bad TV, movies, narcissists, true crime

I just watched Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer…

About fifteen years ago, when Bill and I were still living in my native state of Virginia, I read a true crime book by Kathryn Casey. The title of the book was She Wanted it All: A True Story of Sex, Murder, and a Texas Millionaire. At the time that I read the book, Bill was serving a deployment in Iraq. As worried as I was about him, I was also freaked out about his ex wife, who had done some extreme things in the previous year to mess up Bill’s relationship with his daughters. In so many ways, Celeste Beard Johnson’s story reminded me of Ex, only there wasn’t a murder involved.

I reviewed Kathryn Casey’s book on Epinions.com, noting that the story of Celeste Beard Johnson reminded me a lot of my husband’s ex wife, and the drama she was visiting on us at the time. I got nightmares after reading that book. You can find my review here; when Epinions.com died, I managed to save some of my old reviews and have put them on my blog.

Last week, I noticed that a lot of people were reading my review of She Wanted It All. I am Facebook friends with Kathryn Casey, and she had posted about how Celeste’s daughters, Jennifer and Kristina, had done an interview for 20/20. I wasn’t able to watch the show because I live in Germany, and I wasn’t home when it aired, anyway. Maybe I’ll see if I can find it on YouTube or iTunes.

Anyway, when I noticed I was getting a bunch of hits on that old book review from the spring of 2007, I did some Internet sleuthing and discovered that last year, Lifetime put out a made for TV movie about Celeste’s story. The movie, Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer (2021), stars Julie Benz, whom I knew from Desperate Housewives. Julie Benz and I are about the same age, but she’s still very attractive. I liked her in other things I’ve seen her in, so I downloaded the movie and watched it yesterday.

One thing it’s important to remember, of course, is that a made for TV movie is really a movie that’s based on a true story. It also requires condensing a story so that it fits in a short timeframe. Celeste Beard’s story is a hell of a lot more complicated than the way it was portrayed in the made for TV movie. I think Julie Benz was a good choice to play Celeste, but the story is a bit watered down, as it would be. What’s kind of sad about it, though, is that Lifetime’s treatment of it is actually kind of campy. That’s too bad, because I think there are a lot of women like Celeste in the world… toxic, money grifting, narcissistic assholes who are not much better than vampires.

The official trailer for the movie… At this writing, someone has also uploaded the whole thing, so you don’t have to pay iTunes to see it.

At the beginning of the movie, Celeste (Benz) is shown flirting with an older man at an Austin, Texas country club, serving him vodka tonics. The lonely old man, Steven Beard, is a wealthy Austin area television mogul. He’s loaded with money, but since his wife died, he has no one to share his good fortune with. Celeste zeroes in on him, putting on the charm, batting her eyes, and quickly convincing him to fall in love with her and let her and her two daughters, Jennifer and Kristina, move in with him. The movie doesn’t explain this, but Jennifer and Kristina are twins, and products of Celeste’s first marriage to Craig Bratcher. She alienated the girls from their father, and they even wound up in foster care a few times, when she couldn’t foist them off on family. Bratcher eventually committed suicide, as Celeste drained her subsequent husbands of money and other resources. When she married Beard, Celeste insisted that he adopt her daughters, although in the film, it looks as if adopting them was Steven’s idea.

She would marry twice more before making Steven Beard her fourth husband. At the beginning of their relationship, Beard was very kind and generous, and he was patient and understanding when Celeste would spend his money recklessly. When he finally got fed up with her crazy spending habits, Beard brought up the “D” word. Celeste responded by threatening suicide, which led to her being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. There, she met Tracey Tarlton, who was an openly lesbian woman with anger issues and a history of depression. She and Celeste became buddies, and later, had a relationship.

Tracey Tarlton is played by Justine Warrington, who gives the character an almost comic treatment. She confesses to Celeste that she got in trouble for hitting an ex lover’s husband with her truck. When Celeste asks her if she really did that, Tracey says, with a conspiratorial giggle, “No… but I thought about it.” It was at that point that I realized how tasteless this adaptation of Beard’s story really is. Lifetime turned it into a salacious tale, seeming to miss that a man who had friends and family members who loved him was killed for Celeste’s selfish agenda.

Celeste talks Tracey into killing Steven Beard. She convinces her that he’s an abusive man who will leave her destitute and alone if they get a divorce. Tracey got it into her head that if Steven Beard was out of the way, she and Celeste could be together and live happily ever after. But after Steven died, Celeste took up with her fifth husband. That was when the real life Tracey spoke up. The movie makes it appear that the girls had talked her into confessing what really happened. Celeste had signed a prenuptial agreement that would have given her $500,000 in the case of divorce. But if Steven died, she’d get half of his fortune, as the other half would go to Steven’s daughter from his first marriage, a woman named Becky (Patricia Harras) who was older than Celeste. In real life, Celeste was 38 years younger than Steven Beard. Julie Benz is clearly older than the real life Celeste was when this was happening in the early 90s. The actors portrayed Celeste and Steven were too close in age.

One thing I noticed was the detective– Detective Rolands– who seems to pronounce the name so that it sounds like “Rawlins”, which made me think that’s a common name for cops and detectives on TV. Every time he referred to himself by name and flashed a snarky look at Celeste, I was reminded of cheesy 70s and 80s era cop shows.

I didn’t think the acting in this movie was particularly good, either. I remember thinking Julie Benz was so beautiful when she was on Desperate Housewives. I thought she was a good actress, too. In this film, she was all gushy and unconvincing. I came away with the idea that she did this movie strictly for the money. It’s not that I really expected a whole lot better from Lifetime TV. Most of the newest movies I’ve seen made by them are pretty terrible on every level, from the quality of acting, to the veracity of the stories presented, to the way certain things are presented, like crime investigations. They bear little resemblance to the truth and aren’t plausible. Some of it probably has to do with the budget and needing attractive people to star. I’m also sure some people like vapid, shallow, forgettable movies rather than detailed stories.

There was a time when they made movies that were of decent quality, but the ones I’ve seen recently have been disappointing. I saw one they made with Judd Nelson in it. I like Judd Nelson as an actor– I grew up in the 80s, after all. But that movie, Girl in the Basement (2021), which was loosely based on the Josef Fritzl story, was also very campy, salacious, and poorly acted. And both of these movies, made for Lifetime TV, barely scratched the surface of the complexity of the stories. In better hands, this could have been a very compelling movie. I would hope it would have been handled with more respect, too. Lifetime treats it almost like it should be a funny story. There’s nothing funny about what Celeste Beard did to Steven Beard, his daughter, or her daughters, who– thankfully– are much better people than she is.

When I reviewed Kathryn Casey’s book, She Wanted it All, my husband was very estranged from his daughters. As time passed, one of his daughters reconnected and has shown us that, like Jennifer and Kristina Beard, she’s a much better caliber of person than her mother is. Sadly, like Jennifer and Kristina, my husband’s daughters were basically turned into servants, serving their mother’s narcissism and need to take everything from everyone close to her. But when I first read about Celeste Beard, I literally had nightmares, because she reminded me so much of Ex. This movie is laughable and silly… just as Ex has become to me… even if she’s still not a laughing matter to her poor daughter, who still takes her seriously, because she’s still her mother, even if she is a lying, narcissistic twit.

I feel like this true crime story should have been treated with a lot more seriousness and respect. If you are truly interested in this story, I would definitely recommend taking the time to read Kathryn Casey’s book. It’s very comprehensive and well-written, and you’ll get the real story, rather than this appalling bullshit that attempts to turn a tragedy into a comedy show. It’s really not funny, and shouldn’t have been turned into a campy Lifetime TV story.

Celeste Beard is currently serving a life sentence, although she will be eligible for parole in 2042. Tracey Tarleton was released from prison in 2011 and has completed her parole. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Standard
Bill, funny stories, humor, love, marriage, movies, nostalgia, videos, YouTube

From the horrifying womb of Teen Steam, a new private joke is born!

Regular readers may have noticed that yesterday, just before I wrote about Bill’s needless alarm over Friday’s phone call, I reposted my review of Alyssa Milano’s embarrassing 1988 era exercise video, Teen Steam. I reposted that review because I originally wrote it for the now defunct review site, Epinions.com, and had reposted it on my dying music blog, Dungeon of the Past. Some of my most faithful readers are folks I “met” (in person in a few cases) on that site. I like to preserve my old Epinions reviews whenever I can. As I’m getting close to the $100 in ad revenue I need to cash out on AdSense, I’m thinking about discontinuing my music blog. If I end up doing that, it might mean some of the most popular and personally amusing posts will get rehomed on this blog. I do like writing about music, but I don’t have the desire to update that blog often enough to keep it going. Plus, I simply don’t like writing on Blogger anymore.

Reposting the video again, for those who don’t want to read my old Epinions review.

As I was reposting that review, I watched bits of Alyssa’s godawful Teen Steam video again. I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Indeed, I initially wrote that review in 2009, and while I probably looked at the video again when I reposted it on Dungeon of the Past, I had forgotten how absolutely and shamelessly rotten it is. It’s an exercise video directed at teenaged or prepubescent girls, put out at a time when Alyssa Milano was starring on Who’s the Boss with Judith Light and Tony Danza. Besides being in movies and starring on TV shows, Alyssa Milano also had a burgeoning pop music career in Japan. Obviously, she was striking while the iron was hot, as when she was a teenager, Alyssa Milano was absolutely beautiful. Or, at least I think so… and I say that as an objective, heterosexual female who doesn’t have aspirations of having sexual relations with other females.

I took a fresh look at the Amazon reviews for Teen Steam, and I quickly noticed some of the comments were not coming from the video’s intended audience. I distinctly remember back in 2009, when I originally wrote the Epinions review, there were a lot of men commenting about how watching Alyssa’s workout caused them to be sexually aroused. They might have also enjoyed watching Alyssa’s two hired actress friends, who used the premise of being upset with their parents as a reason to let off “teen steam”. For them, it was “teen steamy” indeed.

Back in the 80s, things were different than they are now. In those days, kids were pretty much allowed to run wild, especially compared to today. There was a lot less concern about child welfare back then, although laws were starting to be made about what children could, or could not, do… and some parents had enough common sense to know what they shouldn’t be doing and actually prevent them from doing those things. I’m sure in the 80s, Alyssa Milano’s workout tape seemed very innocent and cute. I think society, as a whole, was blissfully less aware of the bad stuff in the world.

As Bill and I were listening to music and drinking beer last night, I read aloud one of the Amazon reviews that was posted about this video:

Does anyone else find it creepy that the top of the “What similar items do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item?” is a movie called Jailbait? I guess if you’re not creeped out by the other reviews, that shouldn’t add much.

Bill had just taken a big sip of beer right before I read that actual Amazon review to him. He thought I was joking and almost spewed beer out of his mouth as he choked back laughter. Then he said, “I should be careful drinking beer when you’re making a joke.”

Except I wasn’t joking. That was a literal review on Amazon. We both started cracking up over that. But seriously… below is another honest to God Amazon review of this video:

This is the beautiful girl, turning into a woman right before you’re [sic] very eyes, through each stretch and musical number! Guys who buy this may have to buy another later, so don’t use that still frame button and slow motion button so much!

And another…

The music is terrible. The Fashion is horrible. The dancing is awful. The workouts are laughable. But it’s badness is the genius of its greatness. A must for any Alyssa Milano fan because you won’t be able to take your eyes off of her.

And another…

What can I say about this rare, late 80’s gem? I had to have this, I just had to. I remember “who’s the Boss” as an interesting if silly family show, if a little strange because it had a single parent who was a somewhat befuddled dad, most single parent families, by far, have a mom and no dad, but I guess they wanted to be different. Lets [sic] start with the star of this show, Alyssa Milano. She is as close to perfect as the good lord makes girls her age, her face is flawless and her well toned body is unparalleled. She is also barely 16. I am not 16. I have not been 16 for a long, long, long time. Shame on me. But wait…I didn’t produce this, I didn’t set up the exercises or tell this young nubile to do stretching exercises in a sports bra and nothing else on top. It wasn’t my idea, why should I be ashamed? I just am. Alyssa Milano is a fascinating individual, like an onion one peels and peels and still there is more. She had a colossal career in Japan, lots of Americans did, but not Like Ms. Milano. She had 4 or 5 albums, albums which must be heard to be believed, I confess to downloading some of the songs, shame on me again. If you can listen to one of her songs all the way through, you are stronger then I am. She sings the theme, the lyrics stick in ones [sic] mind like a chicken bone in a dogs throat, “My parents want an angel, my teachers want a brain, my friends all want to party and it’s driving my insane” Oh the horror, the horror. It is painfully obvious that no teenage girl penned these lyrics but some older male, as was much of her stuff in those days. She wears outfits selected for her to please someone else, she poses for hundreds of photo’s [sic], (check out her fan sites) some of which would make Nabrikov [sic] blush, whatever she did it was top quality, done with true heart and spirit and always a little creepy. Who was the audience for this? Young girls? maybe, but many other demographic groups would enjoy her stretching and bending, and squatting and lunging and squatting some more, and leg lifts…….shame on me. She poses in a nighty for a grown women, she is barely 13, time and time again Alyssa Milano puts the “pro” in “age inappropriate”, but is she to blame? or credit? I just don’t have an answer. What I will say is she takes her exercise very seriously, as do the camera men who constantly leer over her teenage body, and her friends too, what to say? The dance number is done very well, the credit list goes on to name many professionals who worked really hard on this, yet like any of her stuff it is horribly dated, her hair and music scream 1988 and no other year, sadly that was a long time ago, and it shows. I, and many other’s [sic] will always think of Alyssa Milano as our adorable if annoying little sister, or the neighbor girl who we see walking down the street, who we should not be looking at….then we take our camcorder and…..shame on me.

Side note. Alyssa was probably 15, not barely 13, when she made this video. She and I were born the same year, and she was a December baby. This was released in 1988, meaning that her 16th birthday would have been in December 1988. But yeah, I did notice how incredibly and naturally beautiful she was back then. She’s still beautiful today, too, and I have read that, yes, of course she cringes today when she remembers making this video. It apparently sold well, though, and she and her parents probably made some bank with her version of an exercise video. They were all the rage back in the 80s, thanks to Jane Fonda.

“Dad, I think he’s gonna pork her!” One of the many inside jokes between Bill and me…

What does Teen Steam have to do with National Lampoon’s European Vacation? Bill and I share a lot of private, inside jokes. One of our most enduring private jokes involves the scene in European Vacation when Rusty Griswold is watching a newlywed couple making out at breakfast. While Clark and Ellen Griswold are talking to their daughter, Audrey, Rusty suddenly blurts out, “Dad, I think he’s gonna pork her!”

Clark responds, “He’s not gonna pork her, Russ.”

“I think he is, Dad”, Rusty says, raising his eyebrows and smiling admiringly.

Sometimes, when Bill says something that strikes me as funny, I’ll say, a la Rusty Griswold, “I think he is, Dad.”

And I think our exchange regarding the scandalous, yet cheesy, 80s era teen video, Teen Steam, is going to end up being another one of our private, inside jokes. I’ve mentioned before that we’re about to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and it really does my heart good to know that we still have a lot to talk and laugh about privately. It makes me feel good that we’re still such good friends, and we not only love each other, but we also really like each other. We laugh over the craziest, dumbest, and most obscure things. I think that Teen Steam Amazon review is going to go down in history as one of our many private guffaws. I’m delighted that we still have them… because God knows, if we don’t laugh, we’re probably going to cry over the state of the world today…

Standard
movies, reviews

Yesterday, I watched Kate’s Secret; it almost made me puke.

I could totally write about all of the crazy stuff in the news about Donald Trump today… but I don’t feel like writing about the turd. I also don’t feel like writing about Anne Heche, who I have heard has passed away after her car accident last week. The last news I heard about Heche is that she was on life support, so that any viable organs can be harvested and donated. However, I also heard that there was cocaine in her system when she crashed, so I don’t know…

Anyway, I’ve decided not to write much about those topics this morning, because frankly I don’t feel like it. It would require more research than I feel like doing. If you read my travel blog post today, you know that I partied too hard at the wine fest last night. So, in the interest of what I was doing earlier this morning, I’m going to write today’s post about a 1986 made for TV movie called Kate’s Secret. This movie aired in November of ’86, when I was fourteen years old and kind of obsessed with eating disorders. At that time in my life, I engaged in disordered eating myself, although my behavior was never bulimic (binging masses of food and purging/vomiting).

Meredith Baxter talks about making “Kate’s Secret” and “The Betty Broderick Story”, another hot topic on this blog. Meredith says that people still come up to her and ask her about this movie. The interview is much more recent than the movie is.

Kate’s Secret is mostly about bulimia, and stars Meredith Baxter, who was then going by Meredith Baxter Birney and starring on Family Ties, which was a hugely popular hit sitcom. Baxter was, at that time, married to her second ex husband, the recently late David Birney, a fellow actor who starred with her on the 70s era show, Bridget Loves Bernie. Baxter is now married to Nancy Locke, having come out as a lesbian about ten years ago.

An upload of the whole movie.

Because I was so interested in eating disorders when I was a teenager, and I was a fan of Family Ties, I remember being very eager to watch this movie when it originally aired. Having watched it again yesterday, I kind of have mixed views. It’s pretty dated in a lot of ways. I’ll get into that in a minute, though. First, an obligatory rundown of the plot.

Kate Stark (Baxter) is a beautiful thirty-something California wife to a superstar lawyer who is busting his ass to make partner at his law firm. Kate’s husband, Jack (Ben Masters) works very long hours with a beautiful female lawyer named Monica Fields (Leslie Bevis). Kate tries to trust him, but her overbearing mother, Faith (Georgann Johnson), keeps nagging her about the threat Monica poses to Kate’s marriage. This constant riding by her mother about how she should look, and how she should be worried about Monica, makes Kate nervous and insecure. However, it’s clear that Jack loves Kate, and is disappointed at the beginning of the film, when she denies him sex so she can go running. Later, Monica hits on Jack, and he rebuffs her. So, while Faith’s instincts about Monica being a man stealing ‘ho are correct, her instincts about Jack being the cheating kind aren’t.

A short clip showing Kate’s secretive and damaging eating disordered behaviors…

The couple has a daughter, Becky, played by Summer Phoenix, who was about 8 years old at the time. Kate doesn’t let Becky eat sugar, and forces her to drink watered down orange juice. Becky is a Brownie, though, and her mom is very involved in the troop. She’s excited, because she’s about to become a Junior Girl Scout. At one point, they show Summer in a 1986 era Brownie uniform, which gave me a flashback. I, too, was briefly a Brownie in the late 70s, and I wore the 70s version of the uniform, which I hated. It was so itchy! These days, they don’t make girls wear those uniforms anymore. That’s a good thing, because they were very “extra”.

My uniform was just like this one. I was in Troop 819.
Becky’s uniform is a little different than mine was, but it appears to be accurate to what girls wore in the 80s. I hated wearing that shit to school.

Kate somehow manages to keep her bulimia a secret. She’s shown stealing food at the grocery store, buying huge fast food feasts in her car, using the excuse that she’s “surprising her daughter with a treat”, and gorging on party leftovers. Then, one day, while doing aerobics with her friend, Gail (Shari Belafonte, who was then styled as Shari Belafonte-Harper), she passes out. This causes her to miss Becky’s promotion ceremony, as well as missing getting to her husband’s law office in time to pick him up for the ceremony. She calls Jack from Gail’s health club, and he bitches her out for trying to squeeze in aerobics before their daughter’s ceremony, which she had nagged him to attend.

After Kate recovers from fainting, she goes to Becky’s school to pick her up. The child is understandably upset and sulks as she sits in the front seat of the car. Eight year olds in the front seat! Another dated aspect of this film. Kate tries to explain herself to Becky, but then passes out again and has an accident. She moans “Becky…” as she crashes the car, her face planted in the steering wheel, which had no air bag. Curiously, Kate’s face isn’t bruised or banged up after the crash.

Poor Becky is very upset and unable to call for help, since there were no cell phones. She cries for Kate to wake up, and all we see is Kate’s face planted in the steering wheel as the horn blows. Becky frantically tries to rouse her mother.

“Mommy, wake up!”

After the horn scene, we see Kate and Becky at a hospital, where the nurses all wear white dresses and have nursing caps. It’s hard to believe that they still dressed that way, even in the mid 1980s. It makes me feel so OLD. This is where Kate gets sternly chewed out by the emergency room doctor, who is astute enough to see that his patient has teeth marks on her fingers, swollen jaws, and bleeding gums. Seriously? He had time to do all of that evaluation while Kate was unconscious? She’s had lab work done and cardiac tests, and he’s had time to call Dr. Resnick, a psychiatrist played by the late Edward Asner. Resnick shows up just at the right time to confront Kate and tell her she needs to be locked up in a treatment center. She starts crying, moaning that they’re going to “ruin her life”. And of course, Jack doesn’t know what bulimia is, so Dr. Resnick explains.

Then Jack finds out the ugly truth… This scene really blows me away. This is all being discussed in the hall, and they act like she’s going to be compelled to go into the hospital. No HIPAA in 1986, of course, but I don’t think they’d be having this scene in a hallway, even in 1986. It makes for good 80s era TV, but it’s not really rooted in reality, even back in those days. Poor Kate gets confronted and dressed down, and Meredith really pours on the melodrama with lots of fake crying and moaning.

Jack is all pissed off, but agrees to let the good psychiatrist haul his wife off to the psych ward. Kate isn’t given a choice in the matter; it’s all settled by the men. Next we see Kate in the psych hospital, where a doctor is explaining everything. As she’s checking in Kate, she tells her about her roommate, a bulimic model named Patch (Tracy Nelson). Again, no HIPAA back then, so it’s okay to tell Kate about another patient’s medical problems. The doctor tells Kate that the bathroom door is locked, but she’ll open it whenever she needs it.

Then we’re introduced to a crew of other women with eating disorders, to include Dayna, played by Mackenzie Phillips. Mackenzie had plenty of her own real life psych and drug dramas to add to this role. The women give Kate the scoop on what is expected, then we see her bonding with Patch, who like Kate, has a troubled relationship with her mother. The group therapy session scenes are kind of cliched, as one of the women confronts Kate for not admitting her problems. The women are taken on a field trip to a local grocery store, where they are taught to shop for food.

And then Kate asks Dr. Resnick if she can have a “pass” to attend a party for her husband. Dr. Resnick says no, so Kate sneaks out, wearing one of Patch’s beautiful dresses. I’m surprised the dress wasn’t under lock and key, and I’m also surprised that Kate can fit into it, as Patch is supposed to be a model, and Kate is an average sized woman at about 120 pounds (per the obligatory scale scene). She’s talking about how she can’t fit into a size four dress at the beginning of the film. I would assume Patch would wear smaller clothes. Patch helps Kate sneak out of the hospital to go to the party, a decision that will cost both of them dearly (duh, duh, duuuuh!).

When Kate wakes up from surgery, she finds out that Patch overdosed after having to deal with her awful mother. Patch took all of the diuretics she stole and had a heart attack. Kate proceeds to have a huge meltdown and confronts Dr. Resnick, babbling about how no one cares about her unless she’s “good”. Then she has a breakthrough, wailing to the doctor that she’s terrified that her husband will leave her, because her father abandoned her. And her mother had blamed her for her father’s absence. Kate is very distraught to learn about her friend’s death, but Jack declares that he loves Kate and will never leave her. This seems to be when she decides to get well. Again… kind of unrealistic, especially when she says she’s been hospitalized for six weeks. She must have had some great insurance, but I guess her lawyer husband could afford the bills. The movie ends as Kate is seeing her meddlesome mother off at the airport… pre 9/11, so she was allowed to be at the gate as Mom leaves.

I love a good melodrama, and Kate’s Secret has a lot of it. I used to love movies of the week for that reason. In some ways, this movie is not terribly realistic and you have to suspend belief. However, for its time, it’s pretty well written and, of course, in those days, there weren’t any movies about bulimia. Anorexia nervosa was probably considered a more dramatic malady, and probably more compelling for viewers, since anorexics don’t tend to binge and purge (although sometimes they can). Watching someone vomit isn’t as visually appealing for most viewers as watching someone restrict food. I really like Tracy Nelson in this movie, too. I wish they’d made her Kate instead of Meredith. But I guess she was too young for the role, as she was only 23 at the time this was made.

Summer Phoenix, who played Becky, is the sister of the late River Phoenix and, of course, Joaquin (also known as Leaf) Phoenix. Their family is famous for its acting and musical talents, as well as being former adherents to the Children of God religious cult. You can search this blog for more information about the Children of God. The family left the cult in 1977, the year before Summer, who is the youngest child in the family, was born. Summer grew up to marry Casey Affleck, Ben’s brother, and had two children with him before they divorced in 2017.

I suspect a lot of people will read this post, because I tend to get a lot of hits on posts I write about eating disorders. But now it’s time to wrap it up and take an antacid… So I hope you enjoyed my recap/review/relook at Kate’s Secret. And please remember, kids, not to try this at home. Bulimia, that is…

Standard
mental health, movies, music, musings, Song parodies

Suicide is not painless, particularly for those left behind… (partial repost)

When I was a child, the old sitcom M*A*S*H was still airing on television. I remember the instrumental version of the show’s theme song, which was titled “Suicide Is Painless”. The song’s lyrics went:

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it
If I please

The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
So this is all I have to say

Suicide is painless (suicide)
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it
If I please

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger, watch it grin

Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it
If I please

A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
“Is it to be or not to be?”
And I replied, “Oh, why ask me?”

Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it
If I please

And you can do the same thing
If you please

The story goes that this song was written for the 1970 film version of M*A*S*H, and in the film, the song was sung by The Ron Hicklin Singers. The song’s composer is Johnny Mandel, and the film’s director, Robert Altman, wanted it to be the “stupidest song ever written.” Altman, then in his mid 40s, attempted to come up with “stupid” lyrics, but found that he couldn’t come up with any that were “stupid enough”. So he asked his then 14 year old son, Mike, to write the words to the song, which Mike was able to do in just a few minutes. The funny thing is, Altman only earned about $70,000 for directing the movie, but his son has reportedly made over $1 million for co-writing the “stupidest” song ever written. Absurd, isn’t it?

In May 2018, when I was still posting on my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife, I used the melody for “Suicide Is Painless” for my own lyrics. I renamed the song “Parenthood is Pricey”, which was inspired by the 2018 era sad news that births are declining in the United States, mainly because it’s EXPENSIVE to raise children today. Below are the words I wrote. I also recorded the song on SingSnap.

My early 20s
I could see
Visions of my life to be.
The costs that were laid out for me
I realized what I can’t be…

Cuz’ parenthood is pricey!
And the job market is dicey!
And that is why 
my womb remains empty.

The game of life 
is full of chance.
So much is left to circumstance.
There’s so much that is up to fate.
So childbirth, I’ll procrastinate.

Cuz’ parenthood is pricey!
The job market is dicey!
And that is why 
my womb remained empty.

Painful student loans
will last…
It doesn’t hurt ’til time
has passed.
By then, too many years have gone
For me to take parenthood on…

Cuz’ parenthood is pricey!
The job market is dicey!
And that is why 
my womb is so empty.

A brave reporter once asked me
“Why haven’t you made a mini me?
 Don’t you want your own family?”
And I replied
“How can it be?”

Cuz parenthood is pricey!
The job market is dicey!
And that is why 
my womb is still empty.

And my friends are mostly
doing the same thing…

I remember the urge to make the parody popped into my head randomly. It was a flicker of inspiration that I decided to feed, after I wrote a blog post about reasons why people aren’t having so many kids these days. Of course, in 2018, we had no idea of the epic shitshow that awaited us in 2020, 2021, and 2022. I had written a lengthy and revelatory post about why Bill and I never sought reproductive assistance when it became apparent that his vasectomy reversal wasn’t going to be enough to make us parents. When I was still fertile, we were broke. We aren’t broke anymore, but I just turned 50 and pregnancy would probably either kill me or make me sick, if by some miracle it could even happen. And now, I don’t want kids anymore, because of the epic shitshow I mentioned. So maybe we were lucky things worked out how they did.

I’m not sure if the birth rate is still declining. That’s not really the point of this post. I just remembered the song, and how I rewrote the lyrics. I used to enjoy making song parodies, writing fiction, and engaging in other creative pursuits. But thanks to a former blog follower who mocked my efforts, I’ve lost a lot of the desire to do the funny, creative stuff I used to love doing. It’s like there’s a block there, because I really just want to get through this life with as few altercations as possible.

Ironically enough, that person is now dead, because she committed suicide. I don’t know why she took that action, and I don’t rejoice in her decision, especially since I have seen evidence that many people who were left behind are now hurting. She had two children who have now lost their mother forever, and will always have to deal with that huge loss for the rest of their lives. It will affect other people, too. People they’ve not even met yet, who will have to shoulder the baggage that came from that tragic decision. Suicide is definitely not painless for those who are left in the wake of it. I suspect it isn’t painless for the people who do it, either, even when it’s done quickly and violently.

A few months ago, I wrote about how several people in Bill’s and my world had made the choice to kill themselves. We weren’t particularly close to any of them– they were mainly just people on the peripheries of our lives. Still, we were affected by the fact that they made that choice and it was publicized. There’s always this sense of shock and wonder when someone takes their own life. What made them do it? What was the final straw that pushed them to make that decision? Bill was so shaken by it, he even searched Google for links about it while he was at work. That decision was discovered by the IT guys at his job, and he ended up getting a talking to by his boss, who was concerned that Bill might be contemplating suicide. See how suicide has ripple effects, even toward people who aren’t involved? The three people who ended their lives by suicide affected us enough to talk about it and search for information on the Internet. And then other people– completely uninvolved– felt compelled to talk to us about it, in case we were thinking of doing it ourselves.

A couple of days ago, I learned that yet another person in my sphere took their own life. Apparently, this person decided to exit life on their own terms because of a chronic illness that was causing them a lot of pain and disability. I looked at their most recent posts on social media, and realize that in the days before their exit, there weren’t really any obvious hints of what was coming. A couple of memes are there– they seem prescient now, but wouldn’t have seemed like that at the time they were posted. And now, there are so many tributes to this person about what a wonderful, kind, caring, awesome person they were, and how much they are already missed. I wonder how many of them said that before the suicide happened. I wonder what the point of saying it now is, although I know that many people believe in life after death, and assume that perhaps the person is looking down from Heaven… or maybe up from Hell? I don’t know.

My husband had a near death experience when he was a teenager. I know not everyone believes in those, but I have read enough books about people who have been clinically dead and came “back” from the beyond that I think there might be something to them. I think the experience changed Bill on many levels. Even if what he experienced was nothing but a massive discharge of endorphins as life briefly ebbed away from him, it still gives me comfort. A few months ago, an Epinions friend passed away from cancer, and I remember one of her last posts was that we shouldn’t fear dying. She said that it doesn’t hurt… you just slip away. But what if your death is unnatural? What if you weren’t meant to die? Is suicide that painless? Maybe after it happens, it’s painless. No one’s “home” anymore. It’s not painless for the people who remain in their Earthly existences. A lot of them are left with endless questions, guilt, and grief, as they try to make sense of what may seem senseless to them.

We really are all affected by each other. I used to love to write things that were “creative”. I lost the urge to write creative stuff after that huge mess caused by a woman who shamed me for doing it. That woman is now dead, because she decided to exit life on her own terms. I’m still left the aftereffects of her last words to me. They were her last words, because I blocked her from contacting me a few years before she died. Maybe all isn’t lost, though. That flicker could come back to life, as if it experienced a near death experience or resurrection.

The other day, when I was in the shower, thinking about the whole abortion debate, I had another flicker of inspiration as an idea for a satire piece came into my head. For a moment, I was excited about it. I thought maybe I’d sit down and write something. I wouldn’t be doing it for anything but satisfying my own urges to write and express myself in an interesting way. But then the doubt came back, put there by someone who couldn’t simply leave me alone, and I pushed it out of my head. Still, it was a flicker of inspiration… and maybe it’s time I got back down to business. Because I really do believe that expression can be one way to avoid committing suicide. Even if it’s just expressing oneself to someone who cares and might offer another perspective… one that offers a different reality that the person whose mind is muddied with thoughts of suicide can’t consider at the time.

And now, I am going to repost the article I wrote that birthed the song parody I wrote above. This was written on May 18, 2018, and I’m going to leave it “as/is”. Maybe the flicker will come back again.

My fat ass itches… (I’m sure this is one of the posts I wrote that the former “spy” disapproved of.)

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of my old buddy, Ken Turetzky, who wrote and sang a hilarious song of the same name.  I “met” Ken online about ten years ago, when I wrote a review of a compilation album done by comedian/musician Red Peters.  I discovered Red Peters when Bill and I went to a karaoke night at Fort Belvoir’s Officers’ Club and the hosts played Peters’ infamous “Closing Song” to finish the evening.  I thought it was hilarious, so I bought Peters’ two available albums and became a fan. 

Years later, Red Peters got into promoting other comedic musicians.  Turetzky’s hit song, “Her Shit Don’t Stink” was among the songs on Peters’ compilation, which I purchased the last time we were living in Germany.  To this day, I can’t listen to some songs on that album and not have idyllic memories of our first Germany tour.  Anyway, Turetzky happened to find my Epinions review and engaged me in the comments section.  Now we’re Facebook friends.

“Her Shit Don’t Stink”… I always dedicate this to Ex.
Ken shows off his blues chops.

This morning, as I was waking up, I read a news article about how the U.S. Fertility Rate Fell to a Record Low for the Second Straight Year.  Actually, the title of this article is misleading.  It’s not that Americans are infertile.  It’s that they aren’t having as many babies.  Frankly, I think that’s a good thing.  Our country is well and truly fucked right now and plenty of people are having trouble simply supporting themselves.  The Trump administration seems to be doing its level best to erase any protections for American citizens.  The whole country appears to be in a shambles.  So I don’t blame young people for not wanting to reproduce right now.  Besides, we’ve got PLENTY of people as it is.

But seriously, though.  Think about what young people are up against.  Young people today are leaving college saddled with massive student loans.  Student loans can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy.  And well paying jobs, which would make use of those hard won degrees, are in short supply.  Now… one doesn’t necessarily have to go to college in order to make a good living.  Some people are able to learn trades or are gifted athletes or musicians.  Some people luck into money or are born into wealth.  But, for a lot of people, college is the gateway to a decent career.  There are a lot of jobs that require a degree and, in America, it’s expensive to get a degree.  So lots of young folks start off their best fertility years ladened with debt.  That makes it a lot less appealing for young people to make babies.

I will be turning 46 next month and by September, I expect to have my student loans completely paid.  I will be accomplishing this goal about nine years ahead of schedule.  When I think about it, it’s pretty amazing, especially since Bill and I started our marriage completely broke.  That “broke” period lasted about five years, as Bill recovered from financial disasters wrought in his first marriage and paid massive child support.  It finally turned around when Bill went to Iraq and started earning combat pay.  I used the extra money to get rid of some debt and start paying ahead on my student loans.  I started by paying an extra $20 a month and snowballed it for years.  

For awhile, I got letters from my student loan service letting me know the extra money wasn’t necessary.  Like hell it wasn’t.  When I consolidated my loans, I owed $57,000 and that was before the interest.  Of course, I have three degrees.  However, I don’t currently use my college degrees to make a big paycheck.  Life did not go in a direction where that would have been possible for me.  I happened to marry a kind, generous man who was willing to help me.  Not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been.  Plenty of young people are now leaving college with as much debt as I once had, and they only have one degree.

When you have to pay a lot of money for your student loans and your job isn’t necessarily secure, it might make you think twice about buying a home.  It might make you think twice about getting married or having children.  And then, once you have those children, you have to worry about all of the things that come from having them… not the least of which is how much it costs.  Kids are expensive.  Even if your child is healthy, they cost a lot of money.  If your child isn’t healthy, then there are other expenses to consider.  

And then, as you have your kids– maybe when you’re in your thirties, prime earning years– your parents might start having medical issues.  In my case, I was blessed with healthy, independent folks.  My dad had full medical coverage courtesy of being a retired Air Force officer.  My mom is very healthy and independent and has a good head for money.  So she’s doing fine.  Bill’s dad and stepmother, likewise, seem to be doing okay.  Bill’s mom needs help, but Bill is lucky enough to make good money right now.  At any point, that reality could change and screw things up.  If your parents aren’t healthy and can’t afford to take care of themselves, then you might be tasked with helping them.  And that takes money.  Sure, you can tell your parents to bugger off if you’re really selfish or sociopathic, but most people aren’t like that.

So… I can see why a lot of younger folks are holding off on having children.  Those who wait until they have money might have a harder time reproducing.  Fertility declines as a person ages.  Yes, there are women out there who can get pregnant naturally when they are in their mid 40s.  Women who decide to wait for their kids until they’ve become settled in their careers might find themselves pondering spending thousands on fertility treatments.  Some might decide to go to another country for cheaper fertility treatments.  If anything goes wrong, though, their health insurance probably won’t pay for anything related to care they received out of the country.  That’s if they can afford to have health insurance in the first place.    

I have no idea how fertile I am, since our fertility issues were probably caused by Bill’s vasectomy and subsequent reversal.  I never bothered to get thoroughly checked out because when I was in my 30s, we were still broke.  Any kind of fertility treatment would have cost money we didn’t have, even if we could have gotten that treatment at a substantial discount, thanks to the military.  I didn’t want to stay broke, so I focused on getting rid of debt instead of having children.  

I was also influenced by a woman I met while living at Fort Belvoir.  Like me, she had trouble conceiving.  She got fertility treatments and eventually had a son.  Sadly, he was born with multiple devastating birth defects.  He needed round the clock care.  She went from being a wife in a comfortable financial situation with two dogs, to a woman who spent all of her time trying to take care of her very medically fragile baby boy.  I remember very clearly when she warned me that if I had fertility treatments, I could end up in the situation she was in.  She seemed bitter about it.  I have to admit that I had a lot of empathy for her.  All she wanted was to simply be a mother.  She was lucky, though, in that she had access to military healthcare and housing.  Still, caring for her baby meant she needed extra help.  And that also costs serious money.

These are just a few reasons why women aren’t having babies.  I haven’t even touched on the fact that a lot of men who might be decent fathers are scared of commitment.  Frankly, I can’t blame them for that.  If a marriage fails, and many of them do, it can cost a lot of money.  Men, more often often than women, wind up being on the hook for child support for years.  It happened to Bill.  It was a long stretch of being nearly broke while working his ass off, while his first wife denied him access to his daughters, and his second wife struggled to find work.  Trust me, it’s not fun, although Bill and I were lucky enough to be able to survive and thrive.  Not everyone is as lucky as we’ve been.

I also didn’t even get into people who are involved in religions that demand a lot of tithing.  When I met Bill, he was still a Mormon and obliged to give ten percent of his gross income to the church.  That was so he could be “temple worthy”… which meant he was allowed to wear the special underwear and enter the temple and participate in culty religious ordinances that were either very bizarre or very boring.  Again, ten percent of one’s income, especially when the income isn’t quite enough, is a lot of money.  It tends to discourage reproduction, even as church leaders are encouraging it.

Anyway, I posted the article by The New York Times on my Facebook page and it immediately attracted comments.  A few comments came from my old online comedian friend, Ken Turetzky.  I remembered his silly song, “My Fat Ass Itches” and its bluesy hooks.  I suggested to Ken that maybe he ought to write a blues song inspired by the article I posted.  But, you know what?  Maybe I’ll do it myself.  I have all day.  I have no job.  I have no other purpose other than to comment on the news.  And, by some miracle, I managed to get to middle age without defaulting on any loans.  But I have no descendants or dependents… and when I die, the mold will be broken.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  

Yeah… I’ll think about it.  If I come up with a blues song, maybe I’ll post it later (see above).  If I don’t come up with one or otherwise get distracted, I’ll just write another meaningless blog post about the state of life today.

Standard
Ex, mental health, movies, psychology

Going full on Annie Wilkes…

I remember back in 1991, I was a freshman student at Longwood College (now known as Longwood University). A new movie by Stephen King had come out in late November of 1990. It was titled Misery, and it starred Kathy Bates and James Caan in the primary roles, with support from Richard Farnsworth, Lauren Bacall, and Frances Sternhagen. My good friend, Chris, who was a fellow English major and writing enthusiast, told me about the film. Chris and I both liked to write fiction, and the story was about an obsessed fan who held a novelist captive in her home, forcing him to write to her specifications. It was very compelling to us.

I’m pretty sure that we saw the movie together at some point, but I don’t remember when, or how. At one point, Chris worked at a video store in Farmville, the town where our school was. Maybe he brought the movie home one night and invited me over to watch it. Or maybe he just told me about it, and I watched it on HBO. In any case, the point is that it resonated. We used to make jokes about the movie, especially Kathy Bates’ character, frumpy Annie Wilkes, who just happened to be a very skilled nurse with a screw loose. I remember laughing about how Annie called James Caan’s character, novelist Paul Sheldon, a “dirty bird”, and referred to him as “Mister Man.” All the while, Paul tried to keep his cool and appease his captor, in the hope that on some day he might escape her clutches and reclaim his life.

He didn’t get out of the “cockadoodie” car!!!

As 18 year old writers who aspired to be “famous” someday– remember were 18 years old, and still had our whole lives ahead of usMisery was a story that pointed to the potential pitfalls of fame. In the film, novelist Paul Sheldon, who had created the Victorian romance heroine Misery Chastain, and made a huge name for himself, found himself in a real bind when he was in a serious car accident during a blizzard in rural Colorado.

At first, Annie Wilkes is Paul’s savior. She’s a highly skilled nurse, capable of saving Paul’s life and providing him comfort. But she’s also deranged and angry, and she has an unhealthy obsession with Misery, and the man who created her. The movie has some comic elements to it, and is genuinely entertaining. But, as it’s a Stephen King story, it’s also horrifying! There are parts of that movie that I can barely stand to watch, even though parts of it are almost cartoonish.

“You dirty bird… how could you?”

Well… I was reminded of Misery yesterday, as I read tweets by Ex, who is a big fan of a certain novelist. By and large, I don’t read novels myself, so I don’t know this writer’s work at all. But Bill knew who she was, and he said that when they were married, Ex was a huge fan of the writer’s. And Ex, who spends a lot of time on Twitter, tweeting celebrities with thinly veiled requests for money, had contacted this writer with a “proposition”. Someone had asked the writer if she had published a new book yet. The author wrote that she had “barely begun writing” her newest book. And Ex, in true “Annie Wilkes” style, tweeted this:

…I have a proposition… I’ll come over, you can tell me the story in true storyteller form. We will record it, digitize it, have it auto printed out and then you can have some meat on paper to play with and edit! What do you think?? I have ‘granbairns’ in Arizona to visit!

The author, to her great credit, responded very graciously. Perhaps she’s seen Misery, too. She wrote this:

A generous offer! I’m afraid I don’t write “in true storyteller fashion”, though. I don’t write with an outline, I don’t write in a straight line, and I have only the vaguest notion of things that might happen.

Again, I don’t read many novels anymore, so I haven’t read any of this person’s books. It looks like she’s very popular, though, as others were posting on the thread. She’s probably had to deal with more than one “Annie Wilkes” in her career. Before anyone comes at me, allow me to state that I wouldn’t necessarily think this about Ex if I didn’t know her, or about the things she’s done. I do think it’s an odd offer to make to an author, especially since I’m pretty certain she was being totally serious. She does have grandchildren in Arizona, too, so if the writer had taken her up on her offer, it would be an excuse for Ex to go bug former stepson and his wife.

Anyway, Ex responded with more over-the-top ego stroking and praise, which may or may not be sincere. Ex often tries to seem like a really good and interesting person, but sometimes she goes so far that she comes off as totally fake and a little screwy. She wrote, complete with emojis and Scottish flags:

Hmm…given that, I now have hope that my stories will make it to print. The method you enjoy…works! Please, just keep doing it; you create lives, no small feat! Remember me, though; it would be a delight to collaborate. I’m a Fraser du Lovat, by the way, & that’s fun!!

Lately, Ex has been claiming to be a member of a prominent Scottish clan. I have no idea if her claims are legitimate. What I do know about her is that she was adopted, and had a genuinely horrifying childhood. She’s supposedly met her birth parents, or met one of her parents, who explained that she had been the product of an extramarital affair. If that story is the truth, I don’t know how, under those circumstances, Ex would find out about her supposed ties to famous Scottish families. But hell, maybe she’s being honest. Or maybe not. Maybe telling herself she has noble family ties makes her feel better about herself. If it means she’s kinder to the people in her life, I’m all for it. My issue with her, though, is that she’s done a lot of real damage to people, to include my husband, who was her second husband. If she was just a little batty and eccentric, I could easily and happily ignore her. But I know firsthand that she can do serious harm to people when she puts her mind to it.

Well, I doubt the author she’s tweeting is in any serious danger. Ex is nutty, but she’s not THAT nutty. Or, at least I hope not. I don’t want to read a news story about an obsessed fan from New England going all “Annie Wilkes” on a novelist out west. But, at least at this point, Ex seems most likely to harm her husbands and exes, than she is other folks. This writer is someone she clearly admires, though. It’s a little creepy to see her boldly offering her “services” in this way. I hope Ex never calls that author a “dirty birdie”. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of being a famous writer… it’s probably safest to stick to being an unpopular blogger.

Standard