My Brother and Me at the World’s Largest Gathering of Twins
The narrative of identicalness at Twin Days
The official kick-off to Twins Days, a festival celebrating twin-dom, is a wiener roast held at Twinsburg High School in the aptly named town of Twinsburg, Ohio. Next to moon bounces and corn-hole boards, an out-of-place jazz trio performs to a crowd of no one. The parking lot is full; inside, it’s packed. We’re wearing identical blue denim button-downs, boat shoes, and pink shorts. Framed together in the dim glow of our Super 8 motel room mirror an hour or so earlier, we’d laughed uncomfortably: this was, after all, the first time since kindergarten we’d dressed exactly alike, when we both wore Old Navy overalls and tried to switch places, only to get caught just as lunch was being served.
Of course, this whole twin interchangeability trope has been a reliable pop culture staple since Shakespeare. From a young age, the cultural powers that be have implied that there are really only a few ways to be a twin: you can either look alike, act alike, and so essentially live your life as the same person (see: the creepy twins from The Shining, Fred and George Weasley, and those twin girls in college romps who are always fodder for fantastical threesomes that flagrantly ignore societal norms re: incest); you can look alike and have — at least on the surface — diametrically opposite personalities (see: The Parent Trap, Comedy of Errors, Romulus and Remus, and the criminally underrated last gasp of Mary-Kate and Ashley, New York Minute)¹; or you can just be evil.
And yet, something about the endeavor has always repelled us. Those of you (Mom; and moms, in general) who assume that dressing up in the same clothes is somehow a natural thing to do, or that it feels at all right — well, you’re wrong. Dressing up in the same clothes — playing up one’s identicalness — accomplishes the opposite. Which is to say: It makes you feel like you’re someone else entirely. Or, more precisely, like no one at all. When you look in the mirror and see someone else exactly like you, and you also know that that person has the same DNA, it’s such that you really can’t even stand to look at the other one; for a moment it’s like you’re literally canceling each other out of the world. A part of you wants to disappear, is disappearing, as the pre-existing conception of your individual self departs from a reality that’s much more intent on grouping you together than allowing you to remain apart.
Dressing up in the same clothes — playing up one’s identicalness — accomplishes the opposite. It makes you feel like you’re someone else entirely.
What’s even eerier at the festival, though, is that everyone else inside the school is also dressed identically. The windows are letting in sunlight and people are sweating as all the so-called “multiples” mingle and scarf down hot dogs. The place has that sour milk and old French fry scent of hot cafeteria and kid, and it’s packed with twins of all ages and sizes and races: old lady twins, urbanite twins, Hello Kitty twins, Emo twins, middle-aged white twins and middle-aged black twins, obese twins and skinny twins and tall, dolled-up, high-heeled twins, who run around in a frantic and ultimately futile effort to snap selfies of themselves with every other set present. There is a premium on attire, and people dress in clothes from generic and kitsch, to garish and theatrical.
We see girls with matching tiaras, black guys in matching Batman shirts, one girl with a shirt that says “copy,” and her sister wearing one that says “paste.” It’s a real family-oriented event, and we look at each other with this feeling like we don’t belong, that in some way we’re just a bit too cool — a bit too individualistic, perhaps — for this sort of thing. To the uninitiated, it feels undeniably freakshow-ish, and also bizarrely post-everything: the only label here is twin.
We can’t find a seat, so we go into the hallway and lean up against the high school sports trophy cases. The twins we’d met in the registration line had been in a Johnsonville bratwurst commercial; they also became the first of many heterosexual male twins to unsubtly suggest that having your twin with you this weekend will get you laid. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.)
We eat our complimentary hot dogs and look at each other with a familiarly adolescent cocktail of feelings — apprehension, insecurity, anxiety, discomfort — and are saved only by a girl, who, in passing, notices that our nametags read Sam and Joe.
“Are you named Sam and Joe?” she asks.
We look up in unison. “Yes.”
She pulls two other boys aside. “They’re also named Sam and Joe.”
Other Sam and Joe, as we would come to call them, are 16-year-old twins from Buffalo, New York. They’re wearing matching checkered blue-and-black Target-grade button-downs and sporting the same pubescent shadow of a mustache, beaming from ear to ear. It’s clear they fucking love Twins Days — it’s their sixth year.
“Who’s A and who’s B?” one of them asks us. We don’t know what this means. “Who’s older? Older twins are As.”
Turns out that both Joes are As and both Sams are Bs, which is a 50 percent chance but still pretty amazing. At first, it seems too great of a simplification to reduce our relationship to A and B, but the festival as a whole seems to shrug off nuance in favor of the sort of generalizations most people entertain about twins, many of which we come to find disconcertingly accurate. Nowadays, naturally, it’s impossible to tell whether or not those generalizations — As are Leaders; Bs are Followers; “Joe’s a douche”; “Sam’s nice” — are the results of a narrative drummed into us since childhood by all manner of non-twin persons, ill-equipped to perceive nuance in identicals, or the biological ramifications of emerging first/second from the womb.²
We start talking with Other Sam and Joe and a group of girls they’re friends with. For a moment we forget that they’re all 16, our little brother’s age. We ask them candidly if this is the whole festival. They tell us we have to go to the Bertram hotel — there’s a party there on Friday and Saturday night that goes until two in the morning.
“Is there alcohol?” we ask, doe-eyed.
“Yes,” they say. Someone comes up and asks if they can take our picture. Weirdly, many people here want to take your photo but don’t necessarily even want to be in it. Twins, we realize, rank right up there with cats dressed as humans in terms of photographic potential. We acknowledge this is a slippery slope, yet there’s also a celebrity aspect to it that isn’t wholly unappealing. Needless to say, we feel cool again.
Twins, we realize, rank right up there with cats dressed as humans in terms of photographic potential.
At 7pm, the welcome ceremony begins in the gym. We all sit in the bleachers. Below, there are tables set up with a panoply of lame raffle items — items like a men’s hygiene set, which is just a nice basket with deodorant in it. Though there’s some pomp, the entire endeavor is beside the point.
We quickly gather that everyone either seems to know each other or want to know each other. Their sincerity is palpable, excessive to the point of obsequiousness. “Winsome” is a word that comes to mind in reference to practically all the girls we meet. No one entertains irony, even as they crown this year’s Royal Court — a group of twins who, through some combination of essay submissions to an unidentifiable committee and past Twins Days experience, are selected to be Princes and Princesses and Kings and Queens. The MC of the entire charade is a shrew-y, overenthusiastic mother of former Princes, who excitedly announces that for the 40th Annual Twins Days, all former royalty will ride in procession during tomorrow’s parade.³
Between a scholarship announcement and an in-joke regarding the MC’s womb, we lose interest in the ceremony, and so decide to walk to a nearby bar and grill to get a little bit more food and pre-game for the Bertram.
At present, we’re intrigued about the whole concept, but skeptical. An ignorant part of us still clings to this notion that we’re somehow better or smarter than all these other buffoons dressing alike and getting excited about baskets of ornately wrapped Old Spice. Dressing alike in particular seems gimmicky, gauche and, if we’re being honest, anti-intellectual. It’s sort of like enjoying pop country music, which we’re confident nobody would like if they only knew better.
Dressing alike in particular seems gimmicky, gauche and, if we’re being honest, anti-intellectual.
Twinsburg itself, we notice, is a blue-collar amalgam of cardboard cut-out homes and trailer parks. The town bowls us over with normalcy, its homey-ness so extreme as to be almost alienating. Though maybe the alienation is self-inflicted, a byproduct of realizing we’re no happier than these people, and in fact sadder for being incapable of simply enjoying the festival for what it is.
“It’s weird that Twins Days celebrates sameness,” one of us says, “when our whole lives up to this point, we’ve sort of made a point to try as hard as possible to be seen as independent people. People that are super alike, sure, but independent, you know?”
“It’s, dare I say, anti-American.”
We go on, joking that people in Twinsburg are likely sick of twins. “Fuck, those freaks again?”
Which turns out to be the opposite of the truth. Locals are really into twins, and super nice about it. At the Rush Hour Bar and Grille, we’re treated like minor celebrities.
Outside in a gated patio, we are greeted by three middle-aged people who, at 8pm, are already slurring their words. There’s a second grade teacher and a quiet man who is presumably her boyfriend. She keeps telling us how excited she is. “This is for you,” she keeps saying, presumably of the festival. The other guy is a drunk and graying character with a Tom Selleck mustache and gravelly voice. He’s loud and excited for us as well; he has his feet up on a chair, and insists on buying us one more saccharine $4 Long Island Iced Tea.
When the couple leaves, we learn that Ohio Tom Selleck flew planes in Vietnam, and that he’d been a professor of nuclear physics but is now unable to find a job. “I’m too old and white,” he says with a melancholy smile. He keeps repeating our names, “Joe and Sam,” as if in awe of them.⁴ Eventually, he goes inside the bar, buys us each another drink, and then drives home.
The neighborhood he lives in is called Reminderville, and on the way to the Bertram that night we actually pass through it, the headlights of our Uber driver’s car spilling briefly onto a wooden sign bearing its name. We both agree there is something poetic about this name and that Ohio Tom Selleck lives there, though we can’t exactly put our finger on what it is.⁵
The Bertram is technically in Aurora, Ohio, a small suburb near Twinsburg. We’re staying about a half-hour away, and our failure to obtain proper hotel accommodations only adds to its lore. From the outside, the place is giant, looming larger against the night sky because of how utterly empty its immediate environs are. Once inside, however, you feel as if you’re only experiencing a fragment of it, and wonder where the rest of it is.
We enter an expansive, well-lit hall. People don’t sit as much as buzz around each other in pairs, posing for photos, hugging, chatting, drinking. The experience is such that it becomes quickly unimaginable that there could be any non-twin guests staying at the hotel, or that there might be other people there who aren’t downstairs in the lobby or in the ballroom; it’s as if the masterminds behind the Bertram hotel (and they are undoubtedly masterminds) decided that in order to maximize their twin guests’ experience, they had to ensure no non-twins were present.
In the ballroom, two hipster-ish twins mirror each other’s moves with uncanny precision. Quadruplet 8-year-old girls weave so seamlessly through the crowd as to create an illusory effect that there is in fact an infinite stream of them, rather than just four. When “Bye Bye Bye” comes on, at least five pairs of twins break out into what looks like a fully choreographed dance, though whether it’s been planned or is simply a function of so many identical twins dancing to the same song is impossible to discern.
Early in the night, we ask two 40-ish male twins from New Jersey if they ever bring their spouses.
“Oh, no,” they say. “Never.”
They’re dressed in matching gray-and-white striped Polos. Their voices are nasally, shoulders hunched. Draped over one of them is a woman with bangs and a big nose. She’s like a cartoon version of Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano, disguised in a teal top and orange spray tan.
“This weekend is just for us,” they continue. “What happens in Twinsburg, stays in Twinsburg.”
This will become a common refrain, especially among the older men and women. After they shout at us, “Virgins! Virgins!” they regale us with the beauty of Twins Days and tell us we’ll be back for years. It seems like everyone except us has been here six, ten, twenty years in a row. Some kids near our age, we learn, have been coming since they were born. It’s not hard to imagine the four of these twins — the New Jersey dads and their Carmela-like floozies — meeting on this same weekend in August, once a year for twenty years, aging gradually but immeasurably, hooking up despite the tossed-aside vicissitudes of Back Home.
We talk to a man with a goatee who, like many others, encourages us to go get pussy. We talk to women who tell us they were sitting behind us at the Royal Court ceremony. We meet a pair of 21-year-old twins from Long Island who go to NYU, and for a moment we think, oh, ok, we’ve found our best friends. But we lose them. When we mention the parade that starts at 9am the next morning, almost everyone says, “I didn’t make it my first year either.” ⁶
We get down to the business of trying to talk to twin girls. Though we both have girlfriends, the Vegas-esque maxim echoes somewhere in the far recesses of our brains, and never once do we consider revealing that fact. We lose one pair of blondes to a photo-op with the quadruplets. We drop a set from Mississippi because they’re very shy and also totally uninterested. A short distance away, we spy a pair of twin girls in black tank tops and turquoise skirts. They look cute. We approach. One of us says, “Are you guys twins?” ⁷
Near the end of the night, we approach three people standing hesitantly by one of the thresholds to the ballroom. They’re noticeably awkward. We can tell right away that they’re not twins, and discover that they’re an indie band from New York who’d heard about the festival and drove down to shoot their music video here. The song, they tell us, is about loneliness — they figure twins never feel alone. When we ask what other bands they sound like, they say, “The Beatles.” Only walking away do we stop to think that they’re either insanely cocky or else this is the type of thing a person says to someone they think has never listened to music before.⁸
The song, they tell us, is about loneliness — they figure twins never feel alone.
The entire party, we conclude, is a wonderful cross between a Bar Mitzvah reception and a summer camp social, replete with gelled up hair, Axe body spray, B.O., excessive photo-taking, a shitty DJ, moms, dads, and a conga line. Being more than a little buzzed in this magisterial, middle-of-nowhere hotel strips away whatever skepticism we had earlier regarding the whole festival as one big freakshow. Only around other sets of twins do we feel free to indulge in the narrative of twin-dom that so many have expected from us. In years prior, this might have bruised our precious notions of individuality. But the Bertram is different: for one weekend each year, packed exclusively with twins, it’s this beautiful thing made more beautiful by virtue of not being watched.
We miss the parade.
For a moment around 9am, we actually wake up and joke that we should go over there, even though we’re so obviously not going. It’s too early for parades, and we’re too hung over. We chalk it up to being Twins Days virgins.
We only second-guess it because we’d gone into this weekend with the idea that we’d write about it and now we’d missed an integral aspect of the whole shebang.⁹ Not to mention, when we go to leave for this Jewish deli Saturday morning, it appears one of us had lost one of the disposable cameras we’d purchased at a CVS the day before.¹⁰
Twins Days (the actual festival part) is only slightly better than the wiener roast, and pales in comparison to the Bertram. Other than a designated research area for studies pertaining to twins and a tent where look-a-like contests take place, the festival is at a loss for how to reify a celebration of twins into any twin-specific activities. Instead, there persists the staples of any other small-town summer festival: beer tents and food booths, vendors selling dog tags and henna tattoos and other souvenir knick-knacks of no apparent relation to multiples. There’s a Veteran of Foreign Wars booth that isn’t really selling anything or asking for anything, it’s just there, and shitty carnival rides that are present more out of an obligation to the idea of a “festival” than any practical or entertainment-related purpose. It’s safe to say Twins Days is content to rest on the sui generis of the twins themselves, who, despite this being a public event, seem to make up a majority of festivalgoers.
Other than a designated research area for studies pertaining to twins and a tent where look-a-like contests take place, the festival is at a loss for how to reify a celebration of twins into any twin-specific activities.
Just walking around, we see twins in matching Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys, twins in matching Minnesota Twins jerseys, and a pair of 90-year-old twins in Cleveland Indian jerseys, one of whom is carrying what appears to be the world’s first camera. There’s also a pair of redheaded triplets from Australia in matching soccer jerseys who get a whole lot of attention. Though outfits range from the quotidian to the costume-ish, emphasis seems to be placed on the latter: part of the parade thing, we realize, is that people dress alike in some sort of punny costume.
Our boys, Other Sam and Joe, are dressed in Flintstone outfits, and on the back of their cardboard car-looking construction they carry on their shoulders is a painted-on note that reads, “The Twinstones.” There are twins carrying around a ball and chain, and a pair of 12-year-old girl twins performing a synchronized baton routine that we try and fail to Snapchat. There are a group of people dressed in Amish garb with no discernable twins in the bunch. We can’t tell if it’s a costume or not, and have no idea why they’re there, because all they seem to do is sit at a picnic bench and then walk a little ways away, only to return to the picnic bench as if stuck in their very own Reminderville loop. We notice a similar methodology to the Army contingent of Twins Days, all of whom amble around their Humvees waiting for people to come over to take photos, though it’s unclear whether they’re here because they’re twins or simply because they’re in the Army, which we suppose is a good enough reason to hang out pretty much anywhere in the world nowadays.
At about 4pm, we head over to the look-alike contest. Behind the main stage, there’s an area where we line up with other identical twin males ages 17–26. We meet a pair — Anthony and Nick — who look a lot like California surfer dudes, though they turn out to be from Kentucky. They have a lot of tattoos, and when we ask what they are they just name different sea creatures. That’s the whole tattoo scheme. There doesn’t appear to be any meaning behind it.
Soon, we’re moving from the staging area to the bleachers on the stage. There are a surprising number of people in the crowd. We sit next to Anthony and Nick.¹¹ The dudes in front of us are these overweight twins in cowboy hats and blue button-down shirts; they act like they’ve been here before. Word on the street is they were on the VH1 show Twinning. There’s a tacit agreement that being on this show is the apotheosis of being a twin. Everyone on the bleachers looks around at each other and is sort of like, “No, you guys look so much more alike than us,” and in response we all go, “Nah, you guys look way more alike,” and it becomes apparent that no one thinks that they themselves look the most identical.
Word on the street is they were on the VH1 show Twinning. There’s a tacit agreement that being on this show is the apotheosis of being a twin.
The judging period consists of all of us standing up looking straight, then to the side, then at each other. The last pose is definitely the weirdest, and no one can really maintain eye contact for too long without laughing. Out of the corner of our eyes we spy the head judge, a prim woman with pristine posture. What makes her qualified to judge a look-alike contest is a mystery no one seems willing to explore.
Her authority is unquestionable. We all look in her eyes, and though she’s got a smile on her face, you can tell she’s taking this operation very seriously, and consults with two other older women while placing her hand over her mouth. We’ve all got our little nametags with our little twin number on them, and she has us all stand up to face her again. She names the top three, who will go on to be judged center stage. Anthony and Nick advance, despite the fact that Anthony (or maybe it’s Nick) has a broken wrist. Everyone else gets participation ribbons.
We end up spending most of the festival at the research tents in a concerted effort to recoup some of the money we lost on our record-breaking Uber ride home ($109.64) the previous evening. There’s a slightly disconcerting nature to the researchers, some of whom approach us with nothing short of slavish prurience. We are normal people, yet we feel special here, but not for anything in particular; we haven’t done anything, we just are, and there’s an irony in being singularly valuable for being exactly the same. A contrarian truth prevails in Twinsburg, wherein the age-old American mantra encouraging you to Be Yourself becomes subservient to the culturally-reinforced mantra re: twins encouraging you to Be The Same. Oddly enough, to really celebrate the uniqueness of being a twin, you must embrace the aspects of your actual individual self that are in fact the least unique.
We haven’t done anything, we just are, and there’s irony in being singularly valuable for being exactly the same.
Under one tent, we take a mind-bogglingly dumb test where a guy from Syracuse is handing out questionnaires hoping to find out whether political orientation is genetic. We spit in these saliva tubes for a taste and smell test, after which we receive 25 dollars in cold hard cash. We spend way too long in line doing tests for face and audio recognition software, where researchers are using twins’ alikeness to hone their technology’s precision.
While waiting, we talk to two bored twins from Cleveland in black dresses. We bond with them over our Jewishness, and get the sense that their mother would like to see the four of us betrothed. We miss the group photo taking place in the field nearby. We’ve taken enough photos. We’re surprised to hear that a slew of people have been going here for years and have yet to go to the Bertram. This leads us to believe there are two types of Twins Days goers: the Bertram people and the people who actually go to the festival to go to the festival. We feel like we belong firmly to the former camp, and sort of look down upon those who are in the latter as we did those kids in high school who never once touched a drop of alcohol, and so who we felt were always passively judging us.
Bertram, take two.
We’ve pre-gamed in our hotel room with Red Bull and vodka. Our Lyft driver’s as white and wiry as a skinhead, but his hair is dyed bright red. He tells us he moved to Cleveland because there were more opportunities there than in the small Pennsylvania town where he grew up. When we tell him where we’re going, he alternates between saying, “Can you get me in?” and, “If this thing is a bust, you gotta hit Fourth Street. The women there…”
Ten minutes into the ride, we ask if we can smoke cigarettes in his car. He says we can smoke anything we want. We say, dang, we didn’t bring any pot, only to have him pull out a bowl from his glove compartment and pass it back to us saying, “It’s fully loaded.” If the ethereal soul of the Bertram descended from the heavens and possessed a person, you may very well get someone like this guy, plus his twin.
We run into our boys from Long Island immediately upon entering the ballroom. They’re wasted. Normally, you’d have to be grandfathered in to procure a precious room at the Bertram, but they’d lucked into one because some other, more Bertram-appropriate twins they knew bailed last second. They say with some shame that they passed out early the night before. “Let’s go up to our room and take shots,” one of them says. They like us after all.
We go up to their suite and out the window is this majestic-looking pool. The Bertram, we think to ourselves, continues to surprise. The Long Island twins tell us it’s their fourth time getting drunk today, and a wave of regret ripples through our guts: it seems like if you stay at the Bertram, it’s all Bertram party, all the fucking time. Yet again, these guys are all over the place — they remind us of us when we didn’t know how to drink effectively. In their luggage are chocolate chip cookies baked by their mommy. They keep knocking on the person’s door across from theirs; it’s dark inside, and two people emerge, a girl and a guy, neither of whom can find their twin. “We’re watching Mulan,” the girl says, ostensibly confused as to why they are watching Mulan.
“Have you seen my brother?” the guy asks with desperation in his voice. It’s the first sign of any twin canoodling, and it doesn’t look pretty.¹²
We make it downstairs with the Long Island twins, who, at this point, look pretty wobbly. More than four times we hear that this is the fourth time they’ve been drunk today. We can tell they are not long for this world, this paradisaical Bertram. They fist pump their way onto the dance floor, where we find Anthony and Nick being ogled by a circle of what appears to be high school girls.
Nearby, the fat cowboy twins from VH1’s Twinning are, to our great surprise, talking with the gorgeous #1 twins we’d laid eyes upon earlier in the day at the beer garden. These girls are so far out of these guys’ leagues, yet being twins at Twins Days has a leveling effect. Attractiveness seems judged not by how good looking you are, but how much you look like your twin. After a few minutes of standing around not dancing with the high school contingent, we leave Anthony and Nick and the dudes from Long Island, and step outside for a cigarette.
Whereupon we meet a middle-aged woman who’s here with her fraternal twin sister. They’ve brought their daughters, who are posing as fraternal twins. They don’t look alike but neither do their moms, who are, now that we come to think about it, the first pair of fraternals we’ve talked to. The girls are fun though, and their moms are too, and they all want to dance and drink alcohol, and they’re not in high school, all of which is a real plus. So even though it seems kind of wrong, for much of the rest of the night, we’re based at the back of the dance floor with this crew of posers, who probably feel energized for having taken a pair of identicals over to their side.
After slow dancing with the fake twins, the lights come up and we go outside to find a ride back to our hotel.¹³
The next morning, we pack our things and check out. We stop again at the Jewish deli across the street, where the same curmudgeonly owner directs us to our table. There’s no need to get sentimental, or remark on how this may be the longest amount of time we’ve spent together just us. We don’t have to talk at all, actually, as is often the case when we’re by ourselves, when almost anything we can say can just as easily go unsaid.¹⁴
There’s no need to get sentimental, or remark on how this may be the longest amount of time we’ve spent together just us.
A few days later, we learn that of the 27 photos from our remaining disposable camera, only eight or so are developable, and even those are shrouded in a grey nostalgic hue — no doubt the result of neglecting to hit the flash button in the mystical dark of the Bertram. And while our photographic ineptitude might be a letdown to our family and friends, we don’t really care. Maybe it’s better we keep those memories fluid, anyway — bouncing back and forth between us, gaining mass — content knowing that, one day soon, we can put them in writing.
1. JOE: I had — and will continue to have — dibs on Ashley, should our childhood fantasy wherein we meet and marry the Olsen twins pan out.
2. JOE: The narrative drummed into us since childhood began, of course, with our mother, who ascribed my emerging from the womb first and with more pounds on me as evidence of some fetal maleficence towards Sam.
SAM: Have you noticed that Joe has written the first two footnotes? Typical A behavior.
3. JOE: While Sam was in the bathroom, they also brought up a twin whose brother had recently passed away. Somehow the guy manages to give a speech and keep it together. There’s a collective shuffling going on throughout, and it’s kind of like being at a party and someone brings up that statistically, half the people here will get cancer. Like, gosh, I feel fucking horrible, but I’m sort of, you know, angry that you’re making me feel this horrible when I didn’t do anything to you. Imagining your twin dying is probably the worst thing ever.
SAM: Evidently, Joe failed to mention this to me, and I’m just reading about it now. I too often imagine what it would be like if Joe died, and it’s true, I’d be really sad. But it pales in comparison to my imagining of the inverse scenario wherein I die and Joe’s still alive. For some reason, the prospect of Joe feeling sad about me being dead makes me more sad than the prospect of Joe being dead, which is totally batshit confusing.
4. JOE: Sitting in the bathroom stall later, he walked in and, while urinating, drawled, “Joe and Sam…” to which I chuckled awkwardly and clenched.
5. SAM: I end up spewing a projection onto Ohio Tom Selleck’s plight, wherein a meta-aspect of living in Reminderville is that it serves as a constant reminder that, ugh, yes, you’re living in Reminderville.
6. SAM: I suspect there’s an honorable aspect to missing the parade. It’s the Twins Days equivalent of getting too drunk to actually attend Prom, opting instead to fuck in your car.
7. JOE: I think this pickup line works on multiple levels: obviously they’re twins, duh. But also, this is a question twins are asked all the time, so now it’s an inside joke. (Other questions twins are always asked: Do you feel each other’s pain? When you look in the mirror, do you ever forget which one you are? Are your penises the same size? Answers: No. No. Probably.) Sam and I have tried various twin-related pickup lines over the years, mostly in France, when we studied abroad together. There was one where, when, say, Sam was talking to a girl, I would come up and act as if we had just met for the first time, and we would stage a reunion of long lost twins. This one never really proved effective, in large part due to the fact that, even if the premise worked, our French, especially at nightclubs, was too poor to communicate the bit.
8. JOE: The supposition about loneliness was even more off base. I remember leaving for New Orleans to go to college without Sam, and feeling the freedom that comes, perhaps, with having no idea who you are. There was a loneliness involved, but it was a thrilling sort of loneliness in that it was a first — the first time that I would be known as “Joe” independent of “Joe and Sam.” I took the opportunity to try and differentiate myself from Sam in college — I joined a frat, acted in plays, drunkenly experienced New Orleans culture. And yet, I still intuitively think that if Sam wanted to, he could do anything I could do just as well. When he visited for Mardi Gras that first spring and had to hang out with my friends alone while I attended to fraternity duties, they all told me that, “It was no different than having you around.” It was a nice sentiment, but cemented in me this idea that by virtue of having an identical twin, I would never be able to be my own wholly unique person. And there’s a particular loneliness in that, too.
SAM: I don’t necessarily think they were wrong when they said twins are less alone. Still, they were missing the point. We may feel less alone (after all, it is comforting to know there’s another you out there), but another sensation persists, perhaps more potent than loneliness, which can only be described as a deficiency: by being one half of, I am less than whole. So while, yes, we always have one another, this lack of loneliness — or viewing ourselves in relation to each other, as metaphors of one another — is directly responsible for a lack of identity. This isn’t to say being a twin is better or worse, easier or harder, than not being a twin — I only suggest that having another someone who is genetically the same as you is not as simple as a non-twin may think.
9. SAM: Despite always writing our own stuff — fiction, essays, criticism, etc. — we’ve always found ourselves attacking identical themes/issues/melancholic female love interests from different angles at the same time. It’s really the closest we’ve ever come to achieving quote-unquote “twin telepathy.” Later, of course, in the process of writing this essay, we’ll realize that the act of us writing — and our twinhood, generally — is just one shared transcript upon which we can project our own individual voices: a way in which we can function both as one (as a brotherly unit) and one (as individuals).
JOE: So meta it hurts.
10. JOE: It was Sam. Sam had it in a bag, along with some wristbands we got at registration that had some unknown utility, plus the Twins Days program. Sam is careless about these things. He’s a B after all.
SAM: It might have been Joe. Whatever. The disposable camera thing was a stupid idea, anyway — Joe’s ill-advised attempt to rebel against the Document Everything ethos of modern day social media in favor of capturing only a select few photos. Truth is, I was more distracted by urges to take photos with a disposable camera (out of some sort of misguided obligation) than I would’ve been had we just used our regular old iPhone 4s. This just goes to show how much more susceptible Joe is to ersatz totems of purity/artistic truth than I am.
JOE: It was 30% ersatz-totem-of-purity/artistic-truth susceptibility (classic Sam phrase there) and 70% my girlfriend persuading me it would be a good idea. A few weeks earlier, she had taken a remarkable picture of me on the beach, the coloring of which was pretty damn close to an authentic totem of artistic purity. It was the optical equivalent of jeans you’d actually ripped yourself but were indistinguishable from ripped jeans sold at Abercrombie.
SAM: Is that a simulacrum?
JOE: Fuck off.
11. JOE: It’s this weird thing where I’m sitting next to Sam, who’s sitting next to Anthony, who’s sitting next to Nick, who’s sitting next to another twin, who, of course, is sitting next to his twin. So Sam and Anthony start talking and I’m trying my best to join their conversation, while Nick, not knowing what else to do, strikes up a conversation with the guy sitting next to him. Then I see that that guy’s twin is trying to get into the conversation just like I am.
SAM: This typifies many conversations we have throughout the festival, and really throws a wrench in our unfounded mathematical theory that declared four as some divine number for any and all twin-related conversation.
12. JOE: Kind of odd that this is the first instance, no?
SAM: Sure, but it only adds to the myth of the Bertram, which, in my mind, contains myriad corners couples can steal away to do hand-stuff.
13. SAM: In the Uber, I confess to Joe my severe shame when Other Joe, hope brimming in his eyes, yelled from across the room, much too loudly and also somehow in a voice only I could hear, “You get any?” and I was forced to respond by shaking my head and mouthing, “No.” This was the nadir of the trip, and perhaps my entire life.
14. JOE: As my then-girlfriend astutely observed, “You don’t so much finish each other’s sentences as much as you really don’t have to start sentences at all.”
SAM: Shout out to Joe’s then-girlfriend.