Read Part Eight
When Jarl sneezes, he releases a mighty grunt. It sounds like – stop reading this sentence and skip ahead if you are sensitive or have a vivid imagination – the gleeful audiblization of a man who's experiencing a massive orgasm. In sequence, there's this massive inhale, the 'choo' part of the sneeze, and then a mighty "uuuuuuuhhhhhh!!!" as though he's now totally depleted.
In the wake of a particularly intense discharge, I make the mistake of asking Jarl if he is alright. Jarl explains that his technique exists to displace the excessive pressure of the sneeze from putting pressure on his anal fistula. Apparently, my earlier concerns he could literally shit his guts out were well founded.
Myrtle has begun to question Jarl’s “achoo” sound as well.
It is only now that I realize I’ve never seen Myrtle and Jarl kiss, hug, or hold hands. Not once.
Some days I’m so frustrated by the situation (both the insanity at home and my stiflingly unsuccessful job search) that I do mean things. Usually this means messing with Jarl.
At first this was fun trolling. Remember when I tried to get Jarl involved in ultimate fighting? Yeah, that was both satisfying and relatively harmless. Other times, Jarl would make some ridiculous claim, and I would ask him for details until it became clear he was talking out of his ass*. For example, Jarl claimed he could build a thermonuclear warhead (Side note: He did this during an episode of Mythbusters. This idea of destroying a false notion may have inspired me.). I begin by asking him specifics. For example, what would he need to build the device? (“Plutonium or Uranium, plus some wires and a metal suitcase.”) What would his targets be? (“Probably the fat cats that take all the money.”) Then, hook set, I told Jarl that, with his technical prowess, I was legitimately worried he posed a hazard to our country. My fears could only be allayed if he recited the pledge of allegiance. No, not just the words, but standing with hand over heart. Thank you, Jarl. You are a true patriot. We’ll let your seditious talk slide… this time.
Over time, however, the thrill has grown sallow. Today a bill collector called while Myrtle was gone. As I’ve written before, Jarl is not allowed to answer the phone when Myrtle is out. This rule stemmed from an ill-conceived scheme where Jarl began paying off one credit card with another, effectively doubling the family’s penalty fees in the process. As he was trained, Jarl made no move to answer the ringing phone, which quickly went to voicemail. The bill collector left the standard message, something like, “This is so-and-so from [creditor/bank/utility], calling for Myrtle. I need you to call me back as soon as possible. This is very important.”
“What do you think that was about?” I ask Jarl.
Jarl shrugged. “It’s probably a scam artist.”
“Really?” I asked, equal parts infuriated and intrigued with the conclusion the big man had evidently drawn. “What makes you say that?”
“He’s just trying to get my information and get into my bank account,” Jarl said dismissively.
“Didn’t that guy call like three times today?” I shot back.
“That’s how these guys work,” Jarl replied.
“A guy calls you three times, leaving his full name and number and asks you to call him?”
“Some of them,” Jarl proclaimed.
“Jarl, how often are you scammed?”
“They try constantly at the store,” Jarl said. He then tried to change the subject by re-telling an old chestnut about a misprinted grocery circular from three years ago. I cut him off.
“I think we should tell Myrtle about your theory, Jarl. She’s totally buying into the notion that these are legitimate bill collectors. Maybe we could sue them…” This was great bait. Jarl frequently expressed a belief in his ramblings that, if you sued a company, you would somehow be given ownership of that company.
Jarl was in full backpedal. “They might sue us.”
“Jarl, are you going to live your life in fear of an overly litigious scam artist? At the very least, you should insist Myrtle call them and tell them off for their audacity to come after you.”
Myrtle arrives home from her errand and I browbeat Jarl into telling her his theory. Myrtle tells Jarl he is a retard. Then Myrtle eats Chips Ahoy and Jarl drinks inexpensive wine until it’s time for bed. I feel no glee at Jarl’s dithering. Quite the contrary, I feel guilt at provoking the situation.
That night, I consider the larger picture. The antics of the house no longer elicit the same level of amusement that they once did. It’s just one big slog. With growing horror, I realize that I've stepped through the mirror and have made the move from relatively dispassionate observer of this little pod of primitive hominids to becoming an active participant in their madness. I am involved, and it scares the shit out of me.
I share a bathroom with the two sons. Eventually, I begin to notice something kind of distressing: the other toothbrushes by the sink never change position in their holders.
Now I’m a curious dude who likes to run little experiments. In elementary school I once tested the sanitary practices of our school’s cafeteria staff by hiding a french fry in the decorative lettuce on the lunch line. Every day I would lift the foliage and check for the fried bit of detritus, waiting to see how long until it was discovered and taken away. That fucking french fry was there for weeks. So naturally, I ran the same test here: I aligned the other toothbrush handles at odd angles and simply noted how long it took for them to move. A month later I’m still waiting. There is no other place for these guys to brush. The fact that we are roughly one hundred posts into this story and I am just now mentioning this is somehow more disturbing than the information itself, isn’t it?
Another classic Jarl story:
The big man clips coupons. Every morning, for over an hour, Jarl scours every newspaper and flier he can, looking for sales and specials. He’s like one of the people on those extreme couponing shows, only much less efficient. The history of how Jarl came to become such an enthusiastic bargain-hunter is complicated. Originally, it was a plan hatched by Myrtle to engage Jarl (while he was, at the time, temporarily out of work) and help the family save money. Things snowballed out of control, however. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Jarl has some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. He’ll get fixated on something and just can’t let go. Once, in the late eighties, Myrtle decided it would be good for the then-somewhat-recently-unemployed Jarl to go get his college degree. She enrolled him in a math class at San Jose State. She said Jarl would sit at home all day, doing one math problem after another and ignoring the kids he was supposed to be babysitting. Jarl’s college career ended when Myrtle found him doing trigonometry while one of his infant sons wailed to be changed.
Predictably, perhaps, Jarl has taken couponing too far. He shops daily, and will literally buy anything on sale. Myrtle's noble experiment has backfired, as she now must constantly restrain Jarl from compulsively buying, not unlike checking a puppy that perpetually strains at their leash. This is also the main reason Jarl has no control (or access, to be more accurate) to the family finances.
Left unchecked, I'd estimate that the act of couponing has expanded to fill roughly 80% of Jarl’s useful cognitive capacity. It may be his sole reason for living, his sole passion, and it’s definitely all he can talk about when it comes to current events. Often, during meals, food would be mentioned in passing and Jarl would be triggered. Someone mentions the asparagus is nicely seasoned and Jarl, with the urgency of a SWAT team, immediately goes into deep background on the logistics of each item. This goes over about like you’d expect – Jarl sits there, reciting prices, ignoring Myrtle as she tells him no one cares. You want a visual of this?
Jarl: Baby carrots, sixty-nine cents a pound. Bananas, eighty-five cents a pound…
Myrtle: Oh shut up, would ya?!?
Jarl: (CREEPY defiant grin on his face) Red cabbage, eighty-nine cents a pound…
Myrtle: (on verge of stroke) Jarl, shut the fuck up!!!
Only occasionally is Jarl completely drunk during these exchanges.
A brief respite from the situation comes in the form of a trip (pre-booked, pre-firing #2) to Chicago for the marathon.
[Text to Susan, while on the way to airport on the way to Chicago for Chicago Marathon]
- Most dangerous phase of visit home underway: getting ride to airport with drunkish Jarl.
After I land, I check my phone to find amazing news: a company in San Diego that I’d been talking to has invited me to go there for an interview. This is by far the best option I’ve had in my third age of job searching. I write back, agreeing to a visit next week. Thirty minutes later, my phone rings – another company, this one in Chicago, wants to interview me. I am positively giddy between these dual developments. I wonder if this sudden burst of success has occurred because I have put physical distance between myself and the miasma of unemployability coming from Myrtle and Jarl.
“Who do you think will die first, Myrtle or Jarl?”
It was the eve of the race, and I was holding Susan in my arms late into the night when I asked the question. Susan didn’t answer for a long time. I was about to ask her if she was still awake when she finally responded.
“Myrtle, I guess. She’s bigger. But to tell you the truth, I think Jarl is kind of ready to die.”
I turned to face her and propped myself on an elbow. “Really?”
“Yeah. If Myrtle dies, he’ll be dead in six months. But if he dies first, Myrtle would be happy, and I think he’d be happy too. What does he have to live for, anyway? Shitty wine and an anal fistula?”
I drifted off to sleep pondering the question.
My recent winning streak continues. I have the race of my life, running a marathon personal best of more than thirty minutes. After the finish, I tear up, savoring the moment and enjoying the feeling of feeling good (and tired, but also in a good way).
I text Myrtle the good news. She texts back asking if it's a 5K marathon or a 10K marathon.
[Note: eight years later, I have yet to better this mark. I have no doubt – no doubt – that the dysfunctional environment created by Myrtle and Jarl played an outsized role in this accomplishment.]
[On the phone with my dad, venting about the train-wreck lives of my cohabitants]
Noah: Sweet Christmas, how can Jarl be so lazy? The whole family’s crumbling and he just sits at the table, staring into space.
Dad: He’s just resting up for the eviction, son.
*I did consider another fistula joke here, thanks for asking.
Next time: Myrtle begins (and ends) a low carb diet and a tearful farewell.
Read Part Ten
Where The Cats Pee
A multi-part story covering my time as a houseguest of the least stable family in America.