Feel the Glow

Outside the Los Angeles Convention Center last week, chauffeurs sat in dark-tinted town cars up and down Chick Hearn Lane, waiting for their optimistic bosses to cut deals. Chances are those bosses were doing something stupid — probably throwing money away licensing obscure comic book characters. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the gaming world’s largest showcase of the year — better known as E3 —everything was feeling very late ’90s. Remember those days? Dot-coms had money and so did you.

Unlike most industries, video-game makers have yet to see their bubble burst. The industry experienced a 10 percent sales increase in 2002, and Wall Street predicts double-digit growth through 2005. One businessperson told me that the biggest innovation at E3 2003 was “movie tie-ins and sequels.” As in the dot-com go-go years, game makers are now engaged in a business where it is almost impossible to throw money away without having money thrown back in return.

Along those lines, one of the more ubiquitous presences at this year’s convention was G4 TV, a new cable channel that is to video games what MTV is to music, a network, as the press material says, “all about video games and the gamer lifestyle.” Capturing the gamer lifestyle, though, is a questionable goal. Consider this basic fact of gaming life: It’s completely asocial. Even if you’re playing Sony’s EverQuest online with friends (you’re a dark-elf cleric living in Antonica; your best friend is an Erudite necromancer on the continent of Odus), in reality you’re probably both in separate living rooms, staring into a video monitor at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. Iksar Monks from Kunark are well-represented in the less-illustrious fraternity of Guys Without Dates.

Admirably, G4 didn’t seem to get caught up in the spendthrift ways of most exhibitors, who erect millions of dollars’ worth of temporary architecture and plasma screens to promote their wares. G4 did, however, hire half a dozen convention-floor babes to mill around its booth. They were dressed in outfits reminiscent of Hooters — safety-orange short shorts and tight tank tees with the words “G4 Booth Babe” printed over their breasts. More to the point, G4 sent dozens of its reporters throughout the convention hall, breaking news. In the world of video games, this usually means playing new game footage and occasionally cavorting with a costumed midget.

Patrick Clark, a host and producer for the network, led me around in the company of one of G4’s flacks, Taffy Miller. “Like the candy,” she said, yelling over the background noise, a piercing mix of cinematic schmaltz and gunfire.

Patrick was blond and had the complexion of one whose pores have fully absorbed a light smear of pancake. Pre-G4 he was on-air talent at the WB’s St. Louis affiliate. He moved to Los Angeles to get closer to the action. On the second day of the convention, for example, he got to hang out a bit with ’N Sync’s Lance Bass, who is hosting G4’s Glow Awards, which is the Academy Awards of gaming, or at least the People’s Choice.

Patrick removed his earplugs as we approached G4’s booth on the midway of the convention center’s West Hall. “The Glow Awards are going to be as much about the gamer as about the game,” he explained. “The question we’ll be asking is, How do you achieve that glow? Do you close the blinds? Do you shut off the lights?” It was a riveting moment. I am told that Mr. Bass achieved his glow by getting his picture taken with Sponge Bob. Evidently he was quite insistent.

In the booth’s “confessional,” a steady stream of gamers with facial piercings and oversize raver jeans popped in to spill their guts about 20-hour Halo binges. The channel planned to use these as on-air promos.

In the corner was a comfortable reclining chair that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a dental office. Next to it sat Charlie, the G4 tattoo artist. Charlie was giving out real tattoos for free, with one stipulation: “You can get anything you want,” said Taffy, “as long as it has the G4 logo on it. We’ve had about 20 during the convention. Two tigers, two scorpions, two PS 2 logos, one Tri-Triangle from Link’s Shield, and a few G4 Rebels.”

In the chair was a gamer with long red hair tied back and pushed under a baseball cap. The right sleeve of his shirt was scrunched up under his armpit, and the freckles that covered his pale arm led straight to a fresh tattoo of G4’s logo, encircled in the braincase of a skull and crossbones.

I wondered, did he come here expecting to get that?

“Nope, I didn’t even know what G4 was!” he exclaimed, his voice barely audible over the concussive background noise.

Well, are you a fan now?

Charlie, the tattoo artist, put down his needle and looked up with a callous grin. “He is now,” he said.

Now and forever.

—Alec Hanley Bemis

Likes Lollipops

I’m a person with some wholesome habits. I have no debt. I do a lot of volunteer work. I bake my own bread from flour I grind myself. I also have some not-so-wholesome ones: I like to get drunk, snort coke and have anonymous sex.

At some point during my developmental years, my love circuits got jammed. So I prefer the matter-of-fact world of online sexual hookups to the excruciating minuet of socially acceptable dating. Yeah, there are a lot of idiots floating around online, but at least you don’t have to fall in love with them, lend them money, tell them all your secrets and write them into your lease. Your expectations are in line with reality. The only decision you have to make is, “Do I give this loser a blowjob or not?”

It’s a simple universe. But not one I want everyone to know I inhabit.

The other night, I was gulping down a strong daiquiri and trawling for coke-totin’ cyberspace boys — “Wanted: c ’n’ c; Signed, Likes Lollipops” — when I got an e-mail from “Schmucko O’Schmuck.” Actually, he was using his real name . . . a name that I recognized.

I froze. Schmucko O’Schmuck! He’s a close friend of my brother’s! He and his new girlfriend had recently spent a weekend with us upstate, and we’d had a great time. She’d turned out to be well-read and really nice, and they were hilarious together. We’d talked about this online sex site, the one I happened to be on at the moment. I suspected he guessed that he had found my profile. How humiliating.

His e-mail read, “I have the c and nine inches . . . are you still looking?”

To ease my embarrassment, I decided to play along with the joke.

“Just started . . . seems you’re off to a good start yourself,” I answered.

A day later, he e-mailed again.

“Would you care to meet up this weekend? I’ll obtain a bit more blow and ill let you play with my rather large cock. I admit this is blunt but I feel we share a wavelength.”

Now I really knew he was just goofing around. The “wavelength” thing was just so dumb. I played along again, parodying the abbreviated style of cyber-ing teens:

“U got a foto of this monster?” I asked. I could be funny too.

“Actually I do have a photo . . . do you have one of yourself?” he answered. “Do you want to call me tonight.” He included his real phone number. “I think you sound direct and sexy. What are yu doing Saturday night?”

I suddenly realized that he wasn’t kidding around — that he had no idea
that it was me on the other end of the wire. He was cheating on the girlfriend I liked
so much.

I didn’t answer. Nevertheless, he followed that one up with another:

“Smarty . . . this is a little boring but I am moving my office tonight and have already packed up my discs with my picture which i cant leave on the computer (naked me) in case someone ever sees it. So I cant sent it now . . . and it might be a day or two until I have a home DSL line to send it on. Write back to me and I will definitely send . . . do you want the PG face photo or the X 9 inch photo? What kind of girl are you?”

What kind of girl was I? The kind of girl who didn’t want this information. Who now had to decide whether or not to tell her brother — we tell each other everything — what his buddy was up to.

I felt like a character in an advice column, and I didn’t know whether Ann Landers would have said Yes or No. I know all my friends, had I polled them, would have said No. I knew it would bum my brother out if he knew.

But the wholesome, grain-grinding, bread-baking Heidi in me won out. Or was it the impulsive slut? Anyway, I squealed.

“I’m creeped out,” my brother said sadly. “Why is everything so sordid?”

That’s one thing I couldn’t tell him.


Hot Hand

I got to Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in downtown Vegas last Sunday night just as SoCal poker champ Men “The Master” Nguyen — who graced the cover of this paper last week — was bulldozing his way into the final rounds of the World Series of Poker.

“I kick your ass! The Master kick your ass!” he excitedly shouted, downing yet another Corona. The leader of Bell Gardens’ notorious Vietnamese poker posse was mercilessly finishing off his last surviving opponent in the triple-draw lowball tournament. As a bank of spectators oohed and aahed, and the cameras of ESPN swooped in, the diminutive Men was raking in the $500 chips so fast, it seemed like the table was tilted in his direction.

“It’s not about the money!” he yelled to the amused crowd as what turned out to be the last hand was being dealt. “It about winning!”

His young opponent, hailing from Louisiana and dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, had just ceded about $20,000 to Men in the last 15 minutes and, frankly, was looking a bit flustered. Now with his last six chips on the table, Louisiana turned over his cards. Not a bad hand — his highest card a nine. In this type of lowball poker, the lowest, not the highest, cards win. He would survive another hand if Men held as much as one face card or a 10.

Men, dressed in spiffy black pants, the ones with his name embroidered down the side in gold, smugly refused to look at the last two cards he drew, then brazenly raised his bet blind. He turned over his first four cards — the highest was an eight. If his last card, still face down, was lower than that, he would win. Somehow certain of victory, Men ran a flamboyant victory lap around the table before flipping that last unseen hole card. He was right. An ace of diamonds, the lowest card of all. A slam-dunk win.

“This is my sixth, man! My sixth!” Men yelped as he held up the solid-gold bracelet that came with first place. He hardly looked at the stacked-up purse of Ben Franklins dished over to him by tournament managers. His prize: $48,000 after starting with a $1,500 buy-in.

“This small change,” he told me, barely bothering to count the money. “I’m up about $600,000 so far overall.”

With more than 700 players bunked here into Binion’s, Men has spent the last several weeks qualifying for the final rounds of this year’s World Series of Poker, a mind-boggling five-day marathon of treacherous Texas Hold’Em with a $10,000 entry fee. The winner, to be crowned Friday night, is expected to bag $2 million. And even those who finish in the top tier of 25 or 30 are expected to walk away with substantial sums. But then again, Men the Master isn’t in it for the money.

—Marc Cooper

A Thug Transformed

Remembering L.A. writer Eddie Little

If Eddie Little had never put a pen to paper, he’d have been just another charming junkie and con man. Not to mention a career criminal arrested for armed robbery, fraud and attempted murder. But he did sit down to write, a statement in and of itself for a working-class ex-con with a fifth-grade education.

Little always imagined himself as more than what he seemed doomed to be. Maybe that’s partly because he fancied himself a good con man, so he had to talk a good game. But it was more than that. Little saw possibilities and deeper meaning. As a criminal, he liked art well enough to steal it — as his fans know from reading Steel Toes. And he liked art well enough to write it.

Little died of an apparent heart attack on Tuesday at 48. It would be nice to say that he overcame heroin addiction to lead the good, writerly life, but that wouldn’t be authentic. It wouldn’t be true to Eddie. He died in a hotel room, his expansive heart unable to withstand one more cycle of self-punishment.

Pretty much all his writing was autobiographical, a life of addiction, violence and crime that no sane person would aspire to — despite the alluring adventure of it. Little didn’t choose his upbringing; rather he survived it long enough to find writing as a partial way out.

And though he never quite escaped, he did transcend. First came the novel Another Day in Paradise in 1998, which was made into a movie starring James Woods and Melanie Griffith. Steel Toes followed in 2001, and he was halfway through another book despite declining health. Little also shared, with his friend, writer Johnny Angel, a defining column several years ago in the Weekly called “Outlaw L.A.,” whose anti-heroes were hit men, burglars and prostitutes. The feature earned Little recognition as Columnist of the Year from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in 1998.

“The difference between him and a skid-row junkie is that he lived long enough to tell about it,” said Mark Ebner, a Los Angeles journalist. “Eddie lived the life that he wrote about and there’s a grudging respect in that. And during those rare periods when he was clean, he’d try and help others out with the same vengeance that at other times he’d go out and chase his next high with.”

Writer Lisa Derrick recalls that Little was the first person she called when she locked herself out of her house. “Eddie said, ‘OK, I’ll tell you how to break into your house, but I’ve got to be quick because People magazine is here taking my photo right now.’ Underneath his hard, criminal exterior and his jailhouse tattoos and his tales of mayhem and murder was a true chivalrous gentleman.”

Little’s mood was never more transformed than when he gave a reading: Smart people, chicks with nice clothes, people who went to Harvard were digging him. Now wasn’t that the coolest?

“He felt like a rock-and-roll star,” recalled his friend Angel. “There’s a point where you can say ‘I’m not a worthless junkie.’ Where you know you have something and you want the world to know what it is.”

Little told the Washington Post in 1998: “I always wanted to be an artistic guy. I wanted to leave a mark as something other than a thug.”

— Howard Blume


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