Happy Valentines, Harry Potter

I’ve written before about my desire and failures to surprise Holly. I love surprises, often can’t fathom why someone wouldn’t, and I project that love onto others. Luckily, Holly does like to be surprised, though I can’t imagine how badly my romantic gestures would go if she didn’t.

(However, I like to think that there’s something in the attraction of our personalities that leads to the eventuality of a love of surprises.)

In an effort to mislead Holly, I gave her a present a day early, preempting Valentines in mutual excitement. Because I worked on Thursday night, I promised her dinner on Saturday.

ImageAll the while, I planned to take her to a showing of Potted Potter, a Shakespeare-Abridged-type show that runs through all seven Harry Potter books in seventy minutes. The show is a two-man affair, a British duo that purportedly began as an impromptu entertainment at a midnight book release. Holly loves live theater in the big auditorium at the Walton Arts Center, and she loves Harry Potter. A perfect surprise.

However, Holly has a such a clear track record with uncovering surprises. In fact, she is such a great detective, I would trust her to solve my murder, provided that she did not commit it. So when we got into the car on Saturday night, I said with a sigh, “So you probably know where we’re going…”

“No I don’t,” she replied. However, I had given her the scent. “Wait – are we going to a play.”

“Dang it…”

“Tell me what play.”

“…so stupid…”

“I’ll just Google it.”

“Potted Potter! We’re going to Potted Potter.”

Neither of us had great expectations for the play. Holly had none. In fact, when I told her of my logic – she loves theater and Hogwarts – she said, “I didn’t love Harry Potter. I only read them because of you.”

I panicked about my date choice as Holly continued. “You gave me the final book. I had to read it, even after we broke up. But I love the books now, trust me.”

The play, though spoiled, was still fantastic. It was simple and hilarious, with a quidditch game played among the crowd and one actor presenting twenty characters. Though it didn’t deconstruct the story or add any understanding of the books, it reminded me of how well Harry Potter caters to children. Much of the audience on Saturday night weren’t yet teenagers, and they laughed the loudest. That made the jokes much funnier.

On our way out, as both Holly and I talked excitedly about the show, Holly remarked on how neat the shirts at the merchandise table appeared. I missed her comment and walked her out the door, offering dessert at a local yogurt shop. “I tell you what,” she said. “Let’s skip dessert and instead go back inside and buy that shirt.”

Holly has worn it all day as we’ve watched the first and second Harry Potter movies. I expect we’ll finish the third by tonight.

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Our Christmas Presents

ImageWinter is a season of creativity. Or perhaps its just the season I’m indoors the longest. Between holidays and work, Holly and I watched two seasons of Moonlighting before Holly said, “I thought this was a murder mystery.” Actually, it’s just a show about Bruce Willis and the woman who is not Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Holly got a sewing machine for Christmas. Her mother numbered her presents so that she opened the machine and all accessories before finally opening the quilt top that made her cry. It was crafted one hundred and fifty years ago by some amount of greats-grandmother, possibly a McCoy – as in Hatfield-McCoy and blood feuds. That’s where Holly gets her fight from.

While Holly worked on a quilt, I invented a board game. As a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons, I’m always trying to simplify the gameplay to coax friends into the universe. This past summer I rewrote the rules for my own use. However, it remains mathematically involved and time consuming, two things that the high school students I work with shy away from. This Christmas, using a Settlers of Catan board and index cards, I created a straightforward kill monsters/get loot game that I now call Evil Katan for trademark purposes. Speed rounds take about an hour. I wrote the rules and game cards on our road trip to my grandparents in Kentucky.

I’ve only played it four times – once with other humans. The other three I played four characters by myself as Holly quilted. She did not want to play, though the offer still stands. She’s not a sword person. I think she’d do well as a wizard.

(If you’re interested in Evil Katan, please ask and I will send the rules.)

I’m not good at asking for presents. I don’t realize what I need until Christmas morning. Holly had to point the problem out to me though I’ve had it my whole life. Most people give Barnes and Noble gift cards, which are fine. On one of the early days in January I put my cards together and purchased The Guide to Literary Agents. I’m done tinkering with my first novel and am now sending it out. Wish me luck.

Highs and Lows of Cutting Edge Romance

To celebrate a few successful first weeks of work, I took Holly on a date last night. Before we married, I was very good at surprises – Holly could never anticipate my romantic strategy. It was like I was producing Lost. However, now that we’re married, Holly is harder and harder to ambush.

Actually, now that we’re married, Holly has admitted that many of the things that I thought were surprises, she really predicted. Like my proposal.

What’s worse is that Holly has begun to Nancy Drew my gifts. One of my failings as a double knot spy is that I cannot lie. So when Holly says, “Where are we going? Hammondtree’s? Noodle’s? Taste of Thai? It’s Taste of Thai, isn’t it? I can tell because you can’t stop smiling.”

We’ve been watching Big Brother at night. Holly grew up with one of the contestants so she has a vested interest. What I do for my wife, I thought as Holly first turned it on. And while I first understood it to be a sleazy reality show, Big Brother has become a pseudo-social Hunger Games. There are quality players and there are Ken dolls, but observing such self-centered mind games inspired me.

To protect my date plans from Holly, I Inceptioned her. Reading on the couch one night, I began to ask questions about superheroes – why she likes some but not others. Eventually she investigated. “Why are you asking me this?” she asked. “Are we going to see Spiderman? We are, aren’t we?”

I only smiled.

After dinner on Friday we walked though downtown Fayetteville, sifting through end-of-the-summer sales and looking for a questionable Levi retailer named E-Denim. After we finally gave up on finding good jeans, Holly said, “It’s about time to go to the theater.”

And I said, “Where we’re going we don’t need theaters,” which was a bad response because I had to explain my reference and we were going to a live play, which took place in a theater. After I finished Holly said, “Oh. That was kind of funny.”

Proudly I lead her to the Walton Arts Center and the opening night of Noises Off, a slapstick comedy that our local and professional theater put on. As we walked in, Holly looked around at all the hoopla surrounding the opening night festivities.

“You did all that to surprise me?” she asked in wonder.

I happily said yes.

“I thought we were going to a movie,” she continued. “Now I’m at a black tie event in a tee shirt.”

I looked around. The women were in glimmering dresses of green and black. Men wore suits with power ties and haughty ascots. The ushers wore all black and their shoes shined like birthday balloons.

Holly and I both wore jeans and short sleeves that read, “FAYETTECHILL.”

“Oh,” I said, searching desperately for the good. “But no one will see us because our seats are in the very back.”

How Great is Our Red Solo Cup

To fit the 44 new iron bunks I had to paint, I was given 88 sheets of eight by four plywood to cut down to size. So I high-fived by best friend the table saw and set to work with two fingers missing. He likes to play rough.

There’s a radio in the lumber barn that sits sentinel over the doorway, watching subcontractors come and go like an ancient gargoyle watches mortal kings. They say the radio is as old as time itself, but actually it was purchased last year. Somebody dropped it in wet concrete, that’s all. The antennae was long ago broken off and the reception suffers, but it can channel classic rock with the best of them. However, for a long time it has been set smack dab in the middle between 103.5, the Christian station, and 103.9, the country station, so on Wednesday I heard the most stirring mashup, “How Great is Our Red Solo Cup.”

I’ve been disappointed with radios, lately. In the seven months I’ve been making my 45 minute, six a.m. drive, I have yet to settle on a program that I like. I’ve gone from right wing political commentary to repetitive football coverage, celebrity gossip and NPR’s Morning Edition. Even music has become a burden. I find myself chanting in whispers for a certain song and all I ever hear is Train.

Last week, painting bunks with our jack-of-all-trades Juan, I finally switched to country music  becomes, percentage wise, less of those songs actively irk me. However, it was the day of the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitial Call-a-thon. In between each song, there waited a subtly sorrowful clip of a parent remembering how wonderful their child was. Eventually Juan put a hand on my shoulder. “Amigo” – we’re on an amigo name basis now – “you okay?” I shrugged it off. “It’s the PAINT! It aggravates my tear ducts!”

Holly and I never had a song. The closest we have come is “Colder Weather” by the Zac Brown Band, about a man running away from the love of his life. Holly listened to it a lot during a really healthy time in our break-up. Since this thin strain was holding us together, musically, I rewrote the chorus for her and left it on her reading lamp.

I said I want to see you tonight
I’ll be driving down Blue Springs
Cause your love will give me wings
You turn me into a kite

She said you’re a crazy Persian
And I hope you’re never gonna change
Together we’ll be strange
And laugh away our burdens

Holly calls me a crazy Persian ofttimes; it came from an autocorrect mistake, when she was attempting to call me a crazy person. Obviously, the phone said, she meant to say Persian. Everyone makes that mistake at least once in their life. Now it’s the first inside joke of our marriage. Sometimes my parents ask me, “When are you going to have another inside joke? We’re not getting any younger,” and I’m like, “Geez, get off my back mom!” Parents. What can you do?

Wedding Planning Probably Finished

When Holly and I got engaged four months ago, we vowed to make everything ourselves. I went as far to suggest a potluck wedding – woe to the groom who utters that phrase. Apparently its a synonym for white trash. Months down the road, my mom approached me and said, “I have a wonderful idea. What if Holly’s dad smoked all the meat for the wedding and I asked a few of my friends to prepare a few fancy side dishes?”

I responded, “So, like a pot luck?”

After that I was laid off of the reception committee.

One of my ideas that did make the final cut was cupcakes and milk. Originally the milk was scoffed at until Holly came up with the idea of milk bottles. Then it became very hip. The idea was to strip and clean old Starbucks Frappuccino bottles down to blank glass, then press on some vinyl letters and a bow. Viola. Violin? Voila!

The first obstacle was finding 250 old Starbucks bottles. For the first month and a half, Holly drank one or two per day. She was past seventy when she vowed never to drink another cold coffee. Friends who were a part of the bottle drink accounted for another thirty. We were a hundred and fifty short.

The current pledge captain of my old fraternity, Ryne, was once one of my pledges. I had attended a few chapters this year to watch the new ways of members who had no idea who I was. I took my problem to Ryne and he promised to take care of it. Two weeks later I came to a chapter where each of the 80 pledges had come with at least one bottle. In casual conversation before chapter, I asked a few questions about that peculiar pledge mission. “I have no idea what this is for,” many said. “I was just told to find a bottle. I got it out of a trash can behind a sorority.”

One of the over-achievers had a box full of 47.

Holly and I did have to clean all of them. True to college freshman form, a few of the bottles hosted colonies of bacteria large enough to declare their independence and become a democracy. We also had to scrub all traces of labels and drink-by dates. Now that the bottles are finished, I estimate that we’ve washed each one four separate times.

I’m getting married in two days and the bottles are finished. They turned out to be the largest stressor of the whole process – everything else has gone relatively smoothly. Even when we discovered there would be no sound system at the wedding yesterday, another one of my old pledges agreed to rent it from the University under his own name. Family friends have practically paid for the wedding. However, Holly’s and my one complete contribution will be beautiful, Pintrest worthy bottles that people can take home. Or else we will be drinking out of two hundred under sized milk bottles.

A Nice Fitting Jacket, at a Price

I’m getting married in a week and a day. Holly and I moved some of our things into our new apartment. It’s a converted garage in a family friend’s yard. You follow a number but nameless road for several miles until a right turn on Beav-O-Rama. There’s an actual, city printed street sign. It borders a homemade rodeo pit with a pair of wooden bleachers and a pre-fabbed Home Depot shed on ten foot stilts.

We did a carload of my clothes and a carload of her wedding gifts. We have all our china. SCORE.

My groomsmen and I are wearing our own black suits to cut down on costs. My dad gave me his old one a year and a half ago; I had it tailored by an older woman who worked out of her small apartment with a tiny and loud dog. Ms. Polly. The suit itself came from Trumbo’s, an old men’s clothing store that closed a couple of decades ago.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that the suit was charcoal. I brought it out for Holly and she said, “No, I want to see your black suit. Where is your black suit?”

The day after Black Friday (Dark Grey Saturday), my brother and I went suit shopping at J.C. Penny’s. We had to call my mom to ask if polyester blend was a negative. The clerk helping us said she’d never heard anyone yell like that before. We went with wool.

I took the suit to Ms. Polly. She’s in her seventies and she lives with a terrible and powerful dog the size of my shoe. She’s learned to ignore him, although I can barely hear her through the barks.

Ms. Polly also tailored Holly’s dress. It’s white, but that’s all I know. As I held my arms up and spun around, Ms. Polly said, “Isn’t Holly just a doll? I tell you, she is just stately.” Stately, like a queen I guess. That’s another gem to put in my book of adjectives. I’m saving it for an anniversary.

A few sharp pins later I was putting my flannel back on and edging away from the dog, towards the door. Ms. Polly stopped me for a hug and said, “You know, Holly will tell you that I think you’re the most handsome man. I can’t stop talking about you.” That was odd thing to admit, but I thanked her and put my hand on the doorknob. “And if you’re interested in someone fifty years older than yourself,” she threw in, “I live alone.”

My mom is going to pick up the jacket when it’s finished.

Passing the Torch

The first two Pankrations didn’t really have a title – it was just a personal tradition. I played video games starting at sunset the Monday before Thanksgiving because a) as a rule I didn’t play games during the school semester and b) no one goes to class that Tuesday. It was only the third year that I started to invite people to play with me. Last year we had close to a hundred people participating on two continents (three, if you count Turkey as two in itself). This year, two of my former pledges took on all the publicity and planning for the event. They made shirts. And it’s good, too, because I forgot to participate.

I’ve realized that I have several boyish habits that I’ll have to get rid of, or at least severely minimize, when I get married in less than a month. When I list them off to people, I often include watching Farscape for hours at a time or buying comic books without forethought, but really there is one habit that dominates this category. Video games. Yes, adults can play them, but after I’m married I know that I can’t fight dragons with an sword and a shield for two hours each night. Maybe not two hours each week. And who would want to? Though it’s possible to get married in some video games, from my understanding its much more rewarding when real.

Kind of a solo thing, anway

I value video games as one path of imagination. I think that playing good games, like watching good movies or reading good books, opens you up to new ideas and new ways to tell a story. But also I realize that sometimes I’d rather be fighting a dragon than a cedar tree with a pole saw. In those instances, it may not be as healthy as, say, sit ups.

Marriage, many websites tell me, is a give and take process. And without being told I know that video games is something I am going to give. Possibly the whole Pankration, though I’ll have to wait until next year to find out. Or until Mass Effect 3 comes out.

Spoiler: She Said Yes

At the end of summer camp, Camp War Eagle hosts a banquet for its summer staff. Old counselors come back to camp once the kids leave. Girls put on make-up and dresses and guys stand in all the corners talking about them. “She looks like that? I would’ve flirted with her more had I known.” Awards are given out and finally we have Encores, which is my favorite part of the summer.

Encores is a half hour to an hour of skits that make fun of all the dumb stuff counselors did over the summer. It covers twelve weeks of material, mostly things people hoped everyone forgot about or thought no one knew. My first year, on the very last day of camp one of the office girls saw me in only my underwear. Also, it should be said that by the last day of camp I had run out of underwear and was wearing an inappropriate piece, meant only for humor and never for actual underwear. Anyway, in the fourteen hours between that embarrassing moment and Encores, my underwear was stolen and ended up in the production. They made me come up and claim it.

In my five summers I’ve graduated from punchline to writer; this year I stole a hat but nothing else. However, I did write some funny lines about specific camp romances or verbal tics of the camp directors. My biggest contribution to Encores was proposing to Holly.

Throughout the show, we had called various counselors up to accept awards. Most Flatulent, How Not to Treat Seven-Year-Olds in the Haunted House, Red Flag Behavior Award. At the very end of Encores my writing partner Jen said, “We have one more award – Holly Dulin, come on down.” She thought she was receiving an award for peeing in her pants during Orientation. I came out behind her and took and knee and proposed.

That’s Josh Matlock’s hat in the background. Boy, did we get him. Zing!

She said yes. And the bear in the picture behind her is about to eat that man. Ominous?

We’re getting married in December. Until then I’m working on the maintenance crew at War Eagle while she student teaches. We’re also working on being married. For instance, last week I made parsley almond pesto and, while I was walking out of Wal-Mart with the ingredients, I stopped at the Redbox and picked up Battle: L.A., where Marines fight aliens. Great, right? After we processed the pesto and boiled the water I showed it to Holly.

“What in our relationship makes you think I’d ever watch that movie?”

So we watched Tangled instead.

And she was right. She’s always been vocal in her opposition to people-fighting-aliens movies. I need to learn to accept her as is. Also, Tangled made me laugh.