First World Problems or Summer Vacation with No Beach

First World Problems or Summer Vacation with No Beach

True adventurers have never been plentiful. They who are set down in
print as such have been mostly business men with newly invented
methods. They have been out after the things they wanted–golden
fleeces, holy grails, lady loves, treasure, crowns and fame. The
true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and
greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son–when he
started back home. — O. Henry, “The Green Door.”

Jumping into the car on the last day of school terrifies me.  For teachers, summer vacation can prove a daunting enterprise particularly if you happen to be single.  “Balderdash!” you may shout in a Victorian accent.  “I have a 9 to 5 job throughout the entire year.  You teachers have it lucky what with this summer vacation nonsense.  Pip pip cheerio.  Fish and chips.”

Well, let’s field that common misconception first.  Imagine you have trained your entire life as a scientist or a writer.  After graduating with your Masters degree, you find jobs in short supply due to . . . let us say because of a ‘recession.’  You take a job as a teacher in a high school, which slowly consumes your entire life.  You teach all day, and on nights and weekends, you plan new lessons, create tests or grade grade grade until your fingertips are permantly stained red with misplaced commas and imbalanced chemical equations.  This is your life.  These kids, their needs and their dreams, become your life.  Tunnel-vision within a textbook.

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Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

“So picture this, Murph: a death metal concert in the heart of Amsterdam.  Me and Jason disguised in leather, fake beards, and goth t-shirts . . .”

“I for one do not need to imagine any man much less Rodney in leather,” Sean sighed next to me.

“The beard I can get behind, though . . .” Ryan added.

We all agreed that a man with a beard is a man to be reckoned with.

“If Batman had a beard, he’d be unstoppable,” I considered aloud.

“Man, enough about Batman.  I’m talking about real heroes,” Rodney shouted.  “I’m talking about Jason Borne!”

I chose not to discuss Matt Damon’s heroics or what constituted a imaginary character. Frankly I didn’t have the time.

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The Obelisk: Part 2

“I almost prayed that you wouldn’t ‘ve shown . . .”

“Nothing to be done now,” Paul sighed.  “Last time they emerged after only a day.  Twenty-four hours.  The paste Alice gave me should be wearing off too.  They’ll smell me soon enough and the whole area will become an overturned hornet’s nest.  Just like last time.” Continue reading

The Obelisk: Part 1

Two weeks, no posts.  Sorry about that.  I’ve been working on this particular story for some time now, never quite getting it to the point where I felt comfortable publishing it or in this case, sharing it with others.  To paraphrase Hamlet, the ending is the thing, one which I haven’t been able to master yet.  Honestly, most felt either unoriginal, confusing, or just plain weak, and after sixteen different iterations (sad, isn’t it?) I think I’ve found one that works. 

Maybe . . .

Well, you be the judge (i.e. I hope you enjoy it!). 

The Obelisk

The blood dripped freely from Paul’s arm as he shuffled into the kitchen. The cut had not been deep. Only a mere scratch, but he had tripped coming out from the forest, aggravating it. The bandages – if you could call them that – a few medicinal leaves stuffed into the cut, held in place by a few torn strips from Solomon’s bed, swelled with the reddish-brown hue of dried blood. It was all that could be spared so Paul did not complain. At the least the throbbing had subsided, now only a slow waltz; his fall among the roots and trees had inflamed the pain into a tarantella, making the last league to the house an ordeal.

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West Coastin’:Epilogue

So I decided to write the epilogue to this particular story first.  Travel narratives in many ways usurp any and all attempts at suspense if the writer has indeed survived to relay the tale.  He or she went off somewhere else and survived, not having been eaten by alligators, sharks, or cannibals.  Said author now relates what happened in between, which — honestly  as we humans are cruel by nature — is far less interesting had he or she actually been killed by alligators, sharks, or the occasional tourist-eating native.

The time here on the East Coast is twenty ’til two a.m. or nearly twenty ’til eleven on the West Coast, an adjustment which will prove quite uncomfortable come morning, but for now leaves me awake and inspired to pen this post with the purpose of announcing my return.  Yes, Tiff, pictures will be forthcoming exhibiting numerous examples of debauchery, drunkenness, and in Dasad’s case sodomy.   More to follow soon over the next few days . . .

In which Murph contemplates some childhood adventures and the demon Scrappy Doo.

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:

Florida Safaree

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.”

“It’s confusing.”

“It’s poetic.”

“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 . . .”

“Ha again!”

“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.

Twisted

I slit the sheet; the sheet I slit;
and on the slitted sheet I sit.
– my grandmother’s favorite tongue-twister

Some days when I feel particularly analytical, I pull out that which I call my life, shake off the mildew and cobwebs, ready it for a little introspection. This is difficult business of course like trying to repeat Murphy family tongue-twisters five times fast without saying dirty words. As with any puzzle, timing, perspective, and sobriety are everything. Depending on my mood and state of mind, the tapestry of my life may end up looking like an old rag, stained with grease, leaking dirt and dust and sending everyone scurrying from the room in a fit of coughs and wet sneezes. Psychoanalysis after all is a messy messy business — particularly with Irishmen, who are totally immune to it.

Do you remember the old tag-line for those Marine ads? If your life was a book, would anyone read it? Well, that all depends on who’s doing the writing, of course. A very good writer could depict a very ordinary life story into an Homerian epic full of intense struggles, doomed love, and heroic couplets, while a very poor writer could transform a very interesting biography into a something dull and witless like a TV sitcom or a Jude Deveraux romance.

Take O. Henry’s The Green Door, one of his most famous stories, which can be summed up as follows: man walks down street, enters building, walks up stairs, opens strange door, finds girl, feeds girl, leaves with girl. Whew . . . the poor man and even poorer reader. Not one iota of excitement, mystery, or strange circumstances that suddenly fall across the path of a man, imbued with the true sense of adventure. George Carlin once stated that in the mind of a great comic, anything – even the most taboo of subjects – can be transmogrified into humor; thus I state that in the hands of an excellent writer, any life can be epic. You just need to know how to twist it