Reunion in Brooklyn

On Friday, 9 November 2012, Janice and I took Amtrak from the Route 128 station near Boston to New York’s Penn Station to visit ailing Steve A.L. in Brooklyn. While I wish that our trip was under better circumstances, we still had a good time catching up with friends from college, as well as some from high school and grad school. On the train, I enjoyed the manga adaptation of Gail Carriger’s supernatural steampunk Soulless.

We checked into the Hotel Indigo, where our room was small but the staff was responsive. Janice and I then walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and back to Steve’s place, where we met him, his wife Michele, and their athletic son Nate. We ordered dinner from Gandhi Palace and picked up dessert at Lassen & Hennings.

On Saturday, Janice and I grabbed bagels for breakfast before meeting Steve at the Brooklyn Museum. Damon F.P. and Carlo R. came down from Westchester to join us, and Dexter V.H. stopped by from Queens on the way to visit his father. Janice had never been to that museum before, and Steve took us through its impressive collections of ancient Egyptian and early American art.

In addition to grabbing a late lunch at the museum’s renovated cafeteria, we chatted about history, current genre television, relationships, and religion. It’s always nice to be able to have such wide-ranging conversations.

Janice and I later rejoined Steve at his place, where we met Corbin A.Y., Dave F.R-B., and John Z.G. & Kim A.G. and their teenage son Mark. Steve & Michele were gracious hosts, supplying us with lots of munchies and beverages and ordering proper New York pizzas from Monty Q’s.

John then ran an AD&D2Gwynedd in Greyhawk” game. We slipped back into character easily, even though that high fantasy campaign originally ran from 1984 to 1995, and we hadn’t role-played that particular group of characters in more than 20 years.

At SUNY-Binghamton, spring 1987
The college gang, back in spring of 1987

Janice, Michele, and Nate didn’t participate, but Andy M., another SUNY-Binghamton alumnus now living in Chicago, joined us via Skype (which I use for my regular Sunday night scenarios). Corbin had tracked him down online, and it was great to reconnect after many years. It was also nice to play alongside Mark, who has inherited his parents’ love of games.

Hughes Hall reunion game
“Bellevue-Camelot” reunion, 1986 to 2012

I may eventually write up my notes of what happened within the session, but our jokes and camaraderie were more important than any old rules set or storylines. That said, our adventuring party reunited to raid the tower of a necromancer who had cursed the son of Steve’s Halfling Thief “Branador.”

Of all the Dungeon Masters I’ve been lucky enough to know, my former roommate John is the best at depicting memorable Non-Player Characters, gory battles, and an environment for creative teamwork.

Despite rolling lots of critical fumbles — 1 on 1d20, made worse because I had brought extra dice — we managed to fight our way through various Undead. My Grey Elf Ranger “Aldarion” had some good scouting scenes and was among those to get clobbered in combat. Our group (now about Level 15) had to bargain with extraplanar entities to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Good times!

On Sunday, Janice and I met the gang again. While waiting, I got to see Nate’s blazing pitching ability. While he needs to hone his skills, his strength is undeniable. We went to the Park Plaza Diner for brunch. Although Dave left his wife and son back in Buffalo, N.Y., Corb brought his wife Andria and cheerful daughter Maia.

Steve then took us to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where we saw a small bit of the damage left by Hurricane Sandy. The others left, and Steve, Janice, and I stopped by St. Mark’s Comics and later met Carlo, Brian D.H., and Erik B.L. and his precocious daughter Emma at the Park Plaza Diner for dinner. (All of the children of our friends resemble their parents in the best ways.) As always, our discussions were illuminating, if too brief.

Reunion in New York City
Friends and family in Brooklyn, November 2012

We returned to Steve & Michele’s place to watch Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers, which Janice and others hadn’t yet seen. The next morning, Janice and I again grabbed breakfast at Montague Street Bagels before heading to Penn Station and back to Massachusetts.

It was great to catch up with old friends, and I hope that we won’t have to wait another 20 years for another fun reunion!

A week of food

I’m trying to catch up on reading and blogging while I’m between big projects at work, so forgive the somewhat scattered nature of this post.

On Tuesday, 21 August 2012, I met my brother in Boston. It was good to see Peter only a month after spending time with him and the rest of Janice’s and our families in Lake George, N.Y. He was in town for a conference.

We went to the Italian neighborhood of Boston’s North End. Peter and I considered Union Oyster House and Neptune Oyster, but we ended up at Pomodoro, which was small but good. We also grabbed gelato before parting at Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market.

On Wednesday, Aug. 22, I went to my weekly historical weapons class, where we’re still practicing moves for the German longsword. I also went out to lunch last week with co-workers to Habanero’s and Skellig on Waltham’s Moody Street.

On Thursday, Aug. 23, I met former CW co-workers in the “Escapists” book club. We had dinner at P.F. Chang’s in the upscale Natick Mall and discussed Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. I liked the satirical science fiction novel, which was clearly written in the shadow of man’s folly in World War II and the Cold War.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, Janice and I took advantage of the nice weather and went to the annual Marshfield Fair. We enjoyed the agricultural displays and, of course, the fair food. We also caught up on errands.

Closer to home, we’ve gone to pub City Streets and local chains Border Café, Papa Gino’s, and Upper Crust Pizza. While I’ve relaxed my boycott of Upper Crust after its labor problems, another favorite, Chipotle, has gotten into trouble. I also have less reason to go out to Natick when I’m closer to the Burlington Mall.

Coming soon: ParaNorman and genre TV reviews, political positions, and more!

Relocation reflections

Eastern Massachusetts
Boston's suburbs

Yesterday, Janice and I picked up the keys to our new apartment. The previous evening, more boxes were delivered for our move, and we enjoyed a Valentine’s Day dinner at Acropolis, our favorite Greek restaurant in Needham, Mass.

As we continue packing and trying to sell excess items — with breaks for the annual Westminster dog show — here’s a quick look back at the places I’ve lived.

Childhood in New York City

1968 to 1970: Lower West Side of Manhattan

1970 to 1978: Kingsbridge Heights, the Bronx

I have hazy but fond memories of growing up in New York. The cosmopolitan mix of cultures and cuisines, including immigrants like my parents, made me who I am. I also recall the eventual spread of urban blight as pleasant parks filled with refuse and noisy gangs, especially around the summer of 1977.

Adolescence in Westchester County

1978 to 1986: Dunwoodie, Yonkers; Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains

Although my brother spent more of his formative years here than I did, I recall hours spent biking around, hanging out with other kids on Westerly Street, and discovering my lifelong hobbies with high school friends. Most of the people I knew then were of Irish, Italian, or Central European descent. My “Vanished Lands” fantasy campaign setting and “Vortex” space opera date back to this period.

College in Upstate New York, post-grad year back downstate

1986 to 1990: State University of New York at Binghamton

1990 to 1991: NYPIRG at Queens College-CUNY; Yonkers

Not only did I meet Janice and other friends during this exciting period, but my most rewarding (if least paying) job was teaching urban studies as a community organizer in Flushing. I recall walking through rain, my then-lightning metabolism helping digest dining hall fare, and late-night conversations about life, the universe, and everything.

Grad school, first adult jobs, and marriage around Washington, D.C.

1991 to 1992: Arlington, Virginia; the George Washington University

1992 to 1999: Park Towers in Falls Church, Virginia; BNA

The Clinton years were prosperous. After getting my master’s in international affairs, I spent a few years working my way up from being a file clerk to a copy editor. Our apartment was small, but we were within walking distance of restaurants, Metro rail, and comic book and game shops. Several college friends and my family also moved south.

Boston, Massachusetts

1999 to 2000: Somerville

2000 to 2003: Windsor Gardens, Norwood; CW/IDG

2003 to 2012: Bobsled Drive and Dale Street, Needham Heights

2012: Windsor Village, Waltham; TT

Janice and I first visited Boston during our honeymoon in November 1995. We liked the compact, historic neighborhoods and then-plentiful bookshops, and the information technology boom later provided both of us jobs. While I’ve gone through career and health ups and downs since then, we like living back in the U.S. Northeast, and we hope to continue exploring New England!

Weekend update: One step forward…

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas
It's starting to look a lot like Christmas...

On Friday, 2 December 2011, I brought my 1998 Honda Civic coupe to Boch Honda in Norwood, Massachusetts, for maintenance and repairs. The 120,000-mile oil change, annual inspection, bumper reattachment, and new water pump and hoses totaled close to $2,000, which is nearly what the automobile is supposedly worth! If I can get through the winter unscathed, it’ll still be cheaper than car payments — for now.

I also “snailmailed” the first batch of holiday packages to friends, including Byron V.O.’s raffle winnings from the Super MegaFest. (I often don’t get all my cards done until after Christmas.) At work, I’ve been busy with assignments and planning for the year ahead, including TT‘s annual company meeting in mid-January. Janice and I had dinner at Wild Willy’s Burgers in Needham, Mass., and the next morning, we brought the last load of autumn leaves to the local dump.

We then met my former boss Michele L.D. and her husband Paul D. and onetime co-worker Ken G. and his date Sarah for a pleasant lunch at British Beer Co. in Framingham, Mass. From there, we joined gamer Sara F. at the AMC Framingham 16 to screen The Muppets, which we all liked. I’ll review the movie in more detail soon.

Sara, Janice, and I did some shopping at Shopper’s World and had dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s. We then went to the Natick Mall — formerly the pretentiously named “Natick Collection” — and got dessert at Red Mango. Since it was getting late, I didn’t get to the Lego Store or the recently moved Newbury Comics.

On Sunday, Janice volunteered at the animal shelter, we put up our Christmas decorations, and I ran the latest virtual session for my Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landsfantasy campaign. I’ll try to post an update for that game, which will probably take another hiatus as the role-players travel in the next several weeks.

Neither team for my FATE 3e “Vortexspace opera is meeting tonight because I’ll be celebrating Janice’s birthday by taking her to the Fuji II Steakhouse. Happy Birthday this week also to my cousins Socorro and Joke, college chum Ron J.K., and niece Becky Z.! I’m mostly caught up on genre television (including some good science fiction documentaries), but I have several books, comics, and DVDs waiting…. What have you been reading or watching?

22 July 2010: Catching up — movies

How to Train Your Dragon movie wallpaper

On Sunday, 18 July 2010, I met Thomas K.Y. in Burlington, Mass., to screen Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending technothriller Inception. Like Memento, Dark City, and The Matrix, the cyberpunk heist flick examines the nature of identity, perception, and reality. Inception has a strong cast and some nice set-piece action scenes inspired by James Bond films, but it lacks emotional resonance or the surreal vision of movies with similar themes, such as What Dreams May Come.

Inception is certainly more intelligently written than the blockbuster Avatar, but I didn’t find it to feel as fresh a speculative fiction mashup as last year’s District 9. At the same time, I didn’t find the layered plot to be as confusing as some viewers claimed. I’d give Inception, which is rated PG-13 for violence, a 7.5 out of 10, a B+, or three out of five stars.

So far, this summer’s films have been relatively lackluster, with the usual Hollywood recycling of ideas through sequels and remakes. There have been some lively debates online about the best years for genre movies, and I’m partial to 1982, which is when I came of age cinematically. It’s hard to believe that it has been 30 years since the release of The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, each generation will have its own favorites, as I was reminded by my younger co-workers at a TT staff lunch yesterday at Waltham’s Elephant Walk, a Franco-Cambodian restaurant.

This year, I’ve already passed on seeing the horror remake of The Wolf Man, the video game adaptation Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, comic book Western Jonah Hex, and the live-action adaption of a beloved fantasy anime TV series (Avatar:) The Last Airbender (which is getting a spin-off) in theaters because of mixed and poor reviews.

I wasn’t especially interested in Tim Burton’s twist on Alice in Wonderland, the A-Team remake, or computer-animated sequels Shrek Forever After and Toy Story 3, but I’m sure that I’ll eventually see them and Despicable Me, thanks to nieces and nephews. I’d rather see modern supernatural film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, imperial Roman dramas Agora and Centurion, and the fantasy Legend of the Guardians, but time will tell.