Wage and War

Like a femme fatale, the curves here proved deadly.

The 3rd Annual Ice Cream Invitational.  Every summer in Disney, Rodney and Ryan compete with Shannon and ‘yours truly’ in a sacred triathlon that tests the very limits of our body, our heart, and — dare I say — our sanity, a contest fit for gladiators (American or otherwise).  The contest consisted of three rounds.  The first grueling challenge sets brother against brother on the miniature golf course, and then the fiery hell of the tennis court . . .

Wait, why are you rolling your eyes?  Seriously, whatever you THINK you know about miniature golf, forget it.  Disney’s Fantasia Fairways is a theme park asylum covered in undulating green felt, reminding you why men have loved and cursed the bloody game for centuries.  No cartoon castles litter the course.  The pathway to the hole rises and falls like waves on a storm-tossed sea so there’s no ‘trick’ or ‘perfect putt’ to secure your hole in one . . . just luck and the pity of God.  This was to be our battlefield — our Ragnarok, some may say days from now — and waiting for us at the end, a rich waffle cone, filled with soft-serve and seasoned with the blood and tears of our enemies. Continue reading

Sport for Our Neighbors

Yield not to adversity but press on all the more bravely. — Virgil*

“. . . if it was a personal foul, they should have given us fifteen yards, ya know?” said the man in the hunting cap, fixated on the instant replay cycling on the stadium’s Video-tron.

“Uh . . . of course,” I nod, nearly choking on a salted pretzel. “At least.”

“They’ve been doing this too us all game,” screamed the older two-fisted drinker sitting nearby, who I took to be Elmer’s father.  “And did you see, he kneed at the five, so why place the ball at the eight?”

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” I shook my head. “They should have thrown a . . . flag. Or two?”

“Damn refs are blind, man,” Elmer sighed. “Hey, now all Rice has to do is cut across the middle while fainting to the left, slobber-knocker any interference from the D-line and sack dance across for the score.  Just like with the Navy game earlier. You guys, see that?” Continue reading

Old School Tennis

In the year of our Lord 2011, several young lords have gathered to do battle on this ground.  Lord Shan, Berserker King, hath paired with the gallant Murph Dragonsbane against Lord Leo the Magnificent and Ryan, last descendent of a noble but cursed race of giants.  At the evenin’ repast – a culinary delight featuring the finest Italian cheese of the Mac, stuffed Arctic sea bass, and meat of the loaf – the gauntlet had fallen among these lusty young men, eager for battle and opportunity to prove their worth. Not since the Versailles Oath of 1789 have such a momentous occasion graced a tennis court.  Lord Leo and his partner Ryan the Stouthearted quickly announced their readiness to play while Shan the Great and Dragonsbane braced their spirits with a rowdy shout.

“We await your serve, sir,” speaketh Murph Dragonsbane, champion of the Undead Court.  “Lest you be a coward as well as a knave.”

“No knaves we have here, sir,” Ryan sneereth.  “We come to play with men not babes lost in the woods.  Play on!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Leo mutterest in the common tongue.  “If you ladies are finished playing knights or whatever the hell you call it, we can play some tennis.”

The sport of tennis is a sacred one in these parts.  To the Murphey family it transcends the mere appellation of ‘game’ or ‘sport;’  tennis is life here, robbing young men of glory as it bestows it upon another.  Thus, the common tongue cannot adequately illustrate the gore-strewn horror and beauty of the game.  I, your humble narrator, shall describe the game in the kings-speech, the language of God’s living representatives on this sin-soaked sphere. Continue reading

Undreamed shores: Part 1

One joy scatters a hundred griefs.   – Chinese proverb

Living in a family of ten to twelve (sometimes fifteen) people, you learn quickly to adjust to chaos, welcoming the unexpected as a coal miner embraces sunlight.  Dad of course exhausted from plugging unexpected leaks and implosions among his contractors and clients attempts to impose some order on both home and family: clean this mess, fold these clothes, file those papers, make those beds. Indeed he’d have an easier time driving off a thundercloud with a leaf blower.  For on those rare occasions when the day’s events unfold according to some loose plan or schedule, you feel almost isolated, unnerved by the sudden immersion of order, the lone working gear among the scattered piles of monkeys and wrenches.  What is this sensation, you say to yourself, this . . . calm?  The absence of fear and anxiety, of noise and confusion only proves to make you anxious and confused until you knock over Mom’s prized Belleek vase to regain your sanity.  The cycle begins anew. Continue reading

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.

In which Murph considers the benefits of physical movement . . .

“Nobody should have that many talents,” Katie complained to the television this morning.

I looked up from the computer screen and stared at the program, where several men and women danced excitedly in a line while fiddling a hearty Irish jig. When the song ended, I smiled, noting the irony as my sister continued to shake her head with disbelief and eat her cereal – simultaneously no less, spilling a pool of milk and Corn Pops on the floor and some modest cursing from her mouth. My sister of all people should not be envious of anyone. Like most people – myself included – she sometimes fails to see herself completely, honestly. Not only has she performed and taught Irish dance, but she also plays the harp as well, a talent which unlike the fiddle does not improve with jump or jig. Some of us are even less endowed. My own dancing prowess less resembles Fred Asteire and more closely models Rodney Dangerfield. Athletics and I . . . well, we mix about as well as bleach and ammonia: when we collide someone – me – will pass out and die.

Yet everyone in my family possesses a strong fascination with sports of all kinds. Mom and Dad dated during softball games. When he was not golfing, Pat as a kid drained three-point shots as if the height and distance did not matter. Sean shaved his head (and perhaps other areas) to swim relays and drown his less buoyant teammates in water polo; he later traded in his Speedo for a wrestling singlet, foam mats, and sweaty men. Shannon broke his arm playing soccer and now receives (as well as deals out) regular concussions in rugby matches. Katie sprained, broke, and split her leg two or three times to score field hockey goals. Ryan not only wrestles, scrums, and swings a seven iron (albeit poorly) but was elected to the state championships as a defensive lineman.

Meanwhile after initial testing, my elementary school asked that I attend summer lessons before beginning first grade in order to improve my gross motor skills – translation: learn how to bounce a ball. Just last week after a rigorous study session, I received a nasty paper cut, which inexplicitly spread to a hang nail and a severe case of hives. While sleeping, I routinely run the risk of falling out of bed, bravely sacrificing my body to tile and cold for the sake of my nightly reading materials.

My sleeping companions.

Thus, well-acquainted with fail . . . er, falling, when it was suggested several years ago to form a Murphey family softball team, I was eager to experience the sensation of grass on teeth. Yet, unfortunately this decision nearly cost us our lives. You see, we signed into a local adult softball league, a mixed league which included both men and women and promised fun without the anger and bitterness of excessive competition. Though we enjoyed winning, no one could accuse us of taking the game too seriously. We bought a few bottles of cheap beer, recruited the kids as cheerleaders, ate unhealthy snacks, and spent most of the game laughing and cheering on each other. I played catcher, kneeling in the dirt praying that the bat did not connect with any part of my body and that I would not be asked to throw any farther than the pitcher’s mound. Throws to the infield usually required more skill and strength than I possessed, an awkward full-body push which usually left me on the ground and the ball just short of second base.

Pat and his wife, Tiff, actually met each other on that softball team through the benefit of a mutual friend. Tiff mentioned to us that what first attracted her attention to Pat was the way he used to hold up his pants while running to first base (pre-Tiff Pat actually was quite skinny). Apparently she sensed that he needed her.

Yet every so often we encountered a team bent on winning – at any cost. You may have encountered a few of these individuals in your own neighborhoods: the guys typified by bulging muscles, necks the size of small tree trunks, and short-cut hair like finely manicured lawns. The kind of guys constantly on the lookout for scouts, the rare opportunity to relive their high school years or satisfy the urge to bleed pitchers. Now do not mistake me, most of these Roy-Hobbsian acolytes are probably cordial members of society, ideal community leaders with Volvos and well-kept yards, proud fathers to boys with dog-names like Spike or Butch, who feast off Slim-Jims, Red Bull and nutrient supplements labeled with words like “Nitro” and “horse steroid.” Yet as the softball arcs through the air and falls across the plate, these men gradually change. That thick sphere of rubber, cork and twine transforms somehow into a bullet, the field into a firing range. Then scores, teams, and games no longer matter, only the potential targets.

Enter the Murphey family. The suckling pigs of this tale. Typically these crazed batters would first seek out the women: my Mom on the pitcher’s mound, my aunt on second base, my sister in the outfield. Apparently – not knowing our family very well – they mistook them for the weaker members of our herd, and fired shot after shot, line drives within inches of Mom’s head. The Woosh! of the ball passed once right over her shoulder blade. Another time, she ducked just in time as the ball sailed through the space where her frontal lobe had dwelt comfortably seconds before. The batter than pranced around the bases, laughing that we should learn to be more careful on the field.

“She should pitch a little bit farther on the inside,” Dad would say. “A little bit closer to the head of that . . .” (here he made some reference to the area near the batter’s colon). Mom would only walk off the mound, pick up her beer, and sit on the bench. She might complain a little, but only when out of earshot, unwilling to gratify the slugger with any unnecessary attention. The fact that no one else cared – nonexistent scouts and sports reporters included – amounted to retribution enough. The next time the slugger approached the plate, his line-drive found itself entombed in Mom’s glove. The game ended; no words were exchanged.

Nevertheless, I would love to report that these games ended in a battle royale, a fight to the death between bats, balls, and sand, yet this was not so. We ended the season and did not join the following year. We had faced several more sluggers, all eager for blood and high ERA’s (which were not even calculated); though none of us perished, our fun and excitement had withered away. In time we joined a bowling league, where the competitive spirit still thrives but at least we are in no danger . . . well, no intentional danger. When Ryan sidles down the lane with ball in tow, we duck and shrink behind the benches. You see, release is important in bowling, ultimately deciding the difference between a strike and a journey behind the snack bar to retrieve your ball from the pretzel machine. Thus, depending on the players all sports possess a modicum of danger. Most great joy after all is born of risk and challenge.

Therefore, I think that I will end this tale and grab me some apples and some video games. Risking electrocution, thumb-sprain, and choking seems like a good way to spend the remainder of this afternoon.

The true sport of kingsMy gym.

Rain and Sound

Last night amid rain, wind, and storm we watched my brother play football. My interest in the game cannot match my father’s immersed obsession; his impatience and anxiety before a game are akin to a junky awaiting his next fix. Unfortunately, as a hybrid man and geek, possessed with my father’s basic understanding of the game yet mired with my mother’s complete lack of interest, I can sympathize with the obsession but not obsess about the game. However, tonight was an exception. The opposing team had purchased an announcer.

Thankfully in the midst of this drought, the storm never abated. The rain came in waves, alternating drizzle with heavy downpour; the wind thundered in gales of spray and yellow leaves. I had brought one of my wide-rimmed hats (a peculiar penchant of mine) for just such an occasion; however, eventually the makeshift barriers of hats, towels, and umbrellas were invaded by rain and wind. Everyone got soaked. Yet the greasy eloquence of the voice announced the events of the game with such skilled bias that all discomfort was quickly forgotten. With each slip, sack, and fumble, I anticipated a new commentary. His voice, a strange inflection of Macho Man Randy Savage mixed with Duffman and the Kool-Aid guy, flowed from speakers with near-perfect melodrama and mounting tension. Each sentence crackled like a rock song, punctuated with a trailing grunt or groan. His diction splashed with corn and cheese too delicious to admonish:

“NUMber FIFTY-six SMOTHered by a HORRible SWARM of DONS [my brother’s team]”

“Oh and the KICK was BLOcked by a HOARD of RAMpaging Gauls [the opposing team], oooh-ahh uuhhhh,”

“The first-PLACE Dons trail the unRANKED Gauls by fourTEEN with EIGHT MINutes and FIFTY-seven SEConds left to PLAY in the HALF, OHhh YEah!

All in all, a fun night despite the weather.