As a young man (it wasn't so long ago), I prided myself on being an explorer. No doubt, this had to do with my being an Air Force Brat living overseas for much of my childhood. For example, when I lived in the Philippines, I was always very excited to get off-base to explore beyond the barbed wire. Alas, because I was so young, I was most often confined to exploring around the base.
As a result, I got to know the area very well. So well, in fact, that I made friends and was decorated from time to time.
This need to explore continued on through my teenage years which, I must admit, sometimes got me in trouble, especially when I lived in England, where my friends and I had a penchant for breaking into this 12th-Century priory and doing some primitive form of LARPing.
But that was long ago. The eighties, I mean, not the 12th-Century, though . . . nevermind.
Fast-forward to a week ago, when I set off to buy my youngest son his birthday present. So he tells me about a gaming store downtown that I had never heard of: Netherworld Games. I thought I knew all the gaming stores in town: Pegasus, The Last Square, and Misty Mountain. How Netherworld escaped me, I can't fathom. I'm not hip-deep in roleplaying like I once was, but I try to keep in touch and occasionally go dungeon-delving with friends. It keeps me from getting in trouble like I used to!
As I spoke with one of the staff, I was impressed: Nice selection, an open area for gaming (at which one group was playing Magic and another, Pathfinder),friendly, knowledgeable staff. You know, everything you hope for in a gaming store. So I asked myself, “Self, how long do you think these guys have been in business?” Since Self didn't know the answer, I asked the guy who was special ordering my son's gift.
“Seriously? At this location?”
“I had no idea.”
“A lot of people don't.”
As I left, I looked back on the shop from the outside. Like a dive-bar, they had done a horrible job of advertising themselves. Besides the dragons and bikini-clad warrioress-types in the windows, there really was nothing that made the place stand out. It's on a side-street (but then again, so are many other gaming stores I've been to) and it simply melts in with the architecture, which is great if your the local assassin's guild, not so great if you're a merchant.
The funny thing is, it very much felt Madison. I don't know quite how to describe how Madison feels, but anyone who's lived here for any length of time probably knows what I mean. I pride myself on knowing the places that “feel” Madison. So how did I miss it?
I walked on, musing over my ignorance of the place, disappointed in myself for having lost the explorer's edge I had enjoyed so much as a child and young man, but quite happy that I had discovered this place that had been here for half the time I've lived in Madison. Everything looked just a bit different because I was looking at everything a bit differently. As I wandered, I walked past The Orpheum, an old theater in which I had first watched The Phantom Menace (take a look at the inside architecture and you'll know why this added a great deal to the experience. I noted, to my shock, that The Orpheum Restaurant, a favorite of mine and my wife, was closed. We exchanged sad-faces via text and I stared at the outside, probably looking like a homeless person longing for some glorious past in which I was a famous silent-movie actor.
Since I had my explorer's eyes on, I spotted, and will leave you with this, a shattered window, which looked like it had been struck by a bullet (there was a shooting downtown recently – makes me wonder if this is an artifact from that, though I think it was a couple of blocks away). Over the point of impact was a bizarre sticker. It was only after I took the picture that I realized that my reflection showed in the shattered glass, with the sticker superimposed over the spot where my head should be, like some ghost-turned-demon, haunting the old Orpheum. I'm still puzzling over the meaning of it all.