In Which I Have A Life.

It’s been no secret that I’ve all but disappeared off the face of the Earth these days. Working two gigs has meant less time with friends, less time at home, less adventures, less sleep… but it has worked out for getting through what are traditionally two brutal months for me. So here I am on the other side, and now that’s it’s Summer, back to brutal 100+ degree days. As I’ve said before in many an occasion: “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

But as things have so turned out, my adventures can’t stay away forever, and for that matter, neither can old commitments. My fifth year of working the Billboard Music Awards came around this month, and as always, was full of stories.

Back on stage.

Back on stage.

I’ve come a long way on this production from a time where it was speculated if I could pull this show off, to making it very much my own thing. I’m very comfortable in my position with the show, and being up on stage these days is more unnatural if I’m not, so it was a very fond return to something where I feel like I belong. And it was fun and interesting. I got to see perennial 1980′s band Simple Minds rehearse/perform “Don’t You Forget About Me”, and Kanye West’s stage? No, you couldn’t see out from it when standing on it, either. I don’t worry often about being set on fire, but when I do….

But the real highlight was Van Halen. Those guys are great performers. David Lee Roth really is a man of the stage, and he looks like he definitely belongs there. Nice guy. Jokes a lot. He looks like a man who enjoys every second of his life. Eddie Van Halen didn’t speak all that much on stage, but he did toss me this during rehearsals:

The Legendary Pick of Rock.

The Legendary Pick of Rock.

Rehearsals came and went, I took part in some great performances, and after lunch the last day, I ran into this guy again:

David Lee Roth and Company.

David Lee Roth and Company.

Again, nice guy. I got to banter with him a little over two days, and again he’s actually pretty inspirational. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone enjoy more what it is that they do in life. It carry over in his body language and attitude, and it gave me something to think about.

Oh, and I sort of crashed E!’s live broadcast the night of the show.

Strangely, this isn't the first time I've done this.

Strangely, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this.

Reality only returned for a brief moment before I was called back to Forgotten City, Vegas’ regional Burning Man event that happens every Memorial Day weekend. This came along at a perfect time for me for two reasons: This is the first time that I’ve had a true “all mine” day off to myself in nearly three months. There’s also the matter that I had really fallen out of the loop with a good number of my friends, and hadn’t seen anyone in months. My hospital visit, the holidays, and my ever-constant work schedule had me fall of the grid for months. This was a chance to catch up, run a little free, and most importantly, reunite with friends.

Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba! The Lion Car.

Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba! The Lion Car.

My fourth event. And while it may be strange to some to spend a weekend at the inside of a dirt basin, it’s also check full of great people. I spent more time not getting to any one destination because I would run into someone that I needed to catch up with. And you know, that was fine. I did everything from visit the bars out there, to relax at the “Electric Lazy” lounge, to cloud watching, or just simply laughing and catching up on old times. And all of it was exactly what I needed. I did, however, have to work Saturday night, however, so I may or may not have missed Daft Punk, which has been the ultimate in “Schrödinger’s Cat” equations. Ask anyone, and you’ll get a completely different answer. Still, even if it was merely a cover band, I do regret not seeing the experience, and writing to tell that particular tales (And if it really was indeed them, consider me PISSED, as I love me some Daft Punk).

The Cathedral of Souls.

The Cathedral of Souls.

Sunday night, the Cathedral of Souls burned, and it was a fantastic spectacle, complete with fireworks. However, once the final firework popped, the sky opened up and poured down rain. Seeing a mass of neon clad spectators scramble to find cover is as equally an impressive show in itself, and I spent a few hours hiding in a tent with friends until the storm passed.

I was a little sleepy after the weekend, but I felt revitalized for the experience all the same. It’s crazy, it’s insane, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything less.

The Man sees all....

The Man sees all….

Which in turn brought me to a conversation the following day. During one of my constant appointments, errands, and performances, someone said that “You have to love what you do in order to be successful”. And the words have been pressing on the back of my mind for the following days since. By that philosophy, I am simultaneously “successful” and “unsuccessful”. My life and all the adventures that I find myself in aren’t to impress anyone, nor are they done for anyone else but me. I do these things because I love them. And when I don’t “love” something, it affects my spirit in ways that don’t lead me to realize my full potential.

This is a milestone year for me with a lot of promisingly good change coming. It’s for that reason, now that I am entering a new phase in my life, that I have to stop doing things that don’t allow me to reach my full potential. I think I’ve reached the point in my life where I am ready to put to rest the things “that I have to”, and start focusing on the things “that I want to”. Because life really is too short. And it’s not worth stressing about the things that don’t have meaning to me. I’d rather focus on friends and family, and what makes me happy. Whether performing on a stage, or surrounded by a group of old friends out in the middle of the desert, “success” isn’t about having all the money or knowing all the answers. It’s about what you love. I’m finally back at the phase in my life where “because I have to” is going to be regulated to the backseat where it needs to be, and now it’s time to restructure a few things for both me and my life.

Speaking of which, wedding preparations are finally starting to commence after being put on “hold” for a few months. Tomorrow, Jen and I, along with our friend Brenda, will be hitting the road for a very different adventure for myself. It’s time to finally be a little more “respectable” these days, but you’re fooling yourself if you think that I’m not going to have a little fun along the way….

Mortal Kombat and Me: 20 Years Later.

I still have to stare at the title a little bit, trying to really take in what I typed just a few minutes ago. Memory is a funny thing. I was trying to find some photos of all of my Williams/Midway days. I came across old E3 badges, press kits for companies long since gone parties and receptions…. I even stumbled across some old tiles from when my friend Madison and I managed to find our way into the old Heaven’s Gate compound (that’s another story for another time), but this month marks a milestone in my life, one that I will tell without pictures all the same. This month marks my first foray into the video game industry just two decades ago.

May 1995 was one of those turning points in my life. I was 19 and in Junior College, trying to maintain A’s in my Dad’s political science class (the one class I couldn’t fool around in, lest I heard about it at the dinner table). I was entertaining a major in Radio/Television/Film, and never quite sure if I was ever going to land a role in that field (Spoiler alert: I did). I certainly knew of Mortal Kombat. I had the first game’s uncensored version on my Sega CD, and Part II on my Super Nintendo, honed from the previous year’s post- Blockbuster Video midnight trips to the local Super K-Mart.

It was by chance that I saw a flyer on my college’s bulletin board needing skilled video game players. In my small Texas town, we actually had a video game company known as Tradewest, which published NES games like Double Dragon and Battletoads… And Taboo: The Sixth Sense. I applied there once on a whim, and never heard back, but I thought I’d at least play a new game.

That game was Doom for the Super Nintendo. I knew it more from my PC gaming friends, back when dial-up modems were a regular thing, and it could take up to 20 minutes to download a picture of a naked lady on the internet with my hooligan friends. But being able to sit down and play a game that wasn’t released or really in the gaming magazines was so incredibly cool to me, as I mowed down Zombies and Cacodemons like I had spent so many lazy summer days before.

The man in charge of the testing asked me what I thought, and I told him everything that I liked, what I didn’t, what worked, and what needed to be changed. When I finished, he paused and looked at me for a moment and said plainly: “How would you like a job here?”

I couldn’t believe what he had asked me. The idea of me in working video games was mind-numbing. I was spitting out a “Yes definitely” as he led me to a separate room, where a brand-new Mortal Kombat 3 arcade machine was, barely a month released to the public. I placed my hands upon the console, chose Sonya Blade and Sub-Zero as my avatars, and never looked back.

Days turned into weeks, then months as Summer passed. I spent almost all of my time mastering every single move and combo of Mortal Kombat 3, then comparing it to the home versions. I took no small delight walking into arcades and decimating players with every move possible and the then still unknown finishing moves. “How do you know all of this”, frustrated gamers would ask me when minutes before had smugly offed player after player. “I’m just good”, I said, as I walked away. And really, I was. I had never been happier in my life. It truly was my calling, and I was getting paid to do what I love to the point where I could beat the game using a steering wheel or hanging upside down off of the cabinet. And as the Summer went on, my department grew.

We were an odd bunch of testers and game counselors, mostly friends from well before, and looking out for each other to secure this job. The main office called us “The Animal House”, part from the movie, part because they likely thought were an unruly group of boys. This of course wasn’t helped much by one of the staff punching a hole through one of the walls in anger. Who knew you could actually do that?

A year passed, and I was taken on my very first trip to Los Angeles to attend my very first E3. E3 back then was very much the Disneyland of video gaming, and so incredibly fun. It was during one of those mornings that I stepped badly on one of the stairwells, falling down an entire flight of stairs, and twisting my ankle. As I laid there waiting for help, some random businessman asked if I was alright, then handed me a bottled water before he hurried off to his next meeting. The water and I were shuttled off to the talent’s dressing room, where unusual and normal in my life began to collide and become one and the same. It was there that I met Kerri, who played Sonya Blade in the game (and has become a dear friend since). Work wanted to send me home. “No, no, I’m fine. See”, I lied as I tried to put weight on the purple ball with nubs that used to be my right foot. They relented, and I stayed, and it was one of the greatest experiences that I had ever had in my life. I met Mark Hamill for the first time there.

My Mom passed in the Fall, and my work family was there for me. Work changed a lot. We had a new boss for the department that had been given the mission to remove me from my position, but I survived. I don’t know if my co-workers ever really knew how much I loved that job, working for the company that made all of the arcade games I had grown up to since I could hold a controller in my hand. I eventually added Marketing Assistant and Website Coordinator to my work duties. I played through so many games during my years there, but none ever hit the resonant spot with me as Mortal Kombat did, from the best of the series, to ones that inexplicably included “turn” buttons, surviving “Great Cheat Code Dramas” that we had no part in, stealing a Sub-Zero suit to wear while running around the mall or crashing bachelorette parties, or mock the jerky 1990′s era animations that made all the characters “hump dance” during their conversations. There were days that I loved everything that I did. There were days that were frustrating and crushing to me. But I never thought I would ever want to leave that place.

Until one day I did.

I decided to go back to college in 1999, to pick up where I left off with that R/TV/F degree, and so I moved. I had a wonderful going-away party where they pulled out all the stops, and reminded me that they were, above all else, family.

School went fine. I landed a job as an Assistant Manager at a Gamestop, but of course, it wasn’t the same. And yet, when E3 2000 came around, they got me a pass as though I still worked there. All I had to do was provide plane fare, and everything else worked itself out. No longer bound to the set-up/tear-down duties of old, I simply got to enjoy the show, and everyone else in it. Like the old days.

That in itself drew me briefly back into a short-lived visit with another company, but things went south after 9/11, and I decided it was time to leave Texas and move to San Diego. I had years worth of old contacts at the California branch of Midway, so I ended up getting a similar, yet changed job there.

My time at the San Diego branch was…. It must have been weird for some people to have this “new” person come in, yet know and was on pleasant terms with many of the higher ups. Added to that was my unusual relationship with my then-manager who never let go of some “terrible” thing I had apparently done some years back, yet would never tell me what it was, so I had no clue how to ever resolve it. To this day, I still don’t know what that “grave trespass” ever was. But despite that, he did take on a mentor role for me, which I was grateful for.

Because of my experience, I was put on Mortal Kombat V: Deadly Alliance, where I finally got my in-game credit that I never was able to secure in Texas, and a photo of me in the game. But by then, my relationship with Midway was somewhat dysfunctional. I spent years being fired and re-hired, quitting and coming back, with a small, dedicated sub-section of the staff that made no subtle gestures in how much they hated me, and made each subsequent return more trying and short-lived than the last. The funny thing was, I personally didn’t really have any problems with anyone, and did build a few good friendships from the experience, but it is, as they say, what it is, and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks was my last swan song with the company before I left for good. I suppose it was for the best. Midway closed down just a few years later. And it was okay to let it go. My acting career was just starting to take off then, so I was was able to land a nice gig in Los Angeles the following day.

Still, these days, Mortal Kombat has never left my life. From fighting the DC Universe, then the brilliant (and very much needed) reboot, to this year. Mortal Kombat X came out just last month, the continuation of the reboot, and set 20 years later. That choice in timeline hit me hard during the game, and while it may sound unusual to feel sentimental and a bit misty-eyed over a game where ninjas and lightning gods crush every vertebrae in a spinal column, or slice half of a person’s face off, I can never downplay the impact of how the game series, and that company, changed my life. It built my marketing and writing career. I still play games as much as I write about them, and the friendships? Family is still family, and some of the old wounds do eventually heal. I was lucky to have taken part in so much of that madness in the timeline that I did.

So twenty years this month in a game that chose to move its timeline to coincide within my own life. We’re all a little older, and a little greyer, and I can still hold my own with Sonya Blade and Sub-Zero. And much like that 19-year old kid so many years before, I’m still “just good”.

I’m just good.

Eras End.

Writing. It’s become such a different thing to me these days. I love to write. If there’s ever a talent that is truly mine, this would be it. But it’s taken on such a different meaning. There’s been a lot of thought about where my talent would best serve me of late. Part of it is children’s books. The other part is just finding an RV and traveling the country to write travel blogs about my experiences. The quest for financial sustainability has been a very long and oft trying quest, but like any good gardener, the seeds that I planted some months back are finally starting to bear fruit. Then again, I don’t always get to speak in the colorful and theatrical manner that I’ve grown accustomed to. I am a writer, but I am a performer and storyteller as well.

I keep wondering if it’s getting close to “time” to write my first memoir, or just wait until I’m older, until I’ve gotten really boring and need to relive my glory days? A little bit of snark there, but I am considering timing.

In any case, as slowed as my life has become of late, things do still happen. One of which has been the loss of the Riviera, another one of Vegas’ classic casinos.

The famous marquee.

The famous marquee.

It’s a cold irony that the place celebrated its 60th “Diamond” anniversary this year, only to be shut down just last week. Vegas has a severe and irrational aversion to anything “old”, or as normal and sane people might call it: “History”.

I don’t have a huge library of personal memories of the Riviera. I reviewed a few shows there. I filmed for a night or two when the first Hangover shot there. Made a few friends in those halls. Went to a convention there once for classic gaming. But it was a pretty marquee, and like the Stardust, New Frontier, and Sahara before it during my time, it boasted a history that none of the new places could ever match. The sharpest blow is that the old place is being torn down for extra parking spaces for the Convention Center. I think that is a pretty accurate summation of how Vegas “values” its history. As it stands, the Strip, once known for quirky and iconic places, is now a breeding ground for timeshares, and multiple Walgreens/CVS stores every .09 miles apart. Cut, paste, repeat.

Farewell to an icon.

Farewell to an icon.

Perhaps it’s that understanding which has caused me to go out (with what spare time I have these days) to document the remaining “classic” Vegas history before it’s reduced to residing in some glorified junkyard at the edge of the universe. Perhaps it’s the new Vegas tours I’ve been doing of late. Or the unshakable feeling of homesickness I’ve been contemplating since last Fall. Maybe it’s a sense of regret that I never truly got to see the “early” days of Vegas, where a hallucinogen addled Hunter S. Thompson stumbled around Circus Circus, or where mob members discussed “business” in backrooms of tiny restaurants turned pizza parlors. Ironically, the most fascinating parts of Vegas have largely been reduced to fading memory, save for the Peppermill. They serve a fine Bloody Mary.

On a side note, I also think I’m overdue for a roadtrip somewhere. One with spinning teacups or a related beach.

Still for a break, I am going back to the Billboard Music Awards this week. I’ve come a log way since my 2011 debut standing in for Ken Jeong, doing exaggerated Elvis poses on stage. The call of returning to the stage warmed my heart. That line of work isn’t as prolific these days, but the moments that remain really are the sweetest. It’s a pleasant reminder and a motivator that if the work isn’t as frequent, then it’s time to get off my butt and do my own thing. I thrive in creativity. Anything else goes against what I am.

It’s also time for Forgotten City again, and while I may have a bizarre schedule for the weekend, I look forward to being with friends again for some long overdue absurdity.