It feels just like yesterday that I thought tomorrow will soon be today

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, my younger brother Bruce turns 60.

This doesn’t seem possible to either of us (add it to the steadily growing list of things that don’t seem possible to me) and I can assure you that at Saturday night’s celebration, we will each do our best to prove that it is possible to reach your 60s without having achieved a maturity level beyond the age of 16.

My brother is an extraordinary designer and artist, and I offer the following portfolio as evidence:

He has designed museums, airports, Disney pavilions, restaurants, homes — you name it. Lately, he seems to do more hotels than anything else. Maybe it’s because of the cash.

Bruce Merenda

Bruce Merenda

We have a lot in common. We share the entrepreneurial gene inherited from our dad. We share a creative disposition. Leave us alone in a room for an hour and I’m sure we’d come out with something frightening. We share grief, having lost our beloved brother, Guy. (It probably can’t be explained, but for Bruce and me, there will always be an empty chair at the table.)

And we’re different too, of course. He expresses his creativity visually, while I ply my trade with the written word. Socially he tends to like being among lots of people (middle child syndrome) and I tend to be solitary.

In the Merenda family mythology, I am “the smart one” and he is “the good-looking one.” I know that he is both smart and good-looking, but the mythology amuses my employees who answer the phone only to hear Bruce say, “This is the good-looking one, calling for the smart one.”

In addition to his many gifts, my little brother Bruce is something of a character. When we went out to play golf, he would show up on the first tee (usually in front of a group of bleary-eyed men, clutching their Styrofoam cups of coffee, waiting anxiously to begin their Saturday morning rounds) in fuchsia shorts, a pink shirt, and a baseball cap with wings (a la Mercury), take a viscous but ineffective swipe at his teed-up golf ball and fall to the ground clutching his back.

When we would go out together in clubs, he was fond of confronting large, drunk, hostile men and telling them that his brother over there was “a killer” who would “kick your ass.” Sometimes he would threaten to do so himself, obliging me to explain to the offended party that my little brother’s furlough from the asylum was just for the day, and it was time for us to get him back.

In 1986 we spent a few weeks together tooling around Europe. I have vague memories of dancing on the bar at Harry’s in Paris (sank roo doe noo) ; watching the chorus line at the Crazy Horse; going to a “private club” called “Le Baron” (editor’s note: no other information about this visit is available, other than to say that yes, a certain type of girl will take American Express traveler’s checks); running up an offensive bill at the Hotel Negresco on the promenade in Nice; flying down the German autobahn at 140 miles-per-hour (and being passed by various Porsches and BMWs); and walking through the Englischer Garten in Munich only to discover that we were the only people in the park with any clothes on.

I am not sure that Europe has completely recovered from this visit.

But lest I tell all the funny stories and you get the wrong impression, let me show you another side of Bruce. I belong to a Facebook group comprised of people who grew up in Winchester, MA in a certain era. About a month ago, I had an inquiry from a woman named Kathy Durante. She asked if I had a cousin or brother named Bruce. I told her that indeed I did, and posted his current photo.

It turned out that some 45 years ago, Kathy and Bruce had been in the same junior high school art class. They had been given an overnight assignment, and the art teacher criticized Kathy’s project for not following instructions and going outside the lines. Bruce took on the art teacher, defending Kathy’s project and telling the teacher that real artists don’t stay inside the lines.

Here is Kathy’s response to the photo I posted on Facebook: That’s him! He stood up for me in mrs. hatchel’s art class at Lynch. Never forgot it. no peer had ever stood up for me like that especially to the teacher. I’m glad he’s doing well. Thanks for posting the pic.

Bruce had never told me the story, and barely remembered it himself. My brother is a brilliant artist, a terrific businessman, a fun guy, and has the character to stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves, even in the face of authority.

Not bad, huh?

Oh, and he’s the good-looking one.

Happy birthday, Brucie. Your smarter older brother loves you.



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When I Was Twenty-One

I spoke to my best friend Michael the other day about my son, Max.

“Max’s birthday is Monday,” I remarked.

“Wow,” he said. “He must be what, eight or nine by now.”

Right. No, wait. He’s going to be… twenty-one. A man. Able to sign a contract. Able to buy a drink. No longer, according to the government, my little boy.

“That’s not possible,” Michael said.

And I agree, it’s not. Except it is.

I remember when he was three and used to put his arms around my neck and call me daddy. Now he’s taller than me, has a deep voice and a beard and calls me “Dude.”

Yesterday he caught me gazing at him in that adoring way — the way I have always stared at him, with a big smile pasted across my face.

Max“Why are you smiling at me like that?” he asked.

“I’m smiling like that because you look like me,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he replied. “That’s why I’m not smiling.”

And so I thought of that night (3 a.m.) twenty-one years ago and all the emotions that you might imagine. But I also thought of Sept. 13, 1971, some 42 years ago, when I turned 21.

I had elected to go out to dinner with my father and Marshall Kincaid, a family friend, my dad’s age. We went to the Top of the Hub restaurant in Boston, one of those restaurants at the top of a skyscraper with breathtaking city views.

On the way in, we listened on the car radio as it pumped out news about the Attica prison riot.

I had asked for a special gift for my 21st. It was a boxed set of records (they were vinyl, also called LPs…oh, never mind): the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas on 14 discs played by Daniel Barenboim. Angel Records. The cost was something over $50, which my father thought was outrageous. (According to the inflation calendar, that would be $279.59 in today’s currency.)

My son asked for the following books and video games as birthday presents: the Human Division by John Scalzi; a couple of graphic novels by Jason (apparently no last name); and the Bandai Namco Mobil Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. for PS3 (if you have no idea what this is, don’t worry, no one over the age of 30 does). Now walking in my father’s shoes, I can tell you that the fact that this video game is only available from Japan and costs about $75 gave me pause. However, compared to my father, I got off cheap.

And, even though the medium hardly exists anymore, you might be wondering what happened to the birthday present from 42 years ago. Wonder no longer: