I’m sitting here, right now, in this very moment, at a Panera Bread Co. coffeehouse staring at another firefighter. I noticed him when he tossed a crumpled napkin in my face and recklessly close to my coffee. I was wasting time on the computer, waiting for something funny to wander into my mindset, something that would make a good post. Something ironic. Something to which I could offer a scathing review. A tale of amusement from the firehouse.
But never, ever, in the presence of a fireman. Not in a hundred years.
And here, in this unlikely corner of an unlikely strip mall, my worlds collided when he called out:
“Whatcha doing? Are you bloggggggging, Uli?”
Deep sigh on my part.
I write out ideas, and have noodled out a post in the station on occasion, but those turdblossoms at firehouse #2 are used to my dropping in the ear buds and tuning them out for protracted periods. They’ve become closet fans, never outright admitting they read any of this, but quick to point out if there was some sort of error in my last post. It pains them to give any credit, and this is a trait of a good fireman, so I understand completely.
But I keep the whole enterprise away from view of most of the department, because to advertise you have a blog to firemen is akin to advertising that you watch High School Musical or like vampire “literature”, or scrapbook as a hobby. It just isn’t done. Firefighters relate to one another through the time-honored mediums of insult and shit-talking one another. You can’t tell your best friend how much he means to you, but you can walk up to him in the engine bay and open-handed slap him in the face and he’ll get the idea. It is a world of bizarre tradition and ritual where you must constantly assert your heterosexuality through the act of grabbing ass with other men. It makes no sense to outsiders and is the bane of the Human Resources department, who would just as soon interact with sock puppets as opposed to firefighters. They really, really don’t want to go into a firehouse, because we’re the dirty inbreds of city employment, and it’s best to just call 911 if you really want to see us.
So yeah, blogging is kind of a dirty word. I don’t blog. I post essays. I write stories. I waste copious amounts of time trying to think of something funny to say, but I don’t ever blog for the love of Clint Eastwood and all things manly.
Here I sat and here I was, busted as sin.
This was a fulcrum moment.
To deny is your first instinct. But this particular fireman can smell weakness three miles away, and drops the “bullshit” flag as fast as anyone in the department. And he lives to torture. You say you’re homophobic? Prepare for an onslaught of nudity in your face, in your locker, in the bunkroom. Don’t have money to pay for a meal at the station? That’s fine, he’ll let you eat….if you eat some cockroaches first. But there are two things that distinguish him: you can’t bullshit a bullshitter if you want his respect, and if you’re ever trapped in a burning building he’s the one you want crawling in to get you. Like a junkyard pitbull, he never lets go, he never gives up, and it makes him one hell of a fireman. It also makes him drive co-workers to tears of humiliation and shame. My lucky day, indeed.
And so, after ten years of working alongside him, through several threats and wrestling matches and insults and terror, I realized I’d been had. I could try and insist I was looking at something respectable, like porn, in a public place, but he’d seen it in my face. He caught me dead to rights, as though he’d walked in on me with knitting needles in hand and doilies in my lap.
“I KNEW IT! You’re writing your little bloggy thingy aren’t you, you filthy little bastard?”
As I shrugged my shoulders and threw back the last of the 54th cup of bottomless coffee, I went with the only tactic I could employ:
“Well, I won’t tell anyone you caught me in a coffee shop. Your secret’s safe, dude.”
To which his wife piped up:
“Oh, we love this place. They have the best desserts. We come here all the time.”
Check and mate.