By Dom Cioffi
Over the years I have found many quotes that have stuck with me as “truth.” One of my favorites is from the Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist, Alfred Adler, who once said, “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.”
Put to the test, time and time again I have found this to be exactly the case.
For instance, earlier this summer I took my family to the beach for a short vacation. Like all beach vacations, finding the right spot on the shoreline is tantamount to a day’s enjoyment. Get too close to the college partiers and all hell can break loose; get too close to the bookish senior citizens and my son’s errant football toss could become wearisome.
So on the first day out, I caught sight of a few families and decided to set up camp near them. Being that my son is an only child, he thrives on playtime with other children so that angle works in my favor (and saves me from building sand castles all afternoon).
Once settled, my son quickly found a posse of boys to hang out with and was subsequently off and running for the day.
He became particularly attached to another boy his age whose parents looked to be roughly the same age as my wife and me.
As the day progressed, we exchanged niceties with this other couple. They were a good looking pair who seemed very intelligent and well adjusted. My original thought was: “This is a very solid little family.”
When we headed to the beach the next day, we ran into the same couple again and immediately made a a stronger connection. As such, the day progressed with much more interaction, with the four of us eventually moving our chairs together to exchange stories and opinions while our boys ran amok among the crashing surf.
Initially everything seemed great. My wife and I related to this other couple on numerous levels, including politics, mutual interests and similar stories (since we were both raising only children).
The laughs were plentiful and robust as everything rolled along quite comfortably. And the fact that our two children were getting along famously just made it that much more rewarding.
As the day drew to a close, we decided that, after a short break, we would all meet up in the local town center for a seafood dinner and an ice cream night cap.
So after a shower and a quick nap we made our way to the restaurant where we found the other couple and their son waiting in the lobby.
And this is where I got the first hint that something was awry.
I had noticed during the afternoon that the father had thrown back several beers (hey, I even had one during the heat of the day). But when we arrived at the restaurant he had both a martini and a shot of Jäger and seemed to be acting a bit over zealous about our arrival.
I initially took it as “vacation mode” and brushed it off, but as the dinner progressed things got more and more uncomfortable.
The father seemed to be singularly focused on talking to me about his career in commercial real estate, droning on and on about all the wrongs imposed on him over the years. His wife, on the other hand, was engaging my wife with stories of her heroin-addicted brother, bipolar father, and suicidal sister – all of this while admitting to an eating disorder of her own.
My wife and I spent most of the meal just listening to them talk while our boys pumped quarter after quarter into the trivia machine at the end of the bar.
The next day, neither my wife nor I wanted to go near the beach – for obvious reasons – but our son insisted. When we arrived at the shoreline, the other family was nowhere to be found so we breathed a sigh of relief. But no sooner had the air left our lungs when they showed up, announcing their arrival from across the shorefront so everyone present took notice.
We made it through half a day before my wife finally pulled the plug after the woman exposed her son’s obsessive compulsive bathroom “issues.” We kindly excused ourselves by making up a story about visiting a local friend and then hid in our condo watching movies and eating snacks for the rest of the day.
The truth is, every family is dysfunctional in some way – the key is not to be too obvious about it. And that is certainly the case with this week’s feature, “This is Where I leave You,” starring Jason Bateman and Tina Fey.
Centering around a family that regroups after the death of their father, “This is Where I Leave You” delivers ample laughs while analyzing the quirky intricacies of people who spend lifetimes together.
Check this one out if you’ve got a soft spot for the frailty of the human psyche. God knows this film highlights every possible dysfunctional angle, but it does it with a little bit of heart.
A maladjusted “B” for “This is Where I Leave You”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him firstname.lastname@example.org.