To Sail or Walk

Summer is drawing near, bringing with it Floridian vacations with family, cookouts amid 90 degree afternoons, and an opportunity for a little soul-searching.  I’m not sure how other teachers begin their summer.  Alcohol and long morning naps surely are incorporated in some way.  My Aunt Sue often visit us in June and July when we were kids, before she retired after nearly thirty-years teaching science in Arkansas.  She would bring large plastic bins — the size of pound-cakes — filled with a powerful concoction of alcohol and fruit-juice for which my mom would ceremoniously clear a place in the family freezer to harden overnight.  The next day the two of them, Mom and Aunt Sue, would extract ice cream scoops and dig out the slushie mixture with the same care and joy as a miner unearthing a golden cache.   They’d sit out by the pool and while away the day until they’d be too exhausted or drunk to move.

“My summer has begun!” Aunt Sue would shout.  “No kids.  No grading.  This is the life!”

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TTWA: Craigslist

Your partner writes a Craigslist ad to get rid of an item of yours that they totally hate.  What does it say?

This assignment required only a small amount of imagination.  I love anime.  My brother and roommate, Kevin, can appreciate my collection of comics, movies and video games, but my other interests . . . well, he pigeonholes Japan as a nation of perverts and anime as a product of that perversion.  Daring him to watch Spirited Away or Cowboy Bebop, two excellent examples of the quality of the medium, affected no change of his opinions.  Secretly, I wonder if the subtitles prove daunting to my dyslexic sibling . . . Reading in order to enjoy a movie may taint your opinion of the genre in much the same way that Jersey Shore or The Bachelor has infected my enjoyment of documentaries.  Then again the beautiful strangeness of these tales can overwhelm the more practically minded.  Kev enjoys operating heavy machinery and tilling the earth.  Case closed.

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Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

“So picture this, Murph: a death metal concert in the heart of Amsterdam.  Me and Jason disguised in leather, fake beards, and goth t-shirts . . .”

“I for one do not need to imagine any man much less Rodney in leather,” Sean sighed next to me.

“The beard I can get behind, though . . .” Ryan added.

We all agreed that a man with a beard is a man to be reckoned with.

“If Batman had a beard, he’d be unstoppable,” I considered aloud.

“Man, enough about Batman.  I’m talking about real heroes,” Rodney shouted.  “I’m talking about Jason Borne!”

I chose not to discuss Matt Damon’s heroics or what constituted a imaginary character. Frankly I didn’t have the time.

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The Groupchat: For the Wookie

Of late, the boys have started this group message thread to whittle away the hours while pretending to work and yet still reap the benefits of a real paycheck.  Like all the best Seinfield, the thread is mostly about nothing: BSing each other and counting down the minutes until happy hour.  Since my phone has sold its digital soul to the ‘robot devil’ (i.e. it broke), I could not read these messages or in truth comment on them.  Luckily, last Easter I lost my cellphone down a storm-drain while stomping on it with my right heel.  It will not be missed.  My subsequent purchase of an iPhone opened a doorway to a whole new world of texting and communication.  Moreover, I can now chat with my brothers while they work during these June days and I contemplate my next blog post in my PJs at home.  Teaching does have its merits.

The following conversation delved into how my presence has affected the Groupchat (as they dub it) for better or for worse.  If you, dear reader, find these conversations interesting, I might try to post a few more now and then.

Dialogue_paul
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Conned: Episode 0

SDCC boundThree accounts.  Three computers.  If I thought it would improve my chances to heft some of the house’s scattered PCs — outdated, abandoned, or consumed by spiderwebs — down to my room, I might have risked electric shock and wolf spider bites to heave the towers into my room.  But I had three accounts, thus only three computers.

The other members of my party were working across the street at Katie’s new house, knocking down trees and feeding the sap-soaked limbs into the chipper, giving Mother Nature the ol’ Fargo-special (as I call it).  Thus, the task of procuring tickets to the  Comicon fell to me.

Now, we’ve attended comic book conventions in the past here in Baltimore and DC.  These are typically low-key affairs, occupying a single floor at the Baltimore convention center, which — to quote the Hulk — is puny in comparison to its counterparts in DC and Boston.  Still it manages to stock the panels with some pretty awesome writers and artists: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Don Rosa, and Neil Adams to name a few that I’ve seen (Batman and Uncle Scrooge fanatic that I am).
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Menacing

“Am I some kind of condescending prick for feeling mildly embarrassed for these kids?”

“Well,” Kevin said after some consideration, “it’s a Sunday night in May and this IS a Walmart parking lot. You would think that there’d be some better way of spending your time . . .”

Kevin and I had parked our car and stared in wonder at the convocation of pick-ups and supped-up Hondas at the far end of the Walmart. Carroll County Maryland has never proven itself the most . . . urbane area in the state, but occasionally my neighbors go out of their way to check off every stereotype in the book.

Local teenagers leaned against the bumpers and sat on car roofs, watching some kid attempt to drop-kick a basketball at one of the parking lights.  Occasionally, he’d routinely lose control, and their heads would turn with the syncopation of a Wimbledon crowd to gaze at kid and ball bouncing across the asphalt.  Another weird feature: there was no music.  Nothing audible at least.  It seemed the kid and his basketball was the main event here.
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Battle Royale

I’ve been sitting on this particular post for a while now.  The last few months has bore witness to snow storms, weddings, my sister’s new house (to-be-constructed), my brother’s new house (to-be-bought), and a burgeoning addiction to Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which like all obsessions in my life (i.e. women, writing, chess, MMORPGs) I kinda suck at.  As such, the blog has received the short-end of the time-sink, a fact I’d remedy here soon.  We may have received tickets to Comicon in San Diego this summer.  More on that later!  In the meantime, join us as the Murphey clan goes laser-tagging, much to our own amusement.  

“Blimey, ‘ere we ‘ave the female white girl in ‘er natural attire,” Sean whispered to Shannon in his best – that is most stereotypical – impersonation of the crocodile hunter.  “Brown boots and leggings, tools of cunning to attract potential mates . . .”

“Shutup, Sean,” Bree snarled strapping on her suit, now glowing blue in the darkness.  “I am not dressed like this to ‘attract mates.’”

She feigned a glancing shot with her laser gun at grinning brothers before continuing.
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Let it go

Hi!  My name is Ivan, and I like hot chocolate!  And cigars!

Hi! My name is Ivan, and I like hot chocolate! And cigars!

“Hey Murph, do ya wanna build a snowmaaan . . ?

It’s no secret around the Murphey household that the sibs and I adored Disney’s latest film Frozen.  Over the last two weeks, Kevin, Bree and I have managed to coerce, beguile and flat out bribe the rest of our family to the local theater just to watch the film again — mostly because the holiday season is all about swapping stories with those you love but also because a grown man attending an animated film alone is inviting sidelong glances from concerned parents and mall security.

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We’re decorating intensely for Katie’s wedding next week. Normally, the front yard would be filled with giant inflatable snow-globes and mechanical snowmen tipping their hats. Mom vetoed this approach in favor of a ‘country Christmas’ appearance.

As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, stories enrich our lives, bestowing understanding, empathy, and wisdom.  They also help to chase away boredom and offer the social American a talking point during Christmas parties before the spiked nog disengages the brain.   The prevalence of stories and storytelling in all facets of our lives (entertainment, history, religion, politics, relationships) has always intrigued me to the point that I’ve often argued (usually after three Red-Solos of nog) that storytelling is the center of all human life: to create, discover, and retell tales.  Of course, most listeners simply shrug off these notions as drunken rants (which many were; the nog is strong in my family) and shrug unimpressed “We communicate.  All animals do it.”

The instruction booklet that arrives with your microwave communicates, but when was the last time anyone has actually read it.  Mostly we avoid the words entirely, gazing at the diagrams and attempting to divine a message like a back-alley fortune teller staring at the bumps on your head for the night’s Mega-millions numbers.  You add a sparkly vampire with predilection for vapid teenage repair-women and 90% of teenage girls become electrical engineers overnight.  No, I’d argue that communication is a subset of storytelling, simply a really boring example of the craft, shorn of all metaphors, characters and sparkle-vampires — for that reason alone I’m willing to be more forgiving.

To me, stories nourish my soul and sustain my willpower through the work week like oxygen through the suit of an orbit-bound astronaut.  Yet very few tales really satisfy your expectations: e.g. Mockingjay, Green Lantern, The Black Cauldron . . . Disney, you could have done so much better.  Of the numerous books, movies, and TV shows that I immerse myself, only a handful of these truly manages the detailed world-building, charming characters, and multi-layered epics, which are near and dear to my heart.  Still, this absence motivated me to write my own short stories.
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A Thanksgiving Vingette

“Murph!” Mom screamed from across the kitchen, her arms weighed with platters of green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, turkey, and stuffing. “What have you done to my floor?”

“Nothing,” I shrugged, submerging an empty pot into the sink, a grey oily substance, the dregs of Thanksgiving gravy bubbled to the surface.

“Dive! Dive! Lieutenant, the engine room is flooded!  Jettison all loosh articles through the torpedo tubesh.”

Hunt for Red October was on Netflix an hour earlier, so I did my best Sean Connery.

“My floor! There’s water all over my nice recently stained and securely waterproofed floor!”

Bree stood next to a damp cloth in her hand, sighing like an old furnace or an older woman suffering her dotard husband.  Somehow recreating the Poseidon Adventure with the gravy boat had drowned the last of her patience.

“Mom,” she sighed.  “You’re oldest child is an idiot.”

“Damn the torpedoes, man!” I screamed, as my hands manipulated a ladle between the soapy foam.  “Sea monster oft the port bow!”

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Jersey . . . Sure!

Charley yelled at me Monday night.  Apparently, my sibling readers have missed my posts lately (Work and school have proven a leech on my time and energy — even sleep has been forestalled until June).  I’ve been sitting on this post for the last month-and-a-half, not wanting to post until I’ve added a few pictures, a few humoroous vignettes, a few notable insights in the human condition . . . but as this pile of labs-to-be-graded accumulates like a malignant tumor on the desk before me (“Friendly neighborhood Spiderman-mug save me!”), I figure “Screw it!  Move on!  Post the blog!  Scribble an A on the labs!  Take the day off!  Move to Orlando!  Marry a Disney princess . . . preferably Belle or that Tangled-chick!  Use more exclamation points!!!”   Carpe diem guys!  Whoo ah!  

Like many pilgrims before me, New Jersey welcomed me with open arms and a cocktail of  …. grotesque aromas:  sewer vents, tire-mushed polecat, and bilge.  We had passed most of the evening on I-95, driving  to upstate New York from Baltimore via Jersey, much like Dante’s trip to Paradiso via Inferno.   Not being a native New Yorker, you might think this an unkind comparison, but few trips through New Jersey have taken me off the turnpike; thus, the landscape of tangled grey pipes, desiccated fields, and smoking chemical factories encompasses much of my sense memory.  Still, despite the momentary assault on my lungs, the party on Saturday proved well-worth the visit.

After years of pining, dating, failing, blubbering, and ultimately dismissing the whole female race as ‘shallow sluts,’ my friend and brother, Frank ‘The Chainsaw’ had finally discovered  — how had O Henry coined it? — “the one missing face from his heart’s gallery of intimate portraits.”  That was two or three years ago; this weekend Frank had invited his whole ‘adopted’ family to a country club to celebrate his wedding.
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