Toto the Spy: Dealing With My Little Brother

TotoThere is a legend around my brother’s beginning that may or may not be true. But really stories like this are best with partial truths, so I would rather not know how right this may be.

I was in preschool and my friend Gabe Gaddy (Yes, that is his name; I may have misspelled it though) brought his little baby sister in for show-and-tell. The reaction from the kids in the room and the teacher hit a nerve with me. Maybe it was jealously, I’m not sure, but when I went up for my turn I announced my mom was pregnant and I was going to have a little brother.

Yeah, I did that. Made up the entire thing.

Here is where things get a little muddy, either the story got back to my grandmother (who was head of curriculum for the school district) or it was the teacher calling my mother to congratulate her (I always like to imagine the story making it to my grandmother and her reaction), whatever the case my parents heard, putting them into a little bit of a pickle. Either they break the heart of their only son and have him announce his mistake in class (something that surely would have been memorable), or…

Less than a year later I had a little brother.

When my brother was about five, my local civic theater was doing a production of The Wizard of Oz. My mom knew I loved the film (watched it once every few months and had read all of the books by then), so she told me about it and about the upcoming auditions.

To say I was excited was to put it mildly. I even, embarrassingly enough, had daydreams of the director standing from his chair, pointing across the room, declaring: “There! That boy there! That is our Scarecrow! He is a little small and young and doesn’t have any of the training for this, but I see great potential in him.”

Well, that is not how things worked out exactly. The auditions for the munchkins (which is what I was actually auditioning for) was a room filled with hundreds of kids around my age, all dreaming of a yellow brick road; and they brought us up in bunches of twelve to sing a snippet from the movie. I can’t carry a tune to save my life and I was quickly put to the side. No spotlights for me. But then the director noticed my little brother clinging to my mother. “Would he be interested in auditioning?”

My brother, with no fear, got up and sang for a bit. He didn’t get the part of a munchkin.

No… Oh, no…

My brother was cast as Toto.

So for a few months, I was dragged to rehearsal after rehearsal; and there I would sit, watching the privileged kids that were selected to be munchkins, and watching the director who vetoed me so quickly work with my brother on how to be a proper dog.

My brother was totally into the role and would never break character. And, being the youngest in the cast (and so committed to the show and the part), he was soon a favorite with everyone involved. Arrivals and departures were always an event with hugs and high fives.

For me, I was the older brother, the one quiet in the back, pretending to just observe the proceedings, usually pretending to read a book.  I watched as they did script readings, rehearsed in a big hall, moved to the stage, tried on costumes, did dress rehearsals. I think I watched the show a half-dozen times when it actually opened.  And each time the show started, and my brother first appeared on all fours, chasing after Dorothy, all of the moms and grandmothers would sigh “Awww…” perfectly on cue.

The local civic theater had this tradition for their children productions, where after the show the cast, still in costume, would appear outside the theater to meet the audience and sign autographs. One of the favorites was, of course, my brother as Toto. He would sit very politely trying his best to write his first name or Toto on the programs as child after child tried to pet him.

Sometimes in these moments I felt a little like a bodyguard. All I was missing were the sunglasses.

My brother went on to do a series of shows at the theater. He was their Tiny Tim for a few years, he followed after Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, etc. And each show I went along. As I got older I began to work backstage, helping with sets and the curtains, wherever I was needed. I wasn’t bitter about the Oz experience anymore, instead I was studying.

See, even at that age, I knew I wanted to be a writer and there is something magical about being backstage in a theater. And all of the actors and workers were characters in their own right, with their own eccentricities and I watched them, researched and examined them.

To this day, when I get near a theater, there is a little hint of excitement around it, the idea of putting on a show. It is magic, bottled up like in a snow globe.  And when I look back at this part of my youth, that is how it seems, except the snow is turned on by a switch on the side of the stage. And I knew where that switch was.

I went out to Los Angeles for grad school while my brother was studying as an undergrad back in Michigan. I remember getting the call from him a few months after my arrival, stating in no uncertain terms that he was moving out to Hollywood.

At the time, I was living in a very small, single, studio apartment on campus. I tried to explain how small the apartment was but my brother explained that this was happening. And either he was going to stay with me or find other lodgings, but whatever the case he was done and he was ready to get out into the world.

Thinking of my parents, I agreed to let him stay in my place, illegally made copies of the keys for the pad and prepared for his arrival. It was almost as if we snuck him in, bit by bit.

It was all so well-orchestrated and no one really knew (or maybe they just didn’t care) that it was happening.  His mattress hid under my mattress, only being taken out at night. We were so sly, we were able to get him a membership to the university’s gym! (I think we made up a fake address to make that work.) We even debated whether we could get him a student ID with the right convincing.

It all felt so dangerously possible. Yeah, you could almost hear the Mission Impossible theme song. I must admit though, each night I went to bed, worried what would happen when the university figured out what we were doing.

By this point in our lives, my brother and I were kind of going up and down in our friendship. When I was in high school and college, we didn’t get along very well. I was into my writing, my education and I found having to deal with him (and his music and school stuff and his girlfriend who was always, always around) a little exhausting. We got along much better after I went away to Europe to travel by myself for six weeks. Honestly, I came back knowing myself better and because of that a lot of the frustration I was feeling (which he sometimes got the impact of) was no longer a concern.

But this… living with someone in such close confines for two years and thousands of miles away from friends and other family… well… you get to know a person. I swear we could even breathe in sync!

We watched the same shows, read the same books, ate the same food, played the same video games. We had a schedule like an old couple involving specific shows for specific nights (a highlight being Red Dwarf on BBC America followed by Coupling). We could go hours not talking to each other, yet still knowing exactly what the other was thinking. For me, it was a relief when we finally moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Koreatown.

Then my wife moved in, then his wife… and now, so many years later, I live three thousand miles away, and we talk maybe once a month. Sometimes our conversation is little more than comments on each other’s Facebook page (many times involving Red Dwarf). He may retweet something I post on twitter; I might do the same for him. He is a professional photographer out there  (You can visit his website here to see some of his amazing work) and has even had original theatrical work of his produced for the stage.

When my brother comes into town to visit, which is about twice a year, it can sometimes feel like the arrival of a circus. Things seem to be planned for every minute, not surprising since there are kids involved now. Pictures and videos always seem to be about to be taken, or just completed.

Yet, what might be strange is I always kind of hope for the rare quiet moment. No music, no loud conversations filled with people, just a moment I can look over at my little bro and ask, “So how are you doing?”

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading my review, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen DaydreamMaximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

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13 responses

    • Thank you!

      And I’m so glad you are enjoying the book! If you continue to like it, I hope you will consider writing a review or telling others about it. I would love for more to find the novel (I’m pretty proud of it, and in this publishing world you need word of mouth to build an audience). Cheers!

      … Oh, and be sure to write or Tweet to me after to tell me what you think!

  1. Wow – I relate to this on so many levels! I need to talk to my brother more! And yes, I also feel the magic when I get close to a theater. I’ve worked backstage crew since the age of 9, because I could never get cast in anything, but goodness I tried! But for the first time in my life, at the age of 39, I’m now on stage, in the spotlight, and it’s weird! Fabulous, but weird. It’s great as a writer to twist the perspective from backstage to onstage. Have you done any onstage work?

    • I did one medieval play on a college campus while in grad school, which means I spoke old English, sounding like a warped version of Dr. Seuss in tights. Beyond that, no. Someone told me after the show, they could tell I was working through my lines as I “acted.” Argh!

      I do have a love of theater and an obsession with Shakespeare. One of my favorite things I have ever done (which might never be seen) is an adaptation of Hamlet for the big screen.

      So what play are you doing?

      Working backstage was fun as a kid, can’t imagine having the time or patience to do it now though.

  2. Pingback: Time on the Yellow Brick Road: 13 of My Thoughts on The Wizard Of Oz | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  3. First of let me thank you for linking your brother’s photography page. I love to see the works of others, and it was really nice to see the small pieces of a stranger that I’ve only read about as Toto.
    Secondly, thank you for this piece. It brought to life the beginning of a drive to become who you are (a writer), and a wonderful sense of family. Your words painted a picture that brings people through what it could, and usually is, like for siblings. Watching as your sibling succeeds at something you wanted, learning what you want in life, knowing that feeling of want and desire even as you failed at something then working back stage to still be a part of the world that fascinated you. It shows the dynamic between the two of you when you move in together and how you learn to become more friends than just siblings. Then the eventually drifting that happens to even the best of friends, the closest of siblings. The yearning for that one peaceful moment of just being the people you were.
    Beautifully crafted, wonderfully worded.

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you liked it.

      Oh, and if you like my brother’s photography, he does come into Michigan twice a year and does do shots during his visit if they are scheduled. You can reach him via that web page on his Facebook page.

      Cheers!

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