A Couple of Unorthodox Love Affairs
I take a significant amount of pride in how organized I can be. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “neat-freak.” I don’t see myself as someone who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. My days aren’t ruined when someone mis-alphabetizes one of my DVDs. I do, however, have a variety of habits that keep my belongings – and more specifically, my life – in order.
So on this particular Tuesday evening, when I forgot my cell phone, wallet, and house key at the office, I was naturally pissed off at myself.
It had been another late night, the clock nearing 8:30 pm when I finally climbed into my Altima and started toward home. I had spent several hours of my day researching salary scales for waste management officials taking into account size of city, years of service, etc. Exhilarating.
A local private company, ReCo, had been allegedly stiffing their employees on benefits for the past couple of years. The employees finally utilized their union privileges to threaten a strike. It became my duty to find evidence that the claims were substantiated so that the workers could stay on the job. I had to build a case that would hold up against the powers-that-be and force them, at the very least, into a settlement. The last thing anyone wants is a garbage strike – piles of trash and other shit covering the sidewalks of southern California. Lord knows people wouldn’t take it upon themselves to dispose of their waste in a responsible manner. After all, it’s only our goddamn planet.
After working for nearly ten straight hours on actual work, even asking my secretary to hold all of my calls from about three o’clock on for the sake of privacy, I did not become aware of having left anything at work until I was already a few minutes from my house.
All I wanted at that moment was to crawl into bed and fall into a deep slumber. Nothing sounded better than solid, refreshing, uninterrupted sleep. However, there was no way I would be able to fall asleep right now. The anal retentive side of my mind was far too irritated to sleep with this lack of responsibility on my conscience, so I had no other choice but to return to the office to retrieve my personal belongings.
Once back at the office, I couldn’t help but navigate my web browser to Google to fulfill a burning curiosity: how many people did Ted Kaczynski actually kill?
I had been listening to a replay of KWBP’s morning programming while driving, and the deejays were doing one of those idiotic prank call segments to a flower place or something. They laughed moronically at everything the other one said. These guys were acting as though they were Abbott and Costello, instead of two immature schmucks who were inexplicably given microphones connecting them to the public radio waves.
The only thing that kept me from changing stations was a morbid curiosity as to how horrendously stupid the comments could possibly become. Each passing remark seemed to trump the previous – in every conceivable unbelievably obtuse way.
Never underestimate the limits of human stupidity mixed with unwarranted self-confidence.
When the receptionist at the flower shop finally had had enough and disconnected the phone line, the two imbeciles – after hooting and chortling unnecessarily for the next minute and a half – began to discuss the “danger” inherent in their prank calling forays. How courageous they must have felt.
“What if the person we called didn’t have any sense of humor? What if she was certifiably insane, like a serial killer, and wanted to kill us because of that call?” said the first deejay.
“We may have just created the next Theodore Kaczynski,” replied the other, inanely.
This did get me thinking, though. Perhaps it was not horribly inaccurate to classify Kaczynski as a sort of serial killer. He certainly had a well-defined modus operandi. So established was his method, in fact, that his birth name almost became a superfluous detail in his biography, replaced by his FBI handle: the Unabomber. However, despite the fact that he had a distinct means of destruction, much of his ire was narrowly directed and driven solely by his mission to eradicate supporters of technology.
Kaczynski was more or less a neo-Luddite. He believed that technology was bringing about the downfall of society in many different ways, and made it his personal mission to make universities and airlines aware of his opinions, to say the least.
No one is quite sure when his outlook turned from disapproval to downright indignation; however, his first known act of violence occurred after construction crews began various development endeavors in the wilderness around his Montana home. Now, in Kaczynski’s defense, he did decide to move all the way out to Montana as a sort of informal truce with the industrial world. He tried to become entirely self-sufficient, to leave the world of machinery and gadgets alone. He felt it was a statement of sorts that needed only to meet his own approval.
There is no way to stunt progress, though – we all know that. So the companies ultimately forced his hand. And he was not bluffing.
The first bombing attack came via a mail delivery to Northwestern University. The bomb device, which merely injured the campus police officer who ultimately opened the package, was clearly homemade with handcrafted wood pipe ends. One thing is for sure: Kaczynski practiced what he preached. It would have been all-too-easy for him to drive to a hardware store, a Target Superstore, or any of the other new establishments in his Montana neighborhood, and build a more sophisticated explosive with battery-operated and metal components to maintain a higher level of pressure. This would have been embracing technology, though. The Unabomber was sticking to his guns, figuratively speaking.
He gradually improved his skill, ingenuity, and efficiency in the art of blowing shit up and finally caused his first fatality in 1985. Unsatisfied with a mere “message” being sent, Kaczynski continued his efforts for roughly another decade.
He sent a copy of his 35,000-word essay titled Industrial Society and Its Future – informally known as the “Unabomber Manifesto” – to many editors of major publications demanding that the work be published verbatim in order for him to put an end to his attacks. It would have been interesting to see if he was truly honest in his dealings with these editors, as the situation never developed thoroughly enough to know for certain. Kaczynski’s writing style was identified and, ultimately, the “Manifesto” became his downfall.
Kaczynski was arrested in 1996, after an illustrious 18-year venture into domestic terrorism. Reading about Kaczynski made it abundantly clear that he was a terrorist before anything else – one who engineered his own demise through oversight.
All in all, Kaczynski was responsible for injuring twenty-three people and killing three others. Hardly a serial killer.
I yawned and closed the Internet window on my work computer, pocketing my personals and shutting off my monitor so that I could finally return home.
This drive home was pleasant. The roads were empty, not another car in sight. I kept the radio at a low murmur – white noise – and rolled the windows down, enjoying the soft whisper of the passing wind outside the driver’s side window. The brisk air that filled my car was refreshing, peaceful. Breathing came easily. I think I was smiling automatically, unintentionally.
For the first time in a long time, I felt a sort of equilibrium. Each and every day, we all have so many circumstances, situations, dilemmas – if you will – that create imbalances in the delicate scale that is our state-of-mind. My scale regularly felt overwhelmingly one-sided, largely due to my mind’s inability to “shut off.” This drive home, though, was serving as a temporary antidote. It’s as though the hum of the engine created a hypnotic sensation that allowed my body to function without any effort or assistance. Sometimes everything just feels wonderful.
As I pulled my car into the garage at my house, I was still experiencing this unexpected, yet thoroughly pleasant, high. I lightly flitted into the house, feeling weightless, and moved gracefully through the kitchen, living room, and hallway – all completely shrouded in darkness – toward my bedroom. Tara was not necessarily a night owl, but it did seem strange that she would already be sleeping. She must have had a long day, too.
I clutched the doorknob to my room gently, so as not to wake my wife, and turned my wrist. Nothing. The door was locked. This was strange.
I considered my options. I could allow her to sleep, plop down on the couch, and pass out there. Or I could knock on the door and get her to let me into my room. Hmm.
Then I analyzed the situation a little more deeply. Tara never locked doors. She was raised in a small-town, Midwestern suburb. She always held the naïve notion that everyone deserved trust. For her to lock the door, there had to be a convincing reason.
Had someone trespassed? I shifted quickly into my protective-mode. I turned on the hallway light, hands tightly balled into fists. I was ready to pounce on anyone who had posed a threat to my wife. I felt the anger build up, starting from my extremities. It overtook my muscles – they tensed. It was a strange mixture of fear, disgust, rage, and reckless abandon. I honestly felt bad for the person who made the mistake of entering my house tonight, because they were going to die if I found them.
As I crept back through the living room and flicked on the corner lamp, I heard the creaking of a door coming from the hallway again. I instinctively turned the lamp back off, and ducked behind the brown leather loveseat. I peered over the back of the seat toward the hall door, waiting for the intruder to come into vision.
Then I heard sniffling. The sniffles were accompanied by soft, familiar whimpers.
“Honey? Phil are you home?”
I switched the lamp back on and stood up slowly, my head tilted in concern.
“What’s wrong Tara?”
“What are you doing hiding behind the couch?” she asked.
“Why are you crying? Was someone in the house?” I said, my voice still slightly shaky from trepidation.
“No,” she replied, her eyes angling toward the ground in front of her. She swallowed and glanced back up to meet my gaze. At that moment, I realized that the tears were not those of fear or sadness, but of sincere concern.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“Yes,” she began. “I was so worried about you, babe. I called your office and they said you were out all afternoon. You weren’t answering your cell phone…” Her voice trailed off.
“Oh, sweetie,” I said, attempting to comfort her. “I had my secretary holding all of my calls. I was so busy today.”
“But if you’re not going to be home until quarter to four in the morning, you could at least call to let me know,” she said. This time her voice was more steady, a little more guilt-inducing intent in her tone.
Wait. I was taken aback by her comment. Quarter to four? What?
I looked at the clock above our television set – she was right. How had so much time passed?
“I didn’t know if you were alive or dead, Phil. I didn’t want to call Bruce because it was so late…”
Tara continued, though my mind had turned off to her soliloquy. I tried to mentally account for the hours that had passed between my departure from work, my return to the office, and my Unabomber research. How had I been so oblivious?
Tara crossed the room and I automatically opened my arms for her. She pressed her body tightly against mine. I wrapped both arms around her securely, kissing the top of her head.
“Don’t scare me like that,” she said.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” I said, surprised at how intensely remorseful the words came out. I was sincerely as sorry as I had intended to sound, but my apologies had a way of always seeming insincere. I was glad that, at this particular moment, my contrite nature appeared as earnest as possible.
At this point, I probably should have just led my wife back to our bedroom and crawled under the covers to hold her for the remainder of the night. That would have been the loving thing to do. That would have comforted her, eased her fragile mind.
Instead, I decided to do something utterly moronic.
I decided to tell her the truth.
“I just lost track of time,” I said. “I had forgotten some things at work, and when I drove back to pick them up a guy on the radio said something about Ted Kaczynski being a serial killer and –”
I felt her body tense up, and this caused me to stop mid-sentence. I did not know how to interpret this sudden shift in the atmosphere. Was the tension caused by anger? Was it simply a coincidence? I figured the best thing to do was to shut my mouth. Men always come to that conclusion a sentence too late.
“Are you serious?” she spit out, her voice coated with disgust. “Ted Kaczynski?”
I tried to decipher her response. Did the anger stem from my failure to return home due to my research? Or was she equally as incensed with the Unabomber’s conduct as the radio deejays from earlier this evening had been?
Furthermore, was her interrogative inflection indicative of her expecting a response? Or was the question rhetorical? She scoffed.
“I can’t talk about this right now,” she mumbled. “I’m exhausted, I haven’t been able to sleep all night, I have been sobbing for hours, I work tomorrow, and your response is ‘Ted Kaczynski.’”
Well, at least that answered my question about her reaction.
She turned away from me with a noticeable amount of frustration.
“I’ll be in bed,” she stated. “Glad you’re alive.”
Shit. My absentmindedness had led to this. If only I had remembered my stuff, I thought.
“Okay, babe,” I called. “I’ll be in there in a split second, I promise.”
I guess this would warrant flowers tomorrow. I did not want this to lead to another argument. Flowers always made her smile, if nothing else. Lately I felt like I had been getting to know the florist near my office pretty well. Not for particularly good reasons. I would call and order them in the morning, send them to her office. No. I’d pick them up on my way home from work, I thought. It would be better to bring them to her in person.
Realistically, after the Ted Kaczynski verbal slip this evening, I doubt she would find any humor in receiving anything by mail. Even flowers.
(This sneak preview will be available until June 24th. Chapter 6 available June 25th!)
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