Not His Brother's Keeper
(Author’s note- Enjoyment and understanding of this entry will be enhanced by previously having read “The Most Negative Man in North America.” See "related hubs" @ right.)
It was an understatement to say that Marvin was non-plussed.
My mom had just made an announcement that had silenced the room. Even my ragged alley cat Ted sat muted.
“Your brother Reggie just called,” she said to my deeply chagrined step-father.
Brother? Reggie? What the hell. We had no idea that Marvin had any relatives, let alone a brother named Reggie. I just kind of assumed the Marvinator came from some sort of Dickensian orphanage, accounting for his grim demeanor.
“If Reggie calls 28 times,” Marvin intoned, “tell him ‘wrong number’ 28 times.” I had to laugh. That line was textbook Marvin. He had once said to me when I told him I didn’t want to do the dishes, “I don’t give 1/8 of a good Goddamn what you want or don’t want.” You had to admit, he incorporated math adeptly into his negativity.
This was going to be good. I couldn’t resist asking expectantly, “Do we have an Uncle Reggie?” Marvin looked as if he’d just been offered Brussels sprouts.
“You have an ‘Uncle Wretched,’” he said. “If my brother is calling, he’s out of booze, out of money, or in custody.” This was getting better by the minute.
My mom upped the stakes. “I invited Reggie over for dinner tomorrow night. I thought you’d like to see him,” she said pleasantly to Marvin.
Marv wasn’t pleased at all, however. He got up without a word and headed to the garage for what we assumed would be a respite of solitude against Reggie’s impending visit.
Instead, Marvin found my sixteen year-old brother smoking a cigarette in an otherwise completely dark garage. He saw the orange ashes light up as my brother, never a genius, inhaled deeply. Now smoldering himself, Marvin returned to the house and said something to me I would never forget: “I wish I was a hermit.” Trust me, he was deadly serious. If the Marvinator was confiding in me of all people, I knew his negativity was nearing peak levels.
The following day didn’t promise to be pleasant for Marvin. He headed off to work with the knowledge that his dreaded alcoholic brother Reggie would be darkening our doorway in less than twelve hours. I wasn’t sure Marvin would return for the showdown.
At five o’clock, however, Marvin came home in a mood most foul. He had done battle with his arch-nemesis at work, one Ciel Seeb. To even say that unlikely name seemed to pain Marvin greatly. He grimaced, and the words came out of his mouth like “Seal Se-e-e-e-e-b.” Marvo described Ms. Seeb as “catfish like” and “having a heavy beard.” He said she smelled like Miracle Whip and weighed 280 lbs. I had no idea if any of this was true, but although Marvin wasn’t a very positive soul, he usually didn’t engage in much exaggeration. First Ciel Seeb and now Reggie. It was not Marvin’s day.
Then my mom said, “I’m making Beef Stroganoff for dinner tonight. I hope Reggie likes it.” Beef Stroganoff was my mom’s go-to, non-holiday, special meal dish. And I must say, it was extremely good. Even Marvin liked it, although sometimes he referred to it disparagingly as “Soviet Stroganoff,” but the put down was toward the Russian commies, not toward the dish itself. On this night, however, not even Beef Stroganoff could ease his pain.
“Forget the Stroganoff,” he said. “Make Reggie a grilled cheese sandwich to go.”
I couldn’t wait to meet this guy. Dinner promised to be eventful.
The table was set, the candles were lit and we were all waiting patiently for Reggie, except for Marvin, who just wanted to eat. Ten minutes late, twenty minutes late, and then a half hour late. The phone rang and my mom answered. She said, “Oh, I see” and hung up. Then she went over and whispered into Marvin’s ear. He began eating. We all demanded to know what was going on. Where was “Uncle Reggie”?
Marvin chewed on his Beef Stroganoff for what seemed an interminable length of time. Then he swilled deeply from his two percent milk and told us, “Your ‘Uncle Reggie’ will not be dining with us tonight, kids. He is, in fact, in the bag.” I was ten. I didn’t know what “in the bag” meant.
“It means my brother is shit-faced,” Marvin clarified. “He’s been drinking all day and he doesn’t remember his own name now.” He said this casually, in between bites of Stroganoff.
My younger sister asked, “Does Reggie do this often?”
Marvin said, “Only on days that end with the letter Y, sweetheart,” as he polished off the last of his meal.
We never met Reggie. I was never sure if he really existed until much later when I saw a picture of what appeared to be an uncharacteristically happy Marvin. It turned out to be a picture of a characteristically drunk Reggie.
Next Episode: Marvin goes to King’s Island. And hates it.