Friday, September 23, 2005


In Which I Count to 40 for Someone...



(may contain references to actual vomiting, and scenes that could induce same)


So today is my brother's 40th birthday.

What an odd grouping of words to assemble in one sentence. But then, he's an odd kind of guy. Much like his little brother.

BB and MM

bros1 (1974)

bros4 (1994)

My brother, being my Big Brother, had a variety of functions in my life. He was supposed to watch out for me when I was little, but in the first 12 years of my life, he put me in the hospital five times. BB was, in general, supposed to help me, but in this regard, he was a bit like a temperamental genie. If I asked for his assistance--fixing a toy, getting down out of a tree, extricating myself from an impending ass-whupping--often as not his response was that I should go rub some other lamp.

But that was just bluster. BB might leave me for a few awful bleating moments there in a tree, but usually he'd return with a step-ladder. The broken toy I would throw into the trash in a fit of frustration the night before would appear, glued and repaired, on my desk later the next morning. Or the young thugs who bedeviled me at school one day would be found the next in need of glue and repair themselves (or possibly still in the trash can where they had been stuffed hours earlier).

However, I think it's fair to say my brother's other role was as a kind of advance scout in my life. The expendable soldier that marched straight into the teeth of the future and gave me intel on the hazards that lay ahead. It wasn't always good intel, mind you, but when you're a kid you're glad to get any information from someone else who had to do it first, whether it's getting a tooth filled, going to school, riding the bus, facing algebra, facing girls, driving, graduating, getting a job, or getting a place of your own. These and a hundred other impending and intimidating rites of passage were all rites BB experienced before me and I waited to see how he would do before I would start dreading whatever was coming for myself.

I say "dreading" of course, because that almost always was my first emotional reaction to anything big or new or different coming up in life. For years, I understood this to mean I was a coward at heart, always fearful of change, easily intimidated. But over time it began to dawn on me that my reaction to crossing thresholds into the future was more a function of how my brother sold the experience to me. He told me getting a tooth filled was a painful experience, and boy, was he right. I never realized that he was just trying to scare his little brother, and figured after I wet my pants for a bit, I'd realize it wasn't a big deal. Of course, BB also hadn't banked on the fact that his little brother was a mutant freak who was immune to novocaine, and so that fact meant said little brother would experience exponentially more discomfort than he ever would.

Eventually, I came to realize that my advance scout was doing recon for a mission that was completely different from the one I was on. This happened about the time it dawned on me that, whoa, girls weren't stupid and silly and mean. That actually, they were smart, and smelled good, and filled out clothing in a manner that could reliably divert you til the End of Days. And if you made even half an effort to be nice and funny and kind to them, they were apt to grab hold of you and press up against you in all sorts of interesting ways. This was not my brother's experience. This may have been the result of a simple quirk of his personality. Or bad luck.

Or it may have been because his best pick-up lines were "Does this look infected to you?" and "You make my ding-dong feel funny."

Over time, those instances, those moments where I realized I'd received bad intel from BB, began to increase. I came to learn, for example, that being called on in class was not an agony, but a chance to show what you knew. That writing and presenting book reports in front of the class was not an exercise in public humiliation, but a welcome moment of improvisational comedy. That school--and especially college--was not one more thing to get through, but could actually be riveting, and reveal to you truths that would serve you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Granted, there were plenty of times his reconnaissance proved valuable. When I started high school, I already knew which kids were mooches who would pretend to be your friend long enough to borrow lunch money off you, and then never repay it. I learned which teachers were good and bad and why. Later, I learned all sorts of technical details about applying for part-time jobs and filling out tax forms while I did it. But just as valuable as this nitty-gritty stuff was the dawning understanding that BB and I were two different people, each with our own gifts and perspectives, each with our own shadows that didn't have to eclipse the other.

So while I did sometimes wish I was as strong as my brother or as good a cook or as mechanically inclined (he was a whiz building models and is still pretty good at fixing his own car. And a few years ago, he attempted a tricky home-plumbing job for me that I could not possibly have attempted without accidentally duplicating some special effects from The Poseidon Adventure), I also was glad to discover my own gifts that had nothing to do with the example BB set or the information he provided.

I'd love to say that over time, we have gained greater understanding of one another and become better friends, but that wouldn't be accurate. I will never comprehend his fascination with guns any more than he can comprehend my fascination with writing. I will never understand why he prefers living at home with my parents to any of the opportunities he's had over the years to move out, opportunities that have even included women (and once, even a woman with her own nurse uniforms). He will never understand my willingness--in some cases, outright eagerness--to accommodate the opposite sex in many areas that strike him as freakish and alien, such as conversation, soft toilet paper, well-made milkshakes, foot massages and cunnilingus.

We have a fractious relationship for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that, well, we're brothers. Fractious is what we do. But like many siblings, we also have a bond, a rapport, a wavelength, that no one else on earth shares. The best illustration I can give you of this bond is to tell you a story:

Once, when I was about 11 or 12, I was really sick. It was that kind of stomach flu where you spend most of the day, thrashing in bed, supremely uncomfortable. You're hot and tired and achy and feverish. Worst of all, you have this constant nausea, this sense that at any minute, you're going to throw up. The awful thing is, you never do.

So you languish for hours with this almost-gonna-be-sick sensation and it's hellish. Your mom brings you soup and cold cloths for your head and even moves the little black-and-white TV into your room so you can watch Happy Days. But you know your days will never be happy again until you stop feeling so nauseated. At one point, you tell your mother you just wish you could throw up and be done with it. But your mom is horrified that you would say such a thing. She's your mom. That's her job.

That was pretty much the scenario for me as I slouched in bed, abject in my misery, when my brother walked in and sat in the easy chair next to the bed.

Now, he didn't do this to keep me company or anything as panty-waisted as that. It's just that the only TV we owned was in the room there with me and BB wanted to watch it.

We didn't acknowledge each other. We just sat side by side, staring at the TV, wordless.

After a few minutes, my brother reached down and picked up a box he brought with him. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him taking something out of the box, putting it in his mouth, and crunching away. This was not an uncommon sight. My brother always had food handy.

But boy, BB really seemed to be enjoying whatever he was eating. "Rmmm. Good," he grunted. "These are really...yom...good." His words were punctuated by the loudest possible crunching noises. It was like he was breaking rocks with his teeth. With each bite, there was a hard, sharp CRUNK followed by a series of rapid and satisfied ronch-ronch-ronch noises.

Finally I turned and looked at my brother to see what the hell he was so rapturous about.

And that's when I saw that he was eating out of a box of Milk Bone Dog Biscuits.

"Mmm-hmm!" he groaned, really hamming up his pleasure as he crunched a fresh biscuit. Then he rattled the box and looked down in it with great avidity before fishing out some more.

The rattling noise drew our dog Pilgrim, who trotted into the room, tail wagging. "Hey girl!" said my brother. "Want some?"

But BB didn't just offer the dog a Milk Bone. Instead, he popped one into his mouth (ronch-ronch-ronch), then leaned over and stuck out his tongue. I caught a whiff of something that was never intended to come out of a human: Milk Bone breath, the smell of stale bread and old cereal and something like chemically-treated cardboard.

Then Pilgrim hopped up and began slurping bits of chewed dog biscuit out of my brother's open mouth.

A second later, I leaned over the wastebasket near the bed and was lavishly sick. I vomited so much I threw up food I'd eaten the previous week. At last, drenched with sweat and utterly spent, I collapsed back into bed, and looked up at my brother.

"Thanks," I said, and really meant it. "I feel so much better."

"Good," was all he said. Then he left the room as quickly as he could (he can't stand watching or listening to people hurl).

That's brotherly love, people. That's the bond I'm talking about.

And I'm so grateful for it. So grateful that I won't even wonder how it is that a boy who thought nothing of a dog eating out of his mouth could grow up to be a man who is revulsed by the idea of--

Well, never mind.

Instead, I'll tell you this: BB may never have been the genie I wanted him to be. But if I had a genie, the next time I rubbed that lamp, I'd wish for him to have a great birthday, and as much joy and contentment as he feels he can manage.

And of course a big ol' box of Milk Bones.

Happy 40th, Big Brother.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Big brothers are certainly a unique animal. You sound like me and probably have a nightmarish tale to match every good thing your big brother did. There's nothing like waking up one summer morning to the sound of a Star Trek Enterprise model blowing up next to your head. But then, I had at least 3 teachers through the years that automatically liked me because they liked my brother. I guess big brothers personify that whole "balance of the universe" idea.
As good (or bad) as your experience with your BB may have been (and is), I will say, "At least you have a brother." I grew up with no brothers and three younger sisters. Consider yourself fortunate, and cherish your relationship with him as much as you can.

Happy B-Day to BB.
I am the BB.

So I can't validate your experience.

What I can say is ... I would do ALMOST anything for my kid sister.

that would include the chewing of milk bones. :)

Now if THAT story isn't a tribute to brotherly love, I don't know what is.
Happy birthday BB. A box of English version Milk bones on the way:-)
Dude! Parts of that post fall into the "way too much information" category, LOL.

But happy birthday to the BB. It's also my hubby's birthday today, and Bruce Springsteen's too.
You are an amazing writer.

Every so often, I think that I can write humorous and/or touching prose. I do write and then I am fairly proud of what I've written. Later, I read stuff from a really good writer, like you, and I realize that I'm a hack.







Telling people stuff like this? And getting it wrong! Couldn't be MORE wrong!!

I just ate the Milk Bones to see if I could get you to barf. To make you feel better? Help you out? Please!

Oh, thanks for the you-know-what. It arrived today. What are the odds.

And thanks to all of MM's buddies here. You're a nice bunch. Nicer than the little ass-wipe desevres.

Yr. Old Brother
Could you ask BB is I can borrow his "You make my ding dong feel funny" line. I really think I could make it work.

Having siblings are great. I have one sister and two brothers. Once my oldest brother choked me so hard he broke all the blood vessels in my face (no lie) all because I threw his favotire pillow outside. Today he always says he got stung by a bee when he went to retrive it and that's why he choked me. Hey Steve, it was January OK, there were no bees!
Happy Birthday, BB!! I'm a BS (no, not means Big Sister) and I can honestly say that my LB would do the very same for me. So "Cheers!" to siblings. :)

"He will never understand my accommodate the opposite sex in...conversation, soft toilet paper, well-made milkshakes, foot massages and--"

Whew! (waves hands in front of face) Is it hot in here? Someone open a window.

Had a hard time reading after that.

Because foot massages are really sexy, you know. ;-)

I'm going to have to agree with Rurality about the "too much info" bit.

MM, It's OK though it's Friday!
Happy birthday BB.

MM-Best way to get 'em, expose some of that soft white underbelly of their humanity for the world to see.
I can feel you MM- grew up with a LARGE older brother who liked nothing better than to torment me.

Ever have Black Cat firecrackers thrown at you while you were in bed and could not get out due to knee injury?

yeah, older brothers- I love mine dearly. Really, just as you do.

Happy Birthday BB- and many more.

By the way, my brother actually liked dog cookies and ate them regularly.
Happy birthday BB!!!

You look alot like your BB!!
Great post. All of it. Ahem.
I'm with you, GD...:>

MM, I hate that "want to vomit but can't" feeling! Whether he intended it as a kind gesture or not, your brother certainly did you a favor.

BB, happy birthday :) I hope you keep coming back here and setting your little brother straight ;>
Oh by the way,

I've always thought you were a "cunning linguist".
It must be birthday season. :O Wow. Happy Birthday, BB! :D
"The expendable soldier that marched straight into the teeth of the future and gave me intel on the hazards that lay ahead."

I like that a lot. I got less intel from my BB, but his frontline work effectively broke in our parents .
Ok, I *am* the older brother and I wouldn't eat dog treats to help out my little brother.

But I like cunnilingus.


okay, that's far too much of that cunnilingus word for this girl to handle in one sitting. stop it. now.

good post, though, and funny thing about siblings --- no matter how you might try and kill each other, it's hard living without them

Happy B-Day to your BB
First, Happy Birthday BB.

Second...not that we needed to, but now we all know why Her Lovely Self married you and has stayed all these years, and it's not for your stunning good looks.
Well played MM, well Played.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge and all that.
I love how you are opening up more and more with us, your loyal readers, these days. You were so reserved before, you held back so much, never daring to reveal your most embarrasing, intimate, personal stories either past or present. (YEAH RIGHT)
Thanks for never being scared to tell us are always a guaranteed laugh or groan of disgust or coffee-spewing! Happy birthday to your brother.

MM, I sometimes wonder how you do this...

Although a) I could definitely sympathize with what your brother did for you and b) you've given me a good deal of hope for the future, as I am good at all but one of the women-pleasing criteria you listed.

But then again, I don't have a milkshake machine.
I turn 40 in a month and a handful of days. I'm the youngest of nine, and I expect no well-wishing and appreciation. Instead, I fear my day will be rife with loud laughter and the pointing of fingers that, at long last, I can no longer taunt my elders with my youth...

This was a nice bit of appreciation, MM. Even with the dog biscuits and the vomit...
Happy 40th, MM's brother!

I, too, am a lot different than my brother in many ways - but every year, I realize more and more that we're also incredibly similar. His 25th birthday was last week...perhaps it's the week of brother's birthdays.

Loved the brother's comment, btw - it was just so...brotherly.
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