I was in the middle of an intense game of Resident Evil 3 in my parent’s basement where I’d been living since my divorce, when that grinning demon of fate got up to dickens and my life took a sharp left turn into a bizarre new trajectory.
“Dinner’s ready!” Mom called down the stairs.
“I’ll be up in a minute!” I called back as I blasted another zombie.
“Hurry up, or the food will get cold!”
“Go ahead and start without me!” I said, taking a long pull on my gin and tonic.
“Jimmy Merle! Stop playing video games right this minute, and come up for dinner! You know we eat together as a family!”
“Fuck’s sake,” I sighed, pausing the game and setting the controller aside. I climbed the stairs and sat down at the dining table with Mom. I inhaled the heavenly aroma of toasted garlic bread and marinara. Just then Mom’s husband Ralph walked in and sat down.
“Hey Ralph,” I said. “How was work?”
“Jimmy Merle, we’ve talked about this,” Mom said. “It’s disrespectful to call your father by his first name. He works hard to support this family. You need to refer to him by his proper title.’”
“For crying out loud, Mom,” I said, putting my face in my hands. We’d been through this many times before. “What title should I use?”
“Daddy would be fine.”
“Mom—I’m a grown-ass man, and Ralph isn’t my Dad.”
“Jimmy Merle!” she gasped. “That’s a terrible, awful thing to say! You apologize right this minute! And don’t say the a-word!”
“Alma, it’s okay,” Ralph said. “He doesn’t need to call me Daddy. In fact, I’d rather he didn’t. It’s weird. Can we just eat?”
“I will not stand for that kind of disrespect in my house,” Mom said. “Jimmy Merle, you apologize and call your father by his proper title.”
I sighed and gave up. “Sorry. How was work today, Daddy?”
Ralph stared at Alma like she had grown a second head. Finally, he sighed and gave up, too. “It was okay, Son.”
“Oh, isn’t that nice,” Mom said, smiling.
Ralph is Mom’s third husband, and they’d gotten married two years before. He sold his home right before the wedding and moved in with us because our house is bigger and has more room. He’s a retired postal worker, but had recently taken a part-time job at the Colorado Springs Ace Hardware to stay busy. Normally he likes to talk about his workday, but he wasn’t saying much tonight.
Mom had made spaghetti using my grandmother’s marinara sauce recipe. It was absolutely divine. In restaurants I never order dishes with marinara sauce because it’s always a let-down compared to my grandmother’s.
“I love this recipe,” I said around my first mouthful.
“You’re not supposed to start eating until we’ve said the blessing, Jimmy Merle,” she replied. I stopped chewing and sat there with a mouthful of food, fork in midair. “Ralph, would you like to pray over our meal?”
“Fine,” Ralph said, bowing his head. “God, please bless this food. Amen.”
Wow, that was short. Usually Ralph was a little more eloquent with his meal blessings.
“Amen,” Mom said, and started piling spaghetti onto her plate.
I swallowed my first mouthful and took another bite. “This is really good, Mom.”
“Thank you, Dear,” she said, glancing quickly at Ralph then back to her plate. Something was up. They kept giving each other sideways looks. Neither of them were saying much. The clinking of silverware and Ralph’s loud chewing were the only sounds.
“Yep, really good,” I said, trying to break the awkward silence. I heaped a second helping onto my plate. “You really outdid yourself this time, Mom.”
I had just shoved another forkful of spaghetti into my mouth when Mom said, “Jimmy Merle, we need to talk.”
Shit. I knew something was up. “Sure, Mom,” I said as I chewed, looking back and forth between them. “What’s up?”
“Well, Dear, your Father and I have been talking—” Mom shot Ralph a worried look. He gave her a nod, encouraging her to continue. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “We think it’s time you found a job and got your own place to live.”
My fork clanked as I dropped it on my plate. “Mom, we’ve talked about this. My divorce was really hard on me, and I just need a little time to get my bearings.”
“He’s right, Ralph,” Mom said, looking at him with that worried expression. “It was a difficult divorce. If we could give him just a little more time—”
“A little more time?” he replied, struggling to keep his composure. “Alma, it’s been eight years since his divorce. He’s been living in the basement the entire time. How much more time does he need?”
“Just a little more,” I said quickly. “One more year, two at the most, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“He makes a good point, Ralph,” Mom said desperately. “Jimmy Merle just needs a couple more years to get back on his feet. We’re his parents, and it’s our duty to help our child during a rough time.”
“Child?!” Ralph shouted. “He’s fifty-two years old! He’s been living here rent-free for nearly a decade! He doesn’t work, he doesn’t even try to find a job. All he does is drink beer and play his damn video games!”
“Jimmy Merle does not drink beer because I don’t allow alcohol in this home.”
“Then why do I keep finding beer cans and liquor bottles buried in the bottom of our trash toter?”
“I’m sure it’s those awful Peterson boys next door hiding their liquor bottles so their parents don’t find out they’re drinking,” Mom replied. “It’s certainly not my son doing it.”
Ralph looked at her aghast. “Kyle and Cody Peterson are eight and ten years old, Alma. You think they’re the ones drinking what appears to be several twelve packs of beer and God-knows-how-many bottles of liquor each week?”
“They’re starting younger and younger,” Mom sighed. “It’s really sad how parents enable their kids’ irresponsible behavior these days.”
Ralph stared at Mom, his mouth open in stunned silence. Finally, he shook his head and said, “Okay, whatever. That doesn’t change the fact that all he does all day is sit in our basement playing those damned video games instead of looking for a job.”
“That’s not all he does,” Mom said. “I give him a list of chores to do every day.”
“He never does them!”
“I do, too!” I said defensively. “I touched up the chipped paint on all the door jambs the other day, just like Mom asked.”
“And you ruined my $200 Plisson badger-hair shaving brush doing it!” Ralph shouted.
“I couldn’t find the paint brushes. Jeez, how many times do I have to say sorry. Fuck.”
“He couldn’t find the paint brushes, Ralph,” Mom said. “It was an honest mistake. And don’t say the f-word, Jimmy Merle.”
“And last Saturday,” Ralph continued, “you were supposed to knock down the tall weeds along the side of the house.”
“You used my new set of Calloway golf clubs to do it! Why didn’t you use the weed-whacker?”
“I…I wanted to practice my golf swing,” I said sullenly. “Besides, I cleaned the clubs afterwards, like you asked.”
“With sandpaper!! You completely stripped the finish off of them! They’re ruined!”
“Now, Ralph,” Mom said, “they’re not exactly ruined. You can still play golf with them.”
“He destroyed them!!”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Look,” Ralph said, struggling mightily to regain his composure, “we’re getting off track. Jimmy Merle has had plenty of time to get back on his feet. Besides that, he’s useless around here. It’s time he grew the hell up and moved out. For God’s sake, he’s a middle-aged man!”
“You’re being too hard on him,” Mom said, dabbing her eyes with her napkin. “And don’t say the h-word.”
“It’s about time somebody around here got tough with him! You’ve coddled him for years, Alma, and it’s got to stop!”
“I don’t coddle him,” Mom sobbed. “Just because I don’t scream at him like you do doesn’t mean I coddle him.”
“Alma, I thought we were in agreement that he needs to move out! Why are you defending him?!”
And with that, they both began shouting at each other. Mom’s sobs turned to wailing.
The truth is, Ralph was right about me being the one drinking all that booze. Last Saturday my best friend Kevin had come over and we’d spent the afternoon in the basement smoking cigars, drinking Sierra Nevadas and having band rehearsal. Kevin and I formed a band awhile back. It’s just the two of us right now, but we plan to get other members. I play guitar and he plays drums. Actually, he also plays guitar and keys, but in our band he mostly sticks to drumming. By the time Mom came down and asked me to cut down the weeds we were both pretty blotto. But it wasn’t even me who ruined Ralph’s clubs. It was Kevin.
I should back up and explain something about Kevin. He’s an African Silverback Gorilla. He has his own apartment here in town. He gets along reasonably well in human society. But—being a gorilla—he sometimes makes mistakes, especially when he’s been drinking. Mistakes like using Ralph’s $3,000 set of Calloway’s to cut down weeds. But cleaning the clubs with sandpaper—not to mention using Ralph’s shaving brush to touch up the paint around the door jambs—was me. I can’t blame that on Kevin. To be fair I can’t blame myself either. Not really. It was the booze.
But I couldn’t mention any of that because Mom says drinking is a sin and doesn’t allow alcohol in the house. I have to sneak it in. Besides, things have been a little tense between Mom and Kevin since the bathroom incident a month ago. You see, we’d been playing Fortnight and drinking gin-and-tonics all afternoon, and Kevin had to pee really bad. I was using the basement bathroom, so Kevin dashed upstairs to use the guest bathroom. He didn’t realize that it was locked, and gave the door what he thought was as gentle push. Gorillas have nine-times the strength of a grown man, and when Kevin’s been drinking he sometimes forgets. He accidentally tore the door off its hinges. It just so happened that Mom was occupying the bathroom and was right in the middle of taking her medication, and it was sheer bad luck that that particular medication was a suppository. Mom screamed, startling Kevin. He quickly apologized, and tried to yank the door shut, but in his panic only succeeded in tearing out the entire door frame. The whole thing was very uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Anyway, this argument between Mom and Ralph was getting out of control. If I didn’t do something quick, I might find myself without a place to live.
“Mom? Daddy?” I said, trying to think of something quick. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a living for a long time. It’s been a dream of mine, actually.”
“What is it?” Mom said.
“I…uh…” I couldn’t think of anything. I was starting to panic.
“Well..?” Ralph said.
Then I remembered some ads I’d seen on Instagram and Facebook about making money online. “I want to start a blog and become a full-time blogger,” I blurted. “It’s been my dream for…uh…a long, long time. And you always said I should follow my dreams, right Mom?”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Dear!” Mom said, wiping her eyes. “Jimmy Merle is starting a blog and following his dreams, Ralph! Isn’t that fantastic?”
“His dreams?” Ralph said. He was looking at me like I was brain damaged.
“Yeah, Daddy. You can make big bucks blogging. All you have to do is put up a website and write from the heart, and the money will roll in. I’ll be making stacks of cash and changing the world.”
“You need to find a real job,” he said. “One that pays real money so you can find a real place of your own to live.”
“We need to be supportive of his dreams, Ralph,” Mom said. “Blogging is a real job. And Jimmy Merle is going to be great at it because he’s very smart and very talented.” Mom patted my hand, smiling. “We’re proud of you, Sweetie.”
Ralph stared at us like he was watching two lunatics eat big spoonfulls mayonnaise straight from the jar.
“Yeah, Daddy,” I said quickly, “I’ve got a really good feeling about this full-time blogger career. And as soon as it takes off and the money starts rolling in, I’ll be able to find my own place and move out.”
Ralph let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine, whatever. Look, I don’t care what you do Jimmy Merle as long as you’re completely moved out in two weeks.”
“Two weeks?!” I said in alarm. “I need at least a year to get this blog off the ground! Mom, help me out here!”
“Can’t we give him a little more time?” Mom said.
“Fine!” Ralph snapped. “Three weeks. But that’s my final offer. If he doesn’t like it, he can move out today!”
“I hate to say it, but I think your Father’s right,” Mom said, trying to hold back the tears. “It’s time you were out on your own.”
“But…but…what about my dream of being a full-time blogger? What about following my bliss? Making big bucks? Saving the motherfucking planet?!?”
“You’re fifty-two, and it’s time you stood on your own two feet,” she said, and burst out sobbing again. “And don’t say the f-word.”
I sat there in numb silence. This was bad. Real bad. “May I be excused?” I said. “I’m not hungry.”
Ralph nodded and waved me away distractedly. Mom honked her nose into her napkin. I got up from the table and headed downstairs to figure out how I was going to move out in three weeks. I could hear Mom’s weeping from the basement.
“Ralph, can’t we give him a little more time?” she sobbed.
“Absolutely not!” he yelled. “He’s already had eight damned years!”
“You don’t have to be so heartless about it!” Mom wailed. “And don’t say the d-word!”
And with that, they were at it again, Mom’s lamentations interspersed with Ralph’s shouts.
I pulled out the bottle of Tanqueray hidden in the back of my closet and mixed another gin and tonic. I sparked up a cigar, leaned back in the sofa, took a long drag, and blew a large, aromatic cloud into the air.
Three weeks and I’d be out on my ass. That didn’t leave much time to get this blog thing up and running and bringing in money. I downed half my drink at a gulp.
But how hard could it be? I thought.
I sighed, set down my cigar, opened my laptop and Googled ‘what is a blog?’