Sunday, 2 December 2007

A Parking Spot

If there is one word to get my dad all riled up it’s disability. Mum would look at us kids in the back of the car and we knew enough to keep our traps shut.
Dad saw red when anyone would mention that word.
At first I didn’t know exactly why he got so fummin’ as Mum described it, but as I grew up it all became apparent.
My brother was the cause of my Dad’s fummin’ episodes. Brian was in the middle of us all. Joe and Bob on one side and Denise and me on the other. Me, being the baby of the family, I got away with murder, so my brothers and sisters said anyway. But it was Brian who was the favorite. And no matter how we tried to twist the facts around he was our favorite, not just Mum and Dad’s.
Brian and I got on great. He was my big brother who would play endlessly with me. He was my co conspirator when we would snaffle biscuits right from under mum’s nose. We used to laugh like crazy when he would put his jumper on back to front and walk in like nothing was wrong. When I did it once, he wet himself he was laughing so much. That’s what Brian and I were like, always laughing.
When I was 5 I had to go to school and Brian and I lost a little of our closeness then. We still mucked about on the weekend but I was growing up and so was he.
One thing that never changed was our nightly television. We watched the Simpsons every night together. My brother could recite all the episodes and he loved saying ‘doh’ like Homer.
Brian went to a special school, and later on when Joe got his license he used to drop Brian off and I would come along for the ride. Joe could drive nice and easy like Dad had taught him, but when we passed the corner he would rev the engine and Brian and I would whoop and holler in the back, having a great time. Once Joe let Brian drive and we hit a pole. I was laughing, but Brian and Joe realized they had to tell Dad and they weren’t laughing. Dad was good about it and we all had a giggle at the tea table about how Brian was the next big thing in pole bending.
I think dad wanted us to treat Brian just the same, but to be honest we didn’t think of him as anything different other than our Brian.
When Brian passed grade 7 we had a big party. Joe took him to the shops with Denise and they let him buy all the lollies he wanted. He went crazy for snakes. Denise made a beaut cake with the whole packet on the top and Mum made Brian’s favorite colour jelly, Red.
He invited his whole class along and it was sort of like an end of term party. Bob smartened Brian up with his hip-hop gear and I lent him a chain and wallet. Denise gelled his hair and he was so cool, his classmates didn’t recognise him. We had dancing and singing and games and then dad came out with a present. He had made Brian a trophy. It was shiny and big, with ribbons on the handles. Brian liked big things. Well, Mum and Dad gave a little speech and said how proud they were of Brian and how he would do well in life and all that, and then Dad gave him the trophy. Brian had a smile from ear to ear, and we all sang for he’s a jolly good fellow. It was one of the best nights.
After that, Brian had to start high school and we all knew how hard that would be. He went to an ordinary school, with special lessons. Having Brian at high school was hard on us all. We gathered in a little tighter as a family, and rode the waves of ridicule. Bob was his little brothers protector. The school he went to was a bit rough, and so Bob used to walk him to the classroom. One day, (and no one is letting on too much,) Bob got into a fight with another kid and punched him. Brian says he had a ‘knuckle sandwich’ for his lunch. Bob mentioned that this particular kid had been hassling them every day for weeks and he got what he deserved, Brian said he was ‘cactus’
After that Bob wasn’t allowed near Brian’s room and so Denise took over the school run. We told Brian to pretend that Denise was his girlfriend, because all the kids had girlfriends and boyfriends, and Brian thought that idea was ‘wicked’
Sometimes Bob didn’t bring him straight home, but would let him tag along to his band practice. Bob was into hip- hop music in a big way, and Brian used to dance to it for as long as anyone would let him. "That boy has got natural talent," Dad used to say when he saw Brian dancing.
There was always music in our house and one birthday Brian received his very own getto blaster. We gave him some music and he would play it all the time. Bob bought him some earphones after Mum complained she would go crazy if she heard Bo-Jo and the Bandits one more time. I said we were lucky he didn’t want a set of drums and Mum just rolled her eyes.
Denise used to take care of Brian’s ‘natural good looks’ as Mum called them. She would disappear for hours into her bedroom with Brian and fiddle with his hair, and fix him up. Mum was mad as a cut snake when he came out with an earring after an afternoon of fixing up. Bob said he was brave and Brian said "right on bro’"
On the weekends Brian would go over to Joe’s house and they fixed cars. Joe was a "shit hot mechanic" Brian used to say, and we all agreed, although Mum told him to tone it down a bit. Dad got mad only once with this arrangement when Brian came back drunk. "Joe had let him loose with a six pack and the results weren’t pretty," as Bob said later. But Brian, when he sobered up wore it like a badge of honour, and used to tell everyone and anyone he was ‘rat-faced’ last weekend.
When it came time for his graduation it was full on in our house. Dad and Joe took him to get a rented tuxedo and new shoes. Denise who was an apprentice hairdresser did his hair, and Bob was his driver. He had to give a speech for his classmates and I helped him compose one. I typed it out on little crib notes with the numbers in the corners so he wouldn’t get lost. We practiced a lot and he was word perfect. We kept all the arrangements secret from Mum and when she saw him on the night in the kitchen she started to cry. He said he was ‘one cool dude’
We practiced his speech in front of Mum one last time and he was set. He didn’t have a date, but we reckon his whole family was his date. Mum put on her pearls, dad wore his best suit, and Joe and Bob had their good gear on, Denise had a fancy outfit, and I wore a dress just for the occasion. We were ‘cookin’ as Brian said.
When he stood up and delivered his speech Mum and Dad were the proudest parents there. We all clapped loudly and then Brian said ‘awesome funky dude’ and the place erupted in cheering.
There was a big party afterwards and people kept coming up to Brian to shake his hand and say how much they liked his speech. Then he said something that he had never said before, and it made Mum cry again. "It was my family who made me special" Then he added for good measure "chill out brother"
After all the fanfare and streamers, Brian had to begin life again. He had to get a job. The department of something or other said that he was mentally disabled and therefore had to go to a special facility.
Dad said he was able to hold his own in the workforce, if they just gave him a chance. Dad said he was sick of hearing about all the opportunities for disabled people in a sheltered environment. Brian said he wanted to work in a sheltered environment because it would keep the sun out of his eyes.
It seemed to me that Dad was having a private war. He wanted, and encouraged Brian to be independent and street smart, and yet he knew in his heart that he didn’t want him to be all these things. He wanted Brian to remain the same.
Mum saw the struggle Dad was having and she had an idea.
It turned out Mums idea was ‘full on sick’ as Brian said later. Dad had worked for years as a courier. He would deliver all sorts of thing to all sorts of places, and the tea table was often awash with laughter as he told us stories.
Mum suggested that Dad set up on his own, he had always said he wanted to, and Brian could be the fetch and carry man.
At first Dad thought it would be too hard, then Joe said he could fix any truck that he bought, and Bob said he had a mate who needed a truck on the weekends to transport his music gear, so the truck would pay for itself in no time. Denise said that she could get him regular customers, as the hairdressing trade was close knit. I said I could write all the ads in the newspapers and do some fiddly bits on the computer for orders and deliveries.
In no time at all Guthrie and Son. "to and fro" was born.
When Dad pointed out to Brian he was the ‘son’ on the side of the truck, he was ‘powerful sick’ as he said later.
Dad and Brian wore a uniform and had their names embroidered on the shirts. Later on they added hats and Brian used to sometimes wear his back to front, he called it ‘street cred’
Brian’s first tax return was a monumental moment. He had survived a whole year and Dad was so proud of him. Brian had done it without all the subsidies and handouts and grants and special allowances. Mum said he was a real working man now.
All the customers got used to Brian trotting in to get his chit signed and they would give him lollies sometimes. Brian reckoned that was the best part of the job.
On weekends when we all would get together, Brian would tell us all the stories about the deliveries and we would laugh like we used to when Dad told them. He told us of one time when he needed to go to the loo and Dad couldn’t find a park. He slipped into a disabled spot and the inspector came up and wanted to give him a ticket.
Just then Brian came back and he saw what was happening and began to act up for the inspector. The upshot was that they didn’t get a fine.
Dad reckoned the best part of having a street cred son like Brian was that he could wangle a disabled parking spot for quick deliveries, even though no one was disabled. That was the biggest laugh of all.
"Deadly" as Brian said and gave Dad a high 5.

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