How Far I Fell, and How Fast

Have I mentioned how strangely eerie it is to find yourself alone in an crowded emergency room in a strange city, having been delivered there by an overly chatty taxi driver (”And here is the part of town is where all the PROSTITUTES are!” he announced at one point, with a strong sense of civic pride, “And the DRUG DEALERS, too!”)? Yeah, it’s pretty weird. And the next morning I called my co-workers to let them know that I wasn’t going to be able to work that day. And for the next three days — Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday — I stayed in my hotel room, pretty much cooped up, sick, and with little human contact.

Thus began my descent into Hell. Well… Purgatory, at least.

I’m not much of a television watcher. When I’m at home, I watch exactly two television shows a week with regularity (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ER, if you must know), and then maybe the occasional sitcom or episode of Enterprise to remind me of how far the franchise has fallen. I guess when I’m at home, it’s easy to find company with the cats or with Jennifer or with nearby friends and family.

But since I’ve been sick in my hotel room all week, my contact with other human beings has been minimal at best. I’ve learned the name of the room service guy (Victor); the maid (Gabriela, and she speaks Portuguese, so I can’t even talk to her); and the front desk clerk (Rochelle). But my interactions with them are limited. I have e-mail conversations with Jennifer and an occasional IM with my mom and other members of my family, but I really like to see faces; I need actual human contact, or I get kind of… weird. Pet cats and pet dogs get weird without regular human contact, and so do I.

And so I started watching a lot of television. Lots.

First thing, I refuse to watch talk shows. They are of absolutely no interest to me; the plots are contrived, the characterization weak and thin, and resolution is almost always lacking. Besides, how often can I take seriously the saga of young girls who dress up as boys and, at their father’s insistence, then try to seduce their mothers? Not often.

But I made some important discoveries about syndicated television in Riverside. On Wednesday, the first day of my confinement, I discovered that The Simpsons is on FOUR TIMES A DAY! Woo hoo! And so I made note of it: “The Simpsons: 5 on UPN affiliate, 6 and 7 on Fox affiliate, and 11 on Fox affilate”. This was heaven-worthy.

I also discovered that TBS shows a long block of recent sitcoms starting at about 11 a.m. or so. I could watch three back-to-back episodes of Roseann, and I did. TBS was showing the last season, and I really wanted to watch the final episode which I had missed when the series was new, the episode where Dan Connor dies (I think). They were almost there… but on Friday, when I was expecting the last episode, they instead showed a repeat from an earlier season. I was so mad, I could have kicked the television and written an angry letter to TBS. What the hell was up with that? It was the biggest disappointment of the week!

Anyway, right after the 90 minutes of Roseanne, there’s a full hour of The Drew Carey show, which I like because I identify on some bizarre level with Drew Carey’s character. When I get sick, I get emotional (I remember being really sick once — I think with my last bout with pneumonia — and watching the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa runs away, and nearly bawling at the scene where Homer goes and tries to play her saxophone because he misses her), and in the episode where Drew loses his girlfiend again, I got kind of bleary-eyed.

“Right,” I said to myself at that point. “Time for some human contact.”

I’d already been to the doctor that day, who listened to my lungs and pronounced me reasonably healthy and worthy of record levels of Prednisone (ugh). Not much chance for conversation with him (”Say, doc, how’s the family?” “No time, this is Riverside, I’ve got two hundred kids with colds and a prostitute with a broken arm to treat!”). The room service guy wouldn’t be on shift until 5. I was at a loss, so I finally settled for writing an e-mail to my co-workers saying that I’d be able to go into work for the Saturday round of mollusk training.

I spoke with one of my co-workers by IM later that evening. “Hey, I have a work release from my doctor saying return to full duty. Do you want that?” “Um… sure. Seems like a shame to let it go to waste, I guess.” (Apparently, work releases are not part of this company’s policy, unlike other places I’ve worked at. Here you just kind of come back to work whenever you feel like it.)

And so yesterday I finally made it back to work. The morning was fine, but I admit I started feeling worn out around noon. I spent the rest of the day mostly sitting and helping the Spanish speaking mollusks with their paperwork, which was fine. When the day was over, we all left.

Of course, it wasn’t until I got back to the hotel that I realized I’d left my full medicine bag back at the training site. Five phone calls, four barnacles, and an hour later I was back in the locked building, getting all of my medicines out, explaining to the barnacles that this was not representative of how Benthic Creatures employees generally behaved. They understood because they knew I’d been sick and kind of out of it, and none of them seemed all that put out (the people here are all very nice).

My co-workers had plans for dinner last night, of course. I wanted to go with them, but by then I was wiped and decided I just wanted to go back to my hotel room, get some room service and chat with Victor, and crash in front of the television some more.

Don’t get me wrong: I did do a lot of reading and a lot of work on Lucien this week. But the television was on most of the time (I even discovered that the TV has a sleep function on it!), and that’s what constituted almost all of my human interaction this past week.

Amazing what a little virus and a little solitary confinement will do to you.