Thomas Wictor

What separates me from my brother Tim

What separates me from my brother Tim

I’ve written a lot about my brother Tim. He and my brother Eric are the people to whom I’m closest in the world. Tim designed the covers of all three books in the Ghosts Trilogy. Each cover was one basically “one and we’re done.” We discussed ideas for Ghosts and Ballyhoo, but after that I just said, “Whatever you come up with is fine.” And it was.

It took us over forty years to get where we are. Proximity wasn’t the key; as soon as I moved into Tim and Carrie’s house in 1993, Carrie moved out. I’m sure she won’t mind me revealing that. It just wasn’t a good fit for us.

Still, Tim and I had our ups and downs until about eight years ago. We had a lot of baggage. When we lived in Tyler, Texas, for example, Tim was sort of…crazy. He coped with stress by cleaning. Texas was pretty brutal for all of us, so I don’t resent Tim for holding us hostage one night when our parents were out. He forced us to clean the house as he played this on the record player at top volume.

That song still creeps me out. But like almost everything else, life in Texas wasn’t one just one note. Here’s a photo Tim took of our sister Carrie and the neighbors’ peacock Skattles.

For some reason Skattles would come across the road to say hello, even though we had two dogs and a cat. Our pets initially didn’t know what to make of this creature. They kept their distance and looked at us in disbelief. Skattles was too stupid to notice. His brain was the size of a pea.

When Skattles matured, he’d put on that fan-tailed display, stamping his feet and rubbing his wings together to make a hideous, primeval sex-rhythm. And he’d scream his head off in the mornings.

Nay-OH! Nay-OH! Nay-OH!

The first time we heard that, we thought it was a pterodactyl. And the thing about peacocks is that they crap big. After Skattles started visiting, we had to watch where we walked. He loved to crap on the back porch, which infuriated Tim. He’d get the hose and wash it off, muttering about barbecued peacock.

Next is a photo Tim took of Mom and our neighbor Jackie Ungerecht in 1975. Jackie helped carpool us kids to school and back when we told our parents that we couldn’t ride the bus because the kids were all psychos. Here, she’d driven us to the airport so we could spend the summer in London.

Jackie’s daughter Jill was my age. She was a marvelous oddball, an equestrienne who played the trombone and made up words like “boomgadiss.” What did it mean? Nothing and everything. She’d just say it out of the blue, with great emphasis.


I had a big ol’ crush on Jill, but she was out of my league. Here’s Tim’s shot of her in her room.

Jackie contacted me recently through my Website and told me that Jill was killed in a car accident in 1992, when she was about thirty. I was very sad to hear that. Jill was truly special. May her next time around be longer and happier.

When I moved to Southern California in 1993, it took Tim and me a long time to learn how to get along. We were virtual strangers. I’d spent all of my adult life away from home—in college, then Tokyo, and then San Francisco. I’d had almost no contact with my family for twelve years. Gradually, Tim and I discovered that we had a lot in common, including a love of music, a love of photography, and a love of humor.


I adore the Three Stooges, and Tim hates them so much that they make his head pound.

“They’re like disgusting German Vaudevillians!” he says in total exasperation. “What’s there to like about them?”

Two words: Curly Howard. That’s the only reason I love them. So technically I love Curly and not the Stooges. I like only the Curly episodes. Why do I love him? His pathos and his absolute refusal to give up. He’s fat, picked on, misunderstood, made fun of, and off his rocker, but he never quits, and he’s always good humored. In a lot of ways he’s my hero—Curly, I mean. Not Jerome Lester Horowitz, the man who played him.

Jerome had a drinking problem, and he was a compulsive eater. He was only forty-nine when he died. But his art lives on. I understand that the Stooges as a whole are pretty lowbrow, but to me Curly is a genius. He’s a Dadaist who improvised most of his scenes and dialogue. How can you not admire someone who could pull off this routine?

I first saw that when I was four or five. It left me with a lifelong terror of oysters. Still, I laughed myself sick at Curly’s parody of rage. He let me laugh at myself and my problems. I wasn’t alone when I watched Curly Howard.

It’s not necessary for Tim and me to agree on Curly. I assure you: Curly utterly horrifies Tim. But that doesn’t matter to me. Curly never instigates cruelty. He’s the target of it almost every second that he’s on the screen, but he generally doesn’t respond in kind. He tries to diffuse the situation by doing or saying something weird and funny. That makes him a good man.

In one famous scene, as four goons including Moe are slapping him, punching him, and pelting him with food, he addresses them with calm, mild detachment as his head is rocked backward from the blows or he doubles over from fists to the gut.

“Oh. Well, give us break, will ya, fellas? I’m a citizen, ain’t I? Gosh, fellas, I didn’t mean it. Really.”


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