No Matter Where you go...: Disappearing Acts in the News

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 10:51 AM EST

While we were digging out from 9/11 and the nation spent so long hysterically trying to account for everyone, a writer friend told me that after most mass accidents -- train wrecks, etc -- some people were found to have used the tragedy to decide to disappear. They'd turn up months or years later, usually by accident or the diligent work of family members who hadn't known they'd been abandoned, simply having decided to walk away from it all. I don't know whether to condemn or admire these...bastards? Maybe they're heartless schemers and maybe they're just more brave and honest than the rest of us.

Britain's "Canoe Man" is simply the latest, if not the smartest. He deserves nothing but condemnation. Had he, and his wife, foregone the insurance money and simply walked off into the sunset together, hand in hand, to start over again like Adam and Eve in the Canal Zone, you could see the poetry. But what they've done to their sons: inexcuseable. You can live without your children, your parents, a lifetime's worth of friends and your country but not without an unearned windfall?

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Ah, but wanting to be someone else, to do something else. That was one of the big draws of the military; each of the many times I moved during those 12 years, I could, and did, re-create myself -- from mousy deacon's daughter, to jock, and then to fashion plate before finally landing at intellectual, just to name a few. First day at a new base half way around the world, there was no one around to out me with "Skirts and heels? You?" Wanting to walk away from even a good life for a different life... To go from prison worker to jet ski wrangler, or the other way 'round..., combat boots to pumps, the attorney's fast track to journalism and blogging. I get that. Understandable. Delicious and intrepid, even. A determination to live your life and not have it live you, whatever the foregone lucre and external validation. But these clowns - intrepid they are not. Not only are they not brave and determined, they're not even bright.

Hollywood is no doubt already working on this movie (suggested title: Dumb-ass and Even Dumber Start All Over Again, Make All the Same Mistakes). I can't wait to see a schematic of the secret door in the wardrobe and the Saddam Hussein hidey-hole he scrambled into whenever neighbors stopped by. And, oh, to unravel the thought process that led them to "cheese" for their Panamanian realtor's website whilst on the DL or why a tanned Canoe Man walked into that police station, bored now with the limitations of being "dead" in one's home town, thinking he could pull off amnesia. He probably had a pina colada in one hand, while searching mightly for his own ass with the other.

When the news broke, I felt sure I knew why they'd done it. I figured they'd built a solid life. A predictable and suffocating life, however free of tragedy, and they simply wanted to be other people, alone together in a brave new world. A world in which they were free of all the things they'd worked so hard to acquire -- possessions, responsibility, movie on Friday, church on Sunday, their favorite morning coffee and grown boys who they'd miss but who could, let's face it, manage for themselves. They wanted to be free to start over. He went first, I figured, but then realized he couldn't live without her. So he came back from the dead for his true love. I thought it was a love story.

Of course, I was wrong. I gave them far too much credit. Turns out, they didn't want new lives. Homey grew an attention-grabbing Unabomber beard, hid in his own house for yeeeears, limped like a moron on his rare forays out and even signed his lame fake name ("John Jones") on a stupid local zoning petition. They wanted to be the same losers they'd always been. Just debt free. Are there no bankruptcy laws in England? The way we Americans rely on it, you'd a thought it was the centerpiece of the Magna Carta. They'd bought a bunch of useless crap and, just so they could acquire more useless, albeit it beach front, crap, put their family and their community through hell. They're just deadbeats who want to have their cake and eat it, too.

No matter where they go, there they'll be, sad, defeated and now in a real jail instead of the mental one that concocted such a pathetic caper.

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