I’ve only ever seen one episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. It was called “Beast”, and it aired on April 10, 2005. And I only watched it because the show's characters were based on my brother Kurt and I (and the rest of our pub trivia team and assorted groupies). It was written by Gina Gionfriddo, who was a member of our team for years, before heading out to Hollywood to make a name for herself. Her writing credit on this episode was her freshman attempt.
My brother and I were very close. We shared a bedroom throughout our childhood. The huge room, isolated from the rest of the house because it was originally designed to be a two-car garage, allowed us to form a strong bond through the years. And we also tormented each other, as two siblings separated by four years and imprisoned together night after night, are bound to do. Every weekend we’d try to stay awake to watch Saturday Night Live and make it past the first musical guest. I don’t think we ever succeeded. Every school day we’d get dressed while watching the early news on Channel Ten, just to make fun of Artie Lake’s wheeze while doing the weather and Frank Coletta covering the day’s stories. Frank always seemed like he was just about to burst into laughter just as they cut away from his set, and we were determined to be tuning in on the morning he finally cracked.
The Law and Order show was a murder mystery, centered around the various characters who actually represented our pub trivia team. It was about a dentist, played by Bronson Pinchot and based on another team member’s then boyfriend, who was framed for the killing of his wife. The character based on me was an overweight, bearded marine biologist who provided some of the clues to the crime, but really wasn’t integral to the rest of the plot. Thanks for that, Gina.
There’s another pub trivia event Kurt and I used to attend, at the Wild Colonial in Providence. Ten years later and we've become a bit of a cultural figure there, even though we could walk in today and nobody would have the slightest clue who we were. A question that night was: “What is the only predator of a blue whale?” The answer was “giant squid”, which of course is ridiculous. Kurt urged me to contest it formally. I asked the MC how to dispute an answer. “You sit down, shut up and drink your beer” was the response. The whole matter made it into this USA Today article. To this day the web site icon for the Wild Colonial Quiz Night is a whale-eating squid. See it here. Not sure how the T-rex fits in.
For the next few years the name we gave our team was the “Whale-eating Squids”. Eventually you become infamous for slaughtering the competition week after week, so you have to mix up the names to keep people off their guard. Kurt came up with the perfect solution to this problem. Each week as he walked into the restaurant he’d pick a random license plate in the parking lot, and that would be our name for the night. “And in second place after three rounds with 47 points: RI cr305.” Works great until you realize, when the stats are called out after each round, occasionally someone will get up and walk out the door thinking they’re being towed.
Kurt left the public high school after only a few months as a freshman, mainly because of bullying, and enrolled in a private school. Moses Brown is a prep school, but he was there because of its proximity to the Brown University swimming complex, not for the academics so much. He was on the swim team, and made a star of himself. But as a diver, not as a swimmer. Divers were the loners of the swim team. Sort of like the high jumpers on the track team, which was my gig. I made all-state in my event, but Kurt made All-American in his. He was that good. After winning a huge meet in Exeter New Hampshire, one that could have very well been a step or two from the Olympics, he walked up to mom in the stands, handed her his trophy, and said “I’m done”. He’d accomplished all that he wanted to in this pursuit, and didn’t feel any need to pursue it further.
A few years after the Law and Order episode aired, we entered a 12-week marathon trivia contest sponsored by Guinness to determine the best team in Rhode Island. We won, and were flown to Atlantic City (I drove, not being one to get onto small planes and all), to challenge the championship teams of seven other states. We won the whole thing and we were awarded four days and nights in London, all expenses paid. Again, not being one for planes, I gave up my ticket. I heard they had a nice time in England.
Growing up, Kurt was a little kid, smaller than most of the others his age. Added to that, he skipped a grade in early elementary school, making him a year younger than his peers. Intellectually, he was way beyond naming colors and counting to a hundred. By the age of seven he had taught himself fluent Spanish, just because it seemed like a fun thing to do. Years later, under the stress of having to “come out”, he dropped out of Boston College, escaped to Madrid and taught English to students traveling to The States for college. He lived in the same apartment complex as Antonio Banderas. According to Kurt, he’s very short.
There are many things that may have contributed to Kurt’s death at such a young age, many of which I will probably never know or understand, but one of them is our culture's systemic homophobia. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
In his last few weeks in the hospital, mainly in the ICU, I didn’t visit Kurt as much as my mother or younger sister did. They were rocks in this process, while I tended to isolate. We all have our own ways of dealing with grief, and mine is to withdraw within myself. But as I look back on our relationship, I can honestly say that my brother was the best friend I’ve ever had.
You can find our Law and Order episode on Netflix or Amazon by searching for “Law and Order: Criminal Intent: Beast”. It’s season 4, episode 19.
Me in orange, mom, who always looks 15 years younger than she is, and Kurt.