Thursday, October 27, 2011

A tribute to wizardry

This is one of those blog posts that I meant to write for a while, certainly since I started this blog. I want to talk about Wizard's Tower. What is Wizard's Tower you may ask? It was a small comic book/games in the Unicentre building, on University of Ottawa campus. For all its flaws (and it did have them), it still holds a bit of magic for me. This was the place where I first met my wife, where I made so many friends, and probably learned more about so many different subjects than the university itself taught me.

Probably my favourite time at Wizard's Tower was on a Sunday morning. It opened at 11 and closed at 5. After a hard night of term paper writing, or partying, or playing games, I would sleep in, wake up around 10, shower, dress, and shamble uphill on Nelson street to Wizard's Tower. Although I profess to detest walks, those uphill walks made me fall in love with Ottawa. I'd get to Wizard's Tower, often the first customer of the day. Clambering up on one of those bar stools that the store had set up around its sole long table, I'd chat up either of the store employees (Brian or Gen, the former I remember fondly as a font of inexhaustible philosophy and comic book trivia, the latter is a good friend, former roommate, and all-around great person). I remember how on sunny days the enormous windows set in the top of the northern wall (the ceiling was VERY high) would set the dust glittering on old Frank Frazetta posters and anime wall scrolls. The best days though were the bad weather days. Then the store was this little island of calm greyness and good music would usually be playing, and you could just sit, decompress, and flip through comic books, a stack of game cards (in those days usually Warlord, Star Wars, or Legend of Five Rings), or some RPG product.

People would drift in, maybe play a game, argue about the really important immortal geek debates (katana vs. European swords, the relevance of Gnosticism, which D&D class was really overpowered, Marvel vs. DC, and bitching about professors and classes), and pore over the store's offerings. Most of the space was dedicated to the comic books, more manga began to appear later on, the back shelves were devoted to role-playing products, the miniatures/action figures/collectibles were at the front of the store, CCG stuff (the real money-maker!) was at the counter. The gaming table was positioned asymmetrically in front of the counter, a huge table with bins of back-issue comic books was at the back. I first saw my wife sitting at that table, reading a manga. I met most of my Ottawa friends at that table, although usually the bonding was accomplished through fierce card battles and debates about D&D (this being the heyday of Third Edition and later 3.5).

The store got dirty in winter as people walked in from the outside. Ordering through the store was spotty, and everyone bitched about the store owner's (Dave's) apparently contrary nature and disregard for customer preferences. The prices (especially on RPG products) were higher than elsewhere in Ottawa, and the gaming space (particularly important for Collectible Card Games - where the store I suspect made most of its money) was limited. Not all the store regulars were interesting and/or socially pleasant people to be around, but at least the stereotypical neck-beard/hygienically-challenged troll gaming store population was fairly low. In fact, after having been to many other gaming stores in Ottawa and Toronto, I am now convinced that in many ways the Wizard's Tower - perhaps owing to its location right on campus - had a more interesting clientele and resulting conversations than most other such stores.

Today I have a totally anomalous day - I actually have free time, with no preparation required for tomorrow (90% of teaching is preparation for teaching), and a cold grey day outside that makes me want to reminisce (hence this blog post! Duh!). I feel like I ought to be ambling over to some warm place, where other geeks know my name, where we can sit around a table, eat poutine, drink coffee or whatnot, and argue about movies, comic books, books, politics, religion, and relationships. And then I remember that I have not been to Wizard's Tower in nearly ten years now, and that the store is not there anymore, and the people are now all over the place. As they say on the internetz - feels bad man.