Today is my best friend Joe's birthday. Joe attended Virginia Tech, thus the picture of the leggy blond wearing the Tech sweatshirt. I remember it's Joe's birthday--at least, in the time before Facebook reminding me--because today is also my brother's birthday.
My brother didn't attend college, which is unfortunate because I can't post any nearly nekkid chicks sporting his college's colors. He did, however, once get really drunk at a kegger at my undergrad and tried to bang this girl named Linda...which was apparently a Jenks-boy tradition (the trying part, not the banging...mores the pity).
In lieu of scantily-clad whores, I'll give you a charming story starring me, myself, I and my brother. There will be special guest appearances by our cousins, as well.
This takes place during the Christmas of (I think) 1996. We had all gathered at my cousin Napoleon's house for Christmas Eve. Napoleon's older brother (for continuity's sake, heretofore nicknamed Kip) was also there, along with his (second) wife and their little girls. Also in attendance was my cousin Scott (whose last name is vastly different from mine, so I don't feel the need to hide his identity nearly as much) and his parents.
There was also an eight hundred pound gorilla sitting in the corner that went by the name of "Kip and his (second) wife and my aunt and uncle really aren't getting along and the marriage is about to dissolve any second now--Happy Holidays!!!" attending the holiday festivities that year, too.
After the present exchange and before the meal, the tension was growing between Kip, his wife, my aunt and uncle. Because my mother was in attendance, she was also in a bad mood. My father and my uncles did what they did best--slept in front of the television. My cousins Napoleon and Scott and my brother and I sat around staring at one another feeling really uncomfortable with every snarky, snappy comment made between any of the "adults" who were still conscious.
"We should go bowling," someone stated--I'll credit my brother since it was a brilliant idea and it is his birthday, after all.
The plan was made quickly. Napoleon would drive. The other three of us would ride with him. We would bowl, we would escape the house, and we would...uh...not have to put up with the bullshit anymore.
The one snag, however, was going to be asking my mother for permission to leave. Since someone had pried her off the couch at home, she was miserable, therefore everyone else would also have to be made miserable. I knew asking her for permission would be painful.
So did my brother. Which is why he left the house via Napoleon's window. Opened it, raised the screen, bailed, and was already headed toward the car. In fairness to my brother, Napoleon had already done the same.
Scott had been granted permission, but true-to-form, my mother said absolutely not. Fortunately, my aunts convinced her that "the boys don't get to see each other much anymore, since they've graduated". My mother, pissed that she was outnumbered in this, finally relented. I bolted, not even feeling a pang of guilt.
Of we went, down the road, to the sprawling metropolis of Huntington. Being as how my brother was banned from the bowling alley on the north side of town (I'll admit, I'm only telling you that to flash my family's white-trash street cred), we were forced to go to the one on the south side of the city.
Aside from the owner, we were the only derelicts in the bowling alley that fateful Christmas Eve.
We each bowled three games and had quite a good time doing it. I don't know who won--my paltry 111 average doesn't garner me much in the limelight of bowling alley fame--but that's not the point. We escaped the house, we had a good time, and we didn't have to be around the snarling cur that was Kip's (second) wife.
As good things are wont to do, our time at the bowling alley ended. We turned in our shoes, loaded ourselves back into Napoleon's car, and headed back east for home. Now comes the time for the set-up: it was December in Indiana, which means that we had had some snow, but not a lot. There was a bit of a crust of snow along the edges of the road and some snow hidden in the folds between the high clumps of grass along the edges of the fields.
As we were returning, Napoleon was driving the speed limit--not because we were obsessed with being safe (the main roads were quite clear), but because none of us wanted to return to the simmering tension pot that we called "Christmas Eve" that year.
I voiced that opinion aloud: "Wow, I am in no rush to return to that any time soon."
My brother seconded my opinion: "Yeah, we should take a drive through the country."
Napoleon, hearing this, decided it was an excellent time to turn off onto a country road...without slowing down.
A country road that wasn't paved.
A country road that retained some of the ice from earlier winter storms.
A country road with a very steep drop-off past the shoulder.
A country road with a very steep drop-off past the shoulder without a guard rail that wasn't paved and was still retaining some ice from the earlier winter storms.
Tragedy Comedy was about to ensue.
This is the greatest "Oh Fuck" moment of my life, when the brown sedges and grasses came hurtling up toward the passenger side window, when the car was dangerously close to rolling, when we were--most certainly--hurtling toward death.
I felt kind of like Steve Martin to Napoleon's John Candy:
Needless to say, we survived. Unfortunately, we were at the bottom of a very steep "hill" surrounded by woods. We got out to assess the situation.
"I think we can push him out," I offered. "Napoleon, you just need to gun it."
So, Napoleon gets back into the car. My brother, Cousin Scott and I, get behind the car.
"Put it in neutral first" I hollered. We pushed on the car and found that we could move it quite easily. "Put it in drive and see what happens."
Napoleon put it in drive. He started moving, but the ice and snow that was hidden down in the bottom of this hollow did not make for good footing or traction. He threw a lot of mud, but the car was moving some.
"Alright..." I said, seeing the situation was going to call for us to put our legs and backs into it. "Scott, you take the middle. Brother and I will take the sides behind the wheels."
They stared at me with questioning looks upon their faces.
"Brother and I can go home and change pants; Cousin Scott can't," I explained. It was one of the most brilliant things I had ever thought through. Because, you know, if we came back muddy from having pushed the car out of the ditch, my parents would have killed my brother and I for surviving a wreck on Christmas Eve.
More importantly, we would never be allowed to escape family gatherings ever again.
And so we took our positions. I signaled Napoleon, who gunned it. We pushed. The car heaved forward. He gunned it more. We pushed it more. The car found traction and climbed the least steep part of the hill and found purchase on the gravel of the road once more.
I looked down at my pants. They were coated in a layer of mud at least half an inch thick. Brother's was the same.
That's when we started laughing, because when you go through a harrowing experience and don't die, shit gets a lot funnier. We laughed so hard we doubled over. We finally climbed into Napoleon's car and were off, all four of us laughing until tears streamed down our faces.
Napoleon drove brother and I home, where we quickly changed pants. As Napoleon lived only about three blocks away from our house, we weren't late in returning to the Christmas Eve emotional bloodbath. We finally stopped laughing in Napoleon's driveway, put our game faces on, and re-entered the house in time for the meal.
To this day, I'm still amazed that we somehow were able to pull that shit off without even the barest hint of suspicion out of any of our parents.
So, happy birthday to my little brother. I'm glad we made it through the best--and worst--Christmas Eve ever.