In which Murph considers the benefits of physical movement . . .

“Nobody should have that many talents,” Katie complained to the television this morning.

I looked up from the computer screen and stared at the program, where several men and women danced excitedly in a line while fiddling a hearty Irish jig. When the song ended, I smiled, noting the irony as my sister continued to shake her head with disbelief and eat her cereal – simultaneously no less, spilling a pool of milk and Corn Pops on the floor and some modest cursing from her mouth. My sister of all people should not be envious of anyone. Like most people – myself included – she sometimes fails to see herself completely, honestly. Not only has she performed and taught Irish dance, but she also plays the harp as well, a talent which unlike the fiddle does not improve with jump or jig. Some of us are even less endowed. My own dancing prowess less resembles Fred Asteire and more closely models Rodney Dangerfield. Athletics and I . . . well, we mix about as well as bleach and ammonia: when we collide someone – me – will pass out and die.

Yet everyone in my family possesses a strong fascination with sports of all kinds. Mom and Dad dated during softball games. When he was not golfing, Pat as a kid drained three-point shots as if the height and distance did not matter. Sean shaved his head (and perhaps other areas) to swim relays and drown his less buoyant teammates in water polo; he later traded in his Speedo for a wrestling singlet, foam mats, and sweaty men. Shannon broke his arm playing soccer and now receives (as well as deals out) regular concussions in rugby matches. Katie sprained, broke, and split her leg two or three times to score field hockey goals. Ryan not only wrestles, scrums, and swings a seven iron (albeit poorly) but was elected to the state championships as a defensive lineman.

Meanwhile after initial testing, my elementary school asked that I attend summer lessons before beginning first grade in order to improve my gross motor skills – translation: learn how to bounce a ball. Just last week after a rigorous study session, I received a nasty paper cut, which inexplicitly spread to a hang nail and a severe case of hives. While sleeping, I routinely run the risk of falling out of bed, bravely sacrificing my body to tile and cold for the sake of my nightly reading materials.

My sleeping companions.

Thus, well-acquainted with fail . . . er, falling, when it was suggested several years ago to form a Murphey family softball team, I was eager to experience the sensation of grass on teeth. Yet, unfortunately this decision nearly cost us our lives. You see, we signed into a local adult softball league, a mixed league which included both men and women and promised fun without the anger and bitterness of excessive competition. Though we enjoyed winning, no one could accuse us of taking the game too seriously. We bought a few bottles of cheap beer, recruited the kids as cheerleaders, ate unhealthy snacks, and spent most of the game laughing and cheering on each other. I played catcher, kneeling in the dirt praying that the bat did not connect with any part of my body and that I would not be asked to throw any farther than the pitcher’s mound. Throws to the infield usually required more skill and strength than I possessed, an awkward full-body push which usually left me on the ground and the ball just short of second base.

Pat and his wife, Tiff, actually met each other on that softball team through the benefit of a mutual friend. Tiff mentioned to us that what first attracted her attention to Pat was the way he used to hold up his pants while running to first base (pre-Tiff Pat actually was quite skinny). Apparently she sensed that he needed her.

Yet every so often we encountered a team bent on winning – at any cost. You may have encountered a few of these individuals in your own neighborhoods: the guys typified by bulging muscles, necks the size of small tree trunks, and short-cut hair like finely manicured lawns. The kind of guys constantly on the lookout for scouts, the rare opportunity to relive their high school years or satisfy the urge to bleed pitchers. Now do not mistake me, most of these Roy-Hobbsian acolytes are probably cordial members of society, ideal community leaders with Volvos and well-kept yards, proud fathers to boys with dog-names like Spike or Butch, who feast off Slim-Jims, Red Bull and nutrient supplements labeled with words like “Nitro” and “horse steroid.” Yet as the softball arcs through the air and falls across the plate, these men gradually change. That thick sphere of rubber, cork and twine transforms somehow into a bullet, the field into a firing range. Then scores, teams, and games no longer matter, only the potential targets.

Enter the Murphey family. The suckling pigs of this tale. Typically these crazed batters would first seek out the women: my Mom on the pitcher’s mound, my aunt on second base, my sister in the outfield. Apparently – not knowing our family very well – they mistook them for the weaker members of our herd, and fired shot after shot, line drives within inches of Mom’s head. The Woosh! of the ball passed once right over her shoulder blade. Another time, she ducked just in time as the ball sailed through the space where her frontal lobe had dwelt comfortably seconds before. The batter than pranced around the bases, laughing that we should learn to be more careful on the field.

“She should pitch a little bit farther on the inside,” Dad would say. “A little bit closer to the head of that . . .” (here he made some reference to the area near the batter’s colon). Mom would only walk off the mound, pick up her beer, and sit on the bench. She might complain a little, but only when out of earshot, unwilling to gratify the slugger with any unnecessary attention. The fact that no one else cared – nonexistent scouts and sports reporters included – amounted to retribution enough. The next time the slugger approached the plate, his line-drive found itself entombed in Mom’s glove. The game ended; no words were exchanged.

Nevertheless, I would love to report that these games ended in a battle royale, a fight to the death between bats, balls, and sand, yet this was not so. We ended the season and did not join the following year. We had faced several more sluggers, all eager for blood and high ERA’s (which were not even calculated); though none of us perished, our fun and excitement had withered away. In time we joined a bowling league, where the competitive spirit still thrives but at least we are in no danger . . . well, no intentional danger. When Ryan sidles down the lane with ball in tow, we duck and shrink behind the benches. You see, release is important in bowling, ultimately deciding the difference between a strike and a journey behind the snack bar to retrieve your ball from the pretzel machine. Thus, depending on the players all sports possess a modicum of danger. Most great joy after all is born of risk and challenge.

Therefore, I think that I will end this tale and grab me some apples and some video games. Risking electrocution, thumb-sprain, and choking seems like a good way to spend the remainder of this afternoon.

The true sport of kingsMy gym.

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In which Murph contemplates some childhood adventures and the demon Scrappy Doo.

Looking back, I should have reconsidered my admission price. Safaris through the swamps and theme parks of Florida rarely come cheap; the guides (i.e. myself) never know who might be eaten by alligators, sharks, or the rogue Disney character, and the travelers fated never to return from these excursions rarely offered repeat business. Therefore it is often wise to charge high fees just in case your customers happen to be devoured. Simple business sense, really.

Yet to a child of six, a young blossoming businessman, twenty-five cents was a fortune and several quarters seemed like all the money in the world. The coins chimed and clinked like melodies in old music boxes, the tune of arcades and supermarket gumball machines. I knew then that adults rarely gave out dollars – my Mom most of all thought us too young to collect bills –but usually were more than willing to scrounge for change, those precious precious quarters. Piggy-bank credit. Donkey-Kong-currency.

Dad of course announced the trip to Florida months ago; only recently did we realize that we could turn a profit prior to departure. A week before the trip to Disney World, Patrick and I converted the old cardboard box into a ticket counter, masking the Sony logo and T.V. specs with scribbled dollar signs and gun-shaped outlines of Florida. We tipped the box upside down and carved out two small holes in the box’s belly. A sign was painted:

Florida Safaree

Only 25 cents

We promise you will not get eatan!

Constructing the ticket-contraption proved easier than we realized. We rigged the box to eject tickets through a slot when someone fed the makeshift-machine a quarter. As soon as the quarter bounced noisily among its brethren, a ticket popped out of another slot from the darkness beneath, like real tickets at the skeeball arcade. NOTE: in my spare time I loved to construct elaborate inventions from household items. Trebuchets from bed linen. Oil-spewing go-carts from cereal boxes. Glue bombs that leave enemy agents mummified and stuck like spider-caught flies to nearby walls. Nothing I constructed actually worked mind you; mostly my creative genius earned me a sore rear and unbidden month-long lectures on why we should never aim slingshots at people, pets, or crystal vases.

My Dad was our first customer. Later my grandmother paid us a visit. At the end of the week, I asked our makeshift-machine how much money we had garnered. The box rumbled and shook, momentarily levitating from the floor like a fortune-teller’s table. The machine reported back that it could not commute.

“I can’t see,” it whined. Considering the low expense and crudity of the machine’s design, I sighed and asked to see the coins myself. “I think we have ten dollars,” voiced the box.

Patrick’s small fist appeared from beneath the cardboard flaps, his hands sweaty and hot with plundered coins. Five quarters tumbled from his hand. Not ten dollars, you dork, I chastised. Nearly three dollars! (Our math skills have since improved . . . seriously!) We were rich and well-stocked to assault any arcades we might encounter on our journey south.

Our adventure had begun!


On warm summer afternoons, when the fierce gaze of the sun forced us out of the gardens and fields like outcast Adams fleeing some divine retribution, Pat and I would drag ourselves into the cool recesses of our apartment. Large plastic fans would whirl and spin, circulating the heat about the room as we lay upon bed or sofa like fever victims stranded in some Far East hospice. During these times before succumbing to slumber and exhaustion, my daydreams would fly me to some far off realm, full of ruins and lost treasure. A Lost World perhaps inhabited with dinosaurs and monsters of all breeds and nationalities. Thick jungles surrounding forgotten cities, or strange futuristic city thick with aliens and deadly laws. Within this summer somnolence, my girl and I along with Pat (ironically though he never got the girl in these visions, his real-life counterpart would win out in the end) would dodge booby traps, pitfalls, and boiling lava, avoid the biting fangs of giant insects, or the frumious claws of some subterranean demon.

Now these chase scenes among broken stone and dank tunnels always accompanied a rousing score of songs. Ah-ha’s “Take on Me” echoed among the ancient snake pits one day; the soundtrack to Footloose propelled us through interplanetary wars another day.

The intense drums of “In the Air Tonight” inspired lone standoffs amid future wastelands with arch-fiends and a host of villains. Early on, due to my mother’s musical tastes, much of these daydreams adopted the tunes of the Monkees. On one occasion we dodged an army of Wolfmen among the family catacombs with new-found friend Davy Jones and the Harlem Globetrotters. Clearly I watched way too much Scooby-Doo than is healthy for any six-year old.

NOTE: Scooby-Doo was one of my favorite shows growing up, until the advent of Scrappy-Doo. Not only did the fear-factor seem to diminish with his presence (No more shark monsters or cat creatures but old Civil War colonels covered in glowing flour paste; I mean, who enjoys seeing a maniacal old man chase around a bunch of kids for half-an-hour?; I wanted some monsters!), but no catch-phrase incites more revulsion that “Pu-pu-puppy power!” The one redeeming facet of the horrible live-action movie was their demonizing treatment of Scappy.

Eventually as the midday sun slips down behind the hillside, painting the afternoon sky with brilliant fiery hues as if the throne of heaven itself was melting, encapsulating the earth with molten gold, did Pat and I finally realize that . . .

“Why do you do that?”

“Mom! I’m writing here,” I said momentarily halting my typing to find my mother staring down at me. “Do what?!”

“I mean if I want to say that the sky is orange. I say ‘The sky is orange.’ Or if the cat is white, I say ‘Fluffy is white.’ People understand that.”

“What’s up?” Dad said entering the room.

“Some of us are trying to create art.”

“Your son cannot write without using metaphor. Instead of simply saying the cat is white, he writes that ‘the color of its fur is akin to the shade of snow beneath the far off Matterhorn in the twilight hour of St. Ambrose’s Day’ instead of simply saying the stupid cat looks white.”

“Mom, it’s imagery.”

“It’s confusing.”

“It’s poetic.”

“Murph, don’t mock your mother.”

“Also you made me sound stupid in your last blog.”

“You do order your tea like that. It’s like a verbal machine-gun.”

“There he goes with the metaphors again.”

“Murph,” Dad said patiently “why don’t you try to include your mother’s advice this time. It might improve your work to try something new.”

“Huh? Wait a tick . . .”

“HA!” Mom laughed. “See he agrees with me!”

“And for the record, your mother does not talk like a machine gun . . .”

“Ha again!”

“It’s more like a gatling gun,” he said then trembled and shook either to simulate being gunned down or from the force of Mom’s foot as she kicked him.

My final paragraph inspired by Mom’s instruction:

The sun sank this afternoon. The sky was orange and red like fir . . . uh, and yellow too. Pat and I woke from our daydreams and helped set the table like the good children we were. We complimented our mother on her new dress, which she got on sale from ‘Penny’s yesterday. We both thought the color of the dress matched her eyes quite well. Her dinner was perfect, very very delicious and good. We cleaned up wel . . . uh good. Then we kissed her like dutiful children and slept peacefully all night and long into the next morning so as to not wake her from her beauty sleep . . . which she does not need.

In which Murph engages in some redecorating

*Yawn* Long day, long week. Between surgery, schoolwork, and daily circus involved in shuttling the family from home to ring ceremonies to practice then back home and later from school to the pizza parlor to the grocer’s to the ice rink from school and back home again, I feel ready to find a hollowed tree and hibernate for another six weeks. However, as complaint sickens me like rancid milk in the sweaty hands of Richard Simmons, I will minimize the venting and move on to some quick announcements.

As you can see, I am making some minor changes with the blog; namely the name and probably the banner may undergo an overhaul in the next few days. Thus, like sailing your houseboat next to an insane asylum, the new perspective will surely provide many interesting experiences. However, rest assured that the content of this site will probably not improve (I am nothing if not consistent), the same ramblings and ravings only with a prettier face.

Hospitalized

This weekend found Katie, Mom, and I spending most of our days at the hospital, while Dad underwent some basic (stressful, agonizing, fearful) surgery on his stomach. Thankfully all went well; although the surgery had its share of hiccups. Nevertheless, Dad should be arriving home shortly, well and anatomically whole. Yet his suffering paled in comparison with mine own. My adventures with the girls over the weekend nearly drove me crazy:

“Architecture: modern. Building: hospital,” Katie noted officially to me as I scribbled away in my notebook. “Population: sickly. Do you want me to do any more research for you, Murph?”

“Yeah, what do you think about that wall over there?” I pointed to a white space adjacent to the hospital entrance, totally devoid of all decoration but a wooden bench and the motionless form of an old nun dressed in faded civilian clothing.

“Hmmm . . . too plain. It needs some décor. A mural maybe, with bright colors, happy families, and smiling faces . . . and a moose.”

“Wait, a moose?”

“All murals need moose-i.” (moose-i: being the often unacknowledged plural form of meese, the rarely recalled collective noun form of moose; i.e. I saw a National Geographic special the other day featuring several thousand moose-i crossing the river from Canadia.)

“What’s he writing this time?” my mother asked, alternating her attention between Katie’s descriptions and the well-dressed gentleman sitting across from us, shouting meaningless words like “values oriented approach” and “the paradigms considering the structural integrity graphs would be nice” into his Bluetooth earpiece. “I think he was a metrosexual,” she would comment later, taking in the gentleman’s matching plaid socks, beige loafers, and finely pressed suit the color of martini-soaked olives.

“I don’t know, Mom. I can’t read his handwriting,” Katie giggled, her good-spirits immersing the hospital waiting room with mirth, the same way the odor of wildflowers drown out the ghosts of winter on a warm March morning. My sister possesses that rare laugh, a gentle honest humor devoid of deception or anxiety but strong and wonderful. The sound of pure joy. She also happens to be incredibly nosy and may haphazardly read aloud my unpolished notes concerning the aforementioned Mr. Bluetooth, unaware of my ready ear and eye. Thus, if my critique of my sister’s curiosity sounds a bit hypocritical, it probably is.

“Are you taking notes or signing off on a prescription?”

I smile at the semi-legible scrawl spiraling from my pen tip: long cursive l’s resembling undotted i’s or uncrossed t’s. Doctor’s scribble, quick and illegible. The sole blight on my elementary school record for poor penmanship made essay-writing drudgery and almost stymied my accession into third grade. Apparently my skills at math and reading could not convince Miss Drumm to ignore the similarity between my cursive lowercase y’s, p’s, q’s, g’s and j’s. Reading “Mary jumped her rope” or “Ben gimped his way home” from my copybook could become a lesson in absurdity or obscenity depending on the interpretation.

Nevertheless, my handwriting did prevent a great deal of in-class cheating as Katie discovered gazing at my notes. Almost anyone who tried failed from spelling errors alone (both real and misinterpreted). I breathed easier and continued to note the other patients and families sitting in the waiting room. To my left a family read from a large leather Bible – the father was a preacher I suspect – until a woman arrived from one of the many pasty-white corridors. The Good Book closed and they promptly left together. Katie, Mom, and I were left more or less alone in the waiting room except for an older woman and her husband, his face motionless and white like a plaster mask. A thin nun grumbled through the rows of chairs, occasionally calling out names and shaking her head with dismay when no response came.

“No one listens. No one hears,” she mumbled as she passed us, and the image of a small droopy cartoon dog flashed across my mind. Katie immediately took an interest in her, commenting that she liked the old girl very much.

“Awww, I like her. She reminds me of the nuns back in high school.”

Now the nuns I remember from grade school sent shivers of fear up my spine. Through my eyes, the nurse churned memories of multiplication tables, factors, and the awful Twack! of thick rulers against open palms. Corporal punishment of course did not survive through the late 20th century, yet the nuns still wielded wooden rulers at all times and exercised that strict icy stare, their eyes windows into damnation’s playground. The fact that the hospital nuns traded in their rulers for syringes did not ease my anxiety one bit.

Soon the time allotted for Dad’s surgery began to ebb, and so with notebook safely stowed in my pack Katie and I kept an eye on the flow of doctors draining from the operating room. Unlike Dad’s surgeon, most doctors (that is, those we recognized adorned in white lab coats) seemed young, early thirty-somethings fit and athletic, ready for the weekend and Saturday morning golf games. Mom and Katie used this time to consider dating ala carte.

“Ooo . . . did you see him, Kate? Oh, now he was quite cute. We should come to the hospital every Friday night.” Katie, of course, had seen him, her eyes shone with delight at each passing white coat. Nevertheless, she denied the shallowness of the exercise, citing that she would not choose her soul mate on the basis of occupation.

“Besides,” she said, “I’m going to be a doctor one day. Dr. Kathleen. Maybe, Dr. Katie to the lil’ kids, but I’m going to make you, Murph, and Pat call me doctor.”

Somehow this seemed just as shallow, but considering that many doctors seek out medicine for money and many scientists I had met seek out research for fame, I decided that her mindset actually improved her chances of amassing several degrees.

Academia . . .

All joking aside, I promised to call her doctor at our every meeting if she managed to gain her degree. Few people I know would have deserved that distinction as much as Katie, far fewer would I feel as honored to call doctor than my sister.

After three hours, the surgeon came out and informed us that the surgery had ended and that Dad was now resting in the recovery ward. We could see him in about two hours while they prepare his room. This prompted a collective sigh among the three of us, and I offered to visit the cafeteria for some much needed refreshments. I asked the girls what they wanted:

“I’ll have a hot green tea,” Mom begins. “No decaf or any of that fruity stuff; although if they don’t have Lipton, then I’ll have just plain tea. Unless of course they have white tea. That has the most anti-oxidants, right? Just get whatever’s the most healthy. With some cream. Or 2% milk if they have it. See if they have any honey, too. I think it was near the jellies. If they’re out, get me some plain sugar, no fake stuff. But they should have honey, I saw it there earlier.”

“Okay, and Kate . . .”

“Oh and be sure to get me a spoon too. For stirring.”

“Sorry, they probably will not have that. You’ll have to use your finger.” I receive the Look for that snide comment, and thus quickly hurry on to my sister’s order. “Katie?”

“Hmmm, just get me something delicious. But not unhealthy.”

Between this intense specificity and paradoxical ambiguity, I manage somehow to pick enough ingredients to satisfy Mom and gather enough general snacks to please Katie. I settle for a water and some salt packets. Then sitting back, I begin to dream as the old nun passes by again, mumbling like an old locomotive. Her mutterings mix with my dreams, dragging me back to the years of nap time, arithmetic, and brown and yellow uniforms.

“No one listens. No one cares. Yes, they’ll listen when I get my ruler again. Oh yes, then they’ll care. Then they’ll hear me . . .”

Twack twack twack