Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 

In Which I Am My Father's Son (and My Brother's Brother)...

Despite the fact that we have a certain percentage of the same DNA, you have to look hard to find similarities between me and the other men in my family.

Granted, you have to look hard because I don't make much of an effort to offer comparisons for you. In fact, I would go so far as to say I probably go out of my way to deliberately obscure any likeness or similarities I have, especially between me and my brother, but also between me and my dad.

This is not to say that I am embarrassed by my dad or my brother. To be sure, the occasional blue-moon similarity pops up that makes me rejoice in sharing their blood, but only when it's that rarest of rare qualities: one that puts me in a good light.

For instance, my dad's work ethic is beyond reproach and I flatter myself to think that I might have just a smidge of that. And my brother, despite the fact that he is my brother, is unwavering in his devotion to family. Growing up, he saved me from countless bullies in school. Today, he treats my wife with a kindness and respect I never knew he had. He has never forgotten one of my children's birthdays. There are five people in my life who I know I could call for help any time, for any reason, and expect to find them on my doorstep in the morning. My brother is on that list. And despite the smart-ass comments he will no doubt make beneath this entry, he knows he can expect the same from me.

Having said that, I think I'd just as soon see myself as my own person, beholden to no one, even in terms of genetics. And so I'm happy--on occasion, even elated--to point out differences between myself and my male blood relations.

For example, (and this is by no means a complete catalog, just an off-the-top-of-my-head summary):

--My dad is a short, rotund bald man with a freak shock of white beard. I am not.

--My brother is a tall, rotund balding man roughly the size of one of those Dodge trucks you see in the commercials. I am not.

--Both are quick-tempered and have a history of being prone to violence. I am not and do not.

--Both are smart in their own ways, ways that I am precisely not. They are mechanically inclined and skilled in various forms of construction, such as homes or gourmet meals. I can be compelled to make basic home repairs or repasts only in situations involving imminent death or spousal fury should I fail to act.

--In matters of leisure pursuits, both are still very much enamored of the idea of taking firearms into the woods and banging away at anything that moves. I haven't held a firearm in nearly 10 years, and that was only long enough to unload it. Meanwhile, neither one enjoys reading (in fact, I'm not a hundred percent sure they can read). Neither one can be compelled to write, unless it is their signature on a check. As you may have noticed, I occasionally enjoy stringing sentences together.

The fact of the matter is--in case I haven't put a fine enough point on it--my brother and my dad are very different men from the kind of man I am. We really are.

So imagine how troubling it was the other morning to have my son shake me violently awake with cries of "Dad! Dad stop it! You gotta stop it!"

It was not quite 4 AM. Groggily, I stared at my son for a moment, not to figure out who he was, but what he wanted.

"Dzzizzz you havvvvur bad dreeeeeem, bud?" I slurred, already dozing again.

"No!" he cried. "You have to stop making the noise."

I blinked several times, now awake enough to realize what he meant. "I'm sorry, bud," I said, propping myself up on my elbow now. "Dad sometimes talks in his sleep."

Thomas stared straight at me. "This wasn't talking, Dad. It was a--" And then he opened his mouth and made sort of a snorgggggggggg-aaaaaaa-swooooop! noise with his mouth and nose. "Like that," he said.

Now I was fully awake. "You don't mean...was I...snoring?"

"Yeah, that's it!" cried Thomas.

"Oh but--" and I stopped myself before I could utter the hated statements both my father and brother have uttered for years. I never snore.

I shook Her Lovely Self awake. This was urgent. "Hon? Honey? I don't really snore do I?"

Her Lovely Self would like me to tell you that she responded in a series on unintelligible grunts. When stirred, she makes every effort not to speak, because once she speaks she's fully awake. But in fact I did stir her awake, and in doing so, caused some evil subconscious entity--Her Unlovely Self--to answer, and Her Unlovely Self apparently enjoys sponsorship from the Profanity Council. She raised her head from the pillow, eyes completely shut, but mouth open in a snarl. "Every fucking night I gotta roll you over you’re so fucking loud!" she muttered. "Now knock it off and go back to sleep. JEE-zuz!" And so saying, she threw her unlovely self face-first into her pillow. I walked Thomas back to his room, then returned to mine and sat there, wide awake now, almost afraid to sleep.

In the morning, HLS had no recollection of being momentarily possessed by HUS, but she did confirm that in fact, I have been snoring--rather a lot--pretty much every night since the end of summer. "It's pretty bad," she admitted. "Sometimes I have to really give you a good shove so you roll over. Why? What's wrong?"

She said this last because I'm sure I looked ashen. It was like being told I had a disease and I was in the denial phase. My God, I snore.

"It's not that big a deal," HLS said. "I mean, it happens to most guys, right?" She said, as delicately as if we were discussing performance anxiety. Truth to tell, I'd almost have been happier if we were (almost).

Because this was a big deal to me. See, the greatest difference of all between myself and my father and brother is (was): They snored. I didn't.

Honestly, I had hoped I'd be spared the affliction. After all, I spent my entire childhood and adolescence in a more or less constant state of interrupted sleep, thanks to my brother and my father, who both snored like it was an Olympic event and any day they'd be called up to Colorado Springs for training.

To be fair, my father was occasionally entertaining, as he didn't just do sound effects. He also often offered his slumbering family a bit of a floor show. One summer, when he was working up in Canada, we went to stay with him for a few weeks. We were staying in a camper my dad owned and so all ended up sleeping more or less in the same room. In the middle of the night we were all awakened by my father shouting.

"Move that friggin' pipe! Get the Christ outta there! You wanna end up in the boiler, you stupid ass-lappin' sonofawhore?"

Then there was dead silence.

Thirty seconds later he started howling with laughter, almost weepingly so. He was trying to say something but couldn't get the words out, he was laughing so hard. My mom was desperately shaking him, trying to wake him up, but he was lost in a world of his own.

At last, the braying laughter started dying down and my father gasped from the effort to speak. "Ahuh-hahaha-ahuh-huh-hee-hee-oh my Jesus--hee hee--that's funnier than a monkey fuckin' a football. Hah hah!"

And then he stopped abruptly, rolled over and went back to snoring. My mom was mortified, but my brother and I got a case of the giggles and it took a long time to settle down after that (in fact, I'm still giggling).

Another time, we were camping up on the hill, not in the camper, but this time in a borrowed tent. Once again, it was late, but my father's snoring was making it hard to sleep.

Then he stopped and the silence woke us up.

"Oh no," my father muttered in the stillness.

He was silent for a long while, then uttered again, "Oh my God and Holy Jesus, no."

Next second, my dad reared up out of bed, grabbed my mother by her shoulders and screamed "WATCH OUT!" and then proceeded to roll on top of her. Still holding her, they rolled off the inflatable mattress, across the tent and into the vinyl wall, bringing half the thing down. My mom rapped my dad a couple good ones in the mouth and that brought him around, enough that he leapt to his feet, only to fall backwards and pull the tent all the way over. Eventually, after everything was right and we were once again in our more-or-less remade beds, my father explained that he'd been dreaming that we had pitched our tent in the middle of a road and he saw the lights of an oncoming car. He grabbed my mom in an attempt to roll them off the road and out of the way.

At this, my brother started crying. "You mean you went off and left us on the road?!?"

We didn't do much camping after that.

My brother, meanwhile, was never the dramatist my father was, but what he lacked in theatrics, he more than made up for in his positively operatic snoring. And I don't mean operatic as a compliment. I mean to imply that he is the absolutely loudest snorer I know. So loud that if I EVER have to share a bedroom with him again, I will puncture my own eardrums with a pen or smother him with a pillow; I haven't decided which yet.

I'm serious.

It wasn't so bad when we were kids. In fact, I don't recall him having a problem with snoring until after he went to college. He was studying culinary arts then and had a tendency to eat most of his homework, which means he gained about 120 pounds in four years. Plus, he started smoking his sophomore year of college. Between the weight and the coffin nails, he was a pretty noisy sleeper. I was still in high school and can remember spending many a night sleeping in the sofa of the living room of our large old house, its thick walls almost--but not quite--enough to drown out his snores.

After we both graduated college, this became a problem of unbearable proportions. I had spent four years of more or less snore-free sleep and now had to move back in with my parents--and my brother, who still lived with them. They no longer lived in the big old farmhouse and we just starting to renovate the old house they'd bought, so they were renting a small ski cabin which contained only two bedrooms--a master bedroom downstairs, and a small loft that was meant to contain one bed. But when I moved home, my parents gamely got our old twin beds out of storage and set us up in the same room.

If I end up in hell, it will be an exact replica of that room.

It was claustrophobic with the ceiling just inches from your face. And it was hot. Heat rises of course and my dad kept the place boiling hot by regularly stoking a Franklin wood stove downstairs. Plus--and I'm not kidding--there was the fact that my brother had a tendency to suck all available oxygen out of the air. Lying there in bed, a few feet from his unconscious form, he would emit a snore that almost defies transcription, and yet I will try:

SQQQQUUUUUUEEEEOOOOOOORRRRRRRRPPPFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFHHHHHHHH GAHKHKHKHKH snorglesquirgorm

As he inhaled in this hideous fashion, paper would flutter from the desk. The very sheets of my bed would be pulled towards him from the suction.

Then there would be dead silence. For as long as 10 seconds. When I first moved back in, I was actually tricked into getting out of bed and checking his pulse in case he'd just breathed his last.

And that was the moment he'd exhale, usually right in my face:

HHHHAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGKKKKKKKKKKKK
(snorpsnorpsnorp)

And then it would start all over again.

For the nine months I lived at home, I tried everything--short of actual murder--to either quiet him or get him to stop altogether. I purchased industrial grade ear plugs, such as those rock stars and airline baggage handlers use. They didn't work. I used a white noise generator, a fan turned on full blast and a radio turned to mild static on the FM dial. Nothing drowned him out. Sleeping elsewhere did no good, the house was so small. And anyway, downstairs my dad was playing the same tune with a different instrument. The torture would have been in stereo.

Really, the only thing that caused this Great Snorting Vortex of Noise and Air (for so I had come to call my brother) to cease was to regain consciousness or to roll over and sleep on his side which, because of his bulk, he almost never did. So I'd have to force him. I'd yank the bed sheet or poke him in the arm. Sometimes he'd roll over, sometimes not.

Once, I got so annoyed I reared up and punched him hard on his arm. He whined pitifully his sleep, then lurched to his left side. At the same instant, he ripped an enormous fart--there must have been a gas bubble the size of a golden retriever trapped in there--but he stayed put. And he stayed quiet after that. Just as I stayed quiet about the fist-sized black-and-blue mark he complained about for the rest of the week.

The trick was keeping him on his side (without setting off any more methane explosions). So I repositioned my bed in such a way as to actually be closer to his. This allowed me to push against his back with both feet, rolling him to his side. Then I'd lock my knees and keep him pinned that way until I fell asleep. It didn't always work (early one morning, he woke with a start and in rolling over he nearly broke both of my legs), but it was an imperfect solution for an imperfect world.

And if you think I'm exaggerating about the noise my brother was capable of generating, let me assure you I have witnesses.

The house my parents rented was at the top of a hill. If you took the road from town up to the paved road that led to the dirt track that finally went up the hill to the house, you'd have to drive about two miles to get to the house. But in fact, the house, situated as it was, was only a forest and a field away from the center of town, as the crow flew.

One evening, on my way to work, I stopped at the general store to get some gas. They were getting ready to close up for the night and it was already dark. I visited with the store owner in that way that you do in New England: sharing a couple of brief observations about the weather, and then lapsing into a fugue state where you just enjoy the silence together.

We stood there on the porch of the store, listening to the quiet (and nothing is so quiet as a small New Hampshire town in the early spring).

Except, in the distance, we could hear something.

"Zat a bear?" the proprietor's son asked. He had just joined us on the porch.

The proprietor cocked an ear. "No suh."

We listened.

"How fah away you reckon that is?" the son asked, nervous but not showing it.

The proprietor pointed. "That's up back beyond the field, up in Nichols wood lot." He looked at me. "That's almost a straight line up to your place. You got a new dog or sumpin? Maybe a pig?" In her middle age, my mother had begun to take in stray cats and dogs. And yes, once, a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.

But as soon as the proprietor pointed out how close my house was, I knew instantly what the noise was.

"Gentlemen," I said. "That there is my brother, snoring his head off."

Even the proprietor, who had spent years practicing his inscrutable Yankee expression, let his mouth drop in surprise. "Nevah!" he said.

"Oh ayuh," I replied (nine months at home was long enough for me to recover my accent).

And we listened. Sure enough, we all heard the regular, if faint

sqqqquuuuuueeeeooooooorrrrrrrrpppfffffffffffffffffffffhhhhhhhhgahkhkhkhkh snorglesquirgorm

and, a few seconds later

hhhhaaaaggggggggggggggggaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggkkkkkkkkkkkk
(snorpsnorpsnorp)


"By jeezuz!" the proprietor exclaimed. "That's got to be a quarter-mile if it's an inch."

"Nevah heard the like!" the son agreed. Of course, they were impressed and would spend the next several years regarding my brother with a certain kind of awe (which I pointed out more than once would be cured by bunking in his room for a single night, an offer they never accepted, alas).

Eventually, you'll all be pleased to know, my brother went to a hospital and did the sleep center thing. And of course he was diagnosed with sleep apnea (he also scored second highest on the center staff's private listing of all-time loudest snorers). The doctors were less concerned with the fact that he was preventing his brother from getting a decent night's sleep, and more concerned with the trivial fact that the Great Snorting Vortex of Noise and Air was in fact spending a good chunk of his evening not breathing. On average, they reckoned, he stopped breathing almost 200 times a night, enough to cause some serious health problems for him, such as, oh, death, for example. They wanted him to get that surgery where they remove great flaps of skin from his throat.

Instead, he opted for a nose mask thingy that kept him breathing, but also stopped the snoring. Alas, the device was so uncomfortable to him that it also kept him from sleeping (and here I tried to summon pity for him, truly I did. But I failed). And then, lucky boy, he was diagnosed with type-II diabetes, which scared him so badly that he quit smoking and started cycling and lost a hundred pounds. Suddenly, the snoring problem disappeared. Too bad that all happened 10 years after I moved out.

And now here I was, almost another decade down the line and I was the snorer. I was keeping my son awake. I was causing my wife to punch me and swear like a sailor.

"I feel terrible," I said over my morning coffee. Not being a morning person, I tend to feel terrible anyway, but this dawning realization was almost overwhelming. "God, I'm becoming just like my brother and my father," I said miserably.

And Her Lovely Self, who is a morning person and who can be very sweet, came over and put her arm around me. "Oh honey, it's okay. It's not that bad. As long as you stay on your side, you don't snore at all. But it's sweet that you feel bad about waking us up."

Oh, forget that! I thought. Does she realize how much shit my dad and my brother are going to give me now?

"Yeah!" Thomas observed, quite taken by the idea of me morphing into his grandfather or uncle, like some hideously fleshy, gas-filled Transformer toy. "You even have a beard now, like Papa! And it's got little white patches!

(Which reminds me, because I know how much my brother enjoys these:



Beard: Day 30)


"Know what else, Dad? I bet you'll get a big belly and your hair will start falling out too!" my son offered helpfully.

"Sure!" I cried. "Next, I'll probably start purchasing firearms."

"Oh, now you’re just being ridiculous!" HLS said, shaking her head. Then she stopped. "Although if it would be nice if you also got your brother's cooking ability. Or your dad's plumbing skills so we could redo the downstairs bathroom."

"Really?" I said. "That would be worth sleeping with a Great Snorting Vortex of Noise and Air?"

"Oh no," she said. "By then, you'd be in the guest room. I could never sleep with a man like your dad or your brother."

And then she laughed.

Oh yes, ha ha. Real funny.

Funnier than a monkey fucking a football.


Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Normally, I would feel for you- your writing is so effective that I'm always on your side. But when it comes to snoring, my heart turns to stone. My Significant Other snored for YEARS and wouldn't wake up for anything. Turns out 80% of his sinuses were filled w/ polyps.

Good luck. ;)
 
MM, my heart goes out to you. I, too, was really embarrassed to discover that I snore (only sometimes...but still!) and have spent a good deal of time thinking, "okay, no snoring...no snoring..." before falling asleep while in the same room as others.

But I do have to say, there is no way I can ever match the volume of my dad's snore, which caused our family to play "beat dad to sleep" while on family vacations. Why, you ask? Because unless you're deaf, you can't sleep in the same room as the man.

Good thing I'm perfect...
 
My uncle was a snorer of epic proportions, in the league of your brother, from when he was quite young. Weight gain later in life only made the problem worse. My father could also snore pretty loudly, although not as loud as his brother. I don't think I'm in their league but I have been informed on camping trips that I can snore pretty loudly, although if I sleep on my side it seems to fix the problem.
 
I, embarrassingly enough, am a snorer to beat all others. I can keep an entire household awake, and truth be told, have done so on more than one occasion. After sleeping in a separate bedroom from my husband for 9 months, I got a CPAP machine. I had to beg for it, because I have so little apnea that they didn't want to give it to me. But it stops the snoring completely, and I recently got a newfangled mask that is really quite comfortable. Other than my stepkids calling me "Darth Vader," I love it.
 
A family friend of mine, I call him uncle Donny, but he's not actually an uncle, is that kind of snorer. He has slept in a different room from his wife for years (at least 20) because he snores so loudly. When we go camping up in Northern Saskatchewan, he rivals the bears. He sleeps in a camper by himself, and everyone else in the campground can hear him. Despite all of that, he is one of my favourite people in the world, and I am willing to put up with some snoring if it means spending time camping with him and his family.
 
Try being a woman who snores. While I don't suck all the air out of rooms or wake up people a quarter mile away, I will apparently "snort like a little piglet" (the term my hubby thinks is endearing) while sleeping. I feel for ya, MM.
 
People, ask yourselves: the kid is able to tape-record a thanksgiving dinner from 1975, he had a min recorder for years and was able to produce shows like Fart Cinema. He had a freaking video camera in college and captured such moments as his roommate dyeing his hair purple and eating an egg raw and even a half-assed TV show in which he and his dumb-ass friends are super-heros. How is it with all this recording technolgy he hasn't ONCE produced reliable evidence of me snoring?

I do not snore. I'm sorry you do, you poor bastard. But I do not. Never did.

It IS true about the bubbles of gas as big as a dog. And how come I was never featured on Fart cinema?

Yr. bro.
 
I've been informed on many occasions by my son that I snore. He gets rather annoyed with me about it. I just remind him about how he carries on lengthy conversations, and arguments in his sleep. At least the dog isn't complaining.

This is one of your funniest posts and deserves immediate 'favorites' stature. The "gas bubble the size of a golden retriever had me crying and I damn near pissed my pants about the "monkey fucking a football".
 
I come from a family with sleep apnea. I don't personally snore, (I don't,) but I am a Skip-breather even when awake. (Take a breath, hold for 4-5 seconds, breath out.) This leads to holding my breath longer while asleep and I regularly wake myself up gasping for air.

By the way, your Son is great. Finally snapped and had to make you stop.
 
You should keep on the lookout for sleep apnea- of course you know how dangerous it can be if your brother has the condition, but as you age the problem can escalate and if you've begun snoring, you might be heading in that direction.

Once you start building up that "sleep debt," it can pretty much make you miserable, believe me. When they tested me, I was having apneas two to three times per minute. I got less than one minute of actual restful sleep the night they tested me, and I had spent the better part of a year living like a zombie and putting off the doctor visit. Don't be like me! :)
 
Not that you *really* wanted to know this (and I realize that you will probably never read this comment as I am horrendously late in discovering your gem of a blog) but I just wanted to inform you that you not only make babies barf from laughter but you now have the distinction of making a 21-year-old college girl barf. I blame waaaaaay too much cranberry juice and your rendition of your brother's snoring.

Thank you and good night.
 
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