Thursday, May 31, 2018

So long, Peanut...

Today's post is inspired by some news I got the other day.  I found out about the death of a little girl whose story I'd been following since before her birth.  I never knew her or anyone in her family personally.  I simply followed her mother's blog for awhile.

I don't remember exactly how I found this woman's blog.  It was probably though RfM, though I can't be absolutely sure, because I found it years ago.  It was right around the time a lot of people on RfM were posting about another blogger, name of Janis.  I've written about Janis in this blog, just like I know I've written about Peanut's mom.  Both women were interesting for different reasons.

Peanut's mom, I'll call her Annalee (not her real name), wrote a very entertaining blog that used to be wide open for the masses.  Some time ago, she made the blog private.  I decided not to request access to it because, to be honest, I found her very snarkworthy.  I knew I wouldn't be reading the blog for the right reasons.  Besides, by the time she took her blog private, Annalee's struggles had become very poignant.

When I first found Annalee's blog, she was a childless Mormon lawyer who had recently been fired from her job.  She wrote funny blog posts that were rather narcissistic.  I distinctly remember one post she wrote was about how she and her husband were looking for new friends, but she didn't want to be friends with couples who were struggling with infertility, since she wasn't interested in hearing how other people's junk didn't work.  At that point, she hadn't revealed that she and her husband were themselves struggling with infertility.

Instead, she wrote an inflammatory post about meeting Lindsay Lohan while getting her hair cut.  Annalee brazenly took pictures of the star, even after Lindsay had asked her not to.  In her blog, Annalee was unapologetic, writing that Lindsay Lohan chose to live her life in the public eye and needed to get over herself.  She also wrote a memorable ode to beauty pageants, which Annalee admitted to really enjoying.  She equated her love of the Miss America pageant and its ilk to other people's love for the Super Bowl.  I have to admit, I'd rather watch Miss America than pro football.

Still, despite the fact that I was entertained by her unorthodox sense of humor, I began to think Annalee was a bit of an asshole.  Then, she got pregnant with twin girls and her blog became dedicated to them.  I started to lose interest.  I remember one day, Annalee wrote that one of her twins was extremely malformed and would not be expected to live beyond a few weeks.  In fact, when the girls were born, one was perfectly healthy and the other was missing a significant portion of her brain.  That was nine years ago.

For awhile, Annalee posted regularly and almost exclusively about her daughters.  She made it clear that she would not be having any other children.  I noticed that she dressed the girls alike, even though they were definitely not identical.  Even if "Peanut", which was Annalee's nickname for the less healthy twin, had been normal as her sister was, they wouldn't look anything alike.  And yet, Annalee continued to pose them like dolls and take pictures of them for her blog.

To be honest, I found the constant pictures of the little girls kind of tasteless and even a little boring.  Overall, the blog remained compelling, though, so I kept reading it.  Annalee would write about Peanut's medical issues and the financial hardships she and her husband endured while trying to keep their daughter alive.  Despite my original snarky feelings toward Annalee, I imagined how I'd fare if Bill and I were in their shoes.  I imagined Annalee and her husband must be exhausted and broke.

Occasionally, I'd even find the odd news article about the couple.  It turned out Annalee was quite the lobbyist and she got involved in Utah politics.  Her efforts led to a new law passed for the families of children with severe disabilities.  I was right about the couple being exhausted and broke, too.  Another news article I found included a candid quote from Peanut's mom, who reckoned that if her husband kept working two jobs, they might be able to pay off Peanut's medical bills in ten years or so.  A couple of months ago, Annalee and Peanut were mentioned in an article about daylight savings time in Utah.  Apparently, the twice yearly time changes wreaked havoc on Peanut's medication schedule.  She was lobbying to abolish the seasonal time changes in Utah.

One day, Annalee posted an angry update to her blog.  It seemed it had been shared with the folks at RfM, who had left her some nasty comments, which pissed her off.  She decided to make the blog private.  I couldn't help but remember her comments about Lindsay Lohan and how Lindsay needed to realize she was a public figure.  Well... when you blog, if you're any good at it, you do put yourself out there.  People will read and have opinions that they'll feel free to share.  People have written shitty things about my blog, too.  I have gotten plenty of disapproving comments.  I understand how annoying that can be, but I keep writing.  Rude comments come with the territory.

Annalee did make her blog private for awhile, but then, just as I predicted, she reopened it.  I resumed reading it until she decided to go private again.  The blog remains private today.  Again, I never bothered to ask for access to it.  I don't have a disabled child, so I wasn't reading the blog for coping tips.  I don't know Annalee or her family, so I wasn't trying to keep up with what they were doing.  If I had asked for access, it would mostly be for voyeuristic reasons.  Despite some people's beliefs, I'm not really that much of an asshole.

The other day, I got curious about Annalee and her family.  I knew that even without access to her blog, I'd find an update.  Sure enough, I did.  I found an obituary for "Peanut", who had suddenly died exactly one week after her ninth birthday.  The family had recently moved from Utah to California.  When I say recently, I mean mere weeks ago.  I don't know what happened, but I did read the child's obituary.  For someone who was missing a large portion of her brain, Peanut accomplished a lot in her short life.  The fact that she lived nine years is pretty amazing.  I remember reading about her when she was still in the womb.  I never knew her, yet she still managed to touch me.

I decided to look up Annalee on Facebook.  I did find a few public posts that indicated that she still has a very dark sense of humor.  I would imagine it came in handy during her nine years taking care of her very sick child.  Indeed, on her Facebook, she even contemplated wearing a badge that said, "Leave me alone.  My daughter just died." and then watching the reactions of people.  She flat out says she doesn't like people or pity.  Yes... Annalee is probably still very much an asshole.  It's probably the main reason why her experiences with "Peanut" didn't destroy her.  There is something about Annalee that is kind of refreshing, though.  She's not into bullshit.  I can respect that.

I kind of wonder how Peanut's sister is doing.  It couldn't have been easy growing up with a twin sister that sick and then seeing her die.  It was inevitable that Peanut was going to die.  I would imagine that now, things are going to change for the family in a lot of ways.

Well, anyway... so long, Peanut.  If I were a religious type, I might say that God had a plan for you in your nine short years on earth.  And now that you're gone, maybe things will somewhat get back to "normal" for your family, at least financially speaking.  On the other hand, I have a feeling Peanut has left an indelible mark on many people... myself included.      

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Unfortunate comments from Republicans...

I'm beginning to think of Twitter as a noose for racist celebrities.  Roseanne Barr is the latest to fall into the Twitter trap.  Her reboot of her 90s era hit show, Roseanne, has just been canceled because she referred to Valerie Jarrett as the birth product of the Muslim brotherhood and Planet of the Apes.


Roseanne's unfortunate tweet.

Personally, I don't give a shit that Roseanne's show has been cancelled.  I never watched the original show, since it aired when I was in college and had little access to television.  I didn't bother to watch the reboot, either.  The one time I saw her perform was before she had a hit show.  I think she was on an HBO special.  I have a high tolerance for crass humor, but I didn't think she was very funny at all.  The one joke I remember was when she said, "You don't think I'm feminine?  Well, suck my dick!"

  

Roseanne Barr in her prime.  Not too offensive here, though...

I do think it's a pity that Roseanne's inability to refrain from being racist has cost so many people their jobs.  Think about it.  It's not just the other actors on the show who are being screwed by this.  It's also everyone who works on the show: producers, directors, camera operators, caterers, hairstylists, dog trainers, whatever...  Hopefully, those people will be alright in the wake of this.

It also affects advertisers, who were making money from the products advertised on the show, as well as ABC itself, which made millions from selling the ads.  So, a lot of people far removed from show business will be affected by Roseanne's racism.  On the other hand, maybe some other talented comic will get a shot at stardom since Roseanne has been benched.  

I never got into Twitter much myself.  I have an account, but I think I've tweeted fewer than 1000 times in the years I've been on Twitter.  I think I avoid it because I don't like having my words and characters limited.  Just read any of my blogs and you'll know I'm not a woman of few words.  I like to be free to express myself as I wish.  I probably should pay more attention to it, though, since shit erupts there all the time.  I think it's more volatile than Facebook is.

Speaking of dumb politicians...  

This morning, I read that Representative Diane Black (R-Tennessee) thinks that school shootings are the result of too much pornography.  Ms. Black, who is 67 years old and running for governor of Tennessee, says:


Wow.  Is she serious?  Way to mix agendas.

Apparently, Black, who did not clarify her comments with reasons why porn is responsible for gun violence, claims that the shootings are the result of broken families, mental illness, and violent movies.  Her comments about porn, then, are probably actually a statement about how so-called morals have degraded.  People have quit going to church and having dinner together.  Kids are not being spanked as much.  Mom and Dad are not raising their children; instead, they let them watch movies and TV, listen to R rated music, and play video games.  And that's all causing teenaged boys to go crazy and shoot up schools.  Right.

There could be some truth to Black's comments about families going bust and that being a root cause of school violence, but I think that has more to do with the fact that so many people have to work long hours just to stay afloat financially.  It's hard to have a family life when you work twelve hour days and sit in traffic for another hour or two.  It's hard to have much family bonding when you can't afford to take vacations or even so much as a day off of work.  It's hard to even want to enjoy your time off when you're stressed and tired all the time.    

According to experts quoted in the article I read this morning, "poor social, economic and cultural conditions are primary drivers of gun violence.  Enacting policies to improve those conditions for people, along with reducing access to firearms, would go a long way in stemming mass shootings."

I think a lot of people feel hopeless.  Feeling hopeless leads to depression and apathy.  It also leads to anxiety.  A lot of people are struggling and nothing is being done to ease their burdens.  That trickles down to young people, who see what kind of world they will be inheriting.  While I would never condone violence, I do sort of see why so many young people are freaking out.  We live in a freaky world.

But for the record, no... I don't think porn is what is causing school shootings.  I think stress is causing it.  Sometimes I lament that I will be 46 next month.  Then I realize that I would not want to be 16 again for anything.  I thought growing up was hard in the late 1980s.  I'm sure it's much worse now. 

On another note...

We seem to be in the middle of a political tug of war in the United States.  I mean, we've always had political tugs of war, but it seems worse than ever right now.  I have a feeling that in November, there will be a massive turnout of voters and the Democrats will score a lot of victories.  Some people think that's a good thing.  One Facebook friend went so far as to tell all his friends to vote Democrat no matter what.

Personally, I find it offensive when someone else presumes to tell me how I should vote.  I don't vote for political parties.  I vote for people.  I don't care how many times you explain to me how the election system in the United States works.  I'm not voting Democrat simply to vote Democrat.  I am not convinced Democrats are necessarily any better than Republicans are.  Most politicians seem pretty dirty to me.  I will vote my conscience.  If that means my candidate doesn't win, so be it.  I think the system needs to change.  It probably won't in my lifetime, but as long as people keep voting for the same types of people, it most assuredly won't change.

I think some Republicans are decent people.  I think some Democrats are decent people.  There are plenty of rotten folks in both parties.  I usually vote for third party candidates anyway, because a lot of times, they seem saner and less beholden to lobbyists.  But yeah... I do think we'll see a lot more Democrats voted in next year.  Whether or not that will be a good thing will remain to be seen.  I don't like to see overwhelming influence on either side of the political spectrum.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tasteless video game in the works...

This morning, I read about a new video game that is set to come out very soon.  The game, called "Active Shooter", is going to be released on June 6th on Steam, which is a gaming platform owned by Valve Corp., out of Washington State.  This game has outraged parents of slain victims in Parkland, Florida because it will simulate an active shooter shooting up a school.

"Active Shooter" was developed by Revived Games and was published by a Russian company called Acid.  It will supposedly sell for $5 to $10.  The game will allow players to choose between portraying a SWAT team member responding to a shooting or portraying an actual shooter whose objective is to "hunt and destroy."

I can totally understand why parents whose children have been shot in school shootings are horrified by this game.  In fact, I think anyone who would want to play this game is probably someone who needs to be checked out by a psychiatrist and/or law enforcement.  On the other hand, these kinds of "active shooter" type games have been available for a long time.  What's different about this one is that is involves a school setting and that's all too real for too many people right now.

At the very least, it seems extremely tasteless for a company to want to profit off of the tragedy of school shootings by making a video game.  But then, plenty of business people are jumping on the bandwagon.  What about that company that is hawking bullet proof shelters for classrooms?  Would there be a need for such a product if the United States didn't have such a huge problem with school shootings?  Personally, I think it would be better for school districts to use the money they'd pay for the shelters to pay their teachers.

Of course, no one needs to play an active shooter game involving the shooting of students in a school or a SWAT team responding to a school shooting situation.  The only people I can think of who might possibly benefit are police officers who are in training to deal with school shootings.  Teenagers certainly don't need to be playing this game.    

According to Change.org, thousands of people have signed a petition urging Valve not to release the game.  But it turns out this is not the first video game based on the premise of school shootings.  It just happens to be the first one since the most recent shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas.  The game developers also urge prospective players "not to take the game seriously" and to either contact a psychiatrist or call 911 if the urge to hurt people becomes too real.  Also, the game is "not recommended for children".  Well duh...

Why can't we have more video games that are raunchy, funny, or sexy?  We have so many violent video games that are supposedly for adults, but they're mostly violent games.  I would much rather play an R rated version of the Sims than a game that involves shooting people.  If you play the Sims and "woo hoo" (they can't even call it sex), your Sims will be covered up.  But far be it for any American game publisher to cover up violence.

To Steam's credit, they are now considering whether or not it's a good idea to release the game.  My guess is that they'll simply wait until there is such a time when school shootings are either less shocking or less common.  It may be a long time before that happens.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ireland votes to give women a choice...

Bill and I spent the Memorial Day weekend in France again.  This time, we went back to Alsace, which is beginning to feel like a second home.  It was our fourth visit to Ribeauville since January 2017.  We love going there because it takes less than three hours to get there, yet has a distinctly different vibe.  Plus, the guy whose apartments we rent is awesome.

Anyway... our time in France did not stop me from watching the news.  On Friday of last week, Irish voters determined that it's time to end Ireland's ban on abortion.  They decided to repeal the 8th amendment to their Constitution, which pretty much made getting an abortion in Ireland impossible except in extremely rare cases.

I can never help sharing my strong pro choice beliefs.  I do have some friends who are pro life and sometimes they take me up on a debate.  I don't mind that, as long as they are respectful about it.  But I don't think anyone will ever change my mind about a woman's right to choose.  I will always choose the rights of the born over the rights of the unborn.  I can't support forcing women to be pregnant under any circumstances, even if I do think that it's reasonable to limit access to late term abortions.  


Someone shared this with me.  I think it nicely defines why this issue is so important.  It did spark a debate with one person who is against abortion, but most of my friends were horrified by it.

Ireland's Minister of Health summed things up nicely and said: "In the past we have told women with unwanted pregnancies to 'take the boat or take the plane' (to England). Now we tell them 'take my hand'."  That's the way it really should be, in my opinion.

Naturally, some people disagree.  One person with a strong opinion on the matter is Ben Seewald, husband of the former Jessa Duggar, who tweeted this:


Um... Ben, this is not going to affect you personally...  but...

An Irish woman in the Life is Not All Pickles and Hairspray group posted this, which I thought was brilliant.

If you want to be sad about something Ben, be sad about Sheila Hodges, and all the women like her who died because their cancer treatment was stopped because they were pregnant.

Be sad about Savita Halappanavar, and all the women who died as a result of not being allowed a medically managed miscarriage.

Be sad about Ms. Y, a rape victim who attempted suicide after being denied an abortion so they locked her in a psychiatric hospital, force fed her until she was 25 weeks pregnant and then forced her to have a c-section against her will.

Be said about Ms P, a woman who died when she was 15 weeks pregnant but was kept alive on life support for 3 weeks. Nurses had to apply make up to her to hide her collapsed eye sockets when her children came to visit because they refused to allow her to die with dignity because they wanted to use her body as some twisted version of an incubator.

Be sad about the thousands women forced through the doors of the Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene laundries. Cruel, deathly, evil places that only closed their doors in 1996.

Be sad about the 800 babies stuffed down sluice toilets at Tuam. Be sad about the 350 babies who died at Kilrush. Be sad about the babies who died at Bessborogh with its infant mortality rate of 68%.

Be sad about the thousands of women who found out their babies had no chance of survival and had to go abroad to access an abortion. Who had to leave their baby's body in a foreign hospital and wait for a delivery driver to return their baby's body to them in a cardboard box like an amazon delivery.

So many women have been negatively affected by Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws.  I don't cheer for abortions.  I simply think that women should be entrusted to decide when they are ready to give birth.  It's simply no one else's business, especially when the other person opining is not in any way affected by the aftermath of the birth.  Too many people resort to slut shaming, too, which is neither productive nor warranted.

I only wish more people in my own country had as much compassion as the Irish do for their citizens.  Watching the news from the United States right now is like being flung into a dystopian nightmare.  I am excited for Ireland and I'm glad I'll be visiting there again in July.  I'll definitely be raising a glass.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Yea Ireland!

I will be back later to write more about Ireland's decision to repeal the 8th amendment to its Constitution.  For now, I'm just going to say that I'm glad good sense prevailed and women will be able to make more choices regarding their health and pregnancies.

Way to go, Ireland!

Friday, May 25, 2018

A review of My Daughter Susan Smith by Linda H. Russell and Shirley Stephens

On October 25, 1994, a distraught young mother named Susan Smith from Union, South Carolina deliberately sent her 1990 Mazda Protege into John D. Long Lake.  Strapped into the backseat of the car were her two young sons, three year old Michael and 14 month old Alex.  As the car rolled down a boat ramp and into the murky depths of the lake, Susan banged on a stranger's door and begged for help.  She told everyone that a black man had stolen her car with her sons in it.  For days, she tried to maintain the story that she'd been carjacked and her sons might still be alive.  It was a total lie.


Susan Smith lies on camera about her sons.

In 1994, I was 22 years old and freshly graduated from college.  Susan Smith, who was 23 when she killed her sons, is less than a year older than I am.  I didn't follow her story when it was happening because, at the time, I had three part time jobs.  I do remember working in a menswear store where we listened to the radio all day, 106.9, The Fox (awesome classic rock station).  One day in early November, there was a news report about Susan Smith.  My co-workers asked me what I thought about it.  I hadn't heard of the case because I hadn't had time to watch the news.  I missed all of her emotional appeals on television, her ex husband David at her side.

In the summer of 1995, I was in the Republic of Armenia, having just started Peace Corps training.  One of the perks we got as Volunteers was a subscription to the international version of Newsweek.  My mom also used to send me People magazine and the U.S. version of Newsweek.  I read about Susan Smith.  She was on trial when I was in Armenia.  Her story both fascinated and horrified me.  I remembered how she went from being youthful and attractive, to bloated, pasty and depressed looking.  In a matter of months, she transformed into a woman who appeared to be much older than her years.  I also remember her obvious relief when she was spared the death penalty.

In 1999, I moved to South Carolina to go to graduate school at the University of South Carolina.  The following year, Susan's mother, Linda H. Russell, and a ghostwriter named Shirley Stephens, published the book My Daughter Susan Smith.  I remember the book was criticized.  A lot of people seemed to feel that Linda's book was in poor taste.

I was studying social work and public health at USC.  Sometimes Susan's name would come up in my classes.  I remember one time, a man who worked in the local prisons came to the abnormal psychology class I was taking.  He knew Susan Smith and had awful things to say about her.  She was also in the news back then, because she'd had sex with a couple of prison guards and had to be moved from a prison in Columbia to a facility in Greenwood, South Carolina.  I was even a finalist for a scholarship that was being given in Michael and Alexander Smith's honor.

I've been waiting 18 years to read this book.  I remember when it first came on the market, seeing it at the local Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks outlets.  I was tempted to make a purchase of the hard copy version back then, but had limited funds. I also didn't feel right about buying it.  Last week, I finally decided I wanted to read what Linda Russell had to say about her daughter.

I didn't expect it to be a good book, and it isn't.  In fact, I don't think Shirley Stephens is much of a ghostwriter.  This book reads as if Linda Russell wrote it, complete with awkward sentence constructions and a pervasive tone that blames everyone but Susan Smith for what happened to her sons.  However, as off putting as the book is, I also think it's kind of weirdly fascinating.  It's like a study in abnormal psychology in and of itself.  Linda Russell is the queen of victim blaming.

Susan Smith's hard beginnings...

Susan Vaughan was born on September 26, 1971, the daughter of Linda and Harry Vaughan.  Susan has two much older brothers, Michael (who goes by Moe) and Scotty.  Linda Russell explains that she and Harry Vaughan got married when she was very young.  She had gotten pregnant as a teenager.  Their marriage was not happy.  They separated when Susan was three years old and eventually divorced in 1977.  Susan was six years old.  One month after the divorce, Harry Vaughan committed suicide.  Although Susan never knew her father very well, she was very traumatized by his death.  She repeatedly blamed her mother for Harry Vaughan's suicide.  She even chose her wedding day because it was her late father's birthday.

About a year and a half after her parents' divorce, Susan's mother, Linda, married Bev Russell.  Russell was a local businessman, nephew of a prominent South Carolina judge, and local Republican politician.  He was a member of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition who sang in his church's choir.  Linda Russell's marriage to Russell meant a significant upgrade in lifestyle.  Unfortunately, as Susan matured into a young woman, Bev Russell molested her.  When Susan told her mother about Bev Russell's sexual abuse, Linda blamed her teenaged daughter for enticing him.

Teachers at Susan's school were aware of Susan's obsession with suicide.  She was very depressed and anxious.  Susan told her eighth grade physical education teacher that she wanted to kill herself.  The P.E. teacher, who had gone to high school with Susan's brother, Scotty, gave him a letter Susan had written about her desire to die.  Scotty showed Linda the letter Susan wrote, but Linda did little to address the problem.  When Susan was in high school and continued to have suicidal thoughts, other teachers and school counselors warned Linda that Susan needed help.  They recommended that Linda get her daughter to a therapist.  At least one psychiatrist recommended that Susan be hospitalized.  Another wanted to enroll Susan in an experimental treatment program, which Linda would not approve.

Linda initially balked at the idea of Susan receiving therapy.  She didn't see Susan as needing counseling.  She finally relented when the local Department of Social Services got involved, having learned that Bev Russell had been molesting Susan.  DSS informed Linda that Susan and Bev could no longer live under the same roof while Susan was a minor.  Linda also insisted on being allowed to call the therapist after each session.  She bitterly laments that the therapist would not violate Susan's confidentiality and that what was said during her sessions was considered none of Linda's business.

Linda Russell repeatedly writes that she no longer loved Bev Russell.  However, despite the fact that Bev did molest her teenaged daughter, Linda Russell seemed more concerned about appearances to the community and her own comfort than keeping her daughter safe from a predator.  Linda was still married to her husband when Susan killed her sons, although she claims that she had been planning to file for divorce the month before the murders happened.  She does reveal that she finally divorced him in 1998... about ten years later than she probably should have.

Susan's marriage to a "jerk" and his "homewrecker" girlfriend...

Susan Smith met David Smith when they both worked at the local Winn-Dixie grocery store.  Although David had a girlfriend named Christy, he also dated Susan.  When David got Susan pregnant, they decided to get married.  Susan and David had a church wedding when she was about two months along with Michael.  From the beginning their marriage was extremely rocky.  According to Linda Russell, David continued to see other women.  She claims that his inattentiveness to Susan was one of the main reasons Susan committed filicide.

Throughout the book, Linda Russell claims that David is the main reason why Susan now sits in a prison cell.  He had an affair with a woman named Tiffany Moss, who also gets a lot of blame for the boys' deaths.  Russell goes as far as to claim that David and Tiffany helped put Michael and Alex in their graves.  It's very clear that Linda Russell never liked David or his family.  She claims that they pandered to the press and made their situation much worse.

I don't detect much empathy from Linda toward David Smith or his family.  Linda Russell frequently refers to David Smith's book, Beyond All Reason: My Life With Susan Smith.  I do remember reading David's book years ago.  Linda makes it sound like David Smith blames Susan for everything.  Although I can't remember everything in Smith's book, I do remember that his take on the story seemed compassionate to me, while Russell's version practically seethes with rage.  In fact, Linda Russell sounds very "cluster B" to me, as if the apple didn't fall too far from the tree in Susan's case.

Likewise, Linda makes it very clear that she thinks Tiffany Moss is trash.  She writes of confronting her at Winn-Dixie after finding a note left by Tiffany at the boys' graves.  It seems lost on Linda Russell that Susan Smith wasn't exactly innocent when it came to "homewrecking".  She, too, had affairs with married men.

Susan's "Dear Jane" letter from Tom Findlay...

Ten days before Susan killed her sons, she went to a hot tub party.  At the party was Tom Findlay, an older guy who had gone to Auburn University and was the son of Susan's boss.  Susan had a sexual relationship with Tom's father, Cary Findlay.  She also dated Tom.  At the party, Tom flirted with another woman.  Susan retaliated by flirting with another man.  Tom sent her a letter that, in my opinion, was basically kind, if not a bit smarmy.  He was honest as he explained that he didn't want children and, although he liked Susan, was not interested in a relationship with her.  The note apparently was very devastating to Susan and was a key piece of evidence in her trial.

Susan's discussions with the police and interference from the press...

Linda Russell goes into some detail about Susan Smith's discussions with the authorities.  This part of the book was better than the other parts.  It's clear that she knew the local police who were involved.  It sounds like Linda even thinks they were somewhat good to Susan, although she does curiously fault the mental healthcare providers for prescribing psychiatric medications for Susan and the prison officials for seeing that she took the drugs.  Linda Russell claims that the drugs covered up how sick Susan Smith was.  While I can see where she's coming from, in that jurors might not see how ill Susan was, I also think it's kind of sick for Linda Russell to want her daughter to forego medications that alleviate depression simply so others can see Susan's sickness.  Mental illness is painful.  In my view, withholding psychiatric medications is not unlike withholding painkillers after a bad injury.  If the medications make Susan feel better, she should have them for that reason alone.  Anything less is inhumane.

Linda Russell is less forgiving toward the press.  She has a lot to say about Mark Klaas, whose daughter Polly was abducted from her bedroom and murdered.  Klaas has made a career for himself in the aftermath of his daughter's kidnapping and murder.  Apparently, he tried to insert himself in the Smith case purely to further his own career, according to Russell.

My thoughts...

What really strikes me about Linda Russell's book is that it seems aimed at convincing readers that Susan Smith is nothing but a victim.  I will agree that Susan Smith was repeatedly victimized, especially when she was growing up.  Linda Russell played no small part of her daughter's victimization.  Moreover, plenty of people grow up being victimized and don't kill their children.  I have no doubt at all that Smith was mentally ill when she committed murder.  She's probably still mentally ill today.  Her story is tragic.  However, even people who are mentally ill must be held accountable for their actions.  Linda Russell clearly doesn't want to hold Susan Smith or herself accountable for what happened to Michael and Alex Smith.

Another thing that struck me about My Daughter Susan Smith is that the story is very sordid.  It really illustrates the levels of toxicity that can lurk, even in small, friendly southern towns like Union, South Carolina.  Linda and Bev Russell appeared to be a very solid couple.  Bev Russell made a good living, went to church, prayed a lot, and was involved in local politics.  His wife appeared to be very respectable.  But lurking beneath the surface of Christian piety and Republican family values was a great deal of dirty laundry.  This story is a good reminder to keep in mind that things are not always as they seem.  Churchgoing people who pray a lot can still be guilty of horrific crimes.

I do think it's tragic that Susan Smith is probably going to spend the rest of her life in prison.  I hate to think of anyone being warehoused in a prison.  However, I also think she's where she belongs.  As for Linda Russell, I do hope that in the 18 years since she published this book, she's developed more perspective and empathy toward the other people whose lives were affected by Susan's crimes.

As for whether or not My Daughter Susan Smith is worth reading, I'll simply say that it might be worthwhile if you want Linda Russell's perspective or want to see how Susan Smith could have turned out how she did. However, in terms of it being a "good" book, I must be honest and state that it's not.  It's good only in the sense that it's a classic case study of what can happen when personality disordered parents raise mentally ill children.  I think Linda Russsell probably does have at least one personality disorder, but that's just a hunch.

Anyway... here's a link for those who are interested.





Thursday, May 24, 2018

Beach days...

I grew up about an hour from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  The county I lived in was also richly blessed with brackish rivers that were full of jellyfish.  I'm surprised I never learned how to waterski, since I definitely lived in an area where it would have been easy to do.

When I was very young, I used to love it when my parents or my sisters would take me to Virginia Beach.  Because I was so young, I didn't understand why the waves were so much bigger there than they were at Yorktown or Gloucester Point beaches, both of which were on the York River.  Although the water was salty, it was full of jellyfish and I'd always get stung.  I never had to worry about that in the Atlantic Ocean.  There, the water was too rough for the jellyfish...  It wasn't too rough for the sharks, of course, but I never worried about that.  I never worried about sunburns back then, either, though I definitely got my fair share.

Yesterday, I was hanging out in the Tidewater Flashback Facebook group and it occurred to me to ask the people in that group if they could refresh my memory.  You see, because we lived about an hour or so from Virginia Beach, we'd always go there just for the day.  Mom and Dad would very occasionally book cottages near Nags Head, North Carolina if they wanted to stay longer than a day.  Virginia Beach has public beaches, but my parents always went to a beach that was intended for military patrons.

I remembered we paid to park in the lot after showing our I.D.s, then had access to the clubhouse, which had cabanas and rafts to rent, showers, and a nice snack bar.  I couldn't remember the name of the property, but did remember it was near a tower and it had a lifeguard on duty.  I asked the people in the Flashback group and they said I was thinking of the Naval Officers Beach, which was affiliated with Fort Story.

I think there are still beaches for military folks near Virginia Beach, but that particular property closed some time ago.  I was fondly remembering my time visiting that beach.  I think the last time I went was sometime in the early 1990s.  I think now, they have cottages for rent there.  They look pretty nice.  Maybe someday, we'll get back to Virginia and rent one.  Or maybe not.

I also remember going to the Fort Eustis sand pools when I was a kid.  They had two of them for years, but then closed one.  In 2007, they closed the other one because a child drowned.  Someone in the Flashback group said they were working EMS that day and remembered the tragedy.  It's a pity, because that was a fun place to visit.  They were basically freezing cold manmade lakes with floating docks you could dive off of.  There was sand on the "beaches" and the shower houses were kind of gross.  I still remember a lot of fun picnics there with friends.  Germany actually has some lakes like that, too.  Maybe sometime, I'll convince Bill to visit.  He doesn't like to swim as much as I do.

I've been feeling a little out of sorts lately.  Zane's right front paw, which he had surgery on last year, has been giving him trouble.  It looks like the scar tissue is irritated.  He has another lump on his side, which could be a lymph node or another tumor.  He's acting fine, though.  In fact, he's as chipper as ever.  I still worry about him because he's my baby.  I woke up before 4:00am and immediately started feeling anxious.  I know I should relax and enjoy him.  There will come a day when he truly will be in trouble and my concerns will be legitimate.  It's probably a good thing I didn't become a nurse.

We're going to France again tomorrow... back to Ribeauville.  We're staying in a studio sized apartment because the big one we usually take is spoken for.  It was a last minute decision for us to go.  I just wanted to get out of town again.  I find it's good for my sanity.  Hopefully, the dogs won't bother anyone this time like they did last time.  I have some ideas of new things to do and places to see.  Even though we've been to this part of Alsace several times, we still haven't seen and done it all.  Ribeauville is close enough to Stuttgart that it almost feels like it's part of the area, even though it takes a couple of hours to get there.

Of course... it would be nice if we were near a beach.  I mean a real beach, not a river or a lake.  I would love to take a trip to Croatia and hang out for a week, eating good seafood, lying in the sun with 80 SPF sunscreen, and just chilling out.  But this is the year of the concerts, so I guess I'll just have to be contented with lots of shows.

Maybe later, I will think of something to rant about... or maybe I'll finish my latest book.  For now, here's a boring post, except for those who remember the Tidewater area the way I do.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cum is not always a bad word...

Last night, while quaffing too much wine and getting overly emotional about musical selections on iTunes, I ran across an article about a woman from Charleston, South Carolina who purchased a $70 cake from a Publix supermarket.  Cara Koscinski's son, Jacob, had just graduated from homeschool "Summa Cum Laude".  Just as an aside, I didn't realize Latin superlatives were a thing for people finishing high school.  But apparently, this young man graduated with highest honors, finishing with a GPA of 4.79.

Koscinski had used Publix's online ordering system to acquire the cake.  When she typed in "Summa Cum Laude", the system automatically censored the word "cum".  So Ms. Koscinski, thinking that a human being would be looking at the comments section on the order form, explained that the word "cum" in this instance was referring to the Latin phrase, not the disgusting slang term for semen.

Unfortunately, whomever decorated the cake was lacking both critical thinking skills and the powers of observation.  The person decorated the cake and wrote "Summa --- Laude", omitting the word "cum".  Koscinski's husband, who picked up the cake at the store, did not look at it before it was presented to Koscinski's son, who was reportedly "humiliated" when he saw it.

Few things here...  First off, it was a very stupid mistake.  I don't blame Ms. Koscinski for publicizing this or even speaking to the manager about this oversight.  The online ordering system obviously needs to be updated in some way and the bakery employees need training.  Clearly, the person who decorated the cake was either working on autopilot or needs to be educated about Latin phrases that might be requested for decorated desserts.  At the very least, the rest of the world deserves to have a good laugh at the stupidity of this error.

Secondly, I kind of think Ms. Koscinski's anger is a little bit out of proportion.  I mean, as sad as it is that apparently no one else at that particular Publix has ever ordered a cake with "Summa Cum Laude" on it, the error is kind of funny.  And if Jacob was really "humiliated" by a mistake that wasn't his fault, he's probably going to have a tough time of it in the real world.  When it comes down to it, it's just a few dashes of icing that will be eaten, anyway.  Evidently, the young man felt he had to explain the term "cum" to his grandmother and why it would be censored on the cake.  Kind of makes me think he must come from a very sheltered family who doesn't eat a lot of cum.

And finally... if there's one thing to be learned about this story, it's that whenever you purchase a decorated cake, it pays to look at the finished product before you leave the store.  It might also be a good idea to order the cake in person or skip the grocery store bakeries and patronize a small business instead.  Actually, just reading about this reminds me of our wedding reception and how I wish I'd used a small catering service in town instead of the one offered at Virginia Military Institute.  I think I would have been much happier with the results.

Ms. Koscinski did get an apology, a gift card, and a refund from Publix.  They also offered to remake the cake for her.  She declined, stating "You only graduate once."  That may be true, but Koscinski's son will probably be cumming for the rest of his life.  At least he'll have a funny story to share about it.



Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A review of Beyond Reason: The True Story of a Shocking Double Murder, a Brilliant, Beautiful Virginia Socialite, and a Deadly Psychotic Obsession

In October of 2015, I downloaded Ken Englade's 1990 book, Beyond Reason: The True Story of a Shocking Double Murder, a Brilliant, Beautiful Virginia Socialite, and a Deadly Psychotic Obsession.  I just now finished it, having been working on it for a few weeks.  I don't remember exactly what prompted me to order this book in 2015, especially since it's taken me over two years to get around to reading it.  Now that I've read it, I'm glad I made the effort.  It's a good true crime book, even if the double murder case it's about happened in 1985.

I found Englade's book about convicted murderers Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering especially fascinating for several reasons.  First of all, their crimes took place in my home state of Virginia-- Bedford County, to be exact.  I have a lot of family from that area, so I'm familiar with it.

Secondly, both Haysom and Soering are citizens of other countries.  Haysom is legally a Canadian, while Soering is a citizen of Germany, although both spent many years in the United States and will probably both remain there until they're dead.

Thirdly, Haysom and Soering met when they were students at the University of Virginia.  UVA is known as Virginia's "premier" university, although I know a lot of William & Mary graduates who would beg to differ.  UVA, after all, was founded by a William & Mary graduate.  Jens Soering, whose father was a diplomat, had graduated from the Lovett School near Atlanta, Georgia.  He was considered brilliant and was both an Echols Scholar and a Jefferson Scholar.  Elizabeth Haysom graduated from Wycombe Abbey in England and, though she was a Canadian, spoke with a very cultured British accent that made her sound like an aristocrat.  She is a descendent of Lady Astor through her mother, the late Nancy Astor Benedict Haysom.

Haysom is currently incarcerated at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia, serving 90 years for the crime of accessory to murder before the fact.  Her former boyfriend, Jens Soering, who was just 18 years old at the time of the murders, is serving a life sentence at Buckingham Correctional Center for the murder of Haysom's parents, Derek William Reginald Haysom and Nancy Astor Benedict Haysom.

What happened...

At the time of his violent murder in March 1985, 72 year old Derek Haysom, was a retired Canadian steel executive from Nova Scotia.  His American born wife, 53 year old Nancy, was an artist.  They were living in a home in Boonsboro, Virginia they called "Loose Chippings".  The two had previously been married to other people and had a total of five children between them.  Elizabeth Haysom was their one child together; she had attended schools in Switzerland and England before coming to Virginia to attend UVA.

By all accounts, Elizabeth Haysom was a very beautiful but strange young woman.  Englade describes her as a bit unkempt, although she had a remarkably cultured air about her.  She was 20 years old and a first year student at the university, although her academic performance left much to be desired.

Jens Soering was born in Bangkok, Thailand.  He was nerdy and had spent his life living away from Germany, his homeland, because his father, Klaus, was a diplomat.  Although he was (and presumably still is) extremely intelligent, he didn't have the best luck with the opposite sex.  So when he met Elizabeth Haysom, he was pretty much gobsmacked by her.

When Haysom's parents, Derek and Nancy were found brutally slashed in their home, police could not determine who had committed the crime.  Initially, they believed the couple had been killed by cultists.  The couple had been dead for several days before they were found, almost decapitated.  Elizabeth Haysom, however, had rented a car and gone to Washington, D.C. while her parents were murdered.  It was later believed she'd done it to establish an alibi.

Then, six months after the murders, she and Soering fled to England.  On April 30, 1986, they were both arrested for check fraud.  Meanwhile, back in Bedford County, detectives were stumped as to who killed the Haysoms.  While Haysom and Soering were jailed in England, they started talking to British investigators.  Soering eventually admitted to killing Haysom's parents.  British investigators called up the authorities in Bedford and told them they might want to get to England, pronto.

Bedford County is a fairly rural place and was especially so in the mid 1980s.  Haysom and Soering were being held in a town called Richmond, which is a suburb of London.  Virginia authorities were surprised that England has a Richmond, too (although they really shouldn't have been, since Virginia has many locales named after places in England).  Moreover, neither of the chief investigators owned passports.  They'd never been out of the country and apparently never saw the need to have travel documents.  Nevertheless, they sprang into action and rushed paperwork through to get their passports.  They went to England and spoke with Elizabeth and Jens, then set forth a legal battle that would involve three countries and take several years to straighten out.

Jens Soering had confessed to the crimes, but he did so erroneously believing he would be deported to Germany, where he would not face the death penalty and would have a comparably "cushy" experience in prison.  British authorities were fine with sending him back to Virginia to stand trial, as long as he wouldn't face the death penalty.  They were also using Soering's case to try to secure an IRA terrorist who was being held in a U.S. jail.  Meanwhile, Soering lobbied to be sent to Germany, even though he'd only spent three years of his life there.

After several years in a British prison, Jens Soering was finally involuntarily extradited to Virginia and stood trial in 1990.  His former girlfriend had pleaded guilty to accessory to murder before the fact and was sentenced to two 45 year terms to be served concurrently.  By 1990, Soering's story had changed and Haysom testified against him.  Although she has been eligible for parole for years, she remains incarcerated.  Soering has also been eligible for parole, but his most recent request last year was denied.

My thoughts on the book...  

Overall, I thought Beyond Reason was well written and researched, although it only covers one of the trials.  This book was published in 1990, so a lot has happened that wasn't reportable when the book initially hit the shelves.  Englade seems very convinced that Soering is guilty of the crimes.  Based on the information that was available in 1990, I can see why he'd think that.  Soering may be brilliant, but in the late 80s and early 90s, he was not very handsome and was both socially inept and cocky.  He did not make the most sympathetic character.

Crime investigations have evolved since the time of the Haysom murders and some people are now convinced that Jens Soering is innocent.  He now claims that he confessed only to protect Elizabeth Haysom.  A documentary about the case, Killing for Love, paints Elizabeth Haysom as the more guilty of the two, even though she did not actually commit murder herself.  I watched the documentary last week and it was pretty fascinating and left me with some questions as to where the truth lies.

Supposedly, Elizabeth Haysom has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  BPD is a frequent topic in this blog.  It's basically a psychological problem that causes sufferers to be extremely insecure, manipulative, and unstable.  Although Elizabeth Haysom came across as kind of like a polished Bohemian, by many accounts, she's very manipulative and supposedly hated her parents.  According to Killing for Love, she hoodwinked Soering into doing her dirty work.  Basedon on what I know about BPD, I find that a plausible conclusion.  Also, more advanced DNA evidence that has been collected since 1985 casts some doubt that Soering actually killed Haysom's parents.


A trailer for Killing for Love, which offers a much different take on the case.  Although Soering speaks English, he speaks German (with English subtitles) in the film.  

In 2010, former Virginia governor Tim Kaine even planned to have Soering extradited to Germany.  Soering would be in Germany now had Kaine's successor, Bob McDonnell, not blocked Kaine's decision.  Kaine's rationale was that Virginia taxpayers had been paying for Soering's incarceration long enough and German authorities had promised that Soering had been convicted of murder and would not ever set foot in the United States again.  It was a very unpopular decision, particularly among investigators who had worked on the case.

Soering has a Web site run by his friends and continues to profess his innocence and has published several books.  He's also converted to Roman Catholicism, having once considered himself a Buddhist.  A petition for an absolute pardon was submitted to the governor of Virginia in August 2016 and is currently pending.

I did find the overall story fascinating, although it took a long time to finish this book.  One of the most interesting parts of it, to me, were Englade's descriptions of British prisons.  Elizabeth Haysom was initially held at the then newly rebuilt Holloway, a modern facility that even had a gym and a swimming pool, while Jens Soering was at a prison that was built so long ago that the cells didn't have indoor plumbing.  If he needed to use the toilet in the middle of the night, he had to do his business in a pot.  Also, Englade describes exercise "ovals" in the prisons, which still exist today.  In earlier years, prisoners were masked and chained, then forced to walk the ovals as part of their punishments. Typically, the spaces inside the ovals were filled with mulberry bushes, which prompted the old nursery rhyme, "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush."  Having been an avid reader of nursery rhymes back in the day, that bit of trivia was new to me.

Englade also discusses why British prison guards were (and still are) called screws.  In the old days, prisoners were forced to keep busy.  Guards controlled a device known as the crank, which prisoners were required to turn 10,000 times per day.  The crank didn't actually do anything; it was intended entirely to give idle prisoners something to do.  If a guard wanted to make the punishment more arduous, he could tighten the screw on the back of gearbox, which would increase the resistance of the crank.  Bill and I actually saw one of these devices when we visited The Old Town Jail in Stirling, Scotland.


An example of a "crank" in The Old Town Jail in Stirling.

I have to admit that I started to skim a bit as the book dragged on.  Even though things have happened in this case since 1990, this book is a bit long and involved.  I would typically nod off after reading a couple of chapters.  In fact, yesterday, I slept three hours after reading a few chapters, then forced myself to finish it when I woke up.  But that may be more of a statement of my being an old fart than this book being dull.  I didn't find it dull... just long and a bit convoluted.

Anyway...

I'm still not entirely sure what actually happened in this situation.  I was twelve years old when the Haysoms were murdered and somehow missed the press about this case, even though I did live in Virginia when it happened and for years afterwards.  Because I'm from Virginia and have ties to the Lynchburg and Rockbridge County areas, this case is of interest to me.  It's especially intriguing since I now live in Jens' homeland, at least for the time being.  Will it be of interest to you?  I don't know.  But I'm glad I read the book and can now move on to my next project.



Monday, May 21, 2018

My husband, the redneck rebel...

Yesterday, Bill and I decided to stay at home.  I don't usually like to waste weekends being a homebody, but the weather was kind of icky and Bill has a new homebrew that needed to be bottled.  Also, I wanted to wash the sheets and that's a process that can take awhile, especially when I also wash the heavier duvet cover on our bed.  European washing machines are not like American washing machines.  A cycle can take a couple of hours.  Then I have to run the dryer, which is also not as efficient as an American style dryer is.

I did some writing and watched more of the barely watchable final season of Little House on the Prairie.  I think 1983 was the year for a lot of formerly decent TV shows to go down in flames.  CHiPs was also on its last legs in 1983.  Naturally, because we were at home, we also drank beer.

Sometime around 6:00pm, I started feeling kind of silly.  It wasn't a "buzz" type of silly; it was more just my non-sensical mind wandering off in different directions.  I suddenly started thinking about how Bill really rebelled against being a redneck.  It made me laugh.


I'm no lady... but I married a southern gentleman.

Bill and I both are both southerners, even if some people don't realize Virginia is a southern state.  Trust me, though, I grew up in a very southern town and there were rednecks aplenty, especially in my neighborhood on a dirt road.  My parents come from Rockbridge County in Virginia, which is most definitely rural.  I don't think my roots are quite as redneck as Bill's are.  His people are from rural Arkansas.

Bill's dad is one of several siblings.  I'm pretty sure he was the oldest and he's done very well for himself.  He worked as a bill collector at a hospital in Memphis for many years.  His wife, who is from the Memphis area, also worked in accounting at the same hospital.  Bill's dad is not really a redneck, but according to Bill, some of his aunts and uncles were.  In fact, one aunt reportedly told Bill's mom that she wanted her to name Bill "Billy Ray".  Yeah... that wasn't happening.

Bill's mom is from a very rural town in Arkansas.  She is more of a city type than Bill's dad is, though Bill tells me she's eaten her fair share of squirrels.  She wanted to see the world.  Bill's dad was not as interested in getting out of Arkansas, although he did heed Bill's mom's pleas to at least move to Memphis, where there was more work available.  Bill's dad is still living in Tennessee, while his mom is in Texas.

I look at Bill, who has a lot of very country roots, and it's almost hard to believe that he could have easily been a typical redneck.  Frankly, I could have turned out that way myself.  Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with being from a small, southern town and wanting to stay there.  I have a lot of friends who have done that.  It's just that somehow, Bill and I both wound up rejecting that lifestyle.

One thing that Bill cannot abide is guys who walk around with no shirt on.  It always cracks me up when Bill sees some guy walking around with his hairy chest on display.  His face takes on a subtle look of disgust.  The first time I saw him do that, I asked him what was wrong.  He said, "That's just a very redneck thing to do... walking around with no shirt on."  

My mind immediately flashed back to the many times my dad mowed the lawn without a shirt... or the time he took off his shirt at one of my horse shows.  It was one of the few he and my mom ever watched because they couldn't care less about horses or my career as an equestrienne.  Bill would have happily watched the whole show and kept his shirt on, to boot.  Then, he probably would have taken me out for a nice dinner at a good restaurant, rather than stopping at McDonald's, which was what I usually did after a horse show.  What can I say?  Riding is expensive.


He will even wear a skirt on special occasions...  ;-)


The first of many classy dinners with Bill...  This was the night he popped the question.

Ditto to guys who don't take their hats off when they walk into a building.  Bill thinks it's uncouth.  He isn't rude about it, though.  You just won't catch him wearing a hat indoors, going shirtless, or wearing really ugly clothes.  Actually, I buy his clothes for him because I used to work in a menswear store and am better at matching colors than he is.  But he makes sure everything is tailored, clean, and free of holes and stains.  And unless he's at a nude spa in Germany, he keeps everything appropriately covered or uncovered, whatever the occasion might call for.


Yeah... this isn't the lifestyle Bill wanted for himself...

Anyway, I started thinking about how Bill hates it when guys don't wear shirts and it reminded me of National Lampoon's Vacation, the 1983 film starring Chevy Chase.  I had to watch it last night because I wanted to see Cousin Eddie in his white spats and wife beater, cooking Hamburger Helper on the grill with no meat in it.


"Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?"

It amazes me to think about how refined and chivalrous Bill is.  Although he spent about thirty years in the Army, he's very much a southern gentleman who enjoys the finer things in life.  He's the type of guy who opens doors, pulls out chairs, and eats stinky cheese with gusto.  He doesn't care for watching sports, hanging out with his bros, or doing other "guy" things like manspreading or scratching his balls in public.  He doesn't mind dropping the f bomb on occasion, but he's remarkably civilized about it.  The only time I ever see him get really pissed off is when he's driving, but even then, he's mostly very courteous.  He even refers to other drivers as "Ma'am" and "Sir" as he politely cusses at them.  

Bill rarely raises his voice and always treats me like a lady, even though I'm not particularly ladylike.  In fact, I have a friend who has quipped on more than one occasion that Bill is a "very good wife".  I'll be sitting at my computer and he'll say, "What can I bring you?"  And he'll go fetch me a cocktail made just the way I like it and, if I'm concentrating on writing something, he'll pick up my chores where I left off.  Then, he'll make me a wonderful dinner.  

Yesterday, he made the bed while I wrote a travel blog piece.  He makes the bed better than I do, probably because he's been well-trained in the art of making hospital corners.  And if he gets the laundry out of the dryer, he folds everything... including my underwear.  That always cracks me up, since I usually just throw my unfolded undies in my top drawer or on the bench at the end of our bed.  Not Bill.  He always folds my underwear three ways, very meticulously.  And he very carefully folds my bras.  I always smile when I put them on after he's so neatly folded them for me.  

I think about Bill growing up in rural Arkansas and near Memphis, Tennessee among people who lived in tin roof shacks and regularly ate squirrel stew.  And yet he went on to graduate from American University, where he majored in international relations, learned how to fence, became very well read, and took English riding lessons.  He did spend about ten years in redneck hell when he was married to his ex wife, who was determined to live beyond her means in a rural town, collecting Disney plates and eating Swiss Colony snacks.  During those years, Bill worked in factories and wore used clothes from garage sales purchased by his ex wife.  But then, after his divorce, he came back on active duty and slipped into his own brand of chivalrous charm.  

Bill has become even more refined since I first met him, probably because his financial situation has really bloomed during our marriage.  I remember when we first got married, he was perfectly happy drinking Barefoot Merlot and eating cheeseburgers at fern bars.  Now I watch his face light up when he eats a really pungent piece of French cheese or drinks a particularly sophisticated wine.  It's hard to believe he didn't grow up eating fancy food and visiting foreign countries.


Bill eats cheese like a boss.  Notice how he holds his silverware.  He eats European style.  Apparently, his mom taught him to eat that way rather than the American way.


Bill reacts to a Belgian beer.  Do not give this man a Miller Lite.

I'll tell you what else is also hard to believe.  He married me.  Granted, he also married his ex wife, who makes me look like I spent years in charm school.  But I have a mouth like a sailor.  I'm loud, opinionated, and obnoxious.  I have been known to fart and belch in public, sometimes at the same time.  He thinks I'm hilarious, though.  Or, at least that's what he's told me.  I often joke that this should be my theme song...


We probably should have played this at our wedding.

Whenever I need to buy someone a card, I get Bill to pick it out.  He's a lot better at finding classy cards.  I usually find the ones that are gross, crass, or employ sick humor.  My mom has been a lot happier with her birthday cards since I got Bill to start buying them.

It's true that I grew up in better economic circumstances than Bill did.  My parents were/are well traveled and liked cultural things like concerts and going out to dinner at nice restaurants.  I spent a lot of time around well heeled horsey folks.  Some of that rubbed off on me, although I was just as influenced by some of my country friends.  As a kid, I didn't care about good food, good wine, or even travel.  When I eat, I hold my silverware like an American.  I don't eat stinky cheese or truffles and never had an interest in fencing.  I have never been one to be pretentious, although some people in the military community probably think of me that way.  It's only because I talk about my education, though, which I got mainly so I wouldn't have to live in a van down by the river.  I figured I was going to be an old maid... but then weeks after I started graduate school, I met my knight in shining armor.

A couple of days ago, I was watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding.  Bill asked me what I wanted to drink.  I said I wouldn't mind having white wine.  He said we didn't have any chilled, but we did have champagne.  He brought it to me just as Harry and Meghan were walking down the aisle together.  Then, he brought me a bowl of fresh strawberries.  Clearly, Meghan is not the only one who married a prince.  

I tell you, I don't know what I did to earn this lifestyle of a pampered cat in a sorority house...  I'll take it, though.  It's definitely not how I pictured my life to be and Bill is not the type of man I pictured marrying.  However, I am smart enough to know that we will never be divorcing, because I will never find another one like him and I wouldn't want to.  He's perfect for me.  I hope I'm perfect for him.


"Bill"... is probably grateful that I don't sit on his knee.  And I'm grateful when he steps on my back.  He gives a mean massage.



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Gun nuts and glam nups...

It's been an interesting week.  A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend about Kaitlin Bennett, a young, sexy, recent college graduate who loves her guns.  Bennett recently graduated with a biology degree from Kent State University, an Ohio institution immortalized in the 1971 song "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.  "Ohio" was inspired by the events of May 4, 1970, during which four Kent State students protesting the Vietnam War were killed by the Ohio National Guard.


This song is a classic... and it's still all too relevant.

Now that she's a graduate, Bennett is allowed to carry her weapons on school grounds.  Prior to her graduation, she was not allowed to pack heat while she was on the university's campus.  I guess she was in a celebratory mood when she brought her AR 10 assault rifle to an on campus photo shoot, as she slung it over her back while she carried a graduation cap that read "Come and take it."

I read up on Ms. Bennett.  She was a founder of the Kent State chapter of the libertarian group "Liberty Hangout."  Besides opposing gun control measures and advocating for a right to carry on campus, a recent post on the group's philosophy argues that "taxation is theft" and, "voting is violence and democracy is the oppression of those who dwell within the minority opinion."  I also read that she doesn't fear "bad guys" because she has a gun and isn't afraid to use it.

My friend, who is very much in favor of maintaining her second amendment rights, is a bit younger than I am and was apparently unfamiliar with the song "Ohio".  So when another friend, older than both of us, referred to the song, she was momentarily confused.  She wondered if it was a reference to another shooting.  We were having this conversation less than twenty four hours before Friday's shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

Friday morning, which would have been Friday afternoon where I am, 17 year old Dimitrios Pagourtzis stormed into an art lab, murdered ten people, and injured at least 13.  Pagourtzis surrendered after about fifteen minutes and waived his right to remain silent.  He had apparently considered killing himself, but decided not to.  Meanwhile, the families of ten people are in mourning this weekend.  Other families are worried about their loved ones who were wounded by yet another mixed up young man with a gun.

Bill and I were talking about this on our way to visit a waterfall yesterday.  I told him again about how I'd always wanted children, but now I'm kind of glad I don't have them.  You see, given the circumstances of our situation, having a child would have required a great deal of effort and, most likely, money.  I know people who wanted to have children so badly that they spent a lot of cash on fertility treatments.  Some of them got their wish and had their babies, but they went into debt and made a lot of personal sacrifices to make it happen.

Imagine expending that much effort to have a child, only to have that child capriciously blown away while he or she is sitting in a classroom.  As absolutely horrifying as it must be to lose a child in that way, imagine the anguish a parent who went to that much effort to bring a child into the world must feel.  It all seems extremely wasteful on so many levels.

I was still kind of reeling from that conversation and the sight of the majestic waterfall when I watched Prince Harry and Meaghan Markle tie the knot yesterday.  I know a lot of people don't like Britain's royal family.  Some people think they are a waste of taxpayer money.  I must say, though, that I was profoundly moved by the wedding.  I thought it was very well done.  I thought the music was exceptional and the sermon, delivered by Bishop Michael Curry, was very meaningful and hopeful. The whole message delivered was one of love and inclusiveness.

I've been around long enough to see a lot of royal weddings.  I think yesterday's wedding was the most extraordinary one I've seen yet.  I also think the message was badly needed, as Britain gains an American family member and Americans reel from all of the rampant racism, gun violence, and government ineptitude that has been going on for the past couple of years.  I will admit that the royal wedding was a good distraction from the sorrow of school shootings and misguided young women who think they need to carry an AR 10 assault rifle on a college campus where there was once a notorious act of gun violence.

And I also can't help but think of the natural beauty Bill and I saw yesterday, as we hiked through the pristine Black Forest to see a lovely waterfall.  I couldn't help but thank my lucky stars, yet again, that I get to live in a country so beautiful and so out of love with violence.  The longer I stay out of America, the weirder America seems to me.  And it's weird, not in a good way, but in a grotesque, macabre way.  There seems to be so many warped, angry, desperate people there who think nothing of shocking people by toting an assault rifle to a college campus for a photo shoot or toting weapons to a high school campus to wantonly extinguish young lives on the brink of adulthood.

I'm glad we still have enough hope to have these traditional, glamorous, royal wedding ceremonies... but I'm sorry so many young people have lost hope and feel they must end their peers' lives and either ruin or end their own lives.  Pagourtzis has now ruined his life.  And... although many gun nuts like Kaitlin Bennett argue that a "good guy" with a gun might have been able to stop him from his rampage, there were none to be found in time to save those ten people who died.

But... at least the royal wedding was beautiful.  My favorite part was when 19 year old Sheku Kanneh-Mason played his cello.  His music was absolutely exquisite... something akin to what I'd expect to hear at the gates of Heaven.  Sadly, too many young people are reaching those gates before their time.


Given the current racial divides in the United States, I can't help but be glad that the massively talented Sheku Kanneh-Mason is from Britain... where it's not nearly as likely that he'll be shot or arrested based on his skin color.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

A word for the end of the argument...

Yesterday, I woke up in a reasonably good mood.  I was feeling a little bit spunky, I guess.  I was so spunky that I decided to comment on a friend's political thread.  I almost never comment on other people's political shit because sometimes you end up in arguments with people who aren't your friends.  That can get annoying in a hurry.  Sure enough, that's kind of what happened yesterday, except the guy who argued with me was a former Facebook friend of mine.  I used to refer to him as "Papa Smurf" because he always seemed to act like everybody's sanctimonious daddy...


Anyway... I ended up telling the guy to fuck off, just like I figured I would...

The thread was basically about how Donald Trump reportedly referred to some immigrants as "animals".  The dude I told to "fuck off" is an unabashed Trump supporter who insisted the the video showing Trump calling immigrants "animals" was actually about the MS-13 group, which I will admit I knew nothing about until yesterday.  The guy said Trump was referring to members of that group who "rape, control, and murder" people.  My first comment, which I'm not showing here, is that Trump himself rapes and controls, so his comments condemning others for doing that are hypocritical.  Papa Smurf then felt the need to set me straight, which didn't surprise me much.  Below is how we ended our conversation.


I'll admit that this was not the most adult way to handle things... but it also felt really good.

I could have kept discussing this with Papa Smurf, but I know from past experiences that he's an overbearing bully who tends to lecture and doesn't have reasoned, respectful conversations.  And, besides, I had silly songs to write and terrible final episodes of Little House: A New Beginning to watch.  So I told him to "fuck off", which I know was kind of immature.  You'd expect that would be the end of the exchange and, at least for me, it was.  I did notice he named me in a follow up comment, but I didn't bother to read it.  When I tell someone to "fuck off", I mean it, and usually "fuck off" myself.  However, I did spend the rest of the day laughing about telling him to "fuck off" because I am easily entertained.

So then I asked my friends if any of them are surprised or shocked when I use the "f-word".  That's exactly how I put it, too.  I am sensitive to the fact that some people don't like the word "fuck".  To my delight, most of my friends understood that I was just being silly and responded appropriately.  But then I got a comment from yet another man who wasn't catching on.  This guy is the same one who recently hurled an annoying Harry Potter reference at me. 


The first comment is from a female friend of mine who swears much more than I do and probably with more creativity.  But then we got comments from someone who took things more seriously than was originally intended.  The guy didn't seem to get the fun nature of the post and took it in an irritating direction...

I don't think the guy meant to be annoying.  From prior exchanges with him, I have always thought of him as basically a nice person.  I believe he's a psychologist or somehow works in the mental health field, though, so I'm kind of puzzled that he didn't catch on to the subtle cues I was trying to send him.  He didn't seem to realize that his comments were akin to waving a red cape in front of me.  Finally, I told him to "fuck off", too, and to my great relief, he did.


I'm not unlike Fred the goat when it comes to these things.

Here's what's funny to me, though.  This guy was insisting that the f-word had lost its power because it gets used so much that people no longer pay attention to it.  But when I finally told him to "fuck off", he did.  So I can't say that the word has lost its power.  Maybe we hear it more than we used to, but it still means something... especially to us older folks who were taught that it's a word you save for the end of the argument.

It's true.  I may curse a lot, but I don't swear as much as some people seem to think I do.  My parents, especially my father, did not encourage cussing.  My dad was especially offended by it and would actually hit me when I cussed.  Like... he'd lose his temper and smack me upside the head or even slap me in the face.  One time, when I was about 13, I called him an asshole and he started choking me.  You'll notice that his decision to get physical did nothing to curb my habit of cussing.  In fact, it probably made me worse.  To his credit, I remember once or twice, he did have a reasoned chat with me about why he didn't like swearing.  On the other hand, I would much rather someone say "fuck" than put their hands on another person in anger.  Seems to me my dad should have cussed more.

Anyway... my dealings with Dad left me with this lingering guilt about swearing at other people.  I don't usually cuss at people unless they ask for it.  I might cuss in general, but I don't routinely tell people to "fuck off", nor do I call them names.  I usually only do that if I'm provoked somehow.  Still, even if I feel like I have the right to say "fuck", I don't always feel right doing it.  In fact, even as I enjoy it, I often feel slightly bad about saying it.  Then, I have a good laugh.  It feels good to be "bad".

It's hard to let go of the idea that the number of friends one has is directly proportional to one's quality as a human being.  Thanks to Facebook, we can actually know how many people have "friended" us.  The older I get, the more I realize that a lot of people who are "friends" are really just nosey folks who simply want to be in on the drama.  Plenty of people are "friends" with me until I decide to stick up for myself, discover our religious or political views don't align, or they see the less conventional side of my personality.  Most of them don't bother to get to know me beyond that, don't even really like me much, and wouldn't care if I dropped off the face of the earth.

So... I suppose for those people, I might reserve a hearty "fuck off".  Maybe I'll feel bad saying it.  But then, I'll probably have a good laugh.