Friday, March 25, 2011

Johnny and Roy

"51, start an IV with D5W, ringers lactate and transport as soon as possible."


"What did he say?" asked my six-year-old sister, who wasn’t half paying attention. That annoyed the heck out of me.

"You annoy the heck out of me," I’d say with as much indignity as a brainy geek with glasses and Cherokee/German nose could muster, then go back to my living fantasy, watching two unknown men save lives, and dreaming of the day (hopefully soon) when I would fall mysteriously ill and be so close to death that no one would be able to figure out my ailment, and they’d have to call in these mysterious new breed of men, these paramedics. "Paramedics." I would say it over and over, and feel a pre-pubescent thrill attack my spine each time. It just sounded so...official, and bigger than anything I’d experienced in my little life so far.

Emergency! was our family’s way of pretending we liked each other and wanted to spend quality time together, and soon it was the show's TV stars to which I'd become addicted.

Randolph Mantooth played Firefighter/Paramedic John Gage. He was dark-haired, dark-skinned and had a deliciously crooked smile. Where had he been my entire nine-year-old life?? Now that I look back on it, he was a chauvinistic pig of the highest magnitude; making fun of "fatties" and always referring to women as some sort of sex object ("Mom? What’s a sex object?" "Er, erm, nothing--be quiet and eat your cake."), but not then; you couldn’t convince me this man could ever do anything wrong.

Then there was his gorgeous and slightly-shy red-headed partner, Firefighter/Paramedic Roy DeSoto, played skillfully by actor Kevin Tighe. Roy DeSoto was married, and while we as an audience never got to see "JoAnn," I was jealous of her.

"I’ll bet she’s fat," I said one afternoon during mine and my sister’s make-shift fan club meeting, beneath the little tree in our front yard. My sister and I were always coming up with hair-brained schemes to figure out how to get accepted into the fake paramedics’ fan club. If only we’d figured out all we had to do was send in the form, it would’ve saved us a lot of torment and bitching during club meetings. There were never any other fans except the two of us. But that was okay, because we didn’t need the competition.

I remember our little worlds opening up, however, on a Saturday night trip for ice-cream, after Emergency!. As we walked into The Dairy Mart, I noticed a magazine stand on the right wall--the one where my dad always found the newest Popular Mechanics and where my mother always got herself a new crossword puzzle book. As soon as I started browsing the selections, I saw it. There, standing upright on the shelf with the glossy paper shining back at me, was the Holy Grail of teenage angst everywhere:

Tiger Beat.

And guess whose faces were gracing the cover? Yup--the object of my very first stalking case, Johnny and Roy. While inside I was thanking the Heavens that they had blessed me and my lust, outside I wasn’t stupid. I knew the least sudden movement would signal to my dad, standing just feet away, that something was askew in the universe. I moved slowly toward the book, not wanting to draw attention to myself (I needn’t have worried. My red-checkered pants were doing that enough), and casually picked it up.

"Hunh. Wonder what this is?" I was one, cool cucumber. I figured by deliberately stressing the word this, I would appear unconcerned, as if merely possessing a healthy curiosity.

Again, I needn’t have worried. Dad was so engrossed in his article on the advances of hot locations for refrigeration repair schematics, that he scarcely noticed his nine-year-old daughter licking the pages of Tiger Beat and moaning.

Soon I was rolling in paramedic. I had collected every article with both Randolph and Kevin. I would read headlines like, "10 Ways to Capture Randolph’s Heart," and immediately tear into it as if it were a sandwich. And each time there was an interview and article about Randolph, there was usually one about Kevin, so I’d devour it, too. "What Kind of Girl Does Kevin Want to Date?" was always a big attention-grabber for me. It would also give my sister and I something of import to discuss at the next club meeting.

In fact, that’s when my mother began to suspect my addiction was interfering with my life. Each night before I’d go to bed, I’d kneel down to say my prayers that God, in his infinite wisdom, would allow me to meet these two men so we could all get married. Then before turning out my light, I would pucker up and kiss both Johnny and Roy’s posters. Oh, and sometimes before dinner I’d sneak a peck, just to brighten an otherwise tedious day. Then I’d go downstairs and enter the kitchen very nonchalantly, knowing exactly how to work that room. Yup--no one was going to discover my secret--I was too slick.

"You’ve been kissing your posters again, haven’t you?"

I wheeled around as if I’d been shot in the back. How did she know?

"Because I’m psychic."

Man, sometimes she just freaked me out.

"And you have paper cuts all over your lips."

Crap. Note to self: buy more Chapstick during next visit to The Dairy Mart.

Years later when I finally took the posters down, I noticed the lips had been worn off Randolph’s photo. He looked like one of those comic sketches from SNL where the guy cuts the lips out and uses his own through the hole to mock the country’s current presidency.

I'm still addicted to Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe--who's with me?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Will Work For Unemployment

We've all seen them:  Beggars along the side of a highway at a popular intersection holding signs that say something stupidly profound like, "Will work for food," or my favourite, "Will work for cable."  And when I lived in DC, it was "Will work for you if your windscreen is dirty."  They loved to stand at the corner while you were waiting to merge onto the Beltway at Crystal City.  They never allowed you to decide if your windscreen was dirty, they simply started to clean it, and then subjected you to a verbal onslaught if you didn't want to pay them for their unwarranted service.  Bureaucrats.

After losing both my jobs in December of 2008 due to illness, I was forced to resort to applying for unemployment.  Thankfully, this ritual isn't as complicated as it once was the last time I needed to apply back in 1985.  Then, you were forced to stand in long and tiring lines with the dregs of humanity that you usually only bumped into at the DMV, in which case it wasn't so much a waiting game as a reunion.

Now, they've removed the human element by allowing us to apply online.  For which I was thankful.  But it's not all roses and tea parties.  Having to wait constantly for that next cheque to come in is hard.  In fact, I'm the reason my mailman carries a gun.

The really stupid thing about being on unemployment (besides the mind-numbing 1/4 of your original salary they expect you to live on), is you spend more time fighting for your benefits than you ever did on a real job.  If there's ever a problem (and there usually is), then you must haul your angry ass down to an office that doesn't even have GPS coordinates and can only be entered with a password found on the inside of a cereal box and a decoder ring worn by the kid from A Christmas Story.

I spent three hours one day waiting to see an unemployment agent.  Dealing with these kinds of issues are hard because you're always at the mercy of someone else.  Just once, don't you wish things were different?

Man's voice:  "Number 51."
You:  "Oh, that's me!  But can you call my number again in about an hour?  That's when I get back from lunch."

At least being unemployed allows me to have an imaginary day job.  However, with the state of this economy, I've now given myself an imaginary raise.  But then my imaginary boss called me into his imaginary office one day and complained that I was now breaking the imaginary budget, and that there may be an imaginary company-wide layoff, and that now my imaginary day job may be in imaginary jeopardy.

Is nothing safe in this economy?

So, after two years of fighting to keep benefits I earned and paid for, I'm not ashamed (okay, maybe just a little) to say that I've learned how the game is to be played.  I've now been forced to resort to the same exercise in futility.  Except my sign reads a little differently:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pardon me, Miss, but are those your knickers in the sink?

I don’t know if most of you realise this or not, but I was once homeless. And it wasn’t at all like I expected.

On Monday morning, January 9, 2009, I officially moved from my quaint little apartment with the neat washer and dryer in my closet that smelled of cheeze, into my very spacious Volvo, that also smelled of cheeze. I never thought I’d be in such a situation, but then again, I always thought Charlie Sheen would stay sane forever, too.

But follow along.

I got to thinking about how we view this phenomenon of being without a home. It’s SUCH a social club. It’s real estate snobbery in its purest form. If you have no home, then you’re suddenly asked to leave the imaginary clique, and that hurts. People begin treating you differently. If you have no money and nowhere to be for the day, it’s called being homeless. But if you have money and nowhere to be, it’s called Society. The only difference between myself and someone from Beverly Hills is where we wash out our underwear.

I was at least lucky enough to have had my car. There are some advantages to it: First, it’s private. Second, you have a kick-ass stereo system, and third, you’re not expected to clean up after yourself.
The worst part about it, though, was not having cable. You thought I was going to say stinky clothes or not being able to brush my teeth. Well, think again. It was not being able to keep up with new episodes of Burn Notice. At first it’s fun, but soon the novelty wears off and then it’s just like any other life: Begging for food, begging for change, begging for televisions....

The hard part was in knowing my cats didn’t have a home. I would’ve much rather they had a place to sleep than myself. And I hated having to run down to the local fast food place to pee. I had their litter box on the front passenger floorboard, and I tell ya by day two I was eye-balling that litterbox in a whole new way.

Everyone gets so serious when you tell them you’re now homeless. These same people that, before, couldn’t get their considerable asses blown off sofas with C-4, suddenly turn into mini-Houdinis and make one hell of an exit. They want you to know they seem sympathetic to your plight, but any more expended energy on your situation would remove the attention from theirs, and God knows when you’re busy spending money you need all the concentration you can muster. Empathy is as far as it goes, too. That exit usually comes long before you’ve had the chance to ask if you can use one of their twelve spare bedrooms in their guesthouse on the back 40-acres over in the next county. However, that doesn’t matter. You could be deaf, dumb and have lost your fingerprints in a horrible Sudoku accident, and no one wants to be troubled.

Fact is, people can be selfish, fully satisfied in the knowledge that giving that one last old can of last year’s leftover Cranberry Sauce when the post office leaves that Second Harvest food bag on your mailbox is a good enough act of charity, without being bothered with someone having to dodge bullets in between dreams while snoozing under the nearest interstate overpass.

I even found myself doing things I would never do, like begging strangers for cat food. I once got thrown out of a Dollar General. Dollar General! It’s a toilet with a place to swipe a credit card. Macy’s I can understand. Dillard’s? Oh, hell yeah, any day of the week. And on days when I’ve done too many Benadryl shooters and need to cash my economic stimulus cheque of $12.50, K-Mart.

But Dollar General? That’s like getting thrown out of a soup kitchen for not busing your own table.

Since mine was a forced eviction, I also had the privilege of watching the Sheriff toss my crap out into the yard, which is humiliating, because anyone can just walk up and take it. But, I learned something valuable from that experience, and walked away with a bit of street-smart savvy: Forget going to yard sales. Just go to evictions. There, you don’t have to haggle. I learned that there were so many forced evictions happening in our neighbourhood, that eventually I went to enough and was able to get every bit of my crap back.

So. The next time we bump into each other on the street and you begin asking me how many square feet my car has and if I have room in my spare backseat, don’t be surprised if I have to make a hasty exit because I need to be at an “appointment” at the nearest shopping mall.