Tuesday, December 29, 2009

run-up to amateur night #1

I worked three of the final five days of Xmas. For the first time in several years, we had neither a suicide nor tragic death, nor a last-minute fire to ruin a family's holiday. So that was good.

Things I will leave blank since it's obvious what venom would follow:

idiots trying to blow up planes...
the illogic of the travel-safety oxymorons in after-the-stampede barn door shutting...
holiday travel in general, dubious logic of
stress and its malcontents
the pleasantries of getting where you're going and being with your people
'black' Friday (yes, that one STILL has me fuming)
the folks who've turned street-plowing into a devilish torture of those they're 'helping.'
chopping ice to protect people from falling down 13% grades to the sidewalk from the ice floe on my curb...
getting a nasty gram from the city seven minutes after the trash truck has complained that I hadn't shoveled a wide-enough lane, yet no love at all when their plows make the sidewalks/curbs/alleys inaccessible...

My first New Year's Eve at Station Five, we tailed a drunk driver, giving Dispatch updates of the driver's location. She asked, finally, if we were following the driver in our fire truck. 'Um, ... no...' Several hours later, we spied a drunk face-down in the snow outside the station. We went to check on him and called a squad to get him to detox and a warm bed. He was bemusedly belligerent and foreswore our help. Then he fell again and proceeded to crawl along the frozen, icy ground. We tried to help. He mightily fucked us off, so we let him be, standing across the street. If not for the pathos, it would have been humorous: his deliberate, almost campy insistence on crawling across the street--to spite us, he said. Except he couldn't crawl up the two-foot snow/ice drift. Up and down, up and down, up and down: he crawled up then slid and rolled back down. We went to help him when he rolled into the street, for fear a car (likely driven by a drunk) would crush him, thus ruining his awesome plan to spite us. Finally the police squad approached and our man jumped up and began waving impatiently for the cop. 'About fucking time,' he said. We looked at each other: rarely do people, no matter how drunk, diss us for the po-po. He told us off and started to tell the cop about how shitty we were. The cop sidestepped his embrace and slammed him against the hood of the cruiser, frisked him, and shoved him into the backseat. THAT'll teach him to spite the best non-judgmental social service he's got at two a.m. on amateur night... No love for the cats in blue, eh?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ammoniac reveries

When I became a firefighter, I had a rough idea of what the job entailed. I knew that Minneapolis, like most cities, had drastically fewer fires than in the past. I knew Mpls firefighters responded to medical calls.
It takes a long time to really learn how to fight fires. Truly a hands-on job, with the caveat that to learn well, one should also get good, instructive post-fire explanations and evaluations to better understand what exactly happened in the dark and the smoke. This is not often the case, so there are many people very skilled at doing the same thing they've always done: floundering about in the dark. I have many extensive thoughts and opinions about this crucial flaw in the traditionalist learning process. Another entry...

During rookie school we went on ride-alongs with Hennepin County paramedics. My first one, on Friday night, 1 April, 2000, we had a range of calls. One was a young Latina who was pregnant and scared. Neither of the medics spoke any Spanish. I do/did, but I wasn't up on my Spanish medical vocabulary. 'Pre-natal care'? 'Months since last menstrual period?' 'Complications?' 'Allergies?' etc. It was comic and painful. After a decade, I'll still have catastrophically inept conversations, generally at middle-of-night calls when I'm barely coherent enough to make clear English sentences, let alone wrap my salty tongue around Spanish idiomatic expressions.

We toured the ER, too. Learning about how it worked and interacting with patients. It's important to be able to touch people in this type of work. You wouldn't necessarily think about it, but we spend a lot of time in people's personal space, pulling up or off their clothes, helping them when they've fallen in the bathroom, etc. In the STAB room that day there were a couple acute cases. The STAB room is where critical or marginal calls come before either being dead or going to surgery or ICU. There were a couple heart attack people, and a mother-daughter pair who'd been in a car accident. The mother hadn't been seat-belted and had tossed around the car when it rolled, resulting in neck and head injuries & lacerations, teeth knocked out through her lips, and a broken ankle. Her daughter was belted. She had trauma from her mother smashing her as the car rolled. If both had been belted, this wouldn't have happened. The daughter's left arm had been snapped, however, when the car rolled--caught in the open window and the ground. We were watching through the overhead monitors as the doctors and nurses work on it, and I was looking at her arm as they cleared the blood and broken skin away, showing the protruding top half of her broken humerus bone (upper arm). I turned very, very pale. I stepped back and sat on a chair. The paramedic leading our tour did a double-take, grinned, and got me some water. My two classmates were utterly supportive. Not.
So, I know I don't like to see exposed bone without preparation. On calls, at least, we have a general idea of what we're going to, so there's a chance to anticipate all the potential things that have happened to the body.

We learn quickly--or we should--how to assess scenes. Asking the standardized list of medical information questions, sure, but also taking in myriad other--often more telling--clues and cues. Unlike the paramedics, our face-time with patients is relatively brief on most calls, allowing us to maintain a warmer, more-compassionate, or at least tolerant, disposition to the endless non-emergency 911 calls. The force of energy shifting from the medics and Fire when we respond to a 'possible heart attack' call and a guy is sitting in his armchair, breathing fine, full of healthy, oxygenated blood (but for his smoking habit) and says he's had a cold for a week and had a pain in his back, near his heart, ie, on the left side of his body, for about a week. And then he says it's about a nine on the 1-10 pain scale.

We have seen horrible trauma. I NEVER NEVER NEVER want to get to a real-scale level nine or ten. Never. When I strained my lower back at work and couldn't bend w/o a sharp, shooting pain, I told them it was about five. When I dislocated my shoulder, sabotaged by physics and gravity while biking in the snow, I was gasping with the surges of pain, but that was about four. I'm superstitious like that.

Blood, open wounds, viscera aren't as bad for me as the bone playing peek-a-boo through the ruptured flesh.

What they didn't prepare us for in rookie school was the smell. Or, smells.

Gastrointestinal bleeds involve the body turning septic from within, and the patient vomiting and shitting rancid bloody liquid. That has a singular, potent odor.
Nursing homes smell of old people, urine, and bleach.
Drunks can smell really rank, and we get Listerine or paint thinner mixed with that.
Vomit is vomit is vomit.
Shit is shit, by the way. A drunk on a binge who's been drinking and shitting herself for three or four days is going to smell similar to the poor old fellow who fell and couldn't crawl to the phone so lay on the floor for three days, shitting himself.
Incense that covers dope smoking.
Pungent spices of ethnic food; those same spices and foods when the stove has been forgotten and the entire building is choking with acrid burned whatever.
Septic wounds.
Decomposing bodies discovered after a couple days, of course.

The smell that made me want to demand a training warning in rookie school is this: the accumulated reek of long-time urine soaked into clothing, skin, furniture. There's a heavy tang of ammonia that digs deep into one's eyes, nose, and stomach. The stench comes from everywhere, not just the person or his/her clothes, but the rug, the couch you're leaning on to help lift the person up, the air is heavy with this. Which is why nursing homes use so much bleach.

There are many, many calls we return from with sour expressions and unshakeable visceral sensations in our noses, mouths, minds.

And we sit back down and eat our dinner.

Monday, December 7, 2009

So long ago; so late & so far away

Tomorrow (Dec 8th) will be the 20th anniversary since I quit drinking. It's also the day John Lennon was murdered. I didn't have anything to do with that, drunk or sober. Throughout the past months, I've had low-grade tremors of 'Hey, it's been 20 years since...' and some random memory of late '89 will pop into my head. Hard fall leading into a fierce winter, leading (briefly) to Boston then to Chattanooga, then to Mpls via a summer in NYC.

I'd left DC post-graduation & summer teaching with an acute awareness that I needed/wanted to stop drinking--that I couldn't sustain the amount of besottedness I'd been achieving for month after month, steadily gaining momentum since I was young. I saw a future for myself of teaching, being a drunk, waiting for something to happen. Something bad, stupid, unnecessary, self-fulling/sabotaging. I saw it, as I saw it happen to many of my mentors. No mystery to our bad decisions.

I tried to stop, heading west after more silliness in that heart of whiteness, Ohio. Made it a week, then resumed. Did a loop of the Southwest & California w/ Talal, Slyder, warm beer and warm, cheap tequila. A fortuitous accident in Gilroy (not so lucky for the poor dog) caused us to miss the Northridge earthquake; we had literally just walked in the door at Bucky's place at Stanford when the foundations started shaking. We drove through a decimated SF three days later. Ended up back in Colorado, hooked up with Will Wilson. T ditched. Will & I were low rent ski bums for the winter. I decided to stop drinking--told myself I'd drag myself to rehab if I took another drink. And I didn't. We played foosball for hours, read big famous books, were misanthropic wage-workers in Vail's retail center, spent hours and hours on the mountains.

I didn't know what was coming next, but I didn't want what I had. Will was a prince. Fortunately, he--like most people--preferred me sober to drunk, so he supported my change enthusiastically.

During my rambles in California, I went to lunch on the Santa Monica pier w/ my dear aunt Lindsay. We didn't know each other very well, but there was an affinity. It was that connection, truly, that gave my compass the swing toward true north. I connected with her, and she said, in passing, some minor observation that resonated profoundly. Gave me disproportionate quantities of clarity.

And from there, as dear dead Ray Carver said, the rest was gravy.
Except it wasn't, of course.

Chattanooga 1990-1994... I thank Hank Lewis, Paco & Ann Watkins, & Dave Feldman for dealing with me, being good friends, living through it. Then I say (as they might, were they reading this): 'Holy fucking shit! That's twenty years ago?' Times makes a monkey of us all.

Steve B has been there for it all, providing constant enthusiasm (if only to make me pissy) and true support.

Once I cleaned up and started to figure things out for myself, I've felt so lucky that it's silly. I miss drinking, the taste and experience. I miss being drunk, I suppose. The rawness that propelled my through my youth has been relieved of its urgency. I've figured out some stuff. I still don't think it's a bad thing that I'm sober.

Seeing cats who're still on the sauce, the crackups, fuckups, messups and sorrows--I don't miss it. I have my family and that is every reason/reward for living clean. There is no mystery to drunk dialing, drunk driving, drunk fighting/fucking. I am amply expansive and verbal without liquor to loosen my tongue...

Twenty years ago, my adult life began. Ten years ago, my true life unfolded. The decade I've had w/Annie & the girls has been everything & then some.

I am grateful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

disposable heroes of hip-hoprisy, redux

A few years back, Jay-Z's song '99 Problems' was a big hit. It also provoked mild social tumult for its lyrical content, primarily its hook/chorus: 'if you're having girl problems, I feel bad for you, son. I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one.' He goes on to explicate and refract the connotations of 'bitch' in successive stanzas: literal girlfriend; music critic; po-po/the man (actually, a narcotics K9, too); snitch or back-biting rival.
Clever word play and standard-issue rap/macho sexist posturing.

It's a catchy song. So, for that matter, is (pre-teen-marauding) Kanye West's Gold Digger (featuring & building on an additionally pre-teen-marauding Jamie Foxx's hook as Ray Charles). 'I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger, but she ain't messin' with no broke nggrs.' etc.

Many guys went for the beat, the rhymes, and humor. So did many women. A good number were offended--which seems exaggerated; maybe it should be 'bothered' since it's hard to take personally such low-grade, myopic fabrication of the games between men/women.

Both songs are on the list of tunes I have to ffd past when the kids are in the car. I don't think the songs increase or condone my disrespect of women (far less than 99% of what's on t.v. daily), and I don't see myself doing either number acapella at the next Vulva Riot open mic.

Now, in our pseudo post-...society (post-rational seems most fitting these days), there's a new song that travels in the metaphoricalizing of women as commodity. It's also catchy. It has a better video, too. 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)' has become ubiquitous, and, fortunately for the Knowles-Carter (or, I guess, Z-'ce) household's struggling finances, very popular. The spoof videos are clogging YouTube and my daughters both fill their empty moments singing it.

Great. Good clean fun. Finally, a rap song that grandma can dance to. Matter of fact, check out our new video (it's called 'Long Acres Rest Home cafeteria line 'Single Ladies' dance.' Or something).

Except, to get all grammatical and whatnot, to which antecedent is the 'it' of Miss Knowles' ring-putting exhortations?
In the video, she shakes her finger (among other appendages), signifying ring finger, marriage, commitment from her trifling, wandering-eye & -hand man. 'If you like it, you should have put a ring on it.' She upbraids him for not appreciating her and for getting jealous when another man filled the void (of attention or physical) her man left: he shouldn't have dipped.

Yet the song is barely winking a reference to what the ring-on-finger sanctions: by committing, we promise, and reserve, our sexual selves to each other. Age-old dynamic, and paradox: men want the physical/sexual, and give the ring to gain the body; women must protect the chimerical virtue, holding out/off the sex until securing the ring.

Taken this way, this is a more-sassy version of the standard Sandy Dee heartbreak song. That 'it' takes on far a more adult, carnal antecedent. I'm not sure there's a ring big enough to fit that 'it.'

But it's a bit funny, and disturbing, to watch my grandmother, and yours, join with our school kids to try that hit dance... Oh oh oh, oh oh oh, oh oh oh, oh oh oh. Molly Bloom's Yes, Yes, Yes, done for 2010 generation.