My little sister won’t stop farting. I hate when this happens. I’m trapped in the back seat of the station wagon and she’s passing gas like nobody’s business all the way down Sunset Strip. When she’s not passing gas, she’s blowing her nose loudly. Things I do not want to see or hear are happening at both ends of her. “Can we pull over?” I ask, as I give ground in the giant station wagon, retreating back into the tiny fold-out seats in the way way back. “Why?” my mom asks from a mile away in the front seat. “Maybe we could just drop Suzanne off somewhere by the side of the road,” I suggest. “With a nice note attached.” My dad sternly rebukes that notion. We are in California in the middle of the Road Trip to End All Road Trips. No one will be left behind. Gas masks are not included.
A few days before our Sunset Strip adventure we left New Orleans where a bomb scare awakened us from our hotel room at 2 a.m. I grabbed my Captain America and Avengers comics. “Hold your sister’s hand,” my mom directs. I would. I really would. But I have no hands left. We stand in the parking lot. I read about Doctor Doom, a tyrant and supervillian with complicated motivations and a kick ass time machine. Maybe he’s not evil. Just misunderstood. Like my sister.
On a horse and buggy ride around the French Quarter, my sister and I sit up front. My parents sit behind, straining to hear what is being said. The driver is telling us all about the strip club on the left and the massage parlor on the right. He’s explaining how people get drunk and spill out of the bars at 2 a.m. and begin pissing on the streets and throwing beads and breasts everywhere. Mayhem and mischief and fun, oh my. We are happy to be enlightened by this knowledgeable tour guide so well versed in the seedy behavior of the natives. My mom is trying to stop him from talking. My dad is trying not to laugh. My sister and I sit as quiet as parishioners on the front row on Sunday, hoping to learn more.
When we hit Burbank, California, my parents go to see the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. But there is a guest host that night. McLean Stevenson, who played Col. Henry Blake on the television show MASH. “He was surprisingly nowhere near as good as Johnny Carson,” my dad says later. We thought so too. My sister and I who were supposed to be asleep but were watching from our hotel beds.
My sister and I cannot go in the casinos in Las Vegas because we are too young. An invisible line we cannot cross stretches between us and the bright flashing lights and the quirky sounds that beckon. The law prevents us from going any further than that line, our parents explain. My dad comes back into the room with a huge cup full of quarters one evening. “Are we rich?” we ask. “No,” my dad says. “We are not rich.”
Many years later, I have mellowed. I appreciate my sister much more. She is visiting New York with my mom. “Where is the toilet paper?” she asks. “Well. I need to get some more,” I tell her. “How about soap?” We had just run out of soap in the guest bathroom. I hand her some dish soap from the kitchen. “No toilet paper. No soap. Honestly, how do you people live up here?” she asks. Because she is family she can be direct like this. “I need a tissue to blow my nose,” my mom asks. “What do you people think this is, a Holiday Inn?” I say, trying to gain the offensive. But I happily go get some soap, toilet paper and tissue at the first opportunity.
“You better get some ice cream, too,” my sister advises before I leave. “Why would I get ice cream?” I ask. “Because at some point in the evening when it’s too late to go out and you’re about ready to go to bed mom will say something like, ‘Sure would be nice to have some ice cream.’ That will be your cue to go get ice cream. Save yourself the trouble and get the ice cream now.” Suzanne may be annoying at times. But she is smart. A thinker who plans ahead. I get the ice cream.
I want to show them New York City. I want them to love it like I do. We are on the way to the Staten Island Ferry and it is a gorgeous day. We could walk to the ferry by the tree-lined esplanade along the Hudson River. It’s a gorgeous walk. I take the more direct way there, along the West Side Highway. Trash is out all along the sidewalk in great mounds. “Why is all this smelly trash out here?” my sister asks. “It’s trash day. It gets picked up by trucks on the side of the road. Where would you like the trash to be?” I ask. My sister grunts. “In the South, we have dumpsters,” she explains. “Why are we walking through trash?” my mom asks. They are a great team together. Invincible.
I call my dad. “They’re your problem now,” he says. “I’m going to tell them you granted me executive powers in your absence,” I say. He laughs. “I don’t have any executive powers over them when I’m present. But go ahead. Tell them anything you like.” He is watching every football game on television all day Saturday and Sunday with no one to tell him not to. He is on vacation from my mom. He says he has the shingles and can’t come because of it. But he sounds quite happy and shingle-free to me.
We are crossing a busy city street. Honking all around. “I just want to ball up my fist and shake it when I hear that honking,” my mom says. One particular driver to the right who has just honked repeatedly has her attention. “Don’t worry,” my sister tells my mom. “I already gave him a good frowning.”
Later, we are going to buy tickets to see a Broadway show. My mom wants to see “Jersey Boys.” My wife wants to see almost anything else. But she would really like to see “Once.” My mom has heard “Jersey Boys” is a great show. My wife has heard it is boring and not worth the money. We are in line to get tickets, the cheap tickets they sell at the TKS ticket booth down at South Street Sea Port. I tap my sister on the shoulder. “Let’s get out of the line of fire,” I tell her.
We step back across the street. My mom can be formidable when she plants her feet on an issue. My wife is relentless when she has a goal in mind. “Let’s see what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object,” I say to my sister. As we stand waiting across the street from a lesson in the opposing forces of physics and will, I feel a moment of clarity and love.
No one really understands where I’m coming from like my sister. Even if she is a little fart at times.
(NOTE: If anyone else has a flatulent sister they love, please pass along a telling moment about the love/hate you share.)