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I love this clip, and I miss my brother.
John lives in Seville, Spain with his wife and two small boys, ages two and one. He works as an English teacher and newspaper columnist, writing in Spanish. We have long, intense phone conversations every few months during which we share stories about writing, teaching, and children. The conversations flow effortlessly, despite joyful interruptions to concur, and we laugh.
When I put the phone down, there’s a second or two of sadness, of really missing him, and then it’s back to the life we both share, thousands of miles apart, of diapers, discipline, and praying for patience and sleep.
In a different time, perhaps, all the cousins would be together. Holidays would be rowdy family gatherings. A grandparent would be living with one of us. Childcare would be shared among family members. I miss my brother, for more reasons than our shared common interests. We share a history of place and experience that cannot be dimmed or overtaken, even with the daily presence of a dearly loved spouse.
I have two older brothers, John and Joe. John is slightly closer to me in age, four years my senior. John and I communicated almost entirely via insult for the first 13 years of my life. Joe was less of an instigator. He wasn’t a peacemaker, mind you. He just dodged the drama. (This might explain why every Christmas my list started with the following three requests: 1. Sister 2. Horse 3. Dog. Never got any of ‘em.)
What kinds of things would John do to me? Oh, the usual big brother stuff. He’d tell me he was ordering those X-ray glasses from the back of the comics to see through my clothes. He said he’d share them with his friends at the town pool. He’d throw fuzzies from under the couch at me and scream, “SPIDER!” He’d get me so angry that I’d punch him, and then I’d get in trouble for hitting.
When he was in high school, we barely spoke. Every time he looked at me, he puffed out his cheeks to represent how fat he thought I was. I responded by pressing my fingers all over my face to represent how pimply I thought he was. We were a fun pair to parent, I’m sure.
That all changed after he took a trip to Paris his senior year in high school. He came back with two presents for me: small heart earrings and a really cool George Michael-type T-shirt with big letters and loud colors. I was speechless but filled with joy. No words ever acknowledged the seismic shift in our relationship. We just began speaking civilly, and then became very close. We attended the same college, but he’d graduated three months before I arrived. His many friends who were still at the college – he was always very popular – adopted me. Through early adulthood, I would call him crying about every dopey boy I fell for. My poor brother; this job took a ton of patience. Good practice for his two rambunctious toddlers.
So why Tony Manero, above? There are few people in the world who will love this clip as much as John and I do. We both grew up on Staten Island, which serves as a punchline for many jokes about low-class, uneducated people or the mountains of trash shipped over from Manhattan (both literal and figurative). But this is also where people like Tony Manero are born. The families are close, ethnic, and complicated. Religion, especially Catholicism, has deep roots. Dancing is a common social thread. (My brother arrived on the campus of our southern college wearing pointy, white “cockroach killers” which quickly got the heave.) Blue collar life is the norm, but the dream to escape rumbles deep. One of our grandfathers was a postal worker. The other was a bartender. Even though my brother is an international man with sophisticated tastes, and I live in a tony Connecticut town, our roots connect us.