Sit-Com Life Lessons

Nearly every day for the last few weeks, I’ve been engulfed in a strange pastime that’s so unlike me. I’ve binge-watched a TV show. I get these red envelopes in the mail and sit for hours watching each disc’s six to eight episodes. I’m closing in on the seventh and final season and already feel sad to see it end.

It’s Parks and Recreation, an off the air situation comedy that takes place in the imaginary, small town of Pawnee, Indiana. It nails the foibles of small town living and the slow-moving behemoth of government offices all across the land.

The cast of characters are the most seriously flawed specimens of humanity I’ve ever encountered. But let me be clear; I care deeply about each one of them. And isn’t that a writer’s special talent, to create characters who drive us crazy with their quirks but who we love anyway.

Leslie and Ron are the foundation of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Ron is the boss who hides in his office thinking only about his woodworking passion. He hates government and it shows in his every action. Or mostly by his non-action. Leslie is the doer, the queen of three ring binders for whom no problem is without a solution.  She does all the work and Ron takes all the credit.

Ann and Chris struggle with their on again off again relationship; it’s mostly off because Ann can’t abide his excessively “the glass is half full” mind-set. His attitude is really more “the glass is over flowing with never ending love and kindness. ” Which makes Ann wonder if it’s too good to be true.

Andy and April appear to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, especially in the work ethic area. April becomes Ron’s assistant and her only duty is to provide an impenetrable shield against anyone who dares try entering Ron’s office. Andy is promoted from shoe shine operator to low level security guard. Both jobs are in the court house so his ineptness is central to nearly every episode.

Tom is a pseudo-entrepreneur whose next great idea is worse than the last one. His long list of failures and his eternal optimism only endears him more. Then there’s Jerry. While by far the mist pathetic, he is the most recognizable. We all know these types who blend into the woodwork or are always the brunt of the cruel office joke. Jerry takes it all in and still smiles.

As I watched, I often laughed out loud. Then I began to think this program is both light and funny and also deep and moving. Even the finale was unusual by fast forwarding about ten years and show how everyone’s life turned out. And they all did great.

The universality of the story grabbed me. I knew real people just like them Every day, regular people struggling through each day. In the end, their strengths came shining through. Leslie’s organizational skills got her a big job. Ron retired, as he should, to his woodworking sanctum. Tom finally made a really big deal and April and Andy settled down to have kids and be happy.

Jerry turned out to be the real hero. His quiet demeaner and common sense saved the day and his ability to forgive and forget showed the quality of the man. Why was I so hooked, I wondered? Then flashbacks from the past emerged and it was clear. I’d lived these stories.

The hinterlands of Bessemer, Michigan and Eagle River, Wisconsin rushed in. These are places I’d moved to at the behest of two separate husbands. Small, isolated towns. Backward, government jobs.  The characters of Parks and Recreation had lived there too. Under different names and with slightly altered histories. But the dynamics were oh so familiar.

I could now laugh knowingly at the mechanics of surviving the years it took for locals to finally offer a hello. Not take it personal, being ignored in public places and not invited to join. Finally accepting that the worst thing to say is “in (name the big city) we did it this way.”  I learned some valuable lessons and see these times as an adventure. But mostly, I can laugh because I’m no longer there.


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