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Today's Story by Christopher Miller

I guess I kind of see the Arabs as Dean-cum-Tim and me as Israel.

Measured Responses

When I was seventeen, I hitchhiked down to Reba Place Fellowship (Evanston, Illinois) to hang out with my friend and brother-in-spirit, Dean, for the summer. Our relationship was in transition from a his-teasing-me-by-calling-me-“Mule Horn”-and-my-father-a-“most reverend man”-and-my-punching-him-and-making-him-go-ooooeeeeeee-ooooeeeeee-and-tease-me-even-harder-so-I’d-get-even-madder stage to an us-dropping-windowpane-acid-and-driving-around-mostly-to-Orchard-Park-Mall-where-we’d-sit-around-in-Sears’-furniture-showroom-or-watch-blue-haired-old-ladies-eat-lunch-in-the-cafeteria stage. We were growing up. Dean was the oldest of six. Next down, Colleen, who had always been way more mature than either of us, was “dating” this thirty-something-year-old black man with a restored T-Bird coup and who drove a stretch limo for some super-rich white guy who owned a piece of the Empire State Building. The youngest three, Peter, Jill and Hans, were just “babies.” So Dean passed his legacy for and ability to piss me off down to his younger brother, Tim. Tim could take a sturdier beating too.

My parents’ friends, the Belsers, let me board in their small apartment that summer. Although Julius Belser, a Fellowship elder, could do funny impressions of a Cow named Elmer, we were never close. And his oldest, Nevin, happily for him, wasn’t cool enough to hang with Dean and me. So for most of the summer, I just slept at the Belsers’, if that.

Because Dean’s little brother Tim and I weren’t really friends or peers, there was nothing for us to return to after he had finished getting on my case and I had finished beating him up. So the animosity between us just kind of built. Toward the end of the summer, the Belsers went away for a couple weeks, and left me in charge. I feigned a truce with Tim by inviting him over for wine and a “home-cooked” meal. Tim, touched by my overture and the opportunity of underage drinking, accepted. I prepared a buttery rice dish with all sorts of delicious seafood and, in his case, 4 hits of Ex-Lax powdered up in it. It never occurred to me that such a massive overdose of laxative could harm or possibly even kill through dehydration a fifteen-year-old with normally functioning bowels. Tim survived, but for the next week suffered terribly from spontaneous and often copious anal leakage accompanied by severe cramping and squitters. If he happened to be in the vicinity of Belsers’ apartment during or subsequent to such an attack, or even if he had to go a little out of his way, he would stop by the Belsers’ apartment and use their facilities (or furniture) and their washcloths, and when these ran out, their towels, and then their dishtowels, to clean himself up. He also did minor structural damage such as to the door to my room, and cosmetic/aesthetic damage such as to the walls and carpets and whatnot. He also ground up Ex-Lax and mixed it into or sprinkled it onto any and all foodstuffs in the refrigerator or cupboards that would support such tampering and adulteration. I abandoned the premises to live out of Dean’s car and his parents’ garage shortly after, and so none of his heavy-handed retaliations affected me personally, although I did later learn from my parents that the Belsers had expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of my house sitting.

The thing that got me thinking and reminiscing about all of this was Israel’s attacking Lebanon, and therefore indirectly Syria and Iran too I suppose. I guess I kind of see the Arabs as Dean-cum-Tim and me as Israel, and the whole theater of the Middle East and maybe even the world as Belsers’ tiny apartment. Or maybe Tim’s Israel and I’m the Arabs. I’m pretty sure Steven Harper would describe Tim’s retaliatory response as “measured” even given the large amount of innocent collateral suffering such as to the Belsers and also to some of the patrons of Mast House Basement Hootenanny Night where Tim put leftover Ex-Lax in soft drink bottles on the off chance I would imbibe. I guess I just saw Tim as sort of Arab-like in the way he was always begging me to kick the crap out of him (metaphorically speaking here) by seeing how far he could push me. I mean, like I was twice his size. I mean, like if you tend to lose wars in under a week, if you don’t have an air force as in warplanes and pilots and nuclear devices or anything, if you have no concept of strategy or modern warfare or even a military per se, you should probably not piss off someone who has. So Steven Harper would have probably called my physical beatings and subsequent poisoning of Tim in response to his egregious verbal teasing a “measured response” as well. And so it occurs to me that Steven Harper would probably destroy the planet via measured and counter-measured responses beginning with something as simple as someone just flipping someone off.

So a few years ago my wife and I flew down to California. Colleen was chief steward on a huge China-bound cargo ship loading in Long Beach, and Dean and Tim were successful real estate agents in Carlsbad and San Diego respectively. We stayed with Dean. Colleen had us down for an extensive tour of her “boat” from the three lowest engineering decks up to her galley w/ apartment-sized freezers up to the panoramic bridge. I had not seen Tim in over thirty years, since that summer of acid and Ex-Lax, and he insisted that we all come over for a Barbeque. He had just put in a pool. His new granite countertops had cost more than my Hyundai Elantra. Like his parents, he was a musician, and so he had a recording studio in his basement. Tim was living large. It was quite the gala and it really was good to see him again. He had spared no expense on the “organic” steaks. There were various entrees such as baked beans and potato salad, and of course drinks and desserts.

“Man, I’m impressed,” I said. “This all looks great. I’m starved.”

“Dig in,” said Tim.

So we did. We dug in. And we drank and we laughed and we reminisced and we caught up. We remembered the good old days. And nothing bad happened.

“You know,” I said at the end of the night, “this would have been the perfect time.”

“Yeah,” he said, “it had occurred to me.” Then he laughed.

So maybe there’s hope for us.


Christopher Miller’s fiction has appeared in COSMOS, The Barcelona Review, Hopewell Publishing’s “Best New Writing 2010″ anthology, Redstone Science Fiction and other print and web based magazines and anthologies. He works as a systems analyst. He writes for fun.

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