Mr. Charlton Goes for Tacos (Again)

I’ll try anything twice. Even if that means I’ll be eating my own words. A while back, you might have read about me heading to a Calgary taqueria called Native Tongues. And the first time I went, neither myself or Kat was impressed. I have a rule, though. If something is terrible, you always have to go back and see if it’s actually terrible. A place might have an off day. A place might have kids running the show on the weekend.

My friend took me out there, and I explained the situation. Which quickly turned into “You had a bad time? Then let’s go somewhere else”. I shook my head in true Mr.  Charlton fashion. Which meant I was bobbing around like a Muppet under a Jim Henson’s hand.

“Ahhhhwwweee no no no no.  We’re going to Native tongues for a rematch. The last time I went, it was bad. But people keeps telling me it’s good. So I’m going to keep going until it tastes better or that I’m sure everyone else is an idiot”.

My gripe last time was pretty straight forward. Even though they were pretty tasty, they weren’t worth the hefty price of $4 a taco, especially considering these seemed to be a lot smaller than the standard 6″ taco you normally get served. When I mentioned this in my last post, I had a few gourmand friends of mine call me out. “They are worth the $4”, they insisted. I wanted to believe I was right, but maybe living in Lethbridge for a year and a bit had turned me into a cheap skate.

So to my pleasant surprise, they lowered the price. All the way down to $3.50. You might think to yourself “Jeez, man, that’s not really a huge set of savings there”. But that $0.50 meant something. First, it’s a reduction of 12.5%, which is actually quite a bit for a restaurant. Secondly, it also meant the tour of tacos (every single taco on the menu) was going to run me $21 instead of $24. Thirdly, and most importantly, it meant I was right. I was right to call out this taco and its price. I need it to be known that on the subject of tacos, Mr. Charlton knows what he’s talking about.

Native-Tongues

This picture was taken from Yelp. Also, I know what the hell I’m talking about when it comes to Tacos.

The menu changed slightly as well. The last time I went, they had a beef tongue taco. It’s since been removed. I think this is a good call, as beef tongue tacos are pretty bland, to be frank. I thought about going through every single taco, giving it my personal review, but looking back on it, there’s only word going through my mind when I think about these tacos.

“Fresh”

From the handmade corn tortilla, to the salsas, to the queso on both the veggie tacos, everything about this screamed fresh. On a bite sized taco, this makes all the difference in the world.

So what did we learn? That it never hurts to give something a second go. I think that statement can be applied to other people as well. After two tries, then it might be safe to say something is not engaging you on some level. The other important lesson is that quite often I’m right. Especially when it comes to food.

Just saying.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I pretty sure the first time I went, they were just having an off day. I remember everything being pretty weak.

p.s.s. That’s not even close to the best meal I had when I was down in Calgary. Next up; 100 day aged steak.

p.s.s.s. It’s not even steak at this point anymore, people.

Mr. Charlton Learns to Deal With Grief (Alternatively, Mr. Charlton Punches Death in the Sack)

If you have just recently tuned into “From the Desk of the Illustrious Mr. Charlton”, you may have made the mistake that somehow I’ve become an obituary writer. Three of my last several posts have been about someone in my family dying. I’m not actually interested in writing about anyone pushing up daisies.

In the last four years, I’ve lost my father, two uncles, my aunt, my cousin, my dog, my grandparents, and a couple of my friends. Not everyone on the list was especially close to me, but everyone was family. Although I can’t always grieve with you, my heart can always go out to you, ’cause I know what it’s like to lose someone you love.

The silver lining is I’m become somewhat an expert on grieving. Ever since my old man died, people have remarked how well I deal with people kicking the bucket, and today I’m going to treat you folks to a handy little guide that will help you navigate the rough seas of loss.

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Why don’t you suck an egg, Death?

  1. You are going to be sad, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to hug people like you’ve never hugged people before. Don’t try and fight the sadness. Let it out of your body, or else it’ll stay there and start to rot you from the inside.
  2. You are going to have people tell you how they think you should feel, and that’s not okay. After my dad died, I had a lot of people asking me if I was angry. When I mentioned I wasn’t, they said “Well, you will be”. Who the hell was I supposed to be mad at? My dad, for dying in an accident? Was I going to be mad at Scuba Diving, which is one of the safest sports in the world? Was I going to pick a fight with the sea where he drowned? Thanks skips. I’m angry now, but I’m angry at you for telling me what I should be going through.
  3. Treat yourself and be nice to yourself. Before Pookie passed away, me and Kat had been on a strict diet. We’re now sorta back on it, but for two weeks we basically ate ice cream and takeout. We took a trip to Calgary and stayed with friends. I ate a lot of tacos. You can get back on the workout regime once you’ve grieved.
  4. Accept that not everyone is going to grieve along side you. In the same way you can’t morn for every dying person on the planet, you can’t expect everyone to join you on the sorrow train. You can only feel so much sadness for someone you don’t know. With that said…
  5. There’s only so much sadness you can experience. Being miserable takes a lot of energy, and your body can only do so much of it. Remember tip number #1? The faster you let the grief flow out of you, the faster you will heal. But…
  6. You’re always going to be a little sad. There’s going to be a little spot in your heart that’s blank now, and there’s not a thing on planet earth that will fill it. That’s part of life.
  7. Death is part of life. The very end of it, to be exact. Everyone is going to pass that gate eventually. And it’s not as bad as people would make it out. Sure, it’s hard to say goodbye to friends and family, but what would happen if people stopped dying? We’d have too many people, and life would be like a crappy club with jerks shoulder to shoulder. People say life is short, but my life will be the longest thing I’ll ever do. Fifty to a hundred years is plenty.

With that all said, there’s only one way to give Death the middle finger. If you lost someone close to you, spite the Grim Reaper by living life. Have a cocktail, learn a new language, go back to school, try stand up comedy, paint a picture, go for a bike ride, jump out a plane, dry age a cut of beef for 100 days and get your friends together to eat it. I’d be damn upset if my funeral is a bunch of mopey wads sitting around crying a bunch.

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Hey Death? I’m growing LIFE on my patio! How do you like them apples?

With this in mind, and baring decently laws (you might have to hold my funeral in international waters), here’s my plan for my wake. There will be a nice spread of food and spirits. I’m probably going to want a bunch of animals stuffed inside other animals then smoked for a good long time. The main attraction will be a large circus cannon setup in the middle, with a large target set none too far away. I want my limp corpse stuff inside, and then guests can take turns firing my body at the target in exchange for prizes.

With a funeral like that, how could anyone walk away upset?

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. To all my family out there grieving, you have my love.

p.s.s. I keep bringing up this fantastic idea with my mother and my girlfriend, but apparently firing my dead body at a giant target would be traumatizing for some. WHAT ABOUT MY NEEDS?

p.s.s.s. I also tend to be pretty stoic about things. That seems to help.

Mr. Charlton – Dog Owner Part II

May 19th was Pookie’s fourteenth birthday, and even though she’s a dog and the concept of birthdays is probably out her scope, me and Kat decided to celebrate it anyways with a little cake made of her favorite foods; Tuna, peas, and carrot peelings. We put it in a little bowl, got a candle, sang her happy birthday like idiots, and gave her the little dish. Something wasn’t quite right though. She didn’t finish it.

Pookie hadn’t been herself for the last week or so, actually. She was sleeping a lot more. She was having a hard time balancing. And now she wasn’t eating as much as she used to. Me and Kat decided that, after the long weekend, we’d take the doggle in for a checkup.

Unfortunately it was a really long weekend, and Pookie had stopped eating all-together. I took her in Tuesday morning, and the prognosis wasn’t good. The statement from the vet was “We’ll go as far as you’d like to go with this” which is coded words for “we can put her down right now if you don’t want to spend any more money”. I wanted to know what was wrong with her, and I knew Kat would sell everything we own for her little dog, so I signed off on some more tests.

I gave Kat a call, explained the situation, and told her we’d know by noon. So I picked her up from work and we drove to the vet in silence. On arrival, the vet sat us down and gave us the bad news.

Pookie had late stage kidney disease. Some of the tests they ran were so bad they were off the charts. She didn’t have a lot of time. They gave her some IV fluid to keep her going for a bit, but when we got home it hit us that we’d have to put down our little furball.

I’ve never owned a dog before. I wasn’t a dog person. When someone lost a dog, my only reaction was “Well, it was just a dog.” But after living with a dog for two years, after having her greet me everyday when I got home, getting pictures from Kat of Pookie waiting for me by the door, her running up to the kitchen every time I was peeling carrots in the hopes she’d get some, well, you get pretty attached to the little fluffer. I fell in love with that dog, and now I had to say goodbye.

It’s a strange pact you make with an animal. Unless you’re getting a turtle or a parrot, you’re going to outlive. The story when getting an animal almost always ends the same way; with grief. A dog only has a decade, maybe a decade and a half of life. You’ll watch it turn from an excited, wiggly puppy to an old dog that’s struggling to walk.

It hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. After Pookie passed I’ve been pretty miserable to be around. I’ve basically sat around like a goon, playing video games, and stuffing my face with ice cream. Both Kat and I have been doing everything in order to avoid hearing the sound of silence that’s now permeating our apartment. Every once and a while you find something that reminds you of Pookie and your eyes get all misty and you have to get yourself another bowl of ice cream.

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Look at this dog’s stupid little face!

But even though the doggle is gone, her dumb little spirit remains. We managed to get some of her paw prints cast before she left us, and we’re getting her paw prints tattooed next week. We’re already talking about what kind of dogs we’re going to get when we finally settle down. Even though her loss hurt me, I’m willing to try this dog experiment again.

I’ve now officially had a dog, and it’s come with the pain of losing a dog. Five years ago I would have never imagined, but Mr. Charlton is a dog person, and will own day be a dog owner again.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about dealing with grief. ‘Cause I am now an expert on it.

Only the Good Die Young

My cousin, Richard Pruden, passed away in his sleep peacefully on May 18th, 2017. The people who knew Richard had this to say about the news.

“Richard Pruden? Died peacefully in his sleep? You must be mistaken. What you meant to say is Richard died trying to pull a double back flip on a dirt bike, while being set on fire, after a few tall ones. I’m certain his last words were ‘hold my beer’. That sounds more like Richard.”

Richard-and-Kori

About to go for a rip with his son Kori

Richard was a loud, boisterous, friendly, life of the party kind of guy. He wasn’t shy, wishy washy, or indirect. The few times I’ve met him he was usually handing me a beer, smiling a ridiculously large ear to ear grin, and telling me to lighten up. And even a sourpuss like me would have no choice but to lighten and smile right back. Richard oozed this positive energy that was infectious. It was impossible to have a bad time when he was around.

He’s the only person on Facebook who seemed to use it completely earnestly. He didn’t badger everyone with his political views, he wasn’t sharing memes, he wasn’t posting selfies; he was sharing what was going on in his life, and it was always hilarious. Camp stories, where he’s having to deal with neighbors who are masturbating too loudly, to tales of him and his children Kori and Kiyah (aka Chopper) fixing his bikes and getting into hijinks.

Richard-and-Chopper

Richard and Kiyah (aka Chopper)

Unfortunately for me, the only reason I knew Richard at all is because of Facebook. Besides that, I could probably count the number of times I actually hung out with the man on my hands. Yet he was so generous and open about his life that even though we only saw each other at weddings, I still felt I got to know him a little bit. And that’s a whole lot better than not knowing him at all.

When I found out the news, I didn’t really know how to react. The only thing I could do at the time was try to live like Richard did, and I did so by eating four burritos in one sitting. Still didn’t feel right. So after two and a half weeks of sitting on it, I finally got the nerve to right about a guy I hardly knew, but will still greatly miss.

The only consolation I can provide is that maybe, just maybe, you only get so much actual ‘life’ on this crazy ride, and when you live as passionately and earnestly as Richard did, you’ll end up using it all up. It’s not fair and it still hurts, but that’s the only explanation I can come up with from losing someone as great as Richard Pruden.

He was only 41 years old, and he’s survived by wife (Joann), son (Kori), daughter (Kiyah), father (Richard Sr), mother (Linda) and step father (Rene). Richard also has two paternal half brothers (Mark and Mike), and a maternal half brother and sister (Derek and Ashley). My heart goes out to each and every one of them.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. If you can use up life by having a good time, then I’m going to live forever.

p.s.s. Heaven is probably going to have to tap a few more kegs.

Mr. Charlton – Yoga Master

Besides the fact that I tend to walk everywhere, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve actually done any exercise. Every once and a while I’ll get the inkling to do some pull ups or some crunches, but it’s been, shucks, it’s been over a decade since I actually had a workout routine. I’m what a lot of fitness buffs would call ‘skinny fat’, but these days it’s leaning a little more to the fat side than the skinny.

So, with Kat’s help, I’ve been slimming down with a better diet. Thankfully, my speedy metabolism is still firing and kicking, so the pounds are already starting to shed. I’ve parked the car, and once again, I’m walking around and getting some air. There’s one thing that’s been missing; stretching.

Most of my free time is spent sitting in front of a computer screen. It’s where I like to work, and it’s where I like to play. I sit, on average, for about 90% of the time I’m not moving from one area or working. This has wreaked havoc on my hips. My weasel-like ability to bend and flex has all but disappeared. My cat-like reflexes are now only apparent in online death-matches.

Me and Kat have been looking for an activity we could both do. The only issue is our schedules. My schedule isn’t evening friendly, and there’s little chance I can commit to a program later in the night. If we’re going to do an activity together, then it has to be something we can do at home.

Enter yoga. Good for the body, good for the brain, and good for the soul if you have one. Kat’s done yoga in the past, and was super excited that I was on board to sit on a mat and do a bunch of stretching. Last weekend, we went to the store and I picked up a yoga mat. With a rubbery piece of foam, some shorts, and my willingness to do anything twice, I started doing yoga a few days ago.

Yoga is totally kicking my ass, by the way.

Right off the bat, the shorts I picked aren’t really sports wear. I figured, ‘Hey, shorts. I can work out in these’. I was wrong. The first lesson taught me that doing the kind of stretching I was doing was something I haven’t prepared for. Like, I don’t own any active wear. I thought shorts were active wear, and I was wrong.

Now, rather than put off yoga until I got some proper attire, I decide to step up to the mat and dress down a little. Needless to say, I’ve been doing yoga in my underwear. So here I am, almost halfway through thirty, sitting on a yoga mat, bending in way I haven’t bent since I was about eight, in my skivvies. Oh, and I’m working up a sweat, too.

I just want that mental image implanted in your brain. A slightly pudgy, grunting, perspiring, greasy Mr. Charlton rolling around on a cheap mat I got from some conglomerate chain store. Hopefully you are now paying attention.

But here’s the thing. Even though I’ve only sat through two 30 minutes sessions so far, I’m already starting to feel a little better. My arms and legs are a little bendier. Sitting at the computer here mashing at the keyboard doesn’t feel so rough on my hips. I’m a little more focused. And tonight, before I go to bed, I plan on hitting the mat once again.

Yoga gets Mr. Charlton’s seal of approval. If you are a desk jockey like me, if you spend your days as a keyboard warrior, typing your typpie types into the type pad, then I fully recommend yoga. In fact, if I were a large firm, I’d make 20 minutes of yoga almost mandatory.

It might seem a little presumptuous to make bold claims like this after only two sessions, but I’m the kind of guy who make bold claims all the time. And honestly, after being an arm chair cowboy for over a decade, having a big old stretch in the morning is a great way to start the day.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Alright, so I’m baiting people with the headline “Yoga Master”. Sue me.

p.s..s. Seriously, it’s a pretty good workout. You find yourself doing a lot of planking. Good for the core!

p.s.s.s. I’m digging doing yoga in the raw, by the way. Sure, I could go buy some stretchy pants, but doing it in the ol’ underoos makes me feel like a tough hombre.

Mr. Charlton Hates Driving

It’s not unusual for a young man to be interested in cars and trucks. Even in the 21st century, boys are still the primary market for hot wheels and Tonka trucks. These boys grow up into men (at least physically) and targeted still with slogans about owning a vehicle. Freedom! Speed! Sex! These things come with a car. So again, it ain’t unusual for guys to be interested in cars, trucks, motorcycles, and that sort of thing. It’s kinda weird if they didn’t.

Mr. Charlton is most certainly a strange duck.

I’ve never been into cars. I only owned a vehicle from the ages of 17 to 19, then promptly got rid of the thing. Part of the reason was the fact that I enjoy walking. Strolling around kept my body lean and fit. Part of the reason was the car is the only place I got angry. Not being in a car was saving my hair from going grey. The biggest reason was I just moved to the city.

I’m a city boy. I was raised in a small town, but at heart, was someone who loved the urban jungle. I loved the density, the towers, the different foods, the people. And the closer you are to the heart of the city, the less it makes sense to own a vehicle. A car’s usefulness decreases drastically as the towers above you rise. What was originally a means of freedom is now a burden. Parking is expensive. The Stop-Go of city driving is hard on a vehicle. You no longer have to get a week’s worth of groceries and stockpile your pantry, you can just stop at the market on the way home. The only reason you would have a vehicle is because you lived in the suburbs, and I’d rather pull teeth than live in the damn suburbs.

Long story short, there hasn’t been a whole lot of times I missed having a car. But that’s when I was living in the city. And right now, Mr. Charlton isn’t living in the city.

Now, if you’re in a small town, you don’t really need a vehicle either. There’s really only one municipality that requires a car. If you live in a large town / small city, then it’s going to be a hassle to get around.

Enter Lethbridge. That’s where I’m living right now. It’s not a bad little city, but it’s a little city. The bus only runs until 6:00pm on Sunday. The town is split in two; The city on the east side of the valley, the university and a bunch of burbs on the west side. And I happen to be lodging on the west side. Getting around is tougher.

If I were single, I’d suck it up and walk or take the bus. Kat has a vehicle though, and she’d (her own words) would rather have me borrow the car and be home sooner. I’ve been driving a lot more than I normally do.

This is bad news, ’cause it’s making me fat.

So I made the plan in my head to use the vehicle a lot less. I had to whip over to Kamloops  a few weekends ago, and Kat was gracious enough to let me borrow Skylar (the name of the car). This ain’t my car, so I needed to take really, really good care of it. But after this, I was done. After this last 1600 kilometer journey, I was parking Skylar and getting my walk on.

It was almost halfway through April, so spring is well on it’s way. Unless, of course, you’re living in Canada. Then we’re getting the last spitting of winter. For the first leg of my journey, I encountered sleet, snow and wind. Nothing I couldn’t handle though.

There was a lot of wind, more than usual. This is important, because halfway to Kamloops, right outside of my hometown of Golden BC, there’s a particularly treacherous span of road. For about 10 kilometers, there’s only a two lane highway, and it twists through a rocky canyon. I’ve driven through here hundreds of times before. Never much paid attention to the signs in the area, mostly the ones saying “Watch for falling rock”. And for the first time in my life, I saw what these signs were warning travelers about. In front of me, the road was getting pounded by rocks the size of baseballs.

These rocks weren’t rolling down a hill, they were falling from heights. Suddenly I had flashbacks of stories about people getting hit by rocks in the canyon. People who’s windshield got destroyed. Some folks even died. This is all passing through my brain, and I now have a decision to make; Do I stop, and risk getting rear ended? Or do I speed up, and go for broke, hoping that with an increased velocity, I avoid getting hit altogether?

Bravely, I did neither.

“DONK!”

That’s the noise the rock made when it hit the side of Skylar. The noise I made was ten minutes of swearing. And I mean, straight up cussing. Some of the best cussing I’ve ever done was right after this tragedy. Then there was sadness, as  the reality sunk in that when I arrived to my destination, I’d have to call Kat and let her know Skylar got hit by a rock from the sky.

Finally, when I showed up to Golden, I was able to assess the damage. Thankfully, there was a slight bit of dirt, but there was no dent. Not even a scratch, really. The rock was all bark, no bite.

Still, with everything said and done, if I had to do it again, I’d hop on the bus or catch a flight. Instead of 18 hours of driving this weekend, I would have simply had 30 hours of reading.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. The joke is that a bus ride is usually way longer than taking your own vehicle.

p.s.s. I’d still rather take the bus.

p.s.s.s. Kat was totally cool, just FYI. She was far more worried about me than her car.

Quality Over Quantity

Sometimes, you get yourself into a rut. Happens to everyone. Whether you’re producing comic strips or the cure to cancer, you’re going to have days when you’re on fire, and there will be days when you’d like to set yourself on fire. Lately, for me, I’ve been definitely leaning more towards self-immolation rather than self-congratulatory.

But that’s okay.

Usually after a life changing event, especially in regards to the loss of a loved one, you can be faced with some pretty challenging questions staring you in the face. Questions liked;

“What am I doing with my life?”

“Am I happy?”

“Am I living up to my potential?”

All of these questions may seem selfish, but when backed up against the death of a family member, especially a parent, then you’re only getting half the question.

“What am I doing with my life?” – in comparison to how they were doing.

“Am I happy?” – the way they seemed to be happy.

“Am I living up to my potential?” – would they expect more of me?

After my uncle’s funeral, I took a bit of a break from a lot of things. Sat back and had a good think about stuff. Walked the dog a little more often. Put the hustle aside for a second, and spent some time with my girlfriend. Read books. Played some video games.

Here’s what I’m getting at. Everyone expects something out of you, even if it’s small or seems like common sense. Most most people expect from you, though, is usually pretty understandable, and what they expect if for most other to respect their boundaries. But some people want you to behave a certain way, or dress a certain way, or even live a certain way. And this isn’t a bad thing either, I mean, I’m in a library and it’s quiet. That’s because people here expect you to be quiet.

Disappointment comes from an expectation gone awry. You went for burgers and expected a good meal. It was terrible, so you were disappointed. You went on a date, expecting this young man to be a charmer. He smelled badly and wasn’t interesting, so you were disappointed. You write a song on your guitar, and you decide to play it at a party. You get booed, so you were disappointed.

In every case, you’re banking on other people to perform to your level of satisfaction. No problem there, but what I’ve noticed is the most anxious people also seem to have the highest levels of expectation. I could be convinced there is an entire mental disorder that stems from a group of people who have their expectation of reality quite outside the boundaries of reality.

This brings me back to the questions I asked earlier; What am I doing with my life, am I living up to my potential? Most of my fears, worries and anxiety stemmed from the perception, in my own mind, that I wasn’t living up to the expectations of others. Here I was, getting worked up over expectations from other people, who truthfully never expected anything from me in the first place. My parents weren’t concerned that I wasn’t an engineer, or a doctor, or married. They just wanted me to be happy.

Here’s what I want you to understand. If someone truly loves you, they’re not going to be concerned whether you’re a star athlete, a successful business owner, or a best-selling novelist. They’ll certainly be proud of you if you are, but their love won’t be based on your achievements. Once you realize that, once that weight is off your shoulders, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to live up to your own expectations.

At the very end of the day, your expectation of yourself is the only one that matters.

Let me get to the point of the title of my blog. Quality Over Quantity. On the crazy plains of the internet, in the digital realm, quantity wins over quality every time. I’ve toyed around with the idea of monetizing this site, and I’ve backed away from the idea because that path seems fraught with compromise on the quality to push quantity. Even today, I’m not always happy with the work I produce. For a while, I was a lot more concerned about keeping a schedule than putting out quality posts.

It’s been a year since I started renting the domain name, and it’s been about four years of me typing on the internet in the first place. This webzone is going to continue, but I’m going to be a lot less concerned about a schedule than I was before. Life is too short to worry about making up a fake deadline for a website I write my brain thoughts on.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Eventually, I plan on making a website that’s a bit more encompassing. Right now it’s just my scribbling.

p.s.s. See? You’re expecting a joke and now you’re disappointed. I’m like the Zen Master of flipping people’s expectations on their heads.

Ready Player Two

We met in the one of the worst households I have ever lived in. In an effort to get back to my roots, I had thrown caution to the wind and decided to live with some people after living by myself for the last three or four years. It was both a blessing and a curse. The curse was that within three days of living with strangers, I quickly realized why the hell I like living by myself. Because goddamn it if an adult, who pays taxes and would be drafted in a war against aliens if they ever landed, can’t wash their dishes after they’re done with them. But I’m planning on saving the House of Hell stories for later. I still want to talk about video games. It’s kinda how I met my current girlfriend.

That was the blessing of the House of Hell, because she was one of my roommates.

I had been living in this backwards revival of my youth for about a week and a half, and so far it hadn’t been going all that well. The house was usually in a state of disarray and the kitchen was almost always a disaster. I had met everyone in the house, but hadn’t really spent any time with anyone, except for Kat, who split a bottle of wine with me a few days earlier. One of the housemates, an energetic 19 year old hot idiot by the name of Shay, was planning to get some of us together and have a few drink. Seeing as how I had nothing better to do, I figured this would be a great way to meet everyone in the same setting.

There was seven of us in the house. Three people said no, so there was the four of us hanging out. Shay, Katie, Kathryn, and myself.

Shay – The 19 year old Hot-Mess. The reason the house was always a pigsty. Smoked weed like it was keeping her alive. Thought she was the glue that held the house together. In reality, she was the reason most people stayed in their room. Very free spirited. Would have loud shower sex at 2:00 in the morning with her boyfriend. Always angry at the fact there was never any toilet paper in the washroom. Everyone hid their toilet paper in their room, because Shay would use it and never replace it.

Katie – The 27 year old Addict. Soft spoken with striking red hair, Katie was an incredibly nice young woman who just happened to be a full on alcoholic. I didn’t actually know what the word alcoholic meant until I met Katie. It wasn’t unusual to find her passed out in the hallway at 11 o’clock in the morning, or having the police show up at random times trying to find her. A story a lot more tragic than most.

Kat – The 25 year old woman who didn’t belong in the house. There wasn’t actually anything wrong with her. The only thing I could deduce was she was in the wrong place at the right time. Level headed and about a half inch taller than me. At this point in the story, she was the only person I was talking to on a regular basis and wasn’t a crazy person. Just finished a diploma at SAIT and was looking to go back to Lethbridge and finish a degree in New Media.

So it was the four of us, sitting at the kitchen table, having a few drinks. Katie downed a mickey of vodka in under five minutes, then went to bed almost immediately. Like I said, alcoholic. That left me, Shay, and Kat. They were both wondering about my lack of stuff. I mentioned that I was a minimalist, and that I was in the process of downsizing even more. In fact, the last big thing I was getting rid of was my Super Nintendo and my small collection of games.

“You have a Super Nintendo collection?”

Love is a weird thing. People talk about waves, or ups and downs when it comes to the emotion. My Super Nintendo, even though I was thinking of getting rid of it, represented my youth. It was my skateboards on the wall, my dumb posters on the wall, my hanging out with the crew. And here was this young woman, someone I had only known for a week, and she was flabbergasted that I was even thinking of selling it.

“I’ve got a Super Nintendo collection too! I’ve even got one still in the original box.”

Here’s this smart, funny, beautiful, slightly taller than me blond woman, and she has a Super Nintendo. I’m talking about burying my childhood. I’m talking about murdering the boy inside the man, and this wonderful person, in one weird sentence, is telling me both can exist at once. And she’s got no clue what’s going on inside my head.

Kat, if you were ever wondering why, or when, I fell in love with you, it was over the Super Nintendo collection.

I love video games. It’s how I like to spend my free time when I’m not working, or writing, or learning. When I’m kicking back, I like to do it with a controller in my hand. And this incredibly fantastic person fell into my life and wanted to pick up a controller and shoot zombies in the face with me. (Note: Kat is much better at Left 4 Dead than I ever will be. If we’re ever in a Zombie Apocalypse, Kat’s getting the gun. I’ll be organizing people, or doling out med kits, or something besides shooting zombies in the face).

That night, much to Shay’s chagrin, me and Kat stopped becoming interested the three person party and plugged in the Super Nintendo. We played until three in the morning.

It’s the weird little story about how I met my sweetheart. It wasn’t at a club, or a coffee shop, or the grocery store. It was in a shitty house, at a shitty time in both our lives, and it blossomed over a dumb hunk of grey plastic. I’m hoping later tonight, when we both get back home, we’ll pour a glass of wine, look each other in the eye, and fight over the good controller. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. We could use some recommendations regarding some sweet two-player co-op games. We’re both getting sick of the Borderlands series.

The Origin of My Name

To a lot of you reading this, you only know me as the Illustrious Mr. Charlton, a silly moniker I took upon years ago when I started writing on the intertubes. There might be one person who actually calls me that in real life, but most people know me by my legal name;

Sandy Lee Charlton.

Now, I’ve been known to get some flack over my name, mostly the fact that apparently this is a woman’s name, and I happen to have a penis. To this day, as in a woman recoiled in amusement at the mention of my name less than a week ago, people still think it’s weird that my name is Sandy. And plenty of people burst into hysterics when they find out my middle name is Lee. So let’s talk about my name, and where it comes from.

I’m not going to dwell too much on the first or the last part of my name. Sandy is a derivative of Alexander, which means defending people. Charlton, my surname, means settlement of free people. Combine the two and my name basically means The Defender of the Settlement of Free People. Which by itself is pretty cool and completely badass. The coolest part of my name isn’t the first or the last part of my name, it’s the middle part. Because even though it may seem like my dad was planning some sort of ‘Boy Named Sue’ type thing for me, my father named me after his twin brother, my uncle Lee.

My uncle Lee, along with my aunt Susan, has four children, James, Nick, Robyn, and Cody, all of whom are older than me. Their youngest son, Cody, is about nine months older than me, so I’m certain my folks decided to start making babies the moment they saw him (which is strange, because rumor has it that Cody was a really ugly baby). I was the first of three boys, and I’m the only one who was named after another relative. Which is a shame for me, because I have to live up to my uncle Lee’s good name, and he’s a much better person than I am.

Uncle_Lee

An incredibly handsome man with a pretty ugly child.

The last time I saw my uncle was when my father passed away. I’ve mentioned this to people, that my father’s twin brother was there when my pop’s was on his deathbed, and a lot of folks assumed that having my uncle there, who’s an identical twin of my dad, made the situation harder to deal with. Nothing could have been further than the truth. My father loved his brother, and having my uncle there in our family’s time of need made a bitter pill easier to swallow. Before the accident, I would have told you there wasn’t a person on Earth that could have made my father’s death less painful. Uncle Lee proved me wrong.

But it was the third last time I saw my uncle that solidified to me what kind of man he is. I was passing through from Victoria to Golden, and my father suggested I look him and my aunt Susan up, spend a day or two with them before heading home. Even though it was midnight, and I had called him maybe ten minutes before I actually got to Kamloops, he still had no problem coming to the bus depot to grab his nephew. Once we arrived back at the house, he and my aunt greeted me, made me a little food, and got me setup in the spare bedroom. Once that was done, my uncle Lee went out to a homeless shelter for the rest of the night to keep an eye on things.

It’s one thing to donate your money to a charity. It’s another thing to volunteer at a soup kitchen or the likes. I’m not disparaging either form of charitable acts. But it is a whole other ballgame to stay up for the entire night at a shelter to make sure people stay calm. He jokingly asked if I wanted to come and I politely refused. Maybe I should have taken him up on his offer. To this day, part of me is still ashamed that I didn’t tag along. Sure, I had just spent the better part of the day on a greyhound bus, but if a man in his late 50’s was able to stay up past his bedtime, surely a young man in his late 20’s would have been able to keep up.

My uncle Lee passed away last week, after a long battle with cancer. I haven’t written anything for the blog since I heard the news. Writing about anything else after finding out about his passing would have been tacky. He leaves behind my aunt Susan, his four wonderful children, and a smattering of grand kids. There isn’t a whole lot of comfort I can offer this far away from the rest of the family, but maybe these words will help. He was a better man than most, and certainly a better man than I. I’d be lucky if had a tenth of the heart he did.

Sincerely,

Sandy Lee Charlton

p.s. I should mention that not only did my father and my uncle look identical, they also sounded exactly alike. It wasn’t unusual to get a phone call, once a month, from my “dad” to ask me to do a chore like set the car on fire or fill the toilets with cement. Good times, uncle Lee, good times.

p.s.s. I should also mention that I am a dead ringer for both my father and my uncle. Almost uncanny.

p.s.s.s. I completely forgot, the only reason I stopped off in Kamloops was due to a highway accident. I was stranded in the bus terminal, it was actually more like two o’clock in the morning, and uncle Lee was going back to the shelter. Sometimes life throws a rock at your head, and sometimes that rock turns out to be a lump of gold. I’ll never forget that visit.

Mr. Charlton – Still Gaming

It was a week before I got the opportunity to sit down with my new computer and play a game on it for longer than five minutes. An entire week, plus a day. I got the new computer, in a number of smaller boxes, on Tuesday March 7th 2017. It wasn’t until Tuesday March 14th 2017, that I got to fire up a game and not just stress test my machine, but actually play for a bit and unwind. One very long week.

12 year old Mr. Charlton would (have tried to) kick my ass for leaving a sweet rig sitting around for a week before playing a game.

Twelve year old Mr. Charlton had a lot less responsibility than thirty-three year old Mr. Charlton. Twelve year old me also had a lot less disposable income than I currently do. But this train of thought led to me thinking about exactly when I started playing games.

The earliest I can remember was playing games over at other people’s houses. I remember heading over to the Spehar’s place when I was five to play with Stef. They had a Nintendo, the old school grey box, and they had a couple of sweet games with it (notably Super Mario 3 and Ducktales). I’m pretty sure that after playing the first time, I sped back home and started begging my parents for a Nintendo.

There was a bit of problem with this. Nintendo Entertainment Systems were goddamn expensive. When they first hit the market, they were retailing for $199. Adjusted for inflation, this was about $450. And those were American dollars, so for a brand new Nintendo, you were looking at a pile of money. My parents didn’t have a pile of money lying around, so I never did get a Nintendo Entertainment System. What we did get, in the winter of 1989, was a Nintendo Gameboy, the handheld version of the console. We also got a couple of games thrown into the mix.

Now, this was an incredibly smart move and a really bad move on my parents part, and this was no fault of theirs. It was great because it was cheaper than a big system and could be taken on long car rides, which was a pretty common occurrence when we were children. It was bad ’cause you COULD take it anywheres, which meant I was bringing it with me on every camping trip we ever went on. It was also bad because unlike the system you could plug into the wall, this little punter used 4 AA batteries, so I’m pretty sure my parent ended up spending more on the Gameboy when you factored in buying piles of batteries every other day. The biggest flaw with the handheld device is that it was a one-man operation. So even though there were three boys, there was only one Gameboy. I’d have to ask my mom, but I’m pretty sure we fought over the stupid thing constantly.

Both my brothers play video games. Heck, even my mom is playing HayDay on her IPad. But I’m pretty sure that out of the family, I’m the only one who’d be called a “gamer”. I was, and still am, a fiend. I’d consider getting a ‘Legend of Zelda’ tattoo. I’ve put a Super Nintendo emulator on basically every electronic device I’ve ever owned. I’ve beaten ‘I Wanna Be the Guy’. I played Cave Story before it was cool. Man, have you even played Cave Story? That’s straight Indie goodness at its finest.

Now I’m starting to build games. This has been on Mr. Charlton’s bucket list for a long, long time. I told myself that 2017 would be the year I at least give it the ol’ college try. So I grabbed a couple of classes from Udemy and I’ve been taking the plunge.

Luckily, I’ve got some skills from a previous life that’s making the process of learning a little easier. A decade of drafting has given me a lot of tools for designing, planning, and executing basically anything you throw at me. I’ve been slowly learning to code for the last couple of years, so when I was tasked to learn a new language, it wasn’t complete gibberish I was learning. I’m using Unity for the game engine and development environment, Blender for the 3D modeling, Visual Studio for the IDE, GIMP and InkScape for the 2D art and textures. There’s only one thing I’m lacking…

Music. Sounds. A video game needs some sort of music to fill the space between your ears. That’s the weakest link in the chain, easily. Even though I’m not a great artist, I can manage. Even though my code is rudimentary, there’s a vibrant community who’s willing to answer questions and help a noob. Even though Blender is still new to me after years of having it installed on my machine, I’m picking it up quicker now that I’m allocating time to learning it. But music?

Look, I consider myself a lousy guitarist and an OK harmonica player. But I don’t know where to begin with making music on my computer. I’ve been given some pretty good advice so far, it’s just that I’m so new I might be asking the wrong questions. So if I’m making music on the old PC here, here’s what I need to know. Ignore these questions if you’re not

  1. What DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is right for me? And when I say right, what I mean is cheap or free. Unity? Free until I make bank with it. Ditto for Visual Studio. Blender, GIMP, and InkScape? All free. I’m going to start out with Audacity, ’cause it’s free. But people keep telling me I’ll have to upgrade eventually. I’m leaning towards Reaper, ’cause it’s cheap and people seem to like it. Keep in mind I’m doing this legit. Don’t fire me a link to a torrent for Fruity Loops.
  2. People, I’ve got no sense when it comes to plugging instruments into a computer. No sense? I might have to steal some of that sense from you. Should I get a keyboard? Or a controller? Can I rock one of these things into my computer via USB? Where can I get some cheap instruments? Where’s the shady guy with a van full of gear that ‘was just left behind in a warehouse’ somewhere? Mr. Charlton is in desperate need of some cheap stolen shit.
  3. All the other programs I’m using make sense to me. Blender is just 3D modeling, and I have a background in that sort of thing. I’m not a great coder, but I know what they’re talking about when they’re asking me to import a library. But this audio shit? Holy Christ on a cracker am I out of my element. I might have to actually sit down with someone and get this sorted out.

So music people, I’m asking you; what the hell are you people doing making music so damn complicated? I don’t need this malarkey. Can’t a guy just hammer on his computer keyboard to make some beeps and bloops for a game? Did you folks make this complicated to pretend like you’re doing actual work? Where’s the MS Paint version of music making?

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Seriously, I am a fish out of water when it comes to music production. Any advice you wish to solicit would help me out greatly.

p.s.s. I ended up going with Reaper. I’m slowly, slowly learning it. The manual is only 500 pages long.