Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Living La Vida Sitcom

We may need to tweak the definition of reality TV. I’m beginning to think reality has become television, and that I’m living in a sitcom.

On the surface, that doesn’t sound too bad. You get to have a bunch of zany friends and hijinks are always ensuing. People speak in witty one-liners, the day ends with all the plot threads wrapped up in a bow, somebody delivers a closing zinger and we all fade out on a laugh. Sounds like the good life, huh?

Not quite. Consider, if you will, the dark side of the sitcom: no matter what happens to you, good or bad, there’s always a reversal, so that at the end of thirty minutes (or twenty, if you’re zapping the commercials) everything has reset to zero and you’re right back where you started.

That might be okay for the Bundys and the Simpsons and Jerry Seinfeld and his posse, but some of us might want to improve our lot in life. That’s tough to do when life’s rubber band keeps snapping you back to square one. That’s the sitcom formula. Nothing changes. Nobody falls behind, but nobody gets ahead, either.

For those of you who read my post about my adventures in the workplace (“T Minus 36 and Counting”), that’s what I’m talking about. My entire work history consists of a series of jobs that started out great, went bad and then ended, usually in layoff, within an average of two to three years. This happened regardless of position, company or industry. At one point I had a home typing job for a local printing company, a stringer job for a business newspaper, and had just gotten my foot in the door at a greeting card company, all at the same time. Within two years the greeting card freelancing dried up (I think they got bought out by a larger company) and the typing job went to India. I tried to go full-time with the newspaper but they wouldn’t hire me. I ended up having to start over at a full-time job that was totally different from all three of the jobs I’d been doing. Typical sitcom plotting, except this is my life.

(In fact, sitcom families have it better. Sitcom dads work at dead-end jobs that still somehow pay enough for them to own a house, two cars and raise a family even though the wife doesn’t work, and they manage to hang on to these jobs no matter how incompetent they are. I can toss off one-liners and be incompetent. Why can’t I get these jobs?)

It even goes beyond work. True-life adventure: Several years ago I was sitting at a red light when a kid who wasn’t paying attention rear-ended my car. Cost to repair the car: $150. Payout from the kid’s insurance company: $1700. (This is why your insurance rates are so high.) Even after getting the car fixed, that was still well over $1000 in my pocket. Party time!

Um, no. Soon after the check arrived I developed pain in my jaw. My teeth had turned on me. I ended up needing a double root canal, to the tune of $1300. Between that, fixing my car, and paying the rent that month, I actually lost money on the deal. No party for me. This is a sitcom. Everything has to go back to exactly the way it started.

It just happened again. I’ve blogged about my recent financial luck: a hefty tax return, bonus work from my current freelance employer, royalties from recent ebooks. That was last month. The tax return went to pay my last fuel bill of the snow season, and the extra money I got from writing-related work got eaten up by the medical bills incurred from a doctor visit and tests for what turned out to be acid reflux. (Quickie side rant: one of those bills was for “discharge.” I assume that means discharging me from the hospital. My “stay” lasted for roughly an hour, while they were taking the X-rays. They charged me $45 to tell me they were done and I could leave. I thought health care reform was supposed to stop things like that. What exactly did Obamacare “reform”?) I never got the chance to get even a little ahead. I’m right back where I started.

That’s it. I’m done with sitcoms. I’m jumping ship over to episodic dramas. Get myself a story arc where I come out the winner. Better still, a miniseries. Those tend to end on an upbeat note, with the implication the protagonist goes on to a better life. I don’t live in Hollywood, so I stand a better-than-average change of landing a happy ending.

As long as I don’t get canceled. Then it’s syndication and reruns into eternity. No thanks. Been there, done that.

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