This was the first girls’ night out my best friend had seen in ages. From rearing three girls to off-schedule hospital interludes, Shannon’s dance card had been rather full the past few months. So an evening out was a doctor’s order that she was actually glad to obey. Little did I know the wisdom she would impart to me during our tete-a-tete over coffee.
We started painting the town at a restaurant called Mori’s. Thanks to a generous gift certificate from a student of mine, we were soon seated at a hibachi grill with stomach gauges registering empty in anticipation of shameless gluttony. If you’ve never been to a hibachi steakhouse before, then you should know the chef will not only cook your food in front of you, he will also put on a show that involves catapulting eggs into his hat and setting himself on fire at the appropriate intervals. This is a job for which I have never considered myself qualified since I would torch my eyebrows the first night and probably launch a flaming scallop right into a patron’s lap. But we suffered no injuries deserving of burn cream and made a resplendent showing at the trough.
We waddled out of there deeply invested in fried rice and egg drop soup, but as with any bovines with even an ounce of wisdom, we had reserved the fourth and final chamber of our stomachs for dessert. This we found at Starbucks. On the way in, Shannon started an argument.
“I’m buying your coffee.”
I blew air through my mouth in a way that shows extreme disapproval.
“Look,” she said as we crossed the parking lot, “you kept an eye on me today because of this whole blood clot business, we ate on your gift certificate, and you’re driving me home. I’m buying your latte.”
“I hate to take the wind out of your sails, but staying with you is something I actually enjoy, and I wasn’t about to eat alone.”
“What about me leaving you in the car today with Savannah and Sadie while Sydney and I bought crickets for Gecki?”
I flashed back to that fifteen minutes when a pinching match broke out in the backseat quickly followed by a frenetic round of shrieking that would have drawn an admiring glance from Mariah Carey. “Make it a Venti.”
We claimed our chairs and caught up on all the news that can’t be shared in front of children or husbands. I hit the pause button on our chat for a visit to the ladies’ room, and when I returned, I found Shannon staring intently at her phone.
“Nah. Star Wars Angry Birds.”
“Angry Birds are now roaming the galaxy?”
“Girl, Angry Birds are everywhere. It’s so addicting. Here,” she said, shoving the phone at me. “Try it while I make a pit stop.”
I stared at the tiny screen before me, knowing that I was tampering with pixel heroine. I’ve deftly avoided this game since I didn’t want to get sucked into a mental vacuum that could flip a switch in my competitive nature. The last time I’d come this close to gaming temptation was when the Mario craze swept the nation. I remember sitting on a couch with the two kids I was babysitting as they showed me how to run, leap, and bounce into the air at magical spots that would make mushroom cubes materialize out of thin air. The fifth time I killed that jaunty, little guy in the overalls on level one, I knew that I would never be content until I had mastered all the levels and knew all the hidden coin crevices. No, this was the edge of a technological abyss, and I should click that little button on the top of the phone and put that baby to sleep, leaving all those birds and their emotions to a qualified therapist. But I didn’t. Instead, I drew a bead on one of those heinous, green pigs and let fly.
When Shannon rejoined me, I was on round six and already frustrated. She leaned over her armchair and gave me pointers. Now she was no longer just my best friend; now she was the Yoda master of the Jedi birds.
“If you can aim that bird just right, he can knock that big pig off the tall pedestal and make it fall into the others. You can, in effect, kill four pigs with one bird.”
Considering that I was having trouble getting four pigs with a flock of birds, this seemed like the classic definition of overachievement and an aspiration far beyond my current reach of swine-killing capabilities. No need to get grandiose when I was just learning how to clear that tower with my feathered friends.
My third attempt fell short of its intended target and inflicted zero damage on those cloven-hoofed fiends, a lavish expenditure of resources with no results to show for it. Shannon nodded sagely and said, “I hate it when that happens, but sometimes you simply have to say to yourself, ‘Well, that was a waste of a bird,’ and just go on. There will always be more pigs to kill and more birds to fire at them.”
Of course she was right. All I had to do was hit the replay button on the screen when the round ended, and I would once again be outfitted with more poultry ammunition. But what was it about those laughing pigs that started to wear on me? What made those goggle-eyed faces with teeth in serious need of orthodontic care so infuriating? I’ve always loved pigs. I loved the jumping piglets when dad raised them in a pen out in the pasture and I love them when they adorn a breakfast platter in the form of strips, links, or patties. So why the sudden hostility? I handed the phone back to Shannon, afraid of the dark side I was seeing within myself and the voice of James Earl Jones that I was hearing at the edge of my psyche. I took a big swig of gingerbread latte to rebalance the Force within.
Shannon had to play a couple of rounds for good measure, and at one point she exclaimed, “This really ticks me off. Look at how they throw a tutorial on the screen every fourth time I do this! As if I don’t already know how to fire birds across the screen! What do they think I am? An idiot?” She scowled at the screen and jabbed her pointer finger at kamikaze soldiers with enough force to spilt firewood.
“So why do you play?”
“It calms me down.”
We left shortly after, but I’ve given thought to the lessons my friend taught me over a cup of coffee, and I think one of her attitudes toward the game may hold insight into a healthy life philosophy, so I’ve decided to try it the next time I’m having an off-day at work. The next time I fire a lesson at my students that seems to fall short of its mark, the next time I have seven items on my daily to-do list and I only accomplish one, the next time I write a document and then get the spinning circle of death on my computer screen that means everything I just created will be lost, I’m going to take Shannon’s stance and say, “Well, that was a waste of a bird,” and shake it off. And then I’ll get right back up on that launch site, toss another feathered warrior into that catapult, and fire away.
© 2013 – Traci Carver