Pointing Fingers

Women stay with creeps because the world sucks.

I know this gut. We'll call him Cheap Sucker. I'd prefer to call him Cheap Bastard, but I don't want you to mistakenly focus on his parentage, or lack thereof. What matters here is that he is cheap, a condition for which there is no good reason. Now, I'm not talking frugal, careful, forward-looking, judicious, responsible, Scottish or even greedy. I'm talking cheap.

Anyway, Cheap Sucker is married to someone who used to be one of my heroes. A long time ago, she escaped an abusive marriage. She basically walked out the door with her two small kids and the clothes on her back. Somehow she toughed it out, finished college and got a good job.

Then she meets this really great guy, nice and funny, successful and easygoing. He loves her and he loves her kids. She buys a house and he comes over on nights and weekends and helps her fix it up. I mean, it's like a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime cable network. I figured she'd marry the guy right away, but she hesitates, claiming it's a matter of once bitten, twice shy. They continue dating for months and then for years.

Finally, she calls one day and says she's getting married. But not to the nice guy. Instead, she's marrying Cheap Sucker, a dude she's only known for a few weeks. I remember thinking it was weird that she didn't really talk all that much about her instant fiancé, who was also divorced and had a kid from his previous marriage living with him. Instead, she kept talking about how he had this big-ass house and money up the butt. (She doesn't talk like that; her current state of pretension and affectation would preclude her from dallying in such pedestrian vulgarity.)

So she and her two kids left their nice little house and moved on up to the east side. It was only a few weeks before she learned the reality of life with Cheap Sucker. When the electric bill came, he got out his little calculator and said, "Well, there are three of you and two of us, so you have to pay 3/5 of this bill."

At first she thought he might be joking, but then she realized that he had never, ever said anything that was remotely funny, intentionally or otherwise. He strictly enforced the 3/5 rule on all bills, but that was just the beginning. He labeled things in the refrigerator and in the cupboards. He timed her kids' showers and how long they watched TV and played video games and added that to her part of the bill.

This should have been her cue to do that walk-out-the-front-door thing again, but she chose to stay. Cheap Sucker had been paying all those bills by himself for years. Now he's got a wife and he wants a 60-percent cut in capital outlay, as well? That's greedy and cheap!

If he wants her to pay the lion's share of the expenses, that's not a marriage. It's tantamount to Oscar Madison taking in Felix Unger and getting sexual privileges in the deal. But she went along with it willingly, and they're both adults, so it was none of my business.

But then the kids started to suffer. His kid and her older child went to the same high school. One cold, rainy afternoon, I happened to stop by there to see a basketball coach friend of mine. I saw the two kids standing outside in the cold. I offered to give them a ride but both said that their ride was coming. Sure enough, Cheap Sucker drives up in his Cheap Suckermobile and his kid runs over and gets in the car, while her child stays put.

I was curious why her child wasn't going with them, since they lived in the same house and all. The child replied, "[Cheap Sucker] says that the rule is that I have to wait until my mother comes to get me."

That child left home upon graduation and went away to college, never to return. So the abuse then fell to the younger child. In the meantime, my former friend had a child with Cheap Sucker. (Here's where you pause to gasp.) Not surprisingly, Cheap Sucker added a 50-50 split of the new kid's expenses to the bill-paying formula.

This all ceased to amaze me after a while and slid from my notice. But then, a few weeks ago, I got a call from her younger kid from her first marriage. The kid had just turned 18 and was supposed to be heading into the senior year of high school. But Cheap Sucker decided that 18 meant time to leave the house and that's that.

The kid was sleeping in cars and at friends' houses, and was hurt, scared and unsure of the future. A friend of mine hooked the kid up with a place to live. I called the kid's mom and she basically took her husband's side. She said, "Well, it is [Cheap Sucker's] house and [my child] is 18." Whatever the hell that means.

Having missed school the day they taught diplomacy, I said, "What you've done is betray your own flesh and blood in exchange for a fancy damn roof over your head." She came back with the non sequitur, "My priority now is to take care of [the kid she had with Cheap Sucker]."

And then it dawned on me. He's not the only villain here; he has an accomplice. He's just a useless piece of crap who lived badly and will die someday, unloved and unmissed. She, on the other hand, had built up a vaultful of good will and then threw it all away for a fireplace and a nice Zip code.

When this youngest one hits 18, the clock strikes midnight. Her kids will be gone and she'll be stuck with a Cheap Old Sucker who knew exactly what her price was.