It's that special time of year once again, when we find ourselves between Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and New Year's, the celebration of Jesus being a week old. It's the season of giving, it's the season of sharing, it's the season of tipping your mailman with checks and bottles of sensibly-priced alcohol. People are better to each other. For instance, when the burly guy in the Corolla blazes into the parking space that was rightfully yours at the mall, he doesn't just shout, "Outta the way, jerkass!" He shouts, "Outta the way, please, jerkass." Yes, there's an undeniable magic to the holidays. If you even tried to deny the magic, people would beat you with red felt stockings full of coal and toy trains until you suffered massive brain damage and started to believe that it's okay for fat men in red suits to break into your house through your chimney. So suck on that, Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr. Denyeverything O'Denialstein (Irish and Jewish - a potent combination). Yes, people treat each other right when Christmas comes around. That is why, while you were eating your sweet potato pie and exquisitely carved hams, turkeys, and hamurkeys, I spent my Christmas on my hands and knees in a gravel pit in the freezing cold, shielding myself from the sleet with a flimsy umbrella, trying to get a gigantic animal to eat baby food.

A Newfoundland. Not pictured: the village it just ate.

Allow me to set the scene. On Tuesday, the Platt household was getting ready for the biggest snowstorm of the year. We were expecting up to a foot of snow (for those of you in nations with the metric system, that's seven whole cubits), which would make for a nice, Normal Rockwell-style, white Christmas. We had first-class tickets on a one-way trip to Quaint Town, boy howdy. That's when I got the call. Some family friends wanted me to take care of their dog that night while they went to spend Christmas with an elderly relative. If I couldn't do it, one of the members of that family would have to stay home alone. Sure, it was short notice, but I have a special place in my heart for family togetherness on the holidays. And since my family is Jewish, we had already celebrated our holiday by slaughtering a goat and smearing its blood on babies, so spending Christmas together had no real significance for us. Plus, I'm a dog person. It's not that I don't like cats, it's just that I like dogs between several and a million times better. I took the job. What this entailed was that I had to pack my bags and move into the family friend's house for the night so that I could let the dog in and out and feed her at the right times.

Before I go any further, let me give you a quick description of this dog. Maxie is a full grown black Newfoundland. For those of you who aren't familiar with the breed, that means she weighs about as much as I do, and she's only slightly shorter. She also has jowls that hang down to her knees and she drools constantly. I'm not talking about little drops of saliva, here. I mean long, thick tendrils of drool that pick up floating particles of dirt and snare nearby insects like a mosquito being fossilized in tree sap. When one of these drool-tentacles finally drops from her face, it splashes on the floor like a water balloon, but stickier. For a dog her size, she's ancient at twelve years old (in dog years, that's seven whole cubits). Due to her old age, she's basically falling apart. When she decides to get up, it takes her five minutes to make it to her feet. She moves a maximum of three feet at once before she has to stop to remember what she was doing. She has a lot of troubles with stairs, which is something of a problem, because her owners live in one of those fancy ultra-modern houses where every single room is on a different level, so you have to go up or down a flight of stairs to get anywhere. There is a split-level deck out back, with one level leading into the kitchen and a lower level leading into the living room downstairs. Maxie spends most of her time underneath the upper level, where the deck ends and it is just a big, fenced-in pit of gravel. When she does come inside, she either has to come in on the lower level, which means she has to go up a flight of stairs to get anywhere else in the house, or through the kitchen, which means she has to get up a longer flight of stairs to get to the upper deck. She's developed patterns of behavior in her old age from which she absolutely refuses to deviate, and when you're dealing with a dog large enough to swallow your entire head without trying too hard, you don't force her to do anything she doesn't want to do. Like most dogs, she lives for mealtime, but she simply will not eat unless she comes in through the kitchen door, even if she was already in the kitchen to begin with. That means you have to get her to go downstairs into the living room, outside onto the lower deck, upstairs to the upper deck, then back into the kitchen. If she falls, she can hurt herself pretty badly, so you have to walk along with her in the cold.

What's this dog eating? Who cares, as long as it's not baby food?

At her age, her stomach is too sensitive to handle regular dog food. She was on prescription dog food before, which, as far as I can tell, is exactly the same thing as normal dog food, but in a specially designed ugly can. Now, however, she can't even handle that, so she eats baby food. That's right, honest to God Gerber freaking baby food. Dog food is unappetizing enough, but Maxie gets to scarf down loose, oily, orange-ish mush smeared over her normal dry food. There is nothing - nothing - more disgusting on this planet than a hundred twenty pound dog with three-foot strands of drool and pureed veal mush oozing from under her jowls. It doesn't do wonders for her breath, either. Once she's finished slobbering Gerber-stink all over the kitchen, she insists on going outside again, this time through the kitchen door. She sits on the kitchen deck doing nothing for as long as she feels like it, and you have to stand there and watch her until she decides she's damn well ready to come back in, otherwise she barks and scratches the glass on the door with a paw large enough to play tennis with. When she comes inside again, you have to give her two tiny hotdogs made out of concentrated baby food, a product that I didn't think could possibly even exist. They don't seem to serve any purpose in the consumer market. I always thought it was just generally accepted that baby food is revolting, no matter what its form. The dog eats these whole, and always manages to drape her lipflaps over my hand, coating my fingers in a thick layer of mucousy spit juice. Once the hotdogs are gone, it's time for a milkbone. You'd think that since the dog is already in the kitchen, and the hotdogs are kept right next to the biscuits, that she would be content to just have a damn milkbone right then and there. You'd be ever so wrong. She has to go back outside first. She sits there for a while, then comes back inside and eats her biscuit. Then she goes out and comes back in again for another biscuit. Bear in mind that at no point does she ever leave the upper deck or go to the bathroom. She goes outside for the sole purpose of coming back in again.

Christmas Eve, while you all slept with visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads, I tossed and turned to the soulful strains of Maxie's snoring. When she falls asleep, which she somehow manages to do in three-tenths of a second after hitting the floor, thus eliminating any chance of me falling asleep before she does, her body is forced to activate a defense mechanism to prevent her from drowning in her own neverending stream of drool. I got to spend the night listening to Maxie's earsplitting, phlegmy snores that would set her jowls flapping and a few excess droplets of molasses-like saliva spraying across the carpet. I came close to falling asleep at a few points, but each time I was woken up by a thunderous shuffling that I thought could only be Santa Claus fighting Satan on the roof, just like in the movies. I was wrong, of course. Santa Claus and Satan were thumb-wrestling quietly in the living room. The sound I was hearing was the result of Maxie shifting her gargantuan skull slightly, so that her one jowl was draped across the rug in such a way that when she snored it flapped against the floor like a bird flying into a plate glass window. I finally conked out around five in the morning. Flash forward to 6:42 AM: I got woken up by the sound of Maxie shaking her basketball-sized head, waving her jowls like she was communicating in semaphore. In the time it took for my eyes to open, the first wave of dog slobber splashed over my face and neck. Detecting from my string of expletives that I was awake, Maxie stuck her giant snout, smearing even more of her oral drippings on me. Then she barked. Twice. I divined from this that it was time for me to let her out. Despite the fact that she was the one who wanted to move and she was the one who chose the door, I still had to wait a good seven minutes for her to make it down the steps from the master bedroom, then another five minutes to get down the stairs into the living room, and finally another four minutes for her to decide that yes, she did indeed want to go outside through that door.

Look at this little guy. He's got a skateboard! I'll bet he doesn't have to eat baby food! What a great dog.

The weather forecast had predicted that the snowfall would come in the wee hours of the morning. Here it was, already in the post-wee period, and there wasn't a flake on the ground. There was, however, a whole lot of nastiness coming from the sky. The precipitation was on that borderline between sleet and just frigid rain. The end product was a slippery mess of slush all over the deck. As soon as I slid open the door, I could feel the chill of the wind, which promptly shifted to slap a dose of ice/rain into my already soaked face. Maxie plodded out onto the deck and instantly became covered in tiny bits of ice that clung to her yeti-like fur. She seemed stunned by this, and stopped for a minute, during which she became a huge mass of little white beads with two huge black eyes staring out. At last, she figured out that if it is raining outside, and you go outside, it rains on you, too. She shambled away toward the gravel pit, which I took as a sign that she would "do her business," or for those of you without pets of your own, empty her bladder and bowels, then go to the upper deck for breakfast. I went upstairs to the kitchen to get her breakfast ready in the hopes that we could get her morning routine over with in a relatively timely fashion, then I could go back to bed for a few days. I went down to the basement, where the dry dog food is kept, and scooped the proper amount into her enormous bowl, then went back to the kitchen. I opened a can of Gerber turkey mush and splashed the top layer with water to loosen it up. After all, you can't go serving baby food that isn't loose enough. Even dogs demand a certain level of revulsion from their baby food. With a nice, satisfying "sblorp," the bulk of the baby food slid out of the jar and fell onto the dog food. Content in my culinary work, I put the bowl into the special indented table that the dog has to eat from and slid open the kitchen door, which was supposed to signal to Maxie that it was time to eat. But Maxie wasn't there. I tried calling her name and telling her to come, but it was no use. I threw on my shoes and ran out the kitchen door and down the stairs as quickly as I could to try to avoid getting frozen. Maxie was under the deck, in the farthest corner. The sleet had melted on her fur, leaving her drenched. If there's anything I like better at seven in the morning than a big, smelly, slobbering dog, it's a big, smelly, slobbering, wet dog.

I told Maxie that breakfast was ready, but for some reason that failed to excite her enough to get her on her feet. I knew that the only hope I had of getting her inside at that moment was to get ahold of her collar and pull. Here's the problem: Maxie hates me. Most dogs - hell, most animals - love me. Maxie, however, is about as crotchety as they come, and she likes to take it out on yours truly. I got down on my hands and knees to get under the deck, and crawled closer to her. As soon as a reached for her collar, she barked at me and went for my hand. Startled, I jerked my hand away, smacking my head on one of the upper deck's support beams in the process. Beautiful, great, okay. I reached for her collar again, this time a bit more cautiously. I had about the same amount of success, but thankfully without the head injury. I was cold as hell, dead tired, and my head was pounding. I tried explaining my situation to her, but she was unsympathetic. Oh, like you've never talked to a dog like it could understand you before. Shut up. I came to the conclusion that she wasn't going to come inside without some sort of bribe, so I went back inside to get her leash. Those of you with dogs know that the promise of a walk is a powerful bargaining chip. Even Maxie got right to her feet when I showed up under the deck again with the leash in my hand, and her walks usually only last from the front door to the end of the driveway. Still, she was excited. Alright! We're going to see the end of the driveway! Best day of her whole damn life! I tried to put the leash on her, but as soon as I got close to her collar, she got wise to my trick. We weren't going to the end of the driveway. I was going to try to take her into the kitchen so she could eat breakfast, which she loves. Obviously, I was not to be trusted. She growled and somehow managed to back even further into the corner before laying down again.

Unfortunately, due to Maxie's eating habits, this baby starved.

I was getting frustrated, but I knew I had to get Maxie inside for her breakfast. She got medications with her breakfast that had to be given at certain times of the day. If I didn't give her the medication and she spontaneously combusted, which I assume is what would happen, her owners would be somewhat upset and my payment would probably be at least partially reduced. The owners have had Maxie since she was a puppy, and they are quite attached to her. They have pictures of her all over the house and a floor mat with a picture of a man, a woman, and a large, black dog in a bed with the words "menage a trois" in big red letters. If I didn't know for a fact that Maxie can't get up into any of the beds in the house, I'd be genuinely frightened. Even still. I went back inside, getting pelted by sleet again in the process, and dropped the leash. I had a small umbrella with me, so I grabbed that and a box of milkbones and went back outside. I sat in a squatting position at the edge of the gravel pit, holding out a biscuit with one hand and holding the umbrella, which was large enough to cover about four square inches of my body at any given time, with the other. Maxie was clearly interested in my offer. Not interested enough to get up, though. I spent a good ten minutes waving a biscuit around and watching her head move to follow it, but she never even showed signs of wanting to get up. Finally, I went back inside and exchanged the milkbones for a jar of baby hotdogs. I repeated the whole process, and again, she was interested in the treat, but it was obvious that if I wanted her to eat it, I'd have to go over there and give it to her. She wasn't about to fall into my trap. I went back inside.

A few minutes later, I came outside once more, this time armed with my trusty umbrella, a spoon, and a jar of rapidly congealing turkey mush. Again squatting by the edge of the gravel pit, I had to spoon out little bits of baby food with one hand while trying to manage the tiny umbrella in high winds with the other. Maxie turned down a walk, a biscuit, and a hotdog, but she couldn't resist the temptation of the pinkish-grayish slurry on the end of my spoon. She took her sweet time getting up and walking over to me, but at last, her lower jaw dropped open with a wet smacking sound, a thick strand of drool already spilling out as she craned her neck to partake of my offering. That's when the wind blew my umbrella inside out and I fell over backwards, landing on my back in the slush and dropping the spoon, turkey mush and all, onto my shirt. Well, Maxie didn't care for that. The audacity I must have had to offer her food and then pull it away like that! She started to walk back toward her corner. I scrambled to right myself and get another spoonful of baby food. And so, it came to pass that I spent my Christmas morning in the sleet, spoon-feeding a wooly mammoth-dog Gerber's turkey mush in turkey gravy. When every last particle in the jar was gone, the spirit of the season entered her heart and she followed my upstairs into the kitchen. She ate her breakfast, and the rest of her morning routine went smoothly. At long last, I went back to sleep, and when I woke up, Maxie had left a Christmas present of her own next to my shoes. 'Tis the friggin' season.

Dragonball Z for You and Me

Hey everyone, Taylor "Psychosis" Bell here to let you know that I have suffered through yet another horrible game just so I could selflessly warn you all to stay the hell away from it. Today's game is Dragonball Z: Budokai, the smoldering aftermath of when a company decided to fuse a stupid anime series with a stupid fighting game, resulting in an anime fighting game that is both stupid and stupid.

And if you think you can improve the playing experience by switching around and using a wide variety of characters, you're very wrong. Pretty much every character in this game is the same. I don't know why the developers didn't see this as a potential problem with making a game based on a show where every single character is a superpowered magical space warrior from Neptune. The big characters are just as fast as the small characters, and even the characters who are three feet tall are capable of punching people 40 feet into the air. And just like in the show, everybody has a variety of weird fireball attacks, only with some characters the fireballs are yellow and with others the fireballs are purple or orange. Also for some theoretical reason (the word 'theoretical' indicates that I am not convinced there even is a reason), whenever you knock somebody high enough into the air they don't come down. They stay trapped up there while your guy slowly floats up to meet him, at which point you continue running around, blocking, kicking and punching exactly as if you were still on the ground. I suppose this was done to capture the white-knuckled excitement of the show's fighting scenes, but at the sight of two people standing 20 feet off the ground running back and forth and knocking each other down onto an invisible floor that they seemed to be standing on, I immediately collapsed onto the floor and burst into a fit of kidney-damaging laughter. So the air-fighting in Budokai didn't turn out to be 'exciting' so much as 'hilarious in a hopelessly sad way', which I don't think was the mood the developers were going for.

Head on over and check out the full review before I give you a flying kamehameha blast to the throat.

– Ben "Greasnin" Platt

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