Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

The Game Master.

I have a painting that was made by three artists. All three signed it but I wish I had a fourth signature: that of the person responsible for making it happen. His name was Rembert Parker.

I’d been introduced to Dungeons & Dragons by my friend John and, early in our freshman year of high school, he invited me to go to a weekend D&D convention with him in Evansville. His father drove us and when we got to the hotel John introduced me to Rembert—an older guy who was just a little taller than me, with lanky hair, round glasses, and a friendly smile. John had met Rembert at a previous convention and they’d become friends but then, as I quickly realized, Rembert was friends with everybody. In the few minutes we chatted at least two dozen people said “Hey Rembert!” as they passed by. Rembert was also one of the organizers of the convention, so it wasn’t just because of his outgoing nature that everyone knew him.

Then John and I got invited to join a D&D game and we went off to a hotel room with a group of strangers. The game was part one of a module, called something like Road To Verangia, that would be played over the weekend. At the end of it everyone would vote for the top three players who’d then advance to part two. Those who didn’t advance could find another game.

The next morning all the attendees gathered in one of the hotel conference rooms. Those who’d advanced—including my friend John—went off to play Road To Verangia part two. Alone and unsure what to do with myself I sat down at a table and was soon joined by a friendly group of strangers. We chatted a bit and then a guy came over and said, “All right, looks like everybody’s here. I’ll be your Dungeon Master today. Let’s start the game.”

“What’s this one called?” someone asked.

“It’s called Certain Death To Your Characters” the Dungeon Master laughed.

Oh, thank goodness, I thought. For a moment I’d been afraid it was going to be a repeat of the previous night’s game.

Character sheets were passed around. I looked down at mine and realized I’d been given the same cleric I’d played the night before. I panicked and looked around, but the room was empty. Not knowing what else to do I just played dumb, and stayed dumb, not using my knowledge of what was to come to my or anyone else’s advantage.

Later that day I’d go to lunch with John and his father and they’d talk about a guy who’d been in the previous night’s game and who’d tried to sneak in to a repeat of part one and how terrible it was that some people just couldn’t obey the rules.

“I won’t be surprised if Rembert kicks him out,” said John’s father.

“And he’ll never come back to a convention where Rembert’s in charge,” added John.

I chewed my chicken sandwich glumly, certain that my own crime would be uncovered, wondering if I should throw myself on Rembert’s mercy immediately. But I decided to keep playing dumb instead. And, somehow, over the whole weekend, it went undiscovered—or no one said anything if they noticed.

I went to a lot of conventions after that, most of them organized by Rembert. He and John were still friends but I kind of avoided him. He was a good guy and fun to talk to but, silly as it seemed even at the time, I still carried a slight air of guilt. Over time I just assumed he forgot who I was. Everybody knew Rembert but he couldn’t be expected to keep track of everyone.

Every convention had an art room and on Saturday night there’d be an art auction. I liked a lot of the paintings and would usually bid on one or two. After losing a bid on one someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. It was Rembert.

“Hey Chris, I noticed you liked that painting. I’ll talk to the artist and see if he’ll do one for you.”

This was surprisingly generous and, because Rembert was involved, a couple of other artists got interested and all three of them collaborated on the painting. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the names of all three artists, although they signed the back as well as putting their names on the front so I can always open the frame if I ever get it appraised.

I’ve never forgotten Rembert, though, so I was sad when John told me he’d passed away earlier this month.

I didn’t realize Rembert had a blog where he wrote mostly about old and mostly forgotten songs “that the radio seldom plays”. Here’s his last entry:

Sadly, I’ve been in the Hospital with Cancer for a few weeks.
I hope to return to daily posts within a few weeks!

Funny and optimistic to the end. When John and I talked I brought up the painting, and John, who still goes to gaming conventions regularly, said that the ones Rembert organized were small—at most there’d be about two hundred people, which made it easy for Rembert to know the artists, and everyone else, unlike modern gaming conventions that have thousands of attendees. There used to be a stereotype of D&D players as socially awkward loners, but the small conventions really showed how untrue that was. We all got to know each other, even if it was just in passing, although they were just big enough that some noob who’d never been to one before could accidentally play the same game twice and have their mistake be forgotten while they were remembered.

Hail and farewell, Rembert. You were, as Nat King Cole sang, unforgettable in every way.

Life’s Work.

Source: Giphy

There’s a trend I’ve noticed in commercials of showing people whose whole lives, even whole identities, are built around their careers. It’s not a new trend, nor is it particularly widespread, but it seems to have spread to fast food workers, which is strange and may even be insidious. I spent a summer working at a Shoney’s, a chain that’s rapidly disappearing, but, for those who don’t know it, is best described as a fast food place with printed menus and someone who brings your food to your table rather than making you go to a counter to order it. In spite of presenting itself as a sit-down restaurant, complete with a breakfast bar in the mornings that switched over to a salad bar after eleven in the morning—with the dirty secret that some of the salad bar food was sitting under the breakfast bar food, in case anyone ever wondered why the black olives were so warm—the wait staff were supposed to subtly pressure customers to get their food and get out as quickly as possible. People would sometimes ask a waitress to hold their food so they could spend a little time enjoying the salad bar and maybe give the Jell-o a chance to cool down, but behind the scenes management would penalize waitresses if they didn’t deliver plates to the table in under ten minutes.

So that’s my entire background in the food service industry but, contrary to what some commercials want you to think, I doubt any fast food place is really a fun place to work with wacky employees getting up to various hijinks with each other. I hope everyone, no matter what job they do, can find some joy and maybe even fulfillment in it, but for me and pretty much everyone else who worked at that Shoney’s it seemed we all just wanted to get through our shifts without getting ptomaine or bitten by the rats in the dry storage room and go onto whatever waited us outside the restaurant walls.

The insidious part of the commercials, I think, is not just that they want customers to feel better about going to fast food places but they want to convey the idea that, hey, it’s low-paying drudgery and probably no benefits or sick leave even if you get ptomaine, but at least there’s wacky hijinks to be had.

And to be clear: if you work in fast food and really enjoy what you do that’s great. I’m not knocking anyone’s career choice. I’m knocking the upper management belief that a sense of corporate community and pulling together for the good of the shareholders is a substitute for benefits, decent wages, and even decent treatment—which is an easy belief to hold when you’re pulling down three figures and don’t even know the names of most of the people you manage.

The commercial trope of people who devote their whole lives to their work, funny enough, seems to be more common for insurance. Maybe that’s because insurance is, for most of us, something we don’t think about all the time but it can literally be a lifesaver when we need medical care, or really handy to have when we have a car accident, house fire, or other catastrophe. Insurance commercials work hard to convince us that there are people out there who devote their whole lives, every waking and even every sleeping moment, to lowering your premiums while also working to make sure you’re completely covered if you have a flood or a meteor hits your home. It’s reassuring even if, not so deep down, we all know it’s hogwash.

What’s really funny to me, because I have a weird sense of humor and a degree in English, is the poet Wallace Stevens worked as an insurance agent. It was one of those dual lives you rarely hear about—the sort I’m not sure can even exist anymore, since, even in the real, non-commercial world, only celebrities seem able to manage multiple careers, and even they can only manage that because they can afford to hire someone to design the clothes, the makeup, the power tools they slap their names and faces on.

Sometimes I even envy Wallace Stevens, who I think was in the perfect position—successful enough as an insurance agent that he got to a pretty high level in the company where he worked, and at the same time one of the most widely read and respected American poets of the twentieth century. Imagine being at a cocktail party and saying to someone, “Here’s my card if you need an insurance agent, and here’s my other card if you need two-hundred and forty lines of enigmatic language on the Aurora Borealis.”

Back To Work.

The start of a new year always seems like it should be different. After all I’ve been, mostly, away from work, since mid-December. The one exception was last Wednesday when my boss asked me to come in and take care of a few things that couldn’t wait five days, and even then I worked from home and had to sign out early to go to a doctor’s appointment. In spite of getting a lot done it didn’t really feel like working.

It also gave me an opportunity to clear up a lot of the ten thousand or so junk emails I’d gotten in the time I was away.

This morning I was fifteen minutes late getting to the office. That’s not terrible, and it really just reflects that I’m still getting adjusted to coming back to work in the office. Part of the reason I was late is I forgot the way to get to work. When I started coming into the office I took the same route I’d been taking for years that led to a parking garage that’s approximately half a mile from my office. I don’t use that parking garage anymore, though; I park in a garage that’s next to my office building. So I’d pass by the old garage on the way to the new one. Then, a few months ago, I realized I was wasting time, and that I could take a more direct path—one that’s pretty much the same as my old bus route, funny enough.

Then this morning I forgot to take the direct path. I took the one that went by the old parking garage. I would have waved as I went by but I had both hands on the wheel and was sweating over being late.

The other reason I was late is because time seems to stretch or compress no matter how much I prepare. I got up fifteen minutes early this morning, knowing I’d be groggy and slow because I’ve gotten out of the habit of getting up early and going to work. Somehow, though, in spite of doing almost everything the same way I would on a work day, and moving through at pretty much the same pace, that extra fifteen minutes disappeared and an additional fifteen minutes got added on.

For months now I’ve been arriving at the office on Monday morning at the same time, taking the same route. This morning I went the wrong way, or at least a different way that hadn’t been my normal one, and I was fifteen minutes late. It’s not the most auspicious start to 2023 but at least it’s different.

Sticking To It.

Most of what I write starts out as handwritten drafts in composition books. It’s a habit I’ve stuck to for decades. I like the physical nature of writing by hand, and the security of pen and ink. When I got my first computer, a Hewlett-Packard with an amber monitor and two floppy disk drives, I was amazed by how fast it allowed me to write and edit, but then, after about eighteen months, it started making a thunk-thunk sound when I tried to save what I’d written, so if I really wanted to save it I’d have to recopy it all by hand. I still like word processors and they’ve come a long way and I’ve never had to deal with thunk-thunk again but I still like old fashioned writing by hand.

About ten years ago I was flipping through an old issue of National Geographic that someone had thrown away and I saw a picture I liked. I decided to cut it out and paste it in the composition book I was using at the time. Then I saw more pictures and pasted those in too. I started collecting pictures from magazines, newspapers, even catalogs and junk mail. I’d stick them in composition books, often so far in advance that I’d forget they were there. Turning a page as I was writing would often bring surprises. The cutting and pasting was also a lot of work. Then, in a gift shop, I found a booklet of sea life stickers. They were a lot easier than cutting and pasting magazine pictures.

In spite of that I didn’t look seriously at stickers as a way to decorate my composition books until last year because I didn’t think there would be any out there that really fit what I wanted. I liked, and still like, the randomness of finding an unusual picture that can serve as a writing prompt or just liven up a page, but I thought of stickers as something for kids. I had, and still have, a pretty specific list of what I didn’t want: cartoon characters or overly cartoonish pictures, pictures of people, scenes from movies. Here’s what I did want, what I often looked for in magazines and other sources: realistic pictures of plants and animals, buildings, landscapes, tools and other objects, and abstract color palettes.

It wasn’t until I decided to look that I discovered what should have been obvious all along: there’s a whole community of crafters and journal writers out there who’ve created an industry of stickers: books of reprinted ephemera, steampunk designs, typewriters, clock faces, and all sorts of plants and animals. I got some for my birthday and Christmas and have been adding them to the composition book I’m currently using, and a future one, setting myself up to be surprised.

Pasting stickers still seems kind of childish but, as I get older, writing seems more and more important, and the stickers are one way of encouraging myself to write. It means a lot to me when other people enjoy what I write, but, in the end, no one else really cares whether I write or not. It’s something I do for myself–a form of exercise. It’s mental exercise but, like physical exercise, I do it because I hope it’ll keep me healthy and alert, and maybe even extend my life. And like physical exercise it doesn’t matter that I like doing it and feel better afterward. Sometimes I still need some encouragement to sit down and just do it. The stickers I’ve pasted into pages yet to come, that I forget almost as soon as they’re done, offer that.

A Matter Of Time.

It’s Monday, right?

I’ve lost all track of what day it is. Most of my routine consists of daily tasks. Dogs have to be fed, meals have to be prepared. There’s the cocktail of drugs that, thanks to decades of habit, has to include coffee, or at least caffeine, to prevent a headache.

Then there are the tasks that aren’t bound to a specific day but still have to be done regularly: sweeping floors, vacuuming, laundry. 

Once a week the garbage can has to be dragged to the curb. Once a month the recycling bin accompanies it. In spite of being time-specific these events don’t happen often enough to be routine. Sometimes I forget it’s Garbage Eve until I see the neighbors’ cans lined up along the street.

The past two weeks I’ve been on vacation which just made me realize how much structure work provides to my week—the Monday start, the long slog to the weekend. I haven’t missed it but it’s been weird. I’ve been dreaming I was at work which, unfortunately, doesn’t count even though I’m an hourly employee. Making it even stranger is that the return date isn’t fixed. Tomorrow when I go back in several people will still be out; I’ll be there one of the skeletons making up the crew.

I work for a university. It’ll be a few weeks before the students come back. I envy the long break they get but also the specificity of the date. For them things are set, structured. Freshmen will be returning with some college experience; seniors will be going in to face the final push. Sophomores and juniors can breathe easy; they’ve been here before and will be again. The teachers prepare to pick up where they left off. 

My own schedule is more amorphous. Outside of, and even adjacent to, the holidays I have to set my own breaks. But the days slip too easily from one into another. This is the longest time I’ve taken off from work in, well, almost a year. That’s a mistake. The last year was more stressful for me than it should have been. I needed this break, and, with the new year starting, now seems like a great time to be more conscious of time. I need to take more breaks or I’ll end up broken.

Taking Chances.

I took a picture of the snow-covered CRV but for some reason it wouldn’t upload. I like this picture better since it gives new meaning to the term “horsepower”.

Honda has discovered the secret to comedic timing.

Normally I don’t like to endorse a brand or company because there are people who are paid to do that and I’m not one of them, but we’ve got two Hondas—a van and a CRV—and they’ve been better than any other vehicles we’ve owned. We got the CRV in 2019 to replace the previous CRV we got in 1999. We went to the same dealership and bought the new one exactly twenty years after the old one, which was nice enough to stop working while parked in our driveway. The only thing that was different was our sales guy. That seems to be an area where there’s a lot of turnover. They get paid to endorse whatever they’re selling but maybe they aren’t paid enough.

Anyway I had to put some things in the CRV. I didn’t take my keys with me because I didn’t think I’d need them. We don’t keep anything in the car except maybe some umbrellas and  tire pressure gauge and sometimes an old tarp if I’m planning to put raw chicken in the back.

In retrospect I should have known better. The CRV’s automatic locking system kicks in at random times. The van is predictable. Once we get out and walk ten feet away it automatically locks itself, so we have to be careful to always have the keys with us. And the van’s timing is so perfect that I can go in the house, get the key out of my wife’s purse, point the fob at the van from the window, click the “unlock” button, and by the time I get out of the house down to the driveway I’ll be just in time to hear the “click” of the van locking itself just as I reach for the driver’s side door.

Since the CRV’s lock is much more random, though, I also had a pretty good chance of it being open. Except it wasn’t. I guess because it hadn’t been driven for a few days it said, “Well, if I’m going to be left out here in the cold I might as well lock myself up.”

I really shouldn’t have been taking chances in this weather either. The temperature according to the thermometer was in single digits and the wind chill was twenty below—and we’re talking Fahrenheit which means it was fifty-two degrees below freezing. Not that any scale matters when it’s that cold, and, in fact, minus forty Fahrenheit is the same as minus forty Celsius which is a fun fact I learned when my teachers were convinced we might actually adopt the metric system, but that’s another story.

My wife was asleep and I’d left my keys in the bedroom so rather than take a chance on waking her up I got her keys out of her purse. But I didn’t want to carry her keys. I pointed the fob through the window and pressed the “unlock” button. The CRV is closer to the house so it was reasonable to assume the timing on both vehicles is the same and the differential would be just enough for me to get to it and open the door before it relocked itself.

I got to the CRV just in time to hear the “click” of it locking itself.

It’s possible the CRV has the same automatic locking system as the van, but if it does why does it only do this when it’s ridiculously cold outside and I’ve got my arms full?  

Television Listings, Christmas 2022

TBS: 24 hours of A Christmas Story

USA Network: 24 hours of It’s A Wonderful Life

BBC: 24 hours of Love, Actually

TNT: 24 hours of Elf

Cartoon Network: 24 hours of Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Disney: 24 hours of some Mickey Mouse things, teen superhero sitcoms, and filler because everyone’s just using our streaming service to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol or YouTube to laugh at the Star Wars Christmas special

SyFy: 24 hours of low budget Krampus movies and maybe you should block us if you have small children because we’ll also run that Futurama episode with the murderous robot Santa Claus

TVLand: 24 hours of M*A*S*H Christmas episodes and that one Andy Griffith Christmas episode and, I don’t know, was there a Green Acres Christmas episode? Let’s find out.

Game Show Network: 24 hours of game show hosts in ugly sweaters

Hallmark: Twelve movies about a young woman who steps away from her high-powered job in [major American city] after a bad breakup to return to her home town for the first time in ten years to find the guy she had a crush on in high school is helping save the local [Christmas tree farm/candy cane factory/handmade ornament shop/egg nog distillery] from being closed.

Norwegian TV: 24 hours of a fire burning under the Aurora Borealis.

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