pretty serious girlfriend in New York. Her name was Jill. I was nuts about her.
Jill was a part-time teacher in the math department at NYU. She lived in New York but she was from Vancouver—the same city, coincidentally, where I was shooting a TV show every month or two. She’d grown up in Vancouver in the 70’s and 80’s. She’d been a snowboarding prodigy as a kid, which sounded terribly Canadian to me. She remembered her dad driving her down the icy mountain roads after her snowboarding meets. Her father always bought her a tuna sub from Subway on the way home—that was their ritual. As he steered the car and navigated the tricky curves of the mountain roads, guiding them both back to civilization, Jill sat in the passenger seat. She watched her father drive and ate the tuna sub.
Jill accompanied me on one of my TV trips to Vancouver. We stayed in the spare room at her parents’ apartment. It was at some point on that trip—probably over dinner with Jill’s parents at an oyster place in Gastown—that we decided to move to Vancouver together.
I phoned the producers of the Canadian TV show I worked on the next day. I asked if I could work for them full-time. They said yes. The wheels were in motion.
Jill and I returned to New York and began winding down our lives in NYC. We scheduled goodbye dinners with friends. We fantasized about our new life together in Canada. The vulture of gloom? The one that perched on my shoulders and made me flee subway stations in terror? The vulture’s days were numbered now.
It’s the wild, sprawling, underpopulated, metric system-loving Garden of Eden to America’s north. If you’re American, as I am, and you’re looking to dodge a draft, or escape the law after robbing a bank, or see a loon, Canada’s got your back on all three fronts. (more…)
Traveled to Brantford, Ontario in March, to the PC Museum. Syd Bolton, the museum’s founder and curator, drove into downtown Toronto to pick me up, along with TV’s Steve Tilley and Youtube’s Erika Szabo. Syd summoned us to his museum for an event called a Game Soiree. I’ve never been to any sort of event with the word “soiree” attached to it. I was concerned that it might be sleazy. It wasn’t.
We were all at Syd’s modest estate from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m. So it was a pretty good chunk of our day.
But come on—it’s Syd, right? He’s the most eccentric Canadian I’ve met. His entire life is built around gaming, and computers, and nerd culture. It’s honestly difficult to know where the work ends and Syd’s private life begins.
Special thanks to Tilley, Szabo, Shane Luis (also of Youtube), and to Syd, for feeding us spaghetti, opening his home, and letting his calvary of tiny, precious, snow-white dogs lick our hands and faces.
Update: I have a subsequent conversation with Syd that I’ll be posting soon. Stay tuned for that.
Vancouver, British Columbia. Saturday morning in September 2016. Low clouds. No rain yet, but it’s coming. Cloud cover so low and dark this morning that the city feels boxed in and claustrophobic. As soon as I step out the front door of my building, rain begins to fall, raindrops as big as Canadian nickels. I fish the umbrella out of my backpack and press the button on the handle. FWAP! The unfolding nylon sounds like an oversized bat taking flight.
The rain is merciless and cruel. It threatens to shred my umbrella, to reduce it to a nylon pulp. It’s pounding everything, myself included, down, down, down.
This is how it rains on the West Coast of Canada.
I lope towards the Rogers Arena across town. Vancouver is small enough to walk. Rogers is where the Canucks play their home games. Rogers is where I gave a Tedx talk in 2015, so the Arena and I have some personal history.
I’m attending a media event this morning. A media event is a high-strung phoney party that’s designed to introduce members of the media to a product. Media events usually contain the following ingredients: artisanal sandwiches, soft drinks, giveaways/freebies, awkward moments, sometimes sublime moments, too, and interview opportunities with celebrity and pseudo-celebrity guests.
I’ve been going to these dreaded gatherings—dreaded because they are designed to be fun and rarely are—for more than a decade.
This morning’s high strung, phoney party at the Rogers Arena is to celebrate the release of a video game called NBA 2K17.
The latest episode of Heavily Pixelated is a celebration of Mass Effect, specifically how the original trilogy of games helped one gamer understand herself better.
Note: I’m ridiculously proud of this episode.
Thanks again to the brave, incredibly articulate Ashley Cooper for sharing this story with me (and now you). You can read Ashley’s writing here: https://medium.com/athena-talks/the-artist-formerly-known-as-james-195ac1922a68. It goes without saying, but she’s worth reading.
Special thanks to Mac Walters, the director of Mass Effect: Andromeda, who took time out of his day busy day to talk to us.
Thanks to Steven Nikolic for his ongoing technical support and vaunted website-building skills. (Translation: He makes all of this stuff look good and sound good.)
Finally, thanks to my partner and friend, Sarah Deakins. What inexhaustible talent and drive that woman has. Sarah inspired me every step of the way during production.
If you like this episode, please share it with your friends, colleagues, co-workers, etc. I need more listeners.
More episodes are coming soon. Stay tuned.
I was invited on a media trip to Orlando, Florida several years back, to promote the launch of a tennis video game. Publishers were still making tennis video games back then for some strange reason. This was the summer of 2007. I know the actual date because people had iPhones on this trip, literally for the first time ever. (iPhones hadn’t existed prior to this.) I recall sharing a cab with a woman who let me diddle the dead husk of her depleted iPhone. I grabbed it, and proceeded to make faux computer sounds—BEEP, BOOP, BEEP, BOOP—as I pressed the nonexistent buttons on its cold, dead face. It was the first time I had touched an iPhone. Considering its inert state, it wasn’t terribly thrilling for me. The woman described her one gripe about the device: the first-generation iPhone held a charge for a comically brief amount of time.
Yes, iPhone battery life would improve. Yes, video game publishers would soon stop making tennis video games after this. The world always keeps turning, I guess.
At the event’s “press conference,” a worn out Maria Sharapova stood behind a podium and half-heartedly attempted to say a few nice things about the tennis video game she was there to promote. I observed the proceedings from the second row. I asked no questions.
Something else happened on that trip. Something I’ve never been courageous enough to speak about before.
This story is about that something.
I worked there for six months, maybe a year. It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever have (note: I’d find the worst job soon after this). People were pleasant to me, if a little distant and condescending. I wasn’t a New Yorker and they obviously knew this; I felt like they enjoyed knowing this. The investment bankers who stalked around the office like werewolves enjoyed knowing it; the secretaries, which was the group that I was technically a part of, enjoyed knowing it, too.
I answered telephones, directed calls, set up appointments, signed for packages, and ran an old, knucklehead computer. And I operated the velobinder. The velobinder was the office equivalent of a medieval torture device. It was a large, blank-faced machine with a long, thin slot on the front of it. Within seconds of switching it on, the machine would give off a hot, burning smell. I’d carefully feed stacks of paper into the velobinder’s dark slot. The slot heated up to a high enough temperature to melt plastic. The velobinder’s job was to fasten stacks of paper together, to bind them, with the melted plastic. I had to hold the papers very still for maybe five or 10 seconds in the slot when operating the machine. If I moved at all, even the slightest bit, the velobinder would throw a fit and not do what I wanted it to do.
The day of the office Christmas party I put in more of a workday than I’d expected to put in. I sat at my desk and went through the motions, trying to look busy, trying to distract myself. I had a tough time concentrating. I felt restless and impatient. What I was feeling was genuine excitement. I hadn’t been this excited since I was a kid.
It was 1997. I was living in New York City. It was the holiday season. The office Christmas party was coming. To say that I was looking forward to the party would be an understatement. I was excited about it, excited like a kid about to walk into an amusement park. I wanted to experience the whole thing: drinking too much, eating too much, kissing a woman in the copy room who hopefully looked like Shirley Maclaine in The Apartment, etc.
I wanted to experience the gamut of joyous, ribald activities that I’d seen in office parties on TV shows and in TV movies for decades. I wanted to be the old drunk, tired of it all, getting drunk alone in his dark office. I wanted to be the sales guy wearing a tiara for some bizarre reason and doing a strange dance to Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” on top of the conference room table.
At office Christmas parties, you were a grown-up—a tax-paying, job-having adult. Yet these parties were rare occasions when you were allowed, even encouraged, to act like a child again. It was OK to let yourself backslide a little at office Christmas parties. It was OK to regress.