Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Face of Contemporary Evil

Take a good look at the face on the left, the one with the scarily vacant gaze.

The hair has been stylishly cut.

The eyebrows are freshly shaped.

The brow is smooth and unworried.

There are no dark circles under her eyes from loss of sleep.

There is no fear, no grief, no remorse, no emotion at all, really.

This is the face of cold-blooded, calculating, self-centered, sociopathic 22-year-old Casey Anthony of Orlando, Florida, who is now being held in jail for failing to report her not-yet-three-year-old daughter missing for 31 days and lying repeatedly to investigators about everything having to do with Caylee Marie, pictured to her right.

You can't see it from this picture but Casey's toes are meticulously painted purple, visible on the video of her court appearance last week. Having a pedicure somehow precluded reporting her baby missing for more than a month.
And you can't hear it from this picture, but Casey is captured on audiotape complaining to a friend that all her parents care about is getting Caylee back and fighting with her mother and brother and cursing and asking for her boyfriend's number and not expressing one iota of concern for her child who is either in grave danger...or in an actual grave.

You couldn't know it from this picture but calls had already been placed to 911 by Casey's mother Cindy, where she screams to a dispatcher that her car smelled like a dead body had been in it.
You wouldn't know it from this picture, but in the month that Caylee was missing, Casey stole her mother's car and credit cards and racked up thousands of dollars of expenditures. And hung out with friends. And cooked for them. And got a tattoo.

All the while claiming that her daughter was with a babysitter who has turned out to be as mythical as a unicorn. As the Lost City of Atlantis.

Take a good look at this picture and you will realize that what is remarkable about Casey Anthony is that she is utterly unremarkable; you have seen her at the mall and in the movies, at Dunkin' Donuts and in the local pizza shop. Casey Anthony looks just like any spoiled college-age American girl, the kind who gets trendy haircuts and regular mani-pedi's and eyebrow waxes.

And listen to the audio clips of her jailhouse phone calls -- now available on most news websites - and you will realize that she sounds like an average, self-centered, imperious, bitchy adolescent girl.

Combatative with her mother. Pissed at being grounded. Impatient and whiny. Demanding. Protesting her "unfair" treatment.

Except the subject here is not her allowance or slutty shoes or failing grades or her irresponsible summer plans.

The subject is a child who has been missing for nearly six weeks.

Her own flesh and blood, Caylee Marie Anthony, about whom she is incapable of even faking concern even as the news media follows every development in the case and millions of strangers around the world offer a prayer for her safe return. Even as her friend breaks down in tears on tape, begging her to tell her where the child is.

Even as the facts and findings of the investigation increasingly indicate a homicide.

The face of Casey Anthony is a portrait of contemporary evil.



Nondescript in a uniquely American way, quintessential, practically the girl next door.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I have insane work days here in the bungalow, days that sometimes begin at 4:30 am, end at 1:00 am, and are interrupted only when I drag myself to the gym or to Tae Kwon Do with Little Babe, or to take him to camp or to play with my dogs or to check the latest missing persons news story unfolding online or to go to ShopRite or to the Monroe Laundromat (where you can wash your clothes among townies and Satmar Chasidim alike) or occasionally call HOBB (husband of Bungalow Babe), communicate through Skype or text Middle Babe who is studying in South Africa or Big Babe who is writing in Berlin, or have a you-know-I-still-love-you-but-I'm-insanely-busy-what's-new? phone conversation with the neglected MOBB and DOBB (mom and dad of Bungalow Babe), not to mention SOBB (siblings of Bungalow Babe).

Here in the country, it's pretty much me and my computer, me and my phone, me and my BlackBerry, me and the projects and deadlines. And the occasional New Yorker article. Or celebrity magazine. And the Times Herald-Record, the local daily, which I adore. And maybe the book I am trying to finish (currently The Orientalist, by Tom Reiss). My friends instinctively make themselves scarce during the week, either caught up in their own, similar frenzy or knowing that the weekend version of me is much more hospitable.
Situated in the anti-social section of the bungalow colony -- separated from the main section by a steep hill and a road -- it is easy to avoid the 300-plus residents of this summer community who do things like congregate at the swimming pool, play canasta and mah-jongg, go bowling in groups and talk to each other over mugs of coffee and steep myself in the solitary focus of workaholism.

Except for the weekends, which are filled with visitors and barbeques and bike rides on the Heritage Trail and hikes on the Appalachian Trail and movies and the kinds of quaint country activities you might imagine -- fairs and such -- with a bit of high brow culture tossed in, such as Shakespeare on the Hudson, concerts at West Point, plays at Museum Village, local museum exhibitions.

And then, there is Shabbat in the country, an unparalleled joy, a taste of the world to come. We have our Friday night dinner on the screened porched, singing Shalom Aleichem to the deer, bears, raccoons, chipmunks and other residents of the deep, mysterious woods that divide our bungalow from Walton Lake. We take miles-long hikes on Shabbat afternoon and study the teachings of Heschel with our friends. We swim, rest, play tennis, spend hours reading the New York Times in our resin Adirondack chairs or sprawled on blankets on the lawn. We meet our friends' friends. We play Scrabble at the lake, slathering on lotion as the setting sun bounces off the water. We have impromptu conversations with the children of our neighbors. I'm always inexpressibly sad at Havdalah time.

But Shabbat has not happened yet. I am still in the grip of the work week, though about to be released. I've been sitting in front of my computer for hours and when I just got up to stretch, I found myself oddly attracted to the hideous green tiles of my bedroom floor. So I lay down. And took a picture of myself. To capture this moment. This summer day. This feeling. This time in my life.

Shabbat Shalom!

Bungalow Babe

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Another day, another lunch hour, however, instead of taking a walk outside in the sudden burst of sunshine, I am compelled to write about the endless lies being spewed by the despicable duo of Cindy and Casey Anthony, grandmother and mother of the unbearably adorable and unbearably missing Caylee Marie Anthony, nearly 3 years old.

Missing, yet unreported for an entire month.

And unless you've been vacationing on Mars or in some remote location without access to newspapers or Nancy Grace, you are likely to be familiar with at least some of the details of this heartbreaking and disturbing case:

  • The arrest of the mother on charges of child neglect and obstruction of justice

  • The string of batty lies she told police about a nonexistent job, nonexistent babysitter and non-existent apartment where the non-existent babysitter lived

  • The grandmother's wacked-out appearances on national television and her knack for inventing new details that she simply neglected to report previously

  • The discovery of Casey's abandoned car with the smell of decomposing human remains, strands of the child's hair and dirt in the trunk

  • The involvement of cadaver dogs sniffing on the grandparents' property

  • Reports of the mother borrowing a shovel in June

  • News of a new concrete slab poured in the grandparents' backyard
...and so on

This story smells from top to bottom, like the trunk of Casey's abandoned car. There are lots of mysterious and unsettling details, such as a the allegedly -- and most conveniently -- dead birthfather. There is a creepy brother who painted a thoroughly unconvincing portrait of sibling intimacy when he took the witness stand. There is a relatively silent grandfather. There are friends who brand Casey a habitual liar and who are now reporting that they witnessed her carrying on during Caylee's absence as if she didn't have a care in the world.
And there are lies that are so outlandish that they would be laughable...were there anything remotely amusing about a child gone missing and feared dead. Such as the lie that Casey neglected to approach police with reports of her child's absence because she was launching her own investigation into her daughter's disappearance. Uh huh. Yeah. So that's why she hadn't contacted them, or her own parents, for that matter. Makes perfect sense. Yet this pathetic lie is further embellished by Cindy Anthony's claim that her daughter is protecting Caylee by not divulging her whereabouts. That she knows where the child is. That she knows who has her.
Or consider Cindy's belligerent retort to the media that the smell of death in the trunk of the stolen car was actually...rotting pizza. In light of the 911 calls that have now been made public, ya know, where she screams at a police dispatcher that her call smells like there was a dead body in it, this dead-body-smell-is-really-rotten-pizza lie is especially galling.
And resting atop this pyramid of lies is Cindy's assertion of what a good mother her daughter is/was. Widening her eyes, she positively insists on the love that existed between the two when it is abundantly clear that Casey Anthony doesn't love anything but herself.

The fact that her toddler has been missing for over a month didn't cost Casey a single sleepless night or a moment's anxiety. She was out partying with friends, y'all! And still, she is curiously, spookily unconcerned.

If anything, Casey seemed bored by the court proceedings, moved to tears only by the prospect of her own imprisonment.

While her mother, Cindy, has made a travesty of caring about her grandaughter by appearing on national television to promote a phony national search for Caylee Marie, acting as if she is the star of her own reality show, or a character on an episode of Law and Order.

Every word that comes out of her mouth is so utterly false that I can barely stand to listen to her.

But no one is fooled. Harsh words have come from the judge, the DA and the local police. The media has jumped on this case like a pack of bloodhounds, ferreting out every inconsistency in the tale of the missing tot. Nancy Grace has been at her outraged best as have other broadcast journalists. Bloggers are following this story by the minute.
I am not alone in predicting a sicker-than-sick outcome, a family saga involving other crimes, secrecy and cover-ups. Incest might play a role; perhaps of the sibling variety. At this moment, the Anthony family is holding onto the ruse of their innocence and of the search for a living Caylee by their fingertips. This effort appears more bogus every second, more wasteful of public resources, time and hope. Unfortunately for this lying family, intelligence is not one of their strong suits. Their stupidity and the mounting evidence against them will ultimately do them in.
Every caring parent in the world, nay, every decent human being, recognizes the admission of guilt inherent in the failure to report a missing child for 31 minutes, let alone 31 days. Dread grips the collective heart of the nation but the hoofbeats of justice rapidly approach. The pyramid of lies is about to crumble; the truth might rest beneath a slab of concrete in the grandparents' yard, easily removed. Justice for Caylee Marie Anthony will come, shedding light on the lies of the one responsible for giving her life and taking her life away.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Naming the Bully

Last Thursday, around 2:30 pm, I got a funny call from 13-year-old Little Babe in the middle of his camp day.

Funny, as in strange.

"I'm bored," he reported, totally unconvincingly.

"Bored," I repeated. "What is everyone doing and why aren't you doing it?"

He sighed. "No one's doing anything."

"That's not possible," I said. "It's camp. There's always an activity. Where is your group?"

"Hanging outside the pool."

It was about a million degrees outside. "Why aren't you swimming?" I asked.

"Because I have a mark on my right side."

My maternal radar instantly shot up. "A mark?"

"Yeah," he admitted and then proceeded to whisper the story which involved a run-in with the group gangsta, a rather oafish, and in my estimation, intellectually-challenged kid with a penchant for beating up on smaller kids, including Little Babe.

Whose own penchant for Japanese calligraphy, cello-playing and letting our Pomeranians nibble on his toes render him a less-than-alpha young male, the last person to retaliate with physical violence.

Little Babe's sweet, artistic temperment is more often rewarded with respect from his peers. In all the years of his childhood, I can count only two or three other times when aggressive boys tried to bully him and in one of the situations it was merely an inappropriate gesture of affection from a child with boundary issues (the child had a multitude of behavioral issues, was sent to a special school and Little Babe did not have to fear the bathroom anymore.)

Getting back to last week's turned out that Little Babe accidentally splashed water on his feet and the thug-in-training retailated with fists in Little Babe's ribcage.

Not cool.

Though Little Babe had been taken to the camp nurse by a counselor who found him writhing on the ground, he failed to report the bullying to her. A couple of clarifying phone calls to the camp administration later, where I was assured that the situation was being monitored and that the kid would be out on his ass if it happened again, I couldn't help but note the coincidence of timing.

You see, just the previous week, I, Bungalow Babe, Princess of PR, fearless she-warrior, had been bullied by a thuggish fellow with a long and horrible reputation for such tactics.

The bullying was not, thank God, physical. It was communicated through text messages and in the course of phone conversations. It aimed to halt my efforts on behalf of a client because it shed an unflattering light on the unethical and possibly illegal business practices of the bully in question. It wasn't coming from a 300-pound guy named Rocco or Bugsy, though it certainly sounded like it. The exchange constituted the single most shocking incident of my entire professional life.

The bullying happened at the tail end of the work day, when Little Babe had already returned from camp. And though I refrained from sharing the text messages with my young son, he (and half the bungalow colony) certainly heard my entire end of the cellphone screamfest as he patiently waited for me to finish "work"... so that I could take him out for Chinese food that evening, as planned.

As I held the phone to my incredulous ear, there were threats, accusations and screams coming at me. Incensed, I threatened to make the creepy text exchange public, reveal the content of the phone conversation, go to the cops, the FBI, the press.

Indeed, when I did drive to my local police precinct a short while later, Little Babe was by my side.

He saw me seeking recourse. He saw me outing my bully. He saw me reacting with anger, outrage and an effort to seek help and protection.

What he did not see were tears or helplessness. What he did not see was the mantle of the victim. I like to think of myself as an alpha female, a self-image formed in childhood. As a young Bungalow Babe, I fended off bullies with my street-fighting skills, ambushing the tormentors of my little brother and sister, using SAT words to convince mean kids that their quality of life would be improved by leaving my siblings the hell alone.

If anything, being a mother has only sharpened my protective instincts. And though I know that we are supposed to train our kids, especially our sons, to fight their own battles, sometimes the battles are unfair, or the tactics are extreme or the other kid is truly a bad seed whose parents are MIA or complete jerks.

So when Little Babe found himself at the wrong end of a fist flying into his ribcage, it was a zero-to-sixty reaction on my part. I sprang into action, knowing even as I did that he would need to develop his own inner warrior, figure out how to exude that aura that warns, "Do Not Mess with Me," or, in the absence of that ability, learn how to name the bully for what he is, thereby transforming himself from helpless victim to crime-fighter bent on putting another bad guy behind bars.

Naming the bully is key because bullies rarely strike once. Bullies are to bullying as vampires are to blood. And once a bully is so identified, others inevitably come forth, telling tales similar to your own. This builds a network of support and outs the bully for what he is. The fist-loose kid at camp, I assured Little Babe, is a behavior problem at home and at school. You are not the only one he bothers. That's right, Little Babe affirmed, proceeding to list a series of hair-raising offenses against other kids.

Indeed, what I was sharing with Little Babe were the fruits of what I had discovered in the course of my own bully-naming. Yes, I named my bully and suddenly others came forth telling similar tales. Some of the stories were far worse than my own; some verged on hilarity because they were so out of the range of professional conduct. Emails began pouring in. My cellphone started ringing. I started doing research and found reams of evidence that this particular bully operated, typically, in broad daylight, leaving messy footprints behind.

There was a pattern of thuggery, ruthlessness, foul language, intimidation, verbal abuse and threats. It existed well before my own encounter. And if left unchecked, would persist into the foreseeable future.

It is a Monday afternoon and I'm blogging instead of eating lunch. Little Babe is on a trip with his group and the fact that I'm writing provides an index of my anxiety. Yeah, I'm a bit worried about his safety and yeah, even when I was being an alpha female, yelling on my cellphone a couple of weeks ago, I was a bit worried about my own safety. But the word is out. Both of our tormentors have been called by their true names -- Bully -- and everyone knows that bad guys always lose in the end.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Black Coffins

Nala the puppy woke me up this morning at 5:50 am, whimpering at my bedroom door. Stepping into the kitchen of my bungalow, I was assaulted by a blur of tail, tongue, cocoa-colored fur and soft paws.

With my new Pomeranian attempting to burrow inside my nose, I opened the freezer to remove my stash of Zabar's French Italian roast.

Setting it on the counter, I glanced at the flyer posted on my fridge last summer. It announced a rally to be held on July 16th, 2007, at the United Nations.

FREE THEM NOW! the headline read, poised above the headshots of the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped during the summer of 2006 -- Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Last night, I told Little Babe that the fate of the missing soldiers would likely be revealed today. I reminded him of how we said tehillim, psalms, for them when they were taken hostage two summers ago. He, in turn, reminded me how we said the b'shaym blessing for the soldiers last summer, invoking the protection of the angels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Oriel as we said the shema before going to sleep.

I felt somewhat dishonest using euphemisms such as "fate," because it seemed fairly certain that Goldwasser and Regev were dead while there had been signs that Shalit was alive. And with his Israeli cousin serving in a high-ranking IDF position, I hated to remind my 13-year-old of the dangers facing Israeli soldiers, had wished for an heroic, Entebbe-like rescue for our kidnapped sons and brothers.

Today, exactly one year to the day from the NYC rally, Goldwasser and Regev have returned to Israel in coffins.

Gilad Shalit is still in captivity.

Miles away from Israel and even the United Nations, I read the news on, weeping into Nala, who licked away my tears. Little Babe slept soundly, the relaxed slumber of an American boy during summer, lucky and free. In a sort of derangement, I visited dozens of news sites, read the reportage over and over again, tormented myself with an endless replay of grief.

I stared at the terrifying black coffins until I tricked myself into seeing the image of God reflected back at me.