Friday, October 30, 2015

"The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding."

On Losing Grantland

I never wrote for the site, read it only sporadically, and loved every minute.

I got introduced to Jason Concepcion and Rembret Browne. I developed a deep abiding love for the prose of Jonah Keri. I got into arguments with my friends over some of their lists.

More than that I learned. Grantland gave me a goal. They were a signpost in the distance - something to which I aspired. Sure, I write here occasionally and I put words to the page about games, but I still wanted  to be the best. 

I wanted to push myself and do long form pieces. Pushing stuff into my sent folder because I couldn't stare at the ink anymore never felt right. The desire was always there to go back and prune and cultivate.

Because that's what would have happened if I worked at Grantland.

Follow those writers. Learn from them, because I have no idea if we'll see another site like that again.

And that fucking sucks. 

EDIT: So shortly after I posted this, I was reminded that Grantland did some really shitty stuff (detailed here). 

That behavior is irresponsible and dangerous and should not be lauded. The desire to push young writers to be better should. 

This is not black and white - the site did good work on some fronts, and terrible work on others. 

Because of their role in the linked story, there should be a very heavy and healthy dose of criticism. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Let's Go Mets

The last time the Mets were in the playoffs I poured my emotions into the games. I was in grad school and the games were a connection to home.
After they beat the Dodgers in the NLDS I got a call from my then girlfriend where she ended our relationship. And so I dove deeper into the NLCS against the Cardinals. 

It didn't go well.

So nine years later I'm happily married and the Mets are back in the playoffs, matched up again against the Dodgers. 

A lot has changed in nine years.

Let's not waste this shot guys.

Let's go Mets. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Getting Words Out

Today I started wondering about why I started writing. I could have stopped. But I didn't.
Grad school demanded pages upon pages of words stapled at the upper right hand corner. These papers were required and I actively enjoyed proving my point.
Those two years working towards my Master's Degree were tough. I was nowhere near my comfort zone. College wasn't as hard of a transition - my best friend had already been there for a year and I recognized many faces in my own class. Buffalo may have been the same state but it was far from the same state of mind. I struggled. My roots - Magic cards and Case Logics full of my identity were lost in the transition. My boss and I clashed. I got dumped. 
That year I found comfort in words. I retreated into my books and worked on excelling in the classroom. Magic Online provided comfort - a collection as strong as my research university internet and as portable as my laptop. It was known and new. It was safe. I wanted to play more but was on a budget so I started writing to feed my habit.
Starting to write was hard. The first thing I had ever written for a major website was spurred on by my then girlfriend. She encouraged me to submit those words. During that first year she dumped me over the phone. I remember the long process of severing any strand tying myself to her and writing, even for me, was a frayed thread of her. 
Somehow, in my whiniest days, I overcame my own petulant self and started writing. 
I graduated, got a job, moved a bunch and stopped writing. Then I started again. I got poached, switched sites, added more responsibilities, got let go. At some point I crossed the 100 article mark. I think I'm over 150 now? I don't know. I write more now than I ever have even if I have fewer features. 
At some point, bemoaning a lack of funds to my content manager, I got a chance to take on the role of editor. My role started with news updates. I would slide my massive lap top (smaller than my first) into my bag and drag it everywhere in case stories broke. They did.
Weekends I would have to take breaks from dinner or cooking or laundry or fun to get push an update live. 
I've written on vacation - I was working towards deadline on a cruise ship when I regained wireless and saw I had been let go from a gig. I write in coffee shops and on my couch. Right now I'm waiting for that same best friend from college - my best man from a few months ago- and I'm working on a device I bought specifically for writing.
I couldn't carry around my lap top anymore. I bought it before I considered myself a capital double you Writer. Odd, since I had been earning money from it for six years at that point.
Last week I finally gave in and bought myself something specifically to put words out into the world. I've been writing for eight years. I don't know if I'll ever feel like I'm actually a Writer. But I guess I am?
That same content manager who gave me a job also told me to read a book - Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark. Something that stuck with me from Clark's words was a way around writer's block. 
Just start writing - let the words flow. That's what this piece is. It's getting words out.

I write because I'm a Writer. I don't know what I would write about if it weren't for Magic. I'd probably have some Hot Takes on sports or be a mediocre reviewer of obscure music. Maybe I'd be better - you can tell me since in the archives here are my attempts at other topics.

I don't know if this is a new start. I'm not leaving my other gigs - I love them too much. But sometimes, I just want to write about the Mets or doing a deep dive on a song. I want the words to get out. 

My head is cluttered enough as is. I just spent hard earned money on something that will let me write on my terms. I better well fucking use it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


The DNA of the New York in which I grew up was that of a diaspora. It was a place for the pieces that didn't fit with other puzzles. 
Except, of course, for the City.

On the bus to school I would take a world tour and the only thing that demarcated the borders was the shifting language on the awnings for the bodegas. They were all bodegas. The tongue didn't matter. You could drape a flag on anyone's shoulders but in they end they all pledged allegiance to the Empire. 

Even the lowest rung have their own outcasts. These were the characters in the storyboard of my youth. The homeless, the drugged, the unique. When Disney took hold some of them became attractions and others receded to the cracks. They are New York through and through. The City holds its own and spits out those that don't belong. I've seen it - a brief foray into urban entropy only to become the backwash in cul-de-sac slowing decaying corners of America. Characters remained part of the girder and rebar fabric.

It was these characters that were the extras in my childhood and for one day I got a bit part in their film.

Three weeks before my wedding I bought fifty prepaid MetroCards. The next week the fares went up. In order to make sure the guests from the corners had ways to get to one of the events associated with my nuptials, I had to find a way to add twenty-five cents to each card. A mere $12.50. 

On a Wednesday that was so cold it could have snowed but rained instead I retreated underground with my father. He was in so many layers that he resembled a Jewish turtle. I was a hare, tightly wound 120 hours before the start of the rest of my life.

There was no guarantee that this scheme would succeed. MetroCards are fickle things and flexible, not like the tokens of yore. Carefully I unwrapped the plastic and went to the machine. I hesitated a second before plunking down a quarter. Cling. Clang.

It worked.

So there we stood, soaking up most of an hour. My fingers slowly turned raw from tearing open so many wrappers and pinching for change. At some point I stopped reading instructions and simply let my fingers dance. This time in Spanish. Now French. I could have done this in Polish at the Greenpoint stations and it would not have mattered. Then the turtle chuckled and muttered:

"I'm surprised that attendant hasn't called the cops yet. I would. We look weird."

Which we did.

But no one looked. We had simply blended into the background and become the scenery in their New York stories. 

So I stood at the precipice of one of the signs of adulthood and remembered being a child. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tales from the Wedding: The Proposal

There are so many stories surrounding my recent wedding. I don't want to forget any of them, so I'm recording them for posterity here. This is lifted directly from our wedding website.

I knew for a long time that I wanted to ask Jaclyn to spend the rest of our lives together. When her parents visited New York in July of 2013, I spoke with them and got the go ahead. Jaclyn and I were planning on moving in together and I didn't want to wait too long after that. Jaclyn was also planning on running the NYC Marathon for the first time, and I wanted, with all my heart, to propose around that momentous event.
That did not happen.
Timing just did not work out. November was a crazy time between the Marathon, moving, and work. Jaclyn finished the race and three weeks later we moved in together to our wonderful apartment (in Brooklyn, but with a view of Manhattan). We got settled, and then I started thinking about how to pop the question. Thankfully Jaclyn had another race coming up in March - the New York City Half Marathon.
It was going to be perfect - Jaclyn often described it as her favorite race. I don't think she realized it but every time she said "Eh, maybe I won't run it" I tried to convince her otherwise. Thank goodness she listened (I didn't have another idea). With huge help from friends (Janie and Jocelyn, I'm talking about you) I put plans into place. Of course I nearly blew it the week before when I got sick and blamed the stress on her parents visiting the upcoming weekend. I couldn't well and good tell her was was actually freaking me out (but in a totally good way).
Sunday was race day and Jaclyn left early. I triple checked my pocket to make sure the ring was there and set out to cheer on my (hopeful) fiancee. We saw her at Times Square and Jocelyn was keeping her going strong. The three of us trekked down town in the bitter cold to meet up with more of our friends and my parents.
Jaclyn finished the race with a personal record and I met her at the finish line. Her first words to me were "I'm going to throw up." I was too. I patted my pocket to make sure the ring was still there and led her and Jocelyn (who did everything to keep Jaclyn moving forward) towards where our friends and families were gathered. Jaclyn made the rounds, hugging and saying hi, but she couldn't understand why everyone had their phones out. Behind her I got the ring ready and made her turn around. I dropped to one knee and could barely get the words out before she said yes.
"You need to put the ring on me stupid."
"I can't; you're crying into that hand."
But that's not all. After an afternoon of phone calls and congratulations, our families went out to dinner together. This was all a ploy to get our friends into the apartment for a surprise party (again, thank you Jocelyn and Janie). When we got back, Jaclyn was surprised.
"Why didn't you tell me to dress nicer?"
"I said you would want to look nice for the pictures. You wanted me to give this all away?"
It was perfect and magical. I am happy I don't have to do it again, because I could never top it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Ski Trip

I passed up a chance to have my picture taken with Richard Garfield because I wanted to finish my game of Magic.

That's version for the the too long, didn't read generation. I get it - you're a busy person and there are cats on the internet. The long form doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. If I had taken the picture, my life would be largely the same except I'd have a Polaroid somewhere with a man who had (and continues to have) a huge impact on my life.

My mom and sister always went on ski trips together. Itwas a way to bond without me or my father. I don't know if dad ever tried skiing, but I know he hated chairlifts. Me? I couldn't ski. Mom took me once in third grade and I went down the mountain on my ass. That wasn't the problem. Mom forgetting a dry pair of underwear for me, that was the sticking point. I tried a few more times and eventually went on a trip with mom and sis three years ago where I learned to snowboard. Skiing was never my thing. 
The thing was I didn't have my Thing growing up. My hobby was Magic and while mom and dad were supportive (both emotionally and financially because I was a Little Kid), there wasn't a way to participate. Dad and I shared a love for sci-fi and fantasy novels and the afternoon movies on the Sci-Fi channel (three plots and terrible effects). But we never had that father-son own version of the ski trip.
My first year of high school I was playing a lot of Magic at Neutral Ground. Various players there had taken me under their wing including the Reverend Toby Wachter. Toby knew my cousin through a summer camp, which oddly enough was a rival of the one I attended. Their camp closed and mine is still open (aside: we win). Because of this connection I forged a friendship, although it definitely started as a barnacle/hull situation.
Toby was the first player I aspired to be like. He was good (defined as better than me) and only a few years my senior. He had a knowledge of the game and was connected with the generation above - the Pro Tour Regulars. I had no inkling of what the PT was at that time; I just loved playing Magic. Toby and others must have seen something in me. I still remember Toby and Brian David-Marshall pulling me into a triple Invasion Rochester draft to practice for an upcoming event. The packs were in Japanese and I was allowed to draft under the pretense of "that random guy who won a PTQ from a small country."
I was playing in a ton of Junior Super Series qualifiers at the time. Every few weeks I would plop down $25 or $30 and play under the false notion I was naturally good enough to maybe luck into some of that sweet sweet scholarship money.  My decks were not tier three and I more or less went to have a good afternoon. I thought I wanted to win but looking back, I didn't really care. I don't know how I heard about it but I came across the Junior Super Series Open. This event would be multiple days and was more like a convention. It was going to be at the Wide World of Sports in Disney World.
I saw my chance to have my very own ski trip. 
My parents agreed.
The flight down was the first time I had ever been on an airplane. I don't remember much aside from Beth Moursand and Scott Fischer being on the flight. I have her book! I have cards he painted! I remember getting into the hotel van with Alex Shvartsman who vaguely recognized me from Neutral Ground and signing up for the event. I was going to play Suicide Black because it was the only deck I had the cards for. It also happened to be a good choice for that weekend in a field full of Necro decks and Recurring Nightmare/Survival of the Fittest combo. Of course there were also Sligh decks, which were impossible for me to beat.
But I didn't care. I was going to play Magic. My dad was there to support me. He did this by sitting in the roped off parents area to read book after book. I would run to him after every round, win or lose, and tell him how I did. 
Friday's event was a feeder for the main JSS over the weekend. My less than stellar 3 wins against 5 losses didn't qualify me. I didn't care - there was an Urza's Destiny prerelease to keep me going all weekend.
It might have been in one of these matches, or maybe a pickup game, with another kid (who lived on a farm! Who lives on a farm in the Nineties?) when my dad walked over with a woman wearing a Wizards of the Coast badge. Turns out that my dad had struck up a conversation with a nice man in the parents section. That man was Richard Garfield. To this day I do not know how it came up but the woman (who I guess was from PR) thought that having my picture taken with the creator would be a good idea. So they saunter over to me and ask if I want to be part of the spin machine. 
Me? I was too enraptured in my game to get up and too naive to understand what was happening. 
And dad walks back and tells Richard Garfield, the man responsible for the game I refused to get up from, what I had said.

I don't know what he actually said. I know that there were no hard feelings. I like to think that Garfield nodded his head slowly, in a sage like manner and said "Well, I can't be upset about that."

There are other memories from this trip. Watching the Knicks lose to the Pacers in a playoff game. The flight home being delayed and getting to a hotel in Washington DC at 4am, only to leave two hours later. Being told I just played the worst match of Magic someone had ever seen (and still won). 

The thing that matters most, though, is that dad was there. My parents never understood the game (although I tried to teach them on more than one occasion). I was never going to have a ski trip with my dad. We had our trip, which involved him sitting and reading space opera and me playing games. And it was perfect. There were nights my dad would come and sit in Neutral Ground with a book and keep to himself until I was all done. There were rainy midnight pick ups and the time drunken prom goers almost ran my dad's car off the road.
He was still there.

If there is one reason I still play this game, it's to feel how I felt back on that weekend. I was part of something bigger than myself. My story isn't my own. It's the story of the New York scene and members of a long gone era. It's the tale of a kid who found a niche and then found another and another until they weren't so much cracks as part of a broad cliff that was Me. It's the story of a family who provided a foundation. It's about a place where I thrived.

And to this day when I publish something, my dad still gets excited. He'll read it and to an article will say: "I have no idea what you're talking about, but it's clear that some people do."