Most Friday nights, relaxation consumes the pith of my free time. Others might consider sitting by the heat vents book-in-hand a tad tame, even pathetic (Or in words of my little brother, a soul-crunching waste of my youth), but that’s just how some of us are put together. There are those with the constitution to drink, carouse, and womanize all night. If that’s all they’re capable of, God bless them, but some of us need a little bit more: travel, sword fights, damsels in distress, and that’s all before I even picked up my first tome. With my family even the dullest chores or stagnant afternoons can emerge as a circus act, complete with clowns, lions, and jugglers (Shannon and Charley are still quite upset about that Belleek vase, Mom.).
The angle is the key, the difference between boredom and amusement. As one of my old teachers and religious advisers reminded me, the value of these idle moments is akin to finding a peep-hole into the girls’ locker room: with the proper perspective and a little imagination, a world of untold riches unfolds before you.
One evening, in preparation for Christmas and the impending snowstorm, Mom and I drove out to the local liquor store and wine emporium. What Borders and Barnes & Nobles is to me — that is a land of wondrous magic and adventure, from which my siblings often must drag me kicking and screaming, my hands clutching the latest Stephen King for ballast — so is the wine store to Mom. In our most honest moments, adults revert back to childhood, peeling back the time-encrusted layers of restraint, reserve, and responsibility. As we walked through the doors, I found her quivering with excitement.
“Okay Murph, we need a few bottles for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the next week or so until New Years. They say it’s going to get below freezing and I might not be up for leaving the house until 2010.”
“Right, Mom.” It was quarter of eight. The liquor store I reasoned must close sometime around 10PM or so, giving us little more than two hours to finish our shopping. I just hoped it would be enough.
Seriously the woman can spend hours staring at bottles, divining secrets of pomegranates and flame-burnt oak through green-tinted glass and labels adorned with yellow-tailed kangaroos. Other customers skirt around her like a small craft around a rocky shoal. After some five minutes, she begins to sway from side to side, smile to herself and hum Toby Keith, a musical collage of alcohol-related operas sung with a country twang, half-whispered, and off-key. I leave her to her studies, scurrying off down the aisles to critique the artistry of bottle labels. Most modern liquor stores are in truth an art gallery in miniature, offering an eclectic collection of landscapes, impressionistic reliefs, and abstract still-lifes with polyhedral grapes. I spend the next hour or so staring at withered trees swallowed by fog; an Aztec dragon curling around the ornate vine; an antique home or castle sketched in charcoal. Honestly, these glass-curled portraits are the only method I have for choosing new flavors. Once home, we quickly drain the bottles of their respective juices, wash the inner chamber, and mount on the shelf for the world to see.
The lagers are even more intriguing: Bad Elf, Bastard Ale, Honeyed Meed, and even CopperDragon – Golden Pippen. The geek in me giggled, while secretly regretting my utter distaste for beers. If only the stuff did not taste of swill, I could picture myself with a flagon of ale, pwning fell demons and scale-skinned marauders from unholy lands online. As Dad would remind me, if you don’t look the part, you’re always forced to prove yourself. I might not possess the strength to wield a Viking axe — or even possess an axe — but many a bandit might reconsider picking my pocket if I learned to drink like one.
I find Mom still rooted near the wine racks, deciding. Somewhere in my subconscious, I imagine her silently communing with the ghosts of Italian wine makers and liver-soaked drunkards of Christmas past. The spirits convene over smoked gouda, Carr crackers, and a 1986 Mondavi Cab before passing out, leaving my mother to her own frugal judgment.
$17.95. A Sterling merlot. Everything else is too expensive. I add several bottles of my own, feeling quite pleased with the decorative quality of my choices, and lie about the price. She’ll thank me later, once the snow begins to pile.
We finally leave, my arms and back laden by several box-loads of wine, beer, and assorted spirits (the drinkable kind). Cars pile outside the store as families quickly replenish their supplies for a long weekend snowed in with their children. The nearby bar appears packed, nearly brimming over into the cold night. The air felt tense and still, as if the evening was just about to exhale. The flurries began then, showering the car as we crossed bridges, through the woods, and nearly skidded down hills. At home, the snow had started to cover the asphalt. Brigid had stayed over a friends house and alcohol safely stowed inside, Mom sent me out to retrieve her.
It’s the small things in life that matter. Armed with my iPod and a playlist of epic soundtracks, I set off again into the night, snow piling on the roads like powdered sugar. Oncoming traffic weaved between lanes as the line dividers disappeared; my car fishtailed into the shoulder near the bridges, nearly colliding with a few mailboxes after only a mile. At one point, I thought I saw a yeti disappear into the trees. Bree, my sister, nearly groaned when she saw me pull up to her friend’s house.
“Awww . . . I hoped that I could spend the night. Could you leave me here, and tell Mom that you got stuck? Or hit a tree or something?”
There are guys who spend their Friday nights bar-hopping around the city, having adventures that they can barely remember in the morning. Each to their own. Yet among the grind, chores, and duties of large families, other adventures surface. It’s not about making excitement routine, as much as discovering the excitement in the routine. Sometimes all it takes is a slight turn of the head, a blink of the eye, and BOOOM! you’re there. You don’t even need alcohol . . . though I wouldn’t tell Mom that.