Events at home have taken the course of a medical drama. Both Jarl and Myrtle suffer from an unhealthy number of maladies, ranging from the spectacular to mundane. Myrtle has taken the lead in this, having been sick on no less than four occasions in the four weeks I've lived with the family. I seriously suspected she had lupus until she told me her doctor had already worked her up for it. The other, equally likely, explanation is that carrying around 250 extra pounds is starting to take its toll.
Like all of us, Myrtle gets bitchy when she's sick. The best example of this occurred as she laid on the couch, not looking too good. I was legitimately worried she was going to die in front of me, when she weakly beckons Jarl over. "Jarl," she whispered, "I need to check my blood..." she trailed off into something unintelligible.
"Your blood pressure?" Jarl guessed.
"NO!" Myrtle exploded with surprising vigor. "My blood SUGAR! We already checked my blood pressure. Now FIND MY METER!"
Another less severe illness afflicted Myrtle the previous week, when she was struck by an ear infection. "Swimmer's ear," she confided in me, "from my workouts."
Ah, I’ve forgotten to mention Myrtle’s workout program. She swims twice a week, although she hasn't made it to the pool once or twice, on account of being "too busy.” I should mention she drives to the pool, which is at a YMCA located all of 300 yards from the house. From this brutal regimen, Myrtle has developed a persistent ear infection that is curtailing her training to be the next Dara Torres. "I can't get ANY water in this ear," Myrtle announced darkly during dinner, "so no swimming for me for a while." Oddly, she seemed less troubled about her ailing eustachian tube than the lost opportunities to lord her exercise program over the completely sedentary Jarl.
Jarl's health problems are no less significant, either in number or severity. Shortly before I entered their lives, Jarl had emergency surgery for an anal fistula, possibly the grossest medical condition in existence. An anal fistula, for those fortunate enough to never encounter one, is a secondary passage that forms between the anal canal and the perianal skin. This means, in short, that you've grown a second butthole, one that copiously weeps pus and other unsavory bodily fluids. If this is not mental rape enough, I should mention that it is occasionally possible for the afflicted individual to poo out of this second asshole.
When I moved in, I noticed Jarl sat on a donut-shaped cushion. Knowing why now makes me queasy. Also, just what has to happen for you to require emergency surgery for that type of problem? I won't examine the scenarios, as I'm writing this before lunchtime, but they aren't particularly pleasant.
Apparently, the surgery has left Jarl rather sensitive. I guess it could be coincidence, but the man sneezes like a total pussy – rather than taking a good rip at things, we’ll hear this delicate, high-pitched "aHHH-cHHOOOOooo!" come out of his room. When this happens, everyone in the family looks nervous, as if he may somehow shit out his guts from the pressure of the sneeze. Each time this happens, I feel the perverse urge to proclaim, "Well I'm not stuffing 'em back in!"
At the other end of his digestive tract, Jarl suffers from diagnosed and (in my opinion) undiagnosed mental disorders. Myrtle regularly briefs me, occasionally asking for a second opinion on her WebMD research (it is not clear whether she is aware I am not an MD). While the medical establishment can't put a concrete diagnosis (much less a treatment) on Jarl’s condition, medical professionals have language to describe his plight. In the veterinary world, ADR (ain't doin' right) would be notated on his chart. In human medicine, SAR (somethin' ain't right) is the preferred term. At the core of everything is a refined, systemic depression, punctuated by bouts of crazy. Jarl takes long naps every day, drinks at least a bottle of wine a night, and has a certain lack of emotional response enjoyed by mild psychotics everywhere.
The mental wrasslin' match going on in this man's head make him do things that defy categorization. Handfuls of daily pills do nothing to lessen his status unstabilis. Jarl will tell stories that, clearly, no one is interested in. Myrtle will literally tell him to shut his goddamn mouth, to which Jarl will press on, unperturbed in his description of how, back in 1983, he made a flanged manifold keyboard for a now-out-of-business tech company. Perhaps you can understand why I thought he had early-onset Alzheimer's, especially when he ran out of stories and went into re-runs after the first several weeks of living there. Eventually, though, I realized the issues in Jarl's dome go far beyond a simple debilitating disease of recall. I'll give you an example: last night, I asked him what his favorite food was, and (after a period of soul-searching) he told me he didn't have one. How fucked up is that?
Jarl just walked through at one in the morning going "He-loo... He-LOOO... He-looo". Then he sees me, and explains that he is worried that live-in son #2 is not back (ignoring my suggestion to call him) and informs me that he is taking the trash out now. He’s also drunk as fuck.
Without Myrtle to control him, he may be dangerous.
I arrive home to find an argument in full swing between Jarl and Myrtle. The subject: a broken meat grinder. Several months prior, the family had given Jarl a new meat grinder for father's day. This was done for several reasons, one of which being that Jarl feels that ground meat from the store contains cow eyeballs. Yeah, no shit. Anyway, Jarl had been feeding partially-frozen meat into the grinder. Too frozen, apparently. Jarl ignored the smoking grinder's shrieks of protestation until the motor blew out. Faced with a tight budget and a meat grinder in need of repair, Myrtle was letting Jarl have it. All the while, Jarl is denying responsibility.
It was interesting to watch Jarl, who had obviously screwed up, squirm as his wife kicked him while down. Still, this was taking it too far. It's one thing to tease or say something you don't mean; it's quite another to scream at your husband "You fucked up the meat grinder, just like you fucked up everything else in your life!!!"
Say that to me, I'll have a divorce filing in your hand tomorrow. Jarl, however, took it standing up. Well, technically he was sitting down, although he soon went to bed for his nightly 8:30 PM depression nap.
Jarl drinks “Two-Buck Chuck,” the shitty-but-drinkable red wine from Trader Joe’s*. Exclusively. He buys it by the case, and spends 60% of his waking hours sitting at the kitchen table, pouring wine into a tiny wine goblet and drinking glass after glass. I once offered to buy Jarl a bottle of Scotch. The words had barely left my mouth before Myrtle forbid it. She explains: Jarl is only allowed to drink wine – no hard liquor – and must use the tiny wineglass to drink it. Both rules are holdovers from unsuccessful attempts to curb Jarl’s drinking.
Interestingly, for someone who drinks multiple bottles of wine each day (and who has lived in the middle of California wine country for many decades), Jarl is completely ignorant about all things vino.
Noah: Jarl, what is it about Two-Buck Chuck that appeals to you? The bouquet? The palette? The antioxidants?
Jarl: (long pause) I just like the way it tastes.
Noah: And how does it taste?
Jarl: (cheerfully drunk) Like wine!
*Inflation has now led us to Three-Buck Chuck.
I believe Jarl feels threatened by my modest scientific credentials. Here’s a guy who never went to college, moved out to California just in time for the computer boom and worked for a while in a series of technology-related jobs. Maybe, at some point, he felt he was the smartest guy in the room. Now he’s basically living in the past, and my presence poses a threat to his tarnished legacy. Jarl’s insecurity takes several unique forms, one of which is his propensity to pose oddly timed scientific- or technical questions about my job. Most of these questions seem aimed at tripping me up and/or making him sound smarter to his family in the process. Usually, however, these efforts serve only to expose his ignorance. Witness this dinnertime conversation:
Jarl: Hey Noah, why does rubbing peach pits on my face make my skin look younger? [Note: 80% of Jarl’s face is covered with a long, unkempt beard].
Noah: (playing along) Well, peach pits contain hydrogen cyanide, but only a tiny amount. High quantities in-
Jarl: (grinning maniacally, as though he’s trapped me in a lie) But I rub peach pit cream on my face to make it look younger. Why is that?
Myrtle: (interjecting) Jarl, aren’t you talking about apricot scrub?
Jarl: (losing confidence quickly) Uh, no.
Noah: So, to be clear, your beauty regimen includes rubbing peach pits on your face?
Jarl: (obviously lying) Yes.
Susan, my girlfriend, is in town for a visit. Jarl wastes no time in demonstrating what a creepy dude he is. We’re getting ready for dinner when Jarl, on one of his random house roamings, decides to pay us a visit while Susan showered and I shaved.
“Helloooo? Is there someone in the bathroom?” Jarl asked. “Helllooooo?”
Susan, who was already briefed on Jarl’s peculiarities, turned off the shower and looked at me quizzically. I shrug as if to say, this is my life now.
Someone tried the knob. We froze in stunned terror. Fortunately, the door’s flimsy lock held.
“Jarl, shut the fuck up and get back here!” Myrtle yelled from down the hall.
The knob-rattling ceased. This was the last time Susan visited me.
Next time: Jason finds love, Myrtle explains what's really happening in the Bermuda Triangle. Oh, and I get fired as well.
Read Part Three
Where The Cats Pee
A multi-part story covering my time as a houseguest of the least stable family in America.