Mantooth has owed me a dollar since 1974.
At age eleven, my life was transformed by the discovery of Emergency!,
the show about a pair of young paramedics in '70s Los Angeles. I had a
weekly assignation with Johnny Gage, fiery but earnest half of Squad 51,
played by actor Randy Mantooth. He rearranged my molecules, and not just
because I disregarded my father's warnings about radiation and sat too
close to the TV screen. Through our family's solid state "wood"-paneled
RCA, Randy/Johnny orchestrated my sexual awakening.
It wasn't just the confident way he said "Clear" before slapping
paddles on some poor schmoe's chest as the actor portraying the schmoe
did his best defibrillation interpretation. Johnny Gage was the '70s equivalent
of the Baywatch lifeguard -- hot, fit and trained in the Heimlich
Maneuver. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing more appealing
than lying limp and lovely in the arms of a professional lifesaver. "One
amp of epi" was paramedic for orgasm, a word I loosely understood
thanks to rainy afternoons spent with my mother's copy of The Sensuous
Woman by "J."
Tucked between Valley of the Dolls and QB VII in my parents'
study, I discovered the thin paperback volume that picked up where Are
You There God, It's Me, Margaret left off. The fact that the author
wanted to be connected to this material only by an initial indicated that
this was explosive stuff. I used my Get Smart smarts, "casually"
going for Wite-Out or rubber bands, only to emerge with "J"
tucked inside the waistband of my shorts (apply directly to affected area).
I became the mysterious "J"'s youngest and most devoted acolyte,
training for the day when fate would bring me and Johnny together. "J"
described herself as "a lady in the living room" and "a
marvelous bitch in bed," and that's what I wanted to be. Through
observation of my mother's bridge club, I deduced that ladies wore control
top L'eggs, pencil skirts and white heels (before Labor Day), while they
drank gin and smoked Winstons. Too uncomfortable. I was not cut for lady-hood.
I could, however, see becoming the epitome of the "marvelous bitch,"
dressed in Pucci maxi-dresses, Greek sandals, and Jackie O shades, washing
down Mother's Little Helpers with a snifter of Drambuie. Armed with "J"'s
book, I had all the tools I needed to become a counterculture sexpot.
"J" described herself as having "heavy thighs, lumpy hips,
protruding teeth, a ski jump nose, poor posture, flat feet, and uneven
ears." I had perfect ears, a dancer's posture and plenty of time
for braces; what I didn't have was a clue. But by following "J"'s
Sensuous Woman Program, I could get one. And so, as Johnny earned
his stripes in the paramedic world, I worked diligently toward my womanhood
I sped through Sensuality Exercises One through Three which involved (1)
blindfolding yourself and touching things (feathers, saltines, and the
"unexpected firmness of velveteen," not yourself); (2) closing
your eyes, taking off your shirt and rubbing the aforementioned items
"all over," and: (3) something that involved clean sheets and
an "icy pool" of hand lotion. "J" warned about the
dangers of becoming a narcissist. Translation: "Don't wank too much."
No danger of that, as the remaining chapters focused solely on the care
and feeding of the penis, and suggested for extracurricular reading: How
to Keep Fit After Thirty.
I faithfully "trained like an athlete for the act of love."
Never mind that I had no idea what the "act of love" was. I
was in sixth grade, and St. Paul's School for Girls didn't teach Sex Ed
until seventh, at which point it occupied half of one Science period,
the other half being devoted to fetal pig dissection. The lecture focused
on "falling off the roof," our teacher Mrs. Booze's euphemism
for getting your period, which, being uncomfortable, unsightly, and potentially
odiferous, was undeniably terrifying. The penis could only be worse.
I emerged befuddled from Mrs. Booze's birds/bees/vas deferens lecture
and turned to my friend, Christine.
"You know, in sex, does he actually, you know, put it in? Or do the
-- things, like, swim around till they get to, you know, the place?"
"In. He puts it all the way in."
I sat in sober silence, unsure whether I loved even Mantooth enough to
endure anything that disgusting.
Later, I pondered Tiger Beat, worshipping the centerfold of Mantooth
reclining on his side, eyes burning with the question, "How much
do you really love me?" "Clear!" And my quest to become
the "marvelous bitch" was back on track, even if it necessitated
being split in two by something I couldn't begin to imagine.
I went to work on Sensuality Exercise Number Five -- tongue stretches
-- visualizing Johnny bent over my languid body administering the kiss
of life. Upon revival I would slip him the tongue as only the valedictorian
of the sensuous woman program could. Tongue doing lip-laps per "J"'s
instruction, I paged through the Tiger Beat classifieds.
That's when I noticed it. "Join the Emergency! Fan Club and
receive your personally autographed 8x10 photo." I sprung into action,
swiping one of Dad's business envelopes and an eight cent stamp, stuck
my dollar inside, licked with expert tonguery, and buried the missive
in the outgoing mail.
And so began
thirty-four years of waiting for the mailman.
I rushed to the mailbox every day in anticipation of Randy's arrival,
only to find bills, bank statements and Highlights. I'd been a
fool for sending cash in an envelope, my parents had always warned me
about that. I should have forged a check. I knew how; St. Paul's had covered
check-writing years before the human body.
The yearned-for fan club kit never arrived, and I moved on to new unrequited
loves, ranging from Little Joe on Bonanza, to the boy who played
Charlie Brown opposite my Lucy in the high school musical. Inevitably,
the recurring themes of disappointment and actor-lust led me to move to
New York to become an actress, with fans and stalkers of my own. Boys
came and went, but the sting of Randy's rejection stayed with me.
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.
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
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 the door.
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 less.
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.
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 tricks.
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
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 the flesh.
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.
so I entered Corinth, a plastic Garden of Eden, overrun with silk lilies,
hand painted Astroturf, and cloudless blue cyclorama skies. Here every
hour was magic hour, and Mantooth was king, CEO, and father of the bride,
all rolled into one.
That was when things began to go south. Rather than dispatching me to
Mantooth's side of the church, the stage manager sent me to the groom's
side with the other Jews, truck drivers, and pudgy people. Lamenting my
working class punim, I took my position by the canapés,
and, suddenly, I felt Him near. Slowly, I turned to find myself just a
few feet from Mantooth himself, now aged like a fine, slightly over-tanned
wine. I had done it. By sheer force of imagination, I had transported
myself from my childhood living room into Mantooth's presence.
A fellow extra, Alan, so garden-party-worthy he looked like he'd been
beamed straight out of Greenwich, Connecticut, followed my eye line. "You're
not even blinking. What's up with that?" Overwhelmed by the enormity
of the moment, I gave him the Reader's Digest Condensed version
of my fantasy life, and, to my abject horror, he made a beeline for the
'Tooth. As I watched Alan's mouth move, I prayed to God and Werner Erhard
that whatever he was saying included the words "adorable" and
"hot tamale." Then Alan pointed in my direction.
As I posed "nonchalantly" in my flapper dress and white tights,
stomach sucked in and eyes bugged out, a blowfish at full blow, Mantooth's
eyes met mine. I smiled a smile that said, "Remember Sensuality Exercise
Number Fifteen, The Hoover? That was always your favorite." Mantooth's
look replied, "Who let that in here?" And then he turned
Alan slithered back to me with a look of chagrin.
did you say to him?"
"That you loved him when you were eleven. What's that guy's problem,
anyway?" I knew. I was the human equivalent of carbon dating. I made
him feel like a fossil.
"Did you mention the dollar he owes me?" I blurted.
me ten bucks to get home.
Fast forward seven years to 2007. Loving and Mantooth's career
have long since bitten the dust. I, however, have become a writer for
the soap opera One Life to Live, wrangling my own tribe of white
faux-ristocrats, the Llanview Buchanans, cowboy oilmen who live on the
Main Line, like the Bushes of Connecticut.
In my time on the job, I've executed a man by lethal injection (he survived),
outed the Lieutenant Governor, split a mother and daughter into multiple
personalities with rhyming names, stolen babies, shattered marriages,
and engineered false arrests, a natural disaster, a matched set of mine
collapses, and three organ transplants, two of them successful.
So it is that my fellow writers and I are sitting in a network notes meeting
discussing a white supremacist storyline. We're mulling the character
of the racist's father, when my boss announces, "I just cast Randolph
It's out before I can stop it. Ordinarily, I never utter a word in these
meetings, afraid that if I let down my guard, I may slip and tell the
truth. If the outside world finds out what my insides are saying, I'll
be fired so fast, time will go backwards, taking my bank account with
it. Too late. All heads turn toward me, as my sordid tale spills out:
the 8x10 I've been waiting for since the '70s, the Loving fiasco,
the suppurating psychic wound left by Mantooth's cavalier dismissal of
My confession is met by the same expression previously seen in the mirthless
eyes of Mantooth, his derisive stare salting me like an errant slug. My
outburst is dismissed like the ravings of a garden gnome on crystal meth.
But I refuse to slink off with my tale between my legs. Mantooth owes
me, and one way or another, I will collect.
I visualize the moment Mantooth realizes he now works for me. For
thirty years, I have registered barely a blip on his radar, but soon he
will know me as air traffic control. He's passing through my town.
At this point, I don't even want to meet him. No, I intend to enjoy pulling
his strings from the comfort of my living room. I will prepare a pu-pu
platter of revenge. I am schooled in delicious evil, and I will have my
dollar of flesh.
Mantooth will do what I say, and say what I want.
I'll have him run into the show's matriarch ("Big Mama") in
the hospital waiting room, as her daughter (the one with extra personalities)
undergoes her second liver transplant in as many months. Mantooth will
offer Big Mama ("BM") a cup of hospital coffee; she will respond
with the standard knock at institutional beverages, then accept his kindness.
I know how actors think. This on-screen moment will send Randolph crowing
to the soap press about his upcoming love affair with BM, ending a long
stretch of romantic constipation for her, and heralding a big, fat, contract
for him. He'll start working out, get Botox, and rehearse his devil-may-care
smile till his teeth hurt.
Once Mantooth embraces the idea of steady employment, I will send his
character to jail to take the hit for his racist, arsonist, murderous,
ex-baseball star son. I will write him weeks of scenes in an orange jumpsuit,
letting him believe he's headed for exoneration, high romance, and a daytime
Overconfident Randolph will go out and buy a new car. And as soon as he
drives that baby off the lot, I will kill him -- onscreen, where it's
permanent. Not at the hands of another major player, no. He will be shivved
in the liver at the hands of a prison extra, preferably one with an actual
I will leave him devastated and broke, the way he left me all those years
ago. Who says there is no justice?
revenge never achieves its full bloody bloom. The suits quickly discover
how tough it is to tell a story about racism without minority characters.
They pull the plug, ordering Mantooth iced in a fashion far colder and
more mercenary than any I have imagined: he dies off-camera. I take satisfaction
in writing him out using as few syllables as possible.
Entering the writers' room a few weeks later, I sense something amiss
when my boss actually meets my eyes. My missile shields go up. I reflexively
compliment his Gucci loafers, and he hands me an 8x10 publicity photograph
of Mantooth posed in front of a fire engine with his defibrillator kit.
He has inscribed it: "To Leslie, Love and Kisses, Randolph Mantooth."
I stare at the picture in shock and awe, wanting desperately to feel something.
I've waited for this moment for thirty years. All eyes are on me, awaiting
my response. And that's when the "marvelous bitch" inside me
slips and tells the truth.
"Thanks, but I'd rather have my dollar back."
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