The Education of Broseph P Entitlement

I read an abusive Fragile White Male (FWM) the riot act this morning – and it was glorious.

My illness has endowed me with a certain fearlessness in dealing with bullies. I urge *you* not to wait to speak up.

Scene: Interior of a busy Doctor’s Office, where several patients wait in chairs

Two female Medical Assistants are behind the counter: One Assistant is making a first appointment on the telephone with a new patient, while a patient waits in front of her to check out. The other Assistant is patiently explaining to Broseph P Entitlement, a sullen 30-something Fragile White Male in a too-tight V-necked sweater, how it is impossible to know how much his bill will be for today’s visit until after it is submitted to his insurance and they pay their portion. She keeps explaining this simple tenant of health insurance that he keeps pretending he doesn’t understand.

“Yes, but, YOU didn’t tell me that when I made the appointment,” Broseph P reprimands this woman who is old enough to be his mother. Her mouth smiles blandly at him, while her clear eyes do not, and she begins to explain to him again that what he pays is dependent upon what his insurance will pay, and that is spelled out in his insurance contract.

“I don’t *understand* how you can run a business like this!” Broseph P gets loud – and the Medical Assistant on the phone needs to end the call because it’s getting hard to hear, and she checks out the man in front of her.

“Why won’t you do this for me? Why are you being so difficult?” Brospeh P whines.

A middle-aged woman who is there to find out how much her lung function has decreased in the last 6 weeks – let’s call her Claudia – has been watching the performance and is giving heavy side-eye to an oblivious Broseph P. She steps up to the Medical Assistant who was on the phone, and rolls her eyes meaningfully as she checks in, getting in return a look that says ‘Right?’

“You gave me this story when I made the appointment that the tests could run anywhere from $200 to $1,200!! How can you NOT KNOW how much your own tests cost?!!” he continues far too loudly.

“Sir – I know what the tests cost, but I had no idea what tests the doctor would order. It’s not ONE test that is $200 to $1,200 – the different allergy tests he orders all have different costs, as the literature we sent you pointed out.”

Claudia leans in and says soto voce, “How come you can’t tell me how much my whole meal will cost before I’ve even ordered anything?!!” and the Medical Assistant checking her in stifles a chuckle.

“I have a balance from January I need to pay,” Claudia says in a normal voice, as Broseph P pumps up the volume about how UNFAIR it all is. Claudia finds that February’s appointment has processed through as well, and hands over her debit card to take care of the balance for both months.

Broseph P is nearly shouting, enjoying that people are uncomfortable, and starting to stare. “It makes no sense that you have no explanation of what happened today!! This sheet is just numbers and letters. How can you call this an itemized bill?!”

“This is what we submit to the insurance company, the bill you get in the mail will be itemized in a way you can read.”

Claudia is handed back her debit card and given the receipt to sign.

“How do I know you’re not ripping me off?! This is ridiculous – I won’t leave here without an itemized bill, and until I know what I owe.”

“I’ve worked here 16 years, sir, and you’re the first patient I’ve had this issue with,” said the Medical Assistant with the patience of a saint.

At that point Broseph P turbocharged his rage, racing past being loud and obnoxious, and hitting a new land speed record for being flat out abusive. “Yeah? Well, I don’t think you know what you’re doing. YOU aren’t very smart and you don’t know what you’re doing!! How do you stay employed? Why haven’t they fired you?”

Claudia could not bear another moment of hearing Broseph P Entitlement abuse the kind people at one of the only doctor’s offices left in this cold world who still treated her like a human being, and not a Dead Woman Walking. She snapped.

“Oh my god – SHUT. UP!!  Seriously: Give it a rest!!! You’re being an abusive asshole!!”

The collective look of shock on everyone’s face was supremely satisfying to Claudia.

Broseph P made a face like he was smelling spoiled milk, and began to open his mouth, but before he could let more garbage tumble out Claudia continued with righteous indignation, her arm stretched out in the classic ‘Talk to the Hand’ pose, “There is no *reason* for you to speak to her that way. None.

“You’re abusing her because you don’t understand how your own insurance works. It’s not HER fault you didn’t read the fine fucking print!!”

Suddenly employees from all over the office began popping up around the reception area like curious prairie dogs, eager not to miss the excitement. Every waiting patient had looked up from their phone.

Claudia leaned towards Broseph P, never breaking eye contact, “Here’s the thing: I don’t work here, so nobody’s going to fire me when I tell you how much of an entitled little douche-bag asshole you are. You’re bullying this woman because you don’t like how the insurance YOU CHOSE works, and you can’t seem to grasp that the system is based on diagnostic codes they submit for reimbursement, and not the handwritten explanation [Here Claudia briefly broke into flawless Valley Girl-speak]‘Broseph had some itchies we tried to figure out, K? Thx.’

“What is *wrong* with you that you think you’re entitled to treat people that way? I have NEVER spoken to a medical professional the way you’ve just been doing for the last 10 minutes, and my life *revolves* around begging insurance companies and doctors to allow me to have the treatments that keep me alive.

“That bill I just paid is for my January and February appointments – that’s how it works!! You go to the doctor, and 6 weeks later you get a bill telling you what your responsibility is. You’ll get a bill, too – trust me on this, Brah. You’ll get a bill. You always do – they never forget.

“I spent $30,000 out of pocket last year on medical expenses just to stay alive, and you’re up her ass because you don’t have your $200 FUCKING BILL TODAY? Are you fucking kidding me?!! Let. It. Go!!

“I went to the doctor 124 times last year, and I had 81 radiation treatments. I spent every third day in a doctor’s office or a hospital, and I’ve seen a shit-ton of disputes about bills and insurance. I have NEVER seen anyone act so pathetically entitled and make it so very personal the way you just did. You’re a healthy man standing here arguing just so you can bully women who can’t talk back because they don’t want to lose their job. What the *fuck* is wrong with you that you need to do that to feel like a man? Don’t you have some puppies you can go kick, you entitled douche-bro asshole?”

Broseph’s mouth was partially open as Claudia took the clipboard from the stunned Medical Assistant who was helping her, and she pleasantly said, “I’ll update my info and get this right back to you.”

You could have heard a pin drop on the carpeting.

“So.. then… I’ll get an itemized bill in the mail?” Broseph said, looking around the waiting room to see if even one face was encouraging him, but all the other patients were busy texting about the dramatic spectacle that had unfolded before them.

As Broseph P beat his retreat Claudia tried to stare him in the eye, but he avoided her gaze, all the while knowing in his secret heart that he was still the Smartest Boy In The Room.

When Claudia was called back for her appointment she was applauded by the staff and the Doctor shook her hand. The abused Medical Assistant hugged her hard, and the Respiratory Therapist said it was the finest, funniest thing she had witnessed in a dozen years of practice.

Claudia pondered the moment and realized: You take your wins where you can get them.

End scene.

 

 

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Heroin Junkies and Trump Humpers

We are in a Constitutional Crisis, and this last week has laid bare the truth that Putin stole the presidency for Trump, with an assist from billionaires who have been buying our government for the last few decades.

Trump’s unhinged Rage Tweets this morning point to dark days ahead. Dare I say the words Civil war?

We’re really already there emotionally, and isn’t this all that matters?

We’re already at war with each other – there’s not a one of us who hasn’t seen a loved one drink Trump’s Kool-Aid. I have a neighbor of 16 years who hasn’t spoken to me since 2015 because I dared to tell her that putting Muslims in internment camps was morally wrong and violated the Constitution.

Quite simply: Trump Humpers live in a reality of their own making where inconsistencies abound and facts are discarded. A reality flush with conspiracies, and where a porn star who was paid $130K in hush money is lying about having an affair with Trump, AND he has every right to sue her for $20 million for talking about the affair they didn’t have.

You cannot reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, and there is no negotiating with people who aren’t just willfully ignorant, but aggressively wrong.

Trump Humpers delight in cognitive dissonance and nothing makes them happier than calling up down, just to see the look on your face. They will NEVER let go of this new reality. Never. They are too far invested in their flat-earth, fact free existence. They are as hopeless as a heroin junky.

The ideological clash among Americans is intractable – there is no way to compromise: Either you believe in equality for all, or you are actively working to deny people their rights, and turn the clock back to the Reconstruction era. There is no middle ground.

Add to that the reality that Trump is making the office of President into a dictatorship. Make no mistake: Trump does not intend to leave the office, and intends to install Ivanka after him.

His goal is unvarnished and laid bare for all to see. I don’t know if the Presidency will ever recover, and surely not in my lifetime.

I will be surprised if Trump allows the midterms to proceed, and he will likely use the excuse of ‘Russian meddling’ to suspend them – and Trump Humpers will nod with glazed eyes, greedily accepting this new reality like the junkies they are.

It’s time to accept that Trump recognizes no rules or laws but his own. To continue to deny this is dangerous and dabbles in Trump Humper wishful thinking.

It’s time to face the bitter cup before us: The Constitution no longer holds force in this country, and America is now a fascist authoritarian regime.

To make that horrifying reality worse – we are under daily attack by Putin, and Trump refuses to stop him. Putin has control of our power grid, our water processing plants and our aviation facilities -he could cripple us with a keystroke. We are at his mercy – and he has none. Yet, somehow people think he can’t control our voting machines, or he hasn’t been manipulating us to fight each other. Putin is like the villain in Stephen King’s novel Needful Things – and he’s just getting warmed up. Of course Putin was assisted in his role by Roger Ailes and Fox Spews, who tuned up the crowd for a decade and a half.

We were invaded by Russia with GOP assistance. Putin has the GOP’s peckers in his pocket through blackmail via the RNC email hack, and laundered cash from the NRA. He especially owns McConnell and Ryan because they direct most of those monies. That’s why they take no action against either Trump or Putin. We have traitors in all levels of the government.

Putin, the Mercers, the Koch brothers, and about 400 other people are using Trump to Balkanize the United States of America. They are terrifyingly close to getting their wish of having the US be a geographical collection of fiefdoms based on natural resource extraction.

These people produce nothing, and only seek to gorge on the riches of the earth, its people, and ultimately each other – they are an insatiable ouroboros. They’re sick, and they’re in charge. Doubtless they’ve been told they’ll have their place at the Oligarch’s table when America is in flames. I don’t know about you, but I can smell smoke.

Wrap your head around this: Rexxon Valdez Tillerson, the man responsible for unfettered greed and despoiling the planet with his 3 decades in Big Oil was *too liberal* for Trump. A man who raped the earth and built his fortune on pollution and misery was simply not extreme enough for Trump.

That is how far the Overton Window has been pushed to the right.

That we are not meeting in the streets, but are sitting stunned tells me bad things are to come. The fuse is burning, and the backlash will be like a big earthquake instead of 3 mild ones that take the pressure off of the fault.

Trump is fighting like a cornered animal, and he’s even more dangerous now than he’s ever been. He will do things that will create chaos in a way that will make the last year look like comedic relief.

He is capable of anything – and I do mean ANYTHING.

I could see a time in the not too distant future when states like California refuse to remit their federal tax monies because Trump does something to try to ruin them the way he has done to hundreds of people. Think Puerto Rico-like damage on the mainland inflicted by him. He is entirely capable of killing his own people BECAUSE HE’S DONE IT BEFORE.

I think it’s time we review 10 Absolutes About Abusers:

  1. You aren’t human – you’re expendable chattel without rights
  2. Your opinion, wants and needs are punishable offenses
  3. You are expected to follow rules and display manners that they deny exist
  4. You will NEVER get them to acknowledge facts
  5. They will never, ever, EVER admit they are wrong
  6. They will steal from you while insisting you’re a duplicitous thief
  7. They will lie so boldly and confidently that you will question your sanity
  8. They enjoy your pain even more when you tell them how much it hurts
  9. They will not stop until they control you completely and capriciously
  10. Anything they can’t control completely they will ceaselessly try to destroy

It’s crucial for you to burn these into your brain, because things are coming down to the wire. It’s not long until the powder keg blows, and it is vital to remember the value you have to Trump, his Humpers, the 400 and Putin: None.

It is time for us all to accept what is happening to America – for us to deal with the reality we’re in, not the one we want to be in.

Courage to us all.

The Cost of Love

I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate Valentine’s Day.

Really.

But then, I despise all commercial holidays that have morphed from being about family, love, and friendship into a way to separate you from your hard earned money.

Valentine’s Day has ceased being a way to send a simple, sincere message of affection to friends and those close to your heart, and turned into a day where we feel obliged to shower loved ones with over-priced flowers, candies, stuffed animals, jewelry, fancy dinners and expensive electronics.

In the USA there is nothing remotely religious about the day named after a Saint. Our worshiping is done in the Temple of Amazon, where we honor Saint ProFlowers, Saint Godiva and Saint Echo Dot, as we meaninglessly toss consumer goods at one another in the name of love.

It’s true that Hallmark and FTD didn’t invent the day, but they sure helped move the prostitution along. Americans actually began exchanging hand-made Valentine’s greetings in the mid-1700s. Then, in 1848, a woman named Ester A. Howland used lace, ribbons and colorful pictures to make the first commercial mass produced Valentine cards. We let it build from there.

 

Valentine Ester Howland

 

Up until the 1970s, and the advent of Credit-Cards-For-All, Americans mostly managed to keep the holiday low key. Elementary school children gave each other kitschy cards with bad puns that were printed on whisper-thin stock, and stuck inside envelopes that wouldn’t seal, while their teachers doled out handfuls of rock-hard heart-shaped candies that tasted like chalk and had things like ‘You’re The One’ or ‘Be Mine’ printed in red ink on the front. A greeting card with a Whitman Sampler was common for people who were dating, and a bunch of flowers and a box of See’s Candy for the wife were how the day was celebrated when I was a child. Back then a dozen long-stemmed roses was an extravagance few men made in the part of the San Fernando Valley where I grew up.

Valentine’s Day as a consumer event kicked in to high gear right about the time we were letting ourselves get manipulated in earnest by listening to the commercials that told us Christmas isn’t really Christmas until you’ve melted the plastic and spent more than you make to bombard your family with things they don’t need. It’s a siren song too many still listen to today – even after the crash of 2008.

The push for ‘cheap credit’ coincided with the relentless marketing of cheap electronics that the American market was increasingly awash in.

People weren’t done paying off their lay-a-aways from Christmas when television commercials, magazines and newspapers began to dun them into feeling obliged to lay out ever more cash to prove their luuuuurv.

Most of the ads from the 70s had the charming habit of pitching their wares via a ‘womanly chore’: Don’t know what to get the little lady? Give her a watch so she can time your 3 minute eggs. Or, if you can’t prove your love through jewelry do it with a Crock-pot!! Chef Joe Dimaggio says she can cook your dinner while she’s at that job you don’t want her to have!!

 

 

The ads may be slightly less sexist today, but the message is the same: Buy, buy, buy!!

Let’s face it – far too many people treat Valentine’s day like a competition. It’s not about love or affection. It’s about who has the biggest flower arrangement at work, or if you got the fancy Sherry’s Berries this year. That’s a shame, too, because it sucks the fun out of giving or receiving tokens of affection if you feel compelled to do it.

When it comes to Valentine’s Day tithing heterosexual men get the shortest end of that stick.

Let’s take a look at what the average man is expected to do for the average girlfriend or wife:

You’ll need to fork over at least $25 for a dozen long stem roses – tax and delivery not included, guys! A fun card is going to run you at least another $5.

Now the question is do you spring for a box of chocolates? ($18) A teddy bear with a heart sewn on its chest? ($15) Or some fun balloons? ($10) Maybe you steal all 3 for the low, low price of $30!

Chocolates and flowers are just the warm up for the main event of the romantic dinner, when prices have been jacked up for the evening and it’s standing room only in the waiting area. It’s so damned romantic to go to a crowded restaurant, only to be rushed through dinner so they can turn the table for the next poor fellow being coerced into buying a dinner he can’t afford because he’s been told he’s not a good partner unless he does so.

A guy can easily dish out $150 before the big reveal of the *actual* gift during the  flaming-triple-chocolate desert. Maybe it’s a day at the spa, a cashmere sweater, a Fitbit, or an iPhone. Perhaps it will be some costume jewelry with a heart, or some high end baubles, if he’s feeling really pressured. There are endless ways you can shell out money to make a show at proving your love – and make no mistake that men are expected to be creative and excessive with this annual mini-dowry.

Speaking of proving your love and excess: Let us pause briefly for a moment of silence, and remember the brave men who choose *this* night to pop the question. Woe be to the man who doesn’t have the engagement ring baked into a chocolate soufflé, and presented during the middle of a flash-mob dance scene in restaurant, while it’s flawlessly filmed, so it can go ‘organically’ viral on Facebook.

 

Valentines Proposal

 

People defend Valentines Day, and the colossal waste of money associated with it, by saying it’s nice to have a day that’s special and romantic. Agreed. But, what’s so special about February 14th that we’re manipulated into Pavlovian shopping and consuming?

Don’t feel obligated to set money on fire just because it’s half way through February, and the restaurant, flower, and jewelry industries are guilt tripping you into running up your credit card balance in the name of romance. Screw that.

My husband doesn’t love me any less if I don’t get appallingly over-priced flowers, or we’re not bum-rushed with the check in a frantic restaurant on the coldest week of the year.

Don’t get me wrong: My husband and I love romance – as long as we’re celebrating our love on our terms, and not letting retailers define how and when that happens. We refuse to be manipulated into spending money on a day that has no real meaning to our relationship.

You can make your own Valentine’s Day on ANY day you want, you know. (I hear flowers and candy are dirt cheap on February 15th)

When you do decide to honor the person in your life that you hold most dear? Do it to strengthen your bond, and not someone else’s bottom line.

 

Heart

Duck and Cover, kids!!

Part of the soundtrack of my youth was the eerie blaring of air raid sirens being tested at precisely 10 am on the last Friday of every month. I was 4 when I first asked my mother what the disturbing noise was. “They’re sirens to warn us when Russian airplanes attack,” she answered vaguely, hustling me along the sidewalk to the commercial interview she was taking me to. At my wide-eyed look she assured me, “It’s just a test.”

A month later the same sound sent me outside the house in shivers of fear, scanning the skies for planes (always the reporter), and any bombs they might be dropping. It was only then that my mother thought to explain that the tests happened every month at the same time. Young Reporter Claudia demanded clarification of Exactly When they went off every month, and never forgot it.

I distinctly remember the sounds of the unsynchronized sirens whirring to life – each just a fraction of a second off from the other – and their high-pitched oscillating tones warning of danger. When the test was over and the sirens finally stopped, their wailing echoed for a few lingering moments over the San Fernando Valley. Thinking about the keening, undulating sound long enough begins to put a clench in my jaw and stomach.

Part of the curriculum in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was repeating the Duck and Cover drills we learned in kindergarten from cheerful films featuring catchy jingles, Bert the cartoon turtle, and calm, well-dressed white children. The films spoke confidently and repeatedly of WHEN The Bomb would drop – not if. 9 months a year for 13 years every child attending school in Los Angeles was vigilant for the inevitable, inescapable flash of our doom, and as air raid sirens howled above us we learned to cower under the magical safety of a laminated Formica desk.  (Link to Duck and Cover propaganda film)

As the sirens warned of impending doom the teachers turned off the lights and closed the blinds, and we students would kneel under our desks on the linoleum floor, our fingers laced behind our necks, forearms over our ears, and elbows shielding our faces. We were told to keep our eyes shut, and our faces hidden in our clothes.

While we crouched with hidden faces, the siren’s mournful monthly tune ended and became nothing but a discordant echo over cheaply built post-war housing. We waited until we heard a long bell being wrung by Mrs. Hale, our Principal, signifying the ‘All Clear’. It was during one of those drills that I first felt the suffocating quicksand of claustrophobia.

The exercise ended with the entire school huddled under our desks, pretending a bomb would explode near us. The bell would ring – and Scene! We would return to our studies, the subtext of the ritual was that we had all just died.

Here’s the unvarnished truth about Duck and Cover: Nobody ever gave us instructions on what we should do *after* the bomb dropped. There was never any talk of what to do when we were done ducking and covering, no warnings about food or water or radiation poisoning. We didn’t even have instructions to wait for instructions.

The inference was that if we ever heard the Russian planes overhead everything was over. ‘Kiss your ass goodbye’ was a phrase commonly used, and most people figured ‘They’ll never try it, and if they do? We’re all dead, but they are, too.’

The drill went on year after year – long past the point of being of any use to the children repeating it – until it became normalized and just more Cold War theater

Whether or not the adults around us would acknowledge it, their unconscious behavior affected how we reacted – we took our cues from them. They knew there was no surviving a direct hit & we picked up their signals.

We were told to kneel and patiently await our fate when we heard the sounds of air raid sirens. Deep inside all of us knew that if the missiles actually flew the lights and the shades and the command to Duck and Cover were nothing more than busy work to fill the time until we were incinerated in a flash.

***

At 6 am on February 9, 1971, the Russians finally attacked. I awoke to the sound of air raid sirens and explosions that were so big it moved the ground beneath me. I heard shouting, and the ground shook even harder – the earth itself was making a grinding noise as books and games flew off of my shelves, raining down on me. Instinctively I hid my face as I sat up in bed. Abruptly the shaking stopped, but the sirens went on. I was in shock as my father hollered “EARTHQUAKE!!! Get out of the house!!” I had no idea what he was shouting to me.

In all their preparations for nuclear war it had never occurred to any of the adults to mention earthquakes to the California kids living on the San Andreas fault. No one thought to tell us the sirens could be used for emergencies other than nuclear war. I mistook a 6.6 quake for World War 3, and awoke certain I was dying in a mushroom cloud. The heaving ground and exploding transformers only served to underline that mistaken notion that the world was coming to an end. It’s not the kind of thing you forget.

It puzzled me as I grew older how so many of my classmates relegated the jolly propaganda films that promised a terrifying death via radiation to the farthest corners of their minds. By the 1980s the drills had ceased, and most folks seemed to forget what the sirens were – they became just another background noise people ignored. Almost no-one noticed when the Los Angeles Civil Air Defense sirens were permanently silenced in 1986.

 

Duck and Cover 1

 

 

I don’t envy anyone with young children right now, because they’re going to be freaked out by what happened in Hawaii – how can they not? It’s utterly fucked up, and in the days to come they’ll be exposed to over-stressed adults and videos of panic and terror. Hopefully they’ll also see clips of parents trying to protect their children, (the video of the father putting his crying children into the storm drain in which he cannot fit is heartbreaking – but also a moment of the purest love and sacrifice) and there will be adults around them who are calm and reassuring.

Keep in mind that children already have their own version of Duck and Cover when they practice mass casualty shooting drills every month. There are seniors graduating in June of 2018 who have been practicing this horror-show drill their whole lives, just like I practiced waiting for the bomb to drop. The heartbreaking thing is that some of these students, and a few of their teachers, won’t get to see graduation day because their lives will be cut short in a flash from the muzzle of a gun. The added burden of the threat of global thermonuclear war between two madmen seems especially cruel.

None of it’s fair, or particularly sane, but it’s where we are as a country right now. This is who we are.

For the moment we are at the mercy of an aggressive, ignorant, rageaholic narcissist who suffers delusions of grandeur, likely has dementia, and is itching to use nuclear weapons. For the moment.

On the bright side: After a few years in this pressure cooker of lunacy and danger we’re bound to have some really good art and music come out of it –  if we can pull together and #Resist long enough to outlast the bastard.

 

99 Red Balloons

Bullshit Positive Affirmations

Oh bullshit. I’m so tired of that trope and the whole notion that any of us is wholly responsible for our success. It’s classist and ignores the collective knowledge that mankind has gained off of the backs of others. It rejects the notion of role models, mentors and teachers and utterly fails to consider the opportunities afforded to those who are economically and racially privileged.

Yes, it’s that time of year. The New Year seems to encourage an avalanche of Bullshit Positive Affirmations shared on Facebook. BPAs are the annoying things people post and say that are supposed to encourage you to be the best person you can be. The illogicality of them frustrates me. I’m not sure if people actually believe this magical thinking, or they just think they should believe it.

 

BPA 3

 

No. No, it’s not.

That is embracing the ridiculous notion that everything is within our control.

That’s saying that people born into poverty choose to stay that way if they are unable to break the cycle. That’s saying children in marginal schools could have a better education if only they tried harder. It’s saying that the children of privilege don’t have 2 legs up on everyone else when it comes to college and student loans.

Then there are the things that happen when we’re adults. Sometimes unexpected shitty things happen to us out of the blue. Sometimes a spouse leaves and takes all the money. Sometimes the stock market crashes because people you have no control over sold unsound financial investments and it wipes out your 401K. Sometimes you find yourself unemployed and unemployable when your job has been outsourced. Sometimes you get sick.

Life is not a static arrangement of events that can be planned. Life is messy and often catches you unaware.

 

BPA 17

 

I swear I am not making this up.

Someone actually posted this piece of cruelty to their timeline on New Year’s Day. I suppose they thought it was inspiring. Instead, it just sounds like they’ve been lucky enough not to have had something really bad happen to them.

Let’s see how his proclamation holds up, shall we?

“No more whiners. If you have cancer it’s because you let it get that way.”

“No more whiners. If you’re depressed it’s because you let it get that way.”

“No more whiners. If your company eliminates your department it’s because you let it get that way.”

“No more whiners. If you were hit by a drunk driver it’s because you let it get that way.

Oh, I could do this all day, but you get the idea.

 

BPA 2

 

Really? So I can be an astronaut? What about run a 4 minute mile or be the President? I can conceive being a trillionaire, are you saying that’s possible? It’d be nice to be a supermodel. I’d sure like to win a gold medal in swimming.

The problem is, no matter how much I can conceive or believe, those things aren’t going to happen. I could do everything possible to achieve any of those goals – everything possible – but none of them will happen.

That’s because there are things we can’t do. I know it’s hard for the snowflake generation (I’m looking at YOU boomers) to hear that, but it’s true. Not all of us are exceptional and there are limits to what we can do and it’s time we accepted that fact.

 

BPA 1

 

I hate this one most of all.

It’s especially galling to those of us with depression. Oh – I could just wish myself better? I can choose whether I have this disease or not? Why didn’t you say so! That really would have saved me a lot of trouble had somebody told me sooner. I feel just like Dorothy with her magical ruby slippers – the power was in me the whole time!

People think they’re being helpful when they post BPAs, but they’re not. Those of us who have had life intrude on our well planned path understand that these clichés are not helpful, and only serve to make the reader feel negative when they read it. The notion that you can think your way to success is foolish and doesn’t benefit anyone.

It seems like people who share BPAs are looking for an easy answer to the tangled reality of life. The problem is that hoary bromides don’t straighten out tangles or cure diseases.

It’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to be positive nor have happy thoughts. But, I’d prefer my positive affirmations to be less filled with bullshit and a little more realistic. I prefer my affirmations to be things we can all actually do.

 

BPA 7

 

Manners – it could become a cause of the day and go viral like the ice bucket challenge. People would be posting videos of themselves waiting patiently in line to say please and thank you to supermarket workers and food servers or being polite to random strangers on the street. The cool thing is that you wouldn’t have to pledge a damn dime, and it would bring a wealth of benefits for society. Although it would involve a greater effort than hitting the share button for a useless platitude, it could work.

How about:

 

BPA 11

 

Or:

 

BPA 13

 

Or, even simply:

 

BPA 15

 

It could happen.

All I’m saying is that if we’re going to encourage ourselves to do better lets aim for things we can actually do that make our little corner of the world a better place.

Let’s avoid the BPAs. They’re worthless and may serve to just make someone feel worse.

I have to admit there is one positive thing I don’t mind sharing. It’s something I really believe in, a cause close to my heart, and it’s something that I would really encourage everyone to do.

It doesn’t cost a penny, and doesn’t ask you to do anything unethical or immoral. It’s something that can be practiced without show in both public and the privacy of your own home.

It is, in fact the antithesis of a Bullshit Positive Affirmation:

 

BPA 9

 

Now, that’s something I can really get behind.

 

**Originally published Jan 5, 2015 – Republished Jan 3, 2018, with minor edits**

Milking The Cash Cow

42 years ago today we started production on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and I began playing a character named Heather – a job that changed my life in wonderful and tragic ways.

People are finally accepting that too many child performers are exploited. I hope my story can shed some light into just a few of the many ways we are taken advantage of.

By 1975 I was a cash cow for my folks – I was eleven, and had been in the business since I was three. I held my SAG & AFTRA Union cards from the age of five and seven, respectively. I’d done nearly 60 commercials and a few television feature spots, I’d booked dozens of print jobs and voice over gigs, and was the face of a Mattel toy – not a very popular toy, but, still…

I came to be part of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman at the last possible minute. I went on the interview Wednesday after school, got the call back and job the next evening, and on Friday morning I was sitting dazedly at the first table read. In 43 hours my life turned on a dime.

 

Origninal Cast Call & Photo Shoot

 

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was the brainchild of television legend Norman Lear, his grand statement on how American Consumerism isolates and leaves us unfulfilled, presented as a satire of a soap opera. Sort of. It was his poke in the eye to censors, conventions and Pearl Clutchers.

In a year and a half we shot 325 episodes. MH2 was a 5-day-a-week affair that had a cult following that goes on today. It was the first television show that proved you didn’t need a network to succeed or a laugh-track to be funny. It also introduced multiple positive LGBTQ characters to television at a time when Harvey Milk had not yet been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It is not overstating to call it ground breaking.

The list of exceptional performers who appeared on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a who’s who of funny and talented people from the 70s: Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Dabney Coleman, Doris Roberts, Dody Goodman, Graham Jarvis, Greg Mullavey, Salome Jens, Norm Alden, Reva Rose, Sparky Marcus, Marian Mercer, Gloria Dehaven, Orson Bean, Ed Begley, Jr., Howard Hessman, David Suskind and Gore Vidal, just to name a few. It was just that cool at the height of its popularity.

The reason why even I got the interview to end up in such rarefied air was because my mom had blown up at my agent, Iris Burton, for not getting me any good interviews.

Mind you: I had just landed five commercials in six months – including the fountain-of-residuals Nestle $100,000 Bar spot – but my mother demanded more from my agent.  She wanted better interviews and she demanded readings for movies and television series. There were shouted threats of moving the gusher-of-money that I was to different representation.

A few days after their angry conversation I got the interview for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman – and it was nothing less than a grudge interview. My agent had submitted me for the role of a 13-year-old, busty, frizzy haired girl with bad skin. I was 11, and skinny as a rail with no figure at all. I had long braids and glasses and silky smooth skin. Iris had secured an interview for a role I simply didn’t fit, and she was showing my mother not to mess with her or question her judgment.

 

$100,000 Bar

 

When we got there it looked like a cattle call (which is probably why I got the interview), and I was given what was called a ‘side’ to study. A side is a mini scene for audition purposes, usually 2 or 3 pages long. (These days it also refers to the pages of a movie script that will be shot on any given day of a shoot) This side was a piece where the mother (Mary) is trying to talk to the daughter (Heather) about sex, and the daughter manipulates her mother by redirecting the conversation to make it seem as if she’s virginally pure, which relieves the mother to no end.

I read the side to myself, and then read through it with my mom, ignoring her coaching. I sat on the floor in the too-warm hall waiting for my interview, as the actual waiting room was overflowing with girls who looked nothing like me.

There was nothing special at all about this interview, it was one of fifteen or twenty I went on every month. My time was never my own – it was more an all-consuming continuum of school, auditions and work.

When I was finally called in to the interview I turned ‘on’ like a light switch. I knew how to look the casting director in the eye, say hello with a smile and hand my litho forward, with my name at the bottom. I had literally done this 1,000 times before.

 

CCF08072013_00011

 

The casting director introduced herself as Jane, and the Director as Joan. There were other people to whom I was not introduced, and who watched silently as I read the scene with Joan. Joan nodded when we got to the end of the scene, and asked me to do it again – this time miming the orange juice I was supposed to be getting out of the refrigerator. We did the scene a second time, and I a saw the a ghost of a smile from Joan.

Jane asked if I had any other auditions that afternoon, or if I could stay to watch the two pilot episodes of the show. My mother was retrieved from the waiting room and taken to a writer’s office. She was the first and only parent I saw that afternoon to do the walk of ‘My Kid Is Better Than Yours’ through a sea of angry parents and dejected children. I’m sure she was graceless.

We two sat on a couch in a cold office looking up at a monitor on a large metal rolling stand. The screen flickered to life and the episode began as a nearly sepia-toned video of  kick-knacks on a table came into focus, and with it the swelling of over-dramatic music saturated with high-pitched violins. Out of nowhere a voice screeches, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” so shrilly and gratingly I physically winced. Then came a gush of overwrought music heavy on the strings, parodying the soundtrack of really bad soap operas.

It is a distinctive open. Oh, so distinctive. I was tormented in High School with people shrieking it at me as I passed them in the hall. I’ve had grown-ups shout it in my face at parties as if I’ve never heard it before. I’ll bet you I’ve heard, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” ten thousand times in my life if I’ve heard it once. But, I get ahead of myself.

Torture yourself here with this link, if you must.

Mary Hartman Opening

 

As I watched the pilots I clearly remember not understanding all the jokes. The episodes were strange and my mother didn’t know what to make of it, either. The lack of a laugh track threw her off, and I remember her saying later she didn’t know if she was supposed to be laughing at things or not.

It was late when I read for the folks in the room a third time, and they thanked me as I left. We drove home in the dark, and – exhausted – I didn’t get my homework done again.

The next day after school I was in my bedroom, sitting on my bed unsuccessfully trying to figure out what my algebra book was saying. It had been a bad day. 10-Week Grades had come out and mine weren’t the best from never having time to do my homework. I was struggling mightily in math and had gotten a D, and my mother’s answer was to verbally and physically abuse me. I was  grounded (as if I ever had time to go anywhere), and sent to my room to magically figure out integers and angles I couldn’t decipher before.

Suddenly, my mother burst into the room making the door crash against the wall. She never knocked once the entire time I lived in that house – and I was not allowed to ever fully close my door at that point. Crashing doors usually meant more verbal abuse or hitting, and I cringed, throwing my hands up around my head to protect myself from the expected blows. But instead of being wild eyed mad, she was wild eyed excited. Rather than getting mad at me for protecting my head, she laughed it off and said, “Get dressed! You’re late for a callback! They want to see you back from yesterday, but they forgot to call Iris. Hurry!! We should be there now. Where are your clothes?”

She was no longer hurling invectives, telling me how stupid and worthless I was. She seemed to have forgotten the head blows she had delivered minutes before, and was telling me to get ready.

My clothes from the day before had been stuffed into my laundry bag, and they were wrinkled. Manically, she threw them in the drier to tumble out the wrinkles, and brushed and braided my hair, while having me hold a cold compress to my face to erase the swelling and redness from my sobbing.

“C’mon – you’re not really going to go in there looking like that! Where’s your apple pie smile? Smile like you mean it – smile with your EYES!!” she encouraged/threatened.

She was so focused on getting me to look exactly as I had the day before and rushing out the door, that she didn’t run a comb through her hair or change out of the dirty black slacks and grubby sweater she had on – a point that would torment her to the end. Before I knew it we were out on the road in the middle of rush hour traffic, heading over the hill on the Hollywood Freeway.

We’re trapped in the car with maybe an hour until we got there, and my mom is vibrating she was so excited, drilling me on how to do it her way. It was a complete 180 from half an hour before, and as I rode in the car I was on an emotional roller coaster. I was still feeling shitty from how my mother screamed at me and hit me, plus the bad math grade I had to deal with. Add to that the need to psyche myself up for an important read  that I was very late for, and my mother was trying to force me to do her way. But beyond all that detritus and noise, there was euphoria about getting a callback for a Norman Lear series.

When we finally arrived we were waved on to the lot to park and I was rushed into Norman Lear’s office where he, Louise Lasser, Director Joan Darling, producer Al Burton, and writer Gail Parent were waiting. I made eye contact and gave them my apple pie smile, pretending my head didn’t hurt where my mother had been punching it 90 minutes ago.

I read the same side as I’d read the day before, only this time instead of reading with the Director I was reading it with Louise Lasser. Suddenly the scene was done, and they told me ‘Thank you, you can go’.

Thank you, you can go? But – we’d only read it once. How could it be ‘Thank you, you can go’?!

In less than 5 minutes I was in and out, and I found myself heading toward the elevator in dismayed shock, not understanding how I had failed so completely and astoundingly fast when it felt like a good read. I knew it was going to be a long, ugly ride home.

We were getting on the elevator in silence when Al Burton called my name down the hall. When I heard the smile in his voice I knew I had the job. My heart hit my feet as I stuck my hand out to stop the heavy elevator doors.

Al caught up to us and said they all really liked the way I read the part, and then he asked if I wanted to join the cast. “The job yours if you want it,” he said, smiling and looking me in the eyes like I mattered.

That moment was awesome in the truest definition of the word. I was validated for all the times I wasn’t chosen, and felt special because this time I was the best. It felt like winning. It was a very long time before I had another feeling that good.

I remember gasping and jumping up and down. I remember saying, “Yes!!” and bear hugging Al, and then hugging my mom as she beamed and rocked me back and forth in that elevator.

I remember being happy – happy in a way you can only be when you’re too young to have the filter that adults have, the filter that stops you from showing what you really think.

I don’t think that there was ever a time my mother was more proud of me than that evening in the hallway outside Norman Lear’s office.

 

Mary Hartman Letterhead 2

 

That moment in the elevator outside Norman Lear’s office changed my life completely. One day I was attending Junior High school in the most polluted part of the San Fernando Valley, and the next I was at a long table on Stage 5 at KTLA studio meeting my cast mates and production people.

We were given our scripts for episodes 3, 4 and 5 and did the first, last, and only table read we ever did for the show. There was never time after that initial day for the luxury of such a thing. There was a lady there who took care of timing out the scenes and continuity named Susan Harris who had the patience of Job with me. I was absolutely fascinated by the cigar box full of gum and mints (wow! Tic Tacs!) that she kept with her at all times. I must have looked like a chipmunk with all the gum I shoved in my mouth that morning. She was kind to an antsy, nervous kid.

I was bored stiff by the time we were done reading the 3 scripts. Somehow something as simple as reading words printed on paper turned into a thing. It felt like everyone was making a bigger deal out of it than it needed to be. I know now that everyone was staking out their territory, planting flags and trying to establish a pecking order. It was grueling, and finally it ended.

We all went down to Stage 5 where a luncheon was held for the cast and the production people. It was catered by Chasen’s – a perennial favorite of Norman Lear. There were place cards, and all of us had goody bags on our plates. They were a bunch of kitschy things. My bag had a draw string and was sewn to look like a pineapple. It had a plastic charm, 4 tickets to the children’s show Sheriff John which were 5 years old, a pack of stale gum, some ribbons, an Oscar Meier Wiener whistle and some other junk. Everyone else had similar stuff. Although I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, it seemed to signify the budget we were working under.

I watched as the adults who seemed familiar with each other laugh too loud at inside jokes, and I tried too hard to be part of group. I saw Louise again, and spoke for a while with Greg Mullavey, the man who would play my ever-adolescent father. I met my meddling grandparents, Dody Goodman who was charming and welcoming, and Phil Bruns who was grumpy and had the sour smell of an alcoholic. Debra Lee Scott played my oversexed Aunt and seemed to be the social butterfly. I barely spoke with a quiet Victor Killian, who played my great-grandfather, the infamous Fernwood Flasher. I was delighted by Mary Kay Place and Graham Jarvis who played the neighbors – an unlikely crazy-in-love couple where she was a smoking hot aspiring country-singer and him a balding middle-aged man who would give you the shirt off his back – they were both down to earth people. In fact, they were all as kind as they were capable of being to the stranger they’d just met, a child hired play a smart-assed, angst ridden teen who was wiser than her years and called out the adults for inconsistencies and hypocrisies. I may have been my family’s Cash Cow and had a giant weight on my shoulders, but I was still just a kid they’d just met – and I’m sure they were more focused on how to make this show that was so different than anything else on television work. They knew we only had 10 days to get ready for the grind of memorizing, rehearsing, blocking and filming 125-150 pages of dialogue PER WEEK.

It never occurred to me that Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was going to be anything other than a smash hit.

After lunch we were prodded by a strange doctor so that insurance could be taken out on the production. We all got into our wardrobe, and went to hair and make-up for our cast publicity shots. My wardrobe consisted of the same pants, shirt, belt, bracelet, braids, barrettes and glasses I sported on the audition and callback. (I can actually say I created Heather from the ground up) The photo we took that afternoon is iconic – and a giant blow-up of it sits behind Norman’s desk, a profound tribute given the sheer number of shows he has produced.

 

Cast Picture

 

 

My new-found station in life brought with it a well deserved bonus -a little something something – some frosting on the cake, if you will.

For signing a contract on a daily AFTRA television series my parents saw their way to giving me the princely sum $5 and dinner at Diamond Jim’s.

That’s right. I got a Fin and a Steak for landing a Whale.

Moo

The break down was $1 for a print job, $2 per commercial ($1 extra if they make 2 spots out if it), and $5 (American!) for a series. A series. I didn’t get a regular $2 a week allowance until I was 12-years-old and I was making $750 a week. I’ll do the math for you: that’s me getting just under $9 allowance in today’s dollars on a weekly paycheck of $3,350.

The Cash Cow was getting milked raw.

Double Moo

I remember feeling so grown up and proud the night we went to Diamond Jim’s, a past its prime cocktails-and-red-meat establishment on Hollywood Boulevard. As we were led to a high-backed leather booth, I boasted to the server that I’d gotten a series, and he kindly kept my Shirley Temple filled all night (extra maraschino cherries, please!). I’m sure my parents thought “Great! Now we have to tip.”

I wanted this to be a grand evening, but, the place was stuffy and filled with smoke, and didn’t have any food for children – it was a disappointment after the build up. The truth was that this was a restaurant for my parents, not a place for me. I was just tagging along on their celebratory dinner because I was footing the bill.

My whole family should have gone to Shakey’s or Piece O’ Pizza, followed by a trip to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor for a Zoo. Instead, my parents isolated me from my brothers and created resentment where none ever needed to exist.

Beyond the Politics of Envy, I ask you – Which was more insulting? A $5 payoff for landing a union gig, (Oh, irony! Thy name is Unionized Child Labor!) or the 3 of us celebrating the impending plunder of my hard-earned money?

Assholes.

That night I felt like I was a successful grown up, and in a way I was. I may have only been 11, but I had a 26 week guaranteed Union contract as a regular on a series. With that contract and my commercial residuals I would earn more than double in 6 months than my father would ever make in a single year in his whole life. He topped out in 1985 at $33,500. You bet your ass I was grown up.

My parents stole almost every penny I ever made as a child. Had it not been for the paper-tiger Coogan Law, I’d have lost everything that I would earn over the next 2 ½ years of working for Norman Lear. This larceny was unchecked by the State. Hell, it was APPROVED of by the court, who left me with the paltry sum of $20,000 when I turned 18. A sum that was further chipped away by the $2,000 delinquent tax bill I received as an Eighteenth birthday present.

How much did they steal? There is no way to estimate the true figure, because they claimed I made different sums to the IRS, the Courts, both Unions and ME.

Also? (And this is VERY important) Commercials were not covered by the Coogan Law. Parents of someone like me, who made between $175-$200K (today’s dollars) between the ages of 3 and 11, weren’t required to ensure that the money went to the person who earned it.

How comforting to know that my parents were equal opportunity thieves who ran a racket and a half, and managed to get away with it.

Funny thing was, they lied to the Unions less than they lied to the IRS. I guess they were more afraid of running afoul of SAG and AFTRA, but not too afraid to have me do an appalling number of non-Union jobs that were never declared to anyone but my mother’s secret bank account and my father’s bookie.

Let’s look at some of the numbers, and I’ll run the abacus. Have some Pepto Bismol and a barf bag ready.

Here’s what my parents told the IRS I’d made by age 11:

 

IRS Earnings to 1975

 

That’s $28,324 they claimed I’d earned by the age of 11.

Indexed, I’d earned $159,966.31 in today’s dollars by 1975. (I used handy this inflation calculator provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

By 7th grade, and before getting booked on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, I’d made more than a sixth-of-a-million dollars in cold hard cash. According to the IRS.

Let that sink in for a moment. $160K Cash. Not invested, nor saved and earning interest.

This is a snapshot of my SAG earnings up to 1975 – note how it matches to the dollar with my IRS earnings report.

 

SAG Earnings to 1975

 

Looks good. A $2.92 discrepancy over eight years is absolutely acceptable.

But, wait! What’s this? Looks Like Ma and Pa Lamb were lying about my earnings to the IRS from my very first job. They claimed I’d done no work until 1968 – but here are my first ads from 1967, and my photo and credits from 1968 listing 2 big shoots here I don’t have the proofs for. I wonder where that money went?

 

 

 

They never claimed to the IRS any of of the multiple calendars, print ads or voice-over work I did before I had to join Screen Actors Guild in 1968, when I made $156 on my first union commercial – a long lost spot for Alpha Beta Supermarkets.

My parents pretended I did no work and earned not one dollar in 1969, despite the continuing print work, and me having been the face of Ford’s Tot Guard (their first child safety seat) and doing a non-union Gain Detergent commercial that played so much during the daily soaps I was recognized for the first time while in the grocery store.

Under-declaring my earnings? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for them.

Looky there – it did. Because, in 1970, when I had to join the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists at the age of six, they were so far on the take they never reported any of my AFTRA earning to the IRS through 1975:

 

AFTRA Earnings to 1975

 

That’s $2,368 worth of work they didn’t declare to the IRS – that they claimed and paid dues on with AFTRA – is worth 11,404.74 in today’s cash.

I will never know how much I really earned by the time I’d gotten on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A conservative guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 of today’s dollars. That was a metric shitload of cash and my parents did their very best to make it disappear.

By the time I started MH2 in November of 1975 my folks were in full swing, and had theft down to a science. Penn and Teller couldn’t make greenbacks disappear as well as Herb and Margaret could.

Everybody got a different story.

 

 

In 1976 my parents declared to the IRS that I made $15,300. Asking the IRS to believe I’d made less than $300 per week as a main cast member on a screaming hot television show was ballsy – and they were up to the challenge.

In 1976 I spent the full year employed under an AFTRA contract at a $750 weekly guarantee, and there were summer residuals and voice over promos for the show. The parents declared to this union I’d made $22, 775.

I was getting SAG residuals for the 5 commercials I’d shot the year before – including the aforementioned $100,00 Bar (Link) spot that was gushering $1,500 dollars a month, as Nestle wrapped Type-2 Diabetes in a pull of melted caramel and a catchy jingle a dozen times an afternoon on every cartoon show. My parents told Screen Actors Guild I made $32,442.36.

The mind boggling shell game went on until the show ended in 1978.

I made a few useful charts to outline the thievery. ‘Index’ indicates what that money would be worth in 2017 dollars. Remember, this is earned income – not what it could have been had it been invested with a reputable money manager.

 

Table 1 68-75

 

You have to admit they had game when it came to stealing money from innocent children. By the time the real money was rolling in they had more hiding places than a pack-rat.

Table 2 76-79 (2)

We were living large in the poor part of the San Fernando Valley in a house built in 1947 inherited from my father’s maiden Aunts, rolling The 101 in my mom’s 1974 Chevy Monza. Step back, bitches!

I can only imagine what that fortune would have been had they done the right thing – but that wasn’t an issue and what ever figures you see here are fake. There are no records for the dozens and dozens of non-union, off-the-books jobs that disappeared into my mother’s pocket  without my father ever seeing a penny he could piss away at the poker table.

 

Table 3 Totals

 

By rights I should have been a wealthy young woman when I tuned 18. It seems that for a lifetime of work and foregoing my childhood I should have had more to show for it than $1,000 a year.

Perhaps I’d have blown it had I gotten all of my money, but I doubt it very much. I never even tried cocaine, even as it sucked in so many of my contemporaries I was horrified. I SAW what coke did for loved-ones, co-stars, and roommates. If ANYONE says they’ve EVER seen me do a line of coke they’re lying, and I’ll take a polygraph test to prove it.

Among other things, that remaining $18,000 from my childhood paid for tuition for 3 years of college. Although I did have a full-time job at The Palace in Hollywood to pay rent. Yes – I moved out at 18 – what did you expect?

My Coogan account – such as it was – also allowed me to move to Colorado in 1984, at the ripe old age of 20. For so many reasons I needed to leave. I took $1,000 (just under $2,400 today), and set out towards a place with mountains and skiing where my parents couldn’t visit me unless they called first. I brought the idea of moving up to them, but I distinctly remember my mother losing her shit over me ‘moving to a jerkwater town with no future.’ God she was supportive. What did I expect? I was offered a full ride for 2 years at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and she acted like I wanted to join a cannibal cult.

Picture this – It’s 7 am on the first Saturday in June, 1984. *Knock Knock* “Mom, Dad – don’t get out of bed. I’m moving to Colorado. No – really. Don’t get out of bed. My car is packed and I’m leaving. I’ll call when I get there.” I was out the door like my ass was on fire. Within 2 weeks of leaving LA I had a job that covered all my bills – I was teaching acting in Denver.

I also used the money to buy my first Subaru – a Brat that I adored and defined the new person I’d become when I left Los Angeles.

Finally, I used the remainder to put a down payment on my first home.

I remember my mother wistfully opining in the waning years of her life, as she lived like the Merry Widow and denied the single request for help I’d made as an adult at Christmas in 1999, “It’s a shame you wasted your money from Mary Hartman.”

There are times when I think back to that night at Diamond Jim’s… That night, THAT dinner meant something really special to my parents. It was the validation of all of their hard work at marketing their children and what they’d been working toward: One of their kids was good enough to land a national television series.

It meant a spigot of money like nothing they’d ever seen had just turned on. The family income tripled in one fortuitous afternoon. What’s not to celebrate? They were kicking up their heels.

At least that night I didn’t know my parents were stealing from me, and I thought the celebration was for *my* accomplishment. That was one small mercy the universe extended to me.

 

 

On November 18th, 1975, Joan Darling handed us all a small blue box before rehearsal. From the gasps of the folks around me I knew it was something special. I untied the thick white ribbon. Greedily I opened the tiny box to find a felt bag emblazoned ‘Tiffany & Co.’ Inside was a key fob with a charm that said ‘MH, MH’ on the front and ’11-18-75′ on the back, the date when we all set to work to make the best goddamn television show in the history of ever.

My parents stole an unconscionable seven-figures from me without the bat of an eye – and stole my childhood as well, and there is no way to forgive that. None. People keep cheering on children in show business with no oversight.

I will always be grateful that I was so terrifically lucky that my bondage was in the company of greats – I know not every child actor gets that. I learned comedy at their feet. I know that the IBM Selectric typewriter Norman Lear made sure arrived in my schoolroom has meant all the difference in the world to me.

In the end, all I was paid for 15 years of hard labor amounted to a Venti Latte a day – no extra pulls.

Strangers To My Face, But Not To My Heart

The only thing worse than getting in The Wayback Machine is finding out I’m not well enough to get into it.

The dreaded day is here – my skin is no longer repairing itself, and after a 6 day break from blasting my body with UVB radiation, I was still red on Tuesday – my first treatment of the week. We cut the treatment in half on Wednesday because I was more burned than I have ever been. But by Thursday morning I could see there was no way I could possibly get into The Wayback Machine and I cancelled my appointment for the first time ever.

The treatments that keep my skin from eating me alive are not possible until my skin heals itself, which it is not doing right now. I am actually more sunburned today than I was yesterday and I haven’t been in The Wayback Machine for 2 days. I can feel the rash breaking through and the itching is ratcheting up.

So, I’m in time out and the waiting is killing me.

I have no idea what will happen to my skin – whether it go crazy or give me a break. Life hasn’t been big on breaks, lately, so I’ll prepare for the worst.

Besides the ceaseless rash, the latest thing is when various parts of me stop doing what they’re supposed to do without warning. My knees will stop kneeing and I’ll sink to the ground unexpectedly, or my hands will stop handing and I drop what I am holding or find that I cannot type. I also get stabbing pains – neuropathy – anywhere. Feet, stomach, back, hands, legs, you name it.

I have continual fatigue. Short term memory problems.  Lots of vomiting for no reason. Screeching sounds in my ears. Short term memory problems. Vertigo and dizziness. Most days I am not well enough to take the pain meds. Or, I do take them (like this morning) and just wait until they make me retch. Oh – and short term memory problems.

It is strange to be held hostage by an angry body.

Cigna’s latest gambit (instead of sending me to the Mayo Clinic) is to ask if I’ve tried Vitamin A instead of The Wayback Machine, which they still refuse to pay for and I pay for every treatment out of pocket. Yes – fucking really. Vitamin A for this Dog’s Breakfast of an illness. Those fuckers. In a moment of weakness I almost wanted to wish this illness on them – but there isn’t one person in the world I would wish this on. Yes – fucking really. I don’t wish this hellacious illness on one person in the whole damn world. Although I admit to the occasional evil thought towards the people who are actively trying to kill folks like me by taking away our insurance.

I think the toughest thing about being ill for years is realizing people you thought were friends aren’t. Sometime in the last year I realized I had curated a list of friends who often needed my help and were unwilling or incapable of being there for me when I need them the most.

A friend of 35 years used the excuse of me snarking about her husband proselytizing on my FB wall on my birthday to drop our friendship. Really? I have been a proud atheist for decades and she was an agnostic, until she married an Episcopalian Priest 3 years ago. You know – the friend who stood for me at my wedding and sent a text message for me to attend her reception. I’m sure she would have been TOTALLY okay with me posting on his wall, “Happy Birthday – there is no god or heaven – it’s all a hoax – so make every day here count.”

I called her to tell her about the tumor in my breast but instead of taking my call she sent an email excoriating me for not being more gracious about the unwanted and insulting proselytizing on my wall. He wasn’t even wishing me to get well, just simply a blessed birthday.

 

April Excuse (3)

 

Yeah – then, there’s this…

I know you’re dying, What The Fuck can I do about it?

This is from a woman I used to walk to school with and have known since 1976.

This nugget makes it easy to forgive the friends who have ghosted me because they can’t take watching me die or live in the long hallway of pain. I’m ashamed to admit that in the past I had friends who were sick and I didn’t know what to say, and avoided them. All I can offer is that it’s better to call and not know what to say than to let the people you care about think they aren’t of value and no-one will miss them when they’re gone.

But this? This takes the cake for breathtakingly unaware cruelty.

Unbelievably, this person reached out last week to – seriously – oh, hell… She puts it so much more eloquently than me.

April Excuse (3)_LI

 

What she doesn’t understand is I have no fucks left to give. Nothing. I don’t even have the energy to be angry – I just simply don’t care about her drama anymore. I have no curiosity as to why I was rebuked for dying.

I didn’t answer her, and somehow that silence seems deafening. I don’t mean it to be. I. Just. Don’t. Care.

But, then I get support from the places I least expect it. New friends on the internet who care and ask how I am, and offer the shoulder I seek: Strangers to my face, but not to my heart. A dear friend now is there for me on dark days – when in high school we were not the kindest of souls to one another. The Pharmacist who remembers my name and takes 10 minutes to listen to my stories. The grown daughter of a dear friend who I love as my own – I couldn’t be more proud of the Woman she is, and I thrill at the knowledge that she will shine brighter than I could have ever imagined for myself.

I don’t want to die this way, in fact I don’t want to be sick. Sometimes I don’t think I can take another minute of the agony of my meat casing, and can’t remember what it’s like not to hurt.

But, then I find Love and Joy in the oddest places, and I find meaning in writing and Resisting.

Do me a favor, huh? Love freely. Take that trip. Tip an extra dollar. Be kind to people. Add to the good in the world. Our time here is so brief – don’t you dare waste a moment.