Weekly Little Big Planet: achievement earned

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Stumbling into the Cool Levels area of the community section is generally not advisable, mainly because of the Cool Rule of Thumb: if something labels itself as cool, it’s probably not. Every now and then I jump in there to check it out though, so you don’t have to. Think of this as a public service.

The topmost Cool Level on this recon trip was called The Casino Robbery. I’ve got heists on the brain after going to see the movie Drive this week and subsequently listening to some other show in which an Internet bozo (in this case, not me) complained that it’s a terrible heist movie. Really? Huh. Guess what, doofus, it’s also a terrible bio-pic. And historical drama. And sci-fi epic. And rom-com. Internet gasbags. Ugh. (In this case, again, not me.)

Casino Robbery is cool enough, I guess. It’s definitely value added, since you get to level link into its second and third parts while playing it, which makes it long. It’s a little blunt-force-trauma for my taste, so if carefully orchestrated robberies are your thing, avoid it. But if wearing a rocket launcher on your head and smashing everything in sight floats your boat, go for it.

I would have tried out more Cool Levels, but I had achievements to earn.

After the jump, too cool for school

I’m standing in yet another line, waiting to get my final stamp so I can complete my silly collection task, hoping I don’t run into any more parents from my kid’s grade. As this is back-to-school night, I do not have high hopes. I already spent twenty minutes in the yearbook line in front of a couple who wanted to talk movies but who clearly hadn’t seen one not involving talking cars or animated parrots in about six years. Apropos of nothing the mother said to me, almost in a whisper, “After this I think we’re gonna go to a movie!” The father looked around furtively, as if checking for eavesdroppers. Like this information could somehow get back to the children or the babysitter.

“Go for it!” I said, feigning excitement, as elementary school parents do when around other elementary school parents. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what she was saying, or her barely suppressed glee. When you get a babysitter for the night you have to maximize your time. My own wife was preparing to execute a post back-to-school night plan: a dinner date after meeting the teachers. A night out is a precious thing. Good for them that they were going to squeeze in a movie. I was just kind of dreading where I knew the conversation was going.

“So what should we see?”

And there it was.

“See if you can catch a screening of Irreversible,” I said. “It’s a couple years old but you never know.”

“Okay. Thanks!”

No. I didn’t really say that. I just never know what to say in these small-talk conversations about movies when I’m at my kid’s school. For one, I’m never sure if the person I’m talking to actually knows I do a weekly show about movies on the Internet. For another, I don’t want to ask because I’m not sure I actually want him to know. I’m around the school a lot as I volunteer in the classroom, and the movie podcast I do is very much for adults. The crowd around here tends to skew liberal, but I could see some parent getting freaked out by an Internet potty mouth in his kid’s classroom. So when a random parent engages me in a conversation about movies I tend to get a little cagey, both because of that and because I can’t seem to keep myself from slipping into movie-geek mode when talking movies, no matter who I’m talking about them with, and when that happens the mentioning of cinematography followed by eyes glazing over is inevitable. Also, recommending movies to relative strangers is a dicey prospect. I prefer to have at least a working knowledge of the recommendee’s movie baseline. What does she tend to like? What does she hate? What’s her threshold for profanity and strong bloody violence? Would she describe Winter’s Bone as boring? Was she confused by the serial killer in Let the Right One In? I wish I had some kind of prepared speech, something like The Driver says when explaining himself in the movie Drive.

Before I tell you what to see I’m going to ask you five questions. These questions will determine whether or not I take this job. You will not ask me what I think about any specific movies during this time. If you do, I’ll walk. If I find out you only watch Disney movies at home, I’ll walk. And if at any point during this conversation you say the words, “Crash is my favorite movie of all time,” you will never hear from me again.

Something like that. I’ll want them to hear it as a voiceover, so maybe I’ll record it on my iPhone and just hold it up in the air while I play it.

I avoided the answer this time as I got to the front of the yearbook line and got my stamp.

I expected back-to-school night to be the usual. Show up. Watch my wife put my name on the sign-in sheet. Check out my kid’s new classroom and look at some of the early work he’s done that’s been stapled to the walls. Sit at his desk in that tiny chair. Meet his teachers. Listen to them give a brief presentation on what we can expect from them and what they expect of us.

What I didn’t expect was a mini-game.

Upon entering the front gate of the school I was handed a piece of paper with several squares on it. “Go to all the tables,” the paper hander outer said. “Get stamps for all those squares. Then come back here and get a ‘free dress’ badge for your student!”

“Um,” I said, before being swept away into the river of parents. My wife looked at the sheet of paper, her eyes scanning it quickly. I’m sure she was seeing the choices as a cyborg digital readout behind her eyes.

“Okay, I’ll take Spirit Wear. You hit the yearbook line. Spirit Wear is shorter so I’ll get the first stamp and then get the paper to you so you can get the next. Let’s go.” She handed me the sheet. “You’ve got the cash. Give me the checkbook.”

Oh well. At least this mini-game was going to be co-op.

It wasn’t until I got to the last line that I even started to question why we were going through all of this, or why I was so invested in it. This last line, the Halloween Grams line, was the longest one. I figured I’d be in it for a half-hour or so. It was the first line I’d been in where I didn’t really know the folks in front of or behind me, so relieved of the burden of small talk I could think for a few minutes. All of the things we were lining up for were things we could easily buy or order at the school’s front office on any given day, and deadlines for ordering them were far off. We were being funneled to these tables forcibly here, at back-to-school night, because we were a captive audience. And we’d been given a simple task: fill every box with a stamp. Once you get your stamp, hey, what the heck? You’re already at the table and you’ve waited for so long…why not buy some school stuff?

I have no problem with buying school stuff. Even though my kid’s school is a public school, the fundraising is constant. It has to be. We can’t expect our tax dollars to pay for such extravagances as art teachers. Seriously. We have a huge carnival thing every year at my kid’s school just to raise the salary of the art teacher. We do another fundraiser for music. This isn’t for fancy supplies or funky guest musicians or crazy trips to exotic museums. This is just to pay the base salary of the school’s art teacher. If we don’t hold these fundraisers and kick in the extra dough…no art. No music. That’s it.

So buying all this school crap is no big deal, I’m just not the one who does it. That’s my wife’s thing. Buying crappy wrapping paper that costs thirty dollars a roll and awful chocolates for twenty bucks a box and then pushing all that on our friends and relatives is her thing. I don’t begrudge the spending, I just don’t want to stand in a line to do it. Unless you make a game of it, make it about collecting things. Then, I’ll do it without even realizing it. I couldn’t care less about Halloween Grams, but I’ll stand in this line for half an hour because I’ve got one more stamp to collect. I’m willing to brave another awkward movie conversation to get this stamp. What do I get out of it? A filled square on a piece of paper that is sure to be eighty-sixed the moment I turn it in. That and a little sticker that lets my kid violate the dress code for a day. Big whoop. But still…I’ll know I got all the stamps. Achievement earned.

I can’t even do that on my XBOX. It’s still hovering at 995 gamer points. Has been for weeks. As my friend with eleventy billion points never fails to point out. “You break a thousand yet?” “You know I haven’t.” “Come on!” “Shut up. He was out of school sick two days this week. I barely have time to turn on my TV.” “Just buy some new pinball tables.” “No. I want to earn it–”

“So what should we see?”

I snap out of my reverie to see the mom from the yearbook line. She’s sidled up next to me, using me so that she can butt in the Halloween Grams line. I think fleetingly of the movie Super.

“Um…” I stall. We’re only three people from the front of the line. So close.

“Because I really want to see that one movie,” she says.

“Oh.” I swear I’m not making that up. She really said that.

“That one with…oh what’s his name?” That too. She smacks her forehead, then leans in close and whispers, way too loudly, “I just used you to jump the line…sorry!”

“That’s okay.” I shrug. Note to self: if breaking out of prison is ever a necessity, do not invite this woman.

“Ryan something.”

“Gosling?”

“That’s it!” She almost screams. “His movie.”

“Drive.” Suddenly my enthusiasm gets the better of me and I see her in a new light. “I really want to see that too! But it doesn’t open until Friday.”

“No.” She shakes her head. We’re one away from the table now. “It’s not called that. It’s got Steve…um…”

I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. “Crazy Stupid Love.”

“That’s it! I think we’ll see that.”

I allow myself to feel a bit of pity for her husband as the person in front of me clears and I step up to the table, taking out my wallet. Should I tell her my friend walked out after twenty minutes, or just let it lie? She looks at me for a second longer before turning her attention to the Halloween Grams. I decide to let it lie, and furthermore go ahead and slot her in the ‘dead-to-me’ file in the movie section of my brain. This happens with cold and quick precision. It’s easy too, because now I have my final stamp. I slap down ten bucks for five Halloween Grams and make my getaway.

Achievement earned, survived back-to-school night.

Click here for the previous Weekly Little Big Planet.

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