[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
baa baa black sheep
every once in a while, my sister will gleefully tell me that i’m the black sheep of the family. the “colorful” one. of course, i always take the opportunity to remind her that i am only a pretender to the throne. the title belongs, lock stock and smoking bowl, to my uncle d.
uncle d is my mom’s youngest brother. he was the “cool” uncle when i was growing up. he taught me how to ride a bike. he took me fishing. i thought he was movie star handsome and he thought i was cute as a button.
my uncle spent a great deal of time in the garage with my grandfather, working on volkswagens together. my grandfather was well-known for being able to fix pretty much anything that was broken on a vw. somehow, over the years, the folks who brought their car to my grandfather started calling him rollo. to this day, i have no idea why. but, that’s what they called him. as my uncle spent more time in the garage, he, too, picked up a nickname: elmo. rollo & elmo. in the small town where i grew up, hardly anyone knew my uncle by his real name. but if i said i was elmo’s niece, everyone immediately knew who i was.
as is the case with many babies of the family, uncle d got away with any number of things that his brother and sisters never could. it was all overlooked. dismissed. rationalized.
i have a picture of my uncle d holding me in his arms. he’s wearing a rat-pack-worthy gold smoking jacket, and looking like he had just stepped off the mgm lot. he’s on his way to his senior formal, escorting the homecoming queen, of course. but, stopping first to pose for a snapshot with me.
what we don’t have a picture of is him stagggering home at 2:00 in the morning, trying to quietly break into a window after drunkenly locking his keys in his car, then crawling down the exceptionally long hallway in my grandparents’ house in an effort to get to the bathroom to puke his guts out.
he didn’t quite make it to the bathroom, though.
and, there’s the photo of uncle d giving me an airplane ride in the backyard. in the background you can see the school bus he bought for a “great price” and parked in my grandmother’s garden “temporarily.” his plan was to paint the bus in an oh-so-cool fashion, and use it when he put his band together and they went on tour.
to my knowledge, uncle d played no musical instruments. nor could he sing.
uncle d lived with my grandparents, off and on, until he was in his thirties. more on than off, really. he only moved out on those occasions on which he got married. there were three of those. then, when he got unmarried [in a catholic household, you get unmarried. not divorced.], he moved right back into his old room.
uncle d had a friend everyone called chester, although i’m pretty sure that wasn’t actually his name. whenever chester came over, he and my uncle would hang out in my uncle’s bedroom. since i worshipped the ground my uncle walked on, i was always trying to sneak a peak into the room to see what they were doing. i could hear the occasional strain of jesus christ superstar or blue oyster cult, interspersed with their low voices and laughter. and there was always a wet towel shoved up against the bottom of the door. typically, when they finally emerged, they headed out for pizza.
i remember my mom quietly suggesting to my uncle after one of their closed door sessions that they open the windows in his bedroom. i remember being confused by her suggestion, as it was the dead of winter. but, i get it now.
on an unrelated note, a childhood friend had a similar situation with her brother. her brother’s friend, “ramone” would come over and they went in his room and closed the door, too. they put a towel under the door, but, interspersed with their laughter were strains of the carpenters and judy collins. years later, it became clear that he and “ramone” were not giggling for the same reasons that my uncle and chester were.
my uncle’s pot use was the most well-known secret in our family for years. the only person who never acknowledged it was my grandmother. she always got furious when we joked about it.
in high school, i remember having occasional encounters with students i didn’t know, but who seemed to know me. these kids were usually wearing black metallica t-shirts, and they hung out in clusters outside the school, smoking cigarettes before first bell. they’d give me a “hey,” in the hall, and i’d sometimes overhear one of them say, “dude, that’s elmo’s niece.”
the last time my uncle moved out of my grandparents’ house, he moved in with a girl who graduated two years after i did. it was awkward the first time i went to their house, but she tried her best to make me feel comfortable.
“hey,” she said as she hoisted her translucent green tupperware tumbler in my direction. “you want me to make you a drink?”
“sure, that’d be great.”
“you want what i’m having?”
as i took my first sip, it was all i could do not to projectile vomit.
“um…what is this…exactly,” i asked.
“oh, that’s skunk piss -- jim beam and mountain dew. it's my favorite.”
about that time, my uncle came home. i remember looking at him and thinking that, underneath his unmistakable pothead exterior, he was still my uncle d. but, now, instead of looking like kurt russell in the computer wore tennis shoes, all apple-cheeked and sparkly, he looked like kurt russell in tombstone, with the big handlebar mustache and the tired eyes. but, his face still lit up when he saw me. he still called me julie-jules.
it wasn’t so long after that day that they arrested my uncle. it was, of course, the pot. the vast quantities of it. the “intent to distribute” it. i remember the call from my mom.
“honey, have you seen the paper?” she asked.
“no, mom, what’s up?”
“they arrested d.”
i was stunned. not surprised, of course, but stunned nonetheless. and, then, slowly, i realized that my mother was giggling.
“um, mom? what is so funny? he’s going to jail, right?”
“do you have the paper there?”
and there, in our small town newspaper, was my movie-star-handsome-pot-smoking-weed-selling uncle’s picture, splashed across the front page. the headline: busted!
not a lot happens in the small town where i grew up.
in my mind, that alone would have been enough to justify my mother’s case of the giggles. but, what really set her off was the last sentence of the first paragraph:
“the accused is also known by his street name: elmo.”
after my uncle was released on bail, i saw him at sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house.
“hey,” i said.
“julie-jules! what’s going on?”
“not much. how’s the gang?”
“you know, your ‘gang.’ your ‘crew.’ the count. grover. snuffleupagus.”
we laughed so hard, we cried.
except my grandmother. she never saw the humor in it.
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