The Routine

A "fall in the suburbs" shot of a brother and sister that's worth some caption about Americana, but I can't think of one.

In the middle of my sister’s wedding last month, I walked over to her and said jokingly, “Now we are so happy, we do the dance of joy!”  She finished the sentence along with me, as it’s one of the many weird in-joked the two of us have, most of which have something to dow ith the countless hours of crappy 1980s-era sitcoms that we grew up watching in syndication because my father was too cheap to spring for cable. 

It is entirely fitting, by the way, that I turn to sitcoms when I think about what growing up with my sister was like.  I know brothers and sisters who are weirdly close, or have one of those relationships where the brother may as well be another father.  I also know brothers who are perfect confidants and had greeting-card upbringings.  While Nancy and I had annoyingly ordinary childhoods, we weren’t exactly the Cleavers of the Bradys.  On some level I guess you could say we were the Cunninghams, even though my parents didn’t have an older child who mysteriously disappeared (I’ve always thought that Chuck Cunningham was an early anti-war activist and a member of the communist party so Mr. C. drove him to the Canadian border under the cover of night because while he loved his son, he was proud of his country and didn’t want to face the humiliation of HUAC) and none of my friends were cool guys who lived above my parents’ garage.  Besides, we didn’t really grow up watching Happy Days unless WPIX was rerunning it in the afternoons.

No, we were more accustomed to vegging out in front of stuff like Growing Pains, The Wonder Years, Full House, or Charles in ChargeFull House, especially, stuck with us over the yars because it gave my sister her longest-running nickname (unless you count the Wonder Years reference “butthead”).

Stephanie Judith Tanner, played by Jodie Sweetin, was the middle child of the Full House girls, and honestly rarely got a decent storyline because her sister DJ got all of the adolescent angst plots while Michelle was played by the Olsen twins.  As far as I can recall, Stephanie’s job was to simply be really freaking annoying and do incredibly stupid things.  One time, DJ called her immature and a baby and that caused her to decorate her half of their room out with a Nelson poster, which I guess the producers thought was a cool band at the time, or like, ever.  Another time, DJ left her royal blue sweatshirt out on the field at lunch so Stephanie inadvertently shoplifted her a new one when she misread a “buy now pay later” sign and walked out of the mall boutique with it.  I think when they returned the sweater, the woman behind the counter was extra bitchy before Bob Saget and John Stamos stepped in.  To which I say, these girls were bringing something back and being honest people, what the hell is your problem?

Stephanie also had a pretty serious story when the 1989 earthquake hit and there was a very special episode about her father not being home when it happened and her being withdrawn and needing therapy for it, but such earthquake abandonment, bad hair bands, and shoplifting were small potatoes compared to Stephanie’s most famous moment in Full House history.  Uncle Joey (played by Dave “Alanis wrote a song about me” Coulier) bought himself a sweet classic car (instead of spending that money on a deposit for a new apartment to get him from freeloading off of Bob Saget) and while washing it one day noticed a small scratch on the hood and went to the auto parts store to buy some touch up paint (as you do).  Stephanie was left alone with the car and over the course of the ten minutes Joey was gone, decided that she wanted to listen to the radio, so she climbed into the car, turned it on, and seeing that there was an “R” on the dashboard, assumed that meant “radio” and threw the car into reverese, crashing it into the kitchen.

What happened to her?  Well, instead of having the crap beaten out of her or instead of Danny Tanner doing what he should have done years ago and kicking Joey out of the house after he paid off the damages, he simply forgave her.  Yes, just forgave her.  Can you imagine being the insurance agent that had to handle that claim?

“Can you tell me what happened, sir?”

“Well, my daughter drove a car through our house.”

[Long pause]

“Are you still there?”

“Yes, sir.  I’m just floored that you are a father.”

The finale of Full House centered around Michelle because by the time the show went off the air, the Olsen Twins had become media juggernauts and were selling billions of dollars worth of their shit.  Nancy and I weren’t watching by then anyway and I think we would have both been disappointed that the producers didn’t consider our idea of having Stephanie somehow kill the entire family by smoking crack in the basement next to an open gas line and destorying the house.   It would have been appropriate considering Jodie Sweetin’s well-documented post-Full House career as a meth head.

One of the many years' worth of pictures of us in our pre-Christmas morning prison.

Anyway, Stephanie’s few and far between storylines and her terrible catchphrase “How rude!” led to me calling her “Stephanie Judith Nancy Tanner Panarese” all the time.  It drove her nuts, and I thought it was hilarious because I was about thirteen and stupid shit like that was hilarious to me, and it also seemed that she got away with everything, just like Stephanie. 

Not that she never got in trouble, because I am sure were times when she got into trouble for something and thought that I’d been treated better, but it seemed that she used to be able to weasel her way out of every chore or task requested of her.  Drop a basket full of laundry in front of her and it would go unfolded.  Tell her to take the garbage cans in from the curb and she’d complain that doing so took too long and got in the way of her sitting on the couch and watching television.  And if I recall correctly, she never washed a dish in her life.

But that was when we were kids, and just like most sitcoms, the “cute” brother-sister sniping wore off as we both passed into adolesence.  Not that we still didn’t give one another crap for stuff when we were teenagers, but after I left elementary school, we really didn’t go to the same building until my final year of high school, when she was a freshman.  And even then, we didn’t see one another except for morning walks to the bus stop.  Had it been an actual sitcom, my parents would have had a third kid who would go from baby to seven yearsold with a bad haircut in the span of six motnhs and then we’d be cancelled because, honestly, nobody liked Cousin Oliver and that new kid from Family Ties can’t seem to stop getting arrested.

Which is why the weekend of her wedding felt like one of those reunion specails that air at least a decade after the show has gone off the air and happen only because there’s either a sudden wave of nostalgia for that decade or someone needs a paycheck.  I woke up pretty early the morning of her rehearsal, because I never am able to sleep late when I’m at my parents’ house and my son is usually up at dawn, and one of the first things I saw was her wedding gown hanging up in the living room. 

An obviously staged, "Okay, make it look like you get along" shot from a Christmas picture session. When we were this age we spent more time trying to beat one another up than anything.

It was a beautiful establishing shot–the light streamed through the curtains and hit the dress just so–and my mind immediately began to think of not just my sister, but our house, and I immediately went into flashback montage mode, thinking of what it was like to grow up there and how even though my parents have done an enormous amount of renovating and redecorating over the years, I can look at every corner and see something that happened there, from the top of the stairs where we would have to painfully wait every Christmas morning for my dad to be done in the shower and my mother to take a picture, to the couch in the den where we’d used to sit and watch Saturday morning cartoons while kicking one another in what we called “feet fights.”

But flashbacks and sentimental moments are fleeting on a weekend when you’re rushing off to a hotel, entertaining a ringbearer, and trying to make sure that the shirt you ordered with your tuxedo actually fits.  I didn’t really get a chance to take it all in or say as much as I wanted to because of the whirlwind nature of it all, which is true for just about every wedding I’ve been involved in, including my own (although to give props to my wife, that sucker went off like clockwork).  I’m sure my mother was a little disappointed that we didn’t have some sort of moment. 

Not to make too much fun here, but there’s an old McDonald’s commercial from the 1980s that involves a brother and sister sharing fries over the years that mom was sure was going to be us.  In the commercial, which is called “Little Sister”, the brother is older than his sister and she starts off as some sort of annoying tagalong and he gives her fries to get her to shut up.  Then, at the end, she’s all grown up and is the Homecoming Queen and he offers her fries because he’s always been there for her. 

This was never us.  Sure, Nancy and I made a pilgrimmage to a fast-food joint once, but I don’t recall her kissing me on the cheek while I pushed her on the swings (because I was probably trying to push her off the swings), I never lettered in any sport in high school (they don’t give you letterman’s jackets for mock trial), and I was never cool enough to sports such an awesome 1980s prepster haircut.  Besides, the way he’s looking at her at the end–uh, stalker much?  I mean, was this shot at a McDonald’s in West Virginia?  Because, no.

Honestly, if there’s any brother and sister on television who are the perfect match for me and my sister, it’s Ross and Monica Gellar from FriendsFriends is a show that I watched religiously during the late 1990s but actually can’t stand to watch now, especially the last five or six seasons (like Seinfeld, the later years of that show weren’t as funny and haven’t aged well).  But lapsed fandom aside, whenever I think of the warped neuroses of the Gellars, I can’t help but laugh.  Those characters are high strung, neurotic, and work each other’s nerves in a way that only an adult brother and sister with a history of annoying the heck out of one another can.  And while they are affectionate toward one another, he’s not following her into McDonald’s to look at her all creepy-like. 

No, they have another moment, and that’s The Routine.  In the episode “The One With The Routine,” Ross and Monica wind up with tickets to the pretaped segments of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve courtesy of Joey who is trying to use the occasion to hook up with his roommate, played by Elle Macpherson (to which I say, uh, isn’t the pretaped stuff shot in L.A., and go for it, Tribbiani … any red-blooded male who lived with Elle Macpherson would try to hook up with her).  They honestly don’t give a crap about that because they see this as their chance to be awesome and get on television.  Because they’re dorks.  They may be “beautiful people” by the time the events of the show take place, but deep down they’re two dorks from Long Island.  And what do they do in order to impress the producers?  Well, the dorkiest dance known to man, which Ross calls “The Routine”:

Every time I watch this clip, I see me and my sister, and now I wonder if my brother-in-law knows what he’s getting into.  Well, of course he does.  He and my sister dated for quite a few years before he popped the question, and they’ve stayed at our place enough times to see me at my uptight whiniest and me and her at our “smack one another because that’s how we show affection” best.  And I give her credit for choosing to spend her life with a very nice guy who is a lone Mets fan in a sea of Yankees fans (then again, she was never stupid enough to marry a Yankees fan). 

My sister and I at her wedding, smiling decently for once instead of all of the forced painful smiles we have in pictures of us as kids.

Sibling dynamics, especially between brothers and sisters, are strange.  It’s a relationship that you, and only you understand because of the time you are forced by genetics to spend with one another.  You start by figuring out who one another are, and sooner or later you can’t remember what it was like without them (not in an affectionate way, btw, just as a matter of fact.  I really don’t remember anything before she was born). 

As you get older, you go through phases where you can’t stand one another because you’re forced to share, then you tolerate one another because you have to, then you don’t exactly know how to act around one another because you’re at completely different places in life, and finally you are friends and can wish one another well without mom reminding you to do so.  You know, even if she does anyway.


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