“See, another thing. Spending every day at the computer, my eyes have developed a sensitivity to light.” On and on with this petty shit. I would have slammed the phone on him fifteen minutes ago. But hang up on a caller and you’re nixed. “You don’t think I could write off a pair of Ray Bans, huh?” Even prank calls you need to pass to a supervisor. “Also, I am fairly certain my assistant is a Scientologist. Which, you know, I’m not intolerant or anything. It just weirds me out.” A call like this is exactly the opposite of why I’m here.
“Sir, I understand these are difficult times but you’ve called Crisis Line. Maybe you should hang up and allow somebody with a genuine crisis to get through?” I say it but I shouldn’t. Another no-no is trivializing the caller’s problem.
“Listen pal, this is important stuff. Did I not just give you a good half dozen crises? How the heck can I run an office with all these extraneous issues? I’ve been going for half an hour and nothing in the way of answers.”
“Sir, I am a fully trained volunteer tele-counseler. I believe what you are looking for is a Magic 8 Ball.” And just as I say this, nothing in my ear but a dial tone. Adios.
I get quite a few of these. People who’ve had it so good for so long their definition of crisis runs parallel to the hired help botching a dish of frog legs. Over that, I’d take a lovesick teenager anytime and twice on Prom Night.
And still, after eighteen months, I’m waiting on a real-deal depression case. That would just be the tits.
* * *
To say my day job was bottom of the barrel would be generous. More like some shit stuck to the underside of the barrel. Like forty pounds of felt and foam rubber fashioned into Mopey the Mole and burrowed deep beneath the barrel.
A summer job as a cartoon animal at Good Times Town and five years later I was manager of mascot affairs for the entire park. What that means, I dressed as whichever character needed a body on any particular day. And with a staff full of pierced dropouts and crystal-head townies, pretty much every day I was somebody new.
The trick to such a fractured existence, understand every character has a basic action. And if you performed this action for six straight hours, the kiddies cheered ferocious and your supervisors kept you around long past the point of wasting your life.
Check it out. As Crabby the Crab, just shake your head and place hands on hips. As Manic the Monkey, jump up and down and dance the twist. When you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck with Beauty the Butterfly, courtesy and prance and try to dodge the teenaged boys grabbing for your ass. What I always said, I had a bad job but I was damn good at it.
Still the buzz wears off fast when marinating in the sweat of so many deadbeats. The joy of a thousand tots never beats out the one little bastard who kicked you in the junk. So nights, I took to manning phones for Crisis Line. Thinking other people laying down some dark shit would make me feel okay about my punchline life.
* * *
Tonight moves slow around the volunteer office. Only so much time I can kill imagining soft grey cubicle walls fashioned into some sort of elephant costume. Or a mouse. Only so much time I can kill waiting for time to kill me.
The phone goes off and I let it ring three times. Always this to weed out the insincere. Those who solve their own problems in the first two rings. Three and then soft and even, “Hi, you’re talking with Greg. What’s up?” Friendly, informal and never “what’s the problem?”
“Uh, hi. Hi Greg…” The dude gives it a beat. “Man, this is not something I do. Call these numbers and look for pity. No…just, I couldn’t sleep.”
“That’s fine,” I say. Always “That’s fine.” Never “No worries” or “No Problem.” You wouldn’t think there’s much difference but any negative language can set the more troubled callers off. The type I’ve been waiting for. Going on a year and a half. But forget that now. What I tell this guy is, “That’s fine. Just talk about whatever you like.”
“Man, I don’t know if you’re a father,” he says. Me? Shit. “But I am. Or I...it’s been a tough month. Tough.”
“What happened?” I ask this and maybe I’m pushing. But my whole purpose here: get these folks to talk it out. Solving problems isn’t my bag. Even helping them solve their problems. Getting folks to figure out what their problems are, that’s a little closer.
“We were outside. Walking. He wanted to push his own stroller. Just. Just trying to be like Daddy. I guess.”
“It’s okay,” I say. My big utility phrase. Always keeps things moving.
“Just. Just. Just out of the sky, this branch fell. Right on him. Right there. Just. Just. Just out of nowhere.”
“And man, you know. So random.”
* * *
In August sun, peering from the wire mesh eyes of Fussy the Fox, I posed for photographs. All smiling plastic teeth and brick red fur. All upset because I had been hoping for Nasty the Newt that day.
What happened was I leaned down to refasten my lower left paw. Tighten the buckles and all. But as I bent over, my fluffy tale goosed a young lady. Who yelped. And then there was her boyfriend. Who punched me out.
So what could I do? Just so happened, I had a concussion. Just so happened, the fox costume maybe gave me body lice. Just so happened, this was my profession. Just so happened.
* * *
The phone call, it ends. If any comfort came the guy’s way, I have some real doubt. If any comfort will ever come the guy’s way.
To know a Grumpy the Gopher suit is no fate too severe, it provides nothing like satisfaction. If you’re wondering.
So I leave typed notice. Tonight, my last at Crisis Line. I leave a voice mail. Yesterday, my last at Good Times Town. Because could be life is short. And could be life is long. But always random. So fucking random.