Jason Sebastian Russo ~ Gym, Tan, Laundry

My for­mer broth­er-in-law once told me that he and his friends spent Friday after­noons at the gym, the tan­ning salon, and the laun­dro­mat before going out to clubs, which made me think of the women in those clubs—full of sad­ness maybe, will­ing to be in a dark room with such men—which made me think of my kid sis­ter, Jen, mag­nif­i­cent and lost, a lover of crazy things. Which made me think of me. An apple from the same tree.

It’s not love that is blind,” I acci­den­tal­ly said when she explained how she’d met some­one new.
“He served the restrain­ing order to Big Al,” she explained.
Big Al was her ex, the father of my niece and nephew.
“He’s a cop?” I asked.
“You’re dat­ing the cop that served the restrain­ing order to your ex?”
“Jen,” I asked after a pause. “Who do we call if a cop becomes the problem?”


He was lean­ing against his car in the cross­walk of the Tarrytown sta­tion when we stepped off the train. We’d expect­ed Jen, in the usu­al pick­up spot. But he’d appar­ent­ly volunteered.

Spoiler alert,” Gianna said grim­ly. She was refer­ring to the fin on the back of his Mazda.

If you run from me, you’re going to catch a beating—after you’re cuffed,” he explained, two min­utes into our dri­ve. This was the sec­ond time we’d met him. He drove very fast and obeyed zero traf­fic laws. “She’s a fuck­ing bitch,” he said of Hillary Clinton.

He was full of brava­do and, unlike any­one else on earth, scared of me. Me, not want­i­ng to mess up my del­i­cate musi­cian hands in a fight. Me, con­stant­ly try­ing to put every­one off their guard. Me, basi­cal­ly the oppo­site of a cop.

My sister’s great and ter­ri­ble beau­ty wield­ed such power.
He need­ed my approval, as the eldest. He was expect­ing some­one big­ger. He eyed me like maybe I have some secret mar­tial art status.

Bro” he said with extreme seri­ous­ness, “I love all kinds of music.”


Our par­ents let us know that the rhythm method failed them. We some­how knew, too, that our moth­er met with the pas­tor, to try and get spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion to use con­tra­cep­tion. For men­tal health reasons.

It worked; Jen was the last of us. She was born ten years after I was and quick­ly became a major play­er in the deplet­ed econ­o­my of parental atten­tion and resources. The focus of our fam­i­ly shifted.

Jen’s world was on fire. She was in con­stant motion, either ecsta­t­ic or in cri­sis. Our par­ents kept her in cages; cribs and screened-in porch­es. She’d escape, and we’d find her half a mile away help­ing some­one weed their garden.

She looked like J Lo, every­one told us.

I stole her Ritalin once, and it changed my life for a half an hour. Then I crashed so hard I had to leave rehearsal and lay down in my car.


I knew I was in trou­ble when I heard you were com­ing,” she said with an embar­rassed smile, propped up with those scratchy pil­lows they give you at St. John’s Episcopal. She had to take the CPAP thing off to say it.

They’d been mar­ried for half the year. Things had hap­pened very quickly.

She seemed repentant.

My youngest broth­er, Joe, had spent the night in the weird lounge chair in the cor­ner. I was more pro­tec­tive of Jude, our mid­dle broth­er. It was as if we’d each been assigned a partner.

My arrival at the hos­pi­tal sig­naled some­thing clos­er to an inter­ven­tion. There was an air of gravity.


Joe told me to just smoke pot. I’m down to two tram­mies and a quar­ter of an oxy, but those fuck­ers are expensive.”

I get it,” I said.

How long has it been?” she asked.

October is 19 years”

They steal them from the deal­ers,” she tried to whis­per, her eyes wide with empha­sis. Looking around as if her new hus­band and his dirty cop bud­dies could be any­where. Then she coughed for a full five minutes.


It’s bull­shit,” he said.

He was sit­ting on the front porch, between us and the door, that last Thanksgiving, in a wife-beat­er and enor­mous flowy bas­ket­ball shorts.

I can bare­ly walk,” he explained, over the course of sev­er­al min­utes, while we stood there hold­ing bags of groceries.

The koi fish had frozen sol­id in the pond along the walkway.

I slipped in front of Applebee’s,” he explained.

He turned his visor back­wards to show us a small bruise on his fore­head. His pupils buffered like videos.

They’re counter-suing me for fraud, but you can’t just fire a cop.”

It had been a weird year of down­grad­ed expec­ta­tions, and, per­haps as a coun­ter­weight, we decid­ed to have Thanksgiving at their new house. This was a few months after Jen’s hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. We uncon­scious­ly drew toward her, like white blood cells.

Life is nuts,” I said to Gianni in the car.


What hap­pens is always so unimag­in­able,” I said. “But then almost makes sense.”

Yeah, or vice-ver­sa,” she said.


Having a cop in the fam­i­ly had ben­e­fits. We all got lit­tle stick­ers to put in the win­dows of our cars. Joe’s speed­ing tick­ets got dis­missed. The job qual­i­fied Jen for our generation’s first mort­gage. She had been liv­ing in our parent’s place pri­or, where she and Big Al took the liv­ing room over with his giant video game flat screen.

Her new house was big­ger than any­thing any­one in our fam­i­ly had ever lived in. There was a room for each kid. I paint­ed Ninja Turtles on the wall above my nephew’s bed. There was room for a prop­er sit-down meal. None of us were going to end up on the couch with a plate of food on our knees.

Jen seemed to have access to an end­less line of cred­it, or cash, too. She bought a giant din­ing room set with ornate, tall-backed, chairs. Pallets of gold­fish crack­ers, juice box­es, and oth­er kid snacks were piled so high we couldn’t close the dou­ble doored pantry. The sink had one of those hoses you spray pots with; the faucet had an impos­ing swan like spout.

Their mas­ter bedroom—the most uncom­fort­able fea­ture of any oblig­a­tory tour—had the biggest bath­room we’d ever seen attached to it. There was a car sized hot tub shaped like a seashell in lieu of a bath­tub. There were two sinks. We laughed when Jen showed us the gun safe next to the toi­let. Our fam­i­ly had a tra­di­tion of keep­ing weapons in the bathroom.

My brother-in-law’s non-stop mono­logue shift­ed up a gear after they moved in. It fold­ed in on itself and con­sol­i­dat­ed; all he spoke about was his dis­abil­i­ty case. Every con­ver­sa­tion found its way back to the com­plex­i­ties of our city’s legal sys­tem. He’d answer my sister’s phone and ask to “run some­thing by me” before Jen grabbed it from him.

By Thanksgiving he’d stopped work­ing entire­ly and grown a beard. His “Blue Lives Matter” t‑shirts looked box­i­er. He wore socks under huge Adidas flip flops instead of shoes.

He posi­tioned him­self around the house strate­gi­cal­ly, so it was impos­si­ble to avoid him. I’d round a cor­ner and he’d step behind me, chess-like, cut­ting me off from the larg­er fam­i­ly con­ver­sa­tion. He had the upper hand; he knew the ter­rain. He caught me in the break­fast nook and ask if we had a sav­ings account he could deposit a check in for tax reasons.

The meal was bed­lam. Like the bat­tle scene in Saving Private Ryan but com­posed of chil­dren. Some form of pet or a child slid past my leg under the table at reg­u­lar inter­vals. My nephew dragged a giant mal­lard around, the kind you use as a hunt­ing decoy. It weighed him down and he was hav­ing trou­ble keep­ing up with the oth­er kids. They most­ly moved as one like a school of piranhas.

We com­ple­ment­ed Jen on the turkey, and I, the senior sib­ling, got to eat the pope’s nose. After dessert, the kids went and jumped up and down on the sleet-cov­ered tram­po­line. Their scream­ing heads appeared then dis­ap­peared in the win­dow above the kitchen sink. We’d always want­ed a tram­po­line when we were kids. I cheered them on while I did the dishes.

We have a dish­wash­er,” Jen said.

I laughed. “I don’t know how to work them.”

The post pran­di­al chore fren­zy had a com­pet­i­tive ener­gy to it. There weren’t enough to go around. Gianni almost cut her thumb off on the giant indus­tri­al roll of tin foil we used to box up leftovers.

Do you like this?” my broth­er-in-law asked, ful­ly ambu­la­to­ry now, wav­ing incense from a giant ceram­ic drag­on at us. “It’s called Red Dragon.”


Yonkers’ finest picked her up in the Elantra. She had her Glock, the dou­ble bar­reled 16 gauge, a cross­bow, and two machetes in the trunk. She’d only macheted the drag­on, she said, but they charged her with assault any­way. She’d fled with the kids, hop­ing to make it to Betty Anne’s.

The Weeper called his bud­dies,” she said, rue­ful­ly. “He knew I was going to turn him in.”

My broth­er-in-law and I had the same name, and he was prone to mak­ing his points by cry­ing, so we called him The Weeper to dis­tin­guish us. His bouts of con­fes­sion­al and weird­ly timed fam­i­ly speech­es had increased after his sus­pen­sion hearing.

Jen had threat­ened to email the Office of Health and Human Services. It was her ace in the hole dur­ing their fights.

Our par­ents remort­gaged the house we grew up in and got a lawyer. Jen spent the week­end some­where inside the Yonkers Police Department, and it was most­ly com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice, piss tests, and ankle bracelets after that. And more restrain­ing orders, of course.

Ankle mon­i­tors had got­ten small­er and more pre­cise look­ing since the sum­mer Joe and I played 007 nine hours a day. For the longest time, we couldn’t fig­ure out if it was the Nintendo or his foot that was mak­ing the beep­ing noise.


It took one more mar­riage, but things evened out. grad­u­al­ly though, like plants toward a win­dow, or a chess match in reverse. We joked about the hos­pi­tals. We talked about car repairs. Her old­est is a year away from puber­ty now. The tram­po­line in the back­yard is sur­round­ed by long grass.


Jason Sebastian Russo is a writer, com­pos­er, and artist based in Brooklyn and cen­tral New York state. His work appears in The Nervous Breakdown, Hobart, Ghost City Press, No Contact, and beyond. He has toured and record­ed with Mercury Rev, Pete International Airport, and Hopewell, among oth­ers. Find sam­ples of his work on jasonsebastianrusso.com and fol­low him on Twitter: @retsoor