Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blogger's Block


My thoughts aren't very organized lately. Not sure why. Maybe the change of seasons has me off-track. Maybe its the election, the disruption of my exercise schedule, this new laundry detergent. I mean, I had a couple of days there where it was five or six hours past when I was supposed to take medication that is supposed to be taken IN THE MORNING (caps on the instructions) and preferably at the same time every day. I woke up from a dream this morning wherein I was back in college, although not exactly, though with friends from college, feeling this vague ennui coupled with a fear that I didn't actually graduate, but wait, they gave me that diploma, did I have enough credits? Were they humoring me? This morphed quickly into some sort of Bollywood film that I was both watching and participating in, and then They (not the Indians, another more sinister 'They..not that Indians are sinister, more that the first They were not sinister and the second They were. Oh, you know what I mean.) were after me because I was One of Them (too much 'Heroes', I guess) but they couldn't tell if I was Good or Bad.

Take your meds as prescribed, people.

Fleeting bits of humor drift through my transom while I'm driving, but nothing cohesive. After several weeks of bland customers, almost boring in their uniformity of wealth, I had a customer who had carpeted his driveway (indoor/outdoor, burgundy, very tasteful) and whose house was full of neo-classical Greek statuary but he and his sons (twins; 42-ish, still and always living at home) were so sweet and kind I couldn't spin a catalogue of weirdness out of it, try as I might. We talked about everything (over mugs of grape juice) from his wife's flea marketing habits to Alexander the Great to a fatal electrocution they witnessed 20 yards from their house. They sent me home with gifts; two large pink plastic hair clips and a framed print of The Last Supper, which I promised to hang. (And will hang, in my kitchen, with apologies to Himself, your parents have had the same giant portrait of a deer in their living room for 30 years. You can adapt.)

I took a couple of extra duty sections this week, I'm ten calls away from 100 in a year and grabbing a weekend here and there frequently enables you to practice skills that are not called upon on Wednesday nights. But I guess I need to back up.

It has come up now and again, in passing, in the comments section of other people's blogs, that I am a firefighter and an EMT. I have never talked about it much, in fact, I set up a separate blog for it, because about 95% of the time, stuff that happens is not funny. And this is a humor blog, si? Okay, once in a while it is funny. Drunk people (not the dead kind) are funny. Sometimes, crazy people (not the dangerous kind) are funny, but even that is treading on shaky ground. For every person who'd get a chuckle out of my responding to a full-blown psychiatric emergency on 'Dickens of a Christmas' festival day, all decked out in my best imitation Mrs Cratchit complete with elaborate Victorian hairdo, and no doubt heartily contributing to said patient's psychiatric emergency, there is someone who has been there, has coaxed a bug-eyed relative out of the barricade fashioned out of dining room furniture, full of the same assurances we had, that the neighbors are not trying to poison her because they secretly hate retired math teachers. So I'm basically left with the first time I ever responded to a fire call, wherein I fell over and banged my head on a forty year old engine parked across from my locker while trying to get into my boots, and got left behind in the empty garage littered with hastily cast off sneakers and workboots, lone witness to some sort of municipal rapture.

There is a unique brand of juvenile hilarity that one participates in, doing this job. A bystander, likely a pinched-up one who doesn't laugh at much, might call it immature. A rough game of king of the hill played on the snow piled at the corner, across from the firehouse, the guys looking like overgrown children, cigarettes dangling as they tumble down, laughing and swearing. Practical jokes where carelessly parked bicycles are lashed to chains, winched into the rafters, where they dangle over the head of the clueless owner who is endlessly talking, not seeing. "Shit, that was funny. Remember the time....." and the story is told. We need this. The same guy who does a maneuver he calls 'Fat Guy Freestyle'-- a crazily awkward but surprisingly high side-vault with a clicking of the heels off the end of a stretcher, a railing, with points given for a flash of buttcrack, can also tell you about the patient so badly tangled in a wrecked car it took an hour and a half to extricate her, mostly intact, her broken legs folded up over her shoulders. Half an hour of wisecracking in a circle in the garage might seem like a waste of time, but we need it. Then I can go home and do The Ritual.

Its simple; dead patient, gotta wash my jacket. The death doesn't have to be messy. It doesn't have to Get On Me. But if it happens; if there is talk of lividity, that low, animal wail from the living room when the relatives are given the 'Nothing More We Can Do' speech, the turning off of monitors, phone calls to county for the cadre of cleaners-up, I know I'm going to do it. I go home, peel off all the layers, clean out my pockets, zip it up, and throw it in the wash. There is an element of relief, of 'There, that's over'. It comes out of the dryer soft, its navy surface uniformly dark and reassuring. All is reset to zero, the good zero, the 'time to try again' zero, not the 'asystole on two leads/no response/ 1-1-1 on the Glasgow scale' kind of zero.

Suicides kind of mess up my schedule. I want to write about how nice the leaves are, with pictures. I want to muse on why I keep inadvertently running over squirrels. I toy with sly and amusing political humor, ultimately rejecting it in favor of keeping things non-partisan here in my little corner of the northern outpost. But Saturday morning at 2:35am I knew it was going to be another jacket washing day and I was right. I'll write about it later. (On the other blog, where the dark and heavy stuff usually goes when my boundaries aren't all blurry like they are today.)

Just this, and I'll leave you with it. You are out in the world, wherever you happen to be, surrounded by people who are fragile as crystal and carrying heavy burdens. Be kind to them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Possible Evidence I May Need to Up My Dosage

I just re-read this email I sent to a friend in response to her confirming plans for a weekend away over Columbus Day 2009. I'm not sure if the caffiene or the pharmaceuticals are to blame.

And its a time of year when I shouldn't have any trouble taking vacation
days, so even though it isn't a real holiday I can still take off. (I mean, a
real holiday where we get off. Though really, its not a real holiday. Because
who gives a damn about Christopher Columbus and his discovery of someplace
other than here that he found by accident when he was looking for something else
and thought he was there anyway for a minute because his navigational equipment
sucked but then people didn't look Indian at least not the way he expected
but he figured, hell, there's good crap I can steal here anyway. Except maybe
the Italians. They care. Not sure why. I guess they didn't get a cool saint to
have a drunken holiday over like we did. I mean, they have the saints. But none
of them inspire binge drinking and public urination. Thirteen year old martyred
virgins are kind of a parade-downer.)


Friday, September 12, 2008

The Day After

I have been running this week and not in the office much, today I spent my lunch hour hunched over a bowl of ramen and a magazine wishing away a sinus headache, with lots of bloggy-bits whirling around my head, nothing cohesive. I wanted to write a 9/11 post, in fact, I composed one in my head, and all the images of that day so overwhelmed me that I never got it written.

Every time I go to tell the story it starts out "I remember that it was a perfect day". Perfect, blue sky, no clouds, perfect temperature. After the stunned silence of the workday (I only got one phone call all day, from a woman in Japan who hadn't heard what happened yet.) I drove home, peering up at the perfect, empty sky. I absentmindedly missed my turn home and pulled into a convenience store for a drink and a pack of gum. The clerk at the counter looked at me and said, "Are you all right?" I knew what she meant. I just didn't know the answer.

Himself was at a school board meeting, which was held despite the events of the day. I sat transfixed watching CNN until I couldn't do it anymore. My grandmother called. "Just checking on all of my chicks," she said. After that I left the house, no destination in mind, just the desire not to be alone. I went to church even though evening Mass was over an hour before. When I yanked open the doors, the place was packed. A priest was walking up and down the center aisle, reading the Bible, flipping the pages, reading what came to him, comforting who could be comforted. I sat and cried with strangers.

We've all had those losses where, at least in your own world, time stops and you wonder how everyone else can just go on when someone you loved is gone. Only we all stopped. I remember wondering when it would be okay to laugh again.

On September 14th I went to Red Bank, New Jersey to visit a friend. As I drove up the Garden State Parkway the sky glowed purple as the sun went down. I thought of the brilliant sunsets that follow a volcanic eruption. In Red Bank, the sidewalk was lined with candles, flowers, and pictures. Some of the pictures had 'MISSING' written with black marker across the top, cell phone numbers. People stood hugging their own arms, in silence. For once, the question 'Who is my neighbor?' had an obvious answer. The next morning my friend Ann said,"I hope you don't think its morbid, but I just have to look." We drove out that cloudless Saturday to Atlantic Highlands and joined the others that had gathered silently on the pier, squinting through binoculars at the cranes that moved rubble, searching. Smoke still rose from the gray chaos. In church on Sunday in Middletown (a town that lost some thirty people) the pastor asked everyone who was returning to Manhattan for the first time the nextmorning to stand up. There were people standing in every pew. We prayed for them.

We've had a lot of time to attach all kinds of meaning to what happened, and what that day showed we were made of. But sometimes I wish we could hold on to those precious hours where it wasn't about politics or flags or defiance, but the realization that no matter our color or heritage or economics, we were one family who lost, one family who hurt, one family who loved, and one family who reached out and, for a little while, beautifully, held each other up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

One More Step Toward Bleak Midwinter


Summer's over. I know we will probably have a few more weeks of summerlike niceness, but when the months end in 'ber', for me, the summer is over. I took a break from the computer this weekend to try to suck up as much blue sky and fresh air as I could hold, in some vain hope that when I get to that dead gray middle of February when I want to run screaming through town wearing a flannel nightgown and slippers brandishing a tire iron, I can reach down inside and clothe myself in sanity-preserving sunshine and daisies.

So I signed up to sell raffle tickets. Our fire department is selling tickets for a chance to win either a 4-wheeler or a Harley, (winner's choice), and we set up a table in the middle of town to catch some of the weekend visitors. I had grossly underestimated the entertainment value of sitting in a folding chair on a streetcorner in my town. I recommend it, if you ever get the chance.

Not my town, though. Do it in yours.

Some observations:

If I am sitting at a card table, wearing a t-shirt that indicates my membership in the fire department of the town we happen to be in, please believe there is an excellent chance I LIVE HERE and that I would not mislead you regarding the parking meters. I'm not telling you that you don't have to put change in them on a holiday just to mess with you. So stop scrambling through your car looking for dimes. No, really. Stop.

The exact time the leaves will change is not SCHEDULED. It sort of happens, based on a variety of environmental factors. I can't really tell you when it will happen. Its like a nature thing.

Two big motorcycles came up the avenue and swung at an angle into a parking space together. The riders got off, took off jackets and helmets and they were GRANDMAS. Grandmas with big purses and orthopedic sneakers who strolled off down the sidewalk, shopping. Awesome.

Apparently, if you live in New Jersey you are issued at least four 4-wheelers. Every single one has a teeny license plate. Having lived in an area where the police have to keep order in the DMV because its so frustrating and crowded, I realize that must suck. Thanks for coming.

A man came out of the shoe store and asked if he could sit on the 4-wheeler. "Sure, " I said. He gracefully swung a leg over the seat and sat there for several minutes, his hands on the handlebars, gazing at a point far down the sidewalk. I expected him to start making engine noises, but he said nothing. After a few more minutes, he got up without a word and went back in the store. His wife came out and explained that he was buying a new pair of motorcycle boots and wanted to see how they felt on the footrests. He had an accident a year ago, and broke both legs. "Its a year next week....I guess he's getting back on," she said, looking both proud of him and slightly afraid.

The last hour or so was a bit dull; tiny dogs, RVs, a giant truckload of string beans, a few people complaining that none of the restaurants were open. Now I'm back, surveying giant houses that smell like a new deck of cards and navigating the ocean of paperwork that is my weekday life.
I leave you with this for your pseudo-Monday:

PS- The 'Flight of the Conchords' video is dedicated to whoever in Auckland, New Zealand was reading my blog this weekend. Howdy to my Brisbane, Australia visitor too! Feel free to give us a shout when you visit!