Thy Neighbor’s Wife

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s … wife, nor his … ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:17

If I couldn’t laugh at my truly squalid roots, I’m pretty sure I’d have taken an early out, by direction or indirection.  My siblings’ path of indirection has been cigarettes and booze, and I was pretty well down that way myself when I found reason to stop, and so I did.  (Nothing supernatural!  Altogether human motives.)  So I insist on my inalienable right – to laugh.  Further, I think playfulness is our highest human good.  Well my old mammy used to say, everyone to his taste, as the old maid said when she kissed the cow.


My own neighbors’ wives have actually been safe, from me at least.  This is really about my brothers’ many wives, and other women who have fitted into the gaps between them.  There is a pathetic, probably tragic, aspect to all this when seen close up – as I have not seen it.  From a distance, there is also humor.  Or perhaps I have a sick mind.  Probably both.  A psychologist would rightly see it as a product of rootlessness: we were kept for several years in a Catholic orphanage, and eventually scattered to the four winds.  And I have often before asked myself why I am different from the others.  I admit that the modest stability I have found may as well be the result of timidity as of any virtue.  I’ve concluded, myself, that I just got a different genetic ensemble from somewhere beyond the horizon.  A neutral observer should decide.  (But there is none, so everyone gets to have her or his own opinion.)

My younger brother Paul had only one woman that I knew of, not his wife, but.  Paul disappeared sometimes for years in a row, but when there was to be a funeral my mother found him a couple of times simply by calling the police station in whatever town he had written from the last time she’d heard from him.  For quite a long time he lived in various small Colorado towns (Cripple Creek’s the one I remember) with an Asian stripper called Sunshine.  He was an alcoholic, an itinerant mural and sign painter.  He died alone in a convalescent home in Kansas, where the locals had corralled him at last, when he no longer had the energy to escape.  He was a sweet man, though, and a gifted liar.

We had been kept in that orphanage for several years until, ironically, the death of my father.  (A surgeon opened him up to get his cancerous prostate – much too late – said “oops” and closed him back up.  He died before he could return from the hospital.)  My sister Alice and oldest brother Dick, aged 15 and 16, having reached the age of discernment, chose (tellingly) to return to the orphanage after the funeral.  My mother, who was certifiably nuts, sent the three younger kids to live with her sister (not a model of rationality in her own right) through that summer, until the court lost interest in finding us.

My sister graduated from high school, found herself an alcoholic postman, and began to drink and breed.  (Alice and Al courted oblivion for years, and found it at last long ago, which I thought a mercy, as I did Paul’s when it came.  Their burden was unbearable, because in addition to the rest, my mother had hated them.  I can only guess why.)  Dick, though, showed promise.  The priest who ran the orphanage sent Dick to Marquette University in Milwaukee, with the understanding that he would next go to seminary, and become a man of the cloth.  Dick, however, had a girlfriend, a townie, back in Freeport, Illinois where the orphanage was located.  They got a baby started, which wrecked the grand plan.  So Dick and Marlene were wed, and began breeding in the Catholic manner, spawning a large brood.

As Marlene grew from a diminutive young thing to XXL, Dick seemed to lose interest in her and began to wander.  The only time I remember Dick and Marlene being with us and my mother together was awkward.  Marlene was clearly ‘way beyond innocence by then, but she feigned it:  “Why, Dicky, wasn’t that the weekend you spent with your mother?”  And Dick, trying to jog my mother’s memory to recall the weekend – which she couldn’t do because it hadn’t happened.  But momma didn’t get it.  Wasn’t it odd:  she couldn’t for the life of her remember that weekend!  Dick would invent incidents.  She couldn’t remember them either.

Now Brother Tom enters the scene.  Three years Dick’s junior, three years older than I.  The rest of us were screwed up, each in our own way, but smart.  He was, is, the dumb one.  (I used to wonder whether Mr. Ryan, Mary Lothian’s paramour down the hall, had gotten into my mommy’s pants while my father was off on a bender, or drying out in the state hospital, or in jail.)  Tom was possessed of the arrogance that usually does accompany vast ignorance.  Barney Fife Junior.  (He still offers me advice, having conveniently forgotten that I might not be fond of him, since he sold me to a predatory pedophile in our youth for a pair of gym shoes.)

Tom had been in the Navy for eight years, and enthusiastic about it.  He had been part of Shore Patrol, which is the Navy’s MP.  I imagined he had liked it because he could probably whack people over the head sometimes with his billy club.  But he had suddenly left the Navy.  As I recall, he had been unfairly treated.  This has happened to him all his life, for some reason.  (My obvious skepticism must all be taken with a grain of salt, though.  Bear in mind that I don’t particularly cherish his kinship.)

As far as I can tell, Tom has always been a male slut.  The reports we have heard, though, have all been jaundiced – from ex-wives, and that.  Anyhow, he went to live with Dick and Marlene, and began to frolic with Marlene while Dick was off being a traveling salesman. Nevertheless, when Dick discovered that Marlene was being pleasured by his brother, he kicked Tom out.  So the boy found his way to Florida, and his next victim, Letty.  More breeding and then, like the Wichita Lineman, he moved on, and on and on.

Until recently, the best story about him also involved someone who was his fellow meter-maid in Stumpahumpka.  I heard about it because he called my mother to get some information for his passport, which he needed because he and his honey were going to London for their honeymoon.  (My mother hypothesized that he was being sent to study at Scotland Yard.  She did live in another world indeed.)

Problem was they had no money, or credit.  So they stole some marketable pot from the sheriff’s locker where state’s evidence was kept.  They spent what might otherwise have been their honeymoon in the clink, and also fell out of love.  (With Tom, this would probably have happened by then anyhow.  He seems to have a limited attention span.)

I have never actually known what he did when he “was in law enforcement.”  I’m guessing he finagled something where he could carry an authentic-looking cap pistol and swing an oversized club from his belt.  Maybe a telecom device and fifty large keys.  And stand on the drugstore corner and tell lies to the teenaged girls.  But his sins found him out and he next became what he called an “electrician.”  Probably another imaginative inflation of his job title.  I dunno.

Time passed, Tom continued in his vocations and avocations, and Dicky got killed by liver cancer.  (By then his third attempt at wifing had clearly taken root.  I suspect that hormone therapy – female – last resort for prostate cancer – had distracted him from his earlier wanderlust.  Makes you a girley-man, you know – as Ahnold liked to say.)  A while ago, Tom decided to go to his high school reunion in Wheaton, Illinois.  He hadn’t graduated, but this didn’t seem to embarrass or deter him.  (Well, I didn’t graduate either, so I suppose I should shut up.  But I’m not going to.  So don’t worry.  I will finish the story, which is a good one.)  It occurred to Tom that since he was so close it might be fun to go see Marlene in Milwaukee, and so he did.

One further aside:  After years in the Florida sun, in “Law Enforcement,” Tom got big-time skin cancer on his nose, so the VA surgeon whacked off part of it and gave him a prosthetic one.  I can’t help it – I picture that Groucho ensemble with the dark spectacle rims, big black moustache, and large nose all in a piece.  Then I try to imagine carrying on with the Lothario routine.  It’s difficult.

Well.  It actually is a short story, so I’ll tell it shortly.  He and Marlene fell in whatever they had fallen in the first time, married this time, and went to Florida to live happily for however long they might reasonably hope to, given Tom’s history.  They called us, and in the course of conversation Marlene said she’d got the Pick of the Litter!  This was not diplomatic.  Maybe she had misplaced the idea that I also was a member of the Litter.  It didn’t offend me, though.  I just thought, “Oh, dear, oh dear, Marlene.  How could you have lived this long and still be so obtuse?”

Obtuse, indeed.  She invited her best friend to Florida for a visit.  Now Marlene is back in Milwaukee, and her BFF occupies the marital cot for the nonce.  We got a Christmas card, signed “Nora.”  Who the hell is Nora? squeak I to Mrs. Mouse.  “Your brother’s wife.”  “Don’t make a record of it,” says I, knowing what I know now; for it’s been a long, long time since I was obtuse.


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