memories, mental health, music, psychology, sex, videos, YouTube

“Magazine pages”, and drinking and downloading…

Today’s post may be triggering for some readers. At the end of the post, I discuss Josh Duggar, which could trigger anyone decent. Proceed at your own risk.

I have a huge collection of music on iTunes, and I usually set my HomePod to stream whatever’s in my collection of many thousands of songs. Consequently, there’s no telling what we’ll hear on a given evening. Sometimes, we hear classical music. Sometimes we hear country or bluegrass or rock… or really shitty songs from the 70s and 80s. I also have a pretty good collection of indie artists, or even just people I’ve heard on YouTube and liked. I have a habit of drinking and downloading music, but I sometimes also hear something on TV and get so impressed that I’ll seek out the song online and download the whole album it came from, never previously heard. I have found some great stuff using that method. Oftentimes, it leads to me buying a whole catalog from an artist. Then I share my finds with my other music geek friends, like Andrew.

A couple of nights ago, Bill and I were sitting in the living room, listening to music. A song came on the HomePod that made me stop in my tracks. Those of you who hang out on Facebook might be familiar with this artist, whose video went viral a couple of years ago. Check this out.

A most entertaining song. I liked it enough to buy the album.

The song above is called “I’ve No More… to Give”. It’s by Thomas Benjamin Wild, Esq. and features Damian Clark. Naturally, I related to the song and enjoyed the lyrics. I thought the melody was catchy and well played. I enjoyed the performance enough that off I went to iTunes and downloaded Mr. Wild’s album. Since then, a few other songs have played, including the one below…

I can relate to this song… although my dogs don’t attract weirdos. Maybe it’s because I’m a weirdo myself.

This song cracks me up because I relate on many levels. I’m a wino… and I’m a weirdo… and I’ve had some awkward encounters while walking the dogs. What’s really awkward is when I have a dog who either wants to hump another dog or another dog tries to hump him. I used to have a very tiny but alpha beagle who would hump anything. I couldn’t take him to events involving other dogs, because I’d invariably get dirty looks from other dog owners as Flea tried to have his way… Likewise, now I have Arran, who isn’t a humper, but other dogs have tried to hump him. On occasion, humping dogs come away from their encounter nursing a bite. No means no. But as far as awkward human encounters, I would say we don’t have that many. I try to maintain a resting bitch face when I’m walking the dogs, so I don’t have to show off my poor German skills or listen to someone yell at me.

But neither of these songs are what has inspired today’s windy Thursday morning post. Today’s post is inspired by Thomas Benjamin Wild’s song, “Magazine Pages.” Here’s the video…

As Bill and I were listening to this song the other night, we both realized that we had this experience in common…

This song is about how, as young lads, Mr. Wild and his friends found “magazine pages” discarded in the woods. As I listened to this song, I was suddenly reminded that I had a similar experience when I was about twelve. The year was 1984, and I was riding home from the barn on my ten speed bike. As I sped past an area I traveled back and forth on many times as a pre-teen, I noticed a stack of magazines. Being a curious sort, I picked them up and brought them home to look at them. They were… “men’s magazines”.

Now, this was not the first time I’d seen such material, thanks to the neighborhood pervert, who lived across the dirt road from us. From the ages of nine or ten, this man was sharing his treasure trove of Playboys, Hustlers, and Penthouses with me as I hung out with him in his apartment. You might wonder what I was doing hanging out with this guy. As an adult, I wonder, too. All I can come up with is that he paid attention to me and was nice. He was a friend of my parents’, went to our church, and let me help him in his garden, which always put out tons of produce. He taught me about golf and softball and took me to games, the movies, and even the beach once. He never did anything forbidden to me or showed me anything private on his own body, but he did share his magazines and books with me and he made lewd comments.

I didn’t realize until I was much older, and in therapy, that what he did was abusive. In fact, my therapist said he thought our neighbor probably should have been in prison. I don’t know about that… I never told anyone at the time. I do know that he also used to hang out with my neighbor, who was a year older than me, blonde, and lacking a father figure, since her dad had Huntington’s Disease and was hospitalized. He paid a lot of attention to her, but it would not surprise me if he also exposed her to the same things he exposed me to. In her case, it might have been even worse. But I can’t ask her about that now, because she went on to develop Huntington’s Disease herself, and died about ten years ago.

Anyway, because of that experience, and because I had free license to watch anything I wanted to on cable TV, I wasn’t completely shocked when I found the pile of magazines. But when I heard the above song, I wondered if this was something a lot of kids go through. Or, at least, I wondered if people my age had this experience. So I asked Bill. He laughed and said that yes, he had , in fact, had a similar experience. It involved an uncle of his who had lent his car to Bill’s mom. The car got a flat tire, so they had to get the spare out of the trunk. That’s where Bill found his uncle’s stash of magazines. It made an immediate… uh… impression on him.

I probably shouldn’t say that I had “free license” to watch what I wanted on TV. I know my dad, for instance, would occasionally catch me watching George Carlin or Richard Pryor, and he’d lecture me. One time, he caught me watching what would probably be considered a soft porn film on The Movie Channel. Should I have been watching it? Probably not, although it was on cable and my parents didn’t monitor what I viewed on cable TV. I was their fourth kid and I think they were just really tired of raising kids by the time I came along.

I got away with all kinds of stuff I probably shouldn’t have, and I was exposed to a lot of things that would probably get CPS called on the parents of today. My mom was a lot more lenient about what I was allowed to watch and read, but the truth is, neither of my parents paid much attention to what I was doing. And so, as a young girl, I was exposed to “magazine pages” in the woods, just as Thomas Benjamin Wild, Esq. was… and just as Bill was. The 1970s and 80s were a weird time to be a kid, although I think I would prefer that time to this time. I do not envy the children of today at all.

So I went and looked at the comments on the above YouTube video and noticed that, apparently, finding random porn in the woods is a common experience, especially for boys. I notice that many of the commenters say that this was common, twenty or thirty years ago. Clearly, it happened to Bill and me… and I seem to remember my sister telling me that one time, she found a porn stash kept by one of our male relatives. My sister said finding that stash forever changed her image of him. I didn’t care about it so much when she told me, but then years later, I learned that he cheated on his wife… and then I realized that his son, who was two years older than I was, engaged in some inappropriate stuff that might have been influenced by his dad’s stash. Also… he and the neighborhood pervert both had very respectable jobs. My relative, for instance, was so well-regarded that he has a stadium named after him.

I’ll tell you what else brings up this topic today… I’m listening to Katie Joy’s latest live stream, and she mentioned that Josh Duggar was exposed to “magazine pages” when he was about eight years old. At about the 9 minute mark of the below video, Katie Joy explains that when he was eight, Josh was helping his dad clean out a car. Jim Bob was, at the time, selling used cars (figures). In the car they were cleaning out, there was a box of “adult magazines”. Naturally, Josh saw it, and it was stuff he definitely shouldn’t have seen as an eight year old. And according to Katie Joy’s “source”, this exposure to “adult material” really left an impression on him.

At the nine minute mark, we learn that Josh Duggar might have been exposed to “magazine pages” as an 8 year old.

If the story Katie Joy is telling is true, then it makes sense that Josh grew up with some warped ideas about sex and women. Because I highly doubt his parents took the time to talk to Josh about those “magazine pages”. I’m sure if he was caught with them, he got a good ass tanning in the prayer closet and hard labor, rather than a calm and rational discussion about looking at “magazine pages”. Couple that with Josh Duggar growing up in a very restrictive and punitive religious cult, and the constant shaming, emphasis on avoiding sin and temptation, and warnings about Hell that he no doubt heard, and it kind of makes sense that Josh would be pretty fucked up. Also couple that with the idea that Josh, as the oldest child in a huge family, was probably expected to do a lot of things that weren’t appropriate for his age.

NONE OF THAT, IN ANY WAY, EXCUSES HIM FOR BEING A PERVERT, nor does it mean that he’s not a danger to other people– especially children– today. Especially since it’s clear that a lot of us also saw that kind of stuff when we were children and most of us didn’t turn into abusive perverts. But if what Katie Joy says is true, it could offer an explanation of sorts. I think in Josh’s case, there was a perfect storm of fuckery that may have led him to where he is in 2021… and where he’s very likely to be in 2022, and for years beyond.

I do think Josh Duggar is going to go to prison, and I think he will probably be there for a long time. And I don’t think that would be a bad thing, since Josh has repeatedly shown the world that he has some pretty serious problems that he’s never dealt with. He definitely puts vulnerable people at risk. But… at the same time, I do think that the adults in his life failed him when he was growing up. He obviously needed competent help from a mental health professional when he was a boy, and he never got that. And that’s on his parents, even though I don’t usually think that parents necessarily should be blamed for everything bad their children do. I think there were many red flags and signs that Josh needed some help. His parents, evidently, either ignored the signs or addressed them in inappropriate ways.

Of course, I am speculating, and I could be totally wrong about this. Josh might have simply been a bad seed who would have turned out this way regardless. There’s no way to know. But I do think that finding a box of “magazine pages” as an eight year old, looking at that stuff, and then having to keep it totally secret, or risk serious reprisals involving threats of spending eternity in a lake of fire, could have done some severe damage to Josh’s psyche.

It will be interesting to see what happens when this trial starts at the end of next month. I don’t think Josh was smart to reject the plea deal. I suspect he will really regret taking this chance. But he probably believes it’s in God’s hands… and he’s always gotten away with his perversions with no real consequences up until now. He may even think he’s one of God’s chosen and all he has to do is pray a lot. Who the hell knows?

I feel sad for Josh’s children. No matter what happens, they have to live with the fact that their father is a well-known “sex pest”. And despite the shiny image that was put out by the Duggar Family for many years, the truth is, the family is pretty fucked up… and it’s all on a worldwide stage for everyone to see and judge. I think Josh’s kids, especially the boys, are going to face a difficult future. Much of this is because of Jim Bob Duggar’s need to be in the spotlight, lust for power and money, and lack of responsibility for taking care of his children and seeing to their mental health. And, of course, Michelle Duggar bears responsibility for not doing her part to take care of Josh… or her other children, for that matter.

Anyway… this was supposed to be a lighter post than it turned out to be. I was going to keep it funny… but I started to listening to Katie Joy’s live stream, and it occurred to me that Josh’s issues are relevant. Maybe I should feel fortunate that those “magazine pages” didn’t do more harm to me. I’ll be very surprised if Josh isn’t behind bars very soon.

For those who also like Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq.’s music… As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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ethics, healthcare, memories, Neighbors

Repost: Perpetuating the genetic nightmare…

I am reposting this piece from August 30, 2017, because it goes with the book review I reposted today. It appears as/is. Special thanks to Leevan Jackson who made the featured photo available through Creative Commons.

I have written a few times about my childhood neighbors, people who lived across the dirt road from us in Virginia.  In 1980, when we moved to Gloucester, they were a family of four.  There was a mother, father, brother and sister.  The father did not live at home.  He was in his early 30s and lived at the local psychiatric hospital in Williamsburg because he was suffering from Huntington’s Disease.   The mother was raising her children, twelve year old Michael and nine year old Leslie, by herself. 

In 1980, Michael was also suffering from Huntington’s Disease, having inherited the defective gene and developed the disease much earlier than most people with Huntington’s Disease do.  He died in 1982.  His and Leslie’s father died a couple of years after that.

I was eight in 1980.  I met all of these people when I was a child.  Leslie’s mother worked for my dad for several years until Leslie’s paternal grandmother died and Leslie’s mom inherited some money.  Leslie’s mom bought her own picture framing business and competed against my dad.  The business eventually failed.

Leslie and I weren’t close friends, but we did grow up together.  My parents included Leslie and her mom on a couple of family trips.  In 1985, I remember we all went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina together.  I seem to remember Leslie and her mom coming with us to Natural Bridge, Virginia once, too.  I grew up waiting for the bus with Leslie and used to dog sit for her mom when they’d take trips to the Smoky Mountains.  Leslie was bright and talented and probably could have done some great things had she not been doomed to get Huntington’s Disease while still fairly young.

Leslie died in 2010, having battled the disease for several years.  She was 39 years old.  She’d given birth to three kids.  One of them died in a freak accident in 1995.  Leslie’s little daughter, just two years old, was accidentally run over by Leslie at the local Walmart.  For some reason, Leslie had allowed the little girl to stand up behind the driver’s seat.  If I recall correctly, she was just coasting forward to the drink machines and, for whatever reason, decided not to put the kid in a car seat.  Leslie had inexplicably left the car door open and the girl fell out and ended up under the car’s tires.  Her older child, then just three years old, was also there.  In 2012, when he was 21 years old, that child would also die in a car accident.  I have to wonder if the accident was really an accident or if the young man had started getting symptoms of Huntington’s Disease and decided to commit suicide. 

In 1996, Leslie had her third child, another son.  He is the only one of her children still living.  I have never met Leslie’s youngest child, but I know his family well.  I also know his dad, since he was in my class in school.  In the 80s, Gloucester was the kind of place where everyone knew each other.  I also knew of Leslie’s older son’s family, since his grandmother used to clean my parents’ house. 

Last night, I decided to look up Leslie’s sole surviving son.  I see that he recently became a father.  I have to wonder how much exposure he got to his mother when she was sick.  I didn’t see Leslie during those years because I left our hometown, but I do remember meeting her father and seeing her brother on a daily basis.  I remember what Huntington’s Disease looked like at an advanced stage.  It’s absolutely devastating.   

I just started reading a book about a woman who married into a family with the Huntington’s Disease gene.  The woman fell in love with her husband before he knew his mother had Huntington’s Disease.  She was dating him when he and his three older sisters found out why their mother wasn’t around when they were growing up.  She’d been in a psychiatric hospital.  The family patriarch wasn’t much of a father figure, so it was left up to the eldest daughter to take care of everyone.  Somehow, the four kids grew up not knowing that their mother had a genetic disorder.  I’m probably halfway through the book so far… The author decided to play the odds and have a son with her husband.

I learned in the book I’m reading that famed songwriter, Woody Guthrie, had Huntington’s Disease.  He had eight children, five of whom died young.  His second of three wives, Marjorie Guthrie, started what would eventually become the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.  Marjorie had four children with Woody, including famous singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie.  Woody was married to his third wife for just a year before they split; he died in 1967 at age 55.  Woody was never really treated for his disease.  People thought he had schizophrenia or was an alcoholic, due to the extreme mood swings the disease caused.  Because he was famous, his death brought awareness to Huntington’s Disease.  It looks like Arlo and two siblings have escaped their father’s fate.  Today, I very much enjoy listening to music by Arlo’s daughter, Cathy, who plays ukulele in the duo, Folk Uke, with Amy Nelson (Willie Nelson’s daughter).

One of Woody Guthrie’s most famous songs…
Arlo Guthrie performs “Alice’s Restaurant”…
Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson performing as Folk Uke.

Every child who has a parent with Huntington’s Disease has a fifty percent chance of developing the disease.  Huntington’s Disease, although genetically perpetuated, is not like cystic fibrosis.  With CF, both parents must have the genetic defect.  Even then, a child born to parents carrying the CF gene has a one in four chance of getting cystic fibrosis, a one in four chance of being clear of the gene, and a two in four chance of being a carrier.  With Huntington’s Disease, it’s a one in two chance.  And if you have the gene, you will get the disease and likely die from it.  There is no treatment or cure for Huntington’s Disease.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the ethics of knowingly passing along defective genes.  That post was inspired by Zach and Tori Roloff, stars of the TLC show Little People Big World.  They’d just had a baby and some people were saying that they shouldn’t have, since Zach has achondoplasia. Their son, Jackson, also has achondoplasia, which is a type of dwarfism.  For the record, I will say that dwarfism is not quite the same thing as something like CF or Huntington’s Disease.  A person who has achondoplasia can be basically healthy, though abnormally short.  CF and Huntington’s Disease are very serious and debilitating.

I think Huntington’s Disease, in some ways, is crueler than CF is.  Many people with CF are sick from babyhood.  They grow up sick, although some sufferers are much sicker than others.  They often know from a young age whether or not they will be affected by CF. 

A person with a family history of Huntington’s Disease can start life completely normal and not get sick until they’re approaching middle age.  They can develop lives, start families, have careers, and ultimately be stricken by a disease that makes them lose control of their bodies and their minds.  People with Huntington’s Disease grow up wondering if and when it will strike and whether or not they should get tested for the gene.  If they get tested, the news could be good.  They might not have the gene.  Or it can be bad; they have the gene and will eventually get very sick and probably die young.

Leslie’s family was devastated by Huntington’s Disease.  It seemed the gene in her family was worse than some others.  I remember hearing that her grandfather, whom I never met, had the disease.  He’d been adopted and never knew he had a genetic anomaly, so he and his wife, Vashti (whom I did meet), had a family.  I know that besides Leslie’s dad, at least one other sibling got the disease and died young.

I remember my mom telling me, quite emotionally, that Leslie’s mother should have had her daughter’s tubes tied when she was a baby.  I explained to my very practical mom that it would have been unethical to tie Leslie’s tubes.  What if she had been born clear of the gene?  There was a fifty percent chance that she had the defect, but there was also a fifty percent chance she didn’t.  She could have lived a completely normal life.  In 1971, when Leslie was born, I doubt the technology was there to know.  By the time genetic testing was available, I’m sure Leslie didn’t want to know.

I wish Leslie’s grandson much luck.  I truly hope he isn’t going to be afflicted by this terrible disease.  Life is a crap shoot.  He has an aunt and uncle who may or may not have had the genes for Huntington’s Disease and still died very young.  Not having the misfortune of being burdened by a genetically passed disease myself, I can’t even know what it’s like to live with the knowledge that I’m doomed.  Hopefully, Leslie’s son and grandson have escaped Huntington’s Disease.  That disease is a fate I would not wish on my worst enemy.  On the other hand, if Woody Guthrie hadn’t had children, we would be missing out on some great music.

I’ll write a review of the book when I’m finished with it.  It’s amazing what provides food for thought…  And it’s also crazy that I know so much about someone I’ve never met.  It’s not the first time this has happened, either. 

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musings

Sometimes the truth is in our dreams…

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of weird dreams. Most of them have included our dearly departed beagle, Zane, who died on August 31, 2019 of lymphoma. Zane’s death and subsequent “visits” haven’t followed the usual pattern that seems to happen after Bill and I lose a dog. Most of the time, I get a lot of “visits” in my dreams or otherwise just after the dog has died. With Zane, it took a few weeks before I started to “see” him in my subconscious. I have a feeling that it’s my brain telling me it’s time to find another pack member… or maybe it’s the spirit of Zane encouraging me to give another dog a home.

Unfortunately, adopting a dog in Germany can be problematic for Americans, particularly if they are affiliated with the military. Many of my countrymen have ditched their dogs in German shelters, which leaves a terrible impression. It’s understandable that Germans would assume Americans are irresponsible regarding pets, although not all of us are. Some of my friends have adopted dogs in other countries, or from other Americans. Some have purchased dogs from breeders, which I would prefer not to do. I have a couple of German friends who are rooting for Bill and me and, perhaps, will vouch for us if we attempt to adopt from a German source. In fact, I have one German friend who keeps sending me pictures of dogs who need homes. I plan to start looking after the new year, though, because we are planning a road trip to France. Also, we need to have a better idea of what’s coming up in the future. We could end up having to move or something.

Anyway… Arran’s personality has changed since we lost Zane. He’s a bit clingier than he used to be. He now sits by the door at about 5:00pm, knowing that’s when Bill usually comes home. He’s better behaved, too, since he has two humans who lavish attention on him. It’s been kind of nice, although I think he likes having other dogs around… especially if he can be the boss. Zane wasn’t a fighter, per se, but when he wasn’t sick, he didn’t let Arran be his boss. That caused insecurity and conflict, which I think is what led Arran to act out at times.

The ghost of Zane isn’t the only one wondering what the future holds. Last night, our landlord came over to talk to Bill about the annual Rechnung. This is an accounting that is legally required to be done between the landlord and the tenant. It shows how the Nebenkosten (money for other costs) was spent, and gives Bill the chance to reconcile any discrepancies. Bill will sit down with the landlord and they will discuss it together, rather than simply get an email with a bill for money we owe and no accounting of how the money we paid was spent.

We have no complaints whatsoever about our current landlord, who is also our next door neighbor. He wants to do business with us and it shows. He’s always kind and respectful, and has never shouted at me or blamed me for things I either didn’t do or couldn’t control. His house is updated and basically in great shape, so we really haven’t had many things that have needed to be repaired. When we have asked for repairs, he’s been fair and hasn’t freaked out or immediately accused us of negligence. He gives us free firewood and asks us how we’re doing, and he truly seems concerned about how we answer. He seems to like our dog(s) and doesn’t seem to mind Arran, now that Zane is gone. Even if he doesn’t like Arran, he doesn’t make it obvious. He also doesn’t seem to care about how I spend my time or whether or not I meet his wife’s housekeeping standards, not that I know what they are. That is a true gift. Blessed are landlords who live and let live, and don’t meddle in their tenants’ business.

Our next door neighbor on the other side is also nice. She has a super cute Labrador Retriever named Levi who is just a sweetheart and always comes over to say “hi”. She is also encouraging us to find a new hound.

I do think the landlord was a bit worried that we’re planning to move, since he knew Bill went to Poland on business last week and I accompanied him. He’s heard about Trump’s desire to expand our military presence into Poland and, perhaps, build a “Fort Trump” there. I guess he figured we were househunting, since our Poland trip was business based for Bill and I accompanied him. He jokingly asked Bill if we were moving… although actually, I don’t think he was joking. I think he was probably legitimately concerned that we’d move and he’d have to find new people. He seems happy with us and, I’m sure, each time he has to find new tenants, there’s also the worry about what kind of people he’ll have as neighbors as well as whether or not they’ll pay the rent on time.

We are not planning to move, at least not at this point in time. I went to Poland with Bill because his trip happened to be at about the time of our wedding anniversary and Poland is kind of a cool destination now. Bill likes having me with him when he travels for business because I get to see and do new things and write about my experiences. We also like being together and miss each other when Bill has to travel. It’s possible that someday, we might end up living in Poland, but that’s not in the plans at this point. On the other hand, two years ago, we didn’t know we were going to be leaving Stuttgart within a matter of months. I didn’t actually want to leave Stuttgart, because despite everything that happened, I liked it down there. Even though the traffic sucks, I know my way around. The landscape is beautiful, and though some of the people are crotchety and litigious, I kind of knew what to expect. I had no idea that the grass would be greener in Wiesbaden. You can’t miss what you’ve never had, right?

As of today, we’ve lived in our current house for a year. It was a year ago that the movers packed us up and Bill and I caravaned to Wiesbaden. Although we are in a much better living situation, it’s taken about a year for me to process the living situation we were in previously. I think it came out in my dreams this morning.

I dreamt that Bill and I went to a restaurant that we had been looking forward to trying. From the get go, the service wasn’t very good. We were seated at a table near a large party. The wait staff kept charging us extra for things we didn’t order. They were slow, and their table maintenance was sloppy. The staff was also eavesdropping on our conversation and gossiping among themselves. The food was somewhat attractively presented, but overpriced and not that tasty.

Still, even though the signs were there that we should look for another restaurant, we hesitated to go. “What if the next restaurant is even worse?” I asked Bill, as we watched other patrons get up and leave in disgust.

“Yeah, this isn’t really so bad, is it?” Bill confirmed. “I mean, at least the dishes look nice.”

We sat there for a few more minutes, resigning ourselves to settling for an overpriced meal served by surly, disrespectful wait staff. I mean, at least we weren’t hungry, right? But we certainly would have appreciated a better meal, served with more respect and less attitude and at a fairer price, without a bunch of bullshit upcharges.

Finally, a man at the big table full of loud people came over and said, “Come on with us. We’re moving to another restaurant that has better food at a more reasonable price. You might pay more, but you’ll get what you pay for and then some.”

“Hmmm… I don’t know.” I said. “What if it sucks even more? I don’t want to have to pay more for an even worse experience.”

“Could it get much worse?” Bill asked.

“Um… yeah, actually, it could.” I said. “I mean, at least the roof isn’t leaking, the toilets aren’t overflowing, and there aren’t any rats running around.”

“But what are the odds it’ll be worse?” Bill asked.

I had to agree that it wasn’t likely that the next place would offer worse food or service. Why was I fighting to keep eating at a restaurant that didn’t seem to want me dining there? I decided it was worth the risk to move on to the next eatery. So we got up and left the table, even though the wait staff came running after us with a bill, demanding payment for other things we hadn’t ordered. We all went to the next place and, indeed, it was pricier. But the host smiled, welcomed us with a glass of bubbly, sat us down at a nicely set table with stylish silverware and china, and asked us how we were doing. I woke up just as we were about to tuck into a lovely holiday dinner.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I have agreed to bake Bill’s favorite chocolate cake. I haven’t made one since we moved last year, even though this house has a brand new oven (as of last year, anyway). I guess I’ll head downstairs and start baking in a bit, even though the house already smells lovely since Bill set the Crock Pot with tonight’s dinner.

We really should have enjoyed this past year more than we did, but the truth is, we’ve been recovering from a massive mind fuck. A year ago, I tried to be hopeful, but I knew craziness was coming, and it did. I spent a good portion of the year looking back on stuff and wondering if I really was as horrible a tenant as I was made out to be, even though no one else has ever had the level of complaints about us as our former landlords did.

When I lived in Armenia, three of my four “landladies”, for lack of a better word, wished I were a bit neater and better about housekeeping. We’re talking dusting, putting away clothes, straightening clutter, making the bed, and what not– stuff that makes the house look neater, but isn’t necessarily a matter of health, safety, or hygiene. I am not a filthy slob who leaves dirty dishes in the sink, lets the trash pile up, or allows the toilets get nasty. But I don’t bust my ass to make sure the house is constantly tidy, because frankly that just doesn’t matter to me. As long as things aren’t gross, I don’t care about dust or clutter. I feel like I’ve outgrown needing to be lectured about keeping my room clean, especially when I’m paying. Besides, even though I’m not a “neat” person, I have seen the living conditions other people live in that make me look like Mrs. Clean. I’d say my housekeeping is pretty average.

Three of these four different women in Armenia who were my landladies also used to regularly let themselves into my space and help themselves to my stuff, too. The daughter of one of them “borrowed” some of my cassette tapes without asking, which I later had to retrieve from her bedroom. The son of another ate my food and left the dirty dishes in the refrigerator. The younger brother of a third got into my colored chalk and broke all of the pieces. It was fine with them that they were doing these things– ripping off my personal property and getting into my personal business– but I was expected to be perfect, follow their orders, never complain, and keep paying by all means, and they had no qualms telling me this to my face.

All of these women had the same attitude that they were doing me a favor by renting me their space, rather than my doing them a favor by giving them a regular source of income. They acted like I was a child who was an “ungrateful guest” rather than a fellow adult in a business relationship with them. They had no issues invading the space I was paying for and nagging me about what they considered were my lax housekeeping standards, yet they didn’t see that letting themselves into my apartment and eating my food and leaving dirty dishes or taking my things was extremely disrespectful. Also, I was paying them a hell of a lot more than any Armenian would have, and I wasn’t constantly yelling at them about my legal rights or calling them to fix every little thing.

My last landlady in Armenia also falsely accused me of “theft”, claiming that I didn’t pay her the rent one month. But that was impossible– I had a record of it, and her father was always there on the first to collect the money. She actually accused me of lying and falsifying the documents, which certainly wasn’t true and was nothing she could prove. All she could do was accuse me of theft and expect that I would be so upset by her false accusations that I would simply pay her just to shut her up. I think she assumed that I was a wimp because, at that time, I cried easily and seemed depressed and sensitive. She thought I was “rich” too, and she could steamroll me by being a bully and yelling at me. All she did was strengthen my resolve to see that other Americans didn’t rent from her. I told everyone I knew about her business practices, including her former employers, the Peace Corps. In the end, she ended up costing herself a hell of a lot of money in lost rent, since her next tenants were locals who would never pay close to what I was paying for her apartment on the outskirts of Yerevan’s center.

Well… I can’t help the way other people conduct their business. I can only help how I conduct myself. I do the best I can. I don’t always please everyone, so there’s no use trying, especially when the other party is never satisfied and doesn’t show me mutual respect. I think 2020 will be a better year, because we’ve moved on to a better venue. Hopefully, we can stay awhile longer and add a new family member. I intend to start enjoying Germany again, regardless. My dream this morning spells it out. Sometimes you have overpriced meals served on Farberware by disrespectful wait staff. Rather than risk indigestion and a lightened wallet, it usually makes better sense to cut your losses and move on to a more appetizing location, if you can do it. We had the opportunity to do it last year and made it happen, once we realized that we shouldn’t keep paying people who didn’t really want to do business with us.

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Neighbors, psychology

The neighbor from HELL!

Yesterday, I was on Toytown Germany, an English speaking forum for expats. I used to read it all the time when we lived in Germany the first time. Those were the days before Facebook, and I found it had a wealth of information for English speaking non-Germans. I still like reading it sometimes, because a lot of the people who use that forum are from Europe and aren’t affiliated with the U.S. military. They offer interesting perspectives and insights that my countrymen can’t deliver.

A little mood music for this post…

So anyway, I came across an interesting thread from 2011. A woman calling herself Gutgenug was living in Hesse, in a town called Heppenheim. Her husband was in the Army and she worked for the Army herself, at an installation that has since closed. Gutgenug’s story was an amazing one… and she had a few skeptics in her midst. I must say, having lived in Germany for awhile, I believe what she writes. I especially believe that she works for the Army because she has mastered the Army writing style.

Back in November 2011, Gutgenug wrote that her next door neighbor was suing her because she used incense in her house. This man, who, along with his wife, was a chain smoker, claimed that the incense was “offensive” to him. He also didn’t like that she was using candles in her house. He called the police on her several times a week. The police would come over and talk to her. When she later called the police on him, they would hang up on her. She got so freaked out that she had anxiety attacks and didn’t even want to leave her house.

Now… this would be bad enough, but over the weeks of her very long thread, she described increasingly bizarre harassment from this man. She claimed he set up an industrial sized fan, which he aimed at her house and ran for hours. She even shared a picture of the fan, the kind of equipment one uses to quickly dry paint or carpeting. She wrote that he climbed their fence and took down her windchimes. According to Gutgenug, he would purposely block them in their driveway and surveil them as they went about their daily business.

I started thinking about all of the neighbors we’ve had over the years. Some of them were annoying. I’m sure we’ve annoyed people, too. I have never encountered anyone quite as psycho as this lady’s neighbor was. I kind of hope some of what she wrote is made up… because just reading about some of his tactics was raising my blood pressure. It’s hard to believe that the local police would do nothing to help her, either. According to her, she actually had to call someone at the Army installation in a position of high authority. That person had connections with the German police and they had to go jerk a knot in the people running her local police department.

As the matter continued to escalate, the neighbor brought criminal charges against Gutgenug for filming him. She was actually filming the fan he kept aiming at her house, but he was apparently in the film and evidently, that’s against the law. He allegedly told her she and her husband should go back to America, since Germans didn’t want us here. And he supposedly is “better” at using the law to harass people, so she should just give up and leave.

Later, it came out that her landlord used to be friends with the neighbor. They are both handymen and now compete for business. Some people speculated that perhaps the neighbor was getting back at the landlord by driving out his tenants. By the end of the thread, it was revealed that the guy had driven several other families out using the same tactics and the local police reportedly didn’t care.

As interesting as the story was, I was even more intrigued by the solutions people came up with, a lot of which included their own stories about Nachbarkrieg (neighbor wars). One lady wrote about how one of her neighbors had committed Ausländer Unfreundlichkeit by calling her “Ausländer Schwein” (foreign pig). It’s against the law to insult people in Germany. The neighbor also called the police on her for having people over on a Sunday. When she opened the door to the police, she wrote that she almost fainted, because she was afraid something had happened to her kids. Actually, it was just the neighbor harassing her for having company that was too “loud” on Sunday. When the woman’s German husband went to mediation, the insult was brought up and the neighbor was quickly shamed for resorting to personal attacks. In the end, everything was settled amicably, and the troublesome neighbor moved away.

ZZ Top also does a version… it’s a bit different. Bill went to the same high school Billy Gibbons did, though not at the same time.

Another person suggested screaming at the guy in English. As tempting as that sounds, it also sounds like the kind of tactic that only works if the other person is in their right mind. It sounded to me like this woman’s neighbor, if he was the way she described, was not quite sane. He seemed to have a lot of time on his hands, as well as the imagination on how to creatively drive someone up a wall. And one guy suggested finding a large person to beat the living fuck out of the guy. Of course, he also mentioned that taking that approach might make the legal issues even worse.

Complicating matters for Gutgenug is that she was raised in an abusive environment. Having been brought up by an abuser, she has issues with anxiety and is passive. I got the sense, having read her post, that she may have served in the military herself. I would imagine that if she was, in fact, a veteran, she probably had some trouble with the job. I don’t know this from personal experience, but I think it would be difficult for a woman to climb the ranks if assertiveness is an issue. Also, I was a little surprised that if she had all of these anxiety issues, the Army let her come to Germany in the first place. Before people in the military are assigned overseas and allowed to bring their families, they usually have to go through EFMP screening. EFMP stands for the Exceptional Family Member Program, and it’s intended to identify people with special healthcare or educational needs so that they don’t get sent someplace where their needs can’t be met.

I had to undergo that screening myself the first time we moved to Germany and, because I had been treated for depression and asthma, was forced to join the program. Fortunately, my husband’s command didn’t have a problem with it and it was a non-issue for us, but I know other people have had assignments cancelled over EFMP issues. It sounds to me like Gutgenug’s problems, if known to the Army, would definitely warrant being put in the EFMP. I ranted about my own experience with EFMP. But anyway… I have also learned that in the military, when it comes to things like EFMP, a lot comes down to who you know, who you are, and who can “unfuck” things for you.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about German passive aggressiveness. That post is mostly about a couple of recent legal cases within Germany that involved two different men who were covertly trying to kill people. One man was a handyman who had issues with his neighbor and booby trapped her firewood. Another was a guy who just wanted to see what would happen if he poisoned his co-worker’s lunch. Although there are not nearly as many weapons here as there are in the United States (where the harassing neighbor guy might have been shot for his shenanigans), it’s easy to see that pissing someone off in Germany can lead to repercussions that may be just as sinister as being blown away.

In any case, it looks like Gutgenug eventually went back to the States. Her landlord was placed on the “no-referral” blacklist, and the housing office was no longer allowed to refer Americans to his home. It made me kind of sad to read Gutgenug’s story. I really enjoy living in Germany, for the most part. Yes, I’ve run into some true assholes here, but none any worse than people I’ve met in my homeland. And among the assholes are many wonderful people who are helpful and kind. It’s hard to be so far from home and, I’m sure, being in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language fluently and the natives are doing their best to mess with you, is extremely stressful. Life is short and no one has the time for that. If it had been me, I probably would have just moved out, but if Gutgenug’s story is for real, then it does at least sound like the situation was dealt with at last. Kudos to her for that. Not everyone has the courage or ability to fight back in these situations.

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