Stop Naming Fires!

Remember L.A. Story? The Steve Martin and Sarah Jessica Parker rom-com was hilariously funny to this SoCal kid when it came out during my high school years. It might as well have been my life. 

Except for the fact that I never touched Sarah Jessica Parker’s boobs. Or fake boobs, in general. Heck, I’m 45 years old now and I still haven’t touched fake boobs. Seeing as how Wife is naturally endowed, I doubt I ever will. Unless you count when they’re skewered into my back like steel girders on a crowded BART train. If anything, those encounters probably played into my utter lack of desire to do anything more with them.

And sure, sure. Those are only BAD boob jobs. Whereas your expensive boob job are wonderful. Like vegetarian bacon.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, L.A. Story. I doubt it stands the test of time, but at least it predicted text message abbreviations.

What got me thinking about it was the scene where Steve Martin realizes the date, which means it’s open season on L.A. freeways. He pulls a gun out of the glove compartment and everybody starts shooting at each other. Hilarity ensues.

Ah, the good old days, when Mother Nature sat idly by and watched while we all killed each other. Nowadays any human-to-human violence takes a smoke-filled back seat to the orange-skied behemoth smothering us all.

In case you’ve missed the stunning visuals, the entire state of California is on fire right now. As it was last year. And the year before. As we shout into our Zoom calls through COVID-infected lungs: It’s Fire Season, motherfucker!

Although to call it a “season” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s pretty much half the year. In 2018, for instance, my Camptathalon was cut short when we were evacuated due to the Donnell Fire, which razed our campsite less than twelve hours after we left. That was in August. Also in 2018, many school districts canceled school the Friday before Thanksgiving due to smoke from the Camp Fire. Not to be confused with a campfire, which we had to douse when we evacuated the campsite back in August. Or the Carr Fire, also in 2018, which had nothing to do with an automobile.

Incidentally, I looked up the Donnell Fire to verify its name. I googled “Dardanelles fire” since Dardanelles was the resort that burned down. More on the naming of fires in a bit.

According to Wikipedia, “The Donnell Fire was a wildfire that started on August 1, 2018 due to an unknown cause.” Bull fucking shit. That fire, like many others, started as a “controlled burn” that got out of hand. I have photographic proof, from a few days before our camping trip, of a perfect ring of fire, something I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in nature. Check it out, complete with timestamp.

I’ve never understood why they choose the height of fire season to do these controlled burns. I assume it has something to do with foliage being too wet in April to clear out enough of the debris, but April would seem to prioritize the “controlled” part instead of the “burn” part. A couple weeks ago, with half the state burning and every firefighter elsewhere, we drove by signs reading “prescribed burning ahead, do not report.” When we woke up Sunday morning, smoke was on the horizon. Shocking.

I mean, it’s no gender reveal party, but it’s disconcerting that the professionals are setting fires, too.

Hey, what kind of names do you think they’re considering for the fetus who burned down the whole state? Since the orgiastic pyrotechnics were blue, it’s clearly a boy, so I doubt they’ll go with Fyre. Or whatever Drew Barrymore’s character was named in Firestarter. Would Sparky be too on-the-nose? How about Forrest, to appease the gods?

Turns out Drew Barrymore’s character was named Charlie. An androgynous name! Perfect!

Dumbass professionals and pregnants aside, I really don’t know what’s caused this sharp uptick in fires recently. The Democrats in my newsfeed swear it’s climate change. The Republicans in my newsfeed swear it’s that we’re not allowed to clear underbrush and make fire roads anymore. I assume the truth is somewhere in the middle. As usual, the problems we ignore are only exacerbated  by the problems we attempt to fix. So instead of a breathable climate with firebreaks, we’re left with a sweltering hellscape, complete with kindling!

But whatever. To butcher a Jimmy Buffett line, I ain’t tryin’ to reason with fire season. Like taxes, smarmy Amber Alert signs, and a governor who thinks he’s solved COVID-19 by changing “Phase I, II, III, and IV” to “Purple, Red, Orange, and Yellow tiers” (I wonder if he dropped the mic after that stroke of brilliance), if I want to live in the only state where teachers make enough to buy a steak a month, I’ve just got to make peace with six months of fire each year. 

It’s like hurricane season, only twice as long and with substantially more certainty. Even if my house isn’t specifically in danger, I’m still trapped inside. I think the air outside has more ash than oxygen. When I opened my door the other morning, it smelled like I was camping inside a BBQ. Except if I was at a campsite or a BBQ, I could be drinking at oh-dark-thirty. Whereas that would be frowned upon at work.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m teaching from home. Nobody would know except my laptop screen. I actually lectured after a couple beers for the first time in my professional career last week. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a live lecture, but I remembered at about 9:30 Labor Day night that I hadn’t recorded the instructions for the next day. Oops.

I remember when California’s most famous natural disaster was our earthquakes. People who live in Tornado Alley or Hurricane Avenue or Locust Boulevard would comment how they couldn’t possibly conceive of living where there are earthquakes.

The great thing about earthquakes , though, is by the time you realize we’re having an earthquake, it’s already over. We don’t have to build an underground earthquake shelter or pack up all of our shit three times a year to drive 1,000 miles away on the chance that this might be one of the bad earthquakes instead of the mundane ones. 

Instead it’s, “did you feel… wait, is that… are we having an… whew, glad that’s over.” Unless you happen to be driving on the lower level of a bridge.

But with fires, we get to experience the looming dread that the rest of the country has always faced. When it gets too windy or too still, or too humid or too dry, we look at each other and know that we better stock up on the N-95s. And that’s before we knew that the fertility gods are now requesting sacrifices of scorched earth.

But whatever. Much like the Gales facing the Kansas twister or the Florida meth whores peddling their wares during Hurricanes Neal and Bob, we’re adjusting to life in Fire-geddon. Hell, it’s 2020, if the world isn’t literally crumbling to embers in your corner of the woods, just wait a week. Oh sorry, “corner of the woods” is probably an offensive statement here in Fire State. Every corner of every woods in the state is now an ember.

The problem that I’m having with the last five years isn’t the fires themselves, but rather our incessant need to come up with quippy little names for said fires.

I never understood the penchant for naming hurricanes. Sure, it helps to distinguish one from another, but that can be done without proper names of real human beings. There’ve been studies about people not taking female-named hurricanes as seriously as male-named ones. I can’t say for certain that Hurricane 2020-B would be any more or less effective. At least then they’d only get useful monikers once they’ve become something we should give a shit about. 

As opposed to our current classification system, where they get their fancy pre-selected name as soon as one drop of rainwater hits the Atlantic Ocean. It starts as Tropical Depression then it’s Tropical Storm, and because it has a name, we’re kinda rooting for it, right? I had a tropical storm named after me a few years ago, and I was really hoping it would head to New Orleans, hang out on Bourbon Street for a while, maybe drink a hand grenade because hurricanes are so gauche. 

It never became a hurricane. Insert sad-trombone noise.

It could be worse. I could be named Katrina. Or Andrew. Sucks for those people. We all want our named storms to peter out around a Category I, right? Worthwhile enough to be noticed, but nothing that’ll be reviled throughout time.

But hey,  the worst two hurricanes have one female name and one male name. And beyond those two, we’ve got Harvey and Sandy, Ike and Maria. Huzzah for gender equality!

At least when they’re naming hurricanes, they do it ahead of time and try to pick non-specific names. Now that they’ve decided to start naming fires, all bets are off. They name it after the fact and try to be as cutesy as possible. I guess all those out-of-work military planners had to get a job somewhere. Remember Operation Enduring Freedom? Good thing we didn’t take a left at Fallujah or we might be calling it Operation Turgid Nipple.

I’ve already listed some of the fire names above. The Carr Fire and the Camp Fire. Really? Oh what giggles must’ve erupted about the command center when those names were posited. “Sure, the town of Paradise is burning to the ground as we speak but, follow me here, guys. Camp Fire. Get it? Campfire? Oh, I’m so clever.”

They come up with some bogus bullshit about the fire starting near Carr Road or Camp Farm or whatever, but it’s clear they’re just trying to be clever. Hey, let me see if there was a Homeowners’ Ass. anywhere near the conflagration and I can call it the Ass Complex.

I perused the Cal Fire website while writing this. Check out some of the names: Oak Fire, Willow Fire, Lake Fire, Valley Fire, and Creek Fire. Clearly somebody was watching Animal Planet recently, because we’ve recently added a Bobcat Fire and a Sheep Fire. There’s also a Schoolhouse Fire. 

“Good thing all of our schools are canceled because of the plague, right boys? C’mon, up top!”

There’s a fire called the Lightning Fire, which may or may not have been caused by lightning. I say “may not,” because there were a lot of lightning fires (we had thunderstorms in mid-August) so it seems odd to name just one of them Lightning Fire. And we’re obviously not naming these fires after their causes or else we’d have “Dumbass Hipster Fire” and “Uncontrolled Control Burn Fire.” There’s an “August Complex Fire,” too. I have learned that a complex fire are when two or more fires merge. So the “August Complex Fire” mentions it was formerly known as the “Doe Fire.” Animal Planet Dude strikes again.

The problem with these names is that they’re confusing as hell, and when I want to check and see if anything is contained or if I’m ever going to see blue skies again, I first have to guess what clever name they’ve come up with. For instance, the county next door to me, bordering Sacramento, is named “El Dorado County.” The “El Dorado Fire,” meanwhile, is 500 miles away in Riverside County.

Imagine if the hurricanes were only named after they had already struck, and then were named random shit like “Cloud Hurricane” or “Wet Hurricane.” Or “Beaver Hurricane.” Then add in that “Texas Hurricane” just ravaged the coast of South Carolina.

I understand that, when there are twenty fires raging at any given time, there’s got to be a way to classify them. But guess what? Those of us living through this shit have come up with a much better classification system. The city that’s getting evacuated becomes the classification for the fire. Camp Fire, my ass. It was the Paradise Fire. Just ask Netflix.

Here’s the conversation I had at work last week.

“It was starting to clear up, but now it’s back. Is this smoke still from the San Jose fire?”

“No, I think that one’s mostly contained. I think this new smoke is from Fresno.”

“Really? Fresno’s an awfully long way away.”

“Whatever happened to the Auburn Fire? Wasn’t that blanketing you house last week?”

“No. Turns out the Auburn fire was minor. I thought it was that, but I was getting Vacaville.”

Super tough, huh?

Although I bet the forthcoming Cougar Fire will be nice and caliente.

You’ll Never Believe How I Play Animal Crossing! #713 will amaze you!! Plus X-Men and GoT!!!

Welcome back to my foray into the time- and mind-suck known as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, including the use of the clickbait titles required when writing about said game.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Sophie Turner starred as both a “Game of Thrones” character AND a Marvel character. I should probably post a picture of her. Meh, you can google it.

Oh, and I think last time I promised I’d tell you what new critters are available in September. Let me check my Critterpedia. I’ve see some salmon and some crickets. A snazzy red dragonfly is  out, but only during daytime hours. And something about acorns?

Dammit, I should’ve buried this at the end of the blog. With a shit-ton of “Next” buttons en route. I’m as bad as a Nigerian prince at this.

Last time, I wrote about my family’s journey from one to three Switch Lites, along with three copies of Animal Crossing. But at the tail end of that post, I was still managing to fight the temptation to hang out with passive aggressive animals. But eventually, I reached the point I always reach with Civilization games. Easy levels are too easy, hard levels kick my butt. If the damn game’s gonna last ten hours, I want it to be just hard enough to beat. The only thing worse than wasting ten hours on a game you’re kicking butt on is to waste ten hours only to lose. 

So some time in late June, I finally busted out our third copy of Animal Crossing and created the island of Buffett. Because Wife had already nabbed Copacabana and Margaritaville is too many letters.

If you haven’t played Animal Crossing, the main plot of this game is revolving debt. I assume they sell it as “building an island paradise amongst creepy animals with personality issues,” but really, it’s about the never-ending, crippling debt that defines modern America. Plus doing other people’s work for them. 

The stage is set with your very first task, which is to place not only your own tent, but the other two tag-alongs’ tents, too.  That’s right, they sell you on the whole “deserted island” motif then, Bam! give you two neighbors, one of whom is “snooty,” and three staff. Seems suspiciously like one of those “hour-long” timeshare meetings. 

You then spend the next month chasing Tom Nook, the crazy cruise director’s, dream of packing said island to the rafters with other residents until you can get a Fyre Festival concert going with an artist whose name sounds suspiciously close to an organization that one should not want to be too closely associated with. My heart skips a beat every time Daughter exclaims, in that echoing voice of a six-year old not yet aware of “inside voice,” that we have to get home quick so she can attend the K.K. rally.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

After you’ve picked out the island, placed three tents , and promised to bury your first-born child into a glowing hole that will grow into a three-baby tree, they stick you with the bill. You owe fifty grand in moving expenses!

Not to worry, though. Like any good cult leader, he’s gonna cut you a deal on your first batch. All you have to do is use his phone app to get frequent flyer miles and drink his Kool-Aid on a regular basis. However, as soon as you pay it off, he hits you with another loan, and this one needs honest-to-goodness money to pay off. 

Sure, I don’t have to take out that second loan, but dude is a somewhat persistent used-car-that-runs-on-snake-oil salesman, “Hey, good job paying off that piece-of-shit tent,” he says. “How about manning up and getting a fucking house like the rest of society?” So you acquiesce and upgrade to a studio apartment, then a one-bedroom, then two. Eventually you add an upstairs. Each time, he builds it for you right away, then makes you pay off the loan. And he won’t let you forget about it either. If you chat with him about anything, it comes across as, “Boy, I really wish I could get my favorite Aryan singer to this podunk place. And hey, no hurries, but about that little loan I floated you…

“But seriously, go build some bridges and paths and campsites and shit, because this deserted island ain’t gonna turn into a five-star resort by itself.”

It’s not just the Jim Jones guy in charge, either. EVERYBODY on this fucking island wants you to do all of their work for them. In a Trumpian show of nepotism, Tom Nook’s little nephews want to set up a shop on the island. Only thing is that you have to collect all their supplies. Then, in a classic boss-versus-worker-bee twist, once they open the shop that you built for them, their hours are shorter. When they were working out of resident services, you could buy and sell from them 24 hours a day. Now their shop is only open 8:00 am to 10:00 pm. It’s like that old joke where the MBA guy finds a villager who fishes in the morning and drinks cervezas on the beach the rest of the day. The MBA tells him that he should expand his business, invest in a fleet, work hard for thirty years so he can enjoy a retirement of fishing in the morning and drinking cervezas on the beach the rest of the day.

The Nook boys will accept items for sale after hours, but then they take a 10% cut. About what you’d expect from dudes who relied upon their uncle for the plot of land and a random stranger for all the materials. I guess they’re too busy sipping cervezas on the beach. They certainly aren’t fishing, because that’s what they need me to do to keep their business afloat. 

Eventually, your island will grow to 10 other residents who might help the various Nookses with their get-rich-slowly schemes. But, hoo boy, those other residents su-uuuu-uck. The can’t fish. They can’t catch bugs. They can’t bang rocks. Hell, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one shake a damned tree. Not sure why these people (or animals, I suppose) decided coming to a deserted island, with no OSHA or ADA or left-turn signals. This sure ain’t one of those libertarian islands where you’re expected to fend for yourself.

Watch one try to catch a bug some time. It’s hilarious. They stalk up to it with their net raised and then they just stand there like Paul Giamatti trying to talk to a woman in “Sideways.” Pull the trigger, mother fucker!

At some point later in the game, you’re supposed to build bridges and inclines. I guess the game manufacturers thought people would feel used and abused by that point, so instead of paying for it all yourself, you place where it’ll go and then everybody on the island can contribute to its cost. Unfortunately, “everybody contributing” usually ends up equating to 197,572 bells from you and 428 combined from the other ten residents combined. True socialism at work!

But their slovenly ways aren’t nearly as annoying as how damned smug they are about it. They really should’ve named the game “Passive Aggressive Crossing.” If you talk to them more than once in a day, they not-so-subtly remind you that you’re wasting their time. “Wow, we keep running into each other” or “Hey, I have an idea, let’s see how many times we can talk” or “Didn’t I just talk to you?” But then if you go a couple days without talking to them, they remind you of that, too. 

This is probably why it’s a kid’s game. Daughter doesn’t understand social cues or sarcasm, so if somebody snidely says, “We should play a game where we keep talking to each other for no reason,” she’s like, “Sweet, a game!” Meanwhile, I return their own passive aggressiveness with a healthy dose of my own. The museum owner loves fish, but hates bugs. So I make him tell me more information about bugs, but whenever I give him a fish, I pull the “Sorry, I’m really busy.”

It only takes one look at our various islands to note the different ways we play this game. Wife’s island is meticulous, well-manicured trails between perfectly-segregated flower gardens. She even decorates the areas around each resident’s island with different motifs, giving each of those slackers their own flower beds. Daughter’s island is filled to the brim with lots of colorful knick-knacks. Instead of meticulous flowerbeds, her whole fucking island is one giant flowerbed. There’s probably some rhyme or reason to it, but I can’t discern how to get from point a to point b, much less the aesthetics of a six-year old. 

My island, meanwhile, has random shit dropped wherever. There’s usually some method to my madness, but I couldn’t give two shits about how it looks. My exercise bike is by some sort of fish-drying rack. I think there’s a lava lamp by my topiary. I do a good job of cleaning up all of my ersatz building materials, my rocks and wood and what-have-you, into neat little clumps of thirty. But then I put those clumps of thirty on the ground, whereas Wife puts them in storage. Why did I put all the shoes and cans out on the beach? So they’re out of the way! Sure, I coulda put them in front of Agnes’s house, but what would that accomplish? 

At least you can get around my island. Daughter’s island has so much random shit it’s a fucking maze. While Wife’s island has neat little flower beds of complimentary colors and varietals, Daughter’s island is one giant smorgasbord of every flower in existence. Oh, and fences. I visited her island last Sunday morning to buy some cheaper turnips from the disgusting, snot-nosed Daisy Mae, and Daughter informed me I had to go through the “secret passage” to get to the other side of the island. Said secret passage ended up being a zigzag of fences through a flower field, between two houses, and onto a bridge.

My flowers, by the way, are as haphazard as Daughters, only less prolific. When I get the quest to plant three flowers, I plant three flowers and nothing more. Then I drop the remaining seed packets there, so the next time I get that quest, I only need to pick them up and plant three more. So its more of an amorphous blob.

Daughter probably interacts with the other residents as the game designers intended. When given the choice (task!) of where to put their houses, she started by putting them as close to hers as possible. When that became untenable, she made carefully constructed neighborhoods, even paying to move some of their houses to live close to others they’re likely to get along with.

Me? I put those fuckers as far away from me as possible. I signed up for a deserted fucking island, dude. It’s bad enough these lollygaggers want me to do all their work for them. They want me to talk to them, too?

When I finally gained the ability to move houses, I didn’t move theirs, I moved mine. Because by then I could get across the river, and option I didn’t have at the beginning of the game. And it’s a skill the others never gain, because if they can’t work a goddamn net, I don’t see them mastering pole vaulting. Fifty thousand bells to cordon off half of the island for my own private compound? Sold!

Although I did also pay to move one of the original residents’ houses. I’d originally placed it too close to the center of a peninsula. When new residents moved in, I wanted them taking up as little space on my paradise as possible, so I moved Agnes’s house over a skosh to jam a new resident in right next to her, like a proper nineteenth century tenement. Slum lord, here I come. If I could put them all to work at a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, I would. 

IT’s not only about where they live, either. Daughter makes gifts for her residents and sends them postcards. She doesn’t at all mind when one of them tells her to “snuffles” or “pronk.” Seriously, she’ll go around the island to collect natural resources, then craft them into finish products, just to walk up to a rando and give it to them when they weren’t even asking. WTF? Doesn’t she know she can get a good deal on that over at Nook’s Cranny?

Of course, then she always whines that Wife and I have more money and more Godzilla monsters than her. Maybe if she learns her lesson now, she can avoid the whole loadie friend stage in her teens and twenties.

So if I don’t make my island pretty and I don’t interact with my residents, what the hell am I doing playing Animal Crossing? Trust me, it’s a question I ask myself on the regular. But, you see, they give you tasks. A never-ending list of tasks that give me Nook miles that I must complete in order to get assigned new ones. In order to get Nook miles that I don’t need, which I redeem for cash and prizes. which I don’t do.

It’s so easy to fall under its spell. All I have to do is cut down a tree and catch five fish? Easy peazy. So why am I, thirty minutes later, still with two fish to go and a virgin forest? It’s just like those never-ending games that I download on my phone.

Except that I had to pay for this never-ending game. Three times, in fact. 

Crap.

Maybe I need to sell some ads to those free-game companies.