When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Grab the Remote

To my mind, the things that are most important are invisible, yet not without weight. Or presence. Love. Hope. Fear. Each takes up its own domain in the world, and especially mine with the last two weeks.

When the call came December 3rd to stand down—that my brother and I weren’t taking a flight to Ethiopia pick up my long-awaited daughter—Jeffrey, my travel partner and all around nice guy had already made his way from Michigan to Manhattan. So he stayed. Partially because of the $150 dollar domestic re-booking fee Delta demanded, and mostly, I believe, to keep an eye on me in the emotional crushing, crash.

After a few days of co-habitation, my brother and I  hit our recovering defaulting setting: watching action movies. First up was Cliffhanger with Sly Stallone fighting high-class, mountain fleeing crooks , followed by Independence Day with Will Smith, a military high flier fighting aliens who wanted to take over the Earth, minus its inhabitants, then Roadhouse, Patrick Swayee’s ode to hair mousse and barroom style ass-kickings. Everyone was trying to overcome, overwhelm, or quash a serious threat—just like Jeffrey and me.

By the time Jeffrey introduced me to Spike TV’s 1,000 Ways to Die, a mockamentary type show that recreates the deaths of real folks who died doing real stupid things— an insanely addictive series— I realized that we were now sharing was the longest stretch we’d spent together, uninterrupted, since Jeffrey married seven years ago.

A decade before then, in the mid-nineties, for a year, Jeffrey lived with me in my modest Upper West Side, apartment. He’d graduated in Criminal Justice from the University of Detroit, and accepted a job with the Justice Department working with the Federal Marshall’s in lower Manhattan. Just as we did back then, Jeffrey and I had our television viewing rituals. For us watching TV, wasn’t just watching TV all the time. It was a way to share comfort and aid the wounded. Sharing a sofa, and the remote, is sharing the burden.

I, like my brothers, my brand of comfort, doesn’t come in the form of hand wringing, or tears. I relish watching brawny men, ( or women if we decided to add Sigourney Weaver’s Aliens series, or Gena Davis’s Long Kiss Goodnight, ( I own both shoot ’em ups on DVD) to the mix of folks determined to set the world right while we downed a Sam Addams. Or two.

And we watched a lot of football, too. ( I tend to cheat when I’m alone during grid iron season, clicking back and forth from match ups  to films and back again. ) During Jeffrey’s stay I watched every quarter, getting caught up on all the news: Michael Vick’s big Philly return, the juggernaut that is, and remains  the New England Patriots, and was lucky enough to see first hand, how the Jets trainer, Sal Alosi cheated, and tripped Miami’s  Nolan Carroll.

“Look, at the guy dip his knee out,” I said watching the instant replay. “He didn’t use his foot the way most people would in an act of emotion. He’s made that move before.”

Two days later, after Jeffrey returned home he called my cell. ” Call me when you can,” his voicemail said. After my office meeting I returned his call.

“You were right. The league has put that guy on indefinite leave, ( after being fined $25,000) after finding out that Alosi asked sidelined players to stand at the edge of the field, to keep the other team from running out-of-bounds. They were a human blockade.”

My brothers are rare men. They’ll call me about a sports update like we’re due to host ESPN but would never ask inquire adoption news. They know if there was something to say I’d call them and tell, rather than ring them up and discuss how Mark Sanchez and the Jets are holding up under the gridiron beat-downs they’ve taken lately.

During the two weeks Jeffrey and I were together,  a few fresh insights came up. I thought I knew him well. But I didn’t know that he blew his nose first thing in the morning, the moment his feet hit the floor,  just as our dad did when we were kids. And his nose sounds just like our dad’s, the same honking. Three short bursts. Then he starts walking through the house, into his new day.

The first few days, it freaked me out as I lay in bed in my room. The lids of my eyes popped open like broken shades as the echos of the past, stretched to the present in the bedroom next door. Our father passed way over fifteen years ago. After three days, Jeffrey’s family tradition of nose hooting became a private comfort, like an ancient baby blanket I still curled up with under the covers, in the night.

I also learned that Jeffrey is a considerate man. He will not only load the dishwasher, he will unload the dishwasher but it doesn’t occur to him to let down the toilet seat. I learned something new about myself as well: any guy who will unload the dishwasher so I don’t have to be bothered with the task, ( I can’t say why I hate it so much, only that I do), I’d give a pass on the toilet seat thing.

I also learned that my brother, the father of four, (two step, two by natural means, all loved) has become Mr. Fix-it. In two weeks time, Jeffrey repaired the door of the cabinet that held my stereo which had a tendency to go independent from the main body of the cabinet by design, but a little too frequently thanks to years of wear. A groove had worn in the wood. Next he renovated one of my dining room chair’s, the right arm that usually falls off at during big moments at dinner parties now solidly attached, followed by the mini-caster attached to the leg of an Art Deco cabinet that I tried to move without emptying out the contents, like a numb skull, cracking the leg and detached the caster. I began to think Liquid Wood in the hands of my brother was the ninth wonder of the world.

My apartment was taking shape, nicely. Two days before his departure, I stepped up my Honey-Do-List maybe because I never had created one before. After one project after another was completed, when Jeffrey headed to the kitchen during the third quarter of the Sunday football game, he discovered a ladder positioned in front of the fridge.

“What’s this here for?” He asked.

“One of the bulbs in the ceiling light blew out.”

“Oh. Where’s the new bulb?”

I held it out like a  little kid ready to help daddy.

” Do you have pliers?” he asked study the light fixture.

I quickly walked over to the utility drawer at the far end of the kitchen counter, and grabbed the silver-colored tool from the clutter of screwdrivers, nails and tape measures inside the drawer.

Jeffrey climbed up, removed the bolt that held the large, whirled glass shade, replaced one bulb, then asked for another.” It’s better to replace both in a job like this, rather than have to remove the shade again. It’s a pain,” he said.
” That other bulb will blow sooner than later.”

I went to the utility closet down the hall, pulled out another bulb and returned to the kitchen studied my little brother as he worked wondering when, just when, he had become a man.

When Jeffrey finished, he handed the pliers down to me, descended the ladder, folded it close, and leaned it up against the swinging door of the kitchen. He moved over to the fridge, extracted a cool beer from the shelf, and popped the metal cap, with the opener, which had laid on the granite counter since the NFL pregame.

” Just so you know, I’m punching out at 9PM. That’s when the Philly game starts,” he said, ” You have 51 more minutes to come up with more projects for me to do.” Then he  strolled out of the kitchen, back to the sofa, and the game.

I laughed so hard I felt the game day chicken wings I’d prepared—Jerk, Buffalo, and BBQ—roll and buckle in my belly. It was the first good laugh, the only laugh, I’d experienced since the wheels came off my adoption a few weeks back. It’s true, laughter was the best medicine. But football, good beer and company rank and rule above all.

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