Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rescue Me

Lately I’ve been fascinated with the series Rescue Me, a long running show on FX starring Dennis Leary as an alcoholic New York fireman best by family ills, ghosts and the after-effects of 9/11.

It’s rare for me to get sucked into a TV show. The last thing I watched with any consistency was Seinfeld which I considered to be the best America had to offer anyone in decades. I went through a small Sex in the City period before deciding I really, really find Carrie unappealing; she embodies just about everything I dislike.

So, incidentally, does Leary, whose Tommy Gavin, firefighter extraordinaire, is a cheat, a liar, a drunk, a shameless womanizer whose propensity for violence is never very deeply beneath the surface. Gavin’s life is a dance of falsehoods. No one, not even he, is capable of breaching the wall of hypocrisy he has created. His struggle to merely survive is epic in proportion, yet survive he does, haphazardly avoiding death and dismemberment in fires and relationships.

His courage as a firefighter is never in doubt, but one wonders if it’s suicidally driven, whether he wants to join the 343 brothers-in-profession who died in the Twin Towers. His rescues of hapless citizens trapped behind walls of fire are always about him, never about the rescued. He constantly defies orders, talks to dead people, converses with Jesus and Mary Magdalene, drinks, joins AA, relapses, sinks to greater depths. His wife leaves him, taking his children. He chases them cross country without getting them back.

In short, he’s a fascinatingly built personality, one of the best one television has today, and flawed characters are always more appealing than perfect ones. Women find him hot. His alcoholic behavior is so typical of those with the disease that it becomes almost foretellable. Anyone who has spent some time in the rooms of AA has met a Tommy Gavin, has heard his stories, witnessed his tragedies and shaken his head in disbelief. When will this guy hit his bottom? Will he ever get straight or will he die first? With Tommy Gavin, the question is never far from mind. He portrays the resourcefulness that enables practicing alcoholics to survive, sometimes for decades, sometimes for lifetimes. He manipulates time, space and others with the skill of a juggler and his charm is pure magic.

Long ago I used to attend an AA meeting strictly for the helping professions—cops, firemen, counselors and nurses. The talk before and after the meetings was all bravado and cockiness, and I ceased going there after a while because it was obvious that my binging and misbehaviors had not been of the epic proportions talked about by the others. I felt strangely lacking, a drunk who didn’t fit in well with the heroes around the room.  Now I’m grateful that my alcoholism was garden variety. No flames, no fire-axes, no valor or great courage. I’d make a terrible drunk fireman, or cop, or nurse, and thank heaven for that…   

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