54. The Bribe

August 3, 2013

Dad’s coffin had arrived.  I saw it when I went over for Christmas, lying on the floor in front of the couch like some morbid coffee table (coffin table?)   I got a better look at it when he cleared off the mugs and magazines.  It was six-sided and made of pine, with brass handles and a cross burned into the lid.  When he unscrewed the top (yes, it unscrewed) I was expecting to see Dracula inside.

Headstone in place, coffin in the house… I asked Dad why he was doing all this, and he said he wanted to be prepared.  “Why, are you dying?”  No, he just wanted to see what everything was going to look like while he was alive.  “Okay, then why don’t you go upstairs and put on a suit and lie in the coffin with your eyes closed.  Then I’ll take a picture and you can see what you’ll look like when you’re dead too.”  No.  He thought that was too weird.  Even Dad had limits, apparently.

He gave me my birthday present while I was there, over a week late.  I couldn’t understand how he kept forgetting it every year.  You’d think the day would be seared into his memory, considering I nearly died in birth.  Even the embarrassment of forgetting multiple times still wasn’t enough for him to get it right.  The best part was when he told me he argued with Kathleen about it, with him saying it was 19th and her insisting it was the 18th.  Meanwhile neither of them was right.

Anyway, he gave me a card with a check.  He could have stopped while he was ahead, but he threw in a VHS of Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye.  Okay, I guess.  Next up was my Christmas present.  True to form, Dad stumped into his conservative book library and grabbed one at random off the shelf.  Then he handed it to me unceremoniously and unwrapped, just as he had done the past several years.  I’d received books on Clarence Thomas, abortion, and now one on German tank warfare.

When it was my turn I gave him a calendar with the 17th of each month circled in red marker, and I crossed out every single day in December but the 17th.  I also framed a copy of my birth certificate for him.  “Now you won’t forget my birthday next year,” I said while he chortled.

Then he started up with his usual nonsense.  “I was talking to your mother,” he began. (It was always “your mother,” “your brother” or “your sister,” pronounced with a faint sneer.)  He’d asked her about coming over to her house and she told him no, and that one of the kids would have an issue with that.  “I don’t understand who would have a problem with me stopping by.  It’s just her and Mary over there.”

“And…?” I prompted

“And what?”

“And who else?”

He shot me a confused look.  Then I told him that Johnny was there too, and that threw him for a loop.

“Oh, like you didn’t already know that from all your reconnaissance missions,” I sneered in return.

Dad looked more baffled than ever.  “Oh, so Johnny has an issue with me too?”  Yeah, like that was a revelation.  Then he started ranting about Johnny, recalling how he slung motor oil around his room, how Johnny wouldn’t contribute to the house, how nobody came to see their grandmother, etc.  I finally cut him off and told him I wasn’t interested in rehashing things that happened 10-15 years ago, and especially when it didn’t concern me and I couldn’t answer for other people.

Then he asked me if he thought he was wrong to ask people to contribute to the house when they’re of a certain age, and I told him I had no opinion.  I added that I was never going to have kids so I’d never have to think about it anyway.  Dad seemed a little perturbed by that so I asked him why. “Well… it’s natural to seek out a spouse and start a family…” he said.  Well, that’s nice. Still not going to happen.  (And it’s ironic because Mom told me afterwards that Dad used to rant about overpopulation when she first met him.  But Dad maintained that he only had six kids with her to make her happy.)

“I know popping up out of the blue and forcing your company on people is very satisfying to you, but it’s very in-your-face and not very productive,” I said, adding that if he wants to stop by he should wait for an invitation. “If they want to see you, they know where you live,” I told him for the hundredth time.  Dad hemmed and hawed and said he’d take my advice. “For now…”

I grit my teeth but let the remark pass.  And then I had a minor epiphany.  Maybe I should just let things go and accept Dad for who he was.  Maybe he just didn’t know any other way.  He just never learned to communicate his feelings properly – certainly not from the example Grandpa set when he was growing up.  Maybe it was time to stop getting riled up by his nonsense and forget the urge to whoop his ass in retaliation.

I figured that would be the last I’d see of him for a while, but he crashed my aunt’s New Year’s Eve get together again.  Kathleen showed up with the new boyfriend, and I saw another car pull up a few minutes after they arrived.  “I bet that’s Dad,” I said to myself.  Sure enough, there was a knock on the door and my aunt opened it to him standing there with a stupid grin, holding a bottle of wine and another one of his VHS tapes.

Dad went around the room saying Happy New Year to everyone, adding that he wasn’t staying “because I’ve already annoyed enough people tonight.”  He seemed greatly surprised to discover Kathleen in attendance.  When he came to Mom he handed her the tape and told her to give it to Mary, even though he’d already seen her and given her a tape on Christmas.  Meanwhile my aunt was berating him for not standing up straight, yelling at him to get the hump off his back.  She took his bottle of wine and went to the kitchen to get him a beer, but by the time she returned he was already gone.  “What the hell was that about?” she demanded.

True to Mom’s prediction, Dad went back to my aunt’s house the following day, fishing for information as usual.  Then he told her that he and Mom were getting back together.  “That’s not happening,” she told me.  Dad went on to talk about his cemetery plot and his headstone and she was like, “You came all the way in here just to tell me about this shit?”  Finally he read her the riot act for embarrassing him.  “How, by telling you to stand up straight??”  My aunt did not suffer fools gladly and sent him on his way.

And Dad did not heed my “advice” for very long.  Valentine’s Day rolled around and Dad phoned me for a favor.  I figured he needed help shoveling off the flat part of the roof so the melting snow wouldn’t leak into the house for the millionth time.  Instead he was armed with yet another VHS tape that he wanted me to give to Mom.  Penny Serenade starring Cary Grant, and it said it was supposed to be relevant to their “situation.”  This is what I went over for?  And why didn’t he give it to Mom himself when I’d heard he was in store twice that day – first with another one of his handwritten letters, and then to ask if she wanted to eat lunch with him at McDonald’s?

“Well, she’s not going to watch it if she knows it’s from me.”  Guess what, chief?  She’s still not going to watch it because I’m going to tell her it’s from you.  Next time he pulled a stunt like this I was going to tell him to shove it.  I was done being treated like a messenger boy or a go-between.  Leave me out of it.  I resented him dragging me into the mix. But I just took the stupid tape and left because I didn’t feel like making a scene.

Dad continued to visit Mom at work.  He dropped into remind her that she took marriage vows and inquire why she stopped visiting the house.  Well, Mom only went over to see Grandma and now she was dead.  Dad was suspicious. asked if Mom was seeing anyone.  She told him no and he left in a huff, and spent the next couple of days in the parking lot watching to see who was taking her to and from work (spoiler: me).

When he came back a few weeks later Mom told him flat out they were never getting back together.  End of story.  “Well I can always hope… and false hope is better than no hope…”  He started asking her what would it take for her to come back?  Separate beds?  Separate rooms?  A new car?  A monthly allowance?  Yes, he actually tried to bribe her into coming back.  That didn’t work so he started taping poems in the wall, watching from the women’s underwear section to see her reaction.

Mom was getting really tired of his nonsense so I asked if she wanted me to talk to him and put a stop to it.  “No,” she insisted.  “I’d rather him come into the store and get it over with in a few minutes.  I don’t want him showing up at the house going bonkers after he’s spent months building up a head of steam.”

Instead he came to my place.  I woke up on Mother’s Day to find a package outside with an accompanying voicemail:  “I left something for your mother outside your door – can you give it to her?”  No, I couldn’t.  I flung it into some unseen corner, resisting the urge to go over and fling it at his front door instead, along with a message in return: “I am not a courier.”

Of course, Dad was in the store the very next day to get Mom’s reaction. He walked up to her and asked,”Do you have frogs in your underpants?”  When Mom responded with a baffled look he was like “Oh, I guess you didn’t read the thing I gave you…” She had no idea what the hell he was talking about and told him so.  Just then a manager called her over, and before she walked away Dad went, “I’ll be back…”

He returned a couple more times over the next couple of months.  The first time was to hassle her about her marriage vows yet again, asking her why couldn’t she forgive him and why couldn’t she come back and try again?  The second time he told her that he was going to help rebuild a Texas town after its fertilizer plant blew up.  But first he wanted to know why neither I nor Mary stopped by to see him anymore.  I hadn’t been over in months.

Mom told him he was better off asking us, so he did.  Later that morning I received a voicemail.  He told me was going out of town and that he left some books for me on the railing, and if I didn’t come by then Lenny would pick them up instead.  He added that he could have given them to me directly, but I haven’t stopped by because “I guess you’re too busy.”  I called him back to give him an immediate correcting.

“Hey, Dad, I got your message… and I’m little puzzled because I’ve left several messages over the weeks.  I said, ‘Dad, it’s Tommy. I was thinking of stopping by and I just wanted to know if you were home.’ And nobody got back to me. And if you wanted me to come over all you had to do was call me and say, ‘Tommy, it’s your dad, I’d like you to stop by.’ But maybe YOU were too busy. So if you get this message maybe you can call me back and let me know…”

Eventually he did call back, and I picked it up on the second ring so I wouldn’t have to sit through another sarcastic phone message.   I heard plenty of sarcasm anyway.  He remarked that he was puzzled as well because “I didn’t know that the policy had changed” in that I had to call before I came over.  Well, I told him that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for quite some time. “Not always,” he said.  Maybe not, but I’d been making it a point not to be like him showing up places unannounced.

Then Dad wanted to know why he had to call me to come over?  We went back and forth about it, my voice rising with each passing minute.  I finally dropped it because I was getting nowhere with him.  But the fact remained that if he wanted to see me, all he had to do was call.  He had done just that in the past – a fact I wished I remembered to mention on the phone.  Maybe one of these days Dad would learn that there are simple solutions to some of life’s little problems, rather than stewing on them for months and developing a case of butthurt.

53. A Tisket, A Tasket, A Freshly Made-Up Casket

September 24, 2012

The mailbox was open when I came home, which struck me as odd since I distinctly remembered shutting it after I took the mail out earlier.  I had an immediate suspicion which turned out to be correct:  Dad had driven by and left an envelope inside, on the front of which he had scrawled “Don’t tell Tommy you found this on his car or anything, otherwise he’ll get all bent out of shape.”

Too late.  I drove over to his house and stuffed his stupid envelope in his mailbox.  Mom got another card for her birthday the following month.  This time Dad actually mailed it, and when Mom opened it she saw that it was the Valentine’s Day card he’d dropped off, but he photocopied and edited it into a Happy Birthday card instead.  And like the last “card” of his this one had monkeys on it too.  When she showed it to me I considered taking it and putting it back in his mailbox again, especially when I saw the Post-It note he affixed:  “My Valentine’s Day card was returned to the house unopened… Do you know why??”

The next morning Mom arrived at her workplace and found a big “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” sign taped to the front doors.  She assumed her co-workers put it up to surprise her, but none of them even knew what she was talking about.  By the time she went back outside the sign was gone.  She asked the doorman if he saw what happened to it, and he reported that a man in a red jacket got out of a taxi, ripped up the sign, and threw the pieces in the air before driving away.  Sounded like Dad in his Mercury and his Knights of Columbus jacket.  But that’s great – now he was inching closer to starting shit at the store.  One woman already got fired because her husband kept coming in and fighting with her.

Meanwhile Shannon was getting her own special deliveries from Dad.  She left her house one night and saw a man at the corner getting out of a parked car, but thought nothing of it until she found a package the next morning.  It obviously hadn’t been mailed but had stamps on it nonetheless.  Inside there was a photograph of ducks crossing the road, a photograph of some mother and child, her birth tag from the hospital, and other random odds and ends.  And on the back of the envelope he had written “goodbye” in pencil.

Easter rolled around and I received yet another letter from Dad, stuffed into the mailbox once again.  I gave it a quick read and crumpled it up:

“Happy Easter, Tommy. Oh, I am sorry I gave you another reason to hate me. As if you don’t have enough reasons already – all those times I came home drunk and beat your mother, brothers and sisters; not working enough to feed and clothe the family; my mistresses, never taking you or anybody on family trips; my constant use of foul language; not asking – never mind. Hate is a wonderful thing. It sure made my grandmother proud of her grandchildren. What did she do or not do to be treated so shabbily? Did she ever see her great granddaughter? Two of her grandsons never visited her in the last years of her life. Well, I guess it’s the good old Irish way!”

By that point I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for three months.  I waited another couple of months and finally stopped by to see what the latest was.  While I was there I said nothing about his letters or my last contentious visit.  And some changes had taken place in my absence.  He acquired a camping trailer for future volunteer trips, like the ones he’d taken to Joplin and New Orleans.  And the house was empty.  Forceps Baby moved to New Jersey, Jake the old guy went into a nursing home, and Garbageman was asked to leave.

Dad had a problem with Garbageman’s girlfriend making overnight visits, and I didn’t bother correcting him that there was more than one “girlfriend.”  Not to mention that he was a few months behind on rent, and in addition to that he was “hiring chefs to cook for him.”  Huh?  “Yeah, at least seven, all around town…” Dad said.  You mean he was having personal chefs coming into the house to prepare his meals?  It took several minutes of questioning before I understanding that was Dad’s way of saying Garbageman ate fast food.  Jesus, just say that in the first place.  Dad always had a peculiar way of talking.

It was an uneventful visit, and he told me he’d call me when he was embarking on his next trip.  I had just sat down with a plate of sandwiches a few nights later when my phone rang.  This must be it, I thought.  But instead he wanted me to come over to the hospital, and bring Mom with me.  I couldn’t get any answers out of him; he just whispered that he couldn’t discuss it where he was.  He was really insistent, though, so I relented and said we’d be there.  I drove Mom to the hospital in high dudgeon.  If this was just more of his bullshit…

Alas, it wasn’t.  Kathleen’s latest asshole boyfriend had beat the shit out of her.  Sigh.  Well, we warned her.  Meanwhile Dad was ready to murder the guy, except he was already in jail.  Instead he went on a smear campaign.  He stopped by the parents’ house to tell them their son was an asshole, and then he went to his workplace to tell his boss that “your employee beat my daughter and I want you to know what kind of person he is.”  When the asshole got out on bail he heard about Dad’s harassment and told the police.  The police contacted Dad and asked him if it was true, and he proudly admitted that it was.

I dropped Mom off at work the next morning and noticed Dad’s car in the parking lot.  Son of a bitch.  I didn’t say anything to Mom, I just circled around the building and came up a few rows behind him.  Then I just sat watching his car as my blood began to boil.  I debated what to do, and when I finally decided to confront him I debated what to say.  Smashing his driver’s side window in, poking my head inside to sneer and go, “Oh, let me guess – having breakfast again?” seemed like a good idea.  In any case, I was too late to do anything, because by the time I finally approached his car it was empty.

Shit.  Somehow I’d missed him getting out.  I phoned Mom inside but she told me she had already seen Dad.  Great.  I hurried into the store, still hoping to catch him, but he eluded me once again.  Dammit.  Anyway, he came into tell her that he happened to be in the same elevator as the asshole and his lawyer at the court building, and Dad overheard the asshole saying his story was that Kathleen was so drunk that she didn’t know what she was doing.  Even if she was, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference.  But this was the big emergency that he had to see Mom about.

Then he told Mom that he was still taking his trip.  “How about staying home and looking after your daughter after this traumatizing experience she’s just been through?” Mom asked him incredulously.  It reminded me of when Grandma and Grandpa moved in with us, and Dad was going to take off for the Dominican Republic two days later.  I had to talk him out of going; the thought of staying and helping his parents adjust to the move apparently never occurred to him.

Dad went on his trip anyway, and while Kathleen’s dog died while he was gone.  Talk about adding insult to injury.  The only good thing about it was that at least Dad didn’t stuff in a box and put it out with the recycling like he did with her rabbit.  However, he did shut off the washing machine so Kathleen couldn’t do her laundry anymore while he was away.  The water was still on everywhere else in the house, though.

Dad returned almost two months later, first stopping in at Mom’s workplace to stand in front of her desk wearing his big goofy grin.  “I just wanted to let you know that I’m back,” he said and walked away.  I went over to the house to see him, but once again I didn’t bring up his antics.  Mom told me that he does things to provoke reactions, and the best reaction was no reaction because that really drove him nuts.  Instead I endured a long-winded, boring dissertation on his travels

I was enthralled by Dad’s stories when I was younger, making requests and urging him to tell others my favorite tales.  But somewhere along the line his stories grew rambling and irritating.  Nowadays I had to keep dragging him off his sequential tangents and back to the main point.  I finally learned that he went cross-country, visiting long-lost relatives and doing more volunteer work in Joplin and Kentucky.  I never found out what he did in Kentucky – partly because he didn’t stay there very long.  The other volunteers attended daily Mass, but he didn’t go to anything that wasn’t a Latin Mass.  So rather than get into a conflict or hurt anyone’s feelings, he just quit and came home.

Dad made one last stop in Iowa on the way home to check out his coffin.

“I – your what?” I spluttered.  Yes.  There were monks in Iowa that made caskets and he ordered one.  He didn’t have room to bring it with him, so it was being shipped to the house instead.  That alone might be strange to some, but Dad had talked about making his own casket for years.  Of course, knowing Dad it would comprise five different types of wood and mismatched handles, but apparently he’d given up the dream.  Headstone in place, casket on the way…”Dad, are you getting ready to check out or something?”

No answer.

52. Stalker

 January 23, 2012

I went over to the house for Thanksgiving.  It was just me and Dad but Forceps Baby joined us halfway through dinner.  After that it was all I could do to try and steer the conversation away from the Catholic Church, gay marriage, Dad’s construction jobs, tales from the police force, and GK Chesterton.  Dad was on a GK Chesterton kick, reading his entire collection and joining a discussion group and everything.  And then I heard some stories I’d never heard before.

When Dad was a kid, he and his friends ran into another group of kids at the beach, holding a cat by the hind legs.  They soaked it in gasoline and set it on fire.  As soon as it started to screech they Frisbeed it out over the water.  It hissed when it made contact and sunk beneath the waves.  Wow.  And this was definitely these other kids doing this and not you and your friends, I asked?

“No, it was definitely this other group,” Dad said. “But we hung around to watch because we thought it was interesting.” Then he cackled. Well.  I certainly didn’t have to wonder where I got my sadistic side from.  Then again, I never put animals on the train tracks either.  He once balanced a turtle on the rail, laughing as he recalled its legs swimming pointlessly in midair until the locomotive came.

Some might say boys will be boys.  One of my friends blew up frogs in his backyard with M80s.  Another boy at school infamously stuffed his neighbor’s dog in a trash can and rolled it down a hill.  I knew another kid who’d sneak over at night and put dead squirrels on top his friend’s air conditioner.  When they were kids, Uncle Chuck yelled for Dad to come over and look at an eel in the water (again at the beach).  Except it wasn’t an eel but a long snakelike shit that Chuck had squeezed out. But the stuff Dad told me was worse than that.

Meanwhile, back at the dinner table I was getting tired of all the religion talk. I offered Forceps Baby some of the champagne I’d brought but he said he only drank Mass wine.  I was feeling particularly irreverent so I said, “I’ll bless it for you.” I made the sign of the cross over the bottle and said, “Here’s the blood of Christ – drink up!” Dad told me not to be blasphemous.  Hey, I couldn’t help it.  Afterwards I learned that Forceps Baby had been in AA for a few years.  Whoops.

After dinner we went upstairs to watch March of the Wooden Soldiers, our annual tradition.   Dad and I watched it every Thanksgiving afternoon when I was growing up, after spending the morning watching the parade while eating pancakes and playing Monopoly.  I missed those days, so after I moved out I’d bring the DVD over whenever I went for Thanksgiving.  Try as I might, it never felt like old times again.

When we were safely ensconced in his room, Dad told me stories about Forceps Baby.  He’d asked him to rake up all the leaves and dump them in the woods across the street.  But instead of spreading them out flat among the trees, he just made a big pile at the curb.  Forceps Baby told him that he didn’t have the strength to carry them all the way into the woods.  “Sure you do,” Dad said.  “I had no problem doing it last year, and you’re a bigger and stronger guy than I am.”  But Forceps Baby is no good at following instructions, which Dad says is why he’s never held a job for longer than six months.

“You know, after living with someone for an extended period of time, you start to realize they’re not working with a full deck,” Dad said without a trace of irony.

I went back there for Christmas dinner, and not only did Forceps Baby join us again but there was yet another boarder staying at the house.  He was a friend of Forceps Baby, an old guy named Jake.  He’d inadvertently set his apartment on fire so he needed a place to stay.  The old homestead was turning into a halfway house for nitwits.  And what followed was the most disgusting dinner I’d ever had in my life.

Jake sat directly across from me, both nostrils leaking down over his upper lip and into his mouth.  Every thirty seconds he stopped eating to emit horrible, phlegm-rattling coughs.  If that wasn’t bad enough, he sneezed at the exact moment he took a draw from his oxygen tank.  I saw snot and spit explode all over the inside of the oxygen mask.  My utensils fell with a clatter onto my plate and I pushed it away.  I was done eating.  Dad asked me if I wanted any more yams.  No sir – especially after I saw a big chunk of food fly off his lips and land in the dish he was gesturing to.

Dad was upset that Mom didn’t come for dinner, because he really thought she was going to.  “Why?” I asked.  “She told me she wasn’t coming, and she said she told you no as well.”

“She said, ‘I can’t promise anything,’ which sounds like ‘maybe’ to me.”

“Well, somebody ain’t telling the truth, then,” I said.

Dad sighed.  “Maybe someday she’ll forgive me.”

It’s not about forgiveness. It’s about acting like a normal person. Maybe if he stopped showing up unannounced at people’s houses, ranting about things that happened ten years ago, or leaving notes and shit on cars in the middle of the night, then they might talk to him. But I held my tongue and tried not to spoil what was left of the evening.  I didn’t have the stomach for confrontation.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice a few days later.  I was leaving my mother’s house when I saw his car parked in the nearby intersection.  He was staking out the joint.  I went around the block to come back and confront him, but he was gone.  I’d spooked him off.  No matter.  I knew he’d return.  I went back to the house to wait, and sure enough a half-hour later I saw his car parked at the other end of the block.  As soon as he saw me get into my car he disappeared around the corner.  I raced to catch up, but he was really hauling ass and I lost him.

Now I was reluctant to leave the house at all.  He was clearly laying in wait to do something. I wondered whether he was going to try something crazy like breaking in.  I waited a couple of hours, and when I finally left I took a cruise around the whole neighborhood to see if he was hiding anywhere.  Dad was nowhere in sight, so I went over to his house instead.  His car was in the driveway so let myself in and marched right upstairs.

Dad was on the phone in his office.  “Well, you can charge me any kind of fee you want, but I already told you I’m going to pay it…” I heard him snap.  “Sir, the conversation is over, so happy New Year to you and goodbye now.”  He bashed the phone down just as I appeared in the doorway.  Without any preamble I looked him square in the eye and asked, “So what was with all that bullshit this morning?”

“What bullshit?” Dad returned nastily, feigning ignorance.  I stared at him until he finally responded that he was “having breakfast.”  Huh?  “Yeah.  Sometimes I have it in my car… you know, sometimes I even have in my truck as well, in different places.  You have a problem with that?”

“Oh, right, you were having breakfast.  And yeah I’ve got a problem with that.”

“Well, too bad,” he spat, and embarked on a long, wild-eyed rant, telling me that he didn’t have to explain anything to me.  Everybody hates him, nobody wants to forgive him, so much for being a “Catholic” family, and he’s parked at the corner so he can catch glimpses of people who won’t come to see him, but he still loves them and wants to see them.  Oh, but it’s not okay to show at Shannon’s house unannounced.  “She told me to never darken her doorstep ever again.  And apparently it’s not okay to show up at the practice hall and tell Patrick to go see his grandmother before she’s dead.”  Then he complained that Kathleen is always showing him pictures from family gatherings. “But, oh, we can’t invite Dad because he’s such a scumbag,” Dad fumed, fluttering his hands in the air.

He went on for several minutes until lapsing into silence.  Dad slumped back in his chair, setting his jaw and looking like he was about to cry.  Then he asked me if I had anything to say.  “No,” I managed, only because I didn’t know where to start.  It was very hard to think when he came at you like that.  I could feel my pulse pounding in my temples and eardrums and my heart was throwing itself violently against my ribcage.

“Well, you came over here for something… to confront me, I guess. So what is it? Do you want to give me a warning?” he jeered.  I didn’t give him a warning, but I did suggest that he change his behavior.  That only set him off further.  He told me that I was exactly like Grandpa said  – I have a smart mouth and a problem with showing respect.  I felt like telling him that respect is a two-way street; it’s not automatic, it’s earned.  But I didn’t say that.  I thought it best to let him blow off his head of steam and maybe he’d calm down.

And then he accused me of trying to turn people against him.  Huh??  What the hell?  Well, we both knew this guy Ernie from the pro-life movement, and I once told him that Dad gets along better with strangers than his own family. “So thank you for that!” he barked at me.  Oh yeah, like I was making that up.  It wasn’t exactly a secret either, considering Dad often relayed tales of family strife – like throwing oil around Johnny’s room – to people we met at right-to-life events.  Meanwhile, I hadn’t seen Ernie for two or three years.  In typical Dad fashion, it was a such a sore point yet he waited all that time before mentioning it.

I finally spoke up and told him to stop with the “creepy ex-boyfriend stalker type shit.” Like what? he demanded.  Like leaving notes on people’s cars.  First he asked what notes, then said so what, and then claimed it was supposed to be cute.  “Cute to you, maybe.  You know what, I think I’ll just come back and talk to you once you learn how to act and communicate like a normal person.”  That’s when he completely exploded.

“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?  DON’T COME INTO MY HOUSE AND TELL ME HOW TO LIVE MY LIFE.  I’LL DO WHAT I WANT.  I’LL PARK IN FRONT OF THE HOUSE OR KNOCK ON THE DOOR IF I WANT TO.”  Then he told me to get out, offended by my audacity to mouth off to him.  He spun around in his chair until I saw nothing but his back, and he yelled at me again to leave.  Before I did I told him to continue on the way he’s doing (“THANK YOU, I WILL”), to believe whatever he wants to believe, and that I was done with his nonsense.

What a way to start off the new year.

Then I got a tip-off from Patrick.  He was doing searches for his title company and discovered there were some big liens against Dad’s house.  One was for unpaid hospital bills for Grandma.  Another was for a whopping $14,000 for unpaid income tax from ten years earlier.  Then he found judgments for more unpaid hospital and ambulance bills, and another for failure to carry workers compensation insurance.  But the most problematic was lien placed on the house for failure to pay property tax.

Well, he tried to pay but they wouldn’t accept it because it was a day late and they’re really strict.  So the county took over the house and it was to be auctioned off in March.  All over a matter of 600 dollars.  I called the tax assessor’s office to get more information.  Mom’s name was still on the deed and I wanted to know if she was liable for anything.  The woman at the office told me that Dad was in there yelling about the government and swearing that he wasn’t going to pay, and that either he’ll be dead or he’ll burn the house to the ground first.

Well.  Okay then, I said.  Can this situation be rectified?  Yes, the woman told me, but there was process to follow and a packet of papers to fill out, which Dad hadn’t done yet.  I thanked her for the information and hung up.

It seemed like it was time to visit the house again. I conducted a secret ninja mission early in the morning after Dad left to attend the March for Life in DC.  I had to be extra careful on the creaky old stairs. Garbageman, Forceps Baby and Jake were all asleep in their respective rooms, and I didn’t want any of them to discover me and tell Dad.

I rifled through as many papers as I could without disrupting things in his office. Then I found a file on Kathleen in one of his cabinets.  He had copies of her bank statements, gym memberships, resumes, phone numbers and addresses of her friends and associates, post-it notes he fished out of the garbage, canceled checks from the joint account she had with an ex-boyfriends from 15 years ago… He must have been snooping and collecting this stuff for decades.  I shoved it all back into the folder, completely disgusted.

I could only imagine what was in my file, but I didn’t get the chance to look for it.  There was movement downstairs.  Shit.  One of the guys was up and about.  I couldn’t risk sneaking back down, so I opened the office window and trotted along the edge of the roof.  There was a medium-sized tree growing at the corner of the house, and I had to jump about six feet to latch myself onto the trunk.  I nearly cracked a rib in the process, but I shimmied down, cut through a gap in the hedges and ran across two neighboring yards until I got to my car down the block.  Then I headed home, wondering what was going to happen next.

51. A Hooker In My Bedroom

October 17, 2011

Dad took in another boarder, Ed the Garbageman.  I’d only met him a few times and wasn’t sure what to make of him.  He was around my age and seemed like an okay guy.  I took a trip over to the house one day to see Dad, but nobody was home except for Garbageman.  I let myself in to drop off some borrowed items, and I heard female giggling coming from his room – which was actually my old bedroom.

I froze and listened but I didn’t hear anything else.  Maybe it was the TV?  I sneaked out the back door and went around to my old window on the side of the house.  The blinds were slightly open and I couldn’t see anybody, but there were definitely two people in there.  The window was ajar and I heard a female voice saying, “Gee, I’ve never been to New York before,” and Garbageman’s gruff response:  “Well, looks like we’re both getting our money’s worth then.”  I crouched down to listen, and after a while I heard smacking lips followed by moaning and groaning.

Christ on a bike.  This guy was banging broads in my bedroom.  I wonder if Dad knew.  He would have gone ballistic if any of us boys had hosted girls in our bedrooms (I had a near-miss with that myself once).  He publicly shamed and berated my sister when she got pregnant and kicked her when she was down.  But when Tina came back from her Christmas holiday knocked up by the boyfriend, Dad just tsk-tsked and give her a gentle chiding.  She gave birth shortly after Grandma died and Dad continued to send her money and visit on occasion.

Anyway, Kathleen was still living at the house and she caught Garbageman entertaining not one but two girls in the living room one day.  Then she caught him in the garage smoking pot with his friends. Garbageman assured her nothing untoward was going on because he was a good Catholic.   Kathleen was beside herself.  If that was any one of us, she said, we’d be out on the street.   And it was indeed Kathleen going out on the street.  She received a voicemail from Dad, telling her that she’d better have all her shit out of the house because he was changing the locks.  Then he signed off with “God bless.”

This is the same guy who padlocked doors and nailed things shut when Bill lived there, but Garbageman had the whole house to himself while Dad was in New Orleans for a month.  Dad didn’t lock anything away – important papers, valuables, nothing.  But he could trust Garbageman, he said, because he was a “man of the Church.”  Once again, there was one standard for family and a different standard for everyone else.

And Dad was away on another one of his mystery trips.  Shannon and I went over to help Kathleen move all her stuff out.  Neither of them had any information on Dad’s whereabouts, so I knocked on my old bedroom door and Garbageman answered clad only in a pair of shorts.  I looked over his shoulder and saw another broad in his bed, this one struggling to put her bra back on.

I asked him if he knew where Dad was.  Yes. Joplin, Missouri.  Dad had gone to help rebuild after the tornado outbreak there.  He didn’t know when Dad was coming back but it could be any day now.  Then he closed the door and resumed doing God’s work.  Kathleen was apoplectic after she overheard our conversation.  “Sure, Dad will tell this guy where he is but he won’t tell his own family…” she muttered angrily to me.

This seemed like a good time to do some more snooping around.  I went into his office and Kathleen was right on my heels.   It was all a chaotic mess, but Dad knew exactly where everything was.  I looked through some of the stuff on his desk, remarking to Kathleen that I was hesitant to move too much stuff around.

“Not me, this is what I do,” she said. “I find out a lot of stuff this way.” Like father, like daughter.  The first thing I found was a jury summons.  Apparently a juror questionnaire came to the house for Mom, even though she didn’t live there any more.  Nonetheless, Dad filled it out and forged her signature and sent it back. Next we sifted through the mountain of mail by the front door. That’s when Shannon freaked out.  She straightened up, holding a postcard in her hand.

“Did you know Daddy has a gun?” she screeched.  His pistol permit and concealed carry renewal finally came through.  Uh… yeah, Shannon, I knew.  I thought we all knew.  Dad was a cop and had a gun since forever.  Not exactly news.  But she was carrying on, wondering why he had a gun and whether he was going to shoot all of us.  Somehow I doubted that.  In the end she calmed down and we moved all of Kathleen’s stuff over to Shannon’s place.

Before we left I found Dad’s car keys hanging up in the kitchen, and a light bulb went off.  I slipped the front door key off the ring and pocketed it so I could make a copy.  Which I did, but when I brought it back the next day I saw that Dad was home.  God, this guy was like Pepe Le Pew.   And I’m sure he noticed the missing key because he’d moved his car from the driveway.  No matter – I sneaked into the house, replaced the key on the ring, and slipped out again.  It was probably all for naught since he was supposedly changing the locks, but if he didn’t then I’d be able to get into the house anytime I needed to.

I was in for a couple surprises the next time I visited Dad.  He installed new baseboard heat on the first floor, erected a roof over the deck, and cut down the rest of the cherry tree that Richard had mutilated.  And there was a familiar red pickup truck in front of the house, plastered with a hundred bumper stickers.  It was Forceps Baby’s truck.  After their mother died, his sister evicted him from the house.  She put all his shit out to the street, including his portraits of the popes and his Hess truck collection.  Dad rescued him and his belongings and ended up with yet another boarder.

“How’s your mother doing?” Dad asked, and I answered in the affirmative.  “Of course, I’m sure if she wasn’t doing fine you wouldn’t tell me anyway,” he said bitterly.

Mom had some pain in her knee several years before and had it checked out by an orthopedist.  It turned out to be nothing, but she was still on Dad’s insurance at the time and the doctor’s visit showed up on his statement.  When he asked me if I knew anything about it, I said her leg was bothering her and it was no big deal.  That wasn’t enough for him and be became really exasperated.  “Oh, so it’s a big secret,” he fumed. “There’s something wrong with your mother and nobody wants to tell me anything.”

I couldn’t tell him any more than I already had, but I could certainly do more.  Listening to his stories of helping with the hurricane and tornado aftermath reminded me that I  should be doing more help others.  And even though he was working with Catholic Charities, he still paid his own way out to the Midwest and South and back.  If nothing else, at least Dad had that much going for him.

50. Postcards From the Edge

May 8, 2011

Shannon was the first to receive a package from Dad, a Brothers Grimm book for my niece.  She was rattled because she had no idea how Dad even knew where she lived.  We eventually figured out that he found out from my aunt when he stopped in there on New Year’s.  There’s always another motive.  His first was to needle Mom.  His second was to fish for information on the family.  My aunt probably showed him Shannon’s Christmas card and he copied down the return address.  Meanwhile, the package he sent Shannon had a made-up return address on it, which was odd to say the least.

The following month my mother found a piece of paper stuck under her windshield.  It had been left overnight while it was parked in the driveway.  It was a picture of two gorillas hugging or fighting, and someone scribbled “our relationship is like these two – Happy Valentine’s Day.”  It wasn’t signed but it looked suspiciously like Dad writing with a disguised hand.

I heard from Kathleen that Dad went down to New Orleans for a few weeks to  work with Habitat for Humanity, and he sent postcards in his absence.  Mom received a couple, addressed to her maiden name.  Then she received one with her married name, except that Dad wrote it like Susie M e _ _ _ _.  What is this – Hangman or Wheel of Fortune?  Mom showed it to me and neither one of us could make sense of it.

A week later I got into my car to make a night run to the store.  I was almost to the end of the block when I noticed something like marbles rolling around on my windshield.  What the hell…?  I pulled off to the side of the road and got out for a better look.  There were Mardi Gras beads all over my car.  They were wrapped around the windshield wipers, hanging out of the grille, and dangling from the side mirror and antenna.  Later on I even found them around the gas cap.

At first I thought I was the victim of a prank by some neighborhood kids.  Then it dawned on me: Mardi Gras… New Orleans… Dad was back in town, and he did one of his hit-and-runs to let me know.  This was his MO.  Like Shannon, we had all gone to great lengths to hide our addresses from him.  We had no idea how he discovered where the rest of us where, but he delighted in sending mail and another annoying little things to rub the fact that he knew in our faces.

I was livid when I had gotten my first note, but this completely incensed me.  I snatched all the beads off the car, drove past his house, and winged them at the windshield of his truck.  When I got back home I saw that I’d missed the string hanging from the mailbox, and I yanked them off with a violence that snapped it and sent beads flying everywhere.  The next day I received a voicemail in response to the birthday card I’d mailed him.  “Hey, thanks for the card.  I just got back home yesterday…as you well know!” And then he cackled.

But that was nothing compared to Mom’s trip to cemetery.  My mother’s parents were buried there, and Mom and Dad bought the plot right next to theirs.  Dad always wanted to put the headstone in the ground so he could see what it looked like while he was still alive, but Mom nixed that idea.  Well, she noticed that he finally went ahead and did it.  And not only that but her name was spelled wrong.  What’s more, there was a piece of paper in a Ziploc bag, taped to her parents’ headstone.  This it what it said:

Congratulations
President B. Hussein Obama
On being named
“Man of the Year Century”
By the Ku Klux Klan.
You support Planned Parenthood
With United States tax money.
Planned Parenthood kills more black
Babies in the womb than
White babies in the womb
As a percentage of the
United States population.

Dad showed me a whole stack of these flyers once, telling me how he’d driven to all the black churches in the area and put these on the windshields of parishioners’s cars. It wasn’t until I flipped it over that I noticed traces of pen on the back.   Apparently he didn’t have anything better to write on when he was at the cemetery, so he used one of the flyers.  it must have been raining when he left it there, because the bag was soaking wet and the ink had run off, but after several minutes of squinting and twisting and turning it under the kitchen light, I finally made out what it said:

“Susie, I love you. I forgive you for not forgiving me.”  Mom was even more upset when I told her what was written on the back.  Stupid.  I shouldn’t have said anything.  Dude is completely mental.  The next day I went over to look the headstone myself, and I got a weird feeling looking down at it, like they were already under my feet.  I turned to go and saw a family of deer watching me, giving me a look which I returned with interest since one of them was white with spots.  I’d never seen one like that before.

Then I stopped by the house to see Dad for the first time in over five months, and it was thankfully an uneventful visit. He did make a remark and when he and Mom were dating  she used to leave pictures and notes on his car, so he “learned from a professional.”  Therefore he didn’t there was anything wrong with his drive-by notes and packages.  He thought it was cute, not creepy.  Whatever you say Dad.  Sicko.  Maybe he really was sick, because when I called to tell him I was coming over he said, “Yes, you can come over, but I might be dead before you get here. So remember to bring my favorite flowers – pansies.”

I should have asked him how he got the Mardi Gras beads in the first place.  That alone was interesting.  Was Dad involved in scandalous activities while in New Orleans?  It would be hot shit if it had something to do with women flashing their tits at him, especially after he raised hell that time he saw an Opie and Anthony “WOW” bumper sticker on my Patrick’s car.  For those of you who don’t know, Opie and Anthony are a shock jock radio duo in the vein of Howard Stern.  In addition to promoting their show, WOW stood for Whip ’em Out Wednesdays.  Women were supposed to flash guys on the highway if they saw the sticker.  “Do you think it’s okay to disrespect your mother and sisters like that?” he roared.  “Do you think it’s okay for men to ask them to go like – this! – and bare their breasts?”  Dad pulled his shirt up to his chin and wiggled his beer gut in Patrick’s face.  I left the room before I lapsed into hysterics.  Patrick finally went out and scraped the sticker off his car to shut Dad up.

49. Jesus On Broadway

December 31, 2010

I know people that still live on my old street, and occasionally one of them will send me a picture of whatever Dad is doing at the house.  This time he stretched a banner across the second floor of the house proclaiming JESUS CHRIST THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.  There was a string of lights along the top, illuminating the sign like a Broadway marquee.  Then he constructed an elevated platform on stilts to house his nearly life-sized Nativity scene.  Then he installed speakers up in the trees and had wires running from them into the house, where he was spinning records of Gregorian chants.  You could see and hear the house a quarter-mile away.

 

Dad was hunched over the DVD player when I walked in, trying to get A Christmas Carol to work.  His eyes crawled over my shoulder and he asked me if I was alone.  I made a show of looking around to see if I was surrounded by ghosts.

“I hope I’m alone,” I said.

“I hope not,” Dad replied. “Didn’t you get my orders?” He’d left me a message to bring along Mom or Mary or anyone else from the family, even if I had to beat them over the head and drag them with me.

“Well, they know how to get here if they want to come,” I said. “I can’t drag anybody.”

“Sure you can,” he chuckled. I just rolled my eyes.  But since nobody came with me, he made a surprise visit at my aunt’s house the following night.  Dad knew Mom and I went there by tradition every year, and he showed up at twenty after midnight.  He walked inside, stood in front of her chair and said, “If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, then the mountain will come to Mohammed.”

He had a six-pack of O’Douls with him and I noticed that two were missing already. “Did you drink two of them on the way over?” was the second thing I said to him after, “Happy New Year’s.” He didn’t seem to appreciate that, because I’m sure there was a bite of truth in what I said. And it was just as well that Bill had to work and couldn’t make it, because if Dad walked in and saw him sitting there laughing and carrying on, that would have sent him off the deep end.

My aunt was funny though. She asked Mom if she should get rid of Dad. “If you tell me you don’t want him here I’ll kick his ass out,” she said. Mom told her it was okay, so my aunt went into the kitchen where Dad was cracking open one of his beers.  “Okay, John, you have my permission to stay.”

“I need permission to stay?” I heard him ask.

“Yes,” my aunt declared. “It’s my house – if I don’t want you here I’ll tell you to get the hell out of here,” she said. Then she started needling him to “stand up straight and stop saying stupid-ass shit.” Oh, it was great. He sat down with us in the living room for a few minutes before we all moved into the dining room to have some lasagna and cold cuts. My cousin and I traded jokes (I wrote some of his down), and Dad started reeling off his century-old Prairie Home Companion one-liners.

Sprinkled in here and there were more of his usual dumb remarks, and every now and then he just sat there at the table looking downcast.  I’m sure he was crying into his beer after we left, because Mom just gave him a little wave and said goodbye.  He stood there looking she had slapped him in the face instead.  I guess he was expecting a hug and kiss?  But she can’t do that without giving him “false hope,” which he’d accused her of doing in the past.

As we were leaving I heard him say, “Sorry for spoiling your evening.”  Before I closed the door behind me I heard my aunt’s final retort:

“Don’t flatter yourself, you’re not that important that you’re going to spoil anything.”

48. CEO of the World

December 17, 2009

Dad was developing quite a reputation with the police.  First they came to the house to mediate domestic spats.  Then Dad was arrested and jailed for trespassing.  And now he was making a stink over in the next county because one of the precincts didn’t have the flag at half mast for September 11.

When he drove past that afternoon and saw the flag at flying at full staff, he assumed it was simply an oversight.  Dad turned around, parked his car and went inside.  He asked the officer on desk duty to please have someone lower the flag.  The officer’s response was to call his immediate superior, to whom Dad repeated his request.  The sergeant’s response was: “I haven’t seen a directive to do so.”  So Dad advised the sergeant that he would return in a couple of hours to thank him for lowering the flag.

Dad returned as promised and found the flag still flying at the top of the pole.  His thoughts turned to someone who might have lost a friend or relative in the terror attacks, and they might get the impression that the police didn’t give a crap about who died.  He spoke to the sergeant again and requested to see the commanding officer.  Ironically he wasn’t available because he was at a 9/11 memorial service with the Commissioner of Police.  At this point, Dad told the sergeant that he was going to call the local newspaper and ask for a reporter and a photographer to come to the precinct.

He retreated to his vehicle and did just that.  Dad also called the police headquarters for clarification on their flag directive.  Next he called the highway patrol bureau and was told by an officer that their flag was at half-mast.  Likewise, the police academy spokesman said the same about their flag. Then he asked both places to call the 5th precinct and tell them to lower their flag.  Finally, he called our local precinct back home to inquire about the position of their flag.  Half-mast, they said.

That’s when Dad got out of his car, walked over to the pole and lowered the flag to half staff.  Then he went inside and spoke to the sergeant for the third time and told him what he did.  This time they asked for his ID, and brought it back a few minutes later and told him he was free to go.  But they weren’t done with him yet.  When Dad tried to renew his gun permit they held up the approval until he provided more information about the flag incident at the 5th precinct, so Dad wrote them a five-page report.

Then Dad wanted to know what was going on in the schools, so he dug out his 40-year-old teaching certificate and applied to be a substitute.  Not only did my school district hire him (with expired credentials), but he actually filled in for my old eighth grade English teacher.  She had them reading Into the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and Dad sneered at it because it wasn’t classic literature.  He only subbed a few times and decided he didn’t want to do it anymore.  Of course, he couldn’t go back even if he wanted to because he got himself banned from school property.

Dad went on a crusade because the fire hydrants in the neighborhood were under piles of snow, and he said if the school caught fire then his property taxes would go up.  (Funny, because I didn’t think he paid taxes, but that’s beside the point.)  But he drove around the middle school and high school to see if there were any nearby hydrants that were shoveled out.  He couldn’t find any, so went into both schools and demanded meetings with the principals.  The high school principal had him removed from the building when he wouldn’t stop making a fuss, so Dad went to see the superintendent and then sat in on the next PTA meeting.

But he wasn’t done there.  He went and spoke to the fire chief, who told him there were four neighborhood hydrants that served the schools.  The junior firefighters were tasked with clearing them out, and Dad  obtained map of their locations so he could check and make sure.  Then he went to the next civic association meeting to raise the issue there, and finally he contacted the local news about it.  They didn’t do a story about fire hydrants, but a couple people told me they did see Dad on the news going on a wild-eyed rant about Muslims and the TSA sticking things up people’s asses at the airport.   And since it was nearing Christmas, he went back into the schools and one of the local banks to complain because they had Christmas trees but no Nativity scenes on display.

“Geez, Dad, if you need a hobby that badly, why don’t you go into the basement and put your train set back together?” I suggested, after he finished telling me how he yelled at the girl working in the pharmacy because they sold birth control pills.  Dad had a love affair with the unborn.  He kept two hundred white crosses in the shed, which he would erect at protest sites along with a sign proclaiming “THIS IS THE CEMETERY OF THE UNBORN.”  And in spaces normally reserved for family pictures, Dad hung framed photographs of fetuses on the walls of the house.

The latest was that Dad was turning the house into a mission house.  He found this guy Richard who was going around the country trying to set up a lay Catholic order to combat abortion “because the bishops aren’t really doing anything.”  The idea was to get Operation Rescues going again, and set up safe houses for people to stay at in between jail stints.  Meanwhile he was divorced and had a family somewhere, and Mom suspected that what he was really doing was evading paying child support.

The night before he arrived, Dad went out and spent two hundred dollars on groceries.  And he didn’t even tell Kathleen that Richard was moving in.  She phoned Dad while hiding in the bathtub, freaking out “because some guy is in here walking around in his underwear!”  And Richard had the run of the entire house like Tina did.  Kathleen was pissed because she couldn’t even get the password to use the computer but Richard was on it all day.

I met Richard shortly afterwards.  I went to visit Dad and found the two of them praying in Latin in the kitchen.  There were candles all around and the Kreuger Christ statue was overseeing from the corner.  I awkwardly took a seat and waited until they were finished, and Richard informed me that Dad had told him all about the family strife.  “So we’ve been sitting here praying that everyone will come around and the family will come back together.”

Yeah, and what about your family? I felt like asking.  But I just said, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”  This dude didn’t know the half of it – only what Dad told him.

“Now, now, all things are possible with God,” Dad chided, wagging a reproving finger.

“Not this,” I said.  “So what happened to the tree out front?”

“Oh, I trimmed it back,” Richard said.  “I used to work for a tree company, and it was diseased so I trimmed off the bad parts so it will grow out healthy again.”  I just shook my head.  He didn’t trim the tree, he mutilated it.  He cut off every branch except for one going straight up in the air.  For someone who supposedly did this for a living, he certainly did a hack job.  That had been my mother’s favorite tree too.

In the end Richard didn’t stay at the house very long.  Dad took him to some retreat upstate and he never came back.  Last Dad heard, he was in Tennessee on his way to Texas.  On the run was probably more like it.  So that was the end of him, but I was sure there would be others.  This was only the beginning.

 

47. Jailbird

August 16, 2009

Cousin Bill was naked on the floor of the church bathroom, clutching his chest in pain.  He’d felt a heart attack coming on but didn’t want to go the hospital with a full bowel, so he stopped for a cup of coffee to move things along and then at the church to drop off a litter of kittens.  Of course, when Bill told others the story he tried to make it sound like he was being all holy, but in reality he only stopped there because that was the closest place with a toilet.

“Wait, why were you naked?”  I asked.

“It’s something I’ve done since I was kid. I take off all my clothes when I’m on the toilet.  It’s not some kind of sexual perversion, that’s just how I go to the bathroom,” Bill chuckled.

I laughed and shook my head as he continued his tale. He didn’t want anyone to find him without his clothes, so he managed to pull on his pants and shirt.  Then he slithered out into the vestibule, rolled onto his back, and lay there calling for help.  Finally someone heard him and they stopped the Mass and called him an ambulance.  And that was how Bill rang in the New Year.

Bill actually was religious, though.  My mother said he was very Christ-like.  He treated everybody the same and was always going out of his way to help people.  If you wanted Bill to meet you somewhere you always had to figure on him being at least 45 minutes late.  If he wasn’t stopping to give food to a homeless person then he was helping stranded motorists.  Two of Bill’s car were totaled that way, one of them rear-ended and the other pushed into the woods after he’d parked in the shoulder.

His good fortune didn’t stop there.  After he finally moved out he started rooming with this guy Danny, a schizophrenic who sold watches at the Lynbrook train station.  He sleepwalked, urinated in the kitchen garbage can, and accused Bill of molesting his cat. I caught a glimpse of Danny when I rolled up at their apartment one day.  Bill was standing in the doorway making faces and anxiously waving at me to keep driving.  He was trying to sneak out because Danny was having a breakdown, so he met me around the corner of the building.  I nearly ran over a scary-looking dude in a wife-beater when I turned around.  That was Danny.

He wasn’t the only one jumping from the frying pan into the flames.  Kathleen finally left Rick the Dick and moved back home with Dad for the umpteenth time.  She brought her rabbits too, but Benny the Bunny apparently didn’t take kindly to being back there.  She was washing him in the kitchen sink one day when he suddenly took a shit in her arms and died.  Then her other rabbit died while she was in Florida for a week.  Dad didn’t want her to see it, but instead of burying it he just put it out with the garbage.  And that wasn’t even the worst part – he put the rabbit out on recycling day, not garbage day.  So the men picked up the box thinking it was full of papers.  I can only imagine their faces when they fed that into the shredder back at the plant.

Meanwhile Dad was trying to find a home for Leo the Cat.  He got Leo to keep Grandma company in her last year of life.  Leo was supposedly a lap cat, but Grandma was terrified of the damn thing, jumping every time it moved or came near her.  Dad kept Leo after she died, but when he couldn’t find another home he gave up and said he was taking him to be gassed.  Way to respect life.  I went into overdrive, contacting every cat lover and owner I knew, but there were no takers.  In the end an adoptive couple came forward and saved Leo from Cat Auschwitz.

Kathleen hadn’t forgotten her rabbit’s burial at garbage truck, so she had a party while Dad was away.  She threw out all manner of items, including all of Grandma’s clothes and most of her furniture.  Then she went into the kitchen and chucked all the extra pots and pans and miscellaneous items in the drawers.  Next she threw out his mail – mostly junk, but a lot of his newspapers and magazines too.  She even tossed the doormat.  Karma is a bitch, and it’s name is Kathleen.

Dad would have flipped out on her, except that he was missing in action.  Weeks went by before I finally heard from him.  He rang my cell from jail.  Huh?  Yes, jail.  He was protesting one of Obama’s appearances and was arrested for trespassing.  More precisely, Dad was pushing around a baby stroller with a blood-covered Spongebob Squarepants buckled inside to protest Obama’s stance on abortion.  Because when I think Spongebob Squarepants… oh yeah, I think pro-life.  Especially when he’s soaked in plasma.

Long story short, Dad remained in jail as part of his continuing protest of abortion.  He also wanted to stay there as a way of honoring his father, the hero.  Grandpa did many stints in jail back in the 80s, getting himself arrested alongside the infamous James Kopp and others.  This was Dad’s way of paying tribute to the sacrifices his late father made during the days of Operation Rescue.

I ran into a family friend a few days afterwards, along with her 5-year-old daughter Judy.  We discussed Dad being in jail, except that she would spell out “J-A-I-L” so that Judy wouldn’t know what we were discussing.  Seriously?  I remember being at their house one day and this poor girl had to sit on a stool facing the wall for an hour for saying the word “damn,” so I already knew her mother was out to religious lunch.  But we couldn’t say the word “jail” around her child?  And Judy was running around as we were outside, giggling and shrieking as kids do until her mother chastised her:  “All that laughter, Judy, it’s going to end in tears.”

Dad came home a few weeks later, but he had to go back for his court date.  He said he wasn’t going to go, despite the fact that failure to appear carried with it an arrest warrant and a minimum three-year jail term in that state.  In the end he relented and went.  Now I waited on tenterhooks to see  whether he returned.

46. Orphan Boy

September 18, 2008

I rang the bell and Dad answered wearing a turban.  “What are you, Muslim now?” I inquired.  No, he’d simply fallen yet again and his head was encased in bandages.  He was out in the street playing tennis with Salami when she lobbed a serve over his head, and he fell as he was running backwards to catch it.  He was still wearing the some bloody T-shirt from when it happened.  His pants were a crazy quilt of patches from other jeans that he hot glue gunned on to cover the holes.

Grandma incessantly picked on his appearance – well, she used to.  Nowadays she couldn’t even speak.  Ask her a question and she’d make fish gulping motions for a minute before finally gasping out a single word.  I lay the blame for that at Tina’s feet.  She did little more than park Grandma in front of the TV for hours each day, doing little to engage her in conversation.  However, she would often sit next to her yapping on the phone in Russian, which only further confused the poor old lady.

And now she was in the hospital again.  Dad told me after he answered the door.  He also told me that he signed up for a new phone and internet service, but the technician hooking him up told him he’d have to dial “1” and then “911” since he wasn’t paying the emergency services fee.  I scrunched my face up.  That sounded odd.

“Is that really the case?” I asked.

“Hmm, I actually don’t know.  Let me try it now without dialing “1” first and see what happens!”  Dad picked up the phone and dialed 911.  “Well, it’s ringing,” he said after listening a moment or two.  Then he put the phone down.

“Dad!  What are you doing?  You can’t dial 911 and hang up!” I exclaimed.  And he was even a cop at one point.  Dad just shrugged and I shook my head. Sure enough, as we were standing outside ten minutes later saying our goodbyes, a police car came down the street and trained his spotlight on us.  He stopped in front of the house, sauntered up the driveway, hooked his thumbs in his belt and stood there without saying a word while Dad started babbling.

“Oh, uh… the cable company lied to me!  They told me I couldn’t dial 911 because of extra taxes and fees and you know… the government… always trying to take from you…” Dad blurted.  He was quite a sight.  Head wrapped in bandages, bloody T-shirt so old and crumbly it was practically see-thru, patched-up clown pants, and mismatched sneakers.  The cop just listened until Dad was finished, and then he flipped out a little notebook.

“Okay, sir… what’s your name?  And your date of birth?” He jotted down Dad’s information and then he was on his way.  And then I was on my way over to the hospital.

She was worse than I’d ever seen her, and when Mom saw her condition she thought it was the end for Grandma.  I did not like going to see her at all.  It was bad enough trying to make conversation with her when she could speak, but now it was more awkward and stilted than ever.  She’d lie there in the bed staring at us, unable to croak out even a single word anymore.

My sister Mary was on her way home from the hospital one night when she made a wrong turn and ended up on a Dead End street with Grandma’s name.  Then she saw a big lit-up “21” on someone’s front lawn as she turned the car around.  She didn’t think anything of until the next afternoon at the hospital.  Mary walked in the door and Grandma’s eyes were bulging out of her head.  She was making horrible choking and gagging sounds, a real death rattle.  As soon as she saw Mary she grabbed her by the hand, holding on so tightly that Mary nearly pulled her out of the bed when she tried to go for help.  She finally wrung herself loose and came back with the doctors.  They went to work on Grandma, but it was to no avail.

They pronounced her dead.  The time was 3:21.

Mary called me from the hospital and Mom and I met her there.  She was in quite a state after witnessing that.  She’d never seen anyone die before.  Meanwhile the hospital informed us that they had tried and failed to get a hold of Dad, but they did manage to get a hold of Uncle Tim.  Oh boy.

After our initial court battle (in which we had prevailed), Dad and his brothers got into it again (minus me this time).  Uncle Chuck won that round and now he was the designated healthy care proxy and had power of attorney.  But Dad somehow managed to keep it a secret that Grandma was in the hospital.  He was afraid Chuck would send her back to the nursing home.  In any case, it was a real nasty shock when Uncle Tim got the news.

The three of us went to Dad’s house to give him the news.  Nobody home.  I tried his cell a few times, but still no answer.  Mom was apoplectic.  When Nanny was in the hospital she rarely left her bedside, but Dad was MIA when it came to his own mother.  He finally rolled up in his truck after 9:30, surprised to see us standing there waiting for him.

“Hey, what are you guys doing here?” he asked, grinning as he got out of his truck.  I couldn’t believe it.  He’d been at work all day.  He hadn’t even stopped at the hospital on his way home.  Mom told him that we had news for him, and that he’d better come inside and have a seat. When he heard that he went, “Oh shit…” Then he asked what happened and Mom told him that Grandma died. She gave him a hug and I saw his stricken face over her shoulder.

“I don’t understand why I didn’t hear anything, I’ve had my phone on me all day,” he said as he turned to dig it out of his truck. Then he got really upset when Mom informed him that the hospital managed to get a hold of Uncle Tim instead. “Seriously?  Ah, great.  Shit…” he muttered.

We took a seat inside and Dad poured himself a big drink.  He was beating himself up about not being there “but I didn’t think it was that serious.”

“She was in the intensive care unit, of course it was serious,” Mom said, restraining from rolling her eyes with great difficulty.  Dad heaved a heavy sigh.

“Yeah, I know… but I thought she was going to get better, like she did last time,” he said.  Then he told us a story he’d heard about a girl who – in her final moments – opened her eyes, looked around the room, smiled at things unseen to anyone else, closed her eyes again and peacefully passed away.  “And I never got to see that smile,” he choked up on the last few words.

“There was no smiling,” Mary told him, launching into an abridged version of the events she witnessed when Grandma died.  We stayed for a little while longer, and then we left Dad alone to grieve.

“Now we’re both orphans,” Mom told him sympathetically on our way out.

Grandma lay in the hospital freezer for nearly three days, after which they were going to send her to the county morgue if the Dad and his brothers couldn’t come to an agreement.  They haggled over her remains until Sunday night, when she was finally turned over to the funeral home and the wake was the following night.  When I saw her in the casket, I was amazed. She looked better in death than she had at any point during her last two years alive. They did a really good job on her.

In between the afternoon and evening wakes we went out to eat, and by “we” I mean myself, Mom, Dad, Mary, Kathleen, Bill, and Dad’s friend Joe.  I did not want to be stuck with Dad and Joe, talking about abortion and the Catholic Church for the next hour and a half.  Kathleen was stuck with them instead, and the rest of us were at the other table.   I was glad for the chance to catch up with Bill, who’d finally moved out of the house some months before.  Meanwhile, I heard poor Kathleen trying to contribute to the conversation next door with questions like: “So what does the Pope do?  Like what’s his job?”  I’m sure Dad was glad to see that twelve years of Catholic school weren’t wasted on her.

Kathleen disappeared during the second wake and I finally found her in the funeral director’s office, in full flow about her relationship problems with Rick the Dick.  I couldn’t believe it.  We were there to mourn Grandma and Kathleen was busy boring this woman with her prattle.  She eventually emerged by the end of the night to stand next to her picture board.  She collected every shot of her and Grandma, including the one I’d snapped for her at Thanksgiving when Grandma made a disgusted face at being asked to pose for the hundredth time.

After the wake we stood in a circle outside telling stories and laughing. Dad and Bill were especially bowled over at Johnny’s impression of Uncle Tim.  We were carrying on so much after a while that I saw people peering at us from the windows above the funeral home.  They were probably wondering who the jokers were outside.  The hilarity continued the next morning in the limo ride to the cemetery, prompting the driver to shake his head and chuckle when Mom remarked that it was probably the most entertaining funeral he’d ever been to.

The number 21 kept revisiting us – on the back of the truck on the highway, the exit number for the graveyard, and finally at the burial site itself.  The same priest from my grandparents’ 60th anniversary said the final prayers, and then he picked up a box.  “I brought these CDs about Lourdes which I want to distribute to everyone… I did a head count and there are 21 people here.”

A rustle went around the circle and Dad went “whoa.”  Until that moment he had pooh-poohed our repeated tales of the number 21 popping up in conjunction with Grandma’s death.  But once he heard it on the priest’s lips he was finally convinced.  Tim and Chuck gave short but moving eulogies, and when Dad’s turn came he blustered his way through like he did at the 60th anniversary dinner.  He got emotional at the end, talking about how he’d failed to live by the example his parents set, and how he’d failed his marriage and his family.

And then it was over.  We made to disperse, and when Dad turned around he saw Shannon standing there.  He greeted her and then pointed: “So who’s this good-looking guy standing next to you?” Iit was Patrick.  I thought he was joking, but Dad legitimately did not recognize him.  Maybe it was because he was sporting sunglasses, but in any case Patrick just shook his head and walked away in disgust.

Then Mom said we’d all better watch out.  “Now that Grandma’s gone, he’s got nothing left to distract him.  He’s really going to be on the rampage now.”

 

45. “We’re Pregnant!”

November 1, 2007

I had such a hard-on for Lisa, the secretary in my office.  She had an ass you could balance a cocktail on and double-Ds I wanted to bury my face in.  She wore tight pants that showed off every curve and she slunk around the office like a panther.  I went weak-kneed anytime she brushed past me or touched my arm.  Holy shit.  I wanted her so badly.

There was just one problem: she was a lot like my oldest sister Kathleen.  They both had a predilection for dating musclebound assholes.  All their boyfriends looked like they rolled off an assembly line; only their faces changed.  So while I was not her physical type, she was definitely mine.  I never expected to have a chance with her, but something funny happened.  We started talking.  Then we went out for coffee.  Then we spent an evening on the town.

I was in a daze.  She was single.  She was spending time with me.  Was this really a possibility?   I went to my brother Patrick for advice and he told me not to force the issue.  “Just keep hanging out with her and see what develops.  If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen,” he said.

Seemed like solid advice to me, so I did just that – all while trying my best not to fantasize or overthink.  But I was a 22yo virgin and she was a young, hot, nubile 18yo so that proved exceedingly difficult.  My imagination went into overdrive, and then I hatched a plot after my last visit with Dad.

This time I was about to poke the beast right in the eye.  I called Lisa, told her the plan and asked if she would be my accomplice.  Shockingly, she was down for it.  We set it up for Saturday evening.  When the big night arrived I phoned Dad on my way over to Lisa’s house.  I told him I was coming for a visit, and asked him to make sure Grandma was in bed.  I said I had news and I didn’t want to give the poor old lady a heart attack.

That piqued his curiosity, and I took Lisa out for ice cream while I let Dad marinate.  I felt like a king when we walked into Friendly’s.  Look at us!  Look at me!  Look who I’m with!  Holy shit!  She took off her coat before we sat down and she was wearing tight-jeans and a body hugging sweater.  I suddenly wasn’t sure whether Dad would blow his stack or give me a hi-five.

Before I knew it we were on our way over to his house.  I couldn’t believe that she was in my car.  I couldn’t believe that she was actually doing this.  (Looked like out-of-the-box ideas were a surefire way to get her to spend time with me.)  We parked across the street and I took her hand as we headed up the driveway. I knocked on the door.  My heart was pounding like crazy.

Dad was working on a puzzle inside, and he peered through the glass for a moment before he opened the door.  He looked rather surprised to see me with Lisa.  I didn’t tell him I was bringing company.  After I made the introductions, we stood there making chitchat before Dad interrupted to ask if we wanted anything to drink.  Lisa asked for a water and I for a ginger ale.  We sat down on the couch as Dad said he was getting a beer for himself.

“You might want to get two,” I told him as he stumped into the kitchen. As soon as he was out of sight Lisa turned to me and waved her hands excitedly, barely able to contain herself.  She thought this was hilarious.  When he returned and sat down, I took Lisa’s hand again and told her him that we were expecting a happy event.

“What kind of happy event?” Dad asked, looking nervous. I think he knew what was coming. So I told him that we were three months pregnant.

“Oh,” Dad said.  “Oh…well… I… um… that… that’s… oh… erm, well… congratulations!” he stammered, hoisting a painful smile onto his face.

“And that’s why I didn’t want to tell you where I lived, because I thought if you knew we were living together then you’d be upset.” Dad took sighed heavily and agreed.  Lisa was doing her best not to disintegrate into fits of laughter next to me.

Dad raised his beer bottle and made a toast, offering us his best wishes.  Then he downed his drink in two gulps and quickly went to the kitchen for another.  We made more chitchat for the next 10-15 minutes, and despite his good cheer I knew he was slowly dying on the inside.  Finally I announced that we had to get going.  Dad gave me a hug and Lisa a kiss on the cheek and bid us farewell. He watched us go down the front walk.

While I was tempted to leave on that note, I knew I had to say something.  We were almost to the street when I turned and went, “Oh, there’s one more thing…”

“What’s that?” Dad asked.

“APRIL FOOLS!” I yelled, and Lisa and I ran to my car and laughed until we were weak.  When our mirth subsided I said this called for a celebratory drink, and I took her back to my place. I was more nervous about getting her alone than I was about telling Dad I knocked her up.

I’d spent the week leading up to this night going apeshit cleaning my apartment.  If I succeeded in bringing her back with me, I wanted to make the best impression possible.  I repainted everything.  I broke out my new bed and comforter set. I vacuumed and scrubbed and organized every inch of the place.  Finally, I spent 40 bucks on Grey Goose and cranberry juice cocktail because I knew that was one of her favorite mixed drinks.

That was as far as I planned.  When we arrived she went into the kitchen to prepare our adult beverages, and while she was in there I dug through my file cabinet in my bedroom.  I’d told her some Dad stories on the way over, and I was trying to find the letter he wrote urging me to boycott my cousin’s wedding.  I was still rummaging when I heard her light tread on the carpet.  I looked up as she came around the door and walked towards me.

“What are you doing in here, you animal?” she said with a grin.  I straightened up and handed her the letter that I’d finally found.  Lisa sat down on the corner of my bed to read it, and I tentatively sat down a couple of feet away.  My heart was hammering like mad.  Was this a signal?  Should I make a move?  I wanted so much to push her backwards and climb on top of her.  And what if I totally misread things?  That would be disastrously awkward, considering that we worked together.  It was all I could do to maintain my composure.

She shook her head and laughed when she got to the end of the letter.  I took it back from her and said, “That’s typical Dad for ya,” as I folded and unfolded it in my hands.  We looked at each other for a moment and I quickly sized her up.  She didn’t appear to be giving me any come-hither looks, nor was I detecting any vibe suggesting I go in for a kiss.

Patti was the second and last girl I’d been with, and that ended over four years ago.  To say I was out of practice was an understatement.  But I was fairly confident in my assessment of the situation, so I stood up and said, “C’mon, let’s drink.” I let her walk past me out of the room, mostly so I could ogle her ass on the way out.  Damn, son…  I silently prayed that I didn’t just let the biggest opportunity of my life leave my bedroom.

We sat at the table drinking and sharing stories.  I learned some interesting tidbits about her.  First, she mentioned hooking up with a guy the week before, so clearly she had nothing against hooking up.  Then she mentioned seeing a married man, so clearly she didn’t believe in monogamy either.  I’d be lying if I said that last one wasn’t a bit of a turn off – the idea of potentially stirring another man’s vanilla.  And if she was trying to drop a hint that she was sexually open and available, I doubted she’d do so in that manner.  I poured myself another drink.

Finally she said she was getting tired and had to go home.  We’d been together for four hours and it was getting late.  But I tested the waters one last time, just to be sure.  “You don’t have to leave,” I said as nonchalantly as possible. “You can stay here…”

“No, that’s okay,” she said.

“… you can sleep on the couch,” I joked. She laughed. But in the end I drove her home, gave her a kiss on the cheek, said good night and sadly watched her go into her house.  So close… so close… she was in my apartment… she was on my bed!… but as Patrick said, if it was meant to happen, it would have.  At the very least I could pat myself on the back for not doing anything monumentally stupid, as I was wont to do.  We continued to talk afterwards, but that was the last time we were ever alone in that capacity.

A few days later I dropped in on Dad to see how he was coping in the aftermath of our visit.  It was hilarious.  He was in such a state.  He said he couldn’t even sleep after we left because he didn’t know which part was supposed to be the joke – that we were pregnant? That we were living together? That we were dating? All of it? I finally straightened him out, and he just shook his head going, “You ass!”

However that wasn’t Dad’s last word on the subject.  I must have stirred up old resentments, because a week later he showed up on Shannon’s ex-husband Barry’s doorstep.  Dad was ranting as usual, brandishing hospital bills totaling $800.  They were from ten years ago when Shannon and Barry’s daughter was born.  He flung them at Barry, who picked them up and said he’d pay them.  Anything to get rid of Dad.

Jesus.  I hoped my juvenile prank hadn’t stirred up a hornet’s nest…

44. Poking the Beast

September 22, 2007

Bill landed in the hospital again. He was on his way to work when he felt chest pains, so he drove himself right to the emergency room.    They held him for an angiogram, probed at his heart, and after initially talking about surgery they reversed course and determined he hadn’t had a heart attack at all.  They let him out a couple of days later, and then he remembered he was supposed to be in court that morning.  Dad was suing him for $2,500 in phone charges.  He printed out the call log and submitted that as evidence, but when Bill showed it to me I noticed that most were calls Dad had made himself.  Nice.  But now I knew what Dad meant about Bill “getting his paperwork.”

Bill was able to get an adjournment after the hospital faxed the court, and Dad flipped out after he’d wasted all that time down there.  He was convinced that it was another production from Bill the Actor, that he was faking heart problems again.  And while Bill mostly laughed off Dad’s antics, it was clear he was under a lot of stress.  I asked him why he didn’t just move out already, and Bill told me it was for Grandma’s sake. He was very fond of her, and the whole point of him being there in the first place was to help look after her.  By continuing to stay, he felt better knowing she had at least one competent caregiver, since he didn’t think much of Dad and Tina’s abilities.

Unfortunately Bill had given up his apartment, quit one of his jobs and cut back on the other when he moved in with us, so it was taking him a while to get back on his feet and get ready to move out again.  But he agreed that it was probably time.  Dad was stalking him around town now.  Bill walked most places and Dad followed him in his car, like Harry and Marv following Kevin in Home Alone.  Then he called the police on Bill because he had expired inspection stickers on his car.  The cop who came to the house didn’t give Bill any grief, he just told him to get it up to date and went on his way.  Meanwhile Dad’s own inspection stickers weren’t legit.  He’d cut out the expiration dates on old stickers, rearrange the numbers, and cobble together a new sticker that looked current.

Dad flipped when Bill told him the police simply talked to him and left. He was so worked up that he started babbling incoherently, so Bill picked up a glass of water from the table and flung it in his face.  Dad slapped the glass out of Bill’s hand and it shattered on the floor, and then he picked up one of the pieces and made like he was going to stab Bill with it.  “Come on, John, are you really going to cut me with that?  Do it, baby!”  Dad apparently came to his senses after that, but he was so frustrated that he went into the backyard and started dismantling the tree house.  My, how things had come full circle, after my oldest brother Johnny once bashed apart the clubhouse out of his frustration with Dad.

A few weeks later Dad went to the practice hall for Shannon and Patrick’s marching band.  He barged in, completely filthy from work and looking like a deranged homeless person, and started going bonkers about how they hadn’t visited Grandma and probably wouldn’t before she died.  They were pretty shaken up from that, and my mother was too after hearing the story.  She worked in retail and now half-expected him to show up at her job going bonkers too.  It had been a relatively peaceful few years for her, and now she felt she was back to square one having to look over her shoulder all the time.

Not to be outdone, Dad dropped in on Mom’s sister unannounced.  He started playing his violin as soon as he walked in the door, asking for her help in getting back together with Mom.  My aunt told him that wasn’t going to happen and Dad responded that he had great faith and that all things were possible with God. He even rolled up his pant legs to show her the marks from when he crossed the plaza at the basilica on his knees like the pilgrims from the third world.

“John, those people have more faith in their little finger than you have in  your entire body, and you can walk all the way to Rome on your knees for all the good it’s going to do you,” she said.  Then she shoved a beer in his hand and sent him on his way.  He was there for all of five minutes because that’s all she would tolerate.  Mom even once told Dad that he could bring in the pope himself and she still wouldn’t change her mind about getting back together with him.  But Dad was on a mission.

I had words with him myself.  The evening started out innocently enough, but I was in one of those moods where I wasn’t going to shy away from a fight.  At the time I was in the middle of an engine rebuild on an old Pontiac, and Dad asked me how it was coming along.

“It’s coming,” I said.  .

“Where is it, at your place?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh! Can I come see it?” His face almost lit up at the idea.

“No,” I said. He deflated like an old tire.

“Why not?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want you bringing your nonsense over.”

His eyes darted around in his head before he fixed me with a look. “What nonsense?” he asked, feigning ignorance as always.

“Like the kind of nonsense that goes on around here with everybody else,” I answered.  His usual stupid little smile was creeping up on his face and I felt like slapping it off. He demanded to know what I was talking about, but I wasn’t interested in playing along if he was going to play dumb.  That enraged him further.

“Oh, of course, as usual everything’s a secret and I don’t understand any of it.  Everybody’s perfect, they’re all angels, but I’m the bad guy,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Oh, this old song and dance, huh?” I interjected in the middle of his sob story.

“Yes,” he said.

“Gee, I guess I should have brought my violin,” I chuckled.

“Yeah, you should have,” he said.

“I’ll bring it next time – any requests?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Going Home.”

“What does that mean, you want me to go home?”

“No, I want to go home,” he said dejectedly. This again. He wants to up and die because nobody down here cares for him.  “But it’s not up to me,” he added. “It’s up to your mother, though. Patrick’s going to pull the plug on her.”

HUH? “How did we get from that to this?’ I asked, utterly bewildered.  What the hell was he even talking about?

He just sighed deeply and said in a tone reminiscent of Vincent Price, “Ask your mother and she’ll tell you all about it.”

“Ooh, sounds real scary!” I chuckled again.

“It is,” came the reply. And I did ask my mother about it.  She later told me that Dad told her that she killed Nanny.  In other words, my mother and aunt followed Nanny’s wishes not to be resuscitated.  So according to Dad, Mom is a bad Catholic and she’s going to hell.  And he said that maybe it was time to pay my brother Patrick another visit.

“Oh!” I said. “And you asked me before, ‘what nonsense?’’

“That’s not nonsense,” he corrected. “That what you do when someone has shit for brains. Just like they all have shit for brains.”

“That a great way to talk about your children,” I observed.

“Isn’t it?” he asked, his barely smothered rage working its way to the surface. “It’s a great way to treat their grandmother. They won’t come to see her when she’s alive but they’ll all come to the funeral like they did with Grandpa. Hmm, I wonder why they did that?” he asked with mock curiosity. “I guess it was because they wanted to show respect,” he fairly spat the last word at me. “So maybe it’s time to pay Patrick another visit. I obviously didn’t embarrass him enough last time.”

“Well, it’s hard to embarrass somebody when you’re acting like a raving lunatic,” I said. “But hey – maybe next time you can try punching some holes in the wall for added effect.” Then he got really angry because I was “rehashing” stuff that happened years ago. Of course, he never rehashed or drudged anything up from the past. But so what if he made a hole in the wall once, he said.  Big deal.

“Well, it could be a person next time. We don’t know.”

“Oh yeah,” he fumed. “It’s a real small step going from hitting a wall to hitting a person. I hit you guys all the time,” he continued, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I was in jail all the time for beating the shit out of you guys. When was the last time I hit anybody?”

“How about the time you slapped Patrick in the face?”

Dad barely held his composure.  “Oh, that was just a little tap on the cheek.  That’s what you get for calling your father a moron.  Another example of what I’m talking about – no respect,” he said, adding that hitting walls is something he does when he’s mad, like that time with Johnny and the spilled oil.

“He told me that he didn’t have to clean it up because it’s not his driveway, but I guess he thought it was okay to let his little sisters clean it up instead.”

“Oh, so it’s okay to rehash this nonsense with Johnny from years ago, but it’s not okay to rehash anything about you?”

“I’m ‘rehashing’ it because I still don’t understand it, that’s why.”

“No, there’s a lot of things you obviously don’t understand,” I said.

“Well, maybe you can explain them to me.”

I just shook my head. Then he circled back to his visiting Patrick at the practice hall.  First he said that Patrick just walked out of the room without answering him, but then he claimed Patrick told him he was “too busy” to visit Grandma.

“Really?” I eyed him skeptically. “He said that?’

“Uh huh.”

I nodded. “I’ll ask him and see if that’s what he said.”

“Oh, thank you.” He was really fuming now. “Are you saying I’m a liar?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I said with a shrug.  He then demanded to know the last time he lied about something, so I struck a mock thoughtful pose as I tried to come up with a good one. “Gee,” I mused. “Ya know, there are so many to choose from that when you put me on the spot I can’t quite remember…” A smug little smirk was creeping up on his face, because he thought I was stalling for time.

“How about the time you opened my college financial aid letters – oh wait, sorry, here I go ‘rehashing’ stuff – and you said it was addressed to you.  And I found it on your desk with three photocopies you made of it -”

“Photocopies?” he interrupted. “I don’t think so.”

“There you go!” I cried out jubilantly. “There’s a lie right there!” I had him trapped and he knew it. I watched his face working furiously for a second.

“Oh, that’s a real biggie!” he said sarcastically, fluttering his hands around.  I just shook my head.  To argue with him was pointless.  He’d just dismiss or deny everything.  I made to leave and he asked me if I was glad I came over.

“Oh yeah, it’s always a real joy coming over here,” I remarked.

“Yeah.  So tell Patrick that I’ll be seeing him again.  And you can tell your brother Johnny that I’ll be paying him a visit as well.”

“Is that right?  Well let me know when it’s going to be so I can videotape it.  I could use a good laugh.”

“I’m not telling you when.  It’ll be a surprise,” he added threateningly.

“Yeah yeah, whatever,” I slammed the door shut on my way out.  Once I was on the road I called my mother and told her to lock her doors in case Dad decided to go over there next.  She asked me what happened and I said I’d fill her in when I arrived.  She was waiting up for me along with Johnny and Mary.  They all lived together and wanted the update.  I filled them in on my visit to the house and Mary told me it wasn’t a good idea to provoke Dad like that.  I agreed, but at the same time I couldn’t live myself had I not talked back to him.

Johnny, on the other hand, was ready to go over and knock Dad through the wall after he heard about his threat to “visit.”  Oh boy.  Johnny had a hair-trigger temper already, and that was sending him over the age.  I should have known it was a mistake to discuss Dad with Johnny anywhere in earshot.  We tried our best to calm him down, and he finally relented and said he was just going to go over and leave a note in the mailbox.  He went into his room, scribbled something on a piece of paper, and zoomed away in his car.  Great.

I went after him with the intention of intercepting his note before it fell into Dad’s hands.  That would only make matters worse.  Leaving a paper trail was a bad idea.  I called Johnny’s cell on the way, and by the time I reached him he’d already dropped the note off and was parked at the shopping center nearby to cool off.  Good.  I parked around the corner from the house and set out on foot.  It was 11 at night by that point so I figured it would be easy to just walk up and grab it out of the mailbox.

The only problem with that plan was that I encountered Dad.  For reasons known only to him and God, he was rolling a tire or something around in the middle of street.   Jesus, what were the chances.  And what the hell was he doing?  He must have been so worked up from our fight that he cleaning out his truck or something.  I was too close to turn around, so I broke into a run and prayed I’d be able to pass myself off as a late-night jogger.  I passed within six feet of him and left a loud silence in my wake.

I continued all the way around the block and I was almost back to my car when I noticed familiar looking headlights approaching.  Shit.  I dove behind a clump of bushes, flattened myself against the ground, and watched Dad’s car cruise past.  He obviously recognized me in the darkness, and there was no way he didn’t recognize my car parked nearby.  Double shit.  As soon as he was gone I bolted for my car and took off.

I was nearly out of the neighborhood when I noticed his headlights in my rearview.  Fuck.  He was following me, and I didn’t want him finding out where I or my mother lived.  He remained a surreptitious distance behind me, but once he realized I was trying to lose him he started closing the gap.  This was going to be tricky.  He was a former cop with a V8 and I was an ordinary schmoe with a V6.  I headed for a neighborhood I knew with lots of twists and turns and many streets.  It took me ten or fifteen minutes but I finally managed to lose him in there.

I didn’t go back to his house until the middle of the night, and luckily the note was still there:

Listen up….
Stop threatening to “visit” any one. Don’t think even once about paying me a visit. Understand? I heard about your intentions. Think again. Got it!?

43. The Bates Motel

March 11, 2007

It had been a busy few months at the Bates Motel, as Bill referred to the house.  I stopped by for a visit and saw there were holes all over the walls and ceilings.  Square holes, some big and some little. Digital Swiss cheese.  Holy shit.  What on earth was going on?

Well, Kathleen had gone away on a cruise and left her pet rabbit at the house for two weeks.  Dad and Tina took turns letting Benny the Bunny out of his cage for exercise, but one day it disappeared while Tina was busy in her room on the computer (read: Dad’s computer).

“BILL!” Tina screamed up the stairs an hour later.  She kept yelling until he finally appeared, twitchy and disheveled as usual.  “WHERE’S THE RABBIT?” she shouted at him.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Bill asked, utterly perplexed.

“What did you do to the rabbit?  You stole him!”

“I didn’t do anything to the rabbit,” he protested. “He’s just hiding around here somewhere.”  Tina didn’t believe him and continued to accuse him and press him for answers.  Bill finally lost his temper at snapped at her.  “Yeah, that’s right Tina.  I cooked him and ate him.  Yum yum!” Bill said, rubbing his stomach and licking his lips. Tina’s eyes bulged out of her head and she went ballistic.

As soon as Dad came home from work she was all over him crying “Bill ate the rabbit!”  Fortunately, Dad was reasonable for once and agreed with Bill that it was simply hiding somewhere.  The three of them turned the house inside out for the rest of the night looking for Benny, but with 15 junk-filled rooms it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

It wasn’t until they gave up and went to sleep that they heard the thumping behind the walls.  That’s when Dad solved the mystery.  He had serviced the forced air system but forgot to reattach one of the vent covers, so Benny hopped inside and was now rocketing around the heating ducts.

It took two days to flush him out.  Dad worked from the beginning of the heating system outwards, first cutting holes to expose the ductwork and then cutting through the ducts and inserting metal plates.   He kept moving down the line until Benny was in the last branch.  Dad left food at the vent opening, but Benny came out to eat when nobody was around and promptly disappeared into the wall again.  Finally Dad nabbed him after coaxing him out with a carrot.

Then the central vacuum system clogged up and Dad couldn’t blow it out.  So he started cutting more holes to find the blockage.  The house looked like it had been shelled by rebels by the time he was through.  To top things off, the next morning Dad marched into Bill’s  room with a Ziploc bag full of orange peels and other shit that Bill had been dumping onto the “mulch pile” in the woods across the street.  He dropped the bag on the floor, but Bill just picked it up and threw it at him.  Dad said that if he found any more garbage across the street, Bill would find it in his car.

“John, if I find any in my car, you’re going to find it in your bed – while you’re sleeping in it,” Bill responded.  And that was the end of that.  Meanwhile, Dad dumped all kinds of shit into the woods himself – including broken glass from his old windshield.  Then he started badgering Bill for putting unacceptable items in the recycling cans, regardless of the fact that Dad frequently loaded them up with metal pipes or vinyl siding even the town specifically listed such items as prohibited.  I pointed that out to him and his response was, “So what?  It’s plastic, it’s metal – why wouldn’t they take it?”  Once again, Dad’s mantra was “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Bill was at least mindful that the town wouldn’t accept cardboard for recycling, only non-corrugated containers.  That explained the giant stash of empty milk cartons behind his bedroom door.  Dad ranted and raved at Bill, yelling that he was going to attract rats and bugs by keeping foodstuffs in his room.  Then in the next breath he complained about all the water that Bill had wasted washing and scrubbing each milk carton.  But Bill was saving them to bring to the grocery store.  He claimed one of the employees took them to put in the big cardboard compactor.

Dad didn’t believe him, so the next day he absconded with Bill’s milk cartons and spent a few hours visiting all the grocery stories within a three mile radius.  He marched into the first one with the bag in one hand and a single milk carton in the other, the latter of which he thrust under the nose of one of the cashiers and demanded to know where he could put it.  Instead of telling him just where he could shove his container, she backed away fearfully and said she didn’t know.

As soon as Bill got home, Dad confronted him and called him a liar.  Bill was sitting on his bedroom floor eating dry cereal off a paper plate (he wasn’t allowed to use bowls, spoons, or milk anymore).  He just looked up at Dad and asked if he really went to every grocery store in the area, and when Dad answered in the affirmative Bill laughed and said he was nuts.  That’s when Dad spied a 50-count box of Tetley’s tea bags on the floor.

“Are you making tea again?”

Bill picked up the box and showed him. “I can’t make any – the box is empty.”

“That’s because you made them all!”

“That’s right, John,” Bill said. “While you were visiting the supermarket I went downstairs and made 50 cups of tea.” Dad went to grab the empty box but Bill snatched it out of his reach.  Dad retaliated by pelting him with the milk cartons, and then it was on.  Bill chucked his corn flakes aside and the two of them were wrestling on the floor. That’s when Bill realized that his stack of magazines was gone.  Dad had put them out for recycling but Bill fished them out of the can because he wanted to read them.  Bill stood up and pointed at Dad and demanded the magazines back.  When Dad refused Bill went downstairs, found Dad’s wallet, and hid it.  Shortly afterwards Dad realized it was missing.

“Where’s my wallet!?” Dad confronted Bill.

“Let’s make a deal, John,” Bill said.  “You give me back my magazines and you’ll get your wallet back.”  Dad called the police instead.  Then he pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and sat down to wait.  The police didn’t arrive for two hours, and the entire time Bill kept poking his head in the door to laugh at Dad.  Dad just wiggled around in his chair with growing impatience.

“You damn fool,” Dad growled in response to Bill’s rising hysteria.  When the police finally arrived they diffused the situation and Dad retrieved Bill’s magazines.  “Now where’s my wallet?”

Bill gently moved Dad aside, lifted the cushion off the chair Dad had been sitting on, and picked up his wallet.  The look on Dad’s face was priceless.

“Don’t you guys think you’re a little too old for this?” one of the cops asked as he finished writing up his report and left the house.  They returned ten days later, and this time Dad and Bill made the police blotter section of the local paper. They were the first item under the headline, which read, “Landlord Leaves Tenant High and Dry.”

“On February 19 at 2:32 PM, male complainant reported a landlord who turned off the water to his apartment. On arrival police learned landlord was having system repaired.”

But the real story was that Grandma was in the hospital again and Tina and Salami weren’t there.  Not only were microwave and the oven ranges locked away in their room, but there were heavy-duty padlocks on all the doors including the bathroom – to which Dad affixed a sign reading “Temporarily closed for repairs.”

Not only that, but Dad began parking down the block and sneaking into the house trying to catch Bill turning things back on or using the water.  Stealth was not one of Dad’s strong points, and Bill heard him coming inside every time so he’d go looking for him.  One time Bill found Dad hiding in Grandma’s bathroom, so he slapped Dad on the shoulder and yelled, “TAG!  YOU’RE IT, JOHN!  Now it’s my turn to hide.”

Dad turned the utilities back on when he was home, so Bill made it a point to put on his boots and stomp up and down the stairs and loudly announce his every move:  “OKAY, JOHN, I’M GOING TO THE BATHROOM.” “OKAY, JOHN, I’M GOING DOWNSTAIRS TO GET A GLASS OF WATER.”  Dad started following Bill around the house like a vampire, prompting Bill to start singing “Me and My Shadow.”  It’s a small wonder Dad didn’t blow his brains out right then and there.

While all of this was going on, I got a phone call from Bill.  He was at the hospital with Grandma.  She’d had a cold for a couple of days and it was getting worse, so Dad took her in thinking it might be pneumonia.  And he was right.  “Oh, you’re in trouble now,” I told Bill.  I knew Dad was going to blame Bill for getting her sick.  And I was surprised that Bill was calling me instead of Dad.  Grandma had been in there for a week already and Dad hadn’t told me anything.

Scratch that – a few days before that I received a terse voicemail from Dad.  Apparently Bill had told him that I had fished through the garbage and took out pictures of Grandma and Grandpa.  Huh…?  I didn’t know what Dad was talking about, and he didn’t know what the hell Bill was talking about either.  “Either he’s making stuff up, or he’s just a jerk.  But I’m getting tired of the networking that he’s doing with you, with your mother, and with everybody else – or whatever is going on.  And I’m getting really sick of all the sneaky stuff going on behind my back.  So thank you.”  Not two words about my grandmother in the hospital with pneumonia.

But oh no, our cover was blown.  Dad stumbled onto our big secret.  See, we all met with Bill on Thursdays at the Huntington Diner for our weekly planning meeting.  We sat around talking about Dad, filling Bill’s young and impressionable mind with mean and nasty things about him.  Then we gave Bill a list of instructions of things to do to him in exchange for reports about what was going on at the house.  Dad seriously believed this was happening.  His paranoia was reaching new heights.

Bill called me again a few days later when Grandma was moved from the hospital to the rehab center.  I saw her in both places, and I had no idea what Bill was talking about when he said Grandma was much improved.  She was even less coherent than I’d ever seen her.  I visited her on her birthday, and I drove over to the house that evening.  Dad sitting at the table eating a lonely dinner, and when I knocked on the door he got up and unbolted three chains to let me in.  Three chains?  Must be part of his anti-Bill system.   I told him I was there to see the birthday girl, and he told me that she was in the nursing home recuperating.  “But I thought you knew that,” he stared at me.

“Well, I knew she was there but I thought she’d be home by now,” I said. “I didn’t think she’d still be there.  And why didn’t you tell me she was in there?  You knew I’d be coming by for dinner.”

“Well, I have no way to tell anybody. Nobody stops by anymore,” he said. Oh, please.

“You could have called me,” I replied. He stared at me again.

“I had called you a couple of weeks ago, and I left you a message and nobody got back to me.” Ah, that’s it. I knew that’s why he didn’t call to tell me about Grandma – because I didn’t respond to his dopey message.

“Well, those were nonsense messages, and I don’t respond to nonsense.  Okay?” I said. And when a slight pause followed, I reached over and slapped him on the back a couple of times. I could see him fuming.

To make a long story short, he ended up on a rant about how Bill, his “ex-cousin,” gave Grandma pneumonia because “I tell him not to do something, and he does it anyway. He keeps kissing her when he’s sick and he’s hacking and coughing and sneezing and who knows what else. And I told him not to go near her unless he gets a doctor’s note that there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s sleeping on garbage upstairs, he doesn’t wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom, he’s full of germs and sloppy habits…”

I was surprised not to see steam coming out of his ears. He gave me plenty of opportunities to say things, but I passed them up.  Things like: “Gee, how can Bill wash his hands when you’ve shut all the water off?” or “Gee, if Bill really is sick, I wonder why that is?  No water to wash himself, no heat upstairs, he has to sleep on the floor because you took his bed away…”

Dad followed with the usual bitching about Tim and Chuck and how he can’t understand why they won’t come see Grandma. Again I passed up a golden opportunity to say: “Hmm, I’m going to go out on a limb here, but maybe the reason is… you?”  Then he asked me if I had any Sundays available.  Grandma was coming home soon and he needed someone to watch her.

“Why don’t you just ask Bill to do it?” I asked innocently.  Dad shook his head like a horse warding off flies.

“No…no…no… I’m not asking Bill to do it. I don’t want him around here –”

“Why not? I’m sure he’d love to do it.”

“NO, because then he’s going to give me a bill for four thousand dollars, saying I owe him money for his time.”

“Tell him it’s a volunteer job.”

Then he said that Bill was crazy. I just laughed and said, “Aren’t we all?  But how so?” I asked.

There was the slightest of hesitations, then: “Calling someone a rat-”

“Oh, wow,” I interrupted, “That’s really crazy.”

Dad corrected himself and said that it was “juvenile” instead.  And then he angrily continued:  “How about when someone insinuates that you’re having sex with the aide??” Of course, that’s not even Bill said at all – he just said that Dad wanted to have sex with Tina but she wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole.  “But I’m not worrying about Bill because he’s going to be getting his paperwork soon,” he concluded. Whatever that meant.  Maybe he really was going to evict Bill.

Dad ended up getting Kathleen to watch Grandma on Sunday while Dad was at church.  And that’s not a short gig.  Instead of going to the Catholic church a mile away, he went to one in the next county for the Latin Mass.  The regular Mass didn’t count as “real” in his eyes.  Between the drive, coffee and cake with his fellow parishioners, and his usual stops along the way home, he’d be away four hours or more.

Bill was home the entire time Kathleen was there, but he wasn’t allowed near Grandma anymore.  So Kathleen was there to keep an eye on both of them, and when she saw Bill she flipped him off and said “Fuck you!” right in front of Grandma.  Nice.  When Bill asked what her problem was, she told him “you’re a piece of shit because of what you do to my father.”  Bill tried to set her straight but she heard none of it, dropping a few more choice words along the way.  Bill responded by telling her that Dad would slap her across the face if he heard her using that kind of language.

“My father would never do that!” she yelled, despite the fact that Dad did precisely that when she wouldn’t stop dropping F-bombs during an argument back when she was 21.  It was one of Dad’s favorite stories and he’d always chuckle relaying how Kathleen had cried that it was “child abuse” after he slapped her.   He’d even told Bill the story a couple of times, but suddenly both Kathleen and Dad were denying it ever happened.  Nice teamwork.

She wasn’t the only one Dad was feeding crazy Bill” stories to.  Bill told me that his brother Barry – whom he’s always gotten along with – now wouldn’t talk to him either because of the nasty stories Dad told him.  So it was no surprise that Bill ended up suffering a second heart attack at the house.  He earned a handicapped parking tag as result, and Dad confronted him at the hospital when he saw it.  “Oh, you’ve had two heart attacks, have you?” he said sarcastically.  Then he reported Bill and his permit to hospital security.  He still thought Bill was faking it for sympathy.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Bill’s trips to the hospital.

 

42. Tina’s Twin

November 23, 2006

I went over to the old house for a visit and found Bill and Grandma watching TV in the living room.  TV was on, what a surprise.  The TV was always on over there.   But unlike Tina, who parked Grandma in front of the TV and generally ignored her afterwards, at least Bill would engage her in conversation.  He tried to, anyway.  Grandma was having more and more trouble stringing words together.  However she still had enough presence of mind to roll her eyes at me and imitate all of Bill’s sniffles and facial tics whenever his back was turned.  Nice.  Very nice.

My oldest sister Kathleen was there as well.  She was bustling around the kitchen, undoubtedly cleaning up the mess it became since Tina was away.  When she heard me in the living room she poked her in the doorway and beckoned me inside.  Once I was in there with her she lowered her voice and told me that Dad went out and wouldn’t be back until almost midnight, so she was watching Grandma.  Okay… and she needed to tell me this privately?  And why couldn’t Bill watch Grandma?  Wasn’t that the whole point of him being there in the first place?

Interesting.  I just went back out to join the others, doing my best to fend off Kathleen’s pissy little pocket poodle, who had come along for the visit.  At around 8 Bill announced he was going down to the grocery store for cold cuts before the deli closed, and I went with him.  Meanwhile I was sure that Kathleen was preparing a full report for Dad when he got home, telling him that “Tommy and Bill snuck out together.”  But I didn’t care; I wanted a chance to talk to him alone and find out about the latest goings-on at the house.  And when Bill went upstairs to get his coat and car keys, Kathleen came out of the kitchen, made a whistling noise and circled her finger next to head, and pointed at Bill’s back going up the stairs.

Right, Bill was the crazy one in the house.  But he gave me the rundown on the latest. For starters, he’s not allowed to talk to Tina.  Tina’s been walking around wearing a surgical mask like Michael Jackson because she thinks Bill is sick and doesn’t want to catch anything from him.  Then he told me that Dad killed all his plants in the window by pouring salt water into the pots.  And not only that, but Dad was stalking Luke Skywalker’s family and leaving notes taped to the house looking for Bill.  He wants to talk to them to find out what Bill is doing when he’s not home.  And the children were terrified because Bill had been entertaining them with stories from the war front, and now they thought some crazy man was after them.

As if that wasn’t enough, Dad’s lawyer came by the house and they all sat down for a talk.  Dad’s lawyer?  Oh, please don’t tell me we’re going back to court. Why was he getting involved?  Did Dad bring him in to mediate things?   But Bill told the lawyer that he felt that Grandma was being neglected, like when he came home one Sunday and found her trying to get out of bed by herself, and nobody else was there.  Then he told the lawyer that Dad was on the verge of a major breakdown.  Bill even took him upstairs to show him his “living quarters.” The best part was when the lawyer asked him to turn on the lights so he could better see the room, and Bill said that he didn’t have any – not only were the lights removed and the power shut off, but all the plug sockets had been torn apart in the walls. The lawyer just stood there going, “Oh my God…”

We got some food from the store and headed back to the house, and Kathleen was unnerving me with her Tina-like behavior.  Same sour puss on her face.  Same mood swings from annoyed to amused and back to annoyed again.  Same fakesy-smile bullshit talk with Grandma.  The only difference was that Kathleen wasn’t speaking on her cell phone in Russian for three hours.  In fact, the more I looked the more I noticed that Tina was like Kathleen who was like Dad.  No wonder they all got along.  Must be an Aries thing.

Kathleen seemed more annoyed than usual, though.  I thought it was because she stuck on Grandma duty, but it turned out that Bill was the one bothering her.  Just his presence was enough, and for the entire night she wouldn’t even go in the same room as him.  Then at around 9 I heard a knock on the door. What, Dad’s home already? No. It was Rick the Dick, her boyfriend.  This dumb fuck?  He was one of her typical boyfriends, the kind she finds at the bar or the gym.  You know, big meathead assholes who can’t put their arms down.  And this clown came to Grandpa’s funeral in a polo shirt.

Anyway, he had food from Boston Market – dinner for them and Grandma (at last).  Grandma ate in front of the TV, and the two of them sat in the dining room.  Then the moved down to the den and I heard them talking in hushed tones.  “You wouldn’t believe what’s been going on here…” I heard Kathleen telling him.  Well, Kathleen generally appeared once every six months, so whatever she knew about the goings-on at the house was whatever Dad told her.  Obviously he’d been telling her that Bill was a nutcase.

Kathleen called me down to the den a few minutes later.  She was trying to get the TV working in there so she and Rick the Dick could watch something.  Oh, so that’s why she grabbed all the remotes around the house.  I happily informed her that the TV was defunct (as was most of the stuff in the house) and Dad just put it there for decoration.  I made my way back to the living room, calling over my shoulder that they should stop lurking down there and “come join the party.”

“Tommy!” Kathleen answered in scolding tones.

“What?” I asked, turning and looking at her.  She got up in a huff and followed me into the other room, Rick the Dick trailing stupidly in our wake.  Then she started making exaggerating imitations of Bill’s twitches and sniffles just as Grandma had done, and concluded with an exceptionally ugly look directed towards Bill’s back in the kitchen.

“Well, if that’s the way you feel about it,” I said as we settled into the living room.  Rick the Dick sat down on the couch like a boulder.  I was surprised not to see moss growing on his head.

“He’s got a problem,” she muttered nastily as she bent over the DVD player.

“Everybody’s got problems, Kathleen,” I said at normal volume. Like our father, I should have added. I was thoroughly disgusted with her. Later she went to put Grandma to bed and it was just me and Bill and Rick the Dick.  The funniest part was that Bill kept calling him “Dick” all night because I told him about the family’s nickname for him.  But Bill was honestly confused and thought his name was Dick, and Rick the Dick didn’t bother to correct him.  Meanwhile I was waiting for Rick the Dick so start up with some bullshit about “how come you don’t ever see your sister?” like he did once before.

Kathleen complained to him how she never sees her family, yet we invite her to everything and she rarely shows.  And when she does, she sits in the corner sulking, texting on her phone and not interacting with anyone else.  She only comes alive in the last ten minutes, hurrying around making everyone pose for a million pictures before she runs out the door.  Every time without fail.

Mary and I stopped the house a few days later for Thanksgiving, and it was almost the same exact visit.  Kathleen was bustling around in the kitchen again, and Rick the Dick was there too.  He was asleep on the couch in the living room and came to when we opened the door.  He grunted some sort of greeting at us, but I didn’t answer him as I didn’t speak Troll.  But the best part was when Dad came downstairs and I asked him where Grandma was.  Apparently she was on the toilet.  By herself.  Unbelievable.  “Well, you’d better get in there,” I told him.  Good move, ace.  When we were all seated around the table, Mary and I tried to carry on a conversation with Grandma while Kathleen was asking Dad what he wanted for Christmas. Wtf?

“You’re actually asking him what he wants for Christmas?” I piped up. “You don’t ask people what they want, you just get it for them.” So we went back and forth about that for a few moments, and then Kathleen asked him again.

“What I want, nobody can get me,” Dad said. Oh geez, here we go.

“What’s that?” Kathleen asked.

“My wife,” he muttered.

“Oh,” said Kathleen.

We had a boring, uneventful dinner, and then Kathleen came out with her stupid camera.  Ah, it must have been near quitting time for her!

“Tommy, take a picture of me and Grandma!”

“What, another picture? How many pictures of you and Grandma do you need?  Didn’t you take one when you were here a few days ago?”

“Well, it’s Thanksgiving!” Yes, she needed a picture for every time she came over.

“You should have saved some of the turkey then. How’s anybody going to tell it’s Thanksgiving when you have a hundred pictures of the two of you in the same pose?”

Then she got really nasty and told me it’s about the memories.

“Memories of what, you asking everyone to take a picture…?” I muttered under my breath.  But I took the picture, and as soon as I lined up the shot I noticed that Grandma was looking towards the kitchen with disgust on her face. Oh, perfect. I snapped the picture right at that moment.  See, even Grandma thought the whole thing was bullshit too.

Mary and I beat it out of there right after Kathleen did, and Mary was literally shaking off the feeling of being in the house.  She, too, picked up on how Kathleen was like Tina, with the way she was wiping Grandma’s mouth clean, clearing the plates off the table, and just the general attitude.  She was actually a bit creeped out by the similarities.

41. Postal

October 24, 2006

For quite some time, mail had been popping up in my PO box with Dad’s name on it. Mostly junk mail, catalogs and Publisher’s Clearinghouse letters and other assorted bullshit.  Today there was an additional letter for Mom informing her that her credit card application had been denied.  That sucked, but what sucked even further is that she hadn’t applied for one, which meant that Dad was up to his old tricks again.  He had an annoying habit of opening up credit cards in her name, running up the bill, and sticking us with the collection notices.  His way of showing how much he loved her, I guess.

Of course, the real question was how he found out about my PO box in the first place. That was the real reason for him sending his mail there.  His way of rubbing it in my face to say, “ooooh, look, I found your PO box!”  Nonetheless, I finally decided to confront him about the mail situation (I’d leave the credit card business for Mom to handle).  So I marched right over there with one of the collection notices.  I knew he wouldn’t admit to anything (he never does) but I was determined to give him a piece of  my mind.

I spent a few minutes with Grandma first, and then Dad told me the computer was acting up and could I take a look at it?  Sure enough it wouldn’t turn on, but Tina was the only one who used it so I wasn’t all that fussed.  She was living it up like a princess in that house.  Not only did she have keys to all the doors and free rein to do whatever she wanted, but Dad even let her use his car.  I goggled at him when I found out.

“Does she even have a driver’s license?” I asked.

Dad shrugged. “Yeah, she said she did.”

“Did you see it?” I pressed.  Dad shrugged again.  Amazing.  She already lied about her real profession and about her daughter living in Russia, so who knew what else she was fibbing about.  But Dad accepted everything without question.  I guess distrust, suspicion and paranoia was only reserved for family and not complete strangers.  And had Dad let any of us borrow his car we’d probably receive an itemized bill for services afterwards.

Anyway, I said I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the computer and that it was weird.

“And speaking of weird,” I said, fingering the letter in my jacket, “I’ve got something very interesting I want to show you. Come over here…” I led Dad into the kitchen and pulled it out. “See that?” He squinted at it the label. “It has your name on it. And that’s my address. Now, why is mail with your name on it my mailbox?”

He straightened and gave me a goofy grin, the same one he displays every time he knows he’s caught in a lie. “I don’t know,” he laughed and shrugged.

“Oh, you don’t know?” I said icily.

“No!” he said, still flashing me his silly little fake grin.  I felt like slapping it right off his face.

“I think you know very well why it’s on there.”

“No, I don’t…” he said, his grin slipped a few notches.

“Fine, then I’ll let you think about it and I’ll come back when you’ve figured it out,” I said and I made to leave.  But he called me back and we went at it for about ten minutes right there in kitchen.  Dad was really agitated and flustered, repeating over and over that he didn’t know how his name got on there.  Bullshit.  He knew very well why.  Then he said I was probably getting it for the same reason he got all that junk mail that time – some joker signed him up for it.

Well, in case you don’t remember, that joker was me.

“Oh, so you think I did it? Is that why I’m getting all this mail with your name on it?” I asked.  I wasn’t going to admit anything.  If he was going to lie to me then I was going to lie right back at him.  And we just kept going back and forth, me insisting he knew why I was getting his mail and him insisting he didn’t.  He was getting closer to blowing his stack, so I finally asked why he was getting so worked up and we couldn’t have a normal conversation.

“Because you’re coming in here and accusing me of things – things I have no idea about,” he said, spreading his hands and going red in the face.  A vein started pumping on his forehead.  Then he started up with the usual sob story about everybody in the family is against him, etc. etc.  And it’s a mystery why, he said.

“No, it’s not a mystery,” I corrected him. “If you sit down and think about it, then you’ll be able to figure the mystery out.”

“Yeah, they think that by not coming to see their grandmother, they can hurt me by hurting my mother… or whatever goes on in their sick minds,” he spouted.  “And you still haven’t told me where you lived… You must be afraid that I’m going to stop by and say hello. Telling me how, ‘Oh, you can see it when I’m ready.’ And then you told me you felt like you were being forced out of the house because you were afraid I was going to make you start paying rent like I did with Johnny.”

“That’s not what I said,” I corrected him again.  In fact, I had secretly taped my moving-out conversation with him for future proof.  Then I started kicking myself for not taping this conversation as well. Dammit.  But oh well, there would be plenty of other opportunities.

“That’s what I took it to mean,” Dad said.

“Well, I can’t help how you interpret things,” I said.

“Well, you made some flippant remark about it. You make a lot of flippant remarks, which I don’t like.”

Sorry, chief.  I’ll make as many remarks as I like.  Too bad if you don’t like them.  But long story short, I got absolutely nowhere with him, just as my mother had warned me beforehand.  I was so enraged on the way home thinking about our confrontation that I was in half a mind to turn around and go right back and start in on him again.  I had more to say and never got it out.  I was tarting to think there’s something seriously wrong with him. He acted an awful lot like a paranoid schizophrenic.

Obviously I got to him, though.  Bill called me a week later to tell me that – in addition to fighting with Tina and finding someone else put garbage in the trunk of his car – but the mail stopped coming to the house.  He said that now the mail just goes past without stopping.  Tina must have reported to Dad that Bill was going for the mail one too many times, so Dad just stopped it altogether.  Not the first time he’s done so, either.  He did it years ago and Mom found him in the parking lot of post office, reading everybody’s mail in his car.  But no, he doesn’t open other people’s mail.  Oh no.

40. Escalation

October 4, 2006

Cousin Bill said it was lonely since I’d moved out.  The poor guy.  I had no idea how he was coping without me.  I stopped by the house to see him, and Dad suggested while I was there that I should let Grandma see my new place to “help allay her confusion.”  Yeah right.  I knew what he was up to.  He wanted to know where I was, and I’d been successful up until that point at remaining coy.  It was a delicate dance.  And I knew Dad was hacked off because he was in the middle of putting new siding on the shed.  He started projects around the house every time something was bothering him.

I also noticed that there were two beds in my old bedroom.  Bill told me that Tina’s daughter was coming to stay.  And get this – one of them was Bill’s old bed, the same one Dad had taken away, forcing him to sleep on the floor instead.  Now we know what happened to it.  Bill wasted no time informing Tina that used to be his bed, just to see her reaction.  He’d previously warned Tina that she’d be next in Dad’s line of fire if there was nobody else left in the house to pick on.  Kinda made me wonder whether that’s why the daughter was suddenly moving in.

Shortly afterwards I went back for another visit – this time with Mom – and we met Tina’s daughter.  Salami, or whatever her name was.  At least that’s what Bill called her.  Salami was 14 years old and lived in Russia but she was home for the holidays. At least, that’s the story we were given.  Bullshit.  She lived with Tina in Brooklyn.  Every time we asked her a question she’d look around to her mother and get instructions in Russian, and then she’d answer us in English without a trace of an accent.

Dad was getting really pissed off about Bill, giving him looks that my mother said bordered on hatred when he was watering his plants in the kitchen window.  And Dad didn’t even offer him a cookie when he brought out the tin to Grandma, so my mother offered Bill one instead.  Dad hovered around like a vulture, and when he finally stalked out of the room Bill filled us in on the latest “war stories.”

Dad had shut the water off on him one day.  Then he put a hand on Bill’s shoulder and blocked him from going up the stairs.  Bill told him that if he touched him again, he was going to get hurt.  Then he picked up the phone and made like he was going to call the police.  “Oh, are you going to call the cops?” Dad sneered.  Bill just put the phone back on the hook and assumed a fighting stance.

“No, John, I think I can take you myself.   Put ’em up.”  Bill laughed and told us that was the only time he ever saw fear in Dad’s eyes.  Good.  But it worked and Dad backed down.  But Bill ended up calling the police for real a few days later.  Dad turned the water off again, and this time he locked the basement and side doors so Bill couldn’t go down there to turn the water back on.  Tina could.  She had her own key ring to open everything in the house that she needed.  But it was the weekend and she was back in Brooklyn, so Bill called the police and they told him that it was illegal for Dad to turn the water off on him.  If need be, they’d come and break the door down for him.

“No,” Bill said.  “I can handle this myself.”  So he dug his crowbar out of his trunk and pried the basement door open, taking a nice chunk out of the jamb as he did so.  Not only did he turn the water back on, but he did his laundry too while he was down there.  Dad freaked out when he came home and saw what happened.  “You’re going to pay for the damage to that door!” he cried out, and Bill responded with “Piffle.”  Then Dad went into the backyard and yanked all Bill’s wet clothes off the clothesline and stomped them into the ground.

Then Bill said Tina told Dad that he was flashing Grandma.  Say what?  Yeah, he had just finished taking a shower and he opened the door a crack to let the steam out.  After a few minutes he went to open it all the way and saw Tina standing there with Grandma on their way down the hallway, so he said “excuse me” and closed the door again.  But the way Tina told the story she made it sound like Bill was running naked around the house and waving his penis in Grandma’s face like a Chippendale’s dancer.  Bill was banned from using the shower after that, and then Dad locked him out of the house entirely one night.

Bill came home from work at 3AM and couldn’t get in through any of the doors, so he put one of Dad’s ladders up against the house and climbed up atop the first story to get through his window. Except Dad had screwed it shut so it wouldn’t open.  That’s when Bill took a closer look through the glass and noticed Dad standing in the middle of the darkened room, just watching him.  Bill was so angry that he ripped the screen out of the window and threw it down on top of Dad’s car in the driveway, bending it in the process.

In addition to that, Bill said he overheard Dad on the phone telling someone: “Yeah, it’s going to happen, and Bill’s not going to be very happy when it does.”  Bill has no clue what Dad’s planning to do and it’s really making him curious.  I warned him that Dad was either going to evict him or tow his car away, so he’d better watch his ass and cover his tracks for the next few weeks.

In other words, it was business as usual around the house since I moved out.

Bill called me a couple of days after our visit to tell me that Grandma was in the hospital.  Dad took her there last night after she complained of pains in her arm. Sounded like heart trouble.  I took a shower and got myself together and headed over to see her.  I ran into Dad in the parking lot and he was surprised to see me.

“How did you know Grandma was here?” he demanded, since he sure as hell didn’t tell me anything.  I joked that I was psychic, but he wouldn’t let it drop and kept pressing me for answers.  He really need to know. I wasn’t going to tell him that Bill told me, because that would only start even more shit between them, not least of all because Bill was using the phone again.  Finally he gave up, but not before muttering, “the conspiracies are flying again…” and continuing to mumble under his breath all the way into the hospital.

Turns out it was just a blood clot, and Grandma was home before long.  Dad was relieved that it was “nothing serious,” but I wasn’t in the mood to correct him.  Grandma was alert but she was babbling nonsense, and she kept telling me to “take a chance” and such. I had no idea what she was talking about, and there was no point pressing her for clarity any more because that only confused her further.  Just then it struck me that she’d been slowly going downhill in the speech department over the past couple of months.

Too bad we couldn’t shut Dad up.  Mom joked to him that “I liked you better when you didn’t talk.”  That happened when Dad ran into her at my latest dance performance.  He was in the audience with Grandma, and when he saw Mom he went over and knelt next to her chair and started in on her.  He started ranting about how “you made [wedding] vows” and getting louder until he was drawing looks from the people sitting around them.  Finally he gave up because Mom wasn’t giving him an inch, so he whipped Grandma around in her wheelchair and walked away so furiously she was bouncing all over the place.

39. Working Daze

While all of this was going on, I was earning money working for Dad in his home improvement business.  We did it all:  roofing, siding, windows, doors, kitchens, bathrooms, decks, remodels, extensions – you name it.  I enjoyed the work, but I did not enjoy the work crew.  Dad went out of his way to find the most useless miscreants possible. I guess he felt sorry for them and wanted to offer a helping hand, but that’s not a good idea when you’re getting paid to do quality work.

For starters he enlisted David and Rubin, a father-son duo of disaster.  David was 80 years old and spoke in a Mexican accent so thick I needed subtitles to understand him.  His son Rubin was about 40 and brain damaged from a botched abortion (he survived, his twin didn’t).  All day Rubin giggled and threw tools around, saying, “hee hee… I like to play…hee hee…”  Dude was definitely a few ships short of a star fleet.  The only thing him and his dad could do was wallpaper.  How ironic.  They couldn’t hammer a nail straight but they could wallpaper like experts.

Next up we had another father-son duo, Lenny and Phil.  Lenny was in his 60s and Phil was in his 40s.  The two of them were blind as all get-out and both sported Mr. Magoo eyeglasses.  Lenny went into a diabetic coma every day around 3:30, and he almost killed both of us on the Meadowbrook Parkway once.  I didn’t know about his condition and it was like being in the car with a drunk driver.  Jesus.  I finally figured out what was going on and told him to stop, and he did – right in the middle of the parkway in the middle of rush hour.  I muscled him into the passenger seat so I could get behind the wheel, all while drivers swore and swerved around us.  Lenny was semi-conscious at that point, so I found a Dairy Barn and bought an orange juice and made him drink it.  Ten minutes later his eyelids fluttered and opened and he asked me what happened.  He had no memory of anything that had transpired on the road, apart from a vague recollection of car horns.  Yeah, I snorted, there were a lot of car horns.

Meanwhile his son Phil was morbidly obese and had a habit of falling asleep on rooftops.  Dad sent him to replace some shingles at someone’s house while we worked at another one in the neighborhood.  Two hours later and Phil still hadn’t reappeared, so Dad and I got into the truck and went searching for him.  We were about four houses away when we saw him lying up there on the roof like a beached whale with his legs dangling over the side.

Lenny and Phil thought they were such hot shit, too.  They loved to tell us how they built an entire house in five days, but it took them a whole week to frame out the corner of the one we were working on.  Dad was always bitching at them because they were screwing something up on the job, whether it was installing a plug socket upside down or nailing something in crooked.  Lenny’s response each time was “Well, you can’t see it from Oceanside…” or some other town on the island.  And he got on my nerves because he always encroached on whatever task I was doing, to the point where he was practically under my feet at times.

To round out the crew we had John the Forceps Baby.  He had a funny face and ears and a big smooshed head like Beaker from the Muppets, and Dad said it was because he was a forceps delivery at birth.  Forceps Baby was another genius.  He told us he wrote two textbooks, but he couldn’t even pick up garbage.  We ripped off a roof and threw the shingles down onto the driveway, and his job was to pick everything up and put it in the dumpster.  But instead of picking it up and carrying it over, he tried to rake everything over to the dumpster with a garden rake and then pick it up and throw it in.  Dad had to tell him five times what to do.

And if that wasn’t enough, sometimes Dad would pick up this guy Pete from the halfway house if we needed an extra pair of hands.  Pete was a recovering alcoholic with sticky fingers, and during lunch he would go into everyone’s cars to steal money… except for mine, because I was smart and always kept it locked.  I was the exact opposite of Dad, who not only left his doors unlocked but frequently failed to close them at all. His tools and equipment frequently tumbled out the back onto the highway.

Dad’s truck was a complete disaster.  It looked like a bomb had gone off in there, and it took forever to sift through the wreckage to find anything.  I started playing pranks like hiding pine cones in his truck, and it usually took him several days to two weeks before he would find all of them.  It was like a microcosm of our house.  And I don’t know why Dad persisted in taking on roofing jobs, because every time it rained afterwards we’d have to turn off the phone because customers would be calling complaining that their roof was leaking.  Hell, our own roof leaked for over twenty years before he was finally able to fix it. Our den was constantly filled with pots and buckets to catch all the dripping water.

Not to mention that whenever Dad wasn’t bungling up a roof, he was either falling off it, into it, or through it.  I’d seen him take a few nasty tumbles while on various jobs with him.  One day he shot himself through the lip with the nail gun, but amazingly he didn’t fall off the roof.  He just finished what he was doing and pulled the tarps over the roof before driving himself to the hospital with the nail hanging out of his face.  But another time he was up on scaffolding when one of the supports broke loose, and he bounced off the house and fell backwards onto the driveway, cracking his head on the asphalt.  The homeowner drove us to the hospital, and I sat in the backseat watching Dad holding a T-shirt to his head to try and stop the blood pumping out.  Yet another head injury to add to the list.

Dad rarely let injuries get in the way of work.  I stepped on a nail one day, and after taking me to the hospital to get a tetanus shot, X-rays and bandages we simply went back to the house we were working at.  I was left to curl up on the utility carpet on the concrete floor in the back room while he picked up where we left off.  For the next several hours I was continually jarred awake by the sounds of sawing and banging.  By the end of the day I wasn’t sure which hurt more – my head or my foot.

I quickly learned to start taking my own car to work.  He didn’t have a passenger seat in his truck, so I’d have to sit on an upturned bucket and hold on for dear life.  I also learned to start bringing my own food for lunch, especially when I saw the stuff he’d bring.  “Raisin cinnamon nut crunch swirl?  Are you out of your fucking tree?” Lenny asked incredulously one day when he saw the bread that Dad brought for lunch?  His son Phil was no better; all he brought for lunch for himself was a half a pound of salami and a half a pound of provolone cheese.  He’d roll it all together and eat it like a hot dog – no bread or condiments or anything.  Yuck.

I’d have to bring my own water too.  Dad would half-assedly rinse out the old milk containers at home, fill them with water, and put them in the freezer.  So unless you wanted to spend the next day drinking half-frozen milky water, you were better off bringing your own.  Cleanliness was not one of Dad’s strong suits, especially when it came to washing dishes.  I was eating a sandwich in the kitchen at home one day while watching Dad do the dishes – a term I use lightly.  He loaded the dishes and pots into sink, filled the whole thing up with water, and put in a single drop of dish soap.  After letting the whole confection marinate for ten minutes he’d pluck the dishes out one by one, give them a quick pssshhht of water from the faucet, shake it off and put it in the dish rack to dry.

I finally spoke up from the table:  “Uh, Dad… are those really clean?” Ever sensitive to the least bit of criticism, he stomped over to me and practically mashed one of the pots into my face.

“Here, look at it.  Do you see anything on it?” he snarled at me.  No, I thought, because you just wiped everything off of it with the dish towel.  But I just shook my head and went back to my sandwich.  Dude really was serious about wasting water.  No wonder he went berserk whenever Bill did them (because he actually washed them properly).  Myself, I’d wait until Dad was gone before taking the dishes back out of the closet to wash them again.  There’d be a light coat of film on the plates and green stuff stuck in the forks.  You could still see mouth prints on the glasses.

But in the end, I was glad for the experience of working with Dad.  I learned a lot about home construction, which would benefit me greatly when I owned my own someday, not to mention the knowledge would help me when I changed careers to become a real estate agent.  Besides, it was high time I start working for someone else.  I suspected the day would soon come when things between me and Dad would be too rocky to continue working together.

 

 

 

38. Moving Day

September 1, 2006

I’d spent the past couple of months quietly searching for an apartment, and when I found one I started moving my possessions out as stealthily as I could.  I was waiting until the last possible minute to tell Dad that I was moving.  In fact, I was surprised that he hadn’t given me a hard time already.  “When you’re 18, you’re out the door.”  That was his philosophy, and it drove him up the wall that everybody “sponged” off of him even though they all paid their way.

And I had to be especially careful moving my stuff out because it turned out that Tina was spying on me as well as Bill.  I’d wake up in the mornings and hear her telling Dad what time I’d gotten in the night before, and even what food I was eating from the kitchen.  Seriously?  So when I was putting boxes into my car I’d go out the side door and cut through the hedges into the neighbor’s property to avoid detection.  Nonetheless, I’d re-enter the house to find Tina with her arms folded, tapping her foot and glaring at me and demanding to know what I was doing.

The nerve of this woman.  It was one thing to spy on me, but to constantly snap at me and speak to me as if I were an errant child of hers – who the fuck did she think she was?  It was a miracle I never gave her a good slap, or at the very least a tongue-lashing she’d never forget.  I vented to Mom about what a bitch Tina was, and ironically her theory was that she was a domestic abuse victim and that’s why she was so controlling.  Who knows.  All we knew was that it was curious that she had a Spanish last name when she was Russian.  Bill pissed her off something fierce one day when he asked, “So Tina… whatever happened to Mr. Lopez?”

Mom came over for a visit shortly afterwards and she shut Tina right up.  The first thing Mom said when she walked in the house was, “Wow, we’re not watching TV today!” since Tina always parked Grandma in front of the TV set.  Tina had also given Grandma a haircut – since her real job is supposedly a cosmetologist – but it looked as if she had done it in a blind rage.  Mom joked to Grandma that it looked like she cut it herself, and that wiped the smirk right off Tina’s face. She just sat there with a sour puss and didn’t say a word for the rest of the night.  It was bliss.

Dad came home to take Tina to the train station, and right before they left Mom told Dad that she was thinking of moving back in.  She was only joking, but Tina didn’t know that and Mom wanted her to sweat the whole weekend.  The look on her face was priceless.  After they left we had a nice quiet time with Grandma.  It didn’t take long for Dad to return, and it took even less time before he started going on about Bill.

“Well, why did you ask Bill to come here?” Mom inquired.

Previously Dad had lied saying he never asked Bill to move in, but this time he didn’t deny it.  Instead he said that he had no idea that things would be so bad.  He added that Uncle Chuck was evil, but Bill was just plain crazy.  “He needs to seek help,” Dad fumed, spittle flying from his lips.  I barely repressed a giggle.  Dad was three belts away from a straitjacket, but Bill was the one who was mental.  Right.

I told Bill the next day that I was moving out and he seemed a little sad about it.  He said I’d be missed, and I felt bad leaving him behind in the nut house – or as he called it, the Bates Motel.  Then I sat down for my final breakfast with Grandma. What an ordeal.  She refused to take her pills after she ate.   First I put them in front of her and told her she had to take them, but she ignored me.  Next I told her that she needed to take them to stay healthy, and even joked that I’d tell on her if she didn’t.  Still no effect.  Then I kept putting the pills in her hand but she kept putting them back on the table.  Finally I tried to put them in her mouth the way Tina does, but she jerked her head back and told me not to do that.  Fine.  I didn’t know what else to do so I just gave up.  Clearly I was not cut out for this sort of thing.  Fortunately Dad was able to get her to take them when he came home, but he had only a slightly easier time than I did.

Then when it was time for dinner, Grandma got upset when I shut Mother Angelica off. Oh boy. Now we were back to her thinking the people on TV could see us. And the cherry on top was when she had to go poops, but she refused to take off her underwear in the bathroom and went poops in her underwear instead.  Sigh. Of course my last night in the house couldn’t be an easy one.  Just couldn’t.

 

Finally, Grandma was in bed and I marched upstairs to say fare-thee-well to Dad.  I spent a couple of hours pacing the den and mentally rehearsing what I was going to say, but as I made my way to his room my mind went blank and I ended up winging it.

Me: I’ve got some good news for ya.
Dad: What’s that?
Me: I’m moving out.
Dad: Moving out?
Me: Yeah.
Dad: Where?
Me: Someplace.
Dad: Really? (pause) That’s good news?
Me: Yes…isn’t it?
Dad: No, why would it?
Me: Well, I won’t be running up your bills and freeloading and sponging off of you.
Dad: That’s good news?
Me: Yeah! I’m 21 – when you’re 18, you’re out the door. Isn’t that how it works?
Dad: No.

That was a lie.

Me: No? Well, that’s what we always were told.
Dad: No… 35…
Me: That too.
Dad: You have to ask Johnny. That’s the only one I asked. Just Johnny.
Me: Okay.
Dad: I asked him to contribute a little bit, that’s all. But he didn’t. Said he didn’t have to.  I thought it would be nice if he would contribute a little bit to this household… Are you really moving out?
Me: Yeah.
Dad: When’s that going to happen?
Me: Tomorrow.
Dad: Tomorrow? Really.
Me: Yeah. First of the month is coming up.
Dad: Well, it’s a free country, you can do what you want. [but I thought he said the house was like a dictatorship?]
Me: Yeah, well, I’m just lettin’ you know.
Dad: Well, all right. You’ll be missed.
Me: I hope so.
Dad: So where’s the new place?
Me: A few miles from here.
Dad: Is it an apartment?
Me: (nods)
Dad: You can afford it?

Obviously.  smh

Me: Yeah. I got it cheap.
Dad: I’d like to go down and check it out with you.
Me: Not until it’s ready.
Dad: Well it’s ready if you’re moving in tomorrow. Oh, it’s not ready ready?
Me: No. No sneak peeks until it’s done.
Dad: Yeah…
Me: I’ll let you know when you can see it.

This is the part I was really sweating over.  I wanted to get away with not telling him exactly what I was moving to, because I didn’t want him bringing his nonsense over to my new place.  I was as vague as I could without getting into a scene with him.  A delicate line to walk.

Dad: Yeah…well, it’s uh… that’s a move.
Me: It’s definitely time.
Dad: You’re 21…
Me: Well, it’s been three years since I came out of school, so…
Dad: Well, I mean it’s, uh…I don’t bother people if they’re in school or just getting started. But once you reach 30, uh, I think it’s time you… help out. That was the deal. Whether people misconstrued that or not – I don’t know. But that’s their problem, not mine. (pause). That’s nice, you should be independent. You find this through the real estate?
Me: No, on my own.

That was pretty much how that went. Short and anticlimactic.  Phew.  And it felt even better when I finally moved into my new place.  No more questions about where I was going or what time I’d be back.  No more being asked to sit with Grandma.  No more ka-KLUNK ka-KLUNK of her walker jarring me awake every morning. No more blasting TV. No more excruciating dinners to sit through. No more being spied on.  No more fights.  No more bullshit.

And now that I had my own little bachelor pad, I couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to get a girl to bring back to it.  I’d been single for three years and I was anxious to get back in the game after having been out of it for so long.  But I had been so preoccupied with work and elder care and all the nonsense at home that I rarely got out or saw anyone my own age.  That was about to change.

37. My Day In Court

August 18, 2006

Just because we successfully busted Grandma out of the nursing home didn’t mean that the fight with my uncles was over.  Uncle Chuck was taking us all to family court to wrest back control and return Grandma to Shady Pines.  His lawyers started coming to the house to interview us and Grandma and serve with her papers.  Yes, Grandma got served.  What kind of shit is this?  One of them – Mr. Randall – even told us to go in the house so he could talk to Grandma alone on the porch.  Cousin Bill was eavesdropping, and when he heard the guy telling Grandma that she had to go back to court he went outside and pulled up a chair and said he was just going to listen to the rest of the conversation.

Tina made a big stink about that when Dad came home:  “Your cousin couldn’t resist putting his two cents in when the lawyer came over, and he made the guy so mad he got up and left.”  Oh, boo-hoo.  And before he left Mr. Randall told us that going to court wasn’t so bad because it was like an “outing” for Grandma.  Yeah, right.  We’d already taken Grandma to court twice and sat in the hallway with her all damn day while the lawyers bashed things out, but to no avail.  Dad told me that his lawyer asked how old I was, because maybe I could take over Grandma’s finances since the judge felt that none of the brothers could do it.

Fuck that shit. I wanted nothing to do with it.  I’d already stuck my nose in too far when I made up that health care proxy form.  And now it was coming back to bite me in the ass.   Turns out that when uncle Chuck had my grandparents sign the DNR and the original health care proxy, the witnesses actually signed it after the fact and not at the time like he claimed.  So the judge threw it out once it was revealed that uncle Chuck perjured himself.  That meant that the only health care proxy left standing was the one that I had made up.  This thing that I banged out in five minutes on Microsoft Word and filled with a bunch of official-sounding jargon was now being treated by the county as a valid, legal document.  And now I had to testify in court because Dad’s lawyer said I was the key to the whole thing.

“What is this, Alice in Wonderland?” I asked.

Alas, this was real.  Things got off to a bad start when I got there late, and I further compounded things when I went into the wrong building and wasted another half-hour going through security and wandering around upstairs before realizing my mistake.  Ugh.  Now I had to go into the other building and go through security all over again.  In the first building I had to take off my shoes because they set off the alarm somehow.  This time I left my shoes on and the alarm went off again, so I ducked back through to take them off.  The cop there was getting annoyed with me and told me to slow down.  Gee, if I wasn’t an hour late I wouldn’t be rushing.  Then I didn’t put my keys and belts and phone into the right bin so he practically threw them back at me.  And when I put my shoes into the machine they took forever to come out.  I think he deliberately kept me waiting.

And some cops wonder why people don’t like them…

By the time I got through all that shit I ended up just sitting in the courtroom for hours next to Dad.   Bill came in after I did, but Dad didn’t even acknowledge him.  He just looked straight ahead with a sour puss on his face.  The lawyers had gone into huddle somewhere and they hadn’t reappeared.  We sat there until they finally adjourned without resolving a single thing.  Another day gone to waste.

We tried again the next day.  I got to the court at 9:30 like I was supposed and I ran into my favorite police officer again.  This time I was ready with my belt and keys in my hand and my shoes off.  I put everything where they belonged and walked through without setting off any alarms.  Yay.  However the cop turned his back on me when I walked through and started having a conversation with some guy walking past the desk.  I stood there waiting but he was ignoring me.  I dithered about, wondering whether I should just take my shit and go, but he finally turned around and told me I had to go through again because he wasn’t paying attention.  Oh, this is a game…

After all that I found I was actually the first one to arrive.  Dad’s lawyer showed up a few minutes after I did, followed by Dad.  Bill was nowhere to be seen and Dad was pretty agitated.  He called Tina at 10:15 to find out where the hell he was and she said that he had left a few minutes before.  Noon rolled around and Dad’s blood pressure was rising.  He was walking in circles flinging his hands in the air and ranting how he couldn’t believe that his cousin was going to screw everything up when it was the last day of this nonsense with the court.

“You actually want Bill here?” I started. Dad answered in the affirmative.  I felt like saying, “It’s pretty ironic that you never want him around and you treat him like shit when he is, and now all of sudden you need him here.”  But I was robbed of my reply when Dad told me his lawyer said Bill needed to be there.  Bill finally arrived in rumpled clothing and carrying a manila folder with a bunch of random papers jammed inside so he looked “important.”  Yeah, kinda hard to do that when you look like you just climbed out of a hamper.

I made up some excuse about having to  do something work-related so I could leave at noon, but in reality I was just going home for lunch.  I needed a break.  I was starting to lose my sanity sitting there for all that time.  While I was eating I called Dad to check on things, and he told me to take my time since they were giving their testimonies and it wasn’t going to be my turn for a while.  Fine by me.  I didn’t return until 2.  It was just me and Bill and Uncle Tim out in the hallway since the hearing was closed to everybody but the principals.  Uncle Chuck was the one who orchestrated the whole thing but his lawyers were representing him since he was in North Carolina.  I wasn’t comfortable talking around Uncle Tim so Bill and I moved down to the end of the hallway.  They called him fifteen minutes later and I was left by myself.

After Bill finished giving his testimony everybody filed out of the courtroom after him. Dad said that was it for today because the judge had somewhere to be, so we all had to come back the next day.  Unbelievable.  Another day down the shitter.  I was radiating fury, and when Dad saw the look on my face he said, “Well, just remember it’s for  your grandmother.”  Yeah, well… if it wasn’t for her and you and your brothers I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this crap.

I finally took the stand at 10:15 the next day.  Just like in the movies, I had to hold up my right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  So help me God.  I spent an hour and a half getting the anal probe from all three of my uncle’s lawyers.  The first guy was Mr. Belmont and he was like a nervous Jimmy Stewart.  I was only 21 but I ate that guy for lunch. He kept trying to trip me up but I saw right through his shtick.  For example he asked me when we signed the proxy, and I gave him the date.

“No, I meant what time of day was it?” he clarified.

I knew full well what he meant.  “Oh.  It was at nighttime,” I replied.

He asked me a few more questions to sidetrack me, and then suddenly he went, “And you said you signed it in the morning?”  He was trying to catch me in a lie.

“No, I said before that it was nighttime,” I responded coolly.

He asked me more questions about where we were sitting, who was sitting where, did Grandma have her glasses on, and what was she wearing?

“What was she wearing?”  I repeated.  Mr. Belmont nodded.  “Uh… I imagine she had on clothing of some sort.  Is that even relevant?” I looked past him and saw Dad and his lawyer smirking at each other.  Mr. Belmont shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and wrung his hands together.  He ignored my question and asked me another one.

“And you said it was raining that day?”

“Um, I said nothing of the sort.  Haven’t you been paying attention?”  I glanced at the judge as I said this, wondering whether I was about to get an admonishment from the bench for my cheek.  Nothing.  She sat there taking in the proceedings with an impassive face.  Thank god we had a woman for a judge; I felt she’d be more sympathetic and understanding.

Mr. Belmont continued this line of questioning for a half-hour, asking me the same things over and over again.  He couldn’t shake me from my answers, and the best part was when he asked me if Grandma was aware that Grandpa was deceased when she signed the proxy.  Mr. Belmont was forced to withdraw the question after I reminded him that Grandpa was still very much alive at the time.  Then it was Mr. Jagger’s turn and I went through the same song and dance with him.

We were interrupted by the judge so uncle Tim could take the stand.  Apparently he had somewhere to be at noon.  Yeah, like the rest of us didn’t have shit we needed to do as well.  Screw you.  But he was out of there in 20 minutes and then I was back in the spotlight.  Now it was Mr. Randall’s turn to grill me, the guy Bill “chased” off the porch.

I wasn’t expecting much but he was definitely tougher than I thought he’d be. He wanted to know if I used any references in preparing the form, and more specifically why had I included lines about resuscitation and respiration.

“Can we show him Exhibit B?” Mr. Randall asked Mr. Belmont.  The latter stood up and brought over the original living will and health care proxy from my uncle Chuck.  I was questioned on those as well, but I had never seen them before and I said I was only aware of their existence and not their contents.  I was still looking at the forms during this so Mr. Belmont interrupted and said, “The defendant has papers in front of him and I’d like to ask that they be removed.”

“Oh, you mean Exhibit B which you just gave me?” I asked mockingly as I handed them back.  Did he think I was somehow using my uncle’s forms as a cheat sheet?  What a toolbox.  Then Mr. Belmont questioned me again.

“Mr. Mersey, could you tell us about your education?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said happily, and started from kindergarten.  For the next few minutes I detailed my time in elementary, middle and high school for him.  He was getting really hot under the collar now.  I chanced another glance at the judge but she still said nothing.  I had no idea how she was letting me getting away with it, unless she too thought the whole affair was horseshit.  When I arrived at college Mr. Belmont inquired about my major and what I studied and what classes I took.  I realized he was questioning the veracity of my claims that I made up this form by myself.  But I didn’t give him an inch to work with.

I thought the questions would never end and it was with great relief that I finally stepped down.  Dad had a very satisfied look on his face and his lawyer told me that was I great.  Great.  Now could we please wrap this shit up and get the hell out?

***

The battle was won and Grandma was staying with us, but the fighting was far from over, especially on the home front.  After we had dinner Dad went out and Bill went up on the roof.  He claimed he was going to look through the windows of Dad’s office on the second floor – for some reason – but I decided to have some fun and started spraying him with the hose.  He ducked around the corner of the house laughing his ass off every time I turned it on him.  We caught hell from Tina, though.  She came outside demanding to know what Bill was doing on the roof because he was making a racket and scaring Grandma.  Oops.

After Bill changed his shirt we went water ballooning in my car.  And we didn’t use water balloons.  No no no no no… I filled actual 14-inch balloons with water until they were nearly the size of footballs.  Then we lobbed those out the window as we drove past people, but they were so heavy that they rarely hit their targets.  Plus Bill was such a lousy shot that most of the balloons would hit the door frame on the way out and explode inside the car. By the end of the night  we were wetter than anybody else.  Good times, though.

But as always, all good things must come to an end.  The next morning Tina was having a fit because none of the burners on the stove were working.  I had a hunch and looked underneath and saw that the gas had been shut off, so I turned it back on.  Problem solved.  I asked Dad about it when he came home from work, and he told me that he turned the stove off because Bill was making too much coffee.  Seriously?  And he was very disappointed when he asked if Bill saw me turning the gas back on and I said yes.

Then the dryer stopped working.  Stupid me, I thought it had simply crapped out, but once again the culprit was Dad.  “Nothing is wrong with it,” Dad answered when I asked him about it.  “The dryer doesn’t need to be on because it’s summertime and Mr. Sun is outside,” he continued in a little sing-song voice.  Groan.  And then he went into yet another rant about how “my friend, your second cousin – Bill – still won’t listen.  And he’s still washing out the milk cartons and wasting water when I’ve told him repeatedly not to.  So everybody has to suffer because Bill won’t listen.”

The next morning I was jarred awake by Bill and Tina having a tiff in the kitchen.  Tina was bitching at Bill for making too much noise on the stairs, thundering up and down with his laundry in the “middle of the night.”

“8:30 is not exactly the middle of the night,” he barked at her.  And Bill had more laundry than usual because Dad had turned his room upside down and all his clean and dirty stuff was thrown together.  “So talk to your boss – that’s what happens when someone trashes your room.”  But poor Tina. She really needs her beauty rest.  Parking Grandma in front of the TV all day while she went into the other room to yap on the phone in Russian for hours must be really exhausting.

Maybe it was time to move out.

 

36. Bitch on Wheels

June 8, 2006

“That woman is a bitch on wheels,” Bill said to me about Tina.  When she wasn’t yapping on her cell phone in Russian all day, she was very abrupt with Grandma.  And she was constantly mouthing off and bossing us around like she owned the place.  Very controlling.

One night after dinner I started rinsing my glass out in the sink and she got on my case about wasting water.  I just looked at her.  What, I’m not allowed to rinse out a goddamn glass?  I felt like flinging the contents in her face.  “What’s it to you?” I spat at her.  “You don’t pay the water bill here, it’s not your house.”  Then I pushed past her to get my plate from the table.  I made like I was going to rinse it off too but I just put it down on the counter instead.

“Good!” she cooed at me, like I was a little boy who just learned to tie his shoelaces.  Up yours. But after that I noticed that whenever she did the dishes, she’d leave anything I’d used behind – untouched and unwashed.  Apparently she was sending me a message of some kind.  Good grief, it was like having another Dad in the house.  And I wasn’t allowed to gag at bad smells either.  I found her giving Grandma a perm in the kitchen and I was like, “wow, that stuff stinks…”  Just a casual observation, but Tina started yelling at me to get out of the house.  Like really yelling.  Holy shit, what is your problem?

Bill was her favorite target.  One day he was watering his plants in the window and singing to himself and Tina told him to stop.  I felt a familiar hot swoop of anger.  “Okay, Bill,” I spoke up.  “So there’s no singing, no yawning, no using water… what else are we not allowed to do?” I asked Tina as she hovered nearby.  She just shook her head at us and told us that we were stupid and that we were never going to learn.

That did it.  Bill fucking went off on her, and I was mad that he beat me to it:  “First of all, let’s get something straight here.  You are a guest in this house.  Who do you think you are to tell us what to do?  You are getting paid to look after my aunt, not to be a bitch.”  It didn’t help that Dad was using her to spy on Bill as well.  They even made a big joke of it; when Dad came home he’d ask Tina for his daily KGB report and they’d share a laugh.

I was worried that Dad was going to try to poison Bill again after I overheard Tina saying she saw him drinking out of the juice container again.  “With his back turned, like he thought I couldn’t see.  I guess he thinks I’m stupid,” she said to Dad.

“Yeah, he thinks everybody is stupid,” Dad replied.

I hastened to Bill to let him know what I heard, and he was shocked that Tina was a rat.  But Bill was driving Dad crazier and crazier.  He told me it was time for Bill to leave because he was on-and-off with the water upstairs washing each individual tile in the bathroom.  “He’s wasting all that water instead of using the squeegee to clean the walls!” Dad ranted, making little faucet noises and gestures for emphasis.  So he turned off the water to the upstairs and unscrewed the shut-off valves so that Bill couldn’t turn them back on.

The toilet still worked, but Bill couldn’t use that either.  Every morning before work Dad marched upstairs and left a big steaming dump in the bowl without flushing.  When I asked Bill why he didn’t just go right on top of it he said, “No, Tommy, because knowing your Dad he has it measured to the ounce and he’ll know if I added to it.”  So he just piddled in the sink instead.  And if he had to take a shit he would duck walk across the street and pinch a loaf in the forest.

No wonder our neighbors moved.

That wasn’t all Bill would dump in the woods.  For years Dad put our leaves over there, but Bill was adding to his mulch pile, depositing napkins and orange peels and other foodstuffs on top of it.  Dad filled Bill’s trunk up with garbage once to teach him a lesson, and he warned Bill that he would do it again if he didn’t stop chucking things across the street.

Then Bill found a sopping wet washcloth balled up on his pillow.  He took it and stood in Dad’s doorway, ready to wing it at his head while he slept, but instead he wrung it out and left a nice little puddle on the rug. During their next fight Dad told him it was because he was tired of Bill hanging damp towels in his closet.  Bill shot back that he didn’t want other people using them, especially after finding shit stains on the last one he left in the bathroom.  Apparently Dad wiped his ass with Bill’s bath towel.  Bill also found wet toilet paper inside his box of tea bags in the kitchen.  Dad told him it was because “someone keeps putting them in the toilet, which clogs up the cesspool.  Bill wrote a  note in return on the lid of the box saying, “Petty shit like this is what pushes your family away…”

“Oh, now you’re bringing my family into this!”  Dad yelled.  He was already jealous of the relationship I had with Bill, and now his paranoia was deepening.  He was convinced that we were having secret meetings with Bill and filling his head with stories about him.  Meanwhile, whenever Bill wasn’t around Dad was busy telling Tina how crazy he was.  Then he flipped out at Bill because he was “insinuating that I’m having sex with the aide.”

“No, I didn’t say you were having sex with Tina.  I said you probably want to,” Bill corrected him.  “But she wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole.”  Unsurprisingly, Bill’s mattress and box spring disappeared shortly afterwards.  Dad claimed he was trying to force Bill out of his room and onto the pull-out couch in the den.  When Bill wouldn’t move, Dad accused him of the sin of pride since it was good enough for Sam (who moved out a couple months prior).  So Dad took his bedroom door off the hinges and locked it away in another room.  The next time they had a spat Bill told him, “John, anytime you want to chat, just come upstairs – my door is always open.”

Meanwhile Tina found out that Dad was sleeping in her bed while she was away on the weekends.  She freaked out, but that was nothing compared to her reaction when Bill’s friend Ted (cue the obvious jokes) arrived at the house one Sunday morning to take Bill to Mass.  When I answered the door I saw a tall thin guy with bloodshot eyes dressed like Luke Skywalker, and a car parked on the front lawn.  Dude was completely lit, and the longer he waited for Bill the more pissed off he got.

“Sometime today!” he called up the stairs.  Bill finally appeared on the landing and Luke Skywalker took one look at his rumpled clothes and said, “you’re going to Mass dressed like that? What were doing after I got off the phone with you?” So Bill went back into his room to change again and Luke Skywalker staggered into the kitchen where Tina was making lunch for Grandma.  Oh no.  He started hitting on her, but when she spurned his advances he turned nasty:  “You know, you’re going to kill that old lady with all that cholesterol you’re pumping into her veins, you Rooskie commie bitch.”

Tina picked up a table leg from the woodpile and started chasing him around the house with it like in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.  She screamed up the stairs for Bill to come down and leave with his friend never let him back in the house ever again.  When Dad came home she wasted no time telling him the story, and Dad said that was typical of Bill to show no consideration for others.

Meanwhile, the table leg that Tina was swinging around came from the one that used to be in the dining room.  And that table was my mother’s.  It belonged to her parents and there were a lot of memories attached to it.  It meant a lot to her, but she wasn’t able to take it with her when she left.  It was too big to move and she had nowhere to put it.  Dad never even asked her, he just took it upon himself to chop it up and burn it.  Mom came over to visit Grandma one day and saw pieces of it in the fireplace.

Then Dad got into a big snit on Mother’s Day when I came home late.  Nobody was home to watch Grandma, so Dad had to call Tina a cab to bring her to our house from the train station.  Um, so what was the problem?  Bill and I found out that Dad was paying this bitch $800 a week – she couldn’t afford a taxi?  GTFO.  But for some reason Dad drove her to and from the train station each weekend.

 

Mom thought the whole thing was ridiculous when I told her about it.  “This is her job,” she said.  “Her transportation to her job is not her employer’s responsibility.  She can call a cab.”  And Mom was apoplectic when she found out much Dad was paying Tina.  “I worked in home care for years and I was lucky to make half that!” she spluttered.  “And I was an actual home companion, unlike Tina who’s really an out-of-work hairdresser masquerading as one!”

But I told Dad that all he had to do was to call my cell phone and find out where I was and what I was doing.  Maybe I could have gotten home sooner.  Maybe I could have picked Tina up from the train station on the way home.  I knew I got him with that, because then he kept trying to come up with excuses to be pissed off. “Well, I didn’t know where you were or how long you were going to be.” Like I said, you could have called me and found out.  Then he went into the usual sob story that he didn’t know where my mother was because “I’m not privy to that information… the hate sometimes is so much that it’s unbearable.”

Oh, give me a fucking violin. It was then that I started wondering whether he was psychotic.  He was wallowing in self-pity about his family not talking to him, while his cousin was sleeping on the floor upstairs with no running water.  The irony was astounding.  He was paying this stranger 800 bucks a week and give her complete run of the house, but he was ready to pull Bill’s head off over a $34 water bill.

 

Of course, Dad had taken yet another fall recently, this time off of some scaffolding.  His head had been stitched and stapled shut several times over the years, and I came home one night and found him sporting yet another turban of bandages.  His face was a little swollen and he was more humped over than ever. It made me so sad to see him that way that I nearly teared up when I left the room.  All enmity was momentarily forgotten.  I went to fill his prescription, worrying about him the entire time.  He was taking more spills and I didn’t want to see him crippled or dead from one of his accidents.

But that scare was nothing compared to the one I received later on when I passed through the dining room and saw someone standing there with outstretched arms.  “Jesus Christ!” I cried, hitting the light switch. Turns it out it actually was Jesus Christ.  There was a life-sized plaster statue against the wall.  Phew.   And some of the metal framing for the fingers were exposed so he looked like Freddy Krueger.  Well, I was about to need all the help from Krueger Christ that I could get.

I was due to appear in court.

 

35. Jailbreak

February 12, 2006

“The funeral is on Saturday.”  That’s how Dad told me that Grandpa died.  I met him coming down the hallway and he said that as dryly as if he were giving me the weather forecast.

I felt a twinge of guilt since I hadn’t seen my grandparents in at least two or three weeks.  I probably should have gone to the nursing home more often, but my visits were stilted and awkward.  I didn’t have anything to say, Grandma didn’t have anything to say, and Grandpa wouldn’t even look at me.  I couldn’t tell if he still thought I was cousin Bill or if he was just in his own little world of dementia.  Cousin Bill didn’t have any problem visiting with them, though.  He could hold a conversation with a brick wall for three hours without a break.

Dad was pissed because he thought I hadn’t been to see them at all.  Whenever I did go I signed the visitor’s book as Nicodemus, Darth Vader or Lord Wilmore.  It amused me and the staff at the front desk rarely paid attention.  But Dad always checked and he kept a record of who else in the family had visited.  He ranted about how his “shit for brains” brother lived in the next county and couldn’t be bothered to see his parents.  My brothers and sisters almost never saw my grandparents either.  I guess they hadn’t just cut Dad out of their lives, but his whole side of the family as well.  “I’ll bet they think they can hurt me by hurting my mother, or whatever goes on in their sick minds,” he’d fume.  “But of course they’ll all be there at the funeral.”

They were.  I was expecting a coffin-side blow-up, but nothing happened. It was just another awkward affair with everybody giving each other plenty of space.  My uncles Tim and Chuck gave moving eulogies, and then Dad stood up and rambled a bunch of nonsense before sitting down again.  I couldn’t even begin to describe it.  And poor Grandma.  She was obviously upset.  We were allowed to take her out of the nursing home for the funeral, and now that she was alone in there Dad and I launched a rescue operation.

Funerals weren’t the only thing they allowed Grandma out for.  We could take her for walks around the building and sit outside with her.  Dad started doing test walks with Grandma to see how their security was.  This time he actually made the necessary preparations at home and started interviewing nurse’s aides.  When everything was in place, we went over to the nursing home the day before Thanksgiving.  Dad went inside and told them he was taking Grandma for another walk, and then he went into her room and packed all her things into a bag.  Meanwhile I was in his car outside the front doors with the engine running.

Dad was taking longer than expected inside and I was getting nervous that something had gone wrong.  Finally the doors slid open and Dad wheeled Grandma through at top speed.  I was out of the car in a flash and helping her into the passenger seat while Dad flung her bags into the backseat and dove in after them.  Then I peeled out of the driveway, steering with one hand and buckling Grandma in with the other.  Dad called the nursing home when we got home to tell them Grandma wasn’t coming back, and then he put Grandma on the phone and she told them she didn’t wish to return.  Dad took the phone back and had a heated conversation with the woman on the other end.  He finally yelled, “Ma’am, you can go ahead and call the police if you want, but she’s staying here!” and bashed the phone down.

While I kept an eye out for arriving police cars, Dad rang Uncle Chuck and informed him of current events.  Another heated conversation followed by another bashing down of the receiver.  The police never showed, only Sam.  Sam was our latest boarder and this guy was a real Emmy-award winner.  Dad knew him from the pro-life movement.  He’d fathered eight kids, and there was a big fight at his house when one of them farted and didn’t apologize.  Sam slapped him and then two of his other kids jumped on him and started beating him up.

Um, what?  There had to be more to the story than that.  But in any case he needed a place to stay until he could find an apartment.  So he’d moved with us and slept in the little room under the stairs like Harry Potter.  This guy took five minutes to walk from the kitchen table to the fridge, yet he told us he led a bayonet charge in Vietnam.  Oh really?  Did they give you a week’s head start? I felt like asking. Sam also drove a school bus.  I don’t know how the kids ever got to school with him, because he drove so slowly that even old Asian women were cutting him off.  Then on weekends he drove a meat truck and always came home with boxes of pork chops that he stuffed in our freezer.

He was annoying as hell.  Polish jokes every five minutes, and after each one he’d laugh and rub his belly.  He made fun of Bill by telling him he looked like Doc Brown from Back to the Future.  And while Bill and I had to sit in the furthest corner of the house muffling our laughter with pillows, suddenly it was okay for Dad and Sam to watch The Sound of Music or Vietnam War movies at full volume while Grandma was sleeping.

Sunday night after Thanksgiving the nurse’s aide that Dad hired showed up, but she pulled a bait and switch on us.  She claimed the family she was working for offered her more money to stay, so she brought along her friend Tina who displayed a handwritten letter of reference.   Supposedly she was a nurse’s aide too, but we learned that she was just an out of work hairdresser.  Yet Dad accepted this turn of events without question, and Tina became our live-in aide Monday through Friday.  She took the Harry Potter room and Sam moved into the den.  Dad hung bedsheets from the ceiling to give him some privacy, and while we ate dinner it looked like Alfred Hitchcock was doing a striptease in the next room.

Tina went back to Brooklyn on the weekends, and then she took off the whole month of January to visit her family in the old Soviet republic of Georgia.  Dad hired a variety of aides in the interim, some of whom had more teeth than brains and none of whom Dad was around to meet when they arrived in the mornings.  That task fell to me instead.  You’d think you’d want to be there to meet a complete stranger coming into  your house to look after your mother, but whatever.  One of them didn’t even know Grandma’s name or what she was supposed to do, so I had to give her instructions before I left.  Jesus.

Meanwhile it was amazing that the house hadn’t burned down with the combined efforts of Dad and Sam.  I lost count of the number of times they put things into the oven and forgot about them.  I’d walk into the kitchen and find something on fire on the stove top, and the two of them would be in the next room oblivious to the smoke and smell. Must be a guy thing.

The kitchen became the latest battleground.  Dad kept flipping out because somebody kept filling the kettle all the way to the top every day.  I couldn’t get over how mad it made him.  He’d pick up the kettle, find it full of water, rip off the lid, fling the contents violently into the sink and slam the empty pot down on the counter.  Then he’d storm out of the kitchen muttering darkly to himself.  Jesus.  I prayed he’d never find an odd number of slices in the bread box, because he’d probably lift it up and hurl it through the window.

Eventually I learned it was mostly Bill’s fault.  Apparently Bill was using too much water.  Bill was my one bright light in that crazy house, but Dad’s behavior towards him was endangering the only good thing about the place.  The shortsightedness and hypocrisy was astounding.  He got on Bill’s case about his water usage, and I couldn’t resist pointing out to Dad that he’d leave lights on five rooms yet he wasn’t in a single one of them.  He angrily waved his hands at me to shut me up and chewed me out afterwards for ruining the point he was making to Bill.  I just shrugged and walked away.

True to form, Dad found a way to pay me back.  I always did the dishes after dinner, but instead of scraping all the crap off into the garbage he started piling all the plates on top of each other and mushing everything in between. Then he’d stroll merrily out of the kitchen, whistling a tune.  Every time I had to resist the urge to wing his sopping wet napkins and chicken bones at the back of his head.  Ironically his spitefulness resulted in me using more water than usual to clean up the mess he made for me each night.  And heaven forbid Bill joined us for dinner.   Every time he did Dad started up with his muttering:  “amazing… just plops himself down at the table… what a freeloader…”

Bill never heard anything Dad was chuntering under his breath, so he thought Dad was losing his marbles and talking to himself all the time.  “You know, Tommy, I was suffering from severe depression before I moved in with you guys,” Bill told me one day.  “Then I met your dad and realized that he’s more fucked up than I am.  So now I’m feeling a whole lot better about myself!”

I was seriously considering moving out by then.  I wasn’t dealing with any nonsense from Dad like my brothers and sisters did, but I knew it was only a matter time.  The hourglass was running out and I wanted to get out before anything happened.

However, Tina was back in town.  And now it was war.