Charley yelled at me Monday night. Apparently, my sibling readers have missed my posts lately (Work and school have proven a leech on my time and energy — even sleep has been forestalled until June). I’ve been sitting on this post for the last month-and-a-half, not wanting to post until I’ve added a few pictures, a few humoroous vignettes, a few notable insights in the human condition . . . but as this pile of labs-to-be-graded accumulates like a malignant tumor on the desk before me (“Friendly neighborhood Spiderman-mug save me!”), I figure “Screw it! Move on! Post the blog! Scribble an A on the labs! Take the day off! Move to Orlando! Marry a Disney princess . . . preferably Belle or that Tangled-chick! Use more exclamation points!!!” Carpe diem guys! Whoo ah!
Like many pilgrims before me, New Jersey welcomed me with open arms and a cocktail of …. grotesque aromas: sewer vents, tire-mushed polecat, and bilge. We had passed most of the evening on I-95, driving to upstate New York from Baltimore via Jersey, much like Dante’s trip to Paradiso via Inferno. Not being a native New Yorker, you might think this an unkind comparison, but few trips through New Jersey have taken me off the turnpike; thus, the landscape of tangled grey pipes, desiccated fields, and smoking chemical factories encompasses much of my sense memory. Still, despite the momentary assault on my lungs, the party on Saturday proved well-worth the visit.
After years of pining, dating, failing, blubbering, and ultimately dismissing the whole female race as ‘shallow sluts,’ my friend and brother, Frank ‘The Chainsaw’ had finally discovered — how had O Henry coined it? — “the one missing face from his heart’s gallery of intimate portraits.” That was two or three years ago; this weekend Frank had invited his whole ‘adopted’ family to a country club to celebrate his wedding.
As we crossed the Delaware bridge, a wave of nausea struck the van like the accumulated unwashed funk of a comic convention. Sean and I looked at each other and sighed.
Now, before we continue on this line, I want you to realize that Frank and his blessed bride-to-be both hailed from the Garden State. Had they not, this account would prove far kinder – he is my brother after all. For those readers, like Frank, who likewise hail from the ‘Armpit of America’ realize that we native Balti-morons dwell in the 7th most dangerous city in the U.S. (Forbes). Yeah, so Jersey may stink but at least you won’t die from the fumes. Baltimore is the carbon monoxide of the East Coast.
Murder and drugs notwithstanding, it was nice to get outta town for a few days while laden with nothing more than the clothes on my back. My suitcase, now buried under a pile of golf clubs, consisted of nothing but paperbacks and toothpaste. One of my favorite authors, Lemony Snicket, once advised travelers to “Never trust someone who has not brought a book with them” as “Wicked people never have time for reading. It is one of the reasons for their wickedness.” Always desirous of disguising myself as a morally upright lad, I packed most of my suitcase with novels, comics, an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories, an anthology of Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft stories, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and one snazzy grey suit, which I bought at Kohls — to save money for the new Arkham: Origins game. Most of my clothes, socks and underwear, I discarded to a pile atop my bed where it will sit until I return to organize and eventually relocate to a less visible corner of the basement.
Still . . . on the Jersey Turnpike with the air whipping through my hair and clothes, I imagined the accumulated waste of Friday traffic, mists rising from the nearby chemical plants, and freshly squeezed skunk filtering through my shirt like a plaid polyester ash tray and reconsidered my choice of garments (or lack thereof). After all if I should suffer a stain on my shirt, I could not exchange it for Jules Verne — heaven knows, I tried, but reading Fogg’s passage through India requires flexibility, patience, several carefully-placed mirrors and a level of indifference to public jeering, which I just cannot muster.
Ergo, I kept my weary eye open for a Target, just in case.
Around midnight, we arrived at the hotel just across the state line in New York. The woods surrounding the building reminded me of western Maryland, near the mountains, or pictures I’ve seen of Northern Califormia, stocked with ancient pines and foggy vistas. Down the road, the brightly lit bullseye of a local Target rose from the trees like a vast safety-net for the wardrobe-impaired. For a moment, I reconsidered my previous attacks on Jersey.
“Dude,” I said to Sean, “Frank was right. Jersey’s not too bad off the turnpike.”
“Well,” Sean smiled, “don’t be too quick to forgive and forget. We’re in New York now so for all we know, Jersey’s still a cesspool.”
My brother, the lawyer. Always looking for the loophole.
Arriving at the country club the next morning, I immediately rescinded every insult hurled at Frank’s home state. The club overlooked the foothills of the Appalachians, now budding red, orange and yellow hues throughout the dark green woodlands. Stone mansions rose from the acres of trees like rocks jutting from sun-drenched shoals. There was a golf course too, which immediately grabbed Dad’s attention . . .
“Wow, Dad! The hills around us are gorgeous. Did you see that house on the hill there? The one with the waterfall? Dad . . ?”
“Yeah, no water here, but lots sand in front . . . and those greens look smooth enough to eat from . . .”
I have my priorities; Dad has his.
At least Frank seemed happy to see us. He took each of us into his massive arms for a bearhug and then introduced us to his father (also a Frank).
I wheezed out a ‘Hello’ and waited for my lungs to unfold from my rib cage. I have previously described Frank in the blog’s Patrons section — the epithet which I will soon amend seeing as Frank has stepped down from his lofty position in the ‘he-man woman-haters club.’ Yet, nowhere in these annals do I offer any physical description of the man, mostly to protect his privacy but also to avoid frightening small children and goats. Like some freakish love-child between Mt. Everest and the Norse god of thunder, Frank stands over six-feet tall and resembles a living mountain, dappled with red-autumn hair and a mischievous grin carved into the face. Thus, you might picture the man embracing my ribs like an accordion.
“Murph,” he said, “thank you guys for coming. It means a lot to me . . . to us. Thanks, dude!”
The sentiment was heartfelt, but I only managed to gasp for breath and offer a equally heartfelt thumbs up before crawling to the bushes and coughing up one-slightly crushed kidney. Suddenly, the sky grew dark, blotting out the blue skies. I hurriedly puffed out my chest, stuffed my innards back inside and ran for the pro shop before the storm broke.
The next four hours we played golf . . . in the rain, which tap-danced on my head during critical putts and seemed to swim like salmon up my pants leg whenever we turned north. Although one cannot complain when trading work for the golf course, the failure of my short game almost made me yearn for the warmth of my classroom in much the same way that Monday mornings do not.
I will spare you the details of the remainder of the trip — partly to save the rest of the tale for another post, but also because Charley threatened to kill me (Love you man!) if I don’t post soon. Although I do wish to comment on my skills amassed upon the dance floor, I will save that editorial for another (and far briefer) post. Suffice to say, the wedding proved beautiful, elegant and wonderful . . . at least until the dance-ninjas arrived, but that’s a whole other story.