Bill, Ex, marriage, mental health, relationships

“Quick! Eat this before I give it to an animal!”

Here’s another life lesson, courtesy of the late, great George Carlin… Please keep in mind, this is just one way of looking at things, and it comes from my perspective. Your mileage may vary.

Years ago, when I was still in high school, I bought a bunch of cassette tapes by the late George Carlin. They were mostly his concerts from the 1970s and early 80s. I was a new fan, having been introduced to Carlin by HBO (Home Box Office), which I watched incessantly as a child. That probably explains a lot of the stuff I write about as an adult.

George had a funny routine he did back in 1981 called “Ice Box Man.” It was included on his album, A Place for My Stuff, which I listened to repeatedly on cassette as I drove from Gloucester, Virginia to Williamsburg, on one of my many work assignments there. In that routine, he talked about how it was his job to monitor the refrigerator and freezer. Naturally, that led to him making many nutty observations about humans and their relationship with the food they store in the fridge.

“Close that Goddamn door!”

I was reminded of Mr. Carlin this morning, as Bill and I were discussing a blog post I recently wrote titled “The latest big dream job“. It was yet another post about Ex, and her many elusive dreams. You know the old 80s song, “Don’t Fall in Love With A Dreamer?” Well, it’s sage advice, especially if you want to keep your sanity. Dreams can be a lot of fun, or they can be a distraction. Or, if someone is hellbent on following an unrealistic dream, they can quickly turn into a disastrous nightmare.

As we were talking about the prospect of Ex jetting off to an exotic place with the son she says has severe autism and runs away from home, Bill said he could only imagine what living with her is like these days. She has so many big ideas. Sometimes she tries to implement them, but they are almost always overcome by events, or somehow, her enthusiasm wanes and she loses interest. Often, when he was still married to her, that eventually meant being poorer, but not always wiser. If you’re the type of person who is responsible and likes a little stability in your life, that kind of shit gets old pretty quickly. It would be easy to be caught up in the dream at first… but then, hundreds or thousands of dollars and wasted hours later, when the dream falls apart, it’s not so much fun anymore.

So what has this story got to do with George Carlin and his “Ice Box Man” routine? I’m getting there.

Back in the late 80s, Bill was a young man who wasn’t very sure of himself. He doubted his appeal to women, and had this really low sense of self-worth. We have a few theories as to where this low self-esteem came from, but to make a long story short, it kind of made him a sitting duck for an abuser to exploit. Enter Ex. She spotted him, alone, in his mid 20s, reasonably handsome, and an Army officer. Her first husband was an enlisted guy, and for whatever reason, he wasn’t ringing her chimes anymore. I suspect she saw Bill as someone she could mold and manipulate, someone who would help her follow and achieve her dreams… someone with more earning power.

Well, I’ve written plenty about what happened after that. What I want to focus on today is the moment Bill decided to “eat food that someone was only going to throw away…” That’s where Carlin’s “Ice Box Man” comes into the story.

Carlin says:

...’Cause there’s a bigger responsibility. And that is getting into that refrigerator and deciding which things need to be thrown away. Most people will not take that responsibility. Most people will just go and get what they want, leave everything else alone and say, “Well, someone else wants that. Someone else will eat that” Meanwhile, the thing is getting smaller and smaller and smaller and is, in fact stuck to the rack. Well, I’ve got to go in there and decide when to throw things away.

“Chocolate pudding? Does anyone want this last chocolate pudding? I have just one chocolate pudding left. It’s only pulled away from the side of the dish about three inches all the way around. And there’s a huge fault running through the center of the pudding. Actually, it’s nothing but a ball of skin at this point. Does anyone want a ball of fault ridden chocolate pudding skin? I’m only going to throw it away.

A lot of us have experienced this, haven’t we? Especially those of us who hail from the United States, where we have big refrigerators, and parents or grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. People who have been deprived tend to be very averse to “wasting” things. It doesn’t just apply to food, either. It can apply to inanimate objects or even relationships. As Jim Bob Duggar liked to say, before his family fell from grace, “Buy used and save the difference!” If you have a shitload of kids and not that much money, it makes sense to buy things used, especially if there’s a lot of good use left in the item. It makes sense to eat what you have before buying more food. Or, even better, learning how to garden so you can grow your own food. Waste is not good, is it? Of course, you have to use up the item before it goes bad or falls into disrepair.

But a lot of us aren’t like this, and we pass up things when they are more appealing. As Carlin observes, “Well, someone else wants that. Someone else will eat that.” And no one ever eats it, but they don’t throw out the item that is wasting away in the fridge, shrinking from neglect, turning different colors, growing fur, or whatever. They don’t toss it, because they can’t bear losing the chance to “waste not, want not.” Even if passing on using the item would ultimately be better for them in the long run than trying to use it would be.

At one time, I’m sure that chocolate pudding Carlin speaks of was appetizing and delicious, smooth and creamy and sweet. But after weeks of neglect, it shriveled up into something ugly, unrecognizable, and in fact, potentially dangerous to one’s health. Ahh… but still, even when it’s clear that something is beyond its freshness or not particularly appealing or appetizing, a lot of us still won’t throw it away. Bill recently cleaned out one of our fridges, and he tossed an unopened jar of pickles that we bought when we still lived in Jettingen, four plus years ago! I have lots of over the counter drugs in the house that are two or more years beyond their expiration dates. Last night, I was looking at flea and tick meds for Arran that expired in January 2020. I didn’t use the meds, but I also didn’t throw them away! They’re still in the closet as I type this! I will be tossing them in a few minutes.

Over almost twenty years of marriage, I have often asked Bill what the hell he was thinking when he decided to pursue a relationship with his former wife. Don’t get me wrong. She’s probably the perfect mate for someone. But she was clearly not a good match for Bill, even if she was the most mentally stable person alive. They have very little in common, other than having gone to the same high school. They don’t have similar interests at all. He likes to go to nice restaurants, listen to alternative music, brew beer, read good books, and live within his means– but in style. He likes working for the Army and doesn’t mind the chaotic lifestyle that can come from that. Ex has a lot of interests, but none of them really aligned with Bill’s. Her big dreams never seemed to mesh with Bill’s reality and desire for stability.

According to Bill, once she had him hooked, Ex turned into a different person. Ex often made fun of Bill’s interests. She denigrated him in front of other people, and shamed him when he expressed goals and desires for his own life. She had completely different goals, and would not work with him. In fact, she often sabotaged his efforts to get ahead. Her idea was to be the Queen Bee, and he was expected to be a Worker Bee. So, in her mind, he had no right to make decisions for their life together. That was solely her job.

Some people would find this quality in Ex very attractive, as they don’t know what they want, and it can be comforting to be with someone who doesn’t mind being in charge of everything. But knowing Bill the way I do, I think that the chocolate pudding Ex promised quickly turned into a ball of pudding skin. Still, he held onto that shriveled up pudding skin for almost ten years before he finally decided to “throw it away”… He mistakenly believed she was the only person who would find him attractive. When they got together, he even saw himself as shriveled up chocolate pudding, waiting to be “thrown away”.

Carlin continues:

Do people do that with you? Offer you some food that if you don’t eat it, they’re only going to throw it away. Well, doesn’t that make you feel dandy? “Here’s something to eat, Dave. Hurry up, it’s spoiling!” “Something for you, Angela. Eat quickly, that green part is moving!” “Here, Bob. Eat this before I give it to an animal.”

There was a time in Bill’s life when he had very little confidence, especially around women. Although he’s always been a very pleasant, likable, attractive person, he somehow got the message that he wasn’t appealing to other people. He was shy, and reluctant to approach women. But, like a lot of people, Bill also hoped to marry someday, and have a family. Ex presented him with that possibility when she showed up on his doorstep in Germany with her toddler aged son. She was friendly and charming, and willing to relieve his loneliness. They knew each other from their high school years. In his mid 20s, Bill was watching his contemporaries get married and start families. Ex was offering him that chance, and he wouldn’t have to put himself out there to get it. She was pursuing him, which was flattering and deceptively made starting a family seem “easy”. And… he also felt kind of sorry for her. She told him horror stories (probably false or exaggerated) about her first husband that stimulated the “white knight” rescuing aspect of his personality.

So, even though they weren’t a very comfortable match, Bill decided to marry Ex. In retrospect, it seems kind of crazy–like taking a chance on eating that ball of shriveled up chocolate pudding skin and hoping it doesn’t make him sick or kill him. And yet, people do that all the time, don’t they? They take a chance on that questionable food from the fridge, some of which they may not even be able to identify anymore.

Carlin says:

…Perhaps the worst thing that can happen is to reach into the refrigerator and come out with something that you cannot identify at all. You literally do not know what it is. Could be meat, could be cake. Usually, at a time like that, I’ll bluff. “Honey, is this good?” “Well, what is it?” “I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks like…meatcake!” “Well, smell it.” (snort, sniff) “It has absolutely no smell whatsoever!” “It’s good! Put it back! Somebody is saving it. It’ll turn up in something.” That’s what frightens me. That someone will consider it a challenge and use it just because it’s in there.

“Honey, is this good?”

Then there’s the concept of “leftovers”. I think about how I wound up spending a year of dysfunction in college, because I needed a roommate. I found myself agreeing to live with a woman with whom I was completely incompatible. And, in fairness, she agreed to live with me, and she probably feels about me the same way as I do about her. Yet, we still agreed to be roommates. This wasn’t because we were “simpatico”, but because we both needed a warm body to occupy our dorm room.

It was quite a year. We survived, but not on particularly friendly terms. I guess you could call us “leftovers”. We were two people– not friends– who needed someone to share a room and hadn’t ended our first year of college with a buddy with whom we could bunk. It wasn’t a good match, and I’m sure we were both equally glad when the academic year was over and we didn’t ever have to see each other again. It’s one thing to do that when you temporarily need a roommate. Bill had his share of incompatible roomies, too. But it’s really not a good idea to start a marriage with that mindset, especially when children are in the mix. Marriages are supposed to last most of a lifetime, even if they often don’t.

Carlin says of the food in the fridge:

It’s a leftover. What a sad word that is. Leftover. How would you like to be…a leftover? Well, it wouldn’t be bad if they were taking people out to be shot. I might even volunteer. But, y’know, leftovers make you feel good twice. D’ja ever think about that? When you first put them away, you feel really intelligent- “I’m saving food!” And then, after a month, when hair is growing out of them and you throw them away you feel…really intelligent- “I’m saving my life!”

I have often pointed out to Bill that, while he definitely suffered, having married Ex when he didn’t really love her, Ex also suffered. Because who wants to be the charity project of someone who just feels sorry for them? Ex used to complain to Bill that he didn’t love her enough. Bill would try to show her that she was wrong. Of course that never worked, because she already knew what he didn’t want to admit. He hadn’t married her because he loved her and wanted to be with her. He married her because he’d pitied her, and himself… and he didn’t have enough self-respect to give himself the chance to find someone more compatible. He also didn’t have enough respect for Ex to give her the same opportunity, thus sparing themselves and their children a lot of pain.

Bill had made the mistake of regarding himself as a “leftover”. He also regarded Ex as a “leftover”. And he had decided, with her agreement, that they should try to make it work, even though there were many signs that it was not a good idea. Getting married to another warm body simply because someone is willing and available is not exactly a great way to start a family, is it? I mean, many people have done it… and some may have stayed together for many years. But how many people find happiness that way?

It works in the movies sometimes, but not so much in real life. Like having an ill fitting shoe, or a dental crown that doesn’t quite fit right. Maybe it functions, but it’s not comfortable or pleasing. You end up with blisters or inflammation that makes you miserable. Or maybe, to keep with the food theme, the leftovers take away your hunger and keep you from starving to death, but leave you with diarrhea or heartburn. Not all leftovers go together, you see. Who wants to mix cherry cheesecake with stinky cheese, roast beef, and peanut butter?

There’s more to Carlin’s brilliant “Ice Box Man” routine, and I highly recommend that you listen to it, especially if you haven’t heard it. Carlin was a wise, observant, and brilliant man, who was also very funny! I have learned a lot from him over the years.

As for Bill’s formerly “Ice Box Man” approach to marriage, I would say that not all is lost. He came away from that experience with a lot of wisdom and insight. He has a daughter who has come around after years of estrangement. He’s got three grandchildren. And he has the satisfaction of knowing that he was able to survive some pretty horrifying shit. Now, he’s thriving, and he’s found someone with whom he is very compatible… ME. 😉

God knows, I have often thought of myself of a leftover, too… so I am very happy to have found the right person against tremendous odds. Especially if you know how and where we actually met… but that’s a story for another day.

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complaints, expressions, Military

Military wives should really stop referring to themselves as “dependas”…

First thing’s first. I hate the term “dependa”. Although many people use the word as a shortened version of the government/military term, “dependent”, it’s actually a shortened version of an insult. At some point, years ago, some genius started referring to a certain type of military wife as a “dependapotamus” or “dependasaurus”, depending on the audience. Eventually, the terms “dependapotamus” or “dependasaurus” got shortened to “dependa”. And now, people use it all the time, sometimes even to define themselves.

How Urban Dictionary defines the derogatory term, “dependa”.

Last night, I read an article in The New York Times about people who are getting married and being platonic. They see marriage as a business idea, rather than a romantic one. They find someone they can trust and with whom they can share marital benefits. The person may be more of a best friend than a mate.

I thought the article was very interesting and, for some people, the idea of marrying someone for practical purposes is useful. Most people need or just prefer having companionship in life, and it’s helpful to have someone share the load in terms of some of life’s bigger challenges. But then I went into the comment section and noticed one woman had mentioned people in the military and how the idea of a platonic marriage could be a boon for collecting “dependa” benefits.

I will admit, it was later in the evening and I was emboldened by evening libations, but I commented that people who disrespectfully refer to military family members/spouses as “dependas” are usually not worth listening to for long. The woman who wrote that “laughed” at me, then wrote that she is a “dependa” herself.

My response was something along the lines of, “Good for you. Maybe it’s time you stopped thinking of yourself in such a derogatory way and realized that you have value in and of yourself, rather than as just your spouse’s ‘dependent’.”

And although she “laughed” again, as did someone else, I decided not to read any other responses. I have learned my lesson with that type of person. It’s a beautiful Sunday, and I have better things to do… like pluck out and shape my own pubic hairs. 😉 I know that some people will defend their “right” to claim the term “dependa” with great vigor, much like some people consistently vote against their own interests. My experience comes from years of observation and fruitless discussions with people who love using degrading labels like “dependa” and its more offensive cousins, “dependapotamus” and “dependasaurus”.

Eight years ago, I fell into a very contentious argument on the WTF Army Moments! Facebook page. Someone had posted a photo that said FRG (family readiness group) spouses shouldn’t try to “wear their spouse’s rank”. I completely agree with that, by the way. Spouses who aren’t themselves in the military should not try to claim their spouse’s rank and bully other spouses. Surprisingly enough, there are some people who do that. It’s offensive, tacky, and wrong.

But then I made the mistake of commenting that I think the term “dependents” is demeaning and should be phased out. Well… the negative response I got was nothing short of astonishing! You would have thought I had insulted someone’s mother or something. The group owner demanded to know why I thought the term “dependents” was demeaning. I responded it’s because spouses are competent adults, and in most marriages, adults are supposed to depend on each other. Plenty of military spouses have careers of their own and are perfectly capable of supporting themselves. While it’s true that I, personally, do depend on my husband for some things, he depends on me for things, too. Our relationship is mutually beneficial. And as an educated woman who is fully capable, I don’t think it’s right that capable adults are being called “dependents” by the military.

Shit went down after that. I got accused of trying to “lord” my education over the women in the group. There was a tidal wave of insults, sarcasm, profanity, and sweeping assumptions about my character and life experiences.  First, I was told that my education and experience mean nothing.  That I’m the same as everyone else (Gosh, I sure hope not, judging by the moronic responses of some of them).  Next, I was accused of being, “gasp”, a liberal (horrors)!  When I explained that I don’t define myself as conservative or liberal and really couldn’t see where my politics come into this conversation, I was accused of not being experienced about military life.  

The fact that I get health insurance from the government was repeatedly brought up as to why I’m a “dependent”.  That’s funny.  For over two years after I got married, I paid for my own health insurance.  I reluctantly gave it up when it became clear that the constant moving we’d be doing would make hanging on to it difficult and needlessly expensive.  When I explained that I’ve been around military folks my whole life, first as an Air Force brat and then as an Army wife, the group owner claimed that I would never see life as it really is in the military because I’m “just a dependent”.  At that point, I told the rabid person who kept attacking me that she needed to make up her mind.  I mean, am I “just like every other military spouse” regardless of my education, or am I someone hopelessly lost in an “ivory tower” and clueless about military life?  Someone else added that the term “dependent” is a “fucking IRS term”.  It is, but the IRS does not automatically consider spouses dependents, so that point was moot.

I should add that this isn’t an earth shattering issue for me. I know it will never change in my lifetime, and I’m not going to be sending any letters to Joe Biden or Congress, or anything like that. I just think the mindset that all spouses are “dependents” is antiquated, demoralizing, and yes, kind of demeaning. Particularly since it’s also devolved into the “dependa” insult. I don’t understand why people would laugh at me or begrudge me for thinking that. Why can’t we just respect someone’s differing opinions without immediately resorting to insults and character assassinations? Isn’t that why a lot of folks put on a military uniform in the first place? Freedom?

The woman I encountered last night openly calls herself a “dependa”. She may have a very healthy self-esteem. She probably hasn’t given the term much thought. But I have thought about it a lot over the years, mainly because I have the time and energy to do so. When a military wife calls herself a “dependa”, she’s basically lumping herself in with a class of women who are assumed to be fat, uneducated, fertile slobs who are perpetually pregnant, sit on their asses all day, eat bon bons, watch daytime TV, and blow their husband’s paychecks on makeup or Coach bags. They are rumored to have married simply for Tricare benefits and have a tendency to try to “wear their husband’s rank”. And again– it’s almost always women/wives who are called “dependas”, even though many female servicemembers are married to men.

In all my years of living around military folks– first as a “brat” (another term that has come under fire, although not one I have an issue with, personally) and then as a “spouse”– I have run into very few true examples of the “dependa” stereotype. A lot of the women who marry into the military lifestyle are very strong, capable, independent, creative and smart people. Quite a few have been to college or even graduate school, and some– gasp– even have good jobs while they raise children! And then there are also wives who don’t work for money, but do a lot of volunteer work, or homeschool their children… or whatever. How they spend their time or resources is really no one else’s business, anyway, is it? That’s between the married couple, not some random person observing them at AAFES or the commissary.

There are several social media groups that are dedicated to shaming and making fun of so-called “dependas”. While it may seem like good, clean fun to take part in these groups, the fact is, sometimes they do things that are pretty questionable and have real consequences for others. For example, a few years ago, I read an article about a military wife whose Facebook photos were ripped off from her personal page and shared in a Facebook group, where perfect strangers proceeded to make fun of them. I seem to remember in one situation, a plus sized wife was wearing a bikini and dared to post it on her Facebook page. That bikini pic ended up on Dear Dependa, where people were having a field day laughing about it. In another situation, a family’s photos were stolen and posted, where they were ridiculed. Some of the pictures included children.

It later came to light that the person who had stolen the photos was an Army colonel. He had to be asked, and later threatened with legal action, to take down the photos. Here he was– a man entrusted to lead troops, serve as an example to younger, less experienced servicemembers, and make sure missions are accomplished– and he’s hunting the personal Facebook pages of military spouses, copying photos that aren’t his, and sharing them to Facebook groups, where they can be ridiculed. No wonder so many civilians think the military is full of brain dead, uneducated thugs who get off on killing people. That’s not the actual case, by the way… I know plenty of smart, decent people in the military. But guys like that colonel, who engage in online bullying and harassment, don’t do a lot for the military’s image. How can a person like that be entrusted to be a good leader, responsible for expensive equipment and the lives of so many people?

While I know I won’t change anything by writing this post about why I think the term “dependent” and its derogatory bastardizations “dependapotamus”, “dependasaurus”, and “dependa” ought to go, I do think it’s sad that some people think it’s okay to refer to themselves in that way. I doubt the woman I ran into last night would have liked it if I had said something like, “So basically, you think of yourself as just a fat, unemployed, lazy, perpetually pregnant woman who leeches off her husband’s paycheck? Kudos to you for being able to read, at least.” Because, when she refers to herself as a “dependa”, she’s basically saying that the people who make fun of “dependas” should think of her in that way. Like it or not, “dependa” is a shortened version of insulting terms. It’s kind of like referring to oneself as a “bitch” or a “bastard” or something worse.

I want to ask some of these people what a so-called “dependa” could do to make themselves respectable…  Would they qualify as fellow human beings worthy of a modicum of regard if they lost some weight and got jobs at AAFES?  What about someone like me?  I am now a retiree’s wife.  Many would say I’m fat.  I don’t have a regularly paying job, but I write blogs and earn some money from that endeavor.  Am I worthy of respect?  Or would they call me a “dependa” simply because of my lifestyle? 

Ah, no matter.  I know I am worthy of respect.  Those who don’t want to give it to me aren’t worth the worry. And those who disrespect themselves by calling themselves “dependa” probably aren’t worth the worry, either. Particularly, when they don’t realize that they’re making things harder for themselves by seeing themselves in that way and emboldening bullies in the military community.

It IS true, in my experience, that people who regularly use that term are not worth listening to for more than a minute. They’re usually the type of people who can’t stand smart, accomplished, intelligent, and articulate women, and they would just prefer it if anyone who doesn’t have a penis just shuts up and does what she’s told. I’m serious. There are some truly vile, misogynistic, abusive people in the military culture, and they don’t care about anyone or anything but themselves, despite the military “esprit de corps” ethos they are supposed to follow. They may seem alright on the surface, but once you spend any time talking to them, you find out they have little to no regard for anyone– particularly women.

And so, when a woman calls herself a “dependa” and actually defends her “right” to refer to herself in such a way, all I can do is shake my head in dismay. I just think it’s sad. Surely, she’s better than the “dependa” stereotype. Or, I would hope so… I would at least hope that, deep down, she thought of herself in kinder, more flattering terms. I would really hope she has more self-respect. The vast majority of military wives truly are worthy of, at the very least, self-respect and dignity. If you don’t have respect for yourself, it’s hard to ask others to have respect for you. Just something to think about… especially if you’re a military wife reading today’s post.

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