Saturday, 26 February 2011

brother up

Just back from my new laundromat and I am smiling. Not because of the clean clothes -- or not just because of them. I get a huge kick out of the lady who runs it.

When my old laundromat went out of business a couple of months ago, I was disappointed. The place was handy to my house and the liquor store, and over the last couple of years I'd enjoyed chatting with the people who worked there -- the wide-eyed superfriend, the tattooed demon, the tough old denture-smacker ... all of them. Laundry staff seem to be different from other types of service worker. More personable, somehow. Fewer boundaries. Maybe because they spend so much time with other people's intimates? Anyway, my disappointment at the ending of these relationships vanished the following week when I drove uptown to the new place, and was greeted at the door by the lady in charge. Good afternoon, brother, she said.

I've been called lots of things in my day. (Twerp a couple of weeks ago, but I am not talking insults here.) I don't get Mister or Sir very often, thank heavens, but older guys will call me Buddy or Pal. (Older ladies -- especially if they work in a diner -- call me what they call everyone regardless of age or sex : Dear.) Younger women will call me nothing or You, men will call me Man or Guy. My kids' contemporaries have been known to call me Ed's Dad (Seriously -- Hi, Ed's Dad, is Ed there?) But I don't think I have ever been called Brother. Bro once or twice, in a dim light, thinking I was younger (Yo, Bro, pass the -- oh, hi) but not the full fraternal.

I like it. The laundromat lady has a regal bearing but a warm friendly face. She speaks excellent English with a faint accent suggesting that it is not her first language. But whether she has uses brother as a slightly wonky piece of idiom, or whether she has adopted it consciously as her own greeting, it suits her well. Have a wonderful afternoon, brother, she said to me today. And I did.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

drop the grenade

I keep meaning to talk about Jersey Shore, but I get distracted. Well, now's my chance. I still have not seen an entire episode, but I continue to run across references to it. (Just yesterday I overheard a girl in a high school hallway urging her friend to drop that grenade -- presumably a boyfriend, for whom I developed an immediate sympathy.) As I said somewhere else, you can tell how important a piece of art is by the way it pervades culture. It is, for instance, hard to go through a week without a single reference to the Beatles or Simpsons or Bible. A few years ago I was in an amateur production of The Wizard of Oz, and noticed how that story has become part of our frame of reference. Paris Hilton is so famous that her life has become a work of art. Not great art, perhaps, but pervasive. Whatever Time magazine might say, she is far more present in our culture than Jonathan Franzen.
Which brings me back to Jersey Shore. What, I asked Ed, is the appeal of Snookie and The Situation and the rest? Do you and your crowd want to be like them?Yeah, he said.
But aren't they all kind of awful? Shallow and self-absorbed, and dim with it?

Well, yeah.
So do you admire them?
No. But it'd be cool to live like that.

This is an interesting idea -- to aspire to a condition we do not admire. I remember wanting to be like OJ Simpson back when he played football. But not afterwards.
I think the appeal of Jersey Shore lies in its fantasy factor -- like Lord Of the Rings, it dispenses with the petty irksome details of modern life. No one on the show worrries about money or sick children or the drudgery of a daily job. The conflict is epic and eternal: good versus evil (good being defined as hot and fun to be with, and evil as ugly and boring). But when I tried to explain this to Ed, he shook his head.
It's just a show, Dad. Funny and stupid, you know?
And hard to miss.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


My parents were both pretty good at being tough cop. Mom had a meaningful frown, and Dad had a loud voice, so my brother and I spent a fair amount of time working out how to break bad news to them. Sorry, I forgot (to go, to do, to write, to walk, to say, to thank, to bring home -- whatever) wasn't usually good enough. Especially if you had also forgotten yesterday and last week and the week before. Dave and I would dream up excuses or prior commitments, we'd lie and deny and back each other up, we'd ... why am I going on? You know what we did. You did it too. We acted like a typical family.
So now it's a long time later and my dad has some news to break to us. And the shoe is on the other foot. He calls me first.
Your mom and I are not going to Florida, he says. The doctor doesn't like her cough, and he thinks we should wait. So I am going to have to cancel the tickets.
This is indeed bad news. They've been trying to get down for a while, and it looked like they had finally found a window of time between appointments. I said I was sorry to hear, and we chatted for a bit. I got a sense of him not wanting to hang up.
Anything wrong? I asked.
I ... don't want to phone Dave and tell him, he says. He'll get mad, and say we should get another opinion. Or go anyway.
My brother argues for a living, and doesn't have a lot of respect for the medical profession. And he really wants our parents to have a good time.
You mean, I say, that you're afraid he'll yell at you.
Well, yeah, says Dad.
I'm smiling on my end of the phone. I tell Dad about Dave feeling exactly the same about him, back when we were kids. I offer to call Dave for him, and let him yell at me first. Dad is laughing himself by now.
No no, he says. I'll face the music.
I wondered what typical looked like so I googled it. The picture up there is titled: Another Typical Breakfast. I want it badly.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


The other day I was twerped for the first time. I've been jackassed a fair bit in my day, and big-mouthed, of course, and jerked and idioted and -- once, in high school -- insensitive louted, but I had never been twerped before and I took a moment to stare at the guy in the van who had delivered the insult.

That (in case you haven't worked it out) is what I am talking about. Insults. The kind of insult you get can say a lot about you, I think. I have never been called a lummox, for instance. I am not that kind of guy -- too small, too wiry, too chatty to be a lumm or any other kind of ox. The guys I know who get lummoxed regularly are all large, looming and heavy handed. They are too imposing to be jerks or dorks, and too slow to be smart alecs (can not tell you how often I have been smart alecked, going back to kindergarten).

One epithet I've always wanted to hear is scoundrel. There's a rakish raffish charming quality to a scoundrel, don't you think? George Clooney and Johnny Depp and Robert Downey play scoundrels. Paul Rudd (to name but one such actor) does not. If a Paul Rudd character misbehaved (even with the stubble he sports in the picture there), someone would probably call him a twerp. And, as I said at the beginning, that's what happened to me. I was waiting in line at the gas station. A pump opened up. I reversed neatly into the bay just as a van was pulling in from the far side. No question, I got there first. But the van driver was displeased with me. He unrolled his window and told me of his displeasure. I nodded, smiled, pumped away. I waved goodbye as he drove off, and he slammed on the brakes and leaned way out. Did he call me a scoundrel? No. You want a punch in the head, you little twerp? he cried. My eyes widened.


Thursday, 3 February 2011

tough problem, easy problem

So who would want to be sitting in Obama's chair right now? Come on, let's see those hands.

Not me. I'm pretty sure Mubarak is a bad guy. But he's America's and Israel's bad guy -- a poor ally, but the only one they have. The angry crowd in Cairo sure seems to have a case, but if they are going take over the government they need a leader. And who will that be -- a sensible tolerant thoughtful get-along guy, or a tough extremist? Exactly.

Whatever Obama does, it'll be wrong. And if he does nothing, that'll be wrong too. Ain't it fun to good to go to work in the morning? Oy.

The papacy is a different case. (You know, I thought I would talk about Jersey Shore today. That's more my speed. But the article on the op-ed page of the Globe this morning -- ALL OBAMA'S FAULT -- got me pondering here at the high-stakes table and now I can't stop). Partly because the pope is the supreme ruler. And partly because the solutions are, you know, not hard. If I were pope (another strong no thank you) I would at least know the right things to do. There'd be no nagging doubt about making the priests leave the altar boys alone (Are you, uh, sure, your Holiness? Have you considered the ramifica -- Yes. Well, uh, if you're sure. Yes, we're sure.), or letting them marry, or giving women a larger role in the church, or ... well, you get the idea. I wouldn't want the job of pope, but I figure I could get the church on the right track in a couple of weeks. Really, no reason for it to take longer than that. Then I'd proclaim international ice cream day and give out free samples. Maybe then -- here is where I might need advice -- we could talk wardrobe.