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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Bad Boys, Good Girls, And Deadbeat Doug–The Hobbesian Unpleasantness Of Marriage

Of course Heather Featherstonewas upset.  How could any mother who has birthed, nursed, brought up, and cared for a child, bear to see her in the clutches of a calculating, ambitious man? While mothers from traditional cultures have been accused of interfering in their children’s lives, no one could have been more demanding and insistent and interfering than Heather, mother of the beautiful Margaret whom she could not keep from falling into the clutches of Deadbeat Doug, dummy and footballer, as blonde and chiseled as a Greek god, but as worthless as a bent nickel. 

 ‘I am to blame’ said Heather as her only, beautiful daughter left home for Doug, child of English immigrants whose ancestors, unsatisfied with ships’ prey off the Cornwall coast, migrated to the West of Ireland where the North Sea coast was even more plentifully rich in bounty, and then to New Jersey, and finally to Washington, DC.

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Doug wasn’t really a bad sort.  He had a rough road to hoe what with the poverty of his family, the waywardness of his mother, and the drunkenness of his father.  It was quite something, actually, that Doug managed to keep at least one foot on the ground and show enough personal charm and integrity to even interest the lovely Margaret.   Maggie and Doug were meant for each other in the most basic and predictable of ways.  She was always attracted to bad boys; and he felt the drive to ‘sex up’, seduce the higher classes and leave his working class behind. 

Doug’s parents were delighted that their son, on the margins of everything, sketching oranges and dead rabbits at Montgomery College (MK, as it was called given its students’ trouble with spelling), could have landed the likes of Margaret Prince.  Margaret’s parents on the other hand were nonplussed.  Despite Episcopal School and a fast track to Harvard; despite country living, good, brevetted young men, and summers on the Vineyard, the lovely Margaret had backslid, and retrieving her from Gaithersburg would be difficult.

Margaret’s grandmother Ernestine, a grand dame of an earlier era, was delighted with Margaret’s choice of lovers.  She had long ago given up the last vestiges of English Victorianism and ‘embraced’ the New World social catch-all of rough-hewn vagabonds.  Why shouldn’t her granddaughter have a fling with Doug Masters, rough skin and language, improper manners?  This was America, after all, the democratic potpourri of races and ethnicities.  At least Deadbeat Doug was white, so let the children have their fun.

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Hard as she tried, Heather Featherstone could not dissuade her daughter from a marriage with Deadbeat Doug.  As callous and self-serving as it sounded, her reasons for dissolution were sound.  The Featherstones had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to send their daughter to the best Washington prep schools and to the Ivy League; and now felt humiliated and tricked to see it spent on an English wastrel, the great-grandson of Cornish pirates, the grandson of con-artists and high-society pickpockets, and the son of a mechanic and Walmart greeter?

‘This is America’, reminded Prentice Featherstone.  ‘You have to expect such anomalies’. 

‘I’ll be having nothing of it’, said Mrs. Featherstone.

She was as good as her word; but no amount of cajoling, persuading, or subtle threats could budge the Masters.  They knew a good thing when they saw it; and a union with the Featherstones was just what the doctor ordered.

“She’ll get over it”, said Prentice Featherstone.  “They always do”, referring to the hardwired XX genetic code which all but assured female attraction to bad boys; and although Mrs. Featherstone hated to admit it, she had been attracted to Lotharios.  Of course Bobby Weathers would not have made a good husband and father; but he knew how to turn her leaves over like no other, and sex on the fifth hole on a wet, drizzling, cold October evening was what she remembered when under her husband Flint.  She wanted her daughter to forget Deadbeat Doug, but she knew it would be hard indeed.

The Masters were attentive, considerate, and thoughtful of the Featherstones.  As socially unschooled as they were, they were not ignorant or inept – only far out to lunch.  They gave bouquets of flowers in pre-paid vases, ornaments from the Christmas Store in Boca Raton, and home-cooked covered dishes (no need to return the casserole).  Their son was doing poorly at school – no one failed at MK, but even so, his grades were at the bottom of the class and cause of concern.  “What are you doing with your life, Dougie?’, asked his father. 

“I don’t know, Pop”, he replied, “maybe I should join the Army”.

The old man had served his time in Vietnam, fought the enemy with courage and honor; but for what?  He had come home to Weehawken as disillusioned and put upon as any, patriotism for his adopted country challenged, and his belief in the righteousness of America challenged for the first time since taking the oath of fidelity and citizenship.  “The Army?”, he replied.  “Surely you can do better than that.”

“Oh, Dougie”, cried Margaret.  “Please don’t go”, and with it came the tears, flapdoodle, and soap opera melodrama expected from an impressionable, young, American ingenue.  Joining Delta Strike Force was perhaps the best decision he could have made – joining an all male, tough, macho battalion of trained killers, an anodyne to the cloying sweetness of lovely Margaret which was getting on his nerves.

Dougie did indeed go, two tours in Iraq, and billeted back home for debriefing before re-entry to civilian life.  Most of his comrades were champing at the bit for civilian life – dark Iraqi pussy was not what they had in mind – but Dougie was having none of it. There was nothing wrong with off-the-grid sex and during his first months back home spent most of his time in Southeast.  The brothers respected his service and let him upstairs, gave him a military discount and came to love the white boy.

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He never once called Margaret after he returned from duty and had long forgotten her.   For her part, Margaret had gotten over Doug as soon as he set foot on the ladder of the troop ship to Iraq. She wished him well but good riddance.  What was she, a New England Brahmin, cultured, respected, educated doing with a low-life like him?  What had she been thinking?  Any idea that Doug – outsider, raver, and insolent little boy - could make anything of himself or worse, make anything of them was senseless and idiotic.  What indeed had she been thinking?

Doug’s parents were happy that the army had ‘straightened him out’ and given him a trade, benefits, and references.  They realized that a marriage with Margaret Featherstone was overreaching at best, and fantasy at worst.  Better he marry within his own caste and settle down – which he did, with Laura Perkins, daughter of a Des Moines steamfitter and one of five children raised without complaint by Mrs. Perkins.  Army radio school and field communications assignments helped him get a well-paying job with Honeywell in Minneapolis which in turn financed a home in the suburbs, day care, and trips to Cancun.

Margaret, also true to her heritage, went to Yale, Harvard Law School, became a partner in the K Street law firm of Hathaway, Dawkins & Peabody, and married Folger Martin of the Philadelphia Martins. 

Marriage and life being what they are, neither arrangement was a happy one, and both Margaret and Doug reverted to form – unfaithful, sexually persistent, and edgy.  Not exactly enviable or honorable lives, but the best that they could muster; and that deserves some credit.

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