A Strange Evolution

Kevin made a startling discovery this morning at the orthodontists office, while perfect strangers probed and prodded his gums.  As the doctors adjusted his braces, my brother listened absently to the nearby, offering an occasional grunt to the nurse’s questions.  I sat outside in the waiting room reading, my mouth comfortably free of fingers and metal implements.

“Did you hear the radio, Murph, while you were waitin’?” he asked me afterwards.

“Only the ‘Tiny Dancer’ song,” I answered.  The local oldies stations maintained a robust playlist of about ten or twenty songs comprising solely of half-a-dozen Elton John singles, a few scattered Guns N’ Roses covers, and Don McLean’s ‘American Pie,’ repeated usually once an hour. Continue reading

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Lenten Woes

Oh, No Meat Fridays, how I have missed thee.  Another year, another forgotten Lenten promise.  Frankly, the exact date of my betrayal, my omissive gluttony, that first bite out of a ham sandwich followed by several days worth of Catholic guilt is something of a sport in the Murphey clan.  Sean has even taken out a pool on when I will stray (having already claimed week 3 and 5 for himself).

Lego Turkey DinnerUnlike New Year’s Resolution, Lenten appeals carry greater weight for me.  I mean if you happen to screw up, you may be visited with plague and lightning, fire and brimstone, Rosie O’Donnell and another season of the Bachelor — Heaven preserve us.   Father Time, the patron saint of New Year’ Resolutions is far less coercive.   He acts as more of a symbol anyway, one  who has been screwin’ with me for years, ever since I learned about movie ratings and the penalties for underage drinking. Continue reading

Snow Recovery Plan

We stand at the edge of a storm, the third in the last week, predicted to unload another six inches of snow overnight.  Like prison bars, the icicles stretch far outside the windows down to the lower drifts, which swollen with the piles deposited from the roof consumes much of the view of the back porch and my lil’ sister if she should venture outside.   The blizzards of the last few weeks were efficient tyrants, burying all of the driveway, several of vehicles,  and most of the house, locking its occupants inside together for a week.  And still it continues to fall.  After only a few days, the kids grew tired of the house walls and the blank empty landscape outside.  Pining for girlfriends and jobs, the boys race outside with snow shovel and plow as soon as the last flakes fell, eager for the return of status quo.

The Prison Bars

The Prison Bars

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Snow Apocalypse

Just when you thought it was safe to plow . . . the snow begins again.  Wave 2 of this winter storm, what the newscasters have brilliantly dubbed “Snow-apocalypse 2010,” is presently frosting the canals and alleyways we’ve constructed over the last few days for vehicles and emergency egress lest one of us accidentally swallow a Monopoly hotel or a bear attacks — it happens.

Thus,  I am forecasting a slow week here at Murphey’s Pub and a perfect opportunity for a little photojournalism to showcase the blizzard for those readers in Brazil, which I imagine doesn’t receive much of this stuff. Continue reading

A Descent into Violence

My Little PonyStanding on the back seat, my little cousin, Molly, shoved her new book in my face: School for Unicorns.  My Explorer skidded to a halt in the driveway, its driver momentarily blinded by the cover of a thin purple book, adorned with sparkling horses reading and writing with only their hooves and no thumbs.  How in the world do they accomplish that trick? Consideration of this conundrum alone gave me reason to pause the car while traffic sped past my rear window.  Magic maybe, I thought, or . . . magnets.  Iron covers and magnetic hooves.

Brilliant!

“So,” I asked Molly, “what do unicorns learn in school?”

“I dunno,” she shouted.  “I can’t read.”

“Oh.”

“Probably learn to fly,” my sister Bree answered.

“Or eat elves . . .” Kasey – another cousin – chimed in from the back seat.  That proved another interesting prospect.  Carnivorous unicorns, with coats as black as obsidian and coiled horns red with blood and sinew, feeding from the shadows like vampires to spin their spells of necromancy and other dark magic.

“That’d be cool,” I muttered.  “There’s potential for interesting stories though unicorns are largely considered to be pure and ancient creatures.  They don’t fly either.  That’s the Pegasus.”

“See what you started . . .” Bree sighed to Molly.  “Here comes the lecture on weird and imaginary animals.”

As with most geeks, my mind is a sponge for anything . . . unusual, prompting a strong inclination to lecture others on said subjects whether they want to hear it or not.  To our credit these strange passions of ours so seldom appear in normal conversation we leap at every opportunity to recite Homeric verse or idylls of the gods.  Still, I could not afford to be predictable.  Not by my own sister at least.

“Of course, such chimeras are known to exist.  Take the My Little Pony show.  There they had unicorns with wings, kinda like the uber-horse.”

“You watched “My Little Pony?”  Kasey asked astonished.

“Silly!” Molly cackled ambiguously.  “Silly pony-head.”

“Yup, Mom was always a little protective of . . .”

“A little?” Bree scoffed.

“Irony.  . . . excessively protective of Pat and me; thus she forbid us from watching He-man or GI-Joe.  Fighting cartoons as Mom put it.  The spectrum of accessible toonage dwindled to Bugs Bunny, Pound Puppies, and My Little Pony.”

“You watched My Little Pony!” Kasey jeered.  A cruel but honest response.  My third and fourth grade male classmates would discuss shows and comics I had never seen: annals of gun-toting mercenaries and skull-faced wizards, battles of epic proportions.  During recess, I’d skip over to the girl’s side of the playground and swap stickers.  It was a rather confusing time for me.

Pony Movie“The movies too.  The original one with the blonde girl and then the purple ooze one, which flooded Pony Valley, turning all the horses into evil slaves.  Or something like that.”

The kids laughed.

“They weren’t too bad in truth.  Lots of cool fantasy stuff now and then.  In the first movie, the ponies transformed into dragons, which the evil sorcerer captured to pull his chariot.”

“What’s that?” Molly shouted.

“Speak normal, Murph,” Bree chided.  “She’s only in kindergarten.  Small words.”

“Oh, chariot?” I thought, consulting my mental thesaurus.  “Um . . . carriage?  Cart?”

“Old time car,” Kasey added helpfully.  Molly smiled.  I’m not sure if she understood but she stopped asking questions and began smacking herself in the head with the book.

“Not da Momma.  Not da Momma,” she screamed.

“Antique car.  Right, that works,” I frowned somewhat concerned for my little cousin, who giggled madly.  “But not Flintstone-old.  No feet-engine.”

“What about the dragons?” Paul, Molly’s brother, chimed from behind my seat.

“Oh yeah, they were pretty fierce . . . scary even.  Sharp black scales.  Teeth and claws like velociraptors.   Cool stuff, but of course the ponies saved the day.”

“How?” Paul asked.

“I like ponies,” Molly interjected.   “Meow!”

“Right . . . well, the normal tripe for girl shows back then.  The power of friendship and all that.  Plus, the blonde girl had this rainbow missile stored in her gold locket.  Opened it and soaked up all the evil like Lysol.”

“Rainbow rocket?” Bree scoffed.

“Whatever.  Think of the ‘Care Bear Stare’ only less gay.”

For those younger generations and those unaccustomed to 80’s cartoons, the Care Bears dwelt among the clouds, typically the thickest largest puffs in the sky.  As kids we would stare out the window during road trips, seeking out Care-a-lot or the‘Care Bear Cloud.’ Each of the bears, much like the Seven Dwarves had their own unique names and easy-to-discern personalities: Bedtime Bear, Cheer Bear, Grumpy Bear, Wish Bear, etc . . .  In their adventures, the Care Bears would foil the plots of Professor Coldheart, who would prey on unhappy children, entangled in various family and playground issues, problems that typically would unravel with a hug and the Care Bear Stare, where shapes would leap from the bears color-coded bellies.  Sometime through the episode, we – the viewer – would learn that ‘caring’ is the secret to happiness and high self-esteem.  Rather typical fare for the 80s actually.

Care BearsFrom my perspective, an already anxious and worried child, learning to exorcise ‘care’ from your life felt healthier than either hugs or rainbows, the former reserved only for grandmothers and latter – as I understood – churned out marshmallows for cereal.  Why, I thought, should we care about what others say about us, whether we threw a ball like a girl, or possessed one or two fewer friends than the cool kids.  The evening news and local video stores only served to reinforce our fears.  Rape, murder, fire, flood, Godzilla, demons, possessed dolls, ghosts, and homework: a never-ending supply of cares sneaking into your day-dreams and tormenting your nightmares.  Why should we care at all?  Because the Care Bears said so?  A rather Herculean quandary for a ten-year-old.  Yet with a simple shrug of the shoulders, it all disappeared. In life, the notable absence of omniscient all-loving teddy bears dwelling somewhere in the clouds compelled us to be stronger . . . or at least find more realistic escapes.  Something involving swords, wizards and falling anvils perhaps.

“Did you watch ‘Captain Planet’ when you were a kid?”  Kasey asked.

“Oh, don’t get me started with that pile of . . .” I stopped myself, suddenly realizing at Bree’s scowl the tickle in my throat.  “Ahem . . . sorry, not a fan.  I’d rather have my brain-cavity carved and hollowed out like a jack-o-lantern for the amusement of possessed carnival clowns than watch that recycled recycling propaganda.”

Much better.

“I always like the Hispanic dude,” Kasey continued.  “The guy with the Heart ring that talked to his monkey.”

“Dude, that’s probably the gayest thing I’ve heard in a long time and that’s coming from a guy that once owned an E-Z-Bake Oven.  My Little Ponies at least had dragons.  Little pink ones but . . . ”

Pink dragons?”

“Camouflage.  So it’s easier to hide the blood stains that way.”

“Ewww,” Bree groaned.

“Awesome,” muttered Paul and Kasey in awe.

“Meow!” Molly shouted from the backseat, twirling her unicorn book in the air.  Moments later, a purple blur like a small glittering axe flew across my mirror and into my cheek, proving that unicorns can indeed fly and that non-violence does not in any way immunize children from violence.  When the instinct does emerge (and it will), the edge of the knife is simply more subtle, undetected, veiled behind drifts of glitter, sequins and winged-pony stickers.

Love to Hate

Somewhere in the PETA headquarters across the offices and cubicles adorned with decorative puppy calendars, I imagine, there lies a Wall of Hate.  Every organization possesses one or two.  The simplest features a single photograph of an ex-girlfriend or work rival, their face painted with graffiti, fake mustaches, and the like; others, ridiculous caricatures punctured with darts, forks and knives, perhaps even gunshots – if you happen to work in Tennessee.  The FBI has one, displaying blurry pictures of mass murderers, terrorists, and gangsters; the CIA has one too, though invisible to the naked eye.  Even the White House adorns their distinguished offices with printed screen stills of Fox News anchors, wrinkled and faded from Super Soakers and Nerf guns, large speech bubbles that shout “Capitalism is for shmucks!!!”

At PETA, these portraits of animal rights offenders are encased in mahogany frames and frequently polished, allowing no smudge or stain to mar or obscure the faces of these enemies of animal-kind.  The inherent effect is a photo mosaic of taxidermists, sushi chefs, furriers, and exotic gourmets that smother crickets in chocolate.  Nearly all the department has visited the wall at least once.  After a year, the PETA volunteers and managers have memorized nearly all the mug shots, ready at a moment’s notice to spring on them with a can of paint or a club – PETA members are quite sensitive to irony.  Somewhere on this collage my face too is entombed, squeezed between Michael Vick and a comical poster of Cruella DeVil.  Beneath my hairy chin in large red block letters reads “At Large.”

This week you see, my brother’s, Sean’s, cow escaped their paddock again, and I screamed some very unkind threats to our bovine friends, which no doubt the PETA satellites intercepted and treated me accordingly.  The denizens of ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’ represent the first additions to my own Wall of Hate, unless deep-fried and plopped between a Kaiser roll, no cucumbers though – the second vegetable to appear on the list, wedged between ‘asparagus’ and ‘geriatric drivers.’    The cows or rather heifers in particular with their repeated escape attempts, calling to mind Frogger-esque excursions across the highway and through briar-laden trees, are especially noisome creatures.  Yesterday however, Katie and I succeeded in herding the bolting bovine into its cell, where we learned sometime during the night their water trough had run dry.

Quickly giving into her maternal instincts, Katie sought to rectify the situation:  “Murph, we need to give them water.  It’s not good for them without it.”

Honestly – I freely admit – my conscience momentarily abandoned me here as my mind entertained the thought of simply shrugging my shoulders and walking away.  Or at least waiting until the boys came home to fix the problem.  I do not consider myself a cruel man, but spending another moment with the walking value meals is akin to cleaning crap from chicken coops and my own personal version of Hell.  Yet if the animals managed to escape again for want of water, then that would prolong the ordeal even more.

Katie might feel disappointed in me as well and that I could never allow.

“Sure,” I sighed, searching the ground for the hose.  “Though pumping the water through these hoses will be impossible in this weather.  Look there . . . ”

Beneath the snow and ice, we saw the raised impression of the hose, snaking its way under the frozen pond, up the hillside, and into the underground pump.  Absently I stepped on the coiled tangle trailing into the barn, noticing how stiff and solid it felt as if frozen from the inside out.

“GD, how the hell are we going to get water to these stupid animals?” Katie cursed – or at least as close to cursing as Katie can.  She stomped her feet and seemed quite irritated with the heifers, which simply bellowed lazily.  That moment, I was quite proud of my little sister.

“It’s okay, Big Mamma,” she cooed after a while.  “We’ll figure out something.”

Something in fact proved far more difficult than we originally hoped.  Nearly all the hoses were frozen and several pumps only trickled a few brave drops.  We thus decided to divide our efforts: Katie would chip away at the pond while Mom and I transported buckets of water from the far side of the house downhill to the barn.  Combining our efforts, enough water could be stored away to keep the cows happy and imprisoned for the rest of the day.

Regrettably, wet snow, a fool’s balance, and a pot filled to the brim mix well for comedic effect.  As we gingerly edged our way downhill, my feet rebelled against me, sliding out from my legs like a man who had just slipped on a banana peel.  Water and bowl flew into the air, landing atop a soon-to-be bruised head as my knees collided with the frozen ground.  I then rolled several feet down the hill, wet, sore and in desperate need of a towel.  Katie and Mom fell to the ground as I played dead, mourning for my lost dignity.  Their giggles painful but expected.

The heifers mooed and chuckled too, and I promised to treat myself a quarter-pounder with cheese later that evening.

Thankfully, my sister’s excavation of the pond had hit paydirt and we spent the next half-hour shoveling water into buckets like kids playing at the seashore.  We filled the cow’s trough and promising to mete out some words to the boys, the girls trudged back up to the house and some hot tea.  I remained behind to store the shovels and buckets while the animals slurped noisily, ignoring me.

“You better thank that girl,” I said.  “If not for her, you’d be roadkill chuck roast.  Remember that the next time you make a run for it.”

From politicians to the Care Bears, ‘hatred’ often suffers a bad rap.  No criticism accompanies our shared hatred of injustice, cruelty or corruption, but punting puppies is frowned upon.  Or ignored: my feelings toward cucumbers.  Our hatreds define us as much as our hopes and our dreams, yet we curse those negative feelings or worse pretend they do not exist, allowing them to accumulate and build like the pressure beneath a geyser.  And while sometimes dangerous (we cannot always immediately erase our misgivings about people and cucumbers), we might surround ourselves with individuals, who might challenge us to reexamine these base inclinations.  Sisters are typically a good place start.  They teach us about sympathy, I think.  Or at least compel us to do the right thing every once in a while.

So if any PETA-people have stuck around to the end of this post, I humbly offer you my services.  Every team needs its rogue agent to keep it honest.  A brave new carnivorous world awaits us.  Let’s do lunch next Tuesday.  Say . . .  the local Five Guys?  My treat.

Shhhhhh . . .

To Tiffany with many heartfelt apologies . . .

Don’t tell my sister-in-law, Tiff, about any of this.  Seriously, say nothing.  My brother Pat and I have just arrived home from Vegas and well . . . need I admit more?  Sin City offers a never-ending supply of mischief for two young men and being efficient travelers, we had to catch them all.  When we had finished, Pat even invented a few new ones (he IS an engineer).  But let’s keep that to ourselves.  Silence is particularly important when Tiff is nearby, say within several miles from your vocal chords, which she might snatch from your still-living body if she ever heard a syllable of the truth.  For the health of you, me, Pat, my larynx, and 6 billions of the world’s population, let’s keep this between ourselves.

If you happen to be walking down the road and perchance run into her, deny the whole incident with a laugh and a dirty joke.  That punch line might earn you a slap in the face, causing your cheeks to swell and puff like an allergic reaction to bees or peanut butter, but it’s better than inadvertently revealing the truth, the horrible despicable truth.  You might lose a lung then or a heart – if you happen to be an octopus and possess more than one – but it’s far preferable to giving Tiff any clues that might allow her to uncover this horrible insidious puzzle.  You can always grow more organs or borrow your neighbor’s, but these grotesque secrets, once revealed, will not disappear again from her memory much like the stains of crushed lung on a white dress shirt.

Thus, try not talk at all.  Simply divert her attention by pointing over her shoulder, shout “Hey, is that Shia LaBeouf?” and then run like hell . . . but not in a serpentine pattern.  That only works with alligators, not with Tiffany, who is a doctor and thus above such reptile chicanery.

Running isn’t a good idea either though.  Tiff will track you down and lay your soul bare.  It’s best to hide, quivering in a dumpster when she mounts her horse, Bloodmane, and races through the streets summoning the legion of the undead.  The ground will shake and the earth will tremble.  Your only gambit is to whimper and cry: it won’t stop her from razing the secrets of your soul but the mass of accumulated tears might block her from sight for three additional seconds.

Never mention the turtle.  EVER.

You shouldn’t mention anything about money either, especially the large sums Pat lost at the slots.  Kindly do not mention the roulette wheel at all, an incident which may actually be worse than the turtles, those delicious . . . delicious turtles.

Don’t attempt to lie either.  My sister-in-law’s gaze can piece stone, steel and even flesh just like a magic eight ball.  I once saw her immobilize a T-rex with a single glace and decapitate a 40-year-old man in California (posing online as a ten-year old Asian girl) for revealing the season finale to Gray’s Anatomy.  The papers reported something about shark attack, but I know the truth, which by the way Tiff must never know about.

If you enjoy the idea of barbells flying across the room, feel free to mention the amount of money we spent on the buffet or the cost of the ‘clothing-optional’ party in Suite 3.  Just wait until I’ve left the room and/or border first please.   Thank you.

Cheating doesn’t help us in this conspiracy either.  So don’t try it.  I know you’re thinking about covering it all up with cement shoes and crop circles, but trust me it won’t work.  Last week, I stole an extra vowel in Scrabble and that night her scowling bloodshot eyes haunted my dreams and tormented my nightmares, like Freddy Kruger or that scene from The Ring (You know the one . . . When the girl with black hair climbs from the well and . . . Ahhhhhhh!)  Only Tiff’s eyes are like a million times worse.  My imaginary friends won’t allow me to cheat at Scrabble anymore for fear of reprisal.

Yeah, just go ahead and reveal our little dirty secret.  Go ahead.  I won’t stop you.  And when she explodes in rage and consumes all life on this planet in her most unholy fury, I won’t even say ‘I told you so.’  Indeed no one will be left on the planet to say much of anything.  Except cockroaches, and really, who understands them?

Sure, you might think those special ‘trading-cards’ they give out on Vegas streets hilarious, but if Tiff unearths our complete set of autographed cards, she’ll trade our entire collection for fracture and contusion, the names of her left and right fists.

And Tiff . . . if you somehow read this, it was Pat’s idea.  Every sordid bit, bet, and midnight whisper was devised in your husband’s corrupt mind.  I acted merely as an innocent bystander, a simple puppet to his puppet-controlling evil.  So don’t blame me or even think of me.  Let’s think of puppies instead, beautiful loveable puppies who never keep secrets from us about their vacation in Las Vegas.