Plain Speaking

Trouble in Paradise

Many decades ago (college actually, so about five) I had a friend who’d blurt out this phrase anytime something which had been going–to all appearances–rather swimmingly suddenly went sideways.  Sometimes it was a relationship dust-up.  Sometimes it was a class in which he’d been doing rather well, and then–suddenly–he wasn’t.  Or a job he’d liked, and lost. Or things he’d lied about. Or trouble at home.  Could have been anything, really.

He was an easy person to love, this friend of mine, but sometimes a difficult person to like.  A drug addict.  An alcoholic.   A narcissist.  And while (AFAIK) he never descended to physical abuse of another human being, he vacuumed up the life forces around him as their worlds got smaller and smaller as they subsumed themselves to him, until their worlds contained little else but him.  And then they bored him, he lost interest in them, they self-destructed, and he moved on to someone else.

The damage that he did to his family and his circle of friends was incalculable.

(Apropos of nothing (LOL), yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kerouac, one of the stars of the Beat Generation.  Sinks of narcissistic self-indulgence, all.  Very bright, supremely destructive, ugly.  The sort of men who give toxic masculinity a bad name.  The sort of men who–lost in the admiration of their own brilliance–are sure that they’re the envy of all others of their sex, and the objects of uncontrollable sexual desire from every woman who is unfortunate enough to cross their path.  The sort of men who end up with their brains fried from drink, drugs, self-involvement, and mental illness, who die horrible and painful deaths after decades of self-abuse of all sorts, who end up living in mommy’s basement after their friends and the rest of their family have given up on them.  (“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”)

I shit you not.  Look them up.   Ugh.  And yet, they are lionized, usually by folks just like them.  But I digress.

Back to Paradise!

Every once in a while, something happens either in, or adjacent to, my life which brings to mind this old chestnut, “Trouble in Paradise,” and I think of my friend. Sometimes with affection.  Sometimes with tears (he died at his own hand many years ago**).  But equally often the first–momentary–thought through my mind is “Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?”  And then I dust myself off and move on.

The first “Trouble in Paradise” song I ever knew was Loretta Lynn’s 1974 hit (right timeframe, anyway):

But it turns out there are others:


And an album title by Randy Newman.

Looks like I’m not the only person who’s noticed, or who can see when there’s “trouble in paradise.”

Good thing, too.

**A fact about which–for many years–I felt incredibly guilty.  And then, one day, I realized the power of individual agency.  Once a person has set himself on a particular path, there ain’t much I can do to change that.  Slobbering, drooling, begging him to see that he’s loved and appreciated simply doesn’t work.  It’s terribly sad.  But either he’ll sort himself out or he won’t and eventually, you just have to let that happen.  And move on.

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