Saturday, May 25, 2013

First Day on the Job

I have a new project: watching episodes of “Scrubs” on Netflix, starting with Season 1. It’s hard to miss “Scrubs” if you have cable, and I have seen random episodes over the years. But I didn’t follow the show from its beginning, so I missed something important. Watching the first episodes from the first season, I have been experiencing not only humor and zaniness but also fear and anxiety—the characters’ and my own. Just why is watching a sit-com about young doctors in a crazy but somehow functional hospital making me anxious? There must be an explanation.

Season 1 of Scrub blends
humor and anxiety for me
One part of the explanation may involve just how I am viewing the show. I started watching the first episodes on my iPad while lying in bed late at night. Picture me shading the light of the iPad from Audrey under the covers, like I used to read books with a flashlight when I was a kid. This is not as easy to do as you might think. I have a double problem to deal with: I am trying not to shake the bed with giggles, and I am trying not to fall asleep before the closing credits. I got through the first two episodes the other night before conking out. So I got to see J.D., Elliot, and Turk first enter that hospital and be thrown headlong into a state of “new job anxiety,” a world that most professionals and maybe most jobholders of any kind face on the first day on the job. In the state of new job anxiety, you sense that almost everyone around you knows what to do better than you do.

That’s what I was feeling oh so many years ago on my first day of teaching at Central High School, an inner city school in Providence, RI. I was 22-years-old and decided to wear a tie, so I wouldn’t be asked by a veteran teacher to show my hall pass when I walked down a corridor. On Day 1 of my new career, I stood in front of 30 assorted students, taking roll and handling administrative details for an extended home-room period. The kids were checking me out. In the tried-and-true method of teachers everywhere, I had written my name in large chalk letters on the board: “Mr. Goodman.” Up until that day, “Mr. Goodman” had always referred to my father.

"Buehler! Buehler! Buehler!" This could have been me.

Everything went fine for the first 10 minutes. Then, a large and fairly intimidating student burst into the room with no explanation for his lateness or embarrassment at disrupting the class. Before taking his seat, he asked, “Who are you?” I pointed a somewhat shaky finger at the board where my father’s name was printed. “Mr. Good Guy,” the student proclaimed. “Do you take drugs?” I shook my head no. “Do you drink booze?” “Not much,” I replied. “Fool around with the women?” “Nope,” I answered. Then, giving me a slight shove, he announced, “What kind of good guy are you; you don’t do nothing!”

I somehow overcame my fear, and the student, whose name I discovered was Larry Davis, finally took his seat, though not before offering to sell me some jewelry he had in his pocket to give to my girlfriend or mother.

I had an open period following home room and headed to the English Department office. “Boy, Larry Davis put me through the ringer,” I announced. “Larry Davis,” a colleague replied. “Is he out of jail already?” It seems that Larry had gotten into a violent fight with another student the previous year in which some knife-play occurred. Larry usually reserved his anger for fellow students and not teachers, I was told. I was only somewhat relieved. I got more relief when Larry never made another appearance in my classroom. Within a few weeks I was told to remove him from my roster; he had decided to drop out. Was I being a bad teacher when I made no effort to convince him to change his mind?

So that’s my Day 1 story. I have another to share, which involves a lawyer friend named Joe. When he was a rookie defense counsel involved in his first trial, Joe began his first jury summation this way: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, please remember that in our legal system, a person is presumed guilty until proven innocent.” Mrs. Rabinowitz, a middle-aged Jewish woman on the panel to whom Joe felt a kinship, gave him a slight shake of her head. He quickly reversed his statement. “Excuse me, I meant that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.” Mrs. Rabinowitz responded with a slight nod this time. No matter, the damage was done. Mrs. R. and the other jurors soon agreed, without presumption, that Joe’s client was indeed guilty.

Joe too survived his Day 1 disaster and has had a long and successful legal career.

And, of course, the young doctors in “Scrubs” also overcome their Day 1 anxieties. They get beaten down. They get back up. They find entertaining methods to help them conquer the fear and the craziness, sort of. And we laugh. Or in my case, I try to laugh inside without shaking too much.

I got through the first two episodes, and then shut off the iPad and closed my eyes. But I didn’t exactly escape into sleep. I fell into a strange dream. In it, I was a new doctor trying to keep up. At some point, I was instructed to carry a young patient in my arms into another part of the hospital where I picked up some supplies and then returned to my floor. The task tired out both me and the patient. We sat down together in a large chair and fell asleep. When I woke up a few minutes (or more) later, I was still in the chair, but in my lap was not the young patient but a middle-aged midget (or little person, if you prefer). Hospital veterans had made a switch on me during my nap. And they were now laughing hysterically. The midget was laughing too. Luckily, he looked nothing like Larry Davis.

I plan to continue watching Season 1 episodes, nightmares or no nightmares. And maybe I’ll head to Season 2 after that. I’m taking a risk, I know, but that’s what you have to do to survive in the world of situation comedy reruns.

No comments:

Post a Comment