SCG Daily – Interviewing… Chris Romeo

In his final SCG Daily column, Chris takes narcissism to strange new heights. He interveiws the self-proclaimed Best Lookin’ Magic Writer on the Internet…

Today, we talk with a man selected as The Best Lookin’ Magic Writer on the Internet as voted on by his wife. I speak, of course, the incomparable and incomprehensible Chris Romeo. Romeo has been a disc jockey, a journalist, an engineer, a songwriter, a drummer, a guitarist, a keyboard player, a producer, an arranger, a comic book store manager, a baseball card store manager, a record store manager, owner of a mail-order comic book business, a lawyer, an insurance agent, and a Magic writer. He has sucked at all of them, and he still got paid. He’s dated women much more attractive than he ever had a right to, and even got one to marry him. Today, we try to figure out how all of this happened.

Q: First things first. What’s your real name?

A: My given name is Christopher Bryant Romeo. Really. It’s even pronounced “roe-mee-oh” just like in Romeo & Juliet.

Q: Has anyone ever teased you about your name?

A: No. Why would they? Chris is a very common name.

Q: I’m keeping track of this one… it’s interesting to me that the non-Magic players in the world presume that all Magic players started out as Dungeons & Dragons players. Are you now, or were you ever, a role-playing gamer?

A: I have played a total of exactly one D&D game in my life. I was nowhere near as into it as everyone else playing. I just can’t immerse myself in a character like that. It may have also hurt me that not everyone started with new characters, even though three of the seven of us had never played before. I don’t know the game well, so I could be wrong here, but it seems like a brand new Dwarf Cleric might not do well in a game in which the threats can take down a seventeenth level Wizard Warrior Vampire or whatever he was. Plus, the games go on soooooo long. I have just about enough discipline to get through one match of Magic. I guess that goes with being borderline Adult Attention Deficit Dis…oh, cool, Futurama’s on!

I’m much more interested in what my friend Randy calls “parlor games.” Give me Quarto, Settlers of Cataan, Ticket to Ride, or Scrabble. Anything that I can play with family and friends who aren’t big-time gamers like some of my other friends. Oh, and Zombies!!!!!! For my wedding present, Luanne got me the wooden version of Cathedral. It’s a great game that also looks great sitting on your coffee table.

Now that I have young nieces and nephews, I’ve found several great games that I can play with them without having to dumb myself or the game down. Apples to Apples Junior is loads of fun. If you want to be really silly, try Snorta. Play with kids or adults with alcohol.

Q: Everyone has a different story about what got them interested in Magic. What did it for you?

A: No doubt about it: the art. I’ve always loved art of all sorts, and especially comic book art. Someone got me a starter deck of Tempest. I opened them up right after Urza’s Saga was released. It wasn’t long after that that a friend on mine taught me how to play the game. From that moment, I started asking, “Well, is there a card that I can add to the deck that does this? Is there a creature that does that?” The art caught my eye, but the creativity that the game allows drew me in deep and has kept me there for seven years.

Q: Everyone gets this question this week because it just so happens that every one of the writers interviewed is married or, in Craig’s case, happily attached. As a Magic player with a woman, what advice can you give to aspiring Magic Romeos?

A: My advice on attracting women is to be very rich or very good-looking. I never had any money due to supporting my voracious music habit. So, I always relied heavily on my rakish smile and swarthy good looks. I can also carefully and precisely groom my moustache with my tongue. Before I was married, I did that all of the time in public. Sure, I often heard gasps of "horror," but, deep down inside, most women are mightily impressed.

In fact, I met Luanne in a bookstore. She was looking at the mysteries – she loves any female writer who writes about dead bodies, murder, maiming, et al – and I was looking for a book for my Mom (Hi, Mom!) who had just had surgery. I saw Luanne’s blue eyes and did my thing. She fainted, and that was that.

Q: Come on, be serious.

A: Okay, seriously. The single best piece of advice I can give is to forget about women who don’t want you. I know that seems patently obvious, but many guys behave like it’s not. They chase a woman, and chase her and chase her. The woman, of course, knows how badly the guy wants her. One of two things is going to happen when a woman knows how badly a guy wants her. She’s going to let herself be "caught," at which point she knows that she is the alpha human in that relationship. The guy is going to get milked for everything and get nothing in return. Either that, or she will continue to say "no." With all of the energy expended doing that, a guy could focus on a woman that wasn’t disgusted by his habits, or one who wouldn’t belittle his hobbies, one who won’t take him for a ride, use him, or try to change him.

Besides, women who get chased a lot tend not to be very appreciative of romance. I know that many of them are simply fantastic to look at, and that’s our problem as guys. We equate "hot" with "great lovers." I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. They don’t appreciate the little gestures. They don’t know how to reciprocate, because no one’s ever called them on it. They also tend to compare anything you do with either what an old boyfriend did, or what one of her other current boyfriends does for her. In other words, they tend to just play you to get stuff ‘n’ things that they want.

This is why I ended up dating a lot more women than anyone ever expected a nerd like me to date. While I watched friends chase women who wouldn’t give them the time of day, I noticed that there were many, many, many attractive women in the world that didn’t have men chasing them. Find one of those women. Trust me. It will be worth it.

Don’t chase. Let the other guys all chase the same woman. That leaves a whole bunch more for you.

Q: It sounds like you’ve thought about this a lot.

A: I have. In high school, even thought I lettered in three sports, I was considered a geek because I got such good grades. The girls at my school didn’t like me. I chased and chased, but they wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire. After I was shot down in an extremely embarrassing manner one day, I told my boss at the time, a real womanizer named Stan Inman, what had happened. Stan told me, “Romeo, everybody has different tastes. If we didn’t, every man would be chasing the same woman, and every woman would be chasing me. And that wouldn’t be fair.” Stan did have a bit of an ego problem, but he was right. Don’t waste my time. If you don’t want me, I’ll find someone who does. I started talking to women who didn’t go to my school, and, guess what? They liked me.

Q: I’ve found that I learn the most from my mistakes. Anyone can say "That worked. I should keep doing that" even when they don’t have a clue about what they’re doing. But mistakes have a way of really teaching you a lesson. What mistake have you learned the most from?

A: I’ve made so many that it’s hard to tell what the biggest was. The first big one was not joining a band that ended up getting a major label deal. I was in college, and they were already fairly well known in New Orleans. Everyone knew they were about to break. When their drummer left, they came to me. However, being the “safe” guy that I am, I had to stay in school. Now, don’t get me wrong. School is very, very important. But school would always be there. Okay, so it was Tulane, and, thanks to Hurricane Katrina, it’s not completely true that it would “always” be there. You know what I mean, though. Some college would always be available for me to attend. Had the band failed, I could always have gone back to school. They got a deal and released one album. Sure, it doesn’t seem like much, but that would have allowed me to meet folks. I could have stayed in the business as a songwriter or producer, for example. Alas, ‘twas not to be. What I learned from that is this: if you have a chance to do something, a chance that might not come along again, you’d better take it.

Another big mistake I made was going to law school because I thought I could do some good in the world. Lawyers truly do a lot of good. All those great jokes aside, lawyers are responsible for any Supreme Court case that changes our world. Brown vs. Board of Education, for example, would not have happened without lawyers. The problem is that most lawyers really are lawyer jokes. When you go to work for a firm and you’re the new guy right out of school, you get the worst of the worst cases to handle. You have to decide very early: are your soul and the vast majority of your waking hours worth the money they pay you? For a lot of people, it is. It wasn’t for me. So, I left. Sadly, the law school loans follow me around. From this, I learned not to borrow a lot of money for an endeavor for which I might be too ethical.

The biggest mistake, though, was the ongoing and continuous mistake that I made through most of high school and college of being upset when I wasn’t the absolute best at every single thing that I did. I nearly had a breakdown over that. Now, don’t confuse this with trying to do your best. Always try to do your best. Sometimes, though, no matter how hard you try, there will be others who are better. That cannot be helped. So, as long as you’ve tried your hardest, don’t beat yourself up.

That philosophy’s made my life a lot better. I’ve also become more fun to be around. I think. I hope.

Q: In a past life, do you think you were you some sort of royalty or something else?

A: As a Catholic, I don’t believe in past lives. You get one shot. So, you’d best make the most of it. Having said that, if I’m wrong, then, given the roadblocks that I’ve seen in my life, I’d say I was an annoying bureaucrat of some sort. The kind that makes you fill out a requisition form in order to apply for a license to stand in line.

Q: Of all of the writers this week, only Craig supports himself with the Magic writing gig, and that’s because he’s the editor of this here site. What do you do to pay the bills?

A: I answer phones for Travelers Insurance. Basically, I’m paid to get yelled at by people who can’t take responsibility for their own actions or omissions.

Q: That doesn’t sound very healthy.

A: It’s not. If I could find something that paid the same for only forty hours per week, I’d do it. Right now, my best hope is that I have a stroke at work so that worker’s compensation kicks in. If not, for Luanne’s sake, I hope I just die quickly. She doesn’t need me lingering around. She needs the life insurance money.

Q: Speaking of Luanne, if your house was burning and Luanne and the cats were all safe, what one thing would you want saved?

A: Being the organized – my family and friends call it anal – guy that I am, I’ve actually already planned this. I have a case filled with CDs that are irreplaceable because they’re out of print. Most of them are singles with "B-sides" that were never put on any other CD anywhere. For those of you too young to remember vinyl, music used to come on discs that had music on both sides! Singles would have the hit on one side – the A-side – and another song on the other side – the B-side. Usually, those songs were just album cuts that the record company didn’t expect to release as its own hit single. Sometimes, though, they were songs not available anywhere else. I have Sting doing Hendrix’s "Purple Haze." I have Melissa Etheridge doing Rod Stewart’s "Maggie May." I also have my autographed copy of Los Lobos’ By the Light of the Moon and a couple of discs by a local guy named Kristian Bush. There are singles with unreleased stuff by Prince, U2, and XTC, as well as the very limited Paul McCartney Unplugged CD. That box also has the original Cerebus drawing that Dave Sim did for me. I’d just grab that box.

Q: Dave Sim did a Cerebus drawing for you? When was this?

A: In 1989 or 1990, after college, my friend Larry was running the convenience store/gift shop/book store/whatever-it’s-called in his uncle’s hotel in Miami. Sim was at a convention there. When Sim came in for something, Larry said he wouldn’t charge him if he did a Cerebus drawing for him. Larry had the paper and pen all ready.

Q: Do you like Cerebus, or did your friend just get it on a lark?

A: I read Cerebus from about issue eighty. I went back and got the previous issues in the phone books. I met Larry in college. He and I and our friend Fred were all into comics. I got them into Cerebus while they got me into other books.

Q: What comics do you read now?

A: I haven’t had a comic book folder for years. As money got tighter and the books I enjoyed – American Flagg, Grimjack, Nexus, Sable, Scout, Sandman – ended their runs, I just let them go and didn’t pick up others. I got into Starman, Preacher, and Transmetropolitan, but those ended, too. Luckily, my brother Jonathan is stranded in Iceland with the Navy, defending our country from terrorists who might melt the ice cap. He reads a lot of comic books. When I say "a lot," I mean, "one of each, please." When he’s done with them, he sends them home for me to safeguard and read until he gets back. I have to say that 100 Bullets and Fables are awesome. The last thing I picked up was a huge Jinx trade paperback from the used bookstore.

Q: Going back the music in that box, I see XTC, Sting, Prince, and Melissa Etheridge. That’s a pretty varied selection. What’s up with that?

A: When I was a kid, I was straight pop/rock with a bit of disco. My drum teacher, Arvin Scott, was an incredible musician. He had me learn George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, jazz of all sorts, and Kiss. When I went to college, I got an even broader musical education. Jazz, obviously, was everywhere. I first heard Zydeco, but I also got to hear all sorts of the expected pop-rock-R&B styles infused with that New Orleans flava. I met Delfeayo Marsalis, who had gone to high school with a friend of mine. Through him I met the entire Marsalis family. I played with musicians all over the city. I DJ’d on the college station WTUL where I was exposed to even more types of music. What I found was that almost every kind of music spoke to me, but the Blues-based stuff like R&B, Soul, Jazz, and rock spoke the loudest.

Q: Almost every type? What ones missed?

A: Bluegrass and the harshest, heaviest stuff like death metal. That’s okay, though. It’s not meant for me.

Q: So, who are some of your favorites?

A: My favorite all-time band is Pink Floyd, although The Allman Brothers are top on some days depending on my mood. Prince is my favorite solo artist, with Lenny Kravitz right behind him in the one-man-band competition. My favorite classical composer is Mozart. Duke Ellington is my favorite jazz composer and bandleader, though Wynton Marsalis is a close second. I don’t think anyone writes lyrics like Elvis Costello does, except for maybe Guy Clark. Ray Charles could, and Aretha Franklin still can, sing anything and make it powerful. And, of course, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Q: The youngest guy in that group is Prince. Don’t you like any recent stuff?

A: Geez, yes. John Mayer is going to end up being one of our all-time greats, mark my words. As for newcomers, watch Teddy Geiger, the kid who played the John Mayer-type on the very short-lived Love Monkey. Michael Buble has a huge set of pipes and more passion than most standards singers. The Killers are ki… fan-freakin’-tastic. I’ve been grooving on Starsailor recently. Joss Stone, Angie Stone, Marc Broussard, Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, Jamie Cullum, Los Lonely Boys, James Blunt, John Legend, Coldplay, The Arctic Monkeys…

Q: Okay, we get it. You like a lot of stuff, old and new. You have to have some musical guilty pleasure, though. What is it?

A: I guess that depends on what you’d call a guilty pleasure. I’ll throw these out and let the audience decide. A couple of months ago, I bought and sang along with in the car the 25th Anniversary Muppet Show Collection. I have both Spinal Tap CD’s. I pick up almost any of those $7.99 disco CDs because they remind me of my childhood. And I still have my Milli Vanilli CD.

Q: Really? You still own Milli Vanilli?

A: Yup, it was great dance music. I still drag it out sometimes. If you find a copy, next time you play it, watch everyone’s faces. They can’t help but smile and move. Ditto for "I’m Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred.

Q: We know about your love of movies and television, especially animation. I mean, you use enough quotes in your articles. Tell us something we’d be surprised to know regarding your collection.

A: I love romantic comedies. I could watch Down with Love, Don Juan Demarco, or L.A. Story pretty much anytime in any mood. If you want to see a lost classic sometime, check out Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in How to Steal a Million. There’s this great exchange where she’s trying to stitch him up after she shoots him, pretty much on accident. He yelps in pain. She says, "Oh, stop being such a baby. It’s only a flesh wound." "Yes," he says, "but it’s my flesh."

Q: There you have it, ladies. Romeo’s a real softie. You had your chance. Too late now.

A: The truth is more like something that Rizzo said and that Bennie alluded to. It’s the writing. Give me a well-crafted script with some great lines, and I’m going to be entertained. People tend to look only to dramas as "great scripts," but that’s just a bias against comedy. A Fish Called Wanda is every bit as good of a script as Good Will Hunting. I’ll take Dirty Rotten Scoundrels over most "award-winning dramas."

Q: You like TV and movie quotes, maybe too much. You even use them in regular conversation. Why?

A: No matter what you say, it sounds more profound and trustworthy if your audience thinks someone else said it. I found this out in college. I started saying, "A wise man once said . . ." before saying something I’d made up, and people invariably thought whatever I said was more powerful than if I just said it flat out. Besides, quoting a movie or TV show that your audience knows helps you bond. Why do you think people quoted Seinfeld so much? Yeah, a lot of it was because it was just flat-out funny. Much of it, though, was because it was a shared experience. "Yeah, I remember seeing that episode, too." Mostly, I do it because those writers come up with better stuff than I ever could.

Q: If you could get Pete to set up the Chris Romeo You-Don’t-Turn-Down-an-Italian Invitational for a series of columns, who would you invite?

A: I would actually have a two-day event. Day 1, I have to play the brightest stars in the Magic Universe in a true round-robin format. No modified Swiss crap. Everyone plays everyone once. I will, of course, go 0-7 (0-14), but I’m gonna ask questions and study like crazy. Katsuhiro Mori has to be there. He’s gonna teach me how to change one or two cards in my deck and turn it from pretender to contender. Kai Budde and Jon Finkel obviously have to be there, so that I can ask them about every single freakin’ play they make. "Why’d you play that Island at that point?" "Um, because it was turn 1?" "Okay, I get that…" Randy Buehler is going to be there, and so is Masashiro Kuroda. Mike Flores has to be there so we can talk theory, or, more precisely, he’d talk theory while I’d pretend to understand. I would fully expect him to name a couple of new ones that weekend. Last and certainly not least, Osyp Lebedowicz. He seems like he’s just too funny. I’d need that after all of the flop sweat I’d be throwing off.

That night, the Day 2 guys show up, and I make a huge pot of jambalaya for everyone. We sit around, tell stories, laugh, cry, and watch How to Steal a Million.

Day 2 would be more casual. Rizzo, JMS, Bennie Smith, Anthony Alongi, Nathan J. Xaxson, Abe Sargent, and my brother would be there. My brother is the seventh because I haven’t seen him except for two weeks in the last nineteen months. We’d play a Five-Color Legacy Highlander/Singleton Chaos multi-player game. The decks would have a minimum of five-hundred cards. Then, we’d play a format for which I’m still looking for a great name. The decks can’t have any higher percentage of rares and uncommons than a regular booster pack has. In other words, a 60-card deck can have at most four rares and twelve uncommons. It’d have to be Standard-legal, too. I think that’d be a blast.

Q: Okay, now, we’re into the rapid-fire section. I’m going to use some of the questions I used on the other four, just to see how the answers compare.

God-given talent or surgically enhanced?
A: Whatever you’ve got, I’m fine with it ’cause it looks sooooo good.

Q: Blonde, brunette, or redhead?
A: Yes, please.

Q: Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn?
A: Audrey Hepburn, with no looking back.

Q: Vegas or Yellowstone?
A: Yellowstone. I could afford to live in a tent in the middle of nowhere. I can’t afford to live in a tent in Vegas.

Q: Fish or chips?
A: Fish.

Q: Hot or cold?
A: Hot.

Q: Color or Black & White?
A: Black and White with an artistic splash of color, a la Schindler’s List.

Q: Hot date or winning states?
A: Winning states. I’ve had plenty of hot dates.

Q: Babylon 5 or Battlestar: Galactica?
A: B5. I liked JMS’s vision. Hey, those initials are familiar…

Q: Paper or plastic?
A: Whatever you’ve got, I’m fine with it ’cause it looks sooooo good.

Q: Claymation or CGI?
A: Claymation. I got nothing against CGI, I just like the reality of Claymation.

Q: Spring, Summer, Winter, or Fall?
A: Fall. The leaves are changing color like God got his watercolor set out. Baseball’s heading into the play-offs. The NFL’s just starting. I can sleep with the windows open. Fall all the way.

Q: Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim or Comedy Central’s South Park and Drawn Together?
A: Depends on the night. When South Park and Drawn Together are both new (or I haven’t seen either one), I’ll take those. If not, Adult Swim is da bomb.

Q: Edward James Olmos or Lorne Greene?
A: Olmos. He’s been in charge of Battlestar: Galactica and Crocket and Tubbs.

Q: Sunrise or sunset?
A: Sunset.

Q: Coldplay or Pink Floyd?
A: Pink Floyd. But give Coldplay another fifteen years, and call me back.

Q: Sittin’ on the dock of the bay or up on the roof?
A: Up on the roof.

Q: Coffee, Tea, or Milk?
A: Tea.

Q: CDs or LPs?
A: CDs.

Q: Science Fiction or Science Fantasy?
A: True science fiction, the kind that actually examines the effect of scientific and technological advances have on humans and human culture, not just the kind that has some steroid abusing superhuman using advanced weaponry to beat up on alien invaders. Though that’s cool, too; it’s just not science fiction.

Q: Michael Bolton or Michael Bolton?
A: Duh.

Q: American Idol or American Bandstand?
A: American Bandstand. It’s got a great melody, and I can dance to it.

Q: Fawlty Towers or The Office?
A: I have yet to see the BBC version of The Office. [For shame! – Craig] All I know is the American version with Steve Carrell. So, I have to go with Fawlty Towers. I’ve probably seen each of those episodes nine or ten times, and I still laugh out loud. Please, don’t misinterpret me. The American version of The Office is lol-funny, but Fawlty Towers just doesn’t stop.

Q: Han Solo or Luke Skywalker?
A: Han Solo. He’s a more complex character. It was fun to watch Luke’s transformation, too, but he just went from good kid to holy Jedi man.

Q: Hellblazer or Sandman?
A: I go with Hellblazer right now, but tomorrow it could be Sandman. I’m not saying that I don’t like Sandman. I love it, and I can reread it over and over. But it ended, and I miss it.

Q: Mother Goose, Brothers Grimm, or Aesop?
A: The original, unedited Brothers Grimm stuff. I’m sure Adam G. can tell us more about them, but I like how they collected those tales and kept all of the blood and gore. Sorry, folks, but no matter how well Disney does whitewashing those things, life doesn’t always end with everyone living happily ever after.

Q: White, Blue, Black, Red, or Green?
A: White.

Q: Beatdown or control?
A: Beatdown. The game is about combat.

Q: Rolling a die or rock paper scissors?
A: Give me a pair of dice.

Q: Kirk or Picard?
A: Picard. He’s the best manager ever. I even have the book Make It So. Ever notice how he didn’t have all of the answers all by himself? That’s a good manager right there. I’ve worked for two kinds of bosses: the kind that know everything and have all of the answers, and good managers.

Q: Jessica Simpson or Christina Aguilera?
A: Aguilera. As hot as she looks, she can also sing like an angel. I never thought she was a good singer until I saw her live with a real band on Saturday Night Live. Man, has she got some pipes. If she ever did an album with a live band playing really instruments, she’d take over the world.

Q: Night or day?
A: Night. Kinda goes with the Sunset. I am not a day person.

Q: Finally, I know that you know how this works. It’s a Desert Island Top Ten-ish. You’re going to be stranded on a deserted island for a year, but you have electricity to run an entertainment center and all the food you need. What ten or twenty DVDs do you bring? Or CDs, or books? Whatever you want. You’re the one being stranded for a year. We want you to be comfortable.

A: I’m kinda going to fudge on this. I’d bring a few boxed sets: the Allman Brothers; Clapton’s; The Police; and Atlantic Rhythm & Blues. I’d also have to have Count Basie and Duke Ellington’s Battle Royale, and Prince’s Purple Rain. To watch, I’d have to have season one of The Twilight Zone and Miami Vice. I’d bring Gladiator so that I could finally watch it and get my brother off of my back. Plus, the Indiana Jones and Star Wars box sets. For books, I’d bring some stuff that I haven’t read yet. I’d want to study some history that I haven’t had a chance to study, so I’d have Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I haven’t read James Lee Burke’s Last Car from Elysian Fields yet, and I love Burke’s stuff. I think I’d also want to do some people studying far away from people, so I’d take Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. I think that’d get me through a year. Oh, and a computer so I could write and play solitaire.

Q: Thanks for being with us.

A: That’s not a question.

I hope you all have enjoyed these interviews. I know that I had a blast doing them. In fact, I call “DIBS!” on interviews for my SCG Daily appearances. I plan on doing it again next time.

Chris Romeo