They say that love is patient; love is kind. Give me a break. I say, no way! And I hold my brother up as evidence. He's fifteen, and since he fell in love I bet there hasn't been a patient or kind day in our house yet. It's this girl. Tammy Priester. He picked her up in front of Hardee's one day because it was raining, and he'd just gotten his daytime license and my dad's new car, which of course he just had to show-off in by taking her home. Tammy Priester! We are talking bow-wow! It's strictly hormonal; I know. A pair of oversized mammary glands have turned my otherwise extremely excellent brother into a tongue-tied testosterone pumping idiot.
My name is Divine Jade Calvin, but most everybody calls me D. J. I was born during my parents' expanded enlightenment period. Petey---my brother---was born during their biblical period. He's really Simon Peter Calvin. Very New Testament. I used to be embarrassed about my name when school started every year, but then I figured, hey, it could be worse. I could have been born during their Native American period and wound up Dog Who Licks Balls or something.
My folks are what you might call semi-retired hippies. Wait. It's not that they go around wearing love beads or giving you the peace sign or anything truly dorky like that. No, they look really regular. I mean they look as good as everybody else's parents. That's what makes it so weird---like in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers---the original not the remake. My dad---we call him Richard---teaches nineteenth century English Lit a the university. He's tenured. That means if he screws up really bad we don't have to get on food stamps right away or anything like that. Mostly he teaches really creepy graduate students, but he also writes tons of articles---you know, for magazines and journals and stuff. He wrote a book once. It wasn't a best seller or anything. We've got zillions of copies in the garage. Something called Gerald Stanford Claibourne and the Tragedy of the Obscure Poet in Victorian England. Sometimes we give them away was wedding gifts or Christmas presents to people we don't like that much but feel obligated to acknowledge with “a little something.” My mom---she's Sarah---my mom is into saving things: you know, whales, the Third World from mass starvation, the equestrian statue in front of C. F. McKenna High School. She's also president of the local chapter of Mothers Against Nuclear Submarines. So you see, they're pretty respectable citizens, even if they are kind of retro-radical. It's just that . . . well, sometimes like on Sunday afternoons when the house is really quiet, and they think Petey and I can't hear, they play all these scratchy records by people like Hendrix or Canned Heat, and they get all glassy-eyed, and you figure, hey, maybe they've been into the day-glo paint again.
Now my brother Petey, on the other hand, is a totally cool guy---if you get past the nerd exterior, and the fact he's obsessing on Tammy Priester's chest. He has the ability to break wind at will. He can belch three times in a row with only one breath. He has ridden the Thunder Road roller coaster at Carowinds six times before tossing his lunch. He has read the entire set of World Book Encyclopedia not once but twice. Twice! And smart? 1368 on the PSAT. And he's only a sophomore! He skipped a grade. He's not like me. I'll be lucky if I get out of middle school before I'm forty. I don't apply myself. That's what Sarah and Richard and the guidance counselors say. Petey, on the other hand, is into application like Madonna's into underwear. Did I tell you he's a musician too? Yeah. He plays the flute. Started when he was like about five. He's one of those child prodigies you're always hearing about. Once a week he flies up to Boston to this big deal school for private lessons. I'm musical too---sort of. I play the harmonica. I can only play two songs all the way through: Home on the Range and The Stars Fell on Alabama. But I'm working on a third.
I have this fantasy about Petey that nobody knows about, not even Petey. I mean he would hurl if he knew; it's that lame. It goes like this: we're at home, you know, hanging around, doing nothing, when all of a sudden we get this phone call from New York and it's James Galway---the flute player---and he wants Petey to fly up and play a concert with him at Avery Fisher Hall. So Petey goes, and everybody loves him, and they throw flowers on the stage and stuff, and he has about twelve curtain calls and for a last encore he and Jimmy---because by now they're on a first name basis---decide to play The Irish Washerwoman, only Petey doesn't know it, but Jimmy has asked me to fly up too, and there we are, me on harmonica and Petey on flute and Galway on tin whistle. Can't you see it? James Galway and us! I mean he is Petey's all time number one idol! I mean he likes him better than Axel Rose even. He has this autographed picture of him hanging on the back of the john door so whenever you're sitting in there all you have to do is look up and see those Irish eyes a smiling. `Good Luck and Best Wishes Always, James Galway.'
Petey's only problem is girls. He likes them. It's just that they don't like him back. He doesn't know what to say to them. I keep telling him to relax. He talks to me and I'm a girl, but that hasn't helped. Sarah tried taking him to her assertiveness training classes, but that went nowhere. The first time he tried some of it on one of the girls at school she decked him.
That brings us to Tammy Priester and her bodacious set of ta ta's. Tammy goes to the same school as Petey but doesn't have any classes with him because he's in all the classes for brains, and she's in all the dummy classes with the retards, which is where I will be if I dont' watch out. So she didn't already know he was a semi-nerd, just that he was really smart and maybe could help her get out of ninth grade before the turn of the next century.
It all started on a Saturday, see. We were at the Lyric Theater. We're always at the Lyric on Saturdays. It's a movie house near the university that shows only ancient films. Nothing after 1960. Petey and I go there while Mom is busy with her cheese co-op. This friend of our dad's, Marcel---who still wears a ponytail even though he's bald on top---runs it and lets us in for half price.
It was Sci-Fi weekend, and they were running this unbelievably cool double feature: The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. The first feature had just started. Klaatu---who was really Michael Rennie---got shot even though he was wearing his gold space suit because the soldiers guarding the Capitol got trigger happy and didn't know he had come to Earth on a peaceful mission, when all of a sudden Petey starts giving me the elbow.
“Hey, D. J,” he says. “See that girl over there with he chest? Her name is Tammy Priester. She's the best looking girl in my school.”
I don't know how he could tell. I mean it was so dark in there she could have been Lassie.
“She's in the practical math right before my calculus class.”
Tammy was about ten rows ahead of us.
“She lives in Olympia. I think her dad's a mill worker or something.”
I hoped he hadn't mentioned anything to our mom about her dad. She was liable to go down there and organize a textile workers union or something.
“Look at how she chews her popcorn,” Petey said.
“You mean with her teeth?”
“Wait, look! She's taking a sip of her Coke. Wow!”
I didn't say anything. I didn't want to encourage him. It's not that I didn't want to share a moment of sibling bonding. It's just that we were getting to the good part of the movie, the part where Gort---this nine foot tall robot who belongs to Klaatu---is about to destroy the world unless Patricia Neal says the magic words, “Klaatu borada nikto.” You see what I mean? Still, I noticed Petey's eyes never left Tammy Priester the whole time. As Richard would say, the whole affair was a total bummer.
Now whenever there's a double feature at the Lyric, they give a little break between shows so everybody has time to go to the john or get something to eat or go outside for a smoke since the Lyric is a smoke free place. I was up at the candy counter buying a Crackle when who should I run into but good old Tammy. She was laughing and cutting up with Boylston Heyward, who is a college guy Marcel has working the concessions. Boylston is the resident hunk at the Lyric. You know the type, Mr. Rah-Rah fraternity, rumpled shirt, baggy khakis, young Republican. Really yuck! But whenever he works the counter, Marcel pulls in twice as much on popcorn as when it's anybody else. Hey, Marcel might wear a ponytail, but he's into good old American capitalism the same as everybody else.
Old Tammy was really putting the hard sell on Boylston, only he wasn't buying. You figure why should a guy like that waste his time on some pubescent fifteen year old when he's got a whole campus full of college babes waiting in the wings? So I paid for my stuff and left Tammy there panting.
It was raining when we got out. We started home and just as we were going passed Hardee's, who should we see standing at the bus stop but Tammy Priester. Petey insisted on pulling over and asking if she wanted a ride---which she did.
Not long after that they started talking to each other at school. She got Petey to tutor her in practical math, which should have been named practically math, so I started sending her love letters and signing Boylston Heyward's name to them. Really gross stuff I found in the poetry section of my seventh grade reader. Gaggy stuff by Keats and Shelley. It took a couple of months for the poison to take hold. Petey finally got up enough nerve to ask her to the prom, and that's when I found out how good at forgery I really was. Not only did she turn him down---she laughed at him. And I wanted to die.
Petey went into a serious decline after that. He stopped talking. He stopped laughing. He stopped sleeping. He made up excuses so he wouldn't have to go to Boston for his flute lessons. He told Richard he would never speak to another girl as long as he lived, even if they came begging and could tap dance to the 1812 Overture. We are talking major adolescent crisis.
I tried to get him to snap out of it. I tried to tell him Tammy was only using him like Bette Davis had with Leslie Howard in Of Human Bondage. But would he listen? No way! Whenever I tried he'd go lock himself in his room and play his flute. Sometimes for hours.
We went to Atlanta in March---to see James Galway, of all people! It made me feel really creepy, like I was about to be touched by the hand of God or something. The weather was great. The drive was pleasant. Richard and Sarah even stopped in Madison and let us get Big Macs and fries like a regular family. See, it should have been a great time, but I couldn't get my mind off what I had done to my brother. I mean if he took a leap off the balcony and bought the farm right there in Symphony Hall, whose fault would it be? Tammy's, yeah. But mostly it would be mine. It got so bad that halfway through the concert I had to run to the ladies room and throw up. I guess I must have been gone a long time because Sarah came looking for me. I lied and told her I thought it was because I had eaten too much processed food. She wet a couple of paper towels and held them on my forehead like she used to do when I was little and sick. She stroked my head and hummed Blowing in the Wind. Sarah is super good with sick people. If she hadn't decided to be an advocate of the unwashed masses, she would have made a terrific nurse.
It was Richard who finally got me straight. It was Sunday afternoon, about a week after my Atlanta epiphany. I was on the floor of the living room with the newspaper.
Richard asked, “What are you doing?”
“The crossword puzzle,” I said.
“How's it going?”
“I'm stuck,” I told him. “I need a nine letter word that begins with `m' and means `to plot with evil intent.'”
It fit. Like there was any chance it wouldn't? Give me a break!
“Dad,” I said---I hardly ever call Richard dad, so I know he knew it was serious business, “have you ever plotted for evil intent?”
He thought about it for a while. Richard looks a lot like a young Gregory Peck, only with wire rimmed glasses. And when he thinks about serious things he gets these little up and down lines right between his eyes. Well, they were there.
“Yes,” he said after a while. “Once when I was an undergraduate I went to visit my cousin who was a senior at Texas A & M. He was a great practical joker, and I helped him plot to rustle a few dozen head of cattle from the experimental farm and put them on the roof of the student union.”
“Did you actually do it?”
“No. We couldn't figure out how to get them up the elevator.”
“But that's more like mischief than evil intent. I mean have you ever planned to do something really evil, something truly bad that you knew would hurt somebody else?”
Richard didn't say anything for the longest time. He just scowled at me with those two little lines becoming gouges.
“Why the sudden interest in evil plots?” he asked.
“No reason. Just curious.”
I knew he didn't buy it. And Richard knew I knew he knew, but he wasn't about to let on that he did, because that would not allow me the opportunity to take responsibility for my actions. So instead he just sat down on the couch and patted it. “Come over here, D. J. Come and sit on my lap.” And when I did he said to me, “You know, we haven't done this in a while.”
“That's because my legs are too long.”
“Well, for now, let's pretend they're not. Okay?”
I nodded. “Richard,” I said, “what do you do when you have a job to do, and you know what you have to accomplish, only you don't know exactly how to do it?”
“I listen to Abbey Road.”
“Abbey Road, huh.”
“I turn off all the lights, and I lay right here on the couch, and I listen to Abbey Road. Whenever I've had a hard day, maybe things haven't gone just right, maybe your mom and I have had a disagreement, I put Abbey Road on and I feel much better.”
I kind of nodded. I was hoping for something a little more substantial.
“Let me know how things go,” he said.
It sounded really lame, but I figured what the hey, so I listened to Abbey Road, and much to my surprise, Richard was right. The next day I told Tammy about the letters, and to make up for them I said if she would go to the prom with my brother I would get her a date with Boylston Heyward, and I told Boylston if he went out with Tammy I would scrap gum off the underneath of the seats of the Lyric for the next month, which is what Marcel makes him do on Sunday afternoons between the matinee and the feature presentation, and for messing with Petey's love life I promised I would smuggle in corndogs and pork rinds and eat his portion of Sarah's wonderfully healthy cooking for the next four years. And so in the end everything turned out okay. Petey got what he wanted, Tammy got what she wanted, Boylston got what he wanted, and best of all---I got what I wanted. I found out that if things don't work out in the seventh grade, I can always become a tel-evangelist or a info-mercial sales person since I'm so good with words and manipulation.
It took me a while to get to sleep the night of the prom. Petey looked pretty good all dressed up in his tux. Sarah and Richard took fifty million pictures of him---Sarah with Petey, Richard with Petey, me with Petey, Petey with the dog, Petey by himself, even one of Petey with Tammy. Yuck! All of it very white bread, very middle class.
I thought about it as I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. I really needed to get to sleep. Tomorrow was a big day. I had overheard Sarah telling Richard tomorrow night was Swiss-chard almond loaf and sesame rice fritters. After a while I got up and shoved a tape into my Walkman. Then I closed my eyes. Paul McCartney was singing . . . “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love make.”
The Narrow Journey - Chapter One "Lucie"
The Narrow Journey - Chapter Five "Charles"