Because they’re smarter than us . . .

Pay attention to the type of RAM!

Pay attention to the type of RAM!

On Wednesday I fried my motherboard. ‘Fried’ today being more general term for ‘damaged’ or ‘drugged,’ one should note that as I pressed the power button a smoky semi-toxic odor of burning metal emanated from my computer case — strangely recalling to mind my brother Ryan’s last bout with the grill.

Apparently despite a high similarity in spelling, DDR and DDR2 RAM cartridges are not interchangeable, and my attempts to replace the former with the latter . . . well, I won’t be using my computer anymore. In celebration I ordered a new processor and a new motherboard, toasting an early birthday with a bottle of wine and CSI: New York. Later quite drunk I emailed Dasad – the message that has little to do with this story, but which I will post nevertheless as I managed to allude to both Hemingway and Vesuvius in the same sentence:

It’s truly amazing what a few glasses of cabernet sauvignon can do to a writer. A carefree night, an open bottle of wine, and an empty glass of mine own, such opportunity need not knock twice. My tongue feels as loose as a goose in a noose. Like Hemingway, words flow forth from my soul lambasting a troubled world like fires from the pits of Vesuvius upon the walls of Pompey. The effects are marvelous. My head feels light and airy, spinning as I move my body from left to right, to right to left and back again, repeat until morning. Hopefully with sleep and kind dreams of beautiful places in between. Lands where true love and adventure find kinship and life; such is the land for me, inebriated as I am. Farewell kind sir! I will meet you again in the morning with troubled head and embarrassed blushes brought on by my current revelary . . . revalry . . . revelry. There, I got it. Whew . . . Sleep tight good friend. May the voyage of your dreams bring you round to lands as marvelous as mine own, full of good food, beautiful women, and kind song. Farewell and good night!

Anyway . . . waking sobered and focused, I passed the next two days traveling between Best Buy and home in search of the essential ingredients for a machine that does not require fifteen minutes and much keyboard smashing to open Firefox.

My parts:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor
  • Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P motherboard
  • 1 TB hardrive
  • HP DVD writer/reader
  • Geoforce video card
Faster but more delicate . . .

Faster but more delicate . . .

Frankly the only thing that surprises me more than the fact that I got all the necessary pieces to fit together without a bedside holocaust is that we reached the point where we need one thousand gigabytes of space in our desktop for our various collections of music, games, and anime music videos. One would think that 300 GB is enough for anyone’s hoard of anime fansubs without debating which episodes should be sacrificed to the recycling bin. Sadly such is not the case.

All looked very good this morning up until we had began running our Half-Life game.  Chapter one had just ended violently.  Black Mesa had exploded into an alien realm. I sent Gordon Freeman to investigate when the screen went black. We had installed XP last night and the drivers the following morning when I woke.  Everything appeared in working order when the computer suddenly shut down. Poof!

“Huh? What the hell? Kevin . . .”

“I didn’t touch anything. I promise.”

“Son of a . . .”

The same scenario haunted my last PC, which routinely died sporadically clicking off into a black screen without the courtesy of announcing I had done something stupid. Half-way through an email, half-way through my homework, seven-eighth of the way through the final demon assault in Warcraft 3 with a legion of leopard-mounted night elves at my command, the siege ends, fading into endless night.

I never did discover the source of the problem and in the end attributed it to hardware failure: a faulty motherboard or corrupted CPU. Changing the power source failed to resuscitate; the strategic use of several floor fans against the open tower did nothing but whip up a torrent of dust, benefiting my vision little and the computer even less.  Now with similar symptoms using my old tower, I wonder if it was the culprit then and now.

Diagnosing the problem . . .

Diagnosing the problem . . .

Later in day Dasad arrived to examine my sick newborn. He exchanged the RAM cartridges, performed some diagnostics, sprinkled pixy dust and prayed in binary. The computer has functioned for the rest of the evening and all of Sunday.

“The Asian genes,” he remarked, blowing on his fingers. “Machines love me.”

Like a tower of cards I should have left well enough alone; instead I foolishly chose to reorient my case away from the middle of the floor – apart from being kicked every now and then it wasn’t that cumbersome. After fishing my wires through the desk, I activated the machine again but the prima donna proved obstinate for the evening’s performance. The diagnostics scrolled down the screen and shut itself off and left me irritated and fretful throughout our nightly somnolence.

The machine righted itself the next morning after Kevin turned the case on its side, arranged some wires, crossed his fingers, and stroked the RAM in the same gentle motion Dasad had taught him before. The computer started up immediately convincing me that some issue must exist within the case and that machines detest my presence. For the time being, my new computer sits awkwardly under my desk, absorbing our legroom but working. Kevin’s just downloaded Winamp. The Beach Boys play “Surfin’ Safari” and all is right with the world.

My next project: fixing old models

My next project: fixing (or frying) old models

Lost in Wonderland 2009

A semi-true story . . .

Dasad picked up a box, inside sat a smiling figure with long blonde hair donning a short nun’s frock and a pair of whirling yo-yos.  “How about this one?” he shouted to me as I crouched down to look at several swimsuit clad girls on the lower shelf.  “She looks cute and Catholic too.  Your family shouldn’t give you too much crap about that.”

bridgetI smiled.

“Uh sorry, no traps for me.  If you find a cute reverse trap, like Kino, I might give it a look.”

“What?”

“ ‘Traps,’” I explain before any of the nearby otaku or anime fans overhead us; aloud my explanations of otaku culture always sounded a little embarrassing.  Not that anyone really cared.  On the last day of Otakon, one of the East Coast’s biggest anime conventions, the attendees filed into the vendor hall by the thousands decked out in their finest costumes or cosplay.

“In other words, a gender bender.  Bridget there is a guy that looks like a girl, thus the ‘trap.’  I don’t recommend gazing up ‘his’ skirt.  It’s not pretty.”

“Oh,” Desad said, gently pushing the box back on the shelf.  “So a ‘reverse trap’ is . . .”

“A girl that looks like a guy, yeah.  Typically the ones in suits and hats, accessories that hide their . . . femininity.  Check out that Persona 4 wall scroll over there,” I point behind me.  Dasad gazes at the shingled wooden board painted with images of various students relaxing in a classroom. “The one in black hat and suit is a girl.”

“Looks like some badass street punk.”

“Yeah, she’s a detective in the game, but wraps up her chest like a female swordsman to make herself appear more masculine.  You see, the theme of role reversal is not limited to Shakespeare.  Many Asian . . .”

otakon2009_2“Whatever dude, are you done here?” Dasad asks impatiently, quickly evading a pair of giggling otaku fan-girls in black lace who raced cameras in-hand toward a long-haired cosplayer in blue uniform.  As my impatient friend did so, his head bumped against the outspread black wings of a sweaty thirteen year old, causing a momentarily spasm of panic akin to seven-year-old infected with cooties.  “I’m real interested in your sexual perversion and all, but my stomach’s been growling for the past hour.  Let’s grab some tacos from across the street before that guy eats them all.”

A fat pox-marked kid jiggles past us sucking on cheese-dribbled French fries; residual finger grease and ketchups stains smear a Robotech t-shirt.

“Aw . . . I don’t know if I’d say that.  Kid looks like a serial eater, doesn’t have any friends to tell him otherwise.”

“Probably ‘cause he ate them all.  Let’s go.  We’ll be safe as long as the concession stands are still stocked up on nacho cheese and pork rinds.”

“Okay,” I sigh, spying no interesting figures on the shelves and still deciding on a rather ecchi Fortune Arterial artbook.  “Let me walk through this row of stands and then we’ll head out.”

And so, I – nearly – drag him through the rows of manga, art books, DVDs, posters, and cat-eared hats, my eyes like anchors latching onto the latest series box set or plastic swimsuit clad swordmen.  Occasionally I lose Dasad while taking pictures or gazing at DVDs, only to find him surrounded and petrified by uniform-donned girls gyrating to some techno-enhanced soundtrack.  He nearly collapses when we leave the vendor floor.  Considering we had scoured the figure shelves for nearly two hours amid the thick Sunday crowds of the Con, I found his patience truly commendable.

otakon2009_4“Some of those girls in the bunny suits were not girls,” he pants, sniffling slightly.  “Son of a geek must have coated himself in olive oil to fit into those fishnets.  He stunk like week old garbage left out in the sun too long.”  He sneezes.

“Moldy too.”

“Those crowds don’t help either . . . Say dude,” I say flicking through my collection of photos on the viewer.  “You want to do sushi instead of tex-mex?”

“More Japanese stuff?” he heaved, with a reluctant smile.  “Sure I don’t mind.  What places are around here?”

Near the stairs, we tiptoe through groups of otaku clustered near the walls, their bags strewn open to reveal stacks of doujinshi, art books, manga, and other swag.  Some stretch out, relaxing atop friends and bookbags reading, others fast sleep curled on fake wings and stuffed animals.  In a separate corner, a group click and stab excitedly at their pocket game systems.  I hear the familiar roar of Mario carts, lightning bolts, and bubbling lava.

“There’s someplace nearby, I think.  Further north.  Sushi Sano or something like that . . .”

“Ugh,” he groans accidentally treading on a Naruto artbook before its owner could snatch it away.  “No way.  Is there anyplace else?”

“Why?  What’s wrong?  I hear the food there is pretty good.”

“That’s the place we visited last year, remember?  They kept an aquarium right beside the bar.  Staring at the customers, ten or so live fish in a tank . . . swimming!”

“Uh yeah, they do have a nasty habit of doing that.  So?”

“So . . . any place that cuts and prepares raw fish in front of live fish is disgusting.  It’s like eating a Big Mac in front of your cows.”

“Yeah, apart from the smell of livestock comingling with good food, it’s not really that big of a deal.  I mean, the cows and the fish don’t mind, dude.”

“Well, I do.  It’s disgusting and inhumane.  Let’s pick another place.  Maybe one within walking distance . . .”

As we reach the top of the stairs, crowds of otaku flow through the doors: young and old, in all manner of costumes and thus in all levels of dress and undress.  I recognize half-a-dozen characters from my favorite series and video games; others, perhaps more out of an urge to participate, appear to have worn whatever they found on their hotel floor this morning: assorted cat ears, human-sized swords, blood splatter, bells, whips, blue hair dye, silver trays, Coke bottles, and stuffed animals duct taped onto their person. One old lady strode rapidly up the escalator dressed in white frills, her hair flailing in all directions, looking every bit the part of a burnt-out (and slightly hung over) tooth fairy.

otakon2009_3“Whoa, look at that guy,” Dasad gasps.  “Tights should not be worn on legs like that.  Every bit of my manhood just shriveled up like a popped balloon.”

“I think that was an old lady.  Nearly fifty or so.”

“Ugh, that’s even worse,” my friend sighs. “Pop!”

“Hey,” I suddenly suggest, my eyes staring at a girl in a giant open pocky box.  “We need to dress up next . . .”

“No.  Hell, no.”

“Come on . . . Look how cool that costume is.  Maybe we can start out slow, with a T-shirt and maybe a tattoo . . .”

“Nope, the only costume I have is this nerd badge,” Dasad said patting his convention ID.   Across the front, a smiling blonde soldier in an orange jumpsuit stares wistfully at a blue sky.  “And I only chose this badge ‘cause it seemed more . . . normal than any of the others.  No half-dressed girls or supped-up robot maids.”

“Ooookay,” I whine.  “Well, I have a year to convince you otherwise.”

We walk up the escalator, welcoming the open empty spaces.  Among the upper levels of the center, the crowds thin and navigating felt much more manageable.  We breathe easier too but in Dasad’s case, this is quite literal.

“Listen dude,” he says without sniffing, “do you really think you’ll still be doing this next year?”

otakon2009“Well possibly . . .” I begin, momentarily distracted by a group of six or seven girls in various colored sailor-suited uniforms, all wielding bats, paper fans, bamboo swords, or in one case a pair of sub-machine guns.  At their center a uniformed boy crouches, suffering blows from the girls’ weapons across the shoulders or playfully about the head.  At each strike, the girls scream ‘Baka!’ and scowl haughtily.  The abusive circle strides past the in-house Starbucks before posing for pictures.  I snapped a few shots myself and continued walking.

“Shoot,” I curse, scanning through my shots.  “No stabilization.  All those shots look like a speeding train.”

“What was that?” Dasad asks as we cross the landbridge connecting the two halves of the convention center plaza.  “And why are we still inside, where there is no food?”

“We have to cross the street anyway,” I answer.  “Figured we could take some shots of the costumes before we leave.  If there’s any more costumes like that tsundere troop back there, we can’t miss it.”

“Is that a show?  Girls who beat guys, and the guys who love them?”

“Something like that.  Tsundere is a loose term for a character archetype, the introverted tomboyish girls, who have difficulty admitting their feelings.  Typically they tend to abuse the guy they like when they can’t express how they feel, but below that rough cruel shell, they’re actually quite kind and loving.”

“Like that girl in the Love Hina show, you liked?” he grins.

“Naru?” I laugh nervously.  “Yeah.  Personally I find it quite cute.”

“You would.”  Dasad sighs.  Someone behind us shouts ‘Marco!’ immediately followed up en mass with ‘Polo!’  This exchange continues for some minutes as more and more people join in what soon becomes a chant.  Others seem more irritated by the noise, but most of us, myself included, just grin and laugh.  Dasad looks questioningly at me.

“No clue, dude.  Just go with it.”

otakon2009_5The easternmost egress from the convention center opens onto a wide atrium brightly lit like a greenhouse by tall windows along the walls and ceilings.  Dark volcanic tile, a wide regal staircase, and a jungle of ferns and trees give the impression of a Polynesian resort; clusters of brightly colored cosplayers crowd together for pictures, chatting excitedly before the last AMV show of the Con begins in a nearby theater.  Dasad and I lean against the railing and look down from the upper floor, scanning the crowd for any interesting costumes.

I snap a few shots of Mario and Luigi as well as some of the Kingdom Hearts groups – girls with spiky hair wielding giant key-blades – meanwhile noticing that the gaming plaza had closed early.  Sunday really is not the day to visit this place.  Next year, I reminded myself I would have to get here either Friday or Saturday.  With a final sigh Dasad and I escape through the doors and walk down the street towards the harbor restaurants.

“I probably should have bought that artbook,” I mutter, glancing behind me.  “From what I’ve seen online, the art in that game is gorgeous.  Be nice to have it around in print too.”

“You’re really into this, aren’t you?” my friend says matter-of-factly.  “I suppose that you’re already thinking about next year.  Heaven knows why you like all this nonsense.”

“The whole adventure of it all,” I smile stretching my arms out wide.  “I mean look around you.  Ninjas, samurai, elves, zombies, and lovers.  They adore these characters; they love their stories.  The enthusiasm for the strange, wonderful, and heroic is contagious.  Everyone here is seeking something different, something extraordinary.”

“Something fake.  Whatever they’re looking for, they probably won’t find it.”

On the street a group of cat-eared girls run past us waving a long wooden paddle.  Japanese kanji decorate one side, on the other ‘yaoi’ is written.  Several long-haired boys in purple uniforms see them and bolt inside, like spooked antelope, nearly knocking down a group of swordsmen in blue and green tunics, who raise their swords and shields shouting ‘Varlet’ in protest.

“Yeah, but sometimes it’s enough to keep hoping anyway.  Something like . . . if we forget who we long to be, we won’t find who we really are.”

“Which is gay.”

“Yeah,” I nod.  “Yeah, I know . . .”  We cross the street and pass through a small park.  Yellow metal children twist and curl about what seems to be a lamp post, marking the city’s contribution to artistic impressionism.  Waterfalls and fountains splash against stone walls at the opposite end; brick steps lead down to turbulent pools where more costumed conventioneers pose with ornate umbrellas.

“. . . but not as gay as that.” A thin otaku wiggles past us, wagging his rear from side to side, swinging two attached raccoon tails.  A bell jingles from a collar around his neck.  He joins the crowd near the water and growls with um . . . paws raised: Rowr!

“No that takes the cake.  So what can you deduce about his hopes and dreams?”

“Whatever they are.  They best keep far away from mine,” I shudder.  “Perhaps as a house cat in La Casa de Dasad.”

“Whatever.  No one can say anything about me.  I look perfectly normal.”

“Nerd badge,” I cough quickly ducking into a nearby restaurant.  Horrified Dasad pulls off the convention badge and stuffs it into his pocket.  After a few furtive looks, he shrugs and goes inside. Another year, another con.  Resting our weary feet, we relax a bit toasting a successful morning with a large pitcher of sangria.

A Minor Hazard

cloudsCommunication is an important tool in most families.  Though rarely perfected, peaceful coexistence depends upon one’s willingness to express and understand feelings, needs, or instructions.  Imperfectly applied, communication might lead to undesired results such as the kitchen fire of July 12, 2009 which after some hastily issued orders concerning the bacon sizzling on the stove verbally thrown to one eldest Murphey as he sat distracted reading Foxtrot in the Sunday paper amid a cacophony of giggling, whirling ceiling fans, and roaring dinosaurs on HBO, my father left to fold clothes while said oldest child failing to hear the exchange left to play billiards with his little sister and thus abandoning the bacon to bubble and dissolve into greasy slime and thick smoke that even now coats much of the blankets and cushions on the first and second floors.  Tragically the blame for this culinary holocaust fell on said eldest child, a responsibility he accepted begrudgingly as his protests fell on deaf ears – ironic as his own were the true culprits in this incident.

We did discover that the fire detectors require a battery change though.  In the long run, my dereliction may have saved our lives.   A thankable accident,  if everyone can ignore the lingering stench of burnt ham  soaked into the sofas and chairs long enough to consider it.

Gibber-Jabber

. . . dispersing the human population into nations, cultures, and warring soccer communities.

. . . dispersing the human population into nations, cultures, and warring soccer communities.

The fallout from the whole Tower of Babel debacle left man and his children rather befuddled.  As the dust settled, humanity severed all connection to those that did not speak and therefore think like themselves, dispersing the human population into nations, cultures, and warring soccer communities.  Of course, the children are the hardest hit.  Lacking the independence and foresight to band together, children remain a scattered genealogical nation of nomads resplendent in ages, height, and various levels of facial hair, adopting the customs and language of their parents, who – more likely than not – attribute their bairn’s misunderstandings to stupidity or laziness.

In truth, children possess a language all their own, one that has fairly escaped the notice of adults for several centuries.  In this case, as in many others, the confusion is mutual, and while much can be said of education and maturity, memory and spite, we might funnel centuries of misunderstandings, punishments, and pouting into two central archetypes: diversion versus responsibility.  Children cannot fathom why their elders choose CNN over Bugs and Daffy, and parents cannot come to grips with little Billy’s refusal to clean his room:

“Seriously, how difficult is it to carry your discarded jeans into the laundry or return your Legos to their plastic bins?  Come on guys, this is ridiculous.”

In retaliation, a child will shrug and say it wasn’t a priority at the time, cleaning would risk missing Wile E. Coyote on the receiving end of an Acme anvil.

Fortunately enough for my younger siblings and cousins, my maturity level has remained fairly constant since learning how to read Uncle Scrooge comics, age six.  It helps that I’ve never actually grown up.

Now my philosophy towards children is that one should never talk down to them, assuming their level of understanding is akin to that of a stone-deaf savage: “ME UNCLE MURPH.  YOU BRANDON.  BRANDON MUST EAT CE-RE-AL.  THE SQUARES ON PLATE.  YOU.  PLACE. ON. TONGUE.  CHEW.”

Nor talk to the child as you would a to a fat lady’s Chihuahua: “Oh wook at the widdle-liddile toesee-woesees.  Does that tickle?  Dooes dat tickle-wickle?  You are a good boy, yes you are.  Yes you are.  Have cookie-wookie . . .”  Frankly I cannot fathom how dogs put up with such nonsense, and children possess four-times the learning capacity.  Without the stimuli and addiction of video games (my little brother is learning Japanese on his DS), we’d be a nation of idiots.

In most instances, you’ll realize that children are smarter than you.  After babysitting my younger cousins, Paul and Molly, during a recent family vacation near the Outer Banks I discovered that conversation necessitates a vivid imagination and rather flexible self-image, unencumbered by adult-type barriers like self-esteem.

Taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sea_foam.jpg

Taken from here

“Murph-y,” Paul says to me, his voice breaking his words into different syllables.  “Wha-ta are those?”  He points out into the water, now sitting low between the muddy banks coating the Hilton Head Island inlet.  Hours earlier the boats and docks sat high upon the water, sea currents flowed freely through the reeds and grasses, swelling the marina like the locks in the Panama Canal.  Moments later as if someone pulled a plug, the currents shifted and the cove was drained; grasses reemerged cutting maze-like paths for boats, washing reeds and flotsam out to sea.  The water trickling out into the marsh was now flecked with white foam, which Paul pointed out and reminded me of powdered creamer floating insoluble in my morning coffee.

“Sea foam,” I answered, swinging his hand back and forth as we cross the footbridge.  The slightly rotted stench of sea and fish waft up from beneath, intoxicating senses far too long separated from the Carolina shore.

“Wha-at?”

“I’m not sure how it’s formed,” I continue. “The churning of the waves combined with compounds in the water perhaps.”

“You use stra-ange words,” Paul giggles.  He then roars at a small crab scuttling across the pier.  It stops for a moment as if to consider him, and continues on its way.

The innocence of children is a widely held myth that in practice just does not hold water.  Those fabled illustrations you see in Mass missals or prayer books of the young cherub dressed in his Sunday’s best, hands clasped tightly in prayer, eyes gazing heavenward illuminated by some holy light are largely creatures of pure imagination, sprouting from the artist’s mind as much as a manticore or unicorn.  In most Masses children retain the same attention span as grandfather Dave, who sleeps through most of the service, snoring – loudly – and sputtering “damn bastards” through most of the homily.  Many parents cannot convince their little angels to sit still long enough to sleep or snore.  During the closing hymn, Paul closes his eyes and mimes the canter, tilting his head from side to side like Ray Charles at the piano.

hhi_pirate1Without a thought, Paul’s younger sister, Olivia, would have stomped on the crab, and then turned her face towards us with a smile that would have melted the heart of the Grinch.  Paul however is not always so fearless.  He remains fixed beside me as the crab disappears beneath the pier, joining its fellows among the barnacles.

“Barn-ankles?” Paul asked after I suggested as much.  The crustacean having vanished, he strode forward once again bravely.  An older couple passed us, smiling behind large sunglasses.  The man waved at us.

“How are you, young man?” he asked.

“Okey-dokey, old man,” Paul said, spreading his wide toothless grin.  The couple kept on walking, much too fast for even the hastiest apology.

Less than fantastical is a child’s sense of honesty, often harsh, cruel, and uncompromising.  Rather hilarious at times as well.  I once had the pleasure of sitting through a parent-teacher conference, hosted by a rather pompous math teacher (“I teach only the most exceptional students.”).  One of the children sitting just ahead of me bent over to her father’s wilting head and whispered: “Daddy, is that the guy you and Mommy think is a liberal prick?” I masked my laughter with a sudden and violent fit of coughing.

“Paul!” I chided as soon as we were out of earshot.  “You shouldn’t call people that they . . . they might get insulted.”

“Why?” he asked, widening his smile into a Cheshire grin.  “He was old.  What are barn-ankles?”

hhi_pirate2“Underwater crustaceans or possibly mollusks, I forgot which,” I responded quickly, welcoming the change in subject.  “They attach themselves to the bottom of boats and pilings under docks, like suction cups.  I believe they feed on tiny little animals that live in the shallow water.”

“You use lots of big words,” my little cousin comments matter-of-factly.  He swings my hand in his.  “I’m going to call you Mr. Smarty-pants.”

“Oh, um . . . thanks . . . uh bud.”

“No proba-lem, Mr. Smarty-Pants.”

Paul’s sister Molly has other names for me, titles far less flattering.  They say that children often ‘see’ or sense auras that emanate from others, subtle feelings or attitudes that remain ignored between less perceptive adults.  Several of my cousins can take a crying babe in their arms and sooth it in an instant; others’ presence will inevitably provoke tears.

Michael Critchon in his autobiographical memoir, Travels, discusses the notion and how if properly trained one can develop and see individual chakras or – as I understand it – our emotional and spiritual state.  Red for example is often associated with anger or frustration, orange with cleansing, and blue with sensitivity and calm, while sections of the body such as the crown (our center of wisdom) or throat (speech center) indicate the important chakra cores.  I’m not so sure how much of this I believe; certainly none of these beliefs are supported scientifically, yet part of me wants to accept the notion that we sense or adapt to one another in non-specific ways.  Moreover, children have the ability to perceive the world in a totally unique way; perhaps they are more receptive to feelings or auras.  If such is the case, I’m fairly alarmed at how my cousins consider me . . .

“I’m going to call you Mr. Cheesecake-Head.”

“I’m going to call you Mr. Cheesecake-Head.”

“Murph, I’m going to make up a nickname for you . . .” Molly giggles as we sit waiting in the movie theater.  Both my younger cousins retain a welcome interest and love for dinosaurs, an obsession I encourage in every way possible (I introduced Paul to Jurassic Park, both the toys and the movie, and both he and Molly have been hooked since).  Thus I thought they might enjoy the latest Ice Age movie at one of the local cineplexes, an ancient declining theater with cement floors, 1960s seating, and no pre-show commercials.  Arriving fifteen minutes before the show, the kids faced a dim room, a blank screen and little to distract them before the previews.

After two minutes crunching on popcorn, Molly turns in her seat and crouches to stare at me, into my eyes.  Suddenly she draws back and announces, “I’m going to call you Mr. Cheesecake-Head.”

Paul seated next to me disagrees.  Further down the aisle, my siblings silently dip into their pockets, sucking down hidden treats while the younger kids argue.

“No Molly, he’s Mr. Pumpkin Pie Head,” Paul shouts spitting half-chewed popcorn on my lap, “with candy stuck to his hair . . .”

“ . . . and grilled cheese stuck to his nose,” Molly giggles, her tiny teeth now red from Hawaiian punch, our shared jumbo cup tilted precariously in her lap.

“Uh guys,” I mutter.  “What’s with the desserts? All the pastry and candy-imagery?  I . . .”

“You’re Mr. Polka-dot Underwear Head with a nose and candy on your head . . .”

“. . . with gummy worms, Molly!  Gummy worms instead of hair.”  Molly topples in her seat, giggling to death.  I grab the jumbo-sized drink before it falls to the floor.

“Hold on guys, that’s much too much like Medusa,”  I suggest, trying to change the subject.  A noble quest if ultimately ineffective.

“Who’s that?” Molly sings.

“A monster in Greek mythology called a Gorgon who had snakes in her hair,” I begin, writhing my finger behind my head.  “They were cursed by Athena, but finally killed by Perseus son of . . .”

“Oo-kay, Mr. Smarty-pants.”

“Smarty-pants, smarty-pants,” Molly giggles, “with cheeseburger brains . . .”

“. . . and flip-flop head . . .”

“ . . . and lollipop ears.”

“Smarty-pants, smarty-pants,” Molly giggles, “with cheeseburger brains . . .”

“Smarty-pants, smarty-pants,” Molly giggles, “with cheeseburger brains . . .”

Paul removes his sandals and points.  “This is what your head looks like . . . hmmm,” he says pausing amidst his metaphor to sniff the soles.  “They smell like chocolate.  Wanna smell?”

“No, no thank you, bud.”  Molly has toppled over in her chair, giggling, her eyes wet with tears.

“. . . flip-flop head . . . la la la, lollipop ears. Murphy has lollipop ears . . . so funny.”

She’s still laughing when her body falls from her seat; Paul stomps his foot down on the floor and smells it again, scouring the theater perhaps for the chocolate.  Kevin returns his hand to his pockets and smiles.  After several frightening moments – Paul’s eyes dart to Kevin’s mouth just as Molly’s feet disappear beneath the seats – the lights dim and the previews start, which settles the kids . . . momentarily until the flick ends.  Who knows what terminology they’ll devise after the movie, their imaginations primed and tantalized with talking mammoths and dinosaur babies: Lizard Brain? Mammoth Belly?  Dino Doo-Doo Nose?  The possibilities . . . those horrible horrible possibilities were endless.

For the moment I settle back and relax, resting my flip-flop-shaped head on the chair and relishing the absence of communication from the seats beside me.   Halfway through the movie, Molly jumps into my lap, laying her head next to my lollipop ears, and falls asleep.  Paul leans on my shoulder and sucks his thumb.  A subtle message but an important one, I suppose.  Truth is core to communication; honesty cannot exist in a vacuum.  However, in a world saturated with words, speeches, and empty promises, the old clichés ring true.  Whatever age or generation our actions, even the most fragile gestures, speak the loudest.

However you choose to interact just remember that if you happen to wake Molly or Paul, then they’re all yours.  I’ll be communing with a glass of wine and good book for the rest of the evening.dino_table4

Growing Pains

"Can I let the dog inside?"

"Can I let the dog in?"

Today is Bree’s birthday, and she is ensuring that the whole family does not forget.  Thirteen years old. An unlucky number for even the most loving parent or older brother.  For marking the threshold into the teenage years, my baby sister, the youngest of my siblings has emerged into the second-most-difficult epoch of her life since she began teething.

She welcomed this Dark Age by chatting with her friends for an hour . . . each.  Afterwards she scanned through several photos on Facebook, confirmed the release date for The Disney Channel’s Princess Protection, and played a round of Tetris. Then she found me on the couch, commencing a thirty minute tirade on how yesterday I had only managed to take her to the scrapbook store, and not managed to rent any movies.

“You promised,” she pouts even as I type.

“I said we would try to do both.”

“You lied.  Promise breaker.  I really wanted to go to the tape store,” she says, transcending the pout into a whine.  I continue to work, which only seems to infuriate her more.  She flops down on the couch.

“What are you watching?” she asks, clearly disgusted by the black and white screen.

Ten Angry Men.  Watch it.  It’s quite good.”

“Hmph, I could be watching Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, if someone had gone to the tape store yesterday.”

“I drove you to the scrapbook store,” I remind her – teenage girls can be quite forgetful.  “We spent nearly one hundred dollars on cardstock and stickers.”

“But I really wanted to rent movies.  The scrapbook stuff – I told you – was only if we had time!”

“And I told you that we should leave after about fifteen minutes.  You told me that you wanted to look around some more.  You wanted to find something . . . what was it?  Ah yes, something cute and fashionable.  You settled on that prom dress sticker.”

“You said ‘should’ not ‘must.’  I would have left if you said ‘must,’” she argued opening the sliding doors.  “Can I let the dog in?”

“No.”

“Pleeeease . . . she’s such a good girl, Murph.”

“I’m allergic.  No.”

“She’s my puppy.”

“It’s not your house.”

“It’s not yours either.”

“No, but the proprietors have left, putting me in charge.  Thus, my word outranks yours.  No dog.”

“Promise breaker,” she pouts again walking off towards the table, stuffing chocolate kisses into her pockets.

Being the older brother in a large family often plays out like a referee in any major sport. It is your job to maintain peace and order often by reinforcing rules that you hold little credit in creating.  Thus at any one time, you are simultaneously loved and hated by any number of groups in the house.

“Why can’t I go out?”

“Mom said ‘No.’”

“Pleeease . . . if I’m home in an hour no one will know.”

“Well, mayb . . . no.  Absolutely not.”

“Murph, you’re a real killjoy, you know?”

“Can I cut the grass now?”

“Dad said not while he wasn’t here.”

“Come on!”

“Sorry, bud, I . . .”

“Murph, you suck!”

“Dad, wants you to clean your room, Kev.”

“After this movie . . .”

“Now, man, if it’s not done, I get in trouble too.”

“One more second.”

“NOW!”

“Sheesh, who put the stick up your butt?”

As such you feel more like a Grinch than probably any other member of the family.

With the two youngest I took particularly care.  It is often common knowledge that as families increase in size the rules and strictures that govern the older siblings tatter and fade among the younger brood.  Nap time, a 2PM tradition that often pulled me away from Tom and Jerry cartoons, thus giving Mom a one to two hour rest, gradually was ignored with Kevin and Brigid.  The age at which the younger siblings could organize sleepovers likewise dropped from fourth grade to second grade.  The words ‘Dumb’ and ‘Stupid’ – horrid curse words in our time – became more acknowledged as well in the daily vernacular, though never allowed in reference to each other.  ‘Fart’ still to this day earns fifteen minutes with a bar of soap.

Thus, as the family grew, the older siblings took greater responsibilities in watching and caring for the youngest.  I burped, changed diapers, babysat, and rocked Brigid and Kevin to sleep.  We watched them as they took their first steps, said their first word, and sat on the toilet sucking on a bar of Irish Spring for the first time.  In a way, we took an active role in raising my siblings.  Thus it pained me to see my little sister slowly grow into a teenager . . . and a total pain in the my neck.

Where in the world did I go wrong?

“Can I get a new camera?” Bree pleads the next day.  My little sister has already shuffled my iPod a dozen times, switching alternatively between Carolina Liar’s “I’m Not Over” and Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face.”  I try suggesting another song, but almost crash into an old lady, who cuts me off and honks.

“Why did she honk at me?” I mutter, somewhat flustered.  “Girl, if you ever become a woman-driver, I’ll disown you.”  She fiddles with the iPod again, ‘Just Dance’ erupts for the tenth time.

“I might consider it if you buy me a camera,” she repeats as I pull the Explorer into the video store.

“You know, I’m not exactly . . . employed at the moment.” I stress this point, hoping that she’ll link my financial freedom with a nine-to-five workweek.  “Didn’t Santa get you a camera for Christmas?”

Together we walk into Hollywood Video, practically sneaking past the manager, who during our last several visits has propositioned me to join their Netflix-ish rental club, a surprisingly complicated point system that eliminates late fees and replaces them with lengthy calculations.  Frankly, I’m content with old system: pick up DVDs, check out, and return them on time . . . or not.  After all despite the fees, if we never had to return anything on time, the kids and I would never return anything; more and more DVDs and games would disappear in the accumulated flotsam that we have circulating around here.  My face is already plastered in several of the surrounding libraries for extraneous fines, and I cannot afford to change my name and address again for a misplaced copy of Steve Zahn’s Strange Wilderness.

godzilla2Absently I peer through the DVD covers, mildly curious about the promotions for the latest monster/sex romp movie: Jason and Freddie meet the Saw, Sobriety Sophomores and the Jello Factory, Iron Maidens in Cancun: A Documentary.  When I was five, a cursory search through the local video plaza’s latest horror flicks drove me indoors for weeks, afraid to find a fifty-foot nuclear lizard outside my window.  Suddenly I reconsidered bringing Brigid here.  Luckily enough her attention was still fully focused on digital cameras.

“Look they’re not that expensive.  Eighty bucks or so . . . hey can we get this too?  Mom says its okay as long as someone watches it with me.” She thrusts a pink DVD into my face, nearly squashing my nose.

Bride Wars?” I shudder at Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway towering over the New York skyline in matching Bridezilla attire.  “I suppose that ‘someone’ is me.”  Bree giggles.

“Alright give it here.”

“Good, now all I need is a camera . . . oh and Hotel for Dogs. Here you go . . . and I will be happy.”  I add the DVD to the growing stack in my hand.

“What happened to your old camera?” I ask.

“It . . . um dropped a little.”

“If I recall, the lens no longer retracts.  At all.  The power light flickers, beeps, and dies.  Some problem with the ball bearings due to intense collision.  Cheaper to buy a new one than repair.  Something like that.”

“I didn’t break it though,” Bree protests at my widening frown.  “My friends had it and we were at the pool and Ashley wasn’t giving it to Kelsey and . . .”

“Crash.  Snap.  Oops . . .”

“Yeah,” my little sister smiles, an adorable extremely guilty grin playing on her face.  “But I learned my lesson and now I need a new one.”

“No, no way.”

“Ok, look you owe me, Promise Breaker!”— This is apparently my new name – “All I wanted was some movies, which you promised me.  And now we couldn’t go until two days later.  Two days!”

“We’re at the video store now!  How can you still hold that over me?”

“Because you broke your promise,” she reaffirms with a huff.  “Besides I didn’t get a birthday dinner, so you owe me.”  And with that she folds her arms and walks away, refusing to talk to me for the next hour or so, which lasts for about five minutes after I buy her an vitamin water, red-flavored.

I flick her ears a bit, until finally she breaks a smile, and we drive home, singing annoying songs to no one in particular.