The Telltale Mouth

Ever since my friend Betsy alerted me that the feds had caught the gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, I’ve been intrigued.

“You know how they found him?” Betsy said over a taco. “They searched for clues about his girlfriend. She got her teeth cleaned once a month. That was one of the traits they used. She used to be a dental hygienist.”

Years on the lam and they caught the guy who — not to be too judgmental — comes across as basically the scum of the earth. There are so many riveting details going on here that it’s kind of hard to focus.

Such as, Why on earth would anybody want to be nicknamed “Whitey”? Did he ever consider changing it to something like “Jimbo” or “Skip”? There are lots of great nicknames out there and there’s no reason to get stuck with the old, colorless identity you’ve completely outgrown.

And, What kind of weirdo gets her teeth cleaned on a monthly basis? Good grief. Didn’t she have anything better to do? Didn’t they have cable? There are so many great shows on HBO these days, all of which I’d prefer watching than going to the dentist. Also, didn’t the dentist get suspicious when she paid him in cash every month?

But, anyway. Those are minor quibbles. What I’m really interested in is going on the lam or into the witness protection plan, both of which Whitey and his sparkling-toothed moll evidently did. I’ve thought about it off and on for a while, spurred on by my infatuation with The Sopranos — and particularly with what I consider the finest episode of the series, when Tony took Meadow to visit colleges.

You may remember it. Tony drove his daughter all over New England to look at potential colleges. It was a great time for a little father-daughter bonding, except for that brief interlude when Tony discovered a mob snitch and had to whack him. (My husband, coincidentally, took our daughter on a college tour that exact year. He swears their trip wasn’t nearly that exciting.) The whackee, who was in the witness protection program,  just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Tony saw him; he wasn’t doing anything as provocative as getting his teeth cleaned.

Based on all this evidence, I’ve decided I would probably be the worst person in the universe to go on the lam or enter the witness protection program. I would be horrible at pretending to be somebody else since, at this point in my life, I am mainly concerned with keeping a grip on my original identity. Also, I’m from Texas and I sound like it, and I have lots of liberal opinions I like to mouth off about, and I don’t think any of this is conducive to effectively disappearing. Also, I don’t think I’m a good enough actress to impersonate a Republican.

That said, fate can come along and whack you like a pissed-off mobster and all of a sudden, you’re in the witness protection program and you’d better keep your head down and your mouth shut. I think about that. What if that happened to me? What if I had to go undercover? What would be the telltale detail — something irrevocable I couldn’t change, in spite of myself — that would trip me up and land me in prison or render me dead? I’m thinking.

I’ve got it. Here I am, this dowdy little old woman with gray hair and a harsh Midwestern accent. I go to church all the time and wear a big “Tea Partier for Sarah Palin” button. I drive a gas guzzling car with a “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for the American” bumper sticker. I always smile sweetly and defer to everybody else and talk about the good old days before these newfangled computers just messed up life real good.

I live like this unobtrusively and unnoticed for a month or a year or a decade. Till somebody confuses “lie” and “lay” around me and I correct him. Or somebody cuts in front of me in traffic and I roll down my window and call him an asshole. In both cases, I’d forget my Midwestern accent and sound like a Texan.

It wouldn’t be the dentist that would do me in. But, like the gangster moll, I’m a predictable creature of habit when it comes to my mouth.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read another post about how My Name Ain’t Job


14 comments… add one
  • Funny! Keep that mouth going. BTW, I too tend to let my indignation rip when it comes to “lay” and “lie”–especially when some editor inserts the dread chicken word in place of “lie.”

  • Today during an interminable wait for a medical procedure, one of the nurses brought me a magazine – Southern Lady. I browsed through it, desperately hoping to have my mind taken off the torture ahead. It was full of crafts, ads with crosses in them and other things I just didn’t get. The nurse asked me what I learned from Southern Lady. I said, “that I’m not one.” She didn’t find it too funny. So I guess that is what I would have to go under cover as.

  • Getting “lay” and “lie” mixed up is almost as bad as misspelling judgment. I can’t stand it. But at least I wouldn’t have to worry about the Texas accent kicking in. Too bad. You might have enjoyed that new life.

  • Marie Link

    This is hilarious – thanks for the late-night laugh! And, that is my favorite episode of the Sopranos, too.

  • Terry Link

    I will use your line…”I don’t think I’m a good enough actress to impersonate a Republican.” lol

  • I just finished reading Carole Moore’s new book “The Last Place You Look.” It’s mostly about missing persons, but there is a chapter on people who disappear on purpose, including Whitey. Apparently, there are whole books / websites that explain how to vanish … but with technology and other tells these days, it’s MUCH harder than it used to be.

  • Sheryl Link

    Well, Ruth, I guess you can take the girl out of Texas, but that doesn’t mean you can taker as out of the girl, after all.

  • Too funny! I’m afraid I’ve already kind of went on the lam. During the 2008 Presidential election, the first one since moving to Conservativeville, I got into an argument with the neighbor up the mountain. “Well, do you want a MUSLIM fro President!?” she screamed at me before she stomped into her house and slammed her door. She hasn’t spoken to us since. “You’re going to have to keep your mouth shut down here,” my husband told me.

  • I’m enough of an introvert that I wouldn’t have trouble keeping my mouth shut in public. They could probably track me by my web habit/IP address though. Hmmm.

  • Ruth–as always this makes me laugh. I’d love to record some of the conversations you have around the dinner table with your husband. I bet they’re pretty spirited.

  • Oh, Ruth, you wouldn’t last on the lam a fortnight. You’d go blogging about all your new adventures, and– WHAM!!! There you’d be– in shackles.

  • Thank you for always making me laugh, Ruth. I chuckled out loud at the thought of someone getting their teeth cleaned once a week – and yes, there ARE lots of HBO shows to watch. And also trying to keep a grip on your original identity. So get that.

    My beloved SIL used to (lovingly) call me Jane ‘The Weasel’ Boursaw, and I never really understood why, because I’m a likeable person and my head is appropriately sized for my body. Maybe she was just priming me for my days on the run in a future life. And it does have a nice ring to it.

    And after dealing with horrid mortgage companies, belligerent banks and the corporate man the past few years, I dream of disappearing off the grid.

  • A month, a year, a decade? Ruth, you would barely last an hour. There are people on the streets all over the English speaking world shouting at their dogs to LAY DOWN.

  • You’d be a failure in the witness identity program but you sure write a funny story about it.

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