As most everyone knows I grew up in a slum in Brooklyn, which is now a very hip and prosperous area, but when I grew up there, it was a slum, a terrible slum. My family was poor, but not as poor as the unorthodox Jews who lived above us in Apartment 7. They were so poor they had a sheep that lived with them, that sheep was named Max and he gave them his fur so they could make clothes with it. That’s how poor they were. “Poor unorthodox Jews” my brother Shlomo and I would say to each other, and then smirk with a sense of superiority.
Then I would eat some of the warm raisins Shlomo would hand me almost daily that he would get from the doorway of Apartment 7. He did not like raisins, but he would get me a handful and smile as he gave them to me, my brother Shlomo was a jokester his whole life.
My older brother, the handsome one, his name is Marcus, although he is now Marlene and as a woman, he is not so handsome, in fact, Marlene is kind of an acquired taste for a woman. As a man, Marcus was handsome, Marlene, not so much.
My family no longer lives in Brooklyn, but I returned there this weekend for my fathers funeral. I walked past the old apartment building where my father used to sit on the stoop and smoke these terrible cigars just to upset the unorthodox Jews, who could have cloven farm animals pooping on their door step, but could not allow neighbors a peaceful evening smoke, even if the neighbor did not even like smoking, such was the dysfunctional nuance of that particular neighborhood dynamic.
I read the New York Times online edition sometimes, just to see if I recognize names or faces, I usually don’t, but for whatever reason, it felt good to be back in the old neighborhood. Apparently it was my fathers last wish to have his services in the Temple Berle, no relation to Milton, although the neighborhood shunned the place because of the suspected affiliation. So an unadorned urn was sitting on a simple and small table when I opened the frail and weathered doors of the old temple and I could see my tall and statuesque brothers feminine figure in the distance, he turned, or she turned as it was, I still get confused. A wave and a smile and we walked toward one another and embraced. It was an embrace of brothers who come together to mourn, the oldest brother/sister holding the youngest brother. This is what families do, we hold one another when we lose our father. My brother/sister Marcus/Merlene held me and I enjoyed the moment of being held by one of the people in this world who just loves me because we are both genetically linked.
He was old, we both said, sort of quietly, as if to excuse his passing, as if age is somehow a justification for his disappearance from this ceremony. The ashes did not do him justice. My father was about five foot four inches without any sort heals on his work boots, but he was never without those boots, although when necessary, a boot was thrown in battle and with three teen aged boys in a small slum of an apartment, my father was in daily battle. For a long time he may have just as well had a peg leg, such was his use of a boot as a means of controlling his unruly sons.
Later in life, upon reflection of his parenting skills, my father took great pride in telling the world that he was superior in his parenting because not once did he ever stoop to the unorthodox Jews savage use of spanking or other techniques of terrible parenting to control or discipline their children. We all would sort of sideways smile, remembering the flinging work boots coming from any number of directions, at astronomical speeds, dangerously close to causing severe bodily damage, at a time when parents were never charged with anything short of murder. Of course, in his memory, my father could claim that since no hand of his ever touched the skin of his beloved sons flesh, he therefore was the superior parent. In someways, I guess he was, but to this day, two of his sons can still not bring themselves to wear work boots for any occasion and one wears strictly high heals for all occasions, so maybe his long lasting legacy was sparing the rod, but spoiling his children’s choices in comfortable shoes.
Shlomo stumbled in a few minutes after Marlene and I had started to feel awkward, he wearing his traditional stinky t-shirt, his jeans rolled up past his thin ankles, dirty Converse high tops and a smug look of self satisfaction on his ruggedly handsome face. He hugged Marlene first, a long and warm embrace, a soft kiss on the cheek and then me, an intense and loving hug that felt genuine and left me both energized and languid. We all sat, silently, looking at our father in his simple wooden urn. Brothers not far removed from ashes.