Oh, Brother

Commentary: In Exile

A TV, if you want one, comes in basically any size. There is actually such thing as a 72-inch screen TV. Since TV screens are measured diagonally, this means that if I were three inches shorter, I could fit inside the screen.

My little brother has a TV nearly this big, and next week, he’s moving from Vermont to New York City. He’s moving to the east side of midtown, to a neighborhood called Murray Hill, with, I assume, the big-as-me TV.

We don’t talk much, my brother and I. Not because we don’t care for each other — I actually think he’s pretty cool. For his age, 23, he’s surprisingly witty, self-contained and ambitious. But his TV is huge. It’s large enough that I think I’d be frightened to be in the room with it. I’d want to be assured that it was somehow adhered to the floor, in no danger of toppling over and crushing someone, or suddenly jumping and sparking and coming alive like the TV in Mr. Mom.

But more than the dangers of cathode combustion, I think I’m scared of my little brother owning such an object. Not only owning it, but owning it in an apartment that’s large enough to contain that kind of state of the art luxury device. Recently Carl and I debated the merits of selling our stove and refrigerator, replacing them with an office-sized mini bar and hot plate, in the interest of creating more space in our increasingly cramped, pre-war one-bedroom.

And moving straight to Manhattan? What is that? Isn’t Manhattan something you work your way up to after a year in the trenches of Queens with a chain-smoking landlord and selling funnel cake to thugs from Kew Gardens? If this is what my brother were doing, I’d be more okay with the TV. But Murray Hill — that’s a little hard to take.

As much as I want my brother to do well in New York, I don’t want him to go rock star overnight. I know that’s wrong, but I can’t quite help it. His plan is to bartend for a while, then eventually open his own bar. And if I had to guess, he’ll succeed. As much as I hate to admit it, he’s really, really smart. He’s no longer the kid who totals my parents’ car on a beer run in high school. He’s an entrepreneur.

One thing about being the gay son in the family: You want to have something that sets you apart. Something a little more exquisite than the rest of the family. Something slightly cooler than your straight brother has. And in retrospect, being the one who moved to the city from semi-rural Massachusetts had always been that for me. Being the one in my family who had jumped into an urban unknown seemed tremendously romantic and daring at the time. I imagined myself as some sort of Holden Caulfield, getting high and bedding prostitutes (though in reality I was only doing one of those things) while everyone else back home received my letters with awe: tales of gang fights on the subway, endless nights spent getting drunk with Sonic Youth and Salman Rushdie.

It’s been years since I abandoned this image of myself. These days, I work a lot and often fall asleep halfway through The Daily Show. Once I saw Moby on the street, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking him if he’d like to go out and shoot the shit. Moreover, I worry that if my brother can up and move from rural Vermont to Manhattan, maybe my doing so was never really that big an achievement. Even my mom lived in the Village back in the Seventies when she was a stewardess for TWA.

Of course, he’s not here yet, and New York, as I quickly learned, offers harsh realities to those with big ideas. I was absolutely sure that at this point, two years into my tenure, I’d be writing whimsical, astute, 40,000-word observations for the New York Times Magazine.

My brother came down a few weeks ago to visit, back when he was still trying to find an apartment. It was so strange to see him in the city. Totally out of context. I realized I had never seen him in an urban environment before. He drove down in his late-model Jetta (grrr) and met me at a breakfast place on Avenue B, not too far from where I live. He was a business major in college, and I always expected that if he moved here, he’d head straight for Wall Street. But he said that if business school taught him one thing, it’s that business sucks. And if necessary, he can always fall back on it.

We had a nice breakfast together, and then he had to go back to Burlington, Vermont. He didn’t have time to come up and see my apartment, and that’s probably for the best — my 14-inch Zenith would have felt, I worry, embarrassingly inadequate. Once he’s moved here, though, I hope he comes to the East Village to check it out. It may not be a 72-inch plasma screen, but the reception’s not bad and we get about fifty-odd channels. There’s The Daily Show, a full-sized fridge, and some catching up to do.

Will Doig writes from his self-imposed exile in New York. He can be reached at wdoig@metroweekly.com.

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