Thursday, June 28, 2007


Travels with BB (Part Two)..

The purple orb of urine spun in the warm air as it flew in a high arc, up, up, and then down, exploding in a gaily twinkling (or perhaps tinkling) spray of droplets--into the Dumpster at the back of the rest area where we had stopped.

"Waste of a good water balloon," BB said, as he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of smokes. Ten years ago, when BB was diagnosed with Type-II diabetes, he seemed to catch religion, as far as his health was concerned. He quit his sedentary desk job, stopped eating lunch everyday at a fast-food joint, and quit smoking. I was so impressed with his turnaround, I ended up using him in a story I wrote for Men's Health magazine later that year. Now here he was puffing his way through at least a pack a day. It pained me to see it. BB's more or less in his mid-40s and dresses out at around 300 pounds--not the ideal profile for someone who wants to pick up smoking again. But I had refrained from saying anything: I knew this was one tool in a limited arsenal that was helping my big brother keep his shit together.

As he lit up, I stood upwind, still thinking about the purple glove.

"Not like you don't have box full of the things," I said. "Incidentally, what were you planning to do with that many latex gloves?"

"They're heavy-duty. EMTs use 'em. Thought we might need 'em if we have to pick through broken glass and stuff," BB answered. "I also brought some industrial garbage bags to wrap up anything we take home. I expect there to be a lotta engine oil, residue from whatever retardant the fire team would have sprayed the car with to prevent a fire and, you know, stuff."

By "stuff," I knew exactly what BB meant. I had seen the police report by this time. I had spoken at length with both the coroner who autopsied my parents and the funeral director who did her futile best to make them presentable. My parents suffered multiple and severe lacerations in the accident. BB was talking about blood.

But instead of dwelling on this morbid thought, I found myself fairly impressed with my brother's forethought. When you're a little brother with a big mouth, it's all too easy--indeed, for much of my youth, I considered it my job--to dismiss your big brother as a total loser. But the truth is, BB is actually pretty goddamn sharp when he wants to be.

"That--that was good thinking," I allowed.

BB cocked his head and opened his mouth to speak, seemed to think the better of it, then closed his lips back over his cigarette and continued puffing. Ever since the funeral, we'd been uncharacteristically decent to one another, which caused each of us to occasionally say something kind--such as my meager compliment about his good thinking--while the other was left with no clue how to respond. It led to us spending a lot of time sharing uncomfortable silences together, like two little kids doing their awkward best to be grown-ups while their parents were out of the room. Except, of course, our parents weren't coming back into the room, so our kind demeanors had been stretched far beyond the bounds of normal use.

However, as night fell, as my car brought us ever closer to Elkhart, our kind demeanors were becoming brittle as both of us grew increasingly nervous and irritable.

"Can you stop pumping that goddamn pedal!" BB cried without warning, about 20 minutes after we left the rest area.

"Pumping? What pumping?" I asked.

"You know what pumping. You tromp on the pedal and we juice ahead, then you let up and we lurch and drop back. Like riding a fucking donkey!"

"You're imagining things."

"Not likely. You drive like an old woman."

"Hey, fucko. Any time you want to drive, you just sing out."

That shut him up. BB was extremely nervous about driving. Especially driving on the same toll road where our parents had met their end.

A short while later, as the sun went down, BB became a fidgety silhouette in the passenger seat. He was having a nicotine fit or something. Then he stopped moving and suddenly I heard this repetitive smacking noise. BB was chewing a wad of gum. With his mouth open. The chewing noise was wet and loud, like hippos kissing. Or mating.


I stared ahead at the road, trying to concentrate.


I turned up the volume on the radio. The Fine Young Cannibals were singing "She Drives Me Crazy."


"WOULD YOU FUCKING CLOSE YOUR MOUTH WHEN YOU CHEW?!?" I screamed, so loudly and suddenly that BB actually did stop smacking. Then he made a gagging noise and threw a tiny, full-body fit, followed by an exaggerated gulping noise.

"Thanks, motherfucker! Made me goddamn choke on my goddamn gum! Now I've swallowed it--and it was my last fucking piece."

"Well, Jesus, I'm surprised there was any left in your mouth, the way you were sucking and smacking on it. It was sounding like a porn film over there!"

BB swore under his breath, then reached for his shirt pocket. I heard the crackle of cellophane.

"I KNOW you don't think you're gonna smoke in my car!" I cried.

"I'll stick my head out the window!" he shouted back. "I'm fucking desperate."

"We're gonna be in Elkhart in an hour. You can't wait?"

BB looked at me as though I were insane. Then he pulled out his lighter and flicked the wheel of it.

"Oh you weak-ass smoking shithead!" I yelled, and arrowed us into the breakdown lane, jamming on my brakes as I did so. BB jerked forward, contacting the dashboard with his face, and dropping his lighter and his smokes. He scrabbled in the dark for a moment, then sat up, opened the door and hopped out before I'd even brought the car to a halt.

While he puffed manically on the shoulder, I toyed with the idea of leaving him there.

We didn't speak to each other for the rest of the drive, arriving at our motel in Elkhart a little after 9 in the evening. While I finished signing in, BB grabbed one of the keys off the manager's desk and walked our bags to the room.

When I let myself into our room a few minutes later, BB was nowhere to be found. The lights were still off. I flailed briefly, found a switch and flicked it on. Our bags were plopped on the floor right in front of the bathroom door, which was closed.

I grabbed my bag and picked the bed farthest from the bathroom. Please God, don't let him be taking one of his Olympic-class dumps. Please? I have to share a room with him tonight and there's not enough Lysol in the world to save me if he's taking--

And just then, I heard the muffled flush of a toilet. Followed by another muffled flush. Then swearing.

Oh no, I thought.

The door opened. I could almost see a cloud of noxious vapors swirling around my brother.

"Hey," he said looking at me, hunched in the far corner of the room. "Can you go down to the desk and see if they have a plunger?"

I gaped at him for a moment, then I lost it.

"Go get it yourself, you stupid fat shit!" I cried, realizing only later that "Your stupid fat shit!" would also have worked in this situation.

"You know what? You call me 'stupid' or 'fat' again, I'll put you in the fucking morgue!" he bellowed, an old threat from our youth. But BB suddenly thought of a new spin. "And hey, we're in Elkhart! You can get the same coroner Mom and Dad got!"

I'm usually pretty immune to my brother's insults, but this one hit the rawest of nerves. I was off my bed in a blink, charging straight at him.

Of course, my childhood reads like a series of pauses between fights with my brother, and they almost always started like this--a few verbal jabs followed by a spattering of blood, usually mine. BB has almost always outweighed me by more than a hundred pounds, and put me in the ER a number of times. Sometimes the fights were his fault. Sometimes--okay, a lot of times--they were mine. I don't know that I can really fault him for this one, not entirely. My mom used to say that blame is a partnership, and I think we both had 50 percent voting stock on this fight.

As I lunged at my brother, he shoved his hand into my face and pushed me to one side. I stumbled as the edge of his bed caught me behind the knees and made a wild, flailing swing (I made the swing, not the bed). BB checked it easily, and then pasted me good--POW--right in the mouth. I bounced hard off the bed and hit the floor.

I would have been content to let it go there--when BB lands a punch, you don't get up in a hurry--but he wasn't finished with me. "That's for your big fat yap!" he grunted down at me. Then he pulled back and kicked me hard in the ass. "And that's for the shit you pulled on me with your stupid-ass blog!"

(That's how BB is in a throwdown. He feels compelled to justify each blow, often bringing up things that have no bearing on the moment. The whole falling-out relative to the blog is a long story, by the way, and one I don't have time to tell in the middle of a fight.)

BB left me alone long enough to get up, then he pushed me again, this time sending me into the wall between the two beds in our room. My shoulder crushed one of the bedside lampshades, breaking the bulb inside. As bits of glass filtered down onto the rug, I looked down and saw the phone on the nightstand, grabbed it, and flung it at BB--Ka-DING--hitting him in the elbow. He came at me again, getting his meaty forearm up under my chin and lifting me off the floor.

"Aggk! Can't...breathe..." I gasped.

BB's size is both his blessing and his curse in a fight. On the one hand, of course, he's a big guy, and so can kick your ass and mine too. On the other hand, he's a thoughtful big guy and over the years he's hurt just a few too many people by accident. His eyes got wide and he relaxed for just a moment.

"Sucker," I said, bringing my knee up hard into his balls.

Groaning, BB sagged and listed sideways.

"Dirty…fighter..." was all he could gasp. In nearly every scrap in which I've managed to get in one good lick, BB has always accused me of dirty fighting, never stopping to consider that outweighing me by a good 140 pounds isn't exactly the definition of a fair fight.

I didn't say that to him, though. I just fell on top of him and went all Drunken Booger on his ass, flinging elbows and knees.

But BB knows the secret to defeating the Drunken Booger technique. He wrapped his big arms around me, pinning my arms to my side. He squeezed for all he was worth. This time I really couldn't breathe as he forced all the air out of me. Up and down my spine, joints popped like distant fireworks. He stood with me still in his arms and flung me at the opposite wall. I slid bonelessly down it.

"Fucking fucker!" my brother bellowed at no one in particular. He looked around wildly and I could see that tears were standing in his eyes. Then he swiped his room key and his cigarettes off a nearby table and stormed out of the room.

I sat propped against the wall for a long moment, tasting a little blood in my mouth from where my teeth had bitten into the inside of my lip after BB's first punch. Then I wiped my own eyes, got up and absently began putting the room back together. While I was busy hiding the broken lampshade under the bed, my cell phone rang and I realized that I had forgotten to call Her Lovely Self when we hit town. I spent a few apologetic minutes calming her down--she was as nervous about us driving as we were. While I was on the phone, BB returned, brandishing a plunger. Without even looking at me, he disappeared into the bathroom for a while, then emerged with his street clothes in a bundle under his arm and wordlessly climbed into bed. By the time I rang off from HLS, he was already snoring loudly. And I have to admit, despite my initial adrenaline surge, I was feeling wiped out too. I fell into a dreamless sleep in probably five minutes.

When I opened my eyes, it was early morning, earlier than I usually get up. BB was spread-eagled on his bed, snoring like a sawmill. I got up and, after a brief but lively moment where I felt the welt on my ass from where BB had kicked me the night before, I quietly collected my clothes, dressed and left the room.

In the lobby, the staff had not even set out their complimentary breakfast spread, it was that early. I decided I couldn't wait for coffee and so trotted outside and across the street to the nearby convenience store. I got a cup of coffee large enough to fill two latex gloves, made a few other purchases, which I deposited in my car, then went back to the motel and sat on a concrete bench outside in the sun. I spread out a map on the bench and read off a set of directions from a crumpled piece of notepaper, trying to orient myself and figure out where the wrecking yard was that had stored my parents' Jeep for the past three weeks. As I traced a finger along the state highway that ran both through my map and directly past my motel, I was dimly aware that some part of me was steeling itself for this next phase of the surreal odyssey that had been my life since the day my parents were killed. I found myself despairing that my grandmother's bracelet would ever be found, and wondered what I would do if it didn't turn up. How far would I go to look for this thing? Yesterday, BB had briefly mentioned going up the toll road a little further to the very mile marker where the accident had occurred, but I put the kibosh to that idea right away. Seeing the Jeep would be bad enough. Plus, I didn't exactly relish the notion of pulling over on a busy toll road to survey an accident scene three weeks after the fact. Odds were pretty good we'd end up causing an accident ourselves. Thankfully, BB eventually dropped the idea, but now I was taking it up. How far would I go to recover that bracelet?

I stood up now, arching my stiff back. I was most definitely too old to be getting in fights with my brother, I thought, rubbing my sore butt. And speaking of sore butts, I wondered how sore BB would be after last night's to-do. Historically, such squabbles heralded the beginning of a long, simmering period of mutual anger and resentment. Very occasionally, though, BB would wake up the next day acting as though nothing had happened. I was very much hoping for the latter; I didn't think I could stand having a huge sourpuss in the car with me for the next 9 hours, let alone in my house for the next week.

For the next little while, though, all indicators were suggesting that I was in for a long, hard day, regardless.

For starters, when I got my bill from the desk, I noticed they had overcharged me for the room by a good $25. I had booked the room online using a coupon code, but the day manager, who acted as though I was trying to pull a fast one on him, a notion from which he could not be disabused, even after he called his manager at some distant office, and was assured that, yes, there was an Internet, and people actually reserved motel rooms from the comfort of their own homes, using special incentive codes that they typed in themselves.

With that resolved, I sat down in the lobby to eat my complimentary breakfast. BB, so far as I could tell, had still not emerged from our room, which meant I was going to have to go wake him up soon, an action I most certainly did not relish, for BB is no more a morning person than I am. As I was absorbed in such thoughts, a burly fellow in sagging jeans and a Chicago Cubs baseball cap lumbered in to the lobby, consulted briefly with the manager at the desk, then turned to the three or four of us sitting in the dining area and announced in a booming voice that, for reasons known only to himself, he simply had to park his U-Haul van crosswise in the first three parking spaces right by the front door of the motel. The only problem was, there was a pesky little Honda CR-V in one of the spaces.

"That's mine," I said, and I offered to move the car as soon as I finished eating. Mr. Cubs Cap goggled at me for a second, then turned and stalked out the door without so much as a thank you. I can only assume he expected me to drop what I was doing and hop immediately to the task of clearing a space for him, even though, it must be said, the motel was not exactly at capacity. He had almost the entire rest of the lot to himself.

But I didn't really mind moving my car, since I was almost finished eating anyway. I spooned the last of my cereal into my mouth and took a last swig of coffee. This action couldn't have taken more than a minute. Nevertheless, within that time-frame, Cubs Cap was back in the lobby, now giving exaggerated looks at his watch and staring at me. The manager, who had already decided that we were not going to be best friends, joined Cubs Cap in glaring at me.

What a tool, I thought, but said nothing. I stood up, catching the sympathetic eye of a fellow motel guest, then grabbed my paper plate and cup and moved to throw them out. Unfortunately this action caused me to take a couple of steps away from the front door of the motel, and this sent Cubs Cap into an apoplectic fit.

"Oh, come on!" he cried.

I turned now and was about to tell the guy to stop being such a dink, when I saw BB standing in the lobby, right behind Cubs Cap. He must have come through and gone out for a smoke while I was pouring myself a bowl of cereal.

"HEY!" BB boomed, his mouth about two inches from the guy's ear. Now everyone in the lobby stopped and looked. Cubs Cap jumped about a foot as he whirled, startled. The guy was big, to be sure, but BB was a head taller and he was wearing his look of most serious consternation and displeasure, what I have for years come to think of as the Whafuck? look.

BB scowled down at the man. "How about you lay off my brother for a minute?" he said, an edge in his voice, and all of a sudden I was 9 years old again. This could have been the gym, or the hallway or the locker room of an elementary or junior high school, and Cubs Cap could have been Peter Krause or Brian Parnell or David Chew, or any of the other bullies of my youth who had no idea they were going to find themselves unceremoniously stuffed into a locker or a trash can before the next bell rang. I couldn't help but smile.

"It's all right," I said quietly, jingling my keys, edging past them while BB continued staring down Mr. Cubs Cap. Outside, I skirted the U-Haul truck that was idling at the front doors--why did this guy need to park so close anyway?--and moved my car. As I looked over my shoulder, I noticed both BB's bag and mine were in the back, packed and ready for the road. A moment later, BB came outside and clambered in.

"Oh yeah, they're gonna welcome us back here with open arms," he said with a grin. Then he put his Whafuck? look back on and turned around to glare some more at Cubs Cap, who was standing in the doorway. "Hit it, kid," he said, and we peeled out of there.

"Glad you're in such a good mood this morning," I said as I turned onto the state highway listed in my directions.

"And why wouldn't--ow, hey! What am I sitting on?" he said, reaching under himself to fish out the plastic shopping bag containing my convenience store purchases. He peeked inside.

"Hey, can I have some of your gum?" he asked...

Thanks for sharing this story MM, i love a good brotherly bonding moment (even if preceded by a brotherly beating). It must have been a super tough trip, fingers crossed you found that bracelet!
- Aquilegia
I kind of wish that I'd had a brother to get into fights with, growing up. However, that would have meant another person would have had to grow up in my household, which wasn't always the most nurturing environment.
I wonder what your Dad's comments would have been on your little tussle?

I don't know what blog event pissed BB off. I do know: I miss his wise ass comments and your banter; You have never posted a blog with the intent of being malicious or hurtful; Plotline embellishment is poetic license, and a given on any blog; You have not exposed BB to any critical light you have not already shone on yourself.

Note to BB: I'm a BS (Big Sister, not Bull Shitter) to a younger brother too. I can relate to all you have endured. At the moment, I would love nothing more than to grab my LB by his short hairs and swing him around like Superman, shooting him into space.

Just know, you have been endeared to this readers heart by your brother's posts, and your comments. You have inherited your fathers humor and wit. No matter how tough you'd like to appear, I know you'd fight to the death, anyone who would hurt those you love. You're a good guy with a big heart.

Kiss and make up. On second thought, just make up. (That visual gave me shudders).

Come back to us.

I cannot wait to hear the rest of this tale.
Ouch! I suppose the fight was part of some healing process you both had to go through? You and BB seem to have a special relationship--which will become even more important now that your parents are gone. I really enjoyed the story. Thought the extra room charge was to cover the cost of the damage--I'm guessing this wasn't a quiet fight. So glad you're posting!
It must be said again:

I love BB :)

I'm sort of jealous of people who can fight with each other. When I get angry, I unfortunately tend to run away (and write "scathing" letters that I never send). Fighting seems like it would be so much more cathartic.
Grr!!! Blogger ate my comment!! It said something like:

1) I drove a Uhaul + trailer across the country once, and it was always seemed like an unwritten policy that perpendicularly parked Uhauls may only occupy the furthest possible spot from the motel. Mr. Cubs Cap should get with the program!

2) This story was great, per usual. Thanks for sharing it, especially given how difficult it must be to tell it. You are a natural at this storytelling thing, you know.

3) Can't wait for Part Three!
You know, MM, I just noticed that this series is the first that I can recall where you haven't used the "In Which..." as part of your title. Any significance? Nah, probably not. Great yarn, so far.
I discovered your blog through Finn's are an amazing writer. When are you going to write a novel, or publish one you likely have already written? My heart goes out to you for all that you are going through and yet I am happy to see that you are still able to insert humour in your blog. I, too, can't wait for part 3!
Yeah - Elkhart is a... special... sort of city. Most Hoosiers aren't as dickish as Cubs Cap, I promise.

This is a lovely, heartwarming tale, MM - lol. Excellent job describing the fight... makes me miss my own brother :)

Looking forward to part three!
I miss BB too. Come back!
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