Current Occupation: unemployed writer
Previous Occupation: working through red tape
Contact Information: Robyn Segal is an artist, writer and mother. She has a B.A. in Mass Communications and a Master's of Science in Public Administration. Her short stories and essays have been previously published in the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Equally Wed Magazine, Literary Yard and Connotation Press. She lives in North Haven, Connecticut with her four children and wife.
I was reduced to bargaining. After considering all my options, I agreed that I would reset my alarm clock to 10:30am, no 10:45am, and then I would get up and do “something”. Within minutes I was back asleep. I was dazed and disoriented when the alarm clock buzzed its static buzz two hours later. I re-negotiated the terms of my previous agreement. I would get up and do “something” if the sun came out. In the meantime, it was raining and if my luck held out, it would continue to rain until 3:00pm. That was when the kids came home and I had to don my costume and make-up for my role of “a mom coming home from work.” Well not really. I had told the kids a few weeks ago that I was working from home. At first they viewed my claim with suspicion. We live across the street from the school so by recess it was obvious from my car still parked in front of the house that I had not gone anywhere. Their suspicions were further validated by my matted hair and pajamas that I had been wearing all day and then two days and ultimately nearly a whole week. Finally, one of the kids blurted out in an accusatory tone, “You got fired didn’t you?”
“No, of course not” I said in a deliberately matter of fact way. “I told you I wanted to spend my time with you and have decided to work at home.” Then added, “Don’t you like having mommy here when you get home from school?”
My ploy to shift the focus back on him worked. He quickly tired of the conversation and when out to play. I seized my chance to spend time together after school by taking a nap in the lawn chair in the yard. I rationalized that it was like spending time together as we were both outside and if he came in the backyard for any reason, I would be there so we would be together.
I had never been fired before. I was one of only two employees and we worked out of a windowless warehouse. Our employee handbook was copied from some other company and our boss came by once a week for an hour for our weekly staff meeting. A part of me was secretly happy to be fired. I graciously accepted my termination, even embraced it, believing this was the universe telling me to take another path, sit back and enjoy the ride, grab life by the balls so to speak, and pursue my dreams.
I spent the first week watching everything I had TiVo’d for the last six months. I spent the second week shuffling through the on-screen program guide looking for new things to TiVo. I pushed my do “something “deadline” back because of Mothers Day. There was nothing happening on Mother’s Day to stop me from “grabbing my life by the balls” except that in the absence of going to work, you have to look beyond the usual 9-5 to mark time. The anticipation, planning for and participation in Mothers Day theoretically took up the whole first half of May. With my eye on Memorial Day, I could see where this was headed so I reluctantly acknowledged that I better come up with a plan or I would be TiVo-ing my way through Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin.
Being home all day and night is an un-natural state of being. Without the social contact of work, the television became my new window to the world.
The television gave my day a kind of order. From 9:00am-11:00am there were back to back episodes of Little House on the Prairie. At 11:00am, I discovered The Hallmark Channel aired Highway to Heaven which wrapped up what I began to think of as my mornings with Michael Landon. At noon, I watched Locked Up Abroad, basically, a daily tribute to the naïve actions of young 20 something people, “away on holiday”, when they suddenly find themselves (their words) “strapped for cash” and stumble blindly into the drug trafficking business, only to get caught by third world customs officials, forced to sign a confession in a foreign language, sentenced by a corrupt judicial system for an undermined period of time. The final segment of the show is an unabashed testimony of shame for what they did to their family’s friends and themselves, followed by brief epilogue. Every day a new pair of innocent convicts tells their story in voice over from their third world jail cell.
From 1:00pm-3:00pm I flip between three different channels to watch concurrently three repeat episodes of Law and Order. I have timed the whole operation so that I can flip between the three channels avoiding nearly all the commercials and never miss more than a second or two of each show. One afternoon, to make things interesting, I bet myself that I would not hit one commercial for the whole Law and Order marathon. I lost. To punish myself, I sat through a whole set of commercials before I could turn the channel.
As luck would have it, there was a commercial with a snappy little jingle that I liked so much that I spent the next two days learning the words to the song Free Credit Report.Com. In weeks to come, I developed a certain fondness for the main character in the song who, like me, didn’t get a free credit report and was now forced to drive an economy car. He also had to dress like a pirate which kind of made me feel better about my own situation.
While I was grabbing my life by the balls, I was doing less and less every day. One afternoon I forced myself to look through a box of books that I was planning to read but never had the time. All of the books were works of non-fiction and among them was a book called Lost to the Sea. I wrapped myself up in a blanket and curled up in my chair to read.
The book was a tedious account of life aboard a commercial fishing boat in Dutch Harbor.
The author seemed preoccupied with giving the reader the boat’s compass bearing, which appeared about every three paragraphs. In the past, I would have donated the book to the Salvation Army and started reading another, but in this un-natural state, I continued to toil away , learning which is the best place to “put down pots” for the big haul. Around chapter three, I found a show on The Discovery Channel called The Deadliest Catch. It was a reality show about life on a commercial fishing boat. It was as if the lifeless words and colorless story I had been struggling to read burst into Technicolor. I did some research (scanned the on-screen program guide) and discovered that the series was in its fourth season. Thus I dedicated the rest of the week to the work of finding any and all earlier episodes that had previously aired. I then dug out a couple of blank pieces of paper from my “old briefcase” and created a system to track episodes as I “captured” them on TiVo. In all, there were 63 episodes and my diligence paid off when I found all of Season One airing at 2:00am daily. I began using fisherman terms, referring to a string of consecutive episodes as a “line”. When the current season aired a new episode, I referred to it as the “main line”.
Of course, all of this referring in fish terminology was done in my head as I was now spending days at a stretch in total isolation with the exception of the people that work at the school across the street. I chat with the secretary in the morning, the lunch aids at recess, and the school social worker is my new best friend. I mark time with them as they count down the days till summer vacation, their summer vacation.
I was beginning to worry about my ability to re-enter the work force so I made a rule that I had to apply to at least two jobs every morning before I could reach for the remote. I found the silence in the house intolerable so I decided to interpret the rule to mean that I could have the TV on while looking for a job, but only the news and I couldn’t use the remote.
There were times when the only incentive I had to fill my quota of sending out my two resumes per day, was the promise of watching something I had TiVo’d the night before.
Long after I had fallen asleep one night in a drunken television stupor, the sound of the television jerked me awake.
I fumbled for the remote and hit rewind then fast forward then rewind before I found what I had heard through my dreamless slumber. “Tomorrow on Today” the announcer blared, “learn the latest on the Rob Lowe nanny scandal, fashions for the third trimester and a special interview with Matt and the Dalai Lama.”
I glanced at my messy night stand and the unread book, The Essence of Enlightenment and thought, “I got to TiVo this.” I scanned the channel guide and scrawled until I came to the Today show, hit record and fell back asleep.
The next morning I rushed through my daily job search so I could watch Matt and the Dalai Lama.
Forgoing my daily dose of Highway to Heaven, I grabbed the remote and scanned through the list of recorded programs till I found what I was looking for. I hit pause and poured myself a drink as I planned out my next move. I could watch the whole three hour program and wait for the Dalai Lama interview, closely scan the entire program in fast forward and hit play when the Tibetan monk appeared, or use my third option which was a button on the remote called Skip Forward. I spent weeks pondering what Skip Forward was, but was never able to determine how far the Skip Forward button “skipped” through a program, and with three hours of Today to wade through, I decided to scan in fast forward.
After scanning through the first hour, I became impatient and picked up the pace, by speeding up the fast forward. As I rounded the corner to the third hour I realized that Matt wasn’t even on the air anymore. Rewind, fast forward, rewind, fast forward. Another two hours past and I could not find Matt or the Dalai Lama. Impatience turned to anger, disbelief turned to shock, denial turned to despair. My TiVo had betrayed me. In my vacuum of a world, I had lost all perspective. The fisherman of the Berea Sea had become my co-workers, my job was learning the words to Free Credit Report.Com and New England Technical School beckoned me from my arm chair to consider a career as a dental assistant.
The sun was out, it is almost noon and I have run out of counter offers to negotiate for a few hours of television. Left with no option, I start to look for a job.