Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Searching For Signal: #115 - “United States of Tara” - Season 2, Episode 2

So Buck wakes up in bed with Pammy, the waitress he met at the beer joint. From the looks of things, they had a really swell time last night. Buck ogles the still-slumbering Pammy for a bit, then dresses and slips out of the apartment with a look of accomplishment and satisfaction. His good mood inspires him to break into a jog of celebration (hey, we all love to go running after a round of marathon sex, right?). Sadly, the exertion winds him a bit, he cough/chokes, and then transitions.

Now we have a very surprised Tara standing there all sweaty. And just a wee bit disoriented. Tara then makes a slow march of shame toward home. Something has clearly happened, she’s just not sure what. And where the hell is her bra?

Arriving at the house, Tara discovers a very-excited Charmaine is waiting for her in the front yard, bursting with the news that she is now engaged to the guy with the plentiful teeth. Charmaine dances all over the place and spouts annoying phrases like “He actually loves me!” and “I’m gonna be somebody’s wife!” Within two seconds you are ready for Charmaine to go some place far away and stay there.

Unfortunately, she wants to stay HERE, with Tara and the family. Something about allowing herself time to “re-virginate”. (I’m not sure what this process involves, but I’m certain that I don’t want any further details.) Then things get really busy, as Marshall needs a ride to school, Kate leaves for work sporting a startling outfit where “professional” is not the first word that comes to mind, and Max suddenly yells out at Tara, “let’s go to the Hubbard house!” (I’m thinking that’s the LAST place Tara needs to go right now, but I haven’t been consulted.)

Cut to a meeting of the “gay club” at Marshall’s school. HRH Peroxide, the bitter blonde from the last episode, is running the show in the sparsely populated room, and he’s being very bitchy. At one point he’s even rude to the one straight girl in the room who’s there for support. Marshall comes to her defense, and the two share an intimate look that concerns me. Are the producers going to pull a “Dynasty” with Marshall’s character?

Over to the Hubbard House, where Max really, really, really wants to buy the house. Tara is not fully convinced about this plan of action, so Max uncovers a piano that just happened to be RIGHT THERE, and proceeds to sway Tara’s thoughts on real estate transactions by pounding on the keys and warbling “I’m All Outta Love”.

Rather than run from the room in terror, Tara actually joins in and we have a duet where Tara is inspired to wave her hands over her head during the more spiritual parts of the song. As Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland wail away, some strange woman walks in the door and rudely interrupts the show.

Now we’re at Kate’s workplace, the one where she calls poor people and makes them feel even worse. She’s having a conversation with the guy who sits behind her. (Why she’s even doing this is unclear, because he’s a sexist jerk, and normally Kate would mop the floor with such a guy.) Anyway, they’re discussing the concept of the “big fish”, the people who owe a lot of money. If you convince them to send in a check, you can get a really nice bonus and some self-esteem. Kate’s eyes light up at this possibility, and she turns back to her keyboard, clicking away with almost religious devotion.

Turns out the lady who walked into the Hubbard House and stopped the matinee performance is actually a realtor. She’s thrilled that Max is so overly excited about buying the home that he doesn’t care about “disclosure laws” and whatnot. As she rambles, the realtor throws out a remark about “crazy people” that offends Tara, but Max doesn’t even notice. Instead, he’s busy figuring out where to put the pool table and the wet bar.

Back to Marshall’s school, where he and Peroxide get into it while they are changing in the gym locker room. Peroxide won’t stop with the constant, overboard flaming, and Marshall has had enough. “You ruin it for gay people!” Roxy doesn’t back down, freshly stoking his Eternal Flame and declaring how proud he is of himself and the way he is. Which is nice and all, but I’m thinking Roxy also has a loose bobby pin or two. No idea where they’re going with this.

Short scene with Max and a house inspector (that was quick, was the guy waiting in the realtor’s car?), discovering that there are some serious plumbing issues with the Hubbard House. The guy slyly mentions that he can rig it enough so that Max can flip the house and let the next owners worry about it. The expression on Max’s face is odd. Just what IS his obsession with this house?

Next we have Tara and Charmaine at the grocery store. Lo and behold, Pammy the waitress comes wandering up and tries to get a little chummy with “Buck”. Tara, of course, initially doesn’t have a clue who this woman might be. Then a faint bell rings. “Wait. You’re the bartender from the other night!“

Pammy is a bit disappointed with this reaction, to say the least. Um, no, I’m the one you made sweet love to and we rocked all night long. What gives? Tara isn’t giving anything. She grabs Charmaine and they head down another aisle, leaving poor Pammy to stand in confusion among the fresh produce displays.

Quick scene at Kate’s questionable workplace, where she has just discovered her very own Big Fish. By trolling the Internet, where no personal detail is fully secure, she’s found a website for a bosomy cartoon character that goes by the name of “Valhalla Hawkwind”. (What the hell?) Clicking around, Kate finds that the actual site owner is one of those people who owe her company tons of moolah. And there’s a physical address. Woo hoo!

Cut back to grocery store, this time in the parking lot, where Tara once again runs into Pammy as they try to wrangle empty shopping carts into the little corrals where nothing ever fits. Pammy tells Buck/Tara that she understands why Buck is pulling the down-low thing, fessing up that she had never been with a girl until Buck licked margarita salt off her hand, so to speak. Tara is appalled. “I’ve never been with a girl!” (Honey, maybe you need to swig a shot of tequila and then hit the little rewind button. That’s YOU, or at least one of you, playing squat tag at Pammy‘s Shack O‘ Love.)

Tara, starting to realize that maybe she hasn’t seen all the pages of the script, begins to panic and goes into spin-control mode. She warns Pammy that “I am TROUBLE!” and then turns to race toward her car, where bored Charmaine is honking the horn and waiting impatiently to tell her pathetic engagement story once again.

We catch up with Kate, who has tracked down this Valhalla chick and is standing outside her residence/den of evil/whatever it is. She bangs on the garage door (why, I don’t know, surely there’s an actual front door somewhere) until a woman finally raises the door. Kate is now face-to-face with one Lynda P. Frazier, the conduit to a very nice bonus check.

Kate, because she really doesn’t know what she’s doing, then makes a feeble show of trying to be a bounty-hunter professional fully intent on financial realignments. It doesn’t work. It’s clear that the only thing Kate knows about being tough and investigatory she must have learned from watching the “Charlie’s Angels” movies. And she apparently fell asleep during the few important parts. Nevertheless, Lynda invites her in.

Cut back to Tara, in full freak-out mode, racing to the Hubbard House instead of her own home. Once inside, she turns on her iPhone or some type of recording device, and then captures herself running from room to room and babbling about how she can’t let her family know that she’s transitioning again. It’s sort of like “The Blair Witch Project” meets “The Three Faces of Eve”, minus the dead bodies in the woods, Joanne Woodward or any lucrative product placement.

Finally, Tara crawls into a clothes closet and slams the door, because that usually solves everything, right? She then shivers and cries while holding herself, doing a very fine example of method-acting in tight spaces. (Wait, why is there a dress hanging in this closet, in a house where a single man lived? Have The Gays already been here? Dang. They always find the happening places before everybody else. And then they leave couture behind as they race to the next hot spot.)

We’re back at Lynda/Valhalla’s retro-groovy pad. Apparently Kate’s channeling of Drew Barrymore has worked, because Lynda comes waltzing out of some side chamber bearing a check for $5,000. Lynda then plops on a couch, lights a joint, and invites Kate to sit a spell. Kate, because she’s wearing just the right outfit for drug usage, decides she’s got some time on her hands.

Later, we have dinner at the Gregson household. Charmaine is running her mouth with a boring story concerning the difference between a “princess cut” diamond and the “cushion cut” variety, waving her bejeweled hand the entire time. Marshall has brought along Courtney, the straight girl, and I instantly hate her because I have no investment in the gay reversion theory that one of the show producers must be pushing. Then Kate comes flouncing in, brimming with excitement over the afternoon adventures with Lynda and her delinquent bills. “I got my mind literally blown.” Really? Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Then they all make a toast to something. I forget what, because right then Tara sees Buck coming down the stairs and giving her the evil eye. What’s this? The alters can see each other now? That’s new. See, every time a show is successful, they try to overwhelm it with special effects. Stick to the story, people.

Tara, understandably, is a bit out of sorts with this development. She excuses herself and then thunders up the stairs to her bedroom, where she has an argument with Buck, an alter that should be IN her, but is now OUT of her. Buck is demanding the use of Tara’s body for the night.

Okay, I’m officially no longer complaining about anything wrong in my life. Done.

Max wanders in to check on Tara. “You good?” Tara waves him off. I’m just great, my disjointed and apparently sexually-active life couldn’t be any better. Max, not recognizing the signs of an impending psychotic split even though he should after all these years, announces that he’s headed over to the Hubbard House for some remodeling inspiration. (Why are these people so centered on a house where a man killed himself? Don’t you have other hobbies?)

Quick scene with Marshall and Courtney in his bedroom, where he stupidly pulls out a Ouija board for their entertainment. This can only result in madness. Has the cast not seen the movie “Witchboard”? People die. In painful ways.

I guess Buck worked out some sort of timeshare arrangement with Tara, because now we have him showing up at Pammy’s door, bearing a rose for his lady and fessing that “I couldn’t stay away.” Pammy lets him in, despite the rudeness and confusion at the grocery store.

Back to Marshall and Tokyo Rose in his bedroom. They’re still fiddling with the Ouija board, and of course their fingers touch while they are pretending to not manipulate the planchette. As we all know, random finger-touching can only lead to sordidness. They kiss, and a small part of me dies.

Zip over to Pammy’s, where Buck is massaging her feet while she coos.

Now it’s time for a montage, because this sort of thing is required in the final moments of a quirky series involving dysfunction. We see Max laying out black and white tiles in one of the bathrooms of the Hubbard House. (Just say no, Max. Seriously. The 50’s diner look no longer applies to bathrooms. Just ask The Gays.) Shot of Charmaine in some bed kissing her ring with a love that dare not speak it’s name. Another glimpse of Marshall still lip-locked with Tokyo Courtney as they roll around on the Ouija board. We end with an alarming close-up of Buck at Pammy’s crotch. Truly did not need to see that.

Final scenes. It’s the next morning, and Tara wakes up next to Pammy. (By the way, how has Max not noticed that his wife hasn’t slept in the same bed with him for the past two nights?) Tara does not handle the situation well, gathering up her clothes and fleeing the scene. On her way out, she passes two children in the living room who are watching cartoons. (Where the hell did THEY come from? Did I miss something?)

Tara thunders down the outside stairs of the apartment building and lurches toward her car. She may not know where she’s at, but she damn sure knows where she parked her vehicle. It’s the little things, right?

Roll credits.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Searching For Signal: #114 - “Nurse Jackie” - Season 2, Episode 2

So we start out in the basement of Jackie’s home, where she’s distractedly trying to iron somebody’s clothes. After a bit, she realizes that the iron isn’t even hot, then discovers that someone has unplugged the thing, probably with vicious and evil intent. Right in the midst of this domestic trauma, she gets a text from Eddie. “I’m SO Sorry.” I assume that he’s referring to the fact that he rudely tried to kill himself just so she would take his calls.

This irritating bit of social networking causes Jackie to temporarily abandon her attempt at conquering wrinkles, and she clamors around the basement until she finds a box of Easter decorations. She digs around in the box until she locates a stash of Vicodin cleverly hidden in a plastic egg. She pops one pill, pockets the rest, and suddenly her day is much brighter. (Imagine the Easter egg hunt around THIS place.)

A bit later, she trudges upstairs, whining about things being unplugged, and we learn that neurotic little Gracie is responsible for the disconnecting of things all over the house. Seems her latest unhealthy obsession centers around the house burning down. (Guess she’s moved on from the exploding sun of the last episode.) She’s even saved her allowance and picked out the particular smoke alarm that she would like to have installed. Isn’t she cute?

Then we’re on the sidewalk outside the hospital, where a clearly-looped Dr. O’Hara is babbling about something while she squirts mustard on a hot dog. She fesses up to taking a bit of Ecstasy, thinking it would wear off before she had to, you know, OPERATE on people and such. With O’Hara’s British accent and the drug still coursing through her veins, I really have no idea what she’s saying. Some mess about taking Jackie’s girls out of school and they all move to Switzerland. Maybe. I really don’t know.

Then a taxi pulls up, and out tumbles a mussed-up Zoey. As she staggers past them without noticing either of them, O’Hara and Jackie theorize on what might have led to this situation. O’Hara thinks that Zoey “got her pipes cleaned.” Jackie is frightened by this image. “It’s like seeing Santa naked.”

Quick scene with Jackie in one of the examining rooms. Anxious parents are concerned over the breathing problems of their little boy, afraid he might have Cystic Fibrosis. (Suddenly the frivolity of a stoned O’Hara shoving a hot dog in her mouth loses its charm.) Jackie promises to help them get an expensive “sweat test”. Hang tight.

O’Hara, still flying high and thinking she’s Isadora Duncan whilst dancing down the hall, slams into a startled Zoey, then apologizes and gives her a scarf. Zoey responds as if she’s just been knighted by The Queen. Jackie interrupts the love fest and drags O’Hara off to an examining room, hooking O’Hara up to an IV so she can re-hydrate. (No wonder my insurance premiums are so high.)

O’Hara insists on a trashy magazine to read while her buzz fades. Jackie goes searching and finds that the ER supply of said reading material has been snatched up by Thor and hidden in his drawer. When Jackie slightly berates him, he sulks. “Please don’t amplify my shame.”

Attention-starved Eddie shows up at Kevin’s bar. Eddie chirpily asks about Jackie’s jewelry: “She like that ring you got her?” Kevin’s a little thrown by the question, how would Eddie know about this? Then he shrugs it off. (Dude, when people know things about you that they shouldn’t theoretically know, it’s time to move and have your name legally changed. Don’t you watch the Horror Channel?) When Kevin asks where Eddie’s been lately, Eddie smiles and says “I tried to kill myself.” Just kidding. Hee hee. Then they make a toast to Jackie and bond over sporting events.

There are some messed-up people on this show. Just sayin.

Dr. Cooper finally wanders in to check on the little boy who might have Cystic Fibrosis. When he tries to explain what CF is and how you test for it, the parents babble that Jackie has already explained all of this. She’s nice, we love her. This, of course, sends Coop into a jealous tizzy. He and Jackie then bicker openly in front of the parents, while the little boy pretends to color in a book and wonders if he should get a new agent.

As Jackie and Coop storm out of the room, Coop actually whips out some device and makes a Twitter update about the patient exam he just performed. Seriously. Jackie, understandably, is incensed. That is so wrong. Coop, of course, doesn’t see the problem, and wanders off to go do something else immoral and obnoxious.

Then we have some Sam and Zoey bonding (this can only lead to trouble), with Sam complimenting her scarf and Zoey proudly beaming that it’s from “Herms”, which she just knows has to be a fancy store. They stroll along the sidewalk in front of the hospital as their twisted friendship glows and blossoms. To show that they are now besties, Zoey points out the crazy man in a nearby building who thinks he’s God.

On cue, God leans out his window and starts berating the passersby with insults and absurdity. Sam thinks this is really neat. “I love this guy!” Then God goes too far with his ranting at strangers, and one of them picks up a bottle, hurling it through the air so that it beans God and knocks him to the floor of his apartment. Zoey: “God’s down!”

Frantic scene in an ER room as the staff struggles to stabilize God. Coop actually twitters through the whole thing, making Jackie so mad she could almost spit, but she’s a trooper and focuses on making God comfortable instead of seeking personal validation in 140 characters or less.

A bit later, Zoey slips into the room for some quality time with God. She rambles on about a nunnery and liking boys and other useless nonsense. God, because we‘re all bored with that, stops her and warbles his own tale about almost dying, a light at the end of a tunnel, and the person he saw bathed in that light. (Zoey: “So you saw yourself?”) God gives Zoey and her scarf a dismissive look. No, he DIDN’T see himself, and therefore he can’t be God. (Somebody had to hit him with a bottle before he could figure that out?)

This revelation makes non-God start screaming. Zoey, not wanting to miss out on the fun, starts screaming as well. Then she gets a little uncomfortable with all the noise, and races out of the room. Jackie, because she’s very busy with all her addictions and doesn‘t have time for this, is not going to clean up after Zoey and sends her right back in. “Handle it!”

Then Jackie starts to trot off to some other scene of confusion, and the Vicodin blister pack falls out of her cute little nurse’s smock. Sam, because he lives for drama and accusations, snatches the pills up and confronts Jackie. Are these yours? She denies ownership, they squabble, Jackie demands that Sam give them to her, more squabbling about the proper treatment of unclaimed pills, and we end with Jackie marching Sam to the room with the automatic pill dispenser where she shoves the pills into a lockbox.

Two seconds after they leave the room, Jackie returns with the lockbox key and retrieves her precious goodies.

A bit later, Jackie stomps into Mrs. Akalitus’ office with some demands. First off, Coop needs to cool it with the Twitter thing. Akalitus: He filed a complaint against you for insubordination. Jackie: Don’t care. Second, I’m over Sam and the born-again thing. He’s accusing everybody of being a drug addict. (Um, everybody IS, at least in this place.) Finally, an anonymous nurse would like a referral for a good child psychiatrist. Akalitus smiles warmly as she scribbles the name of someone covered by the hospital insurance. “She was tremendously helpful with my boy.” (Wait, Akalitus has reproduced? I’m scared to leave my own house at this point.)

Jackie, because she meddles, then wanders off to some obscure testing lab, trying to get the scoop on the little boy who might have CF. The prim little testing person initially does not want to share. The tests aren’t done yet. Too early to be sure. And you’re not a doctor. Jackie works her magic (she’s the star of the show, of course she has magic, it’s in her contract) and the testing person finally fesses that things look good. So far.

Jackie races to tell the anxious parents the supposed good news, and they instantly worship her in relief and admiration. Lot of glowing close-ups as the happy family packs up and heads out into the night.

Quick scene in Kevin’s bar, where he and Eddie are still bonding over sports (guess Eddie hasn’t found a new job after being replaced by a machine, so he apparently has some time on his hands). This can only lead to heartbreak, dismay, and twisted future events that require therapy. I do believe that’s Alfred Hitchcock we see walking by on the street outside the window.

Now we have Jackie kicking back in the hospital church, reflecting on…. who knows. She hears some crinkling noises coming from a nearby pew, and discovers Thor with some diabetically contraband donuts, and she challenges him. Why are you doing this? “You’ve already lost sight in one eye.” Thor is amazed, how did she know? (She’s the star of the show, of course she has instant vision-diagnostic skills.) Actually, she figured it out when they were trying to save non-God in the ER. Thor: “You are the only one that knows.”

Then the bonding continues as Thor actually pops out his fake porcelain eye for review and discussion. This scene is one of those that teeters on the fine line between really touching and too bizarre for words. I’ll let it land in the touching camp. After all, you’ve gotta be tight with somebody if you’re going to let her hold your eye, right?

Cut to Zoey with non-God. She’s dragged him to a window and is trying to get him all excited about hurling insults once again. He’s bummed, life is a sham when you aren’t divine. Zoey counsels him: “Maybe you’re like Jesus, or the brother-in-law of God, or something.” Non-God considers this, then finally decides that a second-billing would be fine. He leans out the window and goes to work.

Dr. Cooper confronts Jackie. Where’s the family with the possible CF kid? Jackie gets all better-than-thou. You were screwing around and taking forever so I gave them the good news and sent them home happy. Coop is not pleased. It took forever because I wanted the whole story, and the child DOES have Cystic Fibrosis. Now I’m the bad guy that has to call and ruin their lives.

Jackie: “No. I’ll call them. Give me the phone.”

Final scene has Jackie arriving home, with everyone already tucked into bed. A brief moment of reflection. Then Jackie pulls something out of a bag, studies it for a bit, then leaves it on the kitchen table. It’s a fancy, talking smoke-alarm for Gracie to discover when she wanders down for breakfast in the morning.

Very sweet. But really, Gracie is just going to find something else to worry about until you get to the root of her problem. And isn’t that the theme of this entire show?

Monday, March 29, 2010

10 Reasons Why Mondays are the Work of Satan

1. You wake up with a hangover even though you had nothing to drink the night before.

It’s a fascinating biological phenomenon. Your head hurts, your mouth is dry and there’s a weird bruise in a surprising place. It takes all the strength you have just to reach over and slap the alarm clock against the wall, repeatedly, until you finally throw back the covers and stagger out of bed, weeping quietly. You completely ignore the person lying on the other side of the mattress, because you can’t remember their name right now. It’ll come to you later.

2. Despite your best intentions, you never got around to doing any laundry over the weekend.

So now your wardrobe options are completely uninspiring, consisting mostly of things you haven’t worn since Clinton was in office, faded t-shirts with exclamatory slogans that could lead to your dismissal at work, and a certain leather outfit you bought during a lusty moment coming home from the wine festival in Grapevine. (The sad little price tag is still on it.)

My personal clothing dilemma this morning led to the donning of a questionable pair of slacks that technically no longer fit me. I did not let this stop the show, sucking in my gut as I struggled valiantly to conquer the demon fabric. Fastening the top button resulted in the pleats at the front committing suicide in a frenzy of ripped thread, and a firm tug on the zipper led to my instant sterilization. But I got the damn pants on.

Of course, walking became a challenge after that point, as I hobbled from room to room, taking tiny baby steps while the sounds of structural stress filled the air. And actually sitting down was out of the question. Once I got to work, I just leaned against my chair and used a plastic fork to reach the keyboard.

3. You also forgot to fill the gas tank, which means you’ll have to stop on the way to work, along with everybody else that didn’t remember this little task.

I never have a good time at the gas pump anyway, but I especially don’t enjoy it when I’m trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey and I can’t breathe. First, you have to deal with all those short-attention span people that don’t pull through to the lead pump, forcing you to circle around and back in. Then you basically have to re-program the pump because the loser before you was trying to use a stolen credit card and just drove away in the middle of the transaction.

And finally, no matter what you do, carefully handling the gas nozzle with tenderness, there’s going to be that last squirt of gasoline that splashes on your pants. Great. I already have enough friction going on down there, and now I’ve just doused myself with liquid accelerant.

4. The knowledge base of other drivers on the roadways has always been questionable, but during the course of a weekend these folks will forget even the minimal skills they possessed. 

Monday is clearly a brand new day in their lives.

5. The knowledge base of your co-workers has always been questionable, but during the course of a weekend these folks will forget everything they have ever known. Ever.

They will ask you how to do everything, especially the critical things you covered in detail just three days ago using slide shows and hand puppets. They will be confused about how to turn on their computer, they will no longer remember passwords that they use every day, and they’ll even be a little unclear on where their cube might be located. You might as well buy a roll of toilet paper when you stop for gas on the way in, because they’re apparently going to need help with personal hygiene as well.

6. Everyone wants to talk to you, despite your prominently-displayed company badge where you have clearly scribbled “I don’t like people” in black crayon.

They bounce around and jabber away, gushing with endless anecdotes that mean nothing to you and never will. You will be unable to stop them. Turning your back and acting very busy doesn’t work. Phrases like “I think the Boss needs to speak with you” or “Is that your phone ringing?” or “Do you realize I could have you arrested for harassment?” don’t sink in. Just let them ramble on and pray for daylight.

7. The very first work email you read will cruelly announce that the massive project you’ve worked on for the last six months is no longer funded.

You have been assigned to another functional team. Your new manager will be meeting with you shortly. His name is Damian. Don’t stare at the matching numbers on his skull. It’s rude.

8. You will have 47 voice mails.
Only one of them will be of any importance. It will be the very last one in the sequence, so you will be drifting off long before you get to that one. Sadly, when the tone of this voice mail causes you to snort awake, you will only catch half of it. It’s somebody in Payroll. In your fogged state, you will accidentally erase the message and not get the all-important callback number. When you desperately call the main Payroll line, they will have no idea who you are. They hang up on you.

9. Everybody on the entire planet had a better weekend than you did.

Fascinating parties. Great nights at the club. Wonderful dining experiences. Travel to exotic places. Visits with family members that are not rude and stifling. Marriage proposals, sex changes and an Oprah sighting. All kinds of fun stuff. Your weekend? You cleaned the toilets, trimmed the cat’s claws, and watched a Discovery Channel documentary about warthogs.

10. The Mamas and The Papas warned us forty years ago that Mondays will find us crying all of the time. 

And I’ve always firmly believed in the prophetic wisdom of colorful hippies who sing in four-part harmony…

Friday, March 26, 2010

10 Reasons Why Driving on Highways Sends Me Over The Edge

1. People who don’t accelerate on the entrance ramps.

  Folks, this is not rocket science. When you’re on the service road, you can only go about 40 miles an hour or so. Those whizzing cars on the big-ass freeway to your left are probably going at least 60, and probably 80 if their radar detectors have given them the “all clear”. Do you understand that these numbers are different? More importantly, do you understand that action is now required on your part? If not, let me explain.

  You need to shove the accelerator to the floor until you are almost airborne and then fling your piece of crap car into the roaring stream of humanity. That’s all there is to it, and that’s the ONLY way to do it. Do not inch your way along and expect people to calmly shift to the far lane and let you in. Those other people are not here to make you happy. They have things to do with their lives, and that checklist does not include compensating for timid losers who lack aggression. Move your ass.

  And by no means should you dare to actually slam on your brakes when you realize that things might not be working out for you with this merge thing. When you do that, everybody behind you has to also slam on their brakes, and we instantly hate you. We will get out of our cars, and we will beat you with road debris.

2. People who are already on the highway but refuse to move over when you try to enter, even though there’s nobody else in the other lane.

  This is just pure hatefulness. You can SEE me flying up the entrance ramp, doing the right thing by initiating the neutron accelerator and professionally flashing my turn signal. Yet you refuse to budge, probably due to some childhood mishap wherein you were denied something you wanted and you‘ve been bitter ever since. That still doesn’t justify your self-involved need to ignore humanity.

  Of course, we also have the more-infuriating class of lane-change-refusing neurotics: the evil people who will actually speed up in an attempt to abort your merge mission. These are the cars that are WAY back on the highway, so that in a normal world you have plenty of time to merge with minimal risk. But once these satanic cars grasp what you are trying to do, they jump on the gas with both feet and race to cut you off.

  This is just insane. Why would you do that? What happened to you that makes you WANT to do this? Seriously, pull off the road right now and call somebody, because you need help.

3. People who get on the highway at one entrance ramp and then immediately get back off at the next exit.

  There is no reason for this. Instead of staying on the service road where you can get to your destination in the next hundred yards or so, you’re going to force your useless existence on the rest of society with a pointless move. See, I’m one of the non-neurotic people who don’t view your merge attempt as some form of challenge, so I will slow down or move over so you can access the freeway.

  But when I see you stay in the transition lane and then zip back down the next exit, after I’ve done the right thing to accommodate your entrance to the highway of life, I instantly want to exit as well. And follow you to wherever you’re going, tell everyone around us that you suck, and then take your life.

4. People who insist on driving the same speed as you.

  Why are you doing that? As long as I’m not needing to change lanes, I don’t care. You can do whatever you want. But when I need to move into your lane for whatever reason, you need to quit. Because you’re RIGHT THERE, I have to either pull ahead or slow down to get into your lane. So when you duplicate my actions and also speed up or slow down, I twist off a little bit. Stop doing that. This is how serial killers are born.

5. People who ride your ass for no reason.

  You know who I’m talking about. You can be in the middle lane of a 3-lane highway with nobody around for miles. Then here comes some idiot who gets right on your bumper and won’t go around. Dude, what is wrong with you? All of the other lanes are clear. If you’re not happy with my current rate of speed, you have plenty of options.

  You can pass me on the left, you can pass me on the right, you can slam into the median and die in a fiery crash. Whatever. You just need to back off. Because at some point I’m going to snap, and I’m going to hit my brakes, and ain’t nobody gonna be happy about that. Fair warning.

6. People who don’t understand what the dashed lines on the highway mean.

  How hard is it to stay in your lane? Seriously. What jacked-up mental problem do you have that you can’t pay attention to this? If you’ve managed to get a driver’s license, then somebody at some point has explained the concept of a “lane” to you. You pick one, and you stay there, until it’s time for you to exit and visit with your therapist. If this confuses you, stay home. Pizza Hut delivers.

7. People who think a car is just one big phone booth.

  What is it about the mere act of getting behind the wheel that causes some folks to instantly reach for their cell phone? They are dialing before they’ve even released the emergency brake. And then they drive for miles without even once looking out the window to check road conditions.

  It doesn’t matter how skilled of a multi-tasker you think you are, if you’re on the phone you’re not paying full attention to the much more important act of driving. I don’t care if you’ve got the blue-tooth or the hands-free or God as your co-pilot. It’s not fair to the responsible drivers that we have to deal with you chatting about who had too many shots at the bar last night, causing you to not realize there’s a curve in the highway and you drift across three lanes before taking corrective action. Put. The. Phone. Down.

8. Jerks in fast cars who can’t stay in one lane.

  We are on a roadway. We are not trapped in a giant pinball machine. There is no reason in the world for any car to be zipping all over the place, cutting people off with just inches to spare. And it never even crosses their mind to use a turn signal, so you have no idea what the high-speed idiot is going to do next. Of course, there’s never a police car around when all of this is going on. They only show up when I accidentally go one mile an hour over the speed limit in a school zone.

9. Jerks in slow cars, not matter what the lane.

  There is a reason why we have minimum speeds on the highways. Your vehicle needs to be traveling fast enough so that you don’t single-handedly create a twelve-mile backup and force the city to shut down. And yes, I understand that there are times when a person’s transportation choice might be limited to a poorly-functioning automobile that has velocity issues. That’s fine. But there’s a special lane for that. It’s called the service road.

10. People driving huge trailers who think that sheer size gives them ownership of the highway.

  These guys do whatever they want. If they decide to change lanes, they just do it. It’s up to you to get your ass out of the way. And if the freeway is crowded and you can’t quickly escape to another lane, your only option is to slam on your brakes. Which means that two seconds later, you are going to be rear-ended by everyone in a three-mile radius who is talking on a cell phone because they have forgotten that they are even driving a car.

  Once you crawl out of the wreckage of your flaming vehicle, you then have to limp your way across several lanes of traffic. This is risky, because you have to dodge the people who were not involved in the pile-up and are therefore racing by. They won’t slow down, because you’re obviously not dead, and that’s boring.

  And don’t think you’re safe until you have crawled completely off the road. You have to make it past the access lane, which is the most dangerous place off all. Because you don’t know what type of access-ramp driver you are going to encounter. Cross your fingers that the next car is an ass-dragger, and then scamper off the pavement.

  Two hours later, as you lie bleeding in the dirt, you will finally hear the wail of an approaching police car. Prepare for the final humiliation: You will be the only one who gets a ticket out of this whole mess. Because that’s just how it goes.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Searching For Signal: #113 - “Survivor” - Heroes vs. Villains - Episode 6

We start out as we usually do, with the losing Heroes tribe making the March of Shame back to camp after sending home one of their own. This time they’ve said goodbye to Tom, instead of the more obvious choice of the hobbled James. Still not happy about that. We got some stupid on this here island.

First we have an odd bit where James asks Colby if he wants a hug. We can’t tell if he’s serious, joking, or just drunk. Colby takes a pass on the physical bonding. Then we have a sidebar with Candice: She decided not to vote for James because she didn’t want to make the rest of the tribe mad. Really? I think it’s a bit late for that. These people are gunning for YOU next. Amanda confirms this in her own sidebar.

Cut to the Villains camp on the same night, where most of the gang is sleeping peacefully since they’ve still got about 500 people on their tribe while the Heroes self-destruct. Oh wait, Russell’s still awake. And so is Rob. Russell scampers over to where Rob is leaning against some tree. (“I’m gonna make him think I’m not after him even though I am.”) Sure you are, Russell. People completely trust anything coming out of your mouth. Good luck with that.

So Russell stands on several boulders so his short little ass can actually look Rob in the eye. Then he blows obvious smoke about how he thinks Rob is one cool dude and they tight. Rob just looks at him, letting Russell dig a deeper hole of deceit for a while, then cuts him off with “There’s a lot of people mad that you went looking for that Idol.” You made yourself a target. “You need to watch your back.”

Russell, who SHOULD know a lot about backs since he’s stabbed so many of them, forgets that he’s trying to lie and manipulate here, and resorts to childishness, snapping that Rob better watch out, too. (I know you are but what am I?)

Roll opening credits.

Right away we get tree mail that it’s time for a challenge, although we aren’t sure if it’s for Reward, Immunity or both. Hmmm. Something big is coming. This is way too early in the episode for a normal challenge.

So both tribes wander off to wherever Jeff is, with the Villains “getting a good look” at the other tribe and realizing that the Hero idiots kept the physically-limited James and sent somebody else home. As Jeff studies the dropped-jaws of the Villains, he asks them what they think about the Hero vote. Danielle, trying to be polite about it: “James must have a strong alliance.” But her eyes are saying that she thinks it was a stupid move. Parvati’s eyes are sparkling, because the knows just how to manipulate James and it’s just fine if he sticks around.

Then Jeff launches the bombshell that both teams will be going to Tribal this time. The jaws of the Villains remain dropped, because they’ve only been to Tribal one time and that was so long ago that it’s only a distant memory. They’ve been living the high life since then while the Heroes implode. Exactly what is this Tribal thing again?

Jeff explains further: Each tribe will do the challenge separately, with the winners of the two races earning Individual Immunity. Then those two winners will duke it out in a final race, with the winner of the THAT round gaining the Reward prize for their tribe: The chance to eat hot dogs while watching the losing tribe bicker and debate before they send someone home. (When that time comes, I’ll try to refrain from any phallic references about the hot dogs and what the Survivors are doing to each other. Whoops, too late.)

This challenge involves each tribe member clipping themselves to a rope, and then having to work their way along said rope as they navigate a complicated puzzle-fence thing. We’ve seen this type of action before. Skinny and/or small people have the advantage. Rupert is not going to win.

The Heroes are up first. It’s a fairly tight race, with two points worth noting. One is that Colby doesn’t seem to have his act together, despite the fact that he REALLY needs to win Immunity, and he falls behind. The other is that nasty Courtney, watching from the Villains tribe, is smirky and sarcastic with her commentary. She is so useless, people need to write her name down at Tribal just because she‘s irritating. Skank.

Interestingly enough, Candice wins and gains Immunity. There’s a twist that doesn’t bode well for Colby.

Then the Villains go at it. We also have two points of interest with this one. First, Sandra completely sucks. She barely moves more than an inch on her rope. (Hello? Anybody taking notes?) Second, Russell is so invested on checking to see how far everybody else has progressed that he’s not focused on his own efforts and he falls behind. His ego is his own worst enemy.

Rob manages to win, and that pop you just heard was Russell’s head exploding with jealousy.

In the final showdown, with just Candice and Rob, the difficulty is amped considerably as they must now work their way through a massive maze of rope and obstacles. It’s very close, but Rob pulls it out in the end.. The Villains cheer, but really, what’s the point? Both tribes have to send somebody home.

So now we have the mad scramble at both camps while the tribes decide on how to vote.

As the Villains return home to their pathetic excuse for a camp, there’s exuberant praise for Rob and his performance at the challenge. Not surprisingly, Russell is nowhere to be found during this celebration. He’s already raced off into the jungle so he can shove acid-laced pins into his Rob voodoo doll.

Rob gathers his alliance (Jerri, Coach, Tyson, Courtney, Sandra) and tells them that they should vote for Parvati to go home, but they should convince Russell that it’s really HIM so he’ll play the Immunity Idol. Then Rob marches up to Russell, who is still claiming that he doesn’t have the Idol even though the entire world knows that he does, and warns him that “you need to go get that Idol.” Then Rob adds, digging the knife in even deeper, “it’s better to play with me than against me.”

Russell almost has a coronary, he’s so livid that his delusional World of Superiority is being challenged. He races to find Parvati and Danielle, telling them that the rest of the tribe is voting for Parv (good insight, gotta give him that). Then Russell announces that he’s going to give the Idol to Parvati, and that all three of them should write down Tyson’s name.

Oh my. Something wicked this way comes. About 5’2” of it.

Cut to the Heroes camp. Colby gathers everyone around and tells them “I know I’m going home, there’s no need for scrambling, no hard feelings. Just relax, and don’t reveal anything at Tribal” for the Villains to use against them. (Gotta hand it to Colby, he still plays honorably.) The rest of the tribe actually looks a little disappointed that the vote decision is going to be that easy. No scrambling and strategizing? What are we going to do for the rest of the afternoon?

Turns out things are not going to be that simple. JT, Candice, Rupert and Amanda are on the beach trying to decide between Colby and the injured James. At first it appears that Colby is a done deal, then it starts flipping around as folks vent that James is kind of useless and he eats WAY too many bananas. (Seriously, these people have some strong emotions about fruit.)

Amanda then races to James. “You’re gonna have to show your strength. And quit stealing bananas!” James is confused by what this really means, but at least he realizes that it might be time for some PR. Amanda has more advice: If you’re going to eat the bananas make sure everybody else has one, too.

So James hobbles over to the rest of the tribe, and challenges JT and Rupert to a foot race. Rupert, who would much rather just sit on his butt, immediately declines. But JT thinks that’s a swell idea, and off they go. JT wins easily, even turning around and running backwards over the finish line. That little stunt might have back-fired there, James.

Over to the Villains camp, where Rob tells his alliance that they have GOT to split the vote, 3 for Parvati and 3 for Russell. With the numbers the way they are and the almost certain fact that Russell will play the Idol or give it to Parvati, this will cause a tie and a re-vote, at which point all 6 of them can vote for whoever doesn’t use the Idol. (Courtney just stands there the whole time, eating a banana and therefore instantly doubling her weight.) Got it? Everybody mumbles agreement.

Two seconds later, Russell snatches Tyson off to the side and fills him with lies about how Russell has had a change of heart and is voting for Parvati. This is probably one of Russell’s finer moves. He knows Rob’s alliance is going to split the vote, and he’s trying to rupture that split by appealing to Tyson’s strong desire to ensure Parvati goes home. (In a sidebar, Tyson confirms that he is indeed salivating at the thought of a Parvati exit. Stupid Tyson. The mere fact that Russell is even talking to you should be a warning sign.)

Time for the double Tribal.

First the Villains. Jeff starts out with some boring discussion about how the game has changed over the years. Things pick up a bit when the Immunity Idol is mentioned, and Sandra blurts “We all know who has it.” (Camera cuts to Russell, who is staring at the ground in his troll-like way.) Then she gets more direct: “Russell, if you DON’T have it, you better find it.” Russell continues to deny ownership.

Then Jeff grills the rest of the folks, and despite all the covert strategy we’ve seen up to this point, it’s really not clear what’s going to happen. The only thing we know for certain is that no one can vote for Rob with his little necklace. Cue the dramatic music as people wander across the bridge and scribble a name.

Finally, Jeff returns with the carefully arranged votes in the rustic bucket. Anybody wanna play the Idol? The troll jumps to his feet and Rob’s alliance breaks out in smiles. The grinning quickly stops, however, when Russell makes an annoying speech about trust and integrity, and then hands the Idol over to Parvati. She races to Jeff so she can play it, moving faster than she’s ever moved in three seasons.

End result? Two votes for Russell. Four votes for Parvati, which don‘t count. (As the fourth Parvati vote is revealed, confusion shows on Rob’s face. Somebody didn’t follow the plan.) And we end with three votes for Tyson, who’s going home.

Jeff: “Well, that was definitely a crazy tribal council.” Tyson in his exit interview: “I ended up being a victim of my own stupidity.” Yep, that you did. Don’t have any sympathy for you. Come on, you listened to RUSSELL?

Now we have the Heroes sitting around the fire, while the Villains are off to one side, shoving hot dogs in their mouths and gulping soda. This session is nowhere near as exciting as the dramatic trauma of the Villain showdown, but we do have some fun when James is discussing The Banana Etiquette. He doesn‘t think he should have to worry about whether or not everybody has something to eat. “If yo ass is hungry, you go get a banana.”

Then Jeff sends the belching Villains away so the Heroes can vote.

James votes for Colby. Everybody else votes for James, including a sobbing Amanda who tells James she loves him while they hug. James’ final words as he disappears into the night? “I’m gonna be good and drunk in the next five minutes.”

And I would imagine that he snatches up a banana or two on his way out…

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Searching For Signal: #112 - “United States of Tara” - Season 2, Episode 1

So we start off with Tara and the family standing outside one of those metal box things where you can drop off “gently used” clothing so they can be recycled into society. As the family chatters, we learn that Tara has been on her meds for the last three months and she hasn’t transitioned a single time. So she’s decided to do some spring cleaning and get rid of the outfits the “alters” would wear when they surfaced. She no longer needs five wardrobes, just the one is good enough, thank you very much.

Then we have a lovely montage, full of happy family members doing cutesy things. Everybody’s singing and dancing and getting along and not acting the least bit dysfunctional, which saddens me slightly because it was the dysfunction junction that made things so much fun in the first place. (And what’s up with Charmaine’s boyfriend looking kind of hot? I don’t remember that from last season. Did they change actors or did I just not pay attention?)

Anyway, the happy scenes go on way longer than they should, to the point where I move beyond sadness to annoyance. I don’t want to watch “The Brady Bunch Is Better Than Your Family”. I want awkward moments and biting dialogue where someone says something basically cruel but it’s still hysterical. OMG, did someone fire Diablo Cody?

No worries. We quickly take the Twisted Exit off the Sunshine Highway and we get back to where we once belonged. Gunshots ring out somewhere in Tara’s neighborhood and the family races outside to see who’s being noisy and unruly. (As opposed to the normal routine, where the rest of the neighborhood is constantly racing to Tara’s house to see which personality has done what, how much there damage might be, and whether or not the scoop is worth a Facebook update.)

Turns out that some guy killed himself in a nearby house. While I’m sure this is really tragic, the real reason we have this scene is to allow Tara and Max and the chilluns to meet “The Gays”, the requisite alternative-lifestyle family that always shows up these days on TV series centered around a neighborhood. Tara takes a shine to the witty duo, and suggests that they “meet for a meal”. Of course you should, Tara. You’re simply not hip unless you’re in with The Gays. Don’t leave home without them.

Then it’s the next morning, and the Gregor family is in full dysfunctional mode while they work their way through breakfast, and I can finally relax. Tara is already making subtle hints that she might transition, Marshall is doing something absurd with pancakes and fruit, Kate is being rude as hell whilst wearing revealing pajama-wear, and Max is just looking forlorn, trying to get through the ordeal and constantly waiting for Sarah Jessica Parker to show up and say that she really, really wanted HIM instead of Mr. Big.

Cut to the local high school, where Marshall is wandering around the cafeteria with his pathetic little tray, trying to decide the least-implosive place to sit. As he passes the table where the gays hang out (is there a theme going on here?), he’s accosted by a young queen that’s never met a bottle of bleach that he didn’t like, with a peroxide hair-don’t that could help planes land in the dark.

Marshall decides to join them at this “gayble“, and then we get into a very political discussion that appears to involve flowers. It seems the activist gays want to overthrow society by forcing the Student Council to allow the distribution of purple carnations, in addition to the standard red, pink and white variety, during the annual “send your friends and possible lovers a flower” extravaganza.

Marshall: “Why don’t you just send your boyfriend a red one if you want? It still means love.”

Good point. But this does not sit well with most of table, including the requisite straight girl who then proceeds to make an eye-opening reference to that one time at band camp, while the others nod knowingly. These people are just angry.

Quick scene with daughter Kate looking for a job online. She seems very excited about a position that appears to involve espionage, danger and potential disappointment. I didn’t realize my company was hiring.

Tara and the family finally have The Gays over for dinner. This turns into an awkward-fest, especially when Tara insists on standing up and doing a song-and-dance routine, which is SO not Tara. Then one of The Gays tells a purposeless story from his youth where he was in an “agricultural pageant” and played a bad soybean.

I don’t even have a come-back for that one.

Moving on, we have a brief scene with sister Kate showing brother Marshall her intended outfit for the questionable job interview she has. It’s skimpy and entirely black, making her look like Undercover Slut Woman. Marshall trembles with unease and foreboding.

Back to the party downstairs, where Tara is entranced with some gossip from The Gays. It seems like this “Mr. Hubbard” that killed himself tried several different violent ways of ending his life before succeeding with the gun. Tara is overly fascinated with the dead man’s struggle, practically salivating as the tea is spilled. (Am I the only one realizing that the “alters” are fighting toward the surface?)

Kate shows up for her job interview, and learns that this company is really a debt collection agency where her salary is strongly based on her ability to get losers to pay their bills. Interestingly enough, she seems somewhat turned-on by this concept. Then again, Kate has lived her life by making fun of people in desperate situations. Maybe this is her dream job after all.

Quick scene with Marshall walking down the hallway at school, and overhearing the Student Council rejecting the Bitter Queen’s concept of purple carnations. Slight pause for reflection. What really IS important? And to whom?

Back to the Gregor household, where Tara and Max are surprised when the sister of the dead guy shows up at their door. She was hoping that they could keep an eye on her brother’s house, and she hands over the keys to the kingdom. (Seems a bit forward of the woman if you ask me. And shouldn’t she be concerned about the twelve different names on the mailbox?)

Cut to Charmaine and her now-hot boyfriend at some restaurant. She’s just returning from the comfort station, and he’s pulled the old “engagement ring in the champagne glass” routine. She discovers the jewelry, and unbridled enthusiasm ensues. Sadly, in the midst of the festivities, hot-boy grins broadly, and we learn that he has at 4,000 very big teeth. My thoughts toward him change from lust to abject fear. I don’t want that mouth anywhere near me. Everything has changed.

Now we have a scene with Tara and Max, running off to one of the local beer joints. There’s a brief bit of a squabble when Max openly flirts with the waitress, and Tara is not really impressed with that, but Max blows it off by explaining that the waitress “knows he’s here with his lady.” The thing he really wants to focus on is that he wants to buy the dead man’s house.

What? Why?

Cut to some point later in time, where we see Tara using the sister’s keys to get into said dead man’s house. She takes off her shoes (clear warning sign that something is horribly wrong) and then she wanders about, fondling things, including the stripped-down bed where the man used to lay. Creepy.

Then we have Marshall arriving at school, with the assistance of dad Max, carrying a ton of purple carnations. Marshall then proceeds to hand them out to all the gay kids and anybody else who will take them. Really liked that bit.

Quick scene with Kate at her new job, where she’s apparently very successful. Establishing a payment plan for the downtrodden is her life’s calling.

Another scene with Tara in the dead man’s house. She’s sitting at a desk in what appears to be a home office. Suddenly, she leaps to her feet and rips open a closet.

Trauma is everywhere, people. Heed the signs. You don’t open the closets of strangers unless you intend to transition. Word.

Later that night, Max is asleep in bed, probably dreaming of Sarah Jessica Parker who only has one personality. Tara is not sleeping, instead standing beside the bed and staring out a window at the dead man’s house. Mournful music is playing on the soundtrack to ensure we understand that she is troubled in some way.

Final scene has Tara wandering into the local beer joint, in full Buck mode (guess the meds aren’t working, and that s/he raided the clothing drop-off box in the first scene). Tara/Buck approaches the flirty waitress and starts with the sweet lovin. Waitress gal, despite the fact that she surely recognizes Tara from her previous visit with hubby Max, flirts right back and seems quite intent on some carnality with Buck in the very near future.

Which makes the waitress even scarier than the teeth on Charmaine’s boyfriend.

So we’re back to madness, confusion, and the possibility of outrageous acts at any given second. It’s good to be home again…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Searching For Signal: #111 - “Nurse Jackie” - Season 2, Episode 1

We start out with a really LONG review of what happened last season. I suppose this was meant to catch us up, but what it mainly did was remind me that I ended the previous season not sure that I would watch again. But what the hell. Let’s see if things are any better in this woman’s life.

The first “new” footage involves some artsy shots of colorful pills falling from the sky. Or falling from somewhere. They sure like to make drugs look pretty on this show, at least visually. It’s like a pharmaceutical “Fantasia”.

Then we cut to some unknown beach where Jackie is sprawled out on a towel. She’s soon joined by hubby Kevin, and they have a nice romantic moment where she gives him a card and actually shows emotion for a few seconds. She appears to have a tan and has at least temporarily lost the severe haircut that made me so tense last season. Could things be looking up for Jackie?

Of course not.

The first sign of darkness occurs when Jackie and Kevin wander over to see what their girls are up to as they play in the sand. Creepy Gracie has actually brought soap along with her and is washing the seashells they have found. (So THAT one is still screwed up. Check.) Next we have little Fiona discovering an animal head and wanting to touch it. When Mommy tells her not to do that, she then insists on using Mommy’s phone to take a picture of it and send this lovely image to someone.

Then they stop at some food shack and things start to happen very quickly. Gracie doesn’t want any fries because she didn’t bring her gloves. (Makes perfect sense, right?) Jackie thinks she sees spurned Eddie walking the beach behind her but it’s not really him. (Constant drug use NEVER has side effects, right?) Finally, some mouthy punks wander up behind the family and start talking trash. Jackie snaps and shoves one of them to the ground while Kevin laughs and the little girls put another notch in their therapy case.

Now we’re at the hospital, and we don’t waste any time before the crazy hits the fan. Right away, some fool is running around shooting off a gun before Security tackles him. Jackie calmly walks through all this mess without flinching, only making an occasional grimace to indicate her dissatisfaction with the events.

Cut to Zoey and Mrs. Akalitus having some type of meeting, where it’s unclear if Zoey is in trouble or not, but Akalitus sure enjoys throwing out the phrase “severed ear” so I’m thinking Zoey is not here for a discretionary award. Jackie wanders in to this scene, and Akalitus seems pleased with this, since she needs Jackie to help her stop the apparent abuse of the robot drug dispenser thingy. (You know, the very machine that Jackie keeps trying to hijack so she can get a fix and then fall on the floor while she watches pretty things dance on the ceiling.)

Akalitus insists that Jackie lead a group meeting with all the Trauma Room staff on the proper usage of the machine. During this meeting, Akalitus keeps interrupting (perhaps she doesn’t understand who is actually the star of this show), half the staff is not paying attention and instead diddle with their cell phones, and Jackie manages to steal a vial of morphine while all of these people are in the room. Very impressive.

After that, Jackie and Zoey are strolling down an anonymous hall, because that’s what the script said to do, when Dr. Cooper comes running up, all aglow. He’s scored some Broadway tickets so he and Jackie can go see “Hair”. Jackie’s all mean to him, Coop doesn’t care for this and acts all hurt and snippy, and in the end he just gives the tickets to Zoey, who over-celebrates in a “lonely girl with no friends” sort of way.

Next we have a scene where we learn that happy but odd little Fiona sent the pic of the animal head to Dr. O’Hara. (O’Hara is really bonding with the urchin. “It was the highlight of my day!”) O’Hara once again tries to convince Jackie to let her set up a college scholarship fund for the wee ones. Jackie once again refuses, for whatever tormented reasons she might have. (And really, both of these kids are going to be institutionalized long before they ever graduate high school, so what’s the point?)

Then we have Akalitus introducing a new R.N. to the rest of the gang. This is Sam, the crazed stoner guy that thought white sheets were really fascinating last season, and Jackie had to fire him to stop the madness. Jackie pulls Akalitus aside and reminds her of this. Akalitus, and her pinched face, refuses to budge, explaining that he’s a FORMER drug addict, in successful recovery, which we’re supposed to realize because his hair is now clean and brushed, when it wasn’t the last time we saw him. It’s the L’Oreal 12-step program, yes?

Suddenly, everybody has to pay attention because busy people are rushing a new patient into the Trauma Unit. This poor woman somehow managed to have part of her hand shot off. Very sad. Dr. Cooper’s in charge of this one, and he completely bungles it, not realizing the woman is deaf (Jackie does), barking out the wrong orders (Jackie corrects him), and generally making a mess of things (Jackie points this out). Jackie sure has a lot of energy for someone who self-medicates.

Dr. Cooper, because he’s a pathetic man-child with issues, takes his anger out on innocent Thor who’s only trying to hook up an IV or something and momentarily gets confused. Jackie is none too pleased with this development. Once the woman patient is stabilized, she and Coop have it out at the Nurses’ Station.

During the heated discussion, we learn that Thor is diabetic, and he sometimes has brief incidents. (Oh, come on, writers. You’ve already made him gay. Now you’re going to throw in a medical condition as well? Give the guy a break.). Coop didn’t know this. He has a damn medic alert bracelet on, explains Jackie. You never pay attention to anything.

Suffice it to say that love is NOT in the air.

Then we have Jackie and Thor in the little hospital church, sitting all alone with their tennis shoes propped up on the back of the seats in front of them. (I guess this is how medical people show religious respect.) Jackie is chastising him for not watching his diet and risking diabetic episodes. “What is UP with you and cake?” After Thor admits it’s his one addiction, Jackie fesses that “cake IS good.” (It’s beyond that, folks. Cake is a glorious and wonderful thing that is misunderstood by so much of the populace.)

Brief scene with Jackie getting a text message from Eddie. “It’s been three months since you talked to me!” (I guess Eddie doesn’t understand that there’s a break in filming between seasons.)

Cut to Mrs. Akalitus on the phone, chewing up some Monsignor for apparent inaction on her expense account. Then Dr. Cooper shows up and wants to lodge a formal complaint against Jackie. He then goes on a rant about “I am at the TOP of the food chain” and he belittles nurses, confirming that he is in the midst of obvious delusion. Then he starts crying. Akalitus just stares at him with a blank expression until he leaves.

Jackie is wandering around the trauma unit, probably wondering who ELSE she can hide something from, when she encounters the husband of the deaf woman with the mangled hand. He’s on his cell, having trouble getting his insurance people to understand that he needs some money. Jackie, because she knows all about getting what she needs despite the circumstances, takes the phone and shoos the bit actor away.

So now we’re presented with a montage of scenes where Jackie uses her skills with a variety of idiotic insurance folk. She charms, she manipulates, she gets what she wants. (Hey, that could be a tag line for the series. Are you listening Showtime?) Finally, the fax machine beeps to life and we have coverage.

Then somebody else is rushed through the emergency doors. Some guy who has overdosed on Xanax. (You can do that? Had no idea.) Dr. O’Hara is the attending physician on this one. She takes one gander at the victim and starts trying to get Jackie out of the room. “Send in Sam!” Jackie won’t listen, rushing around and turning on machines, until she also glances at the guy’s face. It’s Eddie, the spurned lover she has been avoiding all this time. Jackie decides that maybe she might need a break after all.

Later, after O’Hara has ensured that Eddie‘s acting contract will continue, she finds Jackie in the God Hall where Jackie makes critical decisions while surrounded by saintly statues. Jackie: “I’m not responsible for that.” Well, yes you are. You were playing slap and tickle with the man just so you could get drugs. I think there’s a little bit of guilt that goes along with that. Just sayin.

Jackie steels herself and goes to visit the now-conscious Eddie. While she feeds him ice chips, he fesses that he didn’t mean to take his life, he just wanted to scare her. Who needs friends when you have lovers like this? Jackie storms out of the room.

Even later, Jackie arrives at home, bearing a cake with lots of icing. THIS is what we’re having for dinner. Everybody dig in, save a corner piece for me. While troubled Gracie initially beams with delight, she quickly gets an expression on her face which indicates that placing a sugary substance in her mouth might cause the earth to shift out of its axis and we all could die. Meanwhile, Jackie locks herself in the bathroom and lines up something orange for her to snort.

Same old, same old. But hey, cake really IS good. I’ll just focus on that…

Monday, March 22, 2010

10 Reasons Why “The Amazing Race” is Just Like Real Life

  Note: While this diatribe basically applies to all seasons, I’ll try to throw in nifty references to the current teams so you can feel all hip and up-to-date. But really, it doesn’t matter what the names are. The stupidity carries forward from year to year.

1. People will argue about anything.

  First and foremost, this a race. You need to get things done quickly, and there’s really not any time for pointless discussion on arbitrary matters. Sadly, most of the teams don’t really get this.  You’d think by now that the contestants would have seen previous seasons, and would understand that if you have to waste more than three words on any given topic, you’re already falling behind.

  Of course, all the teams start the race bubbling with enthusiasm and universal love. (This is so much FUN! I want to do this forever!) But within five minutes, one of the teams is bound to get into a bitchfest, usually over something stupid like a left turn that didn’t work out or someone’s ability to utilize a road map.

  Immediately, the camera zooms in on the bickering couple as they rip and tear at each other. It seems reasonable that the mere presence of the camera would inspire some degree of caution in the words being expressed. Nope. They babble away endlessly, with all the pettiness and bad grammar that might entail.

  Current case in point: Brent and Caite. Let’s put aside the fact that I’m having a hard time envisioning Brent as a “model” (He looks like “Exhibit A” in a brochure warning against the dangers of drugs and plastic surgery.) or the hard realization that Caite will never be able to live down her insipid response during whatever beauty pageant she was in where she confused the concepts of cities and countries and, well, everything.

  These two need to shut up. Every time they say hateful things to one another it’s like a flashback to recess in the third grade. No intelligence, no thoughtful reasoning, and both of them glancing around for the wind machine that is supposed to blow their hair while they look seductive.

2. Americans expect the rest of the world to speak English.

  Don’t really need to say much here. It’s evident in every episode. At least half the teams will have scathing comments about some innocent bystander they’ve accosted who can’t really bond with them due to the language barrier. This should not surprise anyone, yet there’s still bitterness on the part of the contestants. Perhaps you should have taken more than just shop class and Phys Ed while in high school.

  Current case in point:  Jordan (the gay one, not the blonde one) whining because he thought that French woman saying “cathedrale” was really saying “Cathy Drone”. Seriously? You’re looking for a local French landmark and you really think the word “Cathy” is going to be a part of the name? And then he wants to blame the poor woman for his own lack of international culture. Please.

3. There’s always one team with a really old person that you know is not going to make it.

  I don’t understand why the producers do this. Most of the teams are young, nubile children who have incredible stamina and haven’t yet learned that life sucks. I am ALL about including everyone and giving all levels of ability a chance, but let’s be realistic. You have to do physical things on this show, all the time.

  So we end up with competitions where ten of the eleven teams race across the screen to go build an entire village out of 50-pound flour bags or giant wheels of cheese. Then here comes Ethel, hobbling along with her walker, accompanied by her teammate who is spouting things like “I’m so proud of how hard she’s trying!” (Trying? She’s barely breathing. Does she still have a pulse?)

4. At some point in your life you must eat something that you don’t even want to touch.

  It’s going to come up at least once in every season. There will be a challenge based entirely on your ability to quickly gulp down some local culinary favorite that includes ingredients which cause you concern. This dish might involve advanced fermentation or maybe even something that’s not yet dead.

  Why are you going to whine about it and hold your nose, reluctantly picking at the plate and just stirring things around instead of consuming them? This mode of operation will get you no where. See those people at the table next to you? The folks who just wolfed down the fried wasp larvae in about two seconds? That’s your competition, and they just passed you in the rankings, running out the door in search of Phil while you take tiny bites and spit most of them back out. Just shut up and eat. Now.

5. Lazy people litter.

  I’m talking about the hundreds of times in every episode where we see huddled teams ripping open those yellow clue things. What those people then do with the tear strip is one of the qualifications I use when determining whether or not I like a team. If they carefully tuck away the strip for later disposal, then I instantly like them and their obvious concern for the condition of the planet.

  If they instead hurl the strip to the ground and instantly forget about it, I don’t want that team to win, no matter how well they might otherwise be doing. It doesn’t matter that you’re excited and perhaps not properly focused. The cameras are on and they are recording your actions. The world is not your litter box, and you need to care for any waste that you produce. Bend over and pick that thing up.

6. People who live in small rural towns can surprise you.

  The producers always cast some yokel duo from the sticks, and then they amp it up by highlighting the cute phrases these folks say “(“Oh my gravy!”) and ensuring that banjo music plays in the background every time the country team appears on screen. Oh, and there’s always a lot of focus on the fact that the duo might not be as educated as the rest of the race participants.

  Which makes it very satisfying when Jet and Cord prove that there’s more than one way to lasso the bull. While they might come from a place where there’s not much art, and “social networking” just means being polite at the barn dance, it doesn’t mean these guys are stupid, as they keep proving this season. Besides, anybody who can bungee jump and not lose their cowboy hat in the process deserves some respect.

7. Some people are just too cute no matter what they do.

  Jeff and Jordan.

8. Some people are just completely annoying no matter what they do.

  Carol and Brandy. Especially Brandy. (Sweetie, is there any challenge that you haven’t whined about? You don’t want to do ANYTHING. Why are you on this show?)

9. People named Phil are awkward at reception ceremonies.

  He’s welcomed hundreds of people to the check-in mat, dramatically giving out rankings time after time, so you’d think he would have this down by now. But he’s still just not right in some way. (Maybe it’s the hair?) I realize he’s supposed to hide his emotions and thereby increase the suspense, but come on guy, lighten up. You’re not giving a dissertation on the mating habits of the dragonfly. Crack a smile.

  And he doesn’t seem to know how to react when interacting with certain teams. He seems a little out of place when female teams burst into tears. He looks like he wants to run the other way when male teams exuberantly high-five each other and chest bump. And the gay teams? Don’t let one of them twirl a bit too fiercely. He really doesn’t care for that.

10. It’s all about the scheduling.

  It doesn’t matter how well any team is doing, there will always be several key points in any season where everybody catches up and people just sit around, bored. The fluke here is that although the race is supposedly a non-stop, 24x7 kind of thing, most of the world couldn’t care less about your urgency. So there’s down time.

  Perhaps you need access to a certain ancient church so that you can find the clue next to the Holy Tortilla? Sorry, God has a bigger agenda and we don’t open until the morning. You’d like to climb this famous hill and then yodel the national anthem while wearing wooden shoes? Oops, the next tour doesn’t leave for three hours. It’s important that you obtain a bottle of champagne from our sacred vaults? Sorry, the caves are only open on Tuesdays from 3 to 4. Have a seat.

  And of course, the greatest equalizer involves air travel. You can be doing everything right, miles and days ahead of the rest of the pack, and then suddenly you’ve got to get on a plane. And there’s only one flight. And it doesn’t leave for 12 hours. So one by one all the teams arrive and we have a slumber party on the floor of the airport while a lone janitor mops the floors in the distance.

  And basically, the race starts all over again. Perhaps the show should actually be called “The Amazing Sort-Of Race Where You Really Only Have to Run Fast in the Last Episode”…

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fury Duty, Part 5

  So the mousy little judge recovers from the startling announcement that we have a wanted felon in the house, and she quickly instructs the confused police officer to take the questionable juror to another room for some private conversation. They trottle off to do so, and then the judge faces the rest of the room once again.

  “Does anyone ELSE think they have a good reason why they shouldn’t serve on a jury today?”

  Well, not really, not after discovering that Patty Hearst just pulled a trump card on all of us. Can’t really top that. The jerk who managed to get out of duty because he “had the sniffles” is still standing at the front of the room waiting to be excused, his head hung in shame as he refuses to make eye contact with those of us still in servitude to the Municipal Court. We glare at him anyway and try to make him burst into flames.

  The judge smiles primly. “Okay, then. Well, make yourselves comfortable and the bailiff will be in shortly with your assignments.”  Then she turns and walks out of the room to go do whatever judges do when they aren’t presiding over a trial.

  So now it’s a waiting game, that excruciating period where we all sit around forever, hoping that our name is never called so that maybe we can get out of here by noon. Or that our name does get called but by the time we tromp all the way to the courtroom, some type of agreement has been reached and we are dismissed. Whatever it takes. Just let us go home soon. Please.

  For the next two minutes or so, it’s actually very peaceful. There are a few pockets of quiet conversation here and there, but for the most part people are quietly reading or working on crossword puzzles or just sitting there and waiting for the hangover to pass. This is how it should work in a jury waiting room. You know it’s going to be boring, so you bring your own entertainment and you leave people alone. Nice. I pull out my book and open it to the next chapter.

  Right then, some skank in the front row jumps up, races over to the ancient TV, and slaps it on. She doesn’t even bother to mess with the channel or even analyze what our viewing options might be. She’s one of those sad and irritating souls who have been raised at the bosom of numbing television. It doesn’t matter what the program is. The TV just needs to be on. (This right here is why our society is doomed to failure at some point.)

  So now we have some crapfest daytime TV show blaring throughout the room. I’m one of those people who can’t read when annoying noises are taking place around me. So I sigh and close the book. Might as well try to get into whatever is being broadcast and hope it helps pass the time.

  It doesn’t. We are apparently watching a game show, a mystifying competition involving three contestants who ride around in a taxicab, with the driver throwing out trivia questions while navigating some serious traffic. They win money if they are right, they lose money when they are wrong, and there are special rules like bonus cash if the passengers answer a question correctly when the driver is at a red light.

  They’ve got to be kidding me with this. What moron producer gave a green light to such a bonehead idea? Hey, let’s shove some people in a car, and then do everything we can to distract the driver, what with hosting duties and a camera shoved in his face. This thing has potential death and expensive lawsuits all over it.

  And the woman who insisted on activating the TV so we would have to sit through this mess? She returns to her seat and immediately gets on her cell phone, babbling about some social faux pas that happened at a bar with the dubious name of “Snapper Jack’s”. Somebody’s pregnant and Baby Daddy ain’t steppin’ up.

  I involuntarily start grinding my teeth.

  Then some guy with bad hair stands up and marches toward the door, presumably intent on a personal mission of some kind. That would be fine and all, none of my business, if it weren’t for this man’s choice of footwear. He’s wearing some sneakers that apparently have thousands of suction cups on the soles. Each step he takes releases a squelchy, ripping noise that echoes around the room. I instantly hate and despise his very existence. He finally rounds the corner out of sight, and my sphincter relaxes.

  Two seconds later, Suction Man returns through the door and heads toward the “privacy room” on the left, his evil shoes pulling up half the floor tiles as he goes, creating a sonic cacophony that threatens to shatter our eardrums. Luckily, he mostly closes the door so that it muffles his pacing in the inner sanctum.

  From somewhere behind me: “Bitch better stay in there for a while. Can’t take that.”

  Suction Man doesn’t get the message. Four seconds later, he throws open the door and squelches back into sight. He then dumbfounds us all by circling the crumbling check-in table, twice, and then heading back out the main door. What is wrong with him? Does he really not hear the devil noises that his shoes are making?

  Incredibly, Suction Man marches right back in the room and continues with the sonic disturbance, insistently trying to make his mark on every square inch of flooring in the waiting room. This is so many kinds of wrong. He is clearly insane.

  From somewhere to my right: “Oh Sweet Jesus. Give me the strength.”

  But the madness doesn’t stop there.

  Two rows ahead of me, a woman pulls out a piece of paper and shows it to a temporary companion on her right. “Am I supposed to do something with this?” She’s holding her jury summons. This woman was in her seat way before both the administrative clerk AND the judge instructed everyone to place their summons in the bin on the crappy table.

  Her companion just looks at her.

  I just look at her.

  Then the woman in the front row who insisted on activating the TV suddenly turns around and throws in even more stupidity to the mix. “Hey, girl, I got one a those too. Does the judge lady need that?”

  Is there anybody in this room that made it past the third grade? Just wondering.

  And so it goes, for the next several hours. Every fifteen minutes or so, some waste of taxpayer dollars will discover that he or she still has their jury summons that they haven’t handed over. Every ten minutes something really loud happens on the TV that nobody is watching but still hasn’t been turned off. And every five minutes, Suction Man makes another run for the border. That last bit is the worst of all. The noise he is making is so beyond annoying that half the people are on suicide watch by the time another official enters the room.

  The new guy is the bailiff. He’s here to announce our specific jury assignments. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, enduring agonizing torment for what seems like decades. Even the tattooed gang-bangers in the jury pool turn off their iPods to see what this man has to say.

  And he gets right to the point. “I want everybody on the back row to line up against this wall over here. You guys are going first.”

  Wow. That’s really kind of cool. The back row has all the people who didn’t take this seriously and showed up late. They deserve to go first, before the folks who did the right thing and got here on time. I kinda like this guy.

  Then he throws me for a loop. “Now I want everybody in the third row to line up behind these other people.” What? I’m still not affected, being in the fifth row, but things are kind of not making sense at this point. What’s going on?

  Then the bailiff gets even more random. “Any lawyers in the room?” One guy behind me raises his hand. “Get in line. Anybody work for AT&T? I had a problem with my bill and they really ticked me off.”

  Well, of course nobody’s going to raise their hand after that. But he keeps going. “How about Sprint? Anybody work for them? Time-Warner?” (He’s getting so close to my job with Verizon that I can barely breathe. If he says the V-word I’m crawling under my chair and curling up in a ball.) But he’s apparently done.

  “Okay, everybody lined up against the wall can go home. The rest of you are gonna be on a jury.”


  Then he laughs. “I’m just kidding. Everything’s cool, they don’t need any of you. Get your butts out of here and go.”

  Everybody leaps to their feet in a rapturous moment of release. As we slowly file out the door, the bailiff hams it up, cracking jokes and asking if anybody is going to Luby’s, cause he sure would like some fried fish.

  And he thanks every single one of us as we go out the door. That, right there, makes everything fine and good. I’ve whined and moaned during my entire stay, but this man has to endure whiners and moaners every day, and he still has a great attitude about his job. Lesson to be learned, right?

  As I wander down the hall, I hear one of the last people still in the room ask him a question. “Am I supposed to do something with this piece of paper?”

  There’s an odd, sharp sound, like someone being slapped.

  I just keep walking toward freedom.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fury Duty, Part 4

  Jane Hathaway suddenly makes a squeak of discovery, releases my horrified arm, and races off to the comfort station that she has just spotted down the hall. I’m left standing there like Jethro, rope belt and all, trying to save what’s left of my dignity. Stupidly, I fail to understand what this really means and I waddle into the Jury Room while pawing at my crotch, trying to whisk away the remaining tidbits of paper towel. Very classy.

  Three steps into the room, and I realize that class is not part of this picture. This place is a dump. My inappropriate fondling is the least of the tragedies taking place in the hell that I have just entered.

  As mentioned previously, I’m used to serving jury duty at another building across town. They are very efficient over there. It’s a well-greased assembly line where they get the cattle moving through the chutes fairly quickly. Once you are processed and branded, you are then allowed to bide your time in a spacious waiting area with comfortable seats and lots of room to walk around when you get a little tired of sitting.

  It’s a different world over here.

  First off, there are no official representatives of the court system anywhere to be found. No one to tell me what to do or where to go. I’m on my own. And judging by the confused looks of the people already in the holding area, none of us are sure that we’re even in the right place. This is gonna be fun.

  It’s an L-shaped room. You enter at the top of the L, and you immediately encounter a decaying folding table with a bin sitting on the end closest to the door. It’s right THERE when you walk in, can’t miss it. (This becomes an important detail as the story progresses.) Taped to the bin is a little sign that says “Place your Jury Summons here.”

  Okay, that’s pretty clear. I get out my somewhat-wrinkled summons and gently lay it on the small stack. A very small stack. I glance back at the current occupants who are loosely gathered at the other end of the room, and something is off. There are way more people over there than there are jury summons over here.

  What’s going on? Why doesn’t everybody in this room have a summons? So my neurotic mind that over-analyzes everything starts to wonder. It’s already obvious, due to the crappy condition of the room, that the operational budget is tight in this building. Are they possibly keeping the jurors AND the defendants in the same holding area?

  Is my life in danger? Is there someone I can speak to about this? Anybody?

  Someone clears their throat directly behind me. Oh my God, it might be a killer of some kind, ready to put a cap in my ass because I’m wearing the wrong gang colors. I gulp and turn around to face my street-thug executioner, ready to plead for my life and swear that I will sell my body on the streets and give all the profits to him.

  And I find that I am facing a tiny, bird-like woman who is most likely a librarian that owns 47 cats and has never seen an R-rated movie. She smiles at me primly, just wanting me to move ahead a scootch so she can place her summons in the box like the little sign says.

  I make a mental note that it’s probably time for me to start taking the anxiety pills again.

  I smile back at Sister Christian, make a gesture to indicate that I’m so sorry I’ve kept her waiting and possibly delayed her eventual return to the Little House on the Prairie, and then turn back around. But not, I might add, before noticing that her chaste eyes briefly dart downward to observe my soaked and confetti-covered crotch.

  There’s no escaping it. I’m going to be defined by my wetness for the rest of the day.

  So I trudge forward to the part of the room where I’m supposed to sit and await my fate. I’m not pleased to see that the comfy chairs from the fancy courthouse across town are nowhere to be found in this discount judicial setting. Instead, we have these rickety red folding chairs jammed together in rows. Granted, they have cushions, but they are so stained and nasty that anything could be living in them considering the humidity in this town. I’d have preferred plain metal. The bacteria die more easily on a non-porous surface.

  I stagger past the first several rows, my journey made more difficult by seat occupants who apparently don’t have the strength to move their lazy legs out of the tiny aisle. It’s still early enough that most of the back rows are empty, so I hoof it down one of them and stake a claim as far from my fellow humans as I possibly can.

  Once ensconced, on a seat that only has minimal stains, I open my Stephen King book and try to give the appearance that I am so focused on Stevie’s latest literary effort that any attempt at conversation with me will prove pointless. I don’t want to talk to you. Don’t even try. Besides, I‘m still wet. I need people to stay away so the air can circulate and dry me out.

  So people slowly trickle in, and those of us who arrived in plenty of time have to gradually cede real estate to the late-comers. I don’t think this is fair. There should be a special section for the stragglers. Let the competent people remain masters of their domain. Still, I manage to keep two empty seats on both sides of me. (Might have something to do with the look of horror I gave anyone who paused at the entrance to my row.)

  Finally, the cut-off time arrives, and we have our fist appearance of someone who possibly might have some actual authority in the this place. A woman with a clipboard marches into the room and assumes a position in front of the imminent-death folding chairs where people are packed in like sardines. (I’m one of the few hold-outs, desperately doing the splits across five chairs in a pathetic attempt hang on to my kingdom. I’m not young anymore, and it hurts, but I tough it out.)

  Clipboard Woman wants to make one thing very clear. “We are NOT associated with Dallas County in any way!” Then her hate-filled eyes scan the room, daring anyone to have a problem with this.

  A ripple goes through the crowd. What is that all about? Why is she saying this? How does this affect us? Do we still get a lunch?

  As the gossipy buzz circles the room, my eyes drop down and I notice for the first time that all of the crappy red chairs in here have “Dallas Convention Center” stamped on the back of them. Clearly, there’s some kind of incest going on, because you wouldn’t have these chairs if it wasn’t for Dallas County. But I’m sure as hell not going to point that out.

  “Secondly,” barks Clipboard Woman, “if you haven’t put your jury summons in the bin on this table over here, you need to do that right now.” Not surprisingly, a third of the room stands up and shuffles toward the battered folding table, a march of shame and stupidity. How could you NOT see the sign on the table? It’s the only sign in the room. Okay, there are two signs, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

  Then Clipboard Lady has some final housekeeping notes. There’s a TV over there that you can turn on if you wish. (I will kill you if you do.) The bathrooms are out the door and to the right. (Watch out for that sink. And the perverts in the stalls. If you hear the phrase “That‘s Hot!”, run for your life.) There are magazines in this bookshelf that you can read. (Um, one of those magazines has a cover story that Jimmy Carter has just been elected president.)

  And there’s more. If you need to smoke, then you have to go outside and then come back through Security. (Hate you.) There are NO vending machines in this building. (Are you serious?) If you need some privacy, you can go into this little room over here and close the door. (I turn and glare at the woman behind me who has been on her cell phone since she walked through the door. She just looks at me blankly. Cleary, she has not seen the only other sign in this room, which states “Cell Phone Use is Prohibited During Orientation.” This is orientation, you clueless wretch.)

  Clipboard Hag ends with a final pronouncement. “The judge will be in shortly to speak with you.” Then she turns and marches off to attend another Bitter Nastiness seminar.

  Two seconds later, a police officer steps up to address the crowd. At least I assume he’s a police officer. He has a shiny badge of some kind, and that sure looks like a gun holstered on his hip. Either that, or it’s a really aggressive cell phone.

  “The judge will be in shortly to speak with you,” he mutters, then he wanders off as well.

  What’s up with the repetition? I think we got it the first time. Then I glance over at the still significant line of people who are trying to put their jury summons in the box that they blithely wandered past the first time around. Okay, I get it. You have to repeat things around here or the world will go up in flames.

  Fine. I open my Stephen King book once again and try to get through another chapter. Out of the corner of my eye I see someone attempting to take one of the chairs in my domain and I quickly bare my teeth. The startled woman gasps and then runs scurries other way.

  Endless decades later, the judge finally enters the room.

  She looks like the sister of the cat-woman librarian from my earlier brief encounter. There’s not a single cell in her entire body that appears to be the least bit intimidating. This room is going to chew her up and spit her out. Then go back for seconds.

  Judge Puny smiles timidly, adjusts her glasses that she’s been wearing since the seventh grade when she was elected secretary of the science club, and then explains that she is here to make sure that we are all qualified to serve as jurors.

   Hmm. Well, if you need to do that, I suppose it’s okay. But that jury summons thing had little boxes for you to check in case you weren’t qualified or required to serve. Can’t you just look at those pieces of paper?

  Apparently not.

  So Science Club Girl opens the bartering floor. Anybody have a child that they need to care for instead of doing their civic duty, despite the month-long heads up you’ve been given? Well, yes, we have two claimants. One is a relative youngster who gives the impression that she doesn’t have a sense of identity unless she’s pregnant. The other is a sixty-year-old woman who obviously hasn’t given birth since the Jimmy Carter magazine was placed in the jury library. The judge lets both of them go.

  Next, is anybody blind? We have an older gentleman on the right who has “the diabetes” and sometimes he can’t see. Well, he found his way here, doesn’t that make him qualified? I guess not. He joins the growing exodus.

  Then the judge stupidly throws it open for any excuses. There’s a guy on the front row who complains that he “has the sniffles”. Seriously, that’s his out. And the judge lets him go. Are you kidding me?

  But none of that mess compares with what happens next.

  As the crowd starts to get excited about the apparent fact that this judge will let you go home for any reason, there’s a commotion in the back of the room and one woman leaps to her feet in a frenzy of revelation.

  “I have an arrest warrant out on me!”

  All conversation in the room screeches to a halt, as heads swivel in the direction of the amazing individual that would actually march into a damn courthouse when she’s wanted by the law. Even the people on the banned cell phones decide this might be fun and quickly hang up. (“Girl, I’ll call you back.”)

  The judge’s face pales. The nearby police officer looks startled as he realizes that he might be called upon to do something. Folks shift in their seats so they can better see how this is going to play out. What has she done? Who did she kill? Will they tackle her? Are we going to be on the news? Where did she get that cute pair of jeans?

  I quietly set my book on the floor and discreetly nudge the volume under my chair. I loves me some Stephen King, but the dude ain’t got nothin on this. We just twisted off into a whole other realm of reality….

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