Issue Contents :: The Last Word

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Little Brother
by Gary Roma '87, Illustration by Adam Noble

Building a bond with light sabers and cheese doodles.

I have the good fortune to have been matched with a 13-year-old boy named Brian through the Big Brothers program. We were paired four and a half years ago, in part because I am a filmmaker, and Brian knew even then that he wanted to be one as well. We meet for three or four afternoons each month and often spend our time together making short films.

When I met Brian and his mother for the first time, we were asked by the Big Brothers matchmaker, Felicia, to say a few words about ourselves. With bright eyes, Brian looked up at me and said, "The first thing you should know about me is that I have a BIG imagination." I remember bursting into a smile and thinking, "Yes! This is going to be great." (And I was right.)

The following week I visited Brian at his house, where I quickly discovered his passion for Star Wars. We engaged in a light saber duel with whiffle ball bats—an activity which has since logged us countless hours. Over the course of that afternoon, Brian put me through a series of tests: first my strength was assessed, then my wisdom (via Star Wars trivia questions), and finally, my courage. At the end of the day, I obliged when he asked me to kneel down before him. With his whiffle-ball-bat-light-saber, he tapped me on each shoulder, announced that I had successfully passed the tests, and pronounced me a Jedi Knight. I was given the Jedi name of Gar-Eye. (His is Brian-Jin.) I can't think of a more wonderful ritual to have initiated our relationship.

Brian's stellar imagination is indeed evidenced by the titles of the films we have made together: The Mutant Hand from the Planet Anchovy; The Scare Witch Project (parts I-VII); The Zone Where Creepy Things Happen A LotThere's a Man on the Wing; Star Wars: No More Hope; Insanity Wars; and The Umpire Strikes Out. The latter starred such characters as Darth Ridiculous (aboard his ship, the StenchStar), Princess Smelly, C3PU, Puke Stinkmaker, Soda, and R2-Dumbo. Being a fellow punster, Brian is a boy after my own art.

But my Little Brother is more than a talented writer, director, and actor—he's also a great improviser. "What's new?" I asked during a recent phone call.

"Nothing," he said.

"Well, then make something up," I suggested.

He considered this for about three seconds, then: "I made friends with a cheese doodle I found under my bed this morning."

For the next 10 minutes, I prompted Brian with questions about his new pal, while he improvised a story in which the cheese doodle was swallowed by a crocodile and then rescued by a boy named Randall. I asked to speak to each of these characters on the phone. Turns out the cheese doodle has a language all his own, so I even got to translate along the way: "What?! How could you say that about Brian? He doesn't smell THAT bad!"

Brian was involved in a children's theatre production last summer of The Wizard of Oz, in which he played both the head flying monkey and a Lollipop Guild representative. (I must say, though, that Toto stole the show. While Dorothy was singing Over the Rainbow, Toto did his number, too.) While Brian is a talented actor, I must admit that I am not. He teases me as a result—our running joke is that he calls me the president and sole member of the Bad Actors' Association. We even filmed a mock commercial for the Association, in which he played me—he did a great job of acting me acting badly.

After we completed one of our Scare Witch Project parodies a few years ago, Big Brothers invited Brian to present the film at its upcoming Halloween party. It was a big hit, and Brian fielded questions from the audience with enthusiasm and humor. He and I are both looking forward to the completion of my next film—a documentary about dental floss and its creative uses (really)—when together we'll host a series of screenings to benefit the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Associations. Brian will have the chance to show some of his films, too.

Brian-Jin has taught me well. My strength, wisdom, and courage continue to grow. I treasure the time I get to spend with this wonderful friend, and I'm grateful that our paths have crossed. We're building a bond that will last for at least the rest of my life.


Gary Roma is a filmmaker, comedian, and market researcher in Boston. Earlier this year, he won a talent contest with his unique brand of pun-filled stand-up comedy and appeared as a guest on Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know? radio show on NPR. More on Gary and Brian can be found at