Today is my brother Phil’s birthday. Phil lives in Roswell, Georgia, outside Atlanta, and at one point Newt Gingrich was Phil’s representative in Congress. But Phil never capitalized on that relationship. It wouldn’t be like Phil to capitalize on a relationship. He is one of the gentler souls in the world, and his focus is on his marriage to his lovely wife Grace and raising their beautiful daughters Julie, Lani, and Merilee. Over the years Phil put up with plenty of nonsense from his older siblings, Katy and Dave, and his younger brother, yours truly, but true to form, he remained loving and caring through it all.
It was Phil who taught me the basic left hand boogie piano bass when I was a kid, and lo, these many years later, I am still using that same left hand bass line, even when I am playing songs like “Ave Maria.” It was Phil who taught me how to drive, which considering how much I enjoyed a “party” as a young person, is probably grounds for New York State to sue him.
Back in 1971 or 1972 Phil and I wound up living in Palo Alto for a year because our dad was at some Stanford University think-tank on a sabbatical from his work in inner-city New York. Phil was struggling a little with his program at Haverford College, and I was taking advantage of the whole situation to skip an entire year of high school. (Ha ha, too late, I got away with it!) Phil and I roamed around the Bay Area for much of that year—that was when I fell in love with San Francisco—taking in the sites and exploring mind expanding moments like sunsets, etc.
For some reason we had a Steiff alligator hand puppet “Gaty,” which we named George and carried with us everywhere. George took on a life of his own. Whether I was holding him or Phil was, George had the same voice, a sort of falsetto growl, and the same grumpy, sarcastic personality. George didn’t take any guff from anybody. He thought almost everything was bull and said so. I guess George was some sort of alter-ego for us, saying all the wise ass things we might not always be confident to say ourselves, having been raised the nice boys of a minister father.
Eventually the year came to an end and we went back to real life on the East Coast, Phil bought another Gaty so we would each have one, and we named him Frank. Frank and George were essentially identical, although they didn’t think so. The years passed and in due course Frank and George sat on their respective bookshelves, forgotten. Occasionally I tried to explain the puppets to other people, but there was really only one other person who understood—or three, if you include Frank and George.
I called Phil this morning and sang “Happy Birthday” to him, utilizing that durable left hand piano bass line. Thank you, Phil. I love you. We all love you. Even George and Frank.