I Yam What I Yam

Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazin

Claudine Jones

I can hear my little brother saying that. He's a terrific mimic. He does a bang-on riff of Three Stooges routines. Funny guy always cracking jokes. That is when he's in a good mood. It's certainly not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde level, no, it's…


Let me start at the beginning.

When my French mother arrived in this country, with her Ozark GI freshly discharged, she carried with her an 8-month-old baby in the form of my older brother. They fled Missouri and ended up in Texas, where I arrived just after my big brother's second birthday. What a surprise for him.

The Lone Star State being what it was, and apparently still is, was way not going to work. So off they went to California in a rattletrap Model A Ford, the two of us in the back seat on either side of the luggage. He was five and I was three. We stopped somewhere along the road and had hotdogs for Thanksgiving.

For reasons that have died with my mother, she decided to have another kid a few years later. That baby, a little girl they named Margaret, did not survive. So, no sister for me. As I look back it appears that they did not
wait, because my second brother arrived less than a year later. The family lore is that he almost succumbed to the same syndrome that took my sister. In any event, I ended up sandwiched between two brothers.

Since I am eight years older than he, I will say that at certain times I have commented in front of strangers I changed his diapers. And it's true. I babysat him, made him almost ill with a giant Whip & Chill dessert one evening. I also think my memory is fairly reliable when I note that he emerged from babyhood into a full-fledged pain in the ass.

My life was becoming full. I was deep into ballet lessons with an eye to going to San Francisco Ballet School, which I eventually did but that's another story. I had begun directing and writing little scripts for the neighborhood kids probably at age 7 and followed that up in 5th and 6th grade, adding intense involvement in our choir led by the inimitable Mrs. Blumberg.

By the time I got to 8th grade, my core teacher had already pronounced me college material, and urged me to send out for college brochures, one of which was for Northwestern because apparently it had a good theater department. I think I still have some of those brochures; I know I got a booklet from SAG, which had pictures of the officers some of whom were recognizable B actors like Whit Bissell, heir to the vacuum cleaner magnate.

What exactly do you do with a miserable tag along brat of a sibling except ignore him. He got to watch Disney on Sunday nights because, I don't know, he got dibs? Television being problematic because back then we only had one TV and as a family just one shot to watch Bonanza or the news or Mission Impossible. As time went on, I was less and less interested in that as a medium. I was off at rehearsals most times, or doing homework, while he sat in his little TV chair, sometimes diddling himself which I found horrifying. I told our mother and she just waved me away.

I won't go into the sadder portions of our story. I don't need to. Let's just fast forward past my older brother's Vietnam tour, my marriage and children after college, and confess that the little brother got left behind when his babysitter siblings got the heck out of Dodge. As soon as he was able, he got out of there too, just in time.


Yesterday the two of us took our older brother to the hospital for a biopsy, which turned out OK thank goodness, but that left us with four hours to kill. I brought some crocheting and he brought a book. Neither of those got touched. No. Instead I did what I have always said that I shouldn't do which is engage. I always swore I'd avoid that with our mother and it rarely happened. Sigh.

I have been doing a deep dive into various meditation practices; knock on wood, I don't have any physical issues except my stupid hip, no headaches or things that are distracting. And he has tinnitus, which is probably a result of all of his years of construction work, and a wife with some painful ailments that he is finding difficult to cope with. I can see where that would make him surly. But this began to feel like the old days when I used to try to talk to my mother about my passions—which included theater and music—and it always got turned around to her stuff. Her interests. Her problems. Her disappointments.

I tried now to share with my brother this revelatory self-examination process that I'm going through in the aftermath of losing my guy, and somehow it pivots back 180 degrees. I observed he wasn't in a particularly jocular mood. Next thing I know we're talking—I use the term loosely since it was mostly him flapping his gums—about victimhood of the white male class of which he happens to be a member. I am a founding chapter member of the Milpitas National Organization for Women, so when it comes to feminism I do not fuck around. Sitting there hearing my brat of a petit frere complain that he is a victim of the current zeitgeist against members of his Fraternity didn't sit well. In fact, I told him it was horseshit.

He told me that he thought his personality changed when he was 13 and he got hit in the head by a baseball bat by his friend Jimmy. He arrived at the front door with a knob on his forehead the size of Kansas and scared the living shit out of our mother. It was genuinely grisly. I asked him well shoot did you have a concussion? I don't think he did. I would remember that. No, he said I didn't have a concussion but I was different after that. Pause. Maybe cuz I was in puberty.

He then went off on a rant about family members who are not on the correct side politically. He opined the children should be trained to have the proper opinions; they should not be allowed to believe stupid things. Mind you he's never trained anything other than a dog, and even that not very well. He is vehemently against anything that he perceives to be passive. It also occurs to him that he suffers because he doesn't have a normal home situation where the wife is in the kitchen. He's happy to cook but does not consider that normal. He does not appear to know what the definition of normal would be. Oh, you know what I mean does not count as a definition.

Things got a little heated. No name calling on my part. I generally don't do that in conversation. I also don't do eye roll nor do I emit derisive noises while listening to others. My style is more studied, kind of a mixture of active listening and choosing your battles. It's a well-known phenomenon that women are more likely to be empathetic than men are and since I grew up with two brothers and a father and had a male acting mentor and a male ballet teacher, perhaps I was a little short on female interaction.

I believe I may have mentioned before that I auditioned for a production of Cabaret being done by a graduate student from San Jose State, was cast as a Kit Kat girl and got no end of grief from my young husband because when I was at rehearsals it fell to him to babysit our two youngsters. He was such a jealous twit that he never even came to see the show. Too bad. It was pretty damn good. I was pretty damn good.

One of the excellent things about that show was that the director was a woman and when I was being effectively gaslighted into dropping out, she supported me. She said you know I cast you because I saw something and I would suggest that if you don't give this gift to yourself, you will regret it. I really, really want you in this show.

I think I'm bringing that up because at the end of the day I truly am beginning to have utter confidence in my instincts.

Fuck you, little brother.

I am woman.

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Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazin

Claudine Jones has had a long, full career as an Actor/Singer/Dancer. She writes a monthly column
and is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2021 Claudine Jones
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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