Thursday, April 2, 2009

On Plinko and Pizza

I study games and play theory, but I am a terrible theorist. I have met many who are genuinely interested in theory for it's own sake: those who theorize up great and terrible edifices, each clarion thought bricked and mortared up to palatial heights, who rule from these structures like the shahs of old. I am not of their number, for the single damning reason that I do not love thoughts. I love things.

Because of this, of course, I am all turned around. I twist the rule a little. I cheat. Instead of being content to focus on my little puddle of academia, I turn outward, and see a world constantly at play. Every moment I see odds and probabilities at work, rules exchanged, wagers made, and scores silently tallied. This may be a defense mechanism against the vacuity of chaos: Living in a universe that is constantly, infinitely flipping coins, you may as well ante up.

Through simple legerdemain, my humble little body of thought becomes a lens to see the world. Similar the sociological assertion that "The personal is political," Robert King's insight that "the truth about stories is that's all we are," or Richard Carlson's brainless advice "Don't sweat the small stuff... and it's all small stuff," there is that gentle plying until you feel someting give, and suddenly you are talking about everything.

So I study games and play, and it is all games and play. (Until someone loses an eye.) As a mutually-inclusive proposition, it is the opposite of a Catch-22. I call it my Catch-21.

I've written before on my propensity to to turn the most mundane tasks into games. What I may not have mentioned is that I do this constantly, every day. These games scale in significance with the task at hand. Last weekend I headed to my hometown, for a marathon of three years worth of taxes. It seems that the MAN had finally tracked me down, and insisted that, apparently, not doing your taxes is simply not an option. The alternative, as I understand it, is debtor's prison. And I figured, if it could happen to John Dickens, holy smoke, it could happen to me.

Canada I am sorry, please don't put me in the gaol.

But in settling in for a weekend's worth of number crunching, I was pleasantly surprised to remember that I actually find taxes to be super funtimes. You take one number, and start at the top, and it falls down and changes and you add and subtract, and it clicks right along. Now something's happening, but I'm sure I have no idea what. To me, it's like sidling up to an enormous pachinko machine, like Plinko on The Price is Right. And let it be said that I am a man who enjoys his Plinko.

And after everything as been totaled, the numbers go click click click down the page until they land in one or two boxes. In the right box, you lose money. In the right box, you win money. Jackpot!

FACT: Asking someone if boot camp was "a lot of fun" is super classy.

It struck me then that I subscribe to what I might call Plinko Theory. Faced with odds over which I have no control or no ken, I tend to just go limp and let things play out. For example, this is my exact behavior when travelling: I map out every variable ahead of time, so when the time comes I can simply be processed, click click click from destination A to B to C. I've often wondered what would happen if I missed a turn-off, or got on the wrong bus, or simply got spun around and started walking in the wrong direction. What if you dont catch yourself in time? Then instead of landing in the right box, you wind up in Timbuktu.

Are our lives like this, too? If we were to start again, and go click click click through everything, perhaps we'd wind up in different boxes, as completely different people. Is it really just Plinko Boards All The Way Down?

It was in this zen-state I found myself on the the trip back, having been deposited at a Go-bus station in Newmarket, waiting for another bus to schlep me to Toronto, then home. All of us stood quietly, gently swaying, waiting for our bus. Liminal theory posits that such places are instances of non-space, and that in these places we are like ghosts, neither alive or dead. I find my experience to be the opposite - in these places I have a hypersensitive awareness of my body, brought on by the fatigue of travel. Everything hurts. I can feel my bones ache, and my skin. I fish my tongue around in my mouth and suck my teeth. I taste blood, and noticed the tip of my tongue was bleeding.

Suddenly, and with a terrible ferocity, I realized I was HUNGRY. I stumbled into the station and made my way to a small convenience counter, where I spied a few lazily rotating pizzas, looking withered and uninviting. I tried to speak to older Indian gentleman who was siting behind them, but he held up his hand in front of him, blocking my very words as they came tumbling out of his mouth. His daughter then, scurried over to take my order.

Zombielike from travel, I wasn't entirely aware of myself. The moment my purchased pizza was delivered into my waiting hands, I began stuffing it into my face in large wolfish bites. I may have been making OM NOM NOM noises as well. I looked up, and noticed that I was chowing down right in front of the young woman who had served me. She was smiling.

All the synapses in my brain started firing off at random. I realized I had about half a second to communicate something - anything - that would explain myself. I couldn't smile back, as my face was crammed with food. My hands were full, and my skull was empty. But I had to do something.

So I winked.

- Rook


  1. Man, I back when I was dating Tina (Whom you never got to meet sadly)I was at the Newmarket Go Terminal so often I was pretty much a fixture in that Pizzaria, I know the girl your referring to well. lol


  2. The poor girl, she must have to deal with ravenously hungry busgoers on the daily.

    What was doubly weird was that when she was serving me, her parents were havng a fight right behind her. The father was yelling in heavily accented english, and the mother was responding calmly in her first language.

    In my burned-out state, I thought that I cound understand the mother but not the father. It was only much later that I realized I was listening to their tone, but not their actual words.

  3. I've seen them do that a few times. Though I'm not in New Market as much as I used to be.