BY BROOKE CORSO
My youngest brother, Joshua, is getting married this weekend, which means I have transcended the matrix into another dimension where toddlers can marry each other because there is no way I am old enough to have a youngest brother getting married.
Josh is unique because he was born in 1992, when our brother, David, and I were in middle school, so there is a huge gap in age and experience. As we lived on the farm and there were no kids in close proximity to have play dates with, he grew up around big people and profited from that in his intelligence. Even at two or three, he had a mind for numbers and classifications: he could name every tractor and every type of cloud, and by kindergarten he knew every college and professional football team AND their coaches. He would dump all his Legos on the living-room floor and watch “Barney,” and by the end of the program he would have constructed an giant Tyrannosaurus Rex out of plastic.
Since we had this little brainiac to show off to visitors like a side show (and they would try to challenge him all the time on his memorization skills), one thing we had to be careful about was his retention of movie dialogue. Since he watched whatever we watched, which was heavy on Mel Brooks and John Landis, he would simply react to whatever made us laugh and repeat it aloud, regardless of content or context, which was usually even more hilarious until Mom found out. Here are a few of his gems:
>> Speed (1994): “Pop quiz, hotshot.”
For a while, this was the movie we put on whenever my parents went out on a date, since Josh would whimper a bit when they left and we needed something loud to distract him. He called it “Bomb-On-Bus,” and after watching “Bomb-On-Bus” about a dozen times, he thought it was clever to use Dennis Hopper’s line any time his older siblings had to clean up after him or tend to his needs. “Pop quiz, hotshot, Mom told you to fix me some oatmeal and I don’t see any oatmeal on my tray. What do you do?” Of course, we could have said go get it yourself, punk, but then he would have run to either parent with some Oscar-caliber histrionics and watch over their shoulder, smirking, as we got the riot act. Being hypoglycemic, his moods were directly proportional to the level of food in his stomach, so to argue with or refuse him would mean invoking the wrath of the monstrous Hulk Josh, thus it was better to acquiesce and have a belly-full Angel Josh.
>> Twister (1996): “And he just strolls up to the twister, says ‘have a drink’, and he chucks the bottle into the twister, and it NEVER hits the ground.”
This was one of Joshua’s earliest long quotes; he actually had the character Dusty’s monologue memorized. It’s never advisable to have a child who is terrified of tornadoes actually watch a film about town-eating tornadoes. Since Josh watched the Weather Channel every day, especially “Storm Stories,” his eyes were constantly searching the sky for danger. He knew a cirrus from a nimbostratus, and Heaven forbid we be in town when a cumulus formation turned dark. He loved the Bill Paxton character, also named Bill, because he could sense when a storm was coming by picking up dust and watching the direction it fell on the ground — which is total hooey but completely believed by a four-year-old concerned about the “Suck Zone” of the funnel.
>> The Mask (1994): “Hold me closer, Ed, it’s getting dark. Tell Auntie Em to let Old Yeller out. Tell Tiny Tim I won’t be coming home this Christmas.”
It took years to get Josh to even watch this film because of a life-size cutout of Jim Carrey as the title character that was placed next to the concession stand at the movie theater on Nolana. With his angular green face and huge white teeth, he was terrifying to the child who then believed that the monster was real and living at the theater, so he refused to go back inside to watch any movie whatsoever for an entire year. Josh called him “Yedo-Man” (he couldn’t pronounce yellow) because of the color of his suit, and there was no way we could convince him that Yedo-Man was not going to devour him with those giant choppers. When we did get the movie on VHS, he loved Jim Carrey’s gangly, over-the-top performance, especially when he faked death and got an award for it.
>> Seems Like Old Times (1980): “The cops took my chicken? You mean it was illegal chicken?”
Mom is a huge Neil Simon fan, so we have enjoyed this 1980 slapstick comedy with Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, and Charles Grodin since I was a kid. Chevy plays Goldie’s ex-husband, a writer who spent two years in a Mexican prison “with two cockroaches who committed suicide.” Goldie is a public defender in Los Angeles who is married to the District Attorney (Grodin) who is also running for office. Chevy’s character gets framed for a bank robbery, comes to Goldie for help, hilarity ensues. I think it was this film that taught Josh about nuance and deadpan delivery (at which our other brother, David, is an expert), as he could repeat all of Chevy’s lines about “getting pushed out of a car doing 65, rolled down a hill doing 85” with a straight face.
>> Blazing Saddles (1974): “No, thank you. Fifteen is my limit on schnitzengruben.”
Mel Brooks was a master of pushing the envelope with his comedies, and this remains his most controversial picture due to its frequent use of racial slurs in the context of the Old West and the various hicks and blowhards and “people of the land” that frequented it. The brilliance of the script is that it illuminates the hypocrisy behind the use of such derogatory words, while also skewering Hollywood, westerns as a genre, and the mythos of the West itself. It also contains musical numbers, a candygram for Mongo, shootouts, chase scenes, a pie fight, and one prolonged scene of competitive flatulence. Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) is the coolest, with Gene Wilder as his boozy sidekick, The Waco Kid. Since Dad made his own version of Lily Von Schtupp’s iconic schnitzengruben (ours was just Polish sausage, sliced onions, and whatever condiments were in the door of the refrigerator alongside a ton of barbecue sauce, served with macaroni and cheese), Josh was always determined to eat 15 like Bart. Usually, only pants busting and moaning on the floor were accomplished.
>> Young Frankenstein (1974) “Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the toiben.”
Igor (pronounced Eye-Gor) stole the show in Mel Brooks’s take on the Mary Shelley science-fiction novel, and again we have dozens of hilarious lines to repeat ad nauseam. As Josh had trouble taking medicine in liquid form, whenever he got sick he would try to counter Mom’s frustration by asking her to give him a “seda-give” or saying it was because his brain was “abby-normal.”
If he could get her laughing, it would buy him a few moments to run out of the kitchen and hide before having to choke down whatever vile substance the pharmacy dispensed. Only once did I hear him beg like Gene Wilder locked in the Creature’s cell: “Let me out, let me out of here, get me the hell out of here! What’s the matter with you people I was joking! Don’t you know a joke when you hear one? Hahaha! Open this God damn door or I’ll kick your rotten heads in! Mommy!”
>> Men in Black (1997): “You know what the difference is between you and me? I make this look good.”
The study of extraterrestrial life has involved our family for decades (the first film I remember watching was “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the first film I watched in the theater was “ET”) so films about aliens were common throughout Josh’s childhood. We still watch “Independence Day” every 4th of July and after Thanksgiving dinner, and Josh’s hero in the latter half of the 1990s was Will Smith.
In the VHS version of “Men in Black,” there was a music video of the title song after the credits, and Josh worked very hard to memorize the choreography. We were banned from the living room until he got it right, and then we could come in and watch a performance. It was one of those “aww” moments that enraptured my parents to the degree that if he asked for a pony or game console or new car afterwards, they would have given it to him.
>> Tommy Boy (1995): “I’ll tell you what: I can get a good look at a t-bone steak by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it.”
This was one of those lines that Mom got mad at us for teaching him. Joshua could quote every Chris Farley line in his exact voice, from the singsong “fat guy in a little coat” to the scene where he explains why he sucks as a salesman: “Hello there pretty little pet, I love you. And then I stoke it, and I pet it, and I massage it. I love it, I love my naughty little pet. And then I take my naughty pet and I go BLAAARGH. I killed it! I killed my sale! And that’s when I blow it.” Just like Chevy Chase taught Josh nuance, Chris Farley showed how to command physical space and take things to the extreme, and since Josh had an equally short fuse, he would repeat Tommy’s lines while eating or riding in the backseat.
>> Signs (2002): “Ahh! I’m insane with anger! I’m losing my mind! It’s time for an ass-whupping!”
Sometimes, I think we got overconfident in Joshua’s ability to separate fact from fiction in the films he watched with adults. When I was in college, Mom called and said that Dad took Josh to see Signs and now Josh wouldn’t come out of the house. This was early August so public school hadn’t begun, and you would think a kid would want to spend those last hazy days outside. Well, when he’s watched a film about spindly, grey aliens hiding in the fields shooting toxin from their wrists, he felt safest in the house.
Trouble was that the main television set was in the office, which was detached from the house across the driveway, which meant to watch a football game or “Storm Stories,” he’d have to actually go outside and walk thirty feet. During the day, he was ok as long as Mom stood at the doorway to the house and watched him tear across the driveway like a bat out of hell, but come sundown he was too frightened that an alien would be on the roof. He demanded a personal escort, walking right behind him, all the way to the office. Naturally, our father took advantage of this and would leap out from behind a vehicle, brandishing a rake or leaf-blower, growling and snarling while Josh went out of his wits and screamed all the way back to the house. While Dad nearly laughed his way into a heart attack on the ground, Josh would watch from behind the glass door and yell obscenities.
Since I got my driver’s license when he was four, Josh came everywhere with David and me and whenever I grabbed for his hand in the parking lot or entering a building, we’d always say, “Squeeze-squeeze!” to show that we weren’t going to let go in the store for safety. I still feel protective of him and I refuse to stop mothering just because he’s a big kid now. He’ll always be Ya-Ya and those old movie lines still get him out of trouble because he is adorable.