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May 26, 2014

An Uninvited Guest

I woke up last night to the sound of scratching.

Still mostly asleep, I squinted at the clock. 4:15. Ugh.

The sound was like a deep scraping. And then I realized it was coming from inside my ear.

Here’s the thing: In the summer we put a fan in our window; sometimes it sucks tiny flying bugs through the screen. Sometimes they get in your ear a little. Is not a big deal. But this one seemed deeper than usual—it was clearly pressing right against my eardrum. So I sighed and dragged myself out of bed to get a Q-Tip.

Yes, I know you’re not supposed to stick them in your ears. I’m careful.

So I did what I normally do in such situations: very gently and slowly work the Q-Tip into my ear until it touches the eardrum, just barely. Stickiness and such is usually enough to get anything out. And I did see a couple tiny specks. But the scraping sound continued.

I tried again, fluffing up the end of the Q-Tip and swirling it around a bit. The scraping sound continued.

I was starting to get a little worried, but I tried again. A little more fluffing, a little more swirling. The scraping sound continued.

I was getting desperate. I was thinking about jumping in the shower to get some water in there, but checked the medicine cabinet first, for saline. I found something even better: an alcohol-based solution used for drying out stubborn water after swimming or whatnot. So I squirted a few drops in there.

Immediately I felt liquid running out, which was weird as I didn’t think I’d put that much in there. I reached up quickly and brushed the liquid away.

This is when I discovered it wasn’t liquid at all. It was in fact the thing that had been making the scraping sound:

It was a spider.

A spider about half an inch in diameter, including legs. A pale brown spider. In my ear. Scraping at my ear drum.

I did not sleep any more after that. I’m not sure I’m going to.

Maybe ever.

August 8, 2013

The Good Old Days (of Games Media)

I just shared this on Reddit and thought it was worth reposting here since I often get asked about crazy stories from work. Every detail can be corroborated.

All right, buckle up because this is a long and strange story.

The year was 1999. I think. It might have been 2000. At the time I was writing for a video game magazine. This was in the heyday of the crazy video game press junkets; around this time I’d taken the Skip Barber Racing Course at Laguna Seca twice in a month. Colleagues had flown fighter jets and scuba dived in Hawaii.

Anyway, this wasn’t like that. This was an event for Konami’s Nightmare Creatures 2 (or was it Activision? It’s hazy). We were flown out to San Francisco and put up in a swank hotel. We had no idea what we were in for.

The night started with drinks at the Top of the Mark, a fancy-ass bar at the top of a tall hotel located on one of the hills of SF. I walk in and notice this little guy hanging out in a small group over by the window, admiring the view. It can’t be? It is. Gary fucking Coleman. At the time he was doing a column or something for UGO so he had a semi-legitimate reason for being there. Anyway.

A few drinks in, the PR reps tell us it’s time to go. Go where? It’s a surprise. So we troop downstairs and they put us in limos, maybe four to a car and probably something like six cars. We slide into ours, and waiting for us is this very, very hot lady who identifies herself as, I shit you not, “Roxy.” She is apparently there for conversation? She seems very interested in everything we have to say.

The limos drive us around the city in a weirdly circuitous route, before we finally find ourselves deep in the woods of what I later assumed to be Golden Gate Park, or perhaps the Presidio. We exit the limos in a parking lot. They all drive away.

We’re standing there, looking at each other, wondering what the hell is happening, when suddenly headlights turn on in the woods. Out drives a school bus. Its windows are blacked out. The doors open, and five or six little people come out, dressed as executioners complete with hoods and axes. Without saying anything, they herd us onto the bus.

The bus starts up and drives us out of the woods, following another circuitous route through the city.

So let’s pause here for a second. Here I am, winding through the streets of San Francisco, in a school bus with blacked-out windows, with a small troupe of midgets and Gary Coleman. Everybody with me so far? Good. It gets weirder.

The bus finally stops at a nightclub. The little people escort us in and into the back. In the back is a smattering of TVs and systems running the game, a lavish buffet featuring, among other things, all the sushi you can eat, and four or five cages in which are dancing scantily clad women…with, for some reason, twigs arrayed around their heads like antlers and on the backs of their hands like claws.

It takes me a few moments before I recognize Roxy.

Seeing all this, my colleagues and I (and Gary Coleman) proceed to get very, very drunk. Because, really, what else are you going to do? In the course of this noble endeavor, it becomes clear that Gary Coleman is seriously into my friend Zoe. So much so that he gives her his number. Which she, in her drunken state, proceeds to write on the hand of everyone she knows.

I don’t remember much that happened for a few hours after that, but the night’s weirdness wasn’t over. A hardy group of us went to yet another club after this odd ordeal. After a few minutes there I looked up at the bar and saw a guy that looked eerily familiar. So I walked up to him.

“You know, you look an awful lot like Kirk Hammett from Metallica.”

He laughed. “My mom tells me that all the time.”

So I proceeded to shoot the shit with Kirk Hammett for the next hour or so, until my eyes wouldn’t stay open and my colleagues were all leaving.

Woke up the next morning wondering if any of it had actually happened. Then I looked at Gary Coleman’s phone number on my hand and realized I hadn’t dreamed it.

TL;DR: Strange shit happened when video game companies had more money than sense.

February 26, 2013

1UPpers: Here’s an Easy Way to Save Your Stuff

I would say that I’m surprised 1UP is in the process of being abandoned, but, well. I’m not. As soon as they were (re)bought by Ziff, I was pretty certain the writing was on the wall. I may go into greater detail about that at a later time, but right now I want to help all y’all who have a bunch of stuff on 1UP archive it before the site disappears.

If you’re on a Mac, I found this just wonderful method of saving pages as PDFs. First, download OmniWeb here. Open it and go to your page. Hit Cmd+Option+Shift+S. Pick a destination. And you’re done. I went into my System Prefs and remapped “Save As PDF…” (caps and dots necessary) to Command+Shift+S so I could do it easier with one hand, and just numbered the PDFs as I went along. I just plowed through 76 pages of my blog in about 15 minutes. Better still, it saves the whole page as a single-page PDF rather than inserting unnecessary page breaks. Credit for this discovery goes to term at the Ars forum.

On Windows or other OS? Grab Firefox and the Print Pages to PDF extension. This one might even be easier, because it can save all open tabs as PDFs. Alas, it’s not available on Mac.

Now I’m going to go see if there’s an easy way to batch-crop PDFs.

UPDATE: Thanks to dakwar on the MacRumors forum for this easy batch-cropping step-by-step. Works great. Only caveat: It requires Acrobat Pro. No Acrobat Pro? Sorry, you’re on your own.

November 15, 2012

Home at Last

Don’t have much time to write as we’re still settling in, but I wanted to let everyone know that we’re home and all is well.

Yesterday took a dramatic turn for the better when someone (we still don’t know who) made the decision to transfer us down the hall from our four-bed, semi-private “pod” to a two-bed room, where the other bed was vacant and exceptionally unlikely to be filled. So basically, we got what was essentially a private room. With a door. And a bathroom. And densely engineered, cushioned chairs that folded out into not-very-comfortable-but-at-least-mostly-horizontal beds.

El still refused to consider the crib, but she was much calmer overall and would sleep if being held. So we took turns walking her around, sitting down when she fell asleep for as long as she’d let us, and then crashing while the other did the same. It’s not a routine I’d recommend for fun, but it was a hell of a lot better than the night before.

Now she’s asleep upstairs, probably on the rocking chair in Mommy’s arms, who I most fervently hope is also asleep. She’s still in some pain, and very unhappy about the restraints she has to wear to prevent her from digging in her mouth, but overall just immeasurably better.

Me, I’ve got a dishwasher to unload. But I wanted to say thanks to you all for your thoughts and prayers and offers of help. The next few weeks are going to continue to be tough, so we may take you up on your offers. (Who wants to rake our leaves? Don’t all speak at once.) But for now we’re just ecstatic to be home.

Who am I kidding? “Ecstatic” doesn’t even cover it. I showered today after being awake and unwashed for most of the previous 52 hours. I may have cried a little.

November 14, 2012

Hospital Update

Not brain power to write. Still at hospital. El hasn’t really slept because her pain is being insufficiently managed. So of course that means we haven’t really slept either, except in bits and pieces here and there.

Very frustrated with facilities and staff here. Even after half a night of El’s screaming, none of the nursing assistants made any effort to figure out what was going on; we had to push them repeatedly to revise pain meds. We also had to make a special request to get a chair that wasn’t hard wood even though they knew she was refusing to be in the crib, forcing us to hold her.

It’s also a ridiculous pain to just get off the floor, thanks to some administrative genius’s decision to make the elevator that leads right to this ward off limits to anyone but staff.

Just lots of short-sightedness going around, which of course is twice as irritating when we haven’t slept.

I’m sure at some point we’ll be getting out of here.

I just have no idea when.

November 13, 2012

Portrait of Parents Waiting

As I write this, Kim is sitting next to me, sewing bits of felt into the shape of food, because it’s something to do with her hands and because she is addicted. We’re sitting in an out-of-the-way waiting area in the children’s hospital of the Cleveland Clinic. Our daughter is an hour into surgery to close up her cleft palate. She has half an hour or an hour to go.

This is, as you might imagine, rather stressful for us.

The surgery itself is no big deal. The only part of the palate that’s open is the soft palate, toward the back of her mouth, so it’s a pretty simple procedure as these things go. And the guy performing the surgery is the head of the plastic surgery department so, you know, he’s qualified.

But she’s our kid, you know? And right now she’s completely in someone else’s hands, in a situation that, while routine, still has room for mishap. She’s completely under, and has a breathing tube taking care of that respiration thing for her. I have a beeper in my pocket (a beeper!) but no other connection to her or what’s going on. So forgive me for being a little tense.

I need to go distract myself now, because I don’t have felt food to do it for me. Will update when I can.

September 26, 2012

I know, I know.

Here’s you: “Why on earth hasn’t Joe posted anything new about Eleanor on his blog? Is everything okay? I need more Eleanor, stat!”

Here’s me: “Well, I could write a blog post. Or I could sleep.”

Sorry about that. But really, there hasn’t been much to tell. The Small Human continues to develop as expected: She eats, she excretes, she radiates adorable cuteness. You know, her standard M.O.

The big change recently is that she’s starting to walk. Like, a lot. Here, look:

(Yeah, that’s Flash. Sorry. Blame Facebook.)

Aside from that, we went up to Chicago this past weekend to visit PawPaw and Gram, and introduce Eleanor to all her Chicago aunts, uncles, and cousins. She did remarkably well, in spite of fighting a cold and suffering the occasional moment of overstimulation. She even did pretty darn well through the six-hour car ride. As a result, you Rybickis who are coming out to the Clambake this weekend will get some Eleanor time.

There’s not much else to tell. She’s doing as well as we can expect. She’s an amazingly adaptable and good-tempered child. She’s still not terribly fond of going to sleep. She’s still not speaking much, though she does seem to be understanding more. She’s still wonderfully (and sometimes maddeningly) clingy—a good sign for attachment purposes. She’s still surprising and sweet and adorable. <shrug> What can you do?

[Reminder: If you’re not following me on Instagram or her on Facebook, you can see my Instagram feed online here: — by popular demand I try to post new pics of her there as often as I can.]

August 28, 2012

An Unasked-For Eulogy

My friend Brian and I had a complicated relationship from the start — sometime in 1994, if memory serves. He was a former teacher of my dear friend Mike, and so there was something of a power imbalance at the start. But he was welcoming to all, personable and passionate, and we became fast and close friends.

Until about two years later, when I was preparing to move to Chicago. In retrospect, it became clear that he was simply sad that a new friend was leaving town, but the way he chose to express this was…contentious. As personable and welcoming as he could be, he could also be the biggest, nastiest dickhead you’ve ever met. Following an evening when he verbally flayed me for my reasons for the move, I washed my hands of him.

It took about three years for me to realize that a lot of what he’d been saying was spot on. So I wrote him a letter, extended an olive branch, and we renewed our friendship, stronger than ever. Over the next decade or so, we remained extremely close. He was one of the very few Clevelanders to visit us in California. We played a lot of poker. We drank a lot of whiskey. I named him Best Man at my wedding. He gave a killer toast. He was in town for a chilly barbecue on the 4th of July in California when we discussed moving back to Cleveland. He was ecstatic.

But just a couple years later, things started to go downhill for him. He bought a house that ended up needing a lot of work. Then he lost his job just as the economy was imploding. As a teacher in a Catholic school, the jobs simply weren’t there. He successfully completed a Masters program, but it seemed to make no difference for the job prospects. He started drinking more. He fell out with one girlfriend, then another. He started to feel like the world was out to get him, I think, and when he developed a massive misunderstanding about how I and our other friends thought of him, he relinquished virtually all contact with us and would not be persuaded that he was still welcome.

After something like two years of unemployment, he lost his house and moved in with his parents. This was, it turned out, a good development. He told me he felt like he was helping them by being there. Though his relationship with them was never great, I think he felt like he was needed again. He was writing more, he said, and seemed to be using his improving relationship with his parents as fuel for reaching out to other estranged friends. Our relationship didn’t improve much, but it seemed that he was making an effort to be more understanding — or at least more communicative. (His maddeningly cryptic emails are the stuff of legend.) So all in all, it seemed that things were getting better. Slowly, but noticeably.

Then his father died.

And a few days later — sometime around when we were driving to Hong Kong to return from China — he went into the garage and put a gun to his head.

One of the things that makes suicide such a reprehensibly selfish act is that we have no way of knowing at this point what he was thinking. But I have my suspicions: I think that he probably felt, once his father died, that he was somehow poisonous to everyone he was around. This is the way he thought of himself, and I could imagine this loss simply being too much to handle. They say that people on antidepressants have a higher risk of suicide shortly after they start taking the pills; there’s no definite explanation, but the theory is that once they start feeling better, a bad day — or other setback — feels so much worse. It’s a perspective thing; part of depression is that you don’t realize how bad you really feel. So once you start to feel better, it becomes clearer how bad the bad times really are. And some people can’t handle that. I suspect something similar happened here.

That is, of course, no excuse. I don’t know that there is an excuse for suicide — not like this, not for a person with friends and family and others willing and able to help one’s situation. As I say, it’s reprehensible, and another reason why is that it leaves those around you with nothing but questions. Questions, and regret.

Could we have done more to prevent this? The real pisser is that yes, we could have. There is always more that could have been done. Those left behind can imagine so many ways things could have been different, ways they could have tried to help, each more outlandish than the last. Could we have forced him into rehab for alcoholism? Should we have invited him into our homes instead of allowing him to move in with his parents? Should we have kept in better contact, simply not let him pull away in spite of any abuse he may have dealt out in response?

But that’s the emotional response. Practically speaking, I really believe all his (former or current) friends did as much as they possibly could. You extend what help you can, to the best of your ability, and you hope it’s enough. In this case, it wasn’t, but that’s his problem, not ours. I’m sorry if that sounds callous, but suicide is a callous business.

One of the things I hate about this situation is that my feelings about Brian right now are all negative: anger, regret, frustration at not being able to tell him what a dumbass he was for even seriously thinking about it. And that colors my older memories, the better ones. And there are many, because when he was at his best he was a remarkable person.

And so, though he specifically requested no ceremony be made following his death (such a cruel blow to his family, who lost father and brother in a handful of days), these are the memories I plan to keep.

I remember Christmas parties. Brian was legendary for his Christmas parties, which gathered a huge and ever-changing group of smart, funny, talented individuals to eat great food, drink great drink, and sing and play Christmas songs. Friends, family, colleagues, former student, and passing acquaintances were all welcome. For many years it was one of the highlights of the season for me.

I remember poker games, when he would play with brutal recklessness and (usually) good humor. He taught me to play, and for years we gathered a weekly group in my parents’ basement for nights of cards that could last until the sun came up.

I remember sitting on the floor of his house, smoking long-stemmed pipes and debating religion, politics, love, and anything else that seemed worthy of debate. I suspect a great deal of wine and/or whiskey was consumed.

I remember him making bacon-infused mashed potatoes in the kitchen of our rental house in San Francisco. Yesterday I saw the recipe he wrote out for us, to attempt to recreate the majesty.

I remember near-weekly breakfasts at the diner near his house, where he would shamelessly flirt with the waitresses (no matter the age, ethnicity, or body type) and devour corned beef hash and eggs while we gossiped about news of the day. Later I would attempt to resume these get-togethers as a way of jump-starting our relationship, but they never took.

I remember sitting in on one of his classes and realizing that, yes, he really was a phenomenal teacher of religion. Though he felt his relationship with the divine had soured, he was in the seminary once upon a time, and retained a passion for religion, and the knowledge to back it up.

I remember sending letters back and forth from Chicago or San Francisco, often written on the insides of whiskey boxes, full of literary allusions and snippets of poetry.

I have a picture that I took at a going-away party before he went to teach English in China for a year. He’s standing in front of a bonfire, head-high staff in one hand, hand-rolled cigarette in the other, smirking self-deprecatingly at something one of the other partiers was saying.

That was Brian in a nutshell. And though right now I’m angry, frustrated, disappointed, and hurt, that’s the Brian i’ll remember.


August 23, 2012


I should be sleeping, but it has been brought to my attention by a future sister-in-law who shall remain nameless that I’ve been lax in providing you with your Eleanor fix.

However, there’s not really much to report since the last update. Sleeping is still a challenge, though her schedule does seem to be improving. Still, we’re operating at a pretty severe sleep deficit at this point so it’s hard to find the mental bandwidth to blog just now.

Two bits of news: Kim’s parents came in for a quick visit on her birthday, and Eleanor behaved pretty much just as we’d hope, by which I mean she was just a little shy with them and turned to us for encouragement. It’s a good sign for the progression of her attachment, and it might — might — mean we could get to have visitors sooner than we thought. But first we need to get her sleep worked out, which could be weeks yet.

The other news is that we had to take her to the doctor today for her first exam…as well as five vaccinations…and two blood draws. Kim was on restraint duty for the injections, which was traumatizing enough. (El’s reaction when the nurse came back into the room with stickers for her was absolutely priceless. Heart-wrenching, but priceless. She may have been attempting to project herself elsewhere in time and space.)

Of course, that meant I was on restraint duty for the blood draws. I’m not entirely positive but I’m pretty sure we were in that chair for about a month and a half. I got to be a human straitjacket: one arm holding one of hers next to her body and her body next to mine; that hand holding her elbow; the other hand holding her wrist; chin and jaw trying to keep her head from whipping around while she demonstrated her impressive lung capacity. I also got to see the phlebotomist digging around a little in search of her tiny veins.

In case you don’t have kids, let me be explicit: This Sucks. You know that she’s terrified and miserable but you also know it has to be done to keep her healthy. Your heart is breaking for her but you have to be strong both physically and mentally, for her and for yourself. And of course the thought is constantly running through your head that she is never going to forgive you for the trauma you’re associated with here.

Fortunately, she allowed each of us to soothe her after her respective experiences, and after a lot of hiccuping, some ice cream, and a nap in the car, she appeared to have either forgiven or forgotten. Or perhaps just failed to recognize our role in all of this and just blames it all on the doctors.

I’m OK with this.

Just a few pics today, for those of you not on Facebook or Instagram. We’ll be taking more once we’re more awake, no doubt.




August 18, 2012

What time is it? What day is it? Where am I?

I am very tired.

Our daughter, our little bundle of boundless love, is doing her best to help Mama and Baba experience the hidden secrets of the universe via extreme sleep deprivation. The last couple of days, she’s gone to bed around 7:30, popped back up around 11 and 12, and then come fully awake about two, clapping and laughing and ready to play.

This is challenging.

The girl is the most adorable human I’ve ever met, but that counts for surprisingly little when you’re working from a two-plus-week sleep deficit and you’re worried you’ll fall asleep on your feet and drop her.

I have a profound respect for single parents. The only way we’re staying even remotely coherent is by trading off nighttime duties and spelling each other during the day just to get a few moments to recharge. I couldn’t imagine doing this without Kim’s help.

On the plus side, this jet lag-induced sleeplessness is going to make the normal late-night soothings that are sure to come feel so much easier. So we have that going for us.

And fortunately the rest of this experience is so positive that it’s easy to forget the nighttime misery. Well, most of the time. In all seriousness, this kid is a joy and we continue to feel so fortunate that we found each other. But boy are we looking forward to something resembling a full night’s sleep.

And now, pictures!