Colonizing

Early yesterday I drove my parents up to a small colonial home convention near Philly. The conventioneers consisted of several old ladies and middle aged families intent on aging their homes with faux antiques, like a teeny-bopper’s jeans. I could not criticize them too much though as my own dream house resembles Eltz Castle – an ideal house should have a moat. However, the morning exhibits promised nothing but several hours of boredom or intense DS play (depending on the availability of fold-out chairs). Yet after lunch and a quick nap, we joined the line for the evening’s entertainment, a three-hour long marketplace for colonial-ish furniture and merchandise. Apparently something on the other side of the ticket counter was a big draw with everyone for when we arrived we found old ladies already camping, tense with excitement like champion thoroughbreds seconds before a race.

A band played somewhere inside the convention halls. Medieval tunes and Christmas carols fiddled lightly for several minutes someone joined on a loudspeaker, announcing the start of the marketplace. It might have been a gunshot for all the women cared. Immediately the line began to flow forward into the halls of the convention. My brother Kevin and I found ourselves caught in the rapid current of people, which flowed through a maze of stalls built like an Arabian bizarre. “Colonial” carpets hung from poles and decorated alcoves; glass blown globes draped across shelves like frozen orbs; furniture of all colors and age (both real and apparent) rose like skyscrapers above the cubicle walls. Faceless dolls parading across dark knotted cabinets stared at glossy business cards atop glass tables held aloft by a jumbled pile of ceramic jungle animals. Women sat weaving at large looms while men delicately chipped and etched patterns into smooth wood. Waiters circulated with wine and shrimp cocktail. I felt dizzy.

Eventually the current swept Mom and us to a small nondescript cove displaying reddish-brown pottery; the crowd rose and broke against the walls here as a red tide, swirling Redware into their arms and carrying the pots and plates off to check-out counters. The men stayed back, hesitant to enter the tide. Yet he gray-haired women swarmed in and out of the stall like bees around a summer-heated cola can. Within minutes nearly all the pottery had vanished gathered up in the arms of meek little old ladies in colorful cardigans whose heads probably do not extend above the steering wheels; now they wrestled with one another over clay-red cat figurines and easily piled towers of plates, bowls, and jars in their husbands overburdened arms before returning once more into the fray. Fighting for the Nintendo Wii, two years ago, I thought that I had seen everything.

‘Tis strange that so much fear and violence should come from such a common thing.

Dad and I watched the battle from a safe distance, just outside a forgotten stall displaying ornamental rifle carving. The slow precise movements of the craftsman drew my attention from the mob. Compared with the consumer frenzy, his action seemed oddly peaceful. I could see the rifle carver’s left hand slowly turning the shaft of the rifle; into the butt his fingers etched tiny grooves, curling into twisting vines and pointed stars. Gold would one day fill those tiny channels, I thought, imagining dark stained wood smooth and glowing with winding lines like forest rivers in the sunlight. I wonder who would buy such a gun. Would they use it to hunt rabbits? Shoot skeet? Or would it simply rest above a fireplace somewhere and fade into the brickwork?

A nearby voice pulled me from these thoughts.

“ . . . much worse. Never seen anything like it,” a gentleman said to Dad. “My wife went to buy some of this stuff last year, and she was so small and the crowd was so dense that somehow they squeezed in on her and lifted her off the ground.”

“Incredible,” my dad said.

“She never let go of that plate though. Like it was her first born child or something.”

“Yeah, well, their mother . . .” Dad said, gesturing to Katie and me. “ . . . is small too. Look there she is now.”

“She best be careful. Someone’s liable to get hurt in there.”

“Well, trust me, she’s small but tough. Still . . . Murph . .?”

“Got ‘er,” I said as I entered the jostling mass of aged female bodies.

I joined Mom, but not without a few bruises on my arms and toes from a few overeager ladies. Mom piled two plates in my hands, and I pulled her from the pulsating crowd before any more of the pottery tempted her further (“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” – Oscar Wilde). Already I spied several old men overloaded with earthen ware forming a line behind me like a parade of jugglers or Vaudeville comedians. Satisfied with their secured purchases, Mom, Dad and Katie left to browse some of the other stalls, while I was left to check-out and ponder the chatter of my fellow line-mates, whose sense of justice I found to be akin to a female contestant on the Bachelor:

Lady 1 (holding a box of pots and tiny reddish animals): “Well, we got out of that mess with something.”

Lady 2 (carrying several plates and a few large bowls): “Not that they left you much of anything. Though those pots are gorgeous, and that cat is darling.”

Lady 1: “Yes, it should resell well, though there was hardly any ceramic animals at all.”

Lady 2: “I know what you mean. I saw one lady with a handful of fish, cats, and pelicans. Two beautiful pots too. They would have looked wonderful next to my lamp by the window. You know the one near the bedroom door? Some people just cannot have enough?”

Lady 1: “Tell me about it. And you know that they’re only going to resell them?”

Lady 2: “I know! Hon,’ at least save some for the rest of us. Ooh . . .look over there, they’re restocking more plates.”

Lady 1: “My, doesn’t that look nice . . . Perfect for my cabinet set.”

Silence followed as they both considered leaving the line and returning to the swarming crowd until another lady apparently picks up the disputed items. The two ladies sighed, muttering that it would have looked nice somewhere in their homes or on Ebay.

Other stalls were less animated. After a rather touchy personal incident involving one intricately-designed and expensive Noah’s ark, one frugal mother, and an artistically captivated father and son who perhaps should have known better, we slinked past a stall exhibiting large paintings of various and sundry breeds of chickens. Eager for a distraction, we stopped to gander at the birds, which glared through frames easily four-feet high, and the interested customers willing to shell out several hundred dollars to purchase the fowl images.

Now in my early years, I played at raising chickens both for fresh eggs and our county 4-H fairs. Whether snow or heat, my job consisted of feeding, watering, and collecting eggs; later when my siblings brought home baby chicks, I watched the fuzzy balls grow into adult birds. All my years I have never considered them particularly beautiful creatures. On the contrary, I have found adult birds to be mean, vicious, greedy, unkempt, stupid, and utterly detestable creatures devoid of any virtue until covered in flour or boiled in a soup. They picked at my hands while changing their water and food containers, attack their fellow hens at the sight of blood, and rend the flesh of your legs if you entered their pen unarmed. Moreover, the smell of pig pens and cow stalls do compare to the reek of a chicken coop.

Thus I garnered no love for the exhibit. The paintings seemed to capture the authentic menace in their stance and irritable malign in their stare: feathers rustled like a lion mid-pounce, beaks agape mid-screech, claws tense and ready to strike. Anger emanated from every canvas. Placing such a portrait above your mantelpiece is like welcoming some vengeful spirit into your home, cultivating an air of discontent wherever those foul eyes fell. Yet this realism only prompted greater fervor for purchase, as the stall always seemed busy with customers or simply those curious for the macabre thrill. Perhaps allergy-sensitive conventioneers felt compelled to invest in a fur-free alternative to a watch dog. Certainly I know of one couple several houses down who recruits geese to guard their house. Seeing those avian eyes glowing in the dark would give anyone a fright, even the most seasoned burglar.

On the way home, burdened with an assortment of furniture, rugs, and one beautifully whimsical Noah’s ark, we sang a few Irish pub songs before the rhythm of the road coaxed everyone to sleep. I popped in a Gin Blossoms CD, sipped on some cold coffee, and sang to myself quietly over Dad’s snores. Interestingly I always feel most comfortable driving while others sleep. Do not ask me why. Only at that moment though, particularly after a long eventful day, I feel the most complete and happy, free of anxiety and worry. Nothing would make me happier than to continue driving, all night to some far off place no one has ever seen before. No, nay never no more . . .

Wild Rover

I’ve been a wild rover for many’s the year
I’ve spent all me money on whiskey and beer
But now I’m returning with gold in great store
And I never will play the wild rover no more

And it’s No, Nay, never, (clap 4 times)
No, nay never no more (clap 2 times)
Will I play the wild rover,
No never no more

I went in to an alehouse I used to frequent
And I told the landlady me money was spent
I asked her for credit, she answered me nay
Such a customer as you I can have any day

And it’s No, Nay, never,
No, nay never no more
Will I play the wild rover,
No never no more

I took up from my pocket, ten sovereigns bright
And the landlady’s eyes opened wide with delight
She says “I have whiskeys and wines of the best
And the words that you told me were only in jest”

And it’s No, Nay, never,
No, nay never no more
Will I play the wild rover,
No never no more

I’ll go home to my parents, confess what I’ve done
And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son
And, when they’ve caressed me as oft times before
I never will play the wild rover no more

And it’s No, Nay, never,
No, nay never no more
Will I play the wild rover,
No never no more

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Cent-store Jesus

Ready for a little blasphemy?

 Ryan and I were meandering about the mall earlier today waiting for Mom to finish a little shopping, when we spied something interesting leaning against one of the store entrances.  Framed in faded gold swirls and dusty flower buds, sat a tall oil painting of Jesus.  We slowed our pace a bit, noticing the age and deep oily shadows which hung like draperies about the face, His hands rising in benediction above a large visible heart crowned with thorns.  A red “Sale” ticket hung ostentatiously from a corner of the frame, shining and enticing like the eyes of an unwanted puppy. 

Now there is much I could say on this subject, metaphors and allegories that I could draw from this image concerning the state of religion today and the store owner’s eagerness to rid the shop of such religious merchandise when hole-y jeans, sinful chocolate, and Nine Inch Nails CDs sell much better.  Certainly I could write about all those things, but honestly it sounds too much like preaching to me.  Moreover, I pity the salesman.  No amount of faith or devotion would convince me, a devoted – though at times liberal – Irish Catholic, to purchase such a painting and then display it in my home.  Staring across a room above a fireplace like a tell-tale heart, the painting would drive me insane, burdened by the constant restraint – an Irishman can take only so much temperance.  Heck, my choice of DVDs in itself would be halved.  Incapable of committing sin within my own home, I would be forced to venture outside, inflicting my vices on an unsuspecting world.

 No, what truly captured my imagination was the unknown individual who would buy such a painting.  The man or woman walking down the mall corridors as I now type and upon seeing the bright red tag exclaims “Oh Lucy, I had been waiting forever for Baldingtons to put Jesus on sale.  He was far too expensive last month what with Christmas and all, but now I can buy Him for the parlor and still have enough for that new pink scarf.”  The shopkeeper would then wrap the purchased visage in brown paper and relinquish the parcel to its new owner.  Leaving the mall, brown paper cracks between thin fingers; the new owner would gently place the painting onto the faded upholstery and then return unburdened to the shops in search of a scarf the color of cut salmon.  The jolt of the door closing awakens small statues pasted onto the dashboard, their bobbing heads welcoming the latest relic. 

Organizing my life . . .

Feng shui is the ancient Chinese belief that wellness of mind, body, and spirit can be achieved through the proper arrangement of space, typically regarding the position of crops and furniture. With the loss of the agricultural society, references to feng shui especially here in the States concern the latter, namely interior decorating and collecting large numbers of potted plants. After a little research on Wikipedia, I discovered that feng shui actually described a pseudoscience founded on the tenets of astrology, mysticism, and ambiguous Chinese calligraphy. After reading through the mystical explanations and staring long at the Chinese characters – half-expecting a sailboat to appear for all its worth – my innate analytical skills produced a very simple summary: one’s living environment has an effect on the individual living in it. The ancient Chinese apparently beat out Darwin for the discovery of evolution.

Now I do not know if a room can affect one’s mind and personality — though classrooms have been known to increase my level of lethargy; however, I do believe that a room or a space reflects the personality and state of mind of its occupants. A cluttered room, for example, mirrors a cluttered mind. Take my room for example. Christmas has not been kind to the mystical energies inherent within my domicile. Normally my room is awash with books and games of all kinds, but as storage space disappears my nightstand accumulates the excess. At the current moment, two large stacks of novels, manga, and children’s literature teeter above my lamp and alarm clock like a bibliophile’s version of Jenga. My clock face blinks stupidly continuing its daily routine like a Himalayan village, unaware of the mass avalanche that will one day smother it with a crash of spines and a flutter of paper. Clearly before this happens, I need to perform some serious holiday cleaning, if not for the sake of my holistic well-being, for the safety and well-being of my books. A cluttered room will have little bearing on my health; bent corners and smudged pages, however . . . well just be ready with the smelling salts.

Resolute

New Year resolutions are one of life’s great collective failures. Year after year Americans promise for the span of three-hundred and sixty-five days – or for this year three-hundred and sixty-six if you wish to be accurate and anal – to be kinder, more organized, more health conscious, or any other well-meaning intentions only to fall off the wagon after a few weeks. Ashamed and unhinged these poor souls then return to a life of excess debauchery: stealing fatty pies from the homeless and then losing the pie due to a mislabeled post-it. Others fearing failure like me mold their resolutions like an artist would a nebulous piece of modern art. With the proper wording and ambiguity, all resolutions fall well within their mark:

“I promise to move more often.”

“Breathing. Yeah, I got to do more of that.”

Others find no reason to stop doing whatever it is they normally do and so vow to do just that all year long:

“I promise to drink more, sleep less, and party until God strikes me down in my folly. *hic* Cheers.”

As for myself this year, I actually decided to adopt a resolution that matters or if that fails, at least can be measured. Therefore, I resolve to improve my writing and dedicate myself to penning at least three blogs a week. Initially I thought to dedicate myself to seven blogs a week but decided to scale back, figuring that I will not be as tempted to type up a few lines of inconsequential tripe but perhaps something more substantial. This effort however can only work if my readers (if any) participate; although I cannot promise high literature or even mediocre literature, I can promise some meager morsel of entertainment now and then.

Doctoring the Results

Earlier today Desad linked me to a scene from the series finale of the Extras, where Ricky Gervais’ laments the current state of celebrity. He states something rather frightfully true that struck a strong chord with me. Essentially, he admits that he could have been a doctor but did not want to put in the work. He could have been a soldier but was too afraid.

Did you know that I too tried to be a doctor once? All biochemists play with the idea at one time or another. I even managed to take the MCAT, scoring a 29 without any classes, study groups, or really examining any of the physical science section. This admittance may come off as arrogant but considering the little time spent preparing (only a few weeks before the exam), my score feels like a badge of honor, as well as foolishness. I had scored a single point shy of the average for accepted med school students. Thus, after some consideration, I relinquished the pretense that I was doctor material as well as a hundred dollars for the exam. Badges of honor, after all, do not come cheap.

Sitting back now I consider my choices then, both of deciding to take the test and turning away. The dream perhaps was there. As a boy of twelve, I once vowed that one day I would save someone’s life. I still believe I can; although as I grew, my options have broadened a bit beyond doctor, lawyer, or superhero. Furthermore, although my scores certainly did not exceed the thirty-point average, I may have dazzled a smaller less-prestigious school, using my research and grades as a linchpin. Worst case scenario, I could have retaken the tests months later.

No, the real reason for my retreat is that there was no reason, nothing mature at least. I had applied for the wrong reasons. Simply put I applied to medical school in order to impress a girl. A very beautiful and remarkable girl certainly – one with whom I had worked during the previous summer – but then flowers cost far less than medical school. Additionally, my mind would never suffer the stress and strength necessary to be a proper doctor. My thoughts wander like a dull light swinging in a dark room, given time its bug-stained glow will touch all corners but not all at once. Specifically I fear talking with a patient may cause me to stumble over the exact diagnosis:

What was it again? Measles? Malaria? Marburg? Oh I forgot which. Just take two of these pills and I’ll ponder the results as I wander the bookstore this evening. Don’t worry though, if it’s the first two, you have a good chance to live. In the meantime, try to avoid talking, touching, or generally interacting with anybody you particularly care about.

Eventually as I considered my options, my head caught up with my heart; the foolishness of the previous year clocked me like one of Tyson’s punches. A researcher and an analyst were to be my doom; beaker and library were to be my home; my companions dwelt between pages of a storybook. Even so, as I listen to Gervais talk I wonder if fear of the commitment drove me away as well, fear of being locked into any one job or occupation. Anyway, between the girl and my scrambled egg of a brain, I do believe that I made the correct decision. Whether I made right decision for the right reasons, however . . . ay there’s the rub.