Sunday, July 24, 2005

That's my cousin on the left with the other beautiful bride, from the...

San Francisco 4th of July Weekend
Part 3: Guzzlin’ Cousin

This summer’s been a blast from the past for me. Having attended one wedding and a funeral, I’ve reconnected with a lot of relatives from back east. With some of ‘em, I can see why my parents intentionally lost touch. On Long Island I encountered some bizarre individuals. We grew up in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, though you’d swear these characters were straight outta Hazzard County. But no one looks like Jessica Simpson, and yet that wouldn’t stop ‘em from wearing Daisy Dukes. And I’m talking about the guys.

To elaborate on the crazier cousins of mine -- my dad’s siblings’ kids and their brood -- would require another whole blog entry. And I haven’t even gotten to the San Francisco trip yet.

Well, I will run off on a few introductory tangents, and say that my father’s sister was notoriously a beeotch. My aunt would call my sweet little old grandmother -- the one who just died -- an “old fart”, right to her face. Or she’d come up to my mom’s friends and tell the heavyset one not to stand next to the skinny one, ‘cause it made her look even fatter. Niiiice.

My aunt wasn’t at the funeral, but I mention her because she obviously had a strong influence on one of her sons, who did attend. Simon is a few years older than me, and when we were kids, I thought he might show me the ropes. Instead, he was just as obnoxious as his old lady. There was the fun way some older relatives would bust my chops, and then there was Simon’s mean-spiritedness. I always wanted a big brother, not a big motherfucker. By the time I was 11 and he was 15, I knew better and avoided the schmuck.

So when I saw him at the funeral, I had my guard up, but he turned out to be a real mensch. Maybe moving away from Mama Malice taught Simon some manners or something... He works in web design, and I mentioned my blog (didn’t give him the URL) and he gave me some tips on HTML to spruce up the site… which, obviously I haven’t put into practice yet. Mostly ‘cause I can’t recall any of the details of our geeked-out conversation, but it was still memorable to me because it was astonishingly civil. Even enjoyable.

A similar pleasant surprise occurred in San Francisco.

The wedding was in many ways the opposite of the funeral, and not just for the joyousness of the occasion. This was a gathering of my mother’s side of the family. Her brother’s daughter was getting married, and though I don’t have as many relatives on that side of the family, my aunt and uncle have an extended network of friends. Both worked in education, and so they had a slew of longtime pals from school -- fellow faculty members. When 120 people fly cross-country for a gay wedding, it’s no big shock that most of ‘em are east-coast aging hippies working in the liberal arts.

And their kids. While I got along great with everybody back in the day, there was my cousin’s cousin -- my second cousin -- Tyler. The last time I had seen him, Tyler was a little boy, no more than 10. He was a cute kid -- no, “cute” isn’t the right word. Cute kids are endearing in the things they say and do. Tyler was good-looking, but didn’t say or do shit.

He wasn’t developmentally challenged, and I don’t even think you could chalk it up to shyness. Tyler would hang around the other runts and otherwise would cling to his mom… but there was a downright rudeness toward everyone else. His parents didn’t teach him to even try to be cordial and acknowledge anyone… and his attitude came off as… haughty, perhaps. I didn’t give it a lot of thought, but I never particularly liked the little punk.

But that kid, now 23, turned out all right. My aunt said, “Doesn’t he look like Brad Pitt?” Aside from a similar hair color… no. Still good-looking, sure, but not Angelina Jolie worthy. Well, she married Billy Bob… so scratch that. But my aunt compares everyone way too generously to matinee idols. When I was younger and had spiky thick brown hair, she’d say I looked just like Tom Cruise. And if you stood 100 yards away, put gauze over your eyes and squinted, yeah, me and Scientology Boy were dead-ringers.

Tyler, as an adult, was outgoing and funny and always had a huge smile on his face. Even when he brought up more serious topics. His father died of a heart attack recently, leaving him to deal with a sometimes-overly emotional mother and sister. Sounded strangely familiar. I think I could relate.

At the wedding, Tyler seemed to be touched at the camaraderie between all the cousins and grown-up childhood friends. Kept saying how great it was for the old gang to be hanging out, we should keep in touch, maybe all meet up again in NY. I was wondering if his aloofness as a kid was really the sentimentality I was seeing today. Someone said, “Yeah, Tyler’s a real mush.”

And he wasn’t even that drunk. Not at the wedding. But the next night...

While most of us sat around a restaurant table eating sourdough and soup, Tyler and others planted themselves at the bar, getting soused early. His fellow boozers went to call it a night, but Tyler was just getting warmed up.

It wasn’t apparent at first, how tanked he was. He still had that big smile and engaging disposition. Lucidly, he recalled how we all gathered at my uncle’s cabin upstate one summer, and the kids put on a talent show.

He mentioned how I had done a stand-up routine. Everyone still laughed about it, but I could hardly take any credit. I had basically imitated comedian Bob Nelson: “Foo’ball i’ my life. If it had not been for foo’ball, I would not be playin’ foo’ball today.”

We reminded Tyler of his act, which began with him standing on a picnic table. Everyone shouted at the little dude: go Tyler! What was he gonna do? Sing a song? Breakdance? Stand on his head and spit nickels? No, he just leapt off the table and landed on his feet. That was it? After a long pause, we applauded, perfunctorily, just to hearten the taciturn tyke.

Someone jokingly pointed out that restaurant tables had seating that looked like picnic benches. Next thing we knew, Tyler stood atop the table and gave out an ear-shattering rebel yell: “Yeeee-haaaaaaa!” Then he jumped off and stomped onto the floor. For a second I thought he might fall and break a leg or something. But once we saw he was okay, and realized he was lampooning his childhood schtick, we looked around, embarrassed for the other diners interrupted by the spectacle, and again, gave an awkward applause.

But he didn’t act up the rest of the night. In fact, he was pretty mellow as a small group of us went out to local bars, doing shots and shootin’ the shit.

The next morning, I dragged myself to brunch, thinking: Drinking like a fish two days in a row… I’m gettin’ too old for this… But maybe it has nothing to do with age, after hearing what happened to that whippersnapper Tyler.

His mom said he didn’t get back ‘til a few hours ago. He had called at 7 in the morning, not sure where he was... somewhere in San Francisco...? His mom told him to get a cab; she’d pay for it when he got to the hotel. “Uh...” he asked, “where’s the hotel?” That was the problem in the first place. He explained that he got lost, then all he remembered was getting a ride with some Chinese guy, driving around the city, stopping in at after-hours bars… a strip club… and… uh, passing out in the bushes.

Which perhaps explains why, when he finally arrived, he was bleeding all over one side of his head. He had a small scrape on his ear, probably from falling down in the shrubbery. It bled a lot, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. His mom had calmed down by now, saying things could’ve been worse.

But I was in shock. Last night, after closing the bar, we had all gone to Denny’s. Scarfing our Moon over My Hammies, we sat around and played “Who’s Got the Most Fucked-up Family?” I left out that detail to his mom, especially ‘cause Tyler coulda been a contender at it. But he was loitering outside. We checked on him a few times, but he smiled and said he was fine, just enjoying the cool air and having a smoke.

“He was smoking? Tyler smokes?” his mom asked.

“Oh. You didn’t know that?” Great, I omit the fucked-up family game, but still narc him out to his mother. First I abandon the kid, now this.

We said that when we left, we couldn’t find Tyler. But we didn’t worry; he seemed okay, and we figured he just went back to the hotel. Never thought he couldn’t find it, because…

I pointed: There’s Denny’s… and across the street… there’s the Holiday Inn.

She assured us it wasn’t our fault. He’s old enough now to know his drinking his limitations; he doesn’t need a babysitter. Still, I felt bad: You was his cousin, Mikey. You shoulda looked out for him a little bit.

I left for LA later that day, so I didn’t get to see Tyler again. I’d like to take him up on his offer, get the gang together for some good times back in New York. I hope we don’t all lose touch again for another decade.

I gotta remind myself there are some good people in my family. And remind myself: You never leave a good man behind.


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