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.