January 6, 2011

-image-the short little hall

There’s a problem at my in-laws’ house in the deep dark middle of nowhere.

That problem is me.

Well, really, it’s not just me. I don’t know why I’m heaping this all on myself like some glittering martyr. That’s really unlike me. So let’s spread this problem around more equitably.

Yes, the problem is me and the fact that it’s way too easy for me to see certain people not married to me in various stages of undress and, turns out, I really don’t care for that and that’s how I’m a problem, I guess.

It comes down to a logistics problem, really. Well, that, and a me being second generation Amish-by-association problem.

I blame it all on the room with the clawing tortoise in the drawer. This room, lacy and pretty to cloak all the scraping desperation, is at the end of a short little hall. If I stand in front of that door about to enter, my in-laws’ bedroom is immediately on the left, a bathroom immediately on the right. All these entrances and exits are separated by mere feet. Mere feet, pippa. And for me, that short little hall is all about feet. How there are way too few in terms of space and way too many in terms of appendages.

Lots of human feet. Taking up space. Doing things. At night.

This too-close door to my in-laws’ room is flung wide open at night while they’re sleeping. I have issues with this that I won’t get into here. There’s another door on the other side of their bedroom that they also keep open, a door that doesn’t border the short little hall, a door that leads to the kitchen and the other bathroom on the other end of the house, a door, sadly, they never seem to use at night. Basically, their bedroom has more than your typical number of bedroom doors, with everything wide open, lots of options for entering and exiting, and yet these options are not as maximized as one might hope, in my now-traumatized opinion. On top of that, all this free-swinging openness extends to all the doors to the house which are left unlocked at night so that any number of serial killers roaming about the deep dark middle of nowhere could have easy access to them in their sleep.

You see, they’re hospitable people, my in-laws. Well, sometimes I’m not sure if it’s genuine hospitality or an alarming lack of personal boundaries — I dither on this point — but their whole philosophy basically is “Come in anytime. Chat. Eat. Drink. Chat some more. Stay forever. If you’re so inclined, kill us while we sleep.” I imagine this is true of all the lock-shy neighbors in this trusting little town.

Oh, the small town hubris, thinking they won’t be bludgeoned by a hungry, thirsty, chatty serial killer!

But, eh, I don’t care about that. I got me some bigger issues. Cramped hall. Overpopulation. Open door with a view to the sleeping inlaws. I mean, serial killers are the least of my worries in the face of all that.

Besides, there’s the kicker:

My FIL sleeps in his unmentionables.

Look, I’m sure many FILs sleep in their unmentionables. That’s fine. Sleep in whatever you want, FILs. I’m not a sleepist.


The presence of another woman in your home who is not your wife and who is, in fact, married to your son means you need to sleep in some pajamas — or better yet, clothes — for, oh, 4 days out of the year. I’m sorry. You just do. That is the rule. The law. Didn’t Obama just sign that bill? Well, if he didn’t, he needs to get on that, Crackie, because recently, in the short little hall with too few and too many feet, my FIL and I shared a late night, half-dressed moment.

And that just ain’t right.

The fact that I know my FIL sleeps in his unmentionables is something I should not know. I can honestly say that in all our years of marriage, it’s never come up in conversation with MB. Or my FIL. I’ve never inquired or even thought to inquire “So, hey, Dad, what do you wear when you sleep?” because it’s just icky and creepy and wrong. Since I had no interest in ever learning this tidbit through simple conversation, I think it’s safe to assume I would never ever want to learn this tidbit from firsthand experience. But it seems God and my FIL’s bladder had other plans for me.

MB and I had gone to the local 2-screen multiplex to see a movie. We came home around 11:30. While MB headed towards the kitchen, I headed down the short little hall towards the lacy bedroom. At that precise moment, the door to the bathroom opened and my father-in-law, all 6-5 of him, stepped into the hall, resplendent in nothing but his tighty whities.

It was dark in the short little hall. Those tighty whities lit up the place like a torch. The world went very white then very black. I froze in place. There was nowhere to go except backwards and I didn’t want to seem rude or as if I were retreating in blushing terror from his virtual nudity, so I just stood there. Like a statue. A frightened deer. He, in turn, instantly clamped his hands over his nether regions and stood there too. Neither of us fled because we didn’t want to acknowledge that this was an urgent flight situation, which it obviously was. No, flight would have forever labeled it as something horrible and embarrassing that you speak about only in whispers and never to each other, which it obviously was. So there we stood, two frightened deer in the short little hall, one clothed, one in tighty whities, in a standoff of courteous horror. Hours passed. The rooster crowed dawn. We didn’t breathe. We didn’t speak. The only sound was the distant clawing desperation of the tortoise in the drawer.

Finally, my father-in-law, an unfailingly courteous man, spoke to me, his large hands still clamped over his nether regions like a little boy.

“Soo ….. Trace-ums, how was the movie?”

Oh, sweet baby Jesus. There he was, the world’s nicest man, standing there in his tighties asking how the stupid movie was. I wanted to die. I stared at the wood plank floor. My body was aflame with embarrassment, but I managed to choke out an answer.

“Uhm …… good, good. It was good.”

I nodded my head like a crazed woodpecker.

“Oh, that’s good, Trace.”


I just nodded and nodded and stared at the floor. I cursed the very existence of the short little hall. But he spoke again — the world’s nicest man — and that night I learned that politeness is much more knee-jerk to him than even modesty, which I suppose is kind of sweet, despite feeling that my formerly useful brain was turning to utter swill from the wrongness of this late-night encounter.

“Well, good night, Trace-ums. See you in the morning.”

Oh, Lord. You mean I have to see him again?

“Yes, uhm …. good night.”

At that, he ducked into his bedroom and I bolted into mine, hot with embarrassment, and plopped onto the bed waiting for the irregular pounding of my heart to either stop or hurry up and kill me. In the silence while I crossed my fingers for death, I heard the soft insistent scraping again, and suddenly, I understood him, that tortoise.

And we were one, the tortoise and I.

The short little hall was now my own dresser drawer and I would never stop clawing, clawing, clawing to get out.


  1. And, no, you may not call me “Trace-ums.” 😉

    Comment by tracey — January 6, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  2. Okay, yes, that short little hall sounds like a nightmare, especially in a crowded holiday-time house!! Like, close the doors, at LEAST, in such a situation!!

    I love MB’s dad’s politeness, despite the tighty whities and your Amish mortification.

    // the rooster crowed // hahahahahahaha

    Comment by sheila — January 6, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  3. “a standoff of courteous horror.” LOL. I was cringeing for you reading this.

    Comment by Karen — January 6, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

  4. Rarely have I felt such a mixture of empathetic agony and the simultaneous urge to laugh uncontrollably. I think I need some chocolate. Or a walk outside, in the fresh air, where there is no chance whatsoever of encountering anyone in their tighty whities.

    My niece once told me a story similar to yours, of her grandfather (my FIL) who wears boxers, which are actually worse, what with the fly and all. Reason #489 why I will never stay overnight at my in-laws’ house.

    Comment by Random Thoughts — January 7, 2011 @ 9:50 am

  5. Funny story. And a good reminder for all of us men out there to cover up when there are guests in our house.

    Comment by Chris — January 9, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  6. RT — We went through a phase where we stayed in a hotel a block away — just to have some privacy. But that created a tsunami of familial hostility so we abandoned that. Sadly. They felt too “rejected.” I would much prefer not to feel like I HAVE to stay there just to be accepted. It’s exhausting.

    Chris — Yes. Please, menfolk! Cover up!

    Comment by tracey — January 9, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

  7. So THAT’s what the tortoise knows!!!

    My cousin promised her husband would wear PJ’s when we all shared a hotel room for the CA trip last Fall. It IS a gentlemanly thing to cover up! Bless you, Chris, and my dear cousin!

    Comment by Kate P — January 9, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

  8. When I was very young and very newly married, I lived with my in-laws while the husband was in basic training. MIL worked, FIL was retired- I was a housewife, who basically looked after them. This included doing their laundry.

    One morning the FIL came in blustering, waving a leopard-print thong. (And I am not talking about a shoe.) “Why do you keep putting my underwear in (MIL)’s drawer? Every time I go to look for my pants, they’re in her dresser.”

    Me. 19. Very, very naive. Bad enough to imagine middle-aged slender MIL in such panties, but worse was the mental image of aged, beer-bellied FIL in leopard-print buttfloss. Sometimes, you don’t actually have to see it to wish you could UNsee it.

    Comment by Nmissi — January 12, 2011 @ 7:00 am

  9. Nmissi — You’re comment went into moderation because it’s your first one, but BOY, is it a doozy! I’m howling over here. The mental picture …. well, it’s just too much, isn’t it? Without even seeing it, I want to gouge my eyes out.

    Poor you.

    Comment by tracey — January 12, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  10. That’s just all very awkward. I am experiencing major second hand embarrassment for you.

    Comment by Jenna@frombostonwithlove — January 14, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  11. […] Just north (in terms of the photo) and to the left from that field is another green field. That’s the ball field at the elementary school located at the end of my in-laws’ street. The street dead ends into the school, actually. It’s about a 3-minute walk to the school. I spend a lot of time there whenever we visit the deep dark middle of nowhere and the house is bursting at the seams because everyone in town is crammed in eating and talking and drinking and talking, which is basically all the time. It’s a social phenomenon, I tell you. Women and men alike come down from their mountain aeries or out of their cozy caves or their Unabomber cabins to worship and ovulate at MB’s feet. It gets a little old, although not for MB. I, however, just roll my eyes at it all. I’m simply too busy having private anxiety attacks from the chattering crowds and the bossy shutterbugs and the pressing possibility that my FIL might soon be running around in his unmentionables asking me how I am, Trace-ums. […]

    Pingback by beyond the pale » aerial view of the deep dark middle of nowhere — February 21, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  12. […] After that, we’re headed to the deep dark middle of nowhere — although we live in our own version of that now — to hang with the tortoise in the drawer and in-laws in their underwear. […]

    Pingback by beyond the pale » back in the new year — December 31, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

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