Mrs. Betty Bowers' Words of Christian Concern:
Is Rehab Replacing Jesus as America's Favorite Vehicle for Instantaneous Forgiveness?

This hasn't been a particularly good week for crazy people, has it?  First, Astronaut Lisa Nowak tries to end a life.  Next, Space Cadet Anna Nicole Smith comes to the end of her own. The first story is so sad because it is so unpredictable; the latter because it was not.

According to the 4,598 breathlessly urgent news reports last night, Anna Nicole's nurse found her employer unconscious.  How she was able to tell is anyone's guess. Truly, it makes one despair for the state of health care in this country when a 39 year-old traveling with her own private nurse can't get a simple heroin dosage right. But we shouldn't be too quick to impugn the no doubt frazzled nurse's skills. After all, it must have taken a trained eye to discern that Anna was actually unconscious instead of just giving another cataleptic interview to Entertainment Tonight.    

Between a baby-talking Anna in Hollywood and a diaper-wearing astronaut in Orlando, Florida has, once again, shown its knack for taking an unfair share of the available crazy. As my dear Sister-in-Christ Mrs. Patsy Ramsey, formerly of Boulder, CO, once authoritatively opined:

"A smart killer will take that extra effort to dress up and run a brush through her hair, lest someone recognize the handwriting on the ransom note and she winds up stuck with an unflattering mug shot on SmokingGun.com. That's the type of heat of passion that can make you regret the whole thing."  

I realize that lady astronauts don't tend to dress any snappier than lady golf pros, but Lisa Nowak (verily the Capt. Alex Forrest of NASA) inexplicably completed her stalker/killer ensemble with a very-hard-to-pull-off pair of government-issued diapers.  Frankly, I would never have confronted a younger rival with such an unseemly panty line!

As Laura "Pickles" Bush remarked to me at breakfast this morning:

"The killing? Now, that I can understand. Trust me. But the not stopping five minutes for a poop and a ciggy?  Why, that's a big ole batch of bug-eyed crazy!"  

I find myself reveling in the novelty of agreeing with our First Lady.  While the bathrooms at Texaco stations tend to look like something you might encounter upstairs at one of Whitney Houston's repossessed homes, you'd nevertheless think a woman used to peeing in zero gravity would be adroit enough to navigate her lower lady parts to hover without actually docking with the filthy cigarette-burned, yellowed-plastic of a public toilet seat.  Instead of even trying such acrobatics, familiar to any Christian lady who has ever used facilities available to strangers, she wore diapers all the way from Houston to Orlando.  Frankly, outside of Iraq, it's difficult to imagine a more unnecessary, stinking mess! 

After all, if Lisa Nowak had simply sprung for the drugs, cash and constant media attention it apparently takes to engage the resourceful services of Anna Nicole's pet lawyer Howard K. Stern, her rival would now be slumped over a steering wheel in the cheap parking at Orlando Airport.  And Lisa would have been sitting pretty in her lovely home in Texas instead of sitting soggy in a jail cell in Florida

In fact, I told President Bush this morning:

"Instead of sending tens of thousands of new troops to Iraq to kill time -- and, well, them -- until you are out of office, why not just send Howard K. Stern, the Dr. Kevorkian of the Bar Association?  Just tell Howard that he stands to inherit every mullah's moolah and Muqtada al-Sadr's will be found on a sidewalk with a needle up his arm by weekend.  Besides, what better way to put a perky spin on a losing war than have Mary Hart giddily reporting on Howard's latest victim each day from Baghdad?"

Helpful Howard probably needs a new purpose in life anyway  -- especially since he is the only person left in his circle of friends who still has one.  After all, he can't be feeling too secure right now.  He must be rather cognizant of the Ed McMahon Rule of Celebrity: Parasites are at risk once the host dies. And I'm sure Howard will be no exception. Yes, he might be able to assuage his grief in that quintessentially 21st century American way --  by selling video of his loved one's dead body to the tabloids  -- but with Anna Nicole gone, he must feel like a ship without a rudder. Or, rather, a pimp without a whore.  At least he can take comfort in the wholly coincidental convenience of having the only witness to what Howard did moments before Anna Nicole's son died now gone.  But how long before even the fawning Mark Steines finally asks: Who was supplying these dead people with their narcotics? 

The thing that strikes both Jesus and me about this whole sad mess is this: Why are all the people who don't need drug rehabs taking up spaces that Anna Nicole Smith could have used?

Frankly, I'm beginning to think that there is no room left in rehab for people who actually need it.  Mark Foley.  Isaiah Washington.  Miss USA, Tara Conner.  The Mayor of San Francisco. With press releases replacing Catholic confessional booths as America's most painless form of pardon, everyone who gets caught doing something embarrassing makes a perfunctory pilgrimage to a rehab facility. These are really just lushly landscaped, deluxe resorts for celebrities who've found yet one more excuse to gather and talk about themselves.  How long before "Rehab!" is the standard reply to the question: "You've just won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do now?"

Television's smarmy entertainment hosts nod hosannas when celebrities and politicians use a quick stay at rehab as a cheap, insincere ploy for secular absolution, but don't even suggest an involuntary trip to rehab when a drugged-out celebrity they want to retain access to nods off in the middle of an interview.  

E! and the producers of the voyeuristically enabling "The Anna Nicole Show" knew Anna Nicole had a drug problem.  But it made for good television to watch her slur her words and be so out of it she hired Bobby Trendy to festoon her bedroom with tufted pink satin until it looked like the inside of Barbie's coffin. Similarly, Fox currently knows that Paula Abdul gobbles down enough OxyContins before each broadcast to make Rush Limbaugh twitch with covetous envy.  But a messy Paula makes for more entertaining American Idol than an overweight geek atonally caterwauling Barry Manilow. And judging from the coverage last night, a dead Anna Nicole is a bigger ratings winner than even the almost-dead one.

Here is an idea: Why don't culpability-avoiding public figures like Isaiah Washington skip the  expensively scripted pantomimes of penance and rehabilitation to clear up space for people who really need it?  Like Paula Abdul.  Or Britney Spears.  And the next new surrogate for Anna Nicole Smith that US Weekly, et al, creates and destroys. 

Oh, and save a spot for Reverend Ted Haggard. After the quickest rehab on record, he's supposedly now "completely heterosexual." But, between us, I fear he is only a lingering handshake away from a meth-fueled relapse and a weekend in a sling.

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