Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man…

Every once in awhile, when the weather is rainy and dark and Bill is at home, we like to have a leisurely breakfast while listening to music. This morning, it was a live album I bought by the late Allen Toussaint. Released in 2013, Songbook is just Allen on his piano, playing wonderful music. Although I’ve been exposed to Allen Toussaint’s music all of my life, I never bothered to listen to him just by himself. The closest I came was in 2007, when Bill gave me The River in Reverse, an album Toussaint made with Elvis Costello the year after Hurricane Katrina wiped out Toussaint’s home and recording studio in New Orleans.

I loved The River in Reverse. We were living in Germany the first time when Bill presented it to me. In those days, I had an elliptical machine that I used sometimes in a futile attempt to burn fat. We set it up in the mother-in-law suite in our house, along with a TV and an old school stereo with a cassette and CD player. I think it also had a USB portal, but in those days, I wasn’t USB savvy. Anyway, even though I loved The River in Reverse, I never explored Allen Toussaint further until recently.

I have Keb’ Mo’ to thank for re-introducing me to Allen Toussaint. I recently purchased a second copy of his wonderful live album, The Hot Pink Blues. I already had that album from iTunes, but thanks to upgrading to Catalina, my music library is a bit fucked right now. I have a Bose speaker that works well with Amazon Music, so I’ve found that it’s easier to just buy another copy from Amazon of the albums I really love. Allen Toussaint’s Songbook was a suggestive sell… and I’d probably been drinking (I’m really great at “drunken downloads”). So I downloaded Songbook and it was the musical backdrop for us this morning after I listened to Allen’s thirteen minute version of “Southern Nights”. By the time he’d finished, I was a bit weepy. I had to share it with Bill, who also got verklempt listening to Allen Toussaint describe his childhood in Louisiana. Bill and I both come from rural southern roots, so the story he told resonated with us.

No story telling in this version, but you can hear Toussaint’s evocative piano playing. I compare it to Pat Conroy’s vivid writing style. Allen Toussaint doesn’t even have to sing. The piano playing tells the story. Bill is distantly related to the late Glen Campbell, too. Glen Campbell made “Southern Nights” a huge hit.

I was also made emotional by Toussaint’s lovely piano playing. Playing piano was effortless to him and, I could tell, making beautiful music was a passion and a joy for him. I was thinking about what a privilege it must be to have the power to make total strangers misty at the beauty of music you’ve made. I have had a few people cry when I’ve sung, but they’re mostly people who love me anyway. I never met Allen Toussaint when he was alive; I never made it to a single one of his shows. But listening to his music this morning felt very intimate. I could relate to where he’d been. He made me cry.

Allen Toussaint was fortunate enough to die at a “good age”… and he didn’t spend weeks sick and dying in a hospital bed. Instead, he played his last concert in Madrid, Spain, then died of a heart attack in his hotel room. He left behind a treasure trove of wonderful music that still makes people feel things and sometimes get a little weepy.

Bill and I love to sit around, drink wine, and listen to great music, especially when the weather sucks. We’ve had some great conversations this way. Fortunately, we have compatible tastes in music and he’s very open minded to hearing new things. He’s often told me I greatly expanded his musical repertoire, which was not an experience he had with his ex wife. She liked Top 40 and pop country, and ridiculed Bill for liking alternative and grunge music. She claimed he was just trying to be “hip”. Instead of being a unifying thing, music was something to fight over in their relationship.

Ex would use music to belittle Bill. She’d play songs as a means of showing what kind of man he should be. He can’t stand listening to “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams or “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow, because those were songs Ex ruined for him. Or she’d make up insulting lyrics to hit songs as a means of putting him down. It got to the point at which Bill would respond in kind. Like, when she’d sing “Never Gonna Get It” by EnVogue, he’d respond with “Really don’t want it.” Or he’d hum “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull when she was around.

I don’t think music should be used as a weapon. I love it too much to use it to hurt other people.

As we were talking over Allen Toussaint’s music this morning, the subject of conflict came up. Bill doesn’t like conflict, which has led him to a lot of trouble. Some of the problems he’s had come about due to not wanting to fight have been very serious. For instance, on the day he married his ex wife, he knew the marriage would fail. He had voices in his head telling him he shouldn’t marry her. They even fought on their wedding day. But instead of disappointing his ex wife by calling off the wedding, they married and spent almost ten rocky years together. It’s taken years to mostly undo the mess, which has affected a lot of innocent people.

As we were talking about how sometimes fighting is the right thing to do, I was suddenly reminded of a classic hit from 1979. Written by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler, “Coward of the County” was made famous by Kenny Rogers, who sang as if he was the uncle of a young man named Tommy whose father died in prison when he was ten years old. Tommy’s father told him not to get into trouble. He didn’t want his boy to die in prison. He made Tommy promise to “turn the other cheek” and avoid fights, even when he really wanted to knock the hell out of someone. Tommy faithfully honored his promise to his dad, and let others walk all over him. Everyone in the county called him “Yellow”.

Then one day, the “Gatlin boys” came calling. They assaulted and gang raped Tommy’s girlfriend, Becky. When Tommy found his love battered, bruised, and shattered by the three brothers’ brutality, he was torn between wanting to avenge Becky and stop people from calling him “Yellow”, and honor his promise to his father that he would stay out of trouble. Tommy makes up his mind, goes into town, and puts all three Gatlin brothers out of commission. It’s not clear if he used his fists or a firearm, nor do we know if the boys were killed or just knocked out cold. Then Tommy says that he’s always tried to walk away from trouble when he can. But sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.

A classic song… even though one of the songwriters supposedly had a feud with the legendary singing group, the Gatlin Brothers. The legend goes that songwriter Roger Bowling said, “Fuck you, Gatlin.” to Larry Gatlin when he congratulated Bowling for winning an award for one of Kenny Rogers’ other hits, “Lucille”. Interesting story.

I couldn’t resist playing it for Bill, who smirked and said, “It’s kind of a cheesy song.”

I disagree. It’s 40 years old and still resonates. As Bill pointed out, they made a movie out of it. There’s a lot of truth in the lyrics, too. Sometimes you have to get in a minor conflict now to avoid a major one later. It would have been better if Tommy could have been more assertive when he was younger. Maybe those Gatlin boys wouldn’t have had their way with Becky. Maybe Tommy wouldn’t have had to dispatch them in such a dramatic way. We wouldn’t have been left with such a classic song or story, either.

After listening to the song, Bill agreed it wasn’t so cheesy after all. Especially as we face down another week here in Germany.

We finished our coffee and Bill took Arran for a walk. Now he’s at AAFES looking for board games to play and a jigsaw puzzle for us to do today while he cooks a rib roast for dinner. I think it’s going to be one of those “easy like Sunday morning” days… even though “Easy” isn’t really a happy song, is it?

So glad I grew up in the 70s and 80s, even if it does mean I’m getting old.

It’s amazing how music can help you solve your problems. It relieves stress, lubricates conversation, makes you move, and even helps you cry when you need it. What a gift it is to have wonderful music to listen to on a rainy Sunday. I bought a bunch of stuff last night and this morning, so we’ll probably have some great conversations today.

controversies, family, movies

Life’s lessons…

This morning, Bill and I were having coffee and somehow, we got on the subject of his ex wife. I’m pretty sure the subject came up because one of us quoted from National Lampoon’s Vacation— the scene where Clark Griswold and family put the recently deceased Aunt Edna on top of the Family Truckster and delivered her corpse to Phoenix, Arizona, where she was left languishing in the heat. Clark delivers a pseudo prayer for Edna’s soul, but Edna was such an obnoxious old bat that his prayer is facetious and uncaring.

This scene led to quite a conversation this morning.

Bill remembered that his ex wife had a family member that did something similar with a dead person. Ex had a relative– supposedly a nice enough guy, kind of quiet, and obviously very practical. For whatever reason, he loaded up a relative’s full coffin in the back of his pickup truck and drove it to the cemetery. Bill said he stood there aghast as this was going on, reminded of Aunt Edna in Vacation, and wondering how many laws and regulations were being broken as this corpse was being delivered in an unofficial way. Apparently, that’s the kind of family Ex has. They see a simple solution and/or way to cut corners to settle things, and they do it without any qualms, even if laws are being broken. A lot of times, they get away with it, which only encourages more lawless behavior.

After Bill related this story to me, he explained more about his ex wife’s family dynamics, which are unusual and extremely dysfunctional. As I mentioned previously on my old blog, Ex was adopted. During their marriage, Ex made it clear to Bill that being adopted really stuck in her craw. It was the ultimate rejection, even though she was eventually chosen by another couple. This early rejection, and the aftermath of her traumatic childhood, has helped shape the type of person she is.

In Ex’s case, the couple who adopted her were allegedly abusive. Ex never even knew her adoptive dad until she was about seven years old. He was in the Merchant Marine and was gone at sea all the time. Ex’s adoptive mother supposedly got tired of being alone all the time, even though her husband had reportedly provided well for her. She apparently messed around with other men and eventually divorced Ex’s adoptive dad so that she could marry Ex’s stepfather, a financially successful man with an abusive streak. Ex’s mother had bio children with the new stepfather, so Ex was apparently treated as second rate, both by her mother and her stepfather. Ex claims her stepfather sexually abused her, which he likely did, based on some bizarre behavior Bill observed during their marriage.

Years later, Ex sought out her bio parents and was able to track down her mother. She met her, and learned that her birth was the result of an affair. Ex’s bio mom was married and had an affair with another man. When she got pregnant, bio mom’s husband said he didn’t want to raise another man’s baby. He ordered her to give the baby up for adoption or she would be cast out on the street.

I’m sure just hearing this story rang off all kinds of internal alarms for Ex. Here she was, adopted, which apparently had already caused her angsty feelings because she was rejected by her biological parents. Then, her mother and stepfather were neglectful and abusive, and engaged in a lot of sabotaging behaviors, sending the message that she’s second rate. Then, she learns that she was the result of an affair and her bio mom’s husband hadn’t wanted her. And her bio mom, who may or may not have even stayed with her husband, chose to give up her baby rather than tell her husband to go screw himself. I mean… if she was already having an affair, their marriage couldn’t have been that strong, anyway.

Whenever I hear stories about Ex and her tragic upbringing, I do feel pangs of empathy, even though I fully admit to despising her. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her being raised in that situation. I don’t blame her for having issues. It was not her fault that the adults in her life failed her the way they did. However, I don’t approve at all of the way she deals with other people. She is, herself, a very abusive person who not only causes pain to the people directly affected by her behavior, but also to the people who are in relationships with her victims. Her behavior, for example, has indirectly harmed me, and it’s probably harmed her children’s spouses. It will probably eventually harm her grandchildren, too.

Unfortunately, instead of choosing to be different from her adoptive and biological parents, Ex turned into a menace who hurts other people. Younger daughter wisely noticed the pattern of multiple marriages and instability in her mother’s and grandmother’s lives. Ex is currently on her third husband. Grandma was married five or six times.

Ex’s adoptive dad– the one she didn’t meet until she was seven years old– once got an annulment the day after he married someone because, apparently, he didn’t like the way she smelled. According to Bill, adoptive dad was a much better person than Ex’s stepfather was. Imagine how low the bar must have been set for Bill to make that determination. Bill said Ex’s stepfather was the kind of man who had charisma, but was very cruel and, in fact, Bill said that when he met him, he felt like he was in the presence of evil.

Younger daughter, who is a good Mormon and has probably had her fill of drama, wants to break the cycle. As much as I disliked younger daughter before she and Bill started talking, I now really admire her for her strength of character. I have changed my mind about her. I never had as many intense feelings about older daughter. At this point, I figure she’ll come around eventually, when it’s safe for her to do so. She’s still living with Ex, apparently raising her youngest brother.

Perhaps as a result of what she went through as a child, Ex grew up to be a very abusive, narcissistic person. For years, Bill suffered at her hands, listening to her rage, enduring physical, emotional, and even sexual assault. She lied to people about the kind of person he is and did her best to ruin his relationships with his own family members, as well as the children he had with Ex. But despite every thing Ex did to try to destroy Bill, he never took her to court or officially tried to fight for his rights to his money or his children. Many people would blame him for that. Some even take it as an admission of guilt, of sorts. In fact, on my old blog, I regularly got comments from people who didn’t believe his story and/or wanted to blame him entirely for what happened, simply because he’s a man.

Make no mistake. Bill knows that he made errors when he was younger and less secure. He should not have married his ex wife, not just because she was an abusive person, but also because he didn’t love her. He had pity for her, and that is not the same thing as love. He takes full responsibility for making a poor choice. It wasn’t respectful to Ex, or to himself. However, because of what he went through with his ex wife, Bill has changed the way he deals with people. Although he never asserted his rights in a courtroom, Bill did learn to gather evidence to strengthen his side of the story. Because I’m his wife, I’ve also learned to gather evidence to support my stories. He also doesn’t allow people to bully him the way he used to. His anti-bullying skills were honed when he went to war with a narcissistic junior Trump clone, and sharpened with other bullies he’s met during his career. And he’s also taken a stand against Ex in the form of assertive behavior. He doesn’t try to placate her anymore.

On my old blog, I wrote several times about Christmas 2004, and how Ex tried to force me into spending Christmas with her at Bill’s dad and stepmother’s house. I didn’t want to go. I knew it would be a bad idea. There was a lot of pressure for me to get with the program, though, even though I knew in my heart that my attendance at that gathering would be a disaster. No matter how well-behaved, friendly, and nice I tried to be, it wouldn’t be enough for Ex. She would find a reason to criticize. It would ruin my holiday, cost a lot of money we didn’t have, and not do anything to strengthen Bill’s relationship with his kids or his family. So I stayed home. It was hard for me to make that choice, even though it was the right thing to do. I later realized that an earlier event had taught me what needed to happen. It was one of life’s lessons.

I had gotten the courage to stay home from Ex’s sick Christmas gathering the previous year– Christmas 2003– when Bill and I endured a disastrous holiday with my own family in Virginia. One of my sisters got a ride with Bill and me to our parents’ house. I had told her that if there was any fighting, I’d be leaving. My sister agreed with those conditions. Sure enough, there was a fight. True to my word, I decided I wanted to leave. My sister first tried to manipulate Bill, then when that didn’t work, she threw a massive fit. We left her at my parents’ house, and she had to take a bus home.

It was painful for me to do that to my sister. I hadn’t wanted to do it, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want her having a temper tantrum in my car for hours, nor did I want to be bullied into staying at my parents’ house, seething with anger, when I could just as easily go back to my own house and salvage my peace. That situation hurt, but it taught me to trust my own judgment and not let other people bully me.

I am now unusually angry about our situation with the ex landlady. This morning, I was musing about why this has me so upset. It’s not even like what she’s doing is uncommon. Read on Toytown Germany’s forums, and you’ll find many stories of greedy landlords ripping off their tenants’ security deposits. It happens in the United States, too. A lot of times, landlords get away with outright thievery, since people don’t have the time or the money to fight in court. Foreigners in Germany are particularly vulnerable, since many folks don’t speak German and don’t bother to get legal insurance. They either think it’s a waste of money, or they just can’t spare the money… and the amount they’d be fighting for, while significant to them, is not worth a court battle. American military folks often don’t have the money to get the insurance (which is actually pretty inexpensive, considering the coverage) or they think it’s a scam. They’re only going to be here for three years or so, so they figure it’s not worth the hassle. Sometimes, that means they get ripped off.

In our case, we’re being brazenly ripped off of over 2500 euros, which is a lot of money. Several of the things the landlady accused us of doing, we didn’t do. Several of the most significant charges that were made are outright illegal. Either ex landlady got an insurance settlement, or the statute of limitations has run out. She obviously thinks she can get away with this scam, which I’m sure she rationalizes as “fair”, since her awning broke on our watch and the insurance company didn’t give her what she thinks is a “fair” settlement. They gave her only a few hundred euros, and replacing the awning would take much more money; therefore, in her mind, we should make up the difference. However, she didn’t have it properly repaired when we pointed it out to her, and she made a huge deal out of other repairs we requested. She made it clear she didn’t want to spend the money on repairing her old awning. But she doesn’t mind spending ours to renovate the property, and jack up the rent for the next people. That’s wrong, and it’s against German law.

I’m sure, based on what I wrote at the beginning of this post, our issues with the ex landlady seem small and I seem obsessive. I fully realize that they’re small. However, when you look at the cumulative effect of this kind of treatment over many years, maybe it makes more sense as to why we’re finally fighting back. Bill has suffered character assassination and financial loss for many years. He’s a good man, and he was always above board, both with his ex wife and our ex landlady. Both of them were paid in full and on time. He followed the letter of the law when he gave them notice, both for the divorce and for when we moved out of our former home. Maybe he wasn’t the perfect husband or the perfect tenant, but he’s still better than a lot of people are. He deserves to be treated with more respect and fairness. This time, he has the ability to fight back. He doesn’t even expect to get the whole amount of the deposit back. He may even lose, but at least he will have taken a stand. Maybe we’ll all learn something from this.

We relate.

Life’s lessons often come from unexpected places. Because of my sister’s meltdown in 2003, I was able to see why I shouldn’t have to spend Christmas with my husband’s ex wife in 2004. If I’m willing to walk away from Christmas with my blood family members, why shouldn’t I tell the Ex to pound sand when she tries to manipulate me into a similarly toxic scenario? Why should she get more consideration than my own sister gets? After a year of silence, my sister did eventually speak to me again. Ex was still bitching about my refusal to celebrate Christmas with her years later– and she doesn’t even like me! I guarantee she’d like me even less if I’d been forced to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year with her.

Because of the way Ex treated Bill during their marriage and the many years he spent defending himself against her lies, Bill learned that he has to gather evidence… especially when it’s clear that he’s dealing with a difficult person or someone with a high conflict personality. Two years ago, when the awning fell, it was clear that our former landlady was going to remember that accident and try to screw us out of our deposit. We became hyper vigilant about most documentation, and we bought legal insurance in anticipation of the fight for our money. We have a nice file of evidence that shows what kind of a person she is, to include many irrational, hostile, and contradictory emails, which were always met with calm respectful responses from Bill. Of course, I also have a public blog full of evidence about what kind of a person I am. I know it could easily work against me. But my guess is that what’s in my blog is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

I think our dealings with Ex have made us pretty adept at spotting and preparing for other people who act like bullies and try to take advantage of Bill’s good nature. I feel pretty certain that Bill’s move to defend himself will really upset the ex landlady. She might even send us hate mail or try to countersue. I don’t expect this to be pleasant, but sometimes life’s most valuable lessons are unpleasant for everyone. Taking a stand is important for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with money. Fighting back is empowering. We’d rather spend the time on something else, but sometimes you just have to take a stand, if not for yourself, then for other people’s sakes.