memories, mental health, narcissists, nostalgia

A shaken can of soda…

I often think of my husband’s dealings with his abusive ex wife as being akin to being trapped in a can of soda that is being shaken. You know what happens when you shake a can of soda. The bubbles get agitated and pressure builds. If someone happens to open the can while it’s agitated, the liquid spews out all over the place, making a huge mess. As we were talking about the most recent situation last night, I was reminded once again. It’s like dealing with a can of soda that has been shaken. Once you’ve been exposed to such a situation, it can replicate in similar situations. You learn habits that might not be the best for dealing with problems. Instead of taking a deep, cleansing breath and being mindful, maybe you’ll explode, like a can of Coke that was just used as a maraca.

This morning, I read about Will Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy in the wake of his decision to hit Chris Rock during his performance last week. I’m sure that this decision wasn’t an easy one for Smith to make. In fact, I’ll bet he’s had a difficult week. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong to step down, in spite of his Oscar win. What he did was very seriously fucked up, although many people are still saying that Smith was only standing up for his wife. But, as I read about the decision Will made, and remembered what happened at the Oscar Awards ceremony last week, I was suddenly a little bit “triggered” by an old memory. Seeing Chris Rock being hit on live television reminded me of something that happened to me in 1993.

It was June, and my family decided, for some strange reason, to rent a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. My parents, my three sisters, my brother in law, my baby niece, my brother in law’s brother, Mike, and my ex friend and my sister’s ex friend, Peggy, were all there. The house was very full, with many different personalities in attendance and a lot of alcohol flowing. I was twenty years old, and would be turning twenty-one in a matter of a couple of weeks.

I remember that at that time in my life, I wasn’t getting along with my dad. Actually, for most of the time he was alive when I was an adult, I didn’t get along with my dad. He was often abusive to me, although I’m not sure I recognized it at the time. Add in my sisters and their strong personalities, my brother-in-law, who loves watching us fight, my former friend and Peggy, as well as a baby, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, I had PMS and was about to start my period.

One night several days into the “vacation”, we all went out to dinner, and my dad was really getting on my nerves.  I made some snarky comment that was directed at my dad.  I don’t remember what I said, but my sister’s friend, Peggy, heard it and apparently thought I was talking to her.  Suddenly, all hell broke loose.  The next day, my sister’s friend suddenly decided to leave.  I remember she had given me $10 because I had planned to make dinner the next night and she asked for the money back.  At the time, I didn’t understand why she was leaving.  I had no beef with her.

All that day, my sister was being shitty to me.  She wouldn’t tell me what her problem was.  I finally lost my temper and confronted her.  She said she was mad at me.  My dad, who had been drinking, decided to break us up.  He stormed over to us and took me into a room, where he proceeded to berate me for two or three hours.  At one point, he hit me in the face, HARD.  I was shocked and told him that if he had been someone on the street, I could have him arrested for assault and battery.  And then I told him that if he ever raised a hand to me again, I would have him arrested.

He exploded.  His face turned beet red and he said, “You go right ahead!  Call the police!”  Then he made some comment about how I lived in his house and I could just pack up and leave.  At some point, I hit my arm on something and developed a really nasty bruise.

I remember that no one helped me during that confrontation, which left me really upset and feeling completely worthless and stepped on.  And then, by that point, I’d started my period, which is probably why I was so irritable and made that rude comment in the first place.

My sisters later came in to talk to me.  The one who had been mad at me explained what had upset her so much that this huge blowup happened.  I told her that I hadn’t been talking to or about her friend, and if she had just asked me, we could have avoided this whole thing.  The scene was embarrassing and traumatic, especially since there were a couple of people there who weren’t family members and had witnessed this Mommie Dearest moment between my dad and me.  The worst part of it, though, was that the next day, my dad acted as if nothing had ever happened.  My sister ended up losing contact with her “friend”, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all.

Five years later, my dad lost his temper again and threatened to hit me. I reminded him of the last time he hit me and what I said to him. He backed off and then started screaming at me. I ended up leaving. Unfortunately, at that time, I was kind of paralyzed. Though I was 26 years old at the time, I was living with my parents and had nowhere to go for more than a night or two. Not long after that, I got on the right depression meds and finally managed to start making plans to get out of my parents’ home. I needed to for their sake, but especially for mine.

Every once in awhile, those old memories resurface. I get “triggered” by certain things. I think watching Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith was very triggering for me. And the more I think about what happened, the more I realize how wrong Will Smith’s actions were. I think it’s right for him to resign from the Academy. I hope he gets some help for his issues.

Then I started thinking about Chris Rock’s actual joke. Yes, it was tasteless. I don’t really find jokes about other people’s looks funny, as a general rule. But then I think of all of the jokes my favorite comedian, George Carlin, told over the years. I remember when he described former second lady Marilyn Quayle as looking like Prince Charles. I remember jokes Joan Rivers used to make about celebrities and their looks. Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Don Rickles! I’m not saying it’s “PC” to make fun of how people look, but comedians have always done it. Kids do it on playgrounds. It’s almost like it’s instinct.

And while I think it would be good if Chris Rock and his fellow humorists came up with other jokes, I also realize that when it comes down to it, Rock was comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to a beautiful woman. Demi Moore, who was the lead in G.I. Jane, was in her prime at the time. She was strong, badass, and gorgeous. Yes, she shaved her head for the role, but she was still amazing looking, even if the film itself was kind of stupid.

Jada, herself, even said that she didn’t give “two craps” about what people thought of her bald head. So why was Will Smith so enraged? His profane tirade after slapping Rock also brought back terrible memories. I wouldn’t want to see that again. I think if there’s any chance that Will Smith would ever feel so entitled to walk up on a stage and hit someone like that, he should not be part of the show. This isn’t to mean I think he should be canceled, per se… If he gets some help and learns to control himself, okay. But that was traumatizing for me to watch on video. I actually chose to watch it, knowing what happened beforehand. I’m glad it didn’t take me by surprise.

In any case, watching that event unfold– a triangle involving Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock– reminded me of that “shaken can of soda” sense I get sometimes when we talk about Ex… or I’m reminded of that time in my past, when I was regularly having to deal with my dad and his tendency to be violent when the mood struck. Maybe it’s a mild form of PTSD I have, because I realize now that I am no longer able to tolerate abuse. I react badly, as if I’m “saturated”, when there’s abuse afoot. What Will Smith did was definitely abusive and traumatic, not just for Chris Rock, but for everyone who watched it unfold. He reminded me of my dad… and that is not a good thing.

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disasters, ethics, healthcare, modern problems, poor judgment, silliness

“I was born free… I’ll die free.” But Chad, dead people don’t need freedom…

Bill went to Stuttgart yesterday afternoon, leaving me alone with my thoughts in our big German “mansion” (ha ha ha). Actually, compared to our last house, it kind of is a mansion. It’s also priced accordingly, but we’re mostly a lot happier here, so at least we have that going for us, right? I do really miss some things about Stuttgart, though… like the beautiful scenery in the cute towns, and knowing my way around a lot better than I do here. Also, in Stuttgart, we didn’t have to deal with COVID-19, because it didn’t yet exist, hence the reason why I know my way around better down there. I got out of the house a lot more.

Like a lot of people, I am super weary of this stupid virus running my life. I’ve been doing my best to try to avoid getting sick, although I’m mostly living the way I have for the past fifteen years or so… basically as a shut in. That’s just the way life turned out for me, personally, for a lot of reasons. The one thing that has changed, though, is that I choose to stay home a lot more, mainly because here in Germany, we have a lot of annoying rules and restrictions that I prefer not to deal with. And since that means I’m social distancing, I count it as a responsible move. Yes, I am triple vaxxed, and I wear a stupid fucking mask when I’m required to, but I just don’t put myself in situations where that is required. Fortunately, I’m still basically healthy… as far as I know.

The same isn’t true for a 38 year old Hickory, North Carolina man named Chad Carswell. I read about him yesterday in the Washington Post. What makes him notable enough for a big newspaper article? He has severe kidney disease and desperately needs a kidney transplant, and apparently, there are over 100 people who have offered to donate a kidney to him. He also claims to have the money to pay for the surgery.

After almost two years on dialysis, Mr. Carswell’s kidneys are reportedly functioning at 4 percent, and they aren’t going to last much longer. Carswell applied for a kidney transplant to extend his life. But Mr. Carswell is currently not vaccinated against COVID-19, and the hospital where he wishes to get a transplant requires that he be fully vaccinated. Although I don’t remember reading it, my guess is that Carswell’s donor would also have to be fully inoculated. Mr. Carswell steadfastly refuses to get immunized against COVID-19, having already survived two infections, one of which put him in the hospital. Carswell “reasons” that he doesn’t need the shots. He told the post:

“There is not a situation in this world that I’ll get a vaccine. If I’m laying on my deathbed, and they tell me, ‘You have a kidney waiting on you if you get this shot,’ I’ll tell them, ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’”

Based on what I’ve read so far about this man, he says that this is a matter of “freedom” and his “rights”. And that’s fine. I totally get that some people are affronted by being told that they must be vaccinated, or they must wear masks… and they see these requirements as “government overreach”. In fact, I can even agree that a person should ultimately have dominion over what goes in or out of their bodies. However, just as Mr. Carswell has the right to refuse vaccines; his doctors have the right to declare him unfit for surgery because he’s not vaccinated against COVID.

I know a lot of people think COVID-19 is just a “bad flu”, never mind that the flu still kills people most years. I mean, I haven’t had the flu since 2013, but the last time I did have it, I really felt like dying. Indeed, that year, a lot of people in Texas, where we were living at the time, did actually die of the flu. There were even healthy teenagers who died that year of the so-called “bad flu”. In my case, it took me weeks to get over my sickness, and I was basically “healthy”, though unvaccinated against flu. Bill also got sick, but he did get a flu shot that year. He got well much faster than I did. I still remember being too exhausted to stay out of bed for more than a few minutes at a time. It took months to get rid of the hacking cough and lingering fatigue, and that was just the “flu”.

Carswell has already had COVID-19, and he’s been living with kidney disease for awhile… and he says he’s had health issues for years. So obviously, getting COVID-19 doesn’t scare him. I wonder if Mr. Carswell has really stopped to consider what would happen after he gets a transplant. I’m sure he’s been told that he will have to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. Those drugs basically drastically suppress one’s immune system, meaning that an illness that most people would consider mild could actually kill a transplant recipient. I’ve read a couple of excellent books about people who had organ transplants.

Author Amy Silverstein, who had a heart transplant, very bluntly wrote that getting a transplant is like trading one serious health problem for another, even though her new heart has made it possible for her to survive for many years beyond her initial operation, which took place in the 1980s. She wrote extensively about how the most minor cold bug would send her straight to bed for a couple of weeks. Friends would tell her to do things to “boost” her immune system, not realizing that boosting her immune system could kill her. Being constantly sick and concerned about her health even caused Amy Silverstein to consider suicide, even though she had been given the “gift of life” from a healthy 13 year old girl who had died in an accident at a “fortuitous” time for Amy. Fortunately, at this writing, Amy Silverstein has overcome her depression and, miraculously, is still alive and relatively well after having had a second heart transplant. The first heart lasted an incredible 26 years.

I went looking for more on Chad Carswell last night. I discovered his personal Facebook page, which has a few public posts open about his situation. It appears that he’s well loved in North Carolina and, perhaps around the rest of the country, for his steadfast refusal not to be pushed around by the Democrats… (eye roll). I came away with the idea that Chad Carswell and his friends are actual morons. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but that’s seriously how I felt as I read some of the comments left by him and his champions. These folks are apparently NOT mental giants, although Carswell appears to be physically rather imposing, from the chest up anyway. I read that he’s already a double amputee, thanks to his health problems.

There were so many comments about medical freedom and how Carswell was “fighting” for it. I want to ask him… what the hell good does “freedom” do for the dead? And why should someone give up a kidney to someone who doesn’t respect the sacrifice enough to do everything possible to see to it that the transplant is a success? As of yesterday, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been declared safe and are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That was one complaint the anti-vaxxers had about the shots. Now, they don’t have that complaint anymore. Moreover, although vaccinated people can and do contract and spread the virus, it’s clear that vaccinated people don’t usually get nearly as sick as the unvaccinated do, and they are much less likely to be hospitalized for COVID. I’ve already mentioned that donated organs are very precious, and taking the medications to keep those organs functioning will make Carswell medically fragile. So why wouldn’t he want to do what he can to ensure that the donated organ doesn’t go to waste?

Personally, I think Carswell is really enjoying the attention he’s getting. I suspect that this unusual turn of events– Carswell’s health problems, our current ridiculous political situation, COVID-19, and the annoying restrictions people are having to tolerate because of how quickly and easily it spreads, have come together to make the “perfect storm” for a man whose life probably hasn’t been especially noteworthy under other circumstances. I know some have said maybe he’s “afraid” of surgery or of needles, but it’s obvious he’s already endured other medical stuff, to include amputations of both legs. So I don’t think he’s “afraid”. I think he’s enjoying being on the Trump train, getting attention, and being held up as a poster child for the unvaccinated and their “rights”. There’s power that goes along with fame, and this is Carswell’s fifteen minutes of fame. I’m sure it’s intoxicating to experience that kind of fame. But refusing a safe vaccine to protect his donated organ and his health is probably going to cost him his life.

Below are some very telling quotes from Carswell’s very public Facebook page:

“If I DIE in pursuit of my magnificent OBSESSION then so be it I went out FIGHTING for what I love! But today while I’m here I will show you I’m still a LION and I’m still KING of the jungle! I’ll show you how hard I can FIGHT ! “ c t fletcher Pretty stoked about this afternoon! Even more blessed that god showed me along time ago my purpose on this earth and gave me and showed me the strength I needed to stand up and fight for those things but also the ability to help others . This journey isn’t about me I’ve said it 1k times over if it was I would have quit along time ago. It’s about the countless messages I get randomly telling me I help and this journey helps them . It’s the tons of people telling #lifeon daily. It’s not just a saying it’s a movement that just simply means FIGHT! The switch was turned on and now we must LIVE!

And…

You know I’ve been asked a few times the last few days why I keep going . What makes me keep
Fighting . And I told everyone as I always do the same thing it’s not about me it’s about others. But this message I got just a few min ago brought tears to my eyes not just bc the absolute amazing voice behind the song that was recorded just for me but for the sheer thought of a stranger in another state cared for me enough to send me this. All while telling me that she’s had her own struggles but seeing my journey has inspired her to get up stop feeling sorry and FIGHT! This isn’t about me it’s about the ability to change the world and impact people all across the country! If i get a kidney great if I don’t and i help motivate people to keep fighting then I’m just as blessed in heaven! Just take a min and listen to this stunning audio . Thank you to the one who sent me this she didn’t want any credit but I couldn’t let it go without being shared!!! This is why I keep going this is why I fight !

He says he wants to FIGHT, but he’s not trusting the people who can help him win the fight. His situation makes for “pretty” Facebook posts, though. I do hope the woman who wrote to Chad doesn’t follow his example.

The excitement of the story being shared has been dwindled by the sadness that I just found out my sweet dear Mrs Mary Byrd Voss passed away earlier this afternoon. She was a blessing to me and my life she called me her “Greek God” . She’s at peace and with her son billy and her husband now. I love you Mrs Mary and am grateful and thankful you were placed into my life . I’ll cherish our friendship forever ! See you soon! #LIFEON

Yes, Chad, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will indeed see Mrs. Mary again real soon. But you go on with your bad self.

🚨🚨UPDATE🚨🚨 Listen friends idk for sure yet BUT! Something very promising may be in the mix real real soon! I just had a phone call that may allow us to reach even more people than we thought ! The meeting with the paper went well . Hopefully they do the right thing and right the article it’s like I told her this isn’t about me or for me or for me to get a kidney . I’m prepared to die over this this is about reaching more people and continuing the journey and mission to help others . And I wanted to make sure they knew it wasn’t about me it was more for getting my story out there more to continue to inspire others . But the phone call I got after I left there could be even bigger ! So shoot up a prayer that if the lords will be done this happens so the mission can continue to grow and reach othersUPDATE so was waiting on this call before I said it but Dave Faherty reached out from Channel 9 news and I am meeting with him here in about 15 minutes ! I’ll keep y’all updated !!#LIFEON

And… (“Life on?” Reminds me of “Be Best”.)

Lol so some people think this is me being selfish or this is me wanting attention or this is me whatever the ones who know me know I could care less about that I just want to help people ! But remember when I said today it’s a vax but what’s next ? How bout kids over the age of 5 with cancer being forced to move out of the Ronald McDonald house if not vaccinated by the end of the month ? WAKE UP PEOPLE! The choice we make today effect the life we live tomorrow !!#LIFEON — with Chad Carswel.

These are just a few public statements Mr. Carswell has made. It’s clear to me that he’s quite pleased to be newsworthy, and he’s enjoying the power he’s getting from taking this stand. And as a fellow American, I certainly support his right to “freedom”, although I think if he really wants to commit suicide, there are more efficient ways to do that than languish with kidney disease. I want to ask Chad how his being very sick and facing death for want of a vaccine is “helpful” to anyone, especially to those who really do want to live and are willing to do what they need to do to make that happen. Millions of people have had the COVID shots and the VAST majority of them are fine.

As far as I can tell, no one is forcing Chad Carswell to get vaccinated. At this point, no one is forcing anyone to be vaccinated. What’s happening is that conditions are being placed on those who choose not to be vaccinated. Those conditions are being placed to protect those who are willing to think of the community as a whole instead of just themselves. COVID-19 is extremely contagious, and as a medically compromised person whose body has already been through hell– to include having had COVID twice– I want to ask Chad why he doesn’t value his own health more. And why is he seeking help from medical experts if he won’t follow their advice? Why go to a surgeon and ask for a donated kidney if you don’t trust doctors when they tell you that getting COVID-19 when you are extremely immunocompromised is a terrible idea that will likely lead to tragic consequences? Why should medical professionals waste their time, energy, and resources to help someone who apparently won’t help themselves? If Chad won’t get a vaccine, how do healthcare professionals know that he’ll take anti-rejection medications?

And better yet… why should I give a shit? Well… I think I give a shit because of comments like the one below, which I’ve seen being shared on social media.

Double amputee Chad Carswell of North Carolina must have a kidney transplant to live.Multiple businesses raised funds for the surgery, and more than 100 people have offered to donate a kidney to spare his life.But Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem told him he can’t have the life-saving procedure unless he gets vaccinated! The vax has proven completely ineffective and doesn’t protect those who got the jab from getting it…yet the hospital requires it or will let the man die. The facility that should be helping save his life is now preventing that help. Think about that….

The person who posted the above comment is clearly not a medical expert. I looked at her Facebook page, and these were her credentials:

Someone please tell me how someone with these clearly “artsy” credentials is qualified to comment about someone else’s health status? What does she know about organ donation, virus transmission, or vaccines?

But the person who wrote the above post can obviously write. She has worked in public relations, marketing, and “ghost writing”. She’s studied music. So that tells me she can put on a performance. She can write coherently. If she’s done public relations, she probably knows how to influence people and spin a narrative that will cause less informed people to care and share her wrong-headed conclusions. So that makes her a potentially dangerous source of disinformation. This person isn’t a medical doctor. She isn’t a nurse. She hasn’t studied public health or epidemiology. She does public relations! I don’t even know if she knows Mr. Carswell personally, or has any real knowledge of his medical situation or even the general needs and concerns of people who need organ transplants. Yet she’s trying to rally the troops to his cause, which is almost surely bound to end in death if he doesn’t get with the program. To use her own words, “think about that.” Especially since, at this writing, the above post has 148 “likes”, 284 reactions, and 65 shares. And every time someone shares her post, the potential for it going “viral” increases, which means that more people will possibly be misinformed. (Incidentally, for anyone who wants to accuse me of the same thing, I actually DO have a master’s degree in public health and used to work in epidemiology. No, I’m not an expert, and I don’t claim to be one, but I do have faith in the people who have been to school for much longer than I have, studying medicine, public health, and related subjects.)

Below is a post from one of Carswell’s lifelong friends…

I’ve known Chad Carswel my entire life! As kids we use to crawl through the drainage pipe under his grandmas driveway pretending to be army men! Chad is a stand up man, and an inspiration to all who know him! If anyone deserves a kidney he is definitely on the top of the short list! To refuse him life saving medical care over a vaccine that isn’t even effective at preventing infection is absurd and asinine! How is refusing life saving treatment “doing no harm” as the oath states? My hope and prayer is that he will find a doctor with half a brain and an ounce of sympathy and perform this surgery for him! Please friends and family lift him up in prayer! Pray for healing, and for a doctor that will stand by his oath!

Friend, if you really think Chad is a “stand up man” (impressive, given his double amputee status), and “deserves a kidney”, then take a moment to ask yourself why someone should donate an organ to a person who doesn’t follow medical directives by people who have studied for years to become medical experts? Why should people who have given so much time, money, and energy to study medicine do surgery on someone who stubbornly refuses to take their advice and, in fact, spreads disinformation about a deadly virus in his PR campaign against vaccines and, frankly, liberal politics? This really shouldn’t be about “owning the libs” or anything else political. This is about a man’s health– life and death– as well as the well-being of those who are following this story. If something isn’t done soon, your friend who needs “life saving medical care” is no longer going to need treatment, or freedom. Dead people, in fact, have no need for “life saving medical care” or freedom.

Anyway… in spite of this lengthy screed I’ve written, I genuinely do think Chad Carswell has every right to make his own decisions. But that right extends to other people, too. Right now, the evidence is clear– worldwide, mind you, not just in Biden’s “liberal” camp– that COVID vaccines are essential for preventing severe disease. The vast majority of competent healthcare professionals, and obviously the ones in charge of Chad Carswell’s case, agree that the vaccines are absolutely necessary. And yes, most of those people do have more than “half a brain”, and I’m sure a lot of them have sympathy and, more importantly, empathy, for Chad’s half-baked position on COVID vaccines. But even Donald Trump has said vaccines are good, and God knows, Trump wants every vote he can get in 2024. He got vaccinated, too, but if things keep going the way they’re going, his base is going to go extinct. As much as I despise Trump, I do have beloved friends and relatives who support him. I hope they have, at least, followed Trump’s lead on COVID vaccines.

So… to Chad and his followers, I would say, if you don’t want to get a vaccine, that’s certainly your choice. But surgeons can also choose to declare you unfit for surgery, just as they might if you were determined not strong enough to survive. Freedom isn’t a one way street that just works for YOU. It goes both ways. And rules must apply to everyone; otherwise, we’ll have anarchy, which I understand Trump is against– he did call for “law and order”, right (except on January 6, 2021, that is)? So, I genuinely wish you luck, and I hope all of those thoughts and prayers lift you into miracle territory. Maybe there is a benevolent surgeon working at a less restrictive hospital system who will give you what you seek. If I were you, I’d start looking far and wide. Time is most likely not on your side.

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book reviews, business

Repost: Fascinating look at the Thalhimer family of Virginia…

Here’s another reposted book review, which appears as/is, and was originally written on October 6, 2015. It comes up because last night, I was remembering The Sword and the Kilt, and trying to describe popovers to Bill.

Having grown up mostly in Virginia in the 70s and 80s, I often shopped at the Thalhimers department store at Coliseum Mall in Hampton, Virginia.  Since I was a kid back then, I didn’t know anything about Thalhimers or any of the other venerable department stores that were around back in the day.  I just know my mom would shop there with me when I managed to convince her to take me to the mall, instead of AAFES, for my school clothes.  When I got older, I used to go shopping with my former best friend and her mother and we’d have lunch at Thalhimers very cool medieval themed restaurant, The Sword and the Kilt.  It was the first place I ever had a popover.

Sadly, back in the early 1990s, Thalhimers was lost in a hostile takeover.  The May Company, which bought a number of historic department store brands in those days, pretty much ruined Thalhimers to the point at which it was no longer recognizable.  It finally died a pitiful death after 150 years of business, mostly in Virginia and North Carolina.

An interview with Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, author of Finding Thalhimers.

I don’t know what prompted me to research Thalhimers, but I somehow ended up finding out about Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt’s 2010 book, Finding Thalhimers.  I downloaded the book and just finished it today.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the history of a local retail giant with a fascinating history.  Reading Smartt’s descriptions of the years when the business was booming made me wish I were older so I could have seen more of it for myself.

As you might guess by her name, Smartt is herself a member of the Thalhimer family, and she grew up watching her dad go to work at “The Store”.  Smartt fantasized about one day being president of her family’s business, but unfortunately, it was not to be.  Discount chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and even K-Mart spelled death for many department stores. 

Finding Thalhimers is about more than just a retail department store chain.  It’s also about the fascinating history of the Thalhimer family, which originated in Tairnbach, a tiny town not too far from Heidelberg, Germany.  Since I am currently living near Stuttgart and have visited Heidelberg, this part of the story was especially interesting.  I learned things I never knew.  For instance, Smartt writes that her family is Jewish and back in the 1800s, Jews were not allowed to have last names.  When the law changed, the parents of the man who would found Thalhimers in Richmond, Virginia, decided to give themselves a name that reflected their origin in Germany.

Smartt then takes readers on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Her ancestors landed in New Orleans and made their way to Richmond, where they would have a profound effect on the local economy and the city’s development.  I enjoyed reading about how Thalhimers had a friendly rivalry with Miller & Rhodes, another venerable Virginia department store institution.  I remember shopping there as a kid, too.  Unfortunately, they also perished just a couple of years before Thalhimers did.

I enjoyed reading about how the name Thalhimer was originally spelled Thalheimer.  Thanks to a sign painter’s sloppy spelling, the brand’s name changed forever.  Smartt’s book touches on so many notable times in history, too.  She writes about an ancestor who spent three months with a friend driving around Europe in his father’s Chevrolet, making sure to avoid the political unrest in Germany that was going on during the 1930s.  The young man visited stores, collected ideas for the business and products to be offered, and had a good time being young. 

Smartt writes about the civil rights era of the early 1960s, when Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes were targeted for sit ins.  I was impressed by how Thalhimers handled the racial tensions of the times.  And she reminds readers that her family once owned the Golden Skillet fried chicken restaurants that once dotted the land.  I used to love Golden Skillet chicken, though it never ended up being the next KFC as some in the family had predicted.

Smartt also writes about some of the business deals her ancestors made, some of which were very shrewd and kind of fascinating.  As someone who grew up visiting Richmond and the surrounding areas, I was very intrigued by her descriptions of what it was like there as the Thalhimer family built their business.  They made some amazing deals that netted huge profits.  I almost got the sense that things might have been different for the Thalhimer family had they focused on what the Walton family was doing.  But that would have certainly upset many of their loyal fans.

An ad for Thalhimers… I remember when furs were okay to wear.

I could tell this project was a labor of love for Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, who is just three years younger than I am.  Her writing style is very loving and warm– almost reverent– and she clearly enjoyed talking to many of her relatives and people who were involved in Thalhimers’ success.  I got the sense that she enjoys a close bond with her family, especially her dad.  I was impressed by how she pieced together her family’s history and was able to trace it all the way to their origins in Germany, which she visited with her parents, husband, and sister.

Overall, I really enjoyed Smartt’s book, though I get the sense that she writes the story while wearing rose colored glasses.  I can’t really blame her, since she’s writing about her family.  But naturally, it’s not the most objective look at the Thalhimer family.  I’m sure there are people out there who might have a different take on some of the stories Smartt shares.  I have no horse in that race, though, so I’ll just say I really enjoyed reading this book and am happy to recommend it, especially to Virginia and North Carolina natives who remember Thalhimers.  It’s also a good read for aspiring businesspeople. 

Edited to add: Elizabeth Thalhimer Smart used to have a Facebook page for this book. I wrote a comment and she was kind enough to respond. It turns out that I currently live not too far from where the Thalhimer family originated.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of Fatal Vision…

Here’s a repost of the review I wrote of Fatal Vision by Joe McGinness. I previously reposted this review on June 19, 2014, but the review itself was written on April 14, 2005. It appears here as/is.

From 2014

I wrote this review in the spring of 2005, not knowing that years later, I’d live pretty close to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Joe McGinness did a great job writing the suspicious story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton educated Army physician who was accused of murdering his wife, Colette, and their two young daughters, Kimberley and Kristen, on February 17, 1970.  Dr. MacDonald was ultimately not tried by the Army because the investigation of the crime was a fiasco.  In 1979, MacDonald asked McGinness to write a book about the case, as he was being brought up on charges in North Carolina.  In 1979, MacDonald was living in California, making big bucks as an ER doctor.  The murder charges cramped his style.  McGinness wrote the book…  and ultimately, he became very suspicious… 

Original 2005 review

Here’s another review of a book about murder. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. Last year at this time, I was writing reviews about books on managed care… Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe the two are connected! Anyway, I managed to pick up Joe McGinniss’s book, Fatal Vision. The original version of Fatal Vision was published in 1983. I just re-read the 1989 version, which includes an afterword that was written in 1985 and an epilogue that was written in 1989. Needless to say, this book has been around for awhile. According to Amazon.com, it has been updated as recently as 1999. Since this book has been reissued so many times, I am left with the impression that it’s still very intriguing to people besides me. The first time I read Fatal Vision was sometime in 1996, when I was overseas in the Republic of Armenia. At the time, I looked at it as just another book in English. I was desperate for ANYTHING written in English, so I didn’t pay much attention to the subject matter. Little did I know that I would be so riveted by this story.

Fatal Vision is the tale of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton-educated physician and former Green Beret soldier who was convicted of murdering his young pregnant wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5 year old Kimberley and 2 year old Kristen, on February 17, 1970. The murders were particularly brutal. While in their beds, all three murder victims were savagely clubbed and stabbed with ice picks. MacDonald himself was also injured. It was he who had summoned the military police early that morning to come to his quarters. MacDonald claimed that the intruders who had murdered his family were acid crazed hippies who were mimicking Charles Manson’s murderous spree. For his part, MacDonald managed to escape the fracas with only a few scratches and a partially collapsed lung. He even told the bystanders what they should do if he went into shock while they were waiting for the ambulance to take him to Womack Hospital on Fort Bragg.

When MacDonald came under suspicion for fabricating the story about the hippie intruders, people began to suspect that he was the one who committed the murders. MacDonald vehemently denied these accusations, but he was still subjected to investigation. The Army investigation was badly botched and the subsequent hearing was a fiasco; as a result, MacDonald ended up not being tried by the military because of a lack of evidence. MacDonald then tried to get on with his life.

Joe McGinniss came into contact with MacDonald when MacDonald asked him to write a book about the case. McGinniss and MacDonald met in June 1979, in Huntington Beach, California. Dr. MacDonald was living the sweet life as head of emergency services for St. Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach. At the time, MacDonald was thirty-five years old, deeply tanned, and muscular, and lived in a $350,000 condominium (remember, this was the late 1970s!). He drove a rare Citroen-Maserati with the vanity license plate JRM-MD and owned a thirty foot yacht called the Recovery Room.

MacDonald was forced to go back to North Carolina to face charges of murder. He was surrounded by friends in California who didn’t believe that he was capable of murder. Before MacDonald left California, they even hosted a charity dinner in his honor to help raise money for his legal fees. McGinniss, who initially believed that MacDonald was innocent, agreed to come live with MacDonald in North Carolina, get to know him, and write a book about the case. I’m sure that MacDonald thought that the book would help clear his name… in fact, it had just the opposite effect. McGinniss ultimately came to the same conclusion that the jury did, that Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald killed his pregnant wife and children. Dr. MacDonald was ultimately sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison for murdering his family.

Fatal Vision is meticulously written and researched. McGinniss does a fantastic job of walking readers through the case and laying out all of the details of what happened on February 17, 1970. He includes pictures that were used as evidence in the case, as well as a floor plan of the quarters where MacDonald and his family lived. More tellingly, McGinniss also includes passages that are written in MacDonald’s voice. If MacDonald actually spoke the way he comes across in this manuscript, I think my suspicions would have been aroused, too. The sections in MacDonald’s voice seem to be very telling about the man’s character. They read as if McGinniss transcribed them word for word, right down to his stammers and gratuitous use of “ums and uhs”. McGinniss came to know MacDonald well, and that was why he changed his mind about MacDonald’s innocence.

One potential drawback to Fatal Vision is that it’s a fairly long book. The paperback version of Fatal Vision runs at just under 700 pages. But I found that the book was a fairly fast read because it’s so interesting. I couldn’t put the book down and found that I was able to read it within a few days. I also wish that there had been a few more pictures included. The picture section in my copy of Fatal Vision includes only black and white photographs. I don’t normally need pictures to enjoy a good book, but I do find them helpful in books about true crime. They help me get a better sense of what happened.

True crime fans will almost certainly find Fatal Vision a fascinating read. Fatal Vision is true crime writing at its best and I found it very informative and interesting. In fact, I believe that anyone who is a serious true crime fan is most likely to have already read Fatal Vision because it’s become a classic in the true crime genre. It truly surprises me that there are only two reviews of this book on Epinions.com.

And comments from the 2014 repost…

ShelleyJune 19, 2014 at 10:25 PM

Lawfrog here, too lazy to log into my other gmail account. That book has a long history and McGuinness ended up having to pay MacDonald some money after MacDonald sued him over this book. Interesting read about the legal issues surrounding this book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatal_Vision_controversy

  1. knottyJune 20, 2014 at 12:25 AM Yeah, I read about how he sued Joe McGinness and won. I have also read about Fatal Justice, which supposedly refuted McGinness’s account. I don’t remember if I’ve read Fatal Justice or not… will have to check.

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funny stories, true crime

Repost: Dumb criminals getting their asses kicked while trying to commit crimes…

This is a REPOST from January 2019. I am reposting it because it’s funny, and I’m in serious need of a good laugh. I need a reminder of when not everyfuckingthing was about COVID-19 and the end of humanity. The links to the stories still work, so I encourage you to read up on these two hilarious cases if you feel so inclined.

Pro tip to all you criminals out there:  If you try to abduct someone and they break free and run into a karate dojo, you should probably just cut your losses.

via GIPHY

This morning over breakfast, Bill shared with me a hilarious news story.  It seems that drug influenced 46 year old August Williams decided to try to abduct a woman in north Charlotte, North Carolina.  The woman broke free from his grasp as he tried to force her into a car.  She ran into a karate dojo, where Sensei Randall Ephraim was finishing up classes for the day.  It was just before 9:00pm on Thursday night.  A few kids were there, waiting to be picked up by their parents, and a few adult students were cleaning.

The woman suddenly shouted that a man was trying to kidnap her.  Dumbass Williams had followed the woman into the dojo.  I don’t know if he knew he was running into a karate school, as he was allegedly high on substances.  Clearly he didn’t realize what was about to happen.  

Sensei Ephraim asked Williams to leave, but he refused.  At that point, the karate instructor dealt with the trespasser accordingly.  Apparently, Williams is a very strong and powerful guy and was “difficult” to fight.  Nevertheless, he left the scene in an ambulance and was then taken to jail.

Now… I don’t know why Williams was trying to kidnap the woman.  She claims she didn’t know him at all.  Also, I’m sure when this was happening, it was not a laughing matter.  The woman was probably scared shitless.  I know would have been.  Still, what luck for this to happen near a karate school!  I’m sure it never crossed Williams’ mind that karate would be his undoing when he tried to force the woman into a car.   

Williams also continued fighting with police officers as they wrestled with him.  I’m sure he will be off to the clink before too long.  Whatever he was on must have been some genuine shit.

One thing I noticed in the news story, as well as from watching an old episode of Intervention, is that some people really enjoy using formal words when less formal language will do.  These are the same people who commit what I like to refer to as “reflexive pronoun abuse“.  You know what I mean?  For instance, instead of saying something like “Please get back to John or me if you need help.”, they’ll say something like, “Please contact John or myself if you need assistance.”

I have my theories as to why some people do this.  I think some folks think it makes them sound more educated.  It’s too bad we don’t do a better job teaching English to people in the United States.  While I love a good fifty cent word, particularly when the meaning of the word is perfect for what is being communicated, it’s important to know how to use the word.  And using formal, multi-syllabic words when simpler ones will do is not a good example of better communication.  The main idea is to get your point across quickly and effectively.  If a person has to wade through your high-falutin’ words to figure out what you’re trying to say, you’re not communicating as well.  Or, at least that’s my unimportant opinion.

Anyway, I’m glad Sensei Ephraim was there to save the day.  August Williams needs to cool his heels in jail for awhile and think about what he tried to do… and has already done.  And those of you who are inclined to follow him into his criminal lifestyle, might want to pay attention to where you’re going if your victim breaks free and dashes into a building.  I don’t know if the outcome would have been the same if the lady had run into a 7 Eleven or something.  Or, maybe it would have.  Sounds like a good idea for a short story.

In related news, I also read about the bum in Florida who assaulted a McDonald’s employee over a straw.  Stupid dipfuck Daniel Taylor was in a St. Petersburg, Florida McDonald’s on January 3rd.  He was evidently upset that there weren’t any straws at the drink station, so he complained about it to the cashier.  Yasmin James, the cashier, told Taylor that Florida law does not allow restaurant employees to put straws out for the public.  They must be requested.  

Taylor then reached over, grabbed 20 year old James and tried to yank her over the counter.  James, a former boxer, then proceeded to repeatedly punch the fuck out of the guy.  I don’t generally enjoy violence, but I must admit to cheering James on as she defended herself against this asshole. Check YouTube for a video of said ass kicking.

Then, once the two were split apart, Taylor had the nerve to demand that James get fired!  Fortunately, a woman happened to capture the attack on video, and Taylor was later arrested.  He’s another one who needs to sit in jail for awhile.  Good for Yasmin James for not taking that guy’s abuse.  

I love a good ass kicking story.

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