Life before Angry Birds

I remember a time I could sit down to a dinnertime pork chop and not think, “Serves you right. You never should’ve thought that helmet would save you.”

If I could remember it more clearly, I’m sure there was a time I didn’t look into the trees around my home in search of kinship and a blue bird that would explode into three separate, sentient, ruthless entities.

I am almost certain there was a time I could walk with my family through a park without throwing myself on every little black, round bird and screaming, “Run! It’s going to blow!”

That was all before Angry Birds. My friend Mark got me hooked on the time-killer during a long poker game. He handed me his iPhone with a mischievous glint in his eye. He just wanted to give me a little fix. He didn’t realize he was setting me up for a life of misery and depression. Oh, he’s tried to help in the intervening months since I beat Angry Birds. Late one night, he sent me a text with what I’m sure he thought was a methadone for my madness. At 2:18am, the message read, “New addicting game: Jailbreaker.”

I couldn’t run fast enough to the App Store. I downloaded Jailbreaker and slapped the vein on my inner arm a couple of times. By 2:30, I was jumping over buzzsaws and siding through panes of glass. By 2:45am, I was slumped against a wall, sweating and crying. It wasn’t the same. The fix wasn’t right. My little jailbreaker couldn’t drop an explosive egg from his tail, and if he couldn’t do that, what the hell could he do?

What the government has yet to realize about Angry Birds is the effect it can have on families. I was once a happy, nearly-well-adjusted father. My life felt full and full of meaning. My indiscretions with the iPhone game were just the stuff of weekend warriors, a bump here or there, a Friday lunch cocktail, a one-time rave built around the 30-something set. Then I caught myself playing while waiting for my car to be washed. Flight attendants were forced to make me to turn off my phone. My wife caught me in bed one night. My son asked me if he could try.

No amount of shame could stop me. Level by level, episode by episode, dead arrogant pig after dead arrogant pig, I played on. Before long, I’d reached every junkie’s sweatiest nightmare: the Angry Birds “Coming Soon” screen. I kept tapping the front of my phone, but nothing happened. I looked up to the sky, as if a programmer would hand me down another episode…just for me.

It wasn’t to be.

I woke each day with tasks in front of me, but there was no joy. Every second of downtime was filled with a sense of longing. There was no way to waste time. I became exceedingly and embarrassingly productive. I worked mercilessly, taking no breaks–not even to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t bear the idea of loading up my phone only to see the “Coming Soon” screen again.

It was over. Until it wasn’t.

My friend Shane spent most of the last few months getting healthy. He was working out, cutting back on the booze, and directing himself toward a productive life. I nearly cried when I learned he was a Bird junkie, too. At the beginning of the summer, Shane announced via his Twitter account that Angry Birds had put out an update.

Again, I ran to my phone and the App Store. I clicked on the updates, but there was nothing. Nothing at all. I looked closer at Shane’s post and discovered he was just discovering the boomerang bird.

“Damn you, Shane Nickerson!” I screamed at the sky. “The boomerang bird was so three weeks ago! Damn you, Nickerson! Damn youuuuuuuuu!”

In the intervening months, Angry Birds updated once. It put out a new episode with 15 levels and a brand new giant red bird. I made it last as long as I could.

I hit the “Coming Soon” screen within half an hour and then let a single tear run down my cheek. It was over as quickly as it began, and the pain was twice as bad.

I have had people–other addicts and weekend warriors–who look at me and say, “Now try to get three stars on every level. It will be fun!” These people are fooling themselves.

I know what will happen. Just like all the other times, there will be an initial, heady joy. I’ll find myself achieving three stars on every level. My wife will find me at 4am sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of Pepto Bismol, a half-full bottle of rye, and my red-zone-battery iPhone. I’ll do it, of course. I’ll get three stars on every level, and then it will be over again. I’ll slip back into a sick and shameful period of productivity that I could only hope to hide from the ones I love.

There was a time I didn’t take joy in killing pigs. There was a time I didn’t see birds as weapons. There was a time when a slingshot was just a slingshot.

Yes, I’m sure there were times like that.

I’m glad I have our family photo album to help me remember.