Families become disgusting, grotesquely betraying all laws of decorum, because people abuse familial bonds: they know their family’s stuck with them, even if they burp the alphabet, backwards. I came to this conclusion based on a public display of overdose intimacy.
I was at The Red Room in Santa Cruz, which serves appetizers to couch-dwelling patrons, who enjoy the opium den atmosphere. A large family of tourists (still wearing visors and flip flops) settled across from my couch. The mom was sandwiched in between her eldest daughter and husband, but if they had really been a sandwich, her filling would have overwhelmed those two paltry pieces of bread.
She crossed her potato wedge legs and bounced her naked foot on top of one knee. This foot display caught my attention—you don’t see many loose feet in restaurants, so I was mesmerized but cautious, so as not to be accused of rudeness.
Things got really interesting when their food arrived. The waitress was puzzled by the rampant foot, but she didn’t say anything, as she struggled to find a foot-free zone on the low coffee table near their couch. She gave up and put the fondue underneath mom’s foot. Her daughter and husband then proceeded to eat around her foot, sometimes considering dipping in between her toes. Once a drop of cheese landed on her ankle, and her husband paused. He decided against soaking the drop up with his ciabatta, thank God, but I had seen enough. What was most unsettling, I realized, was I’m sure I’ve done similar things with my family.
At my parents’ home, I pee with the door open, sometimes conversing with my parents from the toilet (“What’s for dinner?”). I’ve picked my nose in front of them and then flicked the treasure across the room. I’ve farted innumerable times, often aiming at them. These are things I would rather die than do around other people, but with my parents, the stakes are so low, why not?
Plus they do disgusting things too. My mom walks around the house naked from the waist down, but at least when she farts she pretends like there’s a nearby thunderstorm (she’s such a lady). My dad spends most family dinners underneath the table making out with the dog (they both use tongue), but he does this everywhere and in front of everyone, so maybe that doesn’t count. But I’ve had many a phone conversation with him where he openly admits he’s in the middle of “making some lumber.”
These displays of extreme intimacy would repulse outsiders, but within my own family, I find them unconsciously endearing. It’s a gruesome display that identifies us as a family. Picking my nose is an act of love, a rare performance saved only for my lucky family. Or maybe families are just disgusting, and fearing intimacy is really a sign of sanity?
Whatever the significance of overdose intimacy, families truly are separate tribes, with their own cultures. My reaction to the restaurant foot incident was really an instance of xenophobia, because had I been related to that large, foot woman, I wouldn’t have found her horrifying. She would have been too innocous to warrant disgust. Plus she would have witnessed me, as a vicious two-year-old, emptying my diaper on to the floor.