What I’m Blanking: Up in Smoke Edition

At any given time, I’m absorbing works from all over the cultural spectrum. What I’m Blanking is a neat summation of those moments in my cultural journey.

What I’m Reading: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I kind of had a sneaking suspicion when I read the description on the back cover, but at just over 100 pages in, I can confirm it: this is, I hate to say it, a White People Problems book. You know, that kind of Jonathan Franzen middle-class ennui type stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book, and it’s peppered with similes and passages that win my approval (e.g., “tender as a change purse”), but the older I get, the less time I have for stories like this. I’m committing to it, but I have to say, it’s slow goings right now.

Brief plot summary: at a summer camp in the 70s, five or six kids fancy themselves the kings and queens of irony and wit and form an Algonquin Round Table Lite, christening themselves The Interestings. Once camp ends, they go their separate ways and on to varying degrees of success and/or failure, with animation wonk Ethan Figman hitting the jackpot with an autobiographical, vaguely Simpsons-esque animated show called Figland. Great, now that you’re asleep, I can sneak off and get some Taco Bell.

I’m trying to finish this before the S-load of books I have coming in from Amazon arrives, but prospects currently look grim.

What I’m Playing:

Secret of Mana

Now that I’m officially not recording Let’s Plays for the foreseeable future, I can feast upon any dish the gaming world has to offer and not worry about subconsciously vetting it for series potential. It may not reflect well on me, but my first choice was straight-up comfort food. I have a great big soft spot for the once-amazing Mana series, and while I enjoy the sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, a lot more (it’s my favorite RPG of all time), I’m saving it for that space between the end of summer and the start of autumn, since September 30 marks the 20th anniversary of the Japanese release of SD3.

Though I’m admittedly starting it off very Mana-heavy, I’ve been wanting to take a journey through some of the RPGs that either I loved in their prime or missed out on in their initial run, but playing SoM I’ve found that a huge roadblock to that journey might be grinding. Secret‘s grinding can be significantly reduced by keeping it down to one weapon per character and only leveling up essential spell elementals (Undine, Lumina, and Dryad for the girl; literally all of them for the sprite). I already barely have time to maintain a little-read blog; grinding levels in video games is waaaaaaaay low on the list of “things I want to do with what little free time I have”. I currently have to get the girl’s and sprite’s spells up to level 7 before I move on with the story, and the feeling of dread that washes over me when I think about tackling it is honestly not that far removed from the one that accompanies the thought of doing laundry when the dirty pile is up to your waist.

This is also my first time playing Secret of Mana with the “Enhanced” patch, which changes the fixed-width font to the variable-width Chicago font recognizable from Chrono Trigger and 90s Macs, allowing for less stilted dialogue. To be honest, the dialogue doesn’t have noticeably more pop with the patch than without—a testament to what Ted Woolsey was able to accomplish with significantly reduced cartridge space and virtually no time—though there are some amusing Easter eggs hidden here and there.

Chip’s Challenge 2

I’m about a third of the way through this game, but I’m stockpiling my thoughts on it. I’ll write a full post about it after I’ve completed it.

What I’m Listening To:

Keller Williams, Vape

Keller Williams has been semi-unifying his studio albums around single-word themes for so long now that, given his jam scene cred, it’s kind of amazing it took this long for him to get around to one about getting high. It’s a dangerous road to walk—hippies love reminding people how much they love to get high, yet there’s nothing more boring than listening to hippies talk about getting high. After an instrumental opener, the trifecta of “Mantra”, “The Drop”, and “She Rolls” hits hard, fast, and often. Unfortunately, the rest of the album can’t match that early energy, though it’s nice that the hypnotic “Donuts”[1], which has been floating around by itself on Spotify for two years, finally has an album home.

John Hartford and the Dillards, “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown”

You know how sometimes, there are certain people that you’ll listen to talk about anything, either because they’re so passionate about it or you love the sound of their voice? That works here as a corollary to the hippies-talking-about-getting-high thing. This song is ridiculously catchy. It’s like some strange hybrid between a railroad chain-gang song, an old-time gospel hymn, and one of those kind of reggae-lite 10cc-type songs, and I don’t know how it works, but it works. This gets stuck in my head all the time, especially at work, where I’m not often in a great position to be singing it out loud.

What I’m Watching:


Finally got the opportunity to Redbox this one. I’m not going to talk much about the nuts and bolts of it, just that 1) I loved it, 2) J.K. Simmons earned that Oscar, and 3) more than anything, it made me want to watch Glengarry Glen Ross again. The two movies seem very thematically similar to me. They ask a lot of the same Big Questions, like: What lengths does a person have to go to in order to be “great”? What is “great”? Who does that matter to? Is a desire to be a legend a sociopathic quality? If not inherently so, at what point does it become one?

Whiplash is also one of those heightened experiences movies are great at offering up. It’s grounded in reality, but there is a faint patina of slight inauthenticity that reads more as a next-level magic that only a cinematic experience can provide. Naturally, movies that do this well often end up becoming my favorite movies.

Big Wind-up! (Ookiku Furikabutte)

Do you like Dragon Ball Z? Do you like the long, protracted battles that span multiple episodes? Do you wish those battles were baseball games? If you answered yes, especially to the last question, you’re going to love Big Windup.

In a nutshell, Ren Misashi transfers to a new school after being humiliated by his old baseball team, having only been made the ace pitcher due to nepotism. When he arrives at the new school, he attracts the notice of catcher Takaya Abe, who sees that he has excellent pitch control but needs to be brought out of his sniveling, whimpering shell. It’s kind of a Bull Durham-type relationship, only if the pitcher had absolutely zero ego instead of way too much.

I’ve only watched seven episodes, and it’s been a while since I checked in with it, so I may need to start over since every player on every team has a distinct personality and the show does keep up with it. My forays into anime are rare, but this is a good one, and I should really get back into it.

The entire single season (26 episodes) can be watched on Hulu, either subbed or dubbed. Typically I prefer subs but in this case I went with the dub, and I’m actually not regretting it.

[1] No relation.

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