Ten Damn Years

Happy anniversary to lastgreypoet.com, which was founded on Oct. 1, 2010.

I didn’t start writing then, of course, but it was at that point that I started to really want to write for myself, after years of writing only for pay for others.

Sometimes, like when I had a newspaper column, that meant I got to write more or less what I wanted. Most days, though, I wrote what I was paid to.

Thus, this place. My place.

It started on Blogspot — remember Blogspot? — but I soon sprang for my own domain, using my longtime online moniker.

Of all things, my first post here was about baseball.

Since then I have been consistently inconsistent in my posting. Good days, bad days. Bad years …

Anyway, thanks for being here, even if it’s your first day.

Tip of the Hat/Spear/Your Pun Here

I woke up this morning thinking about tipping.

No apparent reason, just where my brain went upon waking.

Waking early, I might add. 6:10 a.m. finds me at the keyboard with energy, so a brief treatise on tipping is what you get today.

(My brain interrupts me here to point out that a treatise is technically a longer and more formal work than what I am attempting here, and I should probably use the term spiel instead. Okay, brain, okay. Can we get to it now?)

I strive to be a good tipper. 

I have a solid floor of 20%.

That’s the bare minimum I can scribble my name to without feeling guilt. 

It’s also a minimum predicated on a couple of assumptions.

Assumption the first: I tip on the whole bill, not the pre-tax amount. I do this because it is more generous, and the math is easier.

Assumption the second: I tip on alcohol. Considering my drinking tendencies, this raises the floor considerably.

Now, I’ve read tipping guides that advise you to not do those things, to which I say: Fuck off. I’m trying to be a decent human here.

So, we’ve set a floor. Is that enough?

Sometimes it isn’t. If I am, for example, eating alone at a Waffle House, the tab can be a single-digit number. In such cases, I have a $5 minimum.

Why $5?

As My Friend Who Likes To Punch People For Recreation once so eloquently put it, giving someone a dollar today is like your grandpa giving you a quarter when you were a kid. It’s pat-on-the-head money, not a living wage. I won’t leave the equivalent of a small pile of change on the table, and I don’t believe a diner server should get stiffed just because they didn’t get a steakhouse job instead. Start at $5 and go up from there as if that were 20%.

Having set the floor, it’s pretty easy to raise it. Decent work merits 25%, and I’ll go 30% for someone who makes me laugh.

Wait, wait, I hear.

(And I pause at the unintended pun, then realize there is no such thing as an unintended pun once you acknowledge it. So, leave it, or make a different choice, writer-person.)

Wait, wait, I hear.

What if their service was bad?

Read the room. Is the waitstaff busy as hell, working multiple tables? Is the kitchen backed up? Are there complicated orders (from your table or others)?

These are all reasons to raise your tip, not lower it.

What if they were rude?

How rude we talking? Southern rude? Did she bless your heart? Northern rude? Was the word fuck uttered as a casual adjective? Northwestern rude? Indifference?

Again, read the room. Put yourself in those shoes.

(Geez, you should have good shoes to wait tables.)

Try to think of a reason to hold steady or raise the tip, rather than look for ways to lower it.

Maybe it’s a first day/bad day/last day. Maybe their dog died. Maybe their lover is leaving. Maybe they don’t have a lover, and they are confused about love in general, filled with despair at the existential loneliness that is life, waiting tables to pay the rent on a place they don’t like but is (barely) affordable, living without parents who can afford to offer financial assistance that, even if such were possible, they would turn down on principle, and the power bill is due …

You get the point.

(I people-watch and sometimes daydream lives for the mental exercise. No, wait — that’s not the point. The point is …)

You never truly know. Err on the side of giving someone a living wage.

Which brings me to geography.

This spiel is focused on life in the States, as our (wealthy, developed) nation nonetheless has basically no laws in place to provide a living wage to members of the service class.

Tipping isn’t a nicety; it’s a necessity.

If you feel that shouldn’t be the case, fine. Vote and advocate accordingly. I’m with you. Meanwhile, tip well.

Which brings me to the assholes.

Low tip? Change on the table? Always looking for reason to lower the tip?

Assholes, all.

Then there are the very special assholes, the ones who don’t tip on principle.

Buddy, get some better principles. I get it, you saw Reservoir Dogs at an impressionable age, and Mr. Pink’s anti-tipping tirade really moved you.

a) You’re an asshole.

b) Everyone in that movie is an asshole.

c) Tarantino is an asshole.

d) Joe, while still an asshole, was correct: “Never mind what you normally would do. Just cough in your goddamned buck like everyone else.”

e) You’re an asshole.

What Stage of Grief is This?

I have a song stuck in my head.

Round and round on a loop, I hear it.

Getting a song stuck in your head is a common enough occurrence, but I am one of only a handful of people capable of having this particular song in there.

Once, on a cold night in Maine, I sat playing cards with The Empress of Whisky, her father, and her uncle. It may have been snowing; I can’t recall. It was definitely cold, though, and when I say that, I mean the Mainers were saying it was cold. So, you know, death to anyone born south of the 43rd Parallel.

Anyway as we sat playing cards and drinking*, my father-in-law began to sing.

*(I should make a note about the drinking. I don’t recall everything exactly — not because we drank that much, but just because it’s been some time — but I suspect The Empress of Whisky was living up to her name, while I may have had a strong beer or whisky, and her uncle was drinking something vodka-based, likely a gimlet. My father-in-law, however, almost certainly had a glass of Grand Marnier. He occasionally indulged in a Heineken, and he would gamely try anything — oh, the fun we had taking him on brewery tours! — but, for preference, it was always either that beer or his favorite orange liqueur. On this cold night, I’m certain it was the latter.)

There’s a phrase about people who play card games: “Winners tell funny stories; losers yell, ‘Shut up and deal!'”

My father-in-law always told funny stories, win, lose, or draw.

He also told stories during dinner, on car rides, while watching sports … the man was full of stories.

He was also full of life. Big, bold, life. Gregarious is the word that keeps coming to mind — so apt for him.

He would sometimes sing.

The whole family is musical, mind. They all play instruments, and they all sing on pitch, in time, and with harmony. It is not uncommon for one to break into song, with the others then joining in. It’s rather beautiful.

On this particular night, my father-in-law began to sing, his big, booming voice bringing forth an unfamiliar tune.

Despite the unfamiliarity, The Empress and her uncle were quickly harmonizing to the lines, and eventually I even found myself humming along in tune. (I do not, generally, sing.)

It’s a happy song, and it’s a perfect song for a cold Maine night, and we’re all smiling along as my father-in-law deals the cards, making up lines as he goes, everyone following along … when the song turns unexpectedly bawdy.

At which point we all cracked up and both song and game had to be put on hold while we composed ourselves.

For the rest of the night, usually upon some significant play in the game, one of us would sing or hum the melody, and that’s all it took to crack us all up again.

So that’s what’s in my head. A song that originated with four people and is now known to a handful more (all family) through a bit of judicious sharing, generally during another night of drinks and games.

It’s in my head, and it won’t go away; it just temporarily fades only to pop back up, much like it did the night he composed it.

And every time it does, I smile a little.

But then, he was always making me smile; why would that stop from beyond the grave?

Games We Play: The Rest of January

Had I realized I was breaking up a three-day weekend, I might have kept going on that last post. As it turned out, the post was getting long, and I was getting tired, so here we are, still on January 19, with games still to go. Can we get through the rest of January? Let’s find out.

Ticket to Ride: Märklin Edition

Details: Designed by Alan R. Moon for Days of Wonder, 2006.  2-5 players. Medium.

Source: I bought it for The Empress of Whisky at Christmas, way back in 2006.

Overview: Märklin, if you’re not aware, is a German toy company, in business since the mid-1800s, that is best known for its model trains. This edition of Ticket to Ride, aside from having a German map, features a photo of a different Märklin model train car on each card. It’s quite impressive.

As for game play, this edition of Ticket to Ride has some rules variations that set it apart from other editions. (This is common in Ticket to Ride games; I have yet to see two that share exactly the same ruleset.)

This time around, the major rule variation is Passengers. Each player starts the game with three passenger tokens, which can be placed at any city during a move in which a rail segment is connected to that city. On a later turn, the player may move the passenger along their entire rail network, collecting points tokens from cities as the passenger moves through them.

Naturally, this mechanic throws the game in a whole new direction. Quickly building a short network connecting nearby cities can prove really profitable, once you have passengers running around grabbing those point tokens.

Aside from passengers, which are unique to this edition, this edition features both Short and Long Route Cards. Each player chooses what mix of these to pursue. The game also features +4 Locomotives, which are only usable on routes 4 train cars long or longer. These wild cards, unlike regular Locomotives, do not count as 2 when drawing.

Thoughts: This is a great version of Ticket to Ride. We love it for game play and sentimental reasons.

Result: On January 19, I squeaked out a win, 161-139. 

Verdict: Keep. Mind you, if we ever get really hard up, this out-of-print edition goes for high prices on the secondary market.


Monday rolled around, and here’s how we spent MLK Day.

Bohnanza: The Duel

Details: Designed by Uwe Rosenberg for AMIGO Games,* 2016. 2 Players. Short.

*(Distributed in the States by Rio Grande Games.)

Source: I found this one in a discount bin at a game store in downtown Madison, Wisconsin and saved it until Christmas to stuff in the stocking of The Empress of Whisky.

(Yes, I buy games on trips. No, you are not surprised. Yes, I am excellent at Luggage Tetris. No, I am not as organized about anything as I am about planning out The Empress’ stocking gifts way in advance.)

Overview: It’s a spin-off of the popular game Bohnanza, which is for 2-7 players and is loads of fun. It’s also, I just realized, the first game published by Uwe Rosenberg, way back in 1997, so that’s cool.

The Duel plays somewhat like the original, but this isn’t just a cheap re-boxing for two players. The rules here take some major diversions from the original.

First, let’s get through the basics. You have a hand of cards humorously illustrated with varieties of beans. The beans have value based on their scarcity in the the game; rare red beans are worth more than super-common blue beans.

Your goal is to plant them in one of three “fields” — rows of cards kept in front of you — and then harvest them for profit. Easy. (Speaking of easy, the card backs are coins, meaning to keep score you just turn over cards as you harvest them. Nice, efficient piece of game design, that.)

The wrench of the game is that you may not change the order of cards in your hand. This forces you to deal with having the wrong type of bean up at any given time. (Say you’re collecting soy beans and your next card is a green bean. Trouble, that.)

So far we’re on par with the original. Here’s where the major change comes.

In the original, you manipulate your hand by trading cards with other players around the table, trying to ensure that the next bean up is something you want to plant.

In The Duel, there is only a limited form of trading each turn. Otherwise, you are stuck with the beans that come up in your hand. However, to mitigate this you may — unlike in the original game — plant a less valuable bean on top of any more valuable bean. Thus, your overall stack value may decrease, but at least you’re not forced to harvest your hard work too soon.

The game also includes a set of bonus cards. Each player has three of these at any time, and each offers a payment for achieving a certain sequence of beans in a field — for example: two of a kind, plus one, plus three of a kind (in that order exactly).

Thoughts: This is great fun, thematically true to the original, but different enough to clearly be its own game. We rather enjoy it.

Result: On January 20, The Empress sold $42.40 worth of beans to my measly $35.60.

Verdict: Keep. I can’t believe I found it in a discount bin.


Games on Repeat (Sort of)

Repeated Game: Carcassonne, with The River Expansion

What’s Different: The River is one of a bazillion expansions available for Carcassonne, but it has the distinction of being the first. When I bought my copy way back at the dawn of the millennium, The River was included as a freebie.

Instead of using the starting tile, you can use The River. It consists of 13 tiles. After placing the spring, players alternate placing pieces of the river, each of which must connect and cannot form a loop. The pieces have the usual segments of road, castle, and field, and players may place meeples on them as normal. Once The River is all placed, play proceeds as usual.

The main playing difference is how widely spaced the game is once it gets going.

Result: The Empress started having a day here, beating me in successive games, 141-110 and 195-170.



Details: It’s a really old card game. Ask your grandparents.

Source: I bought this particular lovely cribbage board from Drueke, the grand and, sadly, now defunct U.S. maker of classic wooden board game sets: cribbage, chess, checkers, backgammon, and so forth. It was a Christmas gift to The Empress.

Overview: I will not attempt to describe cribbage in detail because there are surely a googol of such descriptions already available online.

Suffice to say it’s a mathy card game traditionally for two players. There are rules for 3 or 4 players, which this lovely board will accommodate, and I’ve seen rules for more, though finding those boards must be tricky.

Basically, you count points each hand, trying to win a race around the board.

Thoughts: I came to cribbage late in life, which is maybe why it still feels vaguely unnatural to me. The counting rules alone — 15-2, 15-4, a run of 8, etc. — just seem weird. Then again, I majored in English.

Result: On January 20, as usual, The Empress beat me at cribbage. This time she skunked me, 121-78. (If you don’t know what “skunked” means in this context, ask an old person.)

Verdict: Keep. I don’t even know how many cribbage boards we have, and if I somehow got them all out of the house, The Empress would still talk me into playing and just keep score on paper.


The following weekend, we hosted friends — oh, how I miss hosting friends — for another Torg: Day One adventure, this time in Tharkhold. It was great, especially as My Second Oldest Friend, with whom I used to play Torg back in the ’90s, was able to join. Good times.

The next day, The Empress and I were back to the game table, starting with an old favorite.

Games on Repeat

Repeated Game: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Result: Somehow, to the surprise of both of us, I beat The Empress 95-55. Unwilling to let it go at that, we played a second game, and I was again victorious, though by a lesser margin, 96-71.

Time for something else.


Ticket to Ride: Europe (w/ Europa 1912 Expansion)

Details: Designed by Alan R. Moon for Days of Wonder, 2005. 2-5 players. Medium.

Expansion: Designed by Alan R. Moon for Days of Wonder, 2009. This does not add significant time to the game, but it can add some significant complications, if you use all the options.

Source: Someone gave us the Europe version, I think. Back when it was newish. The expansion I bought as a stocking stuffer — yes, her stocking is mostly small games — when it came out in 2009.

Overview: The game itself is mostly classic Ticket to Ride, with which by now you must be familiar. (If you are somehow not, or you need a refresher, you can find the other Ticket to Ride entries in the Games We Play index.)

It’s the basic rules, but it adds Tunnels and Ferries. Ferries simply require a Locomotive (or two) to complete, while Tunnels are something of a gamble. When placing one, to represent the uncertainty of building a railroad line through a mountain, the player must flip the top three cards of the train deck. If any of these match the color of the route, the player must add a card of that color for each match flipped. If the player can’t afford this, the entire turn is forfeit.

The expansion adds a lot. First, it has an entirely new set of Route Cards to play with, including sub-sets of Big Cities of Europe and Mega Europe. Variants on variants, buddy.

The set also includes an entirely new rules add-on: Depots and Warehouses. The Depots can be placed on any city, and they link to the Warehouses, which slowly accumulate extra cards over the course of the game. When a player connects to a city with a Depot, that player receives all cards in the associated Warehouse. It’s a bit much, honestly. These rules can be played with any other Ticket to Ride set.

Thoughts: I like the Europe version, with or without the expansion. The board is broad, but it’s still deceptively easy to get locked out of cities and end up forced to take the long way round.

Result: On January 25, The Empress beat me like a dusty rug, 198 to *cough*70*cough*.

Verdict: Keep. Europe is nice to visit.

Race for the Galaxy

Details: Designed by Thomas Lehmann for Rio Grande Games, 2007. 2-4 players. Short.

Source: I think this was another item fulfilled from The Empress’ wish list, many years ago.

Overview: This is an engine-building game with only tangential player interaction. Each player is attempting to hit a victory point total, by drawing cards and building a set of colonies across multiple worlds, sometimes with point-enhancing additions like troops, science stations, robotics, and so forth.

Thoughts: This one had been sitting on the shelf for a long time, and we did not think we’d played it before, but as we got into we realized we had. It is a game that takes some learning, but once you get over that hump, it’s relatively easy.

Result: On January 20, we played twice, to make sure we had a grasp on it. I won both, but narrowly each time.

Verdict: Keep? It’s not a bad game, but it is probably going to be sitting on the shelf for another long spell before we come back to it.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers

Details: Designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede for Hans im Glück, 2002.* 2-5 players. Short.

*(The German original. This version was distributed by Rio Grande Games in the United States. The U.S. license has since been purchased by Z-Man Games with, I might add, an uglier cover.)

Source: I received it as gift one Christmas. I’m pretty sure it was on my wish list because I’d read a nice review somewhere.

Overview: The money’s in the sequels, right? Carcassonne has had a few, along with the aforementioned bazillion expansions. This is no simple re-skin, however; Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers manages to take the same mechanics and come out with a game that’s strategically different that the original.

The essential rules — draw a tile, place a meeple — remain, but the terrain features you’re after are totally different. Fields are still a thing, but instead of trying to connect them to castles, you want them to contain tasty critters — deer and such — while avoiding tigers. Tigers are fun because they allow a bit of devious placement between players.

Rivers are sort of like roads in the original game, except you worry about not just the number of segments in the river but also the number of fish in the lakes at each end. You also have one additional meeple type (fishing huts), with each player able to place up to two of these. For huts, only the number of fish count, but you can count all the fish in an entire river system.

Finally, you can complete forests, which are a bit like castles in the original, at least as far as scoring goes. One twist, however: forests may contain gold nuggets, and a player (owner or not) who completes a forest containing a gold nugget gets to draw from a special 12-tile bonus deck, which includes some nifty unique tiles.

Thoughts: I rather enjoy this version. It’s a nice refresher from time to time over the original.

Result: On January 27, I beat The Empress 181-169.

Verdict: Keep. We’re not going Paleo any time soon, but it’s still nice to hunt and gather now and then.