Years ago, my nephew Josh was not able to attend a big family get together (don’t worry, he made it to several others since). My sister and I got it in our heads that it would be funny to create a Faux Josh to add to the group pictures. That tiny little seedling of a joke blossomed all weekend as we dragged around this wildly primitive portrait tormenting all that came near. We cut it in half and attached two chopsticks on the back as handles that allowed us to poorly mimic a moveable mouth creating a very unJoshlike high-pitched mealy-mouthed whining character (you understand why the ‘real’ Josh made it to the next reunions).
The video of Faux Josh harassing strangers in the airport as we waited for the actual Josh’s family to arrive, has become the stuff of family lore and legend. Because in my clan no wackiness goes unpunished, the next time my wife and I flew in, we were greeted outside the luggage carousel by a group of relatives serenading us with a caustic chorus of kazoos and waving mini flags. Luckily (or not) this too is captured on tape. I have no doubt eventually both films will be uploaded onto the internet to be stored with the other 20 million terebytes of other useless You-tubed data clogging up one of Google’s million servers for eternity or at least until modern U.S. culture collapses upon itself.
These videos might be amusing to my family but I am not sure that future civilizations will learn many insights into the ways of our culture from them. Except maybe to learn that people were always a bit goofy… especially that one dorky tall bald guy.
What I do imagine for the videos is that Josh’s precious daughter Penelope, who was just born this past week, might someday stumble upon them while researching her family history. Poor, poor girl. It will all suddenly make sense to her; she will finally understand her underlying desire to always laugh and why she occasionally feels the strong urge to make a complete and utter fool of herself.
This past weekend, my older brother Arthur came to visit me. I met him at the airport with no Faux Relatives or kazoo-chestra, just Me in my Mini cooper convertible sitting outside the International terminal. He is a highfalutin well respected, well-traveled, well published Econometrician (yeah I don’t understand most of it but he hob-nobs with a lot of Nobel Prize winners so he must be pretty good).
In keeping with the family pranks theme, I have long considered adding to Arthur’s Wikipedia page that he ‘once shared a bedroom with beloved blogger Dan Lewbel’ or reference something obscure and embarrassing from his childhood. I have refrained because practical joke revenge is a strong suit in my family. Ask any of us who months after having a company have discovered a long hidden can of Spam somewhere obscure in the house. No good can come from being caught in the revenge cross-hairs of someone that darn smart.
I’m not sure if family running gags and hiding Spam or Faux Josh and crazy Kazooers videos will help shape little new-born Penelope’s views of the world but you never know where life lessons will come from. I spent my summers in High School traveling around visiting my older siblings who had already long moved out of our shared childhood home and were all busy creating their own respective lives. Seeing up close that there were so many more options of how to live one’s life than just the little world of my parent’s household was very eye opening and life changing for me. I realized I could choose any path I want.
Arthur’s world was the most different from mine. I remember hanging with my brother and his wife in Boston. A typical Sunday included rushing downtown to ring the change bells in the tower of the famous Old North Church, enjoying lunch and conversation at a vegetarian Indian restaurant with a group of bohemian-ishy intellectual types then heading over to hang out with the M.I.T. juggling club under the dome of the campus’ famous rotunda.
They lived in the downstairs floor of a house in a funky half gentrified neighborhood with no TV but instead a giant loom filled a substantial chunk of the front room. To get to my brother’s office up on the top floor you had to walk through the upstairs’ family’s kitchen. This might have seemed normal to them but it was not a way of life I was familiar with.
There were parts of each of my siblings’ worlds that I liked but I did not want to live the exact same lifestyle of any of them. I learned that I wanted to create my own. Live my life my way. By just inviting me into their homes for a bit, they all taught me by example that anything was possible. In hindsight, those were some of the best times of my life. Hanging with family that unconditionally loved me and learning about the world through their eyes.
At that age all options and life paths seemed possible. That is probably the one singular thing I wish age and responsibility hadn’t robbed me of. Now I wonder about the roads I have not taken, the choices I did or did not make. My head spins when I think about the doors now closed to me but also all the memories I do have. One of the first times I ever changed a baby’s diaper was on my nephew Josh while spending a few weeks with his family when he was a baby. Now he is likely getting a lot of practice at that.
I hope little Penelope has lots of examples and choices in her life too. Maybe having a goofy Great Uncle that is still amused by harassing strangers in the airport with an effigy of her Father will have an effect on her. Maybe in some little way, from me she will learn that you can be responsible and silly at the same time. Seeing that the world can be a big cold ugly place but that a big hardy laugh can make the worst not seem so bad is a good lesson. Or maybe she will just see that her Great Uncle is a goofball, and that’s okay too. It’s just another open door.