A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE – The Middle Child

Thursday 12/19/13: I have been sick face down in a pillow all week making email emoticon and pop tart sacrifices to Atepomarus, the Greek God of healing, but as usual, I receive no help from him. What an ass, really. What does he need? Virgins. White stallions, chocolate pudding? Help a guy out, you stupid jerk!

Saturday 12/21/13: What happened? Just woke up from another three-day face down brain buster. Felt like I almost died.

 But I don’t want to be overly dramatic about my week as you’ll see why. My brother Tony has decided to jump the shark and enter the fray as guest blawger for this dying hamster.


 Tony is straightforward with cutting dark humor. He is not embarrassed of who he is even though we are sometimes embarrassed of him. No, that’s not true. OK, only when he wears dress shoes with sweat pants. Tony is who is he is and that is why we love him for who he is… a total asshole.

 But seriously – he is jerk- -kind of like Atepomarus. But so are his brothers, i.e. including me. And what you are about to read is how we talk to each other. If we didn’t, then we would be doing each other a disservice in life. But Tony – Tony is special. His true calling is to make sure someone doesn’t get too cocky or big-headed. He will make sure you don’t get too self-centered or bring too much attention to yourself. You want him on your side though. People who don’t know him always assume they are going to outsmart him no matter the context for some reason- I have to believe it’s because of the fact he never wears his prescribed glasses thus he often wears a ‘squinty look’ on his face. He has this wonderful, subtle way of asking a single question that shows them they are no match intellectually and the game changes. It’s fun to watch; angering when it happens to me, but blissful when it occurs to others. You better be able to back it up.

He is the Will Hunting of this town in so many ways it’s startling; “How ya like them apples?”

 So when you read this article, take note that we are laughing – and so should you. And this is his rebuttal to what has been said on this blawg so far. And it is damn funny. Except the parts about me- they are shallow and sort of lame. But the parts about our brother Matt are hilarious.

 Just make sure you read all the way through before deciding what level of asshole he is… he surprises all of us sometimes. Even his mother.

A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE  by Tony Mainelli

It’s tough to be the rock. The steady ground. The one oft forgotten but leaned on when it matters. Put off on a window sill for decoration, and then the minute you can’t find a hammer….  The rock is a hard place. At times rewarding….at times uncomfortable….at times inconvenient….at times all I know. Such is the life of the middle-Mainelli. Hi….nice to meet you…you may not have known I was here.


When Dave started his “Blawg,” he asked shortly after if I wanted to write anything. I said “of course” but really had no idea what I would write about. Dave? A whole column? I just….didn’t know. Didn’t sound interesting to me. Couple paragraphs tops, maybe a pie chart or two for filler. And I don’t like to talk about myself really – unless someone asks (which they never do, for the record. I give off a pretty good vibe not to), so I just said “sure” on the grounds that it would never happen. Then Matt Guest-Blawged, and I suddenly realized I had something to write about:

These two.

These fucking guys

These fuckin’ guys.

Can you imagine living a life in between these two? You can’t, really. It’s unimaginable. I shouldn’t blawg; I should write a book. Make a movie. Write the great American novel. Well,make the movie, anyways, possibly a short. Who, besides Dave, has time for a novel?

mad baby
I was difficult to photograph

Really, what’s remarkable about being the middle child, for anyone? Let alone being in between these two. It’s a real man-without-a-country type thing. The first gets all the attention, the focus, the pictures – I actually had to bring a picture from Dave’s baptism for a school project because we couldn’t find one of mine. To be fair….I was NOT photogenic as a baby. Kind of tough to look at. So I’ve been told, anyway. I have no recollection and very few pictures to go by. But from what I have seen, I actually appreciate the low coverage. Keeps me more mysterious. Understandable.

But then, after a few years of being the family baby – albeit the second one, so much less worshiped – along comes the true baby of the family. And just like that, you’re on your own. The oldest, trail-blazing his way through almost every family first. The baby, bringing up the rear with every cherished family last.

Somewhere in the middle I did some shit I guess, although it’s tough to remember, even for me. Things probably happened, some interesting, some not. But they were hardly ever “firsts” or “lasts”, so unremarkable would be the more appropriate word. That was me. Stuck in the middle. Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am.

First there’s Dave….the elder. Much elder. Dave has been claiming for about 12 years that we are in the same “Age-Group,” an assertion I’ve adamantly denied over the years. Things like, “he’s our age!” he says. To which I immediately respond, “I don’t know how old he is. I’m not your age. So is he YOUR age or MY age? Cause there’s a big difference.” Unfortunately, the older we get the more accurate it becomes. Considering I’ve lost the battle in the restaurant business to be seen by the 25-year-old staff as my age group, I have also given up disputing Dave’s argument that we’re in the same age group. So be it.

But…this guy…I’m telling you- we may be in the same age group but that’s where it ends. First of all, it’s tough to grow up in your formative years, especially the ones where girls become important, and have to hear every dmmsingle time, “your brother is sooo hot.” That’s awesome. Truly. My favorite lines were actually, “You and your brother look so much alike, except he is sooo hot.” Wait….what? What the hell is that? For a while I was so demeaned I just wanted girls to take me home with them to imagine being with Dave. I can’t believe I just said that publicly…..but it is a sad truth. Kind of a “hey! You have no chance with that guy, maybe I’m the next best thing!” What a sad existence. But it actually worked a time or two, so you’ll get no complaints from me. So I had to follow a good-looking guy (deal with that), a pretty good athlete, a decent student, and a pretty problematic son. Felt okay with all that.

Show off

Followed up his marginal athletic career with an equally marginal one myself – check. Had a 4.0 in school – double-check. Never really got in trouble as a kid – checkmate. Or so anyone knew anyway. History has a funny way of re-writing itself. I used to wake up every Sunday morning to my mom and Dave arguing about his Church attire. Every Monday to my mom and Dave arguing about being late to school. Every Tuesday to them arguing about him being dressed like a homeless person. Every Wednesday about being late to school. Every Thursday about taking the trash out. Every Friday about the random friend sleeping on our couch. I usually slept in on Saturdays.

He almost got kicked out of school, drank, chewed, started dating a 19-year-old when he was 16, tore his own braces off with a pair of pliers, got in plenty of fights, got arrested, got in several car accidents, and fought and argued his way thru everything he could possibly think of. I was a pretty boring high schooler. My weekend highlights were playing Super Tecmo Bowl at a friend’s house. I drank sparingly, girls scared the shit out of me, I had the above-mentioned 4.0, I got in no legal or otherwise real trouble, and I never had braces. And to this day if you hear our mother speak of it, I was the difficult child. The one who made her work really hard. WHAT?!?! You’re not alone, I don’t understand it either.

Just another Tuesday night for Matt

Then…there’s Matt. The baby of the family, in more ways than just being the youngest child. (ba dum dum) He was more like I was, I suppose – not a lot of trouble, not a lot of high school social skills – but he had a better sense of the audience. He was quirky and funny, and memorable to say the least. He did things like grow his hair out with Dave during Dave’s high school years for a deeper connection, and wear bow ties to class pictures, and shine as the star of the Show Choir.  He always had a flair for the dramatic – even if all those things make him sound…..alternative. People loved him, always have. And he was such a huge baby.

Getting cut from basketball teams….tears. Hating his one week of football practice (pretty sure pads weren’t even involved yet) – tears. Watching the end of Red Dawn – tears. (okay, we all cried on that one.) Having our

If you know Matt, you know this.
If you know Matt, you know this.

Dad chew his ass out – tears. Having the cable go out – tears.

And now, getting divorced….tears. Look, I’m sure getting divorced is hard, and getting a text from your now ex-wife would be emotional, but getting divorced when there’s no kids is pretty much kinda breaking up with your girlfriend.  It sucks, but you move on. And you kind of get to do whatever you want to from here on out, or until you meet the future Mrs. Ex-Matt Mainelli anyways– just kidding.  I think I actually read a study that said people who are recently divorced with no kids are the happiest people on the planet. (I actually can’t back that up with facts, but I’m pretty sure they are at least in the top 5.)

And back to Dave….I can’t begin to tell you how much harder this illness has been on me than it has been on him. That feels good to finally say – it’s been burning me up inside. Start with the constant questions….”How’s your brother?” “How’s Dave?” It’s overwhelming at times. I struggle with coming up with unique ways to say he’s still sick. I look up new words…..I go on Web MD to come up with appropriate ways to describe things. I try to….I don’t know….I don’t even know what to say anymore. It’s exhausting. But no…no….don’t weep for me. I will make it through these trying times.

But then there’s the constant stories from him about migraines and nausea and cut-off tongues….it’s been a real struggle for me. I TRY to listen to his pain about it, without diving into my own pain on the matter, but it gets harder and harder. It’s always about him. You can’t even tell him if you feel ill anymore. It just doesn’t hold up. Oh my one hour headache doesn’t matter because you’ve been sick for 2 years? Whatever. Oh….my sore back doesn’t matter because you’ve had three major back surgeries? Whatever. Oh….that extremely terrible paper cut I have doesn’t matter cause you’ve been at the doctors’ for 5 days, giving blood, getting poked, getting tested, giving a part of your tongue…?  Whatever. You can’t win with this guy. He’s always been so competitive though, it’s no wonder you can’t keep up with him in illness.

Competing with Dave has always been such a battle. He’ll cut you under the hoop to win a 1-on-1 basketball game. He’ll argue “Moops” is the correct answer on the Trivial Pursuit card. He’ll throw a hat-trick to steal a dart game you were winning the entire time. He’ll hit a bad tee-shot, recover brilliantly, miss the 40 foot par putt, settle for bogey, throw his club in frustration….all the while you’re putzing around with six shots to the green and a three-putt for a 9….and he walks to the next hole pissed off. (He’s tough to play golf with)

Easy on the cake there boys

For the record, I’ve always preferred competing with Matt. Not in life – you win – but in actual competition. I own him. I’ve lost a few, over the years, but I’ve mostly dominated the rivalry. Even last year when I was as far away removed from my athletic prime as ever, I kicked his ass in The Warrior Dash. Some things are just meant to be. I prefer that to losing most the time. But back to Dave….the drama……my word, the drama. He missed his true calling. For how many times have I whispered to myself, “And the Oscar for best dramatic performance goes to…..Dave Mainelli!”

One example for you: When we went to Okoboji Dave’s sophomore year, we were pulling up to our cabin when he spotted his friend and family. He opened the back car door, stepped half-way out waving and yelling when his

For his portrayal in My Right Foot
For his portrayal in My Right Foot

back left foot was rolled over by our car at approximately 2 miles per hour and on soft ground, but still. “Hi guys!” quickly turned to “Dad! Dad! My foot! You’re on my foot! Daddddd!!!!” He maneuvered around like Christy Brown from My Left Foot for hours. Except, ya know, it was My Right Foot for Dave. But it only happened because he was 3/4 of the way out of the car. If he tells the story today, our father recklessly spun him out of the car, ran over his foot, backed up…..and ran over it again for good measure. I used to listen to him tell co-workers stories about his youth like he grew up like Mike Tyson on the streets and think to myself….”where the hell was I?” And of course if you hear him talk to an old rival about the Prep-Millard South basketball games from his senior year – well, it was a Bird vs. Dominique type scenario in which they single-handedly carried their respective teams. It’s really a difficult bystander position to be in. It’s like Matt Mainelli telling stories about lunch-time basketball games.

Speaking of Matt…. he’s a fragile soul. It wasn’t until he tried to drive us off a mountain on our way from Portland to Omaha did I fully realize he might not be a “foxhole guy.” Pure panic, resolved to let us both die. Even after the U-Haul came to a safe enough stop in a mountain ditch, I’m quite certain he was prepared to simply let us die on the side of the road. I pulled us out of that ditch on the mountain road, drove us 30 hours across the country, nursed a suddenly ailing Matt through four days of driving, terrible weather, a 36 hour Wyoming ground blizzard delay, a beer-less Monday night, losing my Chapstick, and hand-delivered his ass back to Omaha. He simply would not have made it without me.

What did he do on the ride AFTER he tried to kill us? Well, let’s see: he rubbed his Doritos covered fingers on his sweatpants for five days, threw-up a few times, stole my Chapstick (that’s right – the bastard), made me watch reality TV in the hotel, told me I had a real problem when I was fretting over a beer-less Monday night, and then insisted on driving the last two hours of the victorious glory leg into Omaha. Seriously. He’s that guy.

Pretty sure this was a Bieber song

He’s the guy you want around to sing karaoke, and to play beer games with, to watch sports with, to run a Turkey trot with. Maybe not the guy you want next to you in a bar fight. To be fair….he lived with our parents until he was like 23 – so when he went out into the world it was hard for him to imagine doing laundry, changing a tire, picking up a case of PBR on his own, and taking a shower without dad brushing his teeth right outside. Plus, he was “the baby.” And honestly there’s no two children in a family more fretted over, more concerned about, more attention-driven than the oldest and the baby. That’s Dave and Matt. In the middle there is me.

But they both have the same laugh….

laughing gas
Yuk it up Chapstick boy

Is it real? The laugh? So loud, so boisterous, so room-consuming. Is it a real laugh? I’ve often wondered. It seems fake at times. Maybe because I don’t laugh like that. I mean, when I laugh, it’s me shrinking away trying to keep whatever alcoholic beverage I have at the time from shooting out my nose, but that’s just me. I can’t even try to mimic their laughs. I just start to attempt then cough and spit and fall on the floor giving myself the Heimlich. So maybe it is real….cause WHO could fake that? Not me.

Dave though….Dave. Such a pessimist these days. Can’t even see the bright side of his situation. Sure, the debilitating migraines are probably tough. And the nausea. And the fatigue, the depression, the bad back, the bad hip….obviously the tongue thing. But OTHER than all that (How was the rest of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?) He clearly can’t see the forest thru the trees. The man has worked roughly about 2 of the last 5 years all told, between back surgeries and illnesses.  Can you imagine? I can.

I imagine it being pretty great. What would I accomplish with all that time? My goodness…I mean, other than the massive porn collection I would have and all the movies I would watch and all the illegal music downloads that would consume me…other than all that, I feel like I would have at the very least cured a few diseases, solved a few Good Will Hunting type math problems, volunteered at a soup kitchen or two, and come up with a really neat national health care plan. But, that’s just me. I feel like Dave maybe has not fully taken advantage of the 7 percent of his time when he feels less than close to death. But I hate to judge.

In the big picture it’s just a tough spot to be in, being in between these two guys. It’s tough to keep up with actually (I’m talking on a personality level here, since clearly on paper it’s tough for me to keep up with a high school sophomore. So I’ve got no shot there.) They bring a lot to the table – and not just figuratively these days, both are pushing 2 bills (see cake picture). Some of it is good and some bad. Matt’s insistence on being the life of the party (which he usually is) can get old. Dave’s need to be the smartest person in the room(which he usually is)

"So you can see these numbers prove my paradigm is correct!"
“So you can see these numbers prove my paradigm is correct!”

can be…oft putting. The constant corporate talk from both of them is really annoying. (except when Matt told me he lost his Fantasy Football Championship game to ¿Helen? or someone in Marketing… that was fun.)

All in all though, most of the greatest, most memorable times of my life involve these two. My four-year Hoop-It-Up run with Dave will always be one of my favorite memories (there should really be a 30 for 30 episode on that four-year run. Really gripping stuff.) The two nights in Portland BEFORE the ill-fated road trip back to Omaha with Matt were an absolute blast. (The fun abruptly came to end the next morning when Matt’s toilet overflowed with a year and half of organic matter. Matt started screaming, yelling, I thought he was being attacked by ninjas. “You okay up there?” The toilet is overflowing! Don’t come up here! Don’t come up here! Like I was gonna go racing up there like Russell Crowe in Gladiator to help him fight his toilet battle; “Ummmmmm…..I’m not. I’m gonna walk to the gas station. Good luck buddy.”

Matt’s Jamaican wedding with the three of us and the rest of the family was a week of pure fun, joy and bliss. Hanging out at the lake until 4 in the morning with Dave was a helluva time. Working together, family gatherings, darts, shuffleboard, karaoke, golf, watching games, texting, emailing, taking classes together, bowling, seeing live music, drinking, and of course throwing up out of cars on way home from a Bob Schneider show in Lincoln…I can’t really describe all the great times I’ve had with these two fuckin guys. They’re my brothers, my co-workers, my teammates, my competitors, my bosses, my wingmen, my co-conspirators, Godfathers to my kids….my best friends….my brothers.

They lean on me – even in sweatpants

It’s tough being the rock; the middle brother of these two. There’s so much to deal with. The extremeness….the drama….the babying from Mama….the tears and the illnesses….They don’t make it easy. Sometimes it’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

It’s tough being the rock. The middle brother of these two. Maybe the two greatest people I’ve ever known. Gravity. Gravity is a word I’d use for them. People gravitate to them, because they are so impressive. So personable. So funny. So smart. People tend to do the opposite with me – keep their distance. I’m not complaining, I really don’t want to talk to any of you. But it is admirable…these two guys. Their magnetism, and ability to handle it so well. I’ve always been slightly jealous of my brothers, for their fearlessness, their energy, their success, their personalities, their approval ratings….

But mostly I’ve just been honored to be their brother. To learn from them, to be a part of their lives, to admire them from afar…..a faraway place known as the rock. They’d be nothing without me. Clearly.

Time will eventually end for Dave. For Matt. For me. Hopefully not soon, (cough, cough – Dave) hopefully there will be many more stories to come….but any way it goes down, these brothers of mine have implanted their marks on this world. In this life. Upon the universe. And it’s a blessing to bear witness, and to be a part of it in some small way. Their brilliance in small and big ways has not been lost on me….it has been appreciated. And loved.

Am I wrong? No you’re not wrong, Tony…you’re just an asshole.

(that last line was just for them. These fuckin guys.)


we are yelling

Published by Dave Mainelli

Small business owner, former International franchise business consultant, musician, father, husband, and writer. Served on the B.O.D. for Red Hen Press and Fine Lines Literary Magazine, an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska, and a teacher for Wayne State and Iowa Western. A short story collection, 'How To Be Lonely' due out January 2021.

16 thoughts on “A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE – The Middle Child

  1. Being the youngest of 3 brothers, I’m with Matt. I’m in such admiration of how the Mainelli boys can turn a simple convesration into such a meaningful discussion.


  2. Love your blawg Dave… It is so you in many ways. Loved Tony’s piece…

    What I remember of you three crazies?
    Dave connecting with the customers…doing this thang, Tony giving me looks to kill for every order I was handing back during insanely busy times and Matt practicing his pick up lines and perfecting his Ace Ventura tribute.

    You guys made me laugh so hard (even you Tony)…all three of you made working fun. Your bond runs so incredibly deep…thank you for sharing it with us.



  3. OMG…I was pee’ing my pants and could totally hear Tony’s voice as I was reading. Matt’s not a “fox-hole guy”? Dave’s “My Right Foot”? Are you kidding me? Tony, you are a humorist and literary genius. Miss you guys….all 3 of you in your own different ways!


  4. This is priceless. A thing of beauty, you three must be. Thanks for just a peek at that. And, Dave and Tony, you both write like geniuses.


  5. So my cousins posted this on my facebook since they thought i would like it. First of all you guys all write very well. Let Tony know he hit the middle child right on the head. It was a great article. I was also told your band is really good and a lot of fun to listen to so with that being said when do you play next? At last whatever you’ve been going through with your health I really hope things get better.


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