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90s FAMILY : You Just Can't Alter Destiny : If Fate Wants You to Be the Goofball Uncle, Do It With Style


I am about to become The Goofball Uncle.

It came on unexpectedly. I'd always hoped that my destiny, my life's true persona, would be The Witty and Sophisticated Raconteur, or perhaps The Soulful Artiste or The Flinty Wordsmith or even The Great Lover.

I was not born weird. But some people have weirdness thrust upon them. So I am resigned never to be David Niven. The Goofball Uncle it is.

It bonked me like Newton's apple. Here is my kid brother, Brian, about to become a dad for the second time. His wife, Karen, is due any day now and his son--my nephew Russell--is about to be 3. Theirs is going to be a fine little family, in the tradition of Karen's siblings, of which there are about a thousand. Every one of them has gone the house-spouse-and-kids route and they are, each one, diligent, prudent and responsible. They go to PTA meetings and drive sensible cars. They are part of the firm backbone of our nation.

That would make me part of America's inflamed appendix. I am 41, unmarried, haven't had a real job in 10 years, am considered slightly less fiscally responsible than Princess Di, and I drive my Firebird as if high-octane premium gas were tap water. I eat cold pizza for breakfast, play golf when I should be writing my Nobel Prize-winning novel, consider dust a protective furniture coating, memorize the really bizarre parts of Hunter Thompson books, know--and delight in telling--a good-sized catalogue of sick jokes, do Peter Lorre on my answering machine tape every Halloween, play bad tenor saxophone and annoy the neighbors, and know how to call someone a horse's patoot in five languages.

I have not yet turned cranky, irascible, cynical and curmudgeonly, but I'm in the apprentice program.

So I figure I meet, and probably exceed, the requirements for designated Goofball Uncle.

Every family has one. He's the guy who gets seated at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving and cracks the brats up by belching the national anthem. He plays Santa at Christmas, but gets deep into the eggnog beforehand and blasts the kids halfway across the living room with a brandy-fueled HO! HO! HO!

If he takes his nephew to the ballgame, the child will come home woozy from unrestricted access to the concession stand and will spend the night urping on his mother. Unc will offer to atone by helping out around the house, but will be so incompetent at normal domestic chores that his sister-in-law will beg him to take the kids to a movie instead, and they will return frighteningly hyperactive and full of questions after downing eight Jolt colas during a screening of "Flesh-Eating Cheerleader Zombies From the Planet Maidenform."

All this stuff doesn't happen automatically, of course. For the past three years, while my nephew Russell has evolved from an uncomprehending bundle of yowling, pungent babyhood into a perceptive, inquisitive and highly malleable Dennis the Menace-in-training, I have played the role of the occasional visitor from afar who benignly plays ball and hands him over to Mom when he needs changing or just gets sick of looking at me.

Now, however, things are becoming different. With maturity come language skills, curiosity, and a greater need for mindless amusement, and springing in to fill that void will be me, the newly minted Goofball Uncle. Off I will fly, into the pristine mountains of Colorado, where Russell is enjoying beautiful natural surroundings, open spaces, friendly deer, clean air, kind neighbors and gentle nourishment in the bosom of his family.

I will arrive with a fistful of huge cigars, the latest grisly tales (and hideous jokes) from the O.J. Simpson case, a gift for Russell (something that makes an enormous amount of noise; 3-year-olds love that) and a Stephen King book to read to him at bedtime.

I will take him to a Colorado Rockies game and when he asks me what all the spitting and scratching in the dugout is about, I'll tell him. I will teach him how to heckle the umpire and how to bet. I will encourage him to make lots of noise.

Then I will return him to his home and family, watching him ricochet around the place like an electron in a nuclear accelerator, and I will disappear for the evening. Next morning, as the family prepares for church, Russell will wonder where Uncle Pat went and who that ragged, gasping, staggering, scarlet-eyed wreck is who's gripping the dinette table with one hand and trying vainly to force down a bowlful of soggy Wheaties with the other.

Yes, it's satisfying to know that all this is firmly fixed in my future, just waiting to spring to cockeyed life under the loving hand of me, the Goofball Uncle, a.k.a. The Lightning Rod, The Bad Case of Reality, The Low Tide in the Family Gene Pool.

Can't wait to see the new baby.

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