When I was in middle school, my father nicknamed me “the righteous brother”.
It was not a compliment.
Nor was he comparing my singing skill to one-half of the famous singing duo of “Unchained Melody” fame. And it was certainly not a way to earn any street cred. It was in direct reference to my annoying and judgmental tendency to preach morality to my two younger sisters. I was also a tattletale. Though I prided myself back then on my high horse of morality, I would be amiss to say that I didn’t have an ulterior motive: getting my little sisters in trouble.
However, my attempts at getting my sisters in trouble more often than not backfired. Therefore, I was teased for being the annoying, prudish brother who had to learn to lighten up. Getting teased by my peers was one thing, But my own family?
Of course, being a “righteous brother” had its benefits: by the time I got to high school, I didn’t have a curfew like other classmates because I was always home early enough not to warrant one (fewer friends = less time for late-night hijinks). In truth, my straight-laced “righteous” behavior had less to do with morality and more to do with being afraid of getting in trouble.
To put it simply, I was a wuss.
My cowardice emerged at a very early age. There is even photographic evidence to prove it.
EXHIBIT A: I was just short of turning one and I’m being held in the arms of a clown at my hometown Memorial Day parade. There was no turning back.
EXHIBIT B: This same look of fear is duplicated over several photos taken on the lap of Santa and the Easter Bunny. Santa is scary enough. The Easter Bunny’s soul-piercing black eyes and inanimate expression is even more frightening. Most kids grow out of this by the time they are five or six. I was still showing fear well beyond that. On a semi-related note, the fact I still believed in Santa at the age of 12 did little to help my cause.
EXHIBIT C: I am just shy of three. My hands are held tightly over my ears as tears stream down my face. The source of such abject terror? … a kite, flown by my dad in the parking lot of the church behind our house. I was scared of the flapping sound it made in the wind.
EXHIBIT D: I firmly believed that fireworks could put a hole in the sky.
EXHIBIT E: I was convinced that Sesame Street characters lived in the vents of our car.
As I got older, my phobias increased, extending to lighting matches, bees, basements, and routine blood tests (of which even the smallest amount has caused me to pass out).
Being the Gemini that I am (and me, too!) there are a few scattered moments where the righteous brother demonstrated signs of unrighteousness. Granted, it was often accidental. Some could write volumes about such rebellious behavior. I just need a few pages. Although these instances are far and few between, it is my hope that sharing them could perhaps earn the slightest modicum of street cred (of which the first step is to probably avoid using such pompous words as “modicum”):
Tearing it Up
Lying to cover up a crime is the oldest trick in the book. And it usually begins in childhood. I learned this lesson in the first grade after intentionally stomping all over a classmate’s steno notebook when nobody was looking. I didn’t even know whose notebook it was, yet, for forces beyond my control, I noticed it on the floor and felt compelled to destroy it.
Tear it to shreds.
Once the crime was uncovered, the teacher pulled each of us into the hallway one by one in an attempt at coaxing a confession out of them. I feigned ignorance. And though I was relieved to have gotten away with it, the guilt was tearing me up.
This is my confession.
Playing in the Street
When I was five, I told my two-year-old sister to stand in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a matter of not knowing any better… nor was it a matter of me attempting to kill her (I think I made sure no cars were coming).
My motivation was to get her in trouble. Instead, all it managed was to get me in trouble. Within seconds after she entered the street, my parents burst out the front door and scooped up my sister out of harm’s way.
I received my first grounding: one week without friends, which was not that difficult for somebody with no friends.
It was a dog day of summer. I was playing in the front yard with a hose, keeping cool, when I spotted our neighbor, ‘Mr. K’, driving down the street. I was suddenly overcome with the impulse to aim the house at his car and directly through the driver side window. It was a direct shot to the face.
I had absolutely zero motive. He was the kindest neighbor you could ever ask for. Yet, here I was, spraying him through in the face with a hose while he operated a moving vehicle.
Upon impact, he slammed on his brakes and rightfully started scolding me.
“What in the hell did you do that for?!” he said, wiping the water off his face with a handkerchief.
I stood there helplessly mute, dripping hose still in hand.
My mother ran out to see what was going on. She apologized, took me inside, and sent me to my room to think about what I had done.
There wasn’t enough time in the world to make sense of what I had done. But, at least I was sorry. When I later apologized, Mr. K simply smiled and said:
On a similar note, I once decided to fling a spoonful of Jell-O and Cool Whip at my cousin Jimmy’s face. Unprovoked.
“Do me, Baby!”
Struggling to gain acceptance from my peers, I decided to tell classmates that my sister’s animatronic Cricket doll said “Do me, baby.” I was in fourth grade. And I did not even know what “do me” means.
Cricket was a female contemporary of Teddy Ruxpin – robotic dolls that play cassette tapes inserted into their ass. As the tapes play, their eyes and mouths are programmed to move along with it. Neither one of them – or anything of their ilk – say “Do me, baby.”
This led to my first and only time that I was punished in school. And it resulted in me getting a stern warning from the cigar-chomping principal.
I also had to write a note for my parents that said: “Today in school, I told my classmates that my sister’s Cricket doll said “’Do me, baby.’” It will not happen again. And I am sorry.”
I kept my promise.
High Ball Wrestling
When I was little, I frequently goaded my cousin Tony into wrestling matches at holiday functions at my grandparents’ house. To paint a better picture of this matchup: I was a skinny, weak toothpick and Tony was…husky. Without fail, Tony would agree to wrestle, only to then promptly pummel me. Like clockwork, I would scream for help, at which point Tony would get scolded. The frequency that this scenario played itself out was on par with Charlie Brown, Lucy, and a football. I promised not cry for help, yet sure enough, I did.
One time, around the age of 10, I found a new way to get Tony into trouble. This time, it would involve booze. While standing at the drink table, I convinced Tony to let me make him a high ball “just like Grandpa.” My cousins and I enjoyed “Jr. Highballs” (Squirt and cherry juice), but this time, I added a generous splash of whiskey to Tony’s drink (not mine).
When we were caught, everyone immediately blamed Tony. But eventually, I confessed.
Take this Gift and Shove It
When I was seven, I opened up a Christmas gift from my Godmother Jo-Jo. Upon seeing that it was a boring sweater – rather than a toy – I shoved the box containing the sweater immediately onto the floor to demonstrate my disapproval.
One way to really piss your parents off is to place a pan of freshly popped popcorn onto their brand new, white Formica countertop.
When I was little, I had a track record of puking where one shouldn’t. Take, for example, the time the time I entered my parents’ bedroom to inform them that I had to puke, only to proceed to puke right on their floor in front of their bed. (Some of which splashed onto the bedspread). I was 10. And it was a longer walk to their room than it was the bathroom.
Another time, I made into the bathroom on time, but chose to puke into the sink, rather than the toilet, which was directly behind it.
I once accidentally slammed a bedroom door on my baby sister’s index finger. It flattened like a pancake. My parents took her straight to the ER. Fortunately, the bones of children that young are so malleable, they will inflate right back to its normal shape.
Everybody has a breaking point. And even though I found turning the other cheek to be a convenient way to cope with my bullies, one day I finally decided that I had enough with one in particular. After years of putting up with it, the time had finally come to take a stance – which sadly only consisted of a half-assed, weak slap (or, more specifically, a mild graze) across my bully’s cheek while he was chomping on his bologna sandwich in the cafeteria.
His immediate reaction was to laugh, then continue eating his sandwich as though nothing had happened. The bullying didn’t let up. In fact, it was about to become worse.