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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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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A Minor Hazard

cloudsCommunication is an important tool in most families.  Though rarely perfected, peaceful coexistence depends upon one’s willingness to express and understand feelings, needs, or instructions.  Imperfectly applied, communication might lead to undesired results such as the kitchen fire of July 12, 2009 which after some hastily issued orders concerning the bacon sizzling on the stove verbally thrown to one eldest Murphey as he sat distracted reading Foxtrot in the Sunday paper amid a cacophony of giggling, whirling ceiling fans, and roaring dinosaurs on HBO, my father left to fold clothes while said oldest child failing to hear the exchange left to play billiards with his little sister and thus abandoning the bacon to bubble and dissolve into greasy slime and thick smoke that even now coats much of the blankets and cushions on the first and second floors.  Tragically the blame for this culinary holocaust fell on said eldest child, a responsibility he accepted begrudgingly as his protests fell on deaf ears – ironic as his own were the true culprits in this incident.

We did discover that the fire detectors require a battery change though.  In the long run, my dereliction may have saved our lives.   A thankable accident,  if everyone can ignore the lingering stench of burnt ham  soaked into the sofas and chairs long enough to consider it.

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.