The Not Entirely Complete Works of Peter Schulman

©2004 Peter Schulman

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I Can Explain

"Honey, it’s not what it looks like. I can explain."

Right! That absurd bit of sophistry has been around since before the dawn of recorded history. I’m sure the first chronicled account appeared in a set of drawings on the wall of a cave.

The first picture would have shown the offended mate catching his woman in flagrante delicto, his club over his shoulder. Her hands are up in a gesture that tells him to wait.

"Honey, it’s not what it looks like. I can explain," she would have been saying.

The next picture would show her explanation. The interloper has a bigger club. He has killed more prey and is better able to support her children. That was probably the most powerful justification available at the time.

It is not, however, available to my husband.

I can’t believe after all the crap I’ve had to put up with he does this to me.

He’s a writer. That means he gets to stay home and do God knows what, while I go to work every day to earn the paycheck that pays the bills. Perhaps I overstate it. He does make money writing, sometimes pretty good money. But it’s not consistent, and without my paycheck, our house would belong to the bank.

He’s actually a pretty good writer. I won’t deny that. I’ll even concede that he probably works longer hours to produce his stories and articles than I do to produce an income. But he does some really crazy stuff.

Last August he insisted I come with him on a stakeout.

Who were we staking out? A woman I work with.

Why her?

"Why not her?" he reasoned.

I took a vacation day to go on an adventure with him and where do we wind up? Outside my office, waiting for her to get off of work.

"I could have told you when to show up. She works the same hours as me," I complained

"But she might leave early."

"She never leaves early. We’re sitting out here dripping and thirsty and we could have just showed up at ten to five."

"You have to respect the process," he said, with reverence.

"What process? I know where she’s going - home. I know when she’s leaving - five. What kind of stupid process is this?"

"You start with things you know about the subject, and you watch them to learn what doesn’t fit the pattern; things that can reveal their secrets."

"What if she doesn’t have any secrets?"

"Then that’s what we’ll learn."

"Can you take me home now?" I asked.

"No. We’d lose her. Who knows what information we might miss out on?"

"Yeah. Who knows?"

"Besides, unless I sit out here hour after boring hour, how am I going to be able to accurately describe what it’s like to stake somebody out, to follow them? How else can I find the few moments that might be worth writing about, except to experience it? How else could I realize I should have brought a bottle of water than to recognize I’m so thirsty it hurts? It might never have occurred to me had I just assumed what it would be like."

"I share your pain."

In addition to discovering that she treated herself to a solo dinner at the Italian Restaurant around the corner from her apartment, I did learn one extremely valuable lesson: Before you engage in any important life activity, whether it’s following someone you work with for no earthly reason, taking a certification exam, that big meeting at work or getting married, for God’s sake go to the bathroom first!

It wasn’t until she got to that restaurant and ordered dinner that I could finally get out of the car and waddle with my thighs tightly pressed together to the nearby Taco Bell for relief. I swear when I saw myself in the mirror I looked jaundiced.

That was hardly our only adventure.

One night I was awakened at 3:13 A.M. by the phone. Johnny was not in bed next to me. The phone call explained why. The police had him in custody for being drunk and disorderly. It made no sense. I had never seen him drink to the point where he lost control. That was irrelevant. He needed me to come down to the station to pick him up.

According to the officer, he had no ID with him and it had taken this long for him to sober up enough to tell them who he was and how to contact me. They were kind enough to let him sleep some of it off and be taken home without being charged. His lack of a criminal record had tipped the scales.

As surprising as this was, his explanation on the way home astounded me.

"How could you let yourself get so drunk that the police had to pick you up?"

"I wasn’t that drunk."

They all say that. Was he a closet alcoholic?

"I just did it to get arrested."

"Do I look that stupid?" I asked with considerable annoyance.

"No, really. I had to find out what it was like to get arrested. But even more important, I had to find out what it was like to stay in jail. That’s why I left my wallet home."

I was silent. It wasn’t that I was angry. This was just too bizarre to comprehend. What questions can you ask when he tells you this kind of yarn?

"I also had to pretend to stay drunk for a while because I wanted to know how vulnerable a street drunk is in a cell with real bad guys."

Now I was angry. "Do you have any idea what could have happened to you in there?"

"No. That’s why I had to do it. I’m writing a story."


Those are the kinds of crazy shenanigans I had to put up with. If he weren’t so sweet between episodes I’d have tossed him out long ago.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one to suffer from his misadventures. My family had the "Johnny" experience as well.

We were going to a birthday party for my sister at my folks’ house. He excused himself to run into the house for a quick bathroom trip before we left. When we got there my father came charging out with my mother and brother close behind.

"You’re staying with us," he bellowed. "I’m not going to let you spend another day with that bastard until he gets help." My brother just glowered. My mother looked at Johnny like three-day-old mackerel left spoiling in the summer sun.

"What are you talking about dad?"

"You don’t have to hide it from us Sandy. He called and told us what he did."

Oh no. Not again. "What did he tell you dad?"

"He told us about the fight; how he hit you and you might not be able to come because you might have cracked a rib."

"Johnny, this is too much," I yelled. "You can’t do that to my parents, to my family. This has got to stop."

"I just wanted to see how they would react if they thought I was abusing you. I didn’t know if they would come after me or try to get you away from me or if they would just pretend it didn’t happen unless you decided to discuss it with them."

"You can’t do that to people. It’s cruel."

"Jesus, Johnny, you’re a whack job," said my father. Then he laughed.

Sure, go ahead; encourage the lunatic.

When my father had his heart attack, Johnny visited him at the hospital every day and was constantly over their house helping out. Now he was doing things that could cause a heart attack. He completely baffles me.

If only the craziness had been limited to our family.

One Saturday I was baking brownies. I have a bit of a sweet tooth. The doorbell rang and I went to answer it. I looked through the window and saw the mailman.

"Certified letter ma’am. I need a signature."

When I opened the door, he pushed his way in, gun drawn and was followed by nearly a dozen other men in blue FBI windbreakers with yellow lettering. They had automatic weapons and rushed through the house looking for Johnny. The mailman put his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t cry out. I was terrified.

When the agents returned, my husband was in handcuffs. They sat him down on the couch in the living room while other agents could be heard rooting around the house.

"What the hell is going on here?" I asked of no one in particular.

"You don’t know anything about this, ma’am?" asked the mailman.

"Anything about what?"

He didn’t answer.

After a time, the remaining agents returned to the living room with our computer. One of them spoke. "We didn’t find any bomb-making paraphernalia or components, sir."

"Bomb making?" It was nearly a shout. "Why the hell would you think he was making a bomb?" I asked.

"He took some books out of the library, ma’am," said the mailman.


"I’m writing a story about a guy chasing down a terrorist. I had to know what it took to make a bomb. If they had come a few days later, I would have had all the parts except the explosives. I had to know if you could really make a bomb from those instructions. I wouldn’t want to put anything inaccurate in a story. A writer owes it to his readers to do his research."

The mailman shook his head in disbelief. "Are we going to find evidence you visited links on the internet with information about making bombs?"

"Bob, Mirandize him," said one of the agents.

"His answer isn’t going to convict him. Tell me, sir, so we don’t waste any more time if you just turn out to be a guy who drives his wife crazy. What are we going to find on your computer?"

"Sure. I’ve visited sites with information about how to make bombs. I’ve also visited terrorist sites. You have to know how the bad guys think to portray them properly. I didn’t alter any of the history in my browser so you won’t have any trouble finding the stuff. You’ll also find an outline for the story and a file with all the details I’m going to use to make it realistic."

My deranged husband was speaking with enthusiasm and pride.

"I’ve got a bad feeling this is going to turn out to be a huge waste of time. Sir, we’re going to need to take you in for further questioning. Ma’am, I’m sorry. I can’t tell you when he might be back. And you have my sympathies."

If he could see the chaos Johnny was spreading so clearly, why couldn’t my husband?

I called the FBI later that day to arrange to get a lawyer down there to help get him out. They told me they could neither confirm nor deny that they were holding him. I asked where I should send the lawyer to find out. They told me that, if they were holding him, he was not entitled to a lawyer under the PATRIOT Act.

"But don’t worry ma’am. If we’re holding him and if we decide he isn’t an enemy combatant, he should be home before the next solar eclipse."

And I thought the FBI didn’t have a sense of humor. At least I hoped it was a joke.

If your husband is missing in the custody of the government for seven years, can you have him declared legally dead?

The days dragged on and all I could tell my friends and our families was that the government had him, although they wouldn’t admit it. Nobody laughed. I guess they all knew Johnny pretty well.

Finally, thirteen days after they had taken him, the same amount of time it took our government to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis, they returned him and the computer.

You would think an experience like that would chasten him, and I wouldn’t be subjected to the same kind of craziness I had endured throughout most of our married life. No such luck.

You may have heard about his ordeal in custody, or at least the parts of it he can tell. His article appeared in the feature magazine for the local paper and he won a local Newton for investigative journalism. He swears that if the government hadn’t censored his article he would have won a Pulitzer. That kind of attitude did not signal that he was likely to back off.

Any doubt I might have had was erased one day when I came home to find him lying curled up at the foot of the stairs.

"Johnny, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?"

"No, I’m fine. Have you ever heard the expression ’A dog’s life?’ Well, I wanted to get an idea of what a dog’s life is really like and whether, in some ways, it might be preferable to a human’s life. I got the proposal approved by Urban Dog Magazine."

"Have you tried drinking from the toilet bowl?"

"That’s a great idea. Which one was most recently cleaned?"

That brings me to this afternoon. We had a fire scare at work a little before four. While the firemen were checking the building, we were told we could go home. There was no point in sticking around just to wait to leave.

When I arrived home I saw a red Taurus in the driveway and I had to park on the street. Johnny hadn’t said anything about having a visitor. But then I guess he had never talked much about it before. For all I knew he could have been holding meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce during the day.

The house was quiet and I didn’t see him around so I went to check his office. He wasn’t there.

I walked into the kitchen to look into the back yard. He wasn’t there either. We don’t have a basement, the water table is too high, so I went upstairs, the only place he could be if he were still in the house.

I walked into the bedroom and the bedspread and sheets were pulled back. There in the middle of the bed was my husband’s bare ass, pumping up and down between the slender legs of a young blonde woman who was pumping back up at him.

"What the hell are you doing?" I shouted. In retrospect, I suppose, the better question would have been, "Why," because the issue of what he was doing didn’t seem to be in much doubt.

"Honey, it’s not what it looks like. I can explain."

"It looks like you’re screwing another woman in our bed."

"This is Gloria," he said. "We’re just doing research for stories on infidelity."

"What?" I shouted.

"We’re doing research -"

"I heard you. I just didn’t believe you. How long has this been going on?"

"Just today. We scheduled it for today. You’re home early, honey. We expected Gloria’s husband first."

"What?" I was still shouting.

"I sent him an anonymous note that his wife was cheating on him and he could find her here. He was supposed to come in before you."

"What are you talking about? Are you insane?"

"We met on a writer’s site on the internet. Gloria is doing a story on infidelity, too, so we decided to do our research together. You know a good writer doesn’t write a story without doing adequate research first."

Gloria lifted a hand and waved. "Hi Sandy."

"Don’t get up on my account," I said.

"Honey, you’ve got to remember all your emotions and your reactions," said Johnny. "I’ve got a bunch of questions I need to ask you so I can get them right in the story."

I didn’t respond. Despite everything else he had done, this managed to shock me into silence. That’s why we were able to hear the car door slam.

"That would be Doug," said Gloria. "I parked my car in the driveway so he would have no trouble finding your house."

We heard the front door open and then slam.

"Honey could you hide in the bathroom?" asked Johnny. "We don’t want to lose the full impact on Doug. If he sees you here he may suspect something is going on."

He did say he could explain.

They started pumping again. I could hear footsteps on the stairs. I shook my head and walked to the door of the bathroom. I was thinking about how I could help Johnny research a story about divorce.