Alright, I’m breaking rotation.
I think of the rhythm of our turns when we play handball. When you ask, “Guys, what is this?” I imagine you, Murph, standing before that cinderblock wall at Sierra Vista Elementary, late-afternoon sunshine on your face, red ball under your arm, game paused. It’s a good question: how do we want to spend our few hours together?
Handball, cards, ultimate frisbee, softball—games have always been at the heart of our group.
About five years ago, when my little book tour brought Neaners and me to Homeboy Industries and you all came out for the reading in LA, we stayed at your house a few extra days: I selfishly wanted to hang with my Upland friends, as well as show my closest homie-home-from-prison—who’d already lived with Rachel and me for six months—a bit of where I come from. It was on this visit that I learned about your Thursday nights with Pat, Max, and Dave. Kristen, rolling her eyes at me as she headed upstairs for the night, called it “Dorkfest.”
You guys met at 8pm for a Circle K run, bringing home piles of junk food and brimming Polar Pops to your mother’s grand dining room table already arrayed with plastic orcs and mummies. By the time the spell cards, healing potions, and various sided dice were divvied out—you sitting with giddy severity behind the Dungeon Master’s cardboard bastion of secret maps, notes, and narrative turns crafted throughout the week—it was past 10pm. I was tired.
Neaners told me he’d seen dudes in medium-security prison lose themselves for days on end in this shit. I remember he laughed as he stood in your hallway, happily held up some peace signs, and said he was going the fuck to bed, see y’all in the morning.
I was happy to join, learn the game a bit, have some fun with my friends.
But by 1am I was falling asleep at the table, mid-turn. “Whoa, I gotta get to bed,” I said.
“Suck it up, Hoke!” Pat snapped. “We see you like once a year, fucker. Go to sleep on time when you get home. Grow some balls already.”
All four of you chuckled. “I’ll make you some coffee right fucking now,” you said seriously but with a smile, opening a dungeon door or something. “Pass the man some Peanut Butter M&Ms for fuck’s sake, Dave.”
I don’t remember any of the game. I do, however, remember how the momentum of turn-taking and shared focus held us together for two more hours.
Murph, somehow you gave an amazing 5-6 hours to Dorkfest every week—and not just during vacation. For years. Even after Grammar was born. How’d you make that work with your schedule? I’m guessing you weren’t training to enter the professional HeroQuest circuit. It was about spending time with your friends: a few hours to remember, to integrate, something from our childhoods. I can only imagine the conversations that have developed between you four, between the magic spells and smoke breaks. Now, with this pandemic, I’m guessing there’s no more HeroQuest for the foreseeable future. So how about this: consider these letters not as some literary gamble (I too have a book I’m itching to write), but as something else, a different kind of Dorkfest to fill your regularly-allotted hours for a season. After all, Wuck and I are never in town for game night—though we’d play into the dawn if you asked us.
This is our game, the three of us. We invented it together. And we haven’t even gotten to the main dungeons yet.
<quote-01>Your turn, Wuck<quote-01>.