Anyone who grows up in a large, tight-knit family may tell you that tensions run high most of the time, that there’s either too much of one thing and never enough of the other. Each family is different, mine was one big, codependent, dysfunctional mess.
I could never figure out if it was better to be one of 12, or if it would of been better to live a simpler life, where everything had its’ place, everyone was on time, and life layed itself out simply on the same page.
Nah, not my family, and I guess as I think about it, it is probably best for me that I’m blogging because I have so much material, there was always something happening, every day is a different day, especially as my family expands now to consist of 28 neices and nephews.
Growing up, we hung in clusters, we were all a year apart, and that meant two things, we were closest to those in our age group and much more at ease, and in constant conflict with the elder who was in charge of us. My brother James would be that elder, he wasn’t quite old enough to be in charge of me because he was only three years older and hung with the same circle of friends I did. The way it worked was we all kind of hung around in one big group, we lived in an Irish Italian neighborhood outside New York, and everybody had big families with siblings a year apart. This meant my brother was always around watching, hovering and I resented it. Boundaries were constantly getting crossed for all of us, not just my own family but my friends and their siblings, curfews, rank, being allowed somewhere, not being allowed, it never ended and there if there was one thing that was for certain, and that was that nobody really knew what was up. There was no such thing as fair, but that was my boss, James, and I guess I resented it most of the time because he was always the one with his head in the clouds while mine was on straight. Nevertheless, rank or no rank, James was funny as hell!
James has a way of making the most tense moments into laughable ones, sometimes I used to he would live in his dreamlike state forever. Yes, it was his world and as much as we bickered, he could always break me up laughing. One of the most comical characteristics about James is that he loved to eat, and people loved to feed him. No matter where he went in his life he made friends, and the neighbors loved feeding James because of the way he would show his appreciation of thier food, he would practically lick the dish he had no scruples or honor. He was deplorable. He worked a good angle, my brother, he did just fine for himself.
James graduatead high school and became an engineer, he had his first interview in Newark at a warehouse, and this is that story.
If there was one thing about James, it was mostly everyone like him. He had that way about him, most all my brothers do, they all have easy mannerisms. I think it may had have something to do with having so many sisters, who knows, I don’t, they are nothing like the girls. James could talk to anybody about anything for any amount of time and, James would give you the shirt off his back literally, he is just that nice.
James had a habit of answering with a thumbs up, and would say “darn skippy” just to be agreeable, it used to annoy me, it was him inmitataing Jim Carey, but I couldn’t stand it. Well, it was his answer to the interviewer’s every question when he went on this job interview, “darn skippy” and he ended up really impressing the guy giving the interview. This job was for an engineer with five years experience, and James was sent to the interview by the consultant for practice. The object was for James to learn how to interview, instead, James landed the job.
And why wouldn’t he, he was agreeable, funny, honest, well dressed, polite, young and much less expensive than another engineer who would cost a great deal more per year. That night James told us over dinner how the interview went, my father asked a million questions, he was really proud of him. James told us how his new boss was the nicest man he ever met, and then went even further and said how he was introduced to all the rest of the staff and the boss referred to him in front of the rest of the staff as “the boy wonder”. My Dad’s winced immediately, not good.
His new boss asked him about if he had his own tools, and he gave him the thumbs up. My father interjected at that point, and asked James, are you sure you are prepared for this job? And told him not to feel bad if he wasn’t. James was solid as he could be, he told him Dad, I’ll be top engineer in no time.
I never could do very well reading my father’s facial expressions, all I know is that he stared at him as if he wanted to say something, but restrained himself. That’s the only description I could give.
I was working in Newark at the time as a camp counselor, and promised James I would meet him on Broad and Market at a certain time. I left 15 minutes early, even though our job locations were so close, I could see him from across the street in his beige uniform with two big bags from Burger King. I sat next to him, and asked him how it went.
“I got fired”, he replied. What????? I responded, I couldn’t believe it, of all the nerve of this man, he had the audacity to hire my brother and fire him the same morning? I hated this guy, he didn’t even give the guy a chance, just ax him, like he was a big nobody? I was infuriated, my face was crimson red, Why?? James, Why? What did he say?
James kept eating, and as he was chewing, he was giving me the finger telling me to wait until he was done. I couldn’t believe it, he was so calm, and EATING! He was too calm for me until I finally blew my stack on him, James!!!! What were you fired for? I bet he’s too upset to tell me I thought, he was just trying to stall out of embarrassment. I had a mind to walk over to the warehouse and tell the guy off, firing a kid on his first job, on his first day, not to mention getting his hopes up.
Finally James said, “Well, remember I told you he asked me if I had tools?” My eyes darted back, and forth,”yeah”, so”? I replied, “Well, when I got there this morning, I went with my tools just like he asked. I looked to his right and there was this dinky starter tool set, what did I know, looked good to me. So, yeah? What happened? I said, ..Well, turns out the guys on this job all came in at the same time when the buzzer went off, and they wheeled in these massive drawers of tools, I didn’t compare with my tool set.
Oh, my heart sank, how pitiful, I almost started to cry at the absolute thought of the humiliation he must have felt being the laughing stock in the warehouse with his dinky tool set. I had a lump in my throat and told him I was sorry. He nodded but he didn’t even seem like he was thinking of anything, just enjoying his burger king, chewing real slow. Finally I said, James, I’m so sorry, are you upset? At what, he responded….James, you just got fired from your job. James finally looked at me and said, no, not really, I think the guy felt more bad than I did, he kept apologizing and telling me what a nice kid I was, and that he didn’t have a say in the matter.
I was silent, sad, when James said, “Look” and he showed me a bunch of crumbled up dollar bills. The guy gave me $20.00 and I was one of the first in line to beat the lunch crowd. Here I had enough to buy you lunch.
I stared at my brother, and he was looking back at me, his face sincere and honest, there was absolutely no look of discontentment on his face, he stopped chewing and stared back, it was at that point I started to laugh, I mean laugh hysterical, the thought of him carrying that little toolbox into the warehouse hosting the lumberjacks of all engineers, how they must of looked at him, i fell into a complete fit of laughter.
And to think he was unaffected, that it didn’t bother him in the least and that he was actually happy that he got off early with $20 bucks for lunch and beat the lunch crowd. I couldn’t stop laughing, pretty soon he picked up on what I was laughing at because i kept pointing to his tool box and he was laughing, too. On that hot summer day, I think I had the biggest laugh of my entire life, it was the one laugh I’ll never forget, and it was the kind of laugh that only someone who knew you inside and out could engage in, could appreciate and could be in sync with, and that would almost always be family.
I’ve shared a million laughs over the years, and each has it’s own ringtone. There are laugh’s you have over a tv comedy, or a movie, the ones you share with your friends, ones that break you up in awkward moments, all kinds, all laughs are the touchstone to good health and great memories. But the best laughs I ever had, and you know the ones I mean, the belly laughs, came from the most pathetic scenerio’s life offers, the situations that are just so surreal that you can either laugh or cry and you usually only draw that emotion from loved ones.
Of course, needless to say, James now has a garage full of tools, but he told me he keeps that little toolbox for the memory that’s in it!