Friday, April 27, 2012

#0053: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors

Book reviews are something of an oddity here on this blog, because the focus of each entry primarily revolves around my (rarely) hilarious and (hardly) witty observations on the abnormalities of each of my toys from yesteryear. The thing about books, you see, is that it’s all right there in writing, quite literally.

Then, you throw an extra monkey wrench into the works when you add the ‘choose your own adventure’ element. As a kid, I loved these things, just absolutely loved them. The concept that, through your own decision-making, you could influence the progress of the story, was a revolution like no other.

Of course, either to help up the ante, or because I was a sick fuck who liked the concept of being beheaded on occasion, I preferred the ones that had a horrific element to them. For you see, the stakes should be high; if you choose unwisely, you will die a horrible death! …And if you were anything like me, you would return to the previous page and choose the alternative route!

Perhaps it defeated the purpose, but I felt some odd sense of accomplishment as I progressed deeper into the plotline, and I needed to press on as far as possible. Also, I historically made a lot of really stupid decisions in the early stages of the book, and would frequently die within five pages. I was like the Kenny McCormick of the gamebook world.

Also, did you know that there are erotic gamebooks out there? A choose your own adventure of intercourse? Apparently so, according to Wikipedia. I wonder how that would work, exactly?

Do you have sex with Jennifer? Turn to page 96.
Do you have sex with Amy? Turn to page 50.

Page 50: Amy is a prostitute. You get gonorrhea. GAME OVER.

If you read both pages at once, it’s kinda like having a threesome.

…Right. So my gamebook series of choice was the significantly less sexy Give Yourself Goosebumps. R.L. Stine was basically required reading of any literate kid in the 90s, and though I didn’t really get into the primary Goosebumps books, I made it my duty, nay, my very cause to amass as many of the GYGs as I could. And, to my credit, I did admirably, collecting all but two of them. If two out of three ain’t bad, forty-eight out of fifty must be downright okay.

It puts a mild strain on my heart to part with the very first of the series, a book I remember receiving from book club all those years ago, but a new generation must be blessed. The children of today need to know about how they’re going to get eaten by a swamp monster or turned into a human volleyball or forever condemned to bounce on a trampoline.

The children of today must Escape from the Carnival of Horrors, known to some as Fenway Park.

The premise? Late one night you decide to join your friends Brad and Patty to check out the fairgrounds as they’re being set up for the annual carnival. Brad is a sulky loser. In my mind, Patty is Patti Mayonnaise from Doug.

This year, they’re going for a macabre look; creepy and dangerous, like the east side of the French District. The carnival manager, Big Al, invites you in to test out some of the rides. Me personally, I’d decline this offer: riding roller coasters under construction in the dead of night? Come on, how stupid could you be? But you, as the protagonist dubbed ‘you’, decide otherwise.

I haven’t read this book since about the dawning of the new millennium (sounds like a really long time when you phrase it that way), so I don’t really remember which paths to take. Follow me as I delve deep into the eerie world of a pretty, shiny book!

It begins with Patty demanding we go to Bennet’s Field, and I warily reply that I have a nine o’clock curfew. Brad calls me a pussy, and I ask him what does he expect from a mid-20s guy who apparently lives with his mom.

When we arrive, Patty decides we should jump the fence. I attempt to avoid entering the fairgrounds and go home instead, but unfortunately, the book forces me onward. Holy shit, R.L. Stine introduced me to peer pressure. What a revelation!

Despite the curious way all of the rides spring to life upon our arrival, we do what all mischievous kids would do: fiddle with shit. And possibly spray paint ‘lush’ on one of the walls. Our fun is cut short when we happen upon Big (Gay?) Al, a man with ‘coal-black eyes and a thick mustache to match’. He questions our presence, looking like he’s about to give us the business, but then decides that we should stick around and check some shit out. Yeah, he’s potentially evil, but it’s just as likely he’s just bored and can’t be fucked ejecting us.

Shall I try out the rides? Or head over to the midway to investigate the freak show? I’m gonna go with the rides. Those freaks are employees like everyone else, and probably don’t appreciate late-night intruders prodding them for shits and giggles. Plus, that Tod Browning movie from the 1930s indicated that freaks are best not messed with.

We climb aboard the Space Coaster, an astronaut-themed ride that I can’t help but associate with Futurama’s moon theme park. That’s the second Billy West-related reference in only eight paragraphs. Clearly, I need to get away from the television for a little bit. The ride flips around at a break-neck pace before taking us through a darkened tunnel. Then it stops. And maintenance takes twenty minutes to fix it. Ugh, what a buzz kill.

Actually, Brad and Patty’s sections of the ride appear to have detached, leaving me all by my lonesome. I would break out my 3DS, but this is 1995 and I didn’t even own a Game Boy at the time. Overtaken by boredom, I hop out of the car. I amble towards a dimly lit tunnel with shit dripping from the ceiling, and get molested by a dwarf with scraggly red hair and a toothless smile.

He offers to lead me out of here, but I’m hesitant. As the book says, ‘Is he part of the ride? He looks really evil.’

However, I just can’t resist that grin. He seems like a nice fella, I’m gonna follow that strange little man to the ends of the earth! He takes me to a pair of doors. One is red, and has a sign that says ‘DANGER’. The other is blue, and is signed as ‘BIG DANGER’. I choose the blue one, because it makes me think of Sonic the Hedgehog, and that puts me at ease. It leads to something called the ‘Doom Slide’, which I assume is the preferred method of commute for Victor von Doom.

After climbing a long steel ramp, I’m standing atop the Doom Slide. Which is a misnomer, because there’s ten of the damned things, which would suggest pluralizing is necessary. But enough about grammar. It seems somehow familiar, and then it dawns upon me; ‘It was in a GOOSEBUMPS book that you read!’.

If I choose the wrong slide, I’ll be left to plummet for all eternity. And this is unfortunate, because despite what my fictional self claims, I never read the damned Goosebumps book in question, leaving me with a significant chance of choosing the Doom Slide. I don’t want to slide forever! I’m not even particularly fond of sliding for five minutes.

In the end, I choose slide 4, because it feels lucky!

And it is. As it so happens, I did not end up on the Doom Slide. Instead, I land headfirst in the grass. Ouch. Should have chosen the Doom Slide.

Finally, I’m reunited with Brad and Patty. Patty advises that we should squeeze through a barbed-wire fence guarded by security to escape. And after following strange dwarves and being threatened by excessive slides, this sounds par for the course. After fleeing from a giant snake and subduing an alligator by showing it affection, we bump into Big Al.

That prick! His silly carnival could have caused us grievous harm! I’ll sue, dammit! But first, I’ll obediently follow him to ‘The Final Challenge’. Because I’m really bloody tired.

We enter a tent. The people come in droves, chanting ‘FI-NAL, F-INAL’, ‘SUD-DEN DEATH, SUD-DEN DEATH’ and ‘WE LIKE ROY, WE LIKE ROY’.

I’m fitted with some snazzy studded sneakers and a metallic helmet, and then pulled over by the force of a giant magnetic wheel. It spins and spins, and puts me onto a page of my choosing. I select page 124, because like slide 4, it feels lucky!

And it isn’t. I pass out, and wake up between Brad and Patty, forevermore attached as the Amazing Siamese Triplets. Well, shit. That was unfortunate. I could have been killed by an alligator, or been fairly bored on a slide until the end of time, but instead, I’m now stuck to two really annoying people.

I told you, man… those freaks will get you every time!

Final result: 28 pages.

Friday, April 20, 2012

#0052: 1991 NBA Trading Cards

Ahh, the world of sport in the 90s. In retrospect, it was likely the highlight of my otherwise dismal existence as a fan of far too many lackluster franchises. The Blue Jays would become back to back World Series champs. The BC Lions would claim their third Grey Cup. The Raptors and Grizzlies would premiere on the courts. The Canucks and Titans would each end a season in the championship game.

And what now? The Jays haven't been back in the playoffs since, the Grizzlies skipped town, and the Titans started the millennium by falling a yard short. The Canucks continue to collapse in the Finals, causing riots in downtown Vancouver, so at least nothing has changed there. Happy face.

I cannot say I was following the NBA with any interest in the year of 1991, because I was three, and there was a distinct lack of Ninja Turtles and Thomas the Tank Engine on the courts. Despite this, I somehow managed to acquire, and maintain for over 20 years, various NBA trading cards. For roughly half of those years, I kept them under the presumed pretense that they would have any value. Today, I now know the exact extent of that value: $1.49 each. Not quite as lofty as I'd hoped.

Because of my lacking 90s NBA knowledge, I can't say most of these cards arouse any form of nostalgia within me. Indeed, the most amusing thing about them is looking at all of the silly old logos and dated haircuts.

But, like all trading cards, these players held hope and promise when these photos were taken. Some truly believed they could be the next Wilt Chamberlain. Others would prove to be as atrocious as Bryant Reeves (my perennial NBA whipping boy). In fact, armed with the power of the future, let's see how these bad boys panned out, shall we?

Charles Oakley, New York Knicks, drafted 1985
We start with a familiar face; Charles Oakley would later go on to be a mean-ass mofo for Toronto, a reputation that has kept him beloved in the eyes of us Raptor fans. While the young whelps McGrady and Carter were starting to zip around the court, Charles Oakley was just a big, grouchy old man who liked to rough people up. He was like a lovable drunk uncle, only less traumatizing. He played in the NBA for 20 seasons, with the height of his success occurring in 1994.

Negele Knight, Phoenix Suns, drafted 1990
Here we move onto (iPhone wanted me to say 'move into', which I feel is a little creepy) a man who played six NBA seasons, ending with one year as a Raptor. Toronto is a bit like the elephant graveyard of basketball players; their careers either die there, or they flee from the baying hyenas. Charles Oakley is Mufasa. As you might have surmised from the lack of relevant Negele Knight information, he would not turn out to be a prolific player. His best year was 1994, when he averaged 9.3 points per game. My best year was also 1994, when I played lots of Donkey Kong Country.

Antoine Carr, Sacramento Kings, drafted 1983
This one's a little cheeky, because Antoine was already old by the year of 1991, so we already know he had a good run. The dude is only thirteen years younger than my dad, man. Now NBA players are younger than I am. This makes me feel old. This no doubt makes Antoine Carr feel very old. He bounced around the pro courts for sixteen years, his last NBA stint with the Vancouver Grizzlies. So apparently Toronto isn't the only Canadian city that can claim old, worn out basketball players. The magic of Naismith, says I.

Marcus Liberty, Denver Nuggets, drafted 1990
Without any prior knowledge to base my opinion on, I assumed Marcus Liberty to have had a short career. I state this, simply because I don't like his face. He looks pretty dopey, and has a flat-top hairstyle that couldn't possible escape the early 90s. Surely enough, he would only last in the NBA to 1994. To his credit however, he continued to play professionally around the world until 2002. His card bio states that 'his size and rebounding capabilities make him a complete package for any style offense'. They read a little bit like a résumé, actually.

John Stockton, Utah Jazz, drafted 1984
He was kinda okay. He had a better haircut than Marcus Liberty, at least.

Rex Chapman, Charlotte Hornets, drafted 1988
The Hornets' first ever signing, Rex Chapman had a 12-year career, and ended up being a fan favorite in a few of the stops along the way. I used to like the Charlotte Hornets, because we owned a stuffed bee plush that was pretty damned cool. Nowadays, the Charlotte Hornet image has been relegated only to the caps of hundreds of posers brandishing it because it's 'retro'. I seriously hate these goddamn fools who wear these hats with no affinity towards the franchise they're wearing. Unless someone had the balls to pull out a Decatur Staleys hat. Now that would be retro. And almost 100 years old, so probably also very smelly.

Rod Strickland, San Antonio Spurs, drafted 1988
For seventeen years, Strickland would hit the courts, which unfortunately closes out my prior theory that any of these guys turned out to be major busts. The second-last season of Strickland's career was in, you guessed it, Toronto. He would later be involved with basketball operations for the University of Kentucky. There's a picture of him during that UK stint, and he actually looks better there than he did in 1991. I'm actually under the impression that African-American men don't age. Have you seen Eddie Murphy lately? He looks like a million bucks.

Kevin Johnson, Phoenix Suns, drafted 1987
As you can plainly see, this one was not from the same series as the other cards. I'm fairly certain it came from a cereal box, and it's still in it's original packaging. This makes it seem more mystical than it actually is. Johnson played very successfully for the Suns for twelve years. More importantly however, he is the mayor of Sacramento. Whatever argument you held prior to this, it is now null and void. Mayor of Sacramento, man. Just look at that cheeky grin he had back in 1991, I guess he knew it was coming.

"Ripcord" Jose' Hardball
Not a basketball player. Not a card from 1991. Not a real person. But he does have the ability to hyper-extend his left leg, which allows him to cover the entire infield while keeping his foot on first base. Me personally, I thought this sounded like cheating, but later it occurred to me that Kevin Johnson is the mayor of Sacramento. So I didn't pursue the matter further.