Don’t laugh. After quitting my job, I had planned to drive south this June for a southern road trip along the East Coast. The idea? To stop at the best mini-golf sites between Maryland and Florida for an in-family tournament while driving down the coast. Myrtle Beach and Orlando topped our list of vacation spots with excellent mini-golf courses, but a few off-the-beaten-trail locations in Georgia and North Carolina were also included.
Rodney has always bragged (see: lied) about his prized turquoise jacket for winning the National Mini-Golf Association (NMGA) title at some nebulous past date. He finds a way to shoehorn this imaginary title and jacket into any conversation whenever we’re golfing:
“This hole reminds me of when I won the NMGA championship and their fabled turquoise jacket. Only a man truly skilled in the art of the putt could conquer the course and himself for the sake of victory.”
To which, we’d usually respond:
“Dude, hit your stupid ball through the stupid castle.”
He’d get the final word though:
“Heh. When you’re a course record holder like I am, you see the world in a different way. You need to take your time, ya see? Look at all the angles and hone your skills, and you could have a record and a jacket too, Murph.”
A little explanation about that last statement. You see, the Murpheys are a pretty competitive family. Growing up with six brothers and a mother who cheats at all manner of card and board games (she’s quite proud of this personality flaw), bragging rights prove a valuable commodity in our clan.
At my high school graduation, the class valedictorian opened his speech with a quote from Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ I imagine that a few English teachers cringed a bit. Once the speaker encouraged change and innovation, they knew that he had missed the point of the poem.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
“Dude,” Sean sighed with a disapproving look at my portal game console. “Don’t do that. Get yourself a drink and talk to people.”
Part of me knew that he was right. Bachelor parties required some level of camaraderie. I could refuse alcohol but refusal to interact or talk with the other guests was a severe social taboo. Part of the groom-to-be’s happiness depended upon the outward appearance of enjoyment among his friends and family. I could not celebrate his future happiness holed up in a corner of the cabin playing video games, reading mystery novels, and essentially wishing . . . dreaming of being elsewhere.
Summer is drawing near, bringing with it Floridian vacations with family, cookouts amid 90 degree afternoons, and an opportunity for a little soul-searching. I’m not sure how other teachers begin their summer. Alcohol and long morning naps surely are incorporated in some way. My Aunt Sue often visit us in June and July when we were kids, before she retired after nearly thirty-years teaching science in Arkansas. She would bring large plastic bins — the size of pound-cakes — filled with a powerful concoction of alcohol and fruit-juice for which my mom would ceremoniously clear a place in the family freezer to harden overnight. The next day the two of them, Mom and Aunt Sue, would extract ice cream scoops and dig out the slushie mixture with the same care and joy as a miner unearthing a golden cache. They’d sit out by the pool and while away the day until they’d be too exhausted or drunk to move.
“My summer has begun!” Aunt Sue would shout. “No kids. No grading. This is the life!”
Typing. Typing. Typing. Typing. Trying to drum up some creative new posts for this blog. Something interesting and original.
What to say, what to write, I ask myself. Gaming? My Hunter just got to Light Level 400 in . . .
You did say original, right?Cynical Me interjects. And with the countless millions Twitching and podcasting while posting actual gameplay, who would actually read ‘The Adventures of Murph on Digital Mars?’
Sardonic but on point. Okay, so no games. What about day-to-day? Should I start complaining about work?
Yeeaah, sure. People would love to read about grading Scantrons and the conservation of mass, I reply my inner voice practically dripping with venom. Everything you do is either boring or depressingly boring. Reading is for escape. And nobody wants to read about school life unless you can guarantee postal owls and magic wands.
You’re not leaving me many choices here. I work so I can buy games. I play games to decompress from work. It’s a never-ending cycle of co-dependence or simply poor life choices, I’m not sure which. Continue reading →
Onesies were Brigid’s idea. The rest of the siblings had their newborns, new spouses, new houses, new raises, and other welcome topics of the successful adult. For the singles — Brigid, Kevin, Shannon, and of course myself — still living at home, working as either students or teachers, there were no new achievements or traditional rites of passage to announce over double helpings of pumpkin pie. For myself, the arrival of yearly milestones — first college degree, first internship, first car, first job, first paycheck, first roadtrip, first love, first heartbreak . . . first hangover — had come to a halt sometime during the last five years. It was as if while running a marathon, you discovered someone had replaced the road with a treadmill.
Something kissed the surface of the water off to my left. Reflexively, I began pulling my feet onto the board. Rodney was on shore, wrestling with his ankle-strap; his surfboard drifted in the tide pulling at the strap like an impatient child. The rental guy had mentioned how to attach the strap to the board, but excitement and eagerness to start had smothered any useful advice.
“We’ll figure it out,” Shannon had said. It’s practically a family motto.
We had searching half of the morning for a ideal surfing spot and the remaining half for surfboard rentals near Kapulua. The beach was located on the western side of Maui, just south of Lahaina. Large black stones like giant pebbles scattered across the sand. Smoke billowing from townhouses past the park promised barbecues; a few families ate box lunches at picnic benches; a man strummed his guitar while his wife stared into the tide. Otherwise the beach was empty.
“I just need an hour of your time,” Dad muttered as my foot hovered over the basement stairs. Inwardly, my gut tightened with a sickening amalgam of anxiety and dread. It was almost 9 am and already I felt drained.
My father’s sense of time is generally exaggerated to the point that I had already given up my Saturday as a loss. After a week of teaching gas laws and grading fifty ten-page labs on molarity (I loathe repetitious activity. It is the water torture of the soul.), a Saturday morning without immediate plans provides an opportunity for refueling my mental, physical and emotional energies. For Dad, it’s a chance to simultaneously plan and execute a Honey-do list while enlisting the aid of his inactive children.
I wrote this particular post, just hours before the Blizzapocalypse hit the East Coast. Weeks later, a small storm has covered the area in about 1-3 inches of snow and freezing rain reminding me of this following unfinished editorial, which I’m sending to you all now.
The world is changing. I feel it in the water. I smell it in the air. I see it in the crowds outside the grocery stores.
I love the promise of change snow brings with it. Minute by minute, as each layer of ice and flake cake the ground, trees and roadways, snow promises to change the world. Tomorrow, we will have gone back in time, 65 million years into the past when man would hunt mammoths with long pointed sticks. No other season grants us this clean slate upon which we can rewrite the world. Even spring, with its promises of renewal, resuscitates the world of last year, of 2015. Moreover, the change is gradual: day by day we are given an extra bud, a new leaf or two, one or three extra berries on the vine. Winter is the contractor with no budget: “Give us twelve hours and we’ll remodel your entire landscape.”
The goal and curse of science etches itself in the belief that the universe follows a constant and unerring pattern. That with inquiry, experimentation and discovery we may predict the outcome to any phenomenon. To, in short, map the whole of time and space to one solitary pattern and drive chaos from their borders. This desire grants us control through the sacrifice of spontaneity. Imagine if you could predict the most minute cellular spasm or broadcast the results of every war, election, and Oscar race. You would have power, knowledge, and control . . . And it would be boring as hell.
Winter reminds me to embrace the chaos of change and to wonder at the unexpected. Like seasoned salt on the surface of a bland meal, this incoming blizzard promises to season the next few days with a healthy mix of excitement and beauty. Tomorrow outside the world will be a new place: white, silent and sparkling, ready to be either shaped into snowmen or crushed into snow angels. Long live the unexpected joys.
“Alright everyone, I’m only going to explain this to you once so pay attention. The motion you make with the oars requires minimal effort. It doesn’t take much to move these vessels, but you have to follow instructions. If you do not, I will give you three chances to fix whatever you’re doing wrong and then . . . the coach comes out. The coach is six-foot two and a nasty SOB. He will get in your face, and trust me, you do not want that. I am strict and demanding, but you will learn the correct way to paddle today ladies and gentlemen. I will not hesitate to send you back to shore if you slow us down by not following directions. Do not force me to let the coach out, gentlemen.”
Dan, our kayak instructor, finished his tirade with a long hard stare at Rodney and me. Instinctively, I turned around. Not seeing any spider, snake or shark, I considered that Dan had already singled me out as the ‘problem child’ of our little excursion.