3rd Annual Egg Games

It’s hard to imagine something that blossomed out of ironic sibling rivalry becoming an annual tradition. Three years ago, in epileptic nostalgia, my mother asked my brother and I to duel in an egg hunt. It quickly became a wrestling match. Now, later and older, the games have evolved. Instead of candy, there are Starbucks gift cards.

I bit someone this year.

My uncle and his family came from Kentucky to celebrate Easter with us, which bumped the combatants up to nine. In the grand Trumbo tradition of speaking unnecessary animosity into a competitive situation, my parents began to spread a rumor that Holly and I had been strategizing for several weeks. My Kentucky cousins came with ten-gallon buckets instead of baskets, threatening to use them as weapons. All Holly and I brought were matching purple v-necks.

The games began with a whistle and the nine of us spread out in a jog, looking for eggs. Last year, Holly pioneered the brilliant strategy of allowing other players to collect eggs before stripping them of their baskets. We came with oversized fanny-packs strapped to our bodies. The only trouble Holly had was a Kentucky cousin who climbed on her back to get a hand in her fanny-pack. I, on the other hand, feared no one and paid a dear price for it.

Whilst scouring a grass patch for missed eggs, my back to the world and my guard dropped, my brother – shirtless and in short shorts – a man who didn’t even bother to bring a basket for the egg hunt – speared me in the back and tackled me into the mud. I lost several of my eggs (the fanny-pack was unzipped) and I had to change out of my church jeans into a pair of my father’s pleated khaki shorts.

IMG_8163

No one knows why my brother wore what he did for this family Easter gathering…

Later, as we broke open eggs together on the back porch and read off the notes inside – McDonald’s gift card! Ten dollars cash! – we realized that, despite having opened all the eggs, there were still several unclaimed prizes. In a shared revelation, the nine of us sprinted to the front yard and began looking desperately for the last eggs. I found one behind the brake pad of a parked car.

I struggled to get my fingers through the hub cab, imagining a Chick-fil-a card awaiting Holly and I. In the final moments of my effort, when the egg was within my grasp, my twenty-year-old cousin jumped on my back, stealing the egg at the last minute.

That’s when I bit him.

And then Holly dropped a knee on his ribs.

The Egg Games can be brutal, but the rewards are great. However, the particular egg in question only had a Reece’s Cup.

IMG_8164

An unrelated incident – I wail on my brother while Holly, on the left, steals the eggs that I’ve dropped.

Advertisements

Christmas Box Office

We spend Christmas in a small town an hour north of Nashville, just across the Kentucky state line. Twenty-six people slept in a house with one-and-a-half bathrooms. Holly and I had to fight for our air mattress, which was next to two other air mattresses in the dining room.

les_miserables_french-posterIt was once a tradition for the family to see a movie on Christmas day. That went out of style several years ago but we have all been very interested in Les Miserables, the musical about French people going through hard times. I believe it translates to Everyone Eventually Dies. Most of my family has seen the play several times and we wanted to sing along with their melancholy. Because it’s Christmas.

Holly and I drove forty-five minutes to the nearest movie theater in Glasgow, KY, using the backroads that my grandfather Pa Will calls, highways. My brother Harlin and my sister and her husband rode with us. En route, we forced Harlin to lay out his life plan. “Coaching, and either teaching math or history.” I voted history in our straw poll. Harlin is very good at telling stories as well as memorization. He would be wonderful, fleshing out old events with new language.

The parking lot was packed so we sent Harlin ahead to buy tickets. However, once we had parked, we couldn’t find him. We searched the box office. We searched the lobby and concessions. Finally we found him waiting outside the theater door. Only then did we realize that not a single employee was taking tickets. Though the cinema was very popular that evening, there wasn’t a soul of security. I assume small towns are on an honor system.

The movie was fairly good, though the screen was small and the sound quality bad. It reminded me of a Turkish movie theater in its mediocrity. We sat in the back, directly in front of a loud talker who wasn’t really that interested in the movie. Instead, he told his girlfriend several incorrect facts about the French Revolution before he began to eat his popcorn loudly – no, wait, they were making out. With a smoker’s voice, a supreme confidence in his false history and his complete swagger, I assumed this was one of the first dates. When the lights came up, he was in his mid-thirties, though he had a sailor’s face, weathered by salt water and storms.

On the long drive home, we joked about that man and Russel Crowe’s Creed voice. I also pointed out that we didn’t have to buy tickets. We could’ve simply walked in.

“I know,” Harlin said. “I bought six tickets for nothing.”

The car quieted a moment before my brother-in-law Cory said, “How many of us are there?”

“Six,” Harlin answered with confusion.

There were only five. “I guess this rules out teaching math,” Cory said.

Trumbellishment

Once both his sons graduated, my father had to recycle himself into the community. He adopted an elementary-age competitive basketball team to coach, giving he and my mother both a whole new batch of boys to watch grow up. He’s been coaching the Blue Bombers for two years now and I think that’s just enough time for the veteran parents to adjust.

He has a very particular style, my father. There are only three statistics in his game of basketball: rebounds, charges, and hustle points. He keeps track of them on the same wooden clipboard from my basketball years. I think these represent aspect of the game that no one could argue against, like bipartisan political support for little kids learning to read. However, my dad takes them to a new level.

If he had to define his system, it would be pre-basketball. He trains young men to obsess over defense, loose balls and playing with pain so that when they get to a more real level of basketball, those basics will be second nature. Though it sounds like a good idea, new parents are required to attend multiple “teaching practices” where they learn, along with their kids, why there are no trophies for points scored but a jersey embroidered with a skull-and-crossbones for the player who takes two or more charges in a single game.

He occasionally brings in speakers to talk about big picture stuff, like perseverance, work ethic and how the government is lying to us. It was my turn to speak last Sunday afternoon, at the end of practice.

My dad likes to embellish. We call it a Trumbellishment, which is also the name of my wife’s cat-centric twitter account. Thus, in my introduction, he told about five lies concerning me.

“Our next speaker holds the Fayetteville High record for most consecutive starts (LIE). At the University of Arkansas, he triple majored in wildly different disciplines (LIE). Then the government gave him a grant to go anywhere in the world (LIE), and he chose Turkey. When he returned, he could’ve written his ticket – Hollywood (LIE), Wall Street (“What is he smoking?” I whispered to my mom). But he chose to stay here. He just finished his second book (Not a lie but also not something I ever talk to strangers about) and he has great knowledge for you.”

After I explained to the parents that I was Coach Trumbo’s son and didn’t really do all those things, the talk went smoothly. I spoke about the different ways of growing up, using Luke 2:52 – and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man – speaking mostly to the guys who wouldn’t be playing college or even high school ball. Afterwards, my dad asked for questions. The players looked terrified. However, one dad raised his hand.

“What’s your book about?”

*Facepalm*

I do acknowledge that my introduction was an act of immense love and exactly characteristic of my dad’s personality. In fact, later in the car I reveled in it because it’s a story I will often tell at family Thanksgivings. We like to make fun of him and he takes it very well – I think because he knows my kids will one day do this to me.

When everyone was packing their gym bags and I was shaking hands, a little boy in rec-specs tugged on my shirt. “I have a question,” he said. “Are you married?”

I stuttered, unsure of where the logic was headed, but I said yes.

The boy’s dad stood behind him and teased, “Why? Are you going to propose?”

Then the boy got very flustered and said, “No! I’m not like that, dad!”

I found that very funny.

The Schmeding Center

I was asked to write an entry about my short story, “The Schmeding Center,” for One Weird Idea, the magazine publishing it. If that’s what it takes to get non-relatives to read my blog stories, then so be it.

I wrote “The Schmeding Center” in my senior year of college. It was different then – it started on a moonbase. Now there is no moon – well, it’s there, you just can’t see it when you look at the story on paper. However, the idea behind the story is the same. It’s about how relationship must change.

In college I lived on the same street that I grew up on. Three blocks down, in a tiny, beautiful brick house with a dying metal railing around the concrete front porch. But I managed to stay separate from my parents, dropping by for meals or cable television (we only had a record player. It sounds hipster but we couldn’t afford anything else). Usually I came when I needed something – often that was as much emotional as anything else. And then there was a day when I couldn’t get what I needed, emotionally. My mom didn’t notice it. Neither did her cat, Gigi, whom she adopted to replace my married sister. Gigi is French; my mom speaks to it in a French accent.

Regardless, I left unfulfilled and generally frustrated for no definable reason. Pondering it in silence (because it cost too much money to turn on the record player), I eventually realized that I was still behaving like I was a dependent. Not the food or the cable – I can get that stuff from my grandmother at Christmas – but the emotional demand I placed on going home. I wanted the same sort of sustenance that I was used to when I’d walk home in my white collared uniform from St. Joesph’s Elementary. Part of becoming a man is letting go of that. At least that’s what I’ve heard from television.

The emotional give and take of going home doesn’t go away, but it does have to evolve. Part of the way I found that out was by writing this story, the first draft of which came a couple of hours after I went home. But it originally took place on a moonbase.

The story itself takes place in a majestic and peaceful storage facility – the Schmeding Center collect and save personalities of dead people. With a monthly subscription, a client can visit the files of his dead relatives. Hijinks ensue, in the form of emotional epiphanies and a deceased mafia don sub-plot that I eventually edited out.

There’s an actual Schmeiding Center (with a well placed ‘i’ in the middle) – it’s a center for the elderly near my hometown in Northwest Arkansas. In the late stages of her Alzeheimer’s, we often took my grandmother there. She was a wonderful wobbling woman with a mental box full of catchphrases that the disease could never take away. She used to sing loudly, “There she is, Ms. America!” when my sister entered the room. In her last few months she’d sing that very thing when my brother brought her soup. She never did it to me; I look too much like my grandfather.

I’ve talked myself into a circle – I wanted to say something about the story I wrote, the first story I sold, but I’ve forgotten what. This is my first acceptance out of eighteen rejections on multiple stories – “The Schmeding Center” changed every time until someone thought I got it right. My sister, who paints, got a side job writing an art article called “Fancy Frugal” in the Central Arkansas lifestyle magazine. It was infuriating at the time, because she beat me to publication. It seems I’ll have the last laugh, because not only will I go to press, but she was long ago replaced in our family by a cat.

The first issue of One Weird Idea can be purchased with 99 cents for e-readers everywhere on May 22nd.

It’s a Staycation

I came home for a week so my mom could see me. At first my dad said it wasn’t possible, then, after my mom didn’t talk to him for three days, he bought me a ticket.

A lot has changed since I’ve been gone. My parents bought a dog to replace my brother, who moved out a month ago. It’s name is Clive Owen, and it’s half lab, half lab experiment. It can jump freakishly high, and it has the ability to become incredibly annoying. Clive Owen spent most of his time outside, sitting by the door just out of my sight.

He’s a great guard dog, though. A couple of nights I came home after midnight and Clive Owen was so thrilled that he woke my parents up and then peed himself. Both true. My mom loves that dog.

I couldn’t come home late very often because my body refused to believe it was on vacation. Instead, it wanted to pretend that it was working a nine to five job, with a two hour commute. I would wake up at 5:30 and want to go to bed around 8. I get that that’s jet lag, but it’s obscenely inconvenient when all you want to do is eat Cheez-It’s and drink Coca-Cola at three in the morning while playing XBOX. I never made it that far and, sadly, I was only able to spend four hours repelling the alien invasion of Earth.

The strangest thing about my time at home was how similar it was to last year. I saw friends, had lunch and tea with friends, but mostly all of my time was spent watching Bones with my mom and dad. We watched almost all of Season 5 (Booth kissed Brennan, but she said she didn’t want a relationship – are you kidding? not like I care). My parents, who don’t have cable, have Netflix, and have slowly been working their way through the series. My mom has even developed a “Bones Dance” that looks a little like the hand jive. During the credits of each episode she would do it with enthusiasm, and my dad and I would follow to appease her. By my last episode the dance had spilled over into the ending credits and morphed into this butterfly catching motion.

This House is For Lovebirds Only

My mom hates the house we live in. It was built by my grandfather; it’s where my dad and his four brothers all grew up. I’m pretty sure when they were teenagers my uncles grew pot in the room my parents now sleep in. We moved in eight years ago to stay with my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s. Now that she’s gone, there’s really no reason to stay, except we don’t really have the money to move out.

For maybe a decade now, it’s been my parent’s dream to move out to the lake. We own a piece of land – just the land, with nothing on it – and my parents have been vising and revising a house plan since before this millennium. But my dad has always told my mom it wasn’t time to build. The economy was bad, or there wasn’t enough money, or it was senseless since after 2012 there wouldn’t be a planet Earth.

(I was on the phone with an AT&T operator last week talking about my cell phone plan; it lasts until the end of 2011. She asked me if I wanted to extend it, and I told her I didn’t really see the point, since the world was ending the year after. She actually laughed. Then I told her Mr. Trumbo was my father, and to call me Cass – but then I had to explain that Mr. Trumbo was actually my father, and I wasn’t the primary account holder.)

Maybe two weeks ago my mom got a plumbing bill she didn’t recognize. She took it to my father, and when he told her not to worry, she became suspicious. She investigated – that’s where I get my mystery solving gene from. My mother. As it turned out, my dad had been building a house for two months without telling her. The plan was to have the entire framework up by her birthday in early May. When she asked why he didn’t tell her, he said, “Because you didn’t ask.”

For Easter we took a picnic lunch out to the lake. My brother Harlin and I set up a card table on the concrete slab that will eventually be the dining room, and my mom laid out dishes on a 2×4 she used as a buffet line. We ate lunch in a windy breakfast nook with a beautiful view of the lake, and then my mom made Harlin and I compete in an Easter egg hunt. He is a senior in high school, and I am about to graduate college. It was relatively harmless until my mom said, “There’s only one egg left.” While we were looking for it, Harlin stole an egg out of my basket, so I slapped the basket out of his hands and stomped on his eggs. I now have Reese’s cups all over the sole of my nice birthday shoes.

Before we left, my dad took us around to each room and explained what would be installed. At the end of the tour my brother and I looked at each other, and then I let him ask the question we were both considering. “Where’s our rooms?” he asked. “You don’t have any,” my dad said. “This house is for lovebirds only.”

An Informative and Entertaining Alzheimer’s Story

A few days ago at the Kappa house, one of the girls asked me to help her write an essay about Alzheimer’s that was both informative and entertaining. Easily done. There are many things more entertaining than Alzheimer’s.

She asked me when I could get together to work; we have to get together to do this? Can’t I just ghostwrite it? But after I asked her what I was getting out of this, she backed off a little, like I was a homeless man. Many girls think the houseboys are homeless. Once, when I worked in the Pi Phi house, a girl found me in the kitchen and told me that there was a homeless man sleeping on the living room couch, and all the girls were afraid to wake him up. It turned out it was just Blake Chism. He wants to be an engineer.
So instead of actually working, I said that I would tell a story about Alzheimer’s that was both informative and entertaining, and she could transcribe it. This is what I spoke:
My family lived with my grandmother for six years; we moved in when she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She was nearly normal up until the last two years, when she began to slide. She forgot my name – I think she thought I was my grandfather. She told me I was handsome a lot (first sign of Alzheimer’s). And she stopped watching television. Unfamiliar shows upset her. She could watch DVD’s of the shows she traditionally watched. She loved Murder She Wrote, and she loved JAG. That’s all that she watched every episode multiple times, and I watched with her.
Eventually she reached a point where she couldn’t remember even these shows. Harmon Rabb, or Angela Landsbury would solve a crime, and she would ask, “Who is that?” That’s the hero, Grandma. He or she is doing good.
But she retained something peculiar. Even though she forgot the premises and the characters, she could always identify the bad guys. I don’t think she could remember the bad guys – that would be way to much to ask of her mind, and really, if she could do that, that’s a waste of memory in a world where she thinks we’re married. No, I think that she just watched enough mysteries that she cracked some sort of narrative code by which bad guys could be identified by physical traits and entrances. Every first time a bad guy would enter the screen, ten minutes into the episode where he’s not even considered a suspect, Grandma would make her hands into guns and shout “Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!”
That was her version of a machine gun.
Thanks a lot, Grandma. I hadn’t seen this episode, but now it’s pretty obvious that the uncle did it. This is why I never take you out with me.
Sometimes the Kappa house makes me feel like a sage. Yesterday, a girl at lunch told me she took a right brain/left brain test, and out of 18 questions, answered 18 of them with her left brain. What does that mean. It means, I said, that you’ll die when you’re 25. She didn’t talk to me after that.
This morning, as I walked through the house after breakfast, I heard different girls talking about the right brain/left brain test. One said, “If you’re all left brain, you’re only supposed to live till 25.”

Bones, Back to Back to Back to Back

My parents live in the guest house. The main house, along with the guest house, was built in the 1950’s by my grandfather, who I like to imagine was one of the Mad Men. He was an investment banker, and the firm he worked for still has this wonderful oil painting of him in suspenders and a beard; he looks surprised, as if no one told him he was being painted. It must have taken great concentration to hold that look that long.

The upstairs of the main house is empty. My grandmother lived up there. Now, I’m the only one who goes upstairs, because 1) that’s where my clothes are, and 2) the only ice machine in both the big and little house is there. My mom called me yesterday and asked me to come home from the library because she needed ice.
In the downstairs of the big house is the Cave, which has four beds, a couch, and no windows. The XBOX is also in there. And a miniature refrigerator. My skin grows three shades paler in the winter. But the past few nights, my brother’s friends have slept in there because school was canceled on account of the cold. Last night, five of them performed a snow dance in the driveway, which continued until one took a misstep on a patch of black ice. They took that as an answer.
So instead of playing XBOX, which was one of the goals I created after finals ended in my five year vacation plan, I’m sleeping on the couch next to the wall which is completely glass and offers no insulation. I can see the Christmas lights on the little house as I fall asleep. When I open my eyes in the middle of the night, they look like a belt of dying stars. Millions of red and green stars. Stapled to wood paneling. At that time of night, I can’t separate what’s romantic and what’s trite.
On weeknights, TNT runs four episode of the crime drama Bones back to backstab. Since I spend the day working on my thesis and reading comic books (I spent my total of 75 dollars of Barnes and Noble gift cards on Joss Whedon’s 24 issue run of Astonishing X-Men; best money I’ve spent since I paid one of the groomsmen at Miller William’s wedding three dollars to recant and admit that I actually caught the garter), the time I spend watching Bones with my parents counts as maybe the last consistent family bonding I’ll share with my parents for many cycles. I graduate in May, and then I’ll leave. But Bones is quite good. It’s about an uptight forensic scientist working with a mellow and handsome FBI agent. Everyone on the show can be described as snarky. Some of the murders seem a little too complex – I guess the writers just get carried away with themselves – and I’ll never see the two leads get together, but that’s just two rules for long running detective shows. I don’t make the rules; I just need glasses to see them.
About this time two years ago, I left my parents to live in Rome for four months. We were separated, and so my thoughts of them were based on whatever happened that Christmas. It was nothing loud or spectacular; we spent some nice, quiet times together. The night before I left, we watched The Empire Strikes Back on VHS, because all the DVD’s are Special Edition, which doesn’t make artistic sense; let the deleted scenes bury the deleted scenes. But that was how I chose to spend my last moments with my parents. In fact, if a meteor was about to hit earth, I’d send a mass text message to all the girls I know, then I’d watch the Star Wars trilogy on VHS with my parents, and probably my brother’s friends, because they would be sleeping over.
Tonight we watched Bones for the last time, because tomorrow TNT starts its weekend line up of movies. In the third episode, Booth and Bones came this close to declaring love, but they pulled away at the last minute, because it was suggested that their feelings only spun out of Booth’s previous coma and hallucinations of Bones’ fictional pregnancy. It sounds complicated now, but in made sense in context. They had just uncovered both a mass grave and a convoluted Ponzi scheme, so there was a lot going on, emotionally. But my parents agreed with me that the two belonged together. I probably won’t watch Bones any this spring.

This Never Happened

During the Christmas break I am not as popular as I once was. I hang out a lot with my parents. I’ve beaten two video games. I go to my brother’s 4A basketball games for entertainment. There’s not a lot going on. So when I want to be social, I spend time with Harlin’s friends.

Harlin is a senior in high school; he goes to Shiloh Christian, where he transferred to from Fayetteville High two years ago, so there’s a mix of guys who come over. Previously, I knew their names. Now I’m up to date on each man’s romantic problems. I give them advice, because they don’t know my track record.
We call the room I sleep in the cave; it can sleep seven guys comfortably. There’s a queen, a single, a couch, and a bunk bed with a double for a bottom. It’s also where the television is. When I go in there, I bring a sack lunch and a trash can for when I get motion sickness from the Pankration.
I spent last night hanging out with Harlin and four of his friends. We played video games and ordered pizza from Mordor’s. We didn’t pick it up. Apparently they blacklist your number for that. I took the double bed. After we turned out the lights, someone threw a pillow at me, then we started talking about girls. They came to me for advice. High schoolers make me feel important.
At one point, Tyler, who was sleeping on the couch, got up to use the bathroom; Gabe, my cousin, decided to scare him. He stood in the closet that the couch was pushed up against and awaited Tyler’s return. But when Tyler came back, he immediately began talking about Gabe’s ex-girlfriend. He went around the room, asking everyone if they thought she was pretty. I said, no doubt. Then he asked Gabe, and Gabe didn’t respond. Tyler put a hand on Gabe’s shoulder, and told him that he could come out of the closet.
I have a story I tell about two of my friends, Ed and Ricky, who were co-counselors at War Eagle. Ed is tall and super skinny; Ricky is a big boy. Ed loved to pester Ricky. One night, very late, the two were walking back to the cabin from time off when Ricky stopped to talk to someone else. Ed went on and, in a bit of cleverness, hid under Ricky’s covers, hoping to scare Ricky like he often did. However, Ricky took quite a bit longer than expected to get back. When he pulled down his covers, his found Ed sleeping in his bed. He woke Ed up, and immediately Ed said, “This never happened.” Then Ed got in his own bed.
Thirty minutes later Ed scared Ricky. Ricky stayed up to read by a red headlamp, and Ed, ever so stealthily, slipped out of his bunk and army crawled over to Ricky. Ricky had a bunk in the corner of the cabin, and Ed says that when he jumped up, Ricky spent two terrified seconds trying to claw his way through the wooden wall.
The terrible thing is, Gabe was broken up with.

Christmas Eve

My mother’s family live in a town named Gamaliel, in Kentucky. It’s an hour north of Nashville. There may be six hundred people there. I spend every Christmas in Gamaliel.

We stay at my grandparents farm, where there is one and a half bathrooms and bedding space for twenty people. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Last night, Christmas Eve, fourteen people slept here. I was on one of two couches, but I was also in the room where Santa places the presents, so I didn’t go to bed until late.

When I was younger, and my grandparents lived in a different house, on Christmas Eve all the grandchildren would go to bed maybe around ten. Our parents, acting as Santa Claus, would arrange presents in specific places for each child. These presents most often weren’t wrapped; it was a bike or a dollhouse or a Dreamcast. On Christmas morning, my uncle John, who didn’t have kids at the time, would hold us back from the presents, and ask which one of us asked for a two by four, or a porcupine, or whatever an eight-year-old would never want. Then we would rush into the living room and rip open the copy of Sim City 2000 and accidentally knock a light over, burning a hole in my favorite chair. That didn’t happen every Christmas, just on a special occassion.

Now, most of the grandchildren are grown up. Out of the four separate families that come to Ma Sue and Pa Will’s farm, only one still has kids that believe in Santa, and need their presents laid out in this traditional manner. Therefore, what was once a celebrated activity, when the children went to sleep and the adults had time by themselves, where they probably watched R-rated movies, rented cars and spoke about how stupid kids were for believing in Santa, has now become a lonely night.
This was supposed to change this year, because my sister had a baby. As I’ve stated before, I hate babies. But this is an entirely different matter. Anyway, she was supposed to be a new generation practicing this ritual – staying up late and laying out presents in imitation of Santa. However, at eight or eight thirty, while I was watching Broken Arrow on my grandparents’ all access movie channel pass, she asked me to do this for her. She was tired. She didn’t want to stay up. I said no.
She went to bed anyway, and so I had to stay up with my aunt and uncle, Holly and Mark, to lay out presents in a dark and whisperless room where there was no joy. For Christmas, my sister bought her daughter a five sided cube covered with physical, baby thinking puzzles that looked like the intestines of a monster who only eats abacuses. It required assembly. I hate babies.
The worst part was that I didn’t get credit. Her one year old, who is named Zuzu (part of the reason I hate babies) thought Santa did it. So I waited until after lunch, when Zuzu was trapped in her high chair. I grabbed her by both arms and told her the truth: Santa is dead. She drooled on my hand, so I spit banana in her face. Two can play at that game.