Off the clock with The Checkout Girl: What’chu talkin’ ’bout?

Child actors are an interesting bunch. At a time when they are too young to understand or enjoy it fully, they are adored by the world. Then, when the adorable becomes acne-ridden and the bowl cut become greasy with adolescence, they are tossed aside for the next big (small) thing.

Child actors are an interesting bunch. At a time when they are too young to understand or enjoy it fully, they are adored by the world. Then, when the adorable becomes acne-ridden and the bowl cut become greasy with adolescence, they are tossed aside for the next big (small) thing. Their 15 minutes comes early and, sometimes, it’s all they get. Nerds ain’t invented a time machine yet, so they are left with the choice of either sitting around and talking about it for the rest of their lives like some dang Bruce Springsteen song or getting on with grown-up life. My advice: go to college, find another talent, have your breasts surgically reduced or your nose made less ethnic looking. Change or die, Opie.

As it turns out, the fun size star of Diff’rent Strokes and one-time candidate for Governor of California (beaten by the only more ridiculous person to run, by the way), Gary Coleman, had trouble choosing between the change and the die and ended up with a death that was no less bizarre than his life. Not plagued by addictions, like some who were millionaires before they got their first pube, he battled with his parents over money, had constant legal problems, was plagued by a lifetime of kidney and heart problems, and was a close friend of The Sads, twice attempting suicide.

A few days ago, a 911 call was released, allowing the world to hear the five minutes or so between Gary Coleman’s mysterious fall at his home about a week ago and the ambulance’s arrival. He would live for two more days in the hospital before passing away from his head injury. The behavior of his ex-wife, Shannon Price (they had quietly gotten divorced just a year after being married but, two years later, still lived together), who made the emergency call, is like something out of a bad dream. You know the dream you have where Gary Coleman is bleeding profusely and you try to help but can’t make yourself care? Just me? Nevermind, then.

After all of the “What’s your emergency” biz, she starts out dramatically. She says that she asked him to make her something to eat and then, “I heard this big bang, I went downstairs. Blood everywhere. I don’t know if he’s okay. I’m not down there right now because I have a fever, if I get stressed out I’m going to faint.” Oh, hey, Scarlett O’Hara, someone is bleeding to death ON YOUR FLOOR. Don’t get stressed out or anything. I guess the good news is, if you DO faint from stress there is already an ambulance on the way.

Then, when asked by the 911 operator, “Is there any way you can go down there at all?” she replied, “I’ll try, I don’t know, I mean…” and follows up with, “I’ve just been kind of sick. I don’t want to be traumatized right now.” Stress, fainting, AND trauma? What is this, an emergency or an episode of Days Of Our Lives? Will he die then seem to come back from the dead but you find out later that he really WAS gone and the second, resurrected him was really the first him’s identical twin? No. Except maybe the dying part. None of us want to be traumatized, but life is traumatic. Sometimes, I’ve already washed my hair but then reach for the conditioner and it’s empty. Sometimes, I’ve already prepared my mouth but then reach for the cheese and it’s gone. Trauma. Still, I rarely leave people to bleed on my floor.

Finally, after much prompting from the operator, she yells to the other room, “Gary, are you okay? … Stay where you are.” Then tells him, “Gary, you have to put pressure on your wound.” Perfect. If he could only heal himself. Wait! He played an angel in “The Gary Coleman Show,” a totally not hilarious cartoon about earning your wings. Maybe, just maybe, the ex-wife was on to something. And maybe, just maybe, she really is as unhelpful as she seems here.

Next, she seems sort of human, saying, “Yeah, I’m just panicked. I don’t know what to do… I just don’t want him to die. I’m freaking out.” Me, too. From listening to this audio. At one point she indicates to the operator that the dog was bothering him but she’s got a hold of it now. Great.

She finally goes nearer to where he has been injured. You can hear that she’s still a fair distance away by the volume and tone of her voice. It sounds like she tosses a towel or something over to him. “You have to put this on your head … Keep pressure on this, ok, hold this. You need to sit down. Sit down! Gary, sit down!” But, as quickly as her Fight kicked in, her Flight comes back and you hear her making vomiting noises. “I’m gagging, I got blood on myself, I can’t deal.”

The ambulance arrives, and the call is over. She doesn’t have to deal anymore and, two days later, she is the one who makes the end of life decision for him. A sad ending for someone who just kept trying to get a (tiny) leg up his whole life.

I like to think that, when they die, child actors get fifteen more minutes and they know enough this time around to spend them wisely. As for Gary Coleman, I picture him finally earning his wings and flying up to heaven, demanding to know, “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, God?”

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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