"Faye, I'm not your assistant anymore."
Faye was on her fifth temp in fourteen months, a sweet woman who had made the mistake of wearing a plastic tortoise-shell headband to her first day of work.
"I don't want that girl coming in here," Faye whispered, an inch-long ash breaking off her cigarette and landing on her Palm Pilot. "I'm serious. It messes up the feng shui thing in here."
The prospect of the show's moving in a serious, more humanitarian direction slightly abated my dismay over the hopelessness of getting a raise. I went to my desk and did an Internet search on drug rehab facilities in the Midwest. I then left messages with twelve clinic receptionists in places like Missouri, South Dakota, and Kansas, seven of whom were themselves in recovery and wanted to discuss their drug abuse at length. These discussions effectively completed my preliminary research. I rewrote Faye's memo and then typed up my own.
To: Up Early staff
From: Lucinda Trout
Re: Methamphetamine: It's Cheap, It's a Quick High, and It's Endangering Women's Lives
Methamphetamine, also known as crank, speed, ice, amp, blue belly, white cross, white crunch, albino poo, al tweakened long, beegokes, and bikerdope, among other slang terms, is a powerful psychostimulant that causes increased energy, appetite suppression, insomnia, and, when used over a long period of time, permanent brain damage and possibly death. Once associated with railroad construction and factory workers, meth is now the only drug in the United States that is abused more readily by women than by men. Today it has reached a purity level that makes it up to 80 times more powerful than the crystal meth of the 1960s and 70s. Labs are often set up in abandoned farmhouses, where the putrid odor of the chemicals (which include common household products and agricultural fertilizers) can go undetected. This story will contain in-depth interviews with articulate, wholesome-looking women who found themselves sucked into the vortex of drug abuse and despair. I also envision long shots of cornfields and big sky (evocative of the paintings of Andrew Wyeth) with slow pans (underscored by Aaron Coplandesque music) across rustic farmhouses that belie the illicit debauchery festering inside.
The first person to call me back was Sue Lugenbeel. She was from some place called Prairie City and ran something called the Prairie City Recovery Center for Women. She said she had subjects for me. They would talk and appear on camera. She really wanted to help get the message out.
If only I had been away from my desk when Sue Lugenbeel called. If only the first clinic director to return my call had been some no-personality lout from some shabby town that I'd actually heard of and was therefore less exotic. But no. It was Sue. In Prairie City. I was on a plane with a cameraman the next morning. And from there began the end of my life as I'd known it.
From The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum. Copyright Meghan Daum 2003. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher Viking Press.
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