Modern Methusala

The tables at Bertucci’s had appeared swarming with high school kids and college freshmen. The only couple over thirty sat in the middle of the room, donning festive NASCAR top hats around gray heads and looking quite bewildered – a fact partly due to age, partly due to the environment, but mostly due to the hats. The rest of the nubile crowd chatted noisily. A group of high school girls held conference behind us, practicing imperfect similes:

“Sorry guys for being like so late. We like got held up by like a thousand lights on the way.”

“No one calls sprinkles Jimmies.”

“No one calls sprinkles Jimmies.”

The kitchen clattered and steamed with thin-crust pizza, delivered to tables where GameBoys sang with squealing tires and power-ups. Therefore, when Dasad and I later made our way into the TCBY, it felt a little strange to be standing in line with seven or eight gray-haired seniors.

“Are we old?” Dasad asked afterwards.

“No, I just think we picked a very mature ice cream parlor, that’s all,” I said digging into my peanut butter parfait.

“Do you think we’ll be doing the same thing twenty, thirty years from now? Hobbling to the nearby fat free yogurt stand for waffle cones and white chocolate soft serve?”

“. . . and jimmies,” I helpfully add.

“Huh?”

“Jimmies, you know, the sprinkles you pour over ice cream.”

“That’s not the right word,” Dasad corrected. “No one calls sprinkles ‘jimmies.’”

“Sure they do. I just did.”

“It sounds like drug slang: ‘Give me a nickel bag of jimmies, man. The good stuff.’ ”

“No, its sprinkles, chocolate or rainbow colored. Jimmies.”

“One day I must learn this dialect you practice so well. Do you think we’ll be spendin’ our Fridays outside a TCBY?” Dasad asked for another attempt at focus. “For that matter, what will we be doing ten twenty years from now?

The question has merit. In the spring of my life, I constructed a bucket list of sorts, a short repository of aims and goals for the future.

  • Find true love
  • Save a life
  • Be a good brother, friend, husband
  • Get in shape
  • Travel the world
  • Win the Pulitzer Prize
  • Write a work of fiction that will stand the test of time (perhaps children’s lit)
  • Kill a dragon with my bare hands

dragonslayAlright perhaps not the most reasonable goals (especially that last one), but then your life’s pursuits should never be too modest or probable. It’s the impossibility of it all that makes it worth pursuing in the first place. As of this moment, I have yet to achieve . . . well anything. But although scratching off any item on my list may seem like carving Mount Rushmore with a toothpick, if you never give up, you’re that much closer than those who do.

Despite our accomplishments though, I do not believe people change that much. When she was a girl, my grandmother would travel downtown via street car to the movie theater, watch movies all day for a nickel. Today she spends her free time poised before Turner Classic Movies and field trips to see the latest Oscar nominees. My great-grandfather during Prohibition concocted booze in his bathtub. I recall his lavish parties, where beer and booze would fill the glasses of all guests, regardless of race, creed or legal drinking age.

Dasad and I arrived back home and nestled our aging bodies down in plush armchairs. The TV and the Xbox hummed into life. We see the familiar devastation, silhouetted against a blood red sky, a large rotating cog and a grinning skull where the sun once stood. Horde mode loads.

“I think we’ll probably be doing the same thing we’re doing now.” I pushed a few buttons, trying to remember which trigger button controlled the aim.

I could see ourselves, sitting in the same chairs, obsessed with the latest cooking show, playing the latest video game: virtual reality Tetris or Super Mario Multi-verse perhaps.

Dasad nodded. “Is that sad? Should we feel disappointed by that?”

“Oh well, more yogurt for us . . . "

“Oh well, more yogurt for us . . . "

“Well,” I considered. “We might be married with kids by then. That’d be cool. Plus when your fifty-something, you get to eat as much yogurt as you want, right?”

“Is that why so many old people were at TCBY?”

“Probably, because it’s soft and relatively fat-free, they suck it down,” I say, “Ooo . . . got boomed.”

“On it. Why’s that matter?” Dasad said navigating his character through the debris, where I lay bloody and crawling.

“Because old folk are more health conscious, and many have trouble chewing. You know, dentures and all that.” I wrapped my lips over my teeth and mimed someone gumming their vanilla mocha yogurt.

“So what you’re suggesting,” Dasad laughed, “is that when we’re fifty, we’re going to be sitting in the same chairs . . .”

“. . . well not the same chairs, perhaps something more comfortable and ergonomically satisfying . . .”

“Whatever . . . wasting our Saturday nights playing the same games – or the future equivalent,” he added before I could interrupt. “And all this will be ok, because we’ll be consuming vast amounts of fat free yogurt . . .”

“ . . . with chocolate jimmies . . .”

“Shut up, there’s no such thing . . . and teaching our kids and wives how to kill undead hordes, alien swarms, or subterranean invaders? Is that it?”

“Yes, only our wives are super hot, and my kids are showing your kids our shared manga collections and anime DVDs,” I smile. “Oh, that will be a grand day.”

“My kids,” Dasad frowns, “will never see your kids – unless it is Thursday. Thursdays are the days when my kids make your kids eat grass. We’ll call them green ‘jimmies.’”

“Hmph, try as you might, my kids will train early on, mastering their Tekken, Street Fighter, and Soul Caliber. By the time their twelve, they’ll have mastered all the world’s fighting styles rendered into the virtual world. They’ll be able to shoot fireballs from their hands.” My geekdom knows no bounds.

kawaii_hat“That’ll work well until my kids Asian genes kick in . . .”

“Ha, my kids will be exposed to so much manga and anime that they’ll be more Asian than you by the time the next Thursday rolls around.”

The game stalls for a moment or two. Desad walks into an empty room and suddenly finds himself out in the open surrounded by subterranean mutants. Mine is the sole character left. I run him towards the bridge for the final stand when the screen goes red: disconnected from server.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I mutter.

“That there’s not a Hell’s chance we’re ever going to reproduce.”

“It’s probably better for everyone, you know?” I say dropping my controller to the floor.

“Oh well, more yogurt for us, I suppose,” Dasad shrugged.

“And chocolate . . .”

“Shut it.”

Pictionary Portraits

pictionary“. . . so those are the categories. Ok now everybody, listen up,” I said standing at the head of the table, several white-board markers rolling absently in my hand. “I don’t want the same disaster we had last time. As long as we all understand the rules, there shouldn’t be any problems, ok?”

“What happened last time?” Mary asked, whispering to Katie and her best friend, CB. The rest of the girls on the right side of the table talked among themselves. They had heard this spiel before.

“People accused each other of cheating, mostly Stuart’s mom,” CB smiled with a wink, “once they found out they were losing. Also we had a lot of trouble remembering which side of the deck to choose from – there was a lot of alcohol present – and so a lot of categories and words were accidentally redrawn . . .”

“Tonight, just like the night before, we will be choosing from the red side,” I shouted above the table chatter. “Not the side with the red pencil, but the side with the red border. Now does everyone understand that?” A few nod their head. Everyone else ignores me.

“Why do you call Murph, Stuart?” Mary asked.

“Oh,” CB laughed, while Katie leaves to make another margarita. “ ‘Cause he looks like a flight steward, asking us to buckle up and to remember our seats double as floaties. Hey everyone, shut up! Stuart is discussing the Pictionary rules.”

The room quiets somewhat. CB gives me a thumbs-up.

“Thanks girl. Ok, last thing,” I quickly spurt out in the wake of the ensuing silence. For about nine months of the year, CB plays as a young elementary school teacher at a local private school, teaching when the opportunity presents itself but mostly coping with immaturity – sometimes with the children – among the parents and her colleagues. Her expertise in these matters allows her to fit quite well with the household mob.

“Who wants more margari-tass?” Katie shouts from the kitchen, which causes most of the women and all of the underage boys to cheer a hearty ‘Here!’

Though members of large families themselves, Mary and her little sister worried me a little. Their own clan was much more well-behaved then ours. They would be swallowed alive.

Once all the – legal – drink orders had been taken, I continued.

“In the past people have cheated,” I said again, with a long look at my mother. “Thus, let us remember that there is no drawing of numbers or letters. Even in the case of a two-word answer, part of the word may not be written on the board.” A few dissenting cries.

“I know, I know. But the . . . uh, ladies . . .” I look again at mom. “. . . have requested this addendum to the rule and we will stick with it.”

“You tell them, Stuart,” CB shouts.

“Thank you, final thing . . .”

“Enough of this,” Sean shouts. “Let’s play the game.”

“Last bit,” I say. “The draw-er must recognize the correct answer. No guesser may stop play or shout afterwards that he or she got the answer when no one heard it. The draw-er stops the play once he or she hears the correct answer. Now then, if that’s it . . ? Good. The first round is All-Play. The teams are boys versus girls. Let’s play.”

Sean and Mom approach the dry-erase board.

“What side are we picking from again?”

“Red,” I sighed.

“The red border or the red pencil?”

“The red border.”

“Because the pencil is red too . . .”

“I know, but we’re choosing from the red border. Like the picture frame.”

“Right, ok. What category are we doin’ again . . .?”

After a few more moments and with the (correct) card in hand, Sean and Mom take up their markers. Both must illustrate the same word. Both sides attempts to guess for control of the dice and advancement along the board. The hourglass remains untouched. No one may leave until a correct guess is recognized. They begin.

pencil2_edited-1

Somewhere in the South Pacific, a volcano erupts, swallowing the remains of a small village. A gunshot accidentally lets loose an avalanche, quaking the very marrow of the Himalayan Mountains. Kevin Conner, a storm chaser and journalist for National Geographic, will capture on film an explosion at a nearby farm, where a rogue lighting bolt will strike a abandoned oil tanker; the explosion sends ripples through the ground; the winds whip and scatter the remains across the county. Billy Briars, after downing a large 20oz bottle of coke and consuming a hefty helping of his Mom’s leftover bean burrito casserole for lunch, will let loose an explosive blast that will tear a hole in his britches, totally disrupting Mrs. Galveston’s 6th period English class for the next hour and transforming Billy into a legend for the next thirty years.

Yet even when it is discovered that the school must close the next week for fumigation and detox, the explosive chaos cannot compare with that of Murphey family shouting and screaming at the onset of our monthly Pictionary game. Girls and boys, men and women swarm the board where our intrepid draw-ers attempt to capture the necessary idea, object, action, or proper noun with a primary-color marker and an ensuing mob whose shouts threatens to overwhelm their fragile cochlea. Unwilling to fight the tide, the voices of the new-comers are swallowed and forgotten until their turn to take up the marker.

Eventually perhaps due to dumb luck, one of the boys shouts out the correct word loud enough to be heard. The draw-er recognizes the word amid the shouts and ends the round. The losing side slumps off grumbling about how the horns on that cow looked nothing like an antelope.

dryerase


On each side of the table, a pair of individuals sit, who possess a mutual understanding of one another so keen and flawless that only the minimal effort is needed by either to guess the desired answer. Charley and Shannon represent just such a pair. Shannon strides up to the board. He looks at the card and picks up the pen. The timer is turned. He draws a stick man and a circle. Then he . . .

“Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark!” Charley shouts.

“You got it!” Shannon laughs.

“Fowl!” Mom complains. “He barely drew anything! A man and a circle and you got Raiders of the Lost Ark? Someone’s cheating.”

“No way,” Charley argues.

“The man is Indiana Jones . . .” Shan explains.

“. . . and the circle is the ball from the beginning of the movie,” Charley finishes.

“We should have separated those two,” Mom grumbles.


wooden_hourglass_3Nature balances itself out. Just as stronger members of the herd possess an innate ability to read minds so that actually picking up the pen is rather extraneous, others seem to paint the board with a vast array of lines, swirls, and colors, signifying anything from a chipmunk to nuclear holocaust. The resulting patterns and doodles from my brother Kevin’s drawings meanwhile glimpse the inner workings of a highly disturbed soul.

The word was ‘depressed’ or rather ‘depression.’ CB and Kevin had an all-play so both approached the board and readied themselves for a fast paced round.

“Wahoo, the dyslexic duo, up at last,” CB shouted. They began to draw . . . something. Honestly I am not sure what CB draws (Apparently by her own account CB affirms that dyslexics are horrible at drawing pictures of words.). In the end, Katie guesses the right word after CB draws a rather oblong frowning clown face complete with an I Pagliacci tear. We laugh at CB’s drawings and look over at Kevin, who has been using a vast array of colors to show – by his own account – someone cutting their wrists.

“He’s depressed,” Kev shrugged. “That’s what depressed people do.”

“No,” CB laughs, “that’s what suicidal people do.”

“So?” Kevin shrugs. “Suicidal people are depressed. I drew what I knew.”

While the rest of us are attempting to recall the names and phone numbers of various psychiatrists and asylums, CB still laughing walks over and places her arm comfortingly around Kevin’s shoulders.

“It’s ok,” she whispers. “I understand. Us dyslexics have to stick together. Next time study Stuart’s face when our team beats his. Or visit a pet store around Christmas time: dogs in candy-cane tights. Now that’s depressing.”


The game moves along. The boys’ team cruises ahead, which causes Mom to seek for an edge – any way possible:

  • “Wait, hold on. You can’t use two different colors of markers here. That’s not fair. We should win that round.”
  • “That line looks suspiciously like an ‘L’ or a ‘1.’ If you’re cheating, we should get to roll.

  • “Hold on, there was miming.Sean, mimed. Miming’s not allowed.”
  • “A dollar sign . . . is that really legal? Come on. It’s on a keyboard. We can’t allow that.”

To be honest, Mom does her fair share of miming as well. Once when during one of her turns (the word was ‘lean’), her body slowly began to dip further and further until it was clear to both sides that she was insinuating something. Luckily the point came to the boy’s which proves that cheaters never prospers or at least that bad cheaters should learn a little subtlety.

Locked Out

I passed my hand over my eyes and sighed when Bree entered the room.

“Why is Mom crying?” she asked.

“She’s laughing,” Charley smiled as Mom let out a loud snort, her face buried in a large wool blanket. She momentarily peeped out – her eyes red and wet – and looking at me, she then burst into another long giggle.

“Why? What happened?”

“I accidentally locked my keys in the car,” I said, my eyes fixated on the floor, the ceiling, that plant

“ . . . while the car was still running,” Charley added. Mom sniggered.

“He had a thought,” Shannon said unwinding a metal hanger with a pair of pliers. More muffled sniggering diffused through the blankets on the couch.

“Look,” I sighed. “The car was running when I parked outside. I was gathering up all my stuff. You know, my iPod, my books, my notebook and the pen which was slipping off . . . I was trying to map out this story idea that had just come to me when . . . I guess I must’ve hit the lock without noticing. When I closed the door, I noticed this humming sound . . .”

“HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“You know Mom, it’s not all that funny,” I said.

“That was Bree,” Charley said. My small sister lay doubled over on the couch, laughing in her mother’s lap.

“ ‘H . . .h-humming sound’ . . .” she blurted.

“Are you ready?” I asked Shannon.

Shannon had fashioned a wire hook from the wire hanger and together with Charley we walked outside.

“So what’s your success rate?” I asked eyeing his ersatz lock pick with some trepidation. “I can’t find the spare key so if this doesn’t work, we’ll have to wait for the one Dad has stored up the shop.”

“Well it worked for Ryan’s Yukon,” Shan said. “That time when he got locked out down at school.”

“Yeah,” Charley nodded. “It was lucky that none of the campus police questioned us then.”

We reached the car. For good measure, the boys checked all the doors. Concluding that I was indeed an idiot, Shan examined the rubber insulation between the window and the door.

“Hey, you can hear the humming.”

“Shut up,” I muttered as Shan stuffed the wire frame down the window. “This won’t hurt the car, right?”

“Um . . .” Shan said with a glance to Charley. “I don’t know. Maybe you shouldn’t be here . . . just in case.”

“No, if this works, I want to know what you did. It could be useful. You know, if it ever happens again.”

“You know what else might be useful,” Charley added. “Not leaving your keys in your car and then locking the door.”

Reminding myself to kick Charley in the shin later, we watched Shan fish blindly for the door lock with his hook. This continued for some time, as the wind picked up rattling the trees and windows. I shivered. At least the engine is warm, I thought. Beside me Shannon cursed. He had pulled the hook from the window; the constant pulling and pushing had uncoiled the wire.

“Let me try,” Charley said grabbing the hook after Shan’s rigorous butter-churning action had sent the wire flying in our faces.

“Last time on the Yukon, it was really tough to pull. You have to really yank it.”

“Yeah, but how do I know that it’s the right thing to yank?”

“Just yank everything it gets caught on . . . “

My stomach churned with every yank, resounding a heavy thunk and chlunk from inside the door.  Absently I wondered if I should count it as a victory if the door suddenly falls to the ground.

“Is it suppose to do that?” I asked after a particularly loud KA-CLUNK.

“Uh, I don’t know. The door’s not unlocking so I’d go with a probable ‘No.’ Maybe Ford wised up over the years,” Shan offered helpfully.

Eventually we gave up and relinquished our efforts to obtaining a spare key from Dad’s office.

“I swear Murphey you are our absent-minded professor,” Mom smiled after we entered crestfallen.

“I am not absent-minded,” I objected.

“You’re not?!” Mom laughed wiping away more tears.

“No, just . . . distracted that’s all.” I don’t think she heard me through the giggles and guffaws so I just sighed.

“It was a pretty good story too. I would write it down if I can remember where I put my notebook. Mom, Bree, do you know . . . ? Ah, forget it.”

I strode from the room to search for a piece of paper and a pencil, until remembering I had left my DS on a few hours ago, I ran downstairs. My Chrono Trigger game left me spellbound for another hour, before I remembered that I had forgotten something yet again.

Salad Segregation

. . . like optical illusions and car commercials.

. . . like optical illusions and car commercials.

It was all a very odd day to begin with. The strange thing is that oddity flows more from the details not the larger issues. Wars shock but they don’t surprise us. Yet if you discover the lady standing next to you had worn her blouse on backward or worn two left shoes, then your eyes might blink and stare like an optical  illusion which you can’t quite figure or a car commercial.

The morning had began quite blustery. The kind of weather that brings storms and fells trees, that sends trash cans rolling into traffic like sage in old Westerns, the kind of wind that uproots homes and small children, catapulting them to far lands atop old wizened women. I removed my coat and soaked in the Zephyrs like sunshine.

Up the road I passed a man donning the green-copper robes of Lady Liberty, trying hard to stay upright. The bearded monument had traded in his tablet for a large cardboard arrow, inscribed with ‘Tax Service,’ which he would twirl every now and then for the benefit of his mobile highway audience. Yet with every twirl the arrow caught the wind, pulling the robed mascot like a large kite, his long beard tangled among his thorny crown.

Further on, plastic ads for SAT classes and law firms once staked deep into the earth before the winter thaw, wobbled and teetered in the breeze, hanging onto its terrestrial station by metal threads. Nearby road signs bowed and bent by the winds, warn any falling aircraft to yield and stop before colliding with the ground.

"I hate segregation of any kind"

"I hate segregation of any kind"

For some reason the day started out well until it came time to checkout. The lady behind me in line quickly positioned the plastic divider between her lettuce and frozen orange juice and my milk jugs and a small vial of cumin without even glancing up from her cart. I never appreciated segregation on any level even among fellow produce; thus her actions irked me some. Had my wares been more abundant (today was a rare occasion) I would have understood. Typically we aim for art, piling our boxes and bags in strange orientations in order to recreate something by Rodin or the Empire State Building. We cast a spell to keep it all stable . . . until our backs are turned: apples rolling off boxes of Fruity Pebbles into another shopper’s mountain of cheese and hemorrhoid crème. Yet my small troop of spices and low fat milk posed no threat of invasion, no cause for rowdy mixers with another man’s fruit and salsa dip. “Good fences make good strangers,” she might lecture if I considered protesting.

Walking outside bags in hand, clouds drift silently across the sky like German zeppelins, ready to bomb the planet with ice and snow. The setting sun blew sparks on their hydrogen-filled sacs; I nearly walked into a yellow Beetle waiting for the explosion. Near the horizon, swarms of fleeing birds hop from tree to tree as if feeding off skeletal fingers, reaching for the sky in prayer or supplication.

I got in my car. Surprisingly the lady had parked her Yukon beside me. While I edged backwards, she slipped in and opened her door, blocking my mirror while she buckled and checked fumbled with her keys. I waited. Once the door closed, I sped off. Enough distance makes good fences too and when cars fail to properly segregate can lead to major health risks and damaged groceries.

Occult Attire

Last night snuggled in my armchair layered in blankets like a croissant – my house has two central hotspots where people can warm themselves, the rest of the house feels like a frozen TV dinner – I sat chatting and occasionally glancing up at a few key moments in Mark Harmon’s NCIS show when it switched to an ad. Now commercials on Spike, TNT, AMC and several other cable stations target a specific audience with a very specific message. Cash4Gold targets thieves, reminding them that jewelry pilfered from grandmom’s music box will be melted down and thus untraceable. Life insurance firms remind the old and aging that they will die sooner than the rest of us, so be ready! Male enhancement gives ad agencies the chance to drop as many suggestive innuendoes as possible for the amusement and disbelief of all.

Then we have the Snuggie, the blanket with sleeves. Essentially it’s a pagan robe, marketed as a blanket. Coming in three colors – virgin blue, wood sprite green, and goat blood red – the Snuggie is the start-up kit for any would-be cultist or suburban acolyte looking for the ideal attire to dance beneath the moonlight, welcome the blood moon, or sacrifice their first-born to Bedb. Fertility goddess approved and tested. Thankfully it’s machine washable for easy clean-up.

Moreover, if you act now it comes with a free booklight. How else can you translate arcane texts in this economy where candles cost more than incense and dove-cages without your booklight? Act now. Operators are standing by.