Saturday, October 3, 2015

Which Way Books #4: Famous and Rich

I can't stop reading Which Way Books. Honestly, what's not to like? The stories are threadbare and utilitarian, the low expectations coming in make the moments of glorious competence shine even brighter and there's a very pleasant lack of self-awareness and fourth wall (third page???) breaking. Sure, I'll probably get back into the always reliable late-early Choose Your Own Adventure offerings very soon, but for now it's time to live the American dream of filthy lucre and all eyes on me via the highly satisfying medium of barely serviceable text from 1982 practically dancing on badly yellowed pages.

How about some unrealistic life expectations?

I have to concede that the usually brilliant Which Way opening is sadly deficient in this one. Instead of poor TeeVee reception, magic birds or horrible movies coming to life the high concept here is that some older gentleman moves into the house next door. Since it's the eighties and I don't have to check a phone every fifteen seconds or take lots of arm-length photos of myself I go over to talk, something people used to do. We have this lengthy conversation that, fortunately, is brutally summarized down to "talking 'bout dreams and stuff" and suddenly my new best friend wants to know about my future goals. "To be famous and rich!" Roll credits?

Instead there's some red diaper talk about how ambitions often come at a heavy cost and money can't buy a beautiful sunset and general "You've got to LIVE every day, man!" bullshit that we're all sick of hearing. My pragmatic response is the only way I can determine if power does, indeed, corrupt is by being handed the joystick of wealth and glory. Naturally this leads to mumbling and quivering, because this guy is some sort of wish-granting plot contrivance.

Can we get that lengthy conventional war, with mandatory draft, going soon? Please?

Because it's Which Way there's the usual triple choice of things that are very loosely related to the core conceit that's been so expertly established, specifically three occupations that allegedly deliver the chedda and that sweet envy and hatred of the faceless masses. One is movie star, which is fine, but the other two are a mess. Explorer? Maybe in the 19th century, old-timer. Detective? Sure, that's a sure route to big money and we all know the more notoriety you have the more effective you would be. Notably absent are more believable options like air-headed nepotism case who "accidentally" releases home-made pornography into the public domain or son of already wealthy parents who becomes obscenely wealthy via monetary voodoo.

Fine, I'll take explorer.

We makin' Cartier coin.

Instead of swimming in portfolios or being worshiped by life's extras I'm right in the middle of an adventure, one that involves a light aircraft. Get your lawyers on the phone, R.A. Montgomery. I'm on the cover of "Time" magazine, which seems an odd choice when there's National Pornographic, but I guess there was a time when they might have covered global exploration before they lost all relevancy and went off the Cultural Marxist deep-end. No time to dwell on that, the plane's engines are on fire. It's famous and rich, not famous and fastidious about pre-flight check-ups, after all.

I jump out, hit the water, deploy a raft and note an island about 25 miles away, all in rapid fire prose. Hey, we're not being paid by the hour, here. I'm given the choice to retrieve the floating parachute, but instead decide to paddle toward the island, nice and secure in my new wussy and impractical mode of travel. Many miles of rowing against ocean currents, no problem.

This raft is superior to other rafts in every possible way.

After much rowing I'm confronted by a "mammoth bed of seaweed" blocking the path to the island. No, not water dope! Faced with this daunting obstacle I decide to soldier on and incredibly just float right through the wet green to the beach. Just as I think I'm in the clear I hear barking and a family of sea lions is swimming toward my raft. First waterlogged crops and now ocean dogs. You're gonna have to do better than that, nature. 

As you might expect, the pets of Davey Jones are more about goofy playful cavorting than devouring the flesh of a guy that did a magazine cover when that feat still had cultural relevance. Just as I hit the shore, though, a "bull" sea lion, the pack alpha I would assume, is running up on me in a "vengeful rage." Faced with this, I'm given two different coward options instead of some righteous "last good fight" battle with the playful clowns of the sea. Also, what does this have to do with being famous or rich? I've got nothing but a raft and paddle to my name and I'm running and hiding from a Sea World warm-up act. Gah.

Not exactly the most intimidating enemy.

So I run away with the goofy nemesis hot on my heels, barking happily and slapping its flippers together in anticipation of devouring flesh and washing it down with warm blood. Then I blunder into quicksand. The world's greatest explorer, ladies and gentleman, punked out by an animal know for its goofy clapping and working wacky horns and now I'm sinking into wet earth. Fortunately, both myself and the author remember that so-called "quicksand" is just really muddy water and you can float and swim in it, so that's what I do. After getting out, a rescue party is there to bail my pathetic ass out before I get attacked by panda bears or get trapped in pussy willows or whatever other humiliating event that could top what already happened occurs. 

Plus, they know who I am because I'm famous. The End. Good grief.

 Don't you hate it when there's no bamboo or you're shot to make Chinese medicine?

This one was pretty bad. How did I become a famous explorer when I'm so completely inept? Why am I exploring an island that a "rescue party" can easily access? How come the story-line I got had nothing to do with the thin reed setting up the action. I'll give a point for correct understanding of quicksand, but that's all this one is getting. Yeah, I'm going back to Choose Your Own Adventure next time.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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