Jerry gets burned
“How could you know that the criteria would be so … that the requirements would be …” Ben said, mustering all the sympathy he could muster.
“I just don’t understand” replied Jerry shaking his head.
Mustered out, Ben continued to walk silently next to him.
“I mean to say, how much strength is really required to dash into a burning building and carry out terrified children? Is it fireman policy to take them all at the same time?”
Completely devoid of muster or muster substitutes, Ben braced himself for what was coming.
“So they expect me to walk in and announce for everyone to climb on my back, I’m only making one trip? Would they really sit huddled in a burning building, see me outside and tell me that they appreciate the thought but they’ll wait for a real fireman? And the running. Why is there so much running involved in the test? Here’s an idea… we’ll take the truck! Has there ever been a fire that everyone looked around and said “Oh, we’ll just hoof it over there. Jerry, why don’t you grab the hose and we’ll all meet at 18th Street and Birch.” Never. That’s when.”
Physically Jerry looked like something J.R.R. Tolkien would have described if in Middle Earth there were such things as white-trash dwarves. Taller than their mountain cousins, they lived on the outskirts of human settlements for the same reason that bears do … if, of course, such creatures existed.
“Have you ever seen a firehouse that’s more than a few stories tall? So what’s with the pole? People can’t take the stairs? If they were serious about shaving off a few precious seconds they’d grease the damn thing right?”
The image made Ben want to snicker but he felt the timing wasn’t right. Continuing to remain mute seemed the safest play.
“I saw the other candidates. Believe you me, there wasn’t any calendar material there. The lead guy or instructor or whatever he was literally walked over and grabbed my beard and told me “This will be the first thing to go.” I took it as a good sign at the time. Who grabs another man’s beard? There was actually a section of the test on memory! How many things are there to remember? You know what jogs the memory? Fire! Oh right… put it out.”
It was finally time for Ben to speak up. “I know what you mean. When they rejected my application to be an EMT it seemed pretty random at the time. I was willing to…”
“What are you talking about?” interupted Jerry, finally glad to have a target for his wrath, “Your only qualification is that you can drive! You know absolutely nothing about medicine. Do you really think that when someone calls 911 that what they really want is for someone to drive over and watch them die?”
“You failed the written test to be a fireman! You said that water puts out everything. You said it yourself!” Ben shot back.
“It was a trick question! I thought they were asking about houses! Who could possibly know about flammable liquids and combustible metals? Have you ever heard of a metal that is combustible?”
In fact Ben did know a little about titanium, having watched a TV show about it, but thought it best not to bring it up. Instead he thought it best to change tactics.
“Would you really want to spend all day holding on to a large hose anyway?” he offered up, secure in the knowledge that Jerry couldn’t resist the set-up.
For long moments he watched Jerry try. His face got screwed up in a ball, his unkempt beard writhing ever so slightly. It was clear he had more ranting to do and this burst of humor would derail it completely. His eyes flashed “Damn you to hell Ben!” and for a short time it appeared that he would be able to let it go but finally…
“You mean another one?”
Then he tried to continue the diatribe with “Who cares how high I can or cannot leap? That’s why they have ladders. They literally have them on the side of the truck” but it was no use. The fire, ironically, had gone out. It’s impossible to interject a penis joke and then try to carry on where you left off.
They continued their walk.
“Honestly, I can’t believe you missed the greased pole reference. I knew at that moment you were pretty worked up” said Ben.
“What really sucks is that I would have been stationed at Fire Company 69.”
Another big smile.
“That would have been sweet.”
Life went on.