in an effort to evolve, I picked up the DVD box set of Emergency!
Season One, planning to conduct an anthropological investigation
into the earliest stirrings in my, for want of a better word, pants.
I pulled up a chair in front of the plasma, pressed play, and sat
back to watch Emergency! The Pilot, all ninety minutes of
it. Oh, Mantooth, must you continue to steal from me?
The show opens in the firehouse garage. The camera dollies past
the shiny, unmanned trucks until we reach: the pole. Thick, long
and slippery, we pan up, up, up (my, what a long pole you have),
till we reach: the entrance to the inner sanctum. We pass upward
and through to the bed, free weights conveniently located nearby
in case the sleeping inhabitant wakes with deflated biceps. We move
in close on the back of a handsome head, rumpled brown hair set
off by tousled white sheets. He rolls over, and we meet: John Gage,
sleeping fireman, as played by young Mantooth.
linger in extreme closeup on John's features just long enough to
imagine he's dreaming of us, and then we pan to the floor... and
Johnny's pants. Not only is he slumbering fetchingly under his firehouse
sheets, he's apparently naked from the waist down. Just as the image
of a young pantsless fireboy takes hold -- the red lights go off.
Now I understand what Stanley Kowalski meant about him and Stella
getting the "colored lights going." The producers have
crafted an Emergency orgasm. Johnny's ready in an instant
(he's wearing boxers). Within seconds, Mantooth and his fellows
are sliding down that pole, driving helter-skelter through the streets
of '70s LA, moving as one, hooking up their hoses, testing them
for tightness, and whoosh! The money shot. The fire's hot, but Johnny's
got this blaze under control.
No wonder I fell in lust with Boy Mantooth and his fire brigade.
This was as subliminally pornographic as the Camel camel's cock-nose.
At eleven, I barely knew the difference between television and reality.
In fact, I confess that I have spent most of my life since trying
to get into the TV where a congenital drama queen like myself
truly belongs. And thanks to my PhD-worthy study of episodic drama
from 1972 to the present, I may not be a woman in uniform, but I've
played one on TV, many times.
January, 2000, NBC's Third Watch. I played Taylor, a demolition
worker, half-buried in a building collapse. While defibrillation
in the field was sadly unnecessary, I was dragged out of the rubble
on a backboard. The power of thought had manifested itself; I had
gone from watching a poor schmoe rescued on TV, to being
the poor schmoe inside the TV.
This was not the glamorous experience I had hoped it would be. Between
the beige jumpsuit, the work boots, and the carcinogenic stage dust,
I felt like the ugly stepsister of a shipping container. I lay in
a pile of fake rubble, dreading the moment of rescue, fearing emergency
appeals for stunt doubles to lug me, the paralyzed behemoth, out
TV stars don't lift. They run out of burning buildings carrying
hatchets and medical kits, while faceless strongmen do the serious
carrying. Third Watch had hired New York's famed Rescue One
squad for the job. Mantooth cum fireman is hot, but a real New York
firefighter up close and personal -- they don't make hoses long
enough to extinguish that kind of heat. The best-looking one leaned
close to my dust-covered ear, called me beautiful, wrote his phone
number on an old Shell gas receipt and slipped it into the pocket
of my coveralls, where it remained, forgotten, when I returned my
costume to wardrobe. My fireman's digits were washed and spun back
into pulp. Fireman interruptus.
Mantooth's career suffered a similar fate. I lost track of him until
1987, when I found him playing Clay Alden, scion of the whiter-than-Wonder
Bread Alden dynasty, on the soap opera Loving. I, too, was
now a working actor in New York City, hawking Subaru and Wisk, bartending,
and doing plays in questionable neighborhoods for subway fare, or
Then I got the call. Mantooth's soap opera daughter, Tricia, was
engaged to blue-collar truck driver Trucker, and I was hired to
portray a tastefully dressed background blur at their wedding. The
requested wardrobe: "attire suitable for a garden party."
My destiny was at hand. Finally, that Shakti Gawain Creative Visualization
tape had paid for itself. The only problem: my '80s wardrobe leaned
decidedly in the direction of Desperately Seeking Susan.
My instinctive response to a "garden party" invite would
be to personify the garden with artfully ripped green tights, a
Bakelite vegetable necklace, carrot-colored streaks in my hair and
a vintage "I Heart DDT" t-shirt held together by safety
pins. My go-to footwear was a pair of massive black combat boots;
they went with everything. But I would not allow a temporary sartorial
hiccup to mess with my future. I attacked my closet, unearthing
an authentic flapper dress in coral, pairing it with white tights
and tap shoes I had "borrowed" four years earlier from
a summer stock production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
I played the whore with gold lame stretch pants and no lines. When
tap dancing was required, I bounced up and down, grinning and waving
my arms like Shirley Temple gone to weed. A quick pass with the
screwdriver and, taps off, I was good to go -- believable enough
as a coral-colored blob, swilling ginger ale from a plastic champagne
flute behind Mantooth, faux-father of the faux-bride.
this was more than an extra gig, and I was more than "atmosphere."
My child's intuition had been dead on. Randy and I were connected
on a soul level. And now, our destiny was going to manifest on the
physical plane. To step on set was to make an entrance into the
rest of my life. What was a forgotten fan club kit in comparison
to being recognized as a great, undiscovered talent? I would be
the first soap extra in repurposed tap shoes to be promoted to daytime
diva on the spot. And if Randy played his cards right, I might just
pull a few of my old Sensuous Woman techniques out of my bag of
The morning of "the wedding," I handed the subway clerk
$1.25 in laundry quarters, the dregs of my bank account. It was
okay, though. Mantooth owed me that dollar. Allowing for thirteen
years of inflation, he should be good for at least ten bucks. I'd
let him slide in exchange for a multimillion dollar contract with
an iron-clad out in the event Spielberg needed my services. At long
last, Randy was going to resuscitate me or, at least, my wallet.
I arrived on set and was whisked through hair and makeup, which
consisted of a perfunctory powder and an ozone-obliterating geyser
of hairspray. I now had "soap hair" -- waterproof, fossilized,
and preternaturally high.
A disembodied voice summoned "All wedding extras to the set."
My footsteps echoed the pounding of my heart as I climbed the steps
toward the soundstage. My inner life was about to meet itself in
I reached the heavy door marked "Closed Set - Do Not Enter,"
and as if on cue, the hallway was bathed in swirling red emergency
light signaling that taping was underway. I was caught up in some
sort of dimension-shattering cosmic inevitability. All that was
missing was the pole.
1 2 3
version for easy reading
material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission|