. . . dispersing the human population into nations, cultures, and warring soccer communities.

. . . dispersing the human population into nations, cultures, and warring soccer communities.

The fallout from the whole Tower of Babel debacle left man and his children rather befuddled.  As the dust settled, humanity severed all connection to those that did not speak and therefore think like themselves, dispersing the human population into nations, cultures, and warring soccer communities.  Of course, the children are the hardest hit.  Lacking the independence and foresight to band together, children remain a scattered genealogical nation of nomads resplendent in ages, height, and various levels of facial hair, adopting the customs and language of their parents, who – more likely than not – attribute their bairn’s misunderstandings to stupidity or laziness.

In truth, children possess a language all their own, one that has fairly escaped the notice of adults for several centuries.  In this case, as in many others, the confusion is mutual, and while much can be said of education and maturity, memory and spite, we might funnel centuries of misunderstandings, punishments, and pouting into two central archetypes: diversion versus responsibility.  Children cannot fathom why their elders choose CNN over Bugs and Daffy, and parents cannot come to grips with little Billy’s refusal to clean his room:

“Seriously, how difficult is it to carry your discarded jeans into the laundry or return your Legos to their plastic bins?  Come on guys, this is ridiculous.”

In retaliation, a child will shrug and say it wasn’t a priority at the time, cleaning would risk missing Wile E. Coyote on the receiving end of an Acme anvil.

Fortunately enough for my younger siblings and cousins, my maturity level has remained fairly constant since learning how to read Uncle Scrooge comics, age six.  It helps that I’ve never actually grown up.

Now my philosophy towards children is that one should never talk down to them, assuming their level of understanding is akin to that of a stone-deaf savage: “ME UNCLE MURPH.  YOU BRANDON.  BRANDON MUST EAT CE-RE-AL.  THE SQUARES ON PLATE.  YOU.  PLACE. ON. TONGUE.  CHEW.”

Nor talk to the child as you would a to a fat lady’s Chihuahua: “Oh wook at the widdle-liddile toesee-woesees.  Does that tickle?  Dooes dat tickle-wickle?  You are a good boy, yes you are.  Yes you are.  Have cookie-wookie . . .”  Frankly I cannot fathom how dogs put up with such nonsense, and children possess four-times the learning capacity.  Without the stimuli and addiction of video games (my little brother is learning Japanese on his DS), we’d be a nation of idiots.

In most instances, you’ll realize that children are smarter than you.  After babysitting my younger cousins, Paul and Molly, during a recent family vacation near the Outer Banks I discovered that conversation necessitates a vivid imagination and rather flexible self-image, unencumbered by adult-type barriers like self-esteem.

Taken from

Taken from here

“Murph-y,” Paul says to me, his voice breaking his words into different syllables.  “Wha-ta are those?”  He points out into the water, now sitting low between the muddy banks coating the Hilton Head Island inlet.  Hours earlier the boats and docks sat high upon the water, sea currents flowed freely through the reeds and grasses, swelling the marina like the locks in the Panama Canal.  Moments later as if someone pulled a plug, the currents shifted and the cove was drained; grasses reemerged cutting maze-like paths for boats, washing reeds and flotsam out to sea.  The water trickling out into the marsh was now flecked with white foam, which Paul pointed out and reminded me of powdered creamer floating insoluble in my morning coffee.

“Sea foam,” I answered, swinging his hand back and forth as we cross the footbridge.  The slightly rotted stench of sea and fish waft up from beneath, intoxicating senses far too long separated from the Carolina shore.


“I’m not sure how it’s formed,” I continue. “The churning of the waves combined with compounds in the water perhaps.”

“You use stra-ange words,” Paul giggles.  He then roars at a small crab scuttling across the pier.  It stops for a moment as if to consider him, and continues on its way.

The innocence of children is a widely held myth that in practice just does not hold water.  Those fabled illustrations you see in Mass missals or prayer books of the young cherub dressed in his Sunday’s best, hands clasped tightly in prayer, eyes gazing heavenward illuminated by some holy light are largely creatures of pure imagination, sprouting from the artist’s mind as much as a manticore or unicorn.  In most Masses children retain the same attention span as grandfather Dave, who sleeps through most of the service, snoring – loudly – and sputtering “damn bastards” through most of the homily.  Many parents cannot convince their little angels to sit still long enough to sleep or snore.  During the closing hymn, Paul closes his eyes and mimes the canter, tilting his head from side to side like Ray Charles at the piano.

hhi_pirate1Without a thought, Paul’s younger sister, Olivia, would have stomped on the crab, and then turned her face towards us with a smile that would have melted the heart of the Grinch.  Paul however is not always so fearless.  He remains fixed beside me as the crab disappears beneath the pier, joining its fellows among the barnacles.

“Barn-ankles?” Paul asked after I suggested as much.  The crustacean having vanished, he strode forward once again bravely.  An older couple passed us, smiling behind large sunglasses.  The man waved at us.

“How are you, young man?” he asked.

“Okey-dokey, old man,” Paul said, spreading his wide toothless grin.  The couple kept on walking, much too fast for even the hastiest apology.

Less than fantastical is a child’s sense of honesty, often harsh, cruel, and uncompromising.  Rather hilarious at times as well.  I once had the pleasure of sitting through a parent-teacher conference, hosted by a rather pompous math teacher (“I teach only the most exceptional students.”).  One of the children sitting just ahead of me bent over to her father’s wilting head and whispered: “Daddy, is that the guy you and Mommy think is a liberal prick?” I masked my laughter with a sudden and violent fit of coughing.

“Paul!” I chided as soon as we were out of earshot.  “You shouldn’t call people that they . . . they might get insulted.”

“Why?” he asked, widening his smile into a Cheshire grin.  “He was old.  What are barn-ankles?”

hhi_pirate2“Underwater crustaceans or possibly mollusks, I forgot which,” I responded quickly, welcoming the change in subject.  “They attach themselves to the bottom of boats and pilings under docks, like suction cups.  I believe they feed on tiny little animals that live in the shallow water.”

“You use lots of big words,” my little cousin comments matter-of-factly.  He swings my hand in his.  “I’m going to call you Mr. Smarty-pants.”

“Oh, um . . . thanks . . . uh bud.”

“No proba-lem, Mr. Smarty-Pants.”

Paul’s sister Molly has other names for me, titles far less flattering.  They say that children often ‘see’ or sense auras that emanate from others, subtle feelings or attitudes that remain ignored between less perceptive adults.  Several of my cousins can take a crying babe in their arms and sooth it in an instant; others’ presence will inevitably provoke tears.

Michael Critchon in his autobiographical memoir, Travels, discusses the notion and how if properly trained one can develop and see individual chakras or – as I understand it – our emotional and spiritual state.  Red for example is often associated with anger or frustration, orange with cleansing, and blue with sensitivity and calm, while sections of the body such as the crown (our center of wisdom) or throat (speech center) indicate the important chakra cores.  I’m not so sure how much of this I believe; certainly none of these beliefs are supported scientifically, yet part of me wants to accept the notion that we sense or adapt to one another in non-specific ways.  Moreover, children have the ability to perceive the world in a totally unique way; perhaps they are more receptive to feelings or auras.  If such is the case, I’m fairly alarmed at how my cousins consider me . . .

“I’m going to call you Mr. Cheesecake-Head.”

“I’m going to call you Mr. Cheesecake-Head.”

“Murph, I’m going to make up a nickname for you . . .” Molly giggles as we sit waiting in the movie theater.  Both my younger cousins retain a welcome interest and love for dinosaurs, an obsession I encourage in every way possible (I introduced Paul to Jurassic Park, both the toys and the movie, and both he and Molly have been hooked since).  Thus I thought they might enjoy the latest Ice Age movie at one of the local cineplexes, an ancient declining theater with cement floors, 1960s seating, and no pre-show commercials.  Arriving fifteen minutes before the show, the kids faced a dim room, a blank screen and little to distract them before the previews.

After two minutes crunching on popcorn, Molly turns in her seat and crouches to stare at me, into my eyes.  Suddenly she draws back and announces, “I’m going to call you Mr. Cheesecake-Head.”

Paul seated next to me disagrees.  Further down the aisle, my siblings silently dip into their pockets, sucking down hidden treats while the younger kids argue.

“No Molly, he’s Mr. Pumpkin Pie Head,” Paul shouts spitting half-chewed popcorn on my lap, “with candy stuck to his hair . . .”

“ . . . and grilled cheese stuck to his nose,” Molly giggles, her tiny teeth now red from Hawaiian punch, our shared jumbo cup tilted precariously in her lap.

“Uh guys,” I mutter.  “What’s with the desserts? All the pastry and candy-imagery?  I . . .”

“You’re Mr. Polka-dot Underwear Head with a nose and candy on your head . . .”

“. . . with gummy worms, Molly!  Gummy worms instead of hair.”  Molly topples in her seat, giggling to death.  I grab the jumbo-sized drink before it falls to the floor.

“Hold on guys, that’s much too much like Medusa,”  I suggest, trying to change the subject.  A noble quest if ultimately ineffective.

“Who’s that?” Molly sings.

“A monster in Greek mythology called a Gorgon who had snakes in her hair,” I begin, writhing my finger behind my head.  “They were cursed by Athena, but finally killed by Perseus son of . . .”

“Oo-kay, Mr. Smarty-pants.”

“Smarty-pants, smarty-pants,” Molly giggles, “with cheeseburger brains . . .”

“. . . and flip-flop head . . .”

“ . . . and lollipop ears.”

“Smarty-pants, smarty-pants,” Molly giggles, “with cheeseburger brains . . .”

“Smarty-pants, smarty-pants,” Molly giggles, “with cheeseburger brains . . .”

Paul removes his sandals and points.  “This is what your head looks like . . . hmmm,” he says pausing amidst his metaphor to sniff the soles.  “They smell like chocolate.  Wanna smell?”

“No, no thank you, bud.”  Molly has toppled over in her chair, giggling, her eyes wet with tears.

“. . . flip-flop head . . . la la la, lollipop ears. Murphy has lollipop ears . . . so funny.”

She’s still laughing when her body falls from her seat; Paul stomps his foot down on the floor and smells it again, scouring the theater perhaps for the chocolate.  Kevin returns his hand to his pockets and smiles.  After several frightening moments – Paul’s eyes dart to Kevin’s mouth just as Molly’s feet disappear beneath the seats – the lights dim and the previews start, which settles the kids . . . momentarily until the flick ends.  Who knows what terminology they’ll devise after the movie, their imaginations primed and tantalized with talking mammoths and dinosaur babies: Lizard Brain? Mammoth Belly?  Dino Doo-Doo Nose?  The possibilities . . . those horrible horrible possibilities were endless.

For the moment I settle back and relax, resting my flip-flop-shaped head on the chair and relishing the absence of communication from the seats beside me.   Halfway through the movie, Molly jumps into my lap, laying her head next to my lollipop ears, and falls asleep.  Paul leans on my shoulder and sucks his thumb.  A subtle message but an important one, I suppose.  Truth is core to communication; honesty cannot exist in a vacuum.  However, in a world saturated with words, speeches, and empty promises, the old clichés ring true.  Whatever age or generation our actions, even the most fragile gestures, speak the loudest.

However you choose to interact just remember that if you happen to wake Molly or Paul, then they’re all yours.  I’ll be communing with a glass of wine and good book for the rest of the evening.dino_table4

Word Families

bookopen2Every family possesses a language all its own, independent of its own nation, region, or race. Here in the U.S. despite the fact that we all (supposedly) speak the same tongue, we rarely understand one another. As Mark Twain reminds us during one of his visits to France: In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language. Perhaps French families teach their children a different form of the language then our American textbooks teach us.

Our family is no different; in a house of eight kids (give or take several) and two frazzled adults (not to mention aunts, uncles, cousins, and a multitude of friends), our home rivals the population of a small mid-west town. As such, variations in language emerge everyday to confuse and bewilder those foolish enough to believe that vocabulary should remain static. The following represents only a small chunk of aberrations of speech typical of the Murphey family:

A – (noun) abbreviation for ass or mule, an irritating individual

Etymology – a truly worthless substitution used by Mother Murphey in order to insult someone like my brother Sean without being crude (i.e. actually saying the word ‘ass’). Though the insult endures despite the replaced terminology, Mom still affirms that it is a much politer method to degrade an insufferable twit.

Mo-gift – (noun) a gift or present given to another solely for the benefit of the giver (presumably because both individuals live together)

Etymology – derived from the Christmas gifts given by my Aunt Mo, such as a blender to her husband, an iron to her daughter, and a Steel Magnolias DVD to her son

Ijit – (noun) A poor driver (i.e. one who drives too slowly, cuts others off, sidles between two lanes, drives without headlights in the rain, or generally reads, texts, shaves, applies makeup, picks nose, cleans car, or checks email all while driving)

Etymology – typically an ijit applies only to others never the speaker regardless of how many infractions he or she commits while condemning others.

Warsh – (verb) to clean, wipe clear

Etymology – origin unknown; however, Mom affirms that this word is quite common across the country (none of my college friends can confirm this despite their state of birth). Often mispronounced by the general public as ‘wash’ (note the absence of the ‘r’); after years of usage, this word earned several younger Murpheys poor scores on their Spelling Bee’s

See Also: Warshington D.C., Warshinton state, General George Warshington

Moth-van-bush-wooken – (part.) to shove up in one’s face

Etymology – created by Pat’s good friend Matthew, who irritated by the tendency of ESPN newscasters to make up words (i.e. winningest) wished to illustrate just how easy it is to report the sports when proper diction is no longer required.

Which-come – (noun) a missing object; a lost tool or instrument so well hidden that its very name eludes the speaker

Etymology – My family’s word for anything we cannot remember: “Ok, so we have our hammer, nail gun, and the jigsaw . . . where’s that whichcome I left here?” “Your iced tea is behind you, Dad.”

Japanese porn – (noun) manga or anime

Etymology – Sigh. Ok, so one little misunderstanding and my hobby deteriorates into an activity for freaks or deviants . . . anyway, term derived by Murph’s brothers and sisters after browsing through some Love Hina comics he had received for Christmas. Despite my constant and continued protests, this appellation continues. I am so sorry Mr. Miyazaki.

Tights and Pinstripes

We drove up to New York on Saturday for the penultimate game at Yankee Stadium before its imminent demolition over the next year. Pat in particular wished to visit the “house that Babe built” once in his life, despite the fact that none of us are huge Yankee fans. I for one – though not a huge baseball fan – regaled in the history, excitement, and chance to discover something new and unique. Moreover, my reading of late has included the works of Sherlock Holmes and Bendis’ Ultimate Spiderman so I reveled in the big city atmosphere while occasionally gazing out the windows, hoping to uncover scenes from my comics.

"This is where Daredevil haunts . . ."

"Hells Kitchen! This is where Daredevil haunts . . ."

“Oh hey guys,” I said as we passed through the Lincoln Tunnel. “Hell’s Kitchen. This is where Daredevil haunts in the comics. Hey, can you imagine jumping between these rooftops?” Such is the nature of my neurosis. We turned onto 42nd Street, and my eyes scanned the sky for cathedral towers, a favorite backdrop for cover artists.

Ironically, instead of mass sighing and eye rolls, everyone just nodded staring at the huge towers eclipsing our SUV. Bree even whispered: “Rooftop to rooftop . . . That’s incredible!”

Clearly the big city impressed us all. New York in particular has the capacity to overwhelm even the most urbane traveler. Denver, Boston, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago. In my travels all these cities never possessed the oppressive claustrophobia of a New York City street. The maze of towers and monuments enveloped our SUV, swallowing us within the chaos on Times Square, and even eclipsing the sun. Country bumpkins that we were, we did not notice, still amazed by the size, scale, and flashing marquees.

After much consternation and scratching of heads, we found the hotel: the Helmsley. Apparently the previous owner of this hotel created quite a stir several years back by bequeathing all her fortune to her pet dog, leaving nothing for her friends and relatives. In the country, we were accustomed to treating our pets with a side of eggs or some ketchup and pickles. Somehow with all my pet allergies, it seemed fitting that we should choose a hotel once owned by a dog.

Piling out of the SUV, we greeted Tiff and Pat who driven separately – far from impatient fathers.

“How was your trip?” Pat asked, helping me carry the luggage to the bellboy.

“Awkward,” I responded. “Dad grumbled at every toll booth along the Jersey Pike.”

“Because he did not have EZ-Pass?” Pat asked with a smile.

“Yeah, in his fury, he even promised that ‘next year I will not happen again’ as if the toll booths had killed his favorite dog or something. He even screamed at the toll booth guy near the Lincoln Tunnel . . .”

“I did not,” Dad interjected, rifling through his bag for the hotel confirmation. “The light was still red. He did not change the stupid thing to green.”

“You called him an asshole, after he told you to pull forward,” I laughed. “And you really kindly lingered on that last syllable too. Asshoooole!”

“Well,” Dad smiled. “He was.”

Thus, now checked into our rooms and well-versed in New York vernacular, we set off to the baseball game, deciding to rent a van instead of hopping the subway to the Bronx. This proved to be an excellent choice, not only because we happened to avoid the crowding ebb and flow of people arriving and leaving the stadium. Manny, our driver, took us along the East River route; we passed speeding boats, Roosevelt Island, and hanging tram cars, which I recalled from a movie several years back.

"Remember that scene?"

“Hey, those are the trams that the Green Goblin cut in the first Spider-man movie. Remember that scene, guys? Osborn gave Peter the choice between saving the tram full of people and Mary Jane! This must be the Queensboro Bridge. Bendis used it for a similar scene in Ultimate Spider-man. Now that is cool.”

“Was that the one where that blonde girl died in the comics?” Ryan asked.

“No, that was the George Washington Bridge, I think. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard. The death of Gwen Stacy. Spider-man shoots his webs to catch her when the Goblin throws her off, and Spidey accidentally snaps her neck . . .”

Tiff interrupts our geek-spasm with an exaggerated sigh, while Pat quizzes Manny about the new Yankee stadium. Apparently the general debate among New Yorkers – according to Manny – is whether the new stadium merits the destruction of what, to many, is a national landmark: the house that Babe built. Moreover, ticket prices will inevitably rise to cover the cost, yet Manny confirms the rumor that the stadium will actually hold less seats. Thus, he wonders, what purpose does it serve?

Dad, Pat, and Manny talked animatedly as we neared the stadium. I vaguely listened to the sports-related conversation and instead stared out the window surveying the landscape across the river for more comic book-related memorials.

. . . my creative writing teacher made us read Boys of Summer . . .

. . . my creative writing teacher asked us to read Boys of Summer . . .

Yankee Stadium possessed no known references to my knowledge in comic book lore, so the game and stadium encompassed most of my attention. Back in high school, my creative writing teacher asked us to read Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn, who worked as a sports reporter during the Golden Age of baseball, covering the rise and fall of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite a meager interest in sports, the book and its excellent writing held my attention, as Kahn communicates a great love of the game and its history. Yankee Stadium is – or I suppose, was – one of the last of the old stadiums to die, demolished for a shinier tech-loving generation. Thus, it was a thrill to experience the history before it devolves into a parking garage.

The shame and feeling of loss was easily shared by many, though not easily communicated. One young protester circled around the stadium holding aloft a sign, which read HISTORY, then crossed out in red (like the Ghostbusters sign). To me, the message was clear, but not everyone seemed to get the point:

“Look at dis moron. Hey, ya knucklehead,” shouted a deeply accented voice from behind me. “Explain yourself!”

"When's da last time Baltimore won a World Series?"

"When's da last time da Orioles ever won a World Series?"

Donning his orange and black Oriole jersey, Ryan chatted happily with a Yankee fan, seated beside him. The pair exchanged bets about the outlook of the game, while Ryan defended his team from the catcalls.

“When’s da last time da Orioles ever won a World Series,” someone shouted down.

“ ’83,” Ryan shouted back.

“Baltimore sucks!” another shouted.

“We know,” Ryan replied back with a smile. The Yankee fans were quite confused by this point, and we heard fewer comments from then on. “What can I say? It’s the truth,” Ryan said with a shrug.

After the game (Yankees: 1, Orioles:0), Manny drove us back to the hotel, where had an early dinner before catching “The Little Mermaid” near Broadway and 48th. Bree had loved the show as a kid. Heck, I fell in love with Ariel myself when the show first arrived in theaters – the first of many relationships with fictional characters.

The next morning Mom promised to take her to the American Doll store to fix Emily, her doll, which Kevin had scratched with a penny a few months back, much to his delight. Bree had her revenge by screaming, smacking him with the remote control, kicking him when he fell, and then concluding her assault by sobbing to Mom. Kevin not only suffered Bree’s blows but got punished as well. Girl Power indeed.

Thus after the show, my little sister as well as the rest of us were in high spirits, if a bit exhausted. Walking in New York City is an odd experience for us bumpkins, where back home a trip to the nearby grocery store ordains a five-mile drive. In the city most either walked or took a cab. On a Saturday night the whole city seems to empty the offices and apartment complexes for the streets. One must learn to tread carefully to avoid drowning in the masses. Countless years of training amid the lines and avenues of Disney World had prepared us for these moments, however, and we traversed Broadway and Times Square without losing anyone. Some might have stayed to shop or walk the sights and sounds, but ironically the chaos and congestion were a bit overwhelming, even to the fam, who are used to traveling in packs. The lights and ads hovered over us, simultaneously beating and blinding with gaudy brilliance. Claustrophia had sunk in, and I longed to return to sanctity of our small hotel room.

. . . trying in vain to spy cloaked figures, daring vigilantes, or giant webs.

. . . trying in vain to spy cloaked figures, daring vigilantes, or giant webs.

I could understand why city life could be quite lonely. All the grandeur and splendor – both real and imagined – induces a fair bit of indifference. I found greater comfort away from the chaos, among the silence and darkness of the side streets, trickling down from the skyscrapers and bubbling up from the sewers. In these areas, we found the true charm of citylife. We skirted Bryant Park, now alit with candles, music, and old men chatting quietly among the trees. A wedding reception echoed deep within a hotel lobby, fashionably dressed bridesmaids sipped champagne on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, I stared at the high towers and tiered rooftops, trying in vain to spy cloaked figures, daring vigilantes, or giant webs.

That night I slept restlessly. The terrors of the big city would be welcome bedfellows compared to my brother Kevin, who so shifted and wiggled dominion over our shared double that once or twice I considered stealing the bedspread and camping out on the floor. Thankfully morning arrived quickly, waking us with the shrill siren of a phone call from next door. It was six o’clock, Dad chimed. Time to dress and ready ourselves for mass.

Once on our road trip a few years ago, Dasad and I almost had a falling out over Sunday mass. Mom had called the night before reminding me about mass as we passed through Missouri, and that if I failed to receive my sacrament on this trip, I would surely burn in Hell for all Eternity, perpetually ripped to shreds by gore-crows, mummified in molten chains, and forced to watch Real World reruns while all the demons, devils, and politicians take turns poking me with large pointy sticks. My own perspective of the afterlife is a tad more . . . liberal, of course; however, even God’s wrath is slightly less intimidating than my mother’s, so I agreed to find mass somewhere.

Unfortunately, the earliest mass the next morning began at eight and lasted nearly an hour, which put us off schedule to meet a few of Dasad’s cousins in Tulsa. This of course irritated my friend a bit, and things looked grim until we talked over coffee, burritos, and enchiladas later – male-bonding food. Dasad explained that his family will sometimes skip Sunday mass during vacations. After all not every city or town possesses a Catholic church, and vacations – thick with activities and itineraries – often do not allot much leisure time. I understood, citing my doubts that God took roll like a homeroom teacher, passing out gold stars for perfect attendance. No, my fears stemmed principally from a strict Irish Catholic mother, whose fury at such heathen dereliction could give all the devils, demons and politicians with their pointy sticks a run for their money.

We could not offer even that excuse.

The whole cathedral evokes feelings of respect and mystery too – particularly early in the morning.

Now in New York City with St. Patrick’s Cathedral just a few blocks down from the Helmsley Hotel, we could not offer even the faintest excuse. Thus, we woke grumbling at six and shuffled out into the now empty city for seven o’clock mass. If you have never seen it, St. Patrick’s is an awesome cathedral. Entering the pews you feel as if you are journeying back in time. The dull lighting flickers like candles, creating deep shadows and enclaves along the walls. The statues and ornaments of the gothic architecture simply drips off the walls and dance in the faux candlelight. The whole cathedral evokes feelings of respect and mystery too – particularly early in the morning. The mass last only about a half hour, and the priest’s homily was short and succinct. After touring the grounds a bit – I did not dare take pictures – we left and completed our Sunday ritual with a visit to Starbucks.

Sipping my pumpkin-flavored coffee, I spied out the peaks of the old cathedral, another favorite spot for comic artists. The city was calm now, and although it did not feel any less claustrophobic, early Sunday morning some of the chaos of the previous night had ebbed away, sunken back into the sewers or drifting off into the high towers and belfries. After packing, I walked Mom and Bree to the American Girl Store to buy some clothes and fix her damaged doll. We left soon afterwards, offering our goodbyes en route to the city that has spawn so many stories.

Around lunchtime we stopped at gas oasis for food and drinks. Gazing at the vast array of peanuts and almonds in the gift shop, Kevin sleepily asked Dad where we were.

“New Joisy,” he replied with a comical accent.

“Excuse me,” spoke up a girl, standing nearby, her hand reaching for gum drops. “But that’s how they speak in North Jersey. This is South Jersey. We do not talk like that. Just so you know . . .”

Her voice carried a slight edge of annoyance with it, as if we had insulted her. Dad said nothing, choosing instead to walk away. Apparently amid the toll booths, shouting Yankee fans, and crowds we had failed to insult anyone until arriving in South Jersey. Criminals and snide comments beware! Learn to fear the linguistic vigilantes of South Jersey!