Laugh at My Pain


A Column by Eli Cohen

On a northbound Metro-North train, Joe toughens up, much to Eli's horror.
On a northbound Metro-North train, Joe toughens up, much to Eli’s horror.

“Cousin Joe”

I have this chicken of a cousin named Joseph. We call him Joe for short. Joe is about ten years older than me, and I always saw him as an older brother. He was the guy I could go to and talk to him about things that I felt I couldn’t talk to others about. We shared a lot of interests as well. He was into music just like me. In fact, when I was young, he was the one who introduced me to the guitar, and now, when he visits during the summers, we both play duets together around the bonfire. He’s an amazing skateboarder, and he let me borrow a couple of his longboards at times and I thought it was cool of him to do so. He introduced me to so many movies and books that now hold a special place in my heart.

You’d think he’d be awesome to have around, but there’s one fatal flaw from which he suffers. Joe is a freakin’ wimp! He is scared of anybody who poses a threat to him. If someone were to push him around and say, “Give me your money- or die!”, and this person was just ten years old, Joe would comply to avoid being hurt in any way. Now, don’t get me wrong, I consider myself a pacifist, and there’s no way that violence is the answer to any problem, but there’s a difference in being nonviolent because you think it’s wrong and sticking up for yourself when you have to.

He can’t even talk smack to anyone who’s messing with him, at least not properly that is. Some of his best disses include “Shut up! Your mother’s a woman.” and “Your father married his wife!” and let’s not forget “Do you have two dads? Oh, you don’t!? Well then, I guess you must have no parents.” Yeah…. truly terrifying. I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and crap out a statement that made more sense than that last one. It feels at times that he would freeze up in a life and death situation that could be averted if he were just brave for once.

As for me, I was sick and tired of watching people walking all over this kind hearted fellow. I felt as if I had an obligation to help him out, so I decided to toughen him up before he became somebody’s new rug. I began teaching Joe how to fight back an opposing foe, without needing to get physical. He learned more ‘threatening’ remarks thanks to my tongue being a forte in that matter. After teaching him how to sound tough, I taught him on how to sound believable. I taught him that he needed to get mad. Get real mad! I also taught him about stances, how to look dangerous, and even how to throw a couple of punches. I told him to get physical only when he’d exhausted every other possibility.

I gave him weeks worth of lessons until I felt like he was ready. For a while though, I never knew if my teachings paid off because all was good– no one was bothering Joe. However, one day, Joe and I needed to go pick up his sister from college and bring her home for summer vacation. She goes to Cornell and we had no car, so we needed to take a train to her campus. We got on the train and noticed there weren’t any empty seats in the car, so we both stood holding on to those handrails connected to the ceiling. Our backs faced each other, so I couldn’t see what Joe was doing, but I could hear him. For a while, everything was normal. I just enjoyed my view of the countryside through the giant window panes. But, all of the sudden, I heard my cousin screaming at the tops of his lungs. “You wretched piece of garbage! I’m gonna’ kill you! You piece of crap! Why, I oughta’…” He screamed a bunch of other things but they are too profane for this story’s own good. You get the idea though. Hearing Joe, the same guy who gets scared everytime he sees Swiper the Fox on T.V., going to town on some tough guy who thought he was too much of a weakling to do anything about it, made me so proud!

I then turned around to see the poor sucker’s face, and noticed…that Joe was screaming insults to a man who had no arms or legs. I couldn’t even make this up if I tried. Right there, was a man sitting in a wheelchair, consisting of only a torso and a head red with anger. My cousin then raised a fist. I screamed at him to stop, and grabbed his arm, preventing what may have come next. The train made a stop, and I pushed him off. It wasn’t our stop, but I didn’t care, we needed to get out of there. While I pushed him outside, I could here the amputated man screaming, “Man, I wish I had just one finger! God dammit!” After we got off, I asked my cousin why he started fighting a man who posed no physical threat. He said it was because the man had called him “stupid”. Well, if you’re gonna’ start a fight with an amputee, you deserve the title. We hoofed toward Cornell for a while, just because it was a better alternative to walk the next few miles than wait for the next train, which wasn’t set to arrive for another two hours.

That day, I realized something–I shouldn’t have tried to change my cousin. I should have let him be. While I don’t like seeing others walk all over him, it’s better than him causing larger, more complicated problems. One year later, I went to visit Joe again. He was in a really great place. His new girlfriend (who was once a lesbian) toughened him up a bit and in the proper way. But luckily, he’s never had to use his new skills, and who could blame him. If you knew my cousin Joe, you’d realize he had a big heart, something I had failed to recognize as all that matters.