Plastic Razor

I used to have a plastic razor. It had no blade. It was the kind of thing you'd get at a drug store for someone's kid when you had no idea which cartoon mascot they were into. I think I got it in a goody bag at a birthday party, mixed in with a bunch of chocolate discs wrapped in gold foil, a plastic race car and a handful of colored balloons.

I used to wait for my dad to get out of the shower, then stretch to reach the mirror so that I could wipe away a clear spot like he did. Then I'd ask him for the shaving cream, and then he'd wipe it off of the counter after I'd made a mess with it. Then, I'd shave. Like he did. My razor was red. My dad's was black. They were the same as far as I was concerned.



We'd start at our temples, working our way down our jaw lines and then to the delicate area around our noses and mouths. The fluffy, white suds peeled off in clumps like clouds. He would rinse his razor in the sink, and the clouds would melt away, running down the drain in white swirls. I just let mine pile up on the counter for my dad to wipe up later. To me it was the same. I was shaving, he was shaving. It was that simple.

Sometimes, when somebody would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd say I wanted to be a race car driver. Those were the days that I'd get behind the blue, plastic wheel of my table-top dashboard and feel the imaginary tires gripping the imaginary road on the imaginary track. On the days when I'd lay on my back in an upturned chair while wearing my brother's football helmet, I'd say I wanted to be a rocket ship pilot. On the days I shaved with my father, I'd just say "dad."

Since then, I have become none of those things. I know how to shave for real now, along with a few other things, but somewhere along the way I've filled my hands with the tools of adulthood and left no room for the dreams of a child.

It hit me one day while I was riding the subway that the transition had been completed when I wasn't even looking - that I was no longer the center of the universe, no longer capable of accomplishing anything, anywhere at any time. That I wasn't, as I once believed, destined for greatness, but instead just one more sweaty body in the sea of vile humanity.

I was on the T, which is what they call the subway in Boston. Not sure why. It's been suggested that it stands for "transportation" but that's a lie. Nobody knows what it stands for. They intentionally named it "The T" with no official meaning behind it whatsoever. It's a metaphor for life, perhaps. That it can mean whatever you want it to, which, for a subway system, is a little pretentious. Therefore, perfect for Boston.

Aside from the stupid name, the T is like any other subway. You walk down some stairs, you get on, the train goes somewhere, you get off, walk up some more stairs and you go about your day. As long as you don't have to think about it, you're fine. The second, however, that you're allowed to consider the fact that you're in an aluminum cage, pressed in with a hundred or so people whom you've never met, careening down a hundred year old tunnel, with an underpaid, overworked high school dropout behind the wheel, in the dark, on a wobbly set of tracks (one of which carries enough voltage to make the Governor of Texas whimper with envy) you're screwed.

Suddenly the absurdity of life, mass transit and everything crashes down on you and you realize that you've somehow gotten on the wrong train. Figuratively. Literally, too, if the train in front of yours hasn't also stopped.

The first time that happened to me was on the Red line. I was literally traveling from one end of the line to the other, when the train suddenly stopped moving about fifty feet below the streets of downtown Boston. Suddenly all hundred or so of my fellow passengers and I could smell each other in more detail than we'd ever hoped possible. The A/C had conked out. And so had the lights.

We were suddenly, each of us, alone in the company of strangers; breathing each other's breath and wondering for perhaps the first time who it was that had thought traveling in this manner was a good idea.

The conductor came over the intercom. He said that there was a switching problem, and that we'd be underway shortly.

"Switching problem?" said my stifled conscience, choking on adrenaline. Switches are relatively simple. They are either open or closed. Since our train was supposed to be going, but was not, it seemed to me that our switch should have been closed, but for some reason was open. Simple problem, mechanically speaking.

"Well, then," thought I. "Guess I'm gonna have to go out there and close that switch!"

I got about half a second into this thought when, while reaching for my crowbar, I realized that I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Switching problem in video game vernacular means: Go to the place indicated by a glowing dot on your map, fight some monster with the weapons and ammo provided along the way and then press the "interact" button, which will cause your character to flip the switch.

Even if I were able to open the train doors and then jump down onto the tracks without losing a testicle, the odds of my finding exactly where the problem lay were slim to none. Besides, I couldn't remember what my "interact" button was for the life of me, and aside from a few confused and perhaps angry MTA officials, there would be no monster down there to fight, no crates to kick open and definitely no multiplayer option.

Therefore, I was pretty much stuck sitting in my seat until somebody, somewhere figured out what to do. If someone with a crowbar and an enviro-suit came along I might be able to offer them a hint or provide some much-needed in-game comic relief, but I was otherwise useless.

And what I realized at that precise moment is that somewhere out there exciting things were happening, but that I was not a part of them. Would never be a part of them. That I was the frightened airline passenger to be saved, the random driver to be swerved around and the citizen of Earth oblivious to the fact that a meteor might be rapidly approaching. That I was the NPC of life.

Then, after agonizing over that for a few minutes, I realized that I was glad of it.

I played a video game once that strove for utter realism. It was called Robinson's Requiem. It was the worst game I've ever played. Not because it missed the mark. Quite the contrary. The game was brilliant. If you've ever wanted to know how long you would survive after your space ship crashes on a desolate planet, go check it out. The answer will more than likely be "Not very long."

I'd be willing to bet that when the Discovery astronauts looked underneath the shuttle and saw that some of the gap-filler stuff was coming loose from between the tiles of their heat shield - and that they might burn up during re-entry because of it - that they didn't say to themselves "Oh boy! Looks like we've gotten ourselves into another dramatic situation! Suit up, Steve! "

More likely they said "Holy f***! What the hell are we paying these guys for? Can't even build a damn shuttle right! Okay then. Guess we're going out there to fix it. F***! F***! F***! S***! Where's my "… where's my damn screwdriver? There it is. What the hell was it doing there? Did you move it, Wendy? How many f****** times do I "… forget it. Forget it. Just go make sure the Russians don't take my iPod while I'm out there alright? Damn cosmonauts think everything belongs to everyone. Alright then. Here we go "… Jim, if we're not back by noon, call the president and tell my wife I "… yeah, you know what to do. God dammit! I hate this job."

Comments

Heh, I actually referred to myself as an NPC in my own life to a friend a while back, he got a kick out of it till I realized a bit more what it meant about me.

More often than not, I'm noticing that my life is affected by those around me more than by myself. I'd say that pisses me off, but what could I even do about it?

Oh well, back to trying to invent those nano-tech robots to give myself super-powers that will inevitably be accidentally used by some moron kid who then becomes a superhero instead.

Best article yet, Fletch.

A delightfully sober* and depressing article! Nice one.

Oh, and Robinson's Requiem certainly was one weird game. I never played it myself, but a game where you can: drug yourself to a point where you start hallucinating, amputate your own limbs, lose an eye, etc deserves mention. Pity there isn't a modern update!

*In terms of issues addressed and not necessarily the state of the writer.

So as NPC's in our real lives, who play PC's in games, does that mean that some people are PC's in real life and they are the one's who play the NPC's in game? Or is life just a ginormous game and we are all NPC's enhancing the realism for some PC somewhere?

Slightly depressing, but definitely well written. Good job.

Worse yet, I'm probably one of the NPCs without any useful dialogue. How often would I have useful information for an ass-kicking hero?

AKH: "Hi, I'm looking for a purple tentacle."

Pyro: "Umm, hot out today, isn't it?"

AKH: "Yeah, that's true. But I'm trying to get this amulet back, it says 'Schattenjaeger' on it"

Pyro: "I have no idea"

AKH: "Seen any Meklars? A recently fallen meteorite? A three headed monkey?"

Pyro: "..."

*awkward silence*

Pyro: "So, do you watch that 'Battlestar Galactica' show? It's great."

AKH: "When will developers start putting useful NPCs in games, damnit."

Pyro: "Umm, hot out today, isn't it?"

Well writ, Fletch, and well thought. We can't all be the hero all the time... though occasionally we might get a flash at it.

Great article.

Power (or the lack thereof) is a fluid thing. If you wanted to, you could take out a loan, go to whatever school teaches subway system repair, and learn which switch to pull. But you could never learn in a lifetime all the things there are to know about living in our society - we are each of us powerless in different ways, including heads of state, Navy Seals, and yes, even ninjas. And like you say, Fletch, I'm glad of it.

I always did find Godmode to be terribly boring.

Random comment-- Pittsburgh also calls their subway system the "T". I also don't know what it means (though I think I remember hearing it stood for "Transit"). That is all.

I think that is one of the reasons I was drawn to firefighting, not to be a hero, not to get accolades, not for the fantastic pay (which it's not), but for my attempt to escape the mundane. I don't think I could survive trapped in a 3 walled prison, with no real sense of accomplishment. This is not at all a slam to those who work in a cubicle or office, in fact more power to you, it's just no something that I think that I could do.

Wow Fletch, nicely done.

Need a shirt?

Thanks again, Fletch. Nice work.

Very thought provoking, even poignant. Great article. Very Nuevo Novo. I'll be mulling this one over for a bit.

I suppose I'm still that little kid, and video games are my grown-up versions of that plastic razor. The only difference is that as an adult, I'm fully aware that space explorer/war hero/ninja status is completely out of reach. Like you, for the most part I'm content with the fact that those razors are still plastic.

I hate shaving. I wish I could still just pretend. I can't imagine what it must be like on board that shuttle when things go wrong.

I like the delicate spin being put on the relations between the astronauts and the egg heads on the ground here.

Andy Thomas, another member of the Discovery crew, acknowledged that the crew had initial "misgivings" about the repair, scheduled to take place during Wednesday's scheduled spacewalk. "We were concerned about the implications of it and what was motivating it," he said. "However, it's a lot better...(to) remove this material."

Not to make this thread all about Discovery, but it is when I read about "exciting" things like that that I feel the pain of a normal life most distinctly.

It's funny, too, that cartoonin99 mentions firefighting. I've often thought that being a firefighter would be the most meaningful service to mankind possible for those of us with an aversion to being shot at.

Still, I enjoy my fair share of adventure and risk-taking in my line of work. Just this weekend I was atop a thirty-foot lighting tower and enjoyed a nice feeling of vertigo as I watched my phone fall out of my pocket, plummet to the ground and disintegrate on impact with the asphalt below. This was the same tower that I almost fell off of myself a few weeks ago, when a lighting instrument came loose and hit me in the face, causing me to lose consciousness for a few seconds and fall backwards to the end of my safety tether. Thankfully I was wearing a harness, and thankfully it actually worked.

Still, I think that dying or losing a limb in the service of entertainment would be a sacrifice somewhat lacking in nobility. But I guess that even Navy SEALs get burned out from time to time.

I suppose I'm still that little kid, and video games are my grown-up versions of that plastic razor. The only difference is that as an adult, I'm fully aware that space explorer/war hero/ninja status is completely out of reach. Like you, for the most part I'm content with the fact that those razors are still plastic.

I didn't get that connection until just now. Wow, that puts an entirely new level on it. Games are toys where you pretend you're living because you so rarely get the opportunity to.

I'm gonna read the article again.

Another great article Fletcher! Just when I think it's going to be depressing you shift from shining a light on the tender places to illuminating understanding, even hope, with just enough funny to make the transition seem natural.

I had this really fantastic post written up and my cats got in a little fight and one of them ran behind my desk, as she's done before, and stepped on the f***en power strip powering of my pc, as she's done before... gaaahhhh!!! I'm gonna have to do something about that power strip.

Anyway, blah blah blah, I said. I even had an anecdote or two in there somewhere - too disheartened to try again. Hmmm, I'm seeing how insignificant my thoughts are in the world of Manny and Gypsy (just to mention one world where my thoughts are insignificant). I'm the NCP (non-cat person) that provides food for them, and gives them all the love they could ever possibly need, and they totally screw up a perfectly verbose and overthought post! Actually, perhaps I should thank them...and if I don't stop writing now they may do it again...

My point was, we are all heroes of the day, some days. Other days, it's somebody else's turn. Bodda bing - bodda boom.

Oh, and be careful up there, you give me a heart attack!

Your problem was that you saw it as an FPS, but it was actually an adventure-game problem. You had to speak with the driver, who would say "Oh, I don't see why the switch is not working, I only took a power cell from the board!". Then you look for a power cell from one of the other passengers.

Just go make sure the Russians don't take my iPod while I'm out there alright? Damn cosmonauts think everything belongs to everyone.

That is the funniest thing EVER. Damn socialist...

SillyRabbit- If the pussy is stepping on the on/off switch, just tape the switch on. I had to do this at work when a tech would constantly turn off power strips with his lanky fingers.

When my older kid was much younger, he also liked to "shave" with me. He'd take my shaving gel, lather it up, and would proceed to slather himself, me, and the whole bathroom interior with such a disamring and innocent happiness that I couldn't make myself scold him. And the game of "shaving" would escalate to the game of "polar bear".

He's now teaching the finer points of it to our younger son

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

When my older kid was much younger, he also liked to "shave" with me. He'd take my shaving gel, lather it up, and would proceed to slather himself, me, and the whole bathroom interior with such a disamring and innocent happiness that I couldn't make myself scold him. And the game of "shaving" would escalate to the game of "polar bear".

He's now teaching the finer points of it to our younger son

The Duckling loves, loves, loves to shave with the DuckiLama. Loves it. Thinks it's the best fun. I guess all little guys wanna be like their daddies. It's so cute.

Pyro wrote:

Games are toys where you pretend you're living because you so rarely get the opportunity to.

I don't buy it. Games are toys where you pretend you're living the way people wished life really was. Life isn't rescuing people from burning buildings, or taking bullets to protect wimminfolk, or cleaning up that crime-ridden town, or flying jetfighters into hostile territory. Life is cooking supper and realizing you're out of milk. Life is having a nice cold beer after walking your dog on a hot day. Life is falling asleep in your recliner because you're exhausted from work. It's stealing a kiss when your wife isn't expecting it; it's waking up in middle of the night because you have to pee; it's realizing you just spent the last three hours watching sitcoms when you meant to fold laundry.

We're all so inundated with images of life the way it 'should be', with action and adventure and drama, that too many people expect life to really be like that, and then are disappointed when it isn't. The truth of the matter is that life is just living. Sure, some people encounter 'exciting' situations; ask them if they'd prefer life to be that way all the time.

Shaving with a plastic razor - as either partner in crime - is living. I hope that's an opportunity I do get, again and again.

Chumpy speaks to us from across the chasm, where days are slightly longer and thoughts are slightly clearer. The bridge over the divide is called "acceptance."

We're all so inundated with images of life the way it 'should be', with action and adventure and drama, that too many people expect life to really be like that, and then are disappointed when it isn't. The truth of the matter is that life is just living. Sure, some people encounter 'exciting' situations; ask them if they'd prefer life to be that way all the time.

I was speaking more of the subway car example, stuck in a tin box while others fix the car for you. I never said I'd like a firey explosion chasing me down a hallway constantly, but life is filled with things you have to do, and you rarely get to do everything you want. In games, you can do anything you want, all the time. I wasn't speaking about life being some boring mindless void with the occasional spot of excitement, just that whereas movies are toys for watching, music is a toy for listening, gaming is a toy for living. You so rarely have complete freedom to do what you want with no responsibilities, in that respect gaming is a break from the rest of your life.

I didn't mean gaming or playing was the only thing that mattered in life, simply that you're free in a game the way you rarely are elsewhere, and it's a rare thing to be that free.

Life isn't rescuing people from burning buildings,

I disagree.