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Homicide: Lesson in Leadership 1999

There is a certain type of dark American movie: a flawed man falls in love with the wrong woman and it turns him into a total loser. The Postman Always Rings Twice. Body Heat. Romeo Is Bleeding. The theme is simple: Men are victims of their lust and women are clever connivers who use this fact to their advantage.

Somehow we are sympathetic with the anti-hero. He is in touch with flaws. He knows he's screwing up and he can't help himself. After all, who can help liking a man who falls for a smart dame?

Real life is different. Men kill women all the time. Among po' folks, the usual alcohol plus gun equals crime of passion. For the middle class, it's the Scott Peterson scenario. The man is way out of touch with his own flaws. He's showing off for the girlfriend. He thinks he is way smarter than the police

I knew a guy like this. For several Thursdays in 1999, we had breakfast together with two other members of my Community Leadership class. Our study group was looking at the exciting topic of collaboration among human service agencies. Walt wasn't that active a participant. He was a busy guy -- a civil engineer whose cell phone was always ringing. I remember being impressed by his Filofax. No disorganized Post-Its sticking out every which way. His calendar and to do lists were not only neat, but encased in plastic sleeves.

Should that have been a clue?

Shortly after our 9-month program ended, he invited his wife to a Sunday breakfast in the country and left the kids with her family. He drove the family minivan. Two minutes away from the restaurant, he said he had to stop to take a leak, pulled over to the edge of a gorge, jumped out and let the car continue rolling over the 350-foot cliff. Oops. He had parked in one of the few spots where the trees were far enough apart to accommodate the width of a minivan.

He told the police his wife was unhappy.

He had been having an affair with the Executive Director of our leadership program.

A TV news reporter called me for a comment. The sheriff's department interviewed me. What could I say? He was the proverbial nice guy with crinkly blue eyes and a shy smile.

What actually bothered me about him was that he didn't contribute a damn thing to our project but somehow got appointed to the Community Leadership board of directors. How the heck did that happen? I was already grumbling to myself that sociability tends to beat out competence but then, oh yeah, he was canoodling with the exec. Hmmm... private sociability trumps public sociability? Our classes did not cover that topic.

But our classes did cover the importance of breaking rules. And here was the final lesson of our leadership program. Our class was always instructed to take charge. Leaders make the rules and break the rules. Great encouragement for leaders in the making, but suddenly, the dark side emerges. I think of Saddam Hussein, the Enron guys and the Tyco guys. Rules are for the little people, the worker bees, gumshoe cops -- not for men of action.

We feel a little sorry for the Ned Racines of the world -- the bewitched followers -- but we always cheer when the Gordon Geckos take a fall.


(8.22.04; Adapted from 7.15.99 entry)


The Postman Always Rings Twice. John Garfield plays Frank Chambers in 1946. Jack Nicholson has his turn in 1981.

Body Heat. William Hurt plays Ned Racine in 1981.

Romeo Is Bleeding. Gary Oldman plays Jack Grimaldi in 1993.


Wall Street. Michael Douglas plays the arrogant rule breaker Gordon Gecko in 1987.

I can't think of a movie offhand about an arrogant wife killer. They are somehow duller, winding up on the Lifetime Channel. There's Reversal of Fortune, of course, but Claus von Bulow got away with it.





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