“What is semiotics?” my mother asked as I got into the car. My parents and brother were visiting last weekend, and they had just picked me up from my dorm for dinner. I explained that semiotics was the study of symbols.
p. “See, I told you so” she said to my brother. “That’s exactly what I told your brother, and he said I was wrong.”
p. “No,” my brother said, “You said something different.”
p. “Well, you’re a little shit,” my mother said. “And I was right about semiotics.”
p. My brother, Joe, is two years my junior and two times my size. We both stand one foot taller than our mother, but his presence seems more hulking. This is partly because he works out every day as a member of ROTC at Temple University. I also slouch, which shrinks my height. But we have a bevy of other differences. He barks answers to questions in a voice several octaves below mine. And as a freshman, he already has post graduation goals.
p. As a junior, my biggest goal is to learn how to do a cartwheel.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two of us is how we get along with our mother. I do; Joe does not. What’s not to like about our mother? One time our obese cat Smokey was walking funny, so my mother took our cat to the chiropractor. Neither my mother nor the chiropractor thought that this was weird at all. It turns out that Smokey was so fat that his stomach was putting an unnatural amount of pressure on his hips. I may have laughed when my mother told me this, but part of me couldn’t help but consider taking a feline to a chiropractor a perfectly sensible thing to do.
p. I can also remember a time when my family went to eat at a German restaurant. For the entire meal my mother laughed that a dish could be called Wienerschnitzel. “Be careful when you cut that Weinerschnitzel,” she cautioned my father between bouts of laughter. And I laughed right along with her. If it weren’t for my mother I would not be the strange person that I am today.
p. I think my brother has been similarly affected by our mother, but he would hate to admit it. So he distances himself from her.
p. “You know what Joe needs?” my mother asked as we sat in the car last weekend.
p. “What do I need?” Joe asked.
p. “A girlfriend,” she said. “Not just someone to go out with but someone that you are dating.”
p. I watched Joe’s cheeks turn a crimson red. “I think Mom needs to stop acting so weird all the time,” he replied.
p. I cannot recollect one family vacation, car ride or family dinner that didn’t end in either my brother or mother near tears. Several summers ago, my family visited Walt Disney World. I can specifically remember sitting in a steakhouse in Epcot’s Canada. Joe had just insulted my mom for wearing a fanny pack, and my father, in an attempt to mitigate the situation, asked her to calm down. “You expect me to be calm when this little punk insulted me?” she said just as the waiter arrived at our table.
p. “Why don’t I go ahead and give you four some time, eh?” the waiter said as he offered us a plate of warm barley bread. I didn’t want more time, I wanted a functional family and a medium-well steak. I scanned the restaurant for a more suitable family. Why couldn’t I be adopted by that nice Japanese couple in the corner of the room, or by that Protestant family two tables away? At that moment, I would have settled for a life with Snow White’s evil stepmother. At least she would act civilized in public.
p. The problems between them stems from their similar personalities. Both my mother and brother hate being wrong. I learned at a young age never to correct their driving skills. Sure my mom might have forgotten to use her turn signal, but she would never acknowledge this fact. And granted my brother nearly careened into oncoming traffic, but who was I to tell him that? I could always walk.
p. When they do get along, it is always through the simplest of means: Steven Seagal movies. The two of them have rented every Steven Seagal film, from “Fire Down Below” to “Belly of the Beast.” My mother finds Steven Segal’s outfits hilarious. My brother considers the action sequences ridiculous enough to qualify as self-parody. And they both agree that Steven Seagal’s mug is one of the most amusing in the history of cinema.
p. If their relationship were a story, then I wonder what Steven Seagal movies would symbolize. A common bond of strangeness? Their love for one another? Their desire to understand each other? What are the two of them thinking as they watch “Hard to Kill” for the 20th time? I assume they get lost in the predictable plot and mediocre visuals. But maybe something about Steven Seagal brings them closer together.
p. __James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist.__