It’s Not Where You Start: I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party

Originally posted on It’s Not Where You Start.

(Apparently it’s Noel Coward week on this blog. It’s taken all my effort to avoid the obligatory “Why Do the Wrong People Travel” post, if only because that’s too easy.)

It turns out that an extended weekend in Vegas may have been exactly what I needed, and I am grateful to my brother for making it happen.

I had reason to be nervous, as I mentioned earlier in the week. My brother and I have a mostly positive relationship these days, but that wasn’t always the case. When we have fought in the last few years, it’s generally been when our parents are around. On the other hand, we tend to do best when we visit on his turf. There’s no question that this weekend, while physically at Planet Hollywood, was spiritually all his turf. It didn’t hurt that I spent time with my parents, and time with my brother, but little time with all four of us together.

About sixty guests descended on Vegas for the affair — aunts, uncles cousins; my brother’s friends from high school and college; colleagues past and present from across the entertainment industry; and more than a few of his clients, a mix of actors you’d recognize as “oh, that guy” and some younger talent who, if you have kids of Nickelodian age, you’d be clamoring to get your picture taken with.

I wasn’t sure where I’d fit. Nothing is potentially more depressing than a Vegas vacation with your parents and married-with-children cousins, except doing that immediately following a breakup. But while I know many of my brother’s friends and clients, the former as mostly older than me and the latter mostly younger, so I wasn’t sure how much fun I’d have with either.

I remember my brother’s 30th birthday party, not long after I graduated college and moved to Los Angeles to have a go at the world of entertainment myself. That year, my brother was house-sitting for his boss, occupying a gorgeous beach-side property in Malibu. For the party, about 25 of us gathered at an oceanside restaurant of his choosing. This was at the point when my brother had started to enjoy enough success that he (and some of his friends) could spend lavishly. But many of his other friends (and yours truly) were still starting out in the industry, so the dinner tab (a couple hundred dollars a person, once the alcohol and my brother’s meal were factored in) soured more than a few attitudes.

I searched for a present for weeks, feeling so proud when I was able to locate a then-impossible-to-find Razor Scooter (retail: $120) to help my brother feel both hip and young. All told, I probably spent more on that one night than any other leisure activity my entire time in Los Angeles. But I was happy to do it, because that was the beginning of having a real, grown-up relationship with my brother. (Bonding with his disgruntled friends after dinner didn’t hurt, either.)

Flash forward ten years, and none of us are quite so pinched for cash. (I mean, I’m not rolling in it, but I had a year’s warning to prepare for this trip.) So I came knowing I’d be participating in a poker tournement with a $70 buy-in… and even though I only lasted a half-hour in the game, I know it meant something to my brother that I participated. I gladly booked a hotel room and a flight and all the rest.

Of course, in the intervening years, my brother has also done well for himself, enabling him to be as generous a host as one could hope for. He kept all his guests fed and liquored and entertained from the minute we arrived (when he sent a car service to meet me at the airport) until the minute we left (bowing out early from buffet-brunch-for-forty this morning).

The best surprise is that his friends who always seemed so much older than I now might as well be my age. Everyone who’s ever grown up is familiar with this phenomenon — the distance between 30 and 40 is much shorter than the distance between 20 and 30. So when my brother turned in for the night, I found myself heading out to the trip with his friends from college. It was totally comfortable — I’m no longer getting by on the novelty of being the little brother — and totally fun. Check out the video of me riding the mechanical bull at 3 AM.

Saturday night was the main event, a banquet dinner with testimonials, a short documentary about my brother produced by his friends, a game show about his life created and hosted by a former child star, and a surprise performance by a Neil Diamond impersonator. Many of us give my brother a lot of grief about his desire for perfection and his temper when it’s not achieved, but it was great to hear so many of us speak to his better qualities. The number of people from all the different eras of his life, who traveled from every part of the country to celebrate with him is a testament to his loyalty, devotion, and generosity with the people in his life.

Spending time with his friends unleashed lots of comparisons as they tried to examine the ways in which my brother and I are alike. We have similar voices, similar mannerisms, and the same laugh. We can both unfurl a perfectly-timed sarcastic barb when needed, and we both exhibit symptoms of what I call “organizational cancer” — we can’t get involved with anything without taking over. But more importantly, we both excel at holding on to the people who are important to us, keeping strong ties to friends near and far whether we see them all the time or only once a year. I’ve often joked that hospitality is my signature mitzvah, and while my brother would never put it in those terms, it’s what he does best.

At the end of the short documentary about his life (which I hope will end up on YouTube soon), his friends included a save the date for his 50th birthday, to be celebrated in Hawaii in September, 2020. We all laughed, but we all mentally marked our calendars. This was a weekend we’re all looking forward to repeating, reliving, and topping.

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