West Coastin’: Of Meals and Temples

‘Last scene of all

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’

Our post-Mass breakfast

Our post-Mass breakfast

Sunday morning, crawling to the bathroom, my sense of touch had the nerve to up and leave me.  Even after stubbing my toe on one of the wine boxes, the numbing sensation in my accelerator foot had lingered long after escaping our Sebring; moreover, my sense of balance insisted that my body was floating underwater.  This of course pointed towards some livid dreamscape, and as I lay there considering the possibility of that mermaid appearing again, Dasad woke.  Damn.  Another night Ariel, my love.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

“Wondering why I lost feeling in my legs . . .”

“No, on the floor,” he yawned.

“Oh, I tripped over one of the boxes in the dark.  On the way to the bathroom.  So very dark in here,” I pondered.  “When you close the blinds like this, its amazing how inclined you are to believe it’s two in the morning.”

“It is two.  Go back to sleep.”

NOTE: I may have imagined all this.  Throughout much of the trip, the line between dream and reality continued to fade and establish itself elsewhere, like the world seen through the bottom of a wine glass.

At any rate, we woke (later?) Sunday morning quite exhausted and indescribably drained from our six-hour exodus to Anaheim, in no mood whatsoever for early morning mass.  Yet sloth could not have its way.  Mothers – especially mine – possess an innate knowledge of their children’s foibles, both mortal and venial, and before we got that phone call, I roused our troops early and ushered them out the door.

The theater at Downtown Disney

The theater at Downtown Disney

Mass in California differs little from services back home.  My presence was still something of a minority, trading in a congregation of aging seniors for young Hispanics and Asians.  Nor did I quite grasp the point of the homily, a heavily accented digression into the meaning of faith, a topic which my own pastor would have muddled with several multi-layered tangents and an unnecessary explanation of didacticism – whatever that means.  Even the church’s heavily stylized windows displays and murals complimented my own: a tangled collage of pictures and symbols buried deep within colorful stained glass, like something by Seurat broken and reassembled with Jolly Rancher shards.  Yet Anaheim’s depiction of the Annunciation of Mary gave me pause.

Along one of the walls, Mary communes with an aged angel; in their midst a dove descends, a red beam fired from the bird’s beak pierces the Blessed Mother.

“It was like a holy laser beam had been shot into her chest,” I remarked afterwards to a yawning Dasad.  “I realize the need to conceptualize the Holy Spirit as something more than swirling air currents and fireballs, but doesn’t the divine ‘pregnancy ray’ oversimplify things a little too much.  Hell, they probably stole the idea from a Superman comic.”

“You would know,” Dasad muttered.  “So what’s the plan for today?  LA?  San Diego?”

“You said something about a triple feature.  A day to kick back and watch movies.”

“Okay . . . yeah, let’s do that.  It’d be good to do nothing for one day.”

I refuse to bore you with many of the details that followed.  As is often the case, these rare relaxing moments seldom translate well as good stories, while relating our ubiquitous humiliations and regrets often prove rather interesting – if not downright amusing.  We decided on three flicks, just recently released and from various genres:

  • Ponyo – a child’s fable, but nonetheless whimsical and beautifully told
  • District 9 – awesome and intelligent; excellent science fiction
  • 500 Days of Summer – if you’ve ever downloaded specific music tracks simply to attract a girl; or abhor dating; or simply enjoy honest funny movies

So excellent was the theater fare that without realizing it, we ate little else but stories for the remainder of the day.

You see, good tales possess a unique aroma, such that one might discuss an excellent tale with the same enthusiasm some reserve for fine cuisine or century-old merlot.  This analogy may be a bit off-putting to some, like my sister Katie, who suffers through most books like a sick child with castor oil, yet for bibliophiles the metaphor is all too accurate.  In my time, many books of such excellent vintage have incited periods of prolonged fasting and isolation (the night I discovered Harry Potter springs to mind), only to emerge again physically weak but nonetheless spiritually enervated several days later.

Excellent stories, thus, provide food for the soul.  And if the soul dies, the body follows shortly, right?  Therefore, reading is more important than food . . . or breathing.  For this reason and more, my family worries for my health and sanity.

Nevertheless, having fed our souls well, we left the theater satisfied and finally able to focus on our all-too-needy stomachs.  Late night dining (a little after ten) is sketchy at best, limiting hungry patrons to stale burgers or scraped bean paste wrapped in doughy tortillas.   Luckily we found a 24-hr Subway across the street from the hotel, wedged in between a Mexican take-out and Chinese restaurant that sold grease spiced with chicken fat (noodles were extra).  Jay opted for Chinese and Dasad tempted the Fates by ordering Mexican.  All in all the movies were better, and we returned to the hotel with satisfied hearts and stomachs in need of Alka-Seltzer.

NOTE: the bathroom at the theater was enormous and clean.  This may sound like an unusual topic to mention in closing but those who have traveled far through many a gas station or rest stop restroom can appreciate the joy of stumbling across clean public bathrooms.  It was breathtaking that I actually took a picture of it (thank the weekly matinees that it was empty).

So clean!

So clean!

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Shots After Midnight: The King’s Diet

shots_after_midnight-copyAs night falls here at the pub, Jameson and Bailley’s fill our glasses and loose our tongues.  Tales emerge to accompany us on our long walk home through the darkness . . .

Brigid and Kevin were fighting again. No one knew the argument began: a touch on the shoulder, a misplaced word, a subtle insult intentioned or not (doubtful). “Loser,” “idiot,” “moron,” “freak.” The words avalanche as the afternoon fades into the night.

I find the two sitting around the sofa fighting over the remote control. Bree demands her favorite crime drama citing the age old maxim, “I was here first.” Kevin counters with a “But this is important,” compounding his argument by reminding Bree “You always get it!” The television flickered mournfully between the two stations, trying vaguely to decide which child it loved best.

“Dang it, Bree! Give it to me! I have to watch this game!”

“So go find another TV! I was here first!”

“I was in here at 3:30. It’s still mine.”

“Then it’s my turn.”

“Losers don’t get a turn.”

“Do too. Wait a sec . . .”

“Do not.”

“Alright, you two,” I say turning off the mildly schizophrenic screen. “Let’s cool it with the TV for a while.”

This gambit pleases neither. Bree slams the remote to the ground, a portion touchdown spike, a portion lightning strike.

“Geez, Kevin, look what you did. For once in your life, why can’t you be less of an idiot?”

“Hold on,” I say to the bickering siblings. “Lets cool down a bit. Bree did I ever tell you the story of the King’s Diet?”

“Uh, no,” Bree sighed.

“Sit down with me,” I say sinking into an armchair. “After the story’s over, I’ll let you watch TV again.”

“Is it stupid,” Kev asks. “I don’t have to like . . . know anything to understand it, right?”

“Not at all,” I smile.

———————————————————————————————————-

A lion woke one morning to look at his realm, a wide savanna teeming with life. The lush jungles to the west where trees grew high nearly reached the sky. The dense marshlands to the south, a paradise to insects, frogs, and amphibians. The dense mountains to the north, snowcapped and shrouded in mystery. Then the veldt to the east, where his pride hunted, occasionally shading themselves beneath dense tree groves, which cast long cool shadows long after the sun dips behind the jungle gardens.

This contemplation soothed the mighty lion. As he sat atop a large rock, the King’s Seat he called it – once the germ of a small volcano, which long ago had risen from the earth and then as if Nature herself had grown unsatisfied with the location ceased its ascent, the Seat marked the center of the large valley – considering the days meal (zebra or antelope, he could not decide), his tranquil thoughts were interrupted by the loud trumpeting bellows of the elephants, splashing themselves with mud in the nearby pits. The king turned his nose up at such disgraceful behavior.

“You would not see me or my kind act in such a manner,” he scoffed. “Fortunately the other members of my kingdom are far more dignified than to be caught playing in the mud.”

As you well know, the elephants cover themselves in mud to protect themselves from the intense heat of the sun, like sunblock your Mom rubs on your back. The lion did not know this however, and continued to mock the elephants without restraint. As he considered several spectacular insults concerning pachyderm hygiene and the size of their rears, a foul stench drifted through the air. A migrating herd of wildebeests had ventured into the king’s territory from the south, their coats now stained with unctuous marsh gas and globs of slime. Of course, wildebeests like most creatures that travel together in groups have accrued a hearty stench after journeying together without food or water for several hundred miles. After a long road trip, I would challenge you to sniff yourself and see how clean and fresh you smell.

Nonetheless the ignorant lion, disgusted that other members of his kingdom could reflect so ignobly on himself, began to decry the worthlessness of these creatures as well. Escaping the fecund smells and disgusting smack of mud on skin, the lion strode closer to the shade of the jungle. There he rested beneath a tall fruit tree, breathing in the fresh air and engaged in a mid-morning nap. Just as his dreams began to take shape, forming fields of antelope and fat zebras (lions as a rule think of nothing else), the tree began titter and rustle with the chatter of the monkey clan, who being social creatures talked effortlessly among themselves. The irritated lion immediately awoke.

“Will you foolish creatures, please silence yourselves?” the lion shouted. “Your king is seeking rest.”

The monkeys stopped their discussions to stare at the enraged lion. Silence filled the jungle, even the largest and proudest monkey – named Chi – stopped his argument concerning jungle politics and disappeared into the foliage. The others followed.

“Thank you, many apologies for losing my temper. Foolish though you may remain, of all the creatures I have met today you have . . . Ack!” A large rotting mango had struck the lion in the snout. Then suddenly other fruit – both fresh and not-so-fresh – flew from the tree, along with sticks, rocks, and other material much more disgusting.

———————————————————————————————————

“Did they throw poop?” Kevin asks with a smile, earning him a quick slap from Bree.

“Ewww . . . Kevin, don’t be disgusting!” she shouts. “I bet the lion was quite angry about that.”

“As mad as anyone,” I said, twisting myself more comfortably in the seat. The leather screeched as if agitated. “Anyone who is barraged with sticks, rocks, and . . . well worse things. After all more so than money, power, or fancy parties nobility love respect and admiration. When you take that away well . . .”

———————————————————————————————————-

“Ah what horrible habits,” the lion roared. “Rude though I was, such a reaction is uncalled for. My subjects squander their talents for such mean gestures. How can the kingdom survive in the future without more noble spirits like me to guide them?”

The revolted lion ran from the jungle and returned to his cave at the center of the valley. There he ruminated on why the creatures under his domain were so foolish, so disgusting, so weak, and incapable of nobility.

Even the delicious zebras are mere food for us larger stronger animals, he thought. They exist only to be eaten. The other prides to the north, south, east and west must think me an idiot for babysitting such repulsive subjects. Why can’t they be more like me: proud, strong, agile? And wise too. Surely such a king as I can solve this trifling problem for my subjects.

The lion thought about this for three days and two nights. Then while nibbling on the broken leg of a well-fattened antelope – the poor creature had twisted its ankle not three days prior at the exact moment the lion had unripe fruit tossed onto his snout, a day later – he had an idea. A brilliant idea, fit for a cat of such high lineage.

“Maybe, it is the food they eat. Indeed if all my subjects ate meat like myself, then they would be stronger, braver, more courageous and thus more refined. Too often have they relied on the bounty of the trees and leaves of this kingdom. My subjects have grown lazy. Yet virtue is the key. I shall weed out their weaknesses simply by changing their diets.”

The next day the lion gathered all his subjects from the four points of his territory. The elephants, the wildebeests, and the monkeys arrived along with many other animals both large and small to hear what the king decreed.

“All creatures seek to improve themselves, to become stronger. We in this valley have grown too soft over the years, weakened by this continued peace. The land has taught us to remain ignorant beasts, unaware of our hidden potentials. This no longer must continue. We must change our ways or fall prey to greater threats.”

The animals listened to the words of the mighty lion. Many felt troubled, unsure of what threat the king spoke, worried that their happy lives might end. They pleaded with the lion for protection and wisdom in these dark days to come. Others like the antelope and the monkeys who frequently joined the lion on his dinner plate grew skeptical of the lion’s plans.

“Worry not citizens. For though I cannot protect all of you all the time, I can train you to be like me, strong and brave, unafraid of any threat. We must make sacrifices, abandoning our old habits and traditions so that we might grow stronger and wiser in our ways. We must adopt the code of the hunters, feasting on weakness and building a nation of virtuous warriors. All of us must learn to eat meat. Only then can we cease to be mere prey, but transform ourselves in noble lions regardless of age, sex, or species.”

A loud cacophony of applause, shouts, brays, and trumpets met the lion’s speech, as the animals cheered this new way of life. For all creatures desire to be strong and great and noble. If a change in diet was all that was necessary to protect themselves, to rise in stature, what is a minor sacrifice or two? The animals listened in rapture as the brave king and teacher concluded his speech:

“Meat is the one food that keeps us lions strong. Our daily hunt requires that we continue to grow and improve our mind and bodies, for the hunter is his own master, not a slave or someone else’s meal. Through hunting we lions become noble and great, like kings of old that have ruled this land by the grace of the Mother Spirit herself. Thus, go forth and hunt. Be strong!”

More applause followed, and the lion grew pleased and confident in his decision. Yet there was silence among other members of the crowd. Other animals did not applaud the lion’s words. To the zebras and antelopes, a nation of hunters was nothing to applaud. They looked to the far jungles, marshes, mountains, and valleys, wondering if any would survive the next week. Yet none spoke up; all remained silent except for one brave monkey, named Chi.

“Mighty lion,” said Chi. “You speak of becoming strong like you, but are we not better as we are? The great Mother Spirit gave us monkey’s hands to grasp fruit and tails to swing from tree to tree. Might we already be strong enough for our own kind?”

The lion looked upon the monkey, the leader of those that assaulted him not three days before. Quick as lightning, the lion pounced on the helpless monkey and swallowed him whole.

“Hands and tails might be used better to protect yourselves,” gulped the lion, “than eat fruit. If you wish this to be your fate, please remain the same, change not. Skills are meant to be used not wasted on fruit and trees. Yet if you wish to be strong and be the victim of no creature, then follow my advice. Hunt!”

———————————————————————————————————-

“He ate the monkey!” squealed Bree, whose nicknames was also ‘Monkey.’ “Poor monkey.”

“Good,” grinned Kevin, who was also aware of Bree’s nickname. “Stupid monkey, he deserved what he got.”

“Ah,” I said. “Well then, I wonder what the lion deserved . . .”

———————————————————————————————————-

The following weeks saw great change in the valley as the animals all followed the lion’s advice, learning in their own ways how to hunt. Bloodlust has a way of changing creatures, you see, affecting even the most docile into . . . well, into something else altogether.

The elephants sharpened their dull tusks into razors, honing their hunting skills as they gored the weaker members of the herd for their dinner plates. Other small creatures were trampled by their thick legs, served as appetizers or kneaded into mouse-pudding.

The wildebeests possessed no such size but departed deep into the fume-filled swamps, surrounding their bodies with thick horribly-smelling ooze and slime. They ate from garlic plants, skunk weed, and rotting onion bulbs; using their tails like paint brushes they lathered their coats with poison ivy, rag weed, and methane gas. Such they experimented with these stenches until the revolting stench from their breath and bodies could incapacitate the most powerful skunks in the land. By night they would emerge from the north like a foul wind, descending into the woodlands and jungles, allowing their ooze and stench to drift into the trees. As the sleeping animals fell to the floor unconscious or dead, the herd scooped the inert bodies into waiting jaws.

True to the lion’s words, the monkey clan as well strengthened their own hands and tails. Grasping tree and fruit no more, they sharpened their teeth instead. With stick and stone, they hunted their feathered brethren in the treetops and fell zebra from hundreds of yards away, hurling their spears like a deadly rain. The laughter of the monkeys once full of mirth now chilled the hearts of all who entered the lofty tree tops.

Slowly the land grew silent.

More weeks pass. After a long slumber, the lion emerged from his cave to look upon his paradise, his newly improved kingdom. The air smells sweet, the lion thinks, like . . . like Sunday breakfast. A new wind carries the promise of a changed land. With a roar he calls forth his subjects from the four corners of the land. Slowly his subjects approach, three great hunters knell before their king and teacher, all that remains of the kingdom’s citizens. The lion stares at his subjects, the monsters before him. The air, he realizes then, is soaked through and through with blood.

“Greetings, great king,” bellowed the first of these creatures. The lion looked down and stared at the speaker, a monster of great size that once might have been a elephant. About its body draped bones of its own kind, sharpened to fine points like thorns upon a dried rose. Hides of various animals replaced the mud of old, making the creature look almost prehistoric, a living corpse returned to life.

“You spoke true,” said monster. “We do indeed feel strong. Like demons in fact, no trouble or danger do we now face ever again.”

“Yesss,” laughed the second monster, whose body remained hidden behind whirled smoke and gas, a living smog wrapped around rotting flesh. Ooze dripped down to floor, a slime trail marked the creature’s descent from the northern marshes. “For you are fat and no other animals dwell now in this valley. The grass is soaked in blood and littered with bones. We need to feed if we are to become stronger. . .”

“Wait!” shouted the lion, staring into the creatures’ eyes. “This is not what I intended. This is not what I proposed.”

“Too late,” spoke the third monster, an ape . . . no, ape-like, stretched and contorted into fantastic and horrid shapes, like melted clay doll. One long sinewy hand absently choked the air about it, while the other gripped a long barbed – unclean – spear. “We can do great things now. Great and terrible things. What are skills if we do not use them? Potential cannot be wasted . . .”

And with that the three monsters descended on the poor lion, dethroning him piece by piece.

———————————————————————————————————-

The kids seemed visibly scarred from the stories I told. Both did not sleep for a week afterwards and it would be a month before either ate their ham sandwiches again. Mom and Dad kept me on a strict Dr. Seuss diet for an even longer interim.

Brigid and Kevin don’t fight as much anymore; Bree doesn’t call Kev a loser and he in turn seems more willing to watch the crime scene shows. Yesterday I found them crying together on the sofa. The control had accidentally changed channels. The screen flashed to an golden savannah where an animated lion prince practiced his roar.

Mouse and Trap

I failed to construct a better mousetrap yesterday. Wait . . . scratch that. I successfully built a Fudd-ian wabbit twap that failed to capture a tiny field mouse nibbling at my doorstep. Now this should not have surprised me as old Elmer could never really catch Bugs, but once again I allowed reason and science to usurp the omniscient truth of Loony Tune logic:

1) Traps will never catch rabbits but will always catch something: a bear, a bomb, your foot.

2) Gravity does not exist unless you acknowledge it.

3) A giant rubber band trumps rocket propulsion

4) Nothing is impossible as long as it’s funny.

Say hello to my little friend . . .

Nevertheless the assembly amused me greatly as well as provided ample excuse to ignore my assignments for another half-hour (Web surfing had grown dull). Collecting some string, a pencil, and a small bin, I constructed my simple twap and after setting some pistachio nuts underneath waited patiently in my chair like Jaws’ Quint for the beasty to take the bait.

The Trap is Set . . .

I should note here that I do not relish killing animals, lest you think I am an ignorant buffoon unaware of the various lethal traps, glue, and shotguns available to combat rodents. Buffoon perhaps, ignorant no. My mother and the vast majority of the 4-H attending siblings take great satisfaction (or at least no remorse) in killing mice, a characteristic I imagine common to children raising Ms. Piggy for prize money, fresh bacon, and the continued abundance of Slim Jims. From their standpoint mice contaminate household food; ruin livestock feed; and retain fleas, famous for biting, itching, and breeding plague every so often. Although never possessing much of a palate for disease, I nevertheless take a much more Buddhist approach towards animals and even pests – except flies or mosquitoes, for even benevolence has its limits – lest Karma strike me down or I inadvertently whack a reincarnated great-great-great-uncle simply because we share a love for the same brand of Irish cheddar.

I waited anxiously in my chair for several minutes, staring at the gap where the mouse had departed only moments before, the line tight in my hand. Beads of water began streaming down my face (I had just showered, you see). Another minute passed. Another yawn. At this point my AADS was ready to throw in the towel, when the mouse bolted from its hiding place. Ignoring the pistachio nuts and leaping past my trap, it raced across the tile seeking a haven under my desk, yet anticlimactically trapping itself there. No gap or hole through which to escape, I scooped up the little guy in a bin and dropped him outside. Game over, no foul.

Game, set, match.

Aesop once wrote a story about a lion and mouse. He believed that all kindness is eventually rewarded in some way. Aesop was both a Greek and a realist. We Irish never had Aesop; we had Murphy. And Murphy was an optimist. Murphy believed that no good deed no matter how small or insignificant goes unpunished. Thus, in case my readers should think that I might be thanked in some mouse-y way, presented with a cheese wheel or freed from a cannibal’s net, think again. Such superstitions exist only in old tales. Mice will not help you accomplish any Herculean tasks or transmute straw into gold. Moreover, kissing a mouse will not produce some fairy princess or free a beautiful ensorcelled maiden. The few fur fibers left on my swollen purple tongue are proof enough of that.

Murphey’s Law for Children Young and Old: Do not attempt to kiss any unfamiliar man, woman, mouse or toad unless it audibly asks you to.