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Gun to the Head
I can't believe it," my mother said from her end of the phone, "I simply can't believe it. First you got married, and now this. Who would have thought a year ago that I would be hearing news like this!"
"I know!" I exclaimed from my end of the phone. "I'll get to go shopping for new clothes and everything!"
"It's a big thing," my mother added. "It will change your whole life, you know."
"I know," I said happily. "But I think it's time. That clock was ticking, and it was just time I did something about it."
"You're sure this is what you want?" my mother asked.
"It's too late to turn back now, isn't it?" I laughed. "I took the test, got a little pee on my hand, and everything says we're good to go."
"I can't wait to tell my friends!" my mother gushed.
"Well, maybe that's not such a good idea just yet," I suggested. "Maybe we should see if it sticks first. But you can tell Dad and the rest of the family."
"He's going to be so happy to find out that you're going to have"--my mother paused, I believe to wipe a tear of elation from her eye--"a job!"
I really couldn't believe it either. A job. After I had successfully passed the drug screening test (simply and vaguely put, I was a freelance writer with a mortgage payment and a husband in college who barely had enough money for a generic box of macaroni and cheese, let alone a hit of X just so I could have a good excuse to wear a Dr. Seuss hat), the newspaper at which I had been a freelance columnist also offered me a job as a columnist for the newspaper's website--a full-time gig. I could hardly pass the offer up; it was a good salary, came with health insurance, my potential boss seemed cool, and after I discovered that the 401(k) was not an annual marathon that every employee was required to participate in, I nodded and then we shook on it.
In all honesty, it was a relief. The last time I had held a steady job it was as an editor for a small magazine several years before. I worked for a man who commonly came back from business lunches with a big purple wine mustache and had the habit of uttering phrases such as "make that more better," "irregardless," "for all intensive purposes," and picking a five-syllable word from the dictionary then e-mailing it out to the staff as the "word du jour of the day!" which for an average drunk boss would be fine, but for an editor in chief was somewhat unsettling.
After he called me into his office one day and slid two envelopes across the table--one for my last paycheck and the other for severance--he tried to soften the blow with the comforting words, "Don't look so upset! You're not being fired, your position has just been eliminated!" It wasn't a surprise per se, I had expected the Two Envelope Incident ever since I had freely used the phrase "blow your wad" in an editorial meeting when vocalizing an opinion about why it would be a mistake to name the murderer in the headline of an investigative piece about a longtime unsolved crime. From across the table, I had seen his purple mustache quiver, then collapse into a frown.
Matter of time.
Since then I had embarked on a series of freelance jobs that led me down the creative, soul-drenching path of writing about air conditioners with pollen-capturing filters; weaving prose about toenail fungus and the bacteria living happily in the track of your shower door that can kill at will; two hundred witty and classic-caliber-status product reviews of kitchen gadgets, including profiles of slotted spoons, rubber spoons, stainless steel spoons, serving spoons, and the good old spoon spatulas (spoonulas); a pamphlet about the money-saving benefits of hiring temps; and a booklet about gun safety.
Honestly, I didn't go to journalism school to write pamphlets advising otherwise oblivious parents that it would be in their best interest to store their loaded weapons out of reach of their younguns, but one day I found myself in a job interview discussing just that.
With a gun in the middle of the table.
"Have you ever held a gun before?" the lady whom I was meeting with asked me.
"No, no," I said with a little nervous laugh, feeling a little underqualified for the job. "My family were staunch believers in physical violence, not automatic violence, and we had a Safeway around the corner, so we never really needed to kill anything."
"Would you like to hold the gun?" the lady asked. "It would be useful to know what a gun looks like when writing the material for the booklet."
"Oh. Oh, okay, in that case," I replied nodding hesitantly, as I reached slowly for the gun.
"It's not loaded," the lady informed me with a wave of her hand.
"Sure, that's what they all say," I tried to joke, with a wave of my hand that wasn't touching a deadly weapon.
I picked it up. It was heavy. It was some sort of pistol, I don't know what kind, but I did know that I did NOT like having a gun so close to me. I felt like I should be wearing a tracksuit with racing stripes or a Members Only windbreaker and sucking on a toothpick.
"Okay, that's good," the lady said, then put her hand out. "I'll take it now."
So I handed her the gun, I mean, it was her gun, I certainly hadn't brought a gun to the meeting, what was I going to say, "No, Annie Oakley, you can't have your gun"?
What was I supposed to do?
Obviously, however, I had done the wrong thing. Because in a fraction of a moment, I was looking down the barrel of a gun that was now being pointed straight at me. At my head. It was nothing short of a miracle that I did not suddenly lay a big brown egg in my pantalones, if you know what I mean.
"NEVER," the lady commanded, "LET ANYONE TAKE A GUN AWAY FROM YOU, NEVER."
Holy shit, I thought. Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. What the hell is happening here? What the hell just happened? Is the gun lady going to kill me? Did she lure me here to kill me? Oh my God, I'm not that Notaro! I wanted to scream. Those people live in New Jersey!
"IF YOU GIVE SOMEONE A GUN, THEY JUST MAY POINT IT AT YOU," she continued, the pistol still focused on the spot between my eyes.
"You said it wasn't loaded," I said, trying to stay calm.
"And you believed me?" the gun lady said. "I only met you five minutes ago."
I really didn't know what to do. Should I be putting my hands up at this point? I wanted to ask her; if it's possible, could you shoot me in a major organ below my neck as opposed to, say, an eye, I don't want to be the ghost with one eye or half a face or anything like that, I would prefer to be spooky in the spirit afterlife, not creepy; can you please dump my body where someone will find me relatively quickly so my mother can have the funeral she's always dreamed of because it will be hard for folks to work up an appetite for the party after if they know I'm all rotten and yucky under the lid, and I bet she'll probably have better catering at this shindig than she did at my wedding, so if I'm all decomposed it will totally ruin the whole thing for her; do I have time to make a phone call so I can tell someone what I want to be buried in, because otherwise, I'll be spending the remainder of history in my Gone with the Wind wedding dress, and it's superhard to pee in, a skirt would be much better, especially if the afterlife has a bar; and by the way, I am not having an affair with your husband, if that's what this is all about, and if you're having an affair with mine, he's all yours. Enjoy the ear hair, it keeps getting longer every day.
Instead, I just looked at her and decided I really didn't need to be concerned with being rude at this point, since lethal elements had already been introduced into the scenario, so I said, "You know, you are really freaking the shit out of me."
"That," she said as she smiled and put the gun back on the table, "was your first lesson in gun safety."
I just looked at her as my heart dropped to my ankles.
"I can pay you eight hundred dollars," she said. "Are you interested?"
Considering that I had a mortgage payment due, the aforementioned husband in college, and not enough disposable income to even entertain the thought of purchasing illicit drugs that I desperately needed at that very moment, I nodded.
"Sure," I said. "Why not. But if you need anything written about butcher-knife or machete safety, I'm not your girl."
With experiences like that one ringing the memory bell, I took the job at the newspaper and got ready to become employed. I got a Banana Republic credit card and charged away.
Having a job, I quickly found, involved more than orchestrating a visually delightful and stunning ensemble every day and then having the opportunity to show it off, especially when it's required that you absolutely ruin your fashion gift to the rest of the building with a big, huge, nasty plastic badge pinned to your brand-new, perfect, and as of yet unblemished white Banana Republic shirt purchased at full price.
Especially when the picture on that badge resembles one of the more unflattering photos of Janet Reno wearing the same full-price Banana Republic shirt although it is your name printed beneath it. And you are never, ever, ever granted an additional opportunity to take another badge photo unless you are disfigured in a gasoline/propane/diesel fuel accident, lose a nose, or have the vanity to cough up the twenty-dollar replacement-badge fee. Which I did not, since I already owed Banana Republic my first eight paychecks.
On my first day at my new job, I was thrilled to find out that I had a real office--not a cubicle, not a desk among many, but a real-live office with a door and a window and my own phone extension. Woodward and Bernstein never had it so grand, I thought, and as I sat down and wrote my first column as a full-time columnist, it felt pretty good.
I was really happy. I loved my job.
I had an hour for lunch, a wonderful editor, the office was close to my house, making my commute about seven minutes, and I now had health insurance for the first time in years. I reveled in the fact that if I now had a sore throat, I could actually go to the doctor instead of rummaging through my mother's medicine cabinets looking for expired antibiotics and hoping I hadn't grabbed her hot-flash hormone pills by mistake.
I was going to take full advantage of my new coverage too, despite the fact that I believe that I've been dead for a while. I am only able to wake up on a daily basis because the things keeping my body together are the preservatives and chemicals found in all Hostess products, chocolate-flavored Twizzlers, Bugles, and particularly Funyuns. Due to my snack-oriented eating habits, I believe I was completely embalmed by the time I graduated high school, and as a result, my molecules are most likely bound together in some sort of a plasticlike riboflavin substance. In several years when my shelf life expires, my edges will become hard, crusty, and kind of yellow, and you'll know I've passed when I simply stop talking or am no longer rolling my eyes at other people when they are speaking.
Nevertheless, in recent years, the parts of me that believed they were still alive tried to reinforce their philosophy by emitting sharp, stabbing pains and on occasion, spectacular thrusts of discomfort. I'm sure this has probably happened all my life, but now that I was swimming around in my thirties and people my age didn't really die from simple things like mixing Jim Beam and downers anymore but from causes that require more treatment than substance abuse programs, it brought those bolts of ache to the forefront. I started paying closer attention to these episodes, and mapped out the occurrences on a grimacing stick figure I drew named "Laurie's Random Pain Pangs." Oddly enough, most of the regions seemed to be located where there aren't organs or anything with a specific function, so I could at least then say, "Whoa, there goes my gallbladder and that tortilla chip I apparently didn't chew very well," or, "There's that aorta constricting again!" Nope. These places were basically empty spots, or places I thought were just used for storage, for things like extra bile, a couple of feet of rolled-up intestine, balls of hair that may come in handy in the future, maybe some additional vein parts, and bits of corn. Therefore, I had no other choice than to believe these pangs were cancer announcing its arrival, just to let me know it's moved in.
Cancer of the Section Right Behind Your Belly Button That You Have Been Trying to Pass Off as the Pinch of Ovulation. But It's Not. It's Cancer. It's Me.
It wouldn't be at all surprising. In my family, you have just as good of a genetic chance that you will get cancer as you will get an eye. It's that built in. It comes with the package.
So far, according to my map, in addition to Cancer of the Section Right Behind My Belly Button That I Have Been Trying to Pass Off as the Pinch of Ovulation, I also had Cancer of the Place Below My Last Rib on the Left Side, Cancer of the Fatty, Puffy Spot Right Above My Right Knee, Thumb Cancer, and Cancer of the Upper Asshole.
Having health insurance was a definite plus, because not only did it look like cancer was going to call in all of my bets, but I was also convinced that every time I heard about a new, horrible affliction, I was positive it was my destiny to get it and I began exhibiting symptoms immediately. I was like the Zelig of disease. When my sister told me that her neighbor had some virus that disfigured her entire face with large, protruding lumps that could not be cured, I found several of my own in my neck, but thankfully my doctor informed me that they were my lymph nodes and it would be in my best interest to stop trying to pop them. After I read a story about fibromyalgia in Ladies' Home Journal in my mother's bathroom (limited availability of reading material; it was either that or my mom's favorite book, Find Me by Rosie O'Donnell), I started getting aches and pains all over my legs, until my doctor pointed out that my feet were stuffed into my shoes like pig's feet in a jar, and it didn't matter if the shoe on sale was not available in a seven and a half, only a six and a half, I still had to buy my own size. And when smallpox was mentioned as a possible biological weapon, I developed tiny bumps all over and thankfully my doctor looked me over and said, "You've been here three times in two weeks. I'm glad you have insurance, too, but there is nothing I can do for pimples. You have pimples, lymph nodes, and tight, cheap shoes. Go home, wash your face, and only call me from now on if you see blood."