The Mouth of Truth.

I’m going to tell you how the world ends, but you’re going to have to listen carefully. Really carefully, because it’s an almost imperceptible whimper, and if you blink, or sneeze, or think you know what you’re talking about, or the way the world is, or what America stands for, you’ll not only not miss it, you won’t even know it happened until it’s way too late. Believe me. So chuck out your pre-conceived notions about justice, and headline vigilantism, and forget all the John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies you’ve ever seen, because they're just hondo dick-measuring, Hollywood style, and put your ego and arrogance back in your pants for good and ever. Ready?

This is just a hypothetical of course. Let's say you’re Ken, like the doll: a middle age capon/father of three, with a pretty straight take on life. Your oldest, Elaine, is a senior in high school. She’s the typical first-born – a head-strong golden girl. Very smart, but a bit of a mean person. Ryan, your son, is the second child – he’s high in agreeableness, artistic, fun and funny. Morgan is the youngest, and a charming, spoiled little salmon fishcake. That said, she’s an old soul, and always has been.

Your wife, Debbie, does and says all the right things, and is a fairly high up executive at a major publishing house. She’s so important, she doesn’t even return your phone calls. Kidding. Almost. You’ve basically been the stay-at-home dad since Debbie commutes to New York every day, and has been doing so for 15 years, and you work out of a home office. The kids don’t need you now, and Debbie has become more and more resentful that you’re having all the fun. Forget the 10,000 diapers. The fact that you didn’t sleep for 7 years. That child-rearing is the annulment of ego and ambition – a sometime soul-crushing grind of seeming futility and definite futility. She files for divorce, of course, because you’ve been mooching long enough, haven’t you? You think that’s the worst thing for the kids, but to minimize the disruption and drama and keep things as normal as possible you ask her to move out and let you stay in the house with them. She says she’d rather burn it down than leave you in it with the kids, quote unquote.

The divorce is now in the hands of the professionals. Do you know anything about divorce lawyers? I do. Let’s just say, in my experience, every cliché, every joke, and every insult you’ve ever heard about them is not only justified and warranted, but probably falls short of the mendacity and cowardice they actually represent and incarnate, by an order of magnitude. They disprove Hanlon’s Razor magnificently, if you think about it for more than 2 seconds. Anyway, you’re trying to maintain as much semblance of normality as possible, but the atmosphere in your home is grim and numb. The kids soldier on as best they can, but the manifest pathology and dysfunction is a Nietzschean nightmare come to life. Sidebar joke: I heard they’re going to introduce a "Divorce Barbie" – she comes with all of Ken’s things.

One normal weekday night you’re watching Roman Holiday in your office and you get a call around eight o’clock from Mrs. Connelly, Elaine’s best friend Caroline’s mother, who you know only slightly. She’s upset because Elaine’s driving Caroline to school every day, which is against the law since Elaine has a restricted license, and could you make sure she doesn’t do it anymore? You tell her you’ll talk to Elaine, but that she should also talk to Caroline too since it takes two to tango, dunnit?

So when Elaine comes home from the mall with her mother, you tell her about the phone call and say that she’s not to pick up Caroline anymore, since her mother doesn’t want it, and it’s against the law, and you didn’t know she was doing it or you would have told her to stop doing it yourself. Elaine tells you you’re a tyrant and an asshole and to go fuck yourself, she can drive whoever she wants. You tell her that you’ll call Mr. Connelly and he’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again because it’s against the law and she’s not going to break the law with impunity while she’s living in your house and driving your vehicle. Elaine turns livid and starts screaming and attacking you. Her mother says she’s going to call 911 and you ask her to please put the phone down. Elaine screams for a while, but finally calms down, and you don’t resolve anything, but the tempest has passed.

Elaine remains adamant and her mother backs her up, so you go back to your office and your movie – meet force with passivity as the Aikido Masters teach. You’re thinking since you can’t prevent it, you might just say to Elaine that if she does get stopped and either gets fined or has her license suspended, then she’s going to pay it herself and/or not drive for six months or whatever the suspension is. You think that’s fair enough – personal responsibility is a great lesson in life. As far as the name calling, well, she knows it’s the lowest form of argument, even below ad hominem attacks, and not worthy of her. You don’t have to tell her that.

Princess Anna, whoozy from the medication she’d been given by the doctor after she had a bit of a hissy fit ends up, eventually, in newspaperman Joe Bradley’s apartment. She realizes, vaguely, the situation, and she tells him “This is very unusual. I’ve never been alone with a man before even with my dress on. With my dress off it’s most unusual. Hmmp. I don’t seem to mind. Do you?” She asks him to help her get undressed. Joe looks at her and tells her he’s going out for a cup of coffee. She asks him: “Do you know my favorite poem? ‘Arethusa arose. From her couch of snows. In the Acroceraunian mountains.’" She looks at him and smiles. "Keats.” “Shelley,” Joe says. “You just keep your mind off the poetry and put on the pajamas.” “Keats,” Anna replies. “It’s Shelley, and I’ll be back in about ten minutes.” It’s such a charming scene, and Audrey Hepburn couldn’t be more ludic and lovely. Gregory Peck is a man, and a gentleman, and Man, O' Manischewitz handsome!

Did you see it? No, not the movie. The end of the world. I knew you weren’t paying attention.

You hear the doorbell ring, and it’s either Kelley or Thomas coming over like they do every night to hang with Elaine and Ryan. You love having kids come and go, and the sound of laughter in the kitchen is heartwarming and affirming. You might even ask them to come in and watch the movie with you. Your nickname around town is Coach K, because you coached Parks & Rec basketball when Ryan was in 7th grade. Not that you wanted to, or even knew anything about coaching, but you were the only 7th grade parent who showed up for the first meeting, so you  were voted in, even though you didn’t even vote for yourself. You were the red team, so you called yourselves the “Commies”, and it was such a blast.

You started with the basics, first day, just like Coach Wooden: here’s how you tie your shoes. What? You told the team that unless their feet were happy they couldn’t play to their fullest potential, since you played basketball with your feet. Anyone who came to practice late ran laps. Anyone who talked while you were talking did pushups. Anyone who missed a practice didn’t play in the game that week. Everyone complained, but deep down they really liked the discipline and respect, both ways. One of the kids came up to you at a school function years later and asked “Remember me?” You say yes, you’re Peter Marino. Peter Marino was the best player by far; in fact he should have been on the freshman team, even as a 7th grader, but had injured his ankle so he was only allowed to play Parks & Rec. He didn’t take it seriously because he thought he was too good for it, so he was always late and constantly mouthing off. “I really miss Parks & Rec, Coach K.” “You do?” you say. “Then why don’t you just get down and do some pushups – it’ll bring you right back...”

But it isn’t Kelley or Thomas, it’s the police, Morgan says, as she peeks in your office. They want to see you, dad. See me? What for? You don’t know. So you go out into the kitchen and there are two officers, one you’ve known since he was a teenager – he used to hang out with his brother at the video store you used to rent movies from years and years ago. The conversation goes something like this: Aren’t you Heibert, Mike’s kid, you ask. Yes, I am. You know the other officer because someone in the neighborhood had shot a BB gun and put several holes in your garage door windows a while back, and he was the one who responded to the call. A paisano from Danbury. Why are you gentlemen here? Did you hang up the phone when your wife tried to make a 911 call? they ask. What? No. I told her we didn’t need to get the police involved, and said she should hang up. Did you grab the phone from her? No, I just asked her to please put the phone down, and she ended the call herself, if she even made one. I never touched her or her phone. We worked everything out ourselves and didn’t need to bother you guys with our dirty laundry.

According to Connecticut State law 53a-183b it’s a misdemeanor to interfere with a 911 call, so we’re going to have to arrest you, says Heibert. What? Yes, and we have no discretion. But I didn’t interfere with the call: I asked her to please put the phone down, and that was it. I didn’t raise my voice or anything. We have two sworn statements that you did interfere, and we have to arrest you. Are you kidding me? No, we’re not kidding.

You write out your witness statement while they fill out the paperwork. They ask you several questions, one of which is: do you have any firearms? You say, yes, I do, but they’re not here. You had moved them out of the house after she filed for divorce, just in case. Heibert says: We have to confiscate them. You’re like, what? Yes, it’s the law. You say – on the accusation of a misdemeanor you can take away my second amendment rights? Not even after a conviction, which I could understand, but on an accusation? They could, and did. You looked it up afterwards; it’s the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, often called the “Lautenberg Amendment” (for obvious reasons) to the Gun Control Act of 1968, and they absolutely have the right to do it.

Off you go in the squad car to your friend Paul’s house – by now it’s midnight – and knock on the door. The police take your two shotguns from him, as well as all your ammunition. And then you go to your friend Jeff’s house, now about 2 am, and knock on his door, and get your pistol. Sorry, man. The cops aren’t going to take you to jail because Debbie and Elaine said they’d go sleep at their friend’s house, but Ryan didn’t know that. When you finally get back home around 4 am, you can see all windows are smashed out in the dining and living room. Ryan is sitting in the kitchen smoking a cigarette, crying, with both hands bandaged and bloody, cradling his unhappy face. I thought they were taking you to jail is all he said. Your heart breaks as you sit down with him and sob together for a long time.

At nine the next morning you have your preliminary hearing at the County Courthouse, and let me tell you something else you may not know and save you the trouble of finding out the hard way: criminal court on a Wednesday morning in Nowheresville, Connecticut is not your peeps, if you know what I  mean. Seriously, the only reason you are treated so well is because everyone thinks you’re a lawyer. Your actual lawyer, who was a friend of a friend that you called in the middle of the night out of desperation, comes up to you in the hallway and says you must be Ken. You say yes, nice to meet you, Dave, and thanks for coming. He asks who your wife is. You point her out. He asks you if you know who she is with. You say you don’t. He says that’s Mike Sanford, the famous lawyer whose nickname is “Divorce by 911.” Dave tells you you’re fucked. You realize the whole thing last night was a set-up – betrayal is the ninth and lowest circle of hell for good reason – Dante got that exactly right. She had this all planned out. Dave goes into the D.A.’s office and gets the paperwork. He comes back and says you’re not just fucked, but you’re really fucked: your wife’s lawyer had the charge upgraded, so-to-speak, to a felony – willfully interfering with a 911 call.  You sit down and wait for your turn on the docket, which takes hours. You feel like you’re on death row.

It’s one of the most miserable places you’ve ever been in, and you were in the Army. I’ll help paint the picture for you: there was a coin-operated phone in the hallway by the men’s room. A pay phone for crying out loud – a Hitchcockian mcguffin that’s too perfect for even you to make up. The graffiti in block letters scrawled above the urinal announced, and you even took a picture of it in case no one believed you: “I GIVE GOD BLOW JOBS” followed by a phone number. Jesus H. Christ – is that what writer's hell is – full of typos?

Seriously, have you ever stood before a judge who was about to decide your immediate fate? Who was going to tell you which exit you were going to leave his courtroom by, and you would be compelled to take either door number one or door number two on the wig-wag of his finger? Yes? Then skip the agony and disgust I’m about to describe in this paragraph – you already know what it’s like. Actually, I’m not going to go into any details because you didn’t, weren’t able, and weren’t allowed to say a word, except “Yes, your Honor” right at the end, and it was all too sudden and too surreal for you to weep or curse, like looking at an old Perry Mason re-run, with the spherical aberration at the edges of a crappy black and white 1960s tv distorting everything, including the sound. Who are they talking about? Huh? What? It’s certainly not you. The lawyers go back and forth with the judge, and the next thing you know you’ve got a protective order against you, and can go back to the house one time, right then, with a police escort, to gather your things. If you violate any of the terms of this order you will be arrested immediately and sent to jail. Do you understand that, asks the man in the black robe?

You’re escorted back to your house, and you pack your underwear and toothbrush with the cops watching over you – they literally aren’t allowed to let you out of their sight – and you are, come to find out, never permitted to go back into your own home again. Ever. She gets primary residence and custody of the kids, because you are a threatening and abusive POS. You’re ordered by the court to attend violence counseling as part of your “rehabilitation.”

Ever by any chance attend one of these group meetings? That was a rhetorical question of course. And Child Services opens a case file on you – which is a pretty chilling thing, especially if you’ve never been “in the system” before, and even more especially in a gawdawful place like Ghettoport, CT. I hope you never are. I pray you never are, because in my experience there are two kinds of people in this world – those who have been prosecuted and those who haven’t been. Actually, there are three types – those who have, those who haven’t, and those who haven’t but think they know what it’d be like because they watched Law & Order or some Netflix courtroom drama that’s nothing but pure sewerage. I guess the silver lining is I’ll never complain about the DMV again. The court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the children because, again, you are  scum, a dangerous bag of garbaggio. All you need to know about the GAL, let’s call her Courtney, is that she went to Harvard.

Dear Readers, you’re probably thinking: that’s not right, it can’t be right. There must be more to it than that. They can’t do that here in our country anyway – didn't the Soviets lose the war? You must have been able to say something, or tell your side of the story, or plead for your children, or prove your innocence. Or something. You used to think that too. But the problem isn’t you, or your now ex-wife, or East Treestump Criminal Court, or Judge John or Judy Smith. The lawyers and the police aren’t to blame either. And the truth, I’m sorry to say, is almost irrelevant most of the time. No, I’m not cynical or defeated, and I’m certainly not dead yet. But the facts of the “crime” don’t really matter – what matters is the procedure, the protocol, the paperwork – because the more laws the less justice as Socrates said, and that’s the only truth in the courtroom, or in most of America today.

I’ll tell you what the real problem is: an opaque, unaccountable, and corrupt bureaucracy in the hands of a woman scorned, or a group aggrieved, or a madcap movement mobilized, teamed with clusters of pencil-pushers and banal Eichmanns, “just doing their jobs,” and a happy horde of lawyers backslapping each other at the trough, gorged on some puny person’s resentful and bitter dime, forging a monstrous behemoth that, under the anodyne-sounding purpose of “doing what’s best for the (in this case) children” has destroyed the underlying fabric of this once-great nation.

Silently, and maybe with the best of intentions, i.e. self-preservation, or a visionary utopia, but utterly and everywhere chilling and total – a pathological dysfunction, fueled by a sense of moral superiority and therefore callousness, and with zero tolerance, becomes irreversible and ultimately, criminally indifferent, cruel, and deadly.

August 11, 2019 — Johnny Mustard