I Played RPGs By Myself Until I Was Old Enough To Buy Swimsuit Calendars


Years when I would go to the beach with my parents as a kid the part I liked the least about it was the beach. Most days when we woke up and were supposed to then get up and put on the beach clothes and get the beach crap to walk down to the beach with I would not do that. I would stay in the condo or whatever and watch, I remember really liking for some reason, Let’s Make A Deal. It was in reruns then, I’m not that old, but it seems like the only place I ever watched Let’s Make A Deal was when at the beach and supposed to be heading down to the beach though I stayed there instead inside by the TV.

When Let’s Make A Deal ended, and whatever other shows, one summer at least or two or three I had this notebook I brought with me that was a three-ring binder full of loose paper. What I used the paper for was I would draw people. Or they weren’t people as much as they were bodies, amalgams of limbs and eyes and skin. The bodies were meant to represent characters in a fantasy game I think I thought I was making up, though I never went so far inside the making to make any rules to this game, and there were never any other people I played the game with, and I never played alone. So the bodies were just bodies.

I got the idea I think for making up a game like this from buying another kind of game. On another vacation to another beach we stopped at a mall and went into a store where I picked up a box and said it was what I wanted. I did not know what the box was besides where on the box it explained itself in vague. It was Middle Earth Role Playing, knocked off I think from both the Tolkien universe and the regular official real D&D. I had never played D&D before. I didn’t know anything about this beyond what I’d heard or imagined or wished it could be. All it really had inside the box was a book. The book was full of rules about a game that the book purported to be the center of. The book didn’t help with this idea of being a game beyond its paper. It had all these things to say about who could do what when inside the game and what the game was, but really the more I read the more I figured it was a lot of writing about a game you were supposed to create out of your head. You were supposed to have other people participate in the game making. I never found anyone like that. So when I’d finished reading I read the book again. I read it again instead of whatever else I might have done.

After I’d read the manual to this game at least several dozen times I really wanted to play the game, but like I said this required someone else. Well, my mother said she’d play with me but this was about swords. Even never playing, the rules inside my head remained in there. They wanted to be rules that something moved by. They wanted to exist in machination over the world I lived in anyway like where I went to school and then the beach and did shit like avoid the beach because I was overweight and didn’t like the sun or heat or people seeing my body and was afraid of the clam holes in the earth that seemed like something could come out of them at any time and try to go inside me or eat me. The ocean itself seemed like a compilation of all those holes so I didn’t like that either though sometimes I went in it anyway because, I didn’t know then, that would teach me how to die.

Inside the house away from the sun and with the rulebook in my head and no one quite right to do anything about it with I began to play the game on paper. The problem with playing the game on paper when you’ve never really played the game is that you know even less of what to do while you are playing when you are beginning in the wrong way. The more I tried the more there seemed to be nothing and the more I held the book and did not understand it and stayed awake staring at it waiting for it to reveal itself to me and it would not. So what I really did inside the waiting for understanding was make up people. First I would do the drawing, by the TV, not getting burned, then I would give their shape a name. The names were stupid: they were not human: syllables bashed against one another because they could. Then I would decide what kind of thing the thing the drawing with the name was meant to be in practice, by the parameters of the book: a warrior, a sorcerer, a thief; or I would make up something else that they could be there: a destructor, a robot, a void.

Next the people got numbers about their lives: this was another iteration of the book’s method of definition of being. I had a shitload of the dice and I would roll them and make up the numbers though I didn’t know what the numbers meant besides being numbers. I would place the numbers next to personality facets like Intelligence and Cunning and Toughness. The generation of the numbers would be transcribed in blockades that as an aggregate allowed the profile of the person to form. These numbers when used in an actual RPG would have a definitive influence on the outcome of certain situations involving the characters but I never did that. I put the digits on the paper. The numbers sat on the paper and told me who the thing was, and what they would be if they would move. Whatever that meant, it was in there. The color of the walls in the condo where we went I think were creamy yellow though they might have been tan.

Once I had the numbers I would write down the ideas of their being. I would tell the paper what the person could do that other people didn’t do. I think I gave them ideas like they could shoot light or they could jump extremely high or they could teleport through water or they did not age. Each person had these abilities that they would enact in scenarios that never were going to happen. They filled in the space on the paper beside the numbers and the name. I say that they were people but they were also other things like dogs or birds, which are people too. I would do all of this in like 15 minutes.

Once one creature was made I’d turn the page and start again. Turning the page on the creature meant likely that it would never be out from between the pages before and after it again, though I didn’t know that when I turned it. I made and made. I filled a book. I filled another book. There were hundreds. These were to be people to enact in my game, though already the criteria I used to generate them didn’t fit the game even in my offset understanding of it. The game book was a machine. The notebook was a hole. I would draw and draw in this way writing numbers and words about each for hours while my sister and parents were at the beach. They were in the water and I was on the carpet. At least a few days each time I had to come along with them but I think I always just wanted to watch the games on TV and then make my games.

I did not feel surrounded or invoked. I did not feel I was inside of something. There was something on my hands. In the fake light of the house I would sit and look at the things I’d drawn and I would see them. I would not really read what they said on the paper, though they were in there. There were these legions. They were not dead. They did not cast the spells or swing the swords or speak the names they had been given.

For years the notebooks full of bodies sat inside my parents’ house. I know they were in there because I never throw things away but I don’t remember ever looking at them or getting them out or doing anything beyond the creation. I am certain they are in there somewhere now though I can’t find them. They are in the house.

I don’t think it was sad to have never found someone to play the game with. There was for a while a friend I had who also made the people with me. He had his own notebook. We never compared, though we would sit in rooms beside each other and do the work. We made teams out of the creatures that I think we meant to have fight the other’s teams, the way the X-Men and X-Force and drawings in the paper we spent all of our money on did. My friend’s mom had a whole room full of sci-fi novels though I never looked at any of them even when I would go into the room and stand. She would make comments about Jean Claude Van Damme being dreamy. My friend’s father had a shitload of softcore porn. My friend’s little brother and that brother’s friends would always go into the room where the porn was while the parents weren’t home and look at the porn and steal it but my friend and I even though we were older were too afraid of something to do that, but we knew it was there.

I also during this time would go to bookstores and walk around the store by myself past near the aisle where the calendars were. There were calendars where women had on very little clothes. Being near the calendars shook my mind in the same way that being in the house with the porn did. I would circle and circle. I might walk down the aisle of the calendars and stop and pretend to look at something else. I would walk for as long as I could near things like that to feel them near me. I think I wanted the bodies of the women in the same way that I wanted to create the bodies of the creatures: so they would be. I could put them in a room. I could sit with them and see them and they could not see me and somewhere they must exist.

For all the times I did this I only bought one of the calendars once. I was shaking so hard. I thought the salesperson was going to eat me. I locked the calendar in a metal box and hid it in my closet with all the other precious secret crap. In the night I’d bring it out and stare and see it.

I don’t know when I stopped the creatures. I don’t know if it turned into writing other kinds of words. It feels like somewhere else. It feels beside me.

I don’t think there are really cities.

Often I get up in the night and go and look into the refrigerator or out the window or into darker portions of the house where I can’t really see what is in there even with my eyes adjusted and I imagine there must be something else. My skin fits on me like a coat. It doesn’t seem like what you’re supposed to know that skin is and where it’s been; what other bodies it has touched and how and why and what has happened and what hours do to others too and how long until the night is over and the bodies and the bodies and the drawings of the bodies.

I don’t think I’m really getting older, but I know I am.