The moniker of “crazy uncle” isn’t an aspiration that little boys set their sights on. Growing up, there aren’t Primary songs or nursery rhymes that go, “I hope they call me Crazy Uncle when I have grown a foot or two. I hope they call me Crazy Uncle so I can be unemployed and poor and drunk at family reunions like Crazy Uncles do.”
Yet, every family seems to have one. A family member whom parents point to in order to influence their children, as in, “Eat your peas or you’ll end up like Uncle Ted.”
In my family, I am that guy.
This was made apparent to me the past seven days when I went on a cruise to Jamaica with my family. My parents were celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. With two of their three kids married, and with grandchildren, they have a lot to celebrate. My sister is a dentist and my brother, a lawyer. I, on the other hand, scour the streets of Salt Lake City looking for loose change beneath barstools and then come home to my cat, thankful I’m no longer living in a tent in the woods in Alaska.
Going on a cruise was like winning an award from the Make-a-Wish Foundation without the nasty side effect of having a life-threatening disease. My bed was made in the morning and my sheets were turned down at night. I ate my weight in lobster tails and drank drawn butter like milk. There was gambling on the Riviera deck, sun on the Lido deck, miles of ocean on the port and starboard sides, and family members from bow to aft.
On the second night of the cruise, I realized my family wasn’t speaking to me. I didn’t know if this was because what they called “life boats” I referred to as “family escape pods.” Or maybe they were embarrassed because I called the cruise director “Julie” even though his name was “Mark.” Hey, what can I say? I’m a product of the ’70s, and everything I know about cruise ships I learned from The Love Boat. My course was set for adventure with my mind on a new romance.
What I didn’t realize was that my course had a large obstacle in its way: the grandkids. It wasn’t that I was being ignored or shunned, but my parents would only talk to me through my niece and nephews.
My mom would hold my sister’s 6-month-old baby, point him towards me and then say, “Bennett, tell Uncle Phil the napkin goes on his lap, not tucked into his shirt.” Or, “Bennett, say, ‘Uncle Phil, the thumb isn’t a utensil. That’s why we have forks and spoons.’”
Then I’d order more cocktails and teach my nephew Calvin how to blow his nose and magically turn boogers into a delicious foie gras parfait. Sometimes he made pâté but, mostly, he just got snot. And my sister in-law would say, “Calvin, eat your peas.”
By the end of the cruise, I felt as fat as the goose who was force-fed mashed corn so his liver could be used for the pate I ate each night. I learned there is only so much fine dining and crystal one can put up with in a seven-day period, and an “all you can eat” buffet should be looked at as a suggestion, not a challenge.
Cheaper than a flight to Philadelphia, Moochies’ 6-inch Philly cheesesteak ($5) sandwich will ring your Liberty Bell. This is not a fine dining restaurant; your sandwich comes wrapped in brown paper. If you need utensils besides your thumbs to spread the jalapeno sauce across your sandwich, then try using one of your other eight fingers. If you think this is too messy, then wipe your fingers on the napkin tucked into your shirt. Uncle Phil says it’s OK.