Big giant head


In Other News

Steve's back. It's about time. We missed ya, man.

The Booth has gone world-wide. Since the Times story ran, I've been getting reports from all over the place from people who've seen the story in their local paper. In Seattle. In Georgia. Somewhere else I can't recall.

Someone saw it on the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. Tom Brokaw reporting The Booth. Eewww. Weird. Britain's Skynews has picked it up. It's gone global. Weird.

And now, proof that my 15 minutes is waaaay up and The Booth is waaaaay over: for the past four or five days I've been playing phone tag with a "reporter" from Inside Edition. Hosted by Deborah Norville. Oooh, mama.

Oh yeah. It's over. Soon.


Wednesday -- September 29, 1999
The Dark Side

I'm a typical struggling writer: writer by night, something else by day. It's a lot like being a superhero, only there's no cool costume, there's just a shirt and tie by day -- a dork costume -- and boxers and T-shirt by night -- another dork costume.

My day gig is that I'm what we call a Technical Trainer. I like to think that means I train people while starting each sentence with "Technically..." but that's not it. What I really do is teach people how to use the Microsoft Office suite: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and perhaps one day soon Access. (Mental note: learn Access.)

It's a pretty cush job when you get right down to it. They pay me a lot, I only work in 3 hour spurts, I work indoors, I don't break a sweat, the hardest thing I have to do is repeat "Click on that" about 90 times a day, and I'm usually done by 4:30 and home by 5:30. Compare that to my last gig as a tech support agent making basically no money at all and getting up at 4:00 a.m. Or the gig before that, when I worked as a grip on low budget films: loooong hours, out in the rain or the heat or the sun or the cold, big checks that looked puny when you gauged the hours they reflected, lugging 35 lb sandbags up and over hill and dale, wrestling heavy equipment that often took bites of flesh even if you were careful and fingers and thumbs if you weren't, weekends, insane hours, spoiled stars, etc. So I've got it pretty good right now.

But there's a dark side.

I do my training in hospitals. What do you find in hospitals? Sick people. Hurt people. Dying people. People in pain, in misery, in despair, in tears. It's really starting to get to me.

The training rooms at most of the hospitals I work in are located in administrative areas where I generally only encounter hospital employees. They're usually cheerful and pleasant and if you ignore the scrubs and lab coats and stethescopes and constantly beeping beepers you could almost fool yourself that you're in a regular office.

But there are intercoms in the hallways, from which you sometimes hear calm announcements like "Code Yellow. Trauma team to the ER, please. Code Yellow. All trauma members to the ER, stat." I don't know what a Code Yellow is. I could ask, but I don't think I want to know. It clearly involves trauma, which probably means someone's been hurt really badly. It just seems wrong to hear something like that and then cheerfully lead my class on a guided tour of the toolbar.

And there are patients in the hallways. Not always, but frequently enough to make me really uncomfortable. Just last week, as I was making the rounds of the nursing units in the patient wing, I passed a guy and his family and doctor. Half his head was shaved, an angry line of sutures traced his skull, and he was trying to get out of a wheelchair for what was obviously the first time in a long time. He was feeble and weak and did a lousy job of it and his family and doctor cheered him on like he'd just won a medal. I felt as though I were intruding on a private moment. I walked away as fast as I could without running.

And there are patients in their rooms. At one of the hospitals, I have to go through a patient area to get to the cafeteria. This hospital caters primarily to elderly people; most patients look to be in their 80's or 90's and on their way out. I've been teaching there for more than a year now and there's one old guy there who breaks my heart every time I see him. He's been in the same room all that time, and he's always in the same place -- hunched over in a wheelchair by the bed, shoulders wrapped in a yellow blanket, always hunched over and looking at the floor. He's always alone. I heard him moaning as I went by once. It hurts me to see him, so much so that I usually go two floors out of my way to avoid his room. I've often thought about stopping in to say hello because maybe he'd like a visitor, but that somehow has felt inappropriate, intrusive. Writing about it now, it feels like a copout. I think maybe I'll stop by next time I'm there. If he still is.

And there are waiting areas, where families gather to wait on the couches for news of loved ones. These groups of people always radiate pain. They sit short distances away from each other, wrapped up in cocoons of grief and worry. Or they hold each other and weep silently. Or they stare into nothing with bruised eyes, shell-shocked. They are always quiet, always sad, always wrenching. And as I walk through their dramas I always feel like an intruder.

And then there's the hospital I worked at today. The training room is in the computer department's offices, down in the basement. Right down the hall from the morgue -- or, as the sign on the wall describes it, the Autopsy Room. The doors are usually closed as I walk by, but today they were open. Today I could look in each time I walked by to see the refrigerated drawers they store the bodies in. I'm not freaked out by the dead bodies, I'm saddened by them. I'm working in a building in which people sometimes die. It's sobering.

So, yeah, I've got a cush job. I make good money and I don't work very hard and my students love me. But, man, it's hard to go in to work sometimes. It hurts.


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Copyright © 1999
Chuck Atkins