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Bats in My Belfry

Bats in My Belfry

After a particularly hairy break-up with my very own, personal, live-in toxic narcissist, I moved 45 minutes away to a tiny 2 BR walk-up just across the river from the college where I was teaching. Moving is one of the most exhausting and debilitating exercises, and it does not get better because you’ve done it a lot. Ending a 10-year-plus relationship with a “soul-mate” who had informed me that he had “never loved me,” and restarting my life was like ripping out my own entrails through my red, runny nose. Moving meant pushing the gooey mess left of my colon into tons of heavy boxes and dragging each and all up Mount Everest.

My friends had pitched in with the moving, hauled my bed frame and mattress up to the 2nd floor apartment and even set it up. We found sheets and pillowcases so I’d at least have a place to sleep once I calmed down from the hyperactivity of moving. So, after dealing with my new landlord, arranging for utilities and satellite TV and so on, trying to find the barest necessities (like coffee, cups, towels, coffee maker, etc.) hidden in the over-heated, taped treasure boxes covering every inch of horizontal space, I felt like an old wash rag, rung out and hung out to dry.

My friends left to deal with their own lives and I ordered pizza.

I set up the TV and the floor lamp and found paper plates and grabbed a beer from the tiny fridge. I love new pizza joints, but always try their pepperoni and extra cheese first. If they can’t do the king of pizzas, I assume that their culinary ineptitude will simply escalate with more exotic concoctions. As I awaited the pizza, I washed up and tried to find something to watch on TV—on the VCR or DVD player, really, since the SAT wasn’t set up. Luckily, I found a murder mystery I hadn’t seen—or it might have been a vampire flick…

The pizza arrived, I paid and tipped the delivery “boy,” who was closer to middle-age than boyhood, and he welcomed me to the neighborhood. Sitting on my nearly-new sofa, watching a movie with lots of dark, steamy alleys, moody music and an occasional shriek, I tasted the excellent pizza, washing it down with a Bud Light (or two). It was an old-fashioned, home-made pizza with hand-rolled dough, real Mozzarella and Provolone cheese, and large slices of pepperoni. Just smelling the thing made me put on 20 pounds! Ah, sweet relief…

As I returned from the kitchen with a second helping of beer and pizza, a dark body swooped down at my head. “Shriek! What was that?” I asked no one. Maybe I had heat stroke or something; it was a dreadfully hot day and I had no air conditioning in the upstairs apartment cobbled together from an old general-store storage room. The 5×3 foot bathroom opened onto the living room, and one bedroom was on the other side of the living room (down two steps). My very long but narrow kitchen was the largest room, with tons of light from nearly wall-to-wall windows. At the opposite end of the kitchen lay the other bedroom, used for storage. After 9 pm, the only light pouring through the windows came from the corner streetlight and the color-changing stoplights.

I looked from wall to ceiling to floor. Nothing. I checked the bathroom, bedrooms, kitchen. Nada. Was I just wiped out mentally from the brutal emotional battery my ex had treated me to during my last week in hell? I sat down, grabbed my pizza, and once again a dark body swooped at my head—or the pizza—and I was now officially terrified. What the devil was that? Again, I did a thorough survey of the apartment, finding nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nada. Nada y pues nada… as Hemingway would put it. The nada, the nothingness of my life opened like the abyss. If I gazed too deeply, I knew it would swallow me up, just as Nietzsche had warned.

I turned on every light and searched high and low, under furniture, in drawers and closets and cupboards, even the empty cupboard under the built-in bookcase in the living room. Nothing. By now, I was sweating profusely, from the exertions of the day but also my recent repeated runs through the rooms and the fear that began to scream at me (in my head). Outside, it was pitch dark. Inside, the apartment was so quiet I could hear my clock radio ticking in the other room. What in hell had I got myself into? Maybe I should find a funny show to watch…

Should I call the police? Without knowing what was going on, and beginning to fear for my sanity, after escaping a man who had been systematically gas-lighting me for the past few years, I had no idea where to turn. I was certainly NOT going to call HIM. My friends had done yeoman’s service for me that day so I wasn’t going to disturb them again. If I sat still, the thing would fly and swoop just as it did if I stood up to move around the apartment. It could be a bird, I thought, but this thing moved much faster than any featherweight I had ever seen. And a bird would cry out, wouldn’t it?

The ordeal continued, for I knew that I would not sleep that night unless (until) I discovered what was going on. Desperate, I called my new landlord and asked for help. Twenty minutes later, he and his wife arrived, he with a broom and she carrying a tennis racket! I wasn’t sure now if I was in a Marx Brothers film or in the Twilight Zone. Or, maybe I truly had lost my mind and this was all a hallucination! Maybe Edward had finally succeeded in driving me bonkers. I wanted my Dad, but he was 1000s of miles away in Florida. I didn’t want my Mom that night, since she would have given me the “I-told-you-so” speech for the zillionth time.

My life now relied upon “the kindness of strangers.” I sat on the couch in a funk as my new landlords searched the “empty” apartment. They found nothing, and then I noticed the odd looks they were exchanging and the guarded glances turned toward me. The questioning began anew: “What happened? When? Who or what was it? Are you sure? How much beer have you had? Etc. ad nauseum.” They must have thought I had had a breakdown or something. I began to suspect the same thing. What could any of us think?

The wife sat in a chair, talking to me in a soothing voice as he wandered the apartment again, with only a tennis racket for protection. She left the room to see what he was doing in the spare room. That’s when I began to smell the odor of meat cooking. Frying, really. I called for the landlord, frightened that the noises were coming from a fire within the walls perhaps. I hoped frantically that they too would smell the burning flesh. If not, I might have to resign myself to living in a padded room.

They noticed the smell but no flying, swooping monster appeared to verify my claims. They asked if I had left the stove on, when it was obvious that I had just ordered a pizza, and hadn’t unpacked any cookware, for crying out loud! I was now officially annoyed, a feeling that was beginning to overwhelm the feelings of fear. Time passed, punctuated by my ticking clock radio. They did one more quick look everywhere before leaving.

As we stood at the door, my incredulous landlord asked me to turn off the floor lamp. He then reached inside the glass shade which was open at the top and screwed to the pole part of the lamp, revealing the source of my fright. A baby bat! With all of the uproar of moving and opening and closing doors and cupboards and cabinets, it must have been awakened in some dark hidey-hole and got disoriented, perhaps. My landlord speculated that it must have landed on the floor lamp bulb for warmth and was disturbed by my movements in and out of the living room.

Case solved! Unfortunately, the “cooking” smell turned out to be the poor little creature being burned to death by my floor lamp! So, I really did have “bats in the belfry” after all, but this one was real, and I wasn’t crazy! At least, not that night. What I had heard and experienced was real, and I was relieved that I had not simply imagined it all. What a story! I couldn’t wait to share it with Edward…oh, wait. He was no longer in my life. We had nothing to share any more. That was a good thing, right? Right?

© 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD

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Thought For the Day

[Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s TFD]

How do you make a selfie without looking like a psycho?

Am I the only one with this problem?

 

©2015 Linda L Labin, PhD

Dracula Is The Iconic Toxic Narcissist

Dracula Is the Iconic Toxic Narcissist

When I speak or write about toxic narcissism, which is, I believe, the source of all evil in the world, I often mention that toxic narcissists are like ‘psychic vampires,’ in that they suck the souls out of good, compassionate people in the same fashion as mythical (I hope) vampires suck the life blood out of trusting victims. That construct leads me to examine here the idea that Dracula, the epitome of vampirism, is also a perfect icon of toxic narcissism.

First, some definitions for those unfamiliar with this issue. The American Heritage Dictionary defines narcissism as “1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. 2. Psychoanal[itical]. An arresting of development or a regression to the infantile stage of development in which one’s own body is the object of erotic interest.” The condition is named for the mythical Narcissus: “A youth who pined away in love for his own image in a pool of water and was transformed into the flower that bears his name.”

In Greek myth, humans are punished for their acts which offend the gods. The human is a doer and so must act on need or desire and the doer must be punished. Often they are punished even for the deeds or obsessions of the very gods they worship. This case brilliantly exposes the destructive nature of self-loving humans. Narcissus was a young man so lovely and perfect in his physical beauty that everyone fell for him, men and women, but no one seemed to meet HIS standards. One girl he rejected was so hurt that she withered away to nothing but a voice, one heard only if someone else spoke first; her name was Echo.

Because of her pain from his rejection of her pure, unselfish love, Echo asked the gods to punish him, and they did. He fell in love with his own reflection, discovered in a pool of water in the forest where he liked to gambol and gather admirers. The image he saw was perfect in every way, but when he tried to embrace this loveliest of boys, the vision of beauty disappeared, again and again. In one version of the myth, he pines away beside the pond; in another, Narcissus continues to embrace the beautiful image until he plunges into the pond and drowns. In both versions, he destroys himself waiting for the love of his life to accept him, and a flower, the narcissus, blooms where he died. The gods often brought life and beauty out of horror, just as spring flowers emerge after the seeming death brought by winter.

Salvador Dali, Narcissus

Salvador Dali, Narcissus

Like most Greek myths, the story of Narcissus is meant to teach us of the dangers of selfish love to the exclusion of all others. I suspect that a narcissist in the 21st century would not recognize that moral. Instead, s/he might think that Narcissus’ only mistake was in not surrounding himself with compassionate givers whose worship of him would have—should have—reinforced his narcissism. He would never die, as long as someone gave him the attention he deserved and required—rather like a toxic Tinkerbell for whom you must clap and clap and…

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The term toxic narcissism, given to individuals identified as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder, goes beyond the simple vanity of Facebook and Twitter and selfies (oh, my!). When this selfishness is not just a passing self-interest but a modus operandi aimed at ensnaring loving and compassionate people who think that caring for others will earn them love, the condition becomes toxic to these victims. It is toxic because the narcissist brings nothing to the relationship except need and dependency—and control. Like Dracula sucking the life out of those he feeds on, toxic narcissists feed on the love, compassion, the very humanity of their victims. Both leave victims to suffer and die alone. However, if the victim unmasks the handsome Count or the attractive narcissist, s/he will be met with lethal violence—Dracula will not stop until his opponents are dead (or he is); likewise, the narcissist tries to gaslight victims so that they doubt reality and their own sanity and escalates to character assassination for fear that victims will reveal the truth about them. Sunlight (God’s gift) kills Dracula while truth (the light of reason) destroys the psychic vampire.

Like psychopaths, sociopaths, and antisocial personalities, narcissistic personalities have an inflated sense of their importance and superiority as well as a deep need for admiration and attention. At the same time, these dependent daisies have no empathy for others and suffer no remorse for their heartless self-aggrandizement at others’ expense. Dracula and the promiscuous narcissists never feel guilt or shame as they move to victim after victim, never satiated.

Recent clinical studies have revealed that the brains of those identified with these disorders lack gray matter in the area of the brain associated with empathy, compassion, emotional and cognitive functioning (the left anterior insula). Behind the facade of ultra-confidence, however, lurks a self-loathing infant whose self-esteem is so fragile that it cannot tolerate even mild criticism. These people are deeply unhappy, always seeking out loving worshipers who reflect the narcissist’s self-deluded image. Dracula’s folklore explain him as one of the ‘undead,’ lacking a soul because he has sold it to the Devil. That’s why mirrors and crosses are anathema to him, reminding him of his despair. Monsters never suffer guilt, satisfying their blood lust until they are staked or beheaded (like a rabid animal).

The joke in psychiatric circles is that toxic narcissism is the only mental disorder that leaves the person with this condition alone while treating instead all of his/her victims.

Narcissists disrupt every area of life, from personal relationships to school to work to raising families to all areas of social interaction. The narcissist learns early how to mask his/her true desires and goals while assuming a mask appropriate to situations or victims. They are accomplished liars and manipulators, always playing the victim when their true nature is revealed. Once unmasked, they attempt to destroy the truth-teller to prevent others from knowing what they are. They can be paranoid about other people’s opinions of them, assuming that everyone is as interested in them as they themselves are. While Dracula has no job or school and his only ‘family’ consists of his ‘brides,’ he brings death and desolation to everyone in his path. The brides never become ‘wives’ because they were taken in youth, so will never age, but they will never be a partner to Dracula, only servants to his desires. He gleefully deserts them to save himself. Likewise, the narcissist throws everyone under the bus, because nothing is his/her fault. Both have cult-like followers.

According to the DSM-5, narcissistic personalities are extremely likely to exhibit other symptoms: substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and others. Toxic narcissism is more common among men, while borderline pd seems more common in women, as they tend to be victims of child abuse (associated with bpd) more often than men. Some individuals with NPD can be ambitious and capable, but their inability to tolerate setbacks or disagreements make it difficult to maintain long-term professional achievement. They are easily distracted and expect others to give them what they need because they’re ‘special.’

The cause of narcissistic personality disorder is unknown but research suggests that some are born with an oversensitive temperament that is encouraged by excessive parental admiration and praise without realistic feedback. Alternatively, these children may be victims of excessive criticism for bad behavior, unpredictable care-giving by parents, and even severe emotional abuse. Researchers have found that narcissism runs in families, but it is unclear whether there is an inherited tendency or that family structure and interactions re-create the same patterns generationally. In Dracula’s case, his father was away fighting the Ottoman Turks invading Wallachia (Transylvania) and his mother died of the plague when he was a child. To ensure a peace treaty with the Turks, Dracula’s father left him as a hostage to the Turks when he was a child. By all accounts, the boy was brutalized in every way imaginable. (Here, I’m speaking of the real-life Count Vlad Tepes, known as Vlad the Impaler, who was a brutal leader but a national hero in Romania).

At first, they are attractive and charismatic and shower their new-found victim with ‘apparent’ love and gifts and seeming adoration. But once they have ensnared a loving and good person, they become more demanding and more ‘entitled,’ jealous, and increasingly abusive. It may be verbal, emotional, even physical, and they will return with half-hearted (unfelt) apologies and explanations that make the victim take the blame. As the narcissist isolates the victim, from friends and family, and even from the victim’s own sense of self and reality, the narcissist, who actually has low self-esteem and a lot of self-loathing on a subconscious level, begins to devour his/her source of emotional nourishment by shaming, gaslighting, and emotional ping-ponging. They are such expert liars and manipulators that their victims begin to doubt their own sanity and reality. Most never realize that they’ve been innocent victims, and never see what these narcissists truly are, until the relationship (finally) ends.

Dracula doesn’t own a mirror yet his hair is neatly parted and combed. He sleeps in a coffin, yet his suits are always neatly pressed and shoes are shined. He is suave and sophisticated; when he arrives at a party in England, all eyes are on him. He mesmerizes his victims and has a strange psychic link to them, even before he has taken their blood. Most victims die, never knowing what he is. A few, like Jonathan Harker, may escape and Dracula then shows his monstrous side. As Harker tries to save his fiancee Mina, Dracula becomes more aggressive. Harker must hunt him down in his lair and drive a stake through his heart to free the love of his life. Modern-day narcissists practice character assassination to prevent victims from revealing the truth about their dark side. Victims must refuse contact with these monsters or risk returning to the horrors of their emotional crypt.

We are all, to some degree, narcissists; it’s in our DNA. As humans, we have the unique experience of memory, time, and expectations of the future. We believe that we are God’s highest creation and that that ‘fact’ means that we can do anything we want to each other, other animals, and our long-suffering planet. I’m not saying that’s a good thing; often our ‘stewardship’ has been filled with rapine of nature’s (God’s) gifts. A big part of essential narcissism is its absolute necessity for survival. If we did not love ourselves, we would perish; without self-interest, who would seek out food, shelter, clothing, and love?

Humans are the only creatures who are born and who remain utterly helpless for years. Researchers even argue that babies (human and animal) are cute and adorable because that is an evolutionary trick to ensure survival of offspring. Symmetrical features, cute, puffy cheeks, and physical beauty have always been viewed as perfection and goodness. Subconsciously, even animal mothers reject offspring with abnormalities because resources are limited and those with physical or mental problems will not survive. Thankfully, humans have evolved beyond that reptilian aspect of survival. Mostly.

Most humans have a selfless, compassionate side that protects the innocent and helpless and cares for those with difficulties of whatever sort. We see selfless acts daily as firefighters rush into burning buildings, military men and women fight wars to protect our country (wars they didn’t start), police risking their lives to protect us from the bad people and the crazies who assault us with their feed-me mentality. For Christians, the best example of totally unselfish, self-sacrificing love is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. None of us ever reach that level of agape.

We learn in the playpen and in the schoolyard that there are ‘takers’ and there are ‘givers,’ and it is that basic war of narcissism vs compassion that is the history of this planet. I’d like to believe that narcissists can change, but it’s impossible. To misquote Gertrude Stein, a thorn is a thorn is a thorn. To change, you must admit that there is a problem, that you are the problem, that your approach to life, your expectations of others, your need to control, to be admired, to be cared for like the psychological infant you are, are THE PROBLEM. The narcissist sees no problem, just people who don’t appreciate his/her awesomeness. Too often, the ‘givers’ try to change themselves, believing the lies of the narcissist that love and compassion and caring belongs only to them and that no one else DESERVES them.

Because of their belief that they are so deeply flawed that others cannot accept or love them for themselves, narcissists try to protect themselves from painful rejection and isolation by controlling how others see them and behave around them. If someone confronts them with their true selves, narcissists react with disdain, disbelief, rage, and defiance. They will then do everything they can to assassinate the character of their victim, fearful that s/he will reveal the beast behind the mask.

Below is a table I’ve prepared comparing Dracula (Bram Stoker’s fictional character, not Vlad Tepes) and the toxic narcissist (one with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder with or without co-morbidities). Some characteristics may seem repetitive but are included for emphasis or clarification.

Characteristics Dracula Toxic Narcissist Notes
Raison d’être Vampire Psychic vampire To feed off others
Sucks out your life Blood Soul Love, compassion, sense of self
Dependent Human blood Attention, care Façade of independence
Attractive Charismatic, mysterious Charismatic, adoring Well-groomed, attentive
Manipulative “Come to Me” Conditional love Do as I say or else
Jealous You belong to me I know you’re cheating Projection of own faults
Abusive Kills victim Kills victim’s spirit Blame, shame
Reality Shift Turns into a bat, fog Gaslighting Victim doubts own memory, sanity
Self-important, sense of entitlement Ruler, demands strict obedience Superior to all, fantasies of success “I’m special”
Appearance Opulent castle, good looks Materialistic, good looks Combed, pressed, flawless
Reality Coffin in crypt Self-loathing, ugly Monster
Mirrors No, lacks a soul Deceived by ego Cannot reflect
Excessive self-love Recreates self in brides Selfies, “I” and “me” You should be grateful I’m here
Need for followers ‘Brides,’ human helpers (Renfield) Sources for love Toxic Tinkerbell
Fragile self-esteem Fears sunlight Fears truth Exposure means death
Infantile needs “I vant to drink your blood” I must be loved, admired, supported I’m 2 years old and I am helpless (I’m the victim)
No empathy Destroys everyone Lacks compassion No remorse
Deceiver Shape-shifter Masks true self Chameleon
Revelation of truth Kills all who seek him out Destroys truth-teller Character assassination
Paranoid Only appears at night, hides coffin Everyone’s opinions matter Talking about me, hides true nature
It’s not my fault Vampire bit him and turned him Parents pampered me Generational vampirism
Isolation Dracula lures Harper to his Transylvanian castle Friends and family interfere w/plans Removes competition for attention
Victims Most die without knowing what he is Most don’t see what s/he is until it ends If you survive, you will protect yourself
What they fear Garlic, sunlight, cross Truth, victim success The light of reason
Followers ‘Brides’ enthralled to him, his needs Future victims, innocent friends deceived by lies Cult-like minions
Insight “The blood is the life.” Can’t see own toxicity Only my needs matter
Fantasy Kill, infect everyone Everyone loves me Irrational
Superficial Intimacy Sex via blood transfer Sex as control Promiscuous
Exploitation Uses money, law, British politeness Takes everything from victims, wants more Leaves when victim is empty, used-up
Emotional behavior Melodramatic, cape Extreme highs, lows Crying, tantrums
Self-loathing No mirrors! Deeply flawed, unlovable Fear of rejection, abandonment
Bad parenting Abuse, abandonment, used as hostage Praised or criticized too much Learns to manipulate others
Antisocial Abandoned castles Emotional walls Fear of criticism
Control of others ‘Brides’ not autonomous, bring victims to him Belittles others, downplays their accomplishments Competitive, must be the center of attention
Unpredictable Bat, fog, wolf Moody, changeable Like bipolars
How to destroy them Stake through heart Tell the truth No contact or risk renewal of vampirism

If you are or have been in a relationship with a toxic narcissist, a psychic vampire, RUN far, far away or s/he will drain every last drop of your heart, goodness, love, compassion, sanity, soul. Then you too will be an empty husk like your monster.

Q. How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Only one, but everyone on earth has to work to turn the earth around to unscrew the bulb.

A2. None. I like it in the dark. I’m used to having to do everything myself; you’re lazy and useless…

©2015 Linda L Labin, PhD (except images, whose copyright belongs to their respective owners)

Sweet Sandy Whiskers and Nattering Nabobs

Sweet Sandy Whiskers and Nattering Nabobs: Political Slurs Are Nothing New

After last night’s debates (which were as far from debates as can be), those who watched were either amused, saddened, or aghast at the bloody-minded invective that occasionally flew about. That was at times painful to watch but nevertheless guaranteed, in my mind, that some candidates are not suited to the presidency and so would not be my choice.

Trump was the childish egotist insisting he MUST be the nominee or, he threatened, he’d go for a third-party leap. Focused on his own narcissistic ambitions, he failed to grasp how futile that would be for conservatives and independents, guaranteeing a Democrat win. He then threatened Megyn Kelly for pointing out his misogynistic, hateful comments about women. This after berating McCain and saying he was not a ‘real’ war hero because he was captured. Those men who dodged the draft, like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, do not deserve to pass judgment on true heroes like John McCain and all the other men and women who answered their country’s call (even while most disagreed with the war).

Rand Paul and Chris Christie nearly came to blows over national security surveillance. Grown men should be able to disagree, respectfully, without demeaning or insulting each other. Both men are tenacious, but I believe listening is often more important than shouting. Paul behaved in similar fashion throughout, jabbing at individuals to stand out. He clipped Trump with a good point about how the Donald hedges his bets and buys politicians, to the detriment of honorable public servants. Otherwise, though, Paul came off as a petulant uncle whose vision has sizzled in the August sun.

Those like Rubio, Cruz, Huckabee, Jindal, and Fiorina, who rose above the fray with positive visions and strategies for returning America to greatness, were impressive. Some had a few moments but I saw no clear ‘winner.’ Dr Carson regaled the crowd with his uniqueness—open-heart surgery, separation of conjoined twins, removing half a brain (quipping that in DC he suspected that someone had already removed a few brains before his arrival). Huckabee began a diatribe apparently aimed at Trump but saved the day and made us all laugh when he revealed that the person ill-equipped to hold office was Hillary Clinton. Others also had some good points to make—Bush, Kasich, Perry, for example. The rest were either too extreme, too vanilla pudding, or unmemorable.

It was an interesting show and offers Americans many more choices than the typical dog-and-pony show foisted on us by the good-ol’-boy gang with their backroom deals and ‘anointed’ candidates (it’s her turn…). Many flavors, many strengths and several weaknesses offered up to conservatives, moderates, independents, and even liberals who have not swallowed the socialist progressive Koolaid. Time will tell whether America starts working again, solves its internal problems, and becomes the leader of the Free World again instead of pandering to murderous thugs and traitors.

Old Sandy Whiskers

Old Sandy Whiskers

As I watched this true reality show, I was reminded of a recent article by Rosemarie Ostler in Salon, in which she examines historical political slurs. A few are entertaining and/or revelatory of their time periods and the partisan views of voters and candidates. My favorite is the nickname given to Martin Van Buren, a Democrat who beat four Whig candidates for the presidency in 1836. The Whigs compared his mind to “’a tame bear tied to a stake,’” running in a tiny circle. He was called a “’dandy’” because he was so fussy about his appearance (wearing corsets!) and applied scent (cologne) to his red beard, earning the name “’Sweet Sandy Whiskers.’” His enemies called him slippery, lacking in principle, talking out of both sides of his (bewhiskered) mouth. These jibes might have been accurate—who knows?–but they slid off his back because the vote was splintered by having four opponents instead of one. Trump could learn strategy from this guy.

Lincoln Portrayed as a Monkey

Lincoln Portrayed as a Monkey

Then we have verbal abuse heaped on a man who was arguably our best president, Republican Abraham Lincoln, who saved the Union and emancipated the slaves. He was a brilliant, self-educated man who rose above his humble origins to hold the highest office, but Democrats called him Ignoramus Abe, making fun of him as a backwoods moron, a buffoon, even a Despot (in light of the Civil War). Even his own party members rejected him, fearing he would be too conciliatory to the South after its surrender. I recall a cartoon of the era portraying him as a monkey, demonizing a man who was simply upholding the constitution.

After Andrew Johnson’s disastrous regime following Lincoln’s assassination, in the 1868 election, the fires and hatred of the Civil War still burned hot. Republicans chose General Ulysses S Grant because of his heroic war exploits but Democrats called him “’the Butcher,’” because Virginia Confederates suffered their bloodiest losses to Grant. They also claimed he was a drunk and would be a dictator. Democrats chose a weepy Copperhead, former NY Governor Horatio Seymour, who ran a racist campaign accusing Grant of trying to “’Africanize’” the South. Who still remembers, by the by, that the Southern Democrats created the hateful, hate-filled Ku Klux Klan?

Nearly 20 years later, according to Ostler, the name-calling got more creative in the fight between Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican James Blaine. In the age of graft, fraud, bribery and other skullduggery known now as the Gilded Age, scoundrels acquired a new name–”’boodler.’” Early Dutch settlers in NY and NJ brought the word ‘boodle,’ meaning one’s estate or possessions, to America, but it soon was applied to counterfeit money and then to any ill-gotten gains. So a “’boodle politician’” fell right in with this crowd.

And that odd word leads inevitably to the extinct “snollygoster,” a term describing a manipulative phony bent on achieving political office without the requisite principles (or abilities). It was the Gay 90s version of camp followers and hangers-on, the yes men of yesterday. We still have those obnoxious hosebags; we just don’t call them snollygosters anymore (more’s the pity—imagine that line item on Hillary’s expense account: 7 snollygosters at $3400 each…).

Thomas E Dewey, The Man on the Wedding Cake

Thomas E Dewey, The Man on the Wedding Cake

Returning to personal appearance as a source of slurs, FDR soundly defeated Republican Thomas E Dewey, at least partly, we’re told, because Dewey parted his black hair sharply down the center and was the proud owner of a ‘toothbrush mustache,’ leading Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice to quip, “”How can you vote for a man who looks like the bridegroom on a wedding cake?’” He was also a fussy little man given to expletives like ‘good gracious,’ so who could resist tittering at such a figure?

Following George Wallace’s slurs against ‘ivory-tower folks with pointy heads,’ referring to so-called intellectuals who did not have average Americans’ best interests in mind when formulating policy, Richard Nixon likewise hurled insults at ‘eggheads’ as his vice president Spiro Agnew denounced almost everyone who disagreed with Nixon’s regime as ‘nattering nabobs of negativism.’  Truth be told, Aggie didn’t even think up the term; it was brilliant wordsmith William Safire! Agnew was so busy taking credit for Safire’s talking points, he forgot to cover his weasley tracks,  later pleading no contest to charges of bribery and extortion and resigning as Vice President.

So, demonizing one’s opponents is not a new exercise, but social media has made bludgeoning insults hideously viral, allowing vituperative comments these days to be accepted as Gospel truth simply because no one stops to verify the veracity of the name-callers. Hitler said that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it is the truth. Well, no, that last statement is just not true. Hitler took credit for the ‘Big Lie’ comment, but the psychologist William James actually said, “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.” Too many politicians these days count on superficial understanding and apathy on the part of voters to smear those with opposing views. And they are incredibly successful in planting false stories, painting all with their venomous vagaries.

God help us.

© 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD

I’m Back!

alice in a holeI’m back! In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been away, yet I haven’t left. I’ve been fighting the knee and back demons and they tend to knock the knickers off what talent I may have. Sorry for missing your marvelous posts; happy to be among the survivors.

While  recuperating from knee injections, I saw things I never want to see again–The tapes of planned Parenthood doctors dickering for big money for harvested organs taken from human fetuses butchered in the womb are horrifying. The claim that they need these for research is a lie, as computer models are more effective. Selling human body parts is illegal! Two images come to mind– Nazi concentration camps experimenting on people they viewed as not fully human, as progressives view human fetuses (apparently), and Charlton Heston screaming Soylent Green is people! Wake up America.

 

At least Café got a nice haircut, and I’m still passing open windows. I wonder what voracious reader will recognize that reference…

© 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD

Part 2 of Worst Date Ever

I had never been to a political rally, although I had seen TV news snippets of such productions. Even then, I had little interest in being immersed in large crowds of enthusiastic and sometimes angry people. Life is not a spectator sport. Still, after Jerry begged me to at least hear what the man had to say, promising that we ‘would not stay long,’ I politely but silently assented. I was raised to believe in the best in people, expecting (and usually finding) that most people are good and kind and decent. But I had also seen the dark side of the human condition and personality, so I agreed to listen with an open mind (while being on guard instinctively).

The speaker was gifted, not by intellectual expertise or a repertoire of success and valuable ideas for America’s future, but rather by (an apparent) adherence to populist ideas that elicited a visceral response from the audience. He was the first politician to offer tax breaks and other perks to big businesses if they would move their facilities to his state, a rather successful effort to bribe companies to offer employment to locals and one that is still used today. He also wanted to increase Social Security and Medicare benefits to the elderly while ending foreign aid and getting out of the Vietnam quagmire.

Many of this man’s ideas were reasonable and quite in line with the Democratic Party of the day. In the 1968 election, however, this staunch Democrat chose to run in the American Independent Party, thus splintering the Democratic votes irreparably, allowing Nixon to become President. I still wonder how different things might have been had a Democrat won. The 1968 campaign was probably the most chaotic election season ever in the most chaotic year ever (arguably).

One would think that a man who suggested populist ideas that appealed to the average working American would be perfect, but, alas, this Southern Democrat had sold his soul to the devil in his hot pursuit of political fame and fortune. When President John F Kennedy had ordered the desegregation of all schools, the Governor of Alabama blocked the school house doors, vowing this law would never be enforced in HIS schools. Early in his career he had discovered that he could only beat his opponents, who were supported heavily by the Ku Klux Klan, if he were to ‘join them.’ He became the horrible icon of racism and race hatred.

That was why the Democratic Party eventually dropped him and that is why I had no interest in attending a rally for him. As a Christian, I was raised to believe that we are all God’s children, regardless of race or creed, and in my family, this man’s name was spat out when he was spoken about at all. He was the worst of bigots, for he had political and legal power over his victims and he used invective, stereotyping, and fear to excite the mob of poor white men seeking a scapegoat for their problems. His rallies often attracted loud protestors and violence (another reason NOT to see him).

I remember the separate restrooms and drinking fountains, one for whites and the other for blacks, which were ubiquitous in the 50s and 60s, even in Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (my hometown). It was a shameful time in our country, when people of color were treated as less than human. The town I grew up in had been named by a national magazine as “One of the 24 Nice Places to Live,” and it was. I only learned the true meaning of that idea in high school when I discovered that realtors and those with rental properties had an unwritten law not to sell or rent to blacks. Imagine that, in the 20th century!

To add gasoline to these confrontations, other tragedies that year electrified the very air with fear and hatred. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that my entire world view changed with the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963. How different the world, and America, would be if not for the nut job Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed the hope of many of us that day in November. Just 5 years later, and still in shock over that tragedy, we faced new ones—Dr Martin Luther King, Jr was shot down in the Spring, and in June of that year, Democratic candidate Robert F Kennedy was likewise assassinated!

What a loss to our country. How sad and shameful and depressing. How can one go on believing in the American dream when the best and brightest of us, who offered hope to all, were slaughtered like the American buffalo? The death of the buffalo was a deliberate effort by the government to commit genocide on Native Americans. The death of men like John and Robert Kennedy and Dr King came close to destroying all Americans. These senseless murders put us in the hands of men like Nixon who hated the people he was meant to serve, who played politics with boys’ lives in ‘Nam, who encouraged the wholesale slaughter of unarmed college students whose crime was objecting to an unconstitutional war.

So, that night in 1968 was, for me, filled with fear and confusion. I was in danger; America itself was in danger. The people who claimed to know what was right, who wanted to lead us to a better tomorrow, ostensibly, could not agree on even the simplest of principles. How, then, could we find the right path, surrounded by lots of rhetoric, hyperbole, and invective? Even knowing what is right does not guarantee that one will do right. Sometimes, knowing what is absolutely the wrong thing can spur us to head in the opposite direction. Sometimes, a bad example is more effective. That’s what I heard that dark night in Akron—the worst example ever offered to the American people.

I had reason to be concerned. I did not want to listen to this hateful man spewing his hate-filled threats, his twisted view of America. I also did not want to witness what I knew would follow his words. The Armory seemed to bulge at its seams, as countless numbers of mostly white working-class men filled the auditorium to hear their new-found spokesman. Lots of talk, laughter, then whispers, followed by loud, angry cries when a small group of black men in suits entered the room, attempting to listen to the speech. Suddenly, small Confederate flags appeared, waving rapidly, as the crowd, emboldened by the polite silence of the ‘intruders,’ began flinging insults and threats of physical violence.

What I feared most of all began to emerge—a lynch-mob mentality, as armed security guards surrounded the young black men and attempted to remove them. Terrible words were exchanged by the speaker and these visitors. The crowd of mostly men, all white, began stamping their feet and yelling for blood. If not for the speaker’s next words, I think these regular guys would have shed blood that night. Horrified, I begged Jerry to take me out of there. I was more afraid for the black men down below, the only men in suits that night (except for the speaker), but I was also afraid for my own safety.

I have never seen a speaker so charismatic that he could actually convince the angry mob to calm down and allow the visitors to leave unmolested. They hung on his words like bees clinging to flower blooms. I couldn’t believe it; it was as if they had all been hypnotized by this man (or mesmerized, as the 19th century folks would have called it). With a few sentences, he commanded everyone to be calm, to be quiet, and to let those people go IN PEACE. I was astounded; the crowd, over-awed, performed like hungry seals, sitting down, ceasing the horrific racist rants and threats, calming, and waiting for this enigmatic ‘leader’ to tell them what to believe, how to behave.

It was the spookiest episode of my young life, watching this short, pudgy, badly dressed race bully calmly instruct his armed guards to escort the young black men out of the auditorium, at the same time convincing the angry crowd NOT to be angry, NOT to act with violence. We didn’t stay to hear his prepared speech, for I had witnessed a mind-boggling performance and wanted no more of it. I grabbed Jerry’s forearm with a strength born of fear and anguish and told him to ‘get me out of here, NOW!’ or face my father’s wrath when I told him about this date from hell.

I had learned too much about my so-called boyfriend that night, and also, perhaps, too much about the desperation of working men who had no clue about right and wrong, good and evil. They hated the scapegoat created by smug politicians intent on their own power and willingly gave up any claim to humanity that night. I was relieved that the speaker had stopped the potential violence that night, but I had no illusions about the reason he did that.

That was my last date with Jerry.

[The Democrat turned Independent running for president in 1968, the man who enthralled the crowd in the same creepy way that Hitler used to do in Nazi Germany, was George Wallace. He lost the election. Four years later, he was paralyzed after being shot by another nut job. He later recanted his racist views, claiming to have been ‘born again,’ and apologizing to the black people of America for what he had said and had done against them.]

© 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD

Worst Date Ever

Worst Date Ever

When I was young and optimistic foolish, I dated a bit. Not as much, probably, as my contemporaries, since I had work and school obligations, but in hindsight perhaps too much for me. I was too trusting and too naive, really, so I now marvel at my survival of those crazy times. Many people were drinking too much and doing drugs, having sex with strangers, throwing their youth if not their lives away for a short-term thrill. Not so for me. I remember the 60s because I didn’t do those things. After a few close calls, I realized that even moderate drinking could put me in danger from seemingly innocuous friends, and I stayed away from drugs because they were illegal and I had no interest in being out of control. Those choices made it easier for me to avoid casual sex, as I’ve always believed you have to be in love to engage in sexual activity. I realize how prosaic and old-fashioned that sounds, but they were different times and I was raised that way.

As happens, though, despite my best efforts, and no matter how ‘nice’ my dates seemed, occasionally I found myself in precarious circumstances. I was dating a young man who had been in the army who was pursuing a college degree; his brother was married to my cousin, who encouraged this ‘match.’ We had a number of dates, most of which were to varying degrees disastrous, but he was a sweet boy who just didn’t have a clue. I learned during this time how immature, how undisciplined he was, and it was not long before I discovered he had more serious faults.

One Friday night, I had obtained tickets to a ‘Poe Fest’ at the Kent State University movie theater, which had a mandatory time frame—if you were late, you didn’t get in. Their reasoning for this arbitrary rule escapes me, but it was engraved in granite. Naturally, as with every other date we had, Jerry (I think this was his name, but my cerebral cobwebs hang rather heavily in this part of my memory bank) arrived late, with no explanation but numerous excuses. It was winter and I was wearing my white go-go boots (!) and my new fluffy-white winter coat, a necessity in his older, clunky car. I soon found that, despite its mechanical schizophrenia, Jerry loved that car more than anything. As we sped the 10 miles to Kent, we talked of nothing and nonsense, until Jerry heard a noise undetectable by humans.

He stopped the car, got out to look at the road from whence we had come, mumbling something. I sat in wonderment, as he began speaking of a (purely imaginary) problem with his car. We pulled into a service station. In those days, gas stations had attendants who pumped your gas for you, checked your oil and other things under your hood, washed your windshields, all for the price of your gas!– minimum wage was about $1 or $1.25 an hour and you could fill your tank for about $3.00. He asked the attendant to put the car up on the rack to check ‘something.’ So, here we were, me in my white go-go boots and fluffy-white coat and he in his casual slacks and grimy hands, as he tinkered with an exhaust pipe with more holes than Baby Swiss cheese and hanging by gossamer. He and the obliging service guy used wires and (I think) bubblegum to affix the pipe to the car in hopes we could continue with this amazing date and, at least, get home safely.

That ‘essential’ mission completed, and suddenly realizing that we were really late now (as if we hadn’t been late before he began his exhaustive tinkering), Jerry attempted racing through downtown Kent. On a Friday night, downtown Kent was comatose, except for the clubs where kids could dance to loud music and drink 3.2 beer, so we had little traffic with which to contend. Despite this, Jerry managed to time his efforts in perfect sync with the 5 or 6 trains zooming through the country town at that moment. Perfect in the sense that we hit every flashing light and crossing bar! At one point, he thought to jam the accelerator to beat an oncoming train (going around the crossing bar) and we became caught on the tracks on the wrong side of the bar. Cars up ahead and behind had stopped dutifully at their signals, blocking us in, at the mercy of an oncoming train. Screaming!

At the last minute (in movie-thrill fashion), the cars behind us backed up the street so that we were able to back onto the right side of the barrier, escaping the imminent squashing. It was at this point I remember thinking, this date is not going as planned. Nevertheless, ever hopeful, we arrived on campus, parked the car of Jerry’s dreams and my nightmares, and, running through the snow and ice, we arrived just in time—to have the door slammed in our faces! We were, perhaps, 30 seconds too late, but the attendants refused to admit us, refused to hear Jerry’s lame (-brained) excuses. And yet, that was not the worst date ever.

Youth is forgiving, youth is trusting, youth is dangerous. My last date with Jerry was even more exciting than the movie thrill ride, and that is why it was my last date with Jerry.

As in previous attempts, our date began with his late arrival. We were to go bowling at North Lanes and grab a pizza at Leone’s, and I was looking forward to a ‘normal’ date, since the bowling alley didn’t have mandatory arrival times and Leone’s was open to the wee hours. Before my back problems, I loved bowling; now I bowl on my phone. Leone’s had the best pizza in Cuyahoga Falls, maybe in the world, with home-made provolone and mozzarella so thick you practically needed a machete to cut it and pepperoni from Mama Leone’s special recipe, too. (It was never the same after the kitchen fire destroyed Mama Leone’s aged, grease-soaked oven).

I noticed immediately, however, that we were heading south on State Route 8 instead of north, so I suggested that Jerry was turned around. Oddly, men and boys hate it when you point out their mistakes, even more than they hate it when you beat them at games (I was a bit of a pool shark)! He wasn’t angry, though, he just chuckled a bit and told me to relax because he was taking me ‘somewhere special’ instead of bowling. I’m a simple girl with simple tastes, so I would have been happy with our original date idea. Finally, driving through the dark streets of Akron, we arrived at the Armory where we would, he assured me, attend a special speech. It was 1968 and a man Jerry admired and who was running for president was meeting with constituents and speaking of his plans for America.

We had seats in the over-crowded balcony; there were more attendees here than I had seen at a rock concert. Lots of men, a few women, lots of talking, gesticulating, flag-waving. Later, when he spoke to the massive crowd, the speaker enthralled the audience. They hung on his every word, cheering loudly and jumping up to clap repeatedly. I have never seen anyone control a crowd in that way. I never want to see anyone control a crowd that way. It was the most frightening thing I had ever seen. The stage and the speaker were surrounded by large, well-armed security guards and the erstwhile ushers were likewise armed and threatening by their very presence.

Why was this man so afraid of a public spectacle he had planned? Why were rumors flying about uninvited guests and trouble brewing for this eloquent speaker? What had my ‘boyfriend’ gotten me into? Why did the oxygen seem to go out of the over-crowded auditorium, now smelling of sweat, anger, and despair?

————–to be continued———————-

© 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD