Off Duty

LoyolaAs a student, it always amused me to stumble upon my teachers outside the classroom: at the mall, in the movie theater, or even on the school parking lot.  Somehow it seemed strange to discover that our educators had lives and families outside the school property, as if they had apartments in the teacher lounge or — more abstractly — ceased to exist entirely without their class.  I would imagine Mrs. Willis and Mr. Phebus melting from the walls at the ringing of the bells, reforming flesh from discarded glitter glue and construction paper like a Terminator villain armed with copious lesson plans and graded algebra tests.

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A Tale of Two Stores

It is zero hour, and I’m trapped in Hell.  Not the fiery demon-haunted domain that the nuns would invoke when I pocketed a quarter from the sidewalk or considered the latest swimsuit calender, but the kind that involves screaming children and Christmas shoppers.  The Saturday before Christmas, Mom requires a few additional presents for her nieces and nephews.  Dad is rearranging furniture from one corner of the living room to another corner; Mom reconsiders the lighting and astrological signs and then asks said husband to slide said sofa or hope-chest fifty centimeters or five feet to the left.  I chose the better of two evils and depart for Toys ‘R Us.

One of the mysteries of the holidays that I’ve never fathomed is the proclivity of parents to tote their tots to the toy store days before Christmas.  To. Buy. Christmas.  Presents.  Just pull back the bloody curtain on Santa’s workshop, why don’t you?  While your at it, why not read the original ending of Anderson’s Little Mermaid: you know the one where Ariel turns into a murderous sociopath.

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Packing for Success

Stack of BooksOur yearly sojourn to Florida launches in about two weeks.  Mom and the girls are already mapping out new summer wardrobes with the fervor of gold-greedy conquistadors: new shoes, dresses, skirts, blouses, jeans, sandals and even the accursed swimsuits.  The flotsam of many a shopping excursion litter their rooms, beds, and dressers like giant jigsaw pieces, waiting to be folded, twisted and rolled into a small leather case.   After two weeks, they scamper through the halls, racing from room to room, to stuff the last tube of toothpaste, or hair gel, or razor, or shampoo. Once that’s finished, I’ll hear the screams and shouts for headphones, magazines, iPods, iPads, phones, computers, pillows, chargers, gum, water, snacks, and DVDs to ease the long drive, most of which will be spent sleeping.  Somehow during this final stage, the men of the household are inevitably blamed for moving too slow, not helping, or not panicking enough for the girls’ taste.  Yet for the boys, an hour before departure proves more than enough time to stuff underwear, socks, and the untouched dregs of the dresser drawers into a duffel, download plane tickets, and depart.  Done. Continue reading

Luddites in Love

Lately I’ve been immersing myself in the works of O. Henry so much so that I decided to write my own for geeks like me.  Imitating another author’s writing style is not as easy as it first sounds — mostly because the gauge for success is rather ambiguous — but anything that helps me become a better writer . . . well, I’m not going to ignore.  

Regrettably, the sibling response was decidedly mixed.   Katie really enjoyed it, while my dearest brother after some consideration responded with a ‘meh.’   Needless to say, I’m anticipating proofreading his next law brief. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story — more than Sean, at least.

Luddites in Love

With the exception of honeybees, ants, and reality TV starlets, the modern American citizen communicates more than any other species on earth.  Since the dawn of the iPod, it is said that the human species has stumbled upon the evolutionary fast-track to cyborg-ification.   Cell phones strapped to our ears; fingers typing out ten texts per picosecond; cat videos by the billions streaming on YouTube.  From dawn to dark, we expose our life’s tapestry of photos, quotes, and gossip before an expectant public like specimens in a digital zoo, to be ogled, examined, and meme-ed at the first opportunity.    The sum total of pheromones exuded by the world’s ant population palls to a day’s worth of status updates from an average college sorority. Continue reading

Certainly, I can!

Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it. — Theodore Roosevelt

As a long-time patron of bookstores, I possess a passion for books, authors, and reading in general, and thus the ideal qualifications for this position and any other at your stores . . .

Crap.  Another hour wasted writing cover letters to local bookstores.  My recent attempts at schools and libraries have failed; desperation has driven me to scan ads for sales clerks or coffee barristas.  Yet even these opportunities are not without their challenges in today’s economy.  For example, Borders and Barnes & Nobel both require resume and cover letters, not to mention forms and questionnaires.  Most employers require your life story before even considering hiring.  And mine at the moment is not exactly a contender for the Pulitzer. Continue reading

Judge, Jury, and Executioner . . . Please!

The god of pain descended mid November to distribute summons throughout the state of Maryland.   Letters for jury duty passed from door to door, a dark guardian of civic duty, binding citizens throughout the entire month of December to hours sitting, waiting.  Last Monday I spent my morning at the courthouse, squeezed close to strangers, many of whom appeared irritable, sick, and in need of a Febreeze-ing.    After an hour in traffic, I arrived at the courthouse 8:30 that morning,  ready to serve my country in exchange for my life, liberty, and that pleasant painless feeling in the niche of my back, which sadly abandoned me an hour and a half past lunchtime: “See you later fool!  I’m off to get some enchiladas.”   I had hoped to find myself unfit for trial, donning a racially charged  ‘Han shot first’ t-shirt and scuffed black shoes.  Either the clerk or the lawyers did not notice, or failed to read the warning signs.  Thus, trapped in a jury panel, I shuddered an hour past lunch, my stomach growling and my neighbor’s Old Spice, having expired over two hours ago, began entering the second-stage of rigor mortis.

Normally I don’t mind waiting.  Though the body is trapped, the mind is free to drift through walls, across seas, and into the unknown.  You merely need to uncover the right vehicle.  A good book, a soft quiet place, and some iced tea or coffee and you can easily transcend any uncomfortable situation.  Soar to Mars, hop a train to Sheboygan, or review old episodes of Duck Tales.  Anything’s possible.  Certainly, this philosophy proved the key to surviving long shopping excursions with Mom when I was a kid.   While my mother tripled-checked sales prices, mulling over whether this sweater or the green one at Macy’s would ultimately save her an extra 45 cents, I burrowed through stacks of men’s slacks for private reading time.  There in my nest, I’d wile away the hours until Mom finally gave into her wallet or the store closed.

In the jury room, waiting to be called for the court panel and voir dire (a legal process which aims to weed bias from the jury box), jurors can stretch out, sleep, read, eat, drink, relax.  Yet if chosen, all such amenities are stripped away, separated from sight as they herd us into enclosed cells without windows, water or ample female presence.  It was like high school all over again.  There in the courtroom, we were interrogated.  The judge and the lawyers ask a series of questions regarding the case.  Mostly these matters are cleared in seconds (‘Do you know Lawyer A with oiled scalp?  How about balding Lawyer B who reeks of garlic? No?  Good.’); however,  with more sensitive matters, jurors one by one will approach the bench, discuss issues and concerns for several minutes before returning to their seats.

It’s much like trading players in a game of fantasy football.  The judge attempts to eliminate bias, while the consuls try to exclude unfavorable sympathies.  In a murder trial, those jurors recently suffering from the loss of a loved one may favor the prosecution, allowing their grief to influence their verdict.  Thus, the judge covered all possible ground: previous drug use, past exposure to crime, guns, time spent on previous trials, pedophilia, family eating habits, favorite Christmas carols, NRA membership, Bogart movies, Thursday’s CSI, red herrings, and who’s hotter Edward or Jacob.  It took nearly three hours to sort through it all.

And in the meantime, we could not read, eat, drink, talk . . . simply sit there and stare at the room.  After counting the blue squares on the checkerboard carpet for the third time, I was suddenly struck by the inclination to name them.  “There’s Rob and Betty, their neighbor Carl who had a crush on Betty ever since high school but never got a chance to confess his feelings and so married a blond girl who resembled Betty slightly but only when the lights were dimmed.  Carl’s cousin, Earl, who lives across the street eats roadkill . . . ”  And so on, and so forth.

An older lady in blue sneezed loudly next to me as the court clerk began reading the names.  My stomach growled loudly.  I tried laughing it off but no one said anything, their attention focused on the clerk.  Like a reverse lottery, groans issued from the chosen, sighs from those left behind.  They had dodged the bullet.  Another number, another mutter of disappointment.  My heart beat fast, sounding in my throat and my legs.  I tried to be stoic about my situation.  Serving on a jury wouldn’t be so bad, an interesting experience.  Great to talk about afterward, and escape the duty for another three to five years.  Right?  Then as if in answer, claustrophobia overwhelmed me.  I needed to move, to breathe, to escape these four walls.  I considered holding hostages with book in hand, threatening paper cuts and poetry recitals.

“Juror #154, come and sit in jury position #12.” A lady rose from the front row, wearing a plaid shirt and a purse the size of a small child.  She did not seem pleased, and appeared in need of a smoke.

I had did it!  I wasn’t chosen!  Wahooo . . .

“Alternative juror #1 . . .”

Ah, crap!  The alternates!  How could I forget the basics of jury selection so quickly, culminated from years of reading John Grisham novels and Perry Mason reruns.   The culling had only just begun!   Moreover, by my estimation my number was next or at least approaching quickly.  Nervously I stared at my shoes, all other sights having been excused already (#46 you know who you are . . .).    The read off the first number. And then the second . . .

Outside the courthouse, I nearly sprinted through traffic to the parking garage, my stomach sounding louder than Baltimore traffic.  Edmond Dantes himself could not have extricated himself  faster from his prison.  Though after twelve the day felt cold, bleak, yet cheery, the kind that pulls men close to fireplaces, warm stoves, and piping hot chocolate.  God, was I hungry then.  My throat felt sore and unused, a headache loomed to ruin the rest of my day (As well as the next two days.  A parting gift from handkerchief-less juror #305).

My sentence in jury pool had not ended either.  I had been slated to return any Monday this month for selection until chosen for a trial.  My parole proved bittersweet and unless the state took pity on me during the holiday season — indeed if it took pity on anyone, at anytime — I could expect to suffer another trial in a week’s time.  Still as I jumped into my Explorer, it felt good to move about again.

Hooking up my iPod, I deposited my book on the seat next to me and turned the dial to Transsiberian Orchestra.  For the moment, a little Christmas cheer,  guitar wails alternating between ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and ‘Carol of the Bells,’ was just what the doctor ordered.  My car squealed from the parking lot and began weaving through the city traffic, flying back into the counties and the nearest Barnes and Nobel en route.

And Awaaaay We Go . . .

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.  — Lemony Snicket

packingPacking for trips always proves a stressful time for me.  Though others might become bogged by shirts, socks, and appropriate footwear, we bibliophiles must decide on the number and type of books we can possibly stuff into our carry-on’s before we’re considered a threat to airline security.

This Saturday Dasad and I are traveling to the other side of the continent for what will prove our second major ‘roadtrip’ in the last four years.  California.  A week and a half.  One insured rent-a-car.  Dear God . . .  Other more road-weary travelers may shrug at such hyperbole, but considering my spring breaks never involved Cancun or Rio, devolving into enjoyable but group-centered family excursions, spending a week anywhere alone is quite exciting.  Needless to say, I hope I don’t drive Dasad murder-crazy.

Yet for the moment all is good.  Though preparing to pack this morning, I now face a crisis: deciding which tomes of my extensive collection to tote one-eighth the way around the globe.  Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind.  Mark Twain.  Sherlock Holmes.  Count of Monte Cristo.  Or Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Dagger Award winner.  I heard it was quite good.).  And then there’s my Naruto manga . . .   All I know is that I must bring something or stranded by earthquake or fire, I might find myself a little put out.

A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded — Lemony Snicket

Ah hell . . . I’ll probably just end up bringing them all.  Worst case, I’ll try to slip a few tomes in Dasad’s bags before we leave.  He probably won’t mind if displace a few socks or jeans in the process.  The airline will simply lose it en route anyway, and then we’ll have an excellent excuse to replenish our supply (and perhaps a few new additions) at some California bookstores.  If I manage to make it back in one piece, safe travels and good perspectives to you all on your own summer vacations this year!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. — Mark Twain