Pished

Any other day, my family drives me to drink – an expression here which means “seek out escape through madness or perversion” – yet last night proved quite literally the reverse. As of midnight Tuesday morning, my brother Sean turned twenty-one and, like an Irish Cinderella, morphs from an innocent to a drunkard by the twelfth strike of the clock. Responsible adults that we are, we surprised Sean late in the evening while ignoring his protests of sleep and “work early next morning.” Covering his face with a black windbreaker, Katie, Mom, and I stuffed him into the back of my car like a kidnapped POW and drove off to the nearest redneck/biker bar in the county.

As I understand it, Sean loves this place, a surprisingly well-furnished roadhouse near the railroad tracks. The bar had been rebuilt years ago, reinforced now with new wood, fresh paint, and even poorer lighting than before, which I understand suits its patrons well. Many of my brother’s colleagues, fellow farmers and cattle showmen, frequent this roadhouse as a second home; thus Sean is no stranger to the sticky wet tables and peanut-blanketed floor. Whether he ever imbibed illegally at this establishment, I cannot say. I will say with certainty that tonight is not his first drink in the past five years. Everyone knows this, even Mom although she is quick to catch him admitting it:

My Pint“I want a Miller Chill,” Sean shouts through the windbreaker, his voice muffled yet clearly excited. “I’ve heard they are good.”

“How do you know?” Mom whips her head around to stare at him (which may seem absurd through his covering, but I swear that her eyes can burn holes through adamantium).

“Oh . . . um, well . . . it just looks good.”

Right. None of us buy that excuse. Neither does Mom, but at this point I suppose any argument is moot. A few more minutes and his past deceit will be wiped clean, purified with a laugh to simple childhood shenanigans and teenage memories. Her silence therefore is almost congratulatory, a vindication to crime, a medal of honor to duplicity.

We arrive at the bar, where we meet my aunt and uncle, the big partiers of my family and my godparents. Ironically enough considering how much my aunt and uncle drank and caroused in their youth, you would have thought that I would develop into more of a drinker, a pished product of my environment, instead of what I am: weekend chauffeur and designated driver. Somewhere in my education, they must have failed . . . or succeeded, depending on how you look at it.

Apart from our two cars, the parking lot is empty when we remove Sean’s shroud. He laughs, but of course, I believe that he had a good idea where we were going. Driving over the railroad tracks (with feet lifted of course, lest you never find true love – old superstition) was a big clue.

We advance to the door but find the place locked tight. Now someone – not me thank goodness – was suppose to have called the bar and made arrangements for our party at midnight. A big burly bartender sporting a colorful pair of boxers – and nothing else – informed us the bar was closed. About the time that we saw the sweat glistening off his rotund gut and his hand reach down to his nether regions for a scratch, I think Mom and my aunt decided not to argue. I for one was not going to touch anything that this hairy exhibitionist served me.

The three-toed sloth.  Thus we left deciding on another bar, an Irish pub a little further down the road, to toast and roast Sean until two in the morning. Now to me, the true joy of celebrating a twenty-first at a bar is in discovering what type of drunk my siblings were. My mom and aunt after a few shots become quite giggly and talkative: happy drunks. Alcohol however can twist and contort my sister, Katie, into a mean drunk at times. Once she stapled me a “Green Gremlin” when I offered to help her to her room, dismissing me with a wave of her hand and instructions to return to my cave. Apparently she had made other plans, you see. Choosing to grip the banister with both her hands and feet like a giant sloth, she shimmied and slid up the railing until falling on the – thankfully – carpeted stairs. She denies this, of course, but luckily I have witnesses . . . as well as a few pictures which I am saving for when she gets married.

Meanwhile, on the very few occasions when I have imbibed more than is sensible, I become a very analytical drunk, talking loudly, citing Coolidge, and inspecting my own state of delirium.

Once after four or so glasses of Jagermeister and Red Bull (a very dangerous combination, I have since learned), I discovered a shot of electricity shot along my arm whenever I stretched. This being my very first bout with alcohol, I spent the remainder of the night, trying to reason out the biology behind my condition – much to Patrick’s frustration:

“Murphey, don’t think! Just drink!” Pat rhymes when he drinks, and thus represents the poet drunk, an egregious teller of bad jokes.

“But Pat . . . Pat my arm gets so tingly when I straighten it. Like blood is suddenly surging across to my fingers. Or perhaps I am the son of Zeus. Is that normal?” I ask, flinging my arm out into several different directions to demonstrate.

My bane!Another instance – probably the worst – I had asked Pat to help me construct a few CDs, when he and I started talking about this girl I fancied who within days would be leaving for India. Distraught and foolish, we opened a cask of Crown Royal and finished off the whole bottle within a few hours. My exploits for the remainder of the night are lost in a cloud of bitter sensations, but I am told that I slid noisily down the stairs shouting “Bump!” as I rolled over each step, expressed my wonderment to my sleeping parents at this unique state of mind, and woke up Katie to discuss my love problems while citing Shakespearean sonnets, which I have since forgotten. The morning after was not pretty, but if I had won the Noble Prize for Chemistry Mom could not have been prouder.

“It’s good to break out every once in a while,” she said. I agreed, but as my head rattled and shook like a martini decanter, I promised never to find myself in that state again. Or more importantly allow anyone else to find me in such a state again.

Now Sean . . . as a blossoming lawyer, he enjoys arguing and irritating others. Drunken Sean is no different only he argues and irritates at a high volume . . . oh and he likes to sing too. Katie and Sean regaled us with several off-key refrains of Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass.” Later they joyously shouted out some imaginative lyrics to Journey and let loosed some water in the driveway. Ah . . . the memories. That in itself made the night well worthwhile.

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Dropped Out

Well, I truly screwed up this time. Today was to be my first of class for the summer, a week-long nine to five excursion through the city’s museums and art collections, yet last Monday something happened: I started my summer reading. Typically at the beginning of each summer, I peruse the children’s collections at the local bookstores for a fun adventure series to explore for the next few months. Kevin currently was reading the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Lightning Thief, a book I recall one of my fellow classmates recommending a few months ago.

To make a long story short, I dove into the series devouring first four books within a few days. The series does a wonderful job of incorporating Greek myths into daily life, and I relished the characterizations of all the gods, goddesses, heroes, monsters, and legends. Every so often, I would halt my reading to peruse a section of the Odyssey or Ovid’s Metamorphosis, just to guess who the emerging monster or new god. The series even included a nice Potter-ian epic storyline and a blossoming romance. I got hooked, falling totally into “story sickness” once again.

Yet I realized last night that my excursion into the realm of myth cost me a great deal of time, necessary to prepare for the upcoming class. A twenty entry annotated bibliography required for Tuesday had not even been considered. A group presentation for Wednesday, after consulting my school email, had already begun. Sources had already been distributed, summarized, and analyzed. I had barely skimmed the four page proffered list of sources. The group had decided to meet tonight to discuss thoughts and powerpoint. Class had not even begun, and I was already failing.

Now two weeks prior, I had gazed briefly at the syllabus. Never a fan of academic journals/writing (ever since NIH the longwinded style simply puts me to sleep), the immense load of research and reading scared me a little, but I thought myself capable of finishing it all in a few hours time. After all between Iron Man and Speed Racer movies, Percy Jackson and my writing, learned journals seemed so much less important, too unexciting and dull for serious contemplation. Thus, although I have an excuse, it is not much of one.

Learning of the immense work, I had yet to complete sent a shockwave of anxiety through my stomach, similar to waking at 2AM to realize your toothpick bridge (25% of total grade) for Honors Physics may be due tomorrow. I nearly threw up. Then I decided to drop the class.

I now wake this morning, feeling somewhat refreshed, invigorated, and totally worthless. It is a strange feeling, sacrificing education for a children’s book. Yet sometime along the past week or so something else just became more important. Given the chance, I would probably do it again. No regrets; although I realize how irresponsible and stupid this makes me sound. In the end, I just could not help myself. Knowing how the current series ends, somehow eclipsed school work. The only problem now is what will I end up reading today . . .

Parked

My travels today found Mom and me in search for water-proof fleece, rain coats, and other camping essentials for Kevin’s end-of-year school trip. Inspired by the beautiful weather, thoughts of a pleasant drive, and absolute necessity for the items by tomorrow morning, we drove off to the local L.L. Bean store for some much needed shopping.

Now Mom and I possess two different philosophies in terms of parking our car:

My philosophy:

  1. Locate the first available parking spot, preferably as far away from other vehicles.
  2. Pull into spot.
  3. Put car in park and remove key from ignition.
  4. Hike the two miles to your destination (Frankly I need the exercise, and we all should try to walk more)

Mom’s philosophy:

  1. Drive around through the maze of parked cars for the closest spot possible.
  2. If you pass more than ten parked cars, you have gone too far.
  3. If no parking spots are available, continue circling the parking lot like vultures until someone leaves.
  4. Upon finding a spot extremely close in proximity to your destination, pull in.
  5. Put car in park DO NOT TURN OFF IGNITION
  6. Look about you and wait twenty minutes, if you see anyone pulling out of a parking spot closer to the mall, quickly leave the secured spot and jump to the closer one.
  7. Repeat until parked adjacent to handicapped spots. Then if the mall is not closed, shop.

Honestly — with only a little exaggeration — Mom loves to capture that “close” spot. It’s the competitive streak in her, that blood-thirsty Celtic-warrior stare that melds onto her face whenever we play volleyball or softball. A trait we ironically share as years of video gaming have unearthed the battle-lust in my genes as well (particularly at Mario Kart and Tekken). Losing to Dasad’s Ryu in Street Fighter, usually prompts hours of intense training afterwards and a few hurried matches with my younger less battle-hardened cousins. The fact that few of them have played the game before or even know what buttons to push, bite, or gum is inconsequential at this point. I simply need the victory, the knockout, that cybernetic affirmation that I am still a man.

Yet when it comes to parking, I simply do not possess my mother’s patience. No sooner would I pull into a parking spot ten rows from the entrance to Nordstroms, then a Honda begins pulling out several rows ahead and Mom would shoot me that expectant disappointed look, suggesting “We could have parked closer if we hadn’t rushed.” Yes and we could, losing gas and shopping time in the process. However I do not say this. One thing I have learned in all my years of parking and gaming, sometimes the best victory demands a timely retreat. And no dishonor can be found in yielding to the chidings of your mother from time to time. Indeed it is good for them to vent now and again. Our two miles walks to the mall are rarely silent.

“Ooh . . . Murph, honey, you missed that spot. If I sat down here so that no other cars could enter, and you ran back to the car . . .”

“Come on, Mom . . .” I sigh, promising to grab myself and her a large mall-bought fruitshake before the afternoon ends. After all we need something to sustain us for the long hike back to the car . . .

Story Sickness

Presently I am recovering from particularly viral strain of “story sickness.” At least, that is the name I give to it, that passionate “fevered” desire to complete a particularly imaginative or well-told tale, and the effects are not pretty. The story envelops me. I cannot eat. I cannot sleep. I relinquish all work – as well as most conscious thought – as I devour page after page or scene after scene, driven to discover “What happens next?” Does the Count exact his revenge? Does Taran save his friends from the Black Cauldron? If Nia transforms into an intergalactic harbinger of death and destruction, how will she and Simone ever be together? Stuff like that.

I recall one night several years ago, when my Dad knocked on my door sometime around one or two in the morning. Both of my parents had not seen me for much of the evening. I had disappeared to my room right after inhaling some steak and potatoes and rapidly spitting out a garbled “One moment, Mom. Room with flying keys! Gotta go!” Relinquishing them to this cryptic phrase and some small tuffs of fallen potatoes, I scampered down to my room without a sound.

Worried at my unusual absence, the late hours, and whether I was alive or dead – being the good parents that they are – they decided to check on me. So spying the light creeping beneath my door past midnight, Dad decided to investigate. I, of course, had been reading all day. Recently, you see, my brother Ryan had received the fourth Harry Potter book, and taking an interest in the hype I opened the Sorcerer’s Stone that afternoon . . .

“Are you still up? What are doing in here?”

“Learning magic.” (I cannot recall exactly what I said here, but it was something to this effect. I possess little shame.)

“A book? You’re reading a book at three o’clock in the morning?”

“Yeah, Dad, this book is incredible! The storytelling is fantastic. It just pulled me in almost as soon as I began.”

“Well, remember not to burn the candle at both ends. In a few hours, it will be dawn, and you have to take the kids to school tomorrow. You can always finish tomorrow, you know.”

“I know. I know. But I’m almost finished this second book. It’s so hard to put down. I’ll go to sleep soon. I promise.”

Shortly after that, Hogwarts safe once more and basilisk slain, the second book ended, and I lay on the bed exhausted. With a flip of a switch the Walmart-bought fan twirls and cools my head, steaming with potential ideas for Harry’s later chronicles. Will Voldemort return? What is his connection with Harry? Will Ron always be the comic relief?

“I wonder if Harry fancies Ginny or Hermione?” I think aloud. A few minutes later, I break my promise and leaf through the third book until five or six in the morning. I fall asleep for an hour or two, waking exhausted somewhere between pages one-hundred twenty-eight and twenty-nine. The pages peel from my drool-dampened cheeks and ears. Like a wino with a hangover, I curse at the sun, shining brightly through my windows and stumble off to find Sean and my car keys. I – safely – drive my brothers across town to summer swimming practice, where I then waited in the parking lot, my mind passing into slumber and dreams: detailed visions of wizards, castles, and werewolves.

Such is the nature of my affliction, my “story sickness.” Considering the number of stories I finish each year, few provoke such unhealthy responses. Typically coming-of-age tales empowered with dynamic characters, heroic battles, or the search for true love incites the germ (at heart I am a hopeless romantic). Combine these elements with incredible writing or poetic prose, and the infection spreads. The story consumes me, and for hours or days later I am lost within another world among friends, both old and new. The story sickness strikes once again.

Of course, others may know of a more clinical term – insanity perhaps. My siblings simply tell their friends that their older brother is weird and a little eccentric at times, citing the T-shirt wisdom: “He lives in his own little world, but it’s okay they know him there.” I have heard the word “obsessed” too, somewhere in the din as I sat reading Verne and Doyle long ago. I cannot remember when or where. Growing up in a family of ten, you learn to cloud much of the daily cacophony, especially when there are lands to explore and ghost hounds to unmask.

Frankly, I have just learned to accept the fact that stories are a natural part of my life. A natural inclination like the love of seashores or ice cream. It is akin to breathing. Inhale and exhale. Read and write. The only difficulty lies in choosing between the two:

It’s hard to know when to respond to the seductiveness of the world and when to respond to its challenges. If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn by the twin desires to reform the world and to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
— E. B. White

Willy willy pumpkin-nilly

I was working late one afternoon at the lab years ago, when this poem popped into my head. The day had grown long; five hours can drag waiting to harvest protein. Boredom, acetone, and smell of fresh bacterial broth can have a strange effect on the mind, particularly one driven to childish rhyme. Like a true Seuss-stanza, dislodging the simple echoed rhythm from my ears proved nigh near impossible. Drugs, flames, liquid nitrogen all proved futile. Thus rather than ignore more safety restrictions, I decided to write the poem down and share it with others instead . . .

Willy willy pumpkin-nilly
What a great fool you are
Willy willy pumpkin-nilly
What a total fool you are

You dance on your hands
And eat with your feet
You bray just like a dog
And mew for your treat.

Willy willy pumpkin-nilly
What an honest fool you are

You bathe in the sink
Throwin’ money away
Like a child, a wee child
Sleeping, smiling, at play.

Willy willy pumpkin-nilly
What a good fool you are.

You mix with the sick
And converse with the cursed
Always wishin’ on stars
Always putting others first.

Willy willy pumpkin-nilly
What a good man you are.

You never speak rude
Foolish simpleton I see.
Yet kind, loyal and true
Knowing just who you can be

Willy willy pumpkin-nilly
What a great man you are.

Guy Talk: Part 2

Ryan and I are driving south this weekend to visit his . . . uh, platonic female friend and her equally platonic girlfriends for dating evaluations. If he manages to pass, he gains the title of boyfriend and man. If not, we eat eighty dollars in gas money, snacks, and tissues. Either way, it should be an amazing trip. Sun or storm, no place on land captures the savage beauty quite like the seashore. Waves crashing and breaking against rocks, liquid thunder, the pulsating heartbeat of a vast monster, an ageless world without remorse . . .

“Hold the lengthy metaphors for a moment. Tissues? Are you suggesting that I might cry?” Ryan cries out from behind the steering wheel.

“How did you read . . .? I turned the screen away from you! And the windows were down! How do you read my story without a reflection?”

The laptop sat on my legs facing the open passenger window of Ryan’s Yukon. Currently we rolled along several hundred feet above the water overlooking a vast gray inlet, marked with waterfront housing and tiny fishing boats, which bobbed up and down like corks in the murky water. Very inspiring perspective, if not for the constant commentary.

“Side mirror reflection,” he answered. “You think that I’m going to get sob-y or something?”

“Well, Mr. Sensitive, you do drop tears from time to time,” I reminded him, not bothering to mention again the dangers of simultaneous reading and driving. My words lacked any and all strength, like the advice of a hypocrite. “Remember Rudy? Miracle? Pride and Prejudice?”

“Uh uh, no way. Pride and Prejudice was YOUR big cry, you girl.” True.

“It’s an excellent book.” This is also true.

“Except when you continue to spout about how great frickin’ Elizabeth is,” Ryan shouts.The girl would torment any man for the rest of his life.”

True again, but in my experience only mutual indifference really poisons love; while ironically aggravation often masks true affection. Darcy, I imagine, is very brave man but never an unhappy one.

“Hey look, you have your pseudo-girlfriend,” I retaliated. “Leave me to my imaginary ones.”

“Oh and Mr. Darcy. Wasn’t he dreamy? Together with Lizzie . . . ahhhh. Sheesh, frickin’ psychos are made for one another.”

“Dude, Darcy is the flippin’ man! One of the world great romantic leads in Brit Lit. And Lizzie . . . well, you start bad mouthin’ Lizzie again and I’ll kill you.”

Ironically enough, these remarks typifies the type of conversations that usually erupt when Ryan and I talk. On occasion we have been known to argue over the effect of Huxley’s Soma, the motivation of Bradbury’s firemen, and why Batman is vastly superior to Superman (he still cannot accept this unassailable fact).

“I don’t even know why you like her in the first place,” Ryan asserted. “Jane’s the hotty. Right or left, here?”

“Left and then straight for about twenty miles,” I answered. The roads here now dappled with light rain, ‘cat-spit’ my old professor termed it, reminds me of the river or inlet we passed over moments before: dark, silent, and impervious.

“Jane’s sweet but silent,” I continued. “It’s like marrying a frickin’ mannequin . . .”

“Kim Cattrall was hot in that movie.”

“Agreed but again all smiles. No laughter. No wit. No soul.”

“Again with the wit?!” Ryan sighed. “If my future sister-in-law talks like a Shakespearean player, our family dinners will be very quiet and sparse. No one but you will be able to understand her.”

“You confuse wit with learning Russian,” I responded.

“Well, as long as she likes you and the family, we’ll have no problem, ok?”

“I would not favor her otherwise.”

“Oh and cute. If I cannot understand her, she may as well be easy on the eyes, as I stare dumbfounded . . . hey you hungry?”

The answer was an unequivocal “Yes” and so we drove through KFC for some chicken wraps and sandwiches. We parked, and Ryan dove into his chicken sandwich, slurped down a chocolate shake, and now finished he began rubbing his index fingers across his nipples. This frankly disturbed me in ways I cannot possibly describe and I choked back nausea.

“What by the power of Greyskull are you doing?”

“Summer is coming soon,” Ryan responded still rubbing his chest. “I want to wear a tight Speedo shirt to the beach, but I don’t want saggy flaccid nipples. If I rub them now and then, they get a little perky . . . and well, that shows through the shirt.”

I tossed the remainder of my wrap in the bag, and closed my eyes before telling Ryan to drive. Within a few minutes the engine roars to life, but for some moments we remain parked. Even over the roar of the engine, I heard the rubbing whoosh of his fingers against his shirt. I choked back my wrap and try in vain to fall asleep.

An hour later of fitful disturbing nipply-dreams, I woke to the riffs of AC/DC and Ryan’s warbled singing. As soon as I rubbed my eyes, he began banging out beats on the dashboard.

“It’s a long way to the top if you’re gonna Rock N’ ROoool . . .” Boom badaba boom. Boom badaba boom.

“Are we done touching ourselves?”

“Huh? Oh yeah,” he shouted over the radio. “All done for now. I do this once a day, by vacation time my nipples will be ready for all the world to see.”

“Please, your words are wrecking havoc on my imagination. I dreamt of exploring Egyptian tombs with Jessica Alba . . .”

“So, that doesn’t sound too bad,” Ryan said turning down the radio as the song faded.

“All the pyramids had nippled apexes, and your face was carved into  the sphinx. Its paws were folded across its chest doing . . . God knows what.”

Ryan apparently found this quite amusing. “So what?” he laughed, “I’d thought you’d be used to weird stuff like that. With all the Japanese porn you watch.”

“Anime,” I corrected him. “It’s called anime.”

EXPLANATION: Years ago, right out of college, my interest in sci-fi and fantasy stories led me to Japanese animation or anime, movies like Metropolis and Akira which through complex characterization and bewildering imagery seemed to treat animation as a means to tell an epic tale and not just a child’s diversion. My interest grew in the medium, and so the following Christmas, I received several volumes of manga or Japanese comics, specifically romantic comedies like Love Hina, which although not vulgar sometimes lacked the . . . er, modesty of American comics. My vehement explanations about character, story, and art had about as much effect as discussing the literary content of Playboy articles.

“Whatever, you and your animated girls. Your imaginary girlfriends. That’s weird man.”

“Not all of my loves have been animated,” I responded. “Besides Miss Elizabeth Bennet, back in college, I had the biggest crush on Clarisse McClennen and Cecelia Jupe.”

“From Farenheit 451?”

“And Dickens’ Hard Times . . .”

“You need to put down the books and get yourself a girl, dude.”

Sigh. “I need a girl.” The words seemed to sink into me: an answer without a solution. The way Ryan said it you would think I could simply walk into Walmart and find the love of my life sitting upon a shelf next to indoor fans and lighting fixtures. Marked down, too! Yet in Ryan himself I found solace.

“The way I figure it, though,” I said. “If you can find a girl who accepts your nip . . . nipple . . . gosh I cannot even say it. Your oddities. There must be someone who understands mine, right?”

“The world is a large place, man! There’s sure to be another cartoon freak like you somewhere in this morass of insanity, delusions, and phobias, right?”

“Well said,” I answered enthusiastically. “Although I suspect that the real motive behind that little speech was just so you could say . . .”

“Morass? Yup. Mom never quite got over that vocab word.”

“I’m feeling more hopeful by the minute,” I said as we neared the college. The waters of the inlet licked at the beach, bordering the school. The far off shores seemed like islands in the fog, remote and foreign toppled with evergreens and flowering trees full in bloom. A small dock hugged several small sailboats, where students readied ships to sail off into gray abyss.

“. . . long way to the top, if you wanna Rock N ROOLLLLL.” Boom badaba Boom!

Guy Talk: Part 1

On the way down the road, I take out my laptop and begin writing:

Ryan and I are driving down south this weekend to visit Ryan’s girlfriend at the eastern shore, where she currently resides until classes end in a few weeks. I know very little about her college; although I hear that the scenery overlooking a small inlet to the bay simply takes your breath away. Ryan’s girl studies environmental scien . . .

“Dude, she’s not my girlfriend,” Ryan interrupts from behind the steering wheel.

I look up. “Huh? What?”

“This girl, I’m seein.’ She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Well, you’ve been calling her for hours each night all semester long. In some countries, these long-distance phone bills are considered a legally binding marriage contract. Hold on . . . how are you even reading this?”

“I glance over now and then when no other cars are around,” he says, weaving the car slightly between the yellow and white lines.Oh and that’s what she told me yesterday on the phone. She thinks it’s too early to consider us girlfriend and boyfriend, that’s all.

“Oh . . .” I say.  Ryan remains uncharacteristically quiet for some time after that.  I assume that he is trying to translate the feminine “too early to consider us girlfriend and boyfriend” into guy-speak, which reduces the situation into two possibilities:  Is this good?  Or is this bad?

“Also,” he finally says, “she’s studying biology, not environmental science.  You might want to fix that in your story.”

“I did not even finish writing that yet! If you cannot keep your eyes on the road, let me drive! Reading and driving do not mix very well.” I of course spoke from personal experience on this one. One August two or three years ago, I attempted to dodge traffic while glancing through Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  This experiment nearly launched me off the interstate. Thank goodness for stop signs and red traffic lights.

“No I’m fine. And it’s not that she doesn’t like me. She says that she likes me. She invited me down so that her girlfriends could meet me.”

“Yeah, but meet who?” I interject.

“What do you mean? They’re meeting me, right? I suppose they could meet you too, if you’d like, as long as you don’t do anything weird . . .”

“Wait, weird stuff? What weird stuff?” I scoff. “At all times, I am a paragon of normalcy.”

“You bow, dude. Or you say stuff like ‘Good evening, m’lady.’ Medieval crap like that. It’s embarrassing.”

“It’s chivalrous,” I remind him. “Besides I don’t make a show of it, just a slight bow of the head upon meeting. ‘M’lady’is just a saying of mine. It simply sounds better than ‘ma’am’ or ‘miss.’ More poetic, don’t you think?”

“Whatever, but if you embarrass me, I’ll punt you into the bay.”

“Slow down, man. Speed trap up ahead.” Ryan is still quite new at this game. His attention span fluctuates at times particularly in the midst of conversation or a “truly awesome” song. Led Zepplin’s “Fool in the Rain” mere moments prior sent us careening into a small embankment, bordering a pottery farm. I was nearly skewered by a lawn gnome. We pass the cop, nestled behind a grove of small trees. Ryan drops ten mph in practically seconds.

“Gradual deceleration, man!”

“Okay! Okay!” We resume normal speeds (i.e. match the speed of other drivers), and I breathe a little easier. No lights. No cop.

“What were you saying before?” Ryan asks. His attention to my meaningless commentary belies his interest in this girl.

“What does she call you? How are you introduced? Are you, ‘This is my best buddy, Ryan’ or “My pen pal, Ryan?’ ‘Just this guy I know?’ If you’re not her boyfriend, then what are you? If you are not her boyfriend, why are we wasting eighty dollars in gas to visit her?!”

“I don’t know . . . I just want to see her, I guess. I want to be her boyfriend. I suppose that this is just one of the hurdles in the dating gauntlet, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” What other answer is there? “Well, here let me change this paragraph then . . .”

Ryan and I are driving south this weekend to visit his . . . uh, platonic female friend and her equally platonic girlfriends for dating evaluations. If he manages to pass, he gains the title of boyfriend and man. If not, we eat eighty dollars in gas money, snacks, and tissues. Either way, it should be an amazing trip. Sun or storm, no place on land captures the savage beauty quite like the seashore. Waves crashing and breaking against rocks, liquid thunder, the pulsating heartbeat of a vast monster, an ageless world without remorse or light . . .

Clouds the light of the love that I found . . .