Firefighters have to be cautious about how they show weakness in the fire house. I don’t mean physical weakness, although that will become self evident after awhile, I mean weakness of mind, body, or spirit.
Any weakness will be exploited by your co-workers as a tool for torment, entertainment, and sabotage. Firefighters will pry, dig, and investigate your defenses over and over until they find that “thing” that one little defect in your character that bugs you.
Once located the “thing” will be explored, much in the same way an enemy force uses small reconnaissance units to probe a foe’s defenses, firefighters will, at first test their discovery for its true depth.
Being aware of this proclivity in firefighters, I as a newbie decided that rather than have my true weaknesses reveled, I would offer up a false irritant to my tormentor as a distraction and as a way to play the game on my terms.
The member of my crew with the job description of Grand Inquisitor was none other than my old buddy Billy-Bob. I believe this is where our dysfunctional relationship first took root and 25 years later was still rocky at best.
Billy-Bob being the country bumpkin he was found himself chronically surrounded by city slickers. Refined people, educated people, people that used a knife and fork to eat, and people that only used toilet paper once and then threw it away.
We used to say that somewhere in America there was a village desperately searching for their idiot and that we had him, all they had to do was contact us and we would gladly pay for his bus ticket back to whence he came. Billy-Bob didn’t like me right from the beginning, probably because of my vocabulary, I had a tendency to use big words like “it” and “the” correctly in my sentences which frustrated him.
Billy made it his mission to try and find the character defect I possessed that he could exploit for the purpose of torment. He was very stealthy for a big man and his subtle ways made his actions nearly impossible to detect.
While we were eating lunch one afternoon he made his approach.
“What bugs you kid?” he asked.
Having not yet suffered the many lessons I was to acquire over my career in dealing with the not so nimble minded I quickly and without looking at the long term consequences of my actions answered. If you recall the events that lead me to becoming a firefighter in the first place, it was based on shooting my mouth off to a previous employer.
“Well Billy-Bob, I guess world hunger and man’s inhumanity to man, bothers me. I’m frustrated that the Peter Principle is in fact true, and what really gets me is that in society today being well read means you have subscription to People magazine and the National Enquirer.”
He sat there blinking his eyes between shovel full loads of enchiladas.
“You being smart with me kid? Cause you are still on probation and I do have some input with the captain on your evaluations. Right Cap?”
Captain Tubby was reading one of his Louis L'Amour novels there at the table. Without looking up from his paperback Captain Tubby answered.
“Whatever you say Billy.”
“See kid. So without being a smartass tell me, what bugs you, really?”
I took a quick bite of enchilada and used a mouthful of food as an excuse not to talk for a moment. I had a choice to continue showing off with the Hillbilly or to provide a satisfactory answer that would allow him to win and for me to survive.
“Okay Billy, I’ll tell you what really bugs me. That damn country music you keep blasting all day long on the radio. There are other people that work here that might want a little variety in their musical selections.”
In those days the rules on TV viewing were much stricter than they are today. Back then the TV was only on after 5:00 PM and on weekends. So most firehouses had a centrally located radio that provided background noise during the day.
Billy-Bob being the old bull insisted that the radio be tuned to both kinds of music, country and western all day long. What I told Billy-Bob was a lie; in fact I had grown up on country music as my father had a country band, Clyde Casey and the Trail Riders performed all summer long at a tourist venue in the Garden of the Gods, and had cut a few albums as well.
I was a stagehand, worked the spot lights, and set up the mics for sound checks all summer long. I can’t say I was still a huge fan of country music but it sure wasn’t water boarding when it came to a form of torture. But it was a sufficient enough answer to give Billy a course of action to pursue.
“Is that so? The new kid doesn’t like my music. Well maybe I can help you learn to love the only true music for real Americans.”
And with that Billy-Bob made sure the radio was tuned at all times to the local country station. We did engage in a battle once or twice over the radio station for the next few weeks. As the new guy I pretty much had to do the dishes after every meal by myself, no dishwasher back then.
I held the position that if I was doing the dishes, I could at least be allowed to change the station while I was working and everybody else was having their afternoon naps.
So when the crew retired to the lounge for their siesta I would lower the volume on the radio and change the station. I got away with it once or twice but it would inevitably be discovered by Billy-Bob and with a lecture from Billy the station would be switched back to country.
This went on for months, and I have to say the false character defect I provided to Billy satisfied his desire to screw with me. Then one day he busted me singing along to a popular song.
“What are you doing there new guy?” he said.
“What?” I answered.
“You’re singing along. I thought you hated this stuff?”
He had me cornered for a second as I did like the song and knew all the lyrics.
“You know what it is Billy; you have made me listen to so much of this shit it’s rubbed off on me.” He grinned a huge grin.
“Well we’ll have to do something about that then won’t we?” He turned up the volume and walked out of the room.