Angels and Vampires

“OOOOOOH!” my cousin Kay squealed as she steps into Suncoast. “Look Murph, look! They have Twilight out! On DVD!”

"OOOOOH  . . . . can we get it?!"

"OOOOOH . . . . can we get it?!"

“Oh, can we get it! Please, please can weeee?” my sister, Bree, pleads while jumping ecstatically like a Olympic diver, each bounce a little higher than the next. Momentarily caught among a girls’ soccer troupe dribbling trash beneath foot court chairs, I manage to free myself from the human flow after a dozen fervent apologies: “I’m sorry, Miss,” “Sorry about your toe, er . . . foot there,” “Just trying to cross, um to the other side there, sir. Oops! Sorry, didn’t mean to wake him .  . Oh!  Well, she looks like you ma’am.” The sea of humanity parted, and after a nearly fatal brush with some pierced Goths, I safely jumped within the movie store where the two vampire-loving girls pleaded their case. A six-foot cardboard cut-out of Edward, the movie/book’s tragically-confused vampire, his pale moody face lurking above two excited pre-teens, secretly smiled at my as-of-yet-to-be-drained wallet.

Now much of what I’ve learned about women stems from a high concentration of Jane Austen novels, manga heroines, and shopping dates with my mother and sisters. This intense education has kneaded in me feelings of love, respect, and – above all – fear of the female sex, lest they decry my honor publicly or aerate my torso with shooting stars and katana blades. Long ago (age ten) while shopping for cocktail dresses with Mom, I learned the importance of communication. For example the question ‘Which dress do you like best?’ – despite better logic – has in fact a correct answer: one must choose but choose wisely. Katie instructed me on fashion, hair-styles, and proper use of slang (i.e. men in turtlenecks are forbidden to say ‘Down wit dat’); my sister-in-law, Tiff, advised me on honesty and other means in which guys find themselves in trouble. Then we have Bree, the youngest and admittedly the most dangerous of the bunch.   Hammett’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in miniature, Bree’s adorable face and heart-melting personality masks an insatiable hunger for power, fruit smoothies, and wallets everywhere.

Our excursion began on a blustery Saturday.  The first day of spring this year welcomed the East Coast with blue skies, no snow, and chilly climes that apparently scared most of Eastern Seaboard indoors to the malls. The parking lots seemed primed for holiday shopping as I steered Mom and the two girls along asphalt rivers, circling parked cars like a shark around the Amity tourists. A recent doctor’s visit had deigned that my nearsighted little sister needed glasses, and after suggesting some . . . helpful alternatives (Seriously eye-patches are so trendy), I was asked to drive Bree to the mall to purchase some child-sized specs.

After purchasing some smoothies, we strode over to LensCrafters.  Doctors nowadays have the irksome habit of asking the children instead of the parent for pertinent information . . . until the matter turns to the bill, that is. Ignoring Mom altogether, the opticians stared at Bree and asked her, where she lived, her age, and her phone number: everything but her name, which they managed to spell incorrectly. However, once the bill appeared on the computer, the good doctor miraculously remembered Mom’s presence, prompting for her credit card as Bree — sucking absently on a strawberry-banana smoothie — appeared in no hurry to empty her pockets of candy wrappers and loose change.  Kay pocketed a few free shade-shaped keychains.

The lens smithes would finish their work within the hour.  In the meantime, I took the girls to Suncoast, while Mom browsed in Macy’s. Unlike Best Buy, Suncoast hosts an expansive collection of titles, many of which are rare to non-existent among retail stores. Several anime titles now lost in Best Buy shelves can be found there if you’re willing to put up the money. A title that costs fifteen bucks at Walmart might cost ten or twenty dollars more here especially if you don’t own an annoying club card.

“Twenty-two bucks for this stupid movie?” I mutter. “No way. Tiff said it sucked [pardon the pun]. You girls ‘ave read the books anyway. Why . . .”

“Nuh uh,” Kay shakes her head, which slurping loudly on her own fruit shake. “It’s good. It’s really good.”

“Pretty pweease!” Bree puckers, a puppy-dog face. Deadly.

“No,” I mutter moving deeper into the store, needing to replenish my strength after such an attack. “We’ll rent it first.”

 . . . as I untangled myself from the grammatical morass.

. . . as I untangled myself from the grammatical morass.

The girls grumble behind me and then disappear into the stacks. After a moment’s pause at some old Bogart films, I find myself before the anime wall, an immense collection of overpriced DVDs and boxsets. While I consider the thirty dollar price tag on volume two of Baccano! the girls snuggle up to me once again.

“Hey Murph, how about Step Up 2!”

“No,” I answer resolutely, recalling the tagline to the street-dancing bi-epic: “It’s not where you’re from. It’s where you’re at.” Wonderful.

“We could buy the first movie,” Kay suggests, as I untangle myself from this grammatical morass. “After all it was the best.”

“But the second movie had that guy!”

“Oh my gosh, he was so cute!”

“I know!”

“Honestly, I cannot have a conversation with either one of you,” I mumble, while my fellow anime geeks scurry away from us, cradling their swag of gun-toting space cadets. The girls giggle and skip down another aisle, only to appear minutes later with Season Three of NCIS.

“Ok, how about this?” Bree asks, holding her thumb over the price tag. I reach to check the price. She pulls away.

“You have to promise to get it first,” she says.  A devil’s smile.

Honestly the girls love this show. Idolizing the tattooed forensic scientist Abby, they have already spent hours watching the second season – which I bought for Dad three Christmases ago –between reruns on the USA network. Frankly among the other acronymed forensic shows on TV today, NCIS does feature some amusing characters, and seeing that it beats the trite Nickelodeon and Disney Channel fare, why not buy another season for them? My will was cracking . . .

“What other seasons do they have?” I ask, walking over to the television section.

“Only this one and season two, which we have,” Kay says.

“Right, so here’s the deal,” Bree begins. “Since you won’t let us buy Twilight, you have to buy us NCIS. One or the other. No exceptions or else.”

“Or else what?”

“We’ll cry,” they say together.

“So?” I counter. “I’ve dealt with tantrums and tears before. Sean and Shannon used to erupt in the bookstores whenever I refused to buy them anything . . . what have you got?”

“We’re girls. When we cry, hearts break,” Kay smiles, feigning a miserable sniff. Bree pouts. My remaining strength – now just sticks and bricks – shatters into dust. End game.  KO.

Two ladies pass us and laugh.

“Hard sell, eh?” they giggle.

“Mercenaries to the end,” I whisper, picking up the NCIS DVDs.

ncisThe cashier talks me into renewing my Suncoast membership card. No threatening tears this time, merely a smile and the option of saving ten dollars off my purchase convince me to re-enlist.

Kay approaches as the cashier scans my DVDs. “I’m angry at Bree. She keeps making faces at me. Plus she won’t admit that the guy from Twilight is not ugly.”

“So . . . you fancy him?” I ask, teasing.

“Ewww, no,” Kay sneers, “He’s a horrible Edward, but he doesn’t look horrible . . . not like you or anything.” I was so glad that I had purchased the DVDs for them.

“Anyway, I hate her,” Kay huffs, curling her arms about her chest.

“Yeah, I agree,” interjects the cashier. “I had a little sister once too. They’re all annoying . . .”

“What’s going on?” Bree – the little sister in question – sings skipping up to us. “Hey, Murph, I saw Step Up one and two back there for only twenty bucks, can we get it? Kay, can’t watch it though, did you know she likes Edward?”

“Do not! Nuh uh, she’s lying!”

I shuffle the girls out before they could create a scene, or consider more ways to drain my wallet. Or the helpful cashier remembers that the Step Up dual pack is on sale. The male soul can suffer only so much. Loss of money is one thing; West Side dance war between rival dance studios on the street . . . well, I’d choose emo vampire love trysts over that any day.

Pub Sign

Centuries ago before the advent of email, scotch tape, or gorilla glue, messages of high importance were often sealed with hot wax and then stamped with the seal of the sender, typically a man or woman of high renown. The impression of the crest in the wax would carry great weight to all who saw that distinctive seal. For example, take the following exchange at the border between two warring nations:

Guard (raising his hand): “Stop in the name of the king!”
Messenger Bob (reigning in his horse): “Indeed I cannot, for I bare an important message from the Duke of Avalon.”
Guard (smirking): “Surely you jest. The Duke and all his retinue have vanished, lost at sea since autumn’s harvest. A spy or traitor you must be! To arms!”
Bob (pulling the message from his valise): “Verily I tell thee the truth. For look I bear the seal of the Duke himself. He has returned from the halls of Death and seeks audience with his Majesty, the King.”
Guard: “By Heaven! This indeed is the Duke’s mark. Proceed, though I do not bid you well. Your presence and that of your Masters bodes ill-fortune, when the Dead breathe once more and the mark of one so mighty a man is seen once again under the sun. Go and fly fast from here!”

The story continues with the Messenger at the castle, revealing himself to be the Duke in disguise, lost at sea through the king’s treachery who in order to seize power, married the Duke’s sister and robbed the Duke of his favorite sword, Rosalita, but that’s all unimportant now as the story ends quite happily and thus lamely. However, as you can see seals and crests can come in handy at times to identify yourself, distinguish your work, and avoid being skewered by a troop of unfriendly border guards.

Thus, in an effort to keep up with current security measures as well as improve the quality of the site, I sought Dasad’s help in creating a pub sign for the blog.
den_dragon12-copy

Interesting, huh?  While in London fifteen years ago, Pat and I had the fortune to join Mom and Dad on a pub crawl.  For a bunch of underage kids, bars held little interest but it was amazing if you managed to notice the subtle atmosphere between each one.  Some felt like riverside dives, others high-class wineries.  One entitled the Beefeater felt like a theme restaurant, serving bowls of stew, chicken, and chips without any utensils.  Mom and Dad even got chosen to be King and Queen of our table, donning paper crowns like five-year-olds at Chuck E’ Cheese.  As the evening wore on these more blatent difference disappeared as the pubs melded together, each more indistinct from the next.  Boring as the pubs themselves were I anticipated each new locale, a walk through fog-drenched London and the unique names and sign above each pub door.

Though I cannot recall the names of them all, take a look at the some of the pub names I found scattered on the web:pub-signs-20050508-183447

  • The Carpenter’s Arms
  • The Dirty Dick’s Pub
  • The Slaughtered Lamb
  • Sherlock Holmes Pub
  • The Smuggler
  • Jack the Ripper Pub
  • The Golden Fleece
  • The Beehive

I wanted something similar for my digital pub, something distinctive, and personal.  Seeing as I hope to write about and slay dragons one day (at the same time perhaps), what better symbol?  All that remains is the leaves of the book where I hope to show the beginning of a story or two.  Perhaps Moby Dick?  Perhaps Sir Gwain and the Green Knight?  Pehaps the tale of a ocean-tossed Duke . . . maybe this time I will write a better ending.

Religious Rhetoric

church_ceilingSome job requirement must exist among higher ranked members of the Arch Diocese that requires all parish pastors to speak in long-winded soliloquies.

Some need to introduce a syllabus before the homily:

“I have five points I wish to cover today: each with half-a-dozen subpoints, followed by a real world example, which I will convolute through obscure theology. Half-way through my homily I will diverge into an intelligible tangent on drug use and the world of Harry Potter.”

Others love history lessons and menacing laughter:

“The Pharisees would mock and debase those that did not follow the letter of the law established by Moses’ covenant on Mt. Sinai. They were much like us today. They too were sinners. Heh heh heh.”

Of course, not all priests speak in abstract riddles or finish their homilies with condescending laughter (apparently only the ones I know). Either because they lack the talent for it, need a smoke, or possess good sense, many construct their homilies through a combination personal stories, concise points, and a smidgeon of humor just to make the sermon interesting. If schoolchildren are present, they might even ask questions. Pastors on the other hand seem to rejoice in the fact that the prisoners . . . er, parishioners are trapped, thus forced to listen to anything and everything passing through their minds at the moment.

church_ceiling2Two Wednesdays ago, Ash Wednesday, I sat dumbfounded as our pastor trailed off from his discussion of the day’s Gospel, descending into Church history, deep theological abstraction, the essence of grace, and a nebulous aphorism about homeless shelters. A minute in and most of the congregation has grown lifeless, their mind departing for foreign climes, Saturday night sins, and weekend grocery lists. For my part, I stare at the back of a bald man’s crown, entranced by the intricate stitching of his black toupee. An indeterminate period of time passes. The priest has finally moved onto part three of his second point: free will, humility, and the Knights Templar. Before me, the man spasms. With a wave of his hand, a subtle scratch, the polysynthetic tapestry droops an inch or so into his back collar. My stomach churns; reflexively my eyes gaze skyward.

In malls and outlet shops, I take great interest in watching people cruise from store to store, from Gap to Baby Gap. You make up stories about each person based upon some deductive skills elusively gained from reading Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s a great way to pass the time, while waiting for mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, and such. In mass, perhaps due to the lack of movement or dull zombie-like stares, I find people-watching far less interesting. My eyes usually take me to the ceiling in order to retain focus. There relaxation takes me; I count the number of lights and plot out the next Batman movie.

After nearly thirty minutes, a dozen tangled tangents on the definition of love, and nearly one-hundred and eight lights, the pastor ends his lecture. The congregation rubs their eyes and returns to the mass. The Penguin has taken over the Gotham underworld and issued a bounty on Batman’s head. The Riddler has taken up the challenge, and I feel that all is right with the world.

It was now time to dish out the ashes. Typically an interesting ceremony, ashes from last year’s palms (i.e. Palm Sunday) are burnt, blessed, and then distributed to the congregation. The priest and his ministers etch a sign of the cross on the forehead with the reminder: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The memento mori has always been a special sign to me – shortly before I realized what the word meant: reminder of death. A morbid gesture to some perhaps, but it has always reminded me that life is short and in death all men share a common fellowship.

church-ceiling3The congregation shuffles from their seats and lines form around the altar like spokes in a wheel. As I approached the minister, Mom whispers in my ear.

“That’s Miss Jill, the boys’ Confirmation teacher.” I let out an inaudible groan, instantly sizing up the woman with long red hair. Do not misunderstand me. I am sure there are plenty of competent, admirable individuals who teach the sacrament of Confirmation, remembering that after eight years of Catholic schooling another lesson on Love or Peace on a Saturday morning helps to instill very little of either in anyone. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet one; thus my bias leads me to consider the woman as both silly and a little self-righteous. Unfair perhaps, but stereotypes are like superstitions, proving themselves all too true more often than not.

Miss Jill dips her thumb into the bowl and rubs a large sizable cross on my forehead, then says: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Now as I was reminded later, the memento mori was only one of three blessings chosen by the priest or minister, the last being “Repent and hear the Good News.” It was simply my bad chance, a poor luck of the draw. Still at the time, I felt a little disappointed and nearly cursed on the way back to my seat, which in consideration of the children, women, priests, and well . . . God was a bad idea.

Afterwards Mom and I planned to go shopping for groceries, but taking a look at one another’s faces we decided against it. Instead of a small humble cross, Miss Jill had painted our entire forehead with black ash, which did not sit well with either one of us or ease my earlier bias towards Confirmation teachers. As we drove down the highway, the small black flakes descended like snow before my eyes.  Mom tried to wipe the black smears that had fallen on her nose and cheeks.  Nearing the store, we decided to hibernate for the rest of the day.  Mom took to baking double-chocolate chip cookies (perhaps in case more ash fell) while I took in some Indiana Jones.  As Nazis’ dessicate and the Penitent roll pass curved blades, I slowly nod and sleep, silently thanking the Powers that religion is not so exciting after all.