As 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.
Internet deprivation has once again driven me to people-gaze at Panera Bread. Last night with the sound of thunder and a few rogue sparks, our modem fried: circuit boards blackened, wires caramelized. The sequence of events that followed our bandwidth’s demise is akin to the first radio broadcast of Wells’ “War of the Worlds:”
Fzzzzzz . . .
Screaming . . .
“Murph, the internet died!”
“No Internet? Son of a &%$@! What about my &#%$ exam tomorrow?!”
“Wait, that means Xbox Live is down too . . .”
“What no Call of Duty? No COD?!”
More screaming ensues. Fire, flames, flood . . . The dead rising from their graves . . . Dogs and cats living together . . .
You get the point. Needless to say the fam is quite indisposed at the moment. Shut off as we are from the digital world, it’s like we’ve gone back in time to the early 80s or worse, the 70s. Shudder. My job as the house’s IT specialist (Ha!) is to carry out any necessary or immediate digital transactions in their stead. I scribe a list or two, much like a digital grocery list, and venture off into the world to search for potential WiFi hotspots . . . hopefully one with food too.
This morning as storms slide silently across the sky, butting up against one another with the grace and violence of rival hockey teams, I shuffled out into the rain, seeking potential hotspots like early man sought the warmth of campfires. Nowadays even the supermarket offers WiFi access beckoning laptop owners with Starbucks coffee and a buy-one-get-one-free deal on eggs. After some deliberation (having skipped breakfast, an omelet sounded good), I drove to Panera, deciding against the much preferred local booksellers in exchange for Panera Bread’s above-average iced tea and a WiFi connection without the fifteen dollar access fee.
Luckily they were still serving breakfast.
One egg sandwich (Wahoo!) and a half-a-gallon of unsweetened tea later, I settled in my chair and examined my fellow customers while my laptop blinks and buzzes to life. The bakery was veritably empty (the din of my laptop’s start menu sounded like a foghorn), only a dozen or so old women and men spending their retirement munching on Asiago-baked bagels and reading the latest Patricia Cornwell.
Stretching my legs toward the fire I noticed . . . did I mention there was a fire? No? Ah well, much like those found in a ski lodge (or at least those ski lodges I’ve seen on television), the fireplace sat in the middle of the room, encased in iron and mesh and formed the lower portion of one of the bakery’s supporting pillars. Three soccer moms had also cuddled up beside the gas-powered furnace, warming water-soaked feet and discussing the benefits of various exercise equipment:
Woman in Sneakers: “Look, you don’t understand. Everyone says the Elliptical feels better on the knees, but you have to work twice as hard to even feel tired.”
Woman with Floral Purse: “But a treadmill is just running. You can do that anywhere.”
Sneakers: “Not in thirty-degree weather you can’t.”
Woman with One Eyebrow: “Martha’s husband, Bill, nearly died on a treadmill just last year. Alice, you remember.”
Sneakers: “He was close to eighty though.”
Eyebrow: “Six children, nine grandchildren . . . shame.”
Purse: “Alice, how much did you pay for your Elliptical again?”
I tuned out the eavesdropped conversation as the women discussed prices, department sales, and their children’s third quarter grades. My attention returned to my email. One of my classmates had written to me, eagerly asking if I passed my Comprehensive Exams. Over the past semester after a poor showing during the first round of exams (I got a little too creative with my essays and failed – I promise to write more on that debacle later; professors despite popular opinions do not appreciate thematic subtlety.), my professor worked with me to help shape my writing into something more straightforward, indifferent, and blunt like a fill-in-the-blank quiz. Another fail and I’d be forced to shell out more tuition for another round of classes. No one wanted that – least of all me.
I had anticipated the exam results in another week or so; thus, with beating heart, I filtered through the last day’s mail, avoiding several Victoria’s Secret ads and a 40% off Borders coupon – save those for later. A quick scan of my inbox found the desired email. Praise be . . . I passed my Comprehensive Exam. Masters Degree! Another letter or so behind my name. Another piece of paper . . . Wahoo!
In celebration I consumed a tomato and mozzarella Panini and another large iced tea – ‘cause that’s how I roll. Immediately I signed onto Gmail and told Dasad, who after happily congratulated me, waited a few seconds before popping the dreaded question:
“So now what?”
The question seemed to hover in the air for several precious minutes, while I attempted futilely to understand what he meant. No dice. Instead I watched an old lady in pink sweats and matching headband refill her coffee before responding.
“Wait . . . Huh?”
“Job-wise, what’s the plan now? Library? Some office somewhere? That government job you talked about? What?”
“I-I don’t know,” I typed, including the stammer for effect. Don’t get me wrong. The question presented itself each and every day for the past twenty-years or so, but finding myself with little to no resources to adequately answer it, I proceeded to procrastinate my response, putting any serious thought until school ended, until I graduated college, until I finished my research, until I got my Masters. Now I began to wonder if I could push the decision back until I got married, but realized the wait would be too long even by my standards.
Still the books don’t buy themselves. Writers are more numerous than PhDs; the market is saturated as any blogger can admit. Perhaps it’s time to stop seeking an ideal job, and instead find something stable . . .
Still stability was never my thing; I approach jobs like a nomad considers borders. One comes to relish the absence of routines, tomorrow’s unexpected creation or journey. As Weezer sings (da da da . . . sucking up to Bob, growing old and hoping there’s a God) too many of us live merely to extend existence, cradle to the grave with my hand on the snooze alarm. And that doesn’t sound very appealing either . . .
Still one must grow up sometime – in theory. I suppose that I’m still looking for that perfect middle ground . . .
“Well,” Dasad writes. “Personally I think you’ll get bored at a library. Too much repetition, you know? Not enough reading or at least discussion about reading.”
“Yeah . . . You wouldn’t happen to have any positions like that at your place, eh? Storytime leader for the IT consultants?”
“Would there be nap time and snacks?”
“Sure.” After all everyone loves cookies and sleep.
“Will look into it,” Dasad writes following up with a smiley face. “Just nothing too fantasy-based. If I can’t stomach Tolkien, any lesser master will send me retching . . .”
“You kiddin’? Nothing but O’Henry for this soon-to-be-unemployed student.”
“We all have our heroes. Poets, writers, and academia-addicts like me need to extract inspiration from somewhere. Why not the wandering minstrel or out-of-work vagabond? As long as it gives me story-fodder and time to write, right? Maybe I’ll consider teaching for a while too. At least then I’ll have my summers off . . .”
“Bum, why not just work for the government?”
“And eschew my last ounce of dignity?” I laughed taking my last sip of iced tea. “Even gypsies have their pride . . .”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
Short post today. After the past few weeks of – for lack of a better word – ineffective writing, I wanted to return to some old content and style. In other words, include the same nonsense; leave out the confusing rambles.
My journeys carried me to Borders today in search of a birthday book for my young cousin. A dangerous enterprise on the best of days (a perfect example of which welcomed us today with warm breezy weather, cloud-less skies, and no classes), bookstores always threaten to consume my wallet, the sacrificial lamb for my bibliophilia. For instance, no sooner did I find the perfect gift, Olivia by Ian Falconer, than my eyes wandered to the other picture books on the shelves. I considered additional gifts for my cousin such as Where the Wild Things Are or a book of poems maybe something by Shel Silverstein, the seeds of a childhood library and fantastic books for young readers (and adults alike). My hands tickled like a thief fingering his hoard, until my conscience – the prude – checked my actions. Originally, I set my price limit to fifteen bucks, and so conceding to the anxious groans emanating from my wallet, I returned the additional books to the shelves and sighed. On my way out of the stacks, a (cute) female employee stacking books nearby must have seen me and asked if I required any help. Anxiety must have stamped its mark on my face, and I wonder now if she saw me as a potential pervert, this twenty-something guy hovering and mumbling to myself in the children’s section.
Politely I declined and shuffled off with my – *sigh* sole – book, only occasionally glancing back at her slender figure (I am human after all.). Now at this point, I should have adjusted my blinders and made a beeline to the check-out counter; however, my inner voice of reason, momentarily distracted with its minor victory, allowed me to browse. I wandered through the young adult section for the latest Crispin novel by Avi. Irritated at not finding it, my frustration coerced me through the maze of Self-help and Gardening sections to the manga, where I picked up two new volumes (Spiral and School Rumble, in case your interested). This satiated my urge some, but now I required absolution from my geek guilt (Definition geek guilt: noun. That worried feeling of approaching the check-out counter with an armful of clearly odd, unusual (i.e. geeky) merchandise in public). Subsequently, I picked out two books on short-story writing for buffering, paid, and left . . . . after stopping at the nearby coffee stand for a refill on refreshments.
In summary, I ended up leaving having paid for five books and only – thankfully – two iced teas (Seattle’s Best Coffee constructs the best coffee milkshakes on the planet with real ice cream, no less; the ecstasy is almost too good to withstand.). Such is the nature of my bibliophilia. In my defense, the stories simply call out to me. Louder and with more brilliance than even the smoothest coffee milkshake or story-time Siren could ever sing . . . although in truth it is a lonely addiction. Maybe next time, I might invite the beautiful bookseller out for coffee. I might just amass the courage, unless of course I spy that Crispin novel first. Courage may embody the foundation of romance, but man cannot purchase coffee with an empty wallet. Perhaps we can muster a rousing conversation over cream and sugar packets . . .
|“Courage, determination, and hard work are all very nice, but not so nice as an oil well in the back yard.”
— Cooley Mason
Emails like the following convince me that madness fuels my cells, more necessary than oxygen or water. I wrote this months ago, but only recently decided to post it as it’s quite nonsensical. My family agrees with me on this point. My friends just think I should take up drinking more.
Java java java java java. Katie had to work today so when I arrived home after dropping Kevin off at school, I found no one to offer the melting caramel frapaccino I had bought for her. Of course, I could not let it go to waste, but wait! Add to that one grande pumpkin spice (having already been consumed on the way home while stuck in traffic) to a hilarious reading of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on tape and subtract breakfast; I now faced the inevitable high of combining two caffeinated frappacinos, one empty stomach, four misplaced space travelers, and one bowl of petunias. Java java java . . . My fingers punch across the keyboard like a high-strung bird spearing the lump of a broken Sweet Tart; my right foot despite the absence of music has broke into a lively jig and my left wisely minds its own business while looking for something to kick. Java, java, java, JAAVAA!!!
I just ate a cinnamon apple muffin. Hopefully this will halter my urge to launch myself off the wall like a ninja and land on my bed. I don’t doubt I can do it, but I’m pretty sure that my bed might be upset at the result. I think the sugar from the muffin is exacerbating my condition a bit . . . Oh, Dad has come home! His footsteps echo and crack against the floor upstairs as he bellows for me. Here I go . . . and race upstairs!
ME: Helloooooooooo DAD!!!
Dad: Hey, do you have my card?
ME: Yesssssss, I most certainly do!!
Dad: Well, can I have it?
ME: Only if you say pretty please with sugar on top!
Dad: I’m not saying that.
ME: Well, tough tomatoes, you’re not getting it otherwise.
Dad: Come on, I have a meeting to go to.
ME: I haven’t heard the password yet . . . (I cup my hands over my ears. )
Dad: (sighs) Can I have my card . . . please? (he struggles with the word)
ME: And . . . . ( I start dancing around the kitchen a bit like the main character in Fame)
Dad: I’m not saying any of that sugar nonsense.
ME: Ok, but only because you are the bestest best father in the whole wide WORLD!!! ( I hand him his card and gambol upstairs to do some laundry. After an enjoyable search for whites and darks, three loads of laundry, and ten seconds later, I return to the kitchen. Dad is still there when I come down).
Dad: I want you to do some research for me.
Dad: About cars we might need in the future . . . with Ryan driving soon we may need to rethink our current transportation needs.
DAD: Have it ready tonight! I want this taken care of when I get home.
Dad: Ok, well, I’m off to my meeting.
(he leaves and opens his door )
Dad: Ok, I’ll see you later!
ME: Oh Dad . . .
Dad: What? ( he looks at me oddly)
ME: Have a fantastic day!! Ok? It’s so beautiful and cool so be sure to roll the windows down and enjoy this superbly excellent day with it’s blue sky and fall-like temperature, ok? It won’t last forever and so be sure to enjoy the moment as it comes lest it pass you by forever and ever. Ok?!
Dad: . . . . uh, sure! Um . . . see ya.
Java java java java java JAAAAAVAAA!