Translations

College English professors shuffle the greater influx of language into two distinct categories: what is said and what is meant.  That is, what the greater number of these tenure-track sweater vests may define as ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’ when restricted to single word or phrase, or those thinly disguised political allegories that has kept Orwell’s Animal Farm for years from the hands of Disney’s animators. 

“No duh,” the kids say. 

Frankly, plain honest integrity is a relic of the storybooks.  Most conversations require translators, word-sherpas to cut a path through the various layers of polite or veiled rhetorical BS.  Advertisers spin half-truths; politicians conceive full-lies; one girl I dated in college doubted everything but her religion: God exists here on Earth, dwelling in the body of one, David Matthews.  Don’t drink the water, indeed.

The only saving grace for our species lies in the unilateral agreement among peoples of all races to never say what they mean.  As such, our honesty depends entirely upon the propagation of lies.  The sweater-vests would call that ‘situational irony.’

Thus, for a moment, let us peel back the curtain, shall we?  Take a look at the truth behind the words for a change:

Ryan’s girlfriend, Mary, visited the house last Saturday.  The rest of the family had already left to the kalee, a month meeting of Irish dancers established by the state Hiberian Society — lovers of all things Irish.  Every month Mom, Dad and the kids visit a local lodge or Knights of Columbus hall to dance, cavort, and play cards until the music gives out or the ladies grow tired.  It’s all good family fun, so of course I try to avoid it like the slug shuns sodium.  Shannon and I sat downstairs engaged in a FIFA 2009 match on the Xbox, when Ryan shouted that he and Mary were leaving for the dance.

“Ryan, make sure bring home you know what!” Shannon shouted back up, scoring another goal on me.  In the background, Mary tutted.  “Mary, I know you’re thinking that I’m talking about alcohol, but I assure you that drinking is the devil’s brew!  If you booze, ya lose!”  He’s talking about alcohol. 

“Riiiight . . .” Mary muttered in the kitchen. She suspicious but clearly has no idea.

“Oh and Ryan!” Shannon screamed again.  “Make sure you get the dark stuff!”  He’s talking about Guiness.

“Are you talking about porn?” Mary retorted quickly after.  I . . . I have no idea what she’s thinking here.

Shannon and I burst out laughing.  Fade to black.

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Confessions of a Designated Driver

Cheers!The following account represents a work of non-fiction; any semblance to fictional characters, unreal or imagined, is purely coincidental. And while the author assures us of the tale’s veracity, some of those involved wish to remain anonymous – lest some stubborn brain cells that survived the flood of alcohol happen to remember any details the author has the decency to forget.

“Party foul!”

“Explain to me why we’re not leaving yet?” I sigh, quickly mopping the spilt fluid from the table. My uncle had suggested some minutes ago after Ryan had dribbled a large quantity of beer onto his shirt that ‘no drop of precious ale shall go to waste,’ to which my brother responded by sucking the errant liquid from his clothing. Thus, I offered to clean any spills before either uncle or brother could lap these escaped droplets from the warped and peeling tabletop. Tongue-splinters I did not need. Continue reading

Southeast of Disorder

A Tale from Margarittaville (A True Fiction)

“Ok, Scott, it’s your job to protect your brothers. Make sure they don’t drink or smoke or go near any topless girls, ok?” His mother gives me the speech between swigs of Corona. Aubrey sits beside her on large fold-out chairs munching grapes; their eyes bore into Scott’s like lasers.

“We trust you, ok? Don’t let us down,” Aubrey added, popping another grape. She had not released him from her gaze yet. Scott stood as one transfixed.

“Paul and Mr. Don are walking with us too s-so . . .” Stammering like a child, I mutter a few excuses, trying to pawn off or at least share my impending failure.

“My husband and my father,” Aubrey began with a frown, “will not watch your brothers. They are already too busy drinking as it is, to keep an eye on teenage boys. Dad alone has had six beers already. Meanwhile you’re . . .”

“Sober,” Scott said with a sigh.

“Responsible,” his mother countered. “We can trust you to do what is right.”

Ouch, he thought.

"Particularly the red ones!  They're quite potent."

"Particularly the red ones! They're quite potent!"

The two women released Scott from their grasp and returned to talk of pools and the upcoming school year. He turned around and walks off like a whipped dog, his shoulders heavy. His brother, Matthew’s head had already disappeared through the rows of parked cars, colorful tents, and margarita machines. Scott sped up to catch the group. A few of his father’s friends offered him a drink, in passing, which he declined politely, feigning a headache which he discovered as he sprint to be quite authentic.

“Oh, and keep your brothers away from those syringes,” his mother shouted from under our tent. “Particularly the red ones! They’re quite potent!”

Scott nearly chuckled at the futility of my mission. Avoiding temptation? Preventing the occasional libation? A necrophiliac in a funeral parlor stood better chances of learning temperance than his brothers did of avoiding alcohol at this concert.

He did some basic chemistry in his head:

— Mix together:

1. Our 2008 Jimmy Buffett concert.

2. One bus full of friends, family, beer and booze.

3. One cooler of syringe-packed Jello shooters.

4. Several football fields of tailgating Parrotheads, beautiful co-eds, and drunken cowboys, all eager to intoxicate anyone regardless of age or state law.

5. My three under-age brothers.

— Now buffer the solution with the following:

1. Mom’s orders. NOTE: this step is easily dismissed and forgotten.

2. One non-drinking older brother bestowed with the mission of keeping them all alcohol-free . . . or else.

— Finally stir in my fellow chaperons:

1. Paul and his father-in-law, Don, both buzzed and ready to displace the blame:

“Whatever you guys do, I didn’t see it. I wasn’t there. Ok?”

— The product: a slightly alcoholic solution producing mass euphoria or headaches, depending on blood-alcohol levels. Mixing the products with volatile mothers can result in severe burns or lacerations . . . for us all.

. . . like a refugee camp for gypsies.

. . . a refugee camp for gypsies.

Nevertheless, Scott caught up to boys as they plotted our course through the menagerie of camps and people. Tailgating at a Jimmy Buffett concert is much like watching a circus pitch tent or a first-grader finger-paint, he thought.   You start with something dull and lifeless and simply add a bit of color and spectacle. Originally much of the land surrounding the concert pavilion is desolate and dead, covered in dusty asphalt or loose apocalyptic-gray earth, the kind that easily kicks into clouds when trampled. Scott remembered a raucous punk festival held at the same pavilion one year. Afterwards everyone including Paul and himself walked back to car covered in dirt like mutated dust bunnies.

The Buffett fans – festively called Parrotheads – typically arrive early to unfold large blue or green picnic tents, portable barbeques, and several coolers-worth of beer and snacks. Their campsite sprouts colorful leis, tropic music, and even kiddie pools. Some load sand in the back of their truck beds for makeshift beaches. The odor of generator exhaust and gas grills perfumes the air, mixing with sizzling cheeseburgers, steamed shrimp, and succulent pork barbeque. Scott spied carven ice sculptures for drinking games and paper-mache volcanoes fitted over port-a-potties – appropriately entitled “Wastin’ Away.”  Tropical birds from nearby pet shops and zoos squawk from chalk-colored campers. Cars and vans were fitted with plywood shark fins, biplanes, and palm trees; hammocks stretched out between bumpers. It was like passing through a refugee camp for gypsies, and Scott and his brothers soaked in every sight, sound, and skimpy bikini.

. . . every sight, sound, and skimpy bikini.

. . . every sight, sound, and skimpy bikini.

The girls were the least of his problems. As long as all the important parts were covered, the boys could stare at bikini-clad beauties all day long, Scott thought. My worries rested on the cup of Corona they are carrying.

Of course the concert pavilion does maintain cops and security, watching for drunken brawls, passed-out party-goers, and underage drinking; however, the general rule was that while yellow bottles of Corona attracted attention (not to mention had potential use as a weapon) the ubiquitous red drinking cups did not. Most Parrotheads learned to pour their beers into cups before consuming – or at least before walking around in plain view of the authorities or their mothers.

His one younger cousin, Jessica, was even ingenious enough to spike her orange Gatorade bottle, from which she casually sipped with no fear of discovery.

“I drank only half of it,” she confessed to him as they walked with a giggle. “Then I added one of orange Jello shooters to it. You swirl it around and no one notices.”

Scott’s brother Brian emerged from among a beer pong game, still celebrating his twenty-first from a few months ago. He had snuck a few bottles of Corona from the bus and filled his siblings’ empty cups – after a stern word from Paul – once the group had traveled well out of range.

“Believe me, guys,” Paul whispered scanning from side to side. “You don’t think Mom’s listening, but she is. Women have spies everywhere. It’s best to wait until we turn the corner here . . .”

By this juncture as the sole non-drinker and solitary voice of maternal authority, Scott had few options. Simply asking his teenage brothers to stop drinking and give the beer to him could not succeed. They would kill him. Politely requesting them to pour the beer out onto the ground and replace it with non-alcoholic iced tea or sparkling mineral water from Greenland was not going to work either. A party foul of that stature would ignite a mob. Nonetheless for the sake of futility, he tried both anyway.

“Hey guys, why don’t you stop drinking and give your beer to me?”

“Come on Scott. It’s just one,” they smiled.

“Yeah, but wouldn’t you like to try some delicious iced tea that I made before we left or this sparkling glacier water which they collected from the melting ice caps? Just think, until global warming, these water molecules had stayed frozen since the last ice age . . .”

“Scott, it’s just one beer, and it’s a Jimmy Buffett concert. It’s almost a law to drink.”

Paul ambled over with his father-in-law, who looked severely buzzed. Brian had injected green Jello into his mouth seconds before and Mr. Don now seemed to stumble over blades of grass. Paul wrapped his arm around me and smiled a big goofy drunken smile.

“Scott, you worry too much,” he said. “This is a rite of passage. I remember years ago when I was just a young pup, a wee lad inexperienced with the world, parties, and beer. My godfather changed all that one weekend at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Yes, it was true religious experience.

“Your problem is that you need to relax more.  Mom won’t know. I’ll see to that . . . though if she does happen to know (somehow she and Aubrey always find out . . . eventually) let us be clear that I did not know what was in those cups.”

“Wha-what cu-cup-ups,” hiccupped Mr. Don.

“Right,” Paul smiled. “Let them walk around. One beer won’t even give them a buzz, man.”

“Ok, but just one beer and tell Brian to hold off on syringes. They get no more from this point on. Mom will kill me if she smells beer or Jello on their bodies.” This was Scott’s idea of compromise, the middle path between prudish authority and youthful hedonism.

Drinking games

. . . take a shot, kiss a girl, howl at the moon, get lei'd . . .

They continued walking through the maze of stalls, passing a bevy of partiers playing various drinking games: beer pong, quarters, ice luge, and flip cups. On the other side of the avenue, a girl in skimpy pirate gear spun a large wheel with various instructions: take a shot, kiss a girl, howl at the moon, get lei’d, etc . . . Crowds of men, women, and old ladies crowded around the wheel and laughed, occasionally whooping as two of the younger ladies French kissed. The boys momentarily ignored the beer and stared, rather curious about these provocative rituals.

A few Parrotheads lounging under a plastic palm tree cheered Scott and the group as they passed. Each of Scott’s younger brothers had donned a grass skirt and walked through the parking lot bare-chested adorning matching pairs of coconut bras – all except the youngest, Chris, who sported a colorful A-cup, festooned with plastic blossoms. Every now and then, the boys would stop to take pictures with someone or coyly lift their man-ziers to flash their cheering fans.

Wastin' away again

. . . paper-mache volcanoes fitted over port-a-potties . . .

Brian and his girlfriend walked ahead, pockets brimming with spare Jello syringes. Every now and then he would offer a ‘shot’ to some reclining partygoers or a fellow tailgate-traveler. The band of brothers stopped near a group of older ladies, who whooped and hollered at our arrival, shouting “Ooo . . . here comes the party boys!”

The ladies, made-up in tropical war-paint, stood with open mouths as Brian dribbled the alcohol-infused goo into their mouths, like baby birds eager for their next meal. The shots as his mother had promised were strong, and the old girls settled back into their lawn chairs with a raucous cackle, teasing their benefactors as they continued their trek:

“Hey, fairy-chest, next time bring some more of the red shooters. Try stuffin’ your chest next time too!”

Chris blushed and removed his floral bra, clearly hurt by the women’s savage mockery of his cross-dressing talents.

“I think your chest looks very nice,” Tony – a high school senior and Scott’s fifth younger brother – teased Chris. “Very seductive.”

“Thanks,” sighed Christ. “But it doesn’t help.”

By now, Scott had relaxed a bit, noticing that the boys’ had finished their beers. They could return to the bus now, and his mother would not be any wiser. Suddenly strange girls ambushed Scott and his brothers from a nearby stall and offered the young boys drinks from plastic flamingos (actual lawn ornaments transformed into ersatz beer bongs). Chris smiled and accepted the long draught, kissing the flamingo’s lips and lifting its body high in the air. Within moments, the beer raced down through the creature’s neck, surprising Chris who dribbled foam and beer onto the ground. The girls cheered. Another young lady appeared, wielding a large squirt gun and a wet T-shirt.

and my license to fly

They continued walking through the maze of stalls . . .

“Would you like a little squirt?” she asked laughing. Matthew opened his mouth wide in response. The others only stared at the young lady’s white T-shirt. The girl pumped the gun and room-temp vodka shot into his mouth like those water pistol games at carnivals. “Was that good for you?” the girl asked, giggling. Matthew grinned foolishly, and the girls gamboled off, leaving the boys smiling ear from ear and Scott feeling quite anxious.

The brothers walked back to bus, passing close to the entrance to the pavilion. Surprisingly enough, Scott spied a Starbucks tent near the ticket counters and strode over for a free sample of their newest Chocolate Banana smoothie. Thank the gods of industry for the ubiquity of coffee shops.

Paul strode up behind him, and slapped his elder brother on the back. The other boys had spied the bus, and weaved quickly through the growing crowds to grab their tickets. Nearby Mr. Don danced between the crowd, wobbling from side to side and laugh, his shirt wet with room-temp vodka and green Jello.

“I love you, Scott,” he said, finally finding a solid RV to lean against. “I’m glad some-somebody here knows where he’s . . . er, we are going.”

Scott could not help smiling. “That’s why I’m followin’ you, sir.”

“Oh no!” the old man laughed. “Oh no, don’t do that! Ha, we’ll never get to . . . to . . . wait, where do we go again?”

“Yeah, man,” Paul said. “Don’t worry about it. Mom won’t notice a thing, if the kids don’t say anything. And they’re not stupid.”

“I love both of you,” Mr. Don cheered. “And that guy over there with the tattoo on his chest too . . . he’s great.”

“Mom will never know. Just don’t write your blog about any of this stuff, ok? If we agree to that, no one will ever know.”

“Sure . . . just don’t tell Aubrey I got coffee without her.”

“Agreed,” Paul laughed, offering him his last Jello syringe. “Come on, let’s hurry up. We only have a half-hour before the concert.”

“Wait, do I even know that tattooed guy?” Mr. Don whispered. “Anyway he has some nice tits . . . er, tats. Good tit-tats. HA!”

Scott sucked down the Jello and strode off after his brothers. As Jimmy sings it’ll end up on the “coconut telegraph” eventually, he thought. Hopefully long after Mom’s forgotten her death threats.

THE END OF THIS PURELY FICTIONAL ACCOUNT

Pished

Any other day, my family drives me to drink – an expression here which means “seek out escape through madness or perversion” – yet last night proved quite literally the reverse. As of midnight Tuesday morning, my brother Sean turned twenty-one and, like an Irish Cinderella, morphs from an innocent to a drunkard by the twelfth strike of the clock. Responsible adults that we are, we surprised Sean late in the evening while ignoring his protests of sleep and “work early next morning.” Covering his face with a black windbreaker, Katie, Mom, and I stuffed him into the back of my car like a kidnapped POW and drove off to the nearest redneck/biker bar in the county.

As I understand it, Sean loves this place, a surprisingly well-furnished roadhouse near the railroad tracks. The bar had been rebuilt years ago, reinforced now with new wood, fresh paint, and even poorer lighting than before, which I understand suits its patrons well. Many of my brother’s colleagues, fellow farmers and cattle showmen, frequent this roadhouse as a second home; thus Sean is no stranger to the sticky wet tables and peanut-blanketed floor. Whether he ever imbibed illegally at this establishment, I cannot say. I will say with certainty that tonight is not his first drink in the past five years. Everyone knows this, even Mom although she is quick to catch him admitting it:

My Pint“I want a Miller Chill,” Sean shouts through the windbreaker, his voice muffled yet clearly excited. “I’ve heard they are good.”

“How do you know?” Mom whips her head around to stare at him (which may seem absurd through his covering, but I swear that her eyes can burn holes through adamantium).

“Oh . . . um, well . . . it just looks good.”

Right. None of us buy that excuse. Neither does Mom, but at this point I suppose any argument is moot. A few more minutes and his past deceit will be wiped clean, purified with a laugh to simple childhood shenanigans and teenage memories. Her silence therefore is almost congratulatory, a vindication to crime, a medal of honor to duplicity.

We arrive at the bar, where we meet my aunt and uncle, the big partiers of my family and my godparents. Ironically enough considering how much my aunt and uncle drank and caroused in their youth, you would have thought that I would develop into more of a drinker, a pished product of my environment, instead of what I am: weekend chauffeur and designated driver. Somewhere in my education, they must have failed . . . or succeeded, depending on how you look at it.

Apart from our two cars, the parking lot is empty when we remove Sean’s shroud. He laughs, but of course, I believe that he had a good idea where we were going. Driving over the railroad tracks (with feet lifted of course, lest you never find true love – old superstition) was a big clue.

We advance to the door but find the place locked tight. Now someone – not me thank goodness – was suppose to have called the bar and made arrangements for our party at midnight. A big burly bartender sporting a colorful pair of boxers – and nothing else – informed us the bar was closed. About the time that we saw the sweat glistening off his rotund gut and his hand reach down to his nether regions for a scratch, I think Mom and my aunt decided not to argue. I for one was not going to touch anything that this hairy exhibitionist served me.

The three-toed sloth.  Thus we left deciding on another bar, an Irish pub a little further down the road, to toast and roast Sean until two in the morning. Now to me, the true joy of celebrating a twenty-first at a bar is in discovering what type of drunk my siblings were. My mom and aunt after a few shots become quite giggly and talkative: happy drunks. Alcohol however can twist and contort my sister, Katie, into a mean drunk at times. Once she stapled me a “Green Gremlin” when I offered to help her to her room, dismissing me with a wave of her hand and instructions to return to my cave. Apparently she had made other plans, you see. Choosing to grip the banister with both her hands and feet like a giant sloth, she shimmied and slid up the railing until falling on the – thankfully – carpeted stairs. She denies this, of course, but luckily I have witnesses . . . as well as a few pictures which I am saving for when she gets married.

Meanwhile, on the very few occasions when I have imbibed more than is sensible, I become a very analytical drunk, talking loudly, citing Coolidge, and inspecting my own state of delirium.

Once after four or so glasses of Jagermeister and Red Bull (a very dangerous combination, I have since learned), I discovered a shot of electricity shot along my arm whenever I stretched. This being my very first bout with alcohol, I spent the remainder of the night, trying to reason out the biology behind my condition – much to Patrick’s frustration:

“Murphey, don’t think! Just drink!” Pat rhymes when he drinks, and thus represents the poet drunk, an egregious teller of bad jokes.

“But Pat . . . Pat my arm gets so tingly when I straighten it. Like blood is suddenly surging across to my fingers. Or perhaps I am the son of Zeus. Is that normal?” I ask, flinging my arm out into several different directions to demonstrate.

My bane!Another instance – probably the worst – I had asked Pat to help me construct a few CDs, when he and I started talking about this girl I fancied who within days would be leaving for India. Distraught and foolish, we opened a cask of Crown Royal and finished off the whole bottle within a few hours. My exploits for the remainder of the night are lost in a cloud of bitter sensations, but I am told that I slid noisily down the stairs shouting “Bump!” as I rolled over each step, expressed my wonderment to my sleeping parents at this unique state of mind, and woke up Katie to discuss my love problems while citing Shakespearean sonnets, which I have since forgotten. The morning after was not pretty, but if I had won the Noble Prize for Chemistry Mom could not have been prouder.

“It’s good to break out every once in a while,” she said. I agreed, but as my head rattled and shook like a martini decanter, I promised never to find myself in that state again. Or more importantly allow anyone else to find me in such a state again.

Now Sean . . . as a blossoming lawyer, he enjoys arguing and irritating others. Drunken Sean is no different only he argues and irritates at a high volume . . . oh and he likes to sing too. Katie and Sean regaled us with several off-key refrains of Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass.” Later they joyously shouted out some imaginative lyrics to Journey and let loosed some water in the driveway. Ah . . . the memories. That in itself made the night well worthwhile.