Undreamed shores

Regret and anxiety typically accompany me whenever I return home from a vacation of any length. An hour after I step through the front door, the wanderlust swells like a tidal wave, hurling my dreams to far-off climes. Typically I can never adjust to the feel of stationary life: the schedules, jobs, and repetition. I loathe routine like a vampire abhors sunlight. After a day or two of taking the kids to school, chores, and my own classes my anxiety becomes such that I will find any excuse to visit someplace new. If no release is met, I become irritated, nervous, depressed, and sulky until the wanderlust fills me like an over-inflated balloon and . . . pop! My body explodes into a million gooey pieces as every cell attempts to scatter my remains to the far-off corners of the planet but only succeeding to briefly invade the downstairs kitchen before my bits and pieces are gathered, mopped, and sanitized with excessive amounts of Clorox bleach.

Ewwww . . .

All morbid metaphors aside, I seem to crave adventure at times. Or at least the unexpected journey to someplace new. Unfortunately schedules haunt my day like the shadow of a poltergeist, and until all scheduled events pass – exorcized with time – I can never truly relax. Odd, eh? This inclination partly explains my obsession with books, those magical travel agents of the mind. Books help to assuage the fever that accompanies wanderlust, like methadone to the heroin addict. Thus, I never travel without a story, tome, or tale, lest the line at the DMV parades out the front door. Or the red digital display at the supermarket deli reads 004 when the number printed on my ticket is divisible by one hundred. Or a red traffic light. With book in hand, at least then, I have somewhere to go.

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” – Lemony Snicket

“To unpathed waters, undreamed shores.” — A Winter’s Tale

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A Family Moment . . .

Family projects much like trading stock on the Wall Street floor culminates as a lesson in organized chaos. Take this morning for instance, which involved the disassembly and transport of one bunk-bed down one flight of steps. Other furniture, clothes, bins, toys, and debris were involved as well but despite popular opinion were not responsible for what happened:

Take me down to Paradiiise Cit-ay, where the Graass is Green and girls are Pret-ay.” As he sings Ryan’s head bobs like an excited parakeet. Cleaned of all the mattresses, spring boards, and sheets, the rectangular bed frame sits upon piles of blankets and matted clothes like a great animal skeleton left to dry among the rocks. Shannon, Ryan, and I are assigned to prep the room for its eventual cleaning while the others finish breakfast. Our first task involved removing the bed from the room and into the hallway. We used to have games like these in school, which required the player to rearrange square slots to make a picture. Pushing the bed through the doorway would prove to require just as much manipulation without the benefit of finger-sized tiles.

“Ryan, turn the bed the other way,” Shannon says, helping the still-bobbing Ryan to turn the frame on its side. He mouths a sibilant hiss – more lyrics to a Gun n’ Roses song perhaps – and we stare at the door and the head boards.

Ryan is one of the more interesting members of my family.  A puzzle-solving jock, Ryan would complete a Rubix cube through an imaginative and sometimes impractical feat of engineering (i.e. building a paper-mache robot to solve it for him).  Although not exactly carefree — intense and serious with respect to his homework — he nevertheless dons an honest grin wherever he travels, which can bask even the most dreary places with brilliance.  He cannot sing worth a damn though, and so I retain the view that we failed to dissemble the bed because his voice somehow stabbed at our minds like the cruel knife of some fell beast.  If only he had chosen a better song . . .

“. . . AND THE Girls arrrrre soooo Prett-ay!  Uh, guys, is it going to fit?” Ryan asks.

“Let’s just push it,” Shannon suggests heaving the bed on his shoulders.

“Wait, hold on guys,” I shout as anxiety settles, disliking their speed and needing to think “Do we have a plan? We’re not just going to smash this bed to bits. Why not take it apart first.” Sean walks out of the shower and stares at the – little – progress we’ve made. I see a smirk and do not relish it.

You see, Shannon and I possess two contrary perspectives on this job. If we both were assigned to solve a Rubix cube, I would relish the challenge, failing in perpetuity until I eventually solved the puzzle or . . . researched the answer online. Meanwhile Shannon would throw the cube against the wall, shatter the block into several smaller cubes, and then reassemble a solved puzzle with the remaining fragments.

Naw,” Shannon says, “let’s just push it. With these guns, we’ll get it out of that door in no time.” At the mention of “guns” he rolls up his arms and gives his muscles a kiss.

Yeah, and breaking the door in the process.”

What are you two losers doing?” asks Sean, the budding lawyer and rising businessman in the family.


Like all of my siblings, Sean is quite brilliant but relies too often on his cleverness to see him through. Sean’s method of solving the cube involves lots of steam and rearranging the square stickers. Documentation would then be produced as proof, signed in triplicate, witnessed, ratified, and quickly vetoed by any and all who know him.

“What type of screws are those? They look star-shaped to me . . .”

The noise of groans and creaking wood signals Dad’s approach up the stairs. He looks in and asks us how we are doing.We need a Philips,” Ryan answers.

“But it’s square.”

“So? Shan, we need a square-shaped Philips.”

Do they come in that shape?” I ask.

No.”

“Boys, hold on for a second . . .” Dad says from the doorway. Now I know two very important things at this moment. Dad is becoming impatient, and if everyone does not turn to listen to Dad soon (which has a small chance of occurring) or this bed is not removed quickly (which judging from our mediocre teamwork skills will not occur), Dad will become very angry very soon. I can appreciate his consternation, yet after twenty-plus years of family chaos, he continues to ask absurd questions like “Why aren’t the shoes put away?” “Why is the house a mess?” or “Why can’t we throw anything away?”

In truth, I have no satisfactory answer for the last question. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of MacGyver, and so the thought of being trapped in a small room without an ample supply of paper clips, bleach, or D-batteries frightens me. Dad simply sees trash and useless boxes. Yet I realize that as soon as we throw away the useless box and trash, we will immediately require a large cardboard container to infiltrate a government lab or fight off swarms of killer bees. Unfortunately these insights rarely assuage my father’s disposition and only serve to convince him that I was dropped as a baby.

“I see slots. Can’t we just lift up the slots?” I ask.

That star-shaped screw is in the way,” Sean notices. “We have to get that out first before . . .”

“Square-shaped and I still say we should push it.”

“We can’t get it out with those legs! Do you want to break it?”

“Honestly? Yes.”

“AHHHHHHH!” Kevin screams from somewhere in the hallway. “Wasp! There’s a wasp here!”

“So kill it,” Shannon shouts. “Stop screamin’ and man up!” Shan’s remarks are too late though as Kevin frantically whacks at the insect with his hat. The wasp does not appear to enjoy this game, buzzing towards his attackers as each swat seems to agitate it. After several minutes it finally lands on the wall, when Kevin picks up a statue of St. Patrick and smashes the wasp, leaving a messy bug-stain on the white walls.

Kevin’s brilliance is often overshadowed by his impatience. He could probably solve the Rubix cube within a few hours, only to give up within two or three turns of the solution and build his own. In honor of Ford — his favorite car company — the cube would comfortably seat eight, offer large cup holders, and consume a half-gallon of gas with every turn.

Not St. Patrick!” Mom screams on route to the laundry room, dirty towels, collared shirts, and bright boxers piled high in her arms. Even on the most beautiful of days, Mom can become a bit superstitious. If at that very hour Ireland had sudden sank beneath the waves or Patrick Dempsy stubbed his toe, you could be sure that Kevin would receive the blame.

“That’s blasphemy and a curse against Ireland!” Kevin relaxes some. She did not see the stain yet.

“Well you know Mom, he WAS quite effective against snakes,” Shannon adds from the bedroom.

“I don’t care. He could have damaged it.”

“Did you know that when the devil visited Ireland, he saw a country rich with beer, brawls, and sin that he and his serpents left as soon as they could saying, ‘These poor bastards have enough problems.’”

“Watch your mouth! Mike, did you hear what your son said?!”

“Sean! You talk again like that and I’ll shove my foot up your ass!”

“Mike!”

“Ok listen, there are too many bosses here . . .” Dad says as a way of changing the subject and focusing the efforts. “So everyone just shutup and listen for a while. Ryan and Shannon, grab that cabinet there and . . .” A pitched scream reverberates from the room interrupting Dad’s attempt at crowd control and coordinated cabinet moving. Kevin quietly shuffles out of the room.

“Look what those boys did!” Mom shouts. “They left bug stains on the walls. We just had it painted too. Oh I’m going to kill your sons!”

“What did we do?” shout Ryan, Sean, and Dad together.

“I don’t know but I’m sure it’s your fault! Where’s Kevin?!”

“I’m sorry!” moans a voice hidden deep within the bowels of the hall closet.

All while this I going on, Ryan, Sean, and I feverishly try to disassemble the bed, which is proving quite impervious to our efforts. Dad by this time is becoming more and more agitated like a volcano seconds before it annihilates a small Greek village.

Like Kevin, Dad possesses little patience for games of any kind. He would effectively delegate the task of solving a Rubix cube to one of us, or simply ignore the stupid thing altogether in favor of a game of golf. FUN FACT: after twenty years of playing the game, I have broken four club heads, lost thousands of balls, dug my own weight in divots, maimed several living things with a golf ball — including my sister-in-law (sorry again Tiff) — and played accessory to one dead goose.

Suddenly he bellows: “Listen, who’s the boss here?! We have too many bosses IN THIS ROOM! Who’s the boss?! It’s not you, or you, or you. It’s . . . ”

“Tony Danza?”

This remark simply knocks us on the floor with laughter. Shannon perfectly executes the remark, which with a fraction less timing would have sent Dad stomping off in utter disgust and frustration. Instead he smiles at the lunacy of the whole morning and asks us to move the dresser from the room. We continue to chatter but at a volume few decibels lower. Eventually we bend, shift, and transmutate the whole frame from the room, and – somehow – fit the entire monstrosity out the front door. It will never play the piano again, but someone one day may sleep on it without much discomfort. The room empties from that point quickly enough, and afterwards we all separate to sofas, couches, and beds for an early afternoon nap.

Mouse and Trap

I failed to construct a better mousetrap yesterday. Wait . . . scratch that. I successfully built a Fudd-ian wabbit twap that failed to capture a tiny field mouse nibbling at my doorstep. Now this should not have surprised me as old Elmer could never really catch Bugs, but once again I allowed reason and science to usurp the omniscient truth of Loony Tune logic:

1) Traps will never catch rabbits but will always catch something: a bear, a bomb, your foot.

2) Gravity does not exist unless you acknowledge it.

3) A giant rubber band trumps rocket propulsion

4) Nothing is impossible as long as it’s funny.

Say hello to my little friend . . .

Nevertheless the assembly amused me greatly as well as provided ample excuse to ignore my assignments for another half-hour (Web surfing had grown dull). Collecting some string, a pencil, and a small bin, I constructed my simple twap and after setting some pistachio nuts underneath waited patiently in my chair like Jaws’ Quint for the beasty to take the bait.

The Trap is Set . . .

I should note here that I do not relish killing animals, lest you think I am an ignorant buffoon unaware of the various lethal traps, glue, and shotguns available to combat rodents. Buffoon perhaps, ignorant no. My mother and the vast majority of the 4-H attending siblings take great satisfaction (or at least no remorse) in killing mice, a characteristic I imagine common to children raising Ms. Piggy for prize money, fresh bacon, and the continued abundance of Slim Jims. From their standpoint mice contaminate household food; ruin livestock feed; and retain fleas, famous for biting, itching, and breeding plague every so often. Although never possessing much of a palate for disease, I nevertheless take a much more Buddhist approach towards animals and even pests – except flies or mosquitoes, for even benevolence has its limits – lest Karma strike me down or I inadvertently whack a reincarnated great-great-great-uncle simply because we share a love for the same brand of Irish cheddar.

I waited anxiously in my chair for several minutes, staring at the gap where the mouse had departed only moments before, the line tight in my hand. Beads of water began streaming down my face (I had just showered, you see). Another minute passed. Another yawn. At this point my AADS was ready to throw in the towel, when the mouse bolted from its hiding place. Ignoring the pistachio nuts and leaping past my trap, it raced across the tile seeking a haven under my desk, yet anticlimactically trapping itself there. No gap or hole through which to escape, I scooped up the little guy in a bin and dropped him outside. Game over, no foul.

Game, set, match.

Aesop once wrote a story about a lion and mouse. He believed that all kindness is eventually rewarded in some way. Aesop was both a Greek and a realist. We Irish never had Aesop; we had Murphy. And Murphy was an optimist. Murphy believed that no good deed no matter how small or insignificant goes unpunished. Thus, in case my readers should think that I might be thanked in some mouse-y way, presented with a cheese wheel or freed from a cannibal’s net, think again. Such superstitions exist only in old tales. Mice will not help you accomplish any Herculean tasks or transmute straw into gold. Moreover, kissing a mouse will not produce some fairy princess or free a beautiful ensorcelled maiden. The few fur fibers left on my swollen purple tongue are proof enough of that.

Murphey’s Law for Children Young and Old: Do not attempt to kiss any unfamiliar man, woman, mouse or toad unless it audibly asks you to.

A Weekend in Sin City

Leap year arriving only once every four years I wanted to post this email before midnight as Spring Break draws near my mind flies across the country even while my body remains stranded, still frozen amid a snow-less winter. This particular tale is several years old and follows the adventures of Desad and I while we trek cross-country through Arizona and Nevada on route to Sin City . . .

On Thursday, we left Williams and the Grand Canyon for Nevada and Vegas.  The trip north was relatively uneventful as we once again descending into the desert, which despite the short respite in the hills of Arizona still filled me with awe at how wide the world could be.  We planned on visiting Hoover Dam before making our way to Vegas, but approached the border with a not a small amount of apprehension considering the beefed-up security and a sign warning “construction ahead.”  I’m not an impatient person but prefer avoiding lines if possible.  Luckily only a few cars had stopped at the checkpoint and state trooper did not think much of the two East Coast boys in their travel-laden SUV.  He waved us through with no more than a cursory glance inside the Yukon, now swollen with coolers, groceries, and souvenirs.  We drove off feeling fortunate and yet a little indignant too.  Mostly harmless, indeed!

Now the road to the dam winds down into this beautiful ravine walled on either side by large red-brown boulders so smooth they almost appear artificial.  The blue waters of Lake Mead, which met our eyes as we emerged initially from the cliffs, were a welcome sight. Accustomed to living near water, I think the trip through the mesas and cliffs those last few days made me realize how much I missed the oceans, reservoirs, and bays of the East Coast.  It’s strange, I know, but it relaxes me to know I live so close to water.  A sea of grass or sand just isn’t the same.

The road into Nevada crosses atop the dam itself so even if you do not plan on stopping you can glimpse much of the lake and dam structure at least until tourists begin to swarm around you.  On the western side of the dam, a huge wall of solid concrete rises over 700 ft from the silken-blue ribbon of the Colorado tailing harmlessly through the ravine far below.   I’m told that the dam wall is actually taller than the Eiffel Tower, but staring at it reminded me more of that great gate in King Kong — it amuses me to think some great serpent or Krackon dwells on the other side.  Very impressive, all in all, this mixture of red rocks, white concrete, and blue water, yet subtlety does not exist here.  Dam propaganda saturates all the presentations and tours, trying to reinforce how magnificent and awe-inspiring the dam truly is — as if we were walking around blind; in the end it just made the visit a little ridiculous.  “America depends on the power, water, and agriculture provided by Hoover Dam.  We cannot exist without it.”  “Herbert Hoover: president, humanitarian, and super-genius.”  “Without Hoover Dam, it is doubtful whether America would have risen to meet the country’s needs during WWII.  Fascism would have consumed the world without this modern marvel.”

However, looking back, I think that Hoover Dam in many ways prepared us for Vegas.  Only I wonder if there exists any true seed of magnificence in Vegas or is it all just fabrication?  Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  We arrived in Vegas sometime around 4PM, I think; still far too sunny to consider the town “alive.”   The smell that met us as we entered Mandalay Bay was unusual and not entirely pleasant like they had cleaned the floors with some combination of bleach mixed with menthol.  The people too were equally distinguished.  We saw an old woman dressed in a black one-piece swimsuit complete with matching high-heels, sunglasses, and feathered (crow?) hat.  I had thought such creatures existed only in movies really.  Other guests greeted us on the elevator with bloodshot winks and practiced jumping up and down as the elevator fell reeking of alcohol.  Girls dressed scantily in Catholic school uniforms waited impatiently outside a private elevator in the lobby, while families speaking in various dialects and languages crowded in the lobby.  If the hotel was populated by the characters dreamed up by Todd McFarlane or American McGee, I doubt it could be stranger.

After losing about $100 at the casino (myself individually; Dasad won $30), we decided to walk the strip.  One thing I will say about Vegas the architecture of some of these casinos is quite impressive.  New York, New York for instance features a miniature version of New York complete with bridges, fountains, and inside amid the slots a makeshift replica of Central Park complete with autumn leaves and a blue domed sky so while you may be gambling at least you don’t feel like your gambling.  The Paris casino adopts a similarly impressive structure and an “outdoor” gambling arcade as well, and sits directly across from the Bellagio fountains, which are perhaps one of the only truly elegant shows in town. No admission, beautiful scores, and a fantastic piece of artistry.  The buffets there were likewise worth the trip.  Expensive (~$20 a head), the food is nevertheless exquisite and delicious (particularly the desserts) — the Alladin is the reputed king of buffets, but I recommend the Bellagio; superb fish!

Walking on the Strip in the sun was a bit of a chore though.  Every few feet or so, you are accosted by Mexicans handing out “trading cards” of hookers and strippers, which most tourists grab, laugh at, and discard on the street.  The effect of such is that the sidewalks — which apparently are not cleaned all that often — are littered with porn.  Yet even if you avoid staring at the ground, the Vegas hotels routinely flash clips of thong-ed dancers on their color marquees so it really is impossible to avoid it all.

On Sat after gambling a little bit more (I lost another $100; Dasad won $60), we decided to visit a few more exhibits around the city.  On Friday, we saw an exhibit of Ansel Adams (I attached a few of my favorites photos) and so on our last day, we saw an exhibit on Ruben at the Venetian.  Afterwards we went to the Star Trek ride.  Now we had this powerpass credit card, which allowed us free admission onto a number of attractions.  LD (my second travel-mate) saw that the Star Trek Experience was included and so we traversed to the Vegas Hilton and whatever awaited us there.  Now I’m no Star Trek geek.  If you asked me my favorite series, I would have to say the one where Scottie cuts off Vader’s hand with the Borg saber.  I don’t do space. Yet I must admit, the Hilton’s exhibit was pretty cool.  They transformed part of the casino to look like the docking bay of a space ship and had compiled a complete star history timeline thing accompanied with a large supply of Star Trek memorabilia.  I was clueless to what everything was, but it was pretty awesome that someone had put so much work into it.  LD enjoyed it at any rate.

I won’t speak of the 3-D rides.  Let’s just say that I was probed and prodded in my chair by Borg aliens, and leave it at that.  It was unpleasant and Dasad had a good laugh at my expense.  The seriousness of some of the actors though really surprised me though.  I mean if I had to shout “The quantum computer indicated that the photon canons are clogged!  Reverse phase and fire the intergalactic fusion missiles at those space scum!” while pushing imaginary buttons several times a day without laughing I’d be fired within an hour.  One poor guy had to pick out a tourist and yell at him during the ride.  “You think this is a joke?!  One more snigger and I’ll toss you in the brig with the other space trash.  It’s that kind of attitude that separates the space commanders from the Klingon carrion.” (try saying that five times fast without laughing; I dare you).