Having an older brother has its pluses and minuses and for the most part I adored my brother Jeffrey. When we were young, I mimicked everything he did and when we were teenagers, I sought his advice on everything from academics to music to boys.
But into many people’s lives, a bit of sibling rivalry must fall, and I was no exception. Things always came easy for my brother. He was a straight-A student and all the teachers loved him, particularly the ones who couldn’t stand me.
He always seemed to be getting some award at school named after some dead teacher. He received so many of these I started wondering if someone was “offing” teachers just to have another reason to give my brother another recognition for his talents.
In the sixth grade, he was awarded a dictionary with his name engraved on it for being the best all-around student. For years, that dictionary sat like a tschoke in the living room and if anyone ever had to look up a word, that dictionary was the only available resource to do so. My mom still uses it, even though I keep reminding her that Wikipedia and Google are fine substitutes and much more reputable than a dictionary published in the 70’s, because as you all know, everything published on the Internet is true. It’s no use though, because if she needs to know how to spell a word like esquamulose or learn the meaning of smaragdine, she is headed to that dictionary.
In addition to constantly being showered with some award, Jeffrey was always selected to attend a special something or other. He was picked to attend a special experimental school for two years and spend a summer at some special international camp. This was years before Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey created the Church Lady character and coined the phrase, “well isn’t that spe-cial” but I was probably secretly mouthing something similar while Jeffrey got all this “spe-cial” attention.
His academic wins continued throughout high school, when he was “crowned” Boy Arista Leader and given some sort of power trip role among the other school brainiacs. My mother bought him a special suit for the induction ceremony that looked a lot like a Catholic school uniform, an odd choice for a proud Jewish mother.
In addition to being really smart, Jeffrey was really lucky. This became evident every year at the annual Purim Carnival hosted by Temple Isaiah in Queens. At the event, kids got to participate in carnival-like games such as throwing darts at balloons and playing ring toss. They won cheap prizes, mainly the type of stuff that breaks before you get home or is broken on purpose by your mother because it makes an annoying sound. But every year, there was a contest where kids tried to guess how many forks or M&M’s or jelly beans were in a huge jar. The kid who came closest to the correct amount won a decent prize like a big box of lollipops. My brother seemed to win this contest every year we attended the Purim Carnival. I wonder if he can count cards too.
Even the way Jeffrey dressed made him stand out as special. When he wasn’t wearing his Arista boy leader suit, he selected a style of dress that was quite different than his peers. Most guys were wearing jeans and concert tee shirts, but Jeffrey went for a different look that was a cross between Alex Keaton in Family Ties and Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. He happened upon a men’s clothing store in the Queens Center Mall that sold these silk/polyester blend shirts and he would pair these with polyester dress pants. He kept a few of the top buttons of the shirt open despite his lack of chest hair and he even donned a gold chain. He always wore shoes, never sneakers or even boots. When the shirts got wrinkled (wait, I thought that wasn’t supposed to happen with polyester?) he would iron the cuffs and collar and put a sweater over it to hide any imperfections with the rest of the shirt.
As jealous as I could sometimes get over the things that came my brother’s way, I don’t think I ever got mad at him. Maybe that’s because he always shared his Purim booty, but probably because deep down I was really proud to have him as my brother.