My Bitter, Bitter Life: The Origin of Neuroses

One of the things that I hear most often happens when people meet me for the first time. It’s usually said after a period of silence and a lot of squinting – the sort of squinting you see from people trying to figure something out, like an incredibly difficult algebra equation. When the phrase is said, it’s said with utmost certainty. The kind of certainty applied when someone says, “It is wet outside” on a rainy day.

The phrase is, “You know, you are George Costanza.”

I once tried to rail against this. I didn’t want to remind people of a short, portly, neurotic, bespectacled horrible person. I don’t think anyone does. If I were going to be anyone in Seinfeld, I would’ve instead chosen to be Kramer. I mean, come on, the man was on strike from a bagel bakery for something like ten years and still somehow afforded rent in Manhattan. That’s the sort of luck in life I want, not driving women to lesbianism and being mistaken for a prominent Nazi.

But, somewhere around sophomore year at Tennessee, I accepted it. I decided that, screw it, if that’s who I was going to be, that’s who I was going to be. It fit, after all. There was a reason literally everyone I met thought I would make a great Costanza impersonator. I was awkward, I was blunt, I had mental ideas about nothing, and I liked to bullshit for hours on end. Oh, also: I was terrified of getting a job (and still am, despite having one).

Anyway, I was looking for a specific clip from Seinfeld, but wound up watching this instead:

Best seven minutes you’ll spend all day, I guarantee it.

So. Nu. I think I know where it all comes from, though. See, like many people, I had an older brother. And, like many other people with older brothers, Joel, my older brother, routinely scared the shit out of me when I was four to, well, twelve, honestly. I’ve always been one to take things somewhat seriously, and when I was nought but a pupa, and unable to realize that there weren’t such things as monsters, he really got to me.

The first thing – the thing he wanted me to talk about as his best man instead of making short jokes (I still prefer my version of the speech, Joel) – was the Couch Monster. See, before he turned sixteen and bought a crappy Mazda RX-8 – which would routinely overheat to the point where touching the dashboard would result in burns – Joel was my babysitter. Our parents would go out and leave me at his mercy.

Quite a few times, we’d be sitting on the couch, and he’d start to slide down. Very slowly, acting like he didn’t notice it until he touched the ground, at which point, he’d let loose with a blood-curdling scream that the Couch Monster was chewing off his feet and pulling him underneath the couch. By the time I reacted, he was off the couch and pushing himself under it – I didn’t notice this, since, you know, I was scared shitless and wouldn’t touch the ground. He’d scream, and me, being around five at the time, I would try to keep my brother from being eaten alive.

He’d laugh, I’d cry, run upstairs, and lock myself in my room, and another brick in my wall of becoming a normal human being would be added.

Another instance, one that I remember only happening once, was a time when we were playing Star Wars. Our game of Star Wars involved semi-reenacting the scene in the Death Star when Han and Chewie ran screaming down a hall, chasing a squad of storm troopers and firing wildly. Joel would be Han and I would be Chewie, and we’d basically just run up and down a hall screaming and firing pretend laser guns. It was fun, don’t judge me.

So this one time, we hole up in our rents’ room, and he tells me, Chewie to go clear the hallway. I go running down the hallway, screaming and going “Pew pew, pew pew pew!” In the meantime, while I’m doing that, Joel finds a lighter and a whole lot of liquid wax from a candle that my Mom had lit before she left to do whatever it was she was doing. When I came back, I was treated to this:

My brother had set his hand on fire and was shouting that he was going to burn alive. A nicely done prank, looking back.

Note that the wax is clearly visible, and the whole production is fairly ridiculous. If this had happened now, as I’m clearly enlightened and definitely the smartest person I know [/egoflex], then I would have said, “That’s incredibly dangerous as the wax might melt and then you might really have burns.” But then, all I could manage was “JOEL NO AAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

See, what I didn’t take in was the above. What I took in was a much more dramatic scene. Something like this:

So, you know, what am I supposed to do? Apparently the answer was have a minor psychotic breakdown and bug out completely. This, by the way, is how I handle any change in my life now. I’m going to have to buy an umbrella? Fetal position for ten hours sobbing into a bottle of Jack. That’s just the way it is.

So yeah, is it right to blame my brother for my neuroses and occasional fits of paranoia? No, but it’s a whole lot easier than looking into the dark abyss that lies at my core (as there is a dark core in each of you, Dear Readers) and, from there, quite possibly driven mad.

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