It’s very easy: So long as you don’t hear “The Little Drummer Boy,” you’re a contender. As soon as you hear it on the radio, on TV, in a store, wherever, you’re out. And you record your loss on the official reporting form, then tell us all about it on the Facebook wall, along with the time and place of your demise. Continue reading
Some years, I struggle with how to lead off the wrap-up. This year, I nearly started with William K.‘s haiku (below) just to shock you all into paying attention. But 2020 doesn’t need any more shocks, and William’s writing may be a little too, shall we say, unconventional for some.
Then I came upon a comment from Jennifer Borchardt, who asked: “Have I been playing since year one? Has it really been 11 years?”
You have, and it has, Jennifer. Because without realizing it, we’ve created a tradition. We’ve been doing this a decade plus one. Only in 2020, it wasn’t just William K.’s haiku that was unconventional or unexpected. The whole damned year was one booby trap after another, and it was the tradition that helped us through it.I couldn’t figure out how to approach the write-up this year. It’s a hoot to play up the chaos, drama, and mayhem of the game. But given the last 10 months, how do you avoid blundering into the realm of the insensitive? Well, it takes some gallows humor, a wry outlook, and heart, which the people who take part in This Thing of Ours have in abundance. That’s how you confront the bruises left by the unanticipated.
“[O]ne strange wild dark long year, Halloween came early,” Ray Bradbury wrote in Something Wicked This Way Comes. For those who’ve never read that book, it’s about a surprise carnival that rolls into a small Illinois town in the middle of an October night. Once it opens for business, it becomes clear that the most dangerous fears are those you tried to bury, those that surface without warning—those that use you as a weapon against yourself.
In 2020, Halloween showed up in March. Only the masks weren’t the fun kind, and it was too dangerous to go knocking on doors. By the time The Boy came along in November, our made-up terrors were helping to distract us from the real ones. The tradition gave us something to use against the surprise.
“I usually lose at my mom’s assisted living facility because they have so many concerts during the holidays that I attended with her,” Kate Anne Canan wrote when reporting her win. “Last year I even lost there because I was playing flute for their Christmas dinner, and a sweet old lady requested it; how could I say no? My mom passed away in April at 97, and the Challenge now reminds me of all the wonderful times we had sharing music in the last few years.”
After 11 years, even something as profoundly goofy as This Thing of Ours begins to mean something despite our best efforts. It reminds Kate of her mom. It offers a hand to those who see the holidays as an annual ordeal. It allows us to concentrate on the brainless when it seems like we’re surrounded by the hopeless.
“The thing is, nobody said it was going to be fun. At least, nobody said it to me.” I quote that line from The Big Chill now and again because it’s appropriate more often than I’d like. And while it may be true, we can still endeavor to make things as entertaining as possible. The LDBC is fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Not even this year, when so many people thought it’d be a cakewalk because we were all sitting at home.
It was a little easier, going by the numbers. But only a little. As I recall, at least one player asked if we were going to bother having the game. Yet we only went from a winning rate of 36 percent in 2019 to 40 percent this time around. An improvement, yes, but not one that says the game wasn’t difficult enough.
No surprise, really, when you consider that in the past, nearly 50 percent of those taken down had it happen at home or in the car (29 percent and 17 percent, respectively). People spent plenty of time in both environments while sheltering. This year, automotive losses held steady, but home-front defeats jumped to a whopping 59 percent. So it’s not like home has ever been harmless. Not when The Boy appears in so many movies and TV episodes as well as on playlists your family swore up and down they scrubbed clean before you fired up the Spotify and decorated the tree.
That, again, is why This Thing of Ours is the perfect blend of tradition and surprise. The Boy has an 11-year history of showing up in the same old places, heralded by the same old villains. Bing and Bowie claim their share, though challengers such as Pentatonix are no slouches, either. Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood and her demon spawn come out of nowhere to victimize the unsuspecting. The Boy respects tradition, yet he’s perfectly happy to innovate and experiment with new attacks, too.
Speaking of tradition, this is our third year supporting Americares, so I’ll take this opportunity to put in one last call for donations. (And thank you to those who’ve already given and those who are about to.) If you’re not able to or would rather not, that’s fine, too. The game is the game, and we’re only too happy to have you join us.
Joining. The tradition of banding together, honoring the First Fallen (for Rigdzin!), and facing our foes and challenges together is what keeps me doing this. And the surprising number of you who return year after year makes it seem like it’s no work at all.
And with that, I’ll ask you to stay safe and leave you ’til next year with the Shalom-like traditional phrase that’s been hello and goodbye for more than a decade now.
That’s right, LDBCers. We don’t shine The Boy’s shoes no more. Not for another year, anyway. In fact, he’s the one sent home to get his shine box.
So post the details of your win (or your loss, if you haven’t already) to the reporting form, please. Then it’ll be time for the official wrap-up.
But breathe easy, and enjoy the taste of winning (or of our yearly struggle being over, at least). We’ve earned it. I mean, given the year we’ve had? Boy, have we (pun intended).
A bit more than three weeks into this thing, people, and it’s looking like those who said it’d be easier due to sheltering-in-place may have had a point. We’re running at about 56% of the losses we had last year by this time.
But as Bruce Springsteen sang, “To the dead, it don’t matter much ’bout who’s wrong or right.” If you’re out already, it wasn’t any easier for you. Just ask poor Jennifer Palome Nassivera and her sister, pictured above. (I assume it’s your sister, Jennifer; please correct me if I’m wrong.) They just wanted the opportunity to prettify themselves. It’s a basic right. That’s what they asked for. What they got was the Evil of The Boy.
And the more I think about that, the more another song comes to mind—Howlin’ Wolf‘s “I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline).” You expect something, and you’re handed something else. A visit to the dentist’s office doesn’t result in tartar-free choppers as the chief memory. Nor does firing up that wonderful holiday playlist you found. Instead, it’s a trip to the reporting form to enter the details of your demise.
We do what we can to help, though. We’ve put together a list of Deadly Movies and TV to check before you watch. (Be aware, however, that it’s by no means comprehensive. We’ve been struggling to keep it up to date, in fact.) And your fellow LDBCers try to help, too. We’ve got two safe Spotify lists contributed by Grace McIntosh and Anna Bulthuis. “Safe” doesn’t always mean what you want it to, though. Grace was recently knocked out herself (not because of her list). And mistakes can be made by the most well-meaning among us. So double-check for yourself before playing, just in case. As I always say, ever-vigilant.
Safety is what you make of it, friends. A lack of it is what’s taken down more than 400 of your fellow fighters thus far, including Rigdzin Dorje, our First Fallen this year. But we’re just days away, so look alive, and maybe you’ll stay that way.
Meanwhile, here’s the latest helping of LDBC-elfies from our dearly departed. Learn from them. Finish strong for them. Because no matter how hard the tricksters try to tell us otherwise, we’re all in this together.
LDBC-Elfies: Tragedy Captured
Only six days in, and we’ve already got nearly 100 reported casualties, LDBCers. It’s grim. No question about that. But last year, there were twice as many by this time, so maybe the quarantine lifestyle is an impediment to The Boy after all.
Which doesn’t mean he’s not on the hunt, mind you. Why, just ask poor Emily S., who checked in with this summary of her downfall.
2020 has already been such a flaming dumpster fire that I had a premonition of going out early, but I’m still disappointed that I (technically) did it to myself.
Just made dinner for the bickering kids, who’ve been on the longest school vacation ever, clocking in at 8.5 months. Eeeeeeeeight and a haaaaaalf moooooonths these children have been home with me. Everyone’s heartily sick of Thanksgiving leftovers. They’d been fighting all day over whose turn it was to play Breath of the Wild. (My house is in a heretofore undocumented bend in the space-time continuum where the person currently playing has both been playing “all day” and “just started,” and digital kitchen timers do not function properly, mysteriously going off “too soon.” NASA, hook me up with some research money.)
I just wanted some peace and seasonal joy while I watched them eat four-day-old turkey and dressing and monitored for early signs of salmonella poisoning. I turned on the old kitchen TV to the cable company’s version of Christmas satellite radio: Music Choice’s Sounds of the Seasons. By the dinner table’s second chorus of, “Mine is cold, and the reprise of, “This tastes funny,” I heard the unmistakeable notes. Sharon and the Dap-Kings had kicked me while I was down.
Single parenting = hard.
Single parenting & working from home during a pandemic = really, really hard.
Single parenting & working from home during a pandemic with LDB in the background = intolerable.
Everyone has their breaking point, and this was mine. Plates were scraped into the trash, pizza delivery was called, and a kitchen dance party was held as we embraced the seasonal suck. Sharon’s version isn’t half bad, but I’ll relay my prescient 13-year-old’s comments as wisdom from the mouths of babes: “Pizza makes everything better, and I like the David Bowie one where he sings with that other guy best.”
So do I, kiddo. So do I.
With the help of dancing and pizza, we’ll get through this.
Happy holidays, LDBCers.
Indeed we will get through this, Emily. We always do.
Well, except for these folks pictured below.
LDBC-Elfies: Tragedy Captured
We’re trying to balance out the evil of The Boy by doing some good, LDBCers. So if you’ve got the giving spirit and are able to help this year, Americares is once again our cause of choice.
As I’ve stressed since we started doing this, no pressure. I’m happy to have everyone play the game who wants to, whether you’ve got the desire or the means to contribute. But if you can, Americares does great work, and your donation may be matched up to eight times if you donate by Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1).
Otherwise, fight on, friends. For Rigdzin!
“This game is stupid.” Thus sayeth Mel G. in the LDBCer commentary highlighted below. One might wonder if Mel was sour about having been nailed by The Boy, but I have only one response to offer regardless: thank you. Stupid is the goal. We want to be as stupid as possible. If we’re not, something’s gone terribly wrong. And for now, Mel approves. Onward and dumbward, I say.
Yet that’s where things take an unexpected turn. Here in the tenth running of this Thing of Ours, serious matters sneak in. I pointed that out last year, too, when one of our LDBCers said she was playing for a departed friend who’d introduced her to the game. I figured that was a one-time occurrence. But this year, LDBCer Julie Denny Walsh had this to share:
I replied that I was speechless. But that’s the amazing thing about doing this for a full decade now. What’s always been a goof, a lark, has come to be a tradition. It remains as idiotic as I can make it, but even that idiocy has power over time. If something’s a part of people’s lives long enough, they make it their own. I couldn’t be happier about that. And while I frequently employ language that’s absurd, dark, and apocalyptic, it’s a reminder that with time comes loss, no matter how hard you were laughing.
How do we face that loss? By being as ridiculous as possible. Because in the end, everything is beautiful, sad, terrible, or hilarious to one degree or another. So godspeed to Julie, to her friend, and to all who are just trying to make it through each day. I’m sorry for your struggles and your losses, and I’m happy to provide whatever mindless crap I can in order to leaven things a bit.
Now, speaking of loss and absurdity, this year’s First Fallen is one of the best yet. Poor Ribert Economu was taken down at home, as many of us are. And while that could certainly be his real name, I strongly suspect that there are at least a couple of mistyped letters in there and that just as Miles was known as “Moles” to his computer in Electric Dreams because he couldn’t figure out how to fix his setup mistake, Robert became Ribert whether he meant to or not. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Ribert.)
But it fits. Doesn’t that mistake, that bit of fatal inattention or distraction, form the bedrock of this accursed game? Yes, say I.
Cerelle Bennett was at the gym when an earbud popped out. And a moment of exposure to the facility’s piped-in Pandora was all it took. Jay Cohen went down due to an error that wasn’t even his. The radio playlist he pre-checked mislabeled the deadly tune as “White Christmas.”
My biggest screw-up this year didn’t take me out of the game—no, that was just-plain bad luck while shopping—but it does mean we have one less graph this year. Because I accidentally removed the poll question asking what type of place people were in when they met their doom, that data’s MIA for 2019. (Sorry about that, friends; it’ll be back next year.) Also, it’s to The Boy’s advantage that people don’t understand which environs present the greatest danger, so I’m not ruling out supernatural sabotage.
That said, though, 2019 ended up being more encouraging than the ordeals of recent years have been. Of those who filled out the form this time around, 36% won, up from 30% in 2018. It’s not apples to apples, of course, because it’s based on those who take the time to report in, and that’s not consistent from game to game. Directionally speaking, though? Thumbs up. Either we got faster and smarter, or the evil Kid didn’t have his game face on.
In other developments, the week of demise wasn’t as evenly distributed as it was previously, and the majority of those who met their maker did so in the second week rather than the third. Also, this is the first year that the most people were done in by TV episodes or movies rather than the usual most-deadly-duo of Bing and Bowie. (A good many were ambushed by Morrissette and Fallon. And as LDBCer Robin B. noted, “Isn’t it ironic?”)
The sad part about that shift, however, is that even though we’ve tried to let everyone know what media to avoid, people still ambled past the warning sign and right off the cliff. Again, mistakes. And you can see those graphs along with all of the winning and losing LDBC-elfies and more after the jump, below.
So here we are after 10 years, fellow LDBCers. I hope you’re still having as much fun as I am. If so, and you have a buck or two to spare, I’ll once again ask you to consider making a donation to Americares, which is our official charitable effort for the second year in a row. (And thank you to those who’ve already given and those who are about to.) If you can’t or you’d rather not, no problem at all. The game is the game, and it’s not pay-to-play; we’re just glad to have you on our side no matter what.
And in the final tally, there’s only one side to be on: the one that resists the dreaded Boy with everything we’ve got. It’s not a tradition for the faint-hearted. It ain’t pretty. And it sure as hell doesn’t make any sense. (Just ask Mel.) But would you have it any other way.
Here’s to a 2020 jam-packed with as much happiness as you can stand, all. As always, you’ve no idea how grateful I am to you for giving me your time and attention and accompanying me from one year to the next with a heaping helping of humor and empty-headed, indefensible nonsense.
See you in the fall, and may I say once more:
Why, yes it is quite an experience, Roy Batty. All LDBCers, both the fallen and the victorious, could have told you that. But with the 23rd in the rearview and the Boy banished for another 12 months, we may now relax our vigilance for a while.
That is to say, we did it again, people. The kid’s gone; the holiday music’s safe once more. So now we begin the post-game gathering of the LDBC-elfies and data, which will lead to the number crunching, graphs, and wrap-up. Let’s have at it, shall we?
If you haven’t done so, please report your victory or loss via the form; post your winning LDBC-elfie photos to the Facebook page; and if you’re able and are feeling generous, please contribute to Americares (seriously—no pressure). I’ll post a few more nags to make sure everybody who wants to has reported their result and contributed a photo, and then I’ll crank out the post-game wrap-up sometime after the New Year.
Indeed. Merry Everything, all—however and whatever you celebrate, whoever you celebrate it with, whether you celebrate at all.
Thanks for joining in on the madness. You light up the season for us.
Midnight tonight, your local time. The goal isn’t that complicated, LDBCers.
For those of you left, see the reminder, below, of those whose burden you bear with your very survival. They can no longer carry it; it’s yours to shoulder.
I mean, the little bastard can’t get everybody, right? There you have it, then—simply put.
And when it’s all over at one second after midnight, report your victory (or your downfall, if you haven’t already) via the form. Then celebrate or mourn your result, as appropriate, with a post and/or an LDBC-elfie on Facebook or Twitter.
War and Remembrance: The Departed
Putting the “cuss” in “percussion.” That’s how LDBCer Tara De Lis characterized this struggle of ours, and given the carnage we’ve seen thus far, it strikes me as particularly apt. The “no” in “noel.” The “ailing” in “wassailing.” The “oy” in “Boy.”
Day 9 finds us with nearly 330 brave brothers and sisters down already. And with Ribert, our First Fallen. A reminder of what the holiday truly means: fear. That’s what occurred to me as I reminded the latest victims to report their losses via the form. What if terror, I thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if terror, perhaps, means a little bit more?
It means a whole lot to The Boy, certainly. Cruelty’s his bag. Choir member Julia Kuhn, who, like so many others, had her love of singing twisted and weaponized against her. Lynne Brown, who absent-mindedly gave voice to the deadly notes and self-immolated while placing Baby Jesus in a nativity scene. Countless unfortunates drawn in by what was promised to be a cute Jimmy Fallon/Alanis Morissette bit.
Nature can be beautiful, but she sure as hell isn’t guaranteed to be kind. Why, just consider that she decided the tarantula hawk wasp should exist, and then try to tell me about how gentle Mother Nature is. So it only follows that the holidays carry their own brand of cruelty, and The Boy is that spite and viciousness personified.
So I bring you two sides of the same coin, people: the tragedy of the LDBC-elfie and the flip-side fun of awkward photos, Christmas-tree cheer, hideous sweaters, and all-around jocularity. The season giveth, and the season taketh away.
First, the tragedy. None of them asked for this fate. They actively tried to avoid it, in fact. Yet the evil of the season didn’t factor their desires into its plan. It just went ahead and had its way with them like a kitten with a roll of toilet paper. Shreds of what used to be joy and promising vitality draped over the toilet handle and floating in the water itself, waiting to be sent, spinning whichever way the water goes, depending on your hemisphere, to the sewer of despair. (Please note: the Coriolis effect doesn’t actually determine which way your toilet flushes; that’s a myth.) The holiday is the handle, and The Boy is the giant palm that slaps it to the rhythm of his mirthless guffaw.
Paradise Lost: The Fallen Thus Far
Anyway, after venting my despair, built up by documenting the piles upon piles of atrocities already visited upon those I love, am acquainted with, or just met via the magic of the Internet, I won’t leave you with that dark taste in your mouth. Rather, here’s the promised second helping—one flavored with a lot more levity. Sweaters. Costumes. Trees. Pets. Kids. Awkward family photos. Surely, there’s something to smile at in here, right?
Candles in the Darkness
And there you have it, people. Once again, remember to report in via the form, should you fall, and post an appropriate LDBC-elfie documenting your demise on the Facebook page or on Twitter. Remember: ever vigilant.
The darkness has descended once again, fellow LDBCers, and already we have a First Fallen. Bow your heads, and say a word for our 10th-anniversary First Fallen, Ribert Economu, taken down at home, as so many of The Boy’s victims are. (Yes, I suspect there’s at least one typo in there, but you fills out the form, and you takes your chances.)
So we have our battle cry for the season. And all those who find themselves still standing as the sky lights up with each new morning shall shout it to the ceiling to honor those who’ve passed on and gird themselves for the battles to come. Remember, should you fall, please fill out the official reporting form. And if you wish, take a photo of yourself at the moment of your demise, and post it to the Facebook page so that you’re visually memorialized. (Scroll to the bottom here for some inspiration from the past.)