“Shall we play a game?”
You know, the funny thing about that quote is that everyone pretty much it remembers it wrong. For some reason, we tend to remember it as “Would you like to play a game?” Isn’t that funny? The quote, of course, is from the classic hacker movie War Games and was “spoken” by the computer. The thing is, we all play games. Sometimes it’s a game we play with ourselves, something that keeps our barely functional lives, well, functioning. Sometimes, it’s a game we play with the world, to try and make the unbearable easier to stomach. Sometimes, it’s a little of both or even more.
I have this thing I do with people.
Oddly, it’s something that I share in common with one of William Gibson’s earliest characters. Or, maybe, it’s just something that I read and identified as a behavior I can’t seem to shake either. Bobby Quine was the hacker from “Burning Chrome”, which I think was the first story of Gibson’s that I ever read, back when Omni was still publishing. Back before I worked on computers, sat at keyboards. But, with one line I identified with Bobby; “But Bobby had this thing for girls, like they were his own personal tarot or something…” And there it was. In my case, I don’t think the poor women even knew, or know, that I’m looking for some unknowable future in their eyes, their smile, their words. It must seem strange to them, the way I react. I’m sure it makes no sense to someone outside my head, that it seems random, arcane, occult. I do things to even out the pattern, but it always comes back. Like some disturbed biorhythm, in sync with an erratic moon passing through a hidden astrological house, creating ripples and waves in my mental and emotional life that I seem incapable of leashing, harnessing, harvesting.
My changeable moods have often made me wonder if I’m not bipolar, but my therapist assures me that I’m not. Nor, according to him, am I clinically depressed. At least, not any more. But, if my flesh and blood tarot deck frowns at me, or avoids my gaze or any of a thousand little things that only I can see or know, then I’ll suddenly be sure that all my hopes and dreams are doomed because, after all, if that one person shows displeasure at my choice of t-shirt, then everyone in the world hates me and will work to make me miserable. Surely, it must be so, for I have foretold it in the sun-kissed highlights and tiny laugh wrinkles of my walking tarot. And, after all, how could they be wrong?
“So he’d set her up as a symbol of everything he wanted and couldn’t have, everything he’d had and couldn’t keep.” Maybe that was the part I identified with so strongly. And what woman could stand to be the focal point of a life? Who could stand to be the pivot point on which my fate turned? Not my ex-wife, as it turns out, and, yes, she was my own, little tarot deck with painted nails and faces, spike heels and tight, black leather. But, predicting my future was too much strain, so now someone else plays “fifty-two pick-up” with her and the painted pasteboards of her life. I hope his fortune suits him better than I think mine does me. But, like Bobby in that second line from “Burning Chrome”, those people become far more than they are, or can ever know they are. What always gets me, though, is that, as much as I try to hide it, my friends always seem to see right away who has become my latest walking, talking, human tarot deck. But, I never seem to have seen it myself, or, rather, I have choosen not to see it most of the time.
The problem is that I do see it all too clearly these days. And, somehow, like seeing how a magic trick works, now that I can see the process, it doesn’t work the way it used to work. The longing doesn’t inspire me like it used to anymore, just makes me tired and lonely and old. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten old, at least old enough that romantic dreams of a life filled with art and beauty and adventure in the company of beautiful travellers has so clearly passed me by. Maybe because it hasn’t quite yet, but I’ve gotten so mired in middle-age that the ennui just isn’t quite so attractive as it used to be.
It’s an old game I play. A kind of sad and deadly solitare that makes me washed out and gray like an old photograph, until I am just a ghost. When I get like this, I hate myself. I feel like my whole soul has been poured out, like ice water on hot pavement, leaving nothing but evaporating steam and an empty vessel. I know there’s no future in playing this game, and no one left to play it with, but the game comes so easily now that I’ve played it so long. It’s an old habit, too hard to break. I know my friends see it and think of it like the rogue computer in War Games said, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”
Perhaps one day, I’ll finally lay down that last card.
And, finally, play that game no more.