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Po-Boy Views: Roll Over or Buttered Roles

15:33 April 28, 2020
By: Phil LaMancusa

In retrospect, one thing that I've learned from this whole COVID-19 pandemic quarantine isolation "stay home or die" occurrence is the fluid shape-shifting of my roles in life. This exercise aided my sanity pauses and got/is getting me through this debacle (de-ba-cle (noun): a sudden disaster, defeat, or humiliating failure). Debacle is the word that best describes this experience that, by the way, I'm still going through, along with the rest of humanity. For me, that Rubenesque Diva's "Debacle Aria" song will remain unsung for a long while to come—her role, not mine.

We all have roles that we play. We have the roles that define us to ourselves and they can be mostly complimentary. Or not. Also, we have the roles in which other people see us and the roles that define us to the world—again, sometimes complimentary and sometimes not. Nouns (people, places, and things) also are assigned roles. There are labels for roles that we play or assign others to play for us. We define others as well by the relationship that we have with them and how we view their roles, from scumbag to starlet. And then there's hot cross buns and buttered biscuits.

Well, throw all of us fish in a barrel and all bets are off now: A successful chef is on the breadline, talented musicians are on their front porch, crafty businessmen and investors are left holding the dirty end of the stick, and the little guy is still taking it in the shorts. All people in charge are suspect, all official servants are crooked, and everyone we see is a carrier of a virus that will not only kill us, but will, in fact, make us suffer without a shred of dignity before we croak. We're all stuck indoors, trying to remain productive and wrapping our heads around how our previous roles are no longer working—either there is no one to reinforce them, or we've become suspicious of who we really are.

Actors and actresses take on roles and work to make us believe that's who they are. So do most of us. Of course, I'm not talking about you. No, not you. You're the one who is so secure in your identity that you don't even need another person, pet, or performance to reinforce the role that you're playing because, of course, you're the lucky one who is not playing a role. Me? If I don't wake up in the morning talking to myself and anyone else around me, like the wife or the critters, I have to think hard as to who I am. The roles that I have, the identity that I've conjured, needs prompting like flashcards for the dummy.

First words to Debbie: "Good morning. How did you sleep?" First words to Scout (canine): "Yep, we're still here!" First words to the felines that are crowding me: nothing. They don't listen to me. First thoughts to me: "Okay, what day is it? Who am I, where am I, and what am I supposed to be doing?" Next thought: "Screw it, I'm going back to sleep." Then, when I've frightened everyone else out of bed, I stretch out (my full length), grab all the covers and pillows, and … I can't get back to sleep. So, I get up. Morning ablutions are ritualistic. I still shave every day, wash, comb, and put on clean clothes. Why? I don't know. I'm certainly not going anywhere, and I'm just as certain that I'm not expecting company. However, I need to get ready for today's role, whatever that may be.

So, tell me what your role is and how it is going to change once this thing is under control. I say "under control" because I believe that's the best we can hope for—this Covib is like a sniper (hey, 19, Steely Dan says we can't dance together).

Will you change? Will you put on the same suit and tie and expect that there is a corner office in your future? Strap on that apron and get ready for the dinner rush? Call up your agent and see if you can be booked at that club downtown? Get the kids off to school and then off to your part-time job telemarketing? I don't think so.

You might ask your boss now if your job gives you sick and paternity leave. You may want to know if there's wage equality. You may not retake a job if you are not given health insurance and maybe childcare incentives. You may even not go back to work unless you're give a decent wage with a workable schedule. Your boss might have to ask him- or herself, "Well, how do I work this?"

There's a lot of economics in play with these economic recoveries. Many employers are given forgivable, no-interest loans, on the condition that they will keep their payroll intact, which means keeping you on the job. They might be open to some constructive criticism. Many people on the unemployment dole are expected to get a further bonus check of $600.00 a week, and that might be incentive to them not to go back to work for $2.13 an hour (waiters) or minimum wage (maintenance), or perhaps even to not be expected to be on-call for work or be available for a call from the boss at 9:00 p.m. just because "that's the way it is, and this is what the job requires."

Some folks have not even wanted to work for the people that they've been forced by economic pressure to work for in the first place. Someone with a degree in celestial navigation might decide that's the job they need to look for and not be a gallery slave working on commission. You may be hearing a lot of "take this job and shove it." That's when I can make my move and say, "Yes, I am applying for the position of part-time internal sanitation onslaught professional. I can start work at $15.00 an hour with health benefits." I've always wanted to be a dishwasher.

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