Dad’s rule: He gave you $5 to go get your hair cut, however you liked, just so long as it didn’t touch your eyebrows, your ears or your collar. Not a lot of leeway with those instructions.
But the hair cut only cost $3.50, so if you were within those boundaries, you got to keep the change. However, if you dared to challenge those rules, he would march you right back to the barber’s and have your hair cut his way. No one wanted that. I don’t think it ever happened.
So much for having a tough gang.
Older siblings do like to dispense advice, although I was too young, too stupid or a combination of the two to realize that often their advice was intentionally wrong.
For example: One of my older brothers decided to take up chewing tobacco. I guess because my grandfather chewed tobacco, Gary thought it might bump him up a bit on the favorite-grandkid-o-meter. (Little did he know, I think my grandfather pretty much hated all kids.)
Gary got pretty good at chewing tobacco too. I’d hang out in his bedroom with him and he’d open the window and spit a thick brown stream out the window and onto the lawn. Simply put, to me, it just made him look tough. Looking tough is quite a feat for a 16-year-old kid who is 6’3” and weighs about 145 lbs. but the tobacco and the squirt-spitting was helping him pull it off.
I began to wonder if I could try.
“Absolutely,” he said.
He then advised me to take the biggest wad of tobacco I could manage and stuff it into my cheek. I did, even though it felt like a billiard ball and tasted like dead…well, whatever the grossest dead thing you can think of might taste like.
I tried spitting out the window a few times, but my prowess in spitting was only matched by my stupidity and soon my white tee shirt looked like a crow stood backward on my head, overdosing on Ex-lax.
Then the room began to spin a bit.
Me: “Gary, it feels like the room is starting to spin. What do I do?”
Gary: “Whatever you do, do NOT spit out the tobacco. If you do that, you’re sure to get sick. It’s best if you just lie down on the bed and try not to move…at all.”
Of course, this was absolutely the worst advice anyone could give, but he was my brother and I trusted him. So I lay back on the bed, kept quiet, as the room picked up momentum. For a second or two I thought maybe that whole house spinning thing from the Wizard of Oz actually happened. I finally had to jump off the bed and make a run for the window. I stumbled and fell twice, but made it in time to empty out just about every thing that was in me.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see internal organs, my kneecaps or my socks come up.
I fell back on the floor, my head pounding as I sweated and moaned. Yet, through my own head-pounding, moaning noise, I could hear my brother’s laughter.
Another bit of advice I received included being a part my oldest brothers’ ‘plan.’ Hell, to be included in anything was a step up for me, so I naturally said "count me in."
It had happened that the brother closest to my age, Glen, had gotten in a fight with a neighborhood tough guy the day before. The kid was a year older and slightly larger than my brother, but knowing Glen, he’d probably provoked the kid somehow.
That didn’t matter to my two oldest brothers. They reminded me that they were both five and six years older than the neighborhood tough kid, so it would be ‘wrong’ for them to just hunt him down and beat him up. They needed a viable excuse to do it. They couldn’t use the excuse that the tough guy had beaten up Glen, because, in all honesty, Glen was an ass and probably started it.
But they were adamant that the kid wouldn’t get away with beating up a Martin kid. That was where we all needed to make a stand of solidarity.
I was swelling with the pride of brotherly solidarity. It was a heady thought, because it had never happened before. There had never even been a slight hint of it before. I was ready to work in brotherhood to kick the crap out of this kid who beat up a brother who often beat me up and who I didn’t even really like all that much.
Me: “So, what’s the plan?”
Gary: “The three of us will walk down the street. The tough kid is in his front yard. We can’t just start beating him up, he has to start it.”
Gary: “So you call him a fu**ing coc* sucker and he’ll make a move to beat you up.”
Me: “Okay, now I’m having a few doubts on this plan. Not really seeing how this is going to work out with him in a state of beat-up-edness and me living happily ever after.”
Gary: “As soon as he makes a move toward you, we’ll jump in and beat him within an inch of his life. We can say we were justified because he was going to hurt you. Come on. It’s a fool-proof plan.”
Me: --to dumb to know that the fool in the plan was me—“Alright! Let’s go for it!”
We walked the few blocks down to the tough kid’s house. He was outside. I walked in front of my older brothers.
Me: “Hey you fu**ing coc* sucker! I heard you beat up my brother. Well, I’m here to kick your ass.”
Oddly, the kid didn’t reply at all. He didn’t go through all the posturing rituals that I thought were a part of every fight. He simply walked up to me, hit me squarely in the nose and put me down. He was also soon down with me and continuing to hit me.
Me (shouting): “Backup! Where’s my backup! Call 911! Backup!”
My backup stood together over on the sidewalk, laughing so hard they were crying.
When the neighborhood tough kid was worn to a frazzle with beating me up, he got up and simply walked away and into his house. I don’t think he said a word the whole time.
My brothers picked me up by each arm and dragged me home. Of course, my mom was there and began freaking out over the blood, various swellings and bruises.
Mom: “What the hell happened?”
Gary: “I don’t know. He just went stupid and tried to pick a fight with the kid down the street.”
I think my mom knew better. I just told her I couldn’t remember what happened.
But at that point I knew, without a shred of doubt, that we’d never have a gang. I think I also knew that at best we’d only have a passing sibling relationship.
I’m proud to say I now think carefully about giving or receiving advice. I’ve long since quit thinking about a gang, knowing they kill individualism, individual thought and empathy towards others.
I often wish though, that the sibling relationships had not passed away. I’m not sure why. They say you often miss most those things you never had.
And who am I to argue?