Doug and I, at “Lucky” Medic 13, had one schedule with Cletus as our third partner. Cletus appeared reasonably intelligent, but had the unhappy superpower, of rubbing folks the wrong way. On many occasions, he would be medic-ing, enter the scene, announce us with “Hello. How can we help you?”, and get a growled response of, “The Hell you mean by that? You can’t talk to (me)(him)(her) like that!” And, of course, in Medic 13’s area, negotiation was a lost art. A night that we didn’t get into some sort of fight with a chucklehead or two, was a night we were not at work. This, even in Cletus’ absence.
So, Back in The Day, some of the local RN programs would offer their students the opportunity to ride along with Da Big City EMS, as part of their emergency nursing rotation. Typically, these were women, and they were commonly young, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, cute, smart, and agog at the gritty realities of Da Street. We would occasionally get one of these women as our ride along. Considering the aforementioned “Fight Club” nature of our area, we took pains to give them The Talk (EMS Version).
This consisted in admonishing the student to NEVER get separated from Doug and me. We showed them the radio in the cab of the truck, and directed them, “If one of us says, ‘Let’s go get the stretcher’, that means ALL OF US go get the stretcher, and then unass the scene. If you get to the truck before us, in that situation, you pick this microphone up, right here. You push the red button, hold it down, and you say, ‘Medic 13! Medic in trouble!’, and keep repeating it, without releasing this red button, until the cops show up. Then show the nice police officers where you saw us last. Got it?”
That typically produced wide eyed head nodding. Some of the quicker students would ask, “Why would you both leave?” We would explain that we were reluctant to engage our students in fisticuffs, with folks who did not know who the Marquis of Queensbury was, let alone know his rules for boxing. We would do a pocket dump, showing pocket knives, Kel-Lites (heavy duty, police-style flashlights, useful for illumination, or as a bludgeon), belt knives, neck knives, and explaining the utility of each. More wide eyes.
So, this one student was in quarters, getting The Talk, when Cletus arrived. He was off duty that day, yet for reasons not clear to Doug or me, felt the need to hang out at the firehouse. Must not have had cable, I guess. Now, Cletus and I are honkeys, Doug very African Heritaged. Our student, who was a cute as a bug’s knee, was, herself, of the African Persuasion. Cletus sat there, until Doug and I had concluded The Talk, and then I went up front to call my girlfriend on the house pay phone (You may have heard of them. Way, way back, before the I-Phone 3, there were these telephones, connected with wires to the Phone Company. After you deposited money, you could dial a number, and get connected to whoever you wanted, sort of like a cell phone, except with other people’s germs all over them.)
So TINS © , there I was, chatting away with my girlfriend, and I saw Cletus and Our Student exit the firehouse, and turn left, towards J’s Lounge. Now, in Da City, the firehouses are not generally in the “high rent” district. Rather, they were scattered around the city, and that tended to place them in what might be charitably described as firefighting target rich environments. Similarly for EMS houses, except substitute “pathology target rich environment”. So, next door to our firehouse was J’s Lounge, whose historic claim to fame was the distinction of being the site of several shootings, conveniently located next door to the medic unit’s quarters. Since, at that time, Da City was running around 130,000 EMS calls a year, with something like 16 ambulances, well, we were seldom home, and so the citizens expected the firefighters to be the first responders. Ghawd, did they LURV that! About as much as they’d enjoy a fully involved structure fire with the nearest 6 hydrants being out of service.
So, since our house was located in a neighborhood in the center of Da City, and the majority of Da City’s residents were themselves of the African Heritage Group, well, that left Cletus (honky), strolling into J’s Lounge, with a clientele representative of that corner of Da City, in the company of an attractive young woman, herself a stranger in these here parts, and, for bonus points on Cletus’ part, Black.
Now, at this point in Da City’s history, relations between the races were, well, tense. A lot of the Black folks were conscious of White political leaders, and decisions that had been taken by these White politicians that were not advantageous to minority folks. A certain percentage of the White population leapt to the conclusion that, inasmuch as minority criminals were featured in news reports of, well, crime, that therefore, all minority folks were criminals. Neither set of citizens stopped to consider the possibility that some White folks were assholes, some Black folks were jackwagons, and a lot of the rest of either group simply wanted to be left the hell alone, to work, pay their bills, raise their children, and generally get about their days.
So it was into this oven that Cletus and Our Student strolled. Once I identified what the frack it appeared that Cletus was doing, I abruptly hung up on my girlfriend, and sprinted to our quarters. Doug looked up from his textbook, and, as I grabbed the handie-talkie from the charger and motioned him to follow me RFN*, asked what was up, I told him, “Cletus just took Our Student into J’s!”, and he bolted from his seat.
We had just about made it to the front of the firehouse, when Cletus and Our Student returned, Cletus with a big idiotic grin on his face. Doug and I called dispatch on the HT (“Medic 13, back in quarters, off the air.”), and dragged Cletus back to our quarters. Once there, Doug bade him sit, and began a profusely illustrated, highly evocative, richly turned narrative, filled with esoteric turns of phrase describing deviant familial relations, marital practices, and love of our fellow beast, with the recurrent theme of “What The Fuck Did You Think You Were Doing?”
Long around the second or third stanza, Cletus lost his grin, and turned to me for support. Doug tagged me, and climbed out of the ring. I wasn’t quite as polite as Doug had been.
“So, Cletus, you know you’re white, right?”
He got smart. Well, OK, smart assed. “Well, d’uh! Of course I know I’m white!”
“And, perhaps you had noticed, most of this city is Black, right?”
Again, the smart ass. “Well, D’uh!”
“Just like this nice, and naïve, young woman, right here?”
“Yep, I noticed.”
“Have you noticed that folks in this town, particularly the folks we deal with all the time, are kinda tense about that whole Black/White thing?”
“So, Young Einstein: what do you suppose is the conclusion that our neighbors over there, most recently in our mind for that shooting last month, will jump to when a young white boy, strolls into their bar, escorting a attractive young Black woman? You are aware, are you not, that a primary commercial enterprise hereabouts is, er, um, the ‘escort’ business, right? What, are they recruiting illegal immigrants from Hondouristan to work these streets? Or do these women kinda look like our other neighbors? Hmmm?”
He responded with a blank look. I did not let that stop me. Doug nodded, and waved me forward. “So, here’s what happened: my white, and civilian clothed partner, walked into a black bar, in a predominantly black city, in an area whose major commercial enterprise is the sex trade, with a very attractive black woman, who is a stranger hereabouts. He laughs about this, while his partners were anticipating yet another shooting in that bar, only this time featuring their partner. Do you see, yet, how and why we anticipated this going horribly wrong?”
Our Nursing Student contributed, right about this point in the lecture series on Appearances Mean Things, “I think I need to go home, now. Thanks, guys for the lessons!”. And, with that, she scurried out of the door, into her car, and puttered away.
Cletus started looking uneasy, and suddenly remembered something pressing that he had to do, right now, at home. And, away he went.
Doug looked at me, and shook his head. “You sure know how to pick ’em!”
*RFN=Right Fucking Now