Friday, April 6, 2012

Moonlight Spaghetti

Steam wafted upward from the bubbling pot. Gonga tilted the lid a bit to let more steam escape and poked at the noodles. Once again, he was aiding and abetting his good former friend Derrick in becoming even more of a “former” friend. Well, maybe not exactly. It was true that Derrick pretty much belonged to Lilia now. But at least he managed to keep up with Gonga somewhat, even if it was to help with all the details Derrick somehow didn’t have time for.

Gonga dashed a bit more oregano into the pan of tomato sauce. The onions had browned nicely and now the garlic was blending in as well.

What were friends for except to help cook up awesome dates for each other?
Gonga grinned as his own wit. Maybe Derrick would return the favor someday. Or not. Derrick was notoriously bad at cooking anything that wasn’t already in a freeze-dried, shrink wrapped package that just needed water added at high altitudes.
The timer beeped and Gonga shifted the noodles to the strainer waiting for him in the sink.

He had plenty of time on his hands since Derrick had decided to take Lilia out to a moonlight location for spaghetti. They had to wait for the moon to come up first.
Half an hour later Gonga had loaded pasta and sauce into separate containers and manhandled it into the back of Derrick’s car.

He stood back as Derrick pealed out, leaving him in a cloud of burning rubber.
Gonga looked up at the cold moonlight.

He shook himself once, then turned and prowled off downtown.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Monday, March 26, 2012

Address Marathon

It was spring break. And Gonga was engaged in the most grueling marathon of his life.
Twenty-six dozen full length addresses to painstakingly copy from the address list to the boxes of glaring white envelopes. Twenty-six dozen stamps to affix to the upper right hand corner of the envelopes. And twenty-six dozen cards with Derrick’s grinning maw enclose by illegible cursive purporting to announce his graduation to stuff into the envelopes.

Gonga’s decision to stay in Columbia over spring break was the quickly turning into the biggest mistake of his life.

Derrick was graduating. And his mother had forbidden him to skip town during his last snippet of freedom before entering the real world of drudgery and bills.

“I am not sending out your graduation announcements, if you want that return trip to Mt. Everest your uncles promised you, you better stay in town and write addresses till you puke.”

Derrick had imitated his mother with truly remarkable flare. Until he got to the part about puking. Gonga wasn’t quite sure he could picture Derrick’s Mom using a word like that, but he hadn’t given it much thought as he fell back on the couch, laughing at Derrick’s machinations.

It wasn’t till a few minutes later that Gonga realized he was getting roped into help. He had already made the fatal flaw of complaining about having no plans over spring break. By the time he realized where Derrick was leading him, there was no turning back.

Unfortunately, all of Derrick’s other “friends” had decided to skip town. Either they really did lead more interesting lives than Derrick, or they heard about Derrick’s imitation of his mother through the grape-vine and quickly invented excuses to be out of town.

Actually, based on the timing of their other facebook activity, Gonga found it very unlikely that Sean and Tommy would be through the grape-vine about his Mom’s threat. In any case, no one else was available.

The only person besides Gogna not smart enough to get out of Dodge was Lilia. But then again, she wasn’t smart enough to get away from Derrick either.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bradford Pear Tree Vendetta

The chainsaw bucked in Gonga’s grip as its teeth bit into the tree stump. He withdrew the blade and began again, making a smooth incision into the wood. White petals fluttered down around him. The Bradford Pear tree shuddered and leaned to one side, then fell with a splinter of wood and a spray of petals. Gonga raised the chainsaw high above his head in triumph.

The sound of the engine was louder now.

Gonga groaned and rolled over, slowing coming to the realization that it was actually just a lawn-mower outside making the noise, and not the chainsaw he had been fantasizing about.

He tried to blink his eyes open, and failed. Snarling with frustration, he lurched out of his bed and stumbled to the bathroom where he turned on the hot water, then fumbled around for a rag. A few minutes later he finally managed to un-glue his eyelids and open then a crack.

An un-shaven, un-combed, puffy eyes gorilla with gunk running out the corners of his eyes and down his face greeted him from the mirror.

Oh, he hated Bradford Pear trees. If he could cut down the entire arboreal population in one fell swoop, he would do it. Even if it took him a year. People could whine about missing the pretty white flowers as much as they wanted. He would never miss the stench. Or the millions of tiny pollen particles that attacked his tear ducts and sinuses every spring.

Even a skunk would smell better than those things. Skunks at least never made anyone’s sinuses swell shut.


Gonga put the rag down on the sink.

A skunk would be a nice pet…

He pictured the adorable black and white striped creature curled up at the foot of his bed. He room-mates would probably stop short-sheeting the bed if he left his skunk on guard. He could even take her on campus with him! Then all the kids who thought is his shins as a kicking block would think twice.

Of course, he would probably have to get her glands removed. Otherwise she might get startled and spray someone by mistake. That could make your eyes swell shut.
And the odor that lingered afterwards?

Well. Anything beats Bradford Pear stench.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Music Therapy

Relaxation comes in many forms. Some will sit in front of a TV and watch sports mindlessly for hours. Others go to the games and drink themselves into oblivion. Some would rather drown their sorrows in ice-cream, or fried foods, or amusement parks. Still others prefer to plug in a good soundtrack and let the music dictate their emotions.

Gonga usually resorts to a combination of several of the above methods after a particularly hard day of work.

His worst work-days generally come in early spring when it’s just warm enough to ditch the jacket, and just crazy enough that you will probably run into wind, rain and a hail all within a couple hours of each other. Umbrellas while a nice idea in general, simply do not work for a job that requires you to use both hands to pass out flyers. And with Missouri wind, umbrellas seldom offer much protection.

Last Wednesday was a perfect example. Gonga was wet, cold and hungry from being outside all day long. It had been windy the entire day, and ended with a downpour. His last stack of flyers had gotten completely drenched, at which time Gonga decided to just go home.

There are few things on earth more soothing than a whole quart of Moose Tracks Ice-Cream enjoyed in solitude. Gonga only heightens the enjoyment factor by mixing in a couple of mashed bananas. Yes, he huddled in a blanket on the couch while eating his ice-cream. But then again, he was soaked to the skin from the rain and wind. So one can hardly blame him. Eating ice-cream might not have been the thing to warm him up, but it warmed his heart, which is what he needed at the time.

The cherry on top of the whole experience was the music his brother had given him for his birthday. It was the most beautiful, most relaxing, richest sound-track Gonga had heard in a long time. Yes, his brother admitted that he had discovered the music while playing a video-game. Gonga didn’t care. It was great music, and he was going to enjoy it!

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Buck's Ice Cream

Gonga’s teeth chattered as the wind bit through his t-shirt. He had grabbed the t-shirt from the bottom of the clean shirt stack in his dresser, and it was decidedly the worse for wrinkles. He’d hoped that wearing a t-shirt and shorts would convince the weather to behave accordingly. But it seemed that the weather didn’t know that you were supposed to dress for the weather you wanted to have. Or was it, dress for the job you wanted to have? Oh well, it didn’t matter. The weather hadn’t co-operated and Gonga was shivering painfully as a result.

He’d promised to go get Buck’s Ice Cream with Derrick after his friend got out of class. But he was pretty sure that Derrick’s plans would change as soon as he felt the bite in the wind.

For now, he was hurrying down Hitt Street and making his way across campus.

Gonga decided that Tiger Stripe ice-cream was overrated. Sure, it was the school’s colors and all that. But yellow dyed vanilla with Oreo cookies really didn’t cut it with him. His ice-cream needed something more to it. Mango was great. But nothing beat Butter Pecan.

The thought of cool Butter Pecan sliding down his throat, and the little chunks of nuts crunching between his teeth made Gonga shiver in anticipation.

He shivered a second time in tribute to the wind. Missouri weather was ridiculous!

An Add Sheet sailed through the air and smacked Gonga in the face. Really? Ok, if Derrick chickened out on this one, Gonga was never going to let him live it down. That boy had better join him at Buck’s Ice Cream for death by hypothermia or he would never hear the end of it.

Gonga did a double take. Lilia, Derricks’ girlfriend, was sitting just inside the glass doors of the ice-cream shop.

Figures. He should just start expecting to see her show up everywhere. But he would really appreciate it if Derrick would let him know when she was invited.

Worse yet, now he knew Derrick would show up. No chance of him missing out on time with Lilia. Even in this weather. And now Gonga’s single opportunity to hold something over Derrick was gone.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spring Fever

The birds were singing. The sun was shining. A soft breeze wafted through the windows. And Gonga was staring down the biggest pile of laundry he had ever seen in his life. Trust me; he wasn’t staring at it because he wanted to. He would much rather be outside enjoying the weather, even if it meant suffering on a climbing wall with Derrick.

The problem was Derrick. He had decided that Lilia and he would have dinner with friends that night. And Gonga’s apartment just so happened to be the lucky place that was picked for their gathering.

Gonga hadn’t wanted to admit his terrible house-keeping habits to Derrick. So, he had accepted vigorously. And now he was facing the consequences.

Gonga sighed. He couldn’t believe how much that pile had grown since he moved in last fall. He hated doing laundry. So he tended to just pick up freebie t-shirts on campus and wear them for a couple days, let them air out in his room, wear them for another couple days, and when people started wrinkling their noses and shifting around to stand up-wind of him during conversations, he would finally cast the shirt into exile in his closet. The only problem was that he had cast far more shirts into exile than he remembered. And at the moment, he really wished he could stand up-wind of the closet.

It didn’t help at all that the basketball game had gone terribly wrong the night before. Not that Gonga really followed sports. But it did mean that his room-mate had come home in a terrible mood and started lifting weights. He claimed he’d tripped and the 25 pound dumbbell had simply fallen on the washer machine and somehow bumped it enough to break the water connection. Gonga hadn’t been home when the incident occurred. But there had been a police report filed on his apartment the night before for disturbance of the peace. The first line of the recorded phone call said it all. “Someone’s swearing like crazy and beating the crap out of something!”

And now he had at least fifteen loads to haul to a laundry-mat somewhere, along with the gallon of quarters it would take to wash that much. Gonga was tempted to pick up the dumbbell and finish what his room-mate had started.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Fallout

At first Gonga’s plan had worked like a charm. He found the boring librarian person. Vivacious, unfortunately. Very interested in all he said. Decidedly on the “I don’t care” side of fashion. But, most of all, a librarian. That was the best part. Derrick would never in a million years consider going out with a librarian.

Which is why Gonga didn’t tell him she was a librarian. He simply set his friend up on the blind date, telling him to carry his bright blue camel-back with him to The Upper Crust and lay it on the table. That’s how he had told her to find him. Yeah, the camel-back would stand out like a sore thumb in a fancy restaurant on Valentine’s day. But that was the point. And Gonga was past caring about Derrick’s comfort.

He had expected to see Derrick again in about two hours, fuming about what a jerk Gonga was to set him up with such a horrible person. Maybe three hours, if the waiter took his time. But Derrick hadn’t come back.

Gonga stayed up till two in the morning, waiting for a desperate call for rescue. But none ever came.

The next day he ran into a very giddy Derrick standing in the coffee line at Starbucks.

“Oh man, do I ever owe you!” Derrick crowed, slapping Gonga on the back and giving him a bear hug.

Gonga frowned.

“That was the best thing you’ve ever done for me. Oh man, oh man. What a friend! Buddy, you’re fantastic.”

“I try,” Gonga grunted, shrugging his shoulders. He wondered what kind of drugs the girl had introduced Derrick to.

“She’s amazing!”

Gonga looked up sharply. That tone of voice had only before been associated with worship of the most daring of feats. But this was even something more.

When Derrick proceeded to gush about Lilia for the next hour, Gonga knew he has made a mistake. Apparently his boring librarian pick was none other than the resident expert in the history of outdoor adventuring and exploration. Not only a historian, she had made it a goal to spend at least a month each summer somewhere abroad, climbing a mountain or trekking through some jungle or swamp. And she’d done it without fail since the year she turned fourteen.

Gonga finally excused himself, saying that he had to hand out flyers for The Textbook Game, and kindly reminding Derrick that he had already missed one class that morning, and it would probably be wise to try to attend the rest, if only for attendance points. Gonga doubted he would hear a word of the lecture that day.

Then Gonga went off to sulk. Part of him hoped that Derrick would snap out of it in a week or so, and resume his normal routine of ridiculous exploits and insane pranks. But something told him that this would be different. Somehow, he knew. He had just lost his best friend.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blind Date

Gonga cracked his knuckles. For once, he had his work cut out for him. Time to do his good buddy Derrick a favor he would never forget. He grinned. Gonga would have fun with this one.

Derrick has been whining the past few days about finding a date for Valentine’s day. For some reason, the idea of spending the whole day on the face of a rock wall was starting to lose its appeal. Historically, this is how Derrick always spent special days. Somewhere outside. Climbing. Hiking. Camping. Usually picking up a scrape or two, and always putting his life in harm’s way. But this year was different.

Gonga wondered whether his brief adventure as King Kong with “Ann Darrow” over Halloween had influenced him at all. Since he’d done nothing else with “Ann,” aside from wave cheerily as she walked past on her way to class each day, he decided it couldn’t possibly be the root. Knowing Derrick, he would want something that went a little deeper than saying hello every time he met someone on campus.

After about an hour of patient prodding, Gonga had finally extracted an agreement from his friend to try a blind date. Now he, Gonga, was setting out on a quest to find a likely female who would also acquiesce to his insane ideas.

The blond bombshell he stopped on her morning jog turned him down flatly. But she was just the first person he’d seen, so it didn’t phase Gonga too much. The next girl, someone he had noticed frequenting the greenhouses listened with interest as Gonga described his friend. Tall. Fast. Not exactly movie-star handsome, but better looking than average. Adventurous. Gonga held back a bit on this last snippet. He didn’t quite want to make the girl think that Derrick would probably die next week on the winter ascent of Pike’s Peak he and two of his crazy Mt. Everest friends were planning. What girl wanted to go out with a still warm corpse?

The girl seemed likely enough. Gonga surmised than an interest in growing things would at least equal an interest in the outdoors, which would go a very long way with Derrick. He noticed she seemed to be fidgeting her hand a bit, but it wasn’t till he was done talking that she finally waved it almost under his face.

“You know you’re being really great for your friend,” she said. “He sounds like a fun guy…but I’m already engaged.”

Then Gonga noticed the diamond.

The girl dropped her hand. She frowned. “But I might know someone who’s a bit more available.” She scribbled a name and number down on a scrap of paper. “She’s usually in the library at four. You should try to catch her there and see if you can sell her on the idea. You never know. She might be in the mood for a blind date.”

To be continued…

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Monday, February 6, 2012

Snow Withdrawal

After his brief (and painful) jaunt in Aspen Colorado, Gonga thought that he would be thrilled to be back in Columbia. But he had forgotten how much he loved snow. And being on a ski slope in Aspen did nothing to help the memories stay buried.

Now, back in Columbia, the streets looked dingy and bare. Fog hanging over the street lamps glowered sullenly. And the mournful sound of ice-scraping greeted Gonga’s ears each morning. Worst of all, Gonga’s new winter coat hung un-used in the closet of his apartment.

What was wrong with Columbia? Where was the snow storm he so enjoyed last year? The spring of snow and ice that seemed to lock the town in an everlasting grip?

Gonga kicked at a pebble and watched it skitter down the street downtown. Last year he would have been kicking snow. No, correction: he would have been throwing snow.

He remembered the snow-balls fights, and the snow forts, and the tunnels burrowed in the mounds and mounds and mounds of snow.

Gonga knew that he shouldn’t be missing snow this much. After growing up in the Congo, snow was a novel experience, a freak of nature he had not before been subjected to. But once was enough to form an addiction. And the withdrawal symptoms were hitting hard.

Gonga found himself staring into the freezer for minutes on end each night, imagining that the frost on the sides was snow forming. He paused in front of Coldstone, wondering if there was a way to run water across the icecream freezers and get snow to form. Maybe if someone spritzed the water out of a spray bottle? He even pondered stopping in at Buck’s ice-cream and asking if they could let him sit in their freezer for a few minutes, just so he could savor the feeling of cold penetrating to the bone again.

Outside Hatch Hall, Gonga stopped his frenzied pacing for a moment to glare up at the clouds. When would they stop mocking him? When would they give their snow?

He beat his chest in a wild jungle howl and began running, charging across campus, leaving swirls of started students in his wake.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gonga Goes Skiing

The new semester started smoothly enough for Gonga. He wasn’t directly involved in taking classes himself, but his work schedule definitely revolved around that of the students. No students meant no work. Lots of students meant lots of work, and lots of new students meant lots of unexpected work. Thankfully he had managed to survive the first two weeks of the semester without miss-hap. Until Derrick showed up.

Most of the time Gonga liked hanging out with Derrick. But there were times he really wished he had fallen off a cliff during his last mountain expedition. Today was the one of those times.

Gonga stood at the top of a sheer mountain of white snow. His goggles were still firmly attached to his head, but that was about it. His poles had gone flying when he clattered off the ski lift. And even his skis had somehow managed to detach themselves and twist into an undecipherable mess.

“Come on,” Derrick panted, “everyone falls off the lift their first time. Let’s go!” He made to push off, then he noticed Gonga’s confusion.

That was the one nice thing about Derrick. He might be a complete dare-devil. But he still managed to sense when others were uncomfortable. With Derrick’s help, Gonga sorted out his ski gear and got ready again. He still thought it was a ridiculous idea. He pondered letting Derrick go without him, removing the skis and simply walking to the bottom on the slope. It seemed a safer solution. But his toes screamed at him from inside the ski boots and he realized that even without the skis he wouldn’t manage to get far.

Gonga sighed. Why, oh why hadn’t Derrick gone plunging over a cliff last month? Then at least he could attend a nice, cozy memorial service in the comforting flatness of central Kansas with Derrick’s family.

Oh well.

Gonga pushed off.

At least, he tried. It took several minutes of painful coaching from Derrick before he worked up enough courage to begin the decent. But by mid-afternoon, he was stuttering down slope with less than two wipe-outs each run. Derrick had long since abandoned him for the double black diamonds. But Gonga didn’t care. He was finally beginning to make progress. He had actually managed to get off the lift without falling twice in a row!

For that Gonga was happy. But after seeing the bruises on his knees that night, he promised himself that never again would Derrick convince him to go on a “short weekend trip” to anywhere in the world. He didn’t care how “short” Derrick promised it would be.

Passing out flyers for the Textbook Game might take longer, but he never ended up feeling like he had been run over by a truck.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Occupational Hazards of Campus Life

Every occupation has hazards that simply go with the territory. Welders know they will likely go blind early. Car mechanics know that oil stained fingers will just be a fact of life. Wood workers know that missing thumbs and fingers are signs of true experience. In their case, missing one finger isn’t bad. But missing more than one may mean you don’t learn from your mistakes.

Campus workers face similar occupational hazards, especially those who work in the engineering building. Daily struggles include doors which open into brick walls, a maze of interconnecting passages which include slopes and twists and turns so that those who enter from the west never quite know which door they’ll come out on the opposite side, and the infamous elevator. Passengers are never quite sure the elevator will decide to work when they enter. The intrepid still take the risk daily, skipping the stairs and their supposed healthful effects in favor of the Russian roulette of the elevator.

It operates like many octogenarians. Slowly, and creakily, with occasional lapses in memory. “Was I going up or down?” the elevator seems to wonder as it pauses midway between floors. The occupants wait with baited breath, sometimes punching the button a second time to remind the elevator of its direction, other times holding back, afraid that any sudden movements will send the elevator’s rickety belts crashing downwards without warning.

With a jerk, the elevator resumes its upward movement, stopping at the next level and waiting an interminable time before deciding it is safe to open the doors and allow its passengers a shaky kneed exit.

Gonga experiences all of these hazards, and more as he makes his way across campus daily, passing out flyers for The Textbook Game and playing his accordion. It’s really not that much different than dodging cobras and tripping over rotten logs in his home in the Congo. Some things just go with the territory. Though he could really do without the people taking advantage of his poor peripheral vision to dodge up behind him and steal his hat; or worse yet, the tip money out of his suitcase. That just ruins a gorilla’s day. The only thing worse is discovering a banana shortage at the store. But that’s a story for another day.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Monday, January 9, 2012

Winter Doldrums

Fans of maritime adventures know the devastating effects of the doldrums on the moral of sailors. Those long, lazy stretches of sea where the wind has completely died out and sailors have nothing but the grinding sameness of routine to mark the time from day to day. With the modern convenience of coal power, or some other sort of internal combustion, the doldrums no longer prove much of a nuisance. But less than a hundred years ago, sailors dreaded having to pass through those latitudes. The only cure for doldrums seemed to be scrubbing the deck, or making fancy knots or playing game after game of cards. In such confined quarters, it never took long before you lost your shirt, and maybe everything else along with it. But then again, the card shark could never quite get away from you either. And who knew, if you kept playing, you just might win it back again. Anything, and nothing could happen in the doldrums.

Gonga read about the doldrums last week. And the only reason he had time to read about such things was his own experience suffering through the doldrums. As a result, Gonga had taken to likening the down week of break after Christmas to the doldrums.

The first couple of weeks of break are fantastic. Christmas preparations, parties, food, songs, colored lights everywhere! But then the festivities end, all the decorations disappear, and you’re left with two more aching weeks before classes begin again. True, about three weeks into the semester, and you’ll be wishing you were back in doldrums, enjoying the peace and sunshine. But for now, you’re stuck in it, just waiting.

Gonga has been through his CD collection three times now. The first time he re-arranged all the CD’s so that they were in the proper case. The second time, he threw away CDs he decided were trashy, and made a list of the music he would like to acquire in the next year. The third time, he arranged them all in alphabetical order by artist.

He’s not sure what to do next. He’s almost wishing he had a deck to scrub, and a grumpy skipper to crack a whip and make him scrub it. At least then things would be a bit more interesting.

When the skipper failed to materialize, Gonga sighed and leaned his chin in his hand. Was it almost morning in Congo? Then at least he could Skype his parents and see if anything interesting was going on there.

Gonga tapped his fingers against the table top. Repetitive. Endlessly repetitive. Oh how he hated the winter doldrums.

The Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Gonga’s New Year Resolutions

Gonga has resolved to change a few things about the way he works. For one, he has spent so many hours hearing his boss complain about people showing up late for work, that he has decided to lessen this experience for himself. In other words, Gonga has resolved to show up to work at least two hours late twice this year. That way he has reduced his time spent listening to complaining by four hours.

Gonga has also determined that he will set a completely new standard when it comes to the expectation to work overtime. He will double anyone’s overtime. This means that when his buddy Derrick works three hours of overtime, Gonga will figure out how to work six hours of overtime. It also means that when his boss puts in 35 hours of overtime doing the final inventory count for the year, Gogna has resolved to put in 70 hours of overtime during that same period. How exactly he intends to do this, he hasn’t quite determined. However, since there are 168 hours in a week, he doesn’t think that hitting 110 hours should be too much of an issue. Besides, he likes the idea of bringing a sleeping bag to work and camping out between the shelves of books for the night.

Historically Gonga has struggled with his weight. He can never quite manage to get it under control. He eats like crazy one week and makes a slight gain. But the second he catches a cold, or the second Derrick proposes some new crazy adventure, the gains slough off to nothing. He often despairs of ever attaining anything close to his father’s grand 250 pounds. So this year Gonga has set a new goal. He will eat a quart of icecream every single night. He will also make himself stop by Dairy Queen for lunch every other day and add a tall milkshake to his diet. Hopefully this will add 25 pounds by the end of the year. He’d have to gain 75 to match his athletic younger brother. But Gonga knows better than to hope for that. If he can just gain 25 pounds this year, and keep it on for at least two weeks, he will be thrilled.

I know that at this point, a number of you are beginning to resent Gonga. Perhaps you wish that you could come to work late a few times, end up sleeping at work in a sleeping bag and gain 25 pounds this year. I’m not sure that I would recommend this course of action for anyone besides a gorilla. But I can assure you that this particular set of resolutions is probably within your grasp, if you so choose.

Happy New Year!!!

~Textbook Game Blogger: Laura Prather