Looking back, I should have reconsidered my admission price. Safaris through the swamps and theme parks of Florida rarely come cheap; the guides (i.e. myself) never know who might be eaten by alligators, sharks, or the rogue Disney character, and the travelers fated never to return from these excursions rarely offered repeat business. Therefore it is often wise to charge high fees just in case your customers happen to be devoured. Simple business sense, really.
Yet to a child of six, a young blossoming businessman, twenty-five cents was a fortune and several quarters seemed like all the money in the world. The coins chimed and clinked like melodies in old music boxes, the tune of arcades and supermarket gumball machines. I knew then that adults rarely gave out dollars – my Mom most of all thought us too young to collect bills –but usually were more than willing to scrounge for change, those precious precious quarters. Piggy-bank credit. Donkey-Kong-currency.
Dad of course announced the trip to Florida months ago; only recently did we realize that we could turn a profit prior to departure. A week before the trip to Disney World, Patrick and I converted the old cardboard box into a ticket counter, masking the Sony logo and T.V. specs with scribbled dollar signs and gun-shaped outlines of Florida. We tipped the box upside down and carved out two small holes in the box’s belly. A sign was painted:
Only 25 cents
We promise you will not get eatan!
Constructing the ticket-contraption proved easier than we realized. We rigged the box to eject tickets through a slot when someone fed the makeshift-machine a quarter. As soon as the quarter bounced noisily among its brethren, a ticket popped out of another slot from the darkness beneath, like real tickets at the skeeball arcade. NOTE: in my spare time I loved to construct elaborate inventions from household items. Trebuchets from bed linen. Oil-spewing go-carts from cereal boxes. Glue bombs that leave enemy agents mummified and stuck like spider-caught flies to nearby walls. Nothing I constructed actually worked mind you; mostly my creative genius earned me a sore rear and unbidden month-long lectures on why we should never aim slingshots at people, pets, or crystal vases.
My Dad was our first customer. Later my grandmother paid us a visit. At the end of the week, I asked our makeshift-machine how much money we had garnered. The box rumbled and shook, momentarily levitating from the floor like a fortune-teller’s table. The machine reported back that it could not commute.
“I can’t see,” it whined. Considering the low expense and crudity of the machine’s design, I sighed and asked to see the coins myself. “I think we have ten dollars,” voiced the box.
Patrick’s small fist appeared from beneath the cardboard flaps, his hands sweaty and hot with plundered coins. Five quarters tumbled from his hand. Not ten dollars, you dork, I chastised. Nearly three dollars! (Our math skills have since improved . . . seriously!) We were rich and well-stocked to assault any arcades we might encounter on our journey south.
Our adventure had begun!
On warm summer afternoons, when the fierce gaze of the sun forced us out of the gardens and fields like outcast Adams fleeing some divine retribution, Pat and I would drag ourselves into the cool recesses of our apartment. Large plastic fans would whirl and spin, circulating the heat about the room as we lay upon bed or sofa like fever victims stranded in some Far East hospice. During these times before succumbing to slumber and exhaustion, my daydreams would fly me to some far off realm, full of ruins and lost treasure. A Lost World perhaps inhabited with dinosaurs and monsters of all breeds and nationalities. Thick jungles surrounding forgotten cities, or strange futuristic city thick with aliens and deadly laws. Within this summer somnolence, my girl and I along with Pat (ironically though he never got the girl in these visions, his real-life counterpart would win out in the end) would dodge booby traps, pitfalls, and boiling lava, avoid the biting fangs of giant insects, or the frumious claws of some subterranean demon.
Now these chase scenes among broken stone and dank tunnels always accompanied a rousing score of songs. Ah-ha’s “Take on Me” echoed among the ancient snake pits one day; the soundtrack to Footloose propelled us through interplanetary wars another day.
The intense drums of “In the Air Tonight” inspired lone standoffs amid future wastelands with arch-fiends and a host of villains. Early on, due to my mother’s musical tastes, much of these daydreams adopted the tunes of the Monkees. On one occasion we dodged an army of Wolfmen among the family catacombs with new-found friend Davy Jones and the Harlem Globetrotters. Clearly I watched way too much Scooby-Doo than is healthy for any six-year old.
NOTE: Scooby-Doo was one of my favorite shows growing up, until the advent of Scrappy-Doo. Not only did the fear-factor seem to diminish with his presence (No more shark monsters or cat creatures but old Civil War colonels covered in glowing flour paste; I mean, who enjoys seeing a maniacal old man chase around a bunch of kids for half-an-hour?; I wanted some monsters!), but no catch-phrase incites more revulsion that “Pu-pu-puppy power!” The one redeeming facet of the horrible live-action movie was their demonizing treatment of Scappy.
Eventually as the midday sun slips down behind the hillside, painting the afternoon sky with brilliant fiery hues as if the throne of heaven itself was melting, encapsulating the earth with molten gold, did Pat and I finally realize that . . .
“Why do you do that?”
“Mom! I’m writing here,” I said momentarily halting my typing to find my mother staring down at me. “Do what?!”
“I mean if I want to say that the sky is orange. I say ‘The sky is orange.’ Or if the cat is white, I say ‘Fluffy is white.’ People understand that.”
“What’s up?” Dad said entering the room.
“Some of us are trying to create art.”
“Your son cannot write without using metaphor. Instead of simply saying the cat is white, he writes that ‘the color of its fur is akin to the shade of snow beneath the far off Matterhorn in the twilight hour of St. Ambrose’s Day’ instead of simply saying the stupid cat looks white.”
“Mom, it’s imagery.”
“Murph, don’t mock your mother.”
“Also you made me sound stupid in your last blog.”
“You do order your tea like that. It’s like a verbal machine-gun.”
“There he goes with the metaphors again.”
“Murph,” Dad said patiently “why don’t you try to include your mother’s advice this time. It might improve your work to try something new.”
“Huh? Wait a tick . . .”
“HA!” Mom laughed. “See he agrees with me!”
“And for the record, your mother does not talk like a machine gun . . .”
“It’s more like a gatling gun,” he said then trembled and shook either to simulate being gunned down or from the force of Mom’s foot as she kicked him.
My final paragraph inspired by Mom’s instruction:
The sun sank this afternoon. The sky was orange and red like fir . . . uh, and yellow too. Pat and I woke from our daydreams and helped set the table like the good children we were. We complimented our mother on her new dress, which she got on sale from ‘Penny’s yesterday. We both thought the color of the dress matched her eyes quite well. Her dinner was perfect, very very delicious and good. We cleaned up wel . . . uh good. Then we kissed her like dutiful children and slept peacefully all night and long into the next morning so as to not wake her from her beauty sleep . . . which she does not need.