BERTHA'S SECRET TALENT
by
Leslie

She's awesome. She kicks ass and takes names. I knew her and her husband Bud before they were married and divorced. Still do know them. He was a good guy and she was a sweet young thing when they tied the knot. I knew there was a forceful personality behind that pretty face, which I personally admire, but it was clear to me that her groom was not her equal in any way. I knew from the beginning that the marriage was a doomed, but what can you do? You can't stand up at the wedding and say "STOP. It's a mistake! He's a dumb ass."

He's only a dumb ass when compared to her, or Judy, or even me for that matter. I felt duty bound to warn both of them. I told each of them once and only once, that this marriage was a mistake and why I thought so. I did it in a way that was not offensive. But, it also was not effective, because they got married anyhow. It did, however, bolstered my credibility with each of them after the predicted train wreck happened, but only because I kept my mouth shut and never said "I told you so".

Bertha, Judy (who is now my wife) and I were in graduate school together and we became good friends. Normally I mind my own business and let other people make their own mistake, but for a friend or loved one, I'll stick my nose into their business a bit more than normal. I know it's obnoxious, but it's actually a compliment because it shows I care.

Regarding her marriage, he was a nice kid she met while we were still students and he was working at our local bank, but she was too smart, too decisive and too impatient to share her life with him as an equal. She doesn't suffer fools well and while I'm not saying he's a fool, compared to her, most people are. It would clearly become a burden for her.

I feel sorry for exceptionally smart people like her or Judy. It must be a terrible burden to find that you are surrounded by idiots all the time. I read a lot of history books, so I draw analogies from history and the one that describes my point best is a letter from Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams. They had resumed correspondence after many years of estrangement.

The two former Presidents and Founding Fathers had gotten to know each other when they worked on the US Declaration of Independence together, but they had dramatically different political views that lead to a falling out. After they patched things up when they were both very old Mr. Jefferson expressed his gratitude for his old friend when, having read Plato's Republic probably in the original Greek, he lamented that he had nobody in Charlottesville to discuss his ideas with. He was the founder of the University of Virginia and had the entire faculty of that school to talk to, but still felt intellectually isolated. Imagine having that feeling in a marriage.

Things need to be properly matched to work well together. You don't put a giant engine in a tiny car because the wheels would fall off. And a tiny engine in a huge car can't pull it. Instead they must be appropriately matched. That is true for married couples too. Common values, intellect and attitudes toward money, matching preferences and temperaments, compatible religious views, and even similar professional training can help because when you are educated in a particular profession your mind has been trained to think in a certain way. That's why it's called a "discipline". Lawyers, engineers, scientists, economists and even bean counters; all have a unique approach to problems and situations, and it even differs within sub fields.

One thing we never knew about Bertha was that she had a mean streak. She didn't just divorce Bud; it looked to me like she set out to destroy him. She didn't need to do that. The marriage was as much her fault as his, actually, more so. She should have known better. Smart people shouldn't need to learn from their mistakes. They are supposed to learn from other people's mistakes. That's why the rest of us think they're smart. All it took was one simple word; "No". Instead, when he proposed, she said "Yes", but she punished him for her mistake.

He was not a sissy when they were married and he's not one now, but I understand how he became one. She proudly told us at dinner and afterwards how she did it. I can't imagine why she wanted it other than to humiliate him. But you never know. Some people just can't admit they made a mistake. I don't think love turned to hate, but it did turn to contempt. Maybe that's worse. Judy and I have tried to help him pick up the pieces. That doesn't matter to Bertha, though. She has moved on and now she is our neighborhood's heroine and for the first time in her life everybody loves her.

I first saw Maid Brandi, aka Bud, when I went to their house to borrow a wheel puller. It's the kind of thing I might need every five or seven years, so why buy and store one? I'd probably forget where I put it anyhow and would have to borrow it regardless. We were good enough friends that we usually went to each other's back doors. But this time, when I got to the back door I heard the TV and saw him through the window. It was a WTF moment; he was dressed like a house maid.

I could have ignored what I saw through the window and snuck away from the door, but that is not my nature. I'm inquisitive enough that I try to understand anything I encounter. Also, I tend to confront problems rather than ignore them. When you ignore them they just get worse. So I knocked on the door and asked him why he was dressed like a maid. He explained that Bertha hired him as her maid. He wasn't wearing a wig, or makeup but he did have a regular maid dress, an apron, a maid's cap on his head and black tennis shoes. The hat really bothered me more than anything because it served no conceivable purpose, but he said he wore the hat so she could see him on the nanny cam. Nanny cam?

I take back, what I said above; yes he is a dumb ass. I knew he had lost his job in the big banking shakeup of 2008 and had never found another one that he stuck with, but he and Bertha weren't having financial problems. Bertha must have been doing very well on her own, and they were both financially responsible, so they must have had a substantial nest egg already.

Bud explained that after losing several jobs, Bertha offered to hire him to do all the housework as her uniformed maid, providing she could have fun picking and providing the uniforms. He was clueless, but I could see evidence of a darker motive on her part. He said he accepted the job and was content with it. Listening to his story, it was obvious to me that it wasn't a genuine offer. It was a test, and it was clear to me that he had failed her test miserably.

Even after years of marriage, he didn't have any idea how Bertha's mind works. Judy and I by comparison complete each other's sentences, communicate with a nod or a glance, and usually have the same thoughts and questions at the same time. While we each have our own interests, there are enough overlaps that we do things together that reinforce our relationship.

Needless to say, he was a bit embarrassed, but we know each other well enough that even his new sissy maid status wouldn't fundamentally change our relationship. He knows I'm a laid back person who doesn't get worked up about things so he felt as at ease with my discovery as one could in that circumstance. Anyhow we talked for quite a while. I wasn't surprised at the crumbling marriage. If anything, I was surprised it had lasted that long. But I was surprised by her response to it. Bud was too submissive for his own good, but I offered no unsolicited advice. Having warned them once, it's not for me to get involved in their marriage problems. After we talked, he retrieved his wheel puller from the garage for me to borrow and I left. He must have told Bertha about my visit because she was on the phone to Judy that evening. I guess news of my discovery prompted something she had been contemplating for a while, the official début of her creation, Maid Brandi, to her two closest friends. Even the name seemed intended to demean.

We were invited to dinner at their house. Thankfully only Judy and I were invited. Bertha knew if she invited a stranger that she would never get a word out of me and I think she wanted my opinion most of all. I don't open up to people easily. I'm not by nature a friendly person but I am honest and perhaps honesty what she wanted most that night. I surmised that this dinner was the swan song for their marriage and poor Bud didn't have a clue. Even after the extraordinary lengths he had gone through to please his wife, he was history.

Judy wasn't prepared for what she was about to experience. Neither was I for that matter. We went to their front door that evening because of the implied formality of the occasion. I had told her about the maid thing and my talk with Bud and of course she had spoken with Bertha on the phone, but the sight of Bud answering the door stunned both of us. I didn't know if he would be in a suit and join us for drinks and dinner or dressed in the maid's uniform I had seen him wearing the day before to serve us, as a final humiliation before she kicked him out.

But, seeing him answer the door in a short shiny black satin French maid dress, complete with a frilly white petticoat showing under it, black stockings, very high heels, a wig, makeup, an apron tied with a great big white satin bow on his back and a funky little hat on his head was shocking. He looked ridiculous. He even had cleavage! She had obviously really decked him out for this occasion and had gone through a lot of trouble to do his makeup. I believe this was an expression of desperation on her part. He was clearly wearing a corset and fake breasts because no guy has that shape. Thank goodness neither of us laughed. He didn't need that.

As I looked at Bud, or should I say Sissy Maid Brandi standing in the door, I reflected back on a conversation I had many years ago when I was in the army stationed half way around the world. There was a group of bars and brothels not far from our little camp out in the boonies. I and a few others who didn't particularly want to patronize either type of establishment would pass the time discussing various topics like history, science, religion and politics. I guess it was an informal debate club.

One evening one member of our group, a devout Southern Baptist, unknowingly inflicted the worst insult one can hurl at a scientist. He said to me "You're inconsistent! You favor women's and gay rights but you favor the death penalty and gun rights. You don't know if you're a conservative or a liberal!" He listed a few more apparent inconsistencies as well, all of which were undoubtedly completely true, and then he stormed out of the room in disgust.

Another person having witnessed his departure and seeing the expression of shock on my face continued the conversation asking me why I held those positions and the answer was simple; I believe in the Golden Rule. You don't have to be religious to believe in the Golden Rule. While it might have been a result of my religious upbringing, I believe I had arrived at that conclusion philosophically, independent of religion, as the only rational way for people to co-exist without killing or enslaving each other. That's why all of the world's major religions, except one, have some version of the Golden Rule universally applied. The one exception rejects coexistence all together instructing followers to kill, enslave or convert those who don't share their beliefs. For them, the Golden Rule only applies to those within their faith. For that reason, whenever I see a "Coexist" bumper sticker on a car with the symbol of that religion I assume the driver is a complete idiot, but that's another topic.

The Golden Rule made civil rights regardless of race, sex or sexual preference a very simple issue for me. If I were a - fill in the blank - how would I want to be treated? It was the same for the death penalty, if I committed a heinous crime, I would deserve punishment and permanent removal from society for the safety of others. The death penalty is the only certain way to do that. If I have a right to kill a perpetrator in self defense, society also has a right to self defense.

While the Golden Rule can't stand alone as a system of ethics, it's a good foundation. Add a few absolutes prohibiting bad behavior and it's a fool-proof system for a just society. As far as my support for gun rights, everyone in that group had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, even to risk death if necessary, and the term "shall not be infringed" doesn't leave wiggle room.

I have always hated cruelty! I hate cruelty to animals which has diminished in society but cruelty to people seems to have become far more accepted in recent years. Seeing Bud standing in front of us dressed like that, made her treatment of him seem cruel. When viewed in the context of the Golden Rule my friendship for her died at that moment. She was still Judy's friend, so I would be civil, but something had profoundly changed in my perception of her. We knew their marriage was over as soon as we saw him. It was obvious to both of us.

He showed us in and acted like a real maid serving us drinks and hors d'oeuvre. What am I saying? He was a real maid, but the last time I had seen him he was in a real maid uniform. This costume was over the top. It was very pretty and must have been expensive too. I must confess my curiosity got the better of me. Embarrassment for his appearance took a back seat to my desire to know about the costume and how she did it. Did she create this situation, or was this his secret wish? Perhaps my snap judgment at the door was unfair to Bertha. I did owe her the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to ask him about it too, except he was not part of the dinner party. But, I really did want to know the details, which she quite proudly shared with us.

There's no need to dwell on it, but it was not his idea. She started out small and worked her way up like someone training a dog and obviously she did it quite effectively. Even if I didn't like her goal, I must respect her methodology and effectiveness. The poor bastard was in the kitchen preparing dinner for us totally unaware that he would be living in our guest house tomorrow. We were unaware of that too. Unbeknownst to me, her plan was for us to take him home with us that night, and her plans are almost always successful.

As we sat in the living room talking with Bertha, she broached the idea of entertaining other men. What was she thinking? Judy and I had the same response to her feelers about adultery. If she was testing her idea on us, it was shot down quickly. If she was single then that would be her business but violating her marriage vows, would surely adversely affect our opinion of her as a person of integrity. Honor and integrity are traits we value in our friends. Yes, we are selective in our choice of friends and we hold them to certain standards. We expect to be held to those same standards by them as well. Fortunately, she was speaking theoretically and didn't have any particular person in mind.

With Maid Brandi in the kitchen she unloaded on him, basically justifying dumping him. In all fairness to Bertha, I don't know all the facts so I can't make a valid judgment and my opinion is irrelevant anyhow because it was a fait accompli. He had been moved out of their bedroom months before and had been working for her as her maid ever since. Her resentment built with each passing month even though it was her idea. His willingness to accept that treatment had earned her contempt. He was in her view spineless and lazy and she couldn't tolerate a man who would accept such treatment. She made a strong argument.

Then she lamented to Judy that she was sorry she hadn't "gotten to" me first. You can imagine how well that went over with Judy. I've seen her drunk before, but that night she was turning out to be as socially tone deaf as I. That's saying a lot because my ability to inadvertently offend is why I just keep my mouth shut around strangers. I think at this point it was the alcohol talking. She had a head start on us, and I drink very little anyhow. But, Judy was a bit miffed while I found it mildly amusing finding it hard not to laugh. Even when annoyed, Judy's kindness and grace shows through and she undoubtedly knew how ridiculous this tangent was.

I saw it as presumptuous. She assumes that I was available like a piece of fish at a market just to be snapped up, as though Judy and I had not carefully evaluated each other's character traits, values, and hopes for the future to see if we were compatible for the long run. Bertha still didn't get it. She didn't understand that marriage isn't supposed to be about her or him, it's about them. And there we were sitting in the middle of the train wreck in progress that we both saw coming from day one and Judy and I were on the same wavelength already thinking of how to clean up the wreckage.

How do friendships evolve into "friends" whom you no longer like, but stay in touch with and see on a regular basis? Is it inertia or force of habit? Or is it uncertainty? Perhaps after such an investment of time and effort, you simply have too much in common to let it go. Or is it an intermediate stage of severing a relationship that has not yet and might not reach that point? We weren't going to get all the facts from Bertha that night, but time would tell. We would help both of them to the best of our abilities. Bertha already had Bud's suitcase packed. He wasn't totally surprised and he was stoic about his ejection from the house. Everyone was silent on the way home. Judy knew she would go over tomorrow to check on Bertha and make sure she's alright.

The divorce was quick and uncontested. One of Bertha's virtues is that she is not a greedy person. Neither party got screwed on the divorce, and the two of them are still on good terms. Each of them learned and grew from the experience which is my way of saying it could have been much worse.

When we got home that night, after getting Bud, still in his French maid outfit and heels, settled into the small guesthouse at the back of our property, and assuring him that everything would turn out all right, we finally got to bed. Judy, in fun, asked if I would like to try on an outfit like that. I laughed and pointed out that she would look very nice in it. I guess I had been a little bit too curious that evening and perhaps see's just a bit too perceptive. When pressed with, "Your silence speaks volumes", I said I never wanted to be like Bud. And she smiled, saying that I could never be like Bud and she could never be like Bertha. She left it at that, but the smile on her face spoke volumes too. She knows me down to my very soul.

It is said that some things must be destroyed so others can be built and I suppose that's what happened that night. It was a little bit awkward having her ex-husband living in our guest house while she moved into our neighborhood just a few blocks away, and hung out at our house. But we have remained friends with both and because of her unusual talent revealed to us that night; she really has been a tremendous boon to the entire neighborhood, so we won't dwell on the past. But, Judy and I knowing her little secret talent saw an opportunity to put it to good use.

Bud likes it in our guest cottage and Judy now has a part time sissy maid, but he has been weaned off of that low stress occupation and is now back at a bank full time, none the worse for wear. He's even dating again. The change has been good for him. He's got his life back, but I'd prefer that Judy not get too used to having a sissy maid, so hopefully he will be moving soon.

Surprisingly, Bertha and I actually grew closer. She appreciated my willingness to risk our friendship years ago when I warned them about their impending marriage and I, having finally recognized the depth of her despair from an unhappy marriage, now understood her need to do something, anything, in an attempt to resolve it. She now appreciates my forthright nature, that she used to call "social retardation" or "politically incorrect" and says being forthright would have been a much simpler solution to her and Bud's problems. In retrospect, however, I'm glad she wasn't. The way she did it was far more entertaining for us than a regular divorce would have been, and with the passage of time we will all be able to laugh about it. Also, it would have been less rewarding for the neighborhood, because the skills she developed dealing with Bud were brought to bear on the "David Problem".

David was our neighborhood hoarder and the scourge of the community. I was lucky that I didn't have to drive past his cluttered overgrown property and see it every day, but most of the neighborhood did. Perhaps that's why I was one of the few people in the community still on speaking terms with him. The first time I saw him I had gone down to ask him to tie up his dog that was hanging out on our property. I always got along well with him and he always cooperated with me. The dog was promptly penned up, but I noticed many windows of his house were broken. When I asked what happened he simply attributed it to vandalism.

At the time I had just finished a renovation project on our house and I had a lot of extra glass just taking up space at home that I'd be happy to be rid of, so I offered to help him fix his windows at no charge, just to get rid of the glass. I told him that I had become quite skilled at glazing old windows and if he would buy the glazing compound, I'd help him fix his windows. He never did take me up on the offer, but he really appreciated my willingness to help and from then on he always went out of his way to be nice. I guess I was one of the few in the neighborhood who didn't exhibit hostility due to the condition of his property.

The really sad thing was that it was a wonderful piece of property that backs up on a river. It's about eight acres of a former industrial property that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been a quarry. Huge blocks of limestone would be cleaved off of a bluff, slid down ramps and put onto barges on a sand bar. Then, when the river would flood in the springtime, the barges were floated down river to a mill with a giant band saw that would cut them into large one inch thick slices to be polished and shipped by rail all over the country to be used as partitions for bathroom stalls in office buildings, government buildings and department stores. One can still recognize our local rock in these old buildings by the specific fossils that can be easily seen while you are sitting on toilets from coast to coast. Ah, the bygone glory days of our little community!

Anyhow, with an appreciation of her unique ability to deal with and motivate a lazy or mixed up man, I introduced Bertha to David as soon as she moved into the neighborhood. I asked him to show her around and told him that she was a long time friend of ours. They hit it off right away. She had all the background information on him I could provide and Bertha, despite her impatience and unwillingness to suffer fools, is remarkably nonjudgmental of eccentricities.

Within six months she had him in a maid outfit cleaning her house. I guess she missed Bud after all. A few months after that he had learned the organizational skills needed to keep an orderly house. He had never grasped that before due to the way his brain worked. This goes back to the way that training in a particular discipline directs your thought process. Once those thought patterns were established in his brain through her influence, he was appalled and embarrassed by the condition of his own home.

With a desire to please her and respect for her opinions, he was soon cleaning the inside of his house too. Bertha, Judy and I helped, but never pushed him. He did most of it. Then as word of his conversion to middle class sensibilities and new found respect for community standards got around, the whole neighborhood rallied around him and turned out to help him clean up the outside and help him with repairs. People who hated him were now his friends. Other than him, only the three of us know about David's training as a maid, but it has certainly improved his life. I had totally misjudged Bertha's sissy maid thing.

Now my distain for Bertha's unusual talent and preferences has turned to admiration. David is no longer alienated from his neighbors, he has a much healthier lifestyle and he is happy. The whole neighborhood credits Bertha for the change, so she's the hero and she's invited to all the cookouts. She and David have remained friends although both have found other love interests so we now have a wider circle of friends. And believe it or not, Bud and his girlfriend look like a perfect match. As you know, I'm pretty good at spotting that kind of thing. Don't you just love happy endings?

The End

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