Fish Pants

By Meg Tuite

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We called them his fish pants. If mom threw them in the hamper at night when
Knuckle stripped them off, he followed her and fished them back out. When mom
tried to sneak in to his bedroom after he was asleep, he took to stuffing them under
his pillow. They billowed out a chicken-of-the-sea stench that gave them their name
and lingering importance that pronounced them before they ever entered a room or
left it.

Knuckle was the youngest of seven in our brood. He went through challenging
phases. When he was two he was a sweeper. He carried the broom everywhere and
swept away at the floor, the rug, our desks and our dog, Shana, who wasn’t as easy
to contain. She kept biting at the bristles, which frustrated him and got in the way of
his progress.

Dad took him to a Cubs game when he was three and he announced to the family
that he was no longer Knuckle. His name was Joe Pepitone. For a few weeks he
scrunched his eyes and looked sour all the time. If any of us called him Knuckle, he
didn’t acknowledge us until we said Joe, and then he’d throw his head back, tip his
baseball cap and nod.

When one of our sister’s blasted Elton John’s latest tape from her room when he was
four, he sat by her stereo and listened to ‘Crocodile Rock,’ over and over. He ripped
down her poster of Elton John sitting at his piano in full regalia on her wall and set it
up along side his bed. For a few months he wore mom’s oversized sunglasses, high
heels and his fish pants as he sashayed down the steps singing with her hairbrush as
a microphone making up his own words to the song.

“I pretended her rock was blind,
me and Squeezie had so much gum,
holding cans and skinny phones
had an old rolled grandma and a piece of my bone…”

We never got tired of his routine. Knuckle was pure entertainment.

When he was five, mom threw away the fish pants. We were all despondent. We felt
like a whole era was blasted away with those pants. Knuckle was going to
kindergarten that year and she told him no one wore baby pants like those anymore.
He was a big boy now. She bought him five pairs of corduroys to choose from. He
picked out the red ones and put them on. He got his Madonna lunch box and kissed
mom goodbye.

Knuckle never pouted, nor said a word to mom. He just didn’t buy it. I was the oldest
brother and was fortunate enough to take him to school on his first day. What joy he
brought back to our household when he came around from the garage, where the
garbage cans were, wearing his gnarly fish pants, now covered with coffee grounds
and egg shells, wafting a much wider girth of back-alley foulness with mom’s
sunglasses and a baseball cap on, belting out Elton John (Knuckle-style) at the top of
his lungs.

Meg Tuite