Armagideon Time

The whole world in my hands

September 12th, 2019

For all the predicted sacrifices I’d been told parenting would bring, the only major casualty has been my relationship with the PlayStation 4 in the living room. Prior to move-in day, the console was a near-constant free time companion. We get home from work, feed the animals and ourselves, then Maura would decamp upstairs to watch her shows while I blasted extraterrestrial monsters in glorious HD.

Those days have ended. The only times the system gets booted up now are to stream some family entertainment or for one of the Kid’s Skyrim adventures. It has been over a month since I last logged into Destiny 2and I don’t miss it at all. There have been some periodic phantom pains, but hardly what I expected from going cold turkey off a franchise that had been my timewaster of choice for half a decade. Grind fatigue and Dan Butler’s departure from the game set the stage for the break, but they weren’t the decisive reasons behind it. The truth is that Destiny‘s always-live multiplayer model was impossible to reconcile with a world in which an urgent “HEY, POP! WE NEED YOUR HELP!” is hollered in my direction multiple times an hour. (Late-night “dad gamer” antics weren’t an option, because I tend to nod off before the kid does.)

The experience has led me to reconnected with my trusty ol’ Playstation Portable handheld with its, well, portability and extremely handy “sleep” feature. Did the Kid somehow manage to spill a thousand craft beads into the bathtub drain while I’m middle of a tough Valkyria Chronicles 3 battle? No, worries, I can suspend the game and resume it after clearing the clog with a wet vac and reassuring the Kid that no, I’m not mad but extremely baffled how it happened in the first place.

Shit battery life aside, the PSP is the ideal gaming device for my current circumstances. Besides the handheld’s ability to stop and resume on the fly, most of the offerings in its library were designed to be tackled in reasonably-sized chunks with few long cutscenes or extended sequences. Games like MGS: Peace Walker or Phantasy Star Portable or Persona 3 FES managed to distill all the best parts of their more stationary console counterparts into a satisfying experience for folks who lack an excess of uninterrupted free time.

My rekindled relationship with the PSP also spurred me to explore its potential a bit further than previous go-rounds. Its digital-delivery compatibility with the original Playstation had been one of its selling features back in late Aughts, and still retained a decent roster of PS1 ports purchased through Sony’s online storefront. Most of the beloved big-sellers and cult classics were represented but many of my old favorites hadn’t made the cut — games like the gorgeous sprite-based Tatsunoko Fighters or Tobal 2 or Speed Power Gunbike or a dozen other artifacts from that serendipitous alignment between “discovering a reliable game importer” and “landing my first grown-up job” in the back half of the 1990s.

Realistically, I could spend a lifetime working my way through the shit I’d already picked up via PSN, but the Suikoden games and Misadventures of Tron Bonne only whetted my appetite for the full flashback experience — especially considering the number of old PS1 games packed away in my attic without the means to play them. (Theoretically, my old mod-chipped console should be up there, too, but I’m not going to hold out hope of it working after all these years, even if I still had a VGA monitor to hook it up to.)

I’d heard of folks who’d managed to dump PS1 games onto their PSPs and get them running, so I decided run a few internet searches for further detail. What came up was a somewhat roundabout and frequently confusing method of creating PSP compatible eboot files from the original discs.

Did I succeed in my attempt? Well….

…let’s just say I’m really, really glad I didn’t give in to the temptation to sell my PS1 games collection when I was strapped for cash a while back. And I’m glad the price of 128GB memory cards has dropped over the past decade.

“So what kinds of videogames do you like?” I asked the Kid during one of her weekend stayovers prior to officially moving in with us.

Minecraft. Fortnite. And that game where you’re going to have your head cut off but then a dragon shows up and burns everyone to death.”

“That sounds like Skyrim,” I replied, not really thinking that would be the case.


“I got that for the PS4.”


…and that’s how Arianna the High Elf Battle Mage With Cool Scars came to wander the northern wilderness on her trusted horse Linda, seeking out bandits to electrocute and ingredients to use in crafting recipes.

Watching the Kid immerse herself in developing her in-game avatar and exploring its environments set some long dormant wheels a’turning in my skull.

She loves Stranger Things. She loves tabletop games. She loves make-believe and crafting stories. She loves social gatherings. She could stand to use a little help with applied math, vocabulary, and problem-solving skills.

I’d already been thinking of organizing a family game night, so why not make it a family Dungeon and Dragons night?

D&D and me gone our separate ways over three decades ago, but I picked it over Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay because it would be simpler for a novice to grasp and had the whole Stranger Things angle going for it. After some internal debate about whether to go with the “BECMI” era Rules Compendium or the 3rd ed rules, I opted for the 5th edition ruleset based on Lil Bro’s recommendation. They’re simple, flexible, and intuitive, dispensing with much of the clutter (and meta-wankery) yet retaining the game’s core strengths. In short, it was precisely what I was looking for in a fantasy RPG system.

We’re still trying to work out the scheduling and logistics for the approaching school year, so things are still in the planning stages for now. That’s been fine by me because it gives me time to become familiar enough with the rules to explain them to others and scrape together the rough outline for a campaign.

In my younger days, I was a “big picture” type of gamemaster. I’d have sooner eaten my own foot than begin a campaign with anything less than a full continent mapped out, a dozen realms delineated, and a few millennia of history codified in excruciating detail. As enjoyable as that conscientious worldbuilding was, however, only the tiniest fraction of it would turn up with the actual game sessions. It also had the dubious effect of letting the backstory drive events rather than the players’ actions when it came to crafting scenarios.

“I created this fluff, so you’re damn well going to experience it.”

This time around, I’ve opted for a much looser approach. There are no megamaps or chronologies, just a relatively small parcel of turf sprinkled with adventure seeds and suggestive names. More detailed info will be filled in as required by campaign events. 5th edition’s relative gentleness towards low-level characters makes it easy to craft neophyte-friendly scenarios — and blunt the urge to start everyone off at fifth level for the sake of avoiding a Total Party Kill during the first session.

I’ve long been partial to low-level play where even the most minor of magic items is a valued prize and each level gained is a significant event. The charm isn’t in the higher mortality rates, but the sense of accomplishment as your character slowly “comes into their own.” It’s why I’ve played the first third of the Baldur’s Gate games and Skyrim and Diablo III dozens of times, yet have only finished them a couple of times each. Powergaming can be fun, but it also tends to devolve into a joyless grind for incremental optimization.

Give me a single digit-hit point total and cave with a handful of goblins to poke with a crude spear over using the powers of a demigod to thrash the same elder dragon a dozen times in hopes of obtaining a rare drop.

My previous attempt to put this approach into tabletop practice (by way of 2nd edition WFRP) fell apart because of scheduling reasons. (Working out the logistics for a weekly gathering of thirty-somethings is a feat more daunting than anything described in a heroic fantasy novel.) I did hold onto my set of MS Word campaign notes, which migrated across a half dozen computers over the past fifteen years. Most of it was world-building fluff, useful only for as an embarrassing reminder of what I was reading at the time I wrote them, but there were enough bits and pieces of value to form the basis of a new campaign.

After a little tooling around with a free map generator (ain’t technology grand?), I came up with this…

What you see on the map is pretty much what you get in terms of world-building — some evocatively named locales covering a decent spread of environments, sprinkled with various points of interest. There’s a little bit more detail stored in my skull, but it can’t be disclosed in a venue where a couple of the players might encounter it.

The opening hook will be simple and to the point: The characters are held over in the orchard-heavy village of Pomedale because soldiers of the As Yet Unspecified Kingdom Army have blocked road north because of Some Vaguely Understood Event. To keep the characters from spending their days drinking and brawling and making nuisances of themselves, the locals suggest various nearby attractions for adventuring types.

The only tricky part thus far has been working out suitable challenges for what will likely be a three-person party featuring a halfling barbarian, elven druid, and some kind of warlock, but I planning to emphasize exploration and atmosphere over combat, anyhow.

Map aside, it’s going to be a fully analog game. I’ve got nothing against the various RPG-assistance apps out there, but the hands-on aspect of picking out a cool set of dice, having paper character sheets, manually mapping dungeons, and leafing through printed manuals will be a significant part of the game’s mystique for the Kid. If it does manage to gel into a regular, ongoing thing, I might even spring for custom Hero Forge minis for my two geeky ladies.

After switching my focus from 12-inch longplayers to 7-inch singles, I began assembling a shortlist of preferred vendors for my 45 RPM fix. It wasn’t an intentional process, but something that developed as I noticed some of the same seller names popping up on my purchases page.

All shared a few certain qualities.

They had a deep inventory of material for sale.

They had reasonable asking prices and shipping rates.

And they knew what “VG+” condition actually meant.

I will rarely buy more than a single LP at a time — not just because they’re more expensive, but also because it’s not the way my mind works. Album purchases are a very deliberate thing, with strict requirements in terms of overall quality. My shelf space is limited, and there’s no space for stiffs in there.

7-inchers give a bit more leeway, as one of the wooden replica Peaches crates I use can hold up to a hundred and twenty five of the suckers with sufficient flip room. It’s a format where impulses can be indulged and the benefit of the doubt extended — especially when the average bulk purchase rarely sets me back more than a pair of sawbucks including shipping. The abovementioned folks are my trusted enablers in this recklessness.

The arc of these relationship usually starts with finding an exceptional deal on a long-coveted release and maybe some equally enticing “plus one” from my wishlist.

After the initial order meets or exceeds expectations, I undertake a deep dive of their inventory for further gems.

Then another, almost immediately after that arrives. By the third or fourth go-round, I’ve pretty much strip-mined them of anything remotely interesting to me.

At which point, there’s nothing to do but wait a few months for the crates to replenish themselves so I can repeat the process.

Please don’t ask me who these vendors are, because they’re ALL MINE DO YOU HEAR ME MINE.

Stuff of legend

August 27th, 2019

My elementary school was actually a pair of schools combined in some ancient merger — the Linscott and the Rumford.

The Rumford was the newer of the two buildings, rebuilt in Space Age moderne style after the original was firebombed a couple of years before I was born. It was connected by a glass-paneled walkway to the Linscott, a semi-rehabbed relic of the early 20th Century complete with dark hardwood floors and steam radiators capable of melting the nylon of a Sears-brand kid’s parka.

The Rumford housed the admin offices, K-4 classrooms and the gym. The Linscott contained a basement cafeteria, the fifth and sixth grade classrooms, and a large open central area split between the school library and a carpeted-stepped “auditorium.” Apart from the low back wall that separated it from the auditorium, the boundaries of the library were demarcated by an asymmetric arrangement of shelves which enclosed a central reading/study area. It — along with the energy-conserving dim lighting — gave the place an eerie abstract stage set vibe, like something out of a shot-on-video PBS edutainment offering.

This being the seventies and me being a geek, I gravitated towards the book-club castoff tomes covering supernatural phenomena and classic movie monsters. When those weren’t available, I turned toward the turn-of-the-century travails of the Moffat family. If those were also out on loan, I scanned the remote and neglected shelf containing books of myths and legends.

It was there I found my favorite of the library’s meager offerings — a 1950s kidlit recounting of the Iliad and Odyssey. According to the card in the back, I was the only person who’d ever checked the book out, making it an easy fallback. My mom was a vocal enthusiast of Classical myths and Arthurian legends. Much of it genuinely rubbed off on me, though there was also a calculated aspect to my interest — the hope that parental pride would offset her wrath about whatever stupid thing I’d done to set her off that day.

The two epics were broken down into double-page chunks of prose with relevant illustrations. The art was the real attraction — a mid-century modern minimalist spin on Grecian urn and mosaic styles which made the stuff of myths seem that much more hauntingly mythic. The Odyssey was my favorite of the two, mainly because the singular protagonist was easier to follow and it didn’t skimp on the ghosts and monsters.

Over the next couple years, I racked up at least a half-dozen entries in its previously blank check-out log. It became the subject of a couple of book reports and the elements of the stories incorporated into improvised action figure adventures. When the time came to leave the Linscott-Rumford for the terrors of JFK Junior High, I considered taking the book with me, but punked out due to fear of getting caught and guilt about depriving some other theoretical kid of the thrills it had given me.

At the end of my eight grade year, my Nana’s police scanner lit up with news about a fire at the Linscott. Some dipshit teens had broken into the building and set the library on fire, which then spread though the rest of its ancient frame. I hopped on my bike and rode the two miles back to the old neighborhood to watch it happen, alongside nearly every other resident of North Woburn. As I watched a significant chunk of my mental landscape go up in flames, one thought kept running through my head. “I should’ve swiped that damn book.”

And that’s how the book maintained a minor toehold in my memory over the year, in anecdotes about a favorite childhood book that got lost when the school burned down or ones about my elementary school burning down and taking a favorite childhood book with it. Occasionally I’d think about seeking out more details regarding it, but it wasn’t until the last decade or so that the many variants of “children’s iliad odyssey 1950s urn art” I plugged into Google got a solid lead in return.

The book was a 1964 Golden Press edition of The Iliad & the Odyssey, written by Jane Werner and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. The Provensons were a pair of animation studio illustrators who met while working on wartime propaganda material before embarking on a lengthy and acclaimed career as artists for children’s books. Based on the various forum posts and review sites I scanned, their take on Homer’s epics has become a legend unto itself.

So much so, in fact, that even battered-to-shit copies of the out-of-print classic commanded upwards of fifty bucks. That was too rich for my blood at the time, so I had to content myself with finally identifying the book after two decades of increasingly hazy memories.

I’d scan the usual secondhand book vendors every year or so, typically when boredom and the need for retail therapy overtook my better judgement. Each time, the asking prices edged up a little higher and came to accept I’d never managed to secure a copy…

…until a month ago when I realized I actually could afford it and the book better fits the “deep personal significance” criteria than a lot of other retro artifacts picked up during my current quality-over-quantity mindset. I also sprung for a pair of other (cheaper) Provensen illustrated releases along similar lines, The Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends and The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales. The former is close in format to the Homeric duo, with Roland, Rustam, and the Ring Cycle thrown in next to Perseus and Hercules. The latter, despite the title branding, is more prose-heavy, though the slimmer assortment of illustrations are still top flight work.

Revisiting favorite childhood books can be a dicey endeavor. Nostalgia is an inflationary phenomenon, one that can violently evaporate upon contact with the reality. Font sizes seem biggee, plots seem simpler, writing seems stupider than distantly remembered. I cracked open my newly arrived copy of The Iliad & the Odyssey expected this would be the case, but it turned out to be even more sophisticated than I recalled. While the more lurid and viscerally explicit parts of the source material have been toned down for younger readers, neither the text not the illustrations pull too many punches when it comes to matters of fragile mortality and existential terrors. As far as popularized versions of the poems go, they’re still a damn sight more sophisticated than a lot of “adult” oriented retellings I’ve read.

Furthermore, the Provensens’ vision of the Classical world is a fairly diverse one, with characters sporting an astonishing variety of skin tones instead of falling into the then-prevailing “Northern European folks with crested helmets” trope. The monsters and mythical creatures still creep me out like they did over three decades ago, and the books made some ideal lazy sofa-time reading at a moment in my life where such things are particularly appreciated.

And I would’ve felt really stupid if I spent that much money on a book that did embarrass me in hindsight.

Checking in

August 19th, 2019

Like father, like daughter.

…and I’m back, sort of.

The past two and half weeks felt like they went by in a flash yet lasted an eternity. There were appointments to attend and pressing matters to deal with and an unexpected ear infection that blindsided me in the middle of it, but I can’t remember that last time I felt so genuinely happy.

They tell you in pre-adoption training that you’ll know when you’ve been matched with the right kid. We felt that way from the moment we met her and the past couple of weeks have confirmed it. It feels so right. We feel like an honest-to-goodness family.

The adjustments on my part haven’t been particularly dramatic, although we’re still figuring out the scheduling for the upcoming school year. I’m eating better, gaming less, and reading more. It’s the kind of creative recharging I’ve needed for a while but couldn’t work up the discipline for until it was imposed upon me. Finding the time to act on that is another matter, but that will likely work itself out as things settle down. The point is that there are a bunch of things I’m itching to write about, and not just “IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD” stuff (though it has been pretty great, all told).

There’s no timetable for it yet, only a firm “it will happen when it happens.”

I will see you then, and thanks for all your kind words of encouragement and support.

About two months back, a drunken idiot plowed his pick-up truck into a group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire, killing seven of them. It soon came out that the driver of the truck shouldn’t have been behind the wheel — neither drunk nor sober — because he’d been picked up on Connecticut on a DUI in May and those officers put in a request to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend his license.

That never happened, which has led to the resignation of the RMV chief and a whole lot of hand-wringing by local pundits and pols about where to assign the blame. The current narrative — played out in the political theater of a legislative investigation — is another go-round of the eternal “just another dysfunctional” public agency. While the RMV did fuck up big-time, both the rot and the blame stretch far wider and implicate some of the folks who’ve been most forcefully pointing their fingers.

“How did this happen?” they ask.

Let me tell you how it did.

First, you elect a “moderate” Republican cipher for a governor on a platform of creating a more “business-like” and “efficient” public sector in the state. Career political operatives with little experience or institutional knowledge are installed as department heads. What administrative lifers remain choose to keep their heads down and kiss-up to the new regime.

Agencies who’ve been running with insufficient funding for decades are asked to stretch themselves even further. Vacant positions are left unfilled or outright abolished. Maybe there are even some strategic layoffs carried out as both political purge and a warning to the folks who managed to survive them.

Buzzwords and catchphrases are bandied about: “Work smarter, not harder!” “Best practices!” “Removing occupational silos!”

All boil down to the same thing, which is to up the workload of an already insufficient rank-and-file staffing pool. They do their level best to rise to the occasion, out of fear for their jobs if not a sense of civic duty, but it simply isn’t enough to deal with workloads which are steadily growing in size and complexity.

Something has to give, and it’s not going to be an administrator sticking their neck out for additional hires. Every signal given by the higher-ups on the chain points to “no” when it comes to expanding the department’s payroll. So much so, that even asking is tantamount to admitting failure.

“Jane managed to staff the entire Ed Department with two cardboard cutouts and a Roomba so I don’t know what your problem is.”

It becomes a precarious balancing act where budgets must remain trim but outward-facing services are expected to be first-rate. Behind the scenes drudgery, the unsexy shit that needs doing but the public doesn’t see, gets booted down the triage ladder. There’s a plan to deal with it, eventually, within the context of some never-arriving budgetary rapture. The important thing is keeping up enough of a facade of functionality to prevent high-level administrators from losing face.

Until a drunk asshole plows through a bunch of bunch of motorcyclists. Or insufficiently maintained infrastructure leads to a subway train derailment. Or a social services staffing crunch endangers a child in a mediagenic fashion.

The gaggle of penny-wise, pound-foolish assholes who encouraged and abetted these dysfunctions take to the airwaves and feature columns and legislative podiums to announce how shocked — SHOCKED — they are about the present state of affairs and lament that they weren’t informed about the problems sooner. Then they ritually wash their hands before taking a colossal dump on the rank and file folks who’d been struggling to keep things running through the period of mandated austerity.

Armagideon dad

July 29th, 2019

After a month of weekend stays, the kid — my daughter — will be permanently moving into the House on the Hillside this Friday. She’s a remarkable young woman, with each visit further reminding us how truly blessed we are for having her in our lives. I’m proud to be her “Pop.”

I’m going to be on paid family leave for the first couple of weeks after she moves in, after which I’ll have to work out a flex time arrangement for my day job. There are scores of appointments to attend and stacks of paperwork to complete and countless minor issues to resolve. I can recall some of it from my own experiences after my mom passed away, and that was for a kinship placement which involved moving between units in a duplex, not a pre-adoptive scenario stretching across the length of the state.

This is not a complaint. The kid is worth any and all schedule challenges and bureaucratic hurdles, and I’ll tackle them with gusto. However, the short-and-long term logistics do bring up the question of Armagideon Time’s future. This site — which happens to pre-date the kid by a few weeks — existed because I had too much time on my hands. That temporal wiggle room has shrunk dramatically over the past thirteen years, even before the adoption process entered the home stretch.

I’ve toyed with closing up shop a few times, but stopped kidding myself after my good pal Matt sagely reminded me that creative urges can’t be flipped on or off like a lightswitch. They need some form of an outlet, and this particular one has served me well enough so far. The problem is the “fire and forget” writing method I’ve employed doesn’t really work under the current time constraints.

I’m not suffering from a lack of topics. The record posts, the comics collection posts, the popcult history stuff — there’s a shitload of ideas kicking around in my skull, but they require a bit more than a stream-of-consciousness rant pooped out over the space of an hour. My writing may be lazy and slapdash, but I do have some sense of professional pride. If, say, Nobody’s Favorites makes a long overdue return, I want to do it properly. That would require actual research and multiple drafts and revisions, dormant writing habits I need to reawaken.

(For real, the trade paperback comics spotlight ground to a halt because the next entry is a Very Significant Funnybook For Me and I can’t bring myself to half-ass the job.)

The upshot of all this hand-wringing is that this site isn’t going anywhere, but expect some long stretches of radio silence while I adjust to fatherhood, massive schedule adjustments, and changes to my creative process. The off-the-cuff goofy stuff won’t vanish entirely, though the bulk of it will more likely end up on my twitter account where it’s a better fit.

The doi of X

July 25th, 2019

The April 1993 issue of SPIN included the “A to Z of Alternative Culture.” It’s about what you’d expect for the time and venue, only even more so.

A proto-listicle laid out as an encyclopedic directory, it’s purported goal was to codify the semiotics of the so-called “alternative” cultural scene. Or to grab the lowest of the low-hanging fruit and process them into a field guide for the consciously hep set. The article’s introductory passage is a bit muddy on that front, with a first paragraph railing against the marketing-driven stereotyping of Gen X and a second one that flatters the fuck out of those who conformed to the cliches.

There aren’t many surprises among the various entries. ABBA is in there, along with The Brady Bunch, Heathers, Slacker and David Letterman. There’s praise for SNL, a real shocker since SPIN devoted an entire issue to the creaky institution two months prior and was chasing the same “not-quite-as-hip, not-quite-as-youthful” target demo.

The Simpsons got a longer write-up, which feels more than a little tragic in light of the show’s long slide into a rotting behemoth forever denied the sweet mercy of death. Adrienne Shelly also earned a shout-out as an indie film goddess, evoking a more harrowing form of tragedy via hindsight.

Macs, grunge, monster trucks, and MTV coasted in on the corporate-backed heels of the zeitgeist. Entries for Riot Grrrls and Queercore are there to add some socio-political cred, and U2 gets a mention because it wouldn’t be a legitimate SPIN article if they didn’t.

The only real puzzlers in the roster are the call-outs to musical genres which never really manifested on a scale to merit inclusion in an article supposedly documenting generational commonalities. Shout-outs to dancehall, world beat, whatever the fuck “eco-rock” was felt like push-marketing pieces that wandered in from some other part of the magazine. (In fairness, this was an era where a reissue of Tito Rodríguez’s back-catalog would result in articles by semi-captive music journos claiming direct connections between Cuban mambo jams and Nirvana’s Nevermind.)

In a broader sense, the article drove home something that I’ve been pondering for a while — how plastic the 90s “altsplosion” appears in hindsight. I was no fan of it when it happened. It made my drop my punk posturing out of fear of being associated with the hepcat hivemind, but wasn’t until the past couple of years I realized how utterly laughable, rote, and forgettable it all was.

It made the late Eighties seem less horrible by comparison, and that’s no small feat considering how I experienced the late Eighties.

Belongs in a museum

July 22nd, 2019

As far as masculine role models went, the lads of the early Reagan Era could’ve done worse than Indiana Jones.

Rough, rugged, and capable of dealing out (or rolling with) a stiff slug to the jaw, the intrepid archaeologist was also a man of letters whose laconic demeanor masked a sharp wit. Indiana Jones was an archetype formed from synthesized nostalgia, but he still stood fedora-and-shoulders above similar products of that regressive age.

It was no wonder elements of his scruffy, broken-in style made the rounds of the menswear scene. Fedoras made a minor resurgence (and gained a permanent foothold from the knuckle-dragging set), while perma-stubble established a beachhead from which to build upon, and men’s leather goods transitioned from slick euro-styles into classic “adventurer models.

The trend was even picked up by a handful of pop-stars looking to toughen up their image. Kenny Loggins went all in with his 1982 High Adventure album, which deliberately echoed Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s brand aesthetics.

“Don’t Fight It,” the biggest single off the album, even included whip-cracking sound effects to the cheese rock shenanigans. I’m guessing Loggins’ goal was to shed his creepy youth pastor vibe, but it didn’t succeed in doing anything but adding a bum three-and-a-half-minutes to some otherwise flawless K-Tel compilations.

Rick Springfield also tried a variant of the look for the cover of the 1983 Living in Oz LP, hoping to stave off diminishing returns with a non-threatening “bad boy” makeover. It did not arrest the slide — though a stray memetic fragment from it slipped loose and slithered into the collective subconsciousness, where it incubated for an unlucky thirteen years before returning to this plane in its horrifying ultimate form…

Really, though, the biggest obstacle to the Indiana Jones look’s attempts to gain real-world traction was the most obvious one:

Most dudes do not look like Harrison Ford.

Retro-fashions are difficult for guys to pull off because it’s hard to avoid the stink of affectation. It requires a certain attitude, which reeks of overcompensation if presented too forcefully. While that might not be an issue with some styles, it’s extremely noticeable with the Indiana Jones look. Most dudes who attempt it look less like the guy who recovered the Lost Ark…

…and more like dude who drove the truck which dropped it off at the government warehouse at the end. In fact my old man — along with 90% of the over-60 male population of South Boston — rocked an unintentional variant of the look for the last two decades of his life.

My sixth grade yearbook is a stack of mimeographed sheets stapled between two pieces of colored construction paper. My entry for the front cover illustration — a row of inelegantly rendered arcade cabinets with “GAME OVER” scrawled above them — didn’t get the top prize but did make it onto the final page.

The document resurfaced while I was clearing out my grandmother’s house. I assumed it had been lost to history (and probably would’ve been happier if it had) but there it was in a pile of old report cards and other personal effects, stained and dogeared and chock-full of mnemonic landmines.

With a fair bit of trepidation, I flipped the yellowed pages to the one which contained the profile of one “Andy Weiss,” rendered as a list of favorites.

Favorite book? “New Mutants Graphic Novel.”

Favorite TV show? “WKRP.”

Favorite song? “Photograph by Def Leppard.”

A couple of months forward or backward, and that honor would’ve gone to either “Modern Love” or “Mr. Roboto.” It certainly would’ve been less embarrassing, though neither would’ve reflected the utter primacy of “RAWK” in the cultural landscape of my early adolescence.

In the scene’s primordial days, “rock” was the jump blues equivalent of “whoopie” on the Newlywed Game — a euphemism for sex which didn’t fool anybody. While the raunchy overtones lingered into rock music’s second and third decades, the meaning of “rock” shifted into the realm of abstraction. “Rocking” was less about knocking boots than some general notion of liberation, the type one would experience by practicing air guitar instead of doing algebra homework or blasting a Boston song on one’s car radio after a shift at the widget factory.

Nobody pondered the specifics. That would defeat the entire point of rocking out. Irony and any introspection beyond the sentimental level were right out, which is why rock-as-we-knew-it no longer exists.

In the North Woburn neighborhood where I grew up, rock was a borderline religion among the kids whose highest goals were scoring a sweet muscle car, custom van conversion, or supply of domestic beer. Adolescent gods lurked on the street-corner near the leadburning shops or convenience store parking lot, acne-anointed idols sporting denim jackets, feathered hair, patchy ‘staches, and the residual odor of dank weed.

They didn’t have much time for us younger kids, which made the few occasions when they did acknowledge us much more epic. Mostly we raided the curbside piles they left behind after they’d graduated (or enlisted) and shed their old issues of Creem, Zep-branded coke mirrors, and beat-to-shit Sabbath LPs.

By the time may pals and I had begun to age into the roles the “teenagers” had grown out of, “RAWK” had become dominated by a newer crop of acts. The bands sported a hard rock sound which managed to straddle the borders of both pop and metal. Videogenic yet not as photogenic as the glam metal which soon supplanted them, they served up unironic anthems about “rock” as specifics-free challenge to adult authority and clean living.

I didn’t own any recordings of the stuff. There was no need, due to their ubiquity on radio or as part of some acquaintance’s music collection. By the time I started buying music in earnest, I’d moved on — both figuratively and literally. In the autumn of 1984 my family relocated to the other side of my grandparents’ duplex in the center, which removed me from the daily (and increasingly dumb) antics of my childhood pals. This was further reinforced by the rigid academic hierarchy of junior high, which segregated the “smart kids” from the “burnout set” outside of lunch periods and phys ed classes.

I drifted into Sixties rock and soul, they drifted into the Crue and antics with increasingly serious consequences. The old anthems became a punchline to self-deprecating anecdotes about my wayward youth before punk-alt-cynicism purged such frivolities from my system. Or so I wanted others to believe.

“QUIET RIOT?” I’d utter too loudly as “Metal Health” showed up on a VH-1 Eighties retrospective. “Soooo cheesy! Can’t believe I was into these guys as a kid,” as I checked to make sure no one could see the goosepimples rising on my arms.

One benefit of hitting middle age is no longer having to give a shit about being cool. If “Turn Up The Radio” comes on satellite radio while I’m driving, that shit is getting cranked to the max. If I’m scanning some Discogs seller for cheap soul 45′s and I see a cheap copy of “Photograph,” I’m going to throw it into the order.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve acquired a number of these ol’ fist-pumping favorites on vinyl, with the (mostly observed) understanding that they are not to be spun while Maura is in ear shot. Accepting my white trash background is one thing, accepting its musical manifestations is another.

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