Read Part Nine
Myrtle announces she is going on a ketogenic (i.e., low carb) diet. She is enthusiastic about eating unlimited amounts of meat and cheese. I initially support this initiative until I see what her idea of “low carb” is. Myrtle immediately fuels by eating an entire tub of sour cream. This is technically allowed, but Myrtle consumes this foodstuff by scooping it up with corn chips. Jarl challenges her on the carb content of the bag of chips. An argument ensues which – wait for it – Jarl actually wins. This may be the first argument (save for the 25-cent fight way back on Day 22) in which Jarl emerged triumphant. Nutritional labels don’t lie. Myrtle ate as she fought, and I suspect her resistance was merely a delaying action so she could get enough sugar onboard to survive until morning.
At any rate, Jarl’s victory occurred only after Myrtle consumed the entire bag of tortilla chips. That evening, Myrtle laments the high sugar content of Jarl’s vino.
Myrtle continues to struggle with the new diet. That afternoon, I watch her consume six bags of taco bell cinnamon twists. When I ask her about the carb content, it becomes clear that Myrtle has mistaken the cinnamon twists for sugar-dusted chicharrones (fried pork skins). I do little to correct this belief – honestly, the woman’s mood goes down the tubes after a couple of hours without carbs.
Unsurprisingly, Myrtle has abandoned the new diet. Stated reason: she’s accomplished what she set out to do (no further details given). The timing of the announcement is particularly interesting, as Jarl had deposited a breakfast burrito in front of her a few seconds before this proclamation. From start to finish, the diet lasted 72 hours, with at least three instances of documented cheating.
In other news, I’m heading back to Chicago for several weeks, mainly to interview for a job, partly for my psychological health. Myrtle and I are sitting and talking before I leave. Myrtle shows me her wedding album and complains yet again about Jarl fucking up her life. I ask her what she can do about it. Myrtle darkly says, “I had my chances… maybe I’ll have another one someday.”
I am not sure how to interpret this, but it occurs to me that Myrtle may be actively looking to murder Jarl. Then I consider how much shit Jarl feeds his obese wife* and I wonder if Myrtle is simply playing defense.
*Both literally and metaphorically.
I get a job. The new gig is in Chicago. Actually, it’s about ten miles from where I started this whole journey. During the interview process, I stayed in Chicago. This is both a blessing and a curse. Despite the fact that they drove me crazy, I have mixed feelings about leaving San Jose. And by San Jose, I mean Myrtle and Jarl. Leaving will mean stepping back into reality from the crazy dimension that seems to exist only within the walls of that otherwise-unremarkable home.
I return to San Jose. Jarl is still alive and unmurdered. Myrtle and Jarl are happy enough to learn I’ve gotten a job, less so to learn that I’ll be moving out ASAP. Nevertheless, I receive their blessing. Myrtle asks me where the job is. I tell her it’s in Skokie, a suburb adjacent to Chicago. “I know Skokie,” Myrtle informs me. "That’s where the Jews live.”
“Good to know,” I reply.
Soon thereafter it's time to say my goodbyes. On my final night in San Jose, I offer to take Myrtle and Jarl out to dinner. Later, I slip Jarl a bottle of scotch, which he carefully hides behind his squirrel food on he third shelf of the pantry. The next morning, Jarl repays this small kindness by treating me to one final glimpse of him walking through his bedroom nude, then it's time to leave for good. I pull away for the 2,000-mile return to Chicago. It’s a bittersweet moment. Although this chapter of my life was hardly great, it also feels like I’m leaving something behind, the likes of which I’ll never ever see again. I don’t know what to feel, so I just drive.
Myrtle emails me. They miss my calming presence, she says. Her new tenants are boring, she says; they don’t speak much English. She thinks they’re either "Korean or Arabs". I try to imagine being from another country, alone in America, not speaking the language, and listening to Jarl and Myrtle battle constantly. And what would the Koreans think of Jason?
Day 162 and Beyond
Bad news, kids. The story’s over and it’s time for bed.
It’s since been many years since the pharmaceutical company in Chicago hired me. Since then, I’ve bought a house, sold a house, gotten engaged, and all the other boring stuff that life consists of. San Jose is far behind me, but from time to time I still glance in the rearview mirror with more than a touch of nostalgia.
Almost a year to the day after leaving California, I received the call that I knew would one day come: Myrtle had died. Natural causes. A month later, the house was up for sale, and a month after that it had sold. To their credit, I believe Myrtle fought off the banks until the very end. Jarl and the sons have scattered to who knows where. In many ways, this story is the only remaining account that this impossible, unlikely situation ever happened. Although I barely survived the experience with my (professional) life and sanity intact, I wouldn't change the experience for anything.
Reflecting on my time in the house, I was reminded of an incident that really encapsulated the experience. One day, during the height of my unemployment, Jarl emerged from his bedroom wearing one of Myrtle's moomoos (no pants). When I questioned this choice of garment, Myrtle explained that it was "laundry day" and Jarl proceeded to eat lunch in women's clothing. Jarl was incredibly drunk and smelled faintly of poo. These observations suggested that he may have shit his (only pair of sweat)pants, experienced a flare-up of his anal fistula, or accidentally cross-dressed. The fact that all possibilities were equally likely accurately defines the story: a seemingly impossible event that suddenly becomes par for the course once you get to know the principals involved. To dig deeper would be to invite oneself into realms best left unexplored, but to not write it down would be to deprive the world of something that is, if not important, at least notable.
Where The Cats Pee
A multi-part story covering my time as a houseguest of the least stable family in America.