High Bridge Outpost, 2010ce
7:14pm is 19:14 in military time Ambulance speak.
It’s Friday. I think. The job plays tricks on you with time.
Your loved ones never understand how your weekend moves through the week on the eight hour units. On five, off two, on five; off three.
It isn’t rocket surgery.
It makes cheating easy though.
Which I get accused of far more than I ever get to do.
Someone heard a crash in the night on the unpaved service road between the Deegan and the Harlem River called Exterior Ave. A bump that jolted us to sudden tachycardia, that is to say a fast heart rate, at our true 89 above the Deegan and Harlem River; which is to say where we are supposed to be stationed during our tour or within three blocks of. With the current staffing crisis we’re one of only six BLS trucks running in the South Bronx tonight.
It’s gotten bad like that.
I have my twelve years in the making; thick brown dreads tied off in stocking cap behind my head. I’m working straight time 17Boy Tour 3 with Leon Goldstone the ever eager emergency worker. The most enthusiastic employee we have. They sent me a notice today that I have to cut my dreads. It’s been an ongoing battle for the past two years. I had to claim “religious observance” and join a Rasta Mansion to get some papers! These cock suckers.
Enough to make me Banshee disturber, and accidental founding member.
Every time a Captain sees them I get more bullshit.
Now the Department is claiming it interferes with me getting my gas mask APR on.
As if I’ll ever use that thing.
But I’m civil service now. If they want to restrict me for my dreads I’ll take the four month vacation while the EEO lawyers sort it out. Not like I can lose my job now. You’d have to take titty sounds on an underage girl to get fired at this stage.
Which someone just did of course.
Rumor has it were functioning at 45%.
It’s a veritable skeleton crew these days. The rumors move faster than the ambulances; and they’re mostly lies and exaggerations. Excuses to complain.
We’re posted up at 17 Adam’s 89 location, on an off ramp no longer active above the Major Deegan right under the infamous High Bridge. 17A is the laziest goddamn unit in the whole South Bronx and that really says something. It’s a mentor truck so when they aren’t skelling out of their own devices they pass all the work to the rookies. I’m out here with Leon Goldson who’s doing overtime. Seems like he’s always doing overtime. Doing overtime or working out. Guy’s a freight train. Sometimes we’ll work out during facilities, irregularly mind you; and dude is diesel. And a nice guy too. Real refreshing having a partner who still like the job, probably cause he knows he ain’t gonna be doing it forever. He’s at Lehman College for Social Work. I tell him this is a lot like Social Work. ‘But without a defiant result’ he responds.
I have no idea what he means by that.
“I can’t be sure I’ve ever helped any of these people,” he continues.
“With social work there’s more hands on,” he says from behind the wheel, “there’s a real feeling you’ve gotten up in their life and given um some resources. Something more substantial than air and aspirin.”
“Sometimes a little Oxygen therapy is all a person really needs,” I respond sarcastically.
“Come on now. Even if we drive fast they done mostly fucked up their bodies well before we even met um. And more to case; nothing you or I can say in the so-called golden hour is gonna make um hold off on the stoags, and the poison, the fast food, the red meat, the gang bangin’ ways. We’re a non-factor, is all.”
But he knew that I knew that.
We’d known that all from way back the first month we started. When the expectations got dramatically lower once in the field. From presumptive diagnosis to vital vision as it were. Sometimes Leon liked to pontificate. He and Adon were perfect partners because they liked to take turns pontificating. Going on with yarns spun by things they saw on the job. Not common war stories mind you; no trumped up version of strange days or odd jobs; I mean the two of them liked to talk it out. Me too, just not all the time.
Leon, apparently getting restless began to drive the bus down the off ramp to river level. Around the bend we’d go off ramp-off road and end up in the badlands under High Bridge; an interconnected mess of Amtrak storage/repair depots, industrial waste sites, a trailer park on the Harlem River, and a damn good place to lose a body. Used to creep me out down here. Adon always came down here. Always taught his partners was the back door to Richmond Plaza. Going down this service road you’d circumvent the anarchy that sometimes prevailed when doing a Richmond Plaza job.
Leon kept gamily talking. 17 Boy rolled off road along the river bed through the mist.
I had a wife and kid back home. It made everything a lot simpler. Wifey made more than I did; emotionally high maintenance. Kid was real cute. I made one beautiful boy; sometimes I thought that it was the only good thing I ever did in my whole damn life. The only thing I was proud of. I didn’t love my wife any more. We hadn’t made love in a year, I’d fucked her senseless out of blind rage a month or two back, didn’t do much besides make me cum. She’s crazy I think, can’t place the madness.
Bipolar disorder maybe.
It’s a bad co-dependence now.
I don’t love her, but I love my boy.
Sometimes things will get real rough, we’ll fight, she’ll fucking break things. But I gotta make it cool ‘cause I can’t have my crazy fucking wife run off to Indonesia with my son.
I think if it hadn’t been for my son I’d never have stepped foot in Peggy Quinn’s office down at 9 Metrotech. And I made moves to be a fire fighter, next promotional list that goes up I should be on it. I had to join the Rastafarian Church to keep my dreads, but mark my words, the day my number comes up; I’ll shave my goddamn head. Anything for a little respect and a living wage.
I say it makes things simple because my vices, my social life even are a day dream. I go online to Lastnigthsparty.com and viddy pictures of beautiful women doing debauched and compromising things in bars and clubs and lofts and where ever. I jerk off sometimes thinking about a couple strawberry blonde twins sharing my happy cock enthusiastically. I have fantasy life, that is to say in another life I’m the guy at last night party, I’m a rock star, I’m the artist; the next big thing. No terrible, evil draining city job, never got her pregnant, never got married to keep her sane, never moved to Harlem, never drove an ambulance.
In my day dreams I do Capoeira, and I bike a lot; used to me a messenger, and I still remember thinking my whole life is front of me. Not just a countdown to pension. In my day dreams I’m still the kind of person who believes in things.
I’m in the mood for a cigarette. Leon doesn’t smoke, only unhealthy thing he does is balance four girlfriends. It’s dark out tonight. The lights from the bus hit a sort of low mist that’s rolling over the speeding cars below us on the Deegan up off the Harlem River. We quite a lot of sitting around. That’s the worst part. You sit around for nonsense a large percent of the time, then right out of nowhere, right when you’ve hunkered down, then you get the arrest, the shot, the multi trauma right when you let your guard down.
I remember the first time Sebastian Adon and I went out on this unit, before he fucked up and got shipped to Brooklyn, or pulled strings and got shipped depending who you ask.
We were real eager two years ago. We both wore ties and collar bras then; part pride, part defiance. I’d long since taken mine off. Rumor has it he still wears his. He’d quit smoking back then and I still biked to work every day. We were as eager as Leon still is.
I suppose 17 hadn’t gotten us yet. But Adon eventually got transferred Brooklyn side to Bedstuy and Leon lives ten minutes from the station.
They call Division 2, that is to say the Bronx; “the gentleman’s borough”; what goes on in the Bronx stays in the Bronx. It’s a big front. Most people at 17 aren’t from the city much less the Bronx, and ones that are from here; like Leon, or Watts, Ortiz, Medina, Santiago a few others are hardly proud of the neighborhood. The worst are the ‘kids on Safari’ as Leon puts it. He might have gotten that phrase from Adon. That’s all the Up State, Long Island, ‘Suburban trash’ as Adon calls um that came out here to play tough guy in the ghetto, forget they aren’t cops, and aren’t shall we say, ‘sensitive’ to the pluralism and diversity of the city. Basically Battalion 17 has a lot of good old boys loose with the words nigger and spic. Not the greatest formula for patient care.
But at Battalion 17 a lot of things fly that don’t fly in Queens or Manhattan. Like how Andrew Celluci wears a gaudy gold chain on the job, like how Jenny Jones never wears her boots Tour 1, or a myriad of small ops guide details that don’t ever become a disciplinary problem here.
Leon was in the middle of a yarn about social work and the importance of physical fitness to the welfare of the black community. I cut him off tastefully. ‘Look,” is all I mutter.
It’s where the trailer park is, was, should be normally. There’s a skinny crack head without a shirt flagging us. Blood dripping out the side of his head. A tanker truck has careened of the road, plowed right through the tenement camp- shanty town that congregates in this little trailer park. Leon flips on the left light bars illuminating the whole area in white light. There’s blood on the torn tanker. There’s blood on the wheels, the tanker overt turned on its side has taken out half the encampment. The crack head bellows something unintelligible then sits down on the ground his face in the mud. I see what looks like the arm of small person; a child underneath the tanker.
There’s still a fog that hangs in the air. Leon jumps on the radio to report a possible MCI and possible Hazmat incident. I think to myself this is little beyond my level of training. The light bar illuminates the whole scene.
“There are dead things floating in the Harlem River. Dead people, dead parts, dead fish,” I say.
Leon took the high power lantern and shined it on the scene of the accident on the river itself. The river was blood red. Its crimson tides crashed against the overturned tanker truck. It was as if the very composition of the thing had changed; its texture a frothy oil of arterial red blood in which ten thousand squelched out creatures floated to surface. And anything that had once died in that river floated upwards too.
Units synchronize your watches it’s 7:25pm, 2010.