Transcending the Game

First, a quick note. Lately you’ve probably noticed that I’m writing about Buffy to an extent that is obsessive, perhaps nauseating. You may wonder if I have acquired a second mental illness, or if I am receiving money from Joss Whedon. As far as I know, neither is the case; and unfortunately for you, Hypothetical Reader, the obsession shows no sign of slowing down. If you like, you can turn my blog into a drinking game, or use it as a cautionary tale for children.


One of the best and most iconic scenes in Buffy comes in the Season 2 episode “Innocence.” A powerful demon threatens the town, and nobody knows how to stop it. The usual weapons – swords, stakes, crossbows – are useless. Buffy and friends consider all kinds of strategies, magic spells, and possible weaknesses, but they come up empty.

Then they get an idea.

The demon enters a crowded shopping mall, ready to inflict all kinds of carnage. And Buffy comes up – in broad daylight, in full view of everyone – and pulls out a friggin’ rocket launcher, and blows the creature away.

It probably sounds dumb when I explain it like that, but in the context of the show, the scene is awesome. I don’t just mean it’s really cool. I mean that it literally inspires awe (for me, anyway).


It isn’t just that the rocket launcher is big or powerful. Lots of shows feature far more destructive weapons that do nothing for me. So what is it? I couldn’t put my finger on the reason, and it bothered me. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. And I believe I’ve finally figured it out.

See, despite being set in modern times, Buffy is basically a sword-and-sorcery show. The weapons are either medieval or magical. The enemies are monsters or demons. Fights involve hand-to-hand combat as often as not. This is just how Buffy is – it’s such a basic element of the story that you don’t even think much about it. Implicitly, it’s one of the rules of the game.

Buffy and her friends can’t figure out how to beat the demon because they’re stuck in the mindset of those invisible, unspoken rules. They conclude, correctly, that they can’t win the game.

By using a rocket launcher, they’re breaking the rules. They’re not doing sword and sorcery anymore.

They don’t win by playing the game better. They play an entirely different game. The confrontation in the mall isn’t a fight. It’s an execution.

I think this idea of transcending the game is behind a lot of the most awe-inspiring moments in fiction.

The climactic scene of The Matrix shows this even more clearly. Neo has fully realized his role as The One. He sees the Matrix for what it is. He bends it to his will. Agent Smith – a devastating nemesis for most of the film – is reduced to a mere curiosity, a trial run for Neo’s unspeakable power. Smith fires one bullet after another, and Neo plucks them out of the air. As with Buffy and the demon, this isn’t actually a fight. Smith is still bound by the old rules, while Neo is playing a different game.

Transcending the game often means “upgrading” to a higher class of weapon or power, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes a strategy or tactic is so brilliant, so unexpected, that it can work in the same way.

At one point in Ender’s Game, Ender’s troops are forced into a war game that’s completely unfair. Their opponents, well-rested and prepared, have twice as many soldiers, while Ender’s soldiers are exhausted and surprised. Everyone is either laughing at Ender or pitying him; it’s simply a no-win scenario.

And then Ender deploys a strategy so subtle, so perfect, that his enemies don’t even realize they’ve lost until after the battle is over. (If you’re wondering what the strategy is, you’ll have to read the book.)

Game-transcendence is typically a surprise to the reader (or viewer), but it doesn’t have to be. Lord of the Rings is an amazing example of this. The reader knows all along that the good guys plan to destroy the Ring; it’s the whole premise of the story. It’s easy to forget, then, that Sauron doesn’t know, that he can’t even imagine a strategy of deliberately giving up power. The moment when his light bulb finally clicks on is one of the best scenes in the book. I’m quoting it here – I know it’s a long passage, but I just love it so much:

And far away, as Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dûr was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. Then his wrath blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung.

From all his policies and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain. At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom.

Please, Professor Tolkien. You had me at “Hello.”

Crazy Buttons

Toward the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke is hiding from Darth Vader in the Emperor’s throne room. Vader is trying to draw him out (and turn him to the Dark Side), without much success. Then Vader utters this line:

…Sister. So, you have a twin sister. […] If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will.

Instantly, Luke transforms. His fear kindles to rage. He cries out, rushes at Vader, rains down blow after blow with his lightsaber. Soon Vader’s lying on the floor, badly wounded, and Luke’s standing over him, weapon in hand, seething with fury. He’s given in – briefly – to the Dark Side.

What happened there? Simple. Vader pressed Luke’s crazy button.

Pressing a crazy button generally means harming or threatening a loved one, but not just any loved one will do. The love typically has to be deep, protective, borderline-obsessive. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow loves a lot of people – Buffy, Xander, Giles, Dawn, Oz, Joyce – and she’d be very upset if any of them got hurt. But only Tara is her crazy button.

(Incidentally, the Buffyverse has an awful lot of crazy buttons. Oz’s button is Willow, Giles’s is Jenny, Wesley’s is Fred, and Buffy’s is Dawn.)

Aang, the hero of Avatar: The Last Airbender, is an interesting case. For him, the “crazy” triggers a physical transformation: glowing eyes, deep voice, near-godlike power. There’s an episode where someone provokes this state deliberately, by threatening Katara, the girl he loves. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well.

By the way, the loved one in these scenarios seems to be female about 80% of the time. You can draw your own conclusions about the significance of that.

It doesn’t have to be a person, though. Another time, Aang’s set off by someone hurting Appa, his flying sky bison. Species doesn’t matter, as long as the bond is there.

The “loved one” can even be an entire people or civilization, not just an individual. Tolkien gives us a stunning example in The Silmarillion:

Then Fingolfin beheld (as it seemed to him) the utter ruin of the Noldor, and the defeat beyond redress of all their houses; and filled with wrath and despair he mounted Rochallor his great horse and rode forth alone, and none might restrain him. He passed over Dor-nu-Fauglith like a wind amid the dust, and all that beheld his onset fled in amaze, thinking Oromë himself was come; for a great madness of rage was upon him, so that his eyes shone like the eyes of the Valar. Thus he came alone to Angband’s gates, and he sounded his horn, and smote once upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come forth to single combat. And Morgoth came.

But a crazy button doesn’t have to be about love. Instead it can be about hatred of a specific foe, if the feeling is strong enough. In Star Trek: First Contact, Picard’s crazy button is the Borg. There, unlike the examples above, it’s a slow-burning crazy, starting out cold and only getting hot toward the end. But the crazy is there.

As you can tell, crazy buttons fascinate me. I love watching them get pressed (in fiction, I mean).

I love that anybody can have one, no matter how meek or gentle they might otherwise be. I love how shockingly fast they can work. I love the oh-shit moment, right after the trigger but before the explosion, when you know things are about to get real. (Buffy actually has an episode that ends at precisely that moment, holding back the fallout till the next episode. Cliffhangers don’t get much better.)

Most of all, I love how complete and dramatic the transformation can be: how friendship, alliances, fear, ethics, and restraint are all stripped away, how the character’s whole universe shrinks to a single point, white-hot and needle-sharp. Denzel Washington expresses this perfectly in a trailer for John Q. There, his crazy button is the entire premise for the movie: his son will die without an operation, but the hospital won’t perform it, so he takes the building hostage. A police negotiator tries to convince him to surrender, outlining the consequences if he refuses. His response:

You’re not hearing me, Frank! My son is sick! That’s it! There’s nothing else. End of story.

What the negotiator fails to understand is that John is in crazy mode. No consequences are important. Nothing else is even a factor.

I love it when the gloves come off, when good guys go bad, when nice girls turn dark. Often it ends badly for everyone, even the one that the hero’s trying to protect. But it makes for a hell of a story.

Haiku 365: February

My haikus for February. (The last one says March 1, but I wrote it a day late, so it “belongs” to February.)

January’s haikus are here.

#32: 2/1/2015
Snowflakes congregate
above, huddling, before
downward exodus.

#33: 2/3/2015
Ten icy fingers
while the rest of me is warm.
Seriously, hands?

#34: 2/3/2015
Moon in the branches,
blind eye searching for her mate.
Cardinal calls for dawn.

#35: 2/4/2015
Whitewashed winter sky,
sparkling fields of white below.
In between, my breath.

#36: 2/5/2015
Coffee pot babbles
in the last hour of night,
sighs, and goes to sleep.

#37: 2/6/2015
Some wretched mornings
blossom into sterling days
if I tend them well.

#38: 2/7/2015
Old train tracks cut through
the town like a telegraph
from a harder age.

#39: 2/8/2015
Tired in spirit,
tired in limbs, head, and heart,
still upon the path.

#40: 2/9/2015
Read the signs, dear one.
Auguries and meteors:
something is at hand.

#41: 2/10/2015
Neurons are empty.
Signals flicker back and forth
to no great effect.

#42: 2/11/2015
These gentle rhythms,
day upon day, breakfast, bed,
stretch on year to year.

#43: 2/12/2015
Look out the window.
Framed in proper rectangles,
all the savage world.

#44: 2/13/2015
After the movie,
scenes and songs still flicker on.
Life is epilogue.

#45: 2/14/2015
First sip of cool beer.
Spicy aroma, dark glass,
a toast to winter.

#46: 2/15/2015
Dinner together,
husband and wife on the couch.
Rare steak and brownies.

#47: 2/16/2015
Different kinds of cold:
subtle chill in frosty air,
or bone-biting ice.

#48: 2/17/2015
No one is certain.
Scientists, prophets, teachers.
No one knows for sure.

#49: 2/18/2015
Comfortable inside,
looking out at frigid dark.
Forgot to get mail.

#50: 2/20/2015
Mexican dinner,
friends celebrate the week’s end.
Smell of Corona.

#51: 2/20/2015
The front doorbell rings.
Betsy and I lack nothing;
who upsets our peace?

#52: 2/21/2015
Fog in the darkness,
fellow cars all rushing by.
Where are they headed?

#53: 2/22/2015
Newly painted room
welcomes me with muted hue.
Just one shade of gray.

#54: 2/24/2015
Eating veggie soup,
vibrant garden potpourri.
Someday, winter ends.

#55: 2/24/2015
Squeak! goes the old chair,
not caring if it gets oil,
singing its old song.

#56: 2/26/2015
Talk grammar to me.
Pronoun antecedents, yeah.
Conjugate that verb.

#57: 2/26/2015
Betsy and Brian,
orbiting each other like
new binary stars.

#58: 2/27/2015
Dishwasher chortles,
furnace breathes, dryer rattles.
Evening symphony.

#59: 3/1/2015
End of the weekend,
Sunday blues creep on like fog.
Monday starts anew.

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 5 & 6

Standard Disclaimer

This is fan fiction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon. If you like, you can read my thoughts on the ethics and legality of fan fiction.

[Start reading story from beginning]

[Go back to chapters 3 & 4]

Chapter 5

Anne let out a delighted “Oh!” and gave her a warm hug. “Aunt Willow! What a surprise. Won’t you come in?”

The flat was small but elegant. Sleek Swiss chairs and tables, a kitchen plucked from a Modernist showcase. Windows made up nearly the whole west wall, revealing a mass of old gray and brown buildings huddled along the River Thames.

“Cuppa tea?” Anne said brightly.

Willow smiled. She couldn’t help thinking the young woman matched the flat. Shoulder-length brown hair proper but stylish, crisp white dress, matching shoes with sensible heels.

So much like her mother.

“No, thank you.” She went to the window. “Lovely view.”

“If you like gray,” said Anne. She went hunting for something in the kitchen. “And what brings you to London? Here to see Mum, I suppose?”

“Yes. Mostly.”

“She ought to be home before long. Most days the office lets her out on time.” She returned with a plate of cookies. Willow took one, and they both sat down.

“So,” said Willow, “you’ll be back to University soon?”

“End of August. And Justin’s a year younger than me, so he’s…speaking of.” She got up and made her way to the back of the flat. “Justin! Aunt Willow’s here!” Some muddled reply. “Don’t be a prat, Justin. Willow Rosenberg? From America?”

A pause, then poor Anne was practically bowled over as Justin dashed into the room. “Auntie!” he cried, bending down to hug her, then plopped on the couch and rested his sneakers on the coffee table. “Ace! Biscuits.”

Anne returned to her seat, glaring at him. “Not overdressed, are we?”

He glanced down: faded jeans and a ragged black T-shirt that read simply, in white letters, BOLLOCKS. “What? Got my trousers on, don’t I?”

Willow smiled. It was good to see these two again. “Justin, your sister and I were just talking about school.”

“Bored you to tears, did she?” Justin put his feet down and leaned forward eagerly. “Listen, Auntie. You haven’t, you know, killed any vampires lately. Have you?”

“Justin,” said Anne, “don’t be stupid. Nobody’s seen a vampire for almost a decade.”

He grinned. “Buffy has.”

“Justin!” Anne was scandalized. “We don’t say that name!”

He rolled his eyes at her. “Sod off, Anne, it’s not a secret.” He turned back to Willow. “So?”

Her stomach sank, but she preserved her friendly smile. “No vampires, I’m afraid. Not lately.”

“Too bad,” said Justin. “Reminds me, though. Can I show you this picture I found?” He flipped open a panel on the coffee table and began typing.

Anne tensed, preparing to stand. “What are you…?”

“You’ll see.” Moments later, a large rectangular image floated above the plate of cookies. “Ta-da!”

Willow stared. Her smile disappeared.

It was a painting. Of her.

Floating in the sky, arms out, palms open. Long red hair wet against her face. Raging clouds, lightning thick as rain. Screaming like a wrathful deity. Eyes blazing like portals to the sun.

The caption read ‘Storming the Palace, Rio de Janeiro, A.D. 2015.’ The title was ‘Willow Ascendant.’

“Well?” said Justin. “Is that really how it was?”

Memory took her.

Rain, yes, and lightning. That was all true, more or less. But that’s not what she remembered.

Because in her mind there wasn’t any storm. No palace, no battle, no enemies to kill. No sight or sound, no space or time. No self. Not even magic.

There was only the power, thundering in her veins, begging her not to stop, to let it go on, and on, and on…

She tore her eyes from the picture and looked at the far wall. “No,” she said quietly. “Not really.”

Anne turned it off and shot Justin such a withering glare that even he fell silent.

Willow was still trying to think of a pleasant way to break the tension when the door opened. She stood up and smiled once again, despite her nervousness.

“Hello, Dawn.” She indicated the table. “Biscuit?”

Chapter 6

Dawn Arkley set down her wine glass and dabbed her lips with the cloth napkin. “All right,” she said. “I’ll go with you.”

Willow, sitting across from her at the two-person table, chewed her filet thoughtfully. She did her best to ignore the buzz of conversation and clatter of dishes around them. “You understand, it’ll be dangerous.”

“Not exactly a first, is it?” Dawn brushed a stray hair from her face. All these years, Dawn’s hair had never been anything but long. “If there’s a chance to see Mom, I have to go. Besides, this sounds like quite the Scooby reunion you’re planning. The two of us. Xander. Illyria. And…my sister? Is she coming, too?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet, but I will soon,” said Willow. “What do you think she’ll say?”

Dawn stirred her vegetable soup, which she’d hardly tasted. She was such a serious woman now. Cool blue eyes, stark navy blazer. But then, thought Willow, she had reason to be serious. The divorce, raising two children alone, taking care of Giles…

“I don’t know,” said Dawn. “I don’t hear from her very often, and when I do, it’s usually dangers I should watch out for, trouble spots to avoid. Very practical.”

What would it be like, to lose a sister that way? Willow never had a sister. “She still loves you, you know.”

“She has a funny way of showing it.” Dawn gave up on the soup and went back to the wine. “What about Spike? Any chance this little get-together will draw him out of hiding?”

Willow sighed. “He’s not hiding, Dawn, he’s dead. You know that.”

“Nobody saw him die. Just because he disappeared, and we haven’t seen him in forever…”

“I’ve had my best witches do locator spells. I’m talking really high-end, all-inclusive, multi-dimensional, the works. Spike just doesn’t exist anymore. Anywhere. He’s gone.”

Dawn didn’t answer, just finished off her glass. A few tables over, a young couple was laughing wildly. The waiter came by with the check. Willow took it.

“Well then,” said Dawn, “what about Giles?”

“I’d like to see him while I’m here, of course.”

“No, I mean, what about bringing Giles?”

“Bringing him? To Sunnydale?” Willow blinked. “Dawnie, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

“Why not?” Dawn’s lips pressed to a thin, obstinate line that Willow remembered well.

“I mean…” Still off-balance. The question had caught her by surprise. “With his…condition, I don’t think he’s in any shape for international travel. And like I said, it’ll be dangerous. Besides, Dawn…would he still recognize…? I mean, would he even understand…?”

“Physically, he’s as healthy as can be, for an eighty-one-year-old,” said Dawn. “He can make the trip. We’ll be there to protect him. And as for his ‘condition,’ he still has lucid moments. If there’s even a chance he could talk to Mom, or Jenny, I think we should let him try.”

Willow rubbed her temple. “I don’t know. I just think, the way he is now…I mean, he’s not even…”

“He’s still a person, Willow!”

Willow stared in surprise. “I know that,” she said coldly.

“Do you?” said Dawn. “This is Giles we’re talking about. He was more of a father to you than your real dad. Remember?”

“Don’t you dare lecture me.” Willow’s growing fury clipped the words tight. “I’ve saved his life in battle a hundred times.”

“And what about his battle here in London, locked in that room for the past ten years? Do you care about that?” She leaned closer. Scornful. “Willow, do you even love him anymore?”

Willow slammed the table. Silverware rattled, glasses fell over, ice water spilled on her skirt. A teacup dropped to the floor and shattered. She glared at Dawn, grinding her teeth, unable to speak.

Faces turned in their direction. A waiter came over and swept the porcelain shards into a dustpan.

Willow let out a slow breath as he worked. “Thank you,” she muttered, righting her glass and drying her lap with a napkin. “I’m very sorry. Thank you.”

After he left, Dawn brushed her hair with her fingers, got quiet again. “I shouldn’t have said that. I apologize.” She looked away. “It’s just…after Kyle left, I had nothing, except two little kids to raise. But Giles moved me to London, found me a place to live. Pulled strings to get me a job. Helped with the children. He was there for me, Willow. And now, I want to be there for him.”

Willow didn’t answer. Her heart felt heavy. She brushed her skirt again, trying to dry the damp spot. Her legs were getting cold.

“But the truth is, you’re probably right,” Dawn said. “A trip like this, he’d just get confused. Upset. He’d be a liability in battle. And he wouldn’t get anything out of it.”

Willow tapped her thumbs together. How could she decide a question like this? How could anyone?


She folded her hands and looked at Dawn.

“Why don’t we ask him?”

[Chapters 7 & 8 coming soon…]

Friday Links

From The Onion: Boyfriends Who Aren’t Speaking Are Thinking About Ending Relationship 90% Of Time. As a boyfriend/husband myself, I can confirm this is definitely true. Anytime I’m quiet, that is a near-certain indication that I am thinking about the relationship, and it’s not good. It definitely isn’t because I’m guessing at the etymology of a word you recently spoke, or trying to figure out whether Stephen Hawking is still the only person to have portrayed himself in an episode of Star Trek.

Also. This. Just this.

Have a phenomenal weekend!

An Open Letter to Standup Comedians

Dear standup comedians,

I like you. I respect what you do. Chrome’s spellcheck may not think “standup” is a real word, but I know better. I think you are, for the most part, good people.

I mean, really: your job is to make me laugh. My amusement is literally your professional ambition. How could I be upset about that? I’m not. I will pay you money. I will go to your shows, I will watch your specials on Netflix. We’ll have a great time, you and I.

I know you have a difficult job. I know it’s tough to break in, I know the pay can be lousy, I know it’s nerve-wracking going in front of all those people. I get it. Good for you, for trying something so hard.

I just have one simple request.

Don’t fucking talk to me.

You can talk, of course. You pretty much have to, for your job. You can deliver your material, you can address the audience as a whole. But do not ever, ever, ever, ever, ever select me out of the audience during a show and talk to me one-on-one. If you do, I will despise you with a depth of hatred normally reserved for third-world dictators and putting up wallpaper.


For starters, I don’t know you. I may think you’re funny, but I know nothing about you as a person. If I wanted to talk to anyone, I’d be talking with my wife, whom I like infinitely better than you.

Also, I don’t like people. Judging by the jokes you’re telling, you don’t much care for them either. So let’s not pretend we’re buddies. Let’s not pretend I have even the slightest microscopic desire to tell you anything about myself whatsoever. Most of all, let’s not pretend we’ve entered some kind of parallel universe where answering your bullshit questions in front of a giant room full of strangers is somehow a privilege I’m willing to pay for.

Instead, let’s have a very simple arrangement. You do your routine and leave me out of it, and in return, I won’t throw rocks at the stage.

Betsy and I went to a standup comedy show last Saturday. None of the comedians talked to us, but they talked to other people in the audience. One poor guy in particular was forced to endure a seemingly endless stream of questions – not all at once, but spread out over the entire evening.

He seemed to enjoy it. Maybe he did, and if so, that’s great. Lots of people are cool with that kind of thing. In fact, if you want to incorporate audience participation into your routine, that’s great – just ask for volunteers instead of picking someone on your own. Trust me, plenty of hands will go up.

Just not mine.

This discussion, it went to a bitter place. But I don’t hate you, standup comedians. I like you a lot.

As long as we have an understanding.

Brian D. Buckley (and approximately half the planet)

The World is Full of Worlds (pt. 2)

On Thursday, I wrote about the incredibly huge, complex, surprising worlds that exist under every hobby, pursuit, and subculture, if you just scratch the surface a little. So what kind of stuff am I talking about? Here are just three interesting examples.

Invented Languages – Not “natural” languages like English or Russian, but languages that a person or group sat down and created deliberately. Esperanto is the most famous, but there are literally hundreds of “conlangs,” or constructed languages. Some people learn Klingon. Some people learn Quenya (the language of Tolkien’s Elves) or its expanded form, Neo-Quenya. Geeky programmer types (not that I know anybody like that) might learn Lojban, a logical language – one of many. Hobbyists create their own grammars and vocabularies for fun, and share them with like-minded linguistic tinkerers. For an in-depth tour of this world, see Arika Okrent’s fabulous book, In the Land of Invented Languages.

Fictional Worlds (and their fandoms) – Trekkies, Whovians, etc. As an example, take Avatar: The Last Airbender. A kids’ TV cartoon that aired from 2005 to 2008. Only three seasons, just sixty-one episodes. How obsessed could people get?

Oh, you poor, naive soul. The Avatar fandom has all of the following, and more:

  • Its own lexicon. “Bryke” means Bryan + Mike, and refers to the show’s creators, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. “EIP” is “Ember Island Players,” a popular season three episode. “FN” means “Fire Nation” – obviously.
  • Its own violent history. No one can forget the long, bloody war of Kataang (Katara + Aang ship) vs. Zutara (Zuko + Katara ship). We lost a lot of good fans that year. To a lesser extent, ATLA (Avatar: The Last Airbender) vs. LOK (Legend of Korra).
  • Its own memes. Standup comic Amon? Do the thing? Guru Laghima, an airbender? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s because you are a normal human being.
  • Its own pet peeves. “What happened to Zuko’s mother?” She punched you in the face for asking that damn question.
  • Its own articles of faith. “The Great Divide” IS the worst episode. You WILL cry at the end of “The Tale of Iroh.” And of course: There. Was. No. Movie.

Falconry – Using a trained falcon (or other bird of prey) to hunt wild game. I know nothing about this, aside from what I’m finding as I google it right now, but it is definitely a real thing that people really still do. Falconry is legal everywhere in the U.S. except Hawaii and Washington, D. C., according to the Ohio Falconry Association, which evidently is also a real thing that exists. (I’m honestly not mocking any of this, it’s just way outside my usual horizons.) To hunt with a falcon, you need a permit – i.e. this is sufficiently common that there’s a legal framework for it. You need to get frozen mice – or something else – for the falcon to eat. There is special equipment. There are different species and breeds. Falconry has even shaped the English language: the word “rouse” originally meant a hawk shaking its feathers.

All this stuff is crazy in its own way. “Crazy” isn’t derogatory; clearly I have spent plenty of time, myself, in more than a few little worlds. Mainly, I just love that they exist.