1976 was an excellent year. We marveled as Jobs and Wozniak assembled the world’s very first Apple computer in a Silicon Valley suburban garage, cheered along as the 50-millionth guest strolled through the gates at Walt Disney World, pumped our fists in the air as Queen's iconic anthem Bohemian Rhapsody hit gold record status, and held our breath as the Viking II touched down on Mars. And on the days in between when nothing particularly spectacular was happening, Americans all over were snatching every available opportunity to celebrate—with equal parts jubilance and inebriation—their country's new bicentennial age. As our nation was turning 200, I was turning 8, and suddenly I had my own reason to rejoice, as I was about to receive the best present a little boy could ever want: a baby brother.
Shawn Eric Knight was born at exactly 10:20 pm on the 18th of September. He was an irresistibly cute baby, and it's a good thing too, as mom always said that babies "can sometimes make you wanna throw ‘em over a ledge, but you'd also wanna be on the other side to catch ‘em.” Shawn would ultimately spare mom the chance to test her little theory, as he would one day throw himself over a ledge—literally.
Like most boys, Shawn exhibited a healthy interest in cars, trucks, building blocks, action figures, video games, and pretty much every other testosterone-priming plaything imaginable, and he craved the outdoors. Indeed, much of mom's frustration during that time arose from the fact that our carpet perpetually mirrored the muddiness of my brother's outside adventures. It didn't help that he truly hated baths either. Neighbors down the street were keenly aware of mom and dad's nightly attempts to scrub the boy, as he would scream from the moment the first drop of water touched his head until the last drop evaporated from it.
At some point during his formative years he discovered art, and the drywalls of our home provided the evidence. For a long time, his bedroom closet remained an ever-changing crayon-colored mural—the scribbled projection of a fantastic imagination. Years later, while considering selling the home, we painted over it. Why we never photographed it is beyond even the most convincing explanation. Over time, his lines became finer, curves more accurate, shading and shadows more realistic as he progressed to more professional medium. My little brother, who rather quickly demonstrated astonishing proficiency with pencil, ink, and paint, was suddenly the go-to Knight for anyone needing an artistic rendering of anything, and thus began his lifelong journey into creativity.
The very same inspiration that guided his artful strokes also bolstered his confidence to try and actually become Superman—albeit a much shorter, stubbier version. While at a babysitter's house, (perhaps not being babysat, exactly) Shawn carefully considered the matter and apparently deemed it worthwhile to attempt flight. Donning his trusty Superman Underoos and fashioning a makeshift cape, he climbed over the railing of the second story back deck and prepared for launch. With arms extended and a steely gaze upon the horizon, Shawn thrust himself into the wind. One can only imagine the surprise he must've felt as the earth swiftly rose to greet him. Astoundingly, he was unharmed. Maybe the boy really is Superman and just needed more aeronautical practice.
During his teen years, Shawn discovered a talent that is, as best we can tell, unrivaled anywhere on earth. Mom, however, reflects upon this peculiar ability with great consternation, as her introduction to Shawn’s newfound giftedness was one of startled horror. After a pleasant afternoon stroll through Northlake Mall, having had our fill of Wendy's frosties and arcade games, it was time to go home. In the parking lot, just as mom was unlocking the car door, Shawn gleefully announced, "I left you a present." Confused, mom got in, and then promptly bounded right back out, cussing furiously. Apparently, Shawn’s colorless, weightless “present” had been administered just before exiting the vehicle hours earlier—giving it ample time to fester. After a few minutes with all the doors open and windows rolled down, it was safe to enter. Or so we thought. This, we discovered, was Shawn's special ability. That boy’s backside emanations don’t disappear in the breeze like everyone else’s; rather, they grow exponentially in volume and pungency once released into the atmosphere. A biological marvel if ever there was one.
Similarly, Spider-Man is a story of a teenager who suddenly discovers a superpower and must find ways to navigate life while resisting temptation, inspiring the popular phrase, "with great power comes great responsibility." Well, Shawn appears to have cheerfully ignored this particular directive entirely. Instead, he seized every available opportunity to turn even the most peaceful situation into a panicked, shrieking exercise in futility as others tried in vain to outrun his inescapable fog of doom. At family gatherings, Shawn would quietly “leave us all a present” and then promptly disappear—a clue we'd eventually recognize as the precursor to rancor. And then one by one, with contorted faces and painful groans, the rest of us would clear out as quickly as possible, only to find him in the next room out of breath, red-faced, and laughing hysterically. His girlfriends were routinely subjected to no less, either. Legendary stories of first dates with Shawn are commonly recounted with astonishing similarity, always involving him driving the two of them around in a car with locked doors and disabled windows. There was to be no escape: this was (and apparently still is) simply part of the package.
While my brother is the catalyst for some of the heartiest, gut-busting laughter I've ever experienced, he is also the object of my saddest moment: the day he moved to San Diego. I'd attended funerals for family and friends, but nothing prepared me for the feeling of loss that I would experience on that day. It was surprising to say the least. We are a couple of brash, crass assholes who typically greet each other with loftily-extended middle fingers and loudly-pronounced expletives—a customary salutation always followed by hugs and laughter (and, not surprisingly, appalled glares from unfortunate bystanders). To think that either of us could be reduced to sniffling, sputtering crybabies was unimaginable. We were wrong. I hugged and squeezed that kid like he was dying—pretty much unable to speak. I still can't think about that day without getting weepy. But the pacific coast was calling his name, and he answered.
Once upon a time I’d felt a distant, faint beckoning to move westward, but unlike Shawn I never gathered the courage to uproot. For him though, it was a no-brainer. It's in his very nature to spread out. To take trips. Visit foreign lands. Experience life richly, and as often as possible. In Costa Rica for example, he zip-lined Montverde’s cloud forest—which is aptly named: it is high enough to glide its riders directly through cloud formations while providing the somewhat arresting perspective of having to look down rather than up to observe birds in flight. Or Montezuma where he raced ATVs down long stretches of winding dirt roads and then hiked up to the origin of a 100-foot water fall, finally yo-yo-ing himself halfway back down on rope swings and completing the descent with a forty-foot leap into a lake below. Cave tubing in Belize provided him an opportunity to dodge swooping colonies of bats while drifting along a thin body of water boring its way directly through a rolling range of Maya mountains. Then there’s Jamaica where sugary sands and sparkling sapphire seashores became a second home. There, he surfed, snorkeled, sunbathed, and consumed copious amounts of food whose name was preceded with "jerk". And while in Germany—his earliest passport-worthy trip—he and dad chiseled off part of the Berlin Wall. They still have the pieces. I traveled great distances as a touring drummer but never saw anywhere near as much of the world as Shawn did.
To say that my brother has done a lot with his life is to drastically understate the matter altogether. This is a man who, for many years, worked as a chef in the kitchens of some of the most popular restaurants in Georgia. He was commissioned by the city of Atlanta to create works of art for public domain. He spent a couple of years in California developing huge quadriceps as a bicycle rickshaw for tourists who preferred blue skies, sunshine, and relaxation over gridlock, smog, and impatience. Upon return to the east coast, he secured the necessary Georgia licenses allowing him to legally peddle home theater systems (affectionately known as "turds") to a surprising number of day laborers around town. He hosted several large, stupendously profitable parties in the artistic community. And—much like his brother I'm proud to say—he logged countless hours musically hypnotizing masses of club-goers, drowning them in a deluge of funk, trip hop, and reggae with his ever-popular multimedia venture: the Safari Sound System.
Today, whenever he's not gallivanting around the planet, Shawn passes his time assembling massive, soaring, breathtakingly imaginative sculptures made from the forgotten plastic toys of yesteryear and then selling them to connoisseurs for handsome sums. At other times, you'll find him working with the lighting crew on any given set in Georgia's booming film and television business, casting eerie shadows on the zombies of The Walking Dead for instance, or illuminating actors’ faces in The Hunger Games, Fast and Furious, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and countless other movies and television shows. (2021 edit: Shawn has since assumed the lofty "best boy" position. Basically, now, he runs the show.)
In short, Shawn has led one of the most intriguing lives imaginable, and he is a guy you really want to get to know. Take it from me: I’ve known this boy his whole life, and I’m all the better for it.