February 2019

Brothers

Safety Tip of the Week: “Drive it like you stole it.”

What is it about brothers and how they are routinely anything but their brothers’ keeper, starting with Cain and Abel?

When i was young i wanted a brother, but he had to be a little brother i could protect, lead, and teach the necessity of deferring to his elders, starting with me.  No way i wanted to be some cruel jock’s little brother, treated the way younger brothers all too often were in the oil camps thirty miles west of Odessa, Texas in the early fifties.  And then in Odessa itself in the late fifties.  And then in the early sixties as an undergraduate at Texas Tech where i lived in the same dormitory as three brothers, all in engineering majors.

Phil was a senior when i was a freshman, a leader always ready to help and advise the younger students, including his younger brother Tom, in my class, to whom he gave a magnificent gift, his poop.

No no.  Your poop was all the handouts from a class, your tests, and your lab work, if one was involved as it was in physics and chemistry.  To possess this was valuable in any case and invaluable if you had the same teacher as your predecessor.  Teachers were only too human, and they often reused the same tests and assigned the same lab experiments in subsequent years.  And if they weren’t exactly the same, they were similar.

So there was a barter economy in which you found someone who was taking a class from the same teacher for whom you had a set of poop and traded him your poop for his, hopefully for the class you were taking.  A set of poop, particularly from an A student, was a pearl beyond price.

So Phil passed his on to Tom.  And then two years later Dick matriculated.  Tom gave him the cold shoulder all along, but that would have been unfortunate but not really shocking.  What was mindblowing was that he gave his and Phil’s poop to someone other than Dick.  Nobody in the whole dorm looked at either of the brothers in quite the same way after that.

That episode faded into distant memory over the years, but i was reminded of it, in a wonderfully benign way, in the early eighties when i was a partner in a small limousine company and knew a fellow driver named John Ashbury.

His younger brother once joined us for a cordial lunch  Actually, the lunch was more than cordial, it was downright convivial as John kept us well entertained with his wit.  But then there came a moment that left everyone slackjawed.  John turned to his brother and addressed him as “Ashbury”.

There was a loud silence for a moment while we processed this, and then, as it sank in, we all, including the younger brother, burst into laughter at the delicious absurdity of it.  Yes, you call your teammates and fellow soldiers by their last names, but nobody in history had called his brother by their last name.

Gotta keep ’em on their toes, even in gentle ways.

Meanwhile, a south-facing planter box in front of a high-tech beverage cafe on 24th St.  Yep, it’s that time of year when so many of our succulents are blooming.  Here we have some Aeonium arboreum flanking a stand of Crassula argenta (AKA Jade Plant).

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Phoebe and Jim

How fascinating it is to be living in times when political discussions begin with “when sanity is restored…” and end with “…from a scaffold erected on the White House lawn”.

I met Jim and Phoebe from Palo Alto in the late spring of 1976 at an EST training and found them delightful. And clearly it was reciprocal because shortly thereafter they called me up and invited me to join them on a Point Reyes hike.

It was a wonderful day. From the Visitors’ Center, we took the Bear Valley Trail that mostly followed the creek, crossing it repeatedly on stepping stones. It was cool and shady along the creek with lots of ferns and other low-light vegetation, and we hiked and talked all the way to the coast and then turned right along the cliffs for half a mile or so until we could get down to the beach, where we ate sandwiches we’d picked up at a deli on the way. Then we reversed our route 4.5 miles back to the Visitors’ Center. Nine miles seems like a long way to me now, now that i can barely walk 9 yards, but we were young and fit, Besides, they’d provided white crosses (slang name for tiny dexedrine pills) to perk us up.

We all had such a good time that they came to the city to hang out with me the following Saturday. And that was so much fun that they invited me down to dinner at their home in Palo Alto the next weekend.

Dinner was early so that her 12-year-old son from a previous relationship could eat with us before he was packed off to bathe before bed and we could do a blitzkrieg washing of the dishes. When we’d done that i announced that i needed to go pee. At which Phoebe squeaked as a look of shock and horror swept her face, and, too late, i realized that the boy had not yet emerged from the bathroom.

And more importantly, to me, that Phoebe saw me as a child molester just waiting for an opportunity to go into the bathroom and ravish her kid.

And worse yet, that there was nothing i could say to walk it back. So i just muttered that i couldn’t expect them to believe anything i said, dashed out, pissed in the alley, and drove home.

Afterwards i realized that there were some bitter ironies. First, that the only person in that household to whom i was sexually attracted was not her son but rather her handsome husband who’d escaped un-hit-upon when he spent the night between EST sessions at my place. The other was that, not being a pedophile, i’d paid so little attention to the kid that i hadn’t even been tracking where he was and that of course if i’d seen the bathroom door shut, i’d have remembered he was in there.

All that too late though, so there was no further contact either way.

Meanwhile, an interesting assemblage in San Francisco.

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