A Warning

Suddenly Shannon dived across the driving wheel, grabbing the switch for the Explorer’s high beams.  The oncoming Lincoln Towncar and its senior pilot, soaring down the highway nearly ten miles below the speed limit, were well-warned of the speed trap on the far side of the reservoir.  My brother seemed pleased with his stealth attack — despite the fact that I nearly lost control of the car.  He had won.  I had lost.

“We’re thirty feet from the cop car, dude,” I screamed.   “A red and blue flashing atop hill, visible for half-a-mile.  Why flash my own lights?  It’s like pointing out the obvious.” Continue reading

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Conversations Overheard While Carpooling Sophmores

“Hey, Murph, have you seen it?” Kevin asked jumping into the car, his shirt soaked in sweat and dirt by hours on the football field.  I unconsciously open the windows, allowing his not-so-fresh scent some other means of escape than through my lungs.  His friend Joe dives into the back seat.  His gear is tossed atop Kevin’s clothes in the trunk, across the back seat or along the dashboard until I vociferously advise my brother to return his socks to his feet.  Once buckled and stowed, we bounce across the dirt parking lot and speed off onto the highway.

“What’s up?” I finally reply.  “Something you learned at school?”

“Huh?  No, ‘course not.”  Clearly a stupid question.  “I saw a hippo eat a midget today.”

“Wha . . .?”

“It’s a Youtube video,” Joe explains.

“At school?!”

“No, on Youtube.”

“Yeah,” Kevin continues excitedly, “this midget is jumping up and down on this trampoline when . . . whoosh!  He flies off into the hippo’s mouth and dies.”

“Oh, um, wow!”  Excitement and concern play on my voice.  Confusion too.  What exactly do they allow on Youtube nowadays?

“The hippo swallowed him,” Joe adds.  “The midget can’t breathe apparently and suffocates.”

“Oh . . . well, I’m sorry for the . . . small man.”

“Don’t be,” Joe smiles.  “It was pretty funny.  And I’m not sure about the dying part.  Edgerson told Frank that in another video, not the one we saw but in another one they show the body, but I couldn’t find it.  So I don’t know.”

“ ‘Course he died. Because hippos are mean, right?” Kevin asks.  “That’s why they couldn’t get to him quick enough, right?  ‘Cause they’ll kill ya more so than lions.”

“Well,” I begin, still rather confused.  “They are quite territorial.  Tourists and hunters have much more to fear from hippo attacks than elephants or lions.  In the water, they’ll rip you to shreds.  But they’re not anacondas, they don’t normally . . .”

“Just like the Ford F150, right?  It’s like the hippo.  All other car companies can’t handle it and die.”

“Uh . . .”

Kevin routinely descends every so often into a diatribe against most of the major players in the auto industry with the minor exception Ford, which he idolizes.  Seriously the company can do no wrong.

“I mean, through hard work and creativity, they made the 1967 Ford Mustang GT 500, greatest automobile the Earth has ever known.  And will ever know.  Ford is awesome.”

When asked why, the short answer is because all other cars suck.  If you foolishly decided to dig deeper, you will come to understand that American cars are superior to European and Japanese motors; that other countries stole our internal combustion engine and thus deserve death for their treachery; that the popularity of Japanese motors can be attributed to the increasing populations of stupid hippies; that despite it also being American made, Chevy cannot compete with Ford on any level.

“They try.  Again and again, they try,” Kevin reminds me finishing the last of my iced tea.  “But in the end, they fail.  Simple as that.”

“Okay but don’t you think Kev that . . .” My attempt at interjection.

“It’s like that Toyota commericial.  They’re so full of crap.  Oh yeah, we can drop a Toyota from a building and it will still work.  We’re so great, but we’re in pieces.  Ha, the Ford could do that and still haul a load of bricks to . . . to New York.  Stupid foreign cars.  And you know what . . .”

“What if it’s a really tall building?” I interrupt.

“Huh?”

“Like the Empire State Buildilng.  What if we drop it from there?  I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to haul brick anymore . . .”

“The Ford could take it,” Kev replies confidently.  “Definitely.  It could take on the Loch Ness Monster . . .”

“What?”

“From the commercial,” Joe whispers from the back seat.  “The Loc Ness monster grabs the car, sucks it underwater, and spits it back out.  It drives away undamaged.”

“Oh yeah . . .  Without even any kelp on it too.”

“That’s how great Ford is.  If it can take that, it can take anything.  No foreign piece o’crap can do that.  It would . . .”

“What if we drop it from the Empire State Building onto a trampoline and into a hippo’s mouth?  Would it survive that Kev?”

“Okay, just shut up.”

“Those hippo’s are mean.  I don’t think it could survive that dude.”

“Shut up,” he said reaching for the volume dial.  Blink 182’s monotonous guitar riffs burst onto the radio.  I chuckle to myself the rest of the way home.

Growing Pains

"Can I let the dog inside?"

"Can I let the dog in?"

Today is Bree’s birthday, and she is ensuring that the whole family does not forget.  Thirteen years old. An unlucky number for even the most loving parent or older brother.  For marking the threshold into the teenage years, my baby sister, the youngest of my siblings has emerged into the second-most-difficult epoch of her life since she began teething.

She welcomed this Dark Age by chatting with her friends for an hour . . . each.  Afterwards she scanned through several photos on Facebook, confirmed the release date for The Disney Channel’s Princess Protection, and played a round of Tetris. Then she found me on the couch, commencing a thirty minute tirade on how yesterday I had only managed to take her to the scrapbook store, and not managed to rent any movies.

“You promised,” she pouts even as I type.

“I said we would try to do both.”

“You lied.  Promise breaker.  I really wanted to go to the tape store,” she says, transcending the pout into a whine.  I continue to work, which only seems to infuriate her more.  She flops down on the couch.

“What are you watching?” she asks, clearly disgusted by the black and white screen.

Ten Angry Men.  Watch it.  It’s quite good.”

“Hmph, I could be watching Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, if someone had gone to the tape store yesterday.”

“I drove you to the scrapbook store,” I remind her – teenage girls can be quite forgetful.  “We spent nearly one hundred dollars on cardstock and stickers.”

“But I really wanted to rent movies.  The scrapbook stuff – I told you – was only if we had time!”

“And I told you that we should leave after about fifteen minutes.  You told me that you wanted to look around some more.  You wanted to find something . . . what was it?  Ah yes, something cute and fashionable.  You settled on that prom dress sticker.”

“You said ‘should’ not ‘must.’  I would have left if you said ‘must,’” she argued opening the sliding doors.  “Can I let the dog in?”

“No.”

“Pleeeease . . . she’s such a good girl, Murph.”

“I’m allergic.  No.”

“She’s my puppy.”

“It’s not your house.”

“It’s not yours either.”

“No, but the proprietors have left, putting me in charge.  Thus, my word outranks yours.  No dog.”

“Promise breaker,” she pouts again walking off towards the table, stuffing chocolate kisses into her pockets.

Being the older brother in a large family often plays out like a referee in any major sport. It is your job to maintain peace and order often by reinforcing rules that you hold little credit in creating.  Thus at any one time, you are simultaneously loved and hated by any number of groups in the house.

“Why can’t I go out?”

“Mom said ‘No.’”

“Pleeease . . . if I’m home in an hour no one will know.”

“Well, mayb . . . no.  Absolutely not.”

“Murph, you’re a real killjoy, you know?”

“Can I cut the grass now?”

“Dad said not while he wasn’t here.”

“Come on!”

“Sorry, bud, I . . .”

“Murph, you suck!”

“Dad, wants you to clean your room, Kev.”

“After this movie . . .”

“Now, man, if it’s not done, I get in trouble too.”

“One more second.”

“NOW!”

“Sheesh, who put the stick up your butt?”

As such you feel more like a Grinch than probably any other member of the family.

With the two youngest I took particularly care.  It is often common knowledge that as families increase in size the rules and strictures that govern the older siblings tatter and fade among the younger brood.  Nap time, a 2PM tradition that often pulled me away from Tom and Jerry cartoons, thus giving Mom a one to two hour rest, gradually was ignored with Kevin and Brigid.  The age at which the younger siblings could organize sleepovers likewise dropped from fourth grade to second grade.  The words ‘Dumb’ and ‘Stupid’ – horrid curse words in our time – became more acknowledged as well in the daily vernacular, though never allowed in reference to each other.  ‘Fart’ still to this day earns fifteen minutes with a bar of soap.

Thus, as the family grew, the older siblings took greater responsibilities in watching and caring for the youngest.  I burped, changed diapers, babysat, and rocked Brigid and Kevin to sleep.  We watched them as they took their first steps, said their first word, and sat on the toilet sucking on a bar of Irish Spring for the first time.  In a way, we took an active role in raising my siblings.  Thus it pained me to see my little sister slowly grow into a teenager . . . and a total pain in the my neck.

Where in the world did I go wrong?

“Can I get a new camera?” Bree pleads the next day.  My little sister has already shuffled my iPod a dozen times, switching alternatively between Carolina Liar’s “I’m Not Over” and Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face.”  I try suggesting another song, but almost crash into an old lady, who cuts me off and honks.

“Why did she honk at me?” I mutter, somewhat flustered.  “Girl, if you ever become a woman-driver, I’ll disown you.”  She fiddles with the iPod again, ‘Just Dance’ erupts for the tenth time.

“I might consider it if you buy me a camera,” she repeats as I pull the Explorer into the video store.

“You know, I’m not exactly . . . employed at the moment.” I stress this point, hoping that she’ll link my financial freedom with a nine-to-five workweek.  “Didn’t Santa get you a camera for Christmas?”

Together we walk into Hollywood Video, practically sneaking past the manager, who during our last several visits has propositioned me to join their Netflix-ish rental club, a surprisingly complicated point system that eliminates late fees and replaces them with lengthy calculations.  Frankly, I’m content with old system: pick up DVDs, check out, and return them on time . . . or not.  After all despite the fees, if we never had to return anything on time, the kids and I would never return anything; more and more DVDs and games would disappear in the accumulated flotsam that we have circulating around here.  My face is already plastered in several of the surrounding libraries for extraneous fines, and I cannot afford to change my name and address again for a misplaced copy of Steve Zahn’s Strange Wilderness.

godzilla2Absently I peer through the DVD covers, mildly curious about the promotions for the latest monster/sex romp movie: Jason and Freddie meet the Saw, Sobriety Sophomores and the Jello Factory, Iron Maidens in Cancun: A Documentary.  When I was five, a cursory search through the local video plaza’s latest horror flicks drove me indoors for weeks, afraid to find a fifty-foot nuclear lizard outside my window.  Suddenly I reconsidered bringing Brigid here.  Luckily enough her attention was still fully focused on digital cameras.

“Look they’re not that expensive.  Eighty bucks or so . . . hey can we get this too?  Mom says its okay as long as someone watches it with me.” She thrusts a pink DVD into my face, nearly squashing my nose.

Bride Wars?” I shudder at Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway towering over the New York skyline in matching Bridezilla attire.  “I suppose that ‘someone’ is me.”  Bree giggles.

“Alright give it here.”

“Good, now all I need is a camera . . . oh and Hotel for Dogs. Here you go . . . and I will be happy.”  I add the DVD to the growing stack in my hand.

“What happened to your old camera?” I ask.

“It . . . um dropped a little.”

“If I recall, the lens no longer retracts.  At all.  The power light flickers, beeps, and dies.  Some problem with the ball bearings due to intense collision.  Cheaper to buy a new one than repair.  Something like that.”

“I didn’t break it though,” Bree protests at my widening frown.  “My friends had it and we were at the pool and Ashley wasn’t giving it to Kelsey and . . .”

“Crash.  Snap.  Oops . . .”

“Yeah,” my little sister smiles, an adorable extremely guilty grin playing on her face.  “But I learned my lesson and now I need a new one.”

“No, no way.”

“Ok, look you owe me, Promise Breaker!”— This is apparently my new name – “All I wanted was some movies, which you promised me.  And now we couldn’t go until two days later.  Two days!”

“We’re at the video store now!  How can you still hold that over me?”

“Because you broke your promise,” she reaffirms with a huff.  “Besides I didn’t get a birthday dinner, so you owe me.”  And with that she folds her arms and walks away, refusing to talk to me for the next hour or so, which lasts for about five minutes after I buy her an vitamin water, red-flavored.

I flick her ears a bit, until finally she breaks a smile, and we drive home, singing annoying songs to no one in particular.

Guy Talk: Part 1

On the way down the road, I take out my laptop and begin writing:

Ryan and I are driving down south this weekend to visit Ryan’s girlfriend at the eastern shore, where she currently resides until classes end in a few weeks. I know very little about her college; although I hear that the scenery overlooking a small inlet to the bay simply takes your breath away. Ryan’s girl studies environmental scien . . .

“Dude, she’s not my girlfriend,” Ryan interrupts from behind the steering wheel.

I look up. “Huh? What?”

“This girl, I’m seein.’ She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Well, you’ve been calling her for hours each night all semester long. In some countries, these long-distance phone bills are considered a legally binding marriage contract. Hold on . . . how are you even reading this?”

“I glance over now and then when no other cars are around,” he says, weaving the car slightly between the yellow and white lines.Oh and that’s what she told me yesterday on the phone. She thinks it’s too early to consider us girlfriend and boyfriend, that’s all.

“Oh . . .” I say.  Ryan remains uncharacteristically quiet for some time after that.  I assume that he is trying to translate the feminine “too early to consider us girlfriend and boyfriend” into guy-speak, which reduces the situation into two possibilities:  Is this good?  Or is this bad?

“Also,” he finally says, “she’s studying biology, not environmental science.  You might want to fix that in your story.”

“I did not even finish writing that yet! If you cannot keep your eyes on the road, let me drive! Reading and driving do not mix very well.” I of course spoke from personal experience on this one. One August two or three years ago, I attempted to dodge traffic while glancing through Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  This experiment nearly launched me off the interstate. Thank goodness for stop signs and red traffic lights.

“No I’m fine. And it’s not that she doesn’t like me. She says that she likes me. She invited me down so that her girlfriends could meet me.”

“Yeah, but meet who?” I interject.

“What do you mean? They’re meeting me, right? I suppose they could meet you too, if you’d like, as long as you don’t do anything weird . . .”

“Wait, weird stuff? What weird stuff?” I scoff. “At all times, I am a paragon of normalcy.”

“You bow, dude. Or you say stuff like ‘Good evening, m’lady.’ Medieval crap like that. It’s embarrassing.”

“It’s chivalrous,” I remind him. “Besides I don’t make a show of it, just a slight bow of the head upon meeting. ‘M’lady’is just a saying of mine. It simply sounds better than ‘ma’am’ or ‘miss.’ More poetic, don’t you think?”

“Whatever, but if you embarrass me, I’ll punt you into the bay.”

“Slow down, man. Speed trap up ahead.” Ryan is still quite new at this game. His attention span fluctuates at times particularly in the midst of conversation or a “truly awesome” song. Led Zepplin’s “Fool in the Rain” mere moments prior sent us careening into a small embankment, bordering a pottery farm. I was nearly skewered by a lawn gnome. We pass the cop, nestled behind a grove of small trees. Ryan drops ten mph in practically seconds.

“Gradual deceleration, man!”

“Okay! Okay!” We resume normal speeds (i.e. match the speed of other drivers), and I breathe a little easier. No lights. No cop.

“What were you saying before?” Ryan asks. His attention to my meaningless commentary belies his interest in this girl.

“What does she call you? How are you introduced? Are you, ‘This is my best buddy, Ryan’ or “My pen pal, Ryan?’ ‘Just this guy I know?’ If you’re not her boyfriend, then what are you? If you are not her boyfriend, why are we wasting eighty dollars in gas to visit her?!”

“I don’t know . . . I just want to see her, I guess. I want to be her boyfriend. I suppose that this is just one of the hurdles in the dating gauntlet, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” What other answer is there? “Well, here let me change this paragraph then . . .”

Ryan and I are driving south this weekend to visit his . . . uh, platonic female friend and her equally platonic girlfriends for dating evaluations. If he manages to pass, he gains the title of boyfriend and man. If not, we eat eighty dollars in gas money, snacks, and tissues. Either way, it should be an amazing trip. Sun or storm, no place on land captures the savage beauty quite like the seashore. Waves crashing and breaking against rocks, liquid thunder, the pulsating heartbeat of a vast monster, an ageless world without remorse or light . . .

Clouds the light of the love that I found . . .