Three wild & crazy Czech brothers

Three Wild And Crazy Czechoslovak Brothers

There was a skit on Saturday Night Live by Steve Martin and Martin Short called “Two Wild and Crazy Czechoslovak Brothers.” – it is funny stuff. Well, I have joked for years – we three Hlavac brothers are “Three Wild and Crazy Czechoslovak Brothers” – for never could such entirely different, vastly different three brothers come from the same family. The differences would take a book to describe by tale after tale. This is just a short version. We are Bobby, Jimmy and Charlie – that’s us. We were lucky we were not named Ladislav, Bohumil and Vyechslav like the elders in the family wanted.

This picture is the last picture of us together – in late May or early June, 1978, Bobby back from basic training, Charlie about ready to go – and me with a one way ticket to San Francisco in my hands – we were never together long enough again for anyone to take a picture.

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My brother Robert (Bob, Bobby) who is just 9 months older than me.– did indeed commit suicide by shooting himself in the head in January 2010. However this has actually zero correlation to any “family history of suicide” and an “at risk factor” for me for a plethora of reasons.

Primarily – the last time I saw my two brothers was in 1984. One day in 1985 they simply disappeared, and I was living in Houston, Texas when they did it. I came home and found out they were gone. They went together. I have no idea why, nor does anyone in my family. My late mother didn’t know. My sister doesn’t know. My father doesn’t know. No one, they just went. One day they were there at a business doing collision work in Uniondale or Hempstead Long Island – I don’t even know – I never went to their place of business – and the next day the place, and their apartment, (And I never knew where it was – I never had their address even,) I’m told, was vacant and they were gone. My mom and I went to the police – there was no help to be had. They had the right to move away in their 20s – and they exercised it. Nor did they seem to ever talk to anyone in the family again – not my mother, father, sister, aunts, uncles, grandmother – no one – or maybe Aunt Pam, and I really don’t know that either. I think starting in the early 2000s or so – my mother would get an envelope with pictures of their projects – but no phone calls or anything. I’m not really sure, but perhaps in 2009 was the first time Charlie and Bobby spoke to our mother since 1985.

They apparently lived together for their entire lives – it turns out first in Palmdale California and then in Danville California and then in McMinnsport Oregon. They never married. There are rumors that my little brother left behind a trail of children – I do not know for sure – but no one ever said I was “at risk” for having a slew of bimbo girlfriends and unacknowledged kids, that’s for sure. And does my brother Charlie like some skanky women – the “gentleman’s club” sort. He did in high school – and from all indications he does now in Florida.

I did not know where they went – or what they did where they were. I simply had zero knowledge of them from 1985 – until I received word from my mother in 2010 that he shot himself. Had he called I would have tried to talk him out of it – but he did not call me – not ever in my life. The man simply never spoke to me more than 2 dozen or so words at a time since 1978. I have never had any meaningful conversation with either of them – they are complete ciphers to me in many ways.

Before Bobby joined the Air Force he basically for 2 or 3 years stayed in the basement and watched TV – and I haven’t watched TV since 1973 – and I had a job at a local Long Island supermarket for 2 years, while on Tuesdays and Saturdays I would go the Ninth Circle, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. He was a hermit – and I was a bon vivant about town.

In 1994 when my grandmother died I got their phone number from my Aunt Pam, through her ex-husband my Uncle Charlie – how she had it I do not know. So I called. And I told Bobby, as I called him, “Grandma died,” and he said “I don’t give a damn” and hung up. The call lasted oh, 2 minutes.

But more so – from 1978 until 1984 I saw them maybe a dozen times. I did not get along with my brothers. My little brother Charles (Charlie) is a year younger than me. We were born in 1957, 1958, and 1959. But throughout our childhood we simply were so different that we were not friends. We were not buddies. We were not ‘brothers’ in any loyal, supportive, or work together sense. Oh, sure, I suppose we were all cordial – from 1969 until 1976 we shared one big 24’x14′ bedroom, with our beds in a row dormitory style – but we were not friends. Frankly, and I joked about it for years – if I met these two in a bar I would walk away. They got along great with each other – but I was never included in any games – we just didn’t really do anything together. They went everywhere together. I went and did something else. Nor did we fight – there was no violence – arguing, eh, sure – but no fighting ever.

And so in a sense they were complete strangers to me. Nothing they did had a shred of influence on me.

In April 1978 Bobby willingly enlisted for 4 years in the United States Air Force – and served the duration. In 1980-1982 he was stationed at Mildenhall, Cambridge, England – and I lived in Manhattan going to NYU and working as a printer. I got a letter from him telling me I was living my life wrong somehow – it was a very weird letter.

In May 1978 Charlie was pushed into enlisting for 4 years in the United States Air Force – and served 2 years or so – and for some reason I do not know – got separated with an honorable discharge. He was pushed by a judge – and my mom, Aunt Marion, other family – for the young man was on the road to perdition. Seems he and a friend were caught in Harlem looking for African-American hookers for their birthdays – and they forgot about the shotgun in the backseat – and the cops inquired – and the case brought – and Bobby’s recruiter spoke up and said “We will take him if the court allows” — and so the judge ordered it I guess. I really don’t know the details – because I said I didn’t want to know. I was importuned to provide his bail and attorney money – I would not, though I had it. Aunt Marion did.

And in June 1978 – I bought a one way ticket to San Francisco – to “join” the vaunted “Homosexual Lifestyle.” There was commentary in the family that perhaps “Three sons in the air force, oh my” and I said “No, I cannot join the service – I am not going to hide for anyone.”

And that’s the thing – I was out gay – never in any closet – by the time I was what? 8, 10, 12? I was just it – I didn’t say “I’m a homosexual” I said “Oh my he’s just adorable!” And well, everyone in the family was fine with it – I guess. No one ever had a negative word in my family – not even my two brothers – it was just a was. Though the funniest story I have with Bobby is this: In 1977 he and his friend Eric Renneau took me to a real live 42nd Street peep show. They thought perhaps if I looked at a naked woman, I would turn straight. So we went – and they wouldn’t go in, while insisting I go into the ludicrous place. The lady at the front door approached us, “What’s up boys?” I explained the plan. She and I just laughed. She said, “Oh, come in for free, take a peek.” So I did – I was, beats me – it was utterly ridiculous. Then I offered to take them to my favorite gay bar – they declined. So I went, and regaled the fellows with the story. I’ve been telling it for decades.

Maybe my brothers didn’t like me either – seemed that way. However, we three are very talented – but very differently so.

Bobby was a brilliant artist – he really was. But also a moody, vindictive, nasty man. He was just nasty, there was no joy with him – but I am this happy go lucky jokester. But – I rescued his art, I still have many pieces of his. He would do a brilliant work – and then sometime later destroyed it. That guy destroyed so much – he was destructive. And I am not – I am the complete opposite – I am a preserver. He went to Pratt institute in Brooklyn for art – I went to NYU in Manhattan for words.

Charlie is a brilliant car person – anything to do with cars – he can do – it’s amazing his restorations of old vehicles. His ability with an airbrush is stunning. He can pull apart and reassemble an engine in a day. He jumped a car over a 30 foot wide canal in Freeport, Long Island, NY. He built a ¾ sized working model of a Harley Davidson motorcycle – out of wood. Even the pistons went up and down. And I have no mechanical ability at all. I can barely turn a screw.

Charlie more so, but Bobby too, have no fear of heights, or edges – they would go to the edge of every cliff they could find – and I would stay 10 feet back. They went deep out in the waves at the beach – I stayed in the shallows. They played with bugs – I read a book. They had perfect vision – I wore glasses since kindergarten. They can draw faces – I cannot. They love and own and shoot guns – I am gun shy and never go near them. They have muscular builds – the classic V-shaped torso and bulging pecs and arms – and I am a scrawny proverbial 98 lb weakling. They cannot utter a word in a foreign language – I can handle a half dozen with ease. They developed at 13, 14, the usual age – I had developed at 8, I was shaving by the time I was 12 – Bobby couldn’t even grow more than peach fuzz. I doubt either one ever read any books more than shoved to read a textbook in school – I read 200 books a year on average. They never read the newspaper – I started reading the NY Times when I was 15, and William F. Buckley’s “National Review” for that matter. They wanted to know nothing of our Czech heritage – I wanted to know everything. They both got their driver’s license when they were 16 and got cars to work on – and I didn’t get a driver’s license until I was 27 years old. They are tough – I am soft.

And so all the things that they were made of – is I suppose “a family history” — but have nothing to do with me – I am not “at risk” to be a car mechanic or brilliant moody artist or have a great body. And they didn’t seem to be “at risk” to be a gay guy.

In a sense – Bobby got emotion, Charlie got brawn, and I got brain. I got music and writing and language talents. I got intellect – they got hands on.

In high school – people would introduce us to each other: “Say, you guys have the same last name.” No one could believe we were brothers – we are that different. Every aspect of our personalities is different – there are no similarities. More amazing, I am dark haired, brown eyed and tall – Charlie is blond haired, green eyed and short. We don’t even resemble each other in any way. By brother Bobby has the ‘hlavac’ look – he looks most like my grandfather Methodej Hlavac – I got the ‘herel’ look – I look like Bohumil Herel, my mother’s grandfather. Charlie has the ‘javurek’ look – after my mother’s father. That’s how different we are.

After we all went our ways in 1978 I really had no regular contact with them. It was perhaps only at my mom’s house in Baldwin, Long Island that we encountered each other. I came out from Manhattan on a Saturday – and they were there – we just harrumphed at each other – and went back to our lives.

However – the only thing we all enjoyed was pinochle. My father taught us the game when we were 10 and 11 and so – and we all played regularly as kid – and it was fun filled nights at the dining room table playing the game for hours. And Risk and Monopoly too, but not like pinochle.

The first time I met Charlie since 1984 was at my Bobby’s memorial in 2010. We had three wonderful days together just talking about it all – our lives. And with my father and sister – the four of us played pinochle like in olden days. And we have zero in common except that we had the same parents. Then Charlie moved to Florida and I really have no contact with him. I doubt I ever will.

So to argue that these two brothers of mine – so vastly different fellows from me – with such vastly different lives – means I have any “at risk” anything for what they did is simply absurd. I suppose, if you want to go that route – they both are “at risk” for being gay men – and they are not.

But if some relationship is required for some influence upon another – than I would point to my 18 cousins – I was in regular contact with them all my life – and only 3 were divorced (2 after very short 2 year marriages, before they got into long term marriages, and one after 20 years) – but the rest of them have been happily married for 30, 40 years – with kids – and I suppose if I’m “at risk” from a “family history” – then being married with children is far more likely – than blowing my head off with a gun I am afraid to go near.

Our genes? Well, from the same pool – but we got such complete separate sets that there is no connection other than the same 8 great-grandparents.

And yet beyond the simple question “anyone in your family commit suicide?” – no one in the system wanted to know another word. If I started to explain – they simply dismissed it and went on to something else. Nothing else mattered about an event 2000 miles away from me by a man I never spoke to for nigh on 40 years and am so vastly different, even opposite, from.

But think about it – while my two brothers were in the Air Force as fine men and a plus to the nation – I was out in San Francisco – and then living in Greenwich Village – as a social pariah at war with the entirety of society. That’s how similar we are.


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