Divorced from Reality

Occasionally at work I have to deal with the divorced parents of a student.  It’s easily the worst part of my job.  I find I usually want to slap them across the face and shout “snap out of it!” (Yes, just like Cher inMoonstruck, except without having to sleep with them first.)

My job requires equal parts empathy and obduracy.  And while I love a good story as much as the next guy, my job is to keep everyone’s focus on the bottom line.

But on some level, as an observer of human behavior and a sometimes unwilling participant in it,  these interactions and the role I am emboldened by my function and entitled by my office to play in them interest me deeply.

I could, first of all, not do my job at all were it not for the knowledge, hard-won, that most of what we must do in this life is utter nonsense, and yet still it must be done.  Adolescents have real insight into this, and rightly they rebel against it.  That’s what parents are for.  To pick up the slack.  At least up until the age of majority. Best way to get status

You can, of course, keep going with the whole rebel without a cause schtick.  But if you take it too far (and I’ll freely admit I probably did) what you come to realize after years of knocking and being knocked around is, you should probably choose a cause.  You can’t rebel against the whole damn thing.  People who do tend to end up with a lot of tattoos and facial piercings, and facial tattoos, too, and not a lot else to show for it.

Pick a little piece, and maybe in the end, after hammering away for a lifetime, you’ll make a little dent in that little piece.  And if everybody does that, what you’ll have at the end of the day is a lot of dented little pieces.

The world is a lot bigger than you are.  That’s all I’m saying.

One cause probably not to choose is single-handedly destroying capitalism by not paying your bills.

I’ve been broke most my life.  For quite a lot of it I was broke and having lots of sex.  Here, there, everywhere.  From trains to jumbo jets, five-star hotels to underwater caves.  You name it I was there sexing it up.  But let me tell you something about being broke and horny:  it’s not a good combination.  I mean, when your young it’s fine, but later.  You don’t want to end up like that scene in Ironweed. (Forget The Iron Lady, Streep deserved an Oscar for that.)

As bad as broke and horny is — married, broke and horny: way worse.

So it’s no wonder folks divorce.

And then most get on with their lives.  But there are some who never stop holding a grudge.  They feel they were tricked, and they apparently want the whole world to know how stupid they were to mate with the person they did.  That type becomes not just exes but mortal enemies.  And the kids are just collateral damage.

Now that I’m the age of a typical second-time-around divorcee with college-age kids I’ve lost all patience with their shenanigans, especially when they’re at their kids’ expense.

And so it was that today I had it out over the phone with the fiery Italian father of one of our students with a past due balance from last semester.  The student owed almost two grand, no small sum for one of ours.  The kid had been on a monthly payment plan (we’re a small college — we do them in-house) and his mother had paid her half throughout the fall semester.  But dad hadn’t kicked in.

Now, I’m not fooled for one minute.  Mother was not blameless.  We do not have special divorcee monthly pay packages.  The kid’s liable for the whole amount he’s contracted to pay monthly.  But we received a check for exactly half from her more or less every month.  Of course she knew that the other half of the monthly bill was going unpaid.  And she was fine with that, even though ultimately it was the kid who was impacted.

It’s not my job to make separate appeals to the various partied paying the bill.  It’s their job to get their shit together and pay it, come hell or high water, for the good of their kid.  I mean, it’s like paying half of your electric bill every month because you’ve got a roommate you don’t bother to even show the bills to.  And then you act all sanctimonious and self-righteous when the lights go out.  Try explaining to the electric company how it’s not your fault.

Of course it’s your fault.  It’s both your miserable faults.

I’d already told mom the jig was up.  And I wasn’t interested in hearing all about the deadbeat dad.  You married him, I didn’t.  If I was going to take sides it’d be the side of the kid I’d be on.

But taking sides seems to be the sole obsession of some divorcees: to make everyone, even total strangers, choose.  To get people you don’t know who don’t know you to corroborate your opinion of your ex-mate as the biggest douchebag who ever walked the earth.

So now it was dad’s turn.  I never know when I pick up my office phone what kind of treat I’m in for these days.

He was an actual Italian, so the following is no exaggeration.

After the introductions and niceties he’s like: “you knowah how I found out aboutah this billah?  Myah LAWYER!  My exah wife-ah, she no tellah me nothin!”

He’s laughing now, trying to get me to join him.

So how would you like to settle up? I say flatly.

“Nowah, wait a justah minute!” he says, non-plussed.  “Whyah you talkah to me like-ah thatah?  It’sah my exah wifeah—”

I’m like, listen, that’s none of my business, and it has no bearing —

“Wellah, you cannah expectah meah to payah when I never goddah billah!”

I matter-of-factly tell him the past due amount and start to go over payment methods, and before you know it he’s shouting:  “WAIT A MINUTE! WAIT A MINUTE! SHUDDUP A MINUTE!  SHUDDUP ANNAH LISTEN!  SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN!”

It was like that.

I mean, he got so worked up like that that even when I shut the fuck up and listened he kept screaming “SHUDDUP ANNAH LISTEN!  SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN! JUST LISTEN! LISTEN!

And then he’s asking me was he going to have to come down to the school and settle it thatta way.

I was like, I know you didn’t just threaten me.

That made him change his tune (well, kinda).

“Don’t be an asshole!” he exhorted.  “I knowah you noddah asshole!  Whyah you actah like-ah one?  Let’sah be friends, okay?”

Seriously.

And apparently this worked on her.  For a time, at least.

I told him to mail the check and we’d be the best of friends, and would never have to speak again.  That might work for the ex as well, but somehow I doubt it.  Seems like they’re both enjoying it way too much.

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