Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Modern Man


Over crab cakes in Damariscotta, my brother let it slip that he'd lost his license. Again.

I was eating a giant haddock sandwich, and I glared at him over the roll I'd just finished slathering with tartar sauce. "YOU LOST YOUR LICENSE?" I said. "For how long this time?"

The last time this happened, he'd lost it for a month. He'd gotten too many speeding tickets in a very short period of time, and the state of New York thought he could use a little break from anything vehicular.

"Six months," my brother said. He said this casually as he stuffed another crab cake in his mouth. "These are delicious," he said.

"SIX MONTHS?" I said. This time I turned to glare at my mother. She hadn't breathed a word of this to me in any of the calls we'd placed to each other in the days prior to their trip to Maine.

"What?" she said. She had her own crab cakes to contend with, and she busied herself with her own plate so as to look simple and innocent.

("He kept that news from me for a long time, too," my father told me tonight. "But why didn't Mom tell you? She obviously knew."

"Probably because she didn't want to give me any more reasons to ask the kid if he was an idiot," I said.

"Right," my dad said. "Of course.")

I put my sandwich down. "Are you an IDIOT?" I asked.

"It's no big deal," Adam said.


"Whatever," he said.

"Well, what happened?"

"I got a few too many speeding tickets in an unlucky time period."


"It's not that I drive fast," he said. "It's just that I don't pay attention. That's all."

"How do you get around now, without a car?" I asked. My brother has inherited my father's restlessness, and he's always moving, always going somewhere, always leaving one place for someplace better. I couldn't imagine him living his life without a car.

"Well, I can drive between set hours to work and back, and only within a certain range of miles. If I'm caught out of that, I'm done," Adam said. "Plus, I've got a driver, too." He poked his girlfriend in the side. She smiled at him over her pulled pork sandwich.

"It's going to get tricky soon," she said. "My car is not a good car in the winter."

I found that almost impossible. My brother's girlfriend drives a big old car that could, in a pinch, serve as a small tank in a small nation's budding arsenal.

"Isn't that thing pretty badass?" I asked.

"Oh, hell yes," my brother said.

"That's not exactly the problem," she said. "It's that it doesn't have heat."

"No heat?"

"Nope. None."

"How do you stand to drive it in the winter then?" I asked.

"Blankets," she said. "Lots and lots of blankets."


Thanksgiving morning, my brother woke up twitchy. He prepared a pot of coffee in the coffee maker he'd packed and brought along with his fondue pot, and then he announced he was going to the gas station.

"I am going to get the paper," he said. "I want to look at the Black Friday ads."

My mother and I said yes, yes, sure, fine, whatever. We were busy. I was making a pumpkin cake, and she was making an apple pie. We didn't need Adam puttering around my small kitchen, underfoot while trying to perfect another brew.

So Adam and his girlfriend went down the street for the paper and came back ecstatic.

"Look at this!" my brother said. He shoved the ads in my face. "So thick!" he said. "We're going out! We're going out early!"

"Have fun," I said. By this time, I'd moved on to making biscuits. "I'll be here. At home. In bed. Warm. SLEEPING."

"It's going to be great!" he said, and then he and his girlfriend sat down to sift through the ads until they came to their favorite: Wal-mart.

My brother held the paper up to his nose and took a whiff. "Ohhhh," he said reverently. "Wal-mart."

I leaned over to my mother. "I will kill him before the day is out," I whispered.

"Make your biscuits," she said.

Ten minutes later, it was settled. My brother had seen enough. He'd seen exactly what he wanted to see. There were indeed great deals to be had at Wal-mart. So good, in fact, he was nervous about them. He figured everyone in their right mind--except me, except our mother, who were so clearly addled--would be staking their claim at Wal-mart and that meant he and his girlfriend would need to head out extra early to guarantee that they got the things they wanted (a laptop for her, a video camera for him).

"We're leaving at nine," he announced.

"NINE?" my mother said.

"That seems drastic," I said.

"It's necessary," he insisted. "Trust me. I've got a feeling this is gonna be big."

And it was big. When my brother and his girlfriend, still full from dinner, still full from the two desserts we forced on them before they left, arrived at Wal-mart just after nine, they were not the first people standing in line. The store would open at midnight, but the items could not be sold until five AM. They would simply have to stand in line to prepare for the lunging after the workers unwrapped the stack of deals.

And that's exactly what they did. My brother and his girlfriend had to stand on opposite sides of the store for their items, and they had to raise their hands when they wanted to use the bathroom, and they had to get a hall pass from the person in charge of their line, and they had only twenty minutes to use the facilities, and if they weren't back in twenty minutes--and the time was clearly recorded on their pass and on a master checklist--they lost their spot in line and, thus, their deal.

But they mustered through. My brother--the boy without a license--and his girlfriend--the girl without a heated car--spent over four hundred dollars on electronics.

Later, as my mother and I combed Freeport for deals at the Banana Republic outlet, I abruptly stopped admiring the silk scoop neck I was certain would look fantastic with a pencil skirt at a holiday party.

"Mother," I said, "why the hell did they just spend all that money on electronics instead of, you know, a car with heat? Doesn't that seem like the more important item to have during a Buffalo winter?"

"Don't think about it," my mother said. "I try not to anymore. We'll just drive ourselves crazy."


My brother and his girlfriend slept in after their escapade at Wal-mart and met up with us later that afternoon. Adam called when they rolled into town, just as my mother and I were finishing up our mid-afternoon lobster stew.

When my mother got off the phone she looked exasperated.

"What now?" I asked.

"Your brother," she said. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

"What about him?"

"He's wearing his Crocs," she said.

At that moment, we both turned and stared out the window. It was pouring so bad that the road had turned lake-ish in spots.

"His feet are sopping wet already," she said.

"Jesus!" I said.

"Now, now..." she said.

"No! I mean Jesus!" I said. "Does that kid THINK? Like, EVER?"

"Jess," she warned. "Stop. We can't change it now. Don't say anything to him about it, okay? It'll only cause a fight."

But fifteen minutes later, my brother was standing in front of me in the vestibule of LL Bean, and he was hopping from one foot to the other, trying to force water out of his shoes.

"Are you an idiot?" I asked.

"I didn't know it was raining," he said.

"I have a giant sliding glass door in my living room," I said. "How could you not notice it was raining?"

"I just didn't, okay?" He flicked his Croc at me.

"And then when you went downstairs to go to the car--you didn't notice it then?" I asked. "You didn't notice it the minute you stepped outside?"

"I did," he said. "I noticed."

"But you didn't turn around and walk the fifteen steps back upstairs to change your shoes?" I asked.

He glared at me.

"Whatever," I said. "Fine."

"I'm going upstairs," he said. "I'll be in Fishing. See you in eight hours."

But things didn't get any better for the kid. When he'd had his fill of LL Bean, we figured we'd take off for Portland, get some dinner, duck into a few of the cute shops in the Old Port. But it was raining even harder then, and my mother and I--under the cover of an umbrella, coats, and appropriate footwear--were soaked by the time we got to our car. Adam was almost drowned.

But he's nothing if not resourceful. When we got to Portland, he--suddenly inspired, suddenly giddy with invention--grabbed two bags from the earlier Wal-mart excursion, stuck his feet in them, and then tied them around his ankles. He slid the Crocs over the bags, and he traipsed around the Old Port and sat through dinner with the Wal-mart logo beaming up at anyone who passed us by. And he didn't mind in the least.


Kristin said...

I'm speechless. This makes me want a sibling and so happy that I'm an only child all at the same time. :)

You're a saint. How do you put up with it? I would have literally clocked him by now.

Jason said...

There are any number of levels of evil in this story:

1. Crocs.
2. Black Friday Shopping
3. Crocs.
4. Wal-Mart
5. Black Friday Shopping
6. Crocs.

Seriously. Is your brother somehow in a reverse-Matrix, where, instead of being held in a pod while imagining a life, he's set loose in a life with his consciousness trapped in a pod?

And the second license suspension? Good criminy. Just put him in a group home.

Jess said...

I think the kid should be sent to live with me for a year. I'd whip his ass into shape. He'd end up hating me, but I'd make him a normal human being--I KNOW IT!