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Who are you people and what are you doing in my house?

The best way to make money is to found a religion. — L. Ron Hubbard

Start from the beginning

There is no shortage of content about The Sims. New players are welcomed into the sunshine of helpful resources, custom content, and troubleshooting. Eventually, however, one gets desensitized to the formulaic set of goals laid out for us and veers into the labyrinthine forest of storytelling. Stories about female Sims who are impregnated 100+ times by different men. Stories about serial killer Sims who marry the Grim Reaper and trap Father Winter in their basement, then seduce the replacement Father Winter and trap him in the basement too. Stories in which Sims enact scenes of betrayal, drama, mystery, and intrigue.

If you’ve managed so far to navigate this labyrinth, you find yourself facing the entrance to a dark alley, lit by a single bare bulb, surrounded by concrete and chain link fence, outside a boarded-down restaurant named Lucky Dragon. This is no longer formulaic crazy. This is high-effort crazy. This is farmer’s market, organic, handcrafted artisan crazy. This is Willoughby Whippets and Tibetan Spaniels.

Allow us to introduce ourselves.

Every RAGING middle school child at some point gets the idea to capture an unwitting NPC that wanders across their lot in a four-by-four grey wall enclosure in which they spin and impotently raise their arms into the air over and over until death befalls them. Despite the fact that you did not create a ceiling, the other residents of Pleasantville, for whom the game has generated happy bourgeois player goals, seemingly stroll by without hearing their screams. The developers think it’s weird that there would be ghosts inside a house, but we know, as players and modders, that this is not even close to the limit of insanity WHICH GOES TO INFINITY. Not only do we REFUSE to follow through on the goals posed to us by the developers as rhetorical questions in their family descriptions, we DEMOLISH THE GIVEN HOUSES and replace them with CHURCHES and an underground DOME OF OPIUM GNOMES!!!!!!! Do you not understand me? Then seee for yourself in the following pages. Can you think outside the four-by-four grey wall box of NPC capture? Simister can. Can Bella Goth be rediscovered? What kind of goal is this?? The REAL question you should be asking yourself is, can the Mormon Church figure out the source of psychedelic rock music coming up through its floor from the Gnome orgy? Can little Johnny escape the room in which his grandparents force him to play the violin continuously? Forget about the single mom scenario. What about the child who is raised by a globe wearing a bonnet and a stick? Watch him receive parental guidance from a floating twig! Who needs alien abductions when you have an a tower laboratory in which citizens are captured for experimentation? Simister does not make all their sims live in ghettoblaster apartments with one microwave for a family of 10 and five stereos that play constantly from locations sims cannot get to from any angle. Simister’s replicate of herself in the virtual world owns a mansion in every possible gameworld and has a boyfriend and three children for every man Simister has every found attractive whether from knowing personally or from seeing for three seconds on a street corner. Yes, random man I never talked to at the cafe–do you know that you and I have already reproduced repeatedly in our home that we own in the jungle?

Dolly Llama, in contrast, guides her virtual children with a gentle hand. Sweet, happy, highly accomplished families live in (admittedly poorly-built) houses; there is no evil, no meanness, nothing but genuine empathy. Yet, even when their every move is guided by a benevolent creator, Sims find ways to make themselves unhappy. Perhaps two personalities conflict, or idiosyncrasies appear, or the AI makes some inexplicable decision. Why ignore it? Stifling your Sims’ personalities for the sake of your own flawed understanding of life is limiting, after all. Even a benevolent creator creates in a purely Orwellian context. Moreover, there is no need to create artificial conflict: no matter how kind the player is, how much freedom the player gives them, Sims will create conflict, solely based on who they are. Ignoring pain is itself a cause of pain. There is no need to torture them. They torture themselves. This is the thesis of Dolly Llama’s work.

If you are ready to think outside the box–yes, outside the four by four square of grey walls in which you captured Santa Claus–then read ahead and follow us into the Wonderland that is the only known Sims blog sponsored by the Church of Scientology: Willoughby Whippets and Tibetan Spaniels.

Start from the beginning

Read Dolly’s posts in chronological order

Read Simister’s posts in chronological order

Charlie J.E./Josephine Liu: I Call Shotgun! Pt. I

(Yep; Part I. It’s another twofer.)

Some men cascade with emotion like water over a cliff. Charlie isn’t one of them.

Post an adolescence-long conversation with the night sky and people’s shoes, an early career spent touching his patients too lightly to the point where the lack of contact became kind of creepy, and a spiritually questionable (for her) hookup with the local ascetic, the search performed on the soul of the eldest second-gen J.E. still lacked the breadth and depth to make any conclusive statement about whether he actually wanted to be in a relationship. He wasn’t sure what drove him more nuts: the ambiguity itself or his inability to fix it. He cringed at himself for leaving this mental civil war unresolved even as he woke snuggling with another Sim. And then, for being unable to choose between the three as a source of frustration, ad infinitum, inductively.

But if there were anyone capable of opening Charlie’s mind to collapse these options into one (Charlie liked to picture the cat-box in Schrödinger’s thought experiment whenever external involvement was needed to make his ideas click), it would be sweet Jo. He had no issues with physical vulnerability, even enjoyed being affectionate, he’d learned; but to let her into his head? That clusterfuck? Even he didn’t want to be there. Besides the disorganization and the excessive involvement of Cruz Greenwood, she likely wouldn’t appreciate the amount of time he devoted to questioning their relationship. In fact, he decided, negate the earlier statement; she was the worst possible person to share this with.

The state of the household upon invading this guy’s consciousness. Charlie’s been training his left wrist pretty hard.

It could still be Charlie and Josephine forever, but forever hasn’t started yet. They still have time. A couple more weeks and—

—and Jo might as well be a firefighter, because she just saved the cat.

Climbing, running, fishing—many of Charlie’s favorite hobbies required him to turn his brain off and operate on pure intuition. Love might be the same way, he figured. Clear everything, quiet your natural approach, just enough to listen to the gut.

His gut says the same thing it always does when he understands how to not disappoint someone else. He says yes.

Ok cool, back to the workout

His doubt washes away in a wave of relief. He no longer has a choice to make. In fact, Jo can make the decisions for both of them from now on.

Girl! Make him wait until you’ve learned his traits!

Charlie’s future brothers-in-law Gavin Guy (married to Abram Guy) and Maxwell Liu find him at the Spice Festival to express their excitement about the proposal. Neither of them joke about ending him if he harms a hair on their sister’s head/breaks her heart/etc., which could be a sign of trust or just a side effect of Charlie being enormous. He repeats some of his dad’s old standup stories. He’s not paying enough attention to notice any hesitant sideways glances, but they laugh anyway, of course. It would be impolite not to.

Drained from the social interaction, Charlie tries to retreat back to and Jo’s mostly-outside, mostly-UVB/UVC-proof house, which is unfortunately a favorite neighborhood hangout spot for no

fucking

reason.

So that’s the context for Charlie introducing Jo to all his friends and family: he hopes leaving the house will finally get him some privacy.

Xiyuan was also one of the 3-5 people in Charlie’s house that day, omitted because he’s always everywhere, most likely because ‘always’ and ‘everywhere’ are the time and place of Shu’s dates. Gotta chaperone.

Joey comes in with a plan to help Charlie’s bespectacled childhood friend figure out eye contact, which is shattered when Shu shoots her a gaze with enough force to make his head recoil. She honestly thought her fiancé was describing this guy’s D&D character. But no, now she could see where Charlie got the words “high charisma” and “bard.” Something about the manicured womanizer before her seemed hopelessly dislikable: the way he leaned back in his chair was too cocky, as was the excessive amount of jewelry; she didn’t like that brief pause between when she asked what he did for work and when he claimed to be a musician. Confident people could make you believe anything they wanted you to, she reminded herself. That’s why she liked Charlie. He had nothing to hide, and even if he did, he couldn’t. Her open book.

A siren setting off sirens

She found her opportunity to leave the conversation when Casanova pulled out a guitar and started strumming on top of the karaoke. Infuriating. Were people not paying enough attention to you, or what?

Karaoke performed by the Tragic Clown, an important figure in Charlie’s life

While Joey Jo-Jo lacked the context to mitigate Shu’s intensity, Charlie’s memories of a prepubescent Shu give him too clear of a picture, one that weights the past more heavily than the present.

He was bombarded with questions that night, which he did his best to answer. Their parents were friends. They were born in the same house. He spends a lot of time playing instruments. He does have a girlfriend, Chantel. Probably also Gen. I don’t know, maybe twelve? That’s just how he operates. Just don’t talk to him, then.


Charlie goes for a sunrise jog to the hospital, mentally prepping himself for another day where he’s the only one doing any work. The receptionist sits and plays on the computer while lines of patients form in front of them, Don Lothario chats up young female patients even as Charlie tries desperately to work around him, and there’s one other co-worker who tries to talk to him while he’s, y’know, actually working.

Today might be different. There’s a new doctor.

Charlie sneaks a glance as he runs from the patient rooms to test a sample. She’s pipetting! He closes his eyes in a moment of pure joy. He won’t be running the hospital alone anymore.

He records the sample results, diagnoses the patient, prescribes a vaccination (Sim doctors are a tad unclear on how inoculation works, but it does, so whatever), signs them out, ushers the next person to a bed, asks questions, takes a saliva sample, runs back to the lab. She’s still pipetting. He looks at the label. It’s the same damn sample. Repeat two or three more times; she’s still doing it. Tying up a machine. Damn it.

An emergency call preserves Charlie’s sanity. Three people may have just simultaneously collapsed at a bar, but at least he can be outside for a couple brief minutes.

It’s Shu’s boyfriend! We care about him!

He shakes the first Sim awake to administer treatment. He can count on what’s happening next more than he can on his coworkers: upon regaining consciousness, the patient’s knee-jerk reaction is always to spring up and start running as far away from the doctor as possible.

How can one be incompetent at being drowsy?

One patient manages to get two blocks away from the bar before Dr. Swole delivers his pills with a flying tackle. As much as he used to enjoy his morning jogs, it’s part of the job now.

He runs over his schedule for the rest of the day: after catching infectious vagabonds, he has to clean the beds, maybe rush to cure a couple more people before the end of his shift—nope, he’s interrupted with a promotion. The final one.

Charlie is breathless as he processes his emotions. He’s elated, he tells himself, because he’s supposed to be. The same reason he’s grateful. This is supposed to be a reward, he reminds himself, grabbing folders of budget reports to take home. This job would solve a lot of problems for many Sims. The new Chief of Staff—he feels nothing about the title, nothing, not achievement or pride or prestige—takes out his phone to text his parents the news, stopping short to wonder if they would even care. Everyone knew he would become Chief of Staff eventually. Now what?


Tuesday night, Jo gets a message from Ana asking if she can hang out. They chat until Charlie comes home. He greets her with a quick “sul sul,” to which she responds by slyly pointing out how good he looks in his lab coat. He winces and gestures his head back/slightly to the left.

Right before falling asleep, the realization hit him: Ana didn’t know he was engaged. She dropped in for a booty call and probably didn’t expect his fiancée to be answering the door. He was a bit embarrassed on her behalf, but wasn’t sure how he felt about that otherwise.


The Saturday of Jo and Charlie’s wedding is sunny, with not much aerial pollen. Save the tissues for the ceremony.

Myshuno Meadows has the largest amount of outside to accommodate the happy couple. In their tux and traditional dress, they greet their maximum eight loved ones: some of which forgot to change out of their Xiyuan/Bernard wedding uniform, one whose only formalwear is a tailcoat they “borrowed” from their dad’s tailcoat closet (he has other grey ones. Plural! He won’t notice), one wearing a warm-toned blush that is definitely not white, one pouting because her sibling outshone her bold fashion choices by correctly wearing a fedora.

Having already spent too much time between their first meeting and nuptials, the efficient couple starts their vows before the guests can reach their seats.

Jo’s brothers are the fastest, but also allergic to the front row; see below.
Foreground: Kendra, living her best life (there’s no music)
Background: Both the groom’s parents missing the wedding
Ah, here they go!
Mike also decided to dance. This is when you realize, oh god, is the wedding march music diegetic? Then you wonder how many of the sound effects can be heard by both the Sim and the player: obviously, they can hear the radio, but the volume of the radio varies with its distance from the player’s camera, while no such thing happens with sound effects. Are the sound effects happening in these guys’ heads? Then you realize that Sims bloggers with a characteristically odd sense of humor find odd things funny, like at least one sound effect being diegetic, and probably laughed for a full five minutes upon this realization.

As Charlie kisses Josephine Jeong-Espinosa for the first time, he reflects on the hundreds of decisions leading to this moment. His gut brought him here, into the arms of a woman whose presence nourished him in body and soul even as his mind lagged behind.

Who’s throwing the confetti? This is like the end of a case in Ace Attorney, where someone is throwing confetti in a courtroom, but you don’t know who. Hopefully the janitor doesn’t either.

He had no definition of love before. He considered it might be what he was feeling at this moment, but felt it was a bit pessimistic to assume the sensation you’d spent a lifetime chasing was so fleeting—or so easily displaced by excitement over, say, cake.

Yay! Cake!

Him and Josephine would have the rest of their lives to figure it out. They couldn’t predict change, but they could face it together.

The overthinking was giving Charlie a headache—wait, is it overthinking if you’re ruminating on snap decisions? Is there an optimal degree of overthinking and if so, is it just called thinking? Does the degree—ack, his headache got worse. Good thing he always carries aspirin.

Remember how Elsa earned her title of ice queen with a text congratulating her then-boyfriend, Shu, on his new “friend”? Well, here’s an absolutely venomous text from Charlie’s ex, to his new wife, during the wedding.

Elsa, bow down to Her Majesty.

There’s a partial explanation for this: Asteya is one of Jo’s closest female friends, and probably would have been maid of honor if Char-Jo could invite more than eight people to the wedding.

Charlie is too swirly to process what’s going on. Doctors are supposed to be less susceptible to infectious disease, which should prevent such situations as getting Starry Eyes at your own wedding, but a combination of stressors (planning & existential, here) can blow right through special traits.

We also learn that while yogurt parfait is customary for birthdays, French toast is à la mode for weddings.

If you’re going to pick one food to replicate obsessively, why not guacamole? Has anyone ever been to a party with leftover guacamole?

A sufficiently toasted Josie and Charlie take the afterparty to the Romance Festival. Here, romance permeates the lungs of non-newlywed (i.e., non-newlywed and unmarried) Sims; the groom’s sister and teenage namesake, to name a couple. Charlie Feng may be starting to show interest in Kendra.

They were flirting a second ago!

Back at home, the most recently appointed Jeong-Espinosa acclimates to married life. Charlie’s noticed she has the tendency to make these bizarre yelping sounds daily. Did she do that before and he just didn’t notice? Whatever. They’re certain they can face their first major challenge as a team, even with half the team howling like a horny pterodactyl.

The nature of this first challenge? It’s pretty routine.

Mmm-hmm.

Upcoming: we learn more about Jo, who becomes the second-newest member of the family.

The Shallot-Liu Family: Shallot-Liu vs. Shu

Some Sims belong in certain places. Charlie needs to live near a fishing hole. Hector has a 98% chance of ending up in Selvadorada. Shu belongs in San Myshuno, and, in what is arguably the only silver lining to his parents’ divorce, can temporarily stay with relatives.

Relatives he’ll talk to when Chantel’s done.

Xiyuan hasn’t lived with his son since he groomed Shu to be the next San Myshuno Orchestra concertmaster/leader of the eponymous Mr. Liu’s PB&J. The man whose arrival caused the guest room to instantaneously self-crimsonify was a far cry from the toddler learning his circle of fifths: Xiyuan’s training had taken root, and Shu had mastered every possible visual and performing art in under two decades. Both dads had spent his high school graduation enthusing about the sheer breadth of possibilities. They mused as the valedictorian read an oft-misinterpreted poem of Robert Frost’s—why two roads diverging in a yellow wood? Why not eight?

As 30 ex-high-schoolers applauded the end of the reading, each believing themselves to be taking the “road less traveled” in the poem’s penultimate line, something in Shu snapped. He saw himself at a crossroads, all right, but with the folksy hiking trails replaced by these paved monstrosities, each split into regular sections, each section with its own a rest stop and Carl’s Jr., each culminating in a different definition of success, each so linear that the finish line was visible from where he was standing. He saw his father by his side, holding his goddamn hand. The hard part had already been done: all he had to do was wait, and he would be shuttled to whatever single achievement he decided represents his legacy.

Shu realized nothing was forcing him to decide. He could refuse to move. He could bash his skull against the pavement until some bystander called an ambulance. He could turn around and go back to where he came, although Shu admitted that implementation was easier in the context of the metaphor than in his life. He could extend the metaphor with another phrase beloved by teenagers, and forge his own path. But how can one do that when they’re incapable of truly creating anything new?

The unique solution appeared to him. Redefine “path.” A job, Shu decided, is any activity that adds to the household funds.

Shortly after moving in, Shu has the opportunity to protect his dads’ symbolic mural from scum-of-the-earth Urlike Faust (and Urlike Faust from his dads’ fans).

You’re fucking with the wrong fish painting, Urlike

He introduces himself in his usual style.

Girl, are you “Cheerleader” by OMI? Because you keep getting stuck in my head at pivotal times in my life.

Urlike, beguiled, returns her cans of spray paint to her gigantic invisible dress pocket, her back to the PDA mural. Shu asks her on a date to the art gallery. While Urlike fantasizes about what she’ll be doing three hours in the future, her date’s watching the—oh, come on.

This is what you spray paint if you want to look tough in front of your friends: lily pads

Shu rolls his eyes. Before cleaning up the top level of paint, he asks Urlike to just be friends and ends the date early.

Another realization hits Shu. At the end of each date, an unidentified source sends his household a trinket, like a bucket of champagne. These buckets of champagne are worth §245 each. So if, hypothetically, one were to go on 1-3 dates per day with assorted people, they could earn as much as their mid-career peers.

Shu imagines drenching the octopath of his nightmares in leftover acetone, watching the layers wash away like the lily pads. He watches until only broken bottles and poison ivy remain. He looks into the undeveloped wasteland. He smiles.

Of course, one or more of Shu’s parents is chaperoning the date. §245 says they’re talking shit about Xiyuan.

“Did you hear him ask the plants if they wanted bottled or tap?”

Shu refuses to disclose his line of work to his parents. But when you’re expected to continue the creative legacy of one of the world’s most prolific living artists, said artist is probably going to notice when you don’t get a job in the arts. Bernard eats his cereal loops every morning to a sharp conversation half-yelled across the stairs; every other sentence is in a language he doesn’t understand. From what he can catch, Shu should probably be taking commissions or talking to one of Xiyuan’s contacts, while Xiyuan should stay out of it. Also, Shu’s going out. Bye.

The door slams. Xiyuan sighs and props himself against the wall with his forearm. He’s exhausted from trying to convince himself there’s only Chantel and Shannon, Bernard suspects.

Every time Shu leaves the house, he faces his father’s shrine to a boy he hardly remembers. (There’s also Toast Cat, worth over §10,000, and the same painting twice.) Every time, he scoffs. A parent’s love shouldn’t be conditional.

Shu chooses to stay home on Xiyuan’s birthday, but not without inviting Gen for a sleepover. Carlie Feng is watching from her apartment. Lily Feng gave birth to twin daughters shortly after learning Xiyuan had a son, and although the Shallot-Lius could prove no connection between the two events, they had their suspicions. In any case, Shu often finds himself in yet another imbalanced conversation where he knows basically nothing and Carlie/Charlie (yes, they actually named the twins that) can correct him on stories about his own childhood.

Get in line.

At the party’s center, Shu puts on a shirt and takes care of catering. He prefers to do all the cooking. Bernard left crumbs on the counter once, you see, and is now not allowed in the kitchen without Shu and his wet rag.

Carlie was ordered to pick the lock. The overlap between skills related to being the heir of an organized crime syndicate and skills required to crash a neighbor’s birthday party is quite high.

The birthday boy airs his grievances upstairs with Bernard, Victor and Claudia.

Not about losing in cards; the group has silently accepted that the heat death of the universe will occur before Xiyuan wins a round. He has a few tells. If he draws a card and dramatically recoils, he has a bad hand. If he announces how optimistic he is about finally winning for once, he has a good hand. If you listen carefully, you can hear him quietly mumbling the numbers and suits to himself. His friends are trying their best to help him come in second-to-last on his birthday.

“I have no idea what he’s doing.” Xiyuan places three of his cards in a face-down pile on the table. This isn’t part of the game, rather an attempt to sort his hand into important and non-important piles. “He doesn’t have time to come with me to gallery openings anymore, but almost every morning I go downstairs and he’s making pancakes for a different random woman.”

“And Chantel,” Bernard points out.

“Yes, and poor Chantel,” he agreed, drawing another card. “Ouch. He’s clearly getting money from somewhere, but I don’t know how he has time to do that anymore.”

“Look on the bright side,” Claudia predictably recommends, “at least you won’t have to worry about grandchildren.”

Victor’s eyes light up just as Xiyuan signals his husband across the table. Bernard, catching the difference between his ‘I’m one card away from a royal flush’ and ‘Please make {Victor/Lily} stop talking about my {son/son’s relationship status/future half-Feng grandchildren} by any means necessary’ faces, stands up hard enough to push his chair backwards. “I think it’s time for cake. Who wants cake?”

Later, he catches Bernard on the stairs and pantomimes choking himself.

Another crisis has been averted. Every guest simultaneously thinks about how pleased they are with the catering, except the caterer himself. He has work to do.

Xiyuan’s birthday inspires the family to reflect back on the past, and in doing so, they realize something that seems obvious in retrospect: there are no conditions under which two post-pubescent Lius should be in the same house. Xiyuan finds it hard to stick to his two-girlfriend theory in the face of evidence sneaking through the front door every morning. Shu’s not comfortable with the arrangement either, and, by the way, he’s going to vomit the next time he hears the words “my lord.” Bernard would prefer conversations in his apartment to be less aggressive and monolingual. If there were an extraneous fourth party capable of communing with all three, she may get overwhelmed with keeping track of two to four WooHooing sessions per day. No one is happy. Time has separated into the Liu family into one group that attributes the “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” sentiment to Nietzsche and a second to West, and the effects are irreversible.

Shu moves out the next day. He won’t be lonely; two of his favorite girlfriends have agreed to be roommates.

Aileen belongs to neither group; she attributes the saying to Clarkson. I’ve also hated it for as long as I can remember: what if something doesn’t kill you, but leaves you in a coma? Or you lose a leg?
(Red tank top is Genevieve, post-makeover.)

Shu would rather survive in this crappy apartment with two roommates than use his dad’s money. Besides, no one can control his job if he doesn’t have a real job. The strings of parental control have been cut. All Xiyuan can do now is show up on like all of Shu’s dates.

Without progeny to distract them, Xiyuan and Bernard return to their normal course of action, suppressing the narrative by being adorable.

CUUUTE
CUUUUUUTE
See, this looks like more of an actual tag than fucking lily pads
he’s really not a T-shirt guy but CUUUUUUUTE

Yes—since Shu has been reduced to a headless busker in the background, the Shallot-Liu apartment is once again occupied only by the posh couple, the keyholders,

I don’t remember how, when or why she got into the apartment. There’s no event timer. No one is home. She just came here to drink.

and the Fengs. Here, Victor re-enacts his rock opera outside the door to get their attention.

Welcome to San Myshuno, where the benches are cheerful and the Chinese Mafia is desperate

With twice as many Fengs trying to get temporary access to the apartment, Bernard and Xiyuan have taken to leaving a note on the door claiming they’re not home. They often come back from an event to find the note in the trash, as if removing it would somehow negate the message.

All he wants to do is get back to his husband. It’s like this every time they aren’t in the same room.

It’s unclear what relationship Charlie and Carlie want with the Shallot-Lius. They may have been pressured by their parents to befriend the neighbors, but for what? Cultural reasons? Money? Power? But no, they both do the same thing their parents do, which is begging to be let in so they can use the computer. It’s possible they’re money-laundering.

It’s not like the neighbors would notice anything suspicious.

And yet, they can be even more oblivious.

Should we tell him?

“Honey?”

“Dear, is something wrong? Why are you calling me at work?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too. What’s wrong?”

“Please remember that I love you. Don’t be mad.”

“What did you do.”

“I may have impulse bought an art gallery.”

In lieu of an actual baby, here’s The Koi Pond Art Gallery, a small business in Newcrest featuring the work of two prominent artists. The K.P.A.G. can’t disappoint its parents.

This is one of the only contexts in which hanging the painting of Bernard from Buy Mode makes sense

The Koi Pond is sparsely decorated so as to not distract from the paintings, featuring only a few fish-related things and plaques around the gallery commemorating the romance between its owners. One fishy detail is the iconic mural at the entrance, recreated by the actual disappointment himself.

To get into the store, you have to trample a symbol of eternal love.

-7 paintings and upwards of §8,500 later, the Koi Pond closes. Bernard and Xiyuan celebrate by making everyone in San Myshuno dry heave.

Anaya’s like, shit, it’s the ghost dudes again

Unfortunately for this half-reanimated power couple, a lack of conflict makes for a poor story. But they’re great for raising the spirits!

(Get it? Get it?)


(Thanks to all the custom content creators! I know it’s bad form to not give proper credit, but have a lot of CC and no way to keep track of it. I’ll gladly credit people when I figure out how to sort my stuff.)

The Jeong-Espinosa Family: Heart, Head, Hands, Hector

As Mike and Claudia transcribe their knowledge for future generations and Kendra and Hector learn their place in the world, we seize the opportunity to sample four slices of Jeong-Espinosa life.

Evidence of how much writing style can evolve over 6 months. That is, if you started a Sims blog today, it would take you at least 6 months (n=1) before you develop the urge to reference a high-level interpretation of the Pauli exclusion principle for a throwaway joke, remember that quote about writing you read on a day calendar once which could be boiled down to “put more things bad, take things out good,” realize guidelines for technical prose don’t apply to a Sims blog whose readership is irrelevant to your career success or quality of life, and respect that the diversity of human expression can’t be boiled down to something that fits on a day calendar by doing it anyway. Cherish that 6-month minimum (n=1). Also note that by some metrics, any caption of this image under 143 words is objectively better.

These distinct personalities do have their moments of family bonding,

There’s a short story by Sandra Cisneros or a similar author with a scene implying it’s common for the entire family to hang out in the bathroom, and child me felt slightly insecure sometimes because my family doesn’t. Based on years of keeping track of this sort of thing whenever I visit a friend’s house, it seems like the concept’s been oversold. Does anyone know any real families, not these guys, who hang out in the bathroom together?

but easily stand on their own. Let’s get into some heads.


Claudia

Juan Gabriel serenades Claudia from her computer’s built-in speakers as she lightens her emotional support Stoli by a couple ounces. The only way to fit the bottle on her desk is to set it atop a pile of cocktail napkins covered with pre-cookbook scribbles, with lower strata dating back to before Hector was born, neglected in an ongoing battle between Claudia’s usual anti-worry pro-be-happy mantra and her disinterest in writing. It was so dull, she could hardly focus. Maybe she’ll come up with an optimal ordering for her grandmother’s pupusa recipes if she stares at one particular scratch on the desk trim long enough. When she does make progress, Claudia remembers she actually does have to follow the above-referenced rules for technical writing, and removes several paragraphs complaining about what gringos have done to fruit.

Three hours/one sentence later, she chucks the empty shell of her writing companion into a pile with the others (recycling! Save the planet) and searches for pretty much any distraction. Like Mike’s body! Yes, he wanders off when she wants more, but that’s nothing new.

Nearly every straight/bi/pan woman can relate.

Mike acts like a cat, and not in a sexy way. He responds to Claudia’s requests for affection by walking away and falling asleep on the couch. He ignores Claudia until she has food. Instead of scratching the couch, he ends up trolling the Sims forums until they require a 15-post minimum for new members.

Mike initially captivated his wife by being entertaining, and his perception of Claudia hasn’t evolved since then: he still sees her as a member of the audience. Romance is a performance. It’s something Mike does to demonstrate what a good husband he is. Serenading her, for example, only works because he’s such a fantastic singer; if he wanders off to post dismissive comments on /r/worldpolitics afterwards, it’s because he doesn’t have enough energy to interact with her. She doesn’t know what it’s like having to be ‘on’ all the time.

This instance of serenading was at the karaoke bar. This was the only time it made sense.

Yet this approach works for Claudia. Works of fiction were designed for her to understand; reality was not. It’s easier to keep the streets of a city clean when that city is a set. It’s easier to follow a preset script than to improvise. There would be times when the performance ends, and Claudia processes the difference between fact and fantasy while she lies awake in bed, except she passes out long before such introspection can happen. How do you keep things fresh after nearly 30 years of marriage? Simple: with a reduced ability to form long-term memories, your relationship can be just as magical as it was in the honeymoon phase. Claudia knows how to keep things light.

Hector is the only one of Claudia’s children to have inherited her blind optimism. She’s stoked to finally have a conversation with someone about how nice the sky looks today, not demons, cell physiology, or Mike. Claudia’s omnipresence, however, neatly divided his parents’ roles in Hector’s toddler mind: Mom handles the tantrums, Dad swoops in a couple times to do fun stuff. He used to shut down before she could even pose an opinion about which Backstreet Boy that cloud looks like. Now, due to a series of food-based bribes, they’re each other’s favorite person, separated only when he goes to school or she works on her dang cookbook. Claudia’s not sure what’s happening with her other children—but, to be fair, Charlie is never in her direct line of vision, and even adult Sims lack object permanence.

La Madre Sin Rostro!

If she were to remember she has an adult son, Claudia would be more concerned about her own age. Several of her friends—those in Powerhaus, Partihaus, etc.—have adult children themselves. The implications are clear. Parties. Birthday ones.

Jade Rosa couldn’t age up without throwing a rager, if your criteria for a rager include the number of servings of yogurt parfait present.

As Claudia fantasizes about planning her own birthday party, she realizes how little she cares about growing older, which strikes her as odd. Isn’t aging supposed to be a universal fear? Isn’t she supposed to be mourning the loss of her youth? And yet, aside from the nagging feeling she’s going about life wrong, none of this matters. Either she’s given up or she’s done the arithmetic and realized some inequitable force prolonged her young-adulthood, so to complain would be ungrateful.

At her “writing” desk, Claudia’s wandering eye is drawn to a year-old cocktail napkin suggesting “Birthday party: yogurt theme???” It’s too late. She crumples it up. Claudia is forced to spend her precious cookbook time coming up with a plan B, which takes several days. Her new theme is The Gym. The idea being, everyone shows up at her house to eat cake, then goes to the gym. Hector can come too.

Gym enthusiasts Xiyuan and Aileen coexist in the same room without partitioning it like a war zone. That type of drama is traditionally reserved for children’s birthday parties.

Claudia and Aileen were mildly bothered by Paolo’s mention of a “huge B” until they looked forward, up, and slightly to the left.

Sneaking a sip of the tequila that lived behind the bookcase, the birthday girl watched her friends share stories about exercise, laugh at Mike’s antics, be Hector. How lovely. What a nice day she was having.


Mike

Mike is a great Sim.

Claudia v. This Relationship: Exhibit A

Mike initially wanted to be a comedian, which he was. Everyone loved him. His fame predates the existence of a fame mechanic. Then, he easily transitioned to a career in business because he was such a smooth talker, and was promoted to C.E.O. He’s a fun guy, not usually the suit-and-tie type, but he took the job to support his family. It’s just a little something great dads and husbands do.

Mike’s virtues don’t end at a pretty face and a pretty everything else and a silver tongue and passing knowledge of profanity in eight languages, plus knowing all the words to “Despacito,” he’s also a genius. That’s why he left his stuffy desk job (which was an act of self-sacrifice, remember) to explore space as an astronaut. And he excelled there, too, because his universe recognizes an exceptional man when it sees one.

Mike doesn’t have to put a shirt on; all his shirts broke. He goes to the gym a lot. Sometimes, going to the gym once isn’t enough for him, which is the reason he also has a set of weights in his room. Everyone at the gym knows him because he’s there all the time. Here he is kicking toxic masculinity in the face in the style of J.D. from Scrubs.

Exhibit B, and it’s up to you to determine whether this is in reference to the torso or the drink

Mike has been the smartest person in the family and the best at making things since before Charlie was born. The Geek Festival suits him perfectly. He doesn’t have to cosplay because people there recognize him, either from several cameos on cult classic sci-fi shows or as an interplanetary pioneer. He was hoping to test-drive the fancy rocket, but, upon his arrival, two unidentified people co-opted it for banging.

The rocket didn’t come back down for the entire rest of the festival, by which Mike couldn’t tell if he was impressed or concerned; it was more likely to have crash-landed in a different site than to stay in orbit as its operators last for six hours. That is, since Mike isn’t capable of doing so (see third image, above), it’s likely impossible.

His wife won the videogame competition. He didn’t enter, which improved her chances, and congratulated her afterward. People are always whispering about how lucky Claudia is.

Mike is the only person capable of using every skill-requiring item in the house. Sure, the kitchen is Claudia’s domain and Kendra has her monster drawings, and Hector is probably also doing something, but Mike can do all three plus whatever Charlie was trained on. It just comes to him so easily. To be frank, ‘genius’ doesn’t begin to cover it, because he’s just as comfortable with creative/athletic pursuits as he is with chess. He loves similes connecting life and chess. Life’s a game, and once you come to this realization, you’re already one step ahead of all your opponents. Nobody he’s talked to is capable of appreciating the depth he conceals so well behind his expressionless eyes.

Here he is making a drink like he taught himself to do. Mike has no issues controlling his juice intake, unlike some other Sims. He also has no trouble finishing books because he’s good at writing.

Because Mike sacrifices so much of himself for other people and spends so much time focusing on self-improvement, he may have forgotten what day it was.

What?! Clearly Mike shouldn’t have to plan his own birthday party.

He’ll have a talk with Claudia about it when she gets home. He’s not going to yell, because yelling is clearly something only bad people do, but has to remind her of her expected organizational spousal duties somehow. Maybe he’ll call Xiyuan as well. He pushes a well-written friendly notice about it onto his social media profile, displacing several pictures of his food/art creations, documentation of his most recent abduction, and 473 posts wishing him a happy birthday.

Basketball is how you get through your divorce; eating cake while playing cards alone is how you get over not having a birthday party. Here, we learn the Pauli exclusion principle likely does not hold in this universe, as demonstrated above by the existence of a cake/stack of cards hybrid.

Nobody ever appreciates what he does for this family. Nobody.


Kendra

Kendra has two modes: discomfort and artistry.

Discomfort as demonstrated by her inability to fix a stupid dishwasher, shocking her stupid self and leaving her unable to prevent puddles/piles of unidentified scrap metal from spewing all over the stupid place.

There’s some debate over whether “electrocution” should only refer to cases where the ionized person dies, hence the word choice in the previous sentence despite its ambiguity in suggesting an inappropriate emotional reaction.

Artistry as demonstrated by her framing of three-quarters of the duofamilial second generation behaving in character.

These modes are non-exclusive—Kendra already spent her childhood operating in a combination of both by drawing monsters until her little hands cramped—here implemented recently as she stares so hard at a painting of a sad clown, an actual sad clown materializes just outside her bedroom door to harass her.

Sad clown has a complicated City Living name, and is a woman. What a day for representation!

Kendra was delighted at successfully summoning a fictitious being and tried her hardest to befriend the sad clown. Sad clown did not appreciate her questions about the logistics of living in a painting. Sad clown is good at rebuffing advances of friendship.

Sad clown complies when asked to change into her athletic outfit.

Kendra’s not thrilled about her receipt of an invitation to a dance party at the worst nightclub (the one in the neighborhood called Wind Bluff or Tree Stone or two other concatenated nature things. You know, the neighborhood with exactly one Jeong-Espinosa), until both Charlie and Jo show up, giving Kendra a chance to spectate her brother’s love life. She knows his reserved nature would make starting a relationship difficult, as well as prevent him from speaking out if this were something he felt unsure of, so she’s cautiously keeping an eye on the whole thing.

Charlie spent the first two hours sticking to his m.o. of standing one foot from the bar, refusing to sit and trying to figure out whether to attempt eye contact with the mixologist as she prepares his drink. But now he’s approaching Jo! Kendra watches them in her peripheral vision while she pretends to be invested in her response to the eighth consecutive Naruto slashfic sent to her ironically by Wyatt. Charlie’s letting his alleged girlfriend into his personal space radius—a radius Kendra could clearly picture, having been reminded of its existence several times in her childhood, and having repeatedly perturbed her distance from her brother post-warning in order to estimate its range within a couple inches—and is greeted with a kiss. He even reciprocates!

Kendra sends Wyatt a picture she drew of a reverse mermaid holding a severed arm in its fin. The hand on the arm is giving a thumbs-up.

Observe Charlie’s positioning of himself 5.5 ft. away from other Sims sans Josephine. That’s how Kendra remembers the radius; there should be enough inter-sibling space for her to fall on the floor without reaching his feet.

After a prolonged text conversation with Shu re. Charlie’s relationship status and its legitimacy, Kendra heads to the street fair in case she ever needs imagery for a story set in a dilapidated apartment. Her appreciation turns into excitement as she finds her Holy Grail exposed to the elements on a garage-dust-covered folding table. What is Marcus Flex doing, giving away this lump of clay?

Kendra shells out 15 simoleons to adopt Clay Jeong-Espinosa. Clay finds a new home collecting finger-oils and lint at a rapid pace, given how many Sims change his shape on a daily basis, and continues to trap Kendra’s heart in between his silicate tetrahedra. Along with what she hopes is one of her hairs.

With Kendra’s clear adoption of Bohemian principles, Shu reasons it’s easier to drag her into his entourage than to lay out the merits of each particular party three days in advance to Charlie. Kendra’s since put him in her “hell no” pile, romantically, but Shu is extremely talented in both art and making Sims uncomfortable, and his ongoing fight with decorum is hilarious. Where her brother would stand paralyzed in horror as their promiscuous friend carries out yet another hypothalamic social interaction with a stranger, Kendra hides her laughter while documenting his actions in her Ideas journal. Tonight, Shu chooses to spend the second half of this dance party repeatedly attacking Braylen for no particular reason. Kendra is there for the inauguration of five brand-new insults, the most offensive being “Rollie fucking Eggmaster.” She’s stoked.

Kendra, a skinny 15-year-old girl, doesn’t hesitate to interject herself into a fight between two grown men. Her doing so calms Shu enough to stop screaming his own interjections.

Hey, anyone want to point out which property of matter Braylen is violating?

Without the foresight to send Aileen an invoice for babysitting, our heroine instead goes back home to pencil out a digestive system for a marketing-buzzword-vomiting skeleton, addressing at least one of the practical issues that was bugging her. Maybe tomorrow she’ll illustrate one of Shu’s turns of phrase.

Her phone buzzes from another of Wyatt’s texts linking a piece in which the author inserts an idealized version of themselves into an anime Kendra doesn’t watch. She sends him a drawing of a unipede, a bug with 100 legs that share a single foot. The foot is attempting to give a thumbs-up but you can’t really tell.


Hector

Hector has spent his childhood osmoting Claudia’s behavior, from her sunny yellow passion to her more thematic liquid-based habits.

Note the involvement of Clay J.E.

He’s ready to end his childhood, but ends up being cheated out of an important rite of passage: Kendra is in charge of planning his birthday party, and prioritizes inviting other teenagers over her parents’ feuding friends. For Hector, this fact is overshadowed by the presence of a third cake.

Hector continues modulating the theme of his mother’s personality, following her Foodieness with Gluttony. The Espinosa culinary traditions are safe.

No teenager goes through school without losing sleep over their own cringey social interactions. As such, Hector chooses to take the quantity-over-quality approach, hoping to numb himself to such mistakes before bending the rules of conversation into something his own. He considers himself “above cliques,” the implications of which involve inserting himself into any conversation at any lunch table, causing the other teens to form the indices of complete graph K_{n-1} with hesitant eye contact acting as the edges. (AN: Sadly, I would have to give WordPress more money to be able to use MathJax.) Hence his starting aspiration, Friend of the World.

The more important issue is whether Hector’s fashion sense will grow with him.

Hector upgrades his signature hat from cap to boater—which he asks his family to call a canotier, actually—and develops the aesthetic of someone who’s really into the idea of Cuba, but not the airy de mode Cuban men’s fashion, just something emulative of a 40-year-old man who traps people in conversation about his recent cruise to the Caribbean.

The kids’ room becomes an attempt at Cuban-inspired interior design which is technically in character, given Hector’s shared lack of decorating sense with his part-time controller. Said controller is a huge fan of the banana leaf wallpaper.

Teen Hector is now allowed near hot stoves. He asks his mom for cooking tips ASAP, which kind of makes her wish she’d finished the cookbook. Mother/son bonding time becomes one endless discussion about where to use different kinds of chili peppers, the correct way to fold empanadas, the sorry state of mangoes in this country, how to fix an online recipe by doubling garlic and spices unless it’s something like hummus. Hector cracks jokes during the lesson. At one point, he lays a book on its side and pantomimes it talking like a puppet.

In the adolescent Sim’s natural environment, Magnolia Promenade, Hector’s amiability starts an I Love Lucy-esque pile-up on the conveyer-belt road which each teen uses at least once daily. Are there no conversations happening? He’ll start one. Are you about to leave the party? Think again.

Leaving Hector to simmer (and Claudia to ferment), we check in on adult Shu and his adorable dads. Hopefully teenage Father Winter won’t buy a bodega in the interim.


(Readers: In the following week, WWaTS’s other co-author is projected to end her hiatus. So if you notice that the focus of an entry is no longer character- and syntax/semiotics-based brooding humor but instead absurdist parody with a slap of neo-Romanticism, that’s why. It’ll be pretty obvious who’s writing what. Simister: The colloquial meaning of ‘absurdist,’ not in reference to the branch of philosophy. Yes, I know you know; please forgive the overexplanation of the note/inexpert classification of your work. Also, Simister: DO YOU KNOW WHERE MY SWEATER I)

The Faceless Mother

Kendra ripped her train ticket into quarters, wondering how many of her foremothers actually wanted to give birth.

Her right hand ran out of ticket to destroy and moved to clasp a small wooden box in her pocket. The trip, the box, the morose thoughts; everything began two weeks ago, at Casbah Gallery. All other details had been lost in the ongoing consumption of her psyche, during which she could barely gather the mental energy to press buttons on the ticket machine and get shuttled from San Myshuno to her parents’ home in Newcrest.

Kendra had gone to support her friend, who had contributed a found-art piece to an exhibition on the origin stories of local artists. His battle cry for sustainability was just okay. The honor of finally breaking Kendra’s mind, however, belonged to the piece across the hall. There stood a sculpture by an adopted artist of a birth mother she never knew: a cold, imposing, faceless figure overseeing the room in stark contrast to the subject’s absence in the creator’s life. Kendra was drawn towards this idol as a couple gushed in the background about how sad it was the sculptor never met her mother.

In that polished surface where the woman’s features should have been, Kendra saw not the pain of its polisher (who appreciated Kendra’s take on her work, by the way), but that of every mother in history whose story was lost. Since that moment, she could think of nothing but the existence of this vital but nameless legion.

It wasn’t the lack of genealogy that bothered her. It was the lack of answers. What was each woman like? How did she die? What was she passionate about? Did she want to raise children? Did it suit her? Did anyone learn her story while she was alive? Kendra multiplied her questions by the number of anonymous female ancestors, a number too big to comprehend, and found her storytelling mind lost in powers of millions of possibilities.

It was that motherhood had been the default role for women, regardless of what they wanted. Some still think the purpose of life is to have children. So? People remembered Shelley for Frankenstein, not for producing offspring. Kendra saw no reason she couldn’t do the same.

It was fear of the unknown. Yes; Kendra’s latest horror poem was yet another attempt by yet another artist to put into words yet another gruesome phobia that couldn’t be explained using words. She had frightened herself, not only by imagining billions of forgotten births—most without epidurals—but also by realizing she herself could sacrifice control and risk death to create life, maybe by necessity if she were born a bit earlier or somewhere else in the world. The personal accounts she’d spent the past fortnight inhaling didn’t help; they made her loins reflexively tense in dreadful anticipation of the thing. But by definition, no sources existed to identify the choir whose belabored howls echoed across her brain in unison.

It was not being able to pin down the juxtaposition she wanted. Gore without violence. Ubiquity (shucks, each person in her way at the train station was born) hidden by silence. The notion that every woman weighs unspeakable pain against the benefits of motherhood—no, the concept of unspeakable pain vs. the concept of motherhood—before having experienced either. How can you possibly know it’s right for you, then?

It was that really, Kendra herself had lost this connection. She couldn’t remember her grandmother’s face. For all she knew, she was descended from a line of ovate-void-faced women like the one imagined by the adopted sculptor.

Kendra watched her boots propagate ripples in every puddle between the station and her childhood home, wondering how to atone for ignoring the one female Espinosa predecessor whose face she knew. Claudia. She hadn’t spoken to Claudia since she moved out. All these years watching her mother double-fisting cocktails after work every night, honoring her heritage through food, cooing with excitement over every drawing she or her brothers made, and she never thought to ask why.

Her hand again found the box containing a pair of crochet earrings. She had made them with goldenrod thread, Claudia’s favorite color. Mom would be thrilled. Still, Kendra felt it was an understatement. What gift says, hey Mom, sorry for taking your bravery and sacrifice for granted, I’m ready to understand you? What can you possibly do for the woman who fought your greatest fear—three times—and gave you life?

Kendra stopped at the curb, feeling embarrassed by her trinket, for facing her own mother like a stranger.

In anxious stillness, she retrieved her notebook and drafted the prologue of “La Madre Sin Rostro.”

Las olvidadas no pueden ser amadas. The forgotten cannot be loved.

The real meaning of “Claudia! Duck!”

First of all, congrats to the eight winners of the April SimLit Short Story Challenge!

So, about “Claudia! Duck!” This was not a story about a Rube Goldberg machine.

There were at minimum six instances of foolery, with six different targets.

Of the characters in the story, Claudia was the recipient of the prank, and at the surface level, it appears she is the one being fooled and Mike is the one doing the fooling. However, you could also argue Mike is the victim of folly, because he spent a lot of time on an elaborate scheme only to have it fail. Charlie was fooled (manipulated, coerced) into helping Mike do something he wasn’t comfortable with. Hector was fooled into thinking his family was stunned at his joke, when really they were baffled at how oblivious he was to the awkward situation playing out in front of him.

That’s four!

The fifth requires at least a second read. Let me draw your attention to what we know about Mike: everybody else’s character is established by dialogue, while he is mostly silent. This is intentional. Here’s what we do know about Mike: he actively manipulates Charlie to get what he wants (first three paragraphs), he callously exploits his wife’s drinking problem (“post-shower, post-workout, pre-gardening juices”) for his benefit (“it paid off”), as he does his wife’s affection for Charlie (“keep letting her love you! It’s distracting!”), and he ultimately blows up at Claudia for something that wasn’t her fault (“You always do this”). Claudia immediately shuts down (“as the joy left her body”), which is a common reaction to repeated instances of aggressive behavior, indicating this is something she’s used to. (Some of you noted these red flags in the comments—you’re awesome!)

If someone were to read the main story, they would realize Mike’s entire character is that he’s a manipulative narcissist with no redeeming qualities, and that his heartless treatment of Claudia caused her drinking problem in the first place. Claudia’s overly syrupy dialogue is also a nod to the fact that she’s sabotaging her own escape by pushing her feelings under the surface and pretending everything is sunshine and rainbows. So her folly wasn’t being targeted by the prank, it’s staying with Mike—but that isn’t even the point.

This could be read as a fun, wacky story about a prank gone wrong. However, it just… isn’t. It’s a story about a broken family with no real resolution. Which is when you realize the fifth target of folly is the reader: the reader has been tricked into sympathizing with the bad guy. This was hinted at in the forums (“ironic reflexivity”). From Mike’s perspective (and the reader’s initial perspective), the conflict is the prank failing. This is how the story is supposed to read at the surface level. However, the actual conflict is Mike’s insensitive attempt to exert control over his family (“the one factor he couldn’t control”—anyone bothered by the narrator calling his wife a “factor?”) and lack of empathy for his wife, who he has been married to for 35 years.

A reader who doesn’t want this to be a sad story would repeatedly miss this context. However, you’ll notice that this behavior, this refusal to acknowledge negativity, is the exact thing keeping Claudia in her miserable relationship with Mike. So the reader is also called out for making the same mistake Claudia did, because pretending pain doesn’t exist is, itself, a source of pain. (Another recurring theme in the main story!) There are also a bunch of plot twists that defy expectations, but eh. Everyone did that.

If I were running a popular story blog, this wouldn’t have worked. Readers would have immediately known to be wary of Mike, and picked up on his well-established disregard for his family from the first sign of foreshadowing. However, because no one knows me or my story, I can take my fleshed-out characters from the main storyline, a dark humor study in character flaws, and still have people not realize something is wrong. So I used my obscurity to my advantage.

Which brings us to who the actual fool in this story was.

Me, the author.

To understand how, we go back to the simplest version of the story: there was a complicated prank that failed, and there was a simple, innocuous prank that landed (“That’s how you pull off a prank, folks”). Mike’s Rube Goldberg machine was so delicate that it could have failed for hundreds of reasons. Hector’s misdirection was so straightforward, even he couldn’t screw it up.

Now here’s what I did. I submitted an extremely ambitious story with multiple meanings, subtexts, and meta-interpretations to a community where I was a newcomer, and where most experienced writers used their limited word count to pick a single event and flesh it out as much as possible. If you’re writing a bonkers-dense story where any of the characters and even the reader and author are victims of folly, the probability of having someone pick up on the full interpretation is extremely low. If you’re writing a story about a family where a dude pulls a prank and is sad, there’s nothing for the reader to misinterpret.

Taken from the perspective of a casual reader, my story is more compact and uses less detail than the other entries. It’s also kind of pretentious (“antepenultimate”), cheeky (reaching 600 words by having Claudia repeat the word “no” multiple times), weird (I can’t even imagine what that staccato ending is like for someone who didn’t realize how uncomfortable the last scene was), and weird in a different way (this entire blog is pretty weird). Many people prefer having only one or two well-done things to focus on. Many people like knocking the arrogant jerk down a peg. Many people relate better to formats they can recognize. These are all valid reasons for someone to read my story and vote against it.

At the end of the day, however, when it comes time to choose between the quality of two creative works, the first thing most people will do is hunt for mistakes—and by its very nature, complex work has more mistakes. I tried my best to make most of the mistakes meta, or philosophical (see above), but do not doubt that there are others remaining. Less dense works are treated more leniently because there just aren’t as many elements to criticize.

(Let me clarify something about simple stories. There is nothing wrong with simple stories. Simple stories are lovely. Simple stories are wonderful. They’re just not the kind of stories I’m personally interested in telling, and this is not a value judgement, just a personal preference, like chocolate and vanilla. Readers and creators who prefer simple stories, I understand how damaging it can be to have your creation ripped apart by someone who does not respect you or your work. I would never knowingly inflict that pain on someone else. Are we all on the same page here? Good.)

Mike’s prank was elaborate. Hector’s prank was simple. Mike’s prank failed. Hector’s prank succeeded.

I knowingly submitted a story that was designed to fail because I “tried to do too much.” I did this knowing the established veteran authors would prioritize making one point well over cramming 6+ instances of foolery, some meta, into 600 words. I did this knowing the unusual approach wouldn’t sit well with most people. I’m writing this on 4/12; that’s how certain I am I’m going to lose.

I lost by submitting a complicated story that was about a complicated prank that failed. The true meaning of the story is that it predicted my own loss. Author as fool.

That’s how you pull off a prank, folks. Mic drop. Dolly out.

The Jensen-Liu Family: Aileen and Shu Rack Up the Partner Count Until Everyone is Uncomfortable, Pt. II


As it says on the tin. We learned in the previous chapter that Chantel (new readers: girlfriend #1 out of ???) is about to lose bone plasticity and start slowly accumulating hyperlordosis-induced back pain as she prepares for the next step in her switchlike aging process. So, off we go to her birthday party, where she has invited Shu.

And no one else.

Chantel’s birthday party activities, or activity in this case, consist of awkwardly watching romantic comedies with her parents, boyfriend and boyfriend’s mother. She’s delighted! But while Colten and Angela Lucas have already been repeatedly filled in on biographical (and useless re. dreaminess) data about Shu, Chantel didn’t bother reversing her flow of knowledge. He’s left posing simple introductory questions—where did you grow up? Do you prefer cats or dogs? When did you move into this house? Angela/Colten, on the other hand, go for the jugular. What does being in love with someone mean for you? How did the divorce affect your psyche? How’s your relationship with your infamous undead stepfather? Just as the rom-com hero says something that could maybe possibly be interpreted as mildly offensive and the heroine storms off in a tiffy, the conversation reaches the point of sharing personal traumas, which for Shu are mostly book-induced.

The lot traits help with learning social skills. Too bad Shu has nothing else to learn w.r.t social skills, a slightly unsettling concept—implying no additional personal evolution can happen—so the shinies are just that. Shinies.

Shu was stuck making the birthday cake after the caterer walked into a conversation about sperm count and backed the fuck out before the front door could even close. Sugarless, joyless carob coconut. Chantel doesn’t even balk at this disgusting offering before sacrificing its candles in the commonplace explosive ritual magic aging process.

Hahaha, why would they be asking about something Chantel already has documentation for?

Yes; not even the threat of carob can dampen Chantel’s spirits. She admires the promise ring on her finger, using the other hand to browse Simstagram for its upgrade. Something marquise-cut with rose gold and leaf motifs.

Exercise: Find Chantel’s high school binder (marked Mrs. Xishu Liu so many times that the ink ran out of her pen) and determine where she and Shu are going to live, how many kids they’re going to have, what breezy modern gender-neutral names they’ll be assigned, where the family burial plots are, etc.

Chantel and Aileen have already seen each other in their jammies, freeing the birthday girl to skip introductions and bond with her future in-law over common interests.

While Chantel’s parents bring out a notebook and ask Aileen if she’s a carrier for any recessive genetic disorders, Shu sneaks up to Chantel’s childhood room. It’s spotless, soft blue with warm purple accents, with two dim lamps failing to replicate the daytime effect of sun streaming through her floor-to-ceiling picture windows. He takes out his violin and plays a cheerful tune for her perfectly color-matched unicorn. He renames the unicorn Dick Pasta. Maybe she’ll notice.

(Romeo and Juliet laws apparently don’t apply to controlled characters but do apply to non-controlled characters. That is, Chantel was able to kiss Shu on the cheek but, due to the age difference, he couldn’t reciprocate. The fuck?)

Aileen and Shu are shooed out of the house precisely five hours after their arrival. Once the door is closed, and Chantel has stopped waving through the window, Aileen starts whispering to her son about the general weirdness of it all. Did you see her mouthing along with the speech in A Week in Windenburg? And what were those questions? Aileen doesn’t even know what age-related macular degeneration is.

Shu shrugs it off and continues being Shu.

He has a high enough body count for the Kinsey score formula ceil(num_same_sex_partners/num_partners*6) to be somewhat accurate.

He’s had a crush ever since watching Max kick over a trash can stirred up some uncomfortable feelings. If we can take away anything from Shu’s experience with Shannon, it’s that he has a type.

Across the river, Aileen tries to keep a low profile on her date with the hot astronaut, quickly switching her queued ballad with a cheesy 60’s duet as the yoga hypocrite meanders in her direction. She would try to beat Shu at his own game, she would. It’s not her fault there are only two decent single guys. It’s not her fault she doesn’t click with either of them well enough to not wonder what it would be like to sleep with her yoga instructor.

Yet, thanks to her three-step plan for distraction, she’s forgiven Xiyuan,

and is now gym buddies with his husband.

Exercise: Someone please explain what the fuck Bernard is trying to say. Mimsy knew she was going to die when she went up to the bedroom? Why didn’t she run out of the house? Why does realizing she’s going to die in a fire make her extraordinary? What data is Bernard basing his final conclusion on? And, lastly, what the fresh hell is any of this supposed to mean?

Aileen is a believer in the rule of three. Derrick, Josh, Matt. Since Aileen saw the other two last night, she senses Matt’s presence through walls, a dozen yards away, and decides to make out with him. Girl, you’re covered. But! In an unexpected turn of events, Shu brings a girl home.

That’s right—Sleepover Standoff 4!

Two enter.
One leaves.

(Marielle Beam, by the way. Glutton. Neat. You should have seen her before the makeover.)

Shu’s date was interrupted by a text from his romantic interest, congratulating him for getting a new girlfriend. He’s also a fan of the rule of three.

Exercise: Is this more shamey and passive-aggressive than Elsa’s text, or less? Discuss.

Despite looking like he has the personality of Mark from RENT, Mark from the museum is also an astronaut. Aileen can only hope him and Derrick aren’t in space when they start comparing their sex lives. And yet, do you see Derrick anywhere? Aileen doesn’t. She should know; she can sense boyfriends through walls.

If you have to summarize the current story line to a friend, just show them this image. Then explain how the author didn’t expect to go public with her stories, so the game controls show up in every screenshot and she can’t crop them sometimes. Then watch in anticipation as they reluctantly scroll through the entry without laughing.

Marielle is having a good time, but forgot item 17 of “45 Ways To Make Your Date Great” in last month’s Simsmapolitan: don’t sleep in your date’s mom’s bed. She’s promptly banished to the A.I.B. as Aileen prepares to consummate her new relationship.

Age-Inappropriate Boudoir, in case you forgot the callback joke

Post-coitus, Matt remembers he needs to pick up his dry cleaning (or check stocks, or some other slipshod adult excuse clarifying why this never happens to Shu), and yeets out of the house.

0-4, hahaha mom suck it but metaphorically

Exercise: Can you break The Sims 4 by being a slut?

No shaming here, he self-identifies as a slut.

Observe the lack of timer on this moodlet; Shu has become the Flirty singularity, and is now permanently horny. (Exercise: Does this change any aspect of his life whatsoever?) Similar to how the frog prince needs to be rescued by a kiss, the only way to save Shu from this curse is for him to hit on someone, which resets the timer and cures him after four hours. Seduction has become a necessity.

But Shu, refusing to do anything/one halfway, discovers how seduction can become a matter of life and death.

It begins with Shu challenging himself to break a personal record. He’d compete with a friend, if he could, but locker room talk is hardly that if you’re supplying all the stories; by that point it’s locker room monologuing, and he’d rather just spin-change and use the extra 15 minutes to make out with Max. Today, he’s aiming to complete three consecutive dates on a school night. Tomorrow, optimizing his outfit for standing in Magnolia Promenade with a guitar and looking cute.

This challenge is refereed by Shu’s father, future father-in-law and best friend’s mom/mom’s best friend. None of them agreed to carry scorecards.

Like any reader of last month’s Simsmapolitan, Shu is a master of successful date construction. First: sit down. You have to sit down and talk. If you don’t sit down and talk, be prepared for the bartender to kick you out on your keister with a pack of crayons and a coloring book illustrating your failure, because it’s not a fucking date. You must socialize with your date at least ten times. Experienced daters recommend hiding one’s hands under the table and raising a finger for each successful interaction. You must continue to initiate a discrete set of at minimum one and at maximum three predetermined platonic or romantic interactions. You cannot initiate either only platonic or either only romantic interactions; you have to do both. Four total. Only then can you claim to have enjoyed spending time with another Sim.

Billie’s single required platonic interaction is to get into the playful spirit. Thinking quickly, Shu scours facebook for ironic minion memes. They stumble upon the PlumbBook page of an elder Sim with a love of the yellow tic-tacs and teen-like preoccupation with self-serving politics. Opinions, compression artifacts, and hasty edits overflow from his phone screen.

All too suddenly, Shu finds himself in danger of choking on his own spit from laughing too hard.

He excuses himself to calm down in the mirror, but it doesn’t work. (One of the minions had similar glasses.) Plan B is to flirt with Billie like his life depends on it; it’s his only hope.

And, damn it, it works. Shu thanks Billie for saving his life, escorts her out of the club, walks back in, and starts texting the next girl.

Elsa seems to have accepted Shu for who he is, not the best long-term option but cheaper than a movie ticket.

Don’t worry, father of the year! They sat down and talked first.

Alright, Elsa, that was fun, but—nope, he’s thinking about minions again.

Minions: Not even once

Shu leaves the date early in shame. His challenge was failed, his night is ruined. While he’s sleeping off the side effects of combining “things Boomers criticize Gen Z for” with “things Gen Z criticize Boomers for,” Aileen chills with the Jeong-Espinosas. (Come to think of it, everyone in this universe except Bernard is Gen Z, if Gen Z lived in a state of cultural stasis. They also did technically experience climate change.)

Aileen had barely walked through the door when this popped up:

Aw, shucks, thanks. Aileen couldn’t have done this without the help of her supportive friends, Mike and Claudia. Where’s Claudia?

Claudia, you silly goose! Come downstairs and celebrate with your friends!

You know what, close enough.

Claudia will always provide an optimistic take on Aileen’s existential crisis du jour. She’s excited to vicariously experience the whole three-boyfriend thing, and Aileen’s having a stable enough day to face Claudia’s brand of slurred positivity head-on, so dish they do. (The other dish is just watching.) After two hours of active listening to pros & cons/compulsive cocktail-crafting, Claudia presents her final verdict of “they all sound woooooonderful, my dear.” Even Josh? “There’s a little something special in everyone.” But what will Aileen do? “Don’t worry, everything always works itself out in the end.” Aileen knows no one can make this decision for her, and, internally rolling her eyes at the lack of productive input, prompts Claudia to list Hector’s activities this month. Temporal order, alphabetical, random, just knock yourself out.

A recently recovered Shu goes back to the nightclub to parade yet another romantic interest in front of his heavily pregnant future mother-in-law.

At least there are no books in the nightclub, someone could leave one on a table and then where would we be?

Genevieve Haskins isn’t afraid to power-clash or make a young boy’s dreams come true.

‘Player’ is one of the most reasonable aspiration rewards, based on the premise that if you make your way through romantic partners like creampuffs at an all-you-can-eat buffet, the community is eventually going to realize you’re making your way through romantic partners like creampuffs at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Congratulations! Your reward is sleeping with more people. Now, when one of Shu’s dozens of girlfriends witnesses him making out in public with someone else, they’ll shrug it off, the same way they do when they learn of his indiscretions over text.

Exercise: Two trains move toward each other starting at 800 miles apart. One train is moving at 110 mph, the other is moving at 160 mph. How many times is Shu going to take advantage of his hard-earned reputation before the trains meet?

Aileen, as addressed earlier, has no such enhanced reputation.

Where’s the social interaction “have honest, ethical discussion about opening the relationship?”

She continues to simultaneously ignore Claudia’s advice while doing exactly what Claudia suggested—waiting it out. Of Aileen’s partners, Derrick seems to care about her the most. No one else invites her out. This should be a non-issue, shouldn’t it? But Aileen isn’t worried about choosing between three suitors; rather, she’s disturbed by her lack of connection with any of them. The longer this conflict draws out, the harder it is for Aileen to believe she’ll get her happy ending. She finds herself spacing off during the date to escape into the two-dimensional duochrome world of Chantel’s rom-coms.

On the bright side, there won’t be a Sleepover Showdown for once! She wins by default! She—

Exercise: Compute the odds of this bullshit happening

By the looks of it, Derrick missed the abduction because a hummingbird moth was buzzing around the hydrangeas, and left for a nice jog around the park. She’ll be fine! ‘Aileen’ and ‘alien’ kind of sound similar, anyway.

Aileen is returned to Earth—eventually—but makes it back in time to ignore her son at the Romance Festival. They both bring dates: Josh,

Rule! Of! Three!

and some teenage girl Shu met earlier that day at a PB&J meeting.

Seema (two awful traits) probably goes to a different school, otherwise she’d know getting within video-showing range of Shu is a bad idea
Welcome to Shu. Please keep your arms and legs outside your clothes at all times. Audience in the first two rows may get wet.

Seduction is a well-documented art. In fact, it’s a bizarre interpretive dance in which one waves their body like a flag and makes these vile misophonia-triggering noises. (Exercise: Actually try to “Attempt to Seduce” someone. See how that goes.)

Aileen wins the Sleepover Standoff for once, and takes full advantage.

1-4! She’s still thinking about Derrick!

And yet, even when she wins, she loses. Note the painting of the woman behind the mirror. It’s there—

—and then it’s gone. That painting was worth a couple hundred dollars. Aileen hasn’t noticed and she’s ready for a second round, so, eh.

Aileen has some personal issues to work out, and she’s about to start living in her head a lot more. Today, she completes one of the most useful, challenging, and visually uninteresting life goals.

Forget lack of jealousy! She controls life itself! Petty squabbles mean nothing to a woman who just developed godlike powers! Why, the motivation boost from spitting in death’s face is enough for one to be the bad parent and give Shu the WooHoo talk.

“Young man, correct me one more time and you’re grounded from sleepovers.”

Shu learns he will get pregnant and die just in time for his birthday.

Shu made his own birthday cake, then he made his real birthday cake because some piece of fuck decided his first cake was up for grabs. We’re not looking at anyone in particular here.

Before the last candle is extinguished, Shu presses ‘Send’ on a PlumbBook status that should really be read as a warning to adult Sim women. Four of his closest girlfriends mingle with each other and close family friends. (Xiyuan’s outside with the plants again.) All things considered, it’s significantly less awkward than his last birthday party.

Shu doesn’t need a third trait—he’s already a pretty strong character—but is now a Dance Machine. This way, he gets a little extra enjoyment out of doing what he do.

Shu the overachiever entered adulthood with nine girlfriends and eight maxed skills. Yes, neither of those are typos: nine girlfriends and eight maxed skills. (Also Max.) In reverse order: Charisma, Cooking, Fitness, all 3 instruments, Painting, Singing, barely missed Gourmet Cooking with a 9; and Chantel Lucas, Shannon Bheeda, Elsa Bjergsen, Genevieve Haskins, Olivia Spencer-Kim-Lewis, Billie Jang, and three other Sims. For reference, Claudia (MVP) also has eight maxed skills. His dad only has five.

Since Shu’s rather more of a Parallel than a Serial romantic, collecting several favorite girlfriends in the same room is used here to help him determine whether he has a favorite.

Exercise: Guess whom?

Awwwww!

Yeah, it’s heartwarming, isn’t it? Despite her insistence on indoor sunglasses, and his on seeing everyone naked, there may actually be something to Chantel and Shu’s relationship.

The official party hasn’t ended before an unofficial party starts in the A.A.B.

fridge horror, they can’t change the sheets

For those of you prepared to scoff at the “Break out the candles, and make it romantic…” message, “Mess Around” totally counts.

times kissed > meals eaten

For generational parting gifts, Aileen gave Shu the Book of Life, and Shu gave Aileen a painting to replace the one Josh stole.

Exercise: Who invited Shu to the musical? Ok, it was Xiyuan. That one’s too easy.

They engage in one last Sleepover Standoff, which Aileen won.

Final score: 2-4

Releasing Shu from captivity is like throwing a pig into a pit of starving wolves, but one obstacle remains before we can see the fallout from this disaster.

Yes, it’s the dreaded

FINAL EXAM

1. Is Shu a counterexample to Aileen’s Theorem; that is, is he a good man?

(a) Yes

(b) No

(c) Hahahahahaha

2. Who will Aileen end up with?

(a) Derrick

(b) Matt

(c) Josh

(a) Herself

3. What career is Shu going to enter?

(a) Musician

(b) Escort

(c) Screw your stupid rules

(a) All of the above

Good luck.

The Jensen-Liu Family: Aileen and Shu Rack Up the Partner Count Until Everyone is Uncomfortable, Pt. I

(Yes—the partner count is so high, this had to be split into two parts. In fact, it comes with its own practice problems. The midterm is in two weeks. Good luck!)

There are moments that change who we think we are. There are moments we lose countless hours of sleep reliving, and when our body finally passes out, we awake screaming, red-eyed, in a cold sweat, unable to escape as our subconscious melds our physical and mental experience together into a surreal fabrication, a simulacrum derived from our rawest emotions, a dream that seems as real as the day it happened. There are moments where tragedy hits on a scale for which most people have no frame of reference, no understanding of what it was like to be in the epicenter. And as each i’m-sorry-that-happened-to-you or have-you-tried-valerian oft-repeated silver bullet fails to temporarily lessen the pain, those at the heart of such tragedy start to doubt their ability to connect with anyone blind to this unspeakable suffering.

Aileen had dragged herself out of her comfort zone that day, settling at the local café to browse books/dudes and bemoan the nonexistence of laptops.

Owing to the lack of college courses, sketchbooks, caffeine addiction, or blind dates, few Sims choose to spend their free time at the café. (Contrast this with the gym.) A prominent counterexample is the barista, who, upon Aileen’s entry, immediately leaves his post for a cheesecake break. His coworker arrives half an hour later to cover the bar. This is the fourth time she’d been called on short notice this week for this exact reason. As word spreads that it is now possible for one to actually order espresso and pastries from the café, passersby trickle in from the plaza, giving Aileen her desperately needed people-watching time. Shu gets her text and drops in to do his homework.

Aileen’s body is a temple and it requests a sacrifice of pastries. Not wanting to seem blasphemous, she heads to the display case to identify the most virtuous offering. If there had been a different set of people in the café, if Aileen had responded to her hunger an hour earlier, if something had interrupted her blithe stroll towards the counter to make this simple request to a justifiably surly barista, things may not have turned out the way they did.

But there wasn’t, and she didn’t, and it didn’t, so here we are, witnessing Aileen’s second life-defining calamity from above. There was, in that café that day, something so abhorrent that Aileen felt every pixel in her body tense up and fall apart at once.

Someone left a book on the floor.

NO

Aileen is trapped within a couple feet of the book and waits for death to take her. Shu approaches to help, but starts grimacing as soon as he is within some unseen radius of the book, pleading to the heavens in a gesture that asks why, why would a benevolent god allow this to happen. Both are trapped in a space where each passing second amplifies their discomfort into an uncontrollable inferno destined to immolate their very souls.

At the last moment, they regain enough clarity to walk away from the book, and everything is fine again! Outwardly.

Exercise: Come up with a way to prevent this. Too many have suffered already.

Exercise: Compute how many hours of basketball Aileen and Shu will have to play to end the night terrors in which they are consumed by bound paper as tessellated planks of wood silently watch their demise.

Shu bravely refuses to let his status as Floor Book Survivor distract him from his life’s work. So, in the spirit of healing, he invites Chantel on their second real date. It’s going to be uneventful compared to their first real date. Chantel can’t propose on this one.

So that’s where his hoodie went! In retrospect, the fact that it went missing is unsurprising. So is this:

Shu enjoys several benefits from experimenting with polyamory as a teenager. Not in the sense of objectifying his partners; more in that most other teens don’t frequent nightclubs or late parties as often as he does, so his chance of being caught by one of his n-1 other partners at these venues is negligible. But Shu is still a kid, and sometimes kids have very bad days at school.

proving he somehow still has a sense of shame

Magnolia Promenade is the diametric opposite: to invite a date there would be foolish, but it’s the optimal place to stand around with a guitar and look cute.

Experiments performed in triplicate, p=0.01, the club is the control

Marielle Bloom eventually takes the bait. (She’s still figuring out her fashion sense. No shade.) Shu politely introduces himself, and—

To those of you just tuning in, welcome! He’s dating Shannon, the girl on the left.

—gets three words in before being interrupted by his second girlfriend. He greets her only once he knows the coast is clear.

Safety tip: look both ways before you kiss someone

However, when your ride-or-die has the documented ability to teleport, the eyeball test can only do so much. This does not stop Shu from excusing himself from Shannon mid-makeout to give Elsa a smooch.

To those of you just tuning in: he’s also dating both outermost girls. Chantel you knew about already.

Shu’s common sense kicks in at the last minute—rather than dodging three girlfriends at once, couldn’t he move someplace else while they’re contained? He sneaks off under the cover of darkness, seizing the opportunity to take Genevieve on a date to the library while his mom works on her book.

If Shu’s idea of a good date involves having someone take off running right after he kisses them, it’s going very well already!

As Gen vanishes into the distance for her compulsive nighttime jog, she is replaced by Billie Jang. Shu pulls his hand sanitizer out of his pocket in preparation for a date-within-a-date. Billie doesn’t know who he is, but isn’t every stranger just a FWB you haven’t met?

Exercise: Determine how many ways this could go wrong. Using your understanding of Shu, determine how many actually happened.

Answer: 2. He had the good sense to stop as soon as Elsa was in range, so 1 is also acceptable.

Two interlopers appear post-introduction. Billie’s friends’ name is Yasmin, and her standard M.O. may very well be to clam-jam Billie. Not without reason—she’s heard the rumors about this one, and is only trying to protect her friend from becoming the fifth casualty of this fuckboy. Shu makes a mental note never to date her.

Shu, having performed several maneuvers equivalent to drifting four lanes over a major road and stopping intact in the last available street parking spot, smiles wistfully to himself for a job well done. He waits until all three romantic interests leave before finishing his homework at an open desk.

I mean, one that was open before he started occupying it

Exercise: Do Shu’s actions represent male or female sexual fantasy? Discuss. Yes, this is an inclusive ‘or.’

After waking up at 4 AM on Saturday, making breakfast, and cleaning the kitchen, Shu hides his disappointment at the lack of school by inviting Billie over.

Whoa! She’s the main character in a rom-com.

While Shu is in desperate need of parental supervision re. dating, Aileen continues to strategize. His hypersexual behavior started after the divorce, so the first parent to ask him to tone it down will forever be known as the bad parent, while turning a blind eye to his strictly monotonic body count is something the cool parent would do—in this Mexican standoff, Aileen’s safest move is to shadow him. Whatever. At least he’s doing it in the house.

During the date, Billie strikes a nerve with her teasing and is too embarrassed to recover. She jogs out of the house in shame. Shu improvises, directing his affection at a passing stranger.

Hi, I’m who your dad warned you about. I’ll call you in 5 years ok byeeeee

Before noon, Shu invites Marielle to be his +1 at PB&J’s nightclub party.

Marielle refuses to be distracted by the flashing lights, loud music, and presence of the prestigious local music group. Shu’s reputation precedes him, such that weeks of internalizing gossip have primed Marielle for this moment. She’s here to send a message: if Shu wants to date her, he needs to step it up. No scrubs, etc. Marielle earns a spot in the high school pantheon as the first person to turn Shu down.

He reacts to rejection by respecting Marielle’s boundaries, choosing instead to use his world’s second-smallest violin to riff off the pulsing club electronica. They end up having a pleasant conversation sharing stories in which PB&J members played music on top of other music in socially inappropriate scenarios. So pleasant, in fact, that Shu invites her to the Romance Festival later that night. No pressure.

Suspicious Aileen follows him, only to take a sip of special drink and look left to realize her coparent had the same concern.

This brief moment of awkward eye contact revives all the memories Aileen thought she had repressed after Floor Book—the brief moment of connection had left her feeling more alone than ever, despite all the effort she went through to be satisfied with her own company. She couldn’t be feeling insecurity, she reasoned, because she wasn’t the type of person to be jealous. Jealousy isn’t the yoga way of doing things. She must have been reacting to something else: something undefined, unlabelled, and, therefore, unaddressed.

Whatever happened, Aileen’s motivation for flirting with Josh Schofield (Kleptomaniac, Hates Kids, Third Trait), her yoga instructor, had more to do with her own enjoyment of life than her futile desire to keep her head above water.

A+ for accuracy. I was with an ass man once, and heard this specific comment 4x/day.

And yet, who cares? This is the Romance Festival! Do whomever you want.

Shu, meanwhile, has been challenged by Alexander Goth to kiss someone at the romance festival. It takes him two hours to cycle through boy band tropes until he finds one that jibes with Marina.

In increasing order of apathy, the bystander reactions included inappropriate arousal, a celebratory fist pump (thx Mike), wondering why one spot on the pavement is a different color than the other spots, and putting on blinders so he can live in a dream world where his son only has two girlfriends. Alex was banking on Shu understanding the subtext behind “I’ll go to the Romance Festival with you, I dare you to kiss someone,” and is in denial about whether Shu is just that dense or chose to ignore it. It’s the latter, of course. Get in line.

Josh wanders off before the festival ends, so Shu wins the Sleepover Standoff by default.

Aileen reveals her intention to stare at a blank wall
Take that, Mom! 0-2

Only one parent of a high school child remains unaware of Shu’s whirlwind sexual deviancy, and it’s exactly who you’d expect.

He’s four love interests behind. Yikes.

Sunday can be used for quiet personal time, or for making your fourth girlfriend French toast and politely waiting for her to leave before inviting a different girl over, then greeting Girl 2 with a normal amount of subtlety.

i.e. none

Exercise: Will Billie make it through the door?

Answer: No.
Answer: Wait, yes.

While Billie excuses herself to go home, secretly delighted at her lack of faux pas, Shu has already invited Shannon over.

Remember, kids: always wash your hands between partners!

Aileen’s writing has started to slip backwards in the linear, universal, totally-true stages of grief from acceptance to depression. Every time she meets a new person, the divorce inevitably comes up, and every time it does, she receives some variation of “don’t worry, you’ll find someone.” But she has, and none of those someones feel right. If there’s one thing she’s learned from the sum total of well-meaning but self-conflicting advice defining her single life, it’s that any common problem has a clear resolution that seems obvious to those on the outside, and if she has trouble implementing any of the requisite steps, the fault lies with her and not the failure of the advice to accurately consider the reality of her situation. Seeing these thoughts written out helps her blame herself less—but while she’s tied to her computer writing her next bestseller, Shu sets a personal record by sleeping with three Sims in less than 24 hours.

Should Aileen give up her one source of self-actualization to put her son on a damn leash? She doesn’t know. It would be easy for someone else to say so, and even easier for that someone else to roll their eyes when Aileen breaks down and pose the trivial solution of devoting her time to self-care and finding a creative outlet, spiraling into an infinite loop of everyone else knowing exactly what to do. She hasn’t yet figured out whether her friends overestimate the naivety of whatever unreliable facsimile of Aileen exists in their heads, composed of surface-level facts and emotional projections, or whether she is truly that incompetent and unaware. And yet, to accuse someone else of being wrong would be mean. Arrogant, even.

While Aileen tries to resolve the magnitudes of factors with no well-defined measure, Shu adds to the confusion by making French toast for the girl his mom didn’t know slept over, then doing extra credit work of his own volition.

Aileen attempts to get out of her own head by getting out of her house, choosing again to patronize the café in hope that some stunning bookish stranger will leave his art-cave in search of legal stimulants. Anything to distract her from spiraling into loneliness. Anything positive—she couldn’t handle someone leaving a book on a flat surface in a public place, not in this mental state.

Not again.

IT’S ON THE TABLE NOW. GOD IS DEAD

Aileen is so consumed by rage, she allows herself to complain to Shu about the unspeakable horror she has now had to witness twice, in a space she thought was safe. He agrees! They spend a few minutes cleaning together, avoiding glares from bystanders wondering what they’re even on about this time. He reduces their shared trauma into an elaborate pun; she laughs. For the first time in eight years, Aileen begins to recognize a part of herself in her son.

Said son burns off the residual shock of witnessing another misplaced tome by throwing himself at the first teenage girl to wander towards guitar sounds.

“Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes?”

He can learn from past mistakes. Olivia Spencer-Kim-Lewis (Goofball, Geek) receives only a brief introduction, before he stealthily vanishes. On the same road she is using, in the same direction. Always check your 6.

Alpha girlfriend Chantel invites herself over the next day, inadvertently demonstrating a baffling phenomenon.

When Shu initiates a kiss, he moves his hand towards Chantel’s butt, a move which she denies by grabbing his forearm and yanking it upwards. When Chantel initiates the kiss, same deal; this time Shu is the one who doesn’t want his glutes squeezed. This happens every time. So to recap, one of the participants went ham on eternal commitment after the first date, and the other is Shu. It makes no sense. Just touch the butt.

Exercise: How much baggage can Chantel and Shu fit into one relationship?

Exercise: What is the most efficient way for Aileen to wind down after a long day at work?

Answer: SLEEPOVER. STANDOFF. This is for the second question; we’re not touching the first.

Josh sneaks out of the house for a mid-date run as his competitors deal with a mild case of bedroom confusion.

0-3
If you must know, he did come back to destroy the dollhouse, but it was already too late.

It’s Wednesday. Another school day, another girl seduced at the club, blah blah blah.

yep, more of this

Shu’s ineffective guardian angel allows him to sneak out of sight as she ponders, hey, that dude with the microbraids and a suit-vest-loafer combo no one else would dare wear, what’s his deal? (Exercise: What is his deal?) No amount of casual chit-chat could explain such a character, but this mysterious gentleman does seem used to middle-aged women coming up to pet his head.

With each new girlfriend Shu accumulates, it becomes exponentially harder to stall the gossip train at the station; the conductor has noticed some jagoff standing in the automatic doors, and the other passengers are starting to revolt. One small push, and Shu would be faced with the hysteretic consequences of committing the high-school-drama cardinal sin.

Don’t fuck with Elsa.

Exercise: Name the shade queen of this universe.

Unfortunately, Shu’s reign of lust gets its Robespierre exactly at the halfway point of this long tale. Here’s a teaser for part II:

Charlie J.E.: Charlie in Charge

The last we saw of Charlie, he was chipping away at the remnants of the metaphorical umbilical cord, only to discover it was the belay keeping him from freefalling into polite society. Polite society is dreadful. You have to talk to people you’re not related to, and who aren’t Cruz, in polite society. You have to meet certain expectations in polite society. You’re not sure whether they’re more or less restrictive than parental expectations, because you don’t know what exactly they are.

Charlie moved to the neighborhood with the big park, which is Willow Creek or something like that. Some mashup of a tree and a body of water or some other nature thing. It suits him.

Charlie wakes up each morning to the sun on his face through UVB/C-protective-coated glass. Can’t be too careful with melanoma, you see. He then waves goodbye to his fishies, walks into his earthy open-air living room, and has a breakfast of whichever fishy died most recently while staring at a Day of the Dead statue. Charlie can’t get any privacy or throw any stones in this house, but it’s very him.

Each of Charlie’s family members gave him a parting gift before he left. Mike gave him the signed guitar Charlie kept noodling with as a teenager. Hector gave him a picture of fish and a picture of outside, because Charlie likes both of those things. Kendra gave him a nice painting she made. Claudia made him enough seafood meals to last an entire month and—what’s that? Oh yeah, also a hundred thousand dollars from orchid farming. Gracias madre indeed.

The other residents of Aspen Lake are confused, both by Charlie’s arrival and the layout of his house. To welcome him, they walk through his front arch, enter the studio, and knock on the studio door to be let back into the living room.

He actually wants to be romantic now. Maybe he just didn’t want to sleep with anyone in his parents’ house.

Charlie’s neighbors include police lady (nice), ponytail man (asshole), lady who skips arm day (self-explanatory), and Summer Holiday (very intrigued).

Unfortunately for her, Summer Holiday is a Bad Name.

Greeting your neighbors is something one is supposed to do in polite society. Mr. J.-E. recalls a time when Kendra couldn’t get a laugh out of him, so she pushed the corners of his mouth upward with her pointer fingers. That’s what he’s trying to emulate here. Do people smile at the same time they talk? He’s watching his guests to figure it out. He remembers from his one successful conversation with Elsa that most people don’t want to talk about organelles or space, and settles instead on one of the most vanilla topics: cupcakes.

During the exhausting social effort, Charlie goes outside to decompress by shooting some hoops or catching some fish.

The Cruz obsession continues into adulthood

The heavy users of the fishing spot behind Charlie’s house are Charlie himself and Chantel’s mom Angela, who drives from San Myshuno to fish behind Charlie’s house at least twice a week. Angela and Charlie don’t interact aside from a slight head nod or non-mutual eye contact.

In case Charlie’s presence wasn’t interesting enough to the single women of Willow Creek (Aileen’s Theorem), he is now gainfully employed.

Doesn’t this job require a Bachelor’s? Naaaaah. He’ll be fine! It’s not as if medical staff require special training or nights spent cramming with a bloodstream full of legal stimulants to make the points go higher, just a pinch of gung-ho and a go-getter attitude. Male Elle Woods here skips the experience of being a pre-med sophomore who blames failing grades on his Ochem professor for not personally showing up on his doorstep to tell him exactly what would be on the test, then grabbing his hand and taking the entire exam for him, Ghost-style. Compare with the Science career, a preposterous amalgamation of like eight different fields, plus ALIENS, where the first job level does not require locking oneself in a windowless basement for five years to write a 130-page document no one will read. Maybe your advisor if you’re lucky. You also never have to be the aforementioned unfair Ochem professor. You’re just Jimmy fucking Neutron, and then when you meet a real-life scientist, you have to hide your disappointment as they describe locking themselves in a windowless basement for months writing grant proposals.

Throwing a fresh high school grad into a fast-paced and stressful career comes with consequences. For example, dealing with stress caused by wrapping one’s head around open questions in the field of medicine.

This is Case Su, he has hit on literally everyone, most recently Charlie, right now

Alien and human physiology is similar enough for the two species (?) to interbreed, but Charlie is having trouble keeping track of the literature. Genes have different names in humans, mice, C. elegans, Drosophila, Chinese hamsters, and zebrafish, and now he has to memorize another set for aliens? Did the clinical trials for this medication include alien participants in both the control and experimental groups? Was there a statistically significant difference between alien and human responses? How about side effects? These are questions Charlie shoves behind his perma-etched awkward work smile, lest he be accused of discrimination based on skin tone/planetary origin.

Enabling societal alien-erasure is just one of the areas where Charlie’s bedside manner needs work. He avoids eye contact, he mumbles, his handwriting is legible, he interrupts conversations to do sit-ups, and he has, on more than one occasion, been observed doing a heel-turn in the middle of the hallway to run for the treadmill. But he has a preternatural ability to diagnose patients based on symptoms displayed when he was in another room, so his performance skyrockets.

Plus, no one can focus on what he’s saying anyway with that gun show. Woof!

the medicine is fake, but this pipette is TOO REAL

Charlie spends most of his time diagnosing the same 3 hypochondriacs and 5 people who are close enough to toddlers to get their mouth sneezed into on a daily basis. One such hypochondriac is Aileen’s best girlfriend, Layla Beam, a mixologist who is pretty sure she got some crud at the bar last night. It’s different from last week, ok? It’s a different one. Charlie tries to diagnose her infectious illness by collecting samples, taking X-rays, running her on the treadmill, and asking about the last five things she ate, but not even the joy of symmetrical tiny cacti can distract him from the grim reality of the job: sometimes nothing you do works out, and he’s split between two diagnoses after running all possible tests. More than once he’s had to gamble Layla’s health on a coin toss, and the coin seems to be landing on the wrong side every time.

Layla’s growing to hate the poor boy.

Later that week, Charlie gets asked whether he plays videogames. He does? Good. The godlike effect videogames have on hand-eye coordination—it says so right here, on this gaming website—makes him ideal for the next career level: surgeon. Here’s your scalpel. Remember your R.E.F.U.G.E. training, but try to apply it in a context where you’re not supposed to kill anyone.

All the stress of habitually misdiagnosing Layla has been forcing Charlie out of the house. Not only has dealing with patients has improved Charlie’s social skills by orders of magnitude, it’s motivated him to interact with other Sims beyond “have you been abducted lately?” or “could you repeat what you did with the pencil one more time?” or “here, let me inoculate you against the disease you already have.” A natural starting point for Dr. Basketball here is his home base. The Sim who finally teaches him to love is somewhere out there, sweating through her sports bra on the treadmill while she tips her REI metal bottle upside down to catch the last few drops of lukewarm gym-fountain water.

Or is she meditating in the woods?

Anyone recognize her? No, not Layla in the background.

Hmm.

Meanwhile, Summer Holiday is steaming some hams, and definitely not focusing on her workout.

Summer Holiday is too fucking stupid a name for anyone to deal with.This is coming from the person who names main characters in roleplaying games Plasenta and Sleeve, and whose closest childhood friend names things Wonka-Jhardley and Riceississucrississussississucriss (sp? Simister, help me out here).

In the 15 minutes Summer spends fixing her fishtail braid in the bathroom, she mentally chants her plan: start leaving, look downright surprised to see her neighbor in the same gym, fire off an “oh hello, Charlie, I didn’t see you there,” and casually mention either calcium channels or black holes, the two topics she landed on after a multi-day social media stalking binge. But as Charlie interrupts his conversation with the personal trainer to enthuse about action potentials, Summer realizes her lack of a fifth step. Maybe something like, haha, I didn’t know that about the lipid bilayer, want to discuss it over coffee sometime? She deliberates on what exact word choices would make her segue seem perfectly natural. Meanwhile, Charlie has already run off to make Ana smell worse.

Charlie approaches his confusion about adult relationships the same way he’s been taught to approach concepts in school: research. Simpedia returns no answers for the query “is there anyone out there for me,” but it does teach Charlie the concept of a meet-cute, which seems as good an experiment design as any.

According to Simpedia’s “List of Romantic Comedies,” 43% of meet-cutes happen in cafés. Of those 43%, 76% of those are in cafés which serve brunch. The closest brunch-serving café, a train ride to Windenburg away, is deserted on Charlie’s day off—so much so that the barista leaves his post to keep Charlie company.

According to Scrubs, which Charlie keeps hearing is the most realistic depiction of his job, he should be dating gorgeous actress number four by now. Yet the only people who show up to his promotion celebrations are either elderly, married, or Don Lothario, who is impeded by neither of those things.

According to Charlie’s mom, he’ll find someone, darling, don’t woooorrry, don’t rush it. How did she know the exact combination of words to make him even more impatient? With a sigh, he picks up the phone and texts his last resort. Not five minutes pass before his phone vibrates and a message from Shu appears, confidently stating THE CLUB DUMBASS.

Charlie ignores Shu’s twelve-text follow-up manifesto advising him to show his forearms, check to see who watches when he applies lip balm, and keep his expectations low so as not to seem desperate, and pulls the classiest thing he has out of his closet. What follows is a confusing night of not talking to anyone in particular. In the bright lights and loud noises, Charlie can’t even keep track of his own mood: is he confident about discovering aliens, or angry? Is he refreshed from the nap he took downstairs on the sofa, away from the pounding bass, or still exhausted? At least the vegetables he took from his mom’s garden were tasty.

This is why he didn’t want to listen, Shu

It took a few terrifying days for Charlie to realize that, ultimately, he lives at the gym. There’s only one other person who lives at the gym.

Anyone recognize her? No, not Layla in the background.

Of course! Crushed by the pressure to overachieve, Charlie had always been fascinated with (and a little jealous of) Ana’s ability to drop everything and run around barefoot in the forest. She was an enthralling conversational partner, perhaps the only person who experienced that sudden loss of breath, that weightless feeling when he stood alone in nature—and he realized that maybe, over time, this fascination had turned into a crush.

(Ana’s totally okay with this. Her high sex drive makes it difficult for her to practice vanaprastha in the traditional sense.)

There was something calming in the familiarity of her smell—earthy, probably from actual dirt—and Charlie realizes he didn’t have to try to connect with her at all.

Ana helps herself to the comfort of a real bed, UVB/C protection, and Claudia’s cooking before humming a mantra and vanishing into the trees.

But as alluring as Ana is, she’d never give up her principles for him. She prefers passively lurking in tall grass, leaving only to offer spiritual guidance when the opportunity presents itself, to traditional life milestones like marrying a doctor or living in a house.

So Charlie tries to distract himself by slipping into the monotony of treating the same 3 hypochondriacs and 5 people who let toddlers eat sand and cough on their faces.

Do alien ear canals have a different shape? Case is in here every other day, so Charlie should know by now, but he still keeps his anatomy book open to the Aliens section.

Over time, Charlie realizes he is beginning to internalize the intersection of his mom’s and Shu’s advice: stop trying to force things and just be. He just needed a nonzero amount of experience with dating to understood what that meant.

This is the context in which he finds himself at the karaoke bar in front of this uncomfortably-close-standing maiden.

Charlie’s butt might as well be a magnet

She introduces herself as Josephine Liu (no relation. There are other families with the last name Liu, y’know), advice columnist, but her real passion is gardening—she just loves feeling the wind in her hair—and spends most of her down time jogging around various parks. Charlie can’t believe his luck; he arrives home satisfied from going out for once, heart still pounding.

Joey-L was created by mcheng123, added to town years ago to, you guessed it, counteract Aileen’s Theorem.

He floats through the next day of treating the same eight people, seizing the next randomly generated party at his uncle’s husband’s former house as an opportunity to invite Josephine out again. Are they too similar? Who cares!

Aw, Claudia’s proud of him. Layla’s actually also here, as the bottom-right torso in the black tank top, glaring at this incompetent doctor who keeps wasting her time.

Jo returns Charlie’s interest, asking him out the next day on a date to Myshuno Meadows. The feeling to see each other again as soon as possible was apparently mutual, since both of them are enjoying the date, but complaining about how late it is, and keep going for the coffee. Charlie’s completely lost: he has feelings about Jo that he never did with Ana, and he’s only known her for less than a week.

Years of hiking alone, fishing alone, crafting alone, social anxiety, doubts about his romantic future, whether a romantic future is truly what he wants: ignored. Overwritten.

Are they moving too fast? Who cares! Jo’s his girlfriend now, and she’s moving in!

Coincidentally, moving too fast is the theme of this week’s advice column.

Joey is a sweet, easygoing lady with infinite levels of chill. It’s easy to make her laugh, and easy to keep her entertained; though she does have the habit of yelping at odd times, which is off-putting at best. She has two brothers, one of whom is married to a man, and the other is likely possibly also married to a man. Charlie expands the garden for her, but doesn’t change much else: she’s already down with falling asleep under the stars and easy-to-clean ceramic tile. She even stares at the same Day of the Dead statue during meals. Charlie’s overjoyed to finally have someone around, and showers her with affection at every opportunity.

Charlie travels to his temporary lover’s gym-home to break the news about adorable Josephine. Ana’s good at living in the moment, so she should be able to take it lightly.

Like a champ. Except not really, because yoga is a noncompetitive personal spiritual practice.

Meanwhile, Charlie’s phone keeps blowing up with people who sound downright surprised he’s living with an actual Sim woman with whom he shares no relation.

“Is that the same message I sent you last week?”
“yeah i noticed u just started copy-pasting after elsa.”

Such a miracle warrants a visit from The Patriarch. Mike the narcissist walks into his son’s house with no greeting, no advance warning, not even a knock on the inside of the study door. Usually there’s a preamble before these sorts of things happen—but not for Mike, who shows up and has the rest of the world rearrange itself around him.

They’re both equally confused.

He vets out his oldest child’s date over a symbolic game of chess. Jo takes this as a casual game and keeps giggling when she loses pieces, while Mike is matching the intensity of a pseudo-intellectual using chess as a metaphor for how strategically ahead he is of every mindless sheep in existence. Everything looks easy when you can only perceive things in your favor. Mike, having based a non-negligible portion of his self-worth on being good at chess, wins easily, and likes her more for it. Success! Aside from the undertones of weirdass droit du seigneur garbage, you did good.

yeesh

Does this have to go catastrophically wrong in one of at least three different ways? Perhaps not yet. Charlie and Jo can stay in their honeymoon phase for now. Whatever happens when it ends, that’s anyone’s guess.

The Jeong-Espinosa Family: Everyone Gets Older Again, Which is a Vacuously True Statement Due to the Linear Passage of Time

(Shout-out to all the armchair physicists: throw your best title-inspired bastardization-of-Sturm-Liouville-Eigenvalue-Problems-or-generalized-coordinate-system Danger Zone “actually” theory at me in the comments. Aim to beat the current title-holder, a donation collector in front of a grocery store who responded to “I’m sorry; I don’t have the time right now,” with “Actually, Einstein proved time doesn’t exist.” Come on, it’ll be fun!)

We return from the anachronistic interlude (which was just ambiguous enough to avoid spoilers) to the Jeong-Espinosas as they were… seven months ago? There’s a bit of a backlog situation up in here.

Consider ‘The Lobster’:

If you encounter any problems, any tensions, any arguing, that you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps, a lot.

The Lobster

Haha! What a terrible idea!

Hector is a toddler, he looks just like every other toddler, dewy and unsullied by the trauma of being one of my Sims

Oh.

If you’re going to do something verboten like having a favorite child, you might as well be obvious about it

Before Hector was born, Claudia was wandering around in a juice-driven fugue state, incapable of distinguishing between her emotions or if she was having them at all. 0 A.H., everything is all gumdrops and lollipops in the Jeong-Espinosa household. The trauma of Charlie and Kendra has been washed away—and with it, the only source of conflict that was making the story interesting. Just look at the little angel!

If letting go of that which no longer serves you is part of self-care, Hector’s looking like a brand-spanking-new kombucha microbrewing kit and accompanying diverse array of bulk spices displayed in mason jars, Charlie a set of sweat-stained bedlinens lost in the crevice of a hallway closet, Kendra the packed, moved, re-packed, and unopened remnants of a long-forgotten hobby. (Mike is a deck boat taking up so much space in the garage that the car must consequentially be stored outside, exposed to the elements; the boat whose comprehensive two-item list of responsibilities is sitting under its $235 cover and gestating a diverse array of dust/rust patterns; the boat which might be useful someday, that it would be a shame to throw out. Claudia is the fridge.) In Hector, Claudia sees an opportunity to vicariously re-discover her own culture and passions, a Xiyuan : Shu relationship. Hector is the only one of his siblings to have been exposed to Spanish at a young age; the elder two can understand maybe 50%, mainly interjections and words that appear in ‘Despacito,’ of his conversations with Claudia.

Charlie and Kendra have each other, at least.

Charlie is reading Simister’s stories heyoooo

Or they may not, due to a sudden onset case of Gas & Giggles.

Why is ‘there, there’ a common idiom? Where did it come from? Who decided 2*there=comforting? These are the questions he is asking.

For context, yes, Charlie was having a near-death encounter within the first few seconds of me opening the game. Claudia doesn’t know one of her sons almost died because she was too busy teaching the other to pee.

#carpetpotty

Little Hector has little choice in osmosing his projected role, partly by repeated/consistent exposure to cooking-themed stimuli and partly because he already likes food, a universal character trait on par with enjoying music.

Liking The Office is a third. Someone please mod a personality trait that makes Sims speak only in Office references!

Here is another instance of the former. Observe these data (n=2) and extrapolate from it his ultimate fate:

The IRL version of that pan is 7 ft (2.1336 m) from me

We’re one step closer to figuring it out, because today’s his birthday!

Hector is designated Cheerful, because traits have so little effect on literally everything that he might as well get the most innocuous one. (Ex: Does anyone actually remember Claudia’s traits? But we do remember her nationality, destructive habits, fatal flaws and raison d’être.) Cheerful seems analogous to Claudia’s Goofball trait (that’s one!) but less annoying. He blossoms from his nondescript pudgy form to a stunning physical being, yet another example of how AI trying in earnest is much funnier than whatever visual joke a human could construct:

Kendra can only look on in envy.

He wants to be a goofy mama’s boy with an intentionally incoherent fashion sense? I’ll take it!

We’ve already established Hector as the only child who didn’t ruin Claudia’s life, but the relationship dynamic with his siblings is still up in the air. He has to find a place to exist between perfect mind, perfect body, perfectly normal Charlie and bizarre, obsessive Kendra: neither of them really seem to care about the special attention he gets from Mom, because they’re respectively living at the gym/drawing monsters at the art table nonstop.

This is a question to be answered later. First, Hector has to get acclimated to the irrational bureaucratic decisions made by the public school system. I didn’t even know it was possible to get an F grade on the first day.

Sim Congress has been working on this for five years. They’re holding a fourth meeting on Friday to establish what grades to assign directly after a child ages up.

“That’s our Hector,” Claudia thinks to herself,

(drinks from glass 1)

“achieving the impossible.”

(drinks from glass 2)

Charlie confronts his own version of the impossible, which involves putting poor Elsa in cringe’s way a third time.

With a RAM full of cell physiology and astronomy funfacts, and less in the way of applied talking-to-people skills, Charlie falls into the inevitable teenage-boy deathtrap of trying to assert his knowledge once Elsa reveals she is already versed in said topics. (Just kidding! I’ve talked to men in their thirties, forties, fifties, who do this.) He launches into a textbook-perfect description of the mitochondrion before Elsa reminds him they were in the same biology class; in fact, they share every class together because there are like 30 people in the entire school. Unfazed, he starts explaining facts about his uniquely determined alternate topic of conversation before Elsa reveals she’s watched the same fucking Carl Sagan mini-series as he did, and 7 of the under-washed guys in A.V. club recently spent three grueling hours trying to convince her time doesn’t exist (a result of Einstein), mistaking her horror at this butchering of relativity/the act of classifying a function as time-reversible or time-invariant/the meaning of the word ‘existence’ for awe at the implications of their deep theories, so could he just not. Elsa isn’t afraid to bite back. That’s why she’s dating Shu!

whoa, hey friendo, Shu doesn’t count

We’re left playing dice with Charles’ romantic future—but that’s okay, because he’s redonk ahead in skilling. Charlie has already completed the Nerd Brain, maxing out both Logic (which is separate from Reason but excludes rhetoric, according to people on the internet) and Handiness, and somehow also Cooking and Fitness. Scooby skills say he was constantly hitting the gym while Asteya lived there, and has a propensity for autonomous cookbook reading.

ok, so she’s a bit older than you, but at least has a chance of having forgotten high school biology, so go about your usual approach
There’s nothing in this image that definitively proves this is the case, but this is a cookbook and he did start reading it on his own, trust me

Next, Kendra! Kendra isn’t falling victim to Middle Child Syndrome, because although Charlie is Mike’s favorite and Hector is (aggressively) Claudia’s favorite, Kendra is my favorite. She’s the coolest member of this family by several orders of magnitude. Kendra has no need or desire to adhere to the finite set of goals laid out for her, nor the core game mechanics, and is instead hacking her own path through bougie monotony and haunted underbrush. She mastered androgynous fashion, and spends all day drawing monsters on her table and talking to crunchy women who live in the forest, and that’s enough.

The implication they are seeing the same monster inspired some Sim psychologist’s dissertation

Here she is frying her little brain out with excitement (THE MONSTER IS BACK!!!) while Hector flips the eff out and goes to sleep in bed with Mommy. She sacrificed some dolls and shared a brief spiritual connection to/with the monster before falling asleep on the couch.

Then came the day when every other family in Newcrest was like, oh shit, it’s happening. Get in the fucking bunker, kids!

she didn’t age up until she drew enough monsters

Kenny J.E. evolves her obsession with monsters into an obsession for things that make people uncomfortable in general, and develops the default Espinosa aspiration, Master Mixologist. Not a single one of these aspirations is appropriate for her.

It’s difficult to find content (even custom content) that fits Kendra’s contemporary non-sexualizing pagan-punk aesthetic (did you know that at the time this was written, The Sims Resource has zero hits for ‘monsters’?). She’s settling for an eclectic mix of items that hints at something cohesive. In an ideal world? Skeletons. Tentacles. Torn shirts with fake glitter bloodstains. Cutting-edge shin-length tweed trenchcoats. Pewter rings made to take a man’s eyes out. Coffee tables made with vintage diving gear. On top: the Necronomicon. Underneath: stuffed animals, by Cyriak. Everything either looks like it’s concealing an abomination or melting.

Here’s what we did instead.

Let’s examine this outfit from the top down. On her head, a curly mohawk/beanie combo, followed by a milquetoast attempt at statement earrings (no hits for ‘earrings, deeply unsettling’ either) and the bold but time-consuming and error-prone half-purple, half-green everyday lipstick look. Moving inferior, the Socially Acceptable Cape outfit rounded out by a pre-CC-spree attempt at Docs w/o socks. Her Party outfit features Día de Muertos makeup; her formalwear, metallic black lipstick.

Now the room.

Unfinished and unwelcoming walls and floors, except for the one post-bed section of wall begging to be fed some hands! Sculptures! Inexplicable knife displays! Mysterious chests! Year-round Halloween decorations! Skull bedding! Statement curtains! Her own minibar! Giant steampunk cat growing dungeon candles out of its forehead! A bit vampire-y, but please recall my documented decorating/prose aptitude ratio. It is low. Only one person’s opinion matters here, and it appears to be generally pro-. That swagger!

Two teens in the household means two identities to establish; Charlie and Kendra know who they are, and we know who they are, but the neighborhood may not. There’s also the issue of sexual identity. The Sims 4 does this bizarre thing with sexual identity where, instead of being fixed, everyone starts out as attracted to 100% male and 100% female, s.t. the sum of male and female attraction percentage is not preserved, but is rather some integer in the range 0-200. The percentages change if the Sim has romantic interactions with one gender or the other, you know, how it works in real life.

I’d put an \s at the end of that last statement, but trust anyone with the patience to get through this fucking thing to pick up on that. Also, that any young’uns reading are exposed to 30 SAT-ass words before the first “fuck” drops.

So to fix this, we head out to pluck regularly-distributed individuals from the conveyer belt sushi spread that is the dirt path adjacent to Magnolia Promenade. Here, Charlie and Kendra demonstrate two diametrically opposite interpretations of the phrase ‘acing it.’ C’mon, Charlie, this is Cruz! Cruuuuuz!

Usually the mere mention of Cruz is enough rile him up. It’s unclear what’s happening.

In fact, Kendra is acclimating well to puberty, and is splattering hormones all over the place. She’s not the worst offender; that honor belongs to the boy under the douchey eye-cage shades. It’ll be a tough couple of weeks keeping her out of his basin of attraction.

Note also that she got her 4th Charisma skill point shortly after Charlie’s 5th.

Kendra’s other childhood friend, Wyatt, is at the opposite end of the steezy scale, but remains one of her closest confidants. He’s weird-weird instead of cool-weird, and she respects that. He invites her and crew to his birthday party—

—which is being held at an empty lot. Fabulous. Kendra’s handler spends some quality (disquality?) time with Buy/Build mode to slap together this effortlessly planned, in the sense of putting zero effort, kid’s birthday utopia.

nahhhh don’t make an attempt to align things, it’ll be fine

Wyatt wanted to have a post-modern “possibility”-themed birthday party; what screams endless possibility better than an empty lot? By the time Kendra et al. roll in, it is ruined with fridges, and bathrooms, and arcade machines, and things. The symbolism died so the party could live. Why Wyatt’s parents hired a caterer to show up to what they expected to be an empty lot, I’m not sure.

Post-meddling, the birthday boy immediately shoots up 2 feet and drops as many vocal octaves as his military haircut balloons into magnificent curls. He retains his Childishness, and aptly opts for Kleptomaniac as his second trait, explaining why he stole 30 minutes of my life to make his party not suck. Jerk. Let’s find our best inner David Attenborough voices and use this as a learning experience.

Open-air. Pink. Haphazard. What seems to be a formerly empty lot is grounds for a ritual of the First-World Teenager, a ritual that occurs at the same time every year. Half-dozens of Teenagers gather at this once-plain site in a celebration of welcoming one of their own.

The newly inducted Teenager halts his participation in the ritual as he surveys his domain. He has yet to develop the characteristics that distinguish his subspecies: ennui, B.O., snark, and indiscriminate infatuation. This is a treasured moment: the entrance into a new stage of life, a stage he shall leave in only three weeks’ time.

The female decorated in floral patterns appears to be a friend of his. And yet, after the ritual happens, something has changed. His bright red boots have caught her eye, perhaps, and she is now aware of the possibility to initiate courtship. However, she abandons this thought almost immediately, turning her attention instead to the rousing stimulus known as an ‘arcade machine.’ Better luck next time, little Teenager.

A stray Child, marked by his carefree obliviousness and bright plumage, has wandered into this gathering of Teenagers unnoticed. The Child is a nuisance to the Teenagers, a drain on their resources, both material and social, and a source of unwanted noise. Yet this particular Child, camouflaged as a particularly enthusiastic participant in the dance portion of the ritual, escapes unnoticed by even the most watchful eye.

A lone orange straggler wanders away to arrange some nearby sticks. Why, even the Child is better integrated into this pack! One can only hope this individual has withdrawn himself by choice, and is not the victim of the social isolation often enforced by his peers.

And finally, a rare display of conscientiousness. The Teenager can often be distinguished from similar groups by their lack of forethought, so the sight of one such act in the wild of is a riveting sight indeed. And so concludes our brief glimpse into the life of the Teenager.

Enough of that!

The party ends, presumably with Hector still on the dance floor and Shu stuck in an infinite loop of picking the Don’t Wake the Llama sticks off the floor as Charlie knocks them over, and Kendra unable to decide whether she has a crush on anyone and, if so, whom. Wyatt shows about the amount of gratitude you’d expect.

Can just one of you have good taste in friends? Please?

Meanwhile, the O.G. Jeong-Espinosas are too busy being adorable to remind Charlie to shower. Even Mike is acting remotely redeemable!

He’s real stoked to be hugging his wife! How cute!

If not a bit swirly and competitive. Still! Cute!

Before everything changes, in preparation for future nostalgia, we experience one last normal morning in the Jeong-Espinosa household.

Claudia wakes up at 3 AM and heads for the drinks that Kendra stayed up late making. New blood develops skills. Old blood keeps the juice from spoiling.

Fun game: find the totally unintentional feature of this screenshot that scared the shit out of me

Charlie, Kendra and Hector wake up at around 5-6 AM and graze on the 40 plates of food their mom just leaves around the house. Hector demonstrates an Elsa-esque dearth of fucks.

Breakfast: glitter cake

The children leave for school; Claudia leaves Kendra’s bar for the downstairs bar. Mike astounds everybody with his enthralling ability to work out, listen to music and look at a room divider at the same time.

Why this morning? Why now?

The eldest is now ready to move on! Charlie aged less violently than Wyatt, but was secretly hoping to immediately shoot through the ceiling with foot-long dreads. Instead, he realizes his Athleticism and continues on his search for answers.

At the time of aging up, Charlie had 6 skills maxed out: Cooking, Fishing, Fitness, Handiness, Logic, and Rocket Science; he had 0 romantic interests. He tends to use the microscope more often than other Sims. His favorite colors are green and orange.

we just accepted this is how claudia is now

Charlie has changed in the few minutes since becoming an adult. Maybe it was because Don’t Wake the Llama was hidden in the family inventory, or excitement from being recognized for something out of his control, but he isn’t running at the threat of human contact this time. He also inherited his dad’s pecs.

Wyatt leaves early. Whatever, he was only invited to witness the merits of holding a party on a lot with actual stuff on it.

Mornings like the ones we just saw will never happen again, Charlie is moving on, yada yada, other writers have captured this bittersweetness in more detail and not on a Sims blog. Sunrise, sunset! So we end on a surprisingly optimistic note, wondering how a sans-Charlie J.E. household will operate, and—

—nah, Mike made a 90 degree turn away from the fridge to go outside before getting a glass of water and got abducted.

His first action upon his return to Earth is to brag about being abducted on social media. Classic Mike.

got probed again!!!!!! lol

Next time: how many Simstagram followers will Mike get for filling Hector’s closet with cream cheese?

Interlude: Claudia! Duck!

“Dad, you’re sure messing with Mom’s kitchen is a good idea?”

“We’re not going to mess with her kitchen,” Mike justified, “she is.”

Mike had been planning his 35th anniversary prank for ages. Charlie was lured under the guise of installing pressure sensors on the robot vacuum, but he was really the bait: Claudia wouldn’t let him leave without ten containers of empanadas. And when she finished—wham! Glitter and duckies everywhere.

He made one last attempt to assuage Charlie. “Besides, it’s reversible. We’ll have a good laugh and help her clean up.” The front door creaked. “Oh! She’s coming inside. Act natural!”

Claudia, still humming, headed to the bar for her post-gardening juice. Mike had set up after her post-exercise, post-shower, and pre-gardening juices, and it paid off: she didn’t notice the elaborate setup in her kitchen, even the gigantic tub of duckies. She only noticed Charlie.

“Mijo!!’ she emoted, trapping him in an affectionate hug.

“Mom—“

“Let me make you some food. Now tell me: to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Mom—“

“No, no, no, no, let me feed you. It’s my job,” Claudia interrupted, punctuating the end of her sentence by throwing wide the fridge door.

The holiday lights fell, pushing a toy truck into the crates, transferring momentum to an angle bar.

“Fine, mom.”

“I want to hear all about your beautiful new job,” she enthused, knife in hand, “and your beautiful new house…”

While Claudia kept prefacing potential conversation topics with the same two modifiers, Mike gave Charlie an encouraging nod: keep letting her love you. It’s distracting!

The bar nudged a hanging display of pans, the last of which hid a small weight. It fell into the scale, knocking over the menus like dominoes.

Charlie’s younger brother Hector walked by. “Hey, guys, I’m going to my room to do my homework,” he announced, heading to his room to do his homework.

The menus dislodged a precariously balanced tray, one corner of which was lodged in a spice rack.

“Willow Creek is wonderful. It’s peaceful out there.”

“How nice!!”

The spice rack spun counterclockwise, pulling a string connected to the sink tap. Mike’s plan had reached its antepenultimate step. Charlie stalled as he waited for the sink to fill and drop more duckies in the bucket. “How about you? How’s Hector?”

“Hector has been looovely, helping me cook,” here she emphasized the word ‘lovely’ by pirouetting across to the kitchen island near Charlie. As she turned, her arm knocked the wooden mallard too early, releasing the string around its neck from a tarp on the ceiling. Glitter and duckies rained over Claudia’s kitchen. Mike could only watch his brilliant contraption being ruined by the one factor he couldn’t control.

“Ahhhhhh!!!!” Claudia squealed. “Pranking! I love it! I love it!”

Mike tried to hide his annoyance. “Hun,” he pleaded, “I spent days engineering this, and you just wrecked it in two seconds.”

Claudia sank as the joy left her body.

“Sorry, love,” she mumbled, brushing glitter off the countertop with her arm.

“Mom, c’mon,” Charlie pleaded. “Let me get that.”

Mike kept venting. “It was going to be so good! When the mallard dropped, I was going to yell ‘Claudia! Duck!'” Claudia kept her head down. The robot vacuum hit her in the foot. “You always do this.”

Just then, Hector reappeared, stifling giggles. “Surprise, Mom and Dad! I said I was going to do homework, but I was actually texting my friends! Psyche!”

He beamed at his family members, who were clearly caught speechless by his ruse.

That’s how you pull off a prank, folks.”


So! Now that the contest is over, I can reveal who the fool in this story really was. If you’ve spent enough time trying to figure it out for yourself, feel free to read the explanation here. Thanks to everyone who read and voted! And hey—if you enjoyed this, and can tolerate black humor/profanity/Yoga-Sutra-and-math-inspired philosophy/an author who maybe admires David Foster Wallace’s style a bit too much, please consider giving Catastrophe Theory a shot. Enjoy your day, y’all.