Read Part Seven
Jarl has roughly thirty stories (and only about two of them are interesting) and tells an average of five of these each day. This means that he was into re-runs only a week after I’d moved in. Within a month, I’d heard everything worth mentioning in his life five times over. After two months, the only way to tolerate his Mobius-strip storytelling was to ask random, probing questions. Jarl has no sense of humor, and does not realize I am in it for my own amusement. Myrtle can see what’s going down, but lets it go on. I suspect she is secretly amused.
Some of Jarl’s stories stem from his schoolboy days in Chicago. As a boy, he attended a well-known, massive sprawl of a high school on the north side, about five miles west of Lake Michigan. From all accounts, Jarl’s life peaked then and there. He was young, handsome(r), more intelligent/less demented, and an athlete. One of Jarl’s favorite activities was regaling us with his exploits as a prep wrestler, where his greatest accomplishment was making it to regional finals as a light heavyweight. According to Jarl, he was “undefeatable” that year, but was cheated out of the glory of making it to States when he was unexpectedly pinned after being set up by a jealous referee who started the match before Jarl was ready.
Under intense questioning, Jarl would not rule out his chances of making it to the Olympics had he won that match. He also spoke mysteriously of a multi-party conspiracy to hold him back.
The third or fourth time he told the story, I called him out.
“Your eyes say it’s time for a comeback,” I said, staring at him gravely. “It’s not too late, Jarl.”
“It probably is,” Jarl said. He then awkwardly attempted to segue into a 30-year-old story about designing a computer keyboard for Apple.
I cut him off. “No, Jarl. That’s not a champion’s attitude. I see it in you. The desire, the fire to compete.”
“Well, I don’t know about tha-“ Jarl began, before I cut him off again.
“You’ve got the time to train. Look at you – you’re as agile and powerful as ever. Like a jungle cat. All you need is a little cardio work and you’ll be ready to dominate.”
Jarl had another out: “Older guys don’t fight anyway.”
I ignored him. “Don’t you have what it takes? Aren’t you a man?”
“Yes,” Jarl admitted reluctantly.
“Then standing up and throwing down with another man is what you need. Forget age. Age is just a number. And forget wrestling, that’s too soft. What you need is MMA.”
“Mixed martial arts. Ultimate Fighting Championships. Anything goes. Fish-hooking, hair-pulling, double cock punches, all of it.” I pantomimed the last act of assault and let the message sink in.
Jarl cleared his throat and wiped his hands on his sweatpants. “I don’t-“
“Jarl, it’s OK, you don’t have to ask. I’ll do it. I’ll manage you. Hell, I'll train you.”
Jarl was flustered now. “I-“
“It’s your time now, big man. You need to get out of that chair and start giving 110% to getting back into MMA competition.”
A pregnant pause as Jarl sought for a reason to fail. “A man can’t give more than 100%,” he said. “So I can’t do it, then.” Jarl smirked as though he’s won the argument.
“There’s the quitter I married,” Myrtle added bitterly.
Jason’s living situation has been… downwardly fluid. In the short time I’ve been here, he’s run through the full spectrum of housing options for a man of economically precarious stature. Starting from his old bedroom at home, he had moved to a halfway house to a friend’s couch to a recliner that he’s now renting in the corner of a slightly-less-sketchy guy’s house. Most recently, Jason has been living as a guest of the Santa Clara County correctional system, having been arrested two weeks earlier for drunk and disorderly conduct. Myrtle was mildly distressed by the incarceration, while Jarl openly welcomed the break, likening his son’s involuntary confinement to daycare.
While this is not the first time Jason has been a guest of the state, it is first time the family has no money with which to bail him from jail. But steel bars and misdemeanor charges can only hold a fellow like Jason for so long; one fine morning I pop out the front door to find him back on the stoop, waiting for breakfast.
The police are not the only ones looking for Jason on a regular basis. The other day, a guy came by asking after him. It was an older guy in an beat-up Cadillac who threw out a child molester vibe.
We got off to a rough start. ChoMo pulled up in front of the house while my back was turned. “Hey,” he yells at me, “I need to talk to you, Jason! Where’s my fucking money?” I turn, instantly angry that anyone would mistake me for Jason. ChoMo blanches as he sees his mistake and backpedals, politely explaining that he’s looking for Jason to settle a debt, then asks where I can find him. I point at the front porch and suggest he swing by around 7 AM for feeding time. ChoMo thanks me and claims he’ll be back. Later, Jarl and Myrtle tell me that ChoMo would hire Jason for odd jobs, and would also pay him $3 for his daily cigarette ration. He also owned the home in which Jason once rented a recliner.
Myrtle was worried that ChoMo would hurt Jason if he was owed money, possibly as part of some sort of EXTREMELY low-level mafia activity. Jarl suggested they buy Jason a gun for protection. Myrtle replied that Jason needed a gun like Jarl needed a credit card.
Somehow, Myrtle and I end up watching the Kirov ballet on TV. My girlfriend is a semi-professional ballet dancer, so I’ve absorbed a bit on the subject of dance. In passing, I make an offhand comment about how hard the jumps and landing can be on a dancer's body. Myrtle, however, insists that ballet is low-impact. Her source: her niece took a ballet class (a single class, not a course) fifteen years ago and passed on this bit o’ wisdom. Our discussion culminates with Myrtle insisting that all ballet dancer should land silently.
I couldn’t help myself. “Like a ninja, Myrtle?”
“Yes,” she said, jamming a handful of Cheetos into her maw, then wiping her orange-stained hand on the portion of her MooMoo that served as a napkin.
Jarl somehow convinces Myrtle the family will benefit from purchasing a chest freezer. After finding one for sale on Craigslist, Jarl is either too drunk or disoriented to drive to the seller’s house to pick it up. Somehow, I agree to take him to the appointment. Jarl, navigating a city he has lived in for nearly four decades, gets us lost four times in nine miles.
We arrive and the high stakes negotiations begin. For safety, Myrtle has given Jarl just enough money to purchase the freezer, which Jarl carries in a plastic baggie.
The owner of the freezer meets us in his driveway. He seems like a nice guy.
I watch the negotiations. It is a typical Craigslist exchange. Jarl attempts to barter down the price of the freezer, citing some rust on one of the vents. This strategy works, and the owner knocks twenty dollars off his asking. Despite the discount, Jarl comes out of the transaction with an empty plastic money baggie. Back at home, we learn that Jarl had forgotten the price of the freezer. He’d knocked twenty bucks of a price twenty bucks higher than the guy was asking. This fact was only uncovered after Jarl bragged of his negotiating tactics to Myrtle, who promptly castigated Jarl with the ferocity of a thousand suns.
“Dammit Jarl, you negotiate and come back without saving anything???”
“I saved the baggie,” Jarl said, proudly handing her back the empty plastic bag. Then he uttered his creepy, inappropriate titter, the one that seems to say, ‘I’ve outsmarted you again, for I am Jarl.’
Live-in son #2 has re-connected with a girl he knew in high school. As I type this, they are copulating at a moderate volume in the room down the hall. Myrtle and Jarl have also gotten down to business, though theirs is the feint and parry of verbal sparring. Screams of ecstasy and rage ring through the house at two in the morning.
It’s bizarre to lie in bed and hear two different generations scream ‘fuck you’ and ‘fuck me’ from different directions.
Jarl and Myrtle’s fight from the previous evening was apparently over a disputed gift. Jarl wanted to spend $300 to purchase an elaborate tea sampler kit for his brother. Myrtle told him that the family was on the brink of bankruptcy, and they couldn’t afford the extravagance. Harsh words were uttered as Jarl implied their marital future hinged upon the acquisition of the tea set.
Little of this is worth mentioning until I noticed that Myrtle sort of slaps the side of her belly when she makes a big point in the argument.
Myrtle: We can’t be spending $300 every time you see something shiny that catches your eye! [slaps belly with left hand, producing a flat crack]
Jarl: But we need to get the set with 25 varieties. It’s not classy otherwise. [Jarl didn’t actually say this, but he did say something argumentative; I was too preoccupied with the new belly-blow technique being implemented]
Myrtle: I don’t give a SHIT!!! [double-slaps belly with both paws, producing larger sound]
Jarl: [visibly intimidated] Fine. Whatever!
A victorious Myrtle then ordered the still-subservient Jarl to fetch her a snack.
Next time: Jarl uncovers an elaborate scam and a trip to Chicago.
Read Part Nine
Where The Cats Pee
A multi-part story covering my time as a houseguest of the least stable family in America.