Sand In My Shoes

STORM CROSSED BROTHERS

He arrived in the storm.

Ryan was dreaming of spring as the doorbell gonged-gonged-gonged at 6:05 AM on March 1 during the Nor’easter.

“Open the damned door, ya hump,” Ryan’s brother John barked above raging rainy winds outside.

Still groggy, Ryan shouted through the door, “You’re 12 hours early, no?”

“The door, humpo! Open the goddamned door!”

Ryan yanked open the door, the crazy wind sailing it wide on the hinges, scattering junk mail and supermarket flyers in the vestibule, revealing his “Irish twin,” at 14 months his elder, bending against rainy G-force gusts with his Palm Springs desert tan. Behind him, Ryan’s towering front lawn pine tree bowed toward the house like a barfing drunk.

“I thought you said 6 PM,” Ryan said. “Not AM.”

John lurched in, a soggy pirouette, lugging an oversized suitcase, carry-on bag, and computer case.

“Lemme help you with those?”

“They’re already in, brain box!”

Inside, Ryan percolated a pot of fresh coffee and lit a blaze in the fireplace as John changed into dry clothes.

“Plane landed half-hour early, just ahead of the Nor’easter,” John said. “I called you. Six . . . no, seven times.”

Ryan looked at his phone. The ringer was off.

“Oh . . . sorry.”

“Not as sorry as I was.”

They looked at each other, six decades of brotherhood—pure love—like a suspension bridge stretching from JFK to Trump between them. They laughed. They hugged. They slapped backs.

Ryan said, “Great to see ya, bro.”

“For sure.”

“Especially without a hospital or a funeral on the agenda.”

The last two visits John had made from Cali were to visit their older brother Pete, who was on death’s door in an ICU room, docs asking his wife to sign a Do Not Resuscitate. His wife did not sign, and their brother awakened two days later, speaking to an orderly about the Mets. In Spanish. He’s been fine in the three years since.

The other time was 18 months ago, for the memorial of their departed second-oldest brother, Tom.

Now retired from a federal job, with a new Palm Springs home, this trip was all about John seeing family and friends when they were still alive and healthy.

The whole family would be converging from Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, and New Jersey for a luncheon at the West Bank Cafe in Manhattan on Sunday.

But on Friday morning, the two brothers sat, sipping hot coffee, and eating New York everything-bagels with shmears of low-fat cream cheese, and as John’s sneakers dried in front of the fire they gabbed, goofed, and broke each other’s chops as the rain clattered the windows like handfuls of gravel.

They watched politics on cable news, remarking that the country was even more divided than it was in the late-1960s, when idealistic history-buff John, who opposed the Vietnam War, joined the army at 17 to bear witness to single largest historical event of his generation. He volunteered for the Airborne rangers, and wound up at 18 as a medic with the 173 Airborne in the Central Highlands of Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, where he was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

On Friday, as the Nor’easter raged, John watched the news about another Vietnam vet with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart named Robert Mueller. Mueller was investigating a wide range of criminal targets, including an US Army general who’d already pled guilty and one contemporary who had taken five draft deferments from serving in Vietnam. Mueller was a United States Marine platoon leader in Vietnam, and later served 11 proud years as head of the FBI.

“Somehow, I don’t think Mueller will be intimidated by a draft dodger,” John said.

They talked about politics, old departed friends, pals he was eager to see, as the storm uprooted trees and downed power lines. John said he craved good Chinese food, which was nowhere to be found in the California desert.

So out they went in Ryan’s old jalopy, wipers flapping, jolting past fallen tree limbs, storm-triggered house alarms, and emergency vehicles. They slurped delicious wonton soup in the empty restaurant, scarfing chicken and salmon and assorted veggies. They continued the gab that took them from the cold Brooklyn tenement; falling in love with movies at the Brooklyn theater where their mom was a cashier; through the wild late-1960s; the college years together in the 1970s; the marriages, divorces and family raising of the 1980s when the two brothers also co-wrote a couple of Hollywood movies; the peacetime and job-hopping years of the 1990s; and then the post 9/11 America at war abroad and with itself at home. Then John’s heading west nine years ago for work.

“I’m just glad we made it through all of it,” John said.

“The nuns made us climb under our grammar school desks for Soviet nuclear attack drills,” said Ryan. “Today the president and half the country think the Russians are the good guys.”

“Let’s go see Red Sparrow,” John said. “Reviews say the Russians are still the bad guys in that one.”

So the two brothers shared a large bucket of popcorn at an afternoon show, seeing why the gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence was the country’s top female star.

Then they sloshed home, eating New York pizza and laughing during Real Time with Bill Maher at 10 PM after which the reunited brothers hugged good night.

In the Nor’easter.

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