Friday, March 9, 2012

Do Firefighters do God's work?

Was I doing God’s work? I have been asked this question about my firefighting career and the answer seems simple, yes. But maybe it isn’t that easy. Why would God pick a miserable, unworthy, alcoholic to do his work?

No man or woman can ever know the mind of God I know that. I have had many conversations with God about this over the years. I know I talked with him often when what I was doing was important to me, but was it important Him?

I remember one Christmas morning in a beautiful home with the whole family gathered for the opening of presents and I was there doing CPR on the grandmother under the tree.

I remember the surrealness of it. The setting was right out of a Hallmark calendar. Myself I had spent that morning with my own family doing the exact same thing this family was doing but here I am trying my best to do all the advanced medical procedures I know on grandma.

I had a habit of praying to God under these conditions. Silently of course, didn’t want to spook the boys with overt praying (sorry about that God) on a call. So I would ask God are you going to help on this one? The outcome did and at the same time didn’t rest with me.

He would give clues though in small ways. Dead people and that’s what you are when you have no pulse and aren’t breathing, dead, are very difficult to get IVs on. The absence of a heartbeat flattens out a person’s blood vessels making the insertion of an IV needle very hard.

I had a reputation of being able to get those sticks when others couldn’t and I believe that was the direct result of my conversations with the almighty. I would once again silently pray that if it was His will that I get an IV then I’d get it and if it was my patients turn to board the heaven bus, I wouldn’t.

So was I doing God’s work? I have no idea. Over the course of my career I was a firsthand witness to those boarding the bus and never got used to it. It was like being the ticket agent for a flight you knew was going to crash. You still took the tickets and wished the passengers well. Buh bye.

I delivered nine healthy babies during my career and regular readers know that. I have never mentioned the many times it wasn’t a healthy baby. There were more deliveries than nine but only nine successful births.

So when that happened I didn’t question God on why that happened, I had to turn my focus to the living, the survivors. Only years later and many gallons of vodka later did I realize that I too was a survivor of those events.

I would drink and wonder why did I end up in this job? Why me, I never wanted to be a firefighter. Did God pick me and if he did why? Why did I have to see this stuff? Why did I have to listen to the anguished cries of the survivors and yet no one heard mine?

Probably because my screams were as silent as my prayers, they were private not for public consumption. Now I’m not saying I was hand selected by God to be a firefighter but God does have a way of picking losers to be his agents, and I did feel like a loser for much of my life.

God has a strange roster of losers he has worked with, and once again I am not claiming divine selection or placing myself in the direct company of those listed below, just saying God makes strange choices.
Noah got drunk.
Abraham lied about his wife.
Sarah laughed at God.
Jacob was a deceiver.
Samson had serious anger management issues.
David was an adulterer and a murderer.
Elijah struggled with depression.
Peter denied Christ.
Paul was Saul.
Paul said it best:
“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God."  ” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28 MSG)

Did I do God’s work? Perhaps and am now finding that my chances to continue still exist.
I’ll return to fun stories next week, promise.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Be very careful what you ask a Firefighter.

Be warned this one isn’t an easy read, so think about it before reading.

People ask firefighters strange questions. Bet you didn’t know that. Even friends and family that have known us for years will ask. I would be at a Christmas party or a summer BBQ or a school function for the kids and it would happen.

“Hey TimO. Can I ask you a question?” I knew what was coming most of the time. The people, mostly men, wanted to ask questions that they thought they knew the answer to. A question that would somehow empower them as men.

When you are the “Fireman” at a party of mere mortal men, for some reason, that is male solely, you are perceived by many of the other males as the alpha, and at most non-fire department related gatherings you are the default alpha.

The rest of the pack doesn’t get to run free like a firefighter does. They live and work in much gentler worlds where the social order isn’t determined by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Thus when influenced by an abundance of malted beverages and the hazy smells of fertile women that mostly dormant male gene awakens. Maybe his wife removed his man parts from the jar and allowed him to bring them to the party with him for a change, I don’t know.

What I do know is this kind of man invigorated by fresh air and a sudden rush of drunken testosterone feels the need to test his mettle against that of his perceived oppressor.

For most settings his wish wasn’t to be aggressive in a physical way, no, he wanted to show that given different variables he too could have been a firefighter, no big deal being a firefighter, and if I was a flame warrior then hell anyone could do it.

They knew me, I was nothing special and that pissed them off. They hated that the women adore their boys in blue and would constantly flirt with me and give me drive-bys just because of my job. Well damn they had hard jobs too; maybe they didn’t run into burning buildings like me, but in their fantasy worlds, in that tiny part of their brain where some maleness still lived, they knew they could do my job.

They knew given the right circumstances they would be a hero too. They knew if they were walking down a sidewalk and suddenly saw a house on fire that they would run in there and stumble out moments later dirty and blackened with a grateful child tucked under each arm.

All they needed was that chance to prove themselves men of the highest order, real men. They needed to believe that if things were different they wouldn’t be the societal eunuchs they knew themselves to be. This powerlessness and the three shots of Jack they had drank gave them the courage to ask me a question.

“You must see some crazy stuff huh?”
“Yeah I’ve seen some crazy stuff.”
And here it would come, give me your best shot, give me the gruesome details of life on the streets TimO, I can take it I’m a man too.
“Like what?” Most of the time I didn’t want to engage them like this. I knew the drill, I’d done it before.
“You don’t want to know that stuff Bob.”
“Yeah TimO I do.” First off I didn’t like being called TimO by those that hadn’t earned the right to call me TimO and it had to be earned.
In my youth I had made the mistake of calling a very senior fire captain by his nickname “Billy MaC” one day. He stopped dead in his tracks and swung around to face me.
“What did you call kid?” his face was red at the asking.
“Sorry Cap” I managed as I stumbled backwards at his approach. He dug a finger deep in my chest.
“You haven’t earned the privilege of calling me by that name. I’ll let you know if you ever do earn it.” He removed his finger and held me eyes for a few painful heartbeats. Then he walked away. I am proud to say I did get to call him Billy MaC years later.

“You know Bob, we firefighters deal with that crap all the time at work and I really don’t like talking shop on my days off.”

“Oh come on TimO, just give me an example.” It was always the little guys too. I thought of the movie Cool Hand Luke and the prison warden’s speech to Paul Newman.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it. Well he gets it.” love that movie.

“Okay Bob, you have kids right?”
“Remember when they were toddlers and get away from you?”
“Of course happens all the time.”
“Okay, now imagine you aren’t sure where your toddler is one day. At the same you are wondering where the kid is you remember you need to move your car a few feet so you can get your lawnmower out of the garage. You jump in the car and back up two feet, on the third foot you hear a strange noise so you stop and get out of the car and there under your back wheels is that kid’s head. And she is still alive, you call 911 and when I get there you hand me your kid to save her. How about that Bob? Is that what you wanted to hear?”

His face curled in horror and I watched him as he vomited his hot dogs and beer. He never asked me what it was like to do my job again.

I don’t tell you this to horrify you, I tell you so you might know what we do isn’t always glorious. It has a cost and the men and women that wear these badges pay it. So if a rescue worker doesn’t want to talk shop at the Fourth of July party, don’t push them. Okay?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Firefighter out of water cont.

The boys were a bit disappointed that I had acted on my own; after all we were in this together.
“No “we” aren’t in this together guys, this is me trying to restart a part of my life. I appreciate all your help, but I’m going on date, or a meet and great or whatever it’s called now, and I’m going by myself, no Cyrano de Bergerac stuff.”

Blank stares at the Cyrano remark.
“Cyrano de Bergerac, remember the movie with Steve Martin, Roxanne? When he was a fire chief with the big nose?”
“Yeah.” They all nodded with understanding it did have firefighters in it after all and Daryl Hanna.
“That’s Cyrano de Bergerac, when he helps the dumb guy try and seduce Daryl Hanna, remember with the deer hunter hat on and he’s telling him what to say so he can get the girl? Remember?”
“Yeah.” They were following.
“Okay, so you guys don’t get to go with me and hide in the bushes and watch.”
They were all a little let down. I don’t think they really thought they would get to go, but they also hadn’t thought that they didn’t get to go.
“But you will tell us, right? How it goes?” asked Dave.
“Yeah we will have a full critique, I still need your help guys.”
The appointed day came and I prepared to meet a stranger for coffee. I had devoted quite a bit of mental time to how I would go about this, how to dress, what topics to explore, could I make her laugh and so forth.

I had not read a single woman’s profile that didn’t highlight the fact that every woman walking the face of the earth desires a man that can make them laugh.

Now I had had a pretty good run at stand-up comedy in the mid 80s, I had performed for about three years and was making a place for myself in that world. I had been in shows with Rosanne Barr (even gave her rides once or twice), played basketball with Sinbad, gotten high with some others you would know, so I knew I could make people laugh.

But that career had ended when my first wife made me choose between comedy and her. Stupid me I picked her. The point I’m trying to make is that doing stand-up is premeditated, I had all that humor rehearsed and new the material well.

Slipping humor into a conversation on the fly is a skill as well I believe. But that skill had been stifled in the seriousness of my divorce, I didn’t feel so funny anymore. The atomic bomb that was my ex-wife had eradiated my funny bone to the point of malignancy, and now like an organ grinders monkey I had to go be funny. Self gratification sounded more appealing, than self flagellation at that point.

I went. It was a nice sunny day so sitting outside sounded good. My “staff” had advised me to get there early and buy my own coffee.
“Never buy the chick her coffee TimO it just isn’t done that way anymore. She needs to buy her own, makes ‘em feel powerful” Advised Hatchet.
“Oh and sit where you can see her come in but she can’t see you. Then if she lied and weighs like 300 pounds and used 10 year old pictures, you can just slip away unnoticed.” Added Dave.
It all sounded reasonable to me. So I did as told. I don’t believe you can be more uncomfortable in what is supposed to be a good time, than this. Every time the door opened I did a prairie dog bob-up, to see if it was her. Not obvious at all.

She had offered to wear a red dress to help identify her arrival, so anything red made me feel like a bull in the ring, I immediately became hyperaware of that color, red cars, stop signs in the parking lot, red shoes. I began to sweat and feeling damp made me think to just run, I didn’t need this.

“Hey.” Said the young woman that brought me my coffee.
“Mr. Casey, right?”
“Yeah.” I knew the face but couldn’t place it with my scrambled mind. She extended her hand to me.
“Shannon, you are friends with my dad Todd?” Shannon had grown up.
“Yeah right, Shannon, how’s your dad?”
“He’s great. How are you, I heard about your…”
“Yeah.” She showed the proper amount of remorse for my situation.
“I gotta get back to work.”
“Okay, thanks for saying hi, and tell your dad to call me.”
“I will Mr. Casey. Nice to see you.”
As she stepped away my eyes refocused on a red dress she had been obscuring. The perfect Hollywood reveal. She was at the counter ordering. I was compelled to do the guy thing.

You women may do the same thing I don’t know, what I do know is the mind of men and firemen more precisely. A check list is rapidly moved through in our minds. First, an overall observation is made, a quick head to toe survey, to determine if we will consider you for a sex partner.

Sounds crude, but is factual none the less. She passed the test. So no need to slip away like a snake. Shannon’s distraction had somehow calmed my mind and grounded me, I felt at ease.

Kim was her name and I should have known just at the hard “C” of her name this was a mistake. Not until that moment did I remember both of my wives names had started with a hard “C” sound. I was cursed.

She turned away from the counter and scanned the room. I stood and gave her a wave, she smiled brightly and made her way over to me. I stuck out my hand and she took it.
“Yes and I’m sure you are Kim. Red dress gave you away.” She smiled again.
“Wanna go outside and visit?” I asked.
“Beautiful morning, of course, let’s go.”
I took the lead so I could get the door for her. I might not have purchased her coffee, but I’m still a gentleman and always open doors for any lady.
1000 words, I’ll pick it up again tomorrow.