Around Maple Shade, people still refer to me as “Meri Nester’s brother.” Meredith Ann Nester’s look perfectly suited the early-1980s: long, blonde hair (enhanced by Sun-In), Bongo jeans from Merry-Go-Round, cut sweat shirts, and jelly pumps. I wore husky Wranglers, tube socks, and glasses that remained tinted indoors. Meri made varsity cheerleading by eighth grade. I played trombone and sent away for free pamphlets from the Consumer Information Catalog. Meri was the barefoot girl in Bruce Springteen’s “Jungleland” who sat on the hood of a Dodge and drank warm beer in the soft summer rain. I’m the misfit who listened to Rush’s “Subdivisions,” and wondered how a Canadian band knew that the suburbs had no charms to soothe the restless dreams of my youth.
If Meri Nester reacted to Maple Shade like I did, I might not have gone crazy. But she didn’t react to Maple Shade like I did. And so I did go crazy.
Meri took things in stride. Meri took The Shade in stride. Meri wanted to experience this thing called fun. She wanted to engage in this activity called hanging out and surrounded herself with an entourage of like-minded Shader foxes I’d otherwise never meet. They all hung out and had fun.
“Oh, you’re Meri Nester’s older brother?” Shader dudes said to me on the baseball field. “I didn’t know she had a brother.” Pause. “Your sister’s a fox.”
What went unsaid was Geez, your sister is pretty and fun, and you’re the guy who sits in front of the Wawa and reads Mad magazine.
When my friends in band started calling Meri a fox to my face, I realized I was regarded as the Hunchback of West Woodlawn Avenue, who hid away for fear of bringing shame upon our family. I was a feral dork best kept indoors.
The fox, the Greek poet once wrote, knows many things. It resists boiling the world down to one idea. That was Meri. She knew everyone in town and was friends with all of them. I was a hedgehog which the same poet observed obsesses over one big thing, which was why I didn’t fit in.
Meri outwitted me at every turn. She was the Bugs Bunny to my Yosemite Sam, the Ferris Bueller to my Jeanie Bueller. She had better grades, scored higher on tests, and was more evenly tempered than her dramatic older brother. As she moved gracefully among Maple Shade’s social sets, boys jammed sticks in my bike spokes, which sent the trombone case propped on my handlebars forward like a projectile, followed by my large, hedgehog head.
At home, Meri rearranged my carefully alphabetized cassette wall shelf just to fuck with me. If I gave her any guff, she pulled my hands toward her chest, a working-the-ref tactic she knew would bring out the warrior-protector in Mom.
“Don’t touch her there!” she shouted. “Don’t you know her body is going through changes?”
Meri wasn’t embarrassed by me; she was embarrassed for me. I would walk down the street by myself, a boombox on my shoulder playing a mix of the latest soft rock, and there would be my sister with a flight of friends engaged in suburban sacraments, their purses stuffed with pony bottles of beer some old man scored for them.
Meri broke away from her group to say hello, but it was more out of pity than a genuine happiness to see me. We both knew what was going on. Our town quickly sorts out the gawky from graceful.
Notes on the Bon Jovi Incident
I’d resigned myself to being outsmarted by my younger sister. Until the Bon Jovi Incident.
It began when Meri got dropped off by a different group of boys, and in a different car, than the group that had picked her up. This occurred after Meri obtained special permission from Mom to go to Bratz, a local rock club, to see an unknown band called Bon Jovi.
This was years before Bon Jovi’s big break with “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Their hit around this time was “In and Out of Love,” but an older song, “Runaway,” remained my sister’s favorite. As best as I could tell, “Runaway” tells the story of a girl, who dresses very much like my sister, who works as a prostitute. Meri played “Runaway” constantly. Its synth intro pierced the wall between our rooms.
Minutes after Meri came home, I heard Mom shouting.
“You’ve got the goods!”
I cracked my door open so I could witness my younger sister actually get in trouble. Mom wagged her index finger, and Meri stood in front of her, arms crossed, stone-faced. She had super-tight acid-wash jeans, a matching denim jacket gathered at the waist that made her torso look V-shaped, and white leather boots. I knew that, deep inside her Le Sports Sac, she had beer bottles slipped inside Wigwam socks to muffle their clinking.
“Are you listening to me? You’ve got the goods!”
“The “goods” my Mom spoke of comprised my sister’s virginity, honor, boobs, or some combination of the three. Mom stressed that she had these “goods” to indicate that they can somehow be, respectively, taken, lost, or groped.
It wasn’t just the fact that she stayed out late and got a ride home from a different set of boys. This talking-to in the living room occurred after Meri had been caught with a joint. A marijuana cigarette! Inside her V-shaped denim jacket!
The only time Mom ever smoked pot, ever smelled it even, happened with Dad just after both of us were born. Mom and Dad sat in the backyard smoking a doobie, drinking Blue Nun wine. Then a lightning storm came, and that was all it took to freak Mom out. She never tried it again.
My mother thought my sister was drugged and abducted by Bon Jovi fans, and dropped off on our front lawn.
The jig is up, I thought. Meri Nester was finally getting her due.
And here’s exactly when I gave up all hopes of ever getting away with anything: my sister got off scot-free.
Why? I’ll tell you why. She used The Greg Brady Defense. It was so transparent to me when it happened, but Mom never saw it coming. Oh, I’m sorry: you’re not familiar with The Greg Brady Defense? I’ll remind you. The Greg Brady Defense comes from the episode “Where There’s Smoke” (Season 2, Episode 14) from the acclaimed family dramedy The Brady Bunch.
Greg, the oldest brother, meets up with some friends who want him to join their “hard rock” band, The Banana Convention. As they talk, they offer him a cigarette, which Greg puffs on and coughs while he tries to act cool. The Brady sisters—Marcia, Jan, Cindy—see this and narc on Greg. He admits to smoking a cigarette, but the Brady parents don’t punish him, rewarding Greg for his honesty.
Later in the episode, a whole pack of cigarettes falls out of Greg’s jacket. Now everybody thinks he’s really in trouble, including Greg, but get this: he says it’s not his jacket, it’s someone else’s. What’s more, Mr. and Mrs. Brady believe him. So he’s off the hook.
“If I was in your place, I’m not sure I’d believe me,” Greg says.
In Greg Brady’s case, it truly wasn’t his jacket. In my sister’s case, it was.
Patti Nester was relieved to find out her daughter wasn’t a pot-smoking prostitute who listened to Bon Jovi; that she was, instead, a Bud pony–drinking, 16-year-old girl who merely dressed like a prostitute and listened to Bon Jovi. Now that she’d given her daughter the female empowerment speech, Meri got off with time served.
I cracked open my door to see Meri saunter back to her room. She smiled, gave me the finger, and shut the door.
Excerpt from Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects by Daniel Nester. Reprinted with permission from 99: The Press.
DANIEL NESTER is the author most recently of Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects (99: The Press 2015). Previous books include How to Be Inappropriate (Soft Skull, 2010), God Save My Queen I and II (Soft Skull, 2003 and 2004), and The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody, 2014), which he edited. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Morning News, The Rumpus, Best American Poetry, Third Rail: The Poetry of Rock and Roll, and Now Write! Nonfiction. He is an associate professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, where he edits Pine Hills Review and runs the Frequency North reading series. You can also find him on Twitter.
Author photo by Thomas V. Hartmann
Author photo by Thomas V. Hartmann: