You want to impress your relatives, especially if they’re really your wife’s relatives and your wife’s relatives have never quite yet figured out what to think of you.
In my case, that’s three and a half decades of wondering what to think of me.
But I figured my wife’s youngest brother would be easy to impress, maybe the easiest of all.
He was only 15 or so years old when I came swooping into the family. Now, he’s 50 or so, and a successful [redacted].
So when I heard from my wife Kristina that her “baby brother” was coming to visit us here in Ipswich, I was delighted. An opportunity to score points with The Family!
I’ll call him “Eric,” because there may be certain [redacted] which make it [redacted] for me to refer to him by his real name. He is stationed in the Middle East, after all, in the tiny nation of [redacted], in a job he says requires him to [redacted] and [redacted]; and while he can say very little about his actual work, he has assured us that he’s never had to [redacted] assassinations. Of course, when your brother-in-law says, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you,” you don’t pry.
Frankly, I assume he’s CIA, but I’m afraid if I ever write anything too revealing about him, they’ll send their agents here to the North Shore to [redacted] my column, or worse — you know [redacted] or [redacted] or possibly even [redacted]. So, better not even to go there, because it’s such a pain to navigate when you’re reading through all those [redactions].
Even without the threat of government [redacted], I can honestly say that Eric is intelligent, sophisticated — blond, even. He flies first class all around the world. As I observe Kristina’s family, with her many siblings, I might even suggest that Eric is the most intelligent and sophisticated of them all. Trust me, I’m not just flattering him because he’ll likely read this while reviewing some classified dossier, nor because he carries a [redacted] in his suitcase. No, truthfully, let me assure you: I don’t fear him. He’s my brother-in-law.
I do, however, want to impress him. He’s family, right? Also, possibly, a [redacted].
It was disconcerting to me, then, what happened on Eric’s first day in Ipswich. He was scheduled to arrive while I was out at a meeting, and when I got home I found the house empty and Kristina’s car gone; so I assumed she had taken Eric out to an elegant welcome lunch at one of our town’s many fine dining establishments. But then, after some time, her car pulled into the garage, the trunk popped open, and the two of them began lugging huge bags of mulch into our backyard garden.
The two of them seemed to be chattering happily, even though it was obvious to me that our refined globe-trotting guest was engaged in what could only be described as coarse manual labor.
When they finally came inside, Kristina must have seen the puzzlement on my face.
“We went to the Transfer Station!” she reported, with a big smile.
Sorry, but as a kid growing up in Chicago, we called it the dump.
It was, indeed, time for us Ipswich-resident Brendels to visit the Transfer Station, to retrieve our annual 50-gallon load of freshly composted mulch, which is a benefit of our membership in the wondrous Ipswich curbside composting program.
This is, without question, a tremendous system: You dump your household food scraps, meat, bones, and other organics into a green bin, roll it out to the curb for Wednesday pickup, and a truck comes by to take it all away for composting. It only costs you $1.83 a week — you keep your organics from further clogging our already bloated landfills — and every spring, you get paid back with 50 gallons of gloriously healthy mulch.
It’s always a happy day when a member of our household goes to the Transfer Station to retrieve our beloved mulch — especially because it’s always Kristina, never me, who makes the pickup — and the mulch is spread on Kristina’s gardens of tomatoes, herbs, and other delectables. (Again, not by me; I don’t do the mulch-spreading: Kristina does. But I do applaud. Later.)
Still — the question of the moment was: Today? Did it have to be today? Did you have to collect the mulch today? When our glamorous brother-in-law was coming to town?
To my mind, you don’t introduce a refined, internationally experienced brother-in-law to the charming Ipswich experience by taking him to the dump.
Oh, I know, the Transfer Station isn’t really a “dump.” It’s a fabulous thing, honestly — a terrific recycling station open to anybody with an Ipswich beach sticker. (Or, you can get a special Transfer Station sticker, free of charge, at the Ipswich Department of Public Works office, if you have a valid vehicle registration and proof of Ipswich residency.)
And once you arrive at the Transfer Station, it’s beautiful in its way — a dumper’s Disneyland, with various stations and receptacles designed to receive your [redacted]: books, CDs, DVDs, fluorescent tubes, batteries, plastics, scrap metals, clothing, bedsheets, small pillows, leaves, brush, and the list goes on. (For details, visit IpswichMA.gov— just enter Curbside Composting into the search window.)
There are some no-no’s, certainly: no tarps, no PVC pipes, no water hoses, no inflatable pools, no rocks, no logs, no stumps — but what’s missing from the list is: No brothers-in-law.
Nobody waved Kristina away from taking my [redacted] brother-in-law, the one I was trying to impress, TO THE DUMP.
Back at my house, after the garbage-processing duo had cleaned themselves up, as they sat back down at the kitchen table for a couple [redacted] sandwiches, I tried to remain casual — like that scene in the James Bond movies where the bad guy is deliberately cool and collected. (Still, you know James Bond holds the cards.)
“Your Transfer Station is very interesting,” my brother-in-law said, feigning nonchalance. “I see you have a couple windmills.”
“Yes,” I replied, marvelously casual. “One dead, one alive.”
“I’ve seen them, in my [redacted] reconnaissance imagery.”
I sensed that this was something bigger than it originally seemed to be.
“You didn’t really go to the Transfer Station just to get mulch, did you?” I asked, coolly.
“You’re very observant,” he replied.
“So why did you go to the Transfer Station?” I demanded.
Kristina looked at me sharply, as if I’d made some critical mistake.
“Because you never want to go,” Eric replied, almost sneering. “You never want to lug the mulch. You never want to spread it on the garden. You leave my sister to do it all herself.”
“Stop, Eric,” Kristina said, with quiet tension in her voice. “It doesn’t matter.”
Eric stood up from the kitchen table. “It does matter.”
He reached into a pocket and pulled out his [redacted]. “It’s not enough, Brendel, to pay your precious $1.83 a week for curbside composting,” he said. “It’s not enough to be an environmentalist. You have to be a [redacted] husband, too.”
I confess I felt panicky. After all, he was standing there with his [redacted] in plain view. He could have [redacted] my [redacted] at any moment.
“You know,” he intoned, “if I solve this, right here, right now, in my own way, no one will ever know. We have ways of [redacting] things.”
“But I’m going to give you another chance,” he grumbled, putting his [redacted] back into his pocket. “Just don’t [redact] it up again. Next spring, when it comes time to pick up the mulch again, I want to dial up our satellite and focus its camera on the windmills and see you there picking up the stuff yourself.”
I swallowed hard. “Okay,” I rasped.
He leaned over and kissed Kristina on the cheek. “Gotta go, sis,” he muttered.
He left by the back door. He was probably picked up by a silent, black, specially equipped helicopter that landed in our side yard. I’ll never know.
Kristina and I sat there in silence for a long while. We couldn’t quite look at each other.
Finally, however, I felt I had to give words to the question that was hanging like rotting fruit on a dying tree.
“Why the [redacted] did you take him to the DUMP?”
Doug Brendel lives at [redacted] in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him at DougBrendel.com, at least until he’s [redacted] by the [redacted].