Drama In The Living Room

Apologies to anyone who has come here today expecting talk about waiting tables. This is going to be about personal life.

Also, apologies for retreading some information here, but I kind of want this to be the definitive Phineas and Adele saga for these pages.

The bulk of my last post (ouch! Nearly two weeks ago!) concerned the living arrangement that’s been going on here the last month and a half. We have both sets of parents (in-laws) living with us.

My parents have had a financial stake in the house since Day One, and they’ve also paid rent on their room to keep it reserved for when they visit/live here. Because of this, their presence is non-negotiable. Even so, they’ve been accommodating when others visit, offering their room if not using it themselves. They’ve also endeavored to be somewhere else on occasions when we’ve had house guests.

The Wife’s parents have zero financial stake here or with us in any other capacity. In fact, when the wife asked them for a $10,000 loan less than two years ago (she was opening a restaurant), they declined unless they could get a second mortgage on our house as security. They came here on vacation, and in advance decided they would stay for four months until winter was over (they live in Michigan).

This would not have been all right under any circumstances, but was especially egregious considering my parents were already here. But they forced/weaseled the issue, despite some diplomatic talk from the Wife.

Aside from petty resentment about their lack of contribution of any kind in the present and in the past, financial and otherwise – because as you will see, money is not the issue – all of us (me and the Wife, my parents) were most bent about their complete lack of sensitivity and consideration. Obviously, their objective was some desire to ‘winter in California,’ and that selfish desire was the only factor that entered their minds. Did I mention earlier that they also brought their dog?

When they first arrived, the best was made of it. My parents arranged to leave early, before Christmas, to stay in Northern California with my sister (our family Christmas would be at her place this year), and remain until the second week of January. That cleared out three or four weeks for them.

Just prior to my parents’ return after Christmas (Incidentally, they are in the midst of re-establishing themselves as permanent Southern California residents after living in Michigan – also – for the last several years. They are in the process of finding their own place to buy or rent. So it’s not like their living here is anything permanent.), the Wife had another sit down with her dad. The thrust and intention was for them to move on – or at least take up residence with the daughter now living in San Diego. She emphasized that the downstairs room (separate bath) was my parents’ room, they owned it . . . blahblahblah. Her dad’s reaction was, ‘Oh. Well then we’ll move to the upstairs room right now, if that’s what you want.’ Kind of hurt-like, kind of tip-toeing on eggshells. She said obliquely, ‘It’s just a lot of people in one place . . .’

He didn’t take, or refused to take, the obvious hint. So for the bulk of January we had both parties. And it wasn’t no party. The dad, Phineas, is kind of charming and seemingly innocuous, if time-consuming. The step-mom, Adele, is very hard to take. Just irritating. I talked about it before.

So allow me to temporarily set aside the fact that they are not super-likable people. Let’s even assume they are likable. What developed was a dynamic where they essentially controlled the common areas of the house. Because they don’t have anything going on –both retired, no apparent avocations, just ‘on vacation’ – they are just in wait for fresh meat to walk inside their perimeter. And they start talking. My parents are both quite engaged. My mom is a professional photographer who is studying web design and is currently dedicating herself to scouting for places to live. My step-dad is both a working professional musician and a working business sales consultant, and a dedicated writer in that capacity. They, like myself and the Wife, have stuff to do.

Even when we don’t have stuff to do, I can hide in my office. The Wife can ‘take naps.’

My parents don’t have the same luxury. They do a lot of work on their computers – something very uncomfortable or maybe impossible to do for long sitting on your bed. It’s necessary for them to use space in the common areas to work. But it’s nigh impossible when there is always someone lying in wait to suck the air out of the room. Frustration was smoldering. Especially when Phineas and Adele finally made good on going for a 10-day visit to daughter Dotty in San Diego, only to return after just five days. It wasn’t actually a Dotty visit; Dotty was on a short vacation herself, so they stayed at her place in her absence. When she returned, the first thing she said to them was, ‘I’m really tired. You guys have to go.’

So we got them back.

Believe it or not, even though they would have been back in a few days anyway, this was crushingly disappointing to us all. We discussed it. There was some hope Phineas and Adele would get down there, reflect on the situation in our house, and realize it was time to go home to Michigan – or stay in San Diego. Also, if nothing else, we had banked on four or five more days of calm and silence. And now it was all gone, including the slim hope of their ‘splitting time’ between us and Dotty – Dotty clearly wasn’t having any of that. Even more crushing was that they really seemed to hunker down upon returning. Not even a side-long glance of recognition of the imposition they were making on us. They were dead-set on just plowing through this four months, and everyone else be damned.

Come last Thursday it all broke open. My mom made a conscious decision not to confine herself to her room. It was rainy afternoon and she was reading a book on the couch in the living room, kind of like having your nose in a book on an airplane: ‘Do not disturb.’

The sign was not heeded. Phineas and Adele continually dragged her into conversation. The conversation turned to the recent film, Revolutionary Road. Adele maintained the film was about Women’s Lib, and went on to engage my mom with her own thoughts about Women’s Lib.

***Side note. This from Wikipedia.com from Richard Yates, the author of the book, about the book:


In the October 1999 issue of the Boston Review, Yates was quoted on his central theme: “If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.” The Wheelers’ frustrations and yearnings for something better represent the tattered remnants of the American Dream.

According to my mom, it wasn’t that she’s against Women’s Lib. It’s that Adele was drawing conclusions about it and about the two of them that my mom disagreed with. Irritated already that she wasn’t being allowed to read her book, she decided that she didn’t fundamentally have to allow this woman to cram her half-baked ideas down her throat. When my mom (her account here) tried to voice an differing opinion, Adele shut her down repeatedly, in the manner of, ‘Yes, but –’ and then ignoring what my mom had said.

Enough got to be enough and my mom tried to slink away to her room non-confrontationally. Along the way, she couldn’t get her dog to follow her into the room, which got her flustered. Meantime, Adele actually started to follow her to continue her diatribe. The Wife asked my mom what was wrong . . . and she blew up.

Mom started half-screaming/half-crying, saying that she couldn’t take it anymore. It was Adele. She was stupid. She wanted to trumpet her stupid Women’s Lib theories and pigeon-hole everyone else into the same thinking. She had fixed opinions and didn’t let anyone else have another viewpoint. She was just trying to quietly read her book, and they kept dragging her into conversation. And then when she finally engaged, Adele wouldn’t let her make a statement.

Phineas tried to calm things down, saying they were just having a conversation. Mom yelled back, ‘No we weren’t! She was the only one talking. And I don’t know why you’re defending her, Phineas. She was doing the exact same thing to you.’

Within a couple of minutes, my mom was out of the house. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, my step-dad was away on business.)

One can imagine the effect this would have on household dynamics. Right off, Adele sat down to confer with the Wife, Adele playing dumb – though that comes naturally. She claimed none of that happened. She wondered why my mom thought she was stupid. She defended herself. Phineas occupied himself with an unnecessary phone call to duck the turmoil. When he finished, he told her to try not to take it personally, that it was just an outburst, that it would blow over and things would be all right.

The Wife had to go to work earlier than I. Adele switched to me, trying to plead her innocence. I told her to try not to be upset, but I knew that was hard. I tried to stay neutral and not aggravate the situation. Additionally, I hadn’t actually heard anything except my mom’s outburst. I found out later about the general nature of the ‘conversation.’

I got ready for work. When I came downstairs, Phineas was talking quietly on the phone. I looked down at the bottom of the stairs, and Adele was lying on her side on the kitchen floor, one hand covering her eyes, the other clutching her rib cage. Turns out Phineas was calling 911. She had ‘fainted.’ Yes, two fire trucks, paramedics, a gurney, medical equipment, oxygen mask, the whole deal.

We’ve seen this act before. Last time she visited she ended up in the hospital for a week. That started with a ‘fainting’ spell, and was followed by exhaustive tests – all negative. Eventually, the doctor as much as accused her of faking, and sent her packing.

This time they discharged her the very next day. Recall she already spent a week in the hospital earlier this visit – again having no measurable symptoms despite for what she claimed to be feeling – and was sent home none the worse for wear.

Because of the situation, they finally were forced to make a move. Adele decided she couldn’t stay here under these conditions, so they started looking for a hotel that accepted dogs.

By Saturday, three days later, they were still here – to everyone’s discomfort. But they had found an Extended Stay Hotel that was acceptable for $93 a night. It appeared they would check in the next day. I don’t know why they couldn’t check in that day, but . . . whatever.

The previous night I’d slept poorly, going over in my head for the umpteenth time everything that was wrong with the situation they’d created here. I imagined having lunch with them and telling them these things in a calm, matter-of-fact way.

Back to Saturday, the wife called to invite me to lunch with the three of them. I normally wouldn’t accept, but figured this was destiny.

I rode with Phineas and Adele to the restaurant to meet the Wife. As soon as we got in the car Adele said she wanted to ask me a question, just to satisfy Phineas.

‘Rather than us moving into the hotel and paying $90 a night, would you rather we paid you the money and stayed here?’

‘I don’t think that’d be a good idea. It’s probably best to get the hotel,’ I said.

Phineas nodded and said, ‘Well, we’re just really sorry about what happened . . .’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘it really has hardly anything to do with what happened the other day. That was just a blow up, from some tension or something. The main thing is it’s just really hard having three separate families in this one house. It puts a big strain on everything.’

Phineas: ‘Well, we just really had no idea there would be a problem . . .’

I said, ‘I don’t know about that. I have a hard time believing that two intelligent adults couldn’t see how unusual it is to come live with someone for four months. When you first had this idea, it seemed like a really long time to me. I went around asking everyone I knew, and no one had ever had it happen to them. No one had even heard of it happening to someone they knew. Coming to visit for a week or two weeks, that’s great. But three or four months . . . that’s just not normal.’

I had said this to Phineas. He proceeded to say nothing at all. He was shaking more than his usual tremors, and he looked a little shocked. Perhaps he was silent just to control himself. Or perhaps it was his usual strategy of ignoring communication that conflicts with his agenda.

Finally, Adele said, ‘Well thank you for being honest. I really appreciate that.’

That made me feel better. I was even shaking a little.

Since I didn’t have a chance to brief the Wife, she didn’t know this had transpired. During lunch, Phineas and Adele said they were going to move out to the hotel tomorrow. Later the Wife told me she was so happy and excited, but had to try not to act that way.

Sunday, the Wife had been doing some work to maybe improve her parents’ situation. She had found a turnkey mobile home for rent (paid utilities, cable, furnished, etc.) for just $900 for one month. She went with them to look at it.

In the car, Adele turned on her, yelling that it wasn’t all about the Wife, that she had feelings too, and she wanted to be heard. The Wife said she didn’t want to talk about – couldn’t handle talking about it, please – several times. But Adele persisted and began to berate the Wife. Finally the Wife said she had to get out of the car.

‘Good!’ said Adele.

So they left her on the side of the street.

The rest of the day, her father’s phone was turned off (he never turns it off). The Wife was sure neither of them was going to talk to her again.

Next day, evening, the wife tries Dad’s phone again and gets him. He says he turned off his phone when they went to a movie and forgot to turn it on again.

The Wife wonders, of course, was he not going to call her? For her it brought back horrible memories of living with them for a year during high school. Adele a couple of times sent her a note at school telling her not to come home. The Wife called her dad and he just said, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do . . .’ So she would have to beg a friend to stay the night – humiliating and degrading.

So as disgusted as we all were initially, we’re more so now. However, there is a massive feeling of relief as well. Coupled with several cathartic sessions bitching about how hopelessly selfish – amoral even – these people have been, we’re all feeling a bit better. And at least the house is quiet (normal) again.

Phineas and Adele are looking for places to stay in San Diego. I still don’t know why they don’t just impose themselves on Dotty the way they did us. But in any event, Dotty’s about to have her fair measure of pain till they finally go back to their hole in Michigan.


One thought on “Drama In The Living Room

  1. Food Service Ninja Tue, March 17, 2009 / 5:49 am

    basically Dotty stands up to the folks and doesnt enable their abusive behavior.

    I thought they were just odd ducks til you mentioned dad going along with mom evicted wife from the house sev times in high school.

    I then decided they are nutjobs -a father letting his HS age daughter not come home at night because of his wife is reprehensible.

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