A day’s worth of lag backs everything up. Today was one of those unusually sunny days in the dead of winter. Although clouds hung over head, bolts of warm yellow and orange fell in tight groupings on the snow-laden yard. Ice that had been forming over the past three weeks quietly dripped from shingle to drainpipe to concrete. Unfortunately, as the residents of this Victorian era remodel quickly discovered, the front door had been snowed in. This is incredibly remarkable for a few reasons. The first and most obvious was that if you’ve ever seen a true Victorian home, you’d know that for snow to reach the front door, some pretty chaotic shit must’ve been going down weather-wise. Second, you’d need to understand that this is Los Angeles we’re talking about, and here, crazy snow weather isn’t the norm. They write songs about how it never rains in Los Angeles- let alone snow- for days-on-end. When it does rain, minds and tires alike hydroplane around from place to place, leaving fender benders and complacent mistakes in their wake. If it were to snow, time in Los Angeles would seemingly standstill, or would at least be reduced to a slow, gritty crawl even for those with that genuine “LA Drive.” And the snow did just that, it allotted Los Angeles and its Angelinos time to breathe, or think, or kick-back, or however you’d categorize down-time. Nearly all schools, even the private ones with their pristine bubbled environments, canceled classes until the snow could be cleared. Even on what seemed to be literally the slowest day of the year, the Dart boys wouldn’t (or couldn’t) let life pass them by. Today, the oldest son, Crab Dart, had been charged with the task of clearing the snow, and in the process, gained his first worthwhile job in the household’s hierarchical chore system. While his brother slinked off to be with his own middle-child thoughts, Crab attempted to make progress on the menial and labor-intensive task at hand: clearing snow.
The only snow shovel (why they had a snow shovel was known only to the family pack-rat, Grandpa Dart) the Darts owned hung forgotten in a quaint detached two-car garage in the backyard, among other things of course. Ski poles, yet no skis to be found. A thin, plastic, industry-sized bag half-full of plush toys that never sold. Sad snow boots, worn once in the store, uselessly sat fading into nothingness. Shoes that fit one size too large were surrendered to the annals of the garage as well. Instead of simply jumping to it and shoveling the front stoop, the eldest Dart sifted through the increasingly dusty layers of family archives and forgotten treasures. In short, dusty things that no one wanted to spend the time to fix, restore, or repurpose. Other than that, the Dart’s held nothing else in their garage, save for the constantly fluctuating host of creepy-crawlies and dusty cobwebs. To their mother’s horror, most of the garden tools for the yard were frequently stored lying about the yard in close proximity to where they’d last been used. The Dart boys were most responsible for the lame condition of their backyard. Traditionally the lawn, with its yellowed crab grass, was littered with balls, bats, mitts, split lemons, uncollected dog shit, unattended leaves, and just about anything one could imagine being left in the yard unnoticed or forgotten. But that was then, when things were simpler and less grownup for Crab.
Even in the cold garage of his childhood, Crab could hear his mother in his recent memory, “Crab, please, please, Lord Jesus, please, for the last time, remove your crusty underwear from the bathroom floor. I can’t stomach to see them another day. You should know this by now. How many times have I told you that when I come home from work, everything needs to be in order and in its place? If it isn’t- hey, pay attention- it stresses me out.”
Rosie Dart, Fritz Dart, Crab Dart, Porky Dart, Warren Dart, and their dog Scrap shared the home. Their combination made for quite a rambunctious household. The sound of breaking glass was a familiar one. If you walked barefoot upon the faux marble kitchen, there was a good chance that you’d pad over some sticky residue of a spilled drink. Every morning, dishes always seemed to occupy the sink, despite the fact that Warren adamantly attempted to keep the Dart kitchen in pearlescent, immaculate condition.
“Yes Mom.” And that was how the response went every time.
Well, at least that’s how Crab imagined it in his head. Everyone in the household but Crab knew this to be true. His brother, his roommate, got the worst of it. Simple questions got the most draconian of retorts.
“Crab, could you do my laundry for me? I’ve got a lot of other things to do. Please?”
To which he responded with, “No dude. Honestly, how many fucking times have I told you? You need to handle your own shit. Learn how to be responsible. Holy shit man.”
Or, “Crab, could you pick the dog poo up for me? I’m really running behind now and Mom won’t give me a ride to school unless it’s done. Please?”
And again, “Dude, honestly? Sure, sure, fine, fuck it. I’m done with my chores already. Hurry up though! You know she won’t even hesitate to leave your ass behind. Also, don’t forget your lunch again, hmm?”
It was like this every morning for the majority of their lives. Some sort of fierce, unspoken sibling rivalry. They were only two and half years apart, yet there was so much animosity between the two. However, despite how much beef they forked at each other, both handled it, moved on, and made it work. Crab drew a lot of inspiration and awareness from watching how Fritz’s quiet, self-absorption impacted his surroundings and Fritz learned how to have a healthy, self-instilled drive from Crab’s misled pragmatism and ineptness of being compassionate. They have an interesting relationship. There came a hollering from somewhere beyond the confines of the small garage.
“Crab! Crab! Dude! No, Crab, seriously, come here,” said Fritz.
The only people in the Dart family who screamed for attention like this were Fritz and their mother Rosie. Crab hardly found the things Rosie and Fritz passionately called out for to be interesting, especially in the departments of being either impressive or awe-inspiring.
“Alright,” Crab called back, “I’m coming. Hold on.”
He put down the football he had been spinning and sneezed a large vacating sneeze. He marched over threshold of the garage, careful not to slice his bare foot on the nail that incessantly worked its smooth-bore head and shoulders above the threshold. Preoccupied, Crab had spent almost 30 minutes deep in thought, lost and wandering through the confines of his mind. He had made zero progress on shoveling the snow. Warren hated but understood when a distracted Crab slacked on responsibilities, but Rosie-the-riveter; avatar of efficiency, cut no slack on the matter. Whatever Fritz had to show Crab would have to be quick.
“So you know how we always hear rustling in the bushes under our window?” Fritz asked.
For as long as they could remember, Crab and Fritz had some sort of critter as their third neighbor. They never saw the thing, but they figured that it made its home amongst the large thicket of rose bushes and assorted foliage that lined the back corner of their home. Sometimes the two would leave small care packages for the creature. Fritz and Crab also figured that this critter must’ve been extremely clever for it not to be sniffed out by Scraps, the family hound.
“Well,” he continued, “Look who I found.” Fritz lifted what appeared to be a dust-bunny. An equally plush, if not more bushy tail hung from the creature’s rear.
“Whoa, holy shit guy. That’s dope. What is it?”
Fritz was sporting one of the toothiest, cheekiest grins Crab had seen him sport since boyhood. He really was a modern Tom Sawyer at times. In his hands, he was cradling a small half-frozen furry bundle. It appeared to have a more-grey-than-black sheened pelt, which caught the sunlight magnificently.
“Not sure, but he’s not very heavy. I can feel his bones.”
“Let’s have a look at his face, hmm?” Crab did not believe in mysteries. Only solutions.
As per his brother’s request, Fritz gingerly flipped the little critter over.
“Fritz, that’s a fox. You realize that?” said Crab.
“Dude this is the thing that’s been living in Mom’s bushes.”
“Hah,” Crab lifted his eyebrow and let the syllable hang in the air.
“Crab, seriously, grow up.” Fritz, in his quiet ways, had somehow developed a more mature sense of humor than his older brother.
“Alright Dad! Sure thing! Right after I take my tampon out!” Crab’s biting sarcasm was mostly in response to feeling guilty for a including his mom in an inappropriate double entendre.
The silence that always followed the last line of their arguments was always more punishing than anything either of them had said to each other. Both immediately felt as if they had stepped too far, no matter how harsh the insults got. Their brotherly bond was always there, underneath it all. Rosie and Warren often shared words on this matter. They were indeed quite worried that the two would grow to hate each other during boyhood, and then never speak to one another in their adult lives as many parents worried on such things. Of course, Fritz and Crab knew this not to be true for the two of them, or Porky whose young age was no contender in their teenage sibling rivalry, and therefore was granted a lifelong bye from the older Dart boys brotherly round-robin competition. However, their third and youngest member of the trio could have a slight problem with his connectedness to Crab and Fritz.
Porky Dart was born into Warren, Rosie, Crab, and Fritz’s life six years after Crab and eight after Fritz’s. As with his siblings, Porky also went by a nickname, and a special nickname at that. Just as Crab received his for his more-oft-than-not grumpy behavior, and just as Fritz received his for the amount of chaos he created, Porky received his for something special as well. Porky, you see, consumed everything in sight, and his incredibly fast metabolism was to blame for that. When Warren and Rosie realized that Porky was going through three to four cans of Gerber brand baby food each dinner, and two ounces of formula before resting his sweet little eyes, they immediately consulted a pediatrician. Interestingly enough, when the pediatrician couldn’t pinpoint what the cause of his metabolic rate was, they had Porky examined by a dietician. When not even the trained professional could decide what was wrong with their child, Warren and Rosie simply threw up their hands, and proceeded to feed him in accordance with his growing appetite.
Porky, while it might sound like a name awarded on behalf of body composition, is actually as slim as a cable. What fascinated the older Dart brothers most was that Porky didn’t even play sports. When he was four, Porky made up his little adorable mind, and pledged on his cute little life that he would never be forced to play sports ever again after getting a bloody nose from playing catch with Crab and Fritz after one of their CYO football games. Of course, all the Darts knew that he would come around to their way of thinking on the matter eventually, seeing how both of his older brothers “enjoyed” a social calendar of athletic events, activities and commitments that were always followed by trips to ice cream parlors, In-n-Out burger, and 7-Eleven.
Fritz and Crab trudged through the snow, hoping to eventually make it to the back door. Still, the snow had yet to be shoveled.
“Hey man we really gotta do something about that driveway. Warren’s gonna be pissed, and you know how he gets,” Fritz said.
“I know, I know,” Crab’s tone had taken up a mix of worriedness and passive aggression, “What we gotta do is take care of this fox. Where the hell are we going to put it? He’s half frozen to death.”
Fritz stared at the ground, appearing to be lost in thought.
“Hello? Earth to Fritz, this is Captain Wake-the-hell-up. The fox, bud, what are we going to do with the fox? Personally, I think we should just put him in the front and let him take off.” Crab’s solutions to problems weren’t always thought completely through. Classic Crab.
“Um, hang on, wait,” Fritz mumbled, curling his hair around his pointer and middle fingers.
“I’ve been waiting, balls-deep-in-the-snow waiting, for five minutes now. Let’s go man, you’re supposed to be some type of savant,” Crab said. “Snap to it.”
Since the young age of six, Fritz hadn’t placed below the ninety-ninth percentile on his standardized testing. Every year, without fail. While Warren and Rosie made six-figure salaries, their son was the only “One-Percenter” they knew, and cared to know.
“Crab,” Fritz announced, “I have an idea.”
Crab stared back, head leaning into Fritz’s personal space, eyebrows cocked, as if to say “I’m waiting.” Fritz hated when Crab got in his “grill.”
“First, get your disgusting forehead away from my nose. I can smell your ignorance.”
Then he continued to unveil his master plan to his older brother. While his calm demeanor painted one picture, Crab could feel the excitement radiating from his core. Crab was surprised that the small fox wasn’t squirming in his arms. He was under the impression that like dogs, foxes could pick up on energy frequencies as well. But, foxes are foxes, and he mentally kicked himself for the foolish thought.
“Crab you’re too hard on yourself sometimes. Actually, you’re too hard on everyone. You need to just tone it down a bit.”
Fritz was born with a high emotional intelligence too, as if the massive list of talents that Fritz possessed wasn’t long enough already. Sometimes his brother’s clairvoyance forced Crab’s anus to pucker like some prom queen ready for her first kiss. Freaky shit.
Crab chuckled as he said, “Dog. You have to stop doing that shit. I know you’ve got a serious brain in there, but please just let me have my thoughts in peace.”
“Sometimes I can’t help it!” Fritz matched his brother’s playful tone.
After a hearty chuckle, Crab and Fritz decided to bring their furry companion in the house. As they were walking up the steps to the back porch, Porky looked up from his scheduled TV binge and caught a glimpse of the critter.
“Crab! Fritz! What is that?” He exclaimed as he his long, paddled feet slapped at the floor running over from the couch.
He ran as fast as eight-year-olds could run, only to halt abruptly at the sliding glass door. His hot breath fogged a two inch diameter. Porky was certainly not going to let some strange critter into his house. His mom’s house. Or his dog Scrap’s house. Being the family’s first Boy Scout, it was his sacred duty, and in his eyes, honor, to identify the animal. Porky had a strong sense of responsibility and honor, even though he was the world’s largest pre-teen couch potato.
On any given Saturday morning, Sunday afternoon, or Friday night one could stumble into the Dart parlor expecting a well put together scene of mid-century sofas and chairs and coffee tables, only to find Porky’s slender legs, bony knees and all, stretched to their limit, reaching for the ledge of the room’s centerpiece, a leather ottoman from 18th century New Orleans. All the dirt-caked feet, asphalt-ridden soles of shoes, and suffered casualties (spilled drinks, drippings of condiments, etc.) from the typical Friday night “Pizza Night” amounted to the gradual degradation of this light blue, fauna-decorated rectangle. Yet however many chemicals and particles and non-GMO food it had been subjected to, the center piece remained a part of the Dart family, as if it were the unnoticed glue holding the trio of Dart boys together. Many a times, Crab sat on the living room couch and sat in awe of how this furnishing survived as long as it did. Rosie, always trying to improve the Dart’s quality of living, almost immediately replaced furniture as soon as they began to appear “trifling,” which was “mom speak” for “Your time is nigh.” Crab sometimes viewed his mother as the kitsch version of the grim reaper. More fittingly, the angel of death.
“Hey buddy,” Crab said.
“Hi Porky,” Fritz said.
“Answer me guys! What is that thing?” Porky’s downward inflections gave away how he was truly feeling.
“Porky its ok dude. No need to freak out,” Crab said with a chuckle.
“Porky c’mere.” Fritz waved him over.
The slim kid pressed gingerly against the glass, as if he was unsure of his brothers and their unidentified fur-ball. Boy Scout or not, Porky was still a little kid, and little kids are, at heart, timid of the unknown.
“Porky, Porky-buddy, Pork-o. Everything is ok guy. Look, you’ve got your two older brothers looking out for you here, alright? We’ll kick it’s ass before anything happens to you. I promise.” Crab never was good at reassuring people, but this seemed convincing enough.
Porky’s grimace and furrowed brow made their debut. As Porky slid the door along its ruts, the rubber caught on plastic, creating a horrible high-pitched screech. The fox did not feel too fondly of this, as its head shot up abruptly, feral eyes boring fathoms deep into Porky’s soul. Poor Porky. The little man hopped from one foot to the other, shaking his hands head back and forth with wondrous rapidity. Quaint yelps slipped from his tightly clenched jaw. It would’ve been rather humorous, had his wee voice not contained sheer terror. Evidently, he was quite rattled, as he continued to quiver for a few minutes prior to the fox’s awakening.
Crab set a hand upon his youngest brother’s shoulder, “Are you okay?”
“Y-y-y-es. I don’t- I don’t- I don’t really know. Crab that was s-s-s-cary.” Porky stammered through his sentence.
“Oh it wasn’t that bad. You just startled him and he startled you back, that’s all. Trade for trade. See? You’re even with him.” Fritz was the family’s shadiest member, and was crafty with his words. In Crab’s opinion, Fritz’s nickname should have been “Slink.”
“Yeah, not that bad.”
Crab hated it most when Fritz interjected and responded to a question intended for Crab. It was often easy for Crab to fall into a frenzied rage over these things. But today, he was dead set on staying as pleasant as possible. He didn’t get a lot of time to enjoy his brother’s company, so he figured Why not make the most of it? By this point, the task of shoveling the driveway was long deleted from Crab’s mind. The only thing that held any importance was the task of “What to do with the Fox.” And he liked it.
The trio had decided the best thing to do with the fox was to walk it to the Mid-City Petco, a store some obscene distance away when walking in snow – approximately five miles. They didn’t really know what to expect from taking it there, but they figured the walk to Petco would do two things for them. It would enable them to spend some quality time with the fox, and also more importantly, show it off to the world. There were some problems though. The Dart kids had no footwear for snow trekking, and therefore had to make do with what they had. Crab made sure to dress his two younger brothers in long pants, the thickest socks possible, and a few layers of upper-body under and outerwear.
Crab, in a moment of clarity, remembered the snow boots in the shed and stomped back through the snow to where he was originally working. He fished the Burton boots from oblivion, along with the fading orange plastic snow-dish that was purchased for the family’s ’06 Big Bear trip. Then he clumped back to the interior of the home, not even pausing to shake the ice from his pants, flung open the already broken door to the dog pantry, grabbed three leashes (why they had that many was curious to Crab), a collar, and hustled back to the front porch where the party was gearing up for their “quest,” as Porky put it.
“I have the answer to our problems, boys.” Crab’s burst of renewed energy brought the Dart Boys out from their emotional nadir.
Porky and Fritz’s frowns were beginning to deeply bother Crab. All of the talks he received from Warren on the responsibilities of being a big brother flooded the forefront of his mind. Shortcomings and regrettable moments began to hold meaning, began to come to fruition; began to produce something worthwhile, finally. Crab felt like a superhero. His “big brother instincts,” as he imagined them to be called, were waking from some childhood hibernation. Crab imagined the feeling to be the same as the glorious hypothetical moment in which the fat child’s rear molars finally stop aching. The porker’s delight equated Crab’s brotherly epitome. Both instances were joyous moments.
He was finally able to do the task in which he was intended to do from the moment Fritz came into this world. He began to realize that being a big brother wasn’t about commanding a squadron of pint-sized fuck-ups, but about lighting the way- forging the path- for the young and unversed in the “art” of overcoming life’s obstacles.
As his younger brothers watched with blank expression, Crab snatched up Winter the Fox (named by Porky, of course), ignored a bite to the inside of his elbow, and slipped a collar over its neck, followed by clipping a thin, red leash to the hook Scrap’s old, worn collar. Then, he tossed the orange dish into Fritz’s arms, catching him off guard, forcing a hearty “Oomph” out from the Dart second-in-command
“Here. Hold this.”
Crab flipped it around so that the dish bent inwards in relation to Fritz, and with a metallic click, fastened the hooks of the remaining two leashes to each handle of the oversized Frisbee.
“You. Put these on.” He tossed the size eight boots to Porky.
“Thank God for your freakishly large flappers, otherwise your toes would freeze over.”
Porky looked perplexed, but did as he was told.
“There, now you’ll be nice and toasty as we walk to Petco.”
Crab then turned to address Fritz.
“You. Your turn. Go grab my old mid-calf hiking boots from the closet; you’ll be in decent shape with those.”
“Uh I don’t …”
“Oh, so you’d rather have ice-water slush between your sweaty soon-to-be-frozen toes? Can’t imagine that would feel nice. Just trust me, bub.” Crab threw in a wink as a hallmark of his seniority.
Much to his surprise, Fritz frowned, titled his head, shrugged, and disappeared into the house.
“Crab are you sure Mom and Dad are going to be ok with this?”
“Pork-o,” he started, “as long as we’re doing the right thing, they can’t be mad. If they do get pissed, I’ll just take the blame as usual.”
“Hey have you ever been on a sled ride before?”
Crab tossed the contraption on the powder. It glided gently from side to side like a hockey puck would on ice recently Zambonied.
“Take a seat chief.”
The little boy did, and his chubby cheeks still puffed with baby fat brightened with intensity great enough to melt the very snow under their feet. Porky leapt onto the sled and glided forward.
“So this is what sledding feels like!”
Porky’s gleeful laughter reverberated in the valves and chambers of Crab’s heart, gifting him with a taste of true agape love. If he didn’t realize how much his little brother meant to him before, he surely did now.
“Pretty awesome right?” Crab reveled in the fact that it was he who was able to give Porky one of his first memories in the snow. For a Los Angelino, a snow memory is a rare and big deal.
“Yo!” Fritz exclaimed as he slammed the massive, black door behind him.
Crab set Winter down in the snow, half expecting it to attempt to bolt. Instead, its ears straightened, pointing upwards towards the now gloomy sky. Then, it proceeded to park its narrow behind in the snow, as if accepting its fate.
“Hmm…peculiar.” Crab supposed this was a good thing. “Less hassle for me.”
“Ok can we go now?” Fritz grew impatient easily.
“Sure, sure. Wait! Sweatshirts! Wait, no, jackets! Aha! Yes, go now plebeians.”
Fritz and Porky sighed in unison.
“Fine,” came the response, also in unison.
When they returned, Crab patted them both on the back, squeezed their shoulders, and sent them down the front steps, urging them to watch their footing.
“Let’s go sort this out.”
And with that, Crab took up Porky and Winter’s respective leashes and set off down the block, with Fritz following closely behind. The three embarked on their one and only LA snow day journey, for the first time as a unit
Mom would be proud