If it was possible to pick your family, I would have seven brothers. In addition to my biological brother, Vargas, I would add Vinny, Fugwuh, Redman, Sug, The Doctor, and Rinji. Now, since you know that I consider them brothers, can I write that I love each of those men without scaring you away? My friends, my brothers, and I call ourselves the Bulls, for reasons that should be obvious. We Bulls have been together a long, long time. Now in our mid-thirties, I have been friends with all of them since before I could drive.
When I was 12, my family moved to Maple Grove, Minnesota. Redman lived near us and rode the same bus to school. He often overheard my brother and I talking about playing football, and would practically beg to be invited. Our games usually consisted of me, my brother, and a handful of his friends. Being two years older than my brother and his friends, I was easily the biggest player, and was used to being gentle with the "kids". I didn't trust Redman, who, like me, was 12, to be so kind. Finally I relented and, on the way home from school, asked him to join that evening's game. The game was underway when, from out of nowhere, Redman streaked into our backyard and knocked the shit out of me. He continued man-handling me the rest of the evening; eye-gouging, and kicking, he used his elbows and knees to horrible effect. He was gentle with the "kids, but Redman treated me very poorly indeed. Here's the thing, though: He is an only child. He thought that was how siblings interacted, I think. It was how he and I interacted, at any rate. And, while that is no longer the case, we are most certainly still brothers.
I feel the need to describe Rinji's physical features. When I write "now", I'd like you to close your eyes and picture a gay Frenchman. Ready? Now. Well okay, that's Rinji. Now, Rinji is not gay, as far as I know. He has a lovely wife, which of course doesn't in itself prove anything. But, I feel safe in saying that if he was gay, I would know. For starters, like many of the women I knew back then, it seems safe to say that he would have flirted with me; the more so because he is, quite literally, a genius. He became my brother when we were 14. Before then we had talked some, in school and on the bus, and had exchanged phone numbers. One day after school, he called me and asked, "What are you up to this fine evening?" (Remember: we were 14 years old! Who talks like that when they're 14? Gay kids. And Rinji.) Flummoxed, I told him we were going to be playing football, and invited him to join us. He accepted, showed up, and almost immediately had his nose broken by Redman. I'm sure it was a clean hit. He has lived on the east coast for over 12 years now. And, while I'm sure his style is less conspicuous out there, his presence in Minnesota is missed greatly, nearly every day.
I met Sug when we both worked at Burger King. In those days, Burger King had three main stations: the Burger Board, the Whopper Board, and the Specialty Board. Most people would spend their time on Burger or Whopper Board. The elite would patrol Specialty Board, where they were in charge of chicken and fish sandwiches, and chicken tenders and who knows what else. Sug was among those elite, and he knew it, which explains why, even though we met when we were 15, we were not friends for another year. I had to climb up quite a few rungs on the old ladder before he even knew I existed. But eventually we became work buddies, and then drinking buddies. And we have been brothers ever since.
My first roommates outside my family were Vinny and Fugwuh. We shared a two-bedroom apartment while attending community college. Fugwuh moved to Seattle after a year, leaving Vinny and I alone for another year. It was the first time any of us had lived away from home, and it was heaven. More importantly, here is what it was not: A recipe for disaster. There were times when we got on each other's nerves, but in all that time, there was never anything close to a fight. Fugwuh has not spent much time in the years since living within 1,000 miles of me, but I have not taken that as an indictment on me. I consider him my brother, and though my kids have never met him, when I speak of him, I call him, "Uncle Fugwuh." Vinny is a man of few words; fewer, even, than me. If you don't live with Vin, and sometimes even if you do, you are not likely to talk with him much. Luckily for me, I have lived with him for a total of four years, for he and I were reunited, along with The Doctor and Sug, at the "Bullpen". I don't talk to him much these days, but I know where to find him and he knows where to find me. And we are family in every sense of that word that matters.
I have known The Doctor a long time, but we have only been family since we were in our mid-twenties. As kids we lived only a couple blocks apart, but we pretty much travelled in different circles. There were times when we spent a lot of time together, though. And then, when we were both 24, we found ourselves back living at our childhood homes, licking wounds inflicted by, we thought at the time, vicious, vicious women. We bonded over too many evening cigarettes on my mom's driveway, where we put ourselves back together, one puff at a time.
After a couple months we hatched a plan to get the hell out of our parents' homes. We recruited Sug, who was home, having just graduated from college, and working a "real" job, and Vin, who was also graduated and living with his parents. We began looking for a home to rent. After a couple weeks, we found the perfect place: A split-entry, four-bedroom, with a big yard and a deck perfect for grilling and, more importantly, drinking. We found, "The Bullpen."
...To be continued
Coming next - A new game, "Rock Rock", is invented. And apartments and houses are thoroughly abused. And I am saved.