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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

Guide Me, North Star

(Synopsis: We go hard on a holiday special centered around Jasper’s first Winterfest. Shu antagonizes Jo by crashing the J.E. festivities. Charlie talks about BPD and ants. Set some time aside for this one; I promise it’s worth the read.)

“Jasper! Look over here!”

The youngest Jeong-Espinosa had already made plans to taste the arm of the wooden chair when he was done with his own hand, but decided to humor his mother this time.

“Jasper,” she said, holding her cellphone at a length where the camera minimally distorted his facial features while still being close enough to evoke feelings of intimate connection in the viewer, “do you want to tell Mommy about Winterfest?”

Ok, just imagine she’s reaching for the cell phone

Well, he did, in fact, the problem being it was impossible to properly communicate the depth of his Winterfest knowledge with his limited command of Simlish. And by the same token, he hadn’t noticed most of this knowledge was secondhand from the requester herself. So the prompt may not have been in good faith, itself probably intended to showcase how poor Jasper’s command of Simlish actually was, but in a way that was endearing to its target audience. But he didn’t know that.

“It has, a treeeeeee.” That’s what he did know. Not being able to stop a terminal vowel once it had started was still an issue. The proper separation of clauses in conversational Simlish, he understood, for certain very short clauses, but was forced to insert his own as his mind ping-ponged around for whatever noun best represented what he was trying to convey.

“And what goes on the tree?”

That was just an unfair question in general, given that Jasper’s vocabulary was heavily biased in favor of frequently used words, and of those, the ones restricted to six letters max. ‘Winterfest’ being a notable exception. Here’s one that fit the bill. “A star!”

“And what else?”

As much as he would have liked to help his mother out, this particular query fell outside his realm of expertise. He reverted instead to his original course of action, getting his impermanent-toothed mouth close enough to the chair arm’s terminus to bash his tastebuds against the sweet sweet wood grains.

Jo made an appeal back to something she’d said fifteen minutes ago. “Or…”

Or what? Asked and answered, Mom.

“Orna…”

“Ormanents!” Sic. Back to the chair, which would shortly gain some markings longer-lasting than the teeth that created them.

“Do you want to help put them on the tree?”

“Yesssss!” If only to find out what they were.

“Alright, honey, let’s go.” Jo pressed ‘record’ on her camera app, a gesture that did the opposite of what its name suggested, pleased with the real-stinking-cute candid moment she’d set up.

If you want to see a physicist, engineer, or PDEs analyst shake their head for 5 minutes, show them this thermostat placement

The conifer, handpicked by mother and son (Dr. J.E.’s off chasing flu patients, but he sends his blessings), made it as far as the front arch before Jo realized her house was too compact for it to actually fit anywhere. A couple hours after banishing Jasper to the bedroom, moving most of the furniture from the family room to the limitless void of the family inventory, placing the tree, unbanishing and filming Jasper as he decorated the bottom two feet of the tree (and maybe halfway at best, since the ornaments all seemed to be clustered to one area), redoing his work while he wasn’t looking, and taking the presents out from under the bed, she was done. It was presentable, if not elegant, or functional as a living room. It was at least what the situation called for.

The thermostat shows up again to taunt us. From this angle, we can also see that the windows are open.

Charlie came home around sevenish. He hadn’t been informed that the living room was now gone.

“What’s going on in here?”

“I cast a Winterfest spell and, poof!” Jo opened her hands in a whimsical manner. “The furniture turned into a tree. Right, Jasper?”

“Yessss!” And there was his revenge for the flashcard dishonesty earlier.

“Well, it looks great. It looks like Father Winter himself came down from the North Pole and did it.” The North Pole is slightly higher than the other worlds on the selection menu, offscreen.

“No, me and Mommy did it.” Sic. Give the kid a break.

“That’s right, we did! Do you know about Father Winter?”

“He comes in the, the, fire place, and.”

“And what does he bring?”

“Presents!” Two houses over, a flock of birds took off from a tree. There were already some gifts where the partially spit-covered chair had been, but more couldn’t hurt. He chose one and used the palm of his hand to slide a decorative ribbon back and forth over the outer edge.

“Not until tomorrow, buddy.” Charlie was either unaware of the ribbon-sliding loophole or being paranoid.

“Here, let’s all get a picture in front of the tree.” Jo set a tripod up at the front arch, setting the timer just long enough for her to whisk Jasper onto her lap and snuggle up to her husband. This was going on the e-cards.


From his omniscient post, Father Winter watched Jasper wake his parents up just shy of 3 in the morning to inform them it was Winterfest Eve. Or the day before, if you’d prefer having Eve apply only after sundown. Winterfest minus one. Again, his excitement about Winterfest dwarfed his ability to inform other Sims of this verbally, so he was stuck at the basal level of screaming and waving his limbs.

Design needs work, but good call on the sunglasses for snowblindness

Jo sat down to pen what Charlie’s sister’s acquaintance would later refer to when he was asking about ‘that bougie shit on the fridge.’ (It was a testament to sibling love that she had it up there at all.) The finished product, paired with a matching-sweaters type photo and copied 22 times, was snail-mailed out to everyone Jo thought could use the holiday cheer. There were 23 prints of the photo as well; a one-to-one thing, you get it. Her letter read:

Salutations everybody!

How lucky we are as a family this Winterfest season! Yesterday Jasper and I set up the holiday decorations, and it ended up all being so much that we had to clear out almost the entire living room. Charlie came home and he didn’t know what to do! We were laughing so hard!

Jasper is so excited for his first Winterfest. He has been doing wonderfully with his flashcards and can even use the potty. He continues to warm all of our hearts and will almost certainly receive a present from Father Winter. We are so proud of him!

In case no one has told you already, Charlie recently got promoted to Chief of Staff at the hospital where he works. Go Charlie! I also started a venture of my own, and our website Jumping Jasper! is now live. If this letter tickles your curiosity, you can go there to find out what those Jeong-Espinosas are up to this time.

Today is Jasper’s birthday. I’m so excited to find out what the future has in store for this wonderful boy! We are all wishing you and your families a fantastic Winterfest with the ones who are closest to your heart.

Sending lots of love from my family to yours,
Josephine, Charles and Jasper Jeong-Espinosa

So yeah: Jasper’d been dealt a crap hand, birth-timing-wise, and has one of those awful winter solstice birthdays that means he only gets one round of presents. But it’s split into two parts, and he hadn’t yet spent a whole spring/summer/fall present desert waiting around for the days to shorten, so he was grateful at the moment. It meant getting to celebrate a day early.

He occupied himself by chasing the dry ingredients around with a spoon in the medium-sized plastic bowl Jo had given to him. When he lost interest in that task, or Jo was done taking a power mixer to the cake’s fluid components, plus sugar, whichever came first, he was to poke Jo’s tablet at regular intervals to keep the recipe visible, and scroll 4/5 of the way down the post to the recipe if he happened to mis-poke and the browser reset to the top of the page. A couple minutes of quality stirring time passed before his mother reclaimed the bowl. From below, he watched her slow the mixer down to where changes in the glutinous structure of the batter could be tracked by eye, smacking the bowl to release the mostly-flour in small portions the rotating beater could deal with. It was one of those standalone types of mixers. She loved that thing. Jasper had already been pitched to multiple times about how easy it was to make whipped cream and soufflés and other foodstuffs with air as a major ingredient.

She poured the finished batter into a cake pan. “See how easy that was?” Jasper was already sucking on the batter-coated beater.

With the collaborative portion being done and Jasper figuring out how to fit the whole beater into his fun-sized mouth, Jo searched for decorated cakes on her Simstagram feed, particularly fondant-free ones she can replicate. This one seemed elegant, doable, and appropriate. On the blog it goes.

It remained lit until snuffed out by Jasper, surrounded by his parents, his Grandpa, his three blood uncles, two of his non-blood uncles, and the dead ex-spouse of his uncle’s husband. The boy found himself being lifted up by rainbow sparkle magic. By the time he came down, he had a new body. He wiggled his fingers in admiration.

Mimsy makes this party pass the Bechdel test.

Jo’s brother Maxwell turns to Charlie as Jasper shares his feelings about the aging ritual with other guests. “So, Charlie. What’s your favorite word?”

“I don’t know,” Charlie claimed instinctually before realizing his mistake. “Wait, I actually do have some. But it’s better if you see them written out.”

Charlie pulls a miniature black notebook out of his lab coat pocket, then makes a second excursion into the same pocket to locate a pencil. He flips through several pages of what looks to Maxwell like multiple layers of scribbles. Finding one with no scribbles, he flattens the notebook on the half-wall, clicks the mechanical pencil twice, checks that the lead extrudes at least a couple millimeters from its plastic casing, and ruins the infinite potential of his once-blank medium in two words.

“These,” Charlie said, presenting Maxwell with the notebook. “These are cool because they mean the same thing, but they’re both almost impossible to pronounce unless you’re already familiar with the roots.”

Maxwell read the words ‘haplodiploidy’ and ‘arrhenotoky,’ although Charlie’s handwriting had deteriorated enough during his career advancement to make them look like ‘mploolplady’ and ‘nmhenatoly.’

“How do you pronounce them?”

“‘Haplodiploidy’ and ”arrhenotoky.”

“Uh-huh,” Maxwell hesitated. “And what do they mean?”

“So, in Sims, the father and mother each have two sets of chromosomes, and when the baby is born, it has one set of chromosomes from each parent, right?” Maxwell nods. “That’s ‘diploidy’: two sets of chromosomes. And ‘haploidy’ is when it has one set of chromosomes.” Maxwell nods again. “So ‘haplodiploidy’ suggests an organism can have either one or two sets of chromosomes.”

“How does that work?”

“Well, it determines the sex in some species. Like in bees and ants. In bees and ants, males are haploid because they develop from unfertilized eggs, and females are diploid because they develop from fertilized eggs.”

“And where does the other word come from?”

“It’s a shorter version of ‘arrhenotokous parthenogenesis.’ It refers to—“

“Ok, buddy, you lost me,” explained Maxwell. He turns to Jasper. “And what’s your favorite word?”

“Presents!”

Confusing perspective with the grey arm there. If you’re wondering about Charlie’s pained expression, he doesn’t think he did the concept justice and wants desperately to restart the conversation.

Maxwell shoots Jasper with a single finger gun. “Kid’s got a point.”


Winterfest morning, the post-birthday boy avoids waking his parents up too soon in the A.M. by scrolling through picture-based subreddits on his favorite birthday gift, a smartphone. He began to suspect he’d been shorted in toddlerhood now that his picture books seemed so flat and unimaginative compared to the real world. The stunts, more impressive; the dialogue, less wooden; the messages, truer; the cats, cattier; the villains, also cattier. And the top comments, always so clever! Jasper fantasized himself being insightful enough to write a top comment, and having it become one of the most upvoted comments on the site, and coming up with another perfect riff on the next post, etc. Or better yet, becoming one of those instantly recognizable posters known for churning out quality OC at a preposterous rate.

But the main obstacle to Jasper’s ambition (aside from lack of ideas) was his ignorance of pop culture: the world was designed for and run by people several decades ahead of himself, an effect everyone seemed to have forgotten by the time their fine motor skills kicked in and their height enabled them to reach the cabinet where Mom was hiding chocolate truffles and the customs of their predecessors were replaced, or at least expanded upon, by the top minds of their own generation. The anonymous posters Jasper looked up to all had the experience of knowing the state of the world before something existed, and when it did, of watching it progress from conception to novelty to ubiquity. Everything they talked about was already in the final state by the time he entered the scene. The solution being, despite falling outside the hotly contested birth year range of the 90’s kid, he could get the resources to mimic the 90’s kid experience, inferring from the references what was important to Sims his age at the time. I’m saying he’s going to watch a bunch of cartoons.

First he’s going to sneak downstairs on Winterfest morning, through a home gym lit by the now-frosted panes of glass that are functionally more wall than window, into the living room/lobby/foyer again notable for its relative lack of walls, this time in a manner suggesting his parents would be constantly dealing with wet terra cotta if the arches didn’t count as impenetrable boundaries. No physical changes had occurred overnight, but Jasper’s heightened senses felt in the room a feeling of divine energy. Today was going to be special.

About the A.M. earlier: unsure how to format small caps without the use of a specific non-hypertext markup language. This and other solutions involve shelling out actual real-world money to implement, although the upgrade would come with other perks like being able to change the default color of the website’s font without simultaneously changing the colors of three other design elements, only one of which can be directly adjusted by the user, in a predetermined set, and without losing the overall look and feel added to by the other two indirectly changeable design elements of the site being designed by a pair of angsty tweens despite the implied education level of its contributors. But at the moment just parse it as \textsc{a.m.} (or something else idk) and let your imagination run wild.

Jasper didn’t realize how long ago he’d eaten until the shock of the general solstice-festive aura wore off enough for him to notice the smell of bacon and eggs. He looked past the five inches of non-arch wall to find his father was already awake, hadn’t gotten dressed yet, and was using a plastic spatula to push something around in a skillet. He snuck closer.

“Hi Dad,” Jasper said.

“Hmm? Oh, good morning, buddy. You’re up early.”

“When are you gonna be done cooking?” Charlie’s buddy asked. He was dangling off the half-wall with both hands, pushing just enough into his palms to rotate back and forth around its corner.

“One sec,” he said, inverting the contents of the skillet onto a large platter, a motion that organized said contents in a self-sorting and aesthetically pleasing manner. “Now. Your mom will be up soon, but I’m sure she’ll be alright if we start without her.”

Both took a serving, one after removing himself from the wall first. Jasper had gotten as far as selecting the oiliest piece of bacon and opening his mouth before he was interrupted.

“What do we say?”

“Thank you for breakfast, Daaaaaad,” Jasper drew out, less from a sense of entitlement than because he thought the gratitude was obvious, and didn’t realize it wasn’t. Only then was he allowed to take the first bite. The winter-festivity magic applied to food as well; he milked the first-bite experience by savoring one forkful of each food type, swaying in approval of each new flavor. He sorted the foods in order from least to most favorite and vowed to stick to that order for the whole meal. So did the older J.E., who would have normally eaten in order of decreasing healthiness, given the body’s tendency to absorb nutrients more efficiently on an empty stomach, but was taking the holiday off.

“You excited for Winterfest?” Charlie asked at about the point where he’d finished his eggs and Jasper had eaten maybe half of his mushrooms and was now doing some twirling with one he had impaled in the divot of its stem with a fork tine.

“Yeah.”

Charlie realized it was up to him to produce enough momentum to keep the conversation going. “What are you most excited about?”

“I wanna meet Father Winter!”

“You think you earned a spot on the nice list?”

“Yeah!” Jasper said with confidence. He’d spent his toddlerhood learning the maximum possible amount of information, and, credit to Jo, knew four times as many words as necessary. Half of that was really more symbolic than anything else given that he’d already surpassed Charlie’s understanding of the non-Simlish languages associated with his ancestry. Also he didn’t punch anyone. Hence, nice list.

“How about going to see Grandpa and Abuela?”

Jasper paused to focus on procrastinatory fungus-twirling before declaring “I don’t know.” Tough luck, it was mandatory. He gave up on the mushrooms and the ordering went downhill from there.

“How about the presents?” Ahead, Jo dragged her half-conscious body into the bathroom, sans obeisance.

“More presents!”

Charlie dropped his act of coming up with more stuff to talk about. They weren’t expecting anyone to drop by this early, or at all, so he was perplexed as to why his oldest friend would be walking through the front arch and heading towards the study. He decided to make an appeal from the kitchen instead of getting up. “Shu. Shu. Dude. You can come in. You don’t—” The study door closed. Shortly, a round of virtuosic knocking echoed through its panels, threatening to continue until a resident came around to reopen it. Charlie tried to hide his annoyance while he navigated the redecorated family room, with its presents, thematic flora, and lack of furniture, until he reached the study door having collected at least a half-dozen pine needles with his slippers. He opened the door. “Yeah, get in here.”

“Cha-cha-charles!” said the visitor, greeting his friend with a brief hug. “Happy Winterfest! And happy Winterfest to you, too, Jasper! Ho ho ho!”

About that ‘obeisance’ sentence, the comma disambiguates the fact that it’s Jo and not the bathroom who isn’t greeting the others, though the alternate interpretation should be taken as gospel.

“Dad, who’s this?” He’d apparently been too overstimulated at his birthday party to keep track of the adults, memorable or otherwise.

“You don’t remember me? Oof!” He feigned being knocked back at the offense. “I knew you when you were just this small,” demonstrated by holding the palms of his hands a chestnut-sized distance apart. “This small.”

“No you didn’t. That’s too small.”

“Yeah, you’re right. It was more of a this-small type of deal,” he corrected, moving his hands to baby-or-keyboard distance. “But look at you now, you’re like,” he thrust his hands apart with some explosion sound effects that became increasingly unconvincing as they drew out, culminating in a gagging noise. That got a laugh out of Jasper.

“Jasper, this is my friend Shu,” Charlie answered, glad his extravert was here to drive things forward so he could resume jumping in occasionally with relevant information.

“Hey Jasi, we’re gonna turn this Winterfest out.” They fistbumped across the counter.

Jo emerged from the bathroom to find an obstacle between her and the food. She made eye contact with her husband across the hallway, hard to do with all the talking the obstruction’s hands were doing, and gave him a look that suggested Jasper would spend his second Winterfest contemplating the anniversary of his father’s death. For this degenerate to be here on a day meant for family—but why wasn’t he with his own family? The circumstances had to be dire if he was showing up on a family friend’s doorstep, and since he was already inside, it would go against the Winterfest spirit to send him back alone. She’d let Charlie deal with this. First she had to lay down the rules.

Jo tapped Shu on the back to get his attention, taking a deep inhalation before delivering her prepared message. “I don’t know what you’re doing here,” she told him, “and this is going to be very hard for you, but I have to ask you to please refrain from using any form of profanity around my child. He is very impressionable and I don’t want him being exposed to that kind of language this early in his development. And stay out of the photos.”

“‘Kay. Hold on, Chantel sent me like eight texts.” Averaging almost one per hour today, impressive given the circumstances.

Jasper had already learned the seven dirty words (plus others. He’s also restricting himself to Simlish here) by getting past the parental controls 30 minutes after he aged up. For someone who was just beginning to develop his own system of ethics, the concept of certain words being powerful enough to send his mother et al. into a fit of disproportionate rage was the most compelling idea he’d been exposed to in his 20 hours of childhood. That those seven words had such emotional gravitas compared to, say, Mom’s suggestions of cat/gato/猫/고양이 or dog/perro/狗/개, e.g., elevated them to the position of highest importance in his growing mind. And now, from overhearing her warning, he knew to correctly view Shu as a modern-day Shakespeare in that his written work singlehandedly extended the vulgar lexicon by introducing several increasingly elaborate and obscene turns of phrase. Jasper at last felt his thirst for knowledge outweigh his desire for material goods; the universe had sent his guru in the mountains, his Brahmachari. There would be rumors a century later that Jasi received his side-splitting neologisms from on high, Moses-style, but you can’t see the evidence because one of his acolytes let it get, I don’t know, eaten by ants or something.

If Jo had trusted Shu’s intuition on what is child-appropriate, or further clarified that Jasper lacked the context to grasp the vast majority of Shu’s œuvre (something she couldn’t do without exposing him to said context at a point NooBoo Corner agreed was five point nine years too early), her son might have ignored the man in favor of catching up on Fortnite dances. Instead her tiebreaker had deflected to the opposite camp re. Shu’s presence at this or any other event.

She pulled Charlie into the corner by the card table, considerable bulk and all. “What do you think you’re doing,” she whispered. “This is a family holiday.

“Yeah, and it didn’t occur to you that he might have a reason for not wanting to be with his family today?”

“Of course that occurred to me,” she hissed.

The intruder, the one with a negligible no-no square, stepped outside to make a call. “Hi babe. Yeah, since I couldn’t be there, I left a surprise in your purse.” Jasper was listening through the invisible arch walls while pretending to be on his phone.

Jo continued. “But that doesn’t mean you should put me in this situation where I have to tell him he’s not staying. “

“Jo, I’m sorry. Shu’s basically family, so I didn’t even realize.”

“You found it? Yaaaay. Yay. Yay. I love you too.”

“We’re not even visiting your actual family until later. This is supposed to be time for us and our son.”

“So let’s not waste time arguing about it. Look, Jasper’s alone over there.”

“<I don’t know.> Wear one of your other tailcoats.” Presumably he was speaking to someone else now.

“That’s not fair. You’re trying to end the conversation early so you don’t have to deal with this.”

“Could you please give him a chance? He’s good with Jasper, and he’s behaving himself. Please? This is very important to me.”

“Fine.”

“<Yeah.> … <Yeah.> Bye, Dad.”

The three adults reconvened in the family room. “Okay Jasper, come over here. We’re going to sing some songs,” his mom said, ushering the others around the tree.

They settle in for a round of Fwingle Zibbs, etc., Shu occasionally breaking his harmony with Charlie to improvise a descant, Jasper overpowering everyone else as he hunts for the right notes. Damned if he wasn’t going for it with conviction. Note also that Jo isn’t taking her camcorder out.

Charlie checked the time. “Oh, it’s about time to head to my parents’.”

“Why?” asked Jasper.

“You have to visit the grandparents on Winterfest. It’s in the social contract.”

“Why?”

“My existence. Your existence. Their existence.” Charlie felt his phone buzz and checked his messages. “Gosh darn it, Kendra’s not coming.”

“Why?” It was Jo’s turn to ask.

“She’s going to a Winter Solstice celebration with one of my girlfriends.” Shu displayed a text from Kendra stating just that, sandwiched between two illustrations of Krampus in different stages of problematic child discipline (the discipline is problematic, i.e., not the child).

Charlie stopped himself from asking if he remembered which one. “Everybody, do me a favor and don’t remind Mom. She’s probably not too happy about that.” He got a couple understanding nods. The family headed in different directions to pick up their jackets.

Shu waited until the others were out of earshot to make one last call. “Hi! So, I know you told me not to come over today. I’m gonna be right across the street with the J.E.s. But it’s right across the street. You’re sure? Okay bye Mom, love you.”


“Well, well, well.” Mike had moved a swivel chair from the office to the entrance for the sole purpose of swiveling one hundred eighty degrees to address Charlie and co. “It looks like the doctor is in.”

“My darlings! Come say hi, I’m in the kitchen,” Claudia said, surprisingly clearly given that she was competing with the radio, the oven timer, the exhaust hood, the aromatics sizzling in at least two saucepans, and Mona and Perry barking slightly out of phase at the four interlopers. Charlie glanced toward his mother; she wasn’t even facing in the right direction to project her voice like that. The dogs skipped back into the kitchen to answer the pressing questions of what those smells were, and whether any sources of those smells were going to be dropped on the floor.

“Hey Claudia, Shu’s here too,” said Mike.

“Hi Shuuuu!” Claudia always welcomed his presence because there was no limit to how long she could draw out his name. This instance lasted at least a couple seconds.

“We don’t need stockings when we’ve got a Shu!” Good lord, Mike’s also a fan of the name. He turned to Charlie’s wife, placing his hands on his midsection à la Father Winter. “Jo Jo Jo!”

The unique instance of laughter came from Hector. He’d previously been multitasking, staring at them while eating a piece of cake.

Jasper felt a nudge from his mom. “Hello Grandpa. Hello Abuela. Hello Uncle Hector.” He received polite murmurs in return, except it was more of a polite yell in Claudia’s case. Then he got right to the meat of it. “Can we open presents?”

“One. Then wait four hours before opening the next one,” said Jo, speeding up the final words as her son was already darting toward the gift pile. Mike voiced his approval of the bluntness and claimed it had a genetic component for which he was responsible.

“Hector, could you please help me with the roast?” was the request heard from the kitchen. He went running to comply.

Shreds of the paper that had once concealed Jasper’s first gift lay on the floor. Mona had one in her mouth. “An airplane! Cool!” It was thrust in the air as high as his hands could reach. “Nyyyeeeeeeooooown!”

The airplane did a few laps around the living room before Jasper decided to test its ability to fly unassisted. He lobbed the thing right into the kitchen, hitting the stool from which his mother was spectating the head and sous chefs.

“Jasper, be nice to your toys,” Jo warned. “Remember what happened to the mean kid in Toy Story?”

“Sorry, Mom. Sorry, plane.” It didn’t have a name yet. Its owner performed a brief inspection and tune-up before resuming its cross-living-room schedule. Jo turned back to Claudia.

“Jo, I loved the beautiful letter you sent us.” This was sincere. Mike woke up that morning to find Claudia snoozing at the dining room table over a tear-stained summary of her son’s family’s life, the photo safely out of range. Kind of odd how something like that could set her off. “I felt like I was right there with you. It was the best gift I could have received, hearing about your family.”

“That’s sweet, Claudia. I’m so glad you enjoyed it,” Jo said.

“No, really, it means a lot. You have to come by more often.”

Jo’s fridge held enough empanadas from her last visit for them to eat three meals a day and still have leftovers for Jasper’s kids. Empanada overload. Empanada central. “Why don’t we go out to eat instead?”

“Nnnnneeeeyyyooowwwnn!” J.E. Airlines’ only vessel had returned for its regular stop at the kitchen counter. It picked up a cookie, which cargo had to be manually held on top of the aircraft’s body, much like how a Winterfest tree would be transported on top of an SUV, but without the security provided by bungee cords. They’d break the cookie.

Its destination, Charlie, had moved further down the hallway, taking with him the elephant in the room. Shu, that is. Not anyone’s internal conflict. “Thanks, buddy,” he said to the plane. The uneaten cookie was transferred to his jacket pocket as soon as the pilot had turned around. “So,” he addressed his childhood friend, “is everything okay? Why aren’t you with your family?”

He shrugged. “I celebrated with my dads a couple days ago, and Mom said she wants to be alone, so I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.” He gestured towards Jasper, still running around like a beheaded chicken. “Plus it’s this one’s first Winterfest. Cuuuute.”

“What about Chantel, or one of your other girlfriends?”

“Ah, not that again. I show up at the Lucases’ place, they’re gonna expect me to pull out a ring by the end of the day. Other than that, there’s Shannon’s parents, her dad hates me, and I don’t know any of my other girlfriends’ families.” He paused in thought. “Unless—“

“—No, no. Nope.” Charlie punctuated his triple combo by repeatedly crossing his open hands over one another in a gesture clearly conveying he didn’t want to hear the end of that sentence. But given the tone of the conversation, he figured it was safe to ask more personal questions. “Come to think of it, haven’t you and Chantel been promised to each other since before Jo and I even met?” Shu’s left eye twitched. “It’s been a couple weeks. What are you waiting for?”

“I’m planning on doing it sometime, I just get the sense that,” he shook his head, “she doesn’t know who she is yet. Apart from me.” He broke eye contact to fidget with the highest toggle on his sweater. “It’s not healthy. I guess I’m trying to help her get to where the proposal is just a nice thing that happens and not something she’s focused on day in and day out.”

Underdeveloped sense of self, Charlie translated. “Wasn’t she, like, stalking you in high school?” Idealization. Clear pattern of obsession in close relationships.

“Yeah, she’s intense, but I’m also kind of a lot to handle. What with my line of work and all. I actually like that about her. It keeps things interesting.”

“And she’s just waiting patiently?”

“Oh, she’s pissed. She’s also accusing me of wanting to leave and stuff like that. But clearly it’s been a while and I’m not going anywhere.”

“And you have to—“

“Keep reminding her of that constantly, yeah. Also how talented she is. That’s what I’m trying to do, keep her focused on her music so she can develop her own voice. But she’s so upset about making mistakes, she breaks down crying almost every time.” Basically their song is “Issues” by Julia Michaels. “I have to keep telling her it’s going to be okay.”

Charlie winced at the final datum. “I hope I’m wrong about this, but if what you’re saying is true, you might want to read up on Borderline Personality Disorder.” His DSM-5 retained the classification system of its extra-worldly counterpart, but offered little insight on treatment beyond sadness hotlines and basketball. He wasn’t about to recommend Chantel drink some fucking OJ, either.

A photo from Shu’s wallet. Damn they’re cute. Is that object on the right supposed to be the right side of the phone?
What’s taking this picture?
(Note to future student essayists: if you’re hunting for symbolism in CT, the fact that several important healing items in this universe are inexplicably orange, which is also one of Charlie’s favorite colors, was not meant to foreshadow his eventual career. He just likes orange. Same with Aileen and grey, for that matter, if you’re reading this after The Grey Wedding is published. Color shit like that only makes sense if the author knows where the story is going beforehand.)

“What?”

“Meaning there’s a chance things are going to get worse before they get better. There’s a chance,” he took a moment to decide if this were something he really wanted to say, “there’s a chance she’s always going to be like this.” Another beat. “Look, I’m only bringing this up because it might be the safest course of action, but have you considered calling the whole thing off?”

“Charlie. What. No. It’s Chantel.”

“I don’t know what that means,” he said. “I don’t understand why you want to stay with her if things are so difficult.”

Shu had been facing away from his conversational partner, but now directed at him a glare that had started fights in less festive settings. “Does everything have to have a reason with you? Do you think love is something that can be broken down to a formula? Do you really think that if the girl of my dreams just fell from the sky one day, I would just throw away everything Chantel and I have, like that?” He snapped his fingers to emphasize the word ‘that,’ and, while we’re on the subject, had earlier raised his open hands toward the sky and climactically arced them downward in an approximation of the dream girl’s trajectory. “I feel closer to her than anyone else in the world, and I always have, and I always will, and I’m not gonna try to explain why so you can argue with it.”

“Look, I never said you didn’t love her. But that kind of love-conquers-all attitude isn’t going to fix everything. I’m being dead serious here, Shu. If it’s really this hard for you, there’s no way to solve this that doesn’t involve you removing yourself as the source of her obviously destructive obsession. By staying, you’re slowing everything down, running the risk of becoming codependent, or worse.”

“You don’t know that. You haven’t even talked to her enough to make a real diagnosis.” Which Charlie knew, but was hoping his warning would catalyze the couple’s efforts to seek a second opinion. “Even with one, she could still get over it enough for us to be together.”

“Or not, given your history. You can’t predict the future either.”

No response.

“Shu.”

He clenched his fists in an attempt to redirect his building tension to the sensation of nails digging into his palm.

“What are you going to do if she doesn’t?”

Father Winter burst through the chimney in a puff of good cheer and combustion byproducts, the former being more hazardous to the house’s inhabitants in that it could provoke one into becoming Hysterical, while carcinogens are a nonissue for these guys. All but the duo in the kitchen looked toward the fireplace. Jo pressed record on her offspring-directed camcorder.

“Father Winter!” Jasper screamed with an intensity that set off both dogs.

“Fuck,” said Shu.

The purported-mythical figure rose to his feet with an air suggesting a personality cozier than his Fair Isle mittens. A statement coat with a heroic amount of white fur trim, given how visibly it would be ruined after a single round of his preferred hammy method of entry, expanded on the effect of general snugness he was going for. (Ask if that’s real fur, Jo thought to herself.) Later, the emotions Jasper felt in that moment would be portrayed pretty accurately by the slow-mo Ken Burns effect Mom planned on applying to her footage.

“Ho ho ho!” Father Winter announced. Jo put down her camera to admonish the fourth one for swearing, only to find he had escaped by means of self-defenestration.

The embodiment of Winterfest spirit himself made a big show of shading his eyes with his right hand, looking high and low for something. “I heard from a little bird that in this house, there’s a little boy who just had his birthday.”

“Me! That’s me!” said boy clarified, jumping and waving his arms a couple yards from Father Winter’s avoidant face in case the message wasn’t clear enough. It landed; the patriarch finally searched the area directly in front of him and reeled back in astonishment.

“Oh! Oh, ho ho ho! There’s the fella!” Jasper was vibrating almost audibly with anticipation. “Why don’t we sit down here and have a chat? Is that something you would like?” Jasper nodded so enthusiastically, Jo’s most recently searched term became ‘whiplash,’ displacing ‘those hoodies everyone has what are they called.’

The pair sat down on Grandpa & Abuela’s caramel-colored leather couch, a pre-Jasper and even pre-Kendra piece of furniture whose aroma only became more complex with the passage of time. Father Winter started the seated portion of the conversation with his most anticipated question. “Have you been good all year?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Do you listen to your mommy and daddy?”

“Yes!”

“Have you been doing your homework?”

Panic set in. “I just grew up yesterday,” Jasper explained. “They didn’t give me any homework.”

“Well, I’m looking at your grades, young mister, and you know what they say?” Jasper may have grown up yesterday, but even he could tell that the folksiness was thinly masking what was in fact extreme condescension. “It says right here on this piece of paper that someone doesn’t like to do his homework.”

“But I—“

“You know, son,” he said, placing his arm around Jasper’s shoulders to comfort the lad, “things might not always turn out how you want, but good boys and girls are good at accepting things the way they are. You want to be a good boy, right?” Jasper nodded in an attempt to end the first of many lectures he would sit through where the lecturer grossly underestimates his competence based on his demographics, in this case his age. “You have to let this go and do better next year. Life is complicated that way. Someday you’ll be old enough to understand.”

Leaving the family’s youngest with an encouraging pat and wise smile, cherry nose and all, Father Winter removed himself from the couch with some difficulty and headed eastward. Jasper waited until he was out of earshot to tear up.

Cut to the J.E. master bedroom half a second into Jasper’s first wail of the day, where his father decided to check out the exercise equipment to help relieve the stress headache he got from being surrounded by loved ones.

“Dr. Charles Jeong-Espinosa,” Father Winter drew out in an entrance that mostly served to annoy the sentence’s subject, “now that’s a name I know well. You’re near the very top of my list! Ho ho ho!” He actually grabbed his belly when he laughed. Charlie thought the gesture of bringing both hands to the gut during a Father-Winter-inspired belly laugh might have been to suggest excess adiposity, but no, he actually did that. “Let me tell you what it says here. A straight-A student, lover of the earth, dedicated pursuer of knowledge, selfless healer, devoted husband and father, and, oh! Stay away from that one,” he said, following the last statement with a wink that would have been appropriately lecherous had he been literally anyone else. “I saved something special for you.”

He placed a VR set on the ground and followed up with his best Vanna White impression. The recipient acted out an appropriate display of surprise and gratitude, though he was left wondering where on that list it was suggested that he played videogames with any regularity, and where in his house the list recommended clearing space to put that shit.

“Now where’s that mother of yours?” Could be like two places. Three if you count the other bar.

Charlie waited until Father W. was heading in the direction of potential cookies to sneak a peek at the list he was holding. It was blank.


“It’s alright, honey. There’s always next year,” Jo consoled her son as they approached her house’s front arch, the mixture of tears and snot beginning to freeze slightly on the boy’s face. Hearing an echo of Father Winter’s words only set him off more, enough to leave his mom with the tail end of yet another squeal and run off towards his second-story room, careening around six corners on the way. “Don’t slip!” she yelled.

Charlie put an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “I don’t know where we went wrong,” she admitted.

“No, Jo, there was nothing we could have done. You were great today.” He tried to come up with something that would cheer her up. “Someday we’re going to be able to look back on this and laugh.” He hoped.

Jo’s eyes widened in an expression of shock not unlike that of someone who realized they forgot to turn the stove off before leaving the house. “Charlie, that’s it! My footage!” She turned towards her husband, placing her hand on his chest. “We can take the footage, cut out all the parts with Father Winter, and show Jasper how much fun he was having!” Heck, maybe she’d leave Shu in some shots.

“Sounds good, dear.” He was paying enough attention to nod each time she asked him whether it was a good idea.

Above the gym, Jasper’s pillow was alternating between being a punching bag and a tissue. Jo slowly poked her head over the staircase railing so as to not startle him. Her son, not the pillow.

“What if I made you some burgers for dinner?” she offered. “Would that make it better?”

He nodded so she would go downstairs. It wasn’t going to work. Fuck the self-fellating old coot.

Jo found her husband sitting cross-legged in the garden, picking up handfuls of powdery snow and opening his palm to let the wind carry it away. “Hey, Charlie. If I made burgers, would you eat some?”

“I mean, if you’re going to make them, sure,” he muttered, watching the powder slip over the webbing between his fingers.

She sighed almost inaudibly. If he was going to be in one of those moods, it was best not to engage. It was best to focus on the task at hand and give him some space to play with the snow or whatever. But to the outsider, it looks like she’s too preoccupied with applying her personal spice mix to see her husband being carried away in a beam of light.

Jo turned around fifteen minutes later with a plate of burgers that bunned themselves.

“Charlie?”

There’s nothing to her right but the marks he made in the snow. Maybe he went inside. She checked the kitchen.

“Charlie?”

He’s not in the bedroom, living room, gym, bathroom, or study, either. It figures he’d left without telling her again. She picked up a hamburger and stormed off towards her son’s room.


Winterfest ended an hour ago and Charlie’s side of the bed was still empty. Jo decided this would be the part she would want to edit out of her mind, lying down on her side and staring at the indentation left in his pillow, not knowing whether he was five or a million miles away. He wasn’t answering his phone, either. She moved to his side so she at least wouldn’t have to look at it. The night sky was visible overhead. Maybe I should try it, she thought, telling her thoughts to some tiny speck of light in the distance instead of the person next to her. And after sending her doubts upward and watching them dissipate in the air like so many flecks of powdery snow, she finally closed her eyes.

She slept through the beam of light that appeared outside her window and gently lowered her husband back to earth. The beam grew dimmer. Charlie dropped to his knees. He felt his forehead with the back of his hand. The mental fog that had bothered him so much during his first abduction was now undetectable, blending in with all the other buzzing and tightness in his head he was feeling constantly.

And the worst part was he didn’t know why he was doing any of these things that made his head buzz. And that’s what he had to show for it, this list of achievements. Five, maybe six concrete items that identified who he was as a person. He was left to wonder what the difference was between Charlie Jeong-Espinosa and another man with an identical list. Just like, he could see another hypothetical person being happy with what he has: the job, grades, etc. So if it distinguishes him from the other guy, the one who accepts his responsibilities wholesale and can carry them out indefinitely in kind of a proud-complacent manner, then Charlie Jeong-Espinosa is an ungrateful bastard with no real goddamn purpose other than to not question why he was checking off items on some imaginary list before it took over his life.

The stupid oversized VR thing was a reminder of the praise he was getting for not letting his doubts get in the way of success. He found a spot where it couldn’t taunt him, a spot next to his sleeping son. The son Father Winter had tacked onto that list of achievements like yet another goal. Putting it here made sense, at least. Tomorrow Jo would get to tell him Father Winter changed his mind.

Charlie managed to get under the covers without waking up his wife. He crossed his forearms over his head and adjusted the alignment of his neck into the most comfortable position for stargazing. He imagined a small green dot, like a laser, swooshing along the Big Dipper, gaining enough momentum from the net downward action of the first four edges to break from the bowl of the constellation and shoot off towards the North Star. Your holiday’s over, buddy, he informed it, on the off-chance it understood its role in Winterfest lore, could read his thoughts, and wasn’t currently too busy with something else to do so.

The North Star twinkled at him.

No, he replied, you’re the one who’s in too deep.

The Jeong-Espinosa Family Replaces Charlie with a Dog

And graduates from hanging out in the bathroom to acting out a teenager’s worst nightmare—that is, if the teenager were capable of understanding the implications of two or more simultaneous events.

My entire family is here. I’m in my room. Hm.

If we envision moving our p.o.v. along the positive z-axis (yeah, oriented so it’s going out of the screen, bite me), we’d find ourselves in a comically large room as green as it is empty. No one bothered to clean it out after the eldest J.E. child graduated from hiding in his room to living in a house where privacy is less a luxury than an impossibility.

The world ‘child’ here should provoke some opposition in the spirit of Fiddler‘s Yente. “From such children come other children!”

That aside, Jasper’s existence, even in absentia, has created ripples in the O.G. J.E. household strong enough to change one person: freshly-titled Abuela Claudia. This role is serious business for Newcrest’s sweetheart, enough to give her liver a break as she plots to ensure her grandchild turns into an empanada.

Almost 30 posts in and I still have to use Google to remember the name of the place where most of the protagonists live. At least it’s not Oak River/Aspen Valley/Mountain Field/the two nature things one.

Forty-eight servings in, she opens the fridge door and interrogates its contents, her mind blanking on where she put that leftover Dulce de Leche. Right, it was directly under the deli jar in the container with the red lid. She removed the lid to find someone else had the same idea.

Any frustration Claudia may have felt was overshadowed by her desire to measure her son’s progress. Of the half he’d left uneaten, they weren’t leaking and looked about as even as one could expect for a less experienced folder. They were deep-fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar—not choices Claudia would have made, given her background in bodybuilding—but they were probably more appealing to a child’s palate this way. She snapped a photo and checked the empty living room before savoring one of the carb bombs right in front of the fridge. Divine. There was her conversation topic for the next week.

Hector’s phone conversation with Charlie (i.e., teenage girl Charlie) and the continuation of a ballpoint-pen colony of bats, drawn over Kendra’s existing sleeve while she waited her turn to talk to Charlie, were halted by the sound of their mother’s voice projecting from her usual perch. Kids, we’re going to Charlie’s! Other Charlie! Pay attention; your brother’s house isn’t going to render itself!

Mike’s off on a casual weekend space trip. Doesn’t matter. Turn the boosters on and get your ass back down here.

Abuela propels herself through the open-air concept arches with at least a dozen containers of fresh pastries. She plays a short round of dead-fish Tetris in Charlie’s fridge, where Korobeiniki is replaced by her eldest’s almost rhythmic protests of “Mom,” and, occasionally, “Mom, c’mon.”

“It’s my job to feed you,” she counters, right at the point where the victory theme would take over. She opens a container and waves it inches from Charlie’s face. “Hector made these! Look how nice!”

The U.S. gave us crystal meth, and Yeltsin drank himself to death. That song.

The Dr. sees an opening to redirect his mother’s unabated stream of affection towards someone who hadn’t been jaded by excited matriarch overexposure. “If you’re looking for Jasper, he’s just—“

“Darling!” Claudia interrupts as she banks around the kitchen corner. Jasper tolerates a couple minutes of cooing before he notices the treat in her hand. “Here,” she says. “You have to try this.”

Claudia holds one of Hector’s empanadas at eye level for Jasper to take a bite. It’s amazing; crispy and gooey and messy—something that would make a very satisfying mess on the tile floor, he thought. Bits of powdered sugar were already falling into the grout. But when he opened his mouth for another bite, he saw something that made him hold back bile.

The pastry was full of poop. Poop! Light brown gushing baby diarrhea.

He shook his head no. This didn’t deter Claudia from brandishing the dessert at eye level, chanting “Take a bite! Take a bite!” as the contents of Jasper’s potty threatened to ooze into the outside world. He shook his head more forcefully and ran into his parent’s bedroom, bawling. Charlie watched his mom slump over and zone out in the manner she usually did when she thought no one was watching.

“Maybe next time?” Charlie reassured her, taking the rejected empanada and biting into it.

Jo was two-thirds of the way through Mike’s favorite story about his daring space exploits, a story she didn’t reveal was already recounted to her almost verbatim by Charlie. She gave no indication of having seen his stand-up routines either, which she was exposed to in the same manner, despite that information being publicly available elsewhere. She tuned out and used the extra time to plan out her next five blog posts. Microplastics. Indoor air pollution. Boundaries on physical touch. Feign surprise at exactly the right moment. “And that’s when the ray gun jammed!” You don’t say, Mike! She also had to throw her hat into the ring on whether or not eggs were healthy, but wanted to build more credibility first. She also had to pick up eggs on her next jog.

Jasper recovered from his empanada meltdown in time to inform his aunt and uncle that Winterfest exists and he approves.

Claudia holds the bar with both hands, leaning into her shoulders with straight arms. What was she doing here again? Eh. Visiting Charlie reminded her of how quiet her house was compared to the old country.

She remembers an advertisement on her phone for what might provide an adequate source of noise.

Just to look.

The teens are once again summoned from their rooms by the command of a mother who, despite having acknowledged her need for racket, isn’t aware of the difference between her yelling volume and the average decibel level of everything else in the house. (Somewhat justified, given that Kendra’s room is upstairs.) One may have assumed the upstairs-dweller would be a cat person because of the everything about her, but she finds herself overcome by the presence of puppies. Double puppies.

Adoption agent: what do I do with my hands, WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS

Mike comes home to the adoption agent leaving with only one dog post-“just to look.” So, Perry and Mona Jeong-Espinosa, welcome to the family! We’re fucked up, but not organized-crime levels of fucked up. Just domestic shit.

Perry, a Dalmatian puppy, is seen here begging for food from the person least likely to part from it.

Mona, a gorgeous grey Weimaraner, is bonded to Claudia.

Sandra Lee here kept herself from the bar for an entire day after Mona’s adoption. The younger three, as well, have temporarily put their ambitions on hold in favor of canine bonding; the collective’s top and only priorities are now to pet the dogs, train the dogs, buy toys, play fetch, and cook for the dogs. Hector admits that the latter may have been self-serving.

This motherfucker right here

Goofy bastard that he is, he’s still less awkward around potential partners than his brother was. Recall the organized crime statement—it’s a coincidence that both single J.E.s have a shared crush who happens to be an heir to the Chinese mafia and, worse, has the same name as their brother.

Charlie is in the blazer because she wants to do business something-or-other, Carlie is aiming to be the next Shu

C(h)arlie are taking a more subtle version of the Chantel strategy, miraculously showing up in the same place as Kendra and Hector with jelly doughnuts decorated/squished to look like roadkill. When asked questions about their personal lives, they give a tantalizingly vague answer and divert the conversation. Neither target notices; Kendra actually prefers the air of mystery and Hector has no distinction between ‘good’ and ‘nice,’ let alone ‘nice’ and ‘docile.’

Charlie returns home with a clay octopus mug and a homemade churro in wax paper. Her room is nondescript and has few personal effects, save for a single shelf on the east wall loaded with creepy art. She pushes a matching necklace and earring set made of glass eyes to the side, placing the mug in the resulting space. She takes an ominous bite out of the churro.

They invited themselves over. How come Mike can’t recognize that the “new neighbors” are his best friend and best friend’s wife moving into his old house, but this family can coordinate plans with no supervision?

Kendra and Hector deal with this by not acknowledging it whatsoever.

In the theme of puppy love, Perry is no longer a puppy, but a pretty adult. Hooray for Perry!

Mona almost immediately starts yelling hearts. Which is baffling, since they barely know each other and he was a baby less than an hour ago.

Mike grabs the leash in case getting Mona out of the house will stop the moaning, and—ah crap, not again.

Happy Wednesday!
He’ll be fiiiiiine.

Mike can never remember, but it’s probably a group of space pirates with too much free time and a fuck-you-William-Shatner attitude.

But this is the final career for Mike, as long as he gets to pick which actor plays him in the movie adaptation of his life. The shorter hours allow him to spend more time with his family, although they confuse him: why doesn’t intergalactic peacekeeping require more dedication from its authority figures? What shenanigans are happening when he’s chilling at the park?

This is actually a hidden-object family portrait sans Charlie. As it says in the title, he got replaced.

Something clicks in Mike’s head while watching Claudia with the dogs. Charlie, Hector, himself—give her a cute thing to receive her love, and her mood elevates in a snap. Then the thrill wears off and she’s as dull as ever. Fascinating; if she seems like she’s really losing it, he’ll surprise her with a kitten.

Claudia is still letting herself ride the high from this temporary fix. She’s leaving the house more, down to three juices a day—

—fuck you too, universe.

Mike getting probed, you can set your watch to, but Claudia? That’s just vindictive.


Kenny’s phone buzzed to announce the arrival of what she thought would be Wyatt’s noncommittal response to her time-lapse gif of a hypothetical apocalyptic pandemic where she used Paint to rename the disease “Wyatt’s Mom.”

Another one. Great.

Sure, she can convince Shu and like eight of his girlfriends to follow her there.

Gen’s knowing fourth-wall-shattering expression is what makes this special

Wyatt has moved on from his absurdist “What is a party, really?” period, coming up with a far superior dual theme of Sexual Tension (to be expected, given their age group, but he’s making a statement by acknowledging it proper) and Weird Facial Expressions. This one’s in a house and everything.

Kendra and Hector get into the spirit with Superman Jawline and Big Hair, respectively. Wyatt takes the time to personally thank Shu for turning up. He’s indispensable.

Jo has the second half of the theme down cold

“Isn’t it ironic that the term ‘post-modern’ has been around for at least thirty years?” Kendra thought aloud to Supes, intentionally constructing a conversation around Wyatt’s two favorite words. (She was misinformed; it had been in use since at least Bernard’s first lifetime.) “What are they going to call the next artistic movement? Post-postmodernism?”

“I think that’s part of the joke,” said Wyatt, having picked up on the magic words from across the room. “It’s supposed to be ironic. Also, post-postmodernism is already a thing, and it’s supposed to be reacting to irony.”

“So the next step is post post-postmodernism?” mused the one with six right angles for a jaw, whose name is actually Vincent. “And then postpostpostpostmodernism? And then…”

Wyatt tried to make the point that categorizing all art as reactionary to other art is inherently limiting, in itself a post-postmodern sentiment, but couldn’t sneak a second word into Vince’s ongoing chant of “postpostpostpostpostpostpost.” Kendra was too charmed by some masked crusader’s secret identity to notice him storm off. He would have botched the point or sounded pretentious anyway. God, he couldn’t wait to grow up and at least be able to take himself seriously.

To be self-aware enough to figure out what I’m doing wrong, he thought as he blew out his birthday candles.


Kendra takes the afterparty to the the Romance Festival, along with the budding Mafiosa, Repetition Man of Steel, an anime vampire dreamboat (but you can call him Daichi), and her little brother.

Look how happy she is!

The pre-afterparty had put her in the mood to figure something out for herself. She knew she wanted to date, but even with the pink aphrodisiac altering her mental state enough to radiate its hue in an aura around her body, approaching other Sims was going to be hard. She crushed her empty plastic cup before spiking it conscientiously into a trash can. The plan was to ride this fuck-inaction high, using it to get the initial approach over with thrice and be done.

In the ‘Pro’ column for Charlie: Resourceful. Brings single cupcakes to public events. Side note: Claim single cupcake in the next 27 minutes.

Daichi is used to people pointing out how well his look works for him, so he expected Kendra to start the conversation by admiring his coat. She asks, is the quilted white part one shirt and does the lavender overcoat have slanted sleeves that have to be constantly readjusted, or is the coat one layer on the sleeves and the underlayer a fake shirt sewn into the lapels? Does he wear an undershirt to keep it clean? Mentioning the coat is just a chiffon-thin ruse to touch his arm, of course.

Gustavo is her mom’s ex. On a scale of 1 to 10, is this creepy or super creepy?

She checks her phone for Shu’s answer to her plea for help dealing with Charlie, and her subsequent note clarifying the age and gender of the person she meant, to find a correct but useless response which may have suggested, in a different context, that her mentor in romance fell asleep at his desk with his forehead on the ‘L’ and ‘O’ keys. Kendra sighed, and, recalling his earlier advice on mirroring, improvised a course of action.

“So I noticed you invited me to the Romance Festival?” Charlie pressed immediately on Kendra’s approach.

“Oh, well, I invited you, but I also invited these other people,” she said, gesturing left in a way that didn’t uniquely identify which other people Kendra meant, although their identities may have been inferable depending on whether Charlie was aware of the existence of translucent hexagonal markers. “Why do you ask?”

“You never know, you never know,” Charlie trailed off in her usual avoidant manner.

“Maybe, or maybe not,” Kendra clarified. “If you’re confused about what someone wants, maybe you should ask them.” She turned around without watching for Charlie’s reaction. That should be cryptic enough.

The sushi vendor, wondering how the hell this is an actual conversation

She tried to keep her spooky mystery aura by doubling back to Creature of the Light, taking a microsecond break to pick out a topic of interest.

“So. How about those hats?”


Kenny’s birthday party theme is Greek mythical figures. In particular:

Phthonus, representing envy! In this case, not about romance, but because his best friend has a cooler trash can.

Sisyphus! Good luck with that.

Adephagia, goddess of gluttony! Beware! The internet has ruined her image search results.

Dionysus! Claudia is probably also Dionysus!

Kendra looks at her cake, candles snuffed out from oxygen deprivation, a fate which would either kill Sims like herself or fry the personality out of their brains, and realizes her own Gloom. At the time of aging up, she has maxed out zero skills, dated/kissed zero people, developed zero interest in these fucking numbers, and made 15 monster drawings.

There is no local Wiccan bookstore for her to frequent, no Demonology major to complete, no career based on occult knowledge—but dealing with the public as a surly bartender/barista should provide more than enough inspiration for her bilingual horror poetry.

The air is displeasingly dry on Kendra’s last day with her parents. She would have loved some cathartic rain, but maybe would have settled for an uncomfortable level of humidity. Just enough to evoke the threat of rain. That would reflect her feelings better; that the anticipation could be just as bad as, or worse than, the event itself.

I know who I am, she reminded herself as she withdrew from her second-story basement to the unforgiving world beyond. Everything else depends on execution.

She’s also preemptively been replaced with a dog.

The Lucas/Liu/Haskins Conglomerate: To Being an ‘Us’ for Once

The smell of lobster cooked on a cheap stove and the sound of technical drills performed at a steadily increasing tempo clash for sensory dominance directly outside the 12th story window of an Arts District apartment.

Their progenitor pauses to admire the acoustics of his living room; the partially tiled floor had a wonderful effect on his tone, in contrast to the carpeted rooms of his A.(I./A.)B.s, counterproductive to soundproofing as it was. So that was one plus to leaving his dads with a two-finger salute and recruiting ~15% of his girlfriends to live in this semi-shitty apartment. Worrying about money counted as another, giving him just enough of a boundary to work with while preserving his mental freedom. Shu wrote an essay in high school, not that long ago, about the irony of restrictions being needed to maintain freedom, so he didn’t have the fantasies of limitlessness that some men his age do. But lately paradoxes like this are out-prioritized by the thesis statement of Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M.

Any excitement shown by our protagonist is negligible compared to that of Chantel Lucas (i.e., Girlfriend Zero; i.e., Don’t Look Now Shu She’s Behind You Again). Getting her boyfriend’s attention is almost trivial now! He sleeps in her room a solid three-fifths of the time!

Chantel had ambitions to become a great musician someday, likely inspired by her sole hobby as a teenager. Said hobby prevented her from taking any positive steps in this direction—if not the consensual stalking, then the lack of understanding of cause and effect characteristic of her species—but it wasn’t a complete wash, since she can feed two birds with one birdfeeder here and barge into the bathroom while Shu is showering to ask for lessons. Here she is at some party, being taught the B♭ minor scale on one of Xiyuan’s obnoxiously expensive heirlooms.

She also enjoys screaming at inanimate objects.

The other ~7.5% of girlfriends, Genevieve Haskins (i.e., Two! Common! Traits!), shares her boyfriend’s YOLO attitude. She and Shu have an unspoken agreement to let the other know if any parties are going on, and to drop everything and attend if so. But party animal isn’t a job, and recall Method Man et al.’s statement up there, so Gen works on her pro gaming career between pole dancing classes and passing out on benches. Here she is pwning Trace Beam for the world to see.

She also enjoys watching Chantel scream at inanimate objects.
Shannon Bheeda is Shu’s actual second-favorite girlfriend, but she was vetoed by the other two due to being awful.

For this particular disconnected thruple, the drama is nonexistent. The Player reward would make things one-sided if Gen or Chantel had interest in dating anyone else, but one is just here for S&G and one is Chantel, respectively. Having to explain the situation is more annoying. “Shu” is generally regarded as either a sarcastic or obvious response to “who are you dating?”, depending on which social groups the asker frequents, so both women have gotten used to explaining that yes, they actually do live with him. Like in the same house. Gen invented a system to illustrate the hierarchy using tonal variation: there are “girlfriends,” girlfriends (also Max. That’s still going on), and GIRLFRIEND-girlfriends, where the latter group has only three people.

You can form strong bonds with someone over having your shared dating life questioned so many times the explanation itself becomes a standup routine.

Gen gets to do the voices, Chantel jumps in with “also Max”

This would potentially be where a fourth party enters to create drama, fifth if we include Shannon, but surprising these guys in their space is risky. A Kramer type bursts through the front door without knocking. Never again.

We now rely on interjectory repetition for humor. BAMBOZOWIEEEE!

After a couple weeks, the conglomerate settles into what could be considered a normal groove for them. Observe.


Shu’s daily routine is predictable: after brushing and flossing, a five-step morning skincare ritual, and a thorough shower, he discusses the latest sports game with his girlfriends, sends them both off to work with a kiss, and heads to one of San Myshuno’s or Windenburg’s swankiest establishments to collect date rewards.

This woman (name and traits lost to time, ehh) hasn’t met him yet. Now she has. Kendra, left, texts Charlie something close to “oh god, he’s doing it again,” where “oh god” is meant to convey wry amusement more than surprise.

It’s going to jump between Seasons and not-Seasons for the next couple entries, folks, and I do apologize for that. Please enjoy Shu’s hat. He’s not looking forward to the holidays but he does have a ‘Naughty’ list.

He chats her up, inviting her to a date at this exact club. She agrees.

Part of Shu’s job success involves exploiting a certain phenomenon where, on top of there being no good men in this town (Aileen’s Theorem), a certain mod defaults the straight-to-gay marriage ratio at 50% and only considers male Sims as marriage candidates for a selected single person. Hence, this universe currently has 50% straight couples, 50% gay male couples, no lesbian couples (a tragedy!), and loads of single women his mom’s age, all of whom are dealing with the same central conflict as his mom. Best not to read into that too closely.

Piss off, Mom

He earns gold for performing ten social interactions plus randomized additional goals (sit down! You have to), chooses not to make use of the closet for this particular date, and immediately asks to end the flirtationship.

Usually they take it well, but this lady was peeved. She seemed to like him given what is ostensibly a heart in that bubble there.

He then heads to the bar to pitch his presence/purpose to another woman.

Piss off, EVERYONE

Such are the hazards of the job—Shu keeps track of his relationships and doesn’t have a scorched-earth policy, but if two clients in the same place have a similar build, outfit, haircut, and earrings, it can be hard to remember who you’re dating at the moment. Red Jacket 1 complicated things by continuing to pursue Shu while he was on his other date.

You know; standard stuff.

Nighttime is when Shu checks Plumbook for parties, then either turns that mother out with Gen or performs chores/emotional labor at home. Do note that Shu is too unstructured to stick to even this routine; the above only covers half his week. It’s safe to assume a couple days are spent playing instruments in several locations with or without Chantel and the rest is a mystery.


Chantel is beginning to question Shu’s ability to commit.

She’s steadily climbing the ranks at her music job, all right, but occasionally loses the ability to focus as Shu-centric thoughts dominate her attention. Basketball wasn’t helping. The healthy solution—bringing him to work—was something she tried to implement by cartoonishly insisting he join the music career at times s.t. cutting the interactions down to the prompt/response and piecing them together would produce an amusing montage. And he tried. For a whole week! But putting Shu in a rabbit-hole job is like putting a fish on a bicycle in a barrel and shooting it.

Or like holding him underwater, if you prefer your similes coherent

More distressingly, he hasn’t properly proposed yet. Her wedding binder sits in a very conspicuous spot in the middle of the floor of her room, or on the bed pillow she prefers less, or attached to the mop handle with hair ties, so he knows what’s expected. She’s taken to curating a mental list of times he could have asked her to marry him, but didn’t, and going through it at regular intervals. The Romance Festival is an example—the one she left fiancé-less and on fire.

This is Chantel’s debut album cover

But the alternative solution of “dump the bastard” is hellish. She would never leave Shu. He hasn’t shown any desire to end the relationship, and he consistently stuck by her all this time, but the fear’s still there, operating in the background despite her best efforts to quash it. And she swears though it might seem like she’s complaining, this is the happiest she’s ever been.

He could be leading up to something special. Maybe next week.


Tech enthusiast Gen has a documented hatred of rules to the point that she doesn’t conform to other rebels, so no one can tell if she’s cool or not; and an undocumented hatred of the word “guru” to describe those in the middle two groups of S.T.E.M., both for its cultural appropriative undertones and because she feels it oversells those types of skills in a damaging way. Especially if you’re calling yourself a guru—for fuck’s sakes, people, show, don’t tell. Real gurus don’t have to go around telling people they’re gurus. They just exist.

(If Gen had spoken to Aileen or Ana more, she may have realized the next step is Tech Enlightenment, and people who are enlightened have no desire to teach others, because all their desires are gone. They are decoupled from the outside world. Hence, it is impossible for any of the information we have on the process of becoming enlightened to be written by an actual enlightened person. So maybe the evolution of a tech guru is someone who has rid themselves of all desire to work and hates documenting their code.)

Gen’s top priorities are keeping in good cardiovascular shape so she can do sick dance moves and there is no second priority.

Background, Shu goes on a date with Jo’s best friend
“Very Awkward”? Ya think? Note Morgan’s intriguing decision to wear tights in the shower.

Forearm exercises, in particular, help her to avoid wrist strain from her competitive gaming career. The VR booths at GeekCon blew her mind—real life is dex-broken, giving her a huge advantage, and the technology could be used for some dancing or rhythm games in the future. She’d play the heck out of those.

Don’t worry, Shu found something to do at GeekCon. Center right, Gen interrogates a townie about her daring fashion-foward yellow helmet and goth wedding dress combo.

But the highlight of Gen’s day is when one of either her or Shu’s friends tells them about a party zero minutes in advance, upon which she covers her sternum and collarbone area in two different colors of body glitter (guess which two. No, go on, guess) and dances until she dissolves into the synaesthetic blend of pulsing beats and lights. She lived for that; the strength of the stimuli meant she was feeling nearly the same thing as the person beside her. Give her enough time and the boundaries would blur. That’s what made her feel close to others, especially Shu, not words or opinions or actions. That visceral experience.

Then she and her dude pass out on adjacent benches. She’s getting pretty good at it.

S&G = Shu ‘n’ Gen

If any deities are reading this, please make sleep a skill that can be improved instead of something millions of people can’t do and then they’re screwed forever. That would be great.

Charlie & Josephine J.E.: I Call Shotgun! Pt. II

Power couple Char-Jo just got news that they’re harboring an unplanned, but wanted, Sim fetus.

For more information, consult this goofy-ass fish

Josephine left the workforce when Charlie became Chief, s.t. her priorities are now coming up with baby names that accurately reflect her priorities/the geography/modern naming trends, etc., finding a place in the stone-susceptible house for the lil’ scamp, moving her eucalyptus neck pillow between the microwave and freezer pretty much constantly, and distracting herself from the pain by speculating whether Inez will end up with dashing Rodrigo or his secret identical (hence equally dashing) twin, Emilio. She starts researching her temporary disability online. The blogs she finds are positive and supportive, in contrast to the exclusionary jargon of Charlie’s medical textbooks. And the authors—so knowledgable! In a couple days, Jo has notebooks full of facts on symptoms for common problems, a learned instinct for when to track her baby’s breathing, and digital copies of unborn-accessible Mandarin, Spanish, and Korean speech recordings. (Substitute the Sim equivalents thereof.)

Another goofy-ass fish. Charlie’s doing the Angling Ace aspiration, y’see.

Charlie matches her degree of all-consuming focus—but not for baby preparations, because he’s not over that bizarre obsession with his childhood friend Cruz. Mr. Greenwood lives in the apartment adjacent to Shu, a realization that puts Dr. J.E. in full derp.

Welcome to Dolly’s Sims, where there’s a homoerotic swirl in every bite

Cruz was (in theory) intensely dislikable even before he aged into Hot-Headed. This doesn’t stop Charlie from seeing him as some superhuman role model, having known him as the kid who could talk to anybody and do anything. To lose that faith would destroy his childhood. As such, their relationship neatly mirrors that of Ms. Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and Mr. Way (no relation) in many respects. But who’s this hurting? A bit of fanboyish glee is just what Charlie needs sometimes.

Charlie returns from his Cruz high to find Jo in the kitchen, single-fisting servings of tajine while the other fist holds a speaker to her rectus abdominis. “Cat, gato. Dog, perro. Big, grande. Little, pequeño,” the solenoid informs her torso. (Her other half bites his tongue at the lack of explanation of gendered words & the decision to make all aforementioned words masculine.) She shows him the echinacea and chickweed balm she made while foraging. It’s great for wound healing! Charlie nods his head at the list of benefits for each plant, slightly bothered that the list is just that, and contains no details of the physiological mechanisms by which each remedy works. In his excitement to have a two-sided conversation about one of his favorite topics, so he presses the issue slightly. Toxins? Which toxins? Is it urea? Because if something makes you sweat or pee, it does remove toxins.

Thirteen unique mentions of the word “toxins” later, Charlie staves off semantic satiation by offering to determine the pre-rugrat’s gender.

Pre-. Be consistent here, Alabama.

Can Charlie deliver his own child? God, he hopes so.

But without an ultrasound, how, though. How. Also, would any English descriptivists like to weigh in on the choice to capitalize ‘boy’?

The Outside house is still a hotspot on weekends. Saturday brings all of Jo’s crew. Her best friend, Morgan, reads a book in the airy comfort of a room with walls on three sides. Her brother, Gavin, entertains himself by walking in and out of the studio, because it is the entrance he understands best in this house, and is pleased with himself for doing so.

Her unborn son presses against her cervix. Jo enters the data into her contraction timer app. He’s coming! Put down the damn cards!

Just break the fourth wall and smile like a dumbass. Yes, like that.

Charlie is finally witnessing his job from the other side of the reception desk. He would perform the delivery himself, but labor laws require him to not perform surgery while off-duty. Lawsuits and stuff like that. He finds himself going into a deeper state of panic, manically pleading his co-workers to check his wife in. Dr. Rosa’s pipetting goes from unsettling to downright cruel as she refuses to pause her Sisyphean task of infinity-tuple-checking her blood work even as Joey’s belabored screams echo across the empty walls.

Over two hours later, Nurse Lothario realizes there is someone at the hospital who needs medical attention, and starts administering treatment he’s not technically qualified to administer.

Prompting a second freakout from Charlie.

Thanks to some dude in a basketball uniform screaming backseat surgery advice, both mother and baby survive. Don stops himself from chatting Jo up before leaving the room.

Here’s Jasper Jeong-Espinosa!

Lose 7 pounds now, ask Jo how

Jasper has some extended family who are all very excited to meet him—ah, speak of the devil, he’s letting himself in again.

Even the game mechanics know Mike has a documented lack of boundaries

Neither Gavin nor Moira is blessed with situational instincts, so the fact that the current residents left for several hours and returned with a third resident flies right over their heads. Jo leaves the youngin with his grandfather and the grandfather with instructions to restrict his cooing to a language other than Simlish. Jasper’s aging up with all the phonemes if it kills her.

The new mother’s strategy is to schmooze with the guests just enough for them to catch on to the baby situation, then care for her nooboo as soon as possible. But now a fourth guest, Ana Abrahmacharya, is begging to be let back into the living room.

Welcome to Catastrophe Theory, where we use words that the Google search algorithm thinks aren’t words because they’re jokes that require knowledge of Sanskrit grammar. So, here. The prefix ‘a-‘ means ‘not’ and brahmacharya is the fourth yama (ethical rule) in the Yoga Sutras, sometimes translated as sexual restraint. (Asteya is the third.) Get it? Ana would consider it a pretty sick burn.

Charlie has some degree of social awareness, even if it is induced by meddling, so he understands fielding the latest visitor is his job. He grabs Ana by the shoulder and pulls her in for a kiss.

What the absolute ass hell, you daft fuck

Yes, in front of his wife who just had a baby.

Charlie curses his inability to involve his idiot brain in matters of the heart. He’s supposed to be a genius. What about these women makes his thinking part turn off? A quick glance at Jo suggests she’s too engrossed in conversation with her brother to notice his misstep; he mumbles something unintelligible, focuses on counting the grey tiles as he power-walks toward the bedroom, and ducks behind the door, twisting the handle so as to make as little sound as possible. Turns out he’s not alone, not even here.

They forgot about Xiyuan. Ana was actually the fifth guest.

He lies awake even as the ombre of the sky shifts to navy and the constellations reveal themselves above his translucent roof. Sagittarius. Fitting.


Several hours later, the grandparents are invited for a private baby viewing. Charlie supports Jasper’s head as Claudia responds the same gushing way she would to a particularly well-done garnish, or a stranger at the airport ordering the same drink. Hard to tell with this one. Her husband has already seen the baby, and heads for the guitar before his son calls him over for a more formal introduction.

Jo’s almost-sixteen hours of experience left her with several questions for a three-time mother like Claudia, along with “help, my areolas are on fire,” which isn’t a question but deserves addressing anyway. How many fractions of a centimeter of cranial growth can we expect per day? Can she make any sense of these 80 conflicting comments on a Daily Mail article about pacifiers? The J.E. matriarch dodges these questions like 1999 Keanu Reeves (i.e., in 1999, not 1999 of him, in case the plural of Keanu Reeves is also Keanu Reeves), depriving Joey of the hyperspecific information she craves with each “oh, I’m sure it will be fine, don’t worry, darling.”

Yeah, Claudia, that’s what someone says in a horror movie right before they get an ax through the skull. The idea that everything will be fine is easier to stomach when you’ve already had three healthy children survive to between 13 and 28. Jo didn’t have that luxury; she was faced with a future where a thousand factors could determine whether her child lives a life of tragedy. Some were avoidable. But the causes and solutions were starting to span multiple notebooks, and Jo couldn’t devote all her time to research, not with all these handmade cloth diapers to wash. She excused herself to fire off a quick question to four different forums.

When she returned, she discovered Charlie had extended the private viewing to include Cruz and, to her horror, Shu. Charlie’s too captivated by Cruz’s story about the rude woman who served him at the DMV to realize his wife is now stuck keeping the trollop busy. Here. Bundle of joy.

Jo tries to avoid all eye contact and give curt, noncommittal reactions to Shu’s hypothetical inquiries re. the owner of these chubby baby legs. Please stop body-shaming the baby! It gets worse when he starts asking the questions she expected from Claudia, and worse still when he actually listens to her responses. You’re really interested in this stuff, Jo. Maybe you should have your own blog.

Maybe she should.

Jo subscribes to every social media platform she can think of under her online handle, JumpingJoey; she registers her domain, snaps a couple Anne-Geddes-worthy pictures of Jasper (in a somewhat post-apocalyptic nightmare twist, it looks like he’s growing in the garden with the watermelons), sets the best one as her site banner, and gets to framing her hundreds of hours of research in the confident folksy way she found so endearing. She looks through her notebooks and decides to present all the information she’s learned as subjectively as possible. If some new mother, somewhere, looked at everything Jo consolidated and was able to come to an informed decision about her choices, the whole effort would be worth it.

She poses a couple medical questions to Charlie for her third post. He’s confused; what do you mean by “prevent autism”? There are hundreds of genetic and epigenetic factors that can influence the development of autism, which, by the way, isn’t the worst thing in the world. He sends her eight review papers and a list of celebrities on the spectrum.

A two-year-old NooBoo Corner post by bo_bo_beans81 says rubbing the baby’s feet with milk thistle will halt the development of autism. Jo shrugs and writes “Milk thistle (Bo_bo_beans81, 2016)” under the eight PubMed links to peer-reviewed papers. Better safe than sorry. Modern medicine doesn’t know everything yet, nor does Charlie, who also has no experience being a mom.

He hangs out with Chantel’s a lot, though

As Jo’s readership reaches the hundreds, Jasper passes the requisite three days of neurological development and materializes a dope hat out of the aether.

She’s more aggressive about promotion than WWaTS. Note also that Charlie does really like her, despite the issues he has with such things.

It begins.

bond with child to induce mood

The race to getting a toddler to all full skills in one week. Hooray.

Jasper has the most well-documented progress of any Jeong-Espinosa toddler, which gets posted on Jumping Jasper! next to frequent reassurance that just because your tyke cries because you put the plate of chicken nuggets facing the wrong direction, it doesn’t mean things won’t get better. Also, you shouldn’t be feeding them chicken nuggets. Have you tried harvestables instead? Eating a full meal gets in the way of skilling.

Internally, though, as Jo reads through her positive feedback from blog owners whose posts she left positive feedback on, and one from a guy who wants new readers on his weblog about color-sorted ties, she will take any opportunity to talk to an adult in person for one goddamn minute. Like dragging a passing Xiyuan into the house during Jasper’s 2 PM – 4:30 PM nap for an unsatisfying game of cards.

You draw something good, buddy? Huh? Is that what’s going on?

Jasper’s crepuscularity also gives Jo an opportunity to work out. She discovers the punching bag has a special Flirty interaction. Unfortunately, this discovery isn’t thematic enough for her social media empire.

More like a social media fief, tbh

According to Jo’s Simstagram feed, Jasper is finished with four out of five skills. Jo thanks the stars that at least this part of childhood development is well-documented—she doesn’t know what she’d do without knowing the exact amount 1 hour of xylophone practice expands a toddler’s imagination. But her husband’s taking a looser conflict-averse approach. Check it.

Charlie: “What number is this?”

Jasper:

Charlie: “Yes!! Good job!”

You fucking liar.

We’ll give Jo some extra time to saturate everyone’s feed with pictures of Jasper in various hats, and come back to quantify the effects of flashcard dishonesty on childhood development.

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 his 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 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 which 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 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, Xiyuan 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.
(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 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 reckons it’s easier to drag her into his entourage than to lay out the merits of each individual 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 timely 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.

Her decorating intuition doesn’t extend beyond lampshade hanging

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.

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 measured?

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 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 him 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.