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I’m back.

October 10, 2008

I remember when Michael Jordan came back from retirement (the first time). I was about 10 and it was easily one of the most amazing moments of my childhood. I felt utter, true happiness. There had been rumors for a while, but I remember the morning it became official. I was eating breakfast at a restaurant in New York City with my family when I saw it… the sports page of the Daily News or some other NYC staple: a full-page photo of Jordan with his succinct, perfect quote: “I’m back.”

(I tried to find it for you guys with no success, but here’s the Sports Illustrated cover after his comeback with the same idea.)

I love this man.

So, in that same spirit, I have decided to make my own comeback and make another blog post. (I like to be ultra dramatic and compare myself to His Airness at any and every moment possible.)

After reading my last laughable post where I promise exciting blog entries to come, I shall try not to make any more ridiculous declarations that may or may not come true. I will post when I can and when I want, and that time has finally come.

In short, I have made it to Vegas. And I haven’t regretted the move for a second.

I love this city. I feel so at home here, so at peace, and so content. I am in a crazy and exciting place, with quirky and outrageous characters who are generally happy. It is wonderful.

But before I tell of my tales here, I shall tell you how I got here.

Yes, I got here alive and in one piece. As many of you know, I am not a good driver. In fact, I am a bad driver. So, when I was forced to drive a U-Haul truck with my car attached to the back of it, some of you understandably held your breath. I knew it was a risky ordeal when I read the fine print of the U-Haul agreement I had signed. “Contact us at 1-800… if you have any MAJOR accidents.” The point was clear: if you get in any minor accidents, deal with it yourself and pay us back when you drop this bad boy off.

The most nerve-wracking moment of my drive came when I nearly ran out of gas. That is not easy to do since these things hold a ridiculous amount of fuel (sadly, it cost me over $100 to fill it up with unleaded). But I was’t paying attention and before I knew it, the light was blinking and the gauge had me at empty. I saw a sign for gas on the highway, but I was in the fast lane. I tried to get over, not an easy task when you’re driving something 15 yards long, and I missed the exit.

I told myself to calm down, that I would simply get out at the next exit. Then I saw the next sign: “Next exit — 55 miles.” I was in the middle of the desert and it was mid-afternoon, but I had heard that you burn more gasoline with the AC on, so I immediately turned it off. Sweat began pouring down my head profusely. In my troubled times, I remembered two things: the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer wants to see how far he can drive with the ‘low fuel’ light on and Nick Punzalan.

Nick was a fellow classmate and teammate of mine in high school, and a local Jersey guy who drove me home a few times. Always wanting to make sure he didn’t waste any gas because he paid the bills, he told me that he tried never to use his brake at all on the highway.

With that mentality, I pursued the next 55 miles of desert driving. I tried to keep a steady speed, but on inclines, I would go as slow as 35 mph and on major declines, I’d be rocking and rolling at 80 mph. After a while, not only was the light blinking, there was some kind of beeping and an electronic screen I didn’t even know was there before stated, “LOW FUEL.”

Luckily, I made it to a gas station, filled up, and survived to tell the tale.

When I got to Vegas, I dropped off all my stuff in a storage unit, but just as I was finishing the unpacking, I proceeded to see a fireball go up in the air and take out electrical wires about 20 feet away from me. Knowing that this was probably not a safe environment, I sprinted from my truck, car, and storage unit and told the people at the front desk. Here is a photo from my cell phone.

I remember trying to think of the odds my car would explode...

You can see my open U-Haul truck and Honda Accord on the right half of the screen. It was like a typical Las Vegas summer day, 115 degrees, and somehow an old abandoned house right behind the storage units caught on fire and quickly got out of control.

The fire department came and shut down the area. Fortunately no one was injured and my car was moved out of harm’s way.

There were plenty of other small, amusing stories to tell about the journey, but time has taken a toll on my memory. On to life in Vegas…

I have been volunteering with the Obama campaign most days I’ve been here. I was offered an opportunity to take a full-time position, but I politely turned it down because I wasn’t ready to give up 80-90 hours a week. I do volunteer in between 20-40 and have learned a lot about a campaign on a ground level and have met a lot of fascinating people.

Poker has been kind to me. I am making money and paying the bills. I feel very confident I can support myself playing cards, still not convinced I could support a family though. For now, however, life is grand. I set my own hours, play a lot of cards, and am pretty much content.

Hopefully, I’ll update this thing with a little more frequency, but no promises…

Thanks to everyone who has been commenting and urging me on. It worked.

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I have arrived.

August 18, 2008

A cross-country drive with more than a few nervous moments navigating my U-Haul truck around narrow turns. An apartment search that saw the good, bad, and ugly but finally ended in satisfaction.

Yes, I am now officially a resident of Las Vegas. Well, North Las Vegas, to be exact. In the end, I signed a lease with the exquisite and luxurious Broadstone Azure apartments.

It should be nice… From my balcony, I have a full view of the mountains and I can see the Las Vegas strip off to my left.

I was able to get a discounted rate, but it still will be more than double what I paid in Stigler. Ah… one of the downsides to moving to a city. One of the pros though is that I am minutes away from several Chipotles. On two different days, I ate there for both lunch and dinner. God bless the burrito bowl.

In fact, I might Chipotle it up right now. When you go without it for seven months after living on it in college, you really start to develop a craving for it.

I will probably make a bunch of posts in the next few days. The drive and the move have really give me some prime material. Blog entries to look out for: a) old people, b) driving a U-Haul through the Hoover Dam, c) nearly watching my car explode (twice), d) riding 50 miles through the desert on an empty tank of gas and a prayer… The list goes on.

Anyway, I am accepting any and all housewarming gifts.

My new address is: 650 East Azure Avenue, Apt. # 2071, North Las Vegas, Nevada 89081.

For those nostalgic people out there, please take notice of my apartment number. In college, for three consecutive years, I lived in Apt. # 207. I think it’s a good sign of things to come…

From the Bible Belt to Sin City

August 8, 2008

With both sadness and great anticipation, my “Middle America” experiment has come to an end.

On Monday, I will finish packing up my U-Haul truck and start driving west. Destination: Las Vegas.

I first set foot in Stigler, Oklahoma last December and began working as the sports editor for the newspaper here full-time in January. In the eight months since I first arrived, I have had the opportunity to experience a new place and a new environment.

I mean, people are people. It’s not as if Small Town, America is an entirely different world than the coasts. But there are little things. Little things that I’ll miss.

Part of me thinks that I could’ve lived here forever. I don’t really miss the ocean. It’s not like I’m an art or culture freak who craves museums. A small town really has all that I need. Especially a small town with a Wal-Mart.

But I am leaving. For many reasons, for no reason in particular… I just feel like it’s time to move on.

One of the so-called reasons is that I’m pretty sure I am over journalism. This was probably the ideal journalism job I could’ve gotten. They gave me so much independence, allowed me to do my own thing, and tried to help me out whenever I needed it. But I just don’t love the work. I love writing. I love strangers recognizing me, asking, “Are you Stephen A. Murphy?” That ego stroke will never get old.

But I didn’t love the grind of it, the deadlines, the mundane moments, the design aspect of the job… In short, I just didn’t love the idea of working in print media anymore.

I’m not saying I will never work another journalism job again. I look at my resume and it screams journalism. But for now, I am over it.

So… Vegas. A place where I’ve spent no more than four days of my life.

In the spirit of trying something new, I decided to go to a place that probably least resembles Stigler. I mean, there is practically a church on every block here. In Vegas, there will probably be a stripper on every block. But don’t worry, all of you moral supporters out there, just as I avoided the churches here, I am sure I will be able to resist the strippers as well.

I’m thinking more seriously about law school. I’ve finally cracked open my LSAT practice book, and the test looks manageable. I am a notoriously slow reader, and that’s something I will need to work on to score well. But again, I think it’s doable.

Besides studying the LSAT, I also plan on becoming an Obama campaigner. Nevada is one of the true swing states, and should be a solid battleground state come November. One of my good friends, Robbie, is working with the campaign now and he seems to like it. Since I think I might want to get involved in politics in the future, I feel like now is probably the best time to get my feet wet in the environment.

And finally, yes, there will be poker in Vegas. I do not want to become a professional, but for a short time in Vegas, I think it will keep me on my feet. In my seven months in Oklahoma, I have made more money playing poker than from my real job. Even if I fail miserably, I have enough saved for a while.

I don’t plan on living in Vegas forever. I’m thinking somewhere in the 3-6 months range. But who knows, maybe I will get a job that I love. Maybe I will meet a girl that I can’t get over (just kidding, Meggo). Maybe I will feel at home.

But more likely than not, I will spend a few enjoyable months there, get some great political experience and get a solid score on the LSAT before relocating either back to Southern California or the greater NYC area.

Time will tell.

My Peace with Squirrels

July 7, 2008
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The war started when I was 6 years old.

At 6, I was a devious creature. During the summer, I would fill up my latest hand-me-down Super Soaker and scan the side of my family’s brick house for prey. Sure enough, I would see them.

Ants crawling up the wall. One pump. Two pumps. And then I would let it rain.

This is what I would do for fun during the summer.

I would also occasionally ride my bike.

And one July afternoon, I made a mistake that would haunt me for the next 15 years.

I was riding my bike down good ole Pleasant Place in Kearny, NJ, a beautiful suburban street with many large chestnut trees providing delightful shade in those hot, sticky months. Right out in front of me, I saw a squirrel dart across the sidewalk (I followed my mommy’s rules, I avoided the street at all cost).

I still don’t know why I did it. Perhaps I simply was just an evil child. But for some reason I sped up and aimed for the squirrel.

Now I was just trying to scare it, I swear.

But the squirrel got that “deer in headlights” look and froze. At the last second, I swerved away, petrified of what I had almost done. And the squirrel, regaining its mobility, sprinted up a nearby tree. In fact, I had gotten so close to it that I thought I might have even ran over part of its tail.

I was terrified to ride past that tree again, but I had to get home. Like I told you, I followed my mother’s rules. I was going to stick to the sidewalk no matter what, so I had to return to the scene of the crime.

I took a deep breath and pedaled as fast as I could. For some reason, I was scared that the squirrel would try to take its revenge.

Ridiculous, right? Wrong.

Just as I flew by the tree, the squirrel jumped out of the branches and chased me down the street. I turned to look back at it, which turned out to be a monumental error in judgment. I lost my balance and crashed into the pavement. My knees bled, my hands were red, but this was not the time to cry.

I got up and sprinted all the way home, convinced that the squirrel would attack me if it ever got its chance.

Several days later, I returned to get back my bike, my eyes alert the whole time, ready to protect myself if necessary.

But I never saw that squirrel again. But unfortunately for me, the payback was just beginning.

You might not know it, but squirrels have an intricate and extensive communication system. They must have, because from that day on, chestnuts would rain down on me any time I would walk under one of his fellow brothers’ trees.

I was Public Enemy No. 1.

This war has lasted for about a decade and a half.

But as of this week, I am pretty sure that it’s over.

It all happened on an innocent jog. I was running around Roye Park here in Stigler, and I noticed a little baby squirrel. Still alert because I have to be (you never know when they will strike), I noticed a large bird swoop down and fly just above the squirrel’s head.

My first naïve thought: “Aw, how cute. Two animals playing.”

Then I saw another similarly large bird swoop down toward the squirrel. The baby squirrel looked at me. I looked back at him. I would recognize that look anywhere. It had that same terrified expression that the squirrel from my bike incident had 15 years ago. These birds were trying to make this baby squirrel their lunch.

Now, you know I am not a squirrel advocate. We’ve certainly had our differences over the years. But the time had come. My moment for redemption had finally arrived.

Like a madman, I clapped wildly and threw my arms up in the air, running toward the two attack birds. The birds, frustrated but intimidated by my incredibly muscular arms, flew away. The baby squirrel quickly found shelter in a nearby tree but before he scrambled up to safety, he looked back to me, as if to say, “thank you.”

Knowing how impressive of a communication system the squirrel world has, I have no doubt that my heroism will be conveyed back home to New Jersey and to the rest of the squirrels worldwide.

After 15 years, squirrels and I have finally made our peace. Let the celebration begin.

Debunking the 10 Commandments controversy of Stigler

June 19, 2008

When I told people that I was moving to a little town in Oklahoma called Stigler, they inevitably went to Wikipedia to get some more information on my new stomping grounds.

It was always the same old story.

“You’re going to the town that put the 10 Commandments in front of their courthouse, but couldn’t spell ‘adultery’ right?”

To much of the world, that is what Stigler is known for — its decision to perhaps push the definition of “separation of church and state” to the limits by agreeing to put a stone monument on government property. The decision, and the subsequent lawsuit by the ACLU, thrusted the small town of 3,000 into the national spotlight for a while as commentators argued if it was legal and whether or not the commandments should be allowed in such a public place.

But one notable detail was overlooked. Chiseled into the tablet, the seventh commandment read, “Thou shalt not commit adultry.” (By the way, spell check just automatically formatted it to ‘adultery’ so I had to go back and edit it)

It was the perfect punch line for far-left commentators. In their opinion, it was just a hick town that “clung” to its religion, propagating it mindlessly whatever they could. Their unintelligence was, for the commentators, confirmed by the misspelling.

And now, for anyone who checks out the Stigler Wiki page, they see the controversy and the misspelling.

I have to admit, the monument was one of the first things I checked out when I moved into town. Sure enough, there was the misspelling shining in the sun. I could not understand how it hadn’t been fixed yet. I mean, it’s kind of embarrassing to allow yourself to be the butt of a joke.

Somehow, the 10 commandments issue was brought up in the office this week, and I mentioned that I couldn’t believe the misspelling hadn’t been fixed yet.

Misspelling? What misspelling?

Without exception, every person in the office who was originally from Stigler had no idea the word was misspelled. Every person who moved to Stigler knew about the blunder.

For some reason, the misspelling just isn’t common knowledge amongst the majority of residents here. My theory is that the misspelled word wasn’t noticed right away and by the time someone did notice it, the local media decided that people were so sick of all the 10 commandment news that they didn’t publish it.

But it made its way to Wikipedia and the world knows all about it.

I’m thinking about writing an article for the newspaper about it, but for now, I decided to just settle on the blog entry. I don’t mind the commandments at the courthouse, though I can sympathize with both sides of the argument. I just think we should fix it.

Let’s raise some money, and do this adultery thing right. Well, you know what I mean.

A trip down memory lane

May 22, 2008

I just discovered that my former principal of grammar school has checked out the blog. That triggered a flashback for me, so without further ado, I present to you some of the fine moments of my experience at St. Stephen School in Kearny, NJ.

Pre-K: The fingerpainting. It was clear from an early age that I would not become an artist. Also, the little-kid bathrooms. Finally, a room that didn’t seem ginormous.

Kindergarten: I don’t remember much from class, but I do remember the great, late Mrs. Higgins, our teacher. A cheerful, round woman who loved her kids, I had the unfortunate occurence of elbowing her in the stomach at church when she grabbed my shoulder from behind. I had thought that it was one of my obnoxious older brothers, so I went in for the kill. My bad, Mrs. Higgins. She was always a tough lady though. She barely grimaced at the time.

First Grade: I remember we used to have foot races after lunch. My speed was unmatched.

Second grade: The beginning of my obsession with The Boxcar Children.

Third Grade: I remember I got detention for something — I was always a problem child — and I sprinted all the way home so I could get home before my parents got home so they wouldn’t find out. Actually, looking back, I’m surprised they released me on my own. Do schools still do that?

Fourth Grade: A lot of connect four. Once again, I dominated. In fact, that may have been my true calling.

Fifth grade: Some paratrooper game on the computer. Good times…

Sixth grade: I think that might have been the year we rebuilt Rome as a class. Ryan G. and I (well, mostly Ryan) recreated the Roman Road to perfection. My cousin Burlick and his clan tried to build the original Colosseum out of sugar cubes but their time management was so bad that they only wound up making a fairly realistic version of the current Colosseum — complete with gaping holes.

Seventh grade: I remember one moment where Mrs. Lott was super mad at the class for something. But I was daydreaming and wondering if I could, on command, wink with both of my eyes. So I began idly practicing as she admonished the group, until Mrs. Lott incredulously screamed, “Mr. Murphy, are you winking at me?!?” Even with her anger, I think she was a bit amused.

Eighth grade: Dodge ball in gym class. These are the moments that prepare you for high school.

* * * * *

Cleaning Day

May 18, 2008

The Dirt Devil might be one of the greatest machines of all time.

The amount of filth it has picked up from my carpets is both alarming and very impressive.

Yes, today I finally got the urge to clean my apartment up. It looks and feels like a new place. A 22-year-old living alone does not always live in the cleanest of environments, and that has been true of me the past few months.

But today, out of nowhere, I decided to go on a cleaning binge. Swifters on the floors, vacuum on the carpets, 409 on every table top around.

So, world, if you’re thinking about visiting me in Stigler, Oklahoma, there is no better time than the present. Because you know this won’t last long…