Damaged + Joy

SCHADENFREUDE is one of my favorite words. As a reminder, The American Heritage Dictionary defines schadenfreude as “Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” From the German schaden meaning “damaged” + freude meaning “joy.”

Schadenfreude is out of fashion these days, but for decades I have been guided by Jack Kerouac’s words: “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” I keep the quote posted in my closet as a reminder that a boring pair of well-made black slacks will get more use than some interesting paisley bell-bottoms I once saw at Nordstrom’s.

Along with my wardrobe that changes with the speed of a sloth, my opinions and habits are hard to break. Schadenfreude is an old friend of mine, and I can’t put it away even when the teeming millions cry out that we are a compassionless society. I agree, we are increasingly lacking in compassion, but I don’t indulge in the misfortunes of everyone. I reserve my schadenfreude for the mighty that have fallen.

Pumped up politicians and preachers have always been my target, and those who have taken to the airwaves have been capturing my attention since I was a teenager. I am talking about the Elmer Gantry pulpit pounders who have wailed like hired mourners on radio and television for the gullible to send a few dollars their way to “Keep the Lord’s message comin’ into their homes each week, and to all the foreign lands where the heathen have never even heard of Jeeee-sus!” as they pronounce the name.

One could easily ignore such fools, even when some old crank cries for his followers to buy him a new jet because he believes that Satan co-pilots all the commercial planes, but if there is one thing we have learned by now (or should have learned) is that a deficiency of altruism fed by too much money results in corruption. I’m not saying that every billionaire deviant shops for a private island to practice his sex trafficking hobby, but a lack of financial restraint is dangerous when the rich stop following the rules.

I believe I made this point in 2011 when Moral Ambiguity was published. The Reverend James “Jimmy” Standridge, a composite of several televangelists, founded a church that grew into a ministry, a university, and ultimately a media empire. He got up to a number of exploits in private when he publicly forbade his followers from materialism and sensual indulgence. The book’s protagonist runs across some photos, and Standridge’s intent on recovering the incriminating evidence leads to the book’s climax.

I do not claim to be a prophet, but as more and more photos pop up with Jerry Falwell, Jr., I’m beginning to wonder how closely my imagination is aligned with reality even if it took reality almost a decade to catch up. Each time my phone alerts me to the latest news stories of pool boys, nightclubs, and other Floridian decadence, I feel myself giddy with schadenfreude over Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Junior intrigues me. Actually, anyone who inherits an empire from his father intrigues me. If the world respected the father, it sets out ready to respect the son, and if the world detested the father, there’s not much the son can do to overcome a bad reputation. People stood along the roadside when Billy Graham’s motorcade carried his body to its final resting place, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Franklin’s motorcade covered in eggs when his remains come whizzing by.

In the past few years, society has been catching on more and more. The chipping away at façades, the revelation of secrets, the abuses of power, the victimization of women and children, and the hypocrisy of iniquitous leaders are increasing at a time when societal gullibility is in decline in spite of bizarrely dressed political groupies we may see filling seats at rallies.

After Moral Ambiguity was published, I heard from several readers who asked why I didn’t kill Jimmy Standridge at the end. There was a great opportunity to do so during the bungled shootout over the blackmail photos, but I would never have been satisfied if Jimmy had died. Even though there is a sense of relief when a malignant old fraud departs the national stage, another one will take his place before the body is cold.

Corruption will be with us as long as people devise ways to exploit institutions, but as long as we have a free press and people who wish to expose corruption, the unscrupulous will be pulled from the shadows and into the light. Their stories will be told, and I will again tingle with schadenfreude.

© 2019 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

 

 

On Domestic Abuse

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All may not appear as it seems.

After realizing that my good intentions had consequences 25 years ago, I have been more cautious when attempting further attempts at heroism. However, I’m concerned about a potentially bad situation and feel the need to write about my suspicions of spousal abuse that affect someone very dear to me.

I’ve known the couple in question for many years. I was around them when they dated, attended their wedding, and have seen them from time to time over the years. If you’re reading this and think you know about whom I’m writing, please don’t attempt to identify them in the comments. For her safety in particular, I’m not trying to expose anyone. Even if you offered a guess you’d likely be wrong, as I have adjusted some of the details to protect privacy.

Through media and film, we’re provided images and profiles of abusive situations. We’re led to believe that an impoverished couple with too many chemicals and too few dollars are the norm. Financial struggles exacerbate relationships, and insobriety can affect normal restraint, but abuse thrives under many circumstances.

We’re further led to believe that abuse is a 24/7 cycle where a woman tiptoes around a hung-over man who flips out before noon and leaves her with a black eye or bruises, crumpled on the floor before he goes out for the day. A person couldn’t withstand physical and emotional abuse on a 24/7 basis without there being signs and likely an early death. I’m writing here about abuse that has gone almost undetected for decades, and abusers who may not be triggered to act out for spans of time.

I vaguely remember something Camille Paglia wrote about abused women back in the 1990s. The gist is that some people stay in toxic relationships because they reap some benefit. The benefit could be shelter, but more likely they are paralyzed by fear. We also can’t forget that people cling to bad jobs, stay in bad living conditions, repeat the same mistakes, and stay with horrible people because the devil they know is better than the devil they don’t. We really don’t know why abused spouses stay, and we are in no position to judge them.

We can’t overlook the fact that the abuser possesses some degree of charm, and on his good days he may bring flowers or make public declarations. He may splurge and demonstrate his love in public ways. Social occasions provide opportunities for guests to witness a couple that appears to be so in love, and with social media, those florid anniversary posts about his best friend and great love of his life will convince many that their years together have been blissfully spent.

I suspect that my friend has been suffering from abuse since her engagement, but I never realized the possibility until three years ago. And then I denied it for two more years. I once met another couple at an event, and throughout the evening I saw them interact. I picked up on her nervousness and noticed how she acted when she realized he might be watching her from across the room. She was so like my friend in question, and when the husband was suddenly ready to leave he made a scathing comment and humiliated her to tears. There was an element of familiarity that I tried to put out of my head.

For the next two years I occasionally thought about the couple I know, but I was still allowing the media and entertainment industries to cloud my judgment. My friend and her husband don’t fit the domestic abuse stereotypes. The wife possesses advanced college degrees and was raised by a feminist who would likely have wrecked any man that attempted to hurt her or her children. My friend has made her own money, traveled the world, spoken her mind in public, and has been on her own from time to time because of job assignments. In other words, she has the skills, the earning potential, and the opportunity to break free if her husband had ever laid a hand on her. My logical brain was still dismissing that my friend might be suffering, but when I look at her these days, I can barely see the hopeful young college girl I remember.

Before I came to terms with the possibility of abuse, there was a group of us who were very close back in the day. We’re scattered across the country now, but whenever one of us was in her area, we always got together. More recently, reunion days became evenings, and evenings became lunch or a quick coffee. My friend makes excuses about meeting longer than 45 minutes. “I have to get back.” Get back to what? She runs an online business and can see to any emergency with her smartphone.

I didn’t really notice the progressively short visits until our most recent reunion, and I discussed my feelings with a mutual friend who expressed an equal annoyance. We decided that our friend must’ve decided that our reunions have become an obligation she can’t figure out how to end. A week after our recent visit, I was un-friended on social media. My feelings were hurt, and when I complained to those in our group, we found that all but one of us had been dropped as well.

We racked our brains. Had we done something to offend her? Evidently not. Our last friend to have contact with her related to us that she’d had her feelings hurt because we’d all dropped her! We straightened the situation out and were instantly reconnected, but that lasted for six weeks. I decided to call, but my calls and texts went unanswered. I sent one of my books to her, but it has never been acknowledged. I responded via e-mail to her holiday newsletter, but no reply. The one friend who’s never been dropped reported that our sweet friend’s e-mail is “broken.”

Email doesn’t break down. I don’t know where it goes after the sender sends it and before it’s downloaded at its destination, but email can be retrieved on any device in the modern world. Our friend’s social media kerfuffle has been explained to us as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest have somehow been deleting friends and contacts spontaneously. We’ve all reached out to our friend to encourage her to think about the real reason only a few select old friends keep disappearing from her life. There is no problem with her social media accounts, nor is her e-mail broken. In all likelihood, someone has access to her passwords and tampers with her communications, thereby tampering with her friendships. The obvious suspect is the husband, but evidently she refuses to admit this when put on the spot.

There is disagreement among us. Some of the group is horrified by the mere suggestion that our friend has been abused for decades. They insist that we’d have heard of broken bones, black eyes, and court appearances. Bruises don’t always show, and we are not around her most of the time. Furthermore, emotional scars manifest in different ways. Victims find ingenious ways to cope with the terror, which again doesn’t happen round the clock. There may be long intervals between incidents, and the victim can lie to herself and say, “I’m not a victim of domestic abuse. I’m not like those women on TV. My husband isn’t like that!”

In the end, our only “evidence”consists of behavior, gut feelings, and very few facts. The facts include that two of us once saw him squeeze her too hard, but it was bushed off as exuberant affection. So was the incredibly hard slap to her behind, which we feel certainly left a mark. We know he had a run-in with the law over an issue stemming from his temper, and he is an avid hunter, which means there are firearms in the house. Ingredients that by themselves are not necessarily volatile. That’s why we end up “suspecting” and have not intervened. We also don’t want to drive her into hiding.

I learned my lesson about stepping where I shouldn’t, but I remain concerned. We all remain concerned and hope that our dear friend knows how much we love her as she continues to seemingly march in lock-step with a man who is clearly tyrannical. We are thrown for a loop when the subject comes up because there is every possibility that she is happy and that all might be okay.

Perhaps she has Stockholm Syndrome and now fully identifies with her abuser. Regardless of what we see, what we think, and what is really happening behind the scenes, our friend is obviously coping with the situation as best she can.

If she’s reading this and the facts hit home, we want her to know that we love her and that she has places to go if she needs to get away. Perhaps abuse works itself out without a catastrophe, but news reports and documentaries as well as fiction have led us to believe otherwise.

© 2019 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

On Domestic Tranquility

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A lot of fond memories in this house, but not of the neighbor in the back.

What do you do when you suspect spousal abuse? This isn’t exactly a rhetorical question, but a very real situation. At least I think it’s a real situation. I usually use this space for attempts at humor or to register a complaint, but I’m very serious this time. What does one do when you suspect spousal abuse? I’m going to lay the facts out over the next two blog posts, and perhaps a light will dawn.

In the case of recognizing child abuse, I have some experience, which is the reason I’m unsure how to deal with suspected spousal abuse. About 25 years ago I rented a house with my best friend. One of the house’s several perks was a patio on two levels off the breakfast room. I remember the first night after unpacking. He made a chicken dinner, and I made a pineapple upside down cake. We had a set of double ovens and couldn’t wait to use them both at once.

As we dined on the patio and exclaimed how we couldn’t remember back to a time when we had only one oven to prepare a meal (five days earlier), the peaceful air, perfumed with night-blooming jasmine, was shredded by the rage of a male neighbor over the back fence. My roommate and I were stunned into silence while we exchanged concerned glances. Who was yelling, who was being yelled at, and what could possibly warrant all that vitriol?

As we listened, we were able to determine a few sentences. One that stood out was “How many times have I told you that when the little hand is on the six and the big hand is on the five that it is SIX TWENTY-FIVE?” The question was accompanied by a crash. We sat frozen, hoping that it was an inanimate object being thrown at a wall and not at a tiny child learning to tell time.

The child turned out to be a she, and I saw her a few weeks later when she came roller-blading down the sidewalk and started a conversation with me about my dog. She was missing her front teeth because she was at that age (I hoped), and she was so charming. When I figured out where she lived, I tried to get some information. She spoke of both parents in glowing terms, and she appeared to be a well-adjusted kid with an outgoing personality. She was nothing like the stereotype of a battered child as far as movies and TV had shown me.

Months passed without any further outbursts, and as we settled in and met the neighbors, we came to realize that we were living right next door to the homeowners’ association chairwoman who had proven before we moved in that she knew all the details about anyone and any household that had details to be known. She became close to us by way of proximity, but we enjoyed her company when she dropped by. Soon after the next screaming incident, my roommate took an opportunity to ask her about the family over the back fence.

She reluctantly admitted that she had heard “things.” We barely made any noise by comparison, and she could almost always identify the number and gender of any guests we had who made it into our backyard, but she couldn’t seem to recall hearing anything over the back fence.

She eventually admitted that since she was home during the day, she had been hearing arguments when we had been at work. She didn’t consider them to be fits of rage, but agreed that the man had “something of a temper.” She felt that everything was under control, and there was no need to worry.

My bedroom was at the back of the house, and the Southern California climate allowed us to keep the windows open much earlier in the year. I started to hear more and more coming from the house beyond the fence, and my roommate and I discussed the situation more frequently.

About that time we had new neighbors across the street, and they loved yard work. They were the type of neighbors you really want if you’re concerned about property values, but they weren’t the kind of neighbors you want if you plan to sleep past 8:00 on Sunday morning. Having my room in the back, I missed the heated exchange in the front, but my roommate related everything to me that he could understand. The man over the back fence had become so enraged by the leaf-blower that he had left his house, marched around to our block, and hostilely confronted the leaf-blowing woman who lived across our street.

She was about 6’ tall and flew a helicopter for a living. She drove a giant Ford pickup with a tool chest across the bed. She wore heavy boots most of the time, but the point is that she was having none of this angry man’s tantrum. Avoiding anything physical, she managed to shut down his hate speech and threatened to report him to the police. The scene was most unfortunate for our tidy neighbor, but at least she stood her ground and put him on notice. We assumed that no woman had ever stood up to him.

Regrettably, the consequence of this run-in was that the raging man over the fence began to yell at his kids more and more. Other unseen objects shattered, and there was very little peace. It seemed my roommate and I discussed the situation daily, and we brought the subject of child abuse up with friends and with the next-door neighbor. Everyone except our neighbor insisted that we must get involved because a child needs an advocate. However, we didn’t want to give our names and address after witnessing his reaction to an early morning leaf-blower.

In the end, we placed an anonymous call. In our naivety we foolishly assumed that a professional would show up, find evidence of abuse, and haul the guy away in cuffs. The children in his life would be safe, the spouse would be relieved, and they would say silent prayers of thanks because someone out there had taken pity on their suffering.

In our twenties and unfamiliar with abuse and the systems that deal with it, the thought never occurred to us that children love their parents even when the adults are horrid, that spouses remain in some of the worst circumstances for a variety of reasons, and that an abuser can be as charming as he is violent. Of course he can be charming because he managed to charm someone into his life and keep her under his spell unless his violence had intimidated her into staying. Either way, an abuser possesses charisma.

Proud of ourselves, my roommate and I stood on the patio for several evenings listening for the sounds of joy as the occupants over the fence celebrated their freedom. We never heard celebrating. About two weeks later there came a slam as if a body had been shoved into a wall. “You called them, didn’t you? YOU CALLED!”

We heard a weakened, tearful protest that she didn’t call. He continued to accuse her. There was more noise as he repeatedly demanded to know who’d called. We could imagine him suddenly believing her and realizing that outsiders had gotten involved. We expected him to come storming out his back door and look our way. We scrambled into the house, closed the doors, and drew the floor-length curtains before the angry neighbor over the fence realized that his voice had carried like the leaf-blower, and that we had turned him in.

The nights were eventually peaceful. The family moved, and 25 years later I have no idea what became of them. I’ll explain further in my next post about why I suspect spousal abuse in a particular situation, but you can understand now why I’m uncertain—reluctant—to get involved.

© 2019 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Don’t Tell Me How You Feel

I’ve sadly neglected my blog space for the past few months, but I assure you that I have been writing. The third book in the Maggie Lyon Mystery series will soon be available, and a few other projects are expected to see the light of day. In addition to working on novels and plays—some fun, some more challenging—I’ve done quite a bit of reading. I’ve also been observing global events and wondering where all of this business will lead.

It seems several conversations and interactions with people these days include comments and concerns, and among some of the most frustrating, which have me rolling my eyes, I am reminded of a 2017 book I read recently called The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols.

On page 143 he writes: “This fusing of entertainment, news, punditry, and citizen participation is a chaotic mess that does not inform people so much as it creates the illusion of being informed. Just as clicking through endless Internet pages makes people think they’re learning new things, watching countless hours of television and scrolling through hundreds of headlines is producing laypeople who believe—erroneously—that they understand the news. Worse, their daily interaction with so much media makes them resistant to learning anything more that takes too long or isn’t entertaining enough.”

How appropriate for our times, but the book’s purpose goes even further. Nichols writes extensively about facts versus opinions. In one chapter, he relates one of my favorite stories of a college freshman standing up to a professor with decades of experience, and when the novice ends his argument with, “Well, my guess is as good as yours,” the professor responds, “No, it isn’t. My guess is much better than yours.”

I’m not millennial-bashing by the way. On the contrary, I know several extremely gifted people who fall into that age range, and they are the hope of the future. I also know a few people whose opinions I once respected who seem to have given up on experts in favor of declaring that their beliefs somehow hold as much weight as someone who has spent decades searching for the facts in a scholarly manner.

Nichols writes that so-called experts occasionally get it wrong, and in the fields of science and medicine, new discoveries come along often enough to disprove old ideas, which makes it seem like the experts were wrong more often than they were. And then we mustn’t forget the biased studies and “alternative facts” presented to us through various media outlets. In the end, I occasionally find myself in situations where the conversations begin, “I feel…” or “I believe…” or “I think that…”

Someday I’m going to have the courage to say, “I don’t care what you feel, believe, or think about…” but at the moment I still enjoy having friends.

© 2019 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my Amazon author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1