Life as a Plinko Chip

Plinko Video Game

Fun Fact: This is one of the worst video games I’ve ever played.

I live my life like a Plinko chip: I rarely end up where I meant to be and there’s usually not any money when I get there. However, if you can correctly guess the price of a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, you can throw me from the top of the stairs.

Money, as the conventional wisdom goes, is not supposed to be talked about. I used to think that was so people without money didn’t feel bad about not having any, but recently I’ve realized it’s easy way for people with money to ignore the people without it. But lest you think I’m advocating for a barter economy based on Starburst fruit chews, let’s talk about Silver Surfer.

Silver Surfer is my second favorite cosmic Marvel character, after Galactus, but before Thanos and the Beyonder (I don’t care what you say, I love Secret Wars II). In my younger days, I had an affinity for Nintendo games as well, so imagine my joy when I went to Ames and saw the Silver Surfer starring in his very own Nintendo game! And Galactus shows up, too? Hell yeah!

Unfortunately, Silver Surfer is less a game and more a punishment for suckering a well-meaning family member into giving you money for your stupid games. But much like that time when I was 8 and my father yelled at me for asking if my stepmother had to go change a tampon, the punishment didn’t work because I didn’t understand why it was happening to me (in regards to the tampon, I was just trying to show I knew what one was. If I knew what it actually did, I probably wouldn’t have asked about it over dinner at the Ground Round).

Silver Surfer NES boxart

This boxart is so good that it actually makes me want to give the game another shot.

As evidenced by this third grade journal entry (scroll down to 10/29/91), I knew something was up with the Silver Surfer game, but would only talk about it with a responsible adult. That’s because it seemed like everyone else in the class had beaten it and my stupid little clubbed thumbs were the only ones that couldn’t grasp the Power Cosmic.

This problem was not limited to Silver Surfer. Battletoads, Jaws, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman and Friday the 13th posed similar problems. Fuck, I could barely figure out how to play Friday the 13th, let alone beat it. As far as I knew, CF made me worthless at video games.

And then came the internet.

Thanks mostly to the Angry Video Game Nerd, we opened up a collective dialog about these things. It turns out we’d all been hurt, but it wasn’t our fault. It was bad design. If only we’d been more open to that idea back then, we could’ve helped each other out. Instead, we all kept a stiff upper lip while we silently cursed ourselves for allowing Jason Voorhees to repeatedly punch us in the face.

Now we have walkthroughs for this type of thing: no one will ever get stuck in this pattern of self-abuse ever again. That’s not to say we’re right on the edge of having a walkthrough for “Your Disease, Your Finances and You”, but we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t talk about it.

When I read profiles of people with CF—or really any disease—in the news, my first thought is “How the fuck are they paying for that?” That’s not accusatory—I’m not here to look down on anyone’s hustle—I legitimately want to know, because paying for CF is a problem I struggled with for a long time.

Again, money is not talked about, because it’s not polite. It’s going too far to demand that every article about someone with CF have a footnote about their insurance and working status, but not talking about it reinforces the idea that supporting yourself and getting good insurance is easy, because everyone in the media is killing it.

I’ve gotten a few emails from people with CF asking about insurance or how to join the workforce and answering them always makes me feel like a sham, because if we’re judging the last 15 years of my life by strictly financial terms, it hasn’t gone well. But two weeks ago, I accidentally started making a living wage, so now I think I know everything and I have plenty of time to tell you about it.

The first week was weird, because my anxiety about money—something I’ve had about as long as I’ve had CF—dropped off completely. It’s back now, but it stays in the background, content to let the fear that my lungs are going to explode before I pay off my debt share the spotlight with it’s best friend, the fear that I’m going to be fired tomorrow. However, while I’m still riding this high of self-worth, enjoy this list of techniques that I think bounced my Plinko chip into this spot.

1. Exploit Yourself

In my high school career prep class, we were taught to turn our negatives into positives during the interview process. I always thought this was just interview bullshit, but somehow I ended up basing my entire life on it.

For example, I’m lazy, which I like to blame on the fact that I have CF (I do, after all, get winded while tying my shoes), but that discounts my father’s motto, “If there’s a shortcut, take it.”

This laziness, combined with my need to be the best, has manifested itself in a ruthless efficiency, where I lose sleep over using 3 steps instead of 2. Sometimes the road to efficiency is long and arduous with a big initial investment, but the two weeks I spent learning Visual Basic for Applications pays off in dividends every time I hit a button and send personalized spreadsheets and emails to 40 people.

2. Infect Your Environment

I’m going to be straight with you, that sentence about Visual Basic was pretty boring. Office work isn’t glamorous and there’s not a lot of excitement in making sure the computer doesn’t melt while pulling last quarter’s numbers.

But while I may not have a window to call my own, I do have a cubby where a MODOK mug and an Adam West Batman bank defend the stockpile of a currency I made to reward coworkers for exceptional work. It’s called a “Jay Buck.” There are only 15 Jay Bucks in the world (would’ve been 20 if someone would’ve told me the paper cutter was crooked) and only one has been awarded so far. I’d show you a picture, but I’m scared the market would be flooded with counterfeits.

My cubicle is also home to Death Metal Mondays and King Diamond Thursdays, days on which my coworkers give many thanks that every day is Headphone Day.

What I’m saying here is that before you give up on something, try to meet it halfway. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you, but it never hurts to try.

3. Write a Book

Writing a book didn’t make me a ton of money (in fact, it caused quite an issue with this year’s taxes), but I did learn a lot, particularly about Microsoft Word. In fact, I would have failed the Word test for my current job if I hadn’t formatted the book beforehand. The point here is not that you have to learn Microsoft Office to be successful, it’s that even the stupid little projects you do could help you in the long run. The worst thing you can do is nothing at all.*

*This, however, comes from the guy who can convince himself that watching movies counts as research for his writing.

4. Don’t Be a Dick

It’s so easy to be a dick. You’re on the internet, you know. This place is filled with them. But if you’re going to be a dick, you better be really fucking good at what you do. Like top 5% in the world. Otherwise, no one wants to work you. But if you can be pretty good at what you do and fairly pleasant, it will open some doors for you. So fight it. Fight it the urge as hard as you can.

5. Prediction is Risky Business

Anyone who tells you they can see the future is making an educated guess (meteorologists, data analysts) or lying (meteorologists, psychics). Prediction is never a sure thing. We can only base what we think will happen on what has happened before.

This is good advice that I’ve given, but find hard to take. I will never, ever get over the feeling that my body is just waiting for the right moment to put me down for good. This has manifested itself as a complete disregard for the future. Planning for the future feels like poking a hornet’s nest; it’s just better to stay out of it completely and not get stung. But I’ve been wrong about the future every time I’ve guessed. I’m coming up fast on 32 years old and my lung capacity has settled in at a very usable 77%; maybe the idea of a 401(k) isn’t completely batshit insane.

It makes logical sense, but it doesn’t make emotional sense. And it’s probably never going to, but that’s okay. If there’s one thing I don’t want a repeat of, it’s the day I turned 18 and didn’t die. I need to be prepared for all eventualities. Working is hard enough at 32; I don’t want to do this shit into my theoretical 60s.

However, I can’t decide if it’s funnier if I die right after I open the 401(k) or right when I withdraw the money. Only time will tell.