Thursday, March 5, 2009

Touched By an Uncle?

Ben is a member of the family I was born into, but only by marriage (and I don't mean he is my husband). Married to my little sister, Ben and I are nearly the same age in years. But there is something wrong with the guy. I was reminded of this recently when, out of the blue, I received a text message from him. The text seemed to be meant to inform me of a death in the family I had moved far away from about 35 years ago.

I figured this may mark a coming resurgence of impersonal messages I used to get from my text-happy brother-in-law: like the one he sent two years ago to let me know my only other brother-in-law had passed. Ben seems completely unable to understand how I feel about getting such messages by text. I think it is terribly offensive. And he and my sister are completely offended because of how I feel about it. Actually, there is more to the story of our falling out. It involves his texting me hateful racist messages about Obama during the Presidential campaign and me calling him on it. I asked him which order of the Klan he had joined since I last saw him, among other, even more direct observations that his texting me such crap was pure and simple racism.

But I digress.

So I got this text out of the blue - after telling text man months ago to f*uck off and stop wasting my minutes. I did not really say anything the last time he texted me about a death in the family but I felt then that if he wanted to convey this kind of news - and since he does have my phone number - why couldn't he take the time to make an actual call?

I knew even before I left them all in that Southern state that I would never rate such a grand gesture as a phone call, or even the common courtesy of sharing such a private familial moment like a REAL member of the family. Sending me such news from hundreds of miles away by text message just makes me feel like they are crossing me off the list of obligations they think they have to tend to when a family member dies: item #25: text everybody that you don't really want to talk to. Just so you can say you did it and then go on with your life.

I guess it makes them feel better about themselves and puts the ball in my court. Am I supposed to take it on myself to call back? As I recall I responded by calling my niece and offer my condolences on the loss of her father. As my niece is a modern adult gal who stays in touch with me = and who I love like a niece - I don't feel bad about that at all. She is not one of THEM: my immediate sibs.

I don't know. I think Ben is so obsessed with texting he gets happy when he has an excuse to do it. Almost makes it seem like he is glad when somebody in the family dies because he then has an excuse to send text messages. Two years ago, he and my sister came to visit me on a trip to the big city - the only family visit I've had for 35 years (a mistake I will never allow to be repeated) all he did was text back and forth with his adolescent daughters as though he were one of them. I tell you, there is something wrong with the guy. Not that I'm all that: I'm just sayin'.

The message said, "Uncle Al died over the weekend. He was 84," or words close to this. I thought, "Gee. I can't even remember having an Uncle named Al, or Alfred, or Albert... But I've been out of the loop for about 35 years and I never did know most of my parents siblings. No surprise that I don't remember him."

I do remember a TV perv who played a character named "Uncle Al" who had the kids show when I was growing up. I even went on the show once when I was about 5 (Of course I did: being a budding perv-ette myself at the time). But I didn't think it was "Uncle Al" that Ben was taking the trouble to text me about. After the horrible falling out we had why would he suddenly decide to text me with this bit of trivial information? Maybe if I was still 5 years old I might care if Uncle Al the TV perv dropped dead. But I grew up and got past the whole kiddy TV thing about four and a half decades ago. (In fairness, I don't really know if the guy was really a perv. But come on, just look at him. And he had a kids show for Christ's sake!).

Still thinking that the message was about some actual unknown relative of mine - who I was probably supposed to remember according to him - I decided to screw with Ben a little. I texted back "Condolences to Capt Windy."

I thought it might be taken as snarky and offensive of me to make the connection between a real life relative who just died and some obscure and fictitious TV persona - an unreal character played by some guy I never knew. That guy actually had a first AND a last name. Captain Windy was his TV sidekick cloned from June Cleaver. Those TV characters all died a long time ago for me, probably long before the show they were on was cancelled. I am unaware of the day it went off the air but that would have been when these characters "died" -- as much as TV characters can die. As I found out, that happened sometime in the 1980s.

Out of curiosity I later Googled it and found out that Ben probably was texting me about the guy who played Uncle Al. His name was Al Lewis. He was married to a woman named Wanda who played Captain Windy on his show.

The sad thing is that Ben is probably truly mourning the passing of Uncle Al but not Al Lewis. More likely, he may be mourning the demise of his own long-extended childhood. Finally hitting adolescence in his mid-to-late 50s: this could be a dangerous phase for someone like Ben - the guy who sent me all those juvenile delinquent, thinly veiled racist slurs about Barack Obama by text message. I just wonder how long it took the Uni-bomber to grow up?

I tell ya, there is something wrong with the guy.

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