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
complaints, money, rants, work

Repost: Got big expectations? Want quality? Well, quality costs… and right here is where you start paying for sweat.

Here’s a repost from my original blog. I wrote this on September 23, 2018. As Christmas approaches, I think it’s relevant… and I’m still deciding on today’s topic. My mom made the socks on my feet in the featured photo, too.

A friend shared this post from Scary Mommy yesterday.  It was originally written in March 2018, but somehow I missed the viral round.  I entertained myself by reading it as Bill and I came home from our excursion.  The Scary Mommy story was gleaned from a Reddit post that shows just how completely rude and entitled people can be sometimes, especially toward creative people.  

A guy on Instagram asked a crocheter named Krafty Katt if she takes commissions.  He wanted her to make him a queen sized blanket using expensive wool yarn and employing a complicated stitch.  She told him she’d do it for $400, with $200 paid upfront.  The guy’s response was very profane and he basically told her she was ripping him off because he could go to Walmart and buy a blanket for $15. He used every trick in the book to get her to lower her price for creating something stunning by hand.  She wouldn’t budge and eventually doubled her price.  I offer mad props to her for being so calm and handling that jerk the way she did.

I must admit, she was a whole lot nicer than I would have been.  I probably would have told the guy to go eat a bag of dicks the first time he started using foul language toward me.  Some people don’t seem to understand that handmade goods don’t just cost the price of the supplies.  They also require time and effort.  The guy’s insistence that the crocheter could buy yarn on sale and basically work for free was extremely insulting, especially considering how rude he was being to her.

My mom was making this the last time I visited her.

She also made this.  I did not inherit any of my mom’s talent for needle creations.  My sister got that gift.

I probably have even more insight into this phenomenon than other people do.  I grew up watching my parents making money from their creativity.  My mom ran her own knitting and needlework shop for over 25 years.  She ran her shop out of our home and taught countless people, mostly women, how to knit, needlepoint, cross stitch, and candle wick.  When I was really young, she even used to make clothes for me.  My mom has a gift for making beautiful things and she sold high quality supplies to like minded people who wanted to create beautiful things.  She probably knows all about the yarn Krafty Katt wrote of on her Reddit thread.

My dad had a complementary business doing custom picture framing and selling art by local artists.  Both of my parents made their livings laboring over beautiful things.  People would bring their creations to my mom when they needed help.  I remember her “blocking” needlepoint done by other women or finishing up projects for people.  I remember my dad and his assistant, Deborah (who took over his business), creatively framing pictures and making shadow boxes for patrons.  It all took a lot time, effort, skill, and most of all, vision.  Most people were very pleased with the end results, although some bristled at the cost.

Edited to add for 2021– this is my mom and one of her creations. She’s in her 80s and still does this…

Besides running her own knitting and needlepoint business, my mom was also a church organist for over 50 years.  People were eager to hire her to play for weddings and funerals because she is extremely talented.  I don’t remember her charging a lot of money to play the organ, but I do remember that each event required her to practice.  She had to practice for each Sunday service, every wedding, and all funerals.  That took time, energy, and effort, and she was entitled to be paid for it.

I have run into this issue myself.  I am a writer and a singer.  Writing and singing are two of my innate talents, so they come fairly easily to me, but I still have to develop them.  I studied voice for several years and put in a lot of time practicing and learning how to breathe.  I paid for music and an accompanist, as well as instruction from a teacher.  Now I can sing pretty well, but that skill didn’t come without cost, commitment, and a lot of effort.

My mom also made these.

It takes time and effort to make music or write a piece for someone else.  A lot of the pieces I’ve written for money have required extensive research, fact checking, and equipment.  Computers cost money.  Software costs money.  So do subscriptions to publications that provide the information I need to write something factual and credible.  I went to school for seven years past high school to develop the knowledge and skills to be able to write professionally.  God knows that took money!  Some people might argue that one can learn how to write well without a college degree.  I might agree with that.  However, I went to graduate school and studied specific areas that give me expertise that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  It’s been awhile since my last freelance assignment, but back when I was writing for money, I was earning anywhere from $40 to $80 an hour in the Washington, D.C. area.

I even had a social work professor who told his students that we should never give away our work for free, even if we only charge a dollar.  When someone pays for something, they value it more.  Although I don’t always think monetary compensation is required for one person to value another person’s contribution, I do agree with the idea that nothing is really free.

A person is more likely to take another person’s work seriously if payment is required.  The payment doesn’t always have to be monetary.  It can also be given in the form of gratitude.  For instance, I would never expect someone to give me money for a gift I present to them.  A gift is, by definition, given without the expectation of money.  I would hope that the recipient would “pay” me by saying thank you, although that doesn’t always happen, either.  Sometimes people are clods… myself included.

Bill had this kilt made when we went to Scotland in 2017.  The kiltmaker measured him and created that kilt by hand.  It’s absolutely beautiful, but it cost plenty and took about three months to create.  Ultimately, it was worth it.  I’m glad we went to the kiltmaker instead of a big company that makes kilts in bulk.

Aside from the hard costs of producing something beautiful, there’s also the issue of time and labor.  No one wants to be a slave.  There has to be a pay off for being productive, and the more productive a person is, the bigger the pay off should be.  Krafty Katt is obviously very good at what she does– good enough that the guy who proposed that she make his blanket asked if she does commissions.  But then he insulted her by accusing her of ripping him off by demanding to be paid for her work.

I would not have made a blanket for the guy on Instagram for any amount of money.  I don’t think I could put my heart into creating something for such a selfish prick.  I think his best bet is to go to Walmart and buy something that was made in a sweatshop.  That’s the quality of person he seems to be… and probably the quality he deserves.  

Standard
musings

Every cloud has its silver lining…

In June 2013, I wrote a post on my original blog called “Silver Linings”. That post was about how something good can come out of even the worst situations. In 2013, my concerns were mostly about things that seem a lot less significant now. Back then, I was still very upset with Bill’s ex wife for the horrific damage she wrought on Bill and his daughters. I was angry with Bill’s daughters, too, for rejecting and hurting Bill, and for not being wise enough to see that by pushing him away, they were also hurting themselves. But, as time has passed, Bill has managed to reconnect with his younger daughter. They have talked about what happened after Bill’s divorce, and they’ve learned more about each other and the abuse they both experienced at the hands of Bill’s ex wife. Now, they’re both wiser.

June 2013 was also when my beloved college advisor, Dr. Massie Stinson, passed away after a long illness. Dr. Stinson and I weren’t tremendously close, but he did help me join the Peace Corps and get into graduate school. When he died, I sent a letter to his family via another professor, who is now a friend. A friend who was also an English major at Longwood attended Dr. Stinson’s funeral. She said his family members were very moved by my comments, which made me feel good. I was honored to be able to pass on a few stories about how Dr. Stinson had made my life better.

In that post, I reminisced about our dog, MacGregor, and how he’d died of spinal cancer in December 2012. It was very sad to see him in so much pain and to let him go. But then Bill and I made new friends in the process of adopting Arran, who is still with us and keeps us smiling.

I also mentioned war. War is an awful thing, but good things can come out of war. Many people die because of it, but many people are also born due to war. Cultures are explored out of necessity. Even medical advances are made due to wars. For instance, we have much better prosthetic limbs now than we once had, mainly because it was necessary to develop them due to war injuries. Not everyone who loses a limb will do so because of war, but that technology that came about because of grievously injured people in wars will ultimately benefit everyone, including those who lost limbs due to disease, accidents, or because of congenital defects.

In my time on the planet, I’ve found that most adversarial things we go through somehow also have a positive effect. Even wars and catastrophic illnesses can turn into good things… or can spawn good things. Last night, I read a fascinating article about a very brainy married couple, Laurie and Kevin Hommema. She’s a family practice physician, and he’s an engineer. Together, they came up with a new process to disinfect N95 masks. They were just sitting at their dinner table with their two young daughters, talking about how the masks are in short supply and how she, as a doctor, would not have enough protection in taking care of her patients because of the coronavirus crisis. Her husband remembered a study he’d done through his work. Next thing you know, they’d come up with a plan that is now in action. Machines have been made and are being used in cities around the United States. Necessity is the mother of invention.

The environment is getting better because people are driving and flying less. The air is clearing up and there’s less pollution. Water is becoming cleaner because there are fewer cruise ships. While the reason for the bluer skies and clearer water is sad and scary, it’s still great to see how quickly positive changes are taking place in the environment. And it’s something for us to learn as time goes on. If we change some of our habits, maybe the future, for those of us who survive the pandemic, will be better.

Two years ago, I was one of about 40,000 people in a stadium, watching The Rolling Stones play. It was an excellent, unforgettable, incredible concert, and I’m glad I went. We paid 1200 euros to sit on row thirteen, I think. I could see the Stones without looking at the huge monitors, but even being on row thirteen, there was a huge crowd of people in front of me, obstructing my view. I remember it took awhile to get out of the stadium because of the huge hordes of people. Fortunately, I had ultimately come to hear the music, and hearing it live was really something special.

However, as great as that show was, I also remember sitting underneath some guy’s unwashed exposed armpit for a few hours. This dude had worn a tank top, and the seats were crammed so close together that I was breathing his smoke and his underarm funk the whole time I was watching Mick Jagger strut around on stage. Now, thanks to coronavirus, maybe huge crowds will become a thing of the past. Maybe if I ever manage to go to another show, I won’t be immediately downwind of someone’s halitosis. In restaurants, I won’t be practically sitting at some stranger’s table, as Bill and I were in France back in February, because tables are so close together.

Hell, maybe the virus will prompt the airlines to stop cramming people onto airplanes like sardines! Wouldn’t that be a lovely aftereffect of the pandemic? You can finally fit in your seat and not have some stranger leaning on you for hours while a person in front of your reclines in your lap and a person behind you sticks their knees in your lower back! The thought of that is exciting for me, although it will probably mean flights will get more expensive. But then, maybe that’s a good thing too, because it will mean less air pollution.

I am kind of psyched about how teleworking is becoming more acceptable now. I have enjoyed having Bill at home with me. I know not everyone likes to be around their spouses or children all the time, but I think that togetherness could be a great gift to the children of today, who don’t always get to see their family because of the demands of work. Although travel is a good and necessary thing, and I will always love to see and experience different places, I’m glad Bill hasn’t had to go on any work trips since March. Out of necessity, things are having to be done differently– everything from Zooming business meetings and classes, to even court proceedings being done remotely. That will mean less pollution, less traffic, less gas, and probably fewer car accidents. It will also save time, since people won’t have to travel unnecessarily to another location for meetings that can be done by computer.

The virus has also prompted some pretty amazing creative efforts. For instance, this lady’s funny remake of “I Say a Little Prayer” turned into an anti Trump parody has made a number of my friends laugh with me.

As one of my musical friends noticed, “she really takes it home at the end!”

Watching that lady sing a funny song about Trump has made me feel like coming up with one of my own. Maybe I’ll get around to it today, after I do my weekly pointless vacuuming.

Another friend shared this hilarious gif with me. Yes, it’s rude and disrespectful, but it sums up things nicely for those of us who are tired of the Trump style circus shit show.

Disturbing… much like Trump’s presidency… I’m delighted that some creative person thought to make this for my enjoyment.

The virus will expand medical knowledge. Scientists and physicians and all of the other healthcare professionals out there will have to become more knowledgable out of necessity. Yes, it completely sucks having to get that knowledge in the way we are at this point, but if you look at history, it’s always been this way when a new germ develops. I remember the AIDS era, back in the 80s. So many people died horrible deaths. It seemed like the AIDS crisis would never end. But AIDS is no longer the threat it was 35 years ago. It no longer kills people the way it used to, because scientists came up with ways to treat it and prevent it. Policies were changed so that fewer people were exposed to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through blood transfusions. Effective drugs were developed so that the disease could be kept at bay. Now, people with HIV antibodies aren’t necessarily facing a death sentence the way they did in the 1980s. Eventually, the same thing will happen with COVID-19. In fact, it’s already happening. With every passing day, people are learning more about how to prevent and fight this disease.

This was a blessing last night.

And finally… I would like to pass along one more silver lining. Last night, as I drank a “Jenny sized margarita” made for me by my loving husband, I came across an obituary for my hometown’s very first COVID-19 casualty. I notice that the article was written by Sherry Hamilton, a reporter I had the pleasure of meeting myself, back in 1997. She interviewed me after I came home from Armenia. I knew her late husband, Grant, because he and his first wife, Kyle, were my family’s neighbors in the early 80s. I used to play with Grant’s and Kyle’s children.

Grant’s second wife, Sherry Hamilton, wrote a very moving article about Alicia Marsh, a woman who, along with her sister, Sondra, were admitted to Riverside Walter Reed Hospital, in Gloucester, Virginia. The sisters had both come down with COVID-19. Just a few hours before they were both going to be released from the hospital, Alicia suffered a pulmonary embolism and died. Her death was very sudden and devastating to her close-knit family, particularly since the sisters’ father, Johnny, was also hospitalized with the infection the day after his daughters were admitted to Walter Reed.

Alicia died on Tuesday, April 7th. However, two days before she passed, Alicia made a video that another sister, Jessica, had discovered on Alicia’s phone. Sherry Hamilton writes:

In the video, Alicia said she could hardly believe she was where she was, and that it was difficult to be apart, but that everyone should cherish the times they had together. She said that God was good and had blessed her many times over.

“Even though I sit here in a hospital bed, on oxygen and weak, I’m not worried ’cause I know that God has done so many wonderful things for me and that I have a relationship with him,” said Alicia. “Either way, I’m heaven-bound, and I thank God for that.”

Jessica said that watching the video had given her family peace in spite of their loss, and that they felt like people should see it, so they shared it on Facebook.

“The most important part is having a relationship with God and trusting him and thanking him for everything,” said Jessica. “We see people passing away every day while we get to get up and drink a cup of coffee or see our spouse or go to work. We should thank God for that every single day.”

Even two days before Alicia’s time on Earth ended, she was inspired to create something that would bless and teach her family, as well as others who take the time to read her story and watch her video. I am not particularly religious myself. I do believe in God, but I don’t necessarily believe in religion. I was very moved by Alicia Marsh’s video, though, because ultimately, what she said doesn’t even have to involve God. People should slow down and think about the many things we’ve taken for granted for so many years. We should stop for a moment and think about how we can live better and smarter. We should realize that cleaner air and smaller crowds are good things. We should learn that money shouldn’t be the only thing that matters all the time. Because money doesn’t matter to the dead. Life should be about much more than just making money.

We will all learn something new from dealing with this virus and the ones that will come after it. Some people will learn very hard lessons, and many people will suffer losses and tragedies. But there will also be survivors, and they will know how to handle the coronavirus better than today’s people do, because of this pandemic. Policies will be changed, and some people– the smart ones, anyway– will be less ignorant. As my Armenian friend Stepan says, “we plant trees in whose shade we may never sit.” Maybe the seeds of knowledge about COVID-19 that are being planted today will grant shade to people of the future. Maybe what is being learned now will be a piece of the puzzle of a bigger problem that needs to be solved later.

Anyway… I’m just trying to look on the bright side. That doesn’t happen very often because I am a pretty pessimistic person by nature. But, as scary and awful a pandemic is, it isn’t lost on me that this crisis could end up teaching us some good things… and prompting people to be smarter, more creative, and happier with what they already have.

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Ex

If God leads you to it…

Have you ever heard that saying, “If God leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it?” I’m not a very religious person, but I will admit that sometimes I have flickers of spirituality. I was probably more religious when I was younger, but as the years have passed, I’ve become less impressed by the mysterious ways of the Almighty. Bill is a lot more in tune with God than I am. He has more reason to have faith. He’s been through some major shit in his life. My shit, by comparison, is relatively small potatoes. I have never been to war. I have never been at war with an ex spouse hellbent on destroying me. I have never had a near death experience. I have never been divorced or had children. I have never been a child of divorce, either.

For some reason, despite never having these challenging, life altering experiences, I often feel exhausted and embattled by life. My challenges have been different than Bill’s have been, and we have learned different ways of coping. One of my methods of getting through tough times is by turning to creativity. I think maybe it would have been easier if I had been an artist, like my sister is. Pictures can be upsetting, but they probably aren’t as upsetting as the written word is. It usually takes longer to paint a picture than write an essay.

I’m also a singer, although I mainly do that as a form of self-therapy. I don’t share my music nearly as much as I do my writing. I doubt most people take it seriously, even if I do. Maybe it would be better if I simply made music rather than write… although I am finding this week that writing could end up saving me.

The past few days have been very challenging. Some of you are aware that Bill and I escaped the rental house from Hell last year. I didn’t initially think of the experience as “hellish”. What started out as having to deal with an eccentric, overbearing, nit picking landlady has turned into sheer craziness. I used to write about my frustrations dealing with her, but then it became clear that she had a negative advocate stalking my blogs and probably reporting back to her. Not that I wrote that much about her, mind you… and I certainly never identified her. 99.9% of the people reading my old blog and the scattered posts in which I mentioned ex landlady would never know who she was. Moreover, there were also posts in which I praised her. At first, I was sincere in my praise, because she had initially seemed nice. Later, I wrote those posts only because, in my gut, I knew they could be significant later. Two years ago, it became clear to me that we were going to be where we are now… on the brink of a lawsuit in a country that is foreign to me.

Bill has never sued anyone. Neither have I. I don’t plan to be a party to this lawsuit, mainly because I didn’t sign the lease and wasn’t responsible for paying the landlady and her husband. In fact, I’m not officially the reason we’re in Germany. I’m tagging along, because Bill got a job here and I’m his wife.

Several months ago, when it became clear that my blogs were being monitored by former landlady’s ex tenant, I decided to move my writing to a more secure location. I removed any questionable posts, but left the old blog open. It has a lot of good information in it that has served a lot of people, including students in universities. I happen to know that at least one of my posts was used in a criminal justice course at Drexel University. Now… no one ever asked me about it, but I could see the hits and where they came from. And people had left comments letting me know that a book review I’d written was useful. So I left the old blog open for those people, even though I needed a more secure place for my new posts.

All spring, I anticipated the reaction to the bomb Bill planned to drop on our former landlady. I knew she was going to go ballistic. I mentally prepared myself for the fallout. I had a feeling she’d threaten us with legal action, too… because how DARE we hold her accountable for ripping us off? Our ex landlady is apparently obsessed with money and feels entitled to blatantly take what she thinks she has coming to her. Other people’s perspectives and opinions seem not to matter to her. She seems to have an astonishing lack of shame and self-awareness. She’s “right”; you’re wrong, and if you argue with her, there will be HELL to pay.

In February, Bill contacted ex landlady about our deposit. We knew she was going to deduct charges. The day she showed up to do the final check out, she made it clear that she was deeply dissatisfied with the days of cleaning we did. I knew very well that she would be. I knew that despite cleaning as best I could, she would find multiple issues. I resigned myself to it, even though my body ached from the effort of trying to turn her sow’s ear of a duplex into a silk purse.

I was in Wiesbaden on the day Bill checked out. I felt it would be best, since I can barely stand the sight of ex landlady. I had to put up with multiple incidents of verbal abuse and false accusations from her, and I had finally reached the point of saturation. The last time we had a real conversation was the day she stood in the living room of our old house and shouted at me because her 17 year old awning had collapsed on my watch. She was pissed off because it couldn’t be fixed and a brand new one would cost 2800 euros. But… I had told her the awning was listing and instead of hiring a technician with specific expertise related to awning repair, she sent her very handy husband. She later told us the fix was likely temporary, but it was repaired for the time being. Indeed, it did look like the awning was fixed, so I used it on an especially hot day to block the sun from the living room. There was a sudden gust of wind and the damned thing collapsed with a thud.

I wasn’t sitting under the awning when it fell. She claims that makes me “negligent”. Because if I had been sitting under it, I would have noticed the windy conditions and rolled it up before it collapsed. But… the wind was powerful and sudden, and although I have a lot of capabilities, I have not developed the ability to predict it. And if I had been sitting under it, the awning would have injured or possibly even killed me (if it had hit my head). It was very heavy and supported by metal. Ex landlady apparently hasn’t considered what would have happened if I had been sitting under her awning when it collapsed. She obviously doesn’t care.

So, on that September day in 2017, she berated me for the awning’s collapse. Then she berated me for an electric Rolladen that wouldn’t come down. She claimed it was because I didn’t use it often enough. Later, it was determined the Rolladen was not properly installed. No apology was forthcoming from her for accusing me of being “negligent” in that instance.

She also complained about a clump of dog hair in the doorway. She claimed it was “encrusted”. It certainly was not “encrusted”. It took two seconds to clean up, and if I had known this was going to cause her to have a meltdown, I surely would have made sure it was cleaned away before her tirade.

The weeks following that incident were awful. I wanted nothing more than to move away from that abusive bitch. But Bill didn’t want to move. He said it would cost too much and we had no guarantee that a new landlord wouldn’t be worse. So we kept living there and paying her, putting up with her passive aggressive hostility. I soon hated her and her house. Our insurance company gave her 300 euros because her awning was so old. That’s how insurance works. They don’t give you enough money for a brand new items. It’s meant to defray costs, not totally cover them. Prior to the payout, she had written in an email to Bill that she agreed that the collapse was caused by an “act of nature”. When the payout was so low, suddenly it was entirely my fault again.

Fast forward to February 2019. She clearly meant to keep our entire Kaution, but when Bill pressed her, she decided to give us 666 euros. I noticed that the amount she kept was about what a new awning would cost, minus the 300 euros the insurance company gave her. How very noble. She did not list the awning as a charge, but instead levied a lot of nitpicking charges for petty things, with no proof that she’d actually spent money to fix the items. She sent charges for things that were beyond the statute of limitations and charged us full price for things she’d decided to replace for arbitrary reasons. She also charged us to remove the awning, which she had no right to do.

She also sent us a receipt for what she spent to have her the roof of her carport cleaned. We hadn’t been expected to clean that, but she wanted us to know that she had already spent a lot of money. And dammit, she and her husband are pensioners and aren’t wealthy. We should be ashamed for demanding our deposit to be properly accounted for and returned to us. When Bill complained, she became progressively more hostile and shaming. She basically said we were the “worst” tenants she’d ever had and that we lived in filth. But… we were also the tenants she had the longest and she never once got a late payment from us. And over four years, it was clear to us that money was what mattered most to her. She never once asked us to leave her shitty house, although she did offer to find us a housekeeper (like I needed having someone spying on us and reporting back to her).

So in June, our lawyer sent her a demand letter. It was devoid of emotion and bluster. Our lawyer demanded our Kaution, as well as a refund of our Nebenkosten (money for trash, lawn care, and other costs) for four years, since she never did the required annual accounting of it. Now… Bill and I didn’t really expect to get the Nebenkosten returned to us. However, our lawyer pointed out that in Germany, the law states that landlords must do an annual reckoning of the Nebenkosten. Ex landlady never once did this, so legally, we are entitled to request that she refund that money. Over four years, it amounts to a lot of money.

As I predicted, ex landlady went absolutely batshit nuts when she got the lawyer’s letter. Pretty soon, I noticed her friends and family members stalking my blogs, hitting certain posts repeatedly. I started to think she might try to accuse me of Beleidigung (insult). In Germany, it’s illegal to insult someone. I have never named ex landlady or posted a picture of her, but former tenant had been reading and knew whom I was writing about. Sometimes, she’d leave comments defending ex landlady or agreeing with me, but then she’d delete her comments. That practice left me realizing that she was up to no good.

Ex landlady had her lawyer send us an outrageous letter alleging that we had “destroyed” her house. As Bill translated it, I could practically hear ex landlady’s shrill voice through the lawyer’s bluster. And she demanded even more money from us, tacking on truly ridiculous charges. She’s trying to force us to replace her laminate floor and her carpet (at least 18 years old). She demands the fees for her lawyer, and the real kicker is, she claims we stole her refrigerator. Of all of the things she’s bitching about, the refrigerator claim amazes me the most. Apparently, she thinks the refrigerator I bought for us is her refrigerator, and the piece of shit German one that was in the house when we moved in was one we abandoned and– get this– it’s an “inferior American brand”. She evidently doesn’t realize that we have different voltage in the United States and would not be able to use an American fridge without a plug converter and transformer. The fridge that was left there is German and has a European style plug… and thanks to Amazon.de, we have proof that the fridge we took belongs to us.

Ex landlady also claims that we agreed that she didn’t have to do the annual Nebenkosten reckoning. That can’t be true, since before a few months ago, we didn’t even know that was the law in Germany. There’s no way we could have agreed not to hold her to that requirement. Our lawyer has seen our lease, so I’m certain that if it was buried in the language there, she would have noticed it. We used a standard military lease, same one we did for this house and the house we rented in 2007-09. I can’t think of a single reason why a military lease would exclude the Nebenkosten reckoning. And I know Bill never verbally agreed to it or even discussed it with ex landlady. As a German, she must know this is a standard thing. But she never did it and now she’s busted, so she’s claiming we agreed that she didn’t have to do it. Why would we ever agree to something like that? It wouldn’t be in our best interest to do that.

Shitty German fridge that was there on move in day… She claims we abandoned it because it’s an inferior American brand. Note the European plug and German brand name.
Nice German fridge that I purchased, but she evidently thinks belongs to her.

Now… I have been reading up on lawsuits and I know ex landlady does not stand a chance in hell of forcing us to pay for all she demands. I am pretty certain that she’s simply trying to scare us into capitulating. In fact, her claims are so completely asinine that I question her lawyer’s competence. It’s obvious that her case is weak. She never so much as did a real check in with us, probably because her former tenant was there on the day we moved in and still had crap she was cleaning up when we took possession. There is no proof of what the house looked like when we moved in, because ex landlady never did her due diligence. I know for a fact ex tenant didn’t get the thorough scrutiny we got when we moved out. I am absolutely certain that we are being blamed for things her ex tenant did, but because they’re friends, they feel perfectly fine in pinning all of this shit on us. And ex landlady has the nerve to claim we’re being “unfair”. Seriously? My husband is one of the kindest, most accommodating people I have ever met. In fact, I think that’s why she’s taking this hard line. She thinks he’s a wimp and has no respect for him.

Naturally, I’m pissed off, but I’m also horrified. Our lawyer sent us a letter encouraging us to file a lawsuit, since it was clear some of her assertions are “fictitious” and she won’t willingly compromise. I’m furious, of course, because it just feels like one more insult from her. I resent that we have to take her to court to force her to do the right thing. It will be expensive, inconvenient, and to make matters worse, we have to see her ugly face again. But now that she’s made her demands, we can’t let this go. Clearly, she also needs to be reported to the housing office in Stuttgart, because if she’d do this to us, she’ll do it to other people. I’m also angry because I feel like my privacy has been violated, and my hard work has been RUINED. And much of my work is good stuff. I know it’s helped people. Thanks to the ex tenant and her need to pry into my business, I can’t share that work with others… at least not until this mess is sorted out. And I think that could take a long time.

I don’t even care about the money. I want her to be held accountable for her absolutely deplorable conduct. Especially now that she’s falsely accused us of theft! She can’t expect to get away with this! This could affect Bill’s livelihood! And if she honestly didn’t know that fridge was hers (or someone else’s), how can we believe she knew the condition her house was in back in 2014? She didn’t do her job and now she’s being called on it, so instead of growing up and owning up to her laziness, she’s claiming we’re dirtbags. Once again, the familiar refrain, “We’ve never had any problems with other tenants.”… but she doesn’t realize we’ve never had problems with other landlords.

This would be enough. This shit with the ex landlady, comical as it may seem years from now, would certainly be enough. But now my beloved Zane has lymphoma that promises to kill him soon. Many of ex landlady’s complaints stem from the fact that we had dogs. She blames them for most of the issues in the house. She forgets that ex tenant had a dog, and the people before her had cats, and everything in that house is old. It was certainly not pristine when we moved in. In fact, I have an early blog post in which I lament the smell of the carpet and former tenant admits that many pets had been hosted in that house. It was one of the few comments she didn’t delete.

I know things could be worse. I know I have friends and family dealing with much worse. I also know that ex landlady’s case is so ridiculous that if we do go to court, chances are good that she will be humiliated. That’s probably why the lawyer sent such a strongly worded letter to us. He’s trying to scare us into letting this go, because if a fair and impartial person with a lick of sense hears this story, it’s likely they’ll lose in a big way. We’ve been assured by three lawyers and a housing official in Wiesbaden that our former landlady is completely out of bounds on this. But what if the judge is as wacko as ex landlady is? It’s a possibility.

I try to reassure myself that this will be okay. I try to focus on Zane, who has temporarily improved on the prednisone I’m giving him. It’s borrowed time. When he goes, he’ll take a piece of my heart with him. Ex landlady won’t care about that. She doesn’t give a fuck about anyone but herself and her money. I’m tired of her abuse and her bullying tactics. It’s time to open a can of whoopass and teach that bitch that it’s not smart to engage in a war with people who make war their business. Even if we lose, I relish the idea of making her sweat and spend money on this, even if it’s just the deductible for legal insurance. I’m not sure she knows we are insured, too. And we intend to see this through. God led us to it… and maybe if He’s real, he’ll lead us through it. But I have a feeling that my sheer hatred for her and my resolute unwillingness to tolerate more abuse from her is what is really going to see us through this situation.

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