Friday, February 26, 2016

Escape Rooms

I have had the pleasure of taking part in several “escape room” challenges whereby the players are placed in a controlled area and given a set of hints, clues, and puzzles that, if properly solved within a predetermined timeframe, allows escape.It is like Saw without homicide-inducing duress. If done well (and our town has some gifted practitioners) the solve is a combination of knowledge, observation, and dumb luck.

The idea of a physical escape room is based on a genre of digital escape games which were, in-turn, inspired by an online-interactive text adventure called Behind Closed Doors. While researching this, I also discovered that there are a number of marginally-erotic novels of the same name. It would seem that to market a book with a title like “Behind Closed Doors” one must utilize a suggestive portrait of a female silhouette that may or may not be blindfolded. But I digress….

Despite this official history, I maintain that the truest form of the escape room began decades ago with the advent of timeshare presentations. The premise is that you would receive a complimentary (or at least, greatly subsidized) vacation in exchange for agreeing to sit through a “brief presentation.” You are assured that there is no obligation to buy anything, they simply wish to present discerning consumers such as yourself with some exciting “investment opportunities.” Most promise you will be in and out in less than two hours.

The truth can be far more harrowing. Tales abound of people whose experiences sounded more like hostage situations than informative talks. Sales associates would even use guilt to remind you that if you left without making a purchase you were nothing more than a common free-loader. You should be ashamed of yourselves for taking advantage of the generous shareholders at Del Boca Vista Phase VII. Have you no shame?

When I was still a teenager, my friend’s family allowed me to tag along on their Caribbean cruise vacation. I was grateful for the opportunity and enjoyed the trip immensely, but what I did not know is that his parents had agreed to subject themselves to a timeshare presentation in exchange for discounted travel accommodations. His mother had one of the sweetest temperaments of anyone I had ever met. His father, while unfailingly kind to me, had a much sterner disposition. He was a man that wasn’t to be trifled with.

So when they left the hotel room that morning to attend the presentation, I had no doubt that he would make good on the promise that he “wasn’t buying” what they had to sell. I figured that by the time Mr. Mike got ahold of them they would be paying his mortgage and we would be sleeping in the captain’s berth for the remainder of the journey. Imagine my surprise when, three hours later, they returned glassy-eyed and the proud owners of a seaside condominium time-share.

I was devastated. What exactly had occurred in Event Room C? Did they restrain him while ominously detailing his child’s bus schedule?   It was inconceivable that Mr. Mike’s resolve could not only be worn away, but replaced by something akin to enthusiasm. I knew from that day forward that I should never step into a timeshare presentation or I would spend the rest of my life trying to rationalize my purchase of an alley-view driftwood bungalow on a superfund site. If they could get to Mr. Mike, no one was safe.

While I have neither the financial resources nor attention span to bring such an enterprise to fruition, I thought it would be interesting to helm a set of “socially awkward escape rooms.” Actors would be hired and you would be placed in the following precarious scenarios:  

  • A family Thanksgiving meal that had to be moved to Saturday afternoon because your daughter’s new boyfriend’s belief system only allows for the consumption of poultry on 8-letter days.

  • You run into a high-school acquaintance at Kroger who, after years of being put-off by your disingenuous promises of getting together for coffee, specifically just heard you tell someone in the cereal aisle that your next two evenings were “wide open.”

  • You walk in to your boss’s office only to discover that the creepy married guy at the gym who keeps asking if you need any assistance “strengthening your pelvic floor” is her husband.

  • Your siblings have decided that your mother’s memorial service would the most appropriate venue to air their grievances concerning the distribution of her third husband’s riverboat-casino jackpot winnings.

  • Thanks to an auto-correct mistake on a hastily-posted Facebook status about the lap pool at your new gym, your mother is calling to clarify what you meant by “Glad to finally be a part of a club where everyone else is as passionate about weekend swinging as I am!” #TheMoreTheMerrier

Monday, February 1, 2016

Random Thoughts 10

  • My wife came back from Kroger a few days ago with a can of value-brand Pork & Beans. What caught my attention was the fact that the can’s label identified the contents as “Extra Fancy.” Don’t patronize me Kroger. I am buying off-brand pork fat in a can, I think that we can drop the pageantry. Just give me a generic label, a lower price, and a reasonable facsimile of the name-brand counterpart. 

  • A week or so ago, I was approached on the street by an older gentleman requesting financial assistance. Following closely behind him was a much younger bearded male who wore dark glasses and seemed to be perpetually starting into the sunset. The younger man’s wardrobe (which consisted of a hoodie, jeans, and canvas sneakers) indicated that he was either truly destitute or a college hipster. The older gentleman asked for some money to get food. I handed him the change I had on me and assured him that I did not have any cash. He asked again reminding me that he was hungry and I again told him that was what I had. Just as he was about to ask a third time, his younger companion softly announced “that’s enough” before instructed the older gentleman to thank me. He issued all of these directives without ever averting his gaze from the sky above us. As instructed, the older gentleman hastily thanked me and continued upon his way.
I immediately suspected I had witnessed some sort of panhandling mentorship program. Was the hipster acting as a consultant? Did he get a percentage? If approached again I think I should be able to ask. After all, if I am giving to charity I have a right to know what kind of overhead and administrative costs are eating into my donations.

  • I admire the idea of businesses printing the name of the cashiers on the receipts. I suppose the intent is that the customer feels more connected to the employee and, by extension, the company that employs them. However, if this system is purchased but not updated it can have the opposite effect. Recently, I approached an event ticket window and was helped by a young bearded Caucasian male. My receipt identified him only as Laticia.

Since this event featured rides for the kids, I had to wonder how thorough their safety inspections are if they don’t even put forth the effort to document the individuals handling their money. The true irony is that most of these places give you a receipt that asks you to fill out a survey. I was tempted to fill one out and in the comment section and allude to the fact that Laticia kept replacing the cash in his drawer with ketchup packets and mumbling that the owner “was going to get what he got coming.”

  • Like any married couple, my wife and I have occasional disagreements; but one of the greatest points of contention in our marriage would have to be the proper use and storage of oral hygiene products. My wife tends to wander while brushing her teeth so I often find the toothpaste in the kitchen, in the shower, or basically anywhere except the bathroom counter. I feel like I am participating in a mandatory Colgate scavenger hunt after every meal.

As if that was not enough, we cannot agree on the proper method of administering mouthwash. I prefer to swig directly from the bottle (which she finds distasteful and backwashy) and she will pour a few sips into the bottle-cap and drink from there (which then allows the residue to seep down the sides of the bottle once the cap is replaced and make it sticky). She will argue that drinking from the bottle is unsanitary and spreads germs and I would counter that if Listerine can’t kill it, my immune system certainly isn’t equipped to. Just today I opened a new bottle of value-brand Listerine and, since the plastic bottle is much thinner than the real thing, I squeezed too hard as I tried to drink from it and the mouthwash shot directly into my nostrils causing acute nasal distress. My wife responded that perhaps I should attempt to drink from the cap like a grown up.

  • The home screen on my Roku often suggests content that I might be interested in. I assume these suggestions are based on complex algorithms that take previous viewing habits into consideration. So imagine my surprise when I find myself constantly bombarded with a streaming channel of “Free Asian Romantic Dramas.” I realize that we are in an age of granular customization, but have we gone too far? Who is so specific that they are only willing to watch a particular ethnicity fall in love? What if I want to see a Turk and a Dane who have feelings for one another?

  • My son has a talent for locating strange children’s shows on Netflix. A few weeks ago, he started watching “Baby Genius” videos in earnest. I was unfamiliar with the brand (I suspect it is a poor man’s Baby Einstein) but the segment he enjoyed the most was a collection of beloved children’s songs. Most of these were familiar to me (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Row, Row Row Your Boat, etc..) but then we were subjected to “Vinko the Dancing Bear.”

I immediately suspected Vinko was re-purposed Soviet propaganda and in the video he is flanked by a tiger and a dinosaur in a wizard’s hat. It turns out that Vinko is a rather common Croatian name that was given distinction by a film director and a notorious serial killer who died in a shootout with police. I watched the video several times, and while I was unable to identify any specific nefarious content, as soon as my son starts referring to me a “comrade” I am shutting that bear down.