Throwback Thursday ll: The Limits of Togetherness

Despite my best intentions to write something fresh for this post, I seem to have failed spectacularly. Between writers block, spring cleaning, and the upcoming marriage of El Noble and his lovely Betsy (more on that later) I haven’t had the time or the energy to write anything but checks and to do lists! With that in mind–and in the spirit of romance–I beg your forgiveness and invite you to enjoy the paranoid classic from 2013: The Limits of Togetherness!

Cheers, and enjoy! #i’mnotlazy #motherofthegroom

I love the Jarhead the pieces and enjoy spending time with him. But there are some things the two of us will never do together. Ever.

I’m not talking about boring things like competitive bird watching or icky things like traveling to a foreign land to sample latest recipes involving beetles and grubs. Rather, I’m referring to certain sports and outdoor activities that, frankly, I would be more inclined to do with a complete stranger or a mortal enemy than with the man who promised to love me until death do us part.

The first thought that comes to my mind is rock climbing. This is primarily because of that blasted commercial where the woman proudly tells us how she and her significant other spent their credit card reward points on equipment to scale a giant tower of sandstone instead of buying a diamond. I saw that spot and thought, well that would be fun—for the one who comes back to a pile of insurance money.

I feel the same way about activities involving open water. I have no problems with the idea of a trip that involves the two of us cheerily casting our lines from shore at a bustling campground, or dropping a line from the end of a dock surrounded by plenty of witnesses. But there is no way I’m going out on a lake or the ocean—be it on a yacht or a cruise liner—with the man I love when the only thing standing between him and freedom is a railing.

I know what you’re thinking: That woman is paranoid. Although I prefer to call it precautious, I also know what I’m like to live with and that some days, even in the face of hard evidence, a jury might be inclined to acquit.

I am also wise to the fact that if he really wanted to get rid of me there are plenty of ways he could do it right here at home and without breaking a sweat. Things like poison and acid come to mind (well, maybe not to yours; but I’m a fan of Breaking Bad, so, there you have it) as do murder for hire and a seemingly random but ultimately diversionary sniper attacks (thank you, John Allen Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo.)

But what’s great about poison, acid, contract killings, and sniper attacks is that they generally look suspicious and, therefore, tend to arouse the curiosity of law enforcement. This, I’m given to understand, is a big deterrent for those wanting to get rid of someone without having to experience any unpleasant consequences like lethal injection or lifetime incarceration. Thus, I feel pretty safe in my own home and going about my daily business.

Things like fishing and rock climbing, on the other hand, are different. Because they already carry the element of danger—and because accidents really DO happen—if you want to get out of a long term relationship without looking like the bad guy, they’re practically doing the work for you.

“But the Jarhead doesn’t have reason to get rid of you,” you might be saying to yourself. “And he’s a good guy, so you can trust him.”

Yep. And I’ll just bet that’s about what Scott Peterson was banking on when he invited his wife to get into that boat—assuming she did so of her own accord. And I’m pretty sure all the other men and women who have ever died at the hands of their own ostensibly loving spouses were under the exact same mistaken impression.

And so it goes that I will not be taking any fishing or rock climbing trips with the Jarhead any time soon. Nor will I be joining him on any hunting trips, or caving expeditions—that is, unless we go with a group and I have made absolutely certain he doesn’t have the financial means to have paid them ALL for their silence.


Turnabout and Fair Play

Several months ago I posted a series of essays that poked fun at some missteps taken by a few members of law enforcement. In case you missed it, the series highlighted situations involving drug enforcement officers mistaking okra bushes for pot plants; the failure of police in Alaska to locate and notify the correct parents of the death of their son; and the inability of the police in another state to know the difference between a red car and a tan one.

Although it was mostly well received, that series cost me a few readers and at least one friend.  Apparently some people don’t believe you can both SUPPORT the police and still expect them to know the difference between pot and okra.

That point of view would make a lot of relationships tricky, if you ask me. Imagine a world where you could EITHER ask your daughter to put her dirty dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink OR love her and let her continue to live with you, but not BOTH. Or picture a marriage wherein you could EITHER tell your spouse you’d like him to watch less television OR stay married but, again, not BOTH.

If you’re not married or don’t have children, then envision a workplace where your boss could EITHER provide you constructive criticism after you’ve made mistakes OR let you keep your job, but not both. Or imagine an arrangement where you can EITHER tell your landlord that the faucet leaks OR continue living in your apartment, but—again—not BOTH.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but imagine a world where you could EITHER disagree with an opinion expressed by your friend of twenty years OR continue to be their part of her life, but NOT both. Wow.

Perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Maybe instead of being unreasonable absolutists, these folks were just surprised to learn that police officers are human beings who make mistakes and, accordingly, did not appreciate having that fact pointed out to them. Or maybe they simply have low expectations for America’s public servants and prefer to have their mistakes ignored, overlooked, or swept under the rug rather than discussed openly and used to educate or entertain.

Imagine what the world would be like if we applied THAT sort of logic to all professions. Imagine, for example if we decided that doctors, judges, and principals are above reproach and then shielded them from the legal and social consequences of their actions. Same goes for professional athletes, actors, and other celebrities. And what about political and religious leaders?

I know. Now I’m just being ridiculous. Because you can’t equate athletes and entertainers to members of law enforcement. For one thing athletes and celebrities, by and large, have not been tasked with protecting the members of their communities from other members of their communities. Nor do the families of religious and political figures, with some notable exceptions (MLK, JFK, Gabrielle Giffords) normally have to worry that their loved ones will be killed or injured in the line of duty.

Then again, with some exceptions, religious and political leaders don’t have the power to detain and arrest you—or someone who looks like you or drives the same car you do. Nor do doctors, judges, principals and the like—again, with some exceptions—routinely strap on potentially deadly weapons before heading off to their place of employment each day.

While I respect and support the police (as stated repeatedly throughout the series) I don’t think it’s wise to give anyone carte blanche or zero oversight—especially anyone who carries a gun. We supervise and monitor the people who teach and care for our children, after all. And have standards and requirements for people who install plumbing, build bridges, and manage air traffic. So why shouldn’t the people who carry guns and have the authority to use physical force against us also be held to a certain standard?

Besides, I happen to think that members of law enforcement are—or at least SHOULD be—secure enough in themselves to acknowledge when one of their own makes a mistake, and to laugh and point fingers at the bad apples when the situation so warrants. And just as anyone who works for a living prefers coworkers who know their stuff and can be counted on to do their job over those who don’t or can’t, I’m pretty sure that the majority of cops would prefer to work with others who know what they’re doing and can be trusted not to get them in trouble or get them killed.

So if the police themselves have high expectations for their fellow officers, I don’t understand why it’s wrong for anyone else to do so—or to say so. If you count cops among your family and friends, I would think you would want the people they work with to be among the most skilled, trustworthy, and responsible individuals on earth. Moreover, I would expect you to be more offended by the fact that corrupt and incompetent people are allowed to wear a badge and carry a gun than you are at me for reporting it.

Maybe I’m just more forgiving than most people, but I wouldn’t eject someone from my life for writing something critical of members of a given field even if I happen to love or admire someone who happens to work in that field. For example, despite being married to a Marine and having two brothers, a father, and a father-in-law who are all veterans of the armed forces, I have never dumped anyone for being critical of the military or because of their views on war. Nor would I take it personally if someone wrote volumes questioning the skills and abilities of real estate agents even though my son happens to be a realtor.

Maybe I’m also thicker skinned than most people, but I wouldn’t even be annoyed at someone for criticizing or making fun of writers. Truth be told, you could write a scathing article about my very own writing and I wouldn’t object—and not just because I’m so needy and self-centered that I’m grateful for even the smallest scrap of attention or publicity.

In fact, to show how okay I am with the idea of making fun of writers, I’ll go one step further and offer up some examples of embarrassing errors committed by my fellow writers just to get the ball rolling.

Let’s start with the folks who work for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, a staffer from which opened an article last year with the following sentence:

“A dog on Wauwatosa’s west side has been killed by a coyote for the second time in three days.”

Yes. You read that correctly. According to WRITER Dan Daykin, one dog has been killed twice.

No wonder it’s being reported in the newspaper, you might be thinking. After all, the first ever recorded example of canine reincarnation is pretty big news. Forget that he was killed—twice—by a coyote on Wauwatosa’s west side. The real story is that he came back to life at some point before dying again two days later.

Of course, having read the headline above the story (“Second dog killed by coyote on Wauwatosa’s west side”) I was already aware of what had really happened, so my confusion is not real. I’m just pretending to be confused for comedic effect. Go ahead and laugh. I’m sure Mr. Daykin can take it.

Same goes for the author of this line from an article about Ed Gein that appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern in January: “Gein, another of the countries most well-known murderers, was arrested for murder when the headless body of a hardware store owner was found hanging at his rural Plainfield home in 1957.”

I laughed because Ed Gein was not one of several COUNTRIES. In fact, Gein wasn’t a COUNTRY at all. He was, of course, one of the COUNTRY’S most well-known murderers who was, in fact, arrested for murder.

Now, stylistically, I would have said EITHER “well-known murderers” OR “arrested for murder” but not both. But the real issue here is whether the writer should have known the difference between a plural noun (countries) and a possessive one (country’s). I would say yes, but that does not mean that the writer of the article is an irredeemable idiot. And even if he or she is not as skilled at grammar as he or she should be, it doesn’t mean I have to cancel my subscription. Because I can both support my local paper AND hope it improves. Just as you can love your spouse or child AND still encourage them to adopt better habits.

And the same goes for readers of this column. You can both FOLLOW this column (and like, comment and share, if you so desire) and STILL disagree with me and make fun of my typos. In fact, I would consider it a FAVOR if you would drop me a note when I use MORNING instead of MOURNING as I did once last year—so I can go back and FIX the problem, and make this column BETTER.

But, if you’re not up to that, it’s cool. It’s not your job, after all, to make this space more informative or entertaining. So if you’re annoyed or offended by something I’ve posted here, say something if you like. Or keep it to yourself if you prefer. Just don’t think you have to leave.

The Ones That Got Away

I was saddened upon hearing that David Cassidy had appeared in a New York courtroom last week to answer charges of felony drunk driving. At the same time, I was also relieved because for a number of years I was in love with and hoping to marry David Cassidy. Upon reading of his recent brush with the law, however, I realize I may have dodged a serious bullet by not winding up betrothed to a former heart-throb with substance abuse issues.

The news also made me curious as to my other former crushes and what sort of life I could have had if things had worked out between us. I’ll spare you coverage of what could have come of my love affairs with Teen Beat regulars, Shaun Cassidy and Rex Smith since even if our relationships hadn’t been imaginary they most definitely would have been brief. I say this not because of their busy work schedules—if that were a deal-breaker my relationship with the Jarhead would have hit the skids years ago—but because the two have been married a combined total of seven times. Not that I don’t believe myself capable of sustaining a Hollywood marriage better than your typical Hollywood wife; I’m just saying the odds aren’t in my favor.

I’ll also spare you coverage of my fantasies surrounding Donny Osmond since that relationship, too, would have fizzled quickly. For although he hasn’t been married as many times as Rex Smith and Shaun Cassidy, he has been quite vocal in his opposition to same sex marriage which for me is grounds for opposite sex divorce.

So I’m going to sail right past my celebrity crushes and start with the relationships I had with people I actually knew—starting with my first love, whom I’ll call Farmer Boy. Farmer Boy won my heart by stealing my comb. This was an incredibly daring act given that we were at Bible camp, and I found the whole bad boy aspect of his behavior charming beyond words. I’d like to say I was also attracted to his intelligence, but in truth I was drawn to him more because of his sense of humor, and because without the John Deere cap and sunglasses he looked exactly like Richard Gere. After holding hands two nights in a row during evening chapel, and kissing goodnight at the edge of the path to the girls’ bank of cabins, I was convinced we would marry and live happily ever after.

To my dismay, it didn’t last. Apparently after holding hands two nights in a row and kissing goodnight, Farmer Boy got cold feet. To this day I don’t know why, but not only did he fail to propose the day after kissing me under the stars; he completely ignored me and acted as if I didn’t exist for the next fifty weeks or so. It was like the Cassidy brothers, Rex Smith, and Donny Osmond all over again—only worse because Farmer Boy and I had actually met and swapped saliva.

That scenario would play out in almost the exact same way the following summer—and the next. And this ding dong played right along. Yep—as if to prove Einstein’s definition of insanity—I repeated the same actions summer after summer all the while expecting a different outcome. I don’t know how many years in a row Farmer Boy would have broken my heart before he grew bored of it, but I do know how many years I would have let him. Thank heaven I stopped going to Bible camp.

I don’t know where Farmer Boy is today. I’d love to look him up—if only to confirm my dual hopes that he had his heart broken over and over again by the same woman and that he no longer resembles Richard Gere—but apparently his name is too common for me to conduct an effective Google search. One day I may write a book about our annual flings. It will be the classic American love story: Farmer Boy flirts with girl; Farmer Boy kisses girl; farmer boy disses girl; Girl get Farmer Boy back by eviscerating him in fiction.

After that I dated several guys, but none were serious enough to make the list of those who got away until I met Minnesota’s answer to Woody Allen. By that I don’t mean the creepy Woody Allen who married his adopted daughter but the neurotic Woody Allen who plays characters who analyze things to death and are so insecure that at some point you want to stand up and shout, “You’re right; I COULD do better.” That was bad enough, but what finally put the kibosh on our relationship wasn’t his sense of inferiority but his fits of superiority and his tendency to be express surprise whenever I did something smart—like score higher than he did on the ACT, or get accepted by my first, second, and third choice of colleges.

On the upside, this guy did spark my interest in politics and introduced me to the music of Elvis Costello, both of which I’m still fond of today. Like Farmer Boy, and for the exact same reason, the whereabouts of this dude are unknown to me. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s working for some important government official and pretending not to care about power, or expressing concern that he doesn’t deserve the job. Either way, I doubt he would be much fun to be around.

Between Woody and the Jarhead there was only one person with whom I had a serious relationship. Like his predecessors, this fella was funny and playful—for the first couple months anyway. Then he got all possessive and violent, which is why I had to break it off. Unlike his predecessors, he was stocky and walked with his elbows bent in such a way that seemed to move sideways rather than forward like a giant crab. He also had squinty little eyes and a long torso which, combined with his skinny legs, made him look like a human crossed with a tree frog.

I firmly believe I did the world a favor when I broke it off with him. With my blonde hair and plus size figure, our kids likely would have looked like the love children of Kermit and Miss Piggy—and not even the folks who created the Muppets are interested in that.

With all of that in mind—not to mention the Jarhead’s many wonderful attributes—it’s fair to say I made the right choice not to pursue those who rejected me, and to throw the others back. Then again, for all I know they’d say the same about me. Good thing I have no idea where any of them are.

Lessons from Lisa

I was reminded recently—thanks to a reference in Diane Kelly’s novel, Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte—of the case of Lisa Nowak. As you may recall, Nowak is the former Navy Captain and NASA astronaut who was arrested in Orlando, Florida in 2007 after attempting to kidnap her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, Colleen Shipman.

According to reports, at the time of her initial arrest Nowak was found in possession of gloves, a dark wig, a trench coat, pepper spray, a knife, plastic garbage bags, and other items—all of which suggested to police that her intent was not only to kidnap Shipman, but to do her harm. Nowak would later plead guilty to reduced charges in return for a sentence of two days time served plus one year of probation, and receive an Other than Honorable Discharge from the Navy.

Upon review of these facts, I am moved to ask: What we can learn from this case?

Is it that women can be as crazy as men when it comes to love? No.

Not that the statement itself isn’t true. One need only watch an episode or two of Snapped to see just how deranged women can get when it comes to romantic relationships and rivalries. So the fact that women can be crazy when it comes to love is not something we can learn from the Nowak episode. It just reaffirms what we already know.

Is it that NASA shouldn’t recruit and train women to serve as astronauts? Not even close.

Of course, shortly after the Nowak story broke there were those who suggested that NASA should let only men become astronauts—citing either the stress of the job as too much for women to handle, or the presence of women in the space program as too likely to lead to sexual liaisons that can adversely impact the work environment. These are the same people, no doubt, who think the problem of sexual assault in the military can be solved by keeping women out of the military. But just as men do not assault women because they are men, but because they are sexual predators, Nowak didn’t stalk and attempt to kidnap Shipman because Nowak is a woman. She did so because she was unstable and unhinged. So barring women from working alongside men is not an idea we should take from the Nowak case. Rather, it’s one that should be discarded and with all deliberate speed.

So, is the lesson here that NASA needs to do a better job of screening its applicants?

I’m tempted to answer that one with yes. Actually, I’m tempted to answer it with a big DUH. Because better screening sounds like a great idea and—like safer schools, higher fuel economy, and cleaner air—it’s hardly a concept anyone would argue against.

But let’s get real. All the screening in the world may not have prevented Nowak from working at NASA or trying to kidnap Shipman. Because you generally can’t tell who has the capacity to become unhinged unless and until that person is placed in a situation that would cause him or her to become unhinged. Oh, sure, you could subject all candidates to a battery of psychometrics and hope to weed out a few of the crazies. But unless you’re going to run some kind of long-term model whereby applicants are exposed to a variety of stressors to see if they’ll respond by, say, taking someone hostage or stealing nuclear warheads and selling them to terrorists, you aren’t going to find the real whack jobs. Because without a triggering event, genuine whack jobs look and act just like the rest of us, and they usually know the correct answers to even the trickiest questions.

So, I’m not going to go with better screening of astronauts. It’s sounds easy, but it’s hardly cost effective.

Instead, I’m going with option four, which—if you’ve been counting—is where we are now. And that is: When it comes to dealing with romantic rivals, women have a lot to learn.

First: Don’t attempt to kidnap a romantic rival from a public place. One of Nowak’s biggest mistakes was in trying to nab her target from the airport, where security cameras recorded her waiting for roughly an hour for her target to arrive, and where there are witnesses, security personnel and, often, members of law enforcement just standing or sitting around waiting for something to happen. A far better place from which to take someone by force is their home, their garage, or a dark alley. That way there are no cops, no cameras, and few witnesses.

Second:  When kidnapping a romantic rival, don’t come on too strong. Another one of Nowak’s mistakes was in trying too hard and being too obvious. According to reports, Shipman heard footsteps running toward her, which alerted her to the fact that she might be in danger. Soon after, Nowak allegedly hit her with the pepper spray. Even if she hadn’t been at the airport—surrounded by cameras, witnesses, and uniformed personnel—the running and the pepper spray would have been too much.  As any cold, methodical male serial killer will tell you, a softer touch is called for on these occasions. It would have been better, for example, for Nowak to feign a sprained ankle, lost keys, or car trouble than to launch a surprise physical attack in public. Doing so would have enabled her to earn Shipman’s sympathy and trust, which would have allowed her to gain access to the vehicle, and make her move somewhere away from prying eyes, where she should have been in the first place per the paragraph above.

Third: When your plan to kidnap a romantic rival starts to unravel, don’t lose your cool. Another one of Nowak’s mistakes was panicking when things started to spin out of control. According to reports, once she realized that things were not going according to plan, she took off her trench coat and wig, and hid them into a nearby trash can. Although on its face this seems like a sound decision, she would have had a much better chance of avoiding detection and evading capture if she’d walked briskly to a stairwell, removed her disguise, and then calmly walked to her car and driven away.

Fourth—and most important: Don’t attempt to kidnap a romantic rival. Of all her mistakes, Nowak’s most glaring error was in going after Shipman in the first place. As any scorned woman can tell you, the person who should be punished for dumping you—and hard—is the one who dumped you, not the one for whom you were dumped.

I’m kidding, of course. As tempting as it sounds, kidnapping is rarely the answer. For as bad as rejection feels, one can assume that going to jail and being publicly humiliated because you couldn’t handle that rejection feels a lot worse. And as delicious as disposing of the other woman sounds in theory, in practice it is likely an empty victory. Because even if you manage to remove her from the picture without getting caught, there is no guarantee that the man who dumped you will want you back when she’s gone, and even if he does, there’s no guarantee he won’t leave you again and force you to go to all that trouble with someone else later.

So when you have that thought, as Ron White would say, let it go. Because no man—or woman—no matter how talented or good looking, is worth your freedom or your self-respect. Instead, find someone smarter, sweeter, and/or better looking, and get on with your life.

Because it’s true what they say: Success is the best revenge.