Throwing Boots at Cats

I used to be terribly afraid of getting lost. This was complicated ever so slightly by my extremely poor sense of direction. Many times I’d call up Kelly, completely distraught and on the verge of panic and/or tears, and explain to her that I had no clue where I was or how to get to where I was going. Most of this happened before The Duck entered the picture, so even when she’d give me directions, I’d mess them up, turning left when she’d told me to go right.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you’ve learned to read by the time you’re three and spend all car trips happily immersed in your books.

These days, I still get lost. And I still call up Kelly and ask her to be my personal Google Mapper. But it doesn’t scare me anymore (unless I’m running late – that’s a whole different can of obsessive-compulsive worms). I was thinking about this today as I drove around Austin doing some Christmas shopping. I was driving around back streets remembering a time when I’d driven them, completely and utterly lost. Back then, I was terrified. And it made me laugh, because just the other day I said to someone, “Well, if we get lost, we’ll end up somewhere. We always end up somewhere.”

That’s it, I think. That’s the key. I’ve come to realize that nothing ever quite happens the way I expect it to happen. I’ve come to realize that control is mostly an illusion – what I mean is, decisions can be (and should be) made, but that more often than not, it’s the decisions you don’t realize you’re making that will have the greatest effect on your life.

It’s like an old school Sierra adventure game. King’s Quest. King’s Quest V, if you really want to be evil. Anyone remember those, or am I the only adventure gamer geek still in existence? Yes? Alas. Let me, then, put on display my inner nerdiness and explain.

King’s Quest was an ancient text-parser computer game. That is, you typed in what you wanted the character to do, and if you succeeded in breaking the magical code and finding just the right words, the character did it. (At least in the first several installments of the series. It later went to point and click.) There were many King’s Quest video games, and all of them were sufficiently challenging, focused mainly around various members of a royal family and their adventures.

But none of that matters. Unless you’re a gamer geek like me. What matters is that these games are NOTORIOUS for being… evil. Unwinnable by design. Completely and utterly frustrating beyond the point of belief. Especially when you realize that something you did or didn’t do six gameplay hours ago is going to have such a huge consequence on the outcome of the game. Such was the case with the cat. Do stop reading now if you have a desire to play these games as they were meant to be played (trial and error, culminating in a desire to bash your head through a wall), because I am going to include a small spoiler. You’ve been warned.

In King’s Quest V, there comes a time when you are tied to a chair, and the ONLY POSSIBLE WAY you can be saved is if a mouse comes out and chews the ropes. Earlier in the game, you will have seen a cat chasing this mouse. If, when you saw this cat, you did not throw a boot at it, you will die and have to start over. The boot could only be found by wandering a vast expanse of desert and stumbling over it by chance.

Later in this game, you will need to throw a pie at a Yeti to blind him as he falls off a cliff. If, however, you used the pie to feed a starving eagle earlier, you won’t be able to throw it at the Yeti.

You see where I’m going with this?

Chance. It’s all chance. And these tiny things, insignificant little things, have huge power to influence the outcome of the game. Or your life. Now usually, you don’t end up dying because you’ve neglected to throw a boot at a cat. But it never ceases to amaze me how much my own life has been determined by insignificant things.

The purchase of a computer game from a 7th grade software order form when I was 11… that became the ultimate cause of my move to Texas five years later.

Being in the right place at the right time.

NOT getting hired at the advertising agency I applied to, which led to my acceptance of another job offer, where I met a woman who would, in passing, mention that she really wanted to take the Vampire course at UT while she was there, so that when dropped from a class and faced with the decision of which course to take, I would choose the one I had heard about, which, of course, led me to Russian.

At 13, solving a particular crossword clue that was bothering an 18-year-old who happened to be sitting next to me at a school assembly, that would later lead to the two of us becoming friends, and her giving me a copy of an Anthology that I would need as the required reading in a college class six years later, in a completely different state.

Fate? Synchronicity? Coincidence? I don’t know that I believe in all of that. We still make choices. But knowing where those choices will lead us… it’s really up to the game designer.

So I’m good with getting lost. Because really, sometimes the only way to find a boot in a desert is to get lost. And you might need to throw that boot at a cat. So that someday, when you’re tied to a chair, a mouse can save you.


P.S. I have no idea where I was going with this. I spent several hours Christmas shopping today. The Saturday before Christmas. If this doesn’t make sense, it’s because my brain may or may not have been addled by the hordes of people jostling me around. Never again, on the Saturday before Christmas. Never, EVER again.


One Comment to “Throwing Boots at Cats”

  1. Great post. Your right .. if we get lost we do end up somewhere.

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