Of Mice and Molecules...
Where the Cats Pee (and Other Adventures with Jarl and Myrtle)
Read Part Three
My mother comes into town on a visit that was planned way back when I still had a job. She pronounces me depressed. Like my father, she’s also a psychologist.
I’ve begun spreading the word to friends and family that I’m out of work. There is commiseration, but little shock. Apparently everyone thought this job was a bad idea. Now it’s like I’ve broken up with a girl and everyone can’t wait to tell me what a bitch she was. Not sure if they’re trying to be nice or if they really feel that way. At this point, I don’t give a shit. Misery loves commiseration. An ex-girlfriend sends me a large care package filled with homemade brownies. I immediately grab them and head to the couch for a depression binge. Myrtle joins me. We eat brownies and bitch about the world.
Everything is falling into a numbing routine. The life of the idled is neither interesting nor particularly stimulating. After breakfast, Myrtle waddles to the office nook where she works. She sits at the computer, looking for jobs and sighing heavily. Meanwhile, Jarl stumbles off to the bedroom for his 10:30 AM depression nap. This repose lasts until Myrtle yells at him to bring her snacks or medication (or, often, both). Lunch is taken promptly at noon. Around three, Myrtle calls it a day and lumbers into the living room for a little quality time with the television. Her taste in shows is horrible: Myrtle mainly watches old movies, Touched by an Angel, and Warehouse 13.
The days of the week cease to matter. To stay sane, I adhere to a strict regimen: I apply to at least five jobs a day, no matter how long it takes. At first, I hunted locally. After exhausting all nearby opportunities, I expand my scope, first to the entire state of California, then nationwide. Never have I been more motivated to work; I like Myrtle and (to a lesser extent) Jarl, but they were out of touch with reality due to their extended isolation, monuments to what I would become if I didn’t get my ass back into the workforce.
From time to time, Jason will knock and then wait on the porch for hours until one of his parents opens the door to find out what he wants. He may not pose any physical danger, but he is clearly dying to get back into the house. Yesterday, he rode his bike up; I watched as he deliberately flattened his tires before ringing the bell and claiming he was stranded. After another epic verbal brawl, it was decided that Jarl would drive Jason to REI and buy him a new bike tire. Another fight over the price of the tire followed, then a third fight as Jarl called from the store. In the conflict, Myrtle generally sides with Jason’s need to be nurtured and supported. Jarl favors the tough love approach. I bite my tongue before telling him that he would have died long ago if forced to fend for himself.
My mother, after seeing my condition during her visit, decides I need some cheering up. She emails me a poem she's written, an epic narrative encapsulating the recent events. So far as I know, she has never before or since written a poem. Why now – and why she chooses to commemorate this particularly unpleasant moment – it’s all unclear. That night I have a dream that I wake up and Jarl is sitting by the bed, reading me the poem. So chilling is this dream that I suppress the memory of the poem ever having existed until I come across it accidentally over a year later.
Myrtle has a job interview at an employment agency this morning. Jarl is celebrating by drinking. It is 10:19 AM.
Still no unemployment benefits. Since my mother is still in town visiting, I ask her to raid the complimentary breakfast buffet at her hotel for me. I feel minimal shame, perhaps a three on a 1-10 scale.
Bad news: my skinflint former employer is fighting my unemployment claim. Not sure if he genuinely believes he has grounds, or is protesting out of general cheapness. Until this mess is sorted out, there will be NO CHECKS. There will be a hearing. I am told it will take six weeks for the unemployment people to work through the backlog of claims. I have $783 in my checking account.
This may be the first time I realize that I’m truly trapped with Myrtle and Jarl.
Today I’m going to try and qualify as a donor for the sperm bank in Palo Alto. Based on my understanding of the demand for male gametes, I’ve talked myself into believing that I’ve got a shot at this (no pun intended) – I’m tall, white and I have a degree from a Top-10 University.
The lobby is full of men avoiding eye contact; I fit right in. While I’m waiting, another guy comes in and announces he’s Dan Clipon (pronounced “clip-on”), a name which is obviously fake. Clipon wants to bank his sperm. I eavesdrop on their negotiation. Prices are insane – I know how much liquid nitrogen storage really costs, and man, are the customers here getting sopped hard. Then they call me into the back. (Musical Sequence Ensues). Afterwards, they promise to examine my boys and get back to me. I consider putting in a good word for myself, but decide to say nothing, lest the self-hype come off as too desperate.
On a related note, I also applied for eight jobs today. I’m getting numb doing it (applying, not the, umm, donation thing). This includes an in-person application as, on the way out of the sperm bank, I asked if they’re hiring. The lady tells me that applying for a job while applying to donate is a conflict of interest; I can only do one or the other. I bet on my sperm.
It occurs to me that every living organism in this house may be depressed. One of the cats has been sleeping in the same spot for the last six hours and Jarl is snoring in the next room. After consuming approximately seven popsicles, Myrtle is starting to nod off in the living room. One of the other cats is sleeping on her gut. I am the sole functioning life form ‘round these parts.
Myrtle and Jarl were sitting at the kitchen table, finishing lunch as amicably as could be expected. Myrtle suddenly crinkled her nose. "Jarl!" she cried, "are you... gassy?"
"Uh... no," Jarl declared finally. He began to blame the smell on a nearby bucket of aquatic plants that had been removed from the aquarium the previous evening. This defense appeared to fly, until Jarl farted (again, apparently). Myrtle tears into him with her usual ferocity. Jarl decided he needed to defend himself after being busted in another obvious lie. Suddenly, he stood up, walked to the nearby mini-fridge, and rummaged through the bottles of condiments stored there. After a moment, Jarl suddenly whirled on his heel and accused Myrtle of opening one bottle of salad dressing before finishing the old one, presenting both bottles as evidence. Myrtle was now even angrier. She went ad hominem, accusing Jarl of sleeping all day (true) and of being an alcoholic (debatable but, yeah, OK, the man’s a saucepot). Jarl was left completely on the defensive by the escalation. He stood by the counter, casting about for a rejoinder. "You know what you need to stop doing?" he asked, "You should stop putting silverware on this side of the counter, because it might fall into the trash."
I looked at the fork in question, sitting unmolested on the solid marble counter, and wondered how often Jarl lost cutlery in the trashcan. Myrtle failed to join the battle on this point, preferring instead to continue their exchange of completely unrelated accusations. "Jarl, where the hell is that bag of pretzels you were supposed to buy me?" she fired back.
A brief concordance ensued, as they agreed to blame the snack’s sudden disappearance on their youngest son. Things might have ended there, but this was only the eye of the hurricane; Myrtle was going back for the knockout.
"You know, Jarl,” Myrtle said with false sweetness, “you’ll be getting a social security check soon. Won't it be nice to finally contribute to the house again?" she asked tauntingly. Turning to me, Myrtle proceeded to tell me a new story about her husband’s checkered work history: in the early 1990s, Jarl had been working at a place and was being considered for a promotion. "At the last moment," Myrtle explained, "the foreman gave Jarl's job to his Mexican cousin.”
“They paid him under the table," Jarl added helpfully, his anger suddenly forgotten.
"Was he legal?" I asked.
"He probably wasn’t!" Jarl blurted out, possibly trying to save face.
"You can see why Jarl hasn't worked in the last fifteen years," Myrtle said, with a laugh that was anything but nice.
There was a little postscript that made this whole affair all the more sad and comical. I didn't get all of it down, but Jarl told another crazy story about a job he had with Hewlett-Packard that concluded with him roller-skating around the parking lot of their corporate headquarters, possibly getting himself fired in the process. Oddly, Jarl seemed to regard this story as somehow vindicating, allowing him to win the fight with his wife. As he was concluding the story, the dull crump of Jarl’s flatulent song rang again.
A pyrrhic victory indeed.
I have been rejected as a potential sperm donor. By email. No explanation is given. I find it hard to believe there is a shortage of demand for six-foot-five men with all their hair [this was true when I wrote it; not so much now] and fancy college degrees. The only possibility that could explain my rejection is that I am sterile as a mule. I make a note to examine my sperm under the microscope when (or if) I ever get another job in science.
I just watched Jarl waste over six hours trying to save 40 cents. The man made it look effortless. Here is a rough timeline of events:
2 PM: Jarl heads for grocery store on a routine grocery run.
3 PM: Jarl returns with groceries, including a half-gallon of milk.
3:15 PM: While putting away groceries, Jarl reads his receipt and determines he has been cheated out of a 40-cent rebate. He becomes agitated, and compares the grocers to central African warlords.
3:25 PM: Jarl is still talking about the 40 cents. I am bored, so I bait him. “You should go all the way back to the grocery store and get in the manager’s face,” I urge. Jarl agrees this is a reasonable course of action.
3:45 PM: Jarl heads back to supermarket, vowing to return with nothing less than a full rebate.
4:18 PM: Jarl returns home, having forgotten to take the milk with him. Sensing greatness, I begin to record events via live texting to Susan and other members of the burgeoning “Adventures of Jarl” fan club.
4:32 PM: Jarl pauses his crusade in order to eat cold Chef Boyardee directly from the can.
4:55 PM: Jarl initiates trip #3 to the grocery store.
5:20 PM: Jarl returns home again, still in possession of the milk. This time, he has forgotten his receipt. Amazingly, none of this is wearing him down; the man is still committed to the mission. It is the most passion I have ever seen him display for anything.
5:32 PM: Jarl finds the receipt and is ready to head back. He attempts to get $5 from Myrtle to fill up the car, which he unironically reports is now on empty following numerous trips to the grocery store.
5:33 PM: Fight ensues. Jarl is chock full of righteous indignation. Myrtle invites him to engage in sexual congress with himself.
5:55 PM: Fight culminates with Myrtle dangling money in front of Jarl, jerking it away each time he reaches for it. Myrtle finally capitulates after Jarl claims he will sell the car for gas money if he runs out on the way to the grocery store. This was no one’s finest moment.
6:08 PM: Jarl leaves for grocery store. Trip #4 for those counting.
7:15 PM: My mother, now some 2,000 miles away, calls me specifically to ask whether Jarl has gotten his discount. The tension is palpable.
7:17 PM: Jarl returns in disgrace, after learning the deal required him to buy TWO jugs of milk. He claims that the grocery store is deliberately wasting his time. Myrtle asks him if the store is looking to hire senior citizen baggers. Jarl shuts up.
7:42 PM: Jarl is still stewing. After about ten minutes, he announces that he will show the grocery store who is boss by returning the milk for a full refund. Everyone but Jarl is apathetic. There is one problem: he now cannot find the contested milk. Jarl commences a full search.
7:51 PM: Jason shows up, looking for food. Jarl attempts to extract an additional $5 from Myrtle to employ Jason in the search for the missing milk. Myrtle declines.
7:53 PM: Jarl finds the milk, still in the trunk of his car. At no point today did he attempt to refrigerate it.
8:12 PM: Jarl returns, again defeated. He had left the milk in the trunk since the initiation of grocery run #2, some four hours previous. After a day of 90+ degrees in the trunk of a Chrysler, what Jarl attempted to return was no longer colloidal milk. The grocery store is four miles away. Jarl has made five trips, burning roughly seven dollars in gas in the process. Oh, and six hours of his time. Even for Jarl, this productivity is below the going rate.
8:16 PM: Jarl stands in the front yard, pouring curdled milk onto the grass like a rapper pouring out a shot for a deceased homie.
Next time: An exploration of various exercise regimens and unintentional(?) sexual innuendos fly.
Read Part Five
Where The Cats Pee
A multi-part story covering my time as a houseguest of the least stable family in America.