March 4, 2009

This Ain't Candyland: Surviving Sibling Warfare

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Every summer my parents sent us to summer camp in Bumfuck, CA, in the central valley. No man’s land, if you will, where a crisp 104 degrees is just how the malaria-carrying insects like it. I would write home every day in the stationery they gave me to plead with them to bring me home. When that didn’t work, they certainly regretted giving me my grandparents’ addresses. My nearly-90 year old grandfather barged into their living room one Saturday in early July demanding to know why they sent me to a place where they made me eat spiders.
On the other hand, my brother and sister thrived at camp. They had each been repeats six or seven times over and basically ran the place. We had camp superlatives at the end of each summer; one boy camper and one girl were named to each category. Every year I was at camp, both my brother and my sister emerged victorious in many categories, but without fail they would both defend their title of “Most Likely to Burn Down the Camp.” Eventually, the camp itself was condemned, as I had always maintained it should be, but not before both Jessica and Ben had been kicked out. Jessica made her counselor cry. Ben moved several sprinklers into another bunk and turned them on, destroying the possessions of several people. And these fine members of society are my role models.
It’s hard to explain my brother and sister to people, but I love it when people meet them because I just look so much more sane. Its an odd phenomenon, but I can take a very scientific view of them now having not lived with them all together since I was nine. That was the year that my brother went to prep school across the country, and incidentally the moment I found out, I burst into one of those Russian kick dances in my kitchen. My sister went away to college, this one in fact, only two years later. So my life is essentially split up into two chapters: Siblings and Only Child.
In Siblings, some of my first memories are sitting in a high chair, watching my brother and sister chase each other down our long hallway with a tennis racquet and a baseball bat much like Itchy and Scratchy from the Simpsons, which was my favorite show as a wee tot. My siblings vied for my affections, so we could gang up on the other one, and I used to play them against each other until they realized what a diabolical baby genius they had on their hands and pummeled me as punishment. My sister wanted to form me in her image, and she started teaching me to read when I was 3. With my brother, some of my earliest memories include throwing a baseball at his eye and having him press my chin onto a hot cookie sheet after the unfortunate scorching of some Otis Spunkmeyers. After we would build forts or giant pillow piles to jump onto from the ladder in our den, Ben would pin me down and repeatedly prod a space on my chest about 2 inches down from my collar bone — Chinese water torture.
My sister was more interested in psychological warfare. Babysitters did not enjoy the Weiss children much, so my parents resorted to very old women immigrants from the eastern bloc who don’t take much shit. But when one of them tried to make me go to bed before the Simpsons one Sunday, my sister, if I recall correctly, locked her in a bathroom until the show was over at 8:30. Then Mrs. Paycek quit. And that is what family is for.
My aunt on my dad’s side always used to tell us we’d give our dad a heart attack. Why couldn’t we be more like her son, Greg? He’s so well-behaved and he never fights. Newsflash, lady — if you’re an only child it makes it a lot harder to fight with your brothers and sisters, don’t it?
Only Child was an interesting time, but I kept noticing odd connections back to the hinterland. For example, when my brother first went to boarding school, his dorm bathroom had two stalls and three toilets. My first year at Choate, on the third floor of Nichols dorm, there were three stalls and two toilets. Similarly, Ben had a roommate who didn’t speak to him except to yell at him in Korean and who would cook really weird food in their room so they both smelled bad. My roommate spoke English, but she was just kind of mean, and she made both of us smell bad by playing ice hockey, refusing to shower for hours after returning from practice, and leaving all her sweaty gear in our room. I’d never felt more connected to my brother than when I smelled the stench of Katie’s sweat.
And as college rolls by, its weird to think that another, albeit slightly inferior, Weiss graced the Cornell campus not that long ago. Sometimes I wonder if Carmelo swiped her Cornell card in RPU, or if she woke up mid-afternoon on Slope Day on the floor of a coatroom with a bagel on her stomach?
Its best to keep these as sensations of wonderment and happy little memories, though, because now that I’m fully ensconced in Only Child, the reality of spending time with my siblings involves receiving holiday notices about Penny Lane Weiss, Jessica’s cat, and spending a weekend of fun in the media tent of Lollapalooza hiding from my hammered brother telling random bands that I would interview them. But for old times sake, it would be nice to take one more annual family summer trip to L.A., stopping hitting each other for delicious, delicious In-n-Out Burger and arrive once again at Disneyland (and my childhood) with the only two freaks who share a majority of my DNA.