Today would have been my brother’s — strictly, my half-brother’s — seventy-eighth birthday. My only sibling’s. But he only made it to sixty-nine. His sudden, unexpected death in early 2012 stunned me, and it still wounds me from time to time. I feared, given his biological father’s own sudden (and much younger) death, that he might pass away before he reached a very advanced age. But he had been (or so I thought) doing well, and I envisioned years stretching before us.
I often find myself wishing that I could speak with him, either to share something that he would enjoy or to seek his advice on something.
One memory for tonight: For several months, we ran a little weekend business. It involved something called, as I remember, “Jet Seal.” Now, Jet Seal was a foul-smelling petroleum product that could be used to “seal” cracks in asphalt driveways and parking lots, to prevent them from widening, to block water from entering through them and undermining the broader pavement. That’s when it was applied at full strength. However, when it was extremely diluted with water, it could be painted over asphalt surfaces to make them look deeply black, like newly-laid asphalt. In that diluted form, it might have retained some slight protective power, but it could have been very much.
However, we discovered that there was considerable demand for diluted Jet Seal. It was obviously much cheaper than ripping up an existing parking lot or driveway and altogether replacing it, but it gave the appearance of fresh blacktop without the costly reality. (There must, surely, be a sermon somewhere in that.) We were quite upfront about what we regarded as the fundamental worthlessness of highly diluted Jet Seal, but people wanted it anyway.
Kenneth had bought an old pickup truck for twenty-five dollars. (I think he was cheated; I practically had to stand on the running board pouring oil into it as we drove.) We would load it up with several metal barrels of pure Jet Seal and do several driveways on a given Saturday. And we were paid pretty well for it. I remember imagining my autobiography, published someday after a long and prosperous life: How I Made a Fortune with Dirty Water.
The work wasn’t overly interesting, except that it was fun to spend time with my brother, and those inland Saturdays in southern California were pretty warm. And maybe the truck died. But I think that what made us give our business up was the sheer overpowering stench of the Jet Seal. It smelled like strong tar, and no amount of showering and scrubbing seemed to get it fully off. It wasn’t exactly good for my social life. I had a serious, steady girlfriend whom I really liked, and I didn’t want to lose her because I smelled as if I had been doing laps in the La Brea Tar Pits.
I would be wonderfully happy, though, to have even one more opportunity to slosh Jet Seal around with my brother. I miss him deeply.
Happy birthday, Kenneth!