Red Dead Redemption 2

“An Instant Classic”

Unless you’ve been actively avoiding ads, everywhere, you’ve probably seen an ad for Red Dead Redemption 2 in the last two months.

RDR2 is a video game centered around the end of the wild west, and it was released last month. Think of it as Grand Theft Auto with horses. Or a much more violent version of the Oregon Trail.

Hundreds of articles have been written praising this game, and I agree with almost all of them. As a veteran of the gaming industry, it’s nice to see a project that took 8 years to complete be released to such worldwide success and acclaim.

My two cents is – this game is damn near perfect, and one that I’ll be playing for many months and maybe years to come.

But what I really like about it, is that it’s one of the few video games that Kate likes to watch me play, and even encourages me at times.

In the past, my two loves haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. Kate has dismissed video games as useless and a waste of time, while video games have responded with whispered jealous messages, reminding me of all the times we’ve had together.

Red Dead Redemption 2 might have finally joined the two in harmony. The game itself is an astounding visual achievement, with rolling hills, snowy drifts, and babbling brooks just waiting to be stared at.

What Kate likes most about it though is that there are small moments in the game that she feels teach the user about the importance of chores and nature. For example, in RDR2, your character lives in a camp filled with a cast of misfits and outlaws. Besides the standard outlaw things one can do (Rob a train, stick up a bank, kill bandits), you also can do chores at camp.

Chores like chopping wood, bringing water to the cook, and feeding hay to the horses. It’s these little moments that have brought Kate into the fold.

RDR2 is unlike any other game I’ve played because I find myself enjoying the moments between the game. I’ll spend hours tracking and hunting a legendary animal, or simply sitting by a creek and fishing.

The most important aspect of RDR2 to me is that it’s brought the person I love and a passion I love into a playful partnership. And that’s where the true fun is.

Red Dead Redemption 2 – 5 out of 5 Stars

The Graffiti Wall

“An Ever-Changing Array of Aerosol”

I’ve been running on a pretty consistent schedule for the last two months in preparation for a 10k next week. Yes, after completing the Venice Christmas 5k last year, we’re doing it again. Except Kate signed me up for double the distance.

Is she running double the distance? Nope. But I am. Hooray.

To not embarrass myself in a sea of swift strangers, I’ve been using the Nike Run Club app to keep a regular workout setting. If you’re into running, or want to get into it, I would recommend the app. It creates a custom workout schedule, and adjusts to your speed and completed runs.

Part of the challenge of running (besides the physical act of it), is planning or discovering a route that is both your desired length and also isn’t full of traffic intersections and other hazards.

Luckily we live right by the beach, so I’ve been running along the Venice Beach Bike Path in the morning. The only hazards I encounter are enthusiastic cyclists, haggard heroin hobos, and the various characters that have chosen to make the streets of Venice their final destination.

Yes, I know it’s a bike path, but I stick very close to the sides, and it’s 7 AM, so the path isn’t busy at all.

My route to rack up miles follows the same normal pattern. Start on the Venice Canals, run out to the Venice Pier, and then take the bike path until I hit a halfway point, then head back via the Boardwalk.

One of the early milestones this run takes me on is a winding sand-covered stretch of bike path that becomes a tourist quagmire after 9 PM. It bisects the famous Venice Skate Park and a concrete area that has become an accepted stage for rollerskate performances.

Next to the skatepark is a set of walls and concrete pillars where graffiti is legal. I don’t know the details, but what I do know is that every weekend, legions of artists armed with backpacks full of spray paint create murals over murals.

This means that whenever I run by these walls, there’s a strong chance that I’ll see something new and bizarre. Most of the time the paintings are simply well-executed tags of the artist’s name. But other times I’ll be astounded with the subtle style that these creators are able to coax out of an aerosol can.

My run on Tuesday took me past the wall, and I was greeted with a new mural staring back at me. What on Sunday had been a silver script in elegant graffiti font saying “Anti Death Krew” now had been painted over and had a crying baby face.

I surprised that a new piece had been executed so quickly. But as I ran, I started to ponder the significance of the baby’s face. Was the Anti Death Krew trying to make a statement about the cycle of life? Is the true “anti-death” bringing new life into the world? To leave a legacy?

Damn, I thought. Better just stick to running. I’ll leave the existential life questions to the graffiti wall.

The Graffiti Wall – 3 out of 5 Stars

Archery

“Not Just For Cupid”

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, we went to a gun range to shoot archery.

Before we dive into this review, I’ve been struggling with the correct verbiage. Is it shoot “bows and arrows?” that doesn’t sound right, because you don’t shoot “guns and bullets.” But then again, do you even “shoot” arrows? Really you draw, knock, and loose.

We’ll just stick with “shoot” but I have to tell you, I’ve been struggling with the correct words when sharing this story with friends.

Like an owl at an orgy says, anywhooo.

We woke up at 6 am, met up with friends, and visited a gun range in Newhall, California. My only previous knowledge of Newhall is that if you wanted to pass your driver’s license test when you were 16, they had a more forgiving DMV than Pasadena’s.

The Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall is nestled in a little canyon off the freeway and has all the makings of wonderland for survivalists and those who like to play with things that go boom.

I’ve only been to one professional gun range before in my life. I went to shoot pistols with a friend in Texas. Other than that, my gun range experience was limited to Boy Scout camp where I learned to shoot .22’s and skeet.

Oak Tree seemed less of a gun range and more of a gun compound. First off, it was massive, containing an archery range, pistol range, rifle range, trap and skeet range, gift shop, cafeteria, and a bar.

Second Amendment discussion tabled for the moment, walking around a gun range is exciting. Booms and bangs abound, and men and women with real weapons walk around with serious yet gleeful looks on their faces.

The archery range was a steep walk up from the rest of the gun ranges and consisted of a small area with standard paper bulls-eye targets tacked to bales of hay. But just beyond that was a little stand where you could aim at an array of foam targets that were in the shape of elk, deer, and even a headless zombie.

Obviously, we decided to go after the foam targets. We rented standard bows and spent the next hour and a half riddling the targets with flimsily fletched arrows. Our bows spoke to our amateur status. Everyone else on the range had compound bows outfitted with rangefinders and other intense looking hunting doodads.

I haven’t shot bows since summer camp, but once I got in the groove of it, I found that I still had a dash of Robin of Loxley in my arm. After taking down most of the targets, my greatest achievement was putting an arrow into the haunch of a foam ram almost 150 feet down the range.

We left the Oak Tree gun club feeling happy with our morning. The only thing that soured it at the end was seeing a pasty blonde man with a beard but no mustache not only wearing a red MAGA hat, but also outfitted in a football jersey with “TRUMP 45” emblazoned on the back. Then again, it’s a gun range, so I feel like we got lucky seeing only one.

Archery – 3 out of 5 Stars

Shower Curtains

“A Thin Line Between Nude and Not”

I have a complicated relationship with shower curtains.

I never encountered one on a daily basis until I lived in Bangkok. Up until then, all my showers had enclosed doors of some sort. Then I moved into a three bedroom apartment in the heart of the Thai city of angels, and my bathing options turned into standing in a bathtub with a shower nozzle attachment.

To the surprise of no one, this system resulted in water getting splashed everywhere on the floor. My roommate who I shared the bathroom with had made the investment into a shower curtain, but then he and his girlfriend moved into the master bedroom, which came with its own bathroom.

Goodbye shower curtain, hello wet floors.

My time in Thailand was amazing, partly because I made it a life mantra to acquire as few material objects that would tie me down as possible. Everything I owned could be put in two suitcases, and that’s how I happily lived my life for almost two years.

This also made me annoyingly stubborn at times. A new shower curtain was curiously expensive to me. Something like fifty dollars US. I refused to invest in shower infrastructure into a home that was only temporary. My roommate’s sister moved in with us, and her and I waged a silent war of wet floors against one another, neither of us caving in, even as our wet feet left tracks all across the apartment.

A few years later, I was living alone in Los Feliz, and my life had flipped upside down. Now it was measured by the things that I owned – one of them being a shower curtain.

A good shower curtain is your defense against the outside world while you’re in your own version of VH1’s Naked and Afraid. No, I’m not constantly terrified in the shower, but it as a time where I’m vulnerable. But with the curtain, I’m protected, and so is my floor.

We recently bought a shower curtain that is covered in a fun pattern of oranges and other flora. We don’t need a shower curtain at all, our bathtub has a sliding door that keeps water in (and provides protection).

This new curtain is almost purely aesthetic. It adds a pop of color to our bathroom, and also hides our various shampoos and shower things that one acquires.

Our floor remains dry, and our shower curtain smugly stares at me whenever I glance over. I may have won the battle, but the curtain won the war.

Shower Curtains – 2 out of 5 Stars 

Islands

“Where Everything is Amazing”

It’s raining in Los Angeles, which means I get to bug Kate to continue a tradition that I started as a perverse joke.

Whenever it rains, I beg Kate to go with me to the Hawaiian themed burger restaurant, Islands.

I don’t remember exactly how the joke started. There’s an Islands near our house, and I think Kate mentioned that she had never been.

If you’ve never had the delectable dining at an Islands, I’ll do a quick summary for you. Burgers with pineapple, tropical themed drinks, and constant Ukulele music.

That’s it. The food isn’t spectacular, but it’s not bad either. There was one in a mall near the movie theater that I used to go to with friends growing up.

But since Kate had never been, I began to grow the legend of Islands. This burger joint became an isle of paradise, where all your troubles float away once you pass through the threshold. What better locale to escape to when the sky is crying?

I finally convinced her to go with me last year during a storm, and the legend was better than reality.

But that was a year ago. Things have changed for the better. I’m sure of it.

It’s raining in Los Angeles. Seems like it’s Islands Time.

Islands – 4 out of 5 Stars  

No Handed Bike Riding

“Dutch People Do It Better”

I’m blessed to work at a company that has a rich tableau of international flair. About half of our office comes from outside the U.S. and it’s honestly one of my favorite things about working where I work.

There’s a large contingent of us who bicycle to work (yay environment), and I consider myself a pretty good two-wheeler.

Or at least I did, until I saw one of my Dutch colleagues casually riding down a busy street jam-packed with cars, fiddling with his phone, hands not even close to the handlebars.

I was impressed (and intimidated) and decided to make no-handed bike riding a skill that I master in the year of 2019.

The thing about Dutch people is, they’re just naturally talented cyclists. It’s the main mode of casual transportation in Amsterdam, and I feel like I’ve heard stories of babies being in bicycles before they learned how to walk.

And after our trip to Holland, I believe it! You would see a Dutch mother with not one, but two babies strapped into her bicycle. Similar to what you see on motorbikes in Vietnam and Cambodia, but much safer.

A goal in mind, I began to practice my balancing act on my daily bike ride to work. There’s a stretch of side streets that I take that don’t have traffic, so I’ve been able to ride several blocks without falling or flailing frantically at my handlebars.

Sitting down for lunch one day with my Dutch compatriot, I told him how his nonchalant no-handedness had inspired me, and that I was on a daily training regimen that required no phalanages.

He took a bite of his salad, chewed thoughtfully, and said:

“You know the secret right? You just have to steer with your asshole.”

The Dutch are famously blunt.

But sure enough, the next time I let my sphincter steer, the ride was ever-so-smooth.

No-Handed Bike Riding – 3 out of 5 Stars 

Essential Oils

“Smell Spells”

When it comes to nebulous science stuff, I’m pretty rigid.

I come from a town that is home to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We put things on Mars and the Moon goddammit. The phrase “It’s not rocket science” does not apply.

Give me the facts, is what I’m saying.

Which is why I’ve always been skeptical of anything crystal-oriented, moon-influenced (besides the tides), aura related, or what have you.

Salt lamp? Might as well be a salt lick for horses.

Oh, you have a quartz crystal for a necklace, and it helps soothe your aura? It’s a rock. You overpaid.

But, I do have one guilty pleasure that falls into the aura/natural/cosmic vibe, and that is essential oils.

I love essential oils.

If you’re not familiar with them, basically you buy sets of nice smelling liquid, fill some water in a diffuser (a humidifier) put some drops of the appropriate liquid, and your house smells nice for the next 60 to 120 minutes.

As I write this, I’m serenaded by the lovely bubbling sound of my diffuser spew out a delightful amalgamation of smells.

Essential Oils come in a variety of flavors. Some of them are basic, like Peppermint, Orange, Lavender, etc. But then they also have a brilliant marketing tactic, which isn’t to sell smells but to sell emotions or moods.

For example, I’m not smelling a combination of lavender and peppermint currently. Oh no, I’m smelling “Pure Relaxation.” On our shelf, we also have “Happy Citrus,” “Blood Moon,” and “Breathe Easy.”

I’m a fan of the more peppermint and tea tree based smells, personally. I find the citrus flavors too overpowering.

That’s that, it’s all in the smells. I’m a human being, so I love candles, but I’ve found essential oils are a more cost-effective solution than candles. If I had my druthers, our house would just have “campfire” and “pinyon” candles burning 24/7. But because our house is old, and I don’t want it to burn down, essential oils are my solution.

Wait, I’ve never looked into the question of whether or not there are campfire flavored essential oils. This could be a revolutionary breakthrough.

Anyways, try them out. Or don’t. Just make sure your home smells nice somehow.

Essential Oils – 4 out of 5 Stars