The cheat code

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start (or ‘… select, start,’ for two players)…

That’s the cheat code for “Contra” — a multiplayer action/adventure video game, and one of the original “shoot ‘em ups,” harking back to its Nintendo release, in 1988. If you executed that key sequence to perfection, voila! You’d receive 100 lives. “Life and death,” in the context of “Contra,” thus became less crucial, and more an example of starting over.

Starting over is fairly normal for almost all video games. Your avatar “dies” and you have to begin again, at the last checkpoint.

In “Contra’s” case, dying was easy. A barrage of projectiles could fly your way at any given moment. You could burn through 20 lives or so in the first level alone.

Contra – Level 1

An escape

In the real world, we only get one life (that we know of!). So the “Contra” cheat code somewhat liberated players, who vicariously guided their burly avatars through the murky alien landscapes of “Contra’s” many levels. Removing the threat of death freed us, as players, to take chances, try new things (that we might not otherwise entertain if it meant certain doom). As in most contemporary Nintendo games, each Contra” level ended with a boss you had to beat. A particularly difficult boss became less intimidating, with the safety net of 100 lives to cushion any anxiety of defeat. We could go out on a limb, take risks, and learn from our mistakes with little to no consequences. Needless to say, most bosses fell to our near immortal avatars.

Beat the Contra boss to complete the level.

No consequences

“No consequences,” however, created a consequence itself. Vastly minimizing the threat of death removed all the drama. The no-risk aspect suddenly turned a fairly difficult game into some kind of sandbox environment where players could try new things in order to move onto the next level. And once the cheat code hit the mainstream, “Contra” became notorious as one of the easiest games to beat.

Extrapolating ‘Contra’

I beat the game (with the cheat code). Soon, I lost interest in playing, but the concept of unlimited lives stuck with me. What if this were true in real life (IRL)?

We could try new things. If our gambles didn’t work out, no worries! Let’s reset and try a new approach. A vivid imagination soon rendered me jaded to this concept, as well. No consequence IRL, or in a video game instantly felt boring, like drifting aimlessly through blank space.

It’s at that point that I discovered a newfound respect for death. I had always feared it, but now I actually respected it. Death is necessary for life. It adds the key ingredient of consequence so that we measure our decisions before executing. It forces us to be better humans.

It’ll always be sad to see loved ones go. But heed the fact that this aspect of life is necessary for everyone. Our mortal brains can’t completely comprehend the role death plays in all of our lives, but we can at least acknowledge its necessity. Not only is it a passage into the unknown; it provides the special sauce of intrigue that makes all of our lives more interesting.

Think about it.

Daredevils would be obsolete. Perhaps war would go away (since weapons would no longer pose a threat), but that doesn’t mean violence would subside. It just wouldn’t carry any sort of impactful effect.

What would we do with our days?

Immortality may certainly be within human reach at some point in the future (or if we finally realize time is an illusion!). But microcosms like “Contra” indicate that the current human consciousness may not be ready for such lofty responsibility — what would we do with unlimited time?


Simulated realities far more advanced than the 8-bit Nintendo “Contra” have certainly emerged since the ‘80s. And it’s expected that virtual reality (VR) could soon surpass the brain’s ability to distinguish “reality” from illusion. VR and augmented reality (AR) also beg the question, ‘What actually is reality?’ Some scientific theories have even entertained the idea that the “real world,” is itself a simulation.

(He knows Kung Fu)

That latter scenario is exciting. Death truly becomes just a passage into the next shell. We might actually be avatars in a video game that’s influenced from a dimension above this world!

Life, in the metaphysical sense, now becomes a journey that transcends death. Surely there are still consequences. Choose poorly in one life, and you might wake up in the next as a Dung beetle.

Starting over also takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not some finite, ultimate end we must all dread (mortal death); in fact, it becomes an opportunity at every waking moment. And, just like some infinities are bigger than others, (yes, that’s true; ask a mathematician!) some “start overs” are more significant than others. You could start over midday, if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You can restart your professional life, with a career shift. And, yes, the most ultimate start over that we know of is the death of this earthly existence, into the unknown. But if this life truly is a simulation, then the “ultimate” start over breeds hope of new beginnings into a world entirely out of our current experience.

And perhaps the ability to start over in one’s mind is a quality that’s uniquely human. Starting over or reassessing a concept is the process by which we learn. Today, and every day after that can be the first day of the rest of your life. The latter depends on how good you’ve become at adapting, at starting over again and again, evolving ever closer to the person you’re meant to be.


I’m still here

I once saw Casey Affleck in the Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive. He’s from Cambridge, and must have been visiting home. He kept looking at me out the side of his eye, because I couldn’t evoke the courage to tell him I really appreciated he and Joaquin Phoenix’s fourth-wall shattering I’m Still Here. Instead, I just kept glaring at him like big brother Ben probably used to do before delivering him a charley horse directly to the bicep.

The two cinematic scientists—Affleck and Phoenix—experimented with what separates the “real world” from fiction, as Phoenix descended into public career suicide on purpose to propel the plot of their film. The famous spectators and vocal critics of Joaquin’s descent, flipped from witnesses to characters, when the movie hit theatres in 2010.

And now with networks like Hulu releasing docuseries about events that are still unfolding, it seems present day is catching up to the reality those visionaries altered in the early aughts.

Take The Dropout or Pam & Tommy, both produced by Hulu. The latter took place a little longer ago, but I remember living through that fiasco. And the Elizabeth Holmes debacle of her company Theranos has yet to fully unfold, but the big reveal (her secret) are fodder enough for another hit docuseries on Hulu.

Even HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty could classify as this reality-bending genre, although it took place in the early 1980s. Hollywood has certainly been no stranger to making fiction from reality in weekly made-for-TV movies, biopics on prominent public figures and your good old period pieces about the Civil War or ‘Nam. But those traditional dramatizations took so many liberties that the audience knew all along it was heavily embellished. In this data-heavy space we occupy currently, the facts are aplenty and the storytelling is evermore accurate.

Instant drama, based on real events, but reimagined, massaged and maneuvered to fit into the small screen. As the margin between action and reflection shrinks, and we real-world beings can strattle the fourth wall that separates the everyday from imagination, we’ll become characters in our own narrative. Instagram influencers would argue that’s already what they do.

What is the self, but a story we tell ourselves? And now we can tell the general public, by the aid of modern technology and abounding streams to broadcast.

The world really is a stage.


Rob & Big

The MTV series Rob & Big was like an episode of MTV Cribs, except you never left. You didn’t want to leave.

Show co-stars and collectively lovable knuckleheads, Rob Dyrdek and Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin, were just too damned fun to hang out with.

It was perhaps a natural progression for Dyrdek, the skateboarder who went pro at 16. He had grown accustomed to commissioning fellow camera-weilding skaters to film him. Those gliding Spielberg’s couldn’t resist catching lightning in a bottle at every trick Dyrdek executed on Ohio skate parks.

Landing in L.A. not too much later, Dyrdek parlayed that GoPro practice into the everyday of reality TV, which was booming circa the mid-2000’s. In between impromptu skate sessions, Dyrdek and Big Black imaginatively unlocked the fun at every turn, by a collaboration borne of mutual respect for one another.

Two peas in a pod of pure, positive attitude


From left: Big Black, Meaty, Rob Dyrdek, as the Death Row trio

Rolling on 22’s, the dual, Zen mind saw promise in every character they met, down whatever path their murdered-out UAV would take them.


That was their mantra. From 2006-08, when the show aired, a drowning American economy had near seized into a doldrum of prosperity for much of the middle and lower classes. I was preparing my thesis in journalism. Our professor had suggested the entire class produce content for a news website that would focus on young professionals striving to survive in an unyielding market at most ventures. College grads were settling for part-time jobs, over-qualified, underpaid and marred by impossible debt from what seemed then like pipe dreams of success. They had gambled on themselves and had lost. Now, the federal banks were looking to collect. By any means necessary—an indentured servant barista, for instance, shilling double-hot lattes to the Baby Boomers, with long-established equity, who could afford them. Hey, at least Starbucks offered healthcare.

I chose to entitle my thesis, “Do Work!” It followed two contractors aggressively seeking residential construction work throughout the South Shore of Eastern Massachusetts. They were brothers. They were independent businessmen. They’d buy vacant lots and build houses on spec (speculation that, once complete or near completed, the house would sell to a would-be homeowner). Just like so many college grads desperately searching for income, Brothers Jared and Shane Crowley were also gambling on themselves. They weren’t sitting around their Marshfield office waiting for incoming client calls. They were hitting the streets in their trailored red pickup truck. Picking up jobs. Specking out houses and building them and selling them. They were, in my eyes, the embodiment of ‘Do work.’

Of course, I had gleaned this from the do-or-die attitude promoted by Mr. Dyrdek and Mr. Boykin. Those two had neither the time nor the luxury to think, to sit and ponder in these quicksand times. Sink or swim. Do or die. Do work.

A cross-country road trip soon followed my graduation, upon completion of that thesis (which earned an ‘A,’ by the way). We took the scenic route in a Subaru, first dipping down into Washington, D.C., then to Arkansas, clear across Texas, stopping in Austin and El Paso. We wedged the Grand Canyon in there. We completed the trip rolling into Hermosa Beach, in Southern California, for a night, ultimately reaching our destination in The Valley, Burbank. My colleague had enlisted in an L.A. Emerson satellite program for film. I was just along for the ride and flew back east a few days later.

I mention this anecdote not as some acknowledgment of closure having completed and submitted my ‘Do work’ thesis successfully. That’s merely coincidental. You see, one particular garment had protected me this entire road trip across 3,000 miles. It was a ‘DO WORK!’ hooded sweatshirt. Big Black’s unmistakable face filled out the ‘O’ in “WORK!” His official signature, “Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin,” lined the bottom of his most popular catchphrase. Its fabric emulated Big Black’s male stripper name, “Black Lavender.” From head-to-waste, I was draped in crushed velvet every time I donned the garment.

That is, until Hermosa Beach. We stayed at a guy’s house my friend and travel companion had known from back home. All that I know is that I slid in with the hoodie hanging on the handlebar of my roller luggage. We strolled into his room, slept over. When we left early the next morning, the coveted sweatshirt was nowhere to be found. Had her friend stolen it? Could the smooth, black velour have slipped from my luggage’s grasp on an errant turn navigating the outside stucco hallways of the Spanish Mission-style apartment building?

I felt true loss that day, en route to L.A. True loss that I hope to regain, by a very simple, but profound idea—perhaps even what that hoodie represented.

From the lips of Dyrdek himself:
“The number one rule: Always surround yourself with good people.”

Since that fateful West Coast day a decade ago, I’ve scoured the Internet for that hooded sweatshirt. That particular design has been discontinued. And lesser search results take its place on every Google query I’ve ever performed. No matter. It’s not about the hoodie. It’s about Big Black. It’s about Rob Dyrdek. And, most importantly, it’s about Rob & Big. For three MTV seasons, they captured lightning in a bottle by surrounding themselves with good people and positive ideation.

That’s a principle I won’t forget, a Black Lavender ideal I can’t possibly lose. Through the teachings of Rob & Big, I know that the crushed velvet velour of true creation, compassion and empathy folds around every bend. As long as you’re looking. As long as you’re surrounded with good people.

Don’t relent. Do work.

Profiles, Verse


The key to being a good journalist is self-loathing. I’m talking about the realization that what you have now, what you know, what you essentially are to the very core of your soul is not enough and will never be enough, without the accompaniment of some outside entity.

This zeitgeist is a ghost you chase throughout your career. You find traces of it in the stories you report on, but their faint scent is fleeting and some days even a bloodhound couldn’t help you on the hunt. So you loathe the status quo and keep moving, changing, adapting, learning, growing, devolving, degenerating, rebuilding, reassessing, reaffirming that you can muster the chutzpah to paddle into another wave of the socioeconomic surge.

That is the wild goose chase that gets you out of bed in the morning. The mythical carrot—a mirage of an intelligible Truth—that motivates you to put one foot in front of the other on the neverending path. Much like the most interesting man in the world stays thirsty, my friends, you’re driven by an unquenchable curiosity.

Profiles, short stories



He arrived with the rain and the wind. He struck with the lightning and the thunder. The trees shook as he approached the tiny Nantucket island.

“Beware of the great and awful Tugbato!” Mother Nature wailed with each whirling gust.

He was a force cast from the deep, subterranean magma and forged into a Fu Manchu’d superhuman foaming with full-bodied ferocity.

“No more Tugbato!” the Nantucketers cried, curled up in their wood-shingled cottages. Their desperate pleas would land on deaf ears…











The Brothers McDonagh

The Brothers McDonagh

Three brothers, Three Stooges

The Brothers McDonagh
One. Two. Three.
The Brothers McDonagh.
Quincy Royalty.

The Brothers McDonagh.
Pat, Dan, and John.
The Brothers McDonagh.
Patty Lemons, Tugboat & Mr. Mom.

They had facial hair at 5.
And went grey in their twenties.
At christenings they thrive,
whilst drinking beers aplenty.

Ask them for directions
and each will give you his route.
Who’s up for mayoral election?
“Koch, Phelan and some other Irish fruit.”

The Brothers McDonagh.
Hold one high for these three…

There are good ships.
There are wood ships.
There are ships that sail the sea.

Yet this night, I toast to friendships…

To the Brothers McDonagh!
Three brothers, three friends…
and may they always be.



Get Knoxified


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Zoom in tight to a wide-eyed Knox staring straight into the camera. In a loud and enthusiastic delivery, he continues.

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That’s right folks, real stories from real people. My plan sells because it works. If you call within the next 10 minutes, I will include a pearl white El Dorado absolutely free. That’s right! A $200-value all yours, at no extra cost. Operators are standing by.


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Also try my other services:

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The Ballad of Big Joe

Big Joe, Big Schmoe, Bad Boy Jigbo
CrossFit, mosh pit, rugby, Harley ho!

Biggie’s best friend is Franny.
They’re from Dedham, son. UnderstannMe??
Outside the law, they’re on the lammie.
To Tahiti, sweetie, they’ll go.

Big will black out takin’ Jac out.
Don Mike Myers’ mask wit his sac out.
From a fight, he’ll never back out.
Concrete scannin’, he’s a pro.

Big Joe, Big Schmoe, Bad Boy Jigbo
CrossFit, mosh pit, rugby, Harley ho!

St. Patty’s Day was nice
Joe dunked his head in ice.
Playin’ lime eye was his vice
Chasin’ Dropkicks’ rollin’ show.

Big Joe, Big Schmoe, Bad Boy Jigbo
You need somethin’? “I know a guy.”
You gonna cry?? “Go blow a guy.”
Believe nahthing. The Dude abides.
Large Glynn’s his alter ego


The tale of Tiers

The unsuspecting Watters by day


Jon Watters just wanted to settle down.

A quiet mild-mannered man by day, Jon Watters soon learned of the existence of another, more explosive personality that broiled beneath, waiting for the right time to emerge upon the world, like an 18-foot crocodile poised inches below the African Serengeti’s edge. Wildebeest wild nights would succumb to the thousand-psi bonecrush his vice jaw could inflict upon the good times. Tiers.

All would love Tiers in his heyday, except for three: Watters himself, his faithful Jenn and the State of Massachusetts, all of whom were charged with pacifying the warpath of this tornado wrapped in human form. Years passed, and the appearance of Tiers shone fewer and farther between, until many regarded the very existence of Tiers as myth, the stuff legends are made of. Soon even these fables were forgotten and none uttered the name “Tiers” anymore.

And all was right in their quaint Hanover town…

But little did Jenn, Watters or the Great Bay State know, this–the emergence, the emergency rooms, the James Taylor concerts and so on until He finally retreated to the recesses of his mind–was part of the wily Tiers’ plan, from the beginning. He would strike at the perfect moment. A moment created painstakingly by the effect of a long drawn out plan… when all the world was convinced that He did not exist.

Beer Die, Profiles

The Guys Who Throw ‘Die’

On a sunny Sunday Abington afternoon in mid-July, four warriors mount in a backyard off Rt. 139. Their battlefield: a banquet table; their weapon: a die.

Dave Comis, 31, sets the die by his shoulder and hurls a left-handed jump-shot to the far side of the table. The die flies wild from the springy surface and escapes the catch of Jason Brown, at the other end. Brown, 31, takes a sip from the beer sitting on his table corner. Comis and his teammate, Adam B., lead 1-0 over Brown and the fourth player, Mike H., in a sport they call “Beer Die.”

These ‘Die’ players will compete in a field of 100 for a chance to take Lord Brownie’s Cup, the coveted trophy for winning Brownie’s Beer Die Open (BBDO) on Aug. 14, in Abington.

Beer Die: a drinking game involving the toss of a six-sided die onto far ends of an 8-foot by 30-inch banquet table. Teams of two stand at opposing ends of the table, where each member sets a Solo cup full of beer at their respective corner. One member from the throwing team lobs the die at least nine feet in the air to the receiving team’s side. A member from the receiving team must catch the die with one hand after it hits his table section. If not, the throwing team earns one point; the receiving team takes a sip of their beers. Sinking die into cup, or a “plunk,” earns two points for the die hurlers; “plunkees” finish their beers. First team to seven points, by at least two, wins.

“Once the table sides were fair (territory), that’s when this game became a sport,” says Comis, a former champion of the BBDO, the annual bracket-style tournament sprouting Summer games throughout backyards off of Rt. 18 in preparation for the mid-August meet.

“Nobody wants to go into the tournament cold,” Brown says.

Originally an indoors gentlemen’s drinking game, where college students would sit down and casually toss dice for hours, Beer Die has spilled out onto grassy South Shore lawns and requires a high degree of athleticism while sipping suds. The ‘Die’ these warriors throw brings players to their feet and charges receiving teams to field errant projectiles in any direction they may spring from the table—the gentlemen’s version only counts dice that fly between the Solo goal posts.

“We may not have invented standup Beer Die, but we’ve perfected it,” says Brown, who spearheads the BBDO, which organically grew from a Wiffle Ball tournament about a decade ago. Brown said they’d play Beer Die after the tourney until 2002, when Brown decided to make Beer Die the main attraction. What started as about 30 players competing, grew to 88 contenders last year. Brown set the cap at 100 for this year’s BBDO, in the same backyard off Rt. 139. At this point, he has to turn some players away.

“I probably had 25 to 30 e-mails in May alone asking when the tournament was so people could plan their vacations,” Brown had said. But the Beer Die commissioner maintained an early-admission e-mail would not guarantee entrance into the BBDO. He has to know them or know someone who can vouch for them, he said. The tournament is about friends and family reuniting every year; if just anyone could compete “it (would be) too much of a liability.”

Even for friends and family, the BBDO enforces a strict no drinking and driving policy. Brown hires a shuttle service every year that ships players from the Cellar Tavern’s parking lot to the tournament. Aside from the 50-dollar entry fee, BBDO contestants also need a ride home.

“As long as responsible adults (of legal drinking age) have plans for alternate transportation, they can knock themselves out,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) spokesperson David DeIuliis said, in reference to games like Beer Die. “We’re not an anti-alcohol organization. Our concern is more when these types of (drinking) games are marketed to minors.”

Now up 6-“bizz” (players say “bizz” instead of the number ‘5,’ or else they finish their beers), the long-bodied Mike H. cradles an incoming throw in his stomach and lets it fall to his open hand. Mike, 25, steps back about five feet from the table and launches a rocket from his over-6-foot frame for the win, but the die goes long. Brown and Mike sip their beers in penalty.

“You don’t see this very often:” Brown says, “four BBDO hall-of-famers.”

A game that usually goes to seven continues well beyond that. These All-Stars have earned their place in Beer Die history by not backing down so easily.

“If you aim for a (certain point) on the table,” says Adam B., “you’ll hit it 90 percent of the time,” after he pinpoints a section of the table to connect die. The prospect of “plunks,” which requires players to aim for the edges of the table, and likely inebriation often deter players from the consistency that this 25-year-old BBDO hall-of-famer speaks of.

Last year’s BBDO champion, Mike Vantine, would agree.

Someone whom the BBDO commissioner himself referred to as a “pitching machine,” Vantine said he played “meat and potatoes” Beer Die, trying to hit the table every time and force his opponents to catch every one of his throws.
“Going for ‘plunks’ is like (panning for) fools’ gold,” the 28-year-old defending champion said.

At 11-10 in favor of Comis-Adam, sure enough no one has “plunked” in a game approaching 30 minutes, three times longer than the average bout. After snagging a cube with his shortstop glove hand, Comis sets up a jumper to seal the win. He lets the die fly well over the 9-foot minimum and splits Brown and Mike down the middle of the table. The Comis-Adam tandem stands victorious, 12-10.

“I feel like it’s the end of that Wimbledon match,” Comis says, in reference to the record-breaking first-round match at this year’s All England Club Grand Slam, where John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut, 70-68, in the fifth set.