My youngest brother Danny is smarter than the rest of the family put together, but does not have an athletic bone in his body. (Danny, I know you’re going to read this and complain, but you know I’m right.)
Danny’s lack of athleticism is probably the fault of his three older brothers: Larry, Moe and Curly.
Anytime we did something physical: touch football – which turned into tackle football once someone got pissed – skateboarding on a piece of 2×4 with a metal roller skate nailed to the bottom or seeing how fast you could get a Schwinn bicycle going if it was tied to a Honda 250, my mom would tell Danny to stay inside because “we played too rough.”
Which was 100 percent accurate.
One Christmas mom bought one of us a wrist rocket which is a metal slingshot that fits around your wrist and uses surgical tubing instead of rubber bands: you could use it to hunt bear.
We didn’t stalk any grizzlies, but we did try out our new toy by shooting ornaments off our Christmas tree using hard candies as ammo. Hard to believe my mom didn’t want Danny playing with us, isn’t it?
But my mom’s protectiveness backfired: it turned Danny into a target.
He never joined our reindeer games so we were always giving him shit and one day my brother Bob and I were playing catch with a football in the front yard while Danny was kneeling on a bookcase watching us out a bedroom window…he looked like the loneliest kid in an orphanage.
So Bob –let’s say he was trying to include Danny in our game because it sounds less mean – decided to throw Danny a pass through the window even though the window was closed.
As the Bart Starr special spiraled toward Danny he never put his hands up, never ducked; the window shattered and Danny took the football off his forehead which knocked his ass off the bookcase and made Bobby and I laugh until we cried.
OK, I’ll admit it; we were dicks to Danny…which actually sounds like some kind of charity for Irishmen with erectile dysfunction.
So there’s my confession; before I tell you how I accidentally dropped Danny off a mountain I wanted to give you an accurate picture of our relationship.
No good deed goes unpunished
Despite a childhood that should have turned him into a serial killer, Danny grew up to be smart, funny and kind; way better than any of his brothers. But you still wouldn’t pick him for a game of two-on-two basketball. (The passes would hit him in the forehead.)
Having a lot to make up for, one day I decided to be a good big brother and invited Danny to go camping and we’d climb up to the top of Horsetail Falls, near Lake Tahoe. But: “The best laid schemes ‘o mice an’ men, Gang aft agley.”
Which is Scottish for: “Shit happens.”
We were hiking up the trail which zig zagged back and forth across the mountain when I realized we could save some distance by going straight up; why walk halfway across the valley to wind up 50 feet directly above where we were currently standing?
Real men don’t need no stinking trails.
Real smart men would have looked down between the boulders we intended to climb and seen mud and running water. The snowpack was melting and the boulders were unstable – which I realized when we were about 15 feet from the top.
By then we were closer to the top than the bottom so I figured it made sense to keep going. Danny followed because he didn’t know any better and was pretty happy to be involved in any activity that didn’t involve a Wilson Super Grip pigskin hitting him between the eyes.
Very close to the top and safety I realized I would have to make a short leap from an unstable boulder to a solid ledge…no sweat.
But when Danny tried to make the same leap, the boulder he was standing on – and every other boulder in the neighborhood – tumbled down the mountain in a rock slide. Danny didn’t quite make the ledge, but I grabbed his hand and he was now dangling over a drop of about 30 feet.
Two versions of what happened next
So I had Danny by the hand and was going to haul him up onto the ledge; all he had to do was go limp and let me drag him up and everything was going to be hunky-dory. That’s when Mr. I-Don’t-Understand-Leverage decided to swing his feet up and brace them on the bottom side of the ledge.
(At this point I’d like to draw the jury’s attention to Exhibit A, the diagram I have so thoughtfully provided to explain why I’m not an asshole…well actually I am, just not in this case.)
So once Spiderman Jr. had his feet firmly braced – preventing me from pulling him up – he started pulling back and I started to go out and over the ledge; a Swan dive into space was milliseconds away.
So I sat down.
Here’s where our stories differ:
Danny says I let go. I don’t think we need to dignify this obvious falsification by spending any more time on it, so let’s get to my version.
I say I had to sit down to lower my center of gravity because he was about to catapult me into a Flying Wallenda somersault that would have put me on the podium in any Olympic gymnastic event you care to name and when I sat down, his hand slipped out of mine.
And let’s face it: if I had gone over the edge, then we both would have died and there wouldn’t be anyone left to drag Danny’s lifeless body back to civilization. The aforementioned grizzly bears would eat our carcasses and our mother would die from grief never knowing what happened to her two boys.
Look at it that way and dropping Danny off a mountain was pretty damn thoughtful of me, but that’s just who I am…a people person.
Grace under pressure
If I’ve given you the impression that Danny – while a freaking genius with time to think – was not great at thinking under pressure, I now have to correct that image.
When Danny’s hand slipped out of mine and he disappeared, I leaned out over the ledge to see what happened and saw him spread-eagled, face-down on the crest of the snowpack.
Fortunately he didn’t land on the rocks.
Unfortunately, when I leaned out over the ledge my elbow hit a rock about the size of a Sunkist grapefruit, which then bounced down the mountain and nailed Danny smack dab in the back of the head.
That’s when I heard these words:
“And one to grow on!”
Just in case that comment doesn’t make you laugh, here’s the explanation: when we were kids and it was your birthday, you’d get spanked on the ass, one swat for each year. If you were nine, that was nine swats and then whatever adult was abusing you at the time would add a swat or a pinch while saying, “And one to grown on.”
So at least Danny was alive and had enough undamaged brain cells to be still be funny. After getting dropped off a mountain and whacked in the back of the head with a miniature boulder, saying something that funny is true grace under pressure.
I yelled down to him and asked what he had landed on and he yelled back, “My dick and my cheek” which I found hilarious.
So I yelled back, “Yeah, you’re really cat-like.”
So I’m stuck on the ledge with no way to get down – the boulders we’d climbed on were gone – and Danny was laying on the snow trying to decide if he was really dying or just felt like it and we were both laughing.
OK, maybe it was just me laughing, but I was laughing hard enough for the two of us.
Eventually I got down off the mountain and Danny and I walked back to the car without further incident, but if you meet Danny today you can still see the scar on his cheek. I can’t tell you much about his other point of impact – thank God – but it must be OK because he’s got a kid.
In conclusion let me say you will never meet a nicer, smarter, funnier person than Daniel Joseph Judge.
Just don’t throw him a football.