by: Dustin Joy
Note: In case you are wondering; yes, this post was approved by my dear wife.
I am obsessed with Charity Nebbe. In case you don’t know who Charity Nebbe is, I will tell you. Charity is a public radio host and the on-air personality for the show Iowa Ingredient. She is smart and clever. She has a playful wit and an infectious laugh. She listens politely and says intelligent, insightful things. Charity is pretty. She might not be considered beautiful in a shallow, conventional, commercial sense. She has a generous, natural nose that is to me, superior to those rhinoplastied monstrosities we see so often on TV. She has short, pixyish hair, giving her a flirty, devil-may-care look. She is thin but with just the tiniest bulge of a belly as if to say, “sure, I go to the gym,” but I’m not one of those “I go to the gym people.”
Charity is a vegetarian, but not a preachy one. She’s written a children’s book, and…get this… she won an Emmy. Well, okay, a regional Emmy. Charity is an Iowa girl. She lives on a farm near Kalona, with her two kids and her … baker husband. He’s a baker. Not that there is anything wrong with that. God knows loaves must be baked and someone must bake them. So what if he wears an apron?
Charity was born in 1975 which makes her only five (or six …or seven) years younger than me. She grew up in Cedar Falls and attended Iowa State University majoring in Political Science and Biology. I majored in Biology with a concentration in Political Science. I know, right? Charity went on to a successful career in radio. With her undeniable good looks and irrepressible joie de vivre, the move to television was inevitable. Each week on IPTV she gives Iowa, finally, something to be proud of.
Now I know you are asking, “how does he know all these cool things about Charity Nebbe?” or, perhaps, “why does he know all these cool things about Charity Nebbe?” It’s not because I have stalked her. Parenthetically, that is really unfair of you to think that. I just did a little research on Wikipedia, that’s all. My interest is a healthy interest, literally. Ive learned a lot from Iowa Ingredient. I’ve learned about the merits of arugula, kale, and organic honey. I’m a better person for my obsession.
And here’s the thing. I am married. I am happily married and have been for 26 years. I love my wife with all my heart. I’m not at all suggesting that I would leave her and my beloved, beloved kids to run away with Charity Nebbe to a cabin in the high Sierras where we would hike and paddle around mountain lakes in kayaks and eat wild chanterelles which Charity would sauté up with a little garlic and thyme wearing that cute apron.… I would not do that.
But my wife and I have a deal. If, hypothetically, the rock star and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin shows up at our front door in Illinois City and asks my wife to come away with him to the south of France I, as a good husband, would step aside and … go back in and watch Iowa Ingredient. Likewise, and it’s only fair when you think about it, if Charity Nebbe someday recognizes that her glamorous life as a public television star is hollow and meaningless and that her …baker…husband does not adore her like…well, like his precious crescent rolls…then.
I think I have a perfectly acceptable, not-at-all weird obsession with Charity Nebbe. I watch her show. I know things about Charity that I do not know about Jaques Pepin or Mara Liasson. So what? I care, for some reason, that Charity raises chickens and that she once went sky-diving. I really don’t care how much marijuana Rick Steves smokes. Why is that? Is it okay to Google Charity Nebbe? Would it be okay to write her a fan letter? Does it matter that I am a middle-aged man? Why? If I were a teenage boy with a poster of Ariana Grande on my wall that would be okay. But if I’m an adult man with a life-size poster of Charity Nebbe on my wall (and I’m not saying such a poster exists) am I eccentric?
Maybe this obsession is like my infatuation with geocaching. Maybe it is a little stranger, like my brief devotion to the discography of Glen Campbell. Both were harmless and transitory. Charity Nebbe is a real, live person, though. It’s not that Glen Campbell wasn’t a real person. But a superstar is really more of an abstraction and, ultimately, it was just Wichita Lineman, Galveston, and By the Time I get to Phoenix that rattled around in my iPod for a time. I was really more obsessed with Jimmy Webb than Glen Campbell.
I could download episodes of Iowa Ingredient I suppose and study them like the Zapruder film. That is a tolerable eccentricity. If I drive past Charity’s house, though, that is a different thing, maybe? If I call her at work or write her a letter that is odd? Probably. If I meet her outside her office with a heart-shaped box of candy I’ve probably crossed some kind of line. Women, in our culture, have put up with this sort of bullshit in a way that most men never will.
The news today is full of men behaving badly, and stupidly, in the company of women. Certainly these things run on a continuum. There’s Jimmy Carter, who admitted to “lusting in his heart” and then there is Donald Trump who, you know, said all the things he said…and continues to say…and continues to say. There is normal, and then there is deviant. But where, exactly is that line?
I suspect every person becomes obsessed with another person at some point in their lives. These interests are usually controlled. You are a “fan” or you have a “man-crush” or you “really enjoy the company of” so-and-so. You might know that Mark in accounting is an avid cyclist. But a “normal” person doesn’t fish Mark’s discarded chewing gum out of the garbage can when he leaves the room.
I once had a co-worker who followed the Moody Blues around the world, spending, by her own estimate $50,000 on travel and concert tickets. She was clearly obsessed with Justin Hayward in a way that was unhealthy. Or was it? It appeared to make her life richer and, at worst, constituted an occasional nuisance to the Justin Hayward. Until it doesn’t. It is that “until it doesn’t” that is the problem.
I don’t think I’m crazy. I will never pursue a relationship of any kind with Charity Nebbe. I predict that my interest in her will fade like my devotion to Hemingway’s short stories, my crush on Pam Dawber, and geocaching.The only question that troubles me is this; does the unhealthy obsessive know when he crosses that line? Does the devoted fan recognize when he becomes a scary creep? I fear that, at some point, he does not. That is the scary part, scary to the obsessive, but scarier by far, to the target.