It started out, as it always does, with little fanfare.
Another day on duty at the fire station, the usual foot traffic behind us, heading to or from the Brown Derby liquor store or the grocery store or the local AA club, located two doors down from the liquor store. The players change, but the plot never does. Many of our 911 calls center around the needs of the homeless, and they utilize the 911 system with a frightening efficiency. They know the ins & outs of how to get the fire department there right away, and as such, we often get to know them on a personal basis. We develop dysfunctional relationships with them, us being referred to as “hey fireMAN” and they by their nicknames or street monikers. Some are funny, many are violent, most are in a depressing state of being. Our people are a colorful, crazy lot, and as I tell each rookie who does a rotation with us, “don’t look down your nose at anybody. We miss two paychecks and we’re right there with them.”
SO, we have a new man about town in our ‘hood, he a peddler of ladies delights. While he’s never come right out and SAID that he’s a pimp, we can watch his moves from the station and it’s pretty clear he’s not selling vacuums door to door. The giveaway, however, is his telltale dollar-bill-sign hat that he usually wears, cocked at an angle. This gentleman is in his fifties, I’d guess, and working the hustle to make it. He’s always friendly and polite to us, often gets into shouting matches with unseen adversaries near the dumpster behind our firehouse. We’ve made runs on his lady friends, and he always seems irked when one of his employees is off the clock.
Our new friend made his way into the engine bay the other day and loudly proclaimed: “exCUSE me!?! Could I get some help here?” My hands were literally full at that moment, so the other engineer handled the situation. It went down something like this:
“How can I help you sir?”
“Well, I ain’t gonna lie; me an’ my ol’ lady, we been drinkin’ vodka again. Her knee is all kinds of messed up.”
“Oh, I see. Would you like me to get an ambulance headed this way?”
“I didn’t SAY that. I just said, we been drinkin’. She might need some he’p. With her knee.”
“Not a problem, I’ll just grab our medical equipment.”
(-intended break here. THIS is where it got interesting. HE is in our engine bay, SHE is about fifty feet away in the alley. SHE is the injured one. WE have no problem heading to her and rendering assistance. But HE isn’t having any of that foolishness. HE needs to demonstrate that he’s the top cock in the henhouse, and that shit ain’t happenin’. So, he turns and (with dramatic pause) hollers out -)
“WOMAN!!! BRIIIING yo’ ASSSS!”
At this point, my co-worker likely pissed himself. He couldn’t laugh; not only would this be unprofessional, it would be a direct assault on the pimp’s self esteem. This was HIS time. HIS woman. He was proving to us that HE and HE ALONE ran this show. She, of course, obliged and zombie-dragged herself up to us, where my partner offered what he could: little more than consolation for an unseen and undiagnosable ailment. How can you treat a problem that refuses to be recognized? You give emotional support, directions to the ER (totally unnecessary, in Dolla’ Bill’s eyes) and hope for the best, knowing that you’ll see each other soon enough, when the alcohol leads to further bad situations. We take it for what it’s worth, smiling all the while.
Plus, he gave us the phrase of the week, one which we flogged to death around the station; ordering people to the kitchen, ordering people on to the rigs, ordering one another to change the channels on the television. As was told to me by the same co-worker “ain’t no conscience in the pimp game, fool.”
Love them or hate them, the characters of Commercial Street are what color the fabric of our life in the firehouse. I’d rather work nowhere else in the city, for these are our people. They bring meaning to our jobs. They keep us all human. And they know that day or night (usually late at night) they can call us, and that we will, indeed, bring our asses.