Of Mice and Molecules...
Where the Cats Pee (and Other Adventures with Jarl and Myrtle)
Read Part 2
On the last day of her visit, I took Susan on a sightseeing trip to San Francisco. During the trip, we paid a visit to Alamo Park in San Francisco, mainly to see the Painted Ladies, the row of houses made famous by the TV show Full House.
The park is at the top of an amazingly steep hill in the middle of the city. We parked the car at the top of the hill, carefully turning the wheels into the curb in case the parking brake failed. Susan was inspecting a massive, badly-aligned SUV behind us when she made an amazing discovery. "Oh my God," she cried, "someone left a baby in that car!"
So there was. A little kid of indeterminate age (let's say 0-3 years old; I don’t guess kids’ ages so well) was sleeping in the backseat of the ill-parked car. I am no expert on child-rearing, but I am reasonably sure that this practice is regarded as somewhat unsafe. The only reason to leave your child in the car, I am quite sure, is for something critically important, like performing CPR or returning a VHS tape.
We looked around for putative parents. People were everywhere, but none seemed to be keeping a particularly close eye on the SUV or its living cargo. The rear window was halfway down, probably an admirable attempt to prevent the child from overheating in the blustery, mid 60s desert that is San Francisco. On the other hand, the open window made stealing the unguarded kid painfully easy. Who the hell would do this?
Naturally, Susan and I dropped everything and posted ourselves by the SUV, waiting to get a look at the owners of the SUV and/or kid. At some point it occurred to me that we would need photographic proof that this actually happened.
To pass the time, we debated who would come back to collect the kid. My theory was that the parents had been arrested. Perhaps an outlaw couple had struck it rich and stolen back their kid. "No mother would do this," Susan stated flatly. It turned out she was right. After about an hour, the ‘parents’ returned to the car. To be sure, they hadn't been on a blanket a few feet away, as they literally hiked back up the hills from the nearby antique district. Turns out this baby had two daddies:
Yup. Two dudes walked up, giggling and holding hands, got in the SUV, and drove off, leaving us to ponder our formerly easy acceptance of gay marriage. As they rolled into traffic, Susan said, "There's no way lesbians would do that."
Jason has met and possibly fallen in love with Susan. He caught sight of her on the second day of her visit. He was on the porch, awaiting feeding, when they first met. I rushed the hellos, not sure how to explain the paranoid schizophrenic simultaneously devouring scrambled eggs and smoking a cigarette on the patio. Susan handled the encounter well enough, but a passion was ignited in Jason’s ample belly. Unfortunately, the fire took slightly too long to kindle: Susan had flown home on Sunday night; Monday morning, I left for work to find Jason standing on the front lawn with a bouquet of flowers that had clearly JUST been torn from someone’s garden.
“Hey man,” he said, alternating his gaze between the side of the house and my shoes. “I thought your girlfriend could use some flowers. Here,” he added, thrusting the ragged collection of stems my way.
“I’m afraid Susan left last night,” I said, reaching for my keys in case I needed a weapon.
“Oh… OK.” Jason retracted the flowers and pursed his lips and absorbed the news.
When I returned that night, I found the rudimentary bouquet in the front yard. The arrangement had been stuffed into a drain cover. The wilting flowers were still upright, but were beginning to sag, a forlorn monument to Jason’s passion, rotting in the front yard.
According to my notes, this was the first night I began locking the side door entrance to my room.
Exactly one week later, my father comes into town and meets Jarl and Myrtle for the first time. He is a clinical psychologist. Here are his first impressions after meeting them.
“His obsessive-compulsive tendencies pair with his clinical depression like a fine wine.”
“She needs to divorce Jarl. I’m sorry you saw her naked.”
My father and I return home from an outing to find Jason watering the lawn. From time to time, Myrtle hires Jason to do odd jobs, mainly as a vehicle to keep him on the dole. Jarl is against this (as it cuts into his alcohol budget) but is powerless to prevent it. My father and I watch as Jason waters the same ten-foot square of grass for twelve consecutive minutes. Only after gulf-sized puddles of standing water have formed does he stop. On a cue that neither my father or I can detect, Jason suddenly decides the job is complete. Wordlessly, he throws down the hose where he stands, walks to his bike, and pedals away. The small piece of the lawn he’s tended to is ruined.
“Is it possible he misheard the instructions?” I ask.
“I think anything’s possible with that kid,” dad replied.
We have a serious fucking problem. Over the weekend I was fired.
Here’s how it went down:
Since almost the first day, there had been increasingly ominous rumblings from the start-up company I worked at. Although the boss won’t admit it, it seems as though we’re running out of money. On Friday, my boss mentions he’s heading out for a meeting with our financial backers; the implication is that we’ll be getting a fresh batch of much-needed money from them if the conference goes well.
Meanwhile, I’ve returned to Chicago for the weekend to pick up my few remaining possessions from Susan’s place. On Saturday, I check my email and am surprised to find a message from my boss. The email was long and rambling on the future of our company. I’m skimming it, waiting for the point to emerge from the usual corporate-speak when I get hit with a bombshell: I am being let go.
Amazingly, this is not the first time I have been fired by email. Nonetheless, previous experiences do nothing to soften this upsetting news. In a discombobulated state, I rush into the bathroom to inform Susan of this development.
Noah: (barging in) “You’re not going to believe this!”
Susan: Get the hell out of here! I’m peeing!
Noah: I got fired!
Susan: (long pause) What?
Noah: I got fired!
Susan: (shorter pause) Are you sure?
Noah: No. (checks laptop, still in hand) Yes.
Susan: Are you shitting me?
Noah: No. You’re now officially dating a bum.
Susan: I guess your boss’s investor meeting didn’t go so well.
Noah: Yeah, you think?
Susan – still on the crapper – grabs the laptop and reads the message for a long, long time. Finally she looked up and shook her head. “You can wait for breakfast with Jason now.”
The following Monday, I return to California and pack up my desk. I inform Myrtle and Jarl what’s happened. To their credit, neither of them asks how I plan on paying next month’s rent. Jarl earnestly suggests I sue the company and try to get my boss’s job. Myrtle was only slightly more realistic in suggesting I was better off jobless (in a state currently with 12% unemployment) than being stuck in a tepid-but-nonetheless-paying job.
Hell is not having a middling university job pulled out from under your feet. Nor is it moving thousands of miles away from your friends and family to an iffy job, spending most of your cash reserves in the process. Hell isn’t realizing the company you’ve staked your immediate future on is total shit, and it isn’t even hell when that pathetic job is snatched away by a crazy man on an imaginary power trip. Hell is waking up the next morning and realizing that you have nowhere to go. For the foreseeable future, I will be spending 24/7 with Myrtle and Jarl.
You know what I’d been missing at home all those hours I spent working? A constant stream of bill collectors calling, asking where the payment for [insert bill] is. Myrtle gives the mortgage folks the most attention; the house isn’t in foreclosure yet, but it’s close. Electric and water get paid first – that’s the power of literally being able to shut off the tap – but anyone with unsecured debt (like credit cards) is shit out of luck. Those debt collectors get Angry Myrtle. Jarl, on the other hand, is strictly forbidden to speak to creditors. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure he’s allowed to answer the phone when Myrtle isn’t home.
I check my finances: there’s a little over $3,000 in my bank account. This is all that stands between me and the hopeless people twelve feet away.
Third full day of joblessness. Myrtle and Live-in-son #1’s live-in girlfriend both give me tips on what to say while filing an unemployment claim. I am apparently surrounded by experts in joblessness. I call the unemployment office and get a message that I will receive a call back within fifteen minutes. They call six hours later. I repeat the words Myrtle has taught me: the position was redefined to accommodate a different skill set. Translation: I’m reasonably sure my boss ran out of money, but was too cowardly to admit this. A bored-sounding man tells me to sit tight and watch the mail.
While I wait, I search for jobs. Please imagine applying for job after job on faceless online job forms, flanked on either side by people who have been out of work for a collective 19 years while the phone rings nonstop with bill collectors. This is my life.
Jesus Christ, this is not healthy.
With added quality time, I have come to the conclusion that Myrtle may also be insane, albeit better controlled than her husband. We were watching a documentary about ships that went missing in the Bermuda Triangle, when the announcer mentions that the US government has no knowledge of any extraterrestrial force responsible for the disappearance of dozens of ships. “That’s just crap!” Myrtle blurts out. “You know they’re just covering it up!”
“You think the government’s responsible for the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle?” I asked, not sure I’d heard her right.
Myrtle nodded, her chins jiggling in agreement after the fact. “They might not be doing it themselves, but they probably know what’s going on.”
“Why would they cover it up?” I asked.
“Oh, what don’t they cover up?” Myrtle shot back, still glued to the TV.
Later, the program addressed the possible causes of the disappearances in the region: methane bubbles from the seafloor, accidents, piracy, and finally… alien activity and cosmological phenomena. Clinging to a straight face, I ask, “So, what is it – do you think the ships are maybe falling into an alternate dimension?”
Myrtle popped a chip into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “Yeah, that or time travel.”
Next time: A visit to a sperm bank, a fight over flatulence, and Jarl puts on a clinic in inefficiency.
Read Part Four
Where The Cats Pee
A multi-part story covering my time as a houseguest of the least stable family in America.