The Surreality of 2016

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As I sit at my keyboard, I try to think of a word to encapsulate the year 2016. I do my best thinking while consuming coffee or sugary dairy products, so I had decided to combine the two and make a homemade eggnog latte.

Before I continue, I’m fully aware that eggnog can be controversial. It’s something that people either love or really, really hate. Much like Hillary Clinton. There’s no middle ground. But I’m one of those people that adores eggnog. I don’t care if my cholesterol takes a 15-point hike during the holidays, I’m still gonna drink it.

Sipping my beverage, I find out that dictionary tycoon Merriam-Webster already announced its Word of the Year – “surreal.” An adjective, it describes something “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” From happenings in politics, sports and culture, to local news around Patterson, it seems like an apt summation of 2016.

In national politics, we began the year with roughly 14 presidential candidates from the two major parties – among them former governors, U.S. senators and even a brain surgeon. Yet, of all those candidates, the eventual winner was a wealthy former reality television star with a questionable haircut.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games were the sport highlights of 2016. When the world descended upon Rio de Janeiro, we were treated to many feats of athletic prowess. Our local Paralympic hero Danielle Hansen earned a silver, while superstar Michael Phelps brought home 6 medals – including 5 golds. We haven’t seen that much gold pillaged out of South America since the 16th century.

If that wasn’t enough excitement, we also got to witness four-time Olympian Ryan Lochte’s performance as a drunken and idiotic man-boy destroying a Rio public bathroom. Good times.

Anyway, in terms of pop culture, I would like to discuss the dominance of superhero movies and why the hell we need so many television shows featuring zombies. I’m sorry to break it to you, but superheroes and zombies are fictional. There’s more of a chance of me leaping out of my wheelchair and dancing the Macarena than there is of anyone getting attacked by a zombie. I don’t care what you read on the internet.

Speaking of fictional things, this year we also had folks roaming around looking for cartoon Pokemon on their smartphones. While the popularity of the game has waned, the surreality of it has not.

Finally, in less time than it takes to find Pikachu, the new Flying J truck stop on Sperry Avenue was completed. I’m not sure what kind of super-fast wizard built that structure, but they were clearly in Slytherin House. That’s some dark magic happening right there. I wasn’t aware that something could be constructed that quickly. I think someone should refer those folks to Caltrans.

While 2016 may have been surreal, here’s hoping your new year is not. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017!

Pokémon Problems

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Since the early days of mankind, games have been part of human life. If cavemen had a little free time, I suspect they huddled by a fire playing Pin the Tail on the Mammoth.

The game of chess traces back to the sixth century in India. When chess was invented, folks still thought the world was flat. Yet they nonetheless managed to create a game so sophisticated that most humans today still can’t figure it out.

I was in the chess club in elementary school. However, I never won a single match. In the ranking list on the club bulletin board, my name was at the very bottom – like the pathetic kid that gets picked last for dodgeball at recess. If I’m being honest, I must say that I didn’t mind. All I really cared about was the free pizza they gave us during the meetings.

It’s natural to seek diversion from everyday life – which can be boring and filled with annoying things like household chores, bills and presidential candidates. But I fear we might have gone too far in our quest for mindless diversion. Yes, I’m talking about the recent advent of “Pokemon Go.”

Pokemon is a popular franchise of video games, playing cards and television shows that features a multitude of little animated creatures. A couple of weeks ago, a reboot of Pokemon was launched as a smartphone app that uses GPS mapping technology to create a real-world scavenger hunt for the infamous cartoon creatures.

Armed with smartphones, millions of people are wandering around looking for Pokemon. If you see a group of folks huddled over their phone in a random place, this is most likely what they are doing. I’m happy that this game has caused people to partake in physical exercise – truly. But I’m a little concerned that, in the pursuit of Pokemon out in the real world, many people have left their brains at home.

Police departments have reported that Pokemon players are trespassing onto private property, crashing motor vehicles while playing the game and generally engaging in unsafe and stupid behaviors – like sticking their noses so far into their smartphone screens that they have no awareness of what is around them. Recently, two guys fell off a cliff in San Diego while hunting for Pokemon. I’m not making that up. Their parents must be so proud.

I’ve made no secret of my love of technology and my addiction to my iPhone, so I really have no room to judge. But a real world exists out there – full of potholes, cliffs and nasty people who would love to take advantage of you while you are too busy looking into your phone to notice that someone means to do you harm. Be smart. Be alert. And, for goodness sake, don’t wander into someone’s yard in the middle of the night looking for Pokemon. It really might not end well for you.

I think I’ll stick with chess, instead.