Ode to Ben
We do a family Zoom call most Sundays at noon. Recently in our family group text, we discussed a time change. “Looks like we’re going apple picking. Could we do 3pm or so?” my oldest brother Owen proposed. “Yeah I’m just here scratching my butt, I’m down for 3,” Ben replied.
Know how some people are really funny when you meet them, then it starts to wear off? Maybe they make variations of the same joke all the time. Being funny is their “thing.” They’re usually men. It’s their mating strategy, actually just their general getting-people-to-like-them strategy. When there’s a pause in the interaction, you can just feel the gears turning, as they try to pull some humor out of the air. Assert themselves as the witty one. It quickly moves from funny to cringey.
Ben has been funny for all twenty-nine years he’s been my brother. His humor doesn’t get old. I never feel the gears turning. In fact, he’s so damn funny because he’s always catching me off guard. Sneaking humor into otherwise mundane situations, like scheduling a Zoom call.
My other favorite thing about Ben is his memory for movie quotes. I was recently at a gas station in rural North Carolina and ended up in line behind a man who reminded me, out of nowhere, of the farmer in Napoleon Dynamite. In a fit of nostalgia, I was back in my parents’ basement, maybe 15 years old, watching Napoleon Dynamite on DVD with Ben (who would’ve been 16). We couldn’t get over that scene. We watched it, rewound, watched it again, no fewer than 10 times. We laughed, we laughed so hard we cried. We finally put on subtitles to convince ourselves he was really speaking English. We laughed even harder at the subtitled version.
About an hour after leaving the rural gas station, I happened to be on the phone with Ben. I brought up the scene, wondering if he’d have the faintest idea what I was talking about. “Over there in that pigpen I found a couple of Shoshone arrowheads,” Ben croaked, in a spot-on impression. I doubt he’s seen that movie even once in the last decade.
Ben’s a videographer, has been since childhood. Then, his specialty was funny home videos. He’s always made us laugh. Always managed to catch hilarious moments on camera. And he’s always injected genuine sweetness and sentimentality alongside the laughs. Now he runs a business making wedding videos and real-estate sale videos. I cry at his wedding videos, even when I’ve never met the couple.
I was at a backyard wedding this past weekend, as a bridesmaid for one of my best friends from college. In the final moments before the ceremony, my hair all bobby-pinned and hairsprayed, my fancy gown tripping me up at every step, I had my first interaction with the photographer. I was in one of the upstairs bedrooms, a generic-feeling guest room in an unfamiliar house. “I’m going to take some pictures of you,” the masked man stated at me from the hallway. What an odd greeting. He looked as awkward as I felt, bent over a little to one side, as if to counterbalance the weight of the heavy-duty camera hanging from his other shoulder.
“Um, okay, what should I do?” I asked. “Just keep getting ready,” he told me.
So of course I couldn’t think of a single productive thing to do. I shifted some personal items between some bags. What do I do with my hands? I snuck some glances at the camera, smiled nervously. I felt frozen and on display. I imagine that came across in the photos.
I wonder how Ben would’ve handled that situation. Introduced himself first, surely. Waved a jolly, Covid-acknowledging hello, maybe. Made a simple joke to put me at ease. Helped me get comfortable so genuine emotion could find its way into the photos.
It’s his warmth, paired with his humor. An unstoppable duo.