Anti-social Anonymous

Yesterday while adding songs onto my new iPod, I built a Facebook account. Most of my siblings possess one by now, continually checking their posts and what-not throughout the snow-day as if it were a new-born babe moments from burbling its first word. Nowadays everyone seems to have ingratiated some form of on-line communication. Though I have had an email account for some time, judging from the people around me, I must be the last human being on Earth without a Facebook account. Heck, gazing through the lists of names here, even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle regularly contributes posts and pictures, and he’s been dead easily . . . well longer than I have been alive, that’s for sure.

Of course over the past twenty or so years of my existence, I have not accrued a very social lifestyle. Some may go as far as to say anti-social.  Last year I quit playing World of Warcraft once I realized that I would need to group together with other elves and dwarves in order to progress. Sorry guys, this lone blood-elf raids alone.

What’s more, I always had a difficult time accepting what is popular: new technological trends, new ideas, or new fashions in dress or thought. Bandwagons and their ilk simply leave a bad taste in my mouth, like my Mom’s apple and sausage casserole. After all why not try something new or unique, the road less traveled? How can you get excited over well-tread terrain unless – like the Grand Canyon – the view well merits a visit?

Crowds too – my own immediate mob of a family not included – repel me to some extent. Not necessarily the people, merely the suffocating mass. For most celebrations, disasters, and confusions I enjoy watching the action on the fringe, with neutral eye befitting a movie or vaudeville show. Odd behavior indeed among a group of such socially adapted brothers and sisters (Many of my close friends were introduced through my siblings). I enjoy shopping late at night, when every one’s gone home and the mall/store is an empty playground. Saturday nights are spent killing digital invaders, far from any bar or pub; if I drink I do so at home so I do not have to crawl as far. During parties, I read. Dark nights warm my heart; winter snowfall kindles my soul; and in July green mint-chocolate ice cream fills my belly. I have noted that few people on the East Coast enjoy cold dark minty things. It’s a crime really.

Yet of all my idiosyncrasies, my inclination towards balance can be the most inconvenient. Among the serious, I play the fool; amid raucous foolishness, I wax stern and reticent. Additionally I don the role of devil’s advocate on a variety of occasions, prescribing balance to misplaced ideals in order to promote understanding but mostly because it annoys everyone. This tends to upset my family a bit, earning me the title of arrogant SOB, corrupter of souls, and liberal:

Mom (sighing): “I am so tired of all this Confirmation stuff. Why don’t they just learn this stuff in school like in fourth grade or something?”

Me: “I don’t think that children are mature enough to make such a decision of faith at such an early age. They would mostly just accept whatever they’re parents tell them.”

Mom: “So? What’s wrong with that?”

Me: “Well, consider other perspectives, other beliefs: Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Daoism, or Christian. You don’t want them brainwashed do you?”

Mom: “Hmph . . . Well, why not include atheist in that group too?”

Me: “Sure that’s an option too. In fact many . . .”

Mom: “Murphey, shut up . . .”


Dad: “So did you talk to Mr. Turnip today?”

Me: “Well, I tried around 9:30 sometime and left a message. I would have called again before lunch but Mom pulled me away to discuss Confirmation class. She’s quite mad at me right now, by the way. Afterwards at 1:00 I tried again . . .”

Dad: “Murph, yes or no. That’s all I want right now a yes or no answer. Not a whole story.”

Me: “Well yes and no, you see . . . .”

Dad: “Argh . . . forget it. I’ll ask Sean.”


Mom: “Sean, I can’t believe that you’d defend a murderer in trail.”

Katie: “Yeah, that just seems wrong. I wouldn’t have the stomach for it.”

Sean: “Well Mom, it would be my job.”

Me: “Yeah, the defense needs to protect the rights of the accused. Even if he’s guilty as sin, the defense must ensure that the state does not crucify him.”

Sean: “Exactly.”

Katie: “Even if you know the murderer’s guilty? How can you live with yourself to defend someone like that?”

Me: “Guilty or innocent. They still have rights. It’s the prosecution’s job to convict him if he’s guilty. The defense must protect the individual from abuse, corruption, or overly-harsh sentences. To give someone a voice in the court. After all centuries ago the convicted would be guilty until proven innocent, the abuses laden on the populace are . . .”

Mom: “Murphey . . .”

Me: “Yeah?”

Mom: “Shut up.”

Me: “But I was just . . .”

Mom: “If you don’t stop disagreeing with everything I say, this frying pan will suddenly fly across the table and smack you in the face. If my aim is right, this will leave your lips too fat to object or your mind too unconscious to speak. Then you’ll be silent and I’ll be happy. Are we clear?”

Me: “Well, yes and no . . .”

Mom: “ARE WE CLEAR?”

Me: “As crystal ma’am.”

The varying quality of crystals in different mediums notwithstanding, I realized that most people desire answers, not perspective. Human beings loathe uncertainty. Part of that stems from our education: in elementary school a multiple-choice answer is either right or wrong, true or false. No credit is given for ‘sometimes’ or ‘depends on the situation.’ As a nun-instructed student of theology I cannot avow that truth, good, wrong, evil do not exist, but perhaps the majority of opinions are an amalgam, a fruitcake if you will, chock full of worthless fact as well as worthwhile insights.

For my own part, I either attempt to bring about balance or brush away at my own incompetence. Thus I position myself on the sidelines – the fringe so to speak – and observe. Am I anti-social?  Maybe.  Personally I just think that amid all the chaos of my daily life, quiet solitude befits my free time.  Perhaps in the end Facebook is just too chaotic for my tastes . . .

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Something Good

Music possesses the innate ability to transport people to realms of their own imaginings. Enchanted snow-covered forests, gem-encrusted caves, sand-blasted temples, and bridge-linked villages roosting high among starlight-encrusted evergreens.

At least that’s where my music takes me. J.R.R. Tolkien poses in his essay on Fairy-Tales that we as humans possess deep within our blood primal yearnings for the impossible. Myth and fairy tales are the actualization of those desires. I do not presume to know much about this myself, yet how often sitting at my desk have I gazed outside and dreamt – for many several moments – to leap outside and take to the skies like Superman. How often do we yearn to converse with a Bengal tiger or coach a sapling into a mighty oak? Is it truly that odd to wish that you possessed the power to protect and save something precious? To lift up a sword and rescue a damsel, a kingdom, a brother or a sister?

Simply put, certain songs inspire the best from me. If everyone could imagine themselves a hero in a story for a moment say three minutes and forty-six seconds, consider the world we might create.

Word Play

Tonight while Mom and Dad braved the cold and frigid winds to attend a wedding, the kids and I tucked into our bed clothes and played some board games. Our game of choice was Balderdash, a wonderful game of creativity lies, archaic words, and fake definitions. Needless the say, I love this game, whose principal purpose involves creating definitions for obscure words and then trying to uncover the true definition among the false. Players receive points not only for guessing the correct definition, but for tricking others into choosing your own. Unfortunately, not everyone takes the game all that seriously. Between the following definitions can you guess which ones are fabricated, authentic, and one of my bored brothers’:

Amaranth

· an imaginary flower that never dies

· love of ancient Chinese folklore

· a chemical used that was believed to make someone fall in love with another goat

Ollecranon

· the funnybone

· an element used to convert crude oil to gasoline

· a person from Olekron

Tragelnaschalia

· excessive body odor emanating from the armpits

· a disease infecting most sailors who have traveled to the Gold Coast of West Africa

· the gay guy from the female sex

Oneirocritic

· an interpreter of dreams

· black credit

· one of those pricks who still refuse to acknowledge the greatness that is Boondock Saints

Thrunter

· a 3-year-old female sheep

· a person looking for a foreign object

· a hyper rabbit (‘Hey, they call me Thrunter ‘cause I like to thrunt!)

Zori

· a thronged Japanese sandal

· the wife of Zorro

· outfits that Chinese prostitutes wear

Ennead

· nine of anything

· an epic sea voyage

· someone who is in need of something, ya heard?

Mancinism

· favoring the left hand

· the belief that the world is flat

· extreme affection for a mannequin or doll

Economic Value

The man approached us while we stood in line, our arms plump with books like old-time school children – bibliophiles that we are. I had come to the bookstore early that afternoon to stock up on several new manga volumes. A story sickness had overtaken me over the last few weeks, and my visits to the neighboring Borders and Barnes & Nobles could not arrive soon enough. After copious cups of iced tea and several hours wandering the stacks – limited funds led me to gather twice my current wares and replace half – I found my way to the check-out counter.

. . . whether I should try peach syrup with my iced tea.

. . . whether I should try peach syrup with my iced tea.

Our visitor held aloft a $25 gift card and offered to give it freely in exchange for a twenty.

“You earn five bucks,” he explained, while my fellow bibliophiles gazed nervously at each other.

“How do we know that anything’s left on that card?” the woman behind me asked.

“I’ll stay in line and pay for whatever you have there,” he said. “It’s all there. Does anyone want it?” I kept quiet and stared at a woman on the cover of National Geographic, her face glimmering in gold paint.

“I have a twenty,” a man in the back spoke up. “I’m not much of a reader, but I suppose that my girlfriend could use it.”

The man filed in beside his newfound patron.

“I lost my job last week,” the man confided. “Right now, I could use the money. Books are less important to me.”

My turn at the register had come. I walked away, paid for my purchases and left the store. Getting into my car, I regretted not talking to the man. I had no hard cash in my pocket, merely credit, but I felt ashamed at my silence.

Throughout my life, fear has always been my bane – ice cream too, but let’s not get into that. Of course this is true of anyone (of fear, not of ice cream unless you’re lactose-intolerant). I fear speaking up, speaking out, making myself known to the world. Thus, often it is turmoil merely to announce myself to others. Especially when I feel that my voice will do nothing.

People often wonder why I read fantasy and manga. Most individuals assume – wrongly – that I have a penchant for dragons, unicorns, and cat-eared forest girls. This is not so . . . . well, I do like my cat girls. For the most part, these are mere decorations, trappings that give a story color or excitement. The true whimsy lies in the characters, those few chosen individuals full of courage, strength, and fidelity that they risk all for the sake of others. Therein lies the true fantasy; those noble souls, these heroes are akin to manticores and chimaras, the stuff of legends and myths.  Yet despite the impossibility for such creatures in the ‘real’ world, I continue to hope and prowl the bookstores. Perhaps one day a bit of their nobility will rub off on me in the reading.

I tend to get distracted.

Honestly though, in these tight times, I cannot say which is more important to me food or books. With my small paunch, I could probably last a week or so without meals, provided ample coffee or iced tea was available. Without caffeine, valuable reading time might diminish. There’s also a good chance of death too, which could really ruin that novel I’m reading.

I worry sometimes about a lot of things: the economy, my life, the arrival date for the next volume of One Piece, and whether I should try peach syrup with my iced tea. I mean, Border’s raspberry tea tastes quite good – unlike Nestea, which is actually lemon extract, excessive amounts of sugar, and toilet water – but I wonder if I should reach a little outside my comfort zone. No one becomes happy without being brave. Next time I visit a bookstore perhaps I should ask for something new, a mint-peach syrup combination maybe. It may confound the barista a bit, but the dissolution of weakness deserves the extra tip. Especially in these hard times, we need all the virtue that we can lay our hands on.

A Very Texan New Year: Part 2

On New Year’s Eve we drove down to see the remains of Galveston, devastated last September by Hurricane Ike. Charlie’s mom suggested the visit, as Katie needed a ride to meet some old friends for lunch (Chili’s and their blessed never-ending salsa bowl). We drove forty-five minutes through Houston, down the coast and across the bridge into the city. Mounds of debris littering the roadside as we passed: broken doors, shattered glass, and torn shingles, piled like a barrow next to crippled buildings and empty lots where gulf-side resorts once stood. Not having visited the city before, the absence of houses shocked us less than the damage to standing structure. McDonald signs stripped of its marquee, now reads ‘over 1 served.’ Gas stations, boarded up and fenced with police tape like a crime scene. Battered shops, abandoned and broken, empty of all merchandise and the occasional window. Near the ocean, construction equipment dig deep into the sand and ocean, clearing away debris and toxic waste, rebuilding the beach. Skeletons of what was once beach-front resorts and restaurants wave and falter in the ocean breeze; tattered signs glide like kites on cobwebs of string and rope tangled among the broken beams and aluminum rooftops. We passed a tottering pier, where a lone hotel still stood. Pieces of concrete appeared cut from the sides, as if bitten by some ancient sea monster.

Nevertheless several shops and restaurants appeared repaired and refurnished; sea side eateries and bars adorned with faded – but upright – plaster casts of shrimp and crabs welcomed full crowds dining outside in the breeze. The Denny’s looked practically new. We chose a Chili’s near the beach to stop and eat; the freshly painted façade suggested renovation. The redundantly named “Cancun Ranch: Mexican Bar and Grill and Bar” behind appeared abandoned. Like the arrival of spring after a long winter, the town was coming alive again.

Later that evening, we drove home and barely welcomed the New Year without falling asleep. The boys, intent on staying awake, alternated jumping into the hot tube and the freezing swimming pool, a Texas-style polar plunge. The face on Ryan as he emerged – quickly like sparks in a griddle – woke us all from our New Year’s stupor. *sigh* It’s another year, full of adventure, intrigue, and foolishness. Anything less and I would not be able to handle it all.

A Very Texan New Year: Part 1

Of all the places that I hoped to see before I leave this great blue marble, Texas never ranked high on my list. In my mind, the Lone Star state occupied nothing more than a great span of desert connecting the South to the Southwest, Florida to California, the terrain between Disney World and Disney Land. Of course much of my knowledge stems mostly from John Wayne movies and that film last year with that air-gun wielding French guy.  Clearly my own knowledge is limited to some extent.

However, consider the national landmarks on your own list: the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Niagra Falls.  Consider the states themselves: Oregon endows itself with great forests of pine and spruce; Montana crowns its borders with snow-tipped peaks; Maine dines upon lobster and adorns its landscape with snow packed forests. Hawaii. For the love of all that is holy, consider Hawaii.

Yet the herds of long-horned cattle, rodeos, and dry plains did little to encourage my interest: the stench of cattle cause me to retch, the excitement of rodeos cause me to yawn, and the dry plains give me sunstroke. The very thought makes my face perspire and my mouth dry and sandy. Ugh . . . hold on while I go grab some chocolate milk . . .

Ah much better! Nectar of the gods. Now in all fairness, my own state of Maryland has little to recommend it. Baltimore possesses the highest murder rate in the nation; in 1998 Baltimore led the nation in cases of gonorrhea. Years ago the park benches proudly displayed the city’s motto: Baltimore the City that Reads. It took nearly a day for that slogan to transform into something a little more accurate: Baltimore the City that Breeds. Our own sea-side tourist trap, Ocean City, is the fifth most dangerous city in the States.  Clint Eastwood and John Wayne never had to contend with college teenagers during Senior Week.

However despite the stats, rankings, and bucket lists, we flew down to Texas two days after Christmas. Charlie’s parents lived in a heavily wooded community of sandy-stone Mcmansion-eque homes – which quite surprised me seeing as I had no idea Texas possessed woodlands of any kind. Apparently many of the neighbors were also transients: uprooted residents, who having relocated for work-related reasons created this cross-road for migrant corporate workers. Therefore many of our neighbors were not native-born Texans. Throughout the entire week, I encountered a single solitary Texan accent: at Walmart. Scouring the shelves for DVDs, Mom sought the aid of a three-dimensional Boomhauer, who – to Mom’s horror – had never heard of Hilary Swank’s “PS I Love You.”

“Donnever‘eardovdat,” he muttered barely opening his mouth.

On the second day of our trip, I encountered the Taco Man. Much like the ice cream truck of the Eastern suburbs with its ringing bells, playing pied-piper to neighborhood children, the Texan counterpart circled our suburban maze, bringing tacos and other meals to workmen who were building new homes in the adjacent cul-de-sac.

The truck arrived one morning flying around the corner to the tune of “La Cucharacha,” which we could hear from inside the house. However, for our own part, no one in the house pleaded for money and rushed outside. Somehow the prospect of grabbing greasy Mexican food from the back of a truck did little to incite our appetites – with or without the lively song.

The Art of Arting

Dasad informed me yesterday that he had begun drawing again after a six-month hiatus.  Much of the present art needs to be photoshopped for color and clarity.  I in turn offered to help, which led to the following conversation:

Murph: Can you scan your art and photoshop it?

Dasad: yeah i clean up a few things with photoshop

add some masks and stuff

Murph: Awesome!

Can I help?

Dasad: you can download the image and do what you want

Murph: I want to help you to . . . uh, art.

Dasad: i art all the time

Murph: Cool, I will try . . . Do you?

Dasad: damn straight

Murph: I thought you haven’t been arting for a while?

You’ve been holding the art in.

Dasad: well i’ve been eating the right things

so now the art is ok

Murph: That helps you to art?

Dasad: well it helps make good art

Murph: You eat, then art?

Dasad: i art because i eat

Murph: I see. So eating is the source of your arts.

Clever.

Dasad: you can say that certain types of foods is the cause of my arts

some arts are more pronounced

Murph: Really? Does it work like that?

Dasad: yes, you’d be amazed

Murph: What food helps you to art the best?

Dasad: well everyone says the same things for arting

but i’ve learned that dim sung makes me art the most

Murph: Spicy food? Do you produce more arts when you eat tex-mex?

I see.

Dasad: yes, tex-mex would be the obvoius one, but it doesn’t do it for me

Murph: When you release your art onto a canvas, do you feel relieved.

Dasad: i art the same with that

sometimes, only if there’s enough moisture in the art

Murph: Does releasing your art reduce the pressure of everyday life?

Dasad: and that only comes from the best sources of food

Murph: Interesting.

Dasad: well it’s a stress reliever definitely

and it’s healthy

Murph: I can understand that.

Dasad: everyone arts

Murph: Not in my family.

I’m the only one that arts in my clan.

Dasad: they just don’t admit they art

Murph: I art everywhere.

Dasad: do you?

Murph: On my computer, in my room, even at the dinner table.

No one else appreciates my arting.

Dasad: wow, that’s quite… something

can people tell it’s your art?

Murph: Yeah, there’s this aura . . . or aroma that circulates around my particular art.

Dasad: geez ok, how did this conversation go this way

Murph: They know I’ve been in a room when they sense my art.

Dasad: i think this is the most vulgar yet surprisingly clever conversation

Murph: hahahaha . . . this is brilliant

Yeah . . . like British comedy