I live in a large 80’s glam house. Since I often work from home, a good part of my life is centered around the house. So much so, I wonder if the house has become my life. Sad. I know. My constant connection to the house reminds me of a scene in The Shining where the ghostly bartender tells Jack, “You’ve always been the caretaker.”
The most distinctive feature is what I call the “Kill Bill” kitchen. A massive room with a very large black and red island and Japanese accents. It’s an odd room, punctuated with with Día de Muertos art and a collection of my wife’s voodoo dolls.
I feel highly confident we’re the only people in prestigious, uptight Germantown that have such a collection. Most families have either the usual Target decorating accessories or Bible verses and various depictions of Christ hanging on their walls. We have skeletons, voodoo priestesses and the devil.
I like to think we’re somewhere between eccentric and crazy, but a good crazy.
Often, I roam around the place like a ghost, bored out of my mind, going through little daily routines I’ve developed to bring some order to a life I often feel is careening out of control.
Most days begin with the cat, Mr. Kittles, screaming, usually between four and five in the morning. I sometimes have violent thoughts about the cat, but I love him a lot and see our relationship as my last chance at fatherhood. A chance to redeem myself since my wife insists I didn’t do my share of early morning diaper changes and colic calls with our three children.
He doesn’t always scream. Some mornings he gives a faint, quick “meow,” but always quickly followed by another one that’s slightly longer and louder.
My wife claims he’s saying, “dad.”
After you walk out of the master bedroom and past the hall bathroom, there are two quick, angled steps that take you downward into the den. They’re tricky early in the morning when you’re still asleep or half drunk. Initially, I thought they’d a good way to prevent my elderly parents or mother-in-law from moving in, but my conscience proved to be more formidable than the steps.
My 86 year old widowed father now lives upstairs and is quite the chore. We were never particularly close, and he can be a real ass, but he’s still my father. He basically just sits in front of his giant television watching FOX News and regularly demanding that I bring him more cookies and “bananers.”
In some ways, he’s in horrible shape, yet his doctor says he’s stable. I prepare his meds daily, including his insulin injections. Dutifully, I clean his disgusting toilet, help with the catheter and bleach his 1950’s style underwear, while being forced to listen to his Soviet styled national propaganda channel.
I’m terrified he could live to 100.
After feeding Mr. Kittles, I make my way back to the bed and try to go back to sleep, although I know that Mr. Kittles will soon return and start screaming again. This time, he’ll want to go outside and start the early morning hunt.
The hunting used to bother me, but I’ve noticed he’s not very good at hunting birds. The blue jays squawk and sound off the cat alarm whenever he prowls in their domain. Plus, I put a little bell on his skull and crossbones collar so the birds get a warning. He is quite good at hunting moles, though. I recently watched him stalk one, capture it and then basically torture it for thirty minutes. He’s got his own little genocide going in our immaculately maintained lawn.
We didn’t have much of a lawn at the last house. I let the clover and wildflowers grow with wild abandon. I know the neighbors hated it, but I hated the chemicals and the whole “lawn culture” that seemed to dominate our community. But now, I’ve fully given myself over to it. I have a fancy in ground sprinkler system, and a contract with a company that comes and sprays a healthy dose of endocrine disruptors once a quarter.
Cancer seems a distinct possibility, but at least our nosey neighbors like us. We get a lot of compliments on the lawn and are in full compliance with the fascist neighborhood association.
Sometimes when returning from work, I sit in the car pretending to be on the phone if they’re out and about. I know the chief neighborhood gossip is just waiting to pounce as soon as I step out.
When I finally get up for good, I begin one of a half dozen or so routines I’ve developed. Some of the activities are normal, but others are slightly psychotic, completely ridiculous routines I’ve apparently developed out of sheer boredom.
I start the coffee, get the newspaper and feed the dog. The dog and I talk for a couple of minutes about his night and about his plans for the day. I always get the same response.
Then I walk back into the den and dining room and start opening the plantation shutters that line the walls. There are twenty-eight of them, and I walk left to right opening each one as if I were reviewing a line of soldiers. I always go left to right and make sure each and every one is opened at precisely the same angle.
At several points during the day, I peer out the windows at the neighbors. I wonder if they can see me spying on them, wandering around my house like a deranged Mr. Rochester, so I’m careful to conceal myself as best I can.
The Bynum’s are on the north side and have one of those Southern Living backyards with a saltwater kidney shaped pool. It’s landscaped with a lot of over-fertilized, gargantuan flowers.
From my dining room window, I have an expansive view of it, and there have recently been some interesting visitors, including a large breasted tattooed woman that chain-smokes. In the South, the prim and proper might call her “white trash,” but I find her interesting and quite attractive.
I start to imagine what it would be like to make love to her, but snap out of it when I hear my wife come through the garage door dangling grocery bags. She walks into the kitchen, sees me standing by the window and gives me a suspicious look.
“What are you doing?
“Well, there’s more shit in the car if you’re not doing anything.”
I walk toward the garage liked a chastised dog, carrying my guilt, wondering if I’ve lost my mind. Where do these thoughts come from? I tell myself there is a way to be happy in this situation without a prescription and that avoiding my neighbors while lusting after their friends, my weird rituals of habit and being fearful my dad could live a lot longer is all normal.