The “twelve gauge surprise”…

An old James Taylor song popped into my head this morning. I discovered it in the early 90s, when I really got into James Taylor’s music. It was on his 1985 album, That’s Why I’m Here. The song is called “Mona”, and if you don’t see the crude little drawing of the pig that appears on the album’s cover art, you might not realize this song isn’t about homicide. If you’re used to James Taylor’s gentle lyrics and soothing vocals, you might really be taken by surprise by this quirky song. It really goes against James’s usual comforting, consoling sounds and messages of solace.

A fan pleads with James Taylor to play “Mona” at a concert. It had been many years and he mostly gets it right… I’m actually kind of comforted that James had to pull this one out of his ass. “Mona” is obviously a long forgotten problem.

“Mona”, of course, is not a person, but a pig. The story goes that James was gifted a pet pig who got too big to keep, and too “damned old” to eat. So James was forced to present her with a “twelve gauge surprise”. Or, at least that’s how the song goes. I don’t know if he actually did kill the pig, or if she even existed. For all I know, “Mona” is a metaphor for life’s problems. It’s just kind of a goofy song that was in my head this morning, reminding me of the twisted, dark, and ultimately, oddly funny things that come up in life.

I believe the album, That’s Why I’m Here, had a dedication to Bill W. in it, as well. Bill W., for your edification, is Bill Wilson, the man who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s no secret that James Taylor was a notorious drug addict back in the day. He got sober when he was 36 years old, which was around the time he was making That’s Why I’m Here. I’m sure he needed some comic relief when he made this album, since much of it consists of heartfelt songs about serious subjects and soothing covers. This was about the time James really started to turn into an adult contemporary artist, rather than a folkie. His sound, and his life, were changing.

The studio version of “Mona”, slickly produced and everything…

Anyway, I was thinking of “Mona” this morning. I don’t think it was necessarily because Bill and I just had to put Zane to sleep, either, because our feelings for Zane are much greater than the glib mood James displays as he sings this silly eulogy to Mona, the pig. It probably has more to do with another recurrent situation that has been plaguing us lately, and what we plan to do to finally address it.

I think about James contemplating what to do about that expensive, nuisance pig in his life. It probably troubled him for awhile, but then he resolved to take decisive action. He did the deed, and though he regrets having to do it and will miss Mona’s company, he’s ultimately okay with his choice and realizes that life will go on. The shock and awe will pass, and things will go back to normal. In fact, things will be better than before, because that pest, Mona, will be a funny, fond memory instead of a greedy burden. Maybe Mona really was a pig… but I kind of wonder if maybe she was a symbol of his drug and alcohol addiction, too. Hey, I earned a degree in English. I might as well use it somewhere, right?

James Taylor was inspired to write the song, “That’s Why I’m Here” after the death of his friend, comedian John Belushi, in 1982. Belushi, also a famous drug addict, had once told Taylor that he was worried about him because of his uncontrolled drug use. But Taylor didn’t die of an overdose; Belushi did. That seemed to be the wake up call James needed to get his shit together. Besides being a serious drug abuser back in the day, James also suffered from depression. He’d spent time in a psychiatric hospital– even graduated high school when he was a patient at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. It was probably an even bigger challenge for him than it was for most to take on his appetite for substances. However, although it was tough and no doubt, unpleasant, James resolved to take action and do better.

“John’s gone, found dead, he dies high, he’s brown bread. Later said to have drowned in his bed. After the laughter, the wave of dread, it hits us like a ton of lead.”

Now, almost 35 years later, James still loves his life’s vocation. We had the privilege of seeing him perform in Dublin last summer, along with Bonnie Raitt and Paul Simon. It was a six hour show that left me Charley horses, due to the extremely cramped seating. But man, what a show… and what an inspiration. He’s on his third marriage, but it’s lasted seventeen years and produced two sons who are almost grown up. I think his wife, Kim, is the love of his life, and I can see how much he loves his work every time I watch him perform live. His face is an expression of sheer joy. That’s the kind of life everyone should aspire to have– doing what brings joy, satisfaction, and perhaps, material gain.

I know James Taylor’s journey to sobriety wasn’t necessarily comfortable. He had to do the work to move beyond his drug addiction and mature into the man he was destined to be. He had to slay a “pesky pig” who was draining his time and resources. So he pulled out his “twelve gauge surprise”, bravely pushed aside his doubts, manned up, did the work, and moved on to a better life. Is it a perfect life? No… no one has a perfect life. James Taylor is a flawed being, like we all are. He’s made mistakes, and his life isn’t flawless just because he quit drinking and drugging. But it’s no doubt better than it was. And that’s because James got brave, took a stand, and changed his way of living for the better. He finally addressed and overcame a problem that was holding him back, hitting him over and over again.

Overcoming addiction didn’t mean that James Taylor didn’t have other challenges. He lost his 46 year old brother, Alex, in 1993. Alex died of a massive heart attack after having consumed an entire fifth of vodka in one sitting. The day Alex died was James’s 45th birthday. I’ll bet James wanted to drink that day… or use drugs, or do something to ease the pain of losing his big brother, who was reportedly every bit as musically talented as James is. But he pushed through it and kept making amazing music, despite still running into stumbling blocks that might have stopped or even killed a different man.

A song for Alex Taylor… named “Alice” in this memorial.

In 1997, James released his incredibly healing album, Hourglass, which happened to come out just as I was finishing my Peace Corps service in Armenia. I was profoundly depressed at the time and wouldn’t get help for another year. But when I listen to that album, which I’ve read James had made after seriously contemplating retirement, I always feel comforted. It’s a work borne out of tragedies… his brother’s death, his father’s death, and, perhaps, the death of his second marriage to Kathryn Walker. And yet, some of the music on that album is just nourishment for my soul. It’s helped me get through some very hard times.

Hourglass also reminds me of France, since that’s where I bought my copy. I was in Tours, with my older sister. I’d been on vacation for a month after my Peace Corps service… scared of the future, exhausted, walking on eggshells, and still very depressed and anxious. The music store where I bought Hourglass didn’t sell cassettes, but I only had a cassette player. CD players were still rare and extremely expensive in Armenia when I was there, and although I’d owned one for years in the States, I didn’t have one in Armenia. I carried an old school Walkman with me everywhere in Armenia, and bought tons of bootleg cassettes there, some of which were of amazing albums from the 70s I hadn’t yet been exposed to in our land of plenty. Now, I wonder how long it would have taken me to be exposed to that music if I had never gone to Armenia, where there are amazing musicians and artists, but not all of the modern conveniences we enjoy in America and western Europe.

I remember being very distressed that I couldn’t listen to Taylor’s latest back then, due to my inferior technology. I had heard some of Hourglass on VOA Europe, and knew I would like it. Alas, it had to wait until I was home… and that was probably when I needed to listen to it the most. 1997-1999 were very, very hard years for me. I might not have survived them, had I not been brave enough to seek help and do some hard work. In that case, the “twelve gauge surprise” was psychotherapy and antidepressants, which changed my life irrevocably for the better. It wasn’t easy. It cost time and money and required me to talk about some very difficult things with professionals. But ultimately, I prevailed, and life is, mostly, better. At least I don’t contemplate suicide nearly as often as I used to.

I don’t own a twelve gauge shotgun. If I did, I doubt I would use it to dispatch a pesky pig who has gotten too old, fat, and burdensome for me. That’s not really my way. I save such drastic, final solutions for when a situation is truly a lost cause. I also prefer much cleaner, more humane methods of slaying the Monas who get too damned big and old to care for. But still, the idea of the “twelve gauge surprise” in the old song, “Mona”, really speaks to me today.

So… to all the Monas in my life, enjoy being dirty, greedy, noisy, and stinky while you still can. I’ve got a figurative “twelve gauge surprise” waiting for you.


Things I’ve learned about myself this week…

Listen up, people. It’s Friday, and I’m in one of my moods… And I’m about to cut loose on some sheer stupidity I’ve encountered over the past week or so. Much of this is inspired by the letter ex landlady’s lawyer sent to us, detailing her complaints about the four years we rented her house. I note that despite all of these things, she never once requested that we move out of the house. And she never once complained about not being paid.

For the people who have been relentlessly stalking my blog, looking for dirt. Pay attention. I am mostly being sarcastic.

To wit:

  • Americans use too much toilet paper.

The reason the ex landlady’s antiquated water saver toilet backed up three times was because, like all Americans, Bill and I use too much paper to clean our assholes. She makes this claim never having witnessed us taking dumps, having never watched us wipe our asses, having never visited the United States, and also after having assured us her other tenants, all of whom were Americans, never had problems with the water saver toilet.

The actual issue that caused the toilet to back up is that that particular model cannot handle certain brands of toilet paper. In order to get everything to go down, one must flush the entire tank by standing there holding the lever rather than just pushing it and letting it go, as one might automatically do to any other toilet in a fully developed country like Germany. Over the course of four years using that “inferior” toilet, I did this sometimes two or three times per dump, particularly after the landlord gave me a tutorial on how to use the toilet. The water bill went up, too. So much for it being a water saving toilet, eh? Sounds like a poorly designed crapper, to me. And, I’d like to know, if Americans use too much toilet paper, why didn’t the other toilet in the house ever back up? When did our ex landlady become an expert on American toilet habits? Is this a topic she’s studied in depth?

I’ve been using toilets for over 45 years in countries all over the world. This issue was a first for me. But obviously, because I am an American, I use too much toilet paper to clean up my daily shits. She must have thought long and hard about that one. By the way, we still use the same amount of toilet paper we’ve always used, but we changed brands. Never had any other backup problems in her house or the one we are in now… or any other place I’ve lived in. So I don’t think the back up issue has anything to do with my being “American”. It’s because ex landlady needs to invest in a more modern toilet that functions properly.

  • I am a thief.

Ex landlady is missing a “nice” fridge. According to her, the crappy Luxor branded fridge with the European plug is really an “inferior” American branded fridge that Bill and I maliciously “abandoned”. And because her mysterious “nice” fridge is missing, we must have stolen it.

The day we moved into that house, I took a picture of the old fridge that I’m assuming she claims was “abandoned”. It’s a Luxor, which is a European brand. It also has a European plug. But ex landlady, who is evidently an expert on Americans and their bowel habits, apparently doesn’t know that we, in America, also use 110 volts for our electronics, rather than 220 volts. That “abandoned American fridge” is plugged directly into the wall. If it was an American fridge, we’d need a transformer to use it.

I have never seen any other fridge associated with that house, other than the one I can prove I purchased. So no, ex landlady, we are not thieves. And you are treading a very fine line. If there really was a “nicer” fridge in that house and it’s missing, look to your other tenants. By the way, the movers packed the instruction manual that came with the “abandoned” Luxor fridge. We still have it in our possession. It’s not an American brand, you twit. And there is NO way we ever would have bought that for ANY kitchen, even just to maliciously abandon it in your house.

  • Americans are ignorant about disposing of trash.

One of the complaints listed in ex landlady’s lawyer’s letter was that we left the trash bins full and “filthy”. He also wrote that “Americans don’t know about the ordinances.” To that point, I will agree. However, we were moving out of the house, and it wasn’t trash day. And we also paid for the following month’s rent, plus Nebenkosten, which includes trash pickup. Where the fuck were we supposed to put the trash that results from moving if not in the Goddamned trash bins? And is it really that big of a deal for you to pull the bins out so they can be emptied, especially since we did pay you for December and December’s trash pickup? And you’re bitching about my being lazy?

Ex landlady felt compelled to scrub the bins after we departed. One of the bins, the black one intended for “Restmuell”, had “encrusted” dog crap in it (she loves that word, “encrusted”). More than once, I had to listen to a lecture from ex landlady about dog crap and making sure I cleaned it up. I tried very hard to do so immediately, whenever the dogs went in the yard. There were a couple of times, early in our time there, when I missed a pile. Once, it was because ex landlady hadn’t cut the grass and the poop was hidden. Once it was when she came over to mow the lawn and I hadn’t had a chance to inspect the yard. She never gave us advance notice before she came over, and there was never any rhythm or rhyme to her visits. I was under the impression that dog crap belongs in the trash. If it doesn’t, where should I have put it?

I would have been happy to clean the “encrusted” dog shit out of the bin for her. But she and her husband turned off the outside water supply in 2017 and they never turned it back on in 2018. I suppose we could have done that ourselves, but she was so uptight about such things that I didn’t think it would be a good idea. Ex landlady would never let us handle routine house maintenance stuff; she always came over with her husband to deal with any repairs or inspections. It was clear to me that this was important for her to handle, even though Bill and I are perfectly competent adults. So we didn’t dare turn on the water supply ourselves.

She also took the hose and, while we could have bought a hose for ourselves, I can’t even imagine the outrage that would have resulted if we’d tried to scrub the bins in her “pristine” backyard. And who the fuck cares if the trash can is “filthy”? It’s a trash can, and it’s designed for discarding filth.

But, even if I “don’t know the ordinances” because I am an American and no one explained them to me, I did try to learn about them. I even once asked the ex landlady how to dispose of a dead bird. I did so because she had told me that Germany has strict rules about disposing of the dead. This subject came up when I told her my dad had been buried at the family homestead (he has since been moved). She was shocked, since that would not be allowed here. So when I found a dead bird near the house, I took the time to ask her what to do with it. I didn’t want to break any laws or get yelled at for doing the wrong thing. She told me to put it in the “grey bin”… for Restmuell, where everything goes straight to an incinerator. That is where we put the “nasty” stuff like dog shit, too.

However… I will admit that it gives me a sense of great, perverse pleasure to imagine ex landlady furiously scrubbing our dog shit out of the black bin… so actually, I would concede to paying her for that. I’m sure her internal rage made short work of that chore. 😉 Namaste!

  • I live in “filth” and never do any cleaning.

Those who have been reading my blogs over the years might remember that I posted several entries about housekeeping and cleaning. I even did a few reviews of German cleaning products. However, ex landlady, whose home is reportedly “pristine”, thinks that I don’t clean to her standards. And you know what? That’s fine. Because we aren’t roommates.

In the days before we vacated her house, I spent days cleaning. My body ached. All the while, I knew that no matter how hard I tried to clean, it would never satisfy her. She had made up her mind about me and nothing I did was going to be enough for her. In one of her letters to Bill after we moved out, ex landlady ranted about how she felt compelled to remove the handle of one of the kitchen cabinets because it was “encrusted” with gunk. She may have been right about that, but there is no proof that we were the sole source of the gunk. I know for a fact that she didn’t scrutinize her last tenant’s check out the way she scrutinized ours. We were literally taking the keys from the ex tenant on the day we moved in. And really, who gives a fuck about an “encrusted” door handle, other than a neurotic clean freak?

I wanted to hire a cleaning company. Bill’s company even agreed to pay for it. But we could not find anyone to do the job, and ex landlady wanted to hire someone from her village. After we left, she did try to hire someone, but the person never showed up. So she got an “estimate” from one of the cleaning companies we would have paid to use if they’d only answered their fucking phone. It was for about 1800 euros, which I know ex landlady would never have paid herself. And even if we had hired such a firm, it probably would not have appeased her. She seems to think I am a pig. And she blatantly disrespects Bill, probably for being married to such a pig. Well, ex landlady… “OINK! OINK!”

  • Educated women make terrible wives and mothers.

This next point does not come directly from the ex landlady, although since I know she’s been consulting with her former tenant about my writings, maybe she will agree. After all, I call myself the Overeducated Housewife, and she seems to think I am a horrible housewife. I also never managed to become a mother, nor did I set the world on fire in the business world. She seems to think I sit around on my ass all day, not contributing to the world. She even pointedly asked me once if I had caused my husband’s divorce. So what good am I?

But anyway, this morning I read a rant from a Christian radio host who is upset because Representative Sean Duffy, who is married to Fox News commentator Rachel Campos-Duffy, is going to resign his position so he can “take care of his family.” The Christian radio host, Jesse Lee Peterson, recently ranted about Campos-Duffy’s choice to work outside of the home instead of staying home to cook, clean, take care of the children, and be her husband’s “assistant”.

Campos-Duffy is currently pregnant with the couple’s ninth child. This baby will likely require significant medical intervention once it has been born; ergo, Sean Duffy has decided it’s prudent to resign from his high stress work so he can be available to the family. And Peterson thinks this decision makes Duffy a “beta” male. Peterson says, “I wouldn’t recommend you marry these educated women with these degrees; they don’t make for good wives and mothers.”

I have three college degrees myself. I admit I am not the best housewife, and I never managed to become a mother. I guess this is a good reason for Bill to dump me, even though the reason I am not a mom is mainly due to his decision to get a vasectomy. I am sure ex landlady wondered what Bill sees in me. I’m not thin or beautiful, and I don’t keep the house looking immaculate (to her standards, anyway). I “steal”; I use too much toilet paper; and despite my protests to the contrary, I must have broken up Bill’s marriage to his ex wife. Why else would he get a divorce and be estranged from his children? It couldn’t be because he was once married to an overbearing, abusive, extortionate woman much like the ex landlady, could it? I guess she thinks Bill is a “beta” male, controlled by worthless me.

So… that’s what I’ve learned about myself and my fellow Americans this week. Or really, maybe she just thinks I represent Americans and our disgusting, slovenly, decadent ways. But I take heart in knowing that Americans aren’t the only people ex landlady disdains. I remember quite clearly hearing ex landlady lament about the growing number of Muslims moving to Germany, and her fear that they were planning to take over her country and replace its Christian culture. I also remember her telling me very plainly that she’d be “devastated” if one of her daughters married a Mexican. I suspect she’d feel that way if they married anyone non-white and non-German. She might be alright with a Brit or a Frenchman, though. She seemed to like them.

I find her attitude puzzling, since one of her daughters is a “little person” and has most likely endured grief and teasing due to being different. You’d think, as the super devoted mom ex landlady claims to be, she’d have more compassion for those who are different from her. But then, maybe she hates herself for having a child who isn’t “perfect” (here’s a hint: no one is perfect, and there is nothing wrong with “little people”), and that is why she is seemingly so fixated on her house being returned to her completely immaculate, without any flaws or defects. Maybe that’s why she feels perfectly justified in extorting money from people who could not transform her odd, poorly furbished, weirdly laid out hovel of a rental home into something pristine.

I’m sorry we ever wasted time trying to clean that house. We should have just left it broom swept, which was the condition we agreed to leave it in as specified in the lease. At least I would have spared myself the body aches and pains, trying to do the “right” thing. In retrospect, the right thing would have been to listen to my gut about her and avoided living in her hovel in the first place. And if she thinks Americans are so bad, maybe she should get out of the business of renting her house to them. Bill and I will do our best to see that she is no longer bothered by ignorant, filthy, thieving Americans who don’t know about trash… other than the trash from whom we rent our residences.