Twins Never Part

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This is the second of four parts of an older brother’s eulogy to a beloved younger brother.

I was barely a year old when I first met Kenny. My parents brought this bundle home from the hospital. I saw a small foot poking through the blanket. Elated, I tugged the tiny toes. Still grasping the diminutive digits, I smiled broadly and looked up at my parents. “Goggie!” I said.

Yes, I had thought my parents got me a new puppy. Instead, I got something better – a baby brother. Had I been more eloquent then and as versed in classic cinema as I am today, I might have more aptly said, “Kenny, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

You may know him as “Ken,” “Kenny,” or even, as he signed every greeting card he ever signed beginning at age – I don’t know, 7? – Kenneth P. Carosa. To me, he’ll always be “Kenny,” or, rather, “Chris and Kenny.”

You see, my mother always wanted twins. So, ignoring the fact we were born 15 months apart and separated by one whole school grade, she defiantly treated us as twins. At every opportunity, she dressed us in identical clothing, from plaid jackets for formal pictures to pumpkin costumes for Halloween. Even with our casual dress there’s photographic and video evidence of us wearing matching sweaters, matching fedoras, and, well, just about anything matching you can think of.

Even dad got in the act. He treated us like his twin lieutenants when he was Cubmaster. One time he arranged for 40 of us to go to the circus. He and mom were worried we’d lose someone. (I mean, we’re talking cub scouts here. As in “herding cats.”) Apparently, Kenny & I detected this anxiety and took it upon ourselves to come up with a plan to form into groups so no one would get lost. Mind you, this was well before either of us had even heard of the “Emergency Preparedness” merit badge. This plan was 100% influenced by the lessons we learned from our father’s work stories – the stories of a safety engineer.

Funny thing. Kenny and I knew we weren’t twins. But that didn’t stop us acting like twins. Well, sort of.

We developed a deep fraternal bond. How deep was it? I can only describe it this way: We didn’t need to speak to communicate with each other. I have a theory as to how and why this happened which I’ll get to in a moment, but suffice it to say our understanding of each other was extrasensory. It’s like when our parents used to ask us to walk to The Bungalow (a local convenience store) to pick up some bread or milk or something like that. One of us would volunteer and look at the other. It didn’t matter who spoke first, that gaze said the same thing: “You need to come with me so we sneak the baseball cards back into the house without dad noticing.”

For all the similarities of twins, we recognized we were different. Significantly different in some ways. More important, strategically different in other ways.

A story involving our Uncle Sammy best explains this. Uncle Sammy is only a few years older than us. Kenny once said we were like three peas in a pod. Now, if that phrase conjures up images of Gregor Mendel and his genetic research on pea pods, then you’re thinking like Uncle Sammy. I can recount numerous exploits where, much to the dismay of his mother (our grandmother), he delighted in coaxing his two nephews to partake in various experiments.

For example, Kenny’s left handed and I’m right handed. It’s not unusual for people to ask which handedness is superior. It’s a hypothesis worthy of experimental verification. Uncle Sammy was determined to find the answer to this classic question. Kenny and I were also curious, so we agreed to participate in a test devised by our uncle.

Uncle Sammy had a set of boxing gloves. One pair. He didn’t view that as a limitation, but as a useful tool critical to the success of the experiment. He took me, Kenny, and the boxing gloves into the inner depths of the basement below my grandfather’s pizzeria on South Park Avenue. In that dank dark space, he took the gloves, gave Kenny the left-handed one and me the right-handed one, and told us to go at it. Now, you gotta understand one thing about Uncle Sammy. He wasn’t Gregor Mendel. He just wanted to see his nephews whack each other in the head.

The experiment was abruptly cut short before the first punch was thrown when my grandmother uncovered the scheme. It turned out Uncle Sammy was the only one to get whacked in the head that day.

Kenny and I learned a valuable lesson from this. Several, in fact. First, left-handed and right-handed were two different things, each which could provide a comparative advantage (e.g., wearing the appropriate glove) depending on the situation. Second, never listen to Uncle Sammy. Third, if we ever did listen to Uncle Sammy, make sure Gramma knows, not necessarily because she’d spare the rod on us, but because chances are she’d break the rod on him first, leaving us to suffer from only a severe scolding.

As in the spirit of fraternal twins, we quickly learned to exploit our differences for our mutual advantages. Nothing exemplifies this more than on the various gridiron fields upon which we spilled our blood, sweat, and tears. It started in our basement. Thanks to square tiles of multi-colored linoleum, it really was a grid. It was within this grid that our father taught us the never-ending repetition of passing drills. Over and over we’d run “3 tile” square outs (best described as an “L” that fell over on its short side). We’d take turns playing offense and defense – in other words, opposites – until my father was satisfied we learned the drill from each side of the ball.

The ten feet we had to learn these maneuvers might have seemed too small for us to develop a useful precision in our running – and defending – pass plays, but we learned nonetheless. In fact, we learned well enough that we’d often bring Angelo down to play defense with me as quarterback and Kenny as receiver. It was then that Kenny & I first started communicating without the need for the spoken word. We spoke with our eyes. We spoke with a subtle move of the head. We spoke in whatever non-verbal manner we could best conceal our playcall.

The adventures in the basement of Abbott Parkway merely presaged what happened once we moved to Dortmund Circle. There we played two-hand touch football on a 14-foot wide street. There wasn’t room to run, so every play was a pass play. Since our rule said we had to complete two passes to make a first down, we needed a bread and butter short pass play. Kenny & I knew the perfect play – that basement square out. We called it an “L-pattern.” It was “L-pattern right” or “L-pattern left” depending on where we felt the defense was weakest. With me passing and Kenny catching, our years of practice made the play nearly unstoppable, especially since our fraternal sixth sense allowed us to understand each other without the need to vocalize our intention.

Mind you, “L-pattern” (right or left) was a boring play. When we wanted to have more fun, I’d call “L-pattern right. Fake. Deep.” This is more commonly called a “square out and go” or an “out and up.” This play didn’t work as often, but it was sure fun to try, especially for a certain fan of Daryll “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica.

The duality of our singular nature blossomed when we worked at our grandparents’ pizza stand at the Erie County Fair. We could each play any assigned role, but we knew where our comparative advantages lie. Kenny’s was in the back of the stand, where his budding perfectionism created a reliably consistent (as well as delicious and nutritious) pizza pie. Ah, Kenny’s legendary meticulousness. Make that extreme meticulousness. My father recalls a story of a summer between college semesters. He offered us each $20 to wash the family cars. I was assigned one and Kenny the other. Focused only on the $20 I got mine done in 20 minutes. Kenny, concentrating on the car with painstaking precision, took two days. Either way, that $20 bought us a lot of baseball cards.

You didn’t need too much precision (except when it came to counting change) for my part in the pizza stand. Mine was in the front of the stand, where, under the accidental tutelage of my grandfather, I began to hone a latent showmanship I never knew was there. Of note, it was in that same pizza stand that our grandfather demonstrated the importance of putting on a good show and, perhaps more critical, how, no matter what happened, the show must go on.

Though, given my normally stoic nature, I didn’t suspect I had aptitude to entertain, I think Kenny knew this all along. That was the thing about him, and I don’t think it was limited to me. He knew exactly what everyone was capable of and what buttons to press to ever so gently nudge them towards realizing that potential.

How so? Remember that “Mad Bomber” reference. There’s this thing about throwing long passes. They increase the odds of getting intercepted. And, in the beginning, my deep throws were almost always intercepted. In fact, the neighborhood kids bestowed the title “The Interception Kid” upon me.

The kids laughed at that nickname. Not Kenny. He knew – and convinced me – that I had to keep repeating the drill until I got it right. “Don’t worry about getting intercepted,” he’d say. “What are you gonna do? Quit throwing deep? That’s not an option. The show must go on. Just keep trying until you get it right.”

In that little story, we learn a lot about Kenny and a lot about the value system our family instilled within us. He would use the same technique – literally – to teach his sons Pat and Sam, as well as his godson Thomas the art of running pass patterns. In those drills, he also transferred the important life lessons of diligence, hard-work, and practice. He knew nobody ever got it right on the first take (well, except maybe for Frank Sinatra). So, even if you messed up, he pressed you to get right back in there because the show must go on.

I can assure you, this was not a one-time event. At least twice I remember feeling particularly constrained. One was following my sophomore year in college, and the other was after an especially bad business meeting. In both cases I was feeling (perhaps a little bit too) sorry for my failings. Kenny detected my misgivings (probably using that special spidey sense only twins have), got me to talk about it, listened, and then said something to the effect, “What, are you stupid? Get over it. The show must go on.” It may not have been a Knut Rockne speech, but he left me feeling like I wanted to win one for the Gipper.

And I did. Because of him.

My parents might not have brought home a dog that day, but what they gave me was someone who demonstrated the same level of consistent faithfulness you can expect from man’s best friend. Or any real best friend. Or, should I say, any real best friends. Chris and Kenny. A bond of everlasting durability. Because twins never part.

Part I: Strawberry Fields Forever |
Part II: Twins Never Part |
Part III: Kenny Discovers the Birds and the Bees… and the Mice (Content for Friends and Family Only) |
Part IV: Breadcrumbs of Unfinished Symphonies |

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