Saturday, April 23, 2005

The story of my life

My family is unusual. My brothers (B1 & B2) are the children of my father's first wife (who died ten years ago) and are about one and half years apart in age. B1 is nine years older than me. I am the only child of my father's second wife. Dad and his current wife do not have children, but she has two daughters from her first marriage. My brothers had a rather unsettled (and unhappy) childhood. I used to think I got the better deal. Overall, I still think that I did. My growing up was a lot more stable if not exactly carefree.

B1 lives in bedroom New Jersey. He and his wife, SIL1, commute via NJ transit train to Manhattan every day. They have a live-in au pair. B2 converted to Orthodox Judaism when he was 13 and has lived in Jerusalem since he was 19. B2 got married when he was 21 and is a Talmudic scholar. His wife, SIL2, runs a wig shop. Did I mention that their mother was not Jewish? Heh. B2 has five children (ages 19-18-17-15-10). B1 has three children (ages 6-4-1). The oldest and youngest are boys. All brothers, wives, kids, dad and stepmom, are spending about two weeks together in a house in NJ (I am here for a week of it).

Except, they're not. Which is fucking hilarious.

It turns out that Dad and wife are staying in a hotel. What the?? This entire family insanity was Dad's idea, and he's not even staying at B1's? I know the decision is 100% stepmom, but good God. (Can you really blame stepmom for wanting to preserve her sanity? But still.) B1 told me when he picked me up at the Newark train station. We rode home in the super-deluxe gray rented mini-van, with NJ niece #2 in the back. I said: You've got to be kidding. This whole Goddamn thing was his idea and he's staying in a hotel? (And, yes, I swore in front of my four-year-old niece. Dammit.) B1: I didn't know until they got here. Me: They didn't bother to tell you ahead of time? B1 (as usual, showing no emotion): My first reaction was to be annoyed, but now I think it's for the best, it's a full enough house as it is. I started laughing. Hard. I thought, it's a fine line between annoyed and amused. And if this isn't the most annoying and amusing thing I've come across in a long time, I don't know what is.

If Dad doesn't get to B1, what does? B2, of course. I think B1 has a lot of suppressed resentment towards B2. B2 made B1's life Hell when they were kids. It wasn't B2's fault, more the fault of their mother who catered to B2's out of control tantrums and demands for attention. B1 never asked for much and got less. B2 didn't exactly get what he needed, but he was sure as Moses screaming at the top of his lungs about it. And now, B2 is invading B1's house and telling him (and everyone else) what to do. (You do not want a bunch of Ultra-Orthodox Jews camped out at your place over Passover. Trust me.) And we do it. It's so crazy fucked up you have to laugh. (And, apparently, swear a lot more than usual.) It doesn't really even make me angry anymore. It's just ridiculous and beyond absurd.

After dinner Thursday night (meatballs, potato kugel, roasted butternut squash--starchy goodness, here I come), we sat down around the fully-expanded dining room table to discuss further kashering needs. B1 said: B2, don't pull any punches, let me have it straight. SIL1 (married to B1) said: B2, you can pull all the punches you want. I'll give it to B1 straight. I think she could tell that B1 was not happy. She was extremely no-nonsense about the whole thing. Not happy, but not snarky or sneering. Just dealing by trying to get a hold of all the details and making sure her one-year-old son would have enough milk to drink because we are not allow to spend money again until Monday night. (Really, you don't want to know. I'm sure us bad Jews can sneak out and break the Sabbath/Passover, but we won't bring evidence to that effect back to the house with us. At least not on purpose. I think it's wrong, wrong, wrong for the Israeli contingent to impose their web of unending rules on us, but it also feels wrong to flout our profligate ways.) B2 tried to ask them in a nice way to throw out all the food left in their fridge so that it would be kosher for Passover and to vacuum the rug under the dining room table again. B2 said he would vacuum and asked where the machine was. I neither saw nor heard any vacuuming.

Maybe he just let it go, which is really not like B2. Maybe B2 realizes what a tremendous imposition this is on B1. Maybe B2 even realizes, at some level, that B1 is not his biggest fan, so it's time to lighten up more than just a little tiny bit and not insist every thing being exactly, completely, 100% perfect. There is a "don't ask-don't tell thing" going on in this house. All of the Israelis are sleeping in the basement. (Their idea. It is a finished basement, but, boy, is it crowed and squalid right about now.) This means that they don’t really go above the first floor. When it's Shabbos (Sabbath), if we turn the lights on and off upstairs and, say, use the computer they will never know. Sweet.

In the meantime, B2's wife (SIL2) was cooking. She was cooking when I left Friday morning to go to a conference in Manhattan (thereby missing the hectic Friday preparations). More potatoes. If I don't gain any weight this week it will be a miracle. Perhaps it could be my Passover miracle. God, are you listening? We need some help over here.

Grateful for: once again, letting my amusement get the better of me. It's starting to become a habit.

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