Sunday, January 28, 2007

Something to fret about

My wife Kara and I have been taking our minds off of selling our house by taking turns thrashing on the game Guitar Hero II. If you’re not either a complete loser or twelve years old, you’re probably not aware that Guitar Hero II is a video game that uses a PlayStation2 and a fake plastic guitar to simulate the experience, for those who have no chance of ever doing it themselves, of being cool. I’ve come to terms that this is the closest I will ever get to being a rock star, but I’m still looking forward to the next game in the series: Heroin Overdose.

Guitar Hero II replicates the feeling of playing the guitar in front of a fickle but easily excitable crowd, requiring you to become embarrassingly proficient at punching the big colorful buttons that represent a guitar’s frets while you strum a switch that serves as the strings and pull down the blinds that serve to keep the neighbors from seeing you.

While it’s awfully fun, there’s something about wailing away on that plastic guitar that seems eerily reminiscent of the little plastic Fisher Price lawn mower that I had when I was a kid, the one that went poppity-pop-pop when pushed across the kitchen floor.

“Wook at me, Daddy! I’m mowing the wawn! And shwedding out some ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns N’ Woses. Wock on, dude.”

But now I can add “Pretty good at playing a pretend guitar” to my resume of useless skills, right under “Can sometimes catch things behind my back” and “Used to know how to play Chinese checkers.” Incidentally, in China, they call that game “Marble Receptacle.”

The saddest thing about being a wannabe fake guitarist is that there’s a very real guitar sitting in my basement, its case acting as more of a sarcophagus. That guitar has seen less sunlight in the past two years than Dracula or Dick Cheney. I swear I’m going to start playing that thing again one of these days, but really, what’s the point of playing the guitar after you’re married? All the motivation is gone. You’ve already got a groupie for life.

My groupie is also quite a talented fake guitarist. This is the first video game she’s ever really enjoyed. Now I’m regularly greeted by riffs from the Allman Brothers and Black Sabbath when I walk into the living room, as Kara rocks back and forth and says things like, “Aw, yeah, who’s the man?”

It’s odd to find her playing video games of her own accord. I’m not sure quite how to react to this behavior. She’d probably feel the same way if I suddenly picked up an interest in, say, painting toenails. We’d certainly have more common experiences to talk about, but would she have to worry that I’d start hogging all the little foam toe separator thingies?

Regardless, it’s too bad kids don’t learn how to play guitar in school. Rocking out is much more useful than fractions. When I was in the fourth grade, I chose to learn the trumpet because it seemed like the coolest choice. I pictured myself playing in a Dixieland band on a riverboat somewhere. But there aren’t that many riverboats in suburban Philadelphia, at least none that I could bike to. And the world just doesn’t need that many bad trumpeters. Ska isn’t even cool anymore, and I never once scored a date because I could play the theme song to Indiana Jones at a volume that would knock books off a shelf.

I should have at least picked the drums. Choosing an instrument is just too big a decision to place with someone who consumes Jell-o through a straw just because it sounds funnier that way.

You can trash a hotel room with Mike Todd online at


  1. I played guitar for a couple years, but I don't remember "any" of it. I also played piano. Weird choice seeing as we never owned one. But I was pretty good. They used to offer it in school. Then I realized I could sing. And joined that choir. That and the choir went on all the really cool trips out of town. hehehehehee

  2. We are strictly air guitar players here. Man, we give Sammy Hagar a run for his money too! The only video game I ever loved was Asteroids. You're probably too young to remember that one? Then Gary and I got addicted to Alex the Kidd on Sega. Fun times!

  3. Burf -- You should sing and play the keytar with your piano skillz. That would rock.

    Sheri -- Hells yeah I remember Asteroids. I never moved the spaceship -- things got all crazy once you started moving. And my neighbor and I used to play Alex the Kidd all the damn time, but I don't think we ever beat it. That's how Sega was different -- they didn't mind making games that little kids could never F'ing beat. They must have thought they were teaching us lessons or something.

  4. Oh your so right on asteroids. If you moved the ship you could never stop it, and you would spin shoot and be flinging across the sky into stuff.

    I was always top score holder in Centipede and Tempest. Anyone remember Tempest. I miss that game. The simple things were the best. hehehehe

  5. I think Dick Cheney probably saw some sunlight when he shot his friend in the face while hunting last year. ;)

  6. I can clearly see a Chinese government administrator somewhere reading your column (for security reasons, of course) and realizing what a great name "Marble Receptacle" is - it captures the ingenuity and creativity of the chinese, as well as the clarity of... well, the chinese!

  7. Clarinet. For some reason our school band marched alot. I played it for 3 years and never learned one song. I ended up doing air clarinet every parade.

    Ditto on the occasional catch behind your back skill. Frisbee. One in four on the average. Also might I add another skill: learning morse code in cub scouts?

    ...---... is all I remember. At least it will get me help if there is anyone alive that knows what it means.

  8. Mike Todd said:

    ... Chinese checkers. Incidentally, in China, they call that game “Marble Receptacle.”

    Er, dude - I think you're thinking of Solitaire, not Chinese Checkers.

  9. Burf -- I played those games so much, he was Dr. Dig Dug by the time I was done with him.

    Queen -- He did have a pretty bitchin' tan in that Fox News interview.

    Joe Brown -- You are the F'ing man!

    Clarinet -- You dog, the women can't keep their hands off the clarinet players, can they? You know you can translate morse code online? .... --- .-.. -.-- / ... .... .. - .-.-.- / -.-- --- ..- / .-. . .- .-.. .-.. -.-- / - .-. .- -. ... .-.. .- - . -.. / .. - .-.-.-

    Anon -- You're absolutely right! Solitaire is called marble receptacle, and Chinese checkers is called many-carded workday waster.

  10. The trumpet playing in a dixieland band on a river boat is funny. I could see you doing that. You'd have to wear a red bow-tie and carry a pack of spearmint gum in your pocket.

  11. Something about this post triggered all the words to "Jukebox Hero". Thanks.

  12. I must confess..I am a guitar hero too. I & II. We "jam" on two guitars. My new "handle" here at home is "Wolfmother"....I can kill Woman. Texas Flood is another story.