Yesterday was my eldest brother Kent’s birthday, a date that is sometimes Friday the 13th, but always ten years hence of my own birthday. He hovers in that decade of space in front of me, very encouragingly I might add, because he maintains an umbilical connection with the bleeding edge of culture and hasn’t lost any of his youthful absurdity. Most hipster kids going to Burning Man and trying out new Tina drugs only wish they were half as hip as my slightly chubby older brother in Iowa City, IA. As long as Kent can keep rockin’ the mike ten years ahead of me, I feel like I have some breathing room.
Kent was our favorite babysitter back in the 70s for differing reasons – when he was high on Linn County’s best dope, we could get away with anything; and when he wasn’t, it meant Melissa was close, and we’d get to play Monopoly. You couldn’t lose with Kent taking care of things – Sean and I would be in the kitchen raping the half-quarts of Oreo ice cream and staying up five hours past our bedtime, while our babysitter was in the basement smoking curiously sweet cigarettes, listening to Yes albums and grooving to the blacklight.
He did get fed up with my dad at one point and lit out for the Territories. While my dad acted as private dick and my mom grew privately hysterical, Kent was on various Greyhound buses traversing the wilds of southern Idaho. I think the adventure ended when he ran out of money at my grandma’s place in Provo, UT, but we treated him with the reverence afforded Cool Hand Luke when he came back to prison.
Kent and I used to barter in backrubs; we used to “owe” each other 200 to 300 seconds worth (slow counting) for doing various favors around the house. Together with Steve, he shared a phlegm-green 1972 Plymouth Fury that had the shotgun door held on with packing tape, and he’d drive us to get Dilly Bars. After that, he got an orange Beetle that became a fossilized snow fort in our side yard. In those days he lived in a communal-looking wooden housing lean-to that he shared with 16 other people en route to a degree from the University of Iowa. It was the most disgusting place I had ever seen until I developed my own bacterium shithole while at the University of North Carolina.
Kent’s the kind of kid that would have easily slipped through the cracks during the selfish, uncaring, kids-as-nuisance 1970s. He was 6’4″, always knocking shit over, probably dyslexic and had trouble in school. He got beat up so bad at the post office one midnight that the sight of him the next morning threw me into a anxious tailspin. But he showed them all – my dad, McKinley Jr. High School, everybody. He married the smartest, prettiest girl in town, graduated with a degree in computer science, and is now one of the most respected electronic/experimental DJs in his field. He also has the patience of the Buddha, raising two kids that will probably win Nobel Peace Prizes (well, at least Sean Patrick will – Lucas will probably be head writer for SNL).
One little moment stands out for me: one time in about 1976, he snuck up on my while I was on the ground playing with two bicentennial silver dollars. Surprised, I accidentally hurled the silver dollars and they hit him in the teeth. His knees buckled and he fell on the floor, writhing in agony. I was sure he was going to throw me across the room, but he got up, closed his eyes, and walked out, still wincing. Anyone else getting a mouthful of bicentennial metal at 40 mph probably would have screamed at least, but he was totally cool. I think I counted extra slow while giving him a penitent backrub the next day.
Kent in 1980