Third Pixel, Corner Pocket

by Eric Del Pozo | 11/24/99 6:00am

When I was back in the fifth grade my father tried to take up some of my interests so that we could be more "in tune." Unfortunately, we ended up about as in tune as a piano. (One that has been beaten severely with another, larger piano before being played by noted musician Evander Holyfield.) There was one thing, however, that my father actually took a liking to: cheese. But since I am not wholly prepared to write a column about that, not this close to Thanksgiving by God, instead I will talk about how he and I used to play video games.

Bear in mind that my dad wasn't what you would call talented with regard to video games. For instance, his characters would often die even before we turned on the game machine. "What is the point?" they would ask. If anyone remembers the smash educational hit "The Oregon Trail", at the beginning of your quest to Oregon (state motto: There is No Trail That Leads Here Directly), you are asked to name the main character in your party. Whenever my father played with us, the screen would read:

  1. Player one, please name your character: "Dad."

  2. "Dad" has died.

  3. The rest of you are headed for Oregon!

My dad also did not respond well to games with titles like "Stinky The Groundhog" and "Marginally Terrific Ethnic Plumbers." He'd pick up the controller, and these characters would look as if they had spontaneously decided to go on Cartoon Suicide Missions, jumping headfirst into ditches and attempting to touch and / or eat anything at all remotely deadly-looking. Come to think of it, my dad does similar things himself if "Jeopardy" is not on at its scheduled time.

No, my dad, the conservative one, he liked to play video pool.

"No, I didn't", he would more than likely respond. "I only played because I bought it for you for Christmas and you had nobody else to play with." We will ignore this.

In any event, by "pool" I do not mean the kind of thing that is usually filled with small annoying children at day camp. That thing is called a "box". By "pool", I am referring to the kind of thing that is played by the small annoying children at day camp, but after they grow up, and find it gobs of fun to swing their pool cues around as if they (the children) are Ninja Turtles in training. All the while attempting to sink numbered balls into pockets, completely randomly, for the valuable privilege of getting to tell everyone: "I definitely planned that." (Literal translation: "As far as involvement, I had more to do with the last space shuttle launch.") The rules of video pool were simple:

a) Press buttons.

b) Hum a few bars from the MAS*H theme song.

c) Watch video balls react in an arbitrary manner, unrelated in any way to actual physics.

Step two can be replaced with any meaningless activity of variable length, such as sneezing, or writing an unintelligent comic strip. However, even in such an acute test of mental prowess as this, my dad could not figure out how to win. In fact, he lost every single game we played, for a number of years. A lot of times he would try valiantly not to lose, employing clever yet devious tactics like "Not Winning" and "Clearly Not Winning," and every so often, "Honest to Pete, I Can't Believe He Lost THAT One! Man he's bad. I vote for a DNA test."

I always told him that hey, at least he kept finishing a solid second. I think this may have been when he cut off my allowance.

How my dad found time right smack in the middle of the evening to play video games will always be a mystery. It seemed to interfere greatly with his usual schedule of watching television and eating large hunks of cheese until he fell asleep. But play on he did. And amazingly, over all of the years that he was finishing second, he couldn't even devise a scheme to win by cheating. What kind of a role model is that? I bet he couldn't have even won one for "The Gipper", who, some reports indicate, is pushing 500 years old these days.

What was even more amazing is that facing defeat more times per week than Germany in the first half of this century, my father actually kept on playing -- this is an actual fact -- in hopes of one day standing victorious. I wonder if he thought that winning would lead him to some kind of promised land. As if, as soon as he sank the winning shot, I would turn to him and say, "I'm sorry for ever doubting you, ever. You are the grand master of video pool! Please allow me to eat my vegetables and get straight A's and here is your wallet."

So, in conclusion, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. And if at any point during this holiday season your father, if he is available, challenges you to a game of video pool, make sure that you do not let him win. The "Gipper" might have a heart attack.

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