Even after 38 years, Karl sometimes surprises me. Not like sending me flowers or bringing me candy surprises, but the occasional surprise choice.
Last weekend, we were retiring to the den to eat dinner and watch a movie. I had recently recorded two movies I wanted to see again, one that I hadn’t seen in a very long time that I thought Karl wouldn’t sit still for and one that I thought Karl might like to watch again. Scanning the list of recordings, he surprised me by picking The Boston Strangler rather than The Talented Mr. Ripley. It was straight out of the blue, Karl having had a picture of Jude Law from that movie as a screen saver years ago about which I gave him plenty of grief.
So we sat down to watch Tony Curtis as the serial killer instead of Matt Damon. The Boston Strangler, released in 1968, is one of those movies using an excess of split screens and show-off camera work that dates the movie when watching it today. On top of that, there’s the round-up of “known sex offenders,” including “men’s room queens,” resulting in a montage of images—a florist and a muscle man are presented in case anyone should miss the point. Add a lesbian couple, who seemingly got lost on the way to The Killing of Sister George, plus a scene with Henry Fonda in a gay bar and one gets a glimpse of the casual homophobia that wouldn’t have lifted an eyebrow in those less enlightened times.
But the most striking thing about this movie isn’t any of these things, or even the excellent performance Tony Curtis gives as the strangler. (I’ve always thought Curtis more talented than he is usually given credit for being, and that he is better in Some Like It Hot than Jack Lemmon, his Oscar-nominated co-star.) What really got me to thinking was how did the murderer get access to all these women.
As is so often the case, Hollywood movies don’t tell a reliable truth when basing their story on something that actually happened. So I did the google thing. The first murder was discovered on June 14, 1962, and by the end of the month, there were three more. Naturally, the newspapers were on it like white on rice. The killer was alternately called the “Mad Strangler,” the “Phantom Fiend,” and the “Phantom Stranger” in the media of the day before the city-specific moniker replaced them.
Considering there was so much attention through the rest of the year and into 1963 as the murders continued, it is hard to understand how the killer continued to get into his victim’s homes. Presumably, he posed as a maintenance man of some sort or as a detective (in at least one case). Many, if not most, of the women in Boston became diligent in protecting themselves and would have reacted to a stranger at their door the way a lot of us would today. But the Boston Strangler operated in a less suspicious time, and so he found his victims.
In 1960, the Metropolitan Boston population was over three million, making the odds of any particular woman coming in contact with the killer infinitesimal. Not to compare apples and oranges, the current rate of COVID-19 in the United States is 1.4%, with a death rate of 6.4% of what may be called resolved cases, based on current reporting. Any way one cuts it, our times in this regard are riskier than 1960’s Boston.
So many slog on, believing that everything done up until this point to protect oneself does nothing if the diligence is not maintained. Others, disbelieving that the situation is dire, move on with minimal changes in behavior. Yet others seem to have grown weary, loosening their own restrictions so that they allow themselves to do things that they wouldn’t have done three months ago, even though the numbers then were better than they are today.
Meanwhile, back at my ranch, my calendar pages are updated daily, and not with engagements that would require a full face of makeup or cute shoes. Just my inner math nerd taking ascendancy over the social side of my personality, and noting the changes in the numbers of reported cases and such, using paper which should been charting life, not death.
On Wednesday, I finally broke down and went to the optometrist. There’s no reason for my waiting so long to get new glasses. Well, it may have something to do with my fear of the word “bifocals.” For several years, I’ve used one prescription to see the computer terminal and another to read. This has sometimes led to my slinging glasses off my face, putting another pair on to read something, slinging them off and repeating the process—often multiple times in a single sitting.
Going to the shopping center where Karl made our appointments (he’s very diligent about his eye care), it was by far the most glamorous thing I’ve done in months. It was almost like shopping. At least I was getting to choose something to buy. And the optometrist looked like he may have been cute, assuming he had all his teeth behind his mask. When he told me that I needed “progressive” lenses, I could have socially distanced kissed him. I know I’m really getting bifocals with fuzzy edges, but that’s not the point.
I picked out three pairs of frames from which to choose. Normally, I would have tried on half the frames in the store to make a decision, but those days are long gone. I selected a basic large tortoise style, a kind of bluish mottled style, and an angular black frame with a kind of lightish brown arm.
As I tried them on, Karl gave a shrug to the first pair with another shrug for the second pair. With the third pair, he surprised me and said, “I like those—they’re really different.” The lady who was taking the order said, “Oh, yes, the cat’s eye really suits you.” I hadn’t even thought of it as a cat’s eye, particularly since it wasn’t embedded with little crystals.
Truth be told, I preferred the bluish ones. But since Karl is going to be the one looking at me wearing them at the computer, it seemed right to let it be his choice. At least this one time. Besides, they really are the most fun. And why not live a little dangerously? As long we’re staying inside our own little bubble.