This morning I woke up to find an email from my dad saying that my Uncle Frank, my mom's brother, had passed away. This comes just a few days over 3 years after my mom's death and.. well, frankly.. I know less to do about this then I did about my mom's death, mostly because I don't know how to console my aunt or my cousins that -to equal heartbreak- I don't really know.
What makes it feel worse for me is that, even though I'm far from what you'd call a practicing Catholic, I'm my cousin, Arianna's, godfather. In a way now, from what I understand about the practice, even though my aunt is still alive I'm supposed to be the one to step in as the father figure. It was an honor bestowed to me by my uncle, even though I've far from been a paragon in the field, I've always taken the title as seriously as the time my uncle asked me to name her. It's just, I can't get myself out of bed most mornings because I'm so depressed, so how am I supposed to help her with this pain when I haven't been able to get through the multitudes of pain I've felt since my cousin, Eugene, and all those who followed, died while I was growing up. No one person's pain is better then anyone else's, there is no winning in that game, but it's extremely hard to be in the same sinking boat, and know what to do to save the other person when you haven't figured out how to save yourself.
You'd figure I've been through this no fewer then 10 times now, in what some would call a short life, I should be well versed in knowing what to do in the event that my good friend Death decides he's going to show up for another round of "let's test Mike's will to go on." But I'm not. I don't think there is really any way to be and still be considered a human being.
Ever since that first time I've experienced Death's advantage over us I've done nothing more then float around disconnected from my thoughts and feelings in order to make sure everyone else is okay. That's the only way I function through this. I even did it at my mom's funeral, where I spent most of my day at the door greeting people, whether they knew or remembered me or not. I wanted them to see a smiling face -in the only times any more that I do smile- rather then walk coldly into a sea of people in mourning. For whatever reason, that's when I shine, when the darkness is so thick that it'll choke the life out of you. I just don't know how to convey that.. momentum.. into everyday life.
I hadn't talked to Uncle Frank since I trekked up to visited him, my aunt and my cousins after Hurricane Sandy, after my cousin Tracy's wedding during the Hurricane (yeah.. during. The raging pack of daredevil's we are). I had tried to call them after I had a health episode a year later, but we missed each other and then time simply passed. And that hurts a lot too.
But somewhere inside me I know he loved me, we just weren't all that good at phone tag. Just like I know that, even though events in life may make some of them think otherwise, he loved all of his children. They all really need to know that.
I don't know. I missed him already, now that's never going to end.
My Uncle didn't really have a ton of influence over my love for videogames, but he fed other things in my childhood that helped make me, me.
Keith, my cousin, may have bought me my first comic book, an Eastman/Laird era issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; which blew my mind only knowing -aka: being obsessed with- the cartoon; but it was my Uncle Frank who bought me my first mainstream comic: X-Men 172 (which may have been a reprint, because it was a few years after that issue was published that I found it at the little convenience store next to Petland Discount on Midland Avenue in the Pathmark Parking lot).
I was drawn to that issue because of the katana pinning Wolverine's wedding invitation to the wall, and the garb the furrier-than-usual man and the obviously Japanese woman were wearing. It's clear I was a Japanophile far before I knew what one was.
When he bought it for me it was my in to a world I still haven't come out of, even if I've stopped collecting the books. It introduced me to Wolverine, who would go on to be one of my all time favorite characters (yeah, I said it), at a really really strange time in his existence: One of the rare times he was actually sort of happy.
I know how you feel, Wolvie.
Uncle Frank didn't stop there however. My greatest memories of my uncle would come from four completely unrelated things: Rye Playland, Rye Beach, the Bronx Zoo and Wrestling.
One of my earliest and most vivid memories (though it's surprising to me how vivid the memory of X-Men 172 was) is of a night where my mom and dad went to a work-related dinner and my Uncle Frank was the one to watch me. But he didn't just watch me: he took me to Playland.
Playland, as some of you may or may not know, is the park used at the end of Big, where the fortune telling machine ended up and where Tom Hanks turned back into a kid. It's also the park in the background of Mariah Carry's video for song, Fantasy. To me, it was just that really fun amusement park that was 15 minutes from our house.
It was just after dark in the summer when he took me (Playland wasn't open in the winter, if memory serves) and snuck in through a nearby fence. Now, something to remember about my uncle is that he was about 4 years younger then my mom, which put him about 21 at the time, and if any 21 year old hasn't done something like this, then they really haven't lived. I remember walking around and riding rides, but what I remember most is how it got to be late, like after 10, and we were still there and he stopped everything we were doing to find the closest pay phone (You see, back in the day we didn't have cell.. Ah, forget it..) to call them to tell them we were okay. He was always responsible like that with me, and I've never forgotten it. I remember how pitch black it was that night, with the Long Island Sound reflecting that blackness, in spite of the bright lights of the park behind us.
I still love the feel of being in an amusement park, even though I'm too much of a wimp to go on most adult rides.
Rye Beach was another place he'd take me that was always a huge treat. I've never been an outdoor person. Well, that's not entirely true, I did love parks and I really loved going camping in the Catskill Mountains. But other then that, I was an indoor kid. Uncle Frank didn't like that much, I think, cause he'd do anything he could, when he could, to get me out of the house and into the sun. I remember thinking I could never go there because I didn't know what to do, because I don't know how to swim (he did try to teach me a few times, to his credit. It isn't his fault it never stuck) and since I was a shy kid, I never thought I'd find other kids to play with.
But somehow, against all odds, He'd still find a way for those days to be some of the most fun I've ever had.
Going to the Bronx is something that few people deem as a good thing (sorry, if you live there), but going to the Bronx Zoo? Well that's an event. Class trips there, being with your friends, possibly wearing 2 pairs of underwear because you were so excited to be going (long story), are one thing. But going with Uncle Frank was a whole other exciting thing. Exploring that place with him forever helped along my love for animals (as if my mom wasn't helping that enough).
I remember the bat house and how scared I was to go in, in spite of knowing they couldn't get me -a sentiment that followed me right into into the snake house. But most of all, I remember the otter pool. The otter pool was both our favorite places for some reason. We spent more time then we should have staring at them playing then any human should have the right to. And that was okay by us.
Wresting, above all else, was the one thing we geeked over together then most when I was a kid.
Wrestling also shares a common place in my heart with my great grandfather, who would sit with me during Saturday Morning Superstars and oooo and ahhh, and make jokes with me, when the guys would get hit. All while telling me stories of the really old wrestlers from when he was younger; back when a more unified federation of wrestlers wasn't even imaginable. No one spun a swear laden story about men in tights smacking the shit out of each other, quite like that man.
When cable started really gaining traction, our house was one of those houses that paid for the expensive basics (times haven't changed that much..) and stole the rest. This meant that every month we'd have access to the newest "biggest event" in sports entertainment history (that would go on to become some of the actual biggest events in sports entertainment history), and my first question on the tip of my tongue, every time we'd gear up to watch them, was "when is Uncle Frank getting here." The event came second only to being guaranteed that I'd see Uncle Frank at least once a month (though, he'd be over all the time, so I don't know what I was worried about).
Even our dog at the time, Belway, loved having him there; every time he'd leave she'd get spiteful and pee in the seat he sat in, further cementing her achievement of being one of the only animals my family couldn't live with.
Incidentally, this also brings up the memories of his iguana's. Which were his, but often lived at our tiny apartment, and were taken care of by my mom. I think (eff that, I know) she loved the excuse to have extra animals around.
Any way, I don't remember who his favorite wrestler was, I'd venture to guess it was either Macho Man or Hulk, but it didn't really matter -we'd talk about them all.
He even once tried to get us tickets to one of the bigger events at Madison Square Garden, and when that fell through, he was more crushed then I was over it. The fact he at least tried has always stuck with me though.
Another story that stuck with me was how one day he was doing a delivery for the job he was working at the time, and saw Macho Man and Hulk -who had been feuding on screen, I believe- sitting down and eating at a restaurant somewhere along his route. I'll never forget how excited he was to tell me he saw them, or how his mind was blown that they were sitting down like real people and having a bite to eat.
Since then I've wandered away from wrestling, like many who loved that era have. I sneak in every once in a while to see what's up, but it never grabs me enough to stick with it, and I know it's mostly because I didn't have Uncle Frank and Grandpa Vinci around to watch these guys get bodyslammed any more.
All of the loss I've seen in my life is why I think I've played videogames for so long, that some just don't understand. For good or bad, videogames have been the only place in my life where I've felt any measure of control over any given situation, in a world that's proven have have absolutely none and likely never will. it's a coping mechanism that's helped keep me from going crazy years ago.
As much as I love them, movies and television don't do that for me. In fact, I don't think they can any more.
I can watch a thousand movies or TV shows and really not feel connected to the events going on in a way that makes me feel like I've ever been in control. There may be tension when Walter White faces down Gustavo Fring, with a cigarette full of ricin in is his pocket, but I'll never feel the rush he feels while doing that. I'll never be the one to do that -and even if I did, what control would I really have in that situation? Likely none. In fact, I'd likely end up getting killed.
The tension of doing is not the same as the tension of watching. It's apples and oranges. I've already put myself into the terrible corner of being a spectator to life that I've been trying to claw myself out of, so I can't squeeze nearly as much escape, or even -and this is soul crushing to put to words- joy, from watching Markie Mark find a "Transforma," as I do when I stop President John Henry Eden from further poisoning the Capitol Waste in order to rebuild America into some warped "perfect" image.
It's not about, "hur hur, you get infinite continues, so you feel like Superman," and being able to beat circumstances that way. No, that's a gross misconception of what I think people feel from videogames. It's more about being able to rise up against crushing odds, and overcome them, in spite of physically sitting in a world that's constantly bearing down on us with laws and drama, that we can never truely turn off and walk away from.
And yeah, sometimes that means fighting Death.
Every once in a while -criminally far less these days- you'd get to meet Death eye to eye and punch him in his turkey (turkey bone?) neck. Fighting death, the personification of a material him, as unrealistic as it ever will be, is probably the most cathartic thing a person can do in a videogame, whether any of us realize it or not. It gives us a power far greater then any mushroom or chainsaw-bladed gun can ever achieve.
I really wish more games would put that asshat in, just so we can slap him back to oblivion just a few more times. Hell, even if it's just to beat him in a game of Battleship.