The Old, Old Man

     My brother cannot possibly be 60.
     He is one year older than me. He’s about 8. Sixteen, tops.
     When we fight he has this nasty trick where he digs a knuckle into my shoulder at every whack. A couple of those knuckledusters and I can’t lift my fists as high as my elbows. My fearsome roundhouse right is reduced to the flapping of a dying duck.
     Because he’s my brother he’s always known how to get to me. In high school, he called me Ace.
     “Whatever you say, Ace,” he’d say, with just the slightest emphasis on “Ace.”
     “You tell us, Ace.”
     Drove me nuts for a year.
     I have always been the artistic type. I was a dying poet even before I was born.
     In my Days of Intense Agony, during high school, back in the days when I had figured out that Sex Existed, but had not yet figured out What To Do About It, I wrote a lot of poetry. I hid these poems in my bottom drawer, where everyone in the family knew I hid stuff.
     One day I hauled out a sheaf of deathless art, to revise my tortured musings, and there, at the bottom of my most exquisitely painful poem, in my brother’s handwriting, was a short criticism.
     “Sure, Bob,” it said.
     Let facts be submitted to a candid world:
     If Ezra Pound had responded to “The Wasteland” by writing, “Sure, Tom,” at the bottom of it, the world would have been … actually, we might be better off.
     OK, so that was not an apt comparison.
     I’ll tell you what else my brother did. He said the worst words one brother can ever say to another: “I’m telling.”
     It’s not bad enough he showed me something to do that both of us knew we had better not. After I figured out a better way to do it, guaranteed to do far more damage, he’d say, “I’m telling.”
     Take black powder. Any kid can tell you the formula for it: a lot of charcoal, a little bit of sulphur and a little bit less potassium nitrate. Back in those days you’d make your own charcoal, and the druggist would sell you the sulphur and the saltpeter.
     “You boys aren’t going to make black powder with this, are you?” he’d growl at us, glaring down through his glasses.
      “Oh, no, Sir,” we’d say. “Can you make black powder with this?”
      “What’s black powder?”
     He’d sell it to us anyway. Back in those days they didn’t think a couple of guys were going to be terrorists just because they wanted to blow stuff up.
     We’d mash it all up and head out into the woods, or to the new housing project they were cutting out of the woods. I remember the time that … actually, never mind that. Forget it. I’m sorry I brought it up.
     Or take mercury, that shoots out the top of a thermometer if you hold the bulb over a match to see how fast you can make it …
     Actually, forget about that, too. Forget anything to do with matches.
     With three brothers a year apart, naturally, when you get caught at something, you’re going to blame your brother.
     “David said it was OK,” I’d say.
     What a liar I was.
     Then I’d get the lecture the parents, and when David got me alone I’d get the knuckle in the shoulder again.
     My brother did a lot of other bad stuff, too, since you’re asking.
     It’s true that I did some rotten things to my brother, and to my other brother, and to my little sister too, but that’s not what we’re discussing here. That’s wholly beside the point. It’s neither germane nor a propos, nor any other word I want to use.
     Look, if you’re going to keep interrupting, we can just forget it. Come on. Grow up.

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