A Haunting in Oshkosh (or, Offending the God of Grid Lines)

I recently told the Jarhead that when he dies, I intend to haunt him.

It may seem backward for me to haunt him when he’s gone since it’s usually the dead that haunt the undead. (Perhaps I should say the living, since—thanks to the likes of Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer—we all associate ‘undead’ with vampires.  But, as usual, I digress.)

But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense for me to do the haunting while I’m still kicking. For one thing, if wait until I’m dead, I may not get the chance to haunt the man because he may not be alive to experience it. Even if I go first and he doesn’t immediately die of heartbreak the moment expire, I may not have the opportunity to haunt him. After all, if my death certificate buys me a ticket on the down elevator, I’ll be so busy grumbling about all the good and wonderful things that are happening to all my ex-friends and ex-boyfriends that I won’t have the time or energy to haunt anyone. And in the unlikely event that I somehow land a seat on the up elevator, it will only be because I became a better person in the intervening years, which means I will have lost my marbles and therefore won’t remember who the Jarhead is, much less that I wanted to haunt him.

And exactly why DO I want to haunt the Jarhead? you may be wondering. Based on everything I’ve written about him so far there would seem to be no motive for me to haunt the man. He’s a decent, hard-working, patient, practical kind of guy. The kind of man who never complains about the food or the condition of the house—even when he’s forced to eat leftovers for dinner three nights in a row because I’ve been at my desk all week trying to perfect a novel or hack out a new blog. The kind who wants only to be warm and comfy at home, and to get out in the woods once in a while to connect with nature or whatever.

So here it is: Although the Jarhead IS that guy, he STILL manages to get on my nerves now and then. Yes, even Mr. Clean Marine has those moments when I could just clobber him. Until recently, it used to happen quite regularly. In fact, due to some phenomenon I have yet to discover and in which scientists have yet to take even a passing interest, for a number of years he seemed to be the most clobberable about every 29 days and for about two days straight. It was eerily predictable, and frustratingly unexplainable.

But while I may have violent thoughts, I do not believe in violent action. I much prefer a passive approach to problems. That’s why, in our younger days, he routinely would lose his keys or misplace his comb within ten hours of committing a clobberable offense. This, too, was an uncanny coincidence, I would have said then—were it possible for me to do so with a straight face. The keys would always turn up within a few minutes—behind the dresser, under a couch cushion, or wherever I had put them during my fit of pique—and we would laugh together and blame the cats. Unfortunately, we were oddly cat-less for a while in 1996, so I had to give up that tactic and find a more reliable form of agitation.

And with this haunting idea, I think I’ve found it. Oh, sure, I’ll have to wait until he’s gone to make up for years of monthly clobbering offenses. And while I honestly hope I’ll be waiting many more years to exact my revenge, what fun I intend to have—after an acceptable period of mourning, of course.

First on the plan is to do EVERYTHING I have always wanted to do but apparently wasn’t qualified to do—and do it MY WAY. For the first time in my life, I’ll be able to *gulp* use the lawn mower. Not only that, I’ll be able to mow it in any direction or sequence I want without having to worry about offending the god of grid lines.

I can already see myself, in my granny-style bathing suit, cut off shorts, and protective eyewear (which, according to some people—many of them blind—is for sissies) listening to country music (just because he wouldn’t) doing the boot scoot boogie across the lawn (because those who can dance SHOULD) pushing a brand-spanking new mower (because, yes, I am going to waste money on a new mower when the old one works perfectly fine as long as we tie this here piece in place with a bit of twine.) And besides, I’ll have to buy a new one because I don’t know how to sharpen the blade. Ha!

And how will I unwind after a hard day of licentious lawn care? By enjoying a glass of lemonade while holding the TV remote controls. All of them. Every last one. I may even carry them around with me from room to room. Or maybe I’ll rearrange their batteries or decorate the tops of their buttons with nail polish. And when I’m done with the remote controls, I’m going to watch every single adaptation of every Jane Austen novel I can find On Demand, online, and at Red Box.

Although I will not be able to stare into his big brown eyes and laugh as I desecrate his remote or decorate the lawn with swirls and zigzag lines, he will be with me in spirit. And he will know not only what I am doing, but also why. And you can bet part of him will be enjoying it all as much as I am since, after thirty years, we BOTH know how the other can be.

This all assumes, of course, that there is an afterlife. And I sincerely hope there is. Otherwise, he will never know all the fun I’ll be having with that lawn—not to mention his pickup and his power tools. And it would be a shame if I were to go to the trouble of painting them all purple or giving them to complete strangers—if he wasn’t somewhere in the great beyond laughing right along with me.

Just in case, perhaps I shouldn’t wait til he’s gone. Maybe I should start today.


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.

Lotto Dreams

You can tell a lot about people by their lotto fantasies. For example, you can tell someone is socially conscious when he or she pledges to donate all or part of his or her imaginary fortune to causes like protecting the rainforest or stopping the melt of the polar icecap. Likewise, it is logical to conclude that someone is religious if their lotto dreams involve donating money to a faith-based organization, or providing scholarships for kids to attend Bible camp.

At the same time, you can reasonably surmise that someone is eccentric if he or she dreams of using his or her winnings to fund an interplanetary vacation or fashion an abandoned missile silo into a six story pet store. And folks are likely to label you civic-minded if you envision yourself making a large contribution to a hospital or college—unless, of course, you do so on the stated condition that a wing, a lab, or the entire structure be named after you, in which case they will probably call you an egomaniac.

At first blush, my own lotto fantasies suggest that I am generous and kind. This is because my lotto ‘To Do’ list includes sharing a portion of my winnings with loved ones, and repaying those who helped me when I was young and/or down on my luck. These goals are accompanied by a plan to promote and reward academic excellence and good character among the youth in my orbit, and to support the charitable organizations that share my values.

But underneath the surface lurk darker motives.  For example, until recently my lotto fantasies included making a large investment in an organization with which I was once affiliated but from which I was forced to part ways because the management style of its leader was incompatible with my ability to maintain my sanity and dignity. The plan was to make said investment via a series of monthly payments over the course of five years or so, which would have required said leader to sign and send me a letter of acknowledgement for sixty consecutive months, thereby reminding us both that I was no longer subject to his/her personal and professional vacillations, and that my economic status no longer depended on my ability and willingness to do so. In addition, I planned to designate the funds to advance a project that he/she did not wholeheartedly support, which I estimate would have twisted the figurative knife about 180 degrees.

I still plan to make a sizeable donation to that program within that same organization if and when I hit the jackpot. But as the person who used to sign the letters of acknowledgement has since vacated that role, I’ve decided to make my donation in annual payments instead of monthly ones, thereby saving the organization time, paper, and postage.

Another fantasy that originates in the darker areas of my nature involves an inverse charitable equivalent of that age-old custom of T-P-ing all of the houses on a block except one, thereby making everyone in the neighborhood think the people who live in that house are the ones who did the T-P-ing—or at least making everyone resent them for not having to remove all the TP from their property. In this situation, however, I would punish all of the organizations who try to control or destroy smaller entities with similar missions and/or those with whom they compete for funding by making a large contribution to every OTHER charity within their area of focus or geographic region. This may not influence the public’s perception of the larger organizations, but it should help the smaller entities protect themselves from those who fancy themselves the Masters of Puppetville.

My plans may sound grandiose, and reading about them may cause people to think twice about associating with me in the future. But it’s not as if I’m looking to imprison someone for a crime they didn’t commit, or plotting against someone who doesn’t have it coming. I’m just talking about adjusting the balance of power within my tiny sphere of influence. Or, in a word, justice.

Of course, I’ve been playing the lotto for a long time and have yet to win enough to pay back the girl who stole my boyfriend in 1982. Then again, she married the deceitful bastard, so I guess fate took care of that for me.