Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Celluloid Lolitas and Dungeons and Dragons

For all those movie buffs out there who can't admit their secret fantasies about their neighbor's teenage daughter, check out my last feature as Movies.com's Movie Sexpert, 8 Great Little Tramps. There are so many underage temptresses not mentioned--Tuesday Weld in Pretty Poison, Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire, Uma Thurman in Dangerous Liaisons, Lindsay Lohan in Herbie Fully Loaded...the list goes on and on. But, of course, 8 Great is about great films, preferably one that we have lolita pictures for to put on the website. Next: 8 Great Stripteases.

Lest my audience and my mother think that I emulated these adolescent sex kittens, I must state that I had very little in common with those hot young things. I was no sunglass-wearing, lip-gloss pouting, bikini-modeling, boy-manipulating Lolita. My glasses were prescription--and big. I wore a training bra. And my only non-bullying contact with boys was when we played Dungeons and Dragons. That should tell you something about my social life; it can't be good if it revolved around 20-sided dice.

The number of girls who played Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) seriously in its heyday--the 80's-- is very small. I know this because every time I admit how fanatical I was, I get the same bored question: "Isn't that something boys did?" Yes, it certainly was. But that had nothing to do with my interest. I was a hardcore sci-fi/fantasy geek, and well before I discovered Tolkein or Poul Anderson or Elquest, I discovered Dungeons and Dragons. I was at a party at my parents' friend's house--I can't remember the night, because our families always got together on the weekends--but I remember opening up the 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons Guide and being amazed. Everything I would later love in Lord of the Rings, in the Arthurian tales, in Egyptology and mythology, told to me by the Grimms or Chaucer or Wagner seemed to be laid out in clearly analytical form. Role the dice, find out who you are, where you are, if you've succeeded. The fact that there was magic, and unicorns and elves, and lots and lots of storytelling only sealed the deal; I was hooked from the first roll of the hit dice.

It didn't occur to me that this was a "boy thing" until a few games in. For those of you who had lives, a game involved a Dungeon Master (or DM generally a control-happy type, detail oriented, story-telling type) and a bunch of Player Characters (PC's) with varying careers: cleric, magic-user, fighter, etc. The dice is rolled to see give them character traits (strength, wisdom, charisma--my favorite) They buy weapons, usually motivated by the coolness and deadliness factor. No one buys things like clothing or shoes or water, even though you're supposed to. They choose their spells, usually motivated by what would be really cool to impress their friends in real life. The DM opens the Dungeon Master's Guide, which holds the secrets of their adventure. The dice are laid out: 4-,6-, 8- 10- 20- sided dice. A collective breath is taken, as one PC takes the dice. And, the excitment begins--

Okay, he rolls the dice. Repeatedly. The DM throws monsters at the party of players ("Look out! It's a half-orc!") and the players kill it in ridiculous ways. ("I cast my spell on my lantern to set it on fire and throw it at the offending orc!). By rolling the dice. Repeatedly. If the orc dies, usually when the DM loses patience, or has found another really cool monster from the Monster Manual to throw at the party. And the adventure continues.

This sort of thing can go on for hours and hours, which may seem a trifle odd to some of you out there, it was absolutely fascinating to me. It allowed me to be part of the stories I found so interesting, to submerge into a fantasy life where adolescence didn't exist. This is precisely the thing my parents found so alarming, especially after they heard on 60/60 that Some Kid in Some Midwestern State killed himself because his player character got killed. They refused to buy me the books, but their resistance just made me want to play more. Ah, rebellion.

No, the real problem was that it was a boy thing, and something must be said about the rampant sexism that ran through the D&D population. If other girls played, they didn't want to play with the *real* game--rolling the dice, taking your turn, fighting the demons. They wanted to peruse the books and figure out if they'd rather date a paladin or a ranger, and whether they'd look pretty in the magic Cloak of Feathers. If you wanted to play a real role-playing adventure, you played with the boys.

And while that might sound sexy and fun, the truth was that it's no fun entering a boy's world. They got rambunctious and crazy when they fought dragons, and argumentative when they started incurring injuries. Sometimes the whole night devolved into bouts of arguing and truculence, with the DM throwing nasty creatures at uncooperative PC's. And the worst, as I said, was the sexism--let me say it out loud: I never got the cool magic weapons. I never got to tame the gold dragons. I never got to be a lycanthrope (werewolf) player character. Ah, I felt the discrimination clearly, as I was always in the back of the group, waiting to cast my spells, while all the fighters and thieves argued about how saving throws were allowed against the undead monsters. Sure, they wanted me around if I was a cleric and could heal their wounds, but when it was my turn to face exotic monster, a troglodyte, a kobold, a doppleganger? By the time everything calmed down, the monster would be dispatched and with a swift blow of a two-sided sword and the treasure divided.

I got the copper pieces. Sometimes silver.

Did they want me there? I don't think, at that age, it mattered. But it taught me a useful lessons--when you go where the boys are, don't expect to see them behave like gentlemen. This is why, when friends tell me their schemes to meet men--learning golf, or going to sports bars or working at the New York Stock Exchange or moving to Alaska--I can only shake my head. Anyone who has tried this will realize, very quickly, that a mob of fanatical men, whether British soccer hooligans, Indian adolescent nerds, yuppie stockbrokers--get together, you'd better shout awfully loud to be heard over them. And even then, it doesn't always work out right.

Once, I complained. "Fine," the cold-hearted DM said. "You can face the next monster." Was it his fault that the next monster was the 7-headed Tiamat, the Chromatic King of the Dragons? Actually, well, yes it was. As my poor half-elf cleric perished in a haze of noxious gas, I pondered the irony.

No, it was better to secretly collect the books as they tired of them, discovering video games and post-adolescent aggression instead. I prided myself in collecting the oddball books--the Deities and Demigods, a friendly helping of the world's mythologies (basically gods with overwhelming powers who grind games to a halt), or The Oriental AD&D Handbook, and equally friendly helping of all Asian history and myth (become a Wu Jen! kill with a Katana! kick ass with Tae Kwon Do! learn flower arranging!). And of course--the Dungeon Master's Guides, a pandora's box of fantasy, mythology and obsessive compulsive detailing. These books sit in a corner of my room, gathering dust, except for those rare times, usually late at night, when I pull them out and look through them, reading my offhand notes, marveling at every minute detail (wind speed when flying, types of mental afflictions, the dozen or so elvish races). Fascinating, unecessary, painstakingly detailed instructions to created your own universe.

Was it a waste of time? I don't think so. I look at the lolitas--celluloid and otherwise--and think of how much they missed. That awkward adolescenct games of Dungeons and Dragons allowed me to hang out comfortably with the boys before sexual blossoming made that impossible. It taught me a lot about storytelling, about imagination, and about the fact that there were others like me....E.T. phone home and all that. If I had rushed into sexuality right out of elementary school--or during, according to those strange Bratz cartoons--then I would probably see men in the way that women's magazine's encourage: strange alien creatures, dogs meant to be tamed, sexual objects, poor things. As ridiculous as the boys could get--competitive, aggressive and magic-weapon-grabbing--I saw them as friends, and still do.

So I appeal to my fellow AD&D expert Stephen Colbert (yes, lawful good paladin is redundant) to bring back the time-honored tradition of old-school TSR role-playing: the maps, the dice, the miniature figurines. Throw in a few bottles of Stoly, a hookah and some mood music, and the adventures can begin again.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Attitude Adjustments



I have been nervously anticipating my mother's current visit to New York City (from my hometown in suburban Chicago) for some time now. (Just ask my friends; I've been fretting about it for so long that they couldn't believe she'd only just arrived two days ago.) Now, I like my mom, and she's pretty cool and laid-back compared with most of my friends' parents. We got along famously well when I was growing up. But I grew up in a three-bedroom home in a subdivision of Homer Glen, Ill. She is staying with me in an East Village studio apartment with barely enough room for my bed. My shower is famously (at least among friends and family) in my kitchen.

While the quarters are, indeed, cramped, her visit has wrought an unexpected result for me: It has made me love my life. I am, normally, deeply caught up in the typical strum und drang of single-in-the-city life. You know, whining about the long hours my job can sometimes devour, bitching about the less-than-glamorous aspects of running my own website, trying to cram up to three obligations a night onto my social calendar, all while somehow simultaneously feeling like I have no life.

And yet ... because this is the first time my mom is seeing this version of my existence--the last time she visited, I was engaged and living with my now-ex fiance in a New Jersey condo--everything feels new to me again. My lovely Bohemian neighborhood kicks ass. (Um, ridiculously good Mediterranean, Mexican, Vegetarian, Korean, and Thai food all within blocks? I forget about this until I have to take my mom out for lunch and dinner every day for a week.) My apartment is straight out of a romantic comedy about a small-town girl who somehow achieves her songwriting dreams by dancing sluttily on a bar. (Mom was so psyched to see the real Coyote Ugly a few blocks down the street from me!) I watch television for a living, and write about it for a national magazine. (Loving my mom's enthusiasm about the "Grey's Anatomy" premiere.) And my friends seemed so fun and interesting and cool and generally amazing, seeing them through my mom's eyes. Yes, she even liked lawyerwriter showing up fresh from her night of debauchery (see below).

So sorry to get all Remembering Your Spirit on you here, but it's nice to shed my New York ennui for even a few minutes and be in a generally good mood ... despite the unique fatigue only visiting moms can bring with them--that combination of walking around SoHo too much and engaging in intense, talk-heavy bonding for a minimum of eight hours a day. The mother-daughter relationship really is a delicate balance--those geniuses at SirensMag weren't kidding.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

SAD cures

So it's that time of year where I once again consider going to Rubalad, that lovely surreal sex- drug- art- music- scene driven warehouse party in Brooklyn which no one has ever heard of. Or, at least, no one outside the few hundred or so people that pack into it. Ah....just the way I like it.

Of course, it is hard to account for an sex- drug- etc driven night when you are meeting your friend's midwestern mother the next day. I realize I play the interesting, flaky, usually-out-of-it bad-girl role in most of my friendships, but I think showing up with dilated pupils and grinding teeth for a Sunday Brunch With Mother seems rather unwise.

But dammit, I want to be unwise! I've been cooped up forever.

In book news, my latest proposal for The Devil Inside Her: A Pop History of Wicked Women is going out to editors this week. The link is a convenient and fast way to tell you about my book, which is wicked women and pop culture, but please note that the book is NOT going to be published by Seal (thank god) and may not have the same cover. It feels fabulous and scary to go out with it again, with a new agent. And, before you ask, in the interest of keeping things civilized, I will not explain why Seal and I parted. But it was definitely for the best. Onward and Upward.

For those of you who have not seen the OK GO video for "Here We Go Again," I advise you to stop what you are doing, and click on this link. You will see a fuzzy picture of men in bright pants jumping up and down on treadmills. Play this video. I do not suggest this lightly. Today in New York, it rained that grimy, muddy rain that coats the bottom of your pants and flattens your hair. It was not a good day to walk dogs or run errands, both of which I had to do. But halfway through my day I remembered this video, and smiled instinctively. Clever. Amusing. Seemingly Effortless. I realized then and there that this video is an instant cure to the SAD (Seriously Ass-hat Day) that many are experiencing. Take twice and download again in the morning. Also highly recommended is lead singer Damian Kulash's article for ElleGirl last year about why you should never date a musician. Sigh. But....they can't all be doomed to roam the earth alone, can they? Sigh.

When you awake from your gloom, you will want to party. I suggest buying all your stemware from The Scandalous Cup, a downtown boutique devoted to the art of drinking well. The website alone indicates that these people are, ahem, spirited folk and the Den of Iniquity will soon lead to The Scandalous Society, an movement to bring back the freewheeling speakeasy era of the 1920's Jazz Age. I'm all for it.

Back to Rubulad. Can I go and remain a lady (keeping, as my mother once said, both feet firmly on the floor) and not spend money and be back by 1 AM?

Doubtful.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What You Should Do BEFORE You Watch "Laguna Beach"


Get a little smarter before you go killing brain cells:


* Loving the Sirens love on our new writer (of "Registry Overload" fame) Sarah Grace McCandless' blog.
* We totally get having to fake it occasionally to make the hubby happy and get on with your night, but Feministing points out a disturbing trend toward over-intellectualizing the faux orgasm.
* Great essay on the quintessential single dilemma of our time: Dating in a Post-Dating World. Seriously, this electronic discourse we're having here right now? Closer to a date than some of my dates have been. And much farther from a date than some of my non-dates have been. And now I'm making about as much sense as I've made on some of my dates that, curiously enough, did not lead to second dates.

And now I have a real date with my DVR.