A Short Drive to Crazy

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Sometimes people come into our lives to help us, and sometimes they come to drive us crazy. I was the latter for my ex-husband, Alec. They say opposites attract, but there is such as thing as too opposite. We met at a family wedding which I was pressured by family to attend and to miss the Yippie’s March on Washington to protest the candidacy of Richard Nixon. I was to march with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin dressed as Betsy Ross, and I was disappointed I hadn’t gone. I wore my flannel cowboy pajamas, a long faux fur coat, and cowboy boots. My hair was long and crazy curly. Alec was dressed in a beautifully hand-tailored suit from Italy. We should have known better!

The first two years of our marriage were spent in the Army. He had been in ROTC and served two years as a lieutenant and I served two years in purgatory. The first year was at Fort Eustis in Virginia where the guys in Alec’s office on base nominated me as “Mrs. Lieutenant of the year” as a joke. The second year was at the Tooele Army Depot, a storage facility for nerve gas in the salt flats of Utah. I couldn’t find a job there because I was not a Mormon, so I concentrated on making Alec’s life miserable.

I was too weird for the other military wives on the small circle we lived on, and I would look up from a book to see them sneaking a peek into the living room window. We had no tv and they were dying to find out how I spent my time. We had our Old English Sheepdog shaved for the summer and they came en masse to demand I put pants on the dog to “cover his ballies.” And my only friends were the crazy dentist stationed there and an enlisted man who had recently graduated from Cornell with whom we were forbidden to “fraternize.”

Most nights we would invite both men to our hovel for dinner and we would sit around drinking cheap wine and getting silly. One night we had been at it for hours when the phone rang. Alec was “Staff Duty Officer,”which meant that even though he was a lowly lieutenant, he was in charge of the huge (but sparsely populated for good reason…nerve gas) base that night. He answered the phone casually, but visibly sobered up and said, “Yes, sir!” motioning for us to quiet down.

We stifled guffaws and began mimicking him as he looked more and more scared and was waving his hands wildly to get us to shut up. “Yes, sir. Yes, sir! I understand,” he choked out, sitting up straight on the kitchen chair. When he hung up he wiped his forehead with the dinner napkin and gave us dirty looks.

“That was Sixth Army, you idiots!  They called to alert everyone in their command that there was going to be an attack on one or more Sixth Army posts tonight!  And I am in charge of this base tonight! This is Top Secret, you guys. It’s for real.”

That got our attention! But who was going to find this base in the middle of BFE, and who was attacking US bases? The answer was The Weathermen, a leftwing anti-war group based in New York led by a friend of mine, Bernadine Dorn. “That’s ridiculous!” I said. “There is no way they would attack this base. It’s too out of the way and hard to find.”

Vic and Michael joined in and agreed that if there were to be an attack, it would certainly be at a more high-profile base. Alec would not be reassured, though, he was petrified that there would be an attack and that he would be alone on the front lines fighting off hoards of Hippies with his 22.  He buried his face in his hands on the littered dining room table. Then the phone rang again.

We all quieted down quickly and stared at the phone. We watched Alec pick up the receiver and say Hello. He got ever paler than he had been. He answered with a series of yeses and when he hung up he was silent. “That was the AP” he said. “They wanted to confirm that there was a planned attack on Sixth Army bases tonight.”

“What did you tell them?” we demanded.

“I told them yes. I was too scared to make up a lie!” He had spilled the beans. This attack was Top Secret and he had confirmed it for the press. He was sure that he was in even greater trouble than before because he leaked a secret to the press and that tomorrow’s headline on the Salt Lake newspaper would read, “Felder tells all! An attack is imminent!”

He left the house in a hurry to confess his error to the commanding officer who was surely sound asleep in his big house on base. When he returned he was confronted with a hand-lettered sign I had made and plastered onto the living room window, “Welcome Weathermen!  Free Coffee and Donuts.”

Naturally there was no attack anywhere, Alec didn’t get in trouble for leaking to the press, and he didn’t have to defend the miles of igloos containing nerve gas from an army of Hippies. It took him weeks to recover, however.