The Room

I like games. I love games. I love ‘play’ as a concept, and as an activity that’s absolutely fundamental and necessarily integral to a meaningful life. There’s been an element of ‘play’ in everything I’ve ever done for as long as I can remember. I’ve never held a job that didn’t allow me to include ‘play’ in some manner. Even when the job was deadly serious, there was always the potential for ‘play’ in it somewhere.

So I love games — but I’m not really a gamer. Not in the modern sense of the term. I don’t spend much time playing video games, primarily because so many of them are goal-directed. Achieve this, attain that, increase in level, gain points, compete against your friends, maximize your scoring potential, win.

Don’t get me wrong. I can be ridiculously competitive in some things, and I like winning. But for the most part, it’s not what drives me. What drives me is being immersed in the experience of the game, deeply engaged in playing it. The outcome is secondary. Or even tertiary.

I’m talking about all this because I got an email from a friend who knows how I feel about play and games. The subject line of the email: Here, look at this. And the text of the email:

I downloaded this on my phone. I fucking hate it. It’s all about observation and thinking and logic and intuition and solving puzzles and the music totally fucking creeps me out. It’s everything that makes me nuts in a game. It made me think of you. You’ll love it.

And it included a link to this teaser:

So I downloaded the game to my new phone. I think it cost me two bucks. It’s the only game app I’ve put on my phone. And my friend was right. I love it.

There’s a narrative behind it, but I really don’t care (which in itself is odd, because I’m usually all about the narrative). I’ve not finished the game yet, and I’m in no hurry to do that (well, I’m in an absolute hurry to finish only in the sense that I want to keep playing; but I’m in no hurry in that I want it to last). The experience is satisfying in the way solving any puzzle is always satisfying. But the game designers understand that solving the pleasure of solving the puzzles is enhanced by the visually rich environment and the sweet and peculiarly creepy music. It’s so good that I’m parceling the game out, which seems awfully Protestant of me — like it’s a reward for doing the things I’m actually required to do. There’s apparently something to all that ‘delayed gratification’ business.

I have no idea if I’m almost done with the game, or if I’ve just begun, or if I’m somewhere near the middle. If it ends after I’ve solved the next puzzle, I’ll be disappointed. Not by the game itself, but only because it’s over.

Now I have to make myself some lunch, log in a couple hours in reviewing my students’ homework, and then back to The Room.

gazania in a monkey’s head

So, back in May, right? I’m noodling around in the Sally (yes, I know the Salvation Army opposes marriage equality, but they still provide services to poor folks and since I live nearby, I like to stop in now and then and slip them a few bucks; I’m vocal about my support for marriage quality, but I’m not going to ace out poor folks just to get back at the Sally, and anyway same-sex marriage has been legal in Iowa for a few years now, so let’s not get sidetracked from oh lawdy it’s too late). And what do I see? A ceramic boxlike thing with a monkey’s head on it.

And I snatch it off the shelf. I know immediately, right then, I’m buying it.

no evil

“You’re buying a tissue holder with a chimpanzee’s head on it?” my friend asked. And I realize I’m not holding a boxlike thing with a monkey’s head; I’m holding a tissue holder with a chimpanzee’s head. Easy mistake to make.

“It’s not a tissue holder,” I tell her. “It’s a planter. Or it’s going to be.” She gives me that patient no-point-in-discussing-it look, which I get so often. At the checkout counter, a short woman wearing a sweater with a teddy bear holding some balloons on the front says, “Oh, I’ve always liked that tissue holder. That’ll be four dollars.”

Four bucks for a planter with a chimpanzee’s head. That’s a bargain. In fact, there are four chimpanzee faces on it. See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil, and a fourth face which I believe is Contemplating a Little Evil.

So since I now own a planter, I need a plant. We head off to the nearest garden center, where I wander around aimlessly, looking at a staggering array of plants, all of which are labeled with detailed information about the amount of water required, the amount of light necessary, the proper pH level, appropriate moon cycle for planting, the expected growth size of the plant, the size and color and dimension of its blooms, the Latin name of the plant, whether or not its edible and how best to prepare it, the etymology of its common name, which chapter the plant appears in Professor Snape’s Potions textbook.

I see a plant called a Gazania. It has odd, primitive-looking leaves and  a name that sounds like a fictional nation in a Marx Brothers movie. I snatch it off the shelf. I know immediately, right then, I’m buying it.

gazania in a bag

It turns out you can’t actually plant a Gazania (or anything else, for that matter, in a tissue holder on account of a tissue holder doesn’t have a bottom. You need a bottom in a planter, else the plant just falls out. I figured that out my ownself. So you have to plant the Gazania in a small planter, then somehow weasel the leaves through the tissue opening. If you take your time and are careful, it can be done. It can also be done if you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing and just try shit until it works.

My friend’s friend said, “It’ll die. It needs a bigger pot. It’s got to have muttermutter sunlight. It’s supposed to be planted muttermutter.” “It’s a Gazania,” I said. “In a monkey’s head. If it lasts a week, I’ll be happy. Anything beyond that is gravy. And besides, I piss on the nation of your birth.”

I cannot abide a naysayer.

gazania inna monkey head

Anyway, I was happy. Stupidly and completely happy. I had a Gazania in a monkey’s head. How many folks can say that? If it died, so what? Four bucks for the monkey’s head, four bucks for the Gazania — hell, you pay more than that for a movie (I saw The Heat with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock last week — it’s hilarious, y’all should go see it; it won’t bring you as much joy as a Gazania in a monkey’s head, but very few things will, you know?).

And hey, it didn’t die. In fact, in a couple of weeks, it blossomed. Which was pretty much a shock on account of I didn’t even know it was a flower. I had a flowering Gazania in a monkey’s head. Crazy-ass, wild yellow flowers. Gaudy bastards, with a red blaze down the center of each petal.

I was over the moon.


Look at those flowers. They look like something a child would draw. A child who’s seen too much Speed Racer.

And it hasn’t stopped. It just keeps on continuing to blossom. One flower withers and dies, and another takes its place. Sometimes two takes its place. I trim off the dying flowers and this thing just keeps pushing out new flowers, like Octomom.

I swear, no power in the ‘verse can stop it.

more gazania

Well, okay. I know that’s not true. I know it’ll die in the fall. Maybe. Actually, I don’t have a clue what it’ll do in the fall. But probably it’ll die, right? And that’s okay. On account of it’s been the best eight bucks I’ve ever…well, no. That’s almost certainly not true either. I’m sure I’ve spent eight bucks in lots of better ways, though I can’t think of any at the moment. Still, it was a really great eight bucks, no mistake.

Also? I may start a website And I’ll be sure to thank the Sally for giving me the idea.