Chapter 30 – A Few of the City’s Bravest
My dad used to have this one window washing customer that we liked to call “Porno Boy.” I think both him and his wife have been dead for at least five years now. I mean, they were both pretty old – like, probably in their early seventies – when my dad’d first taken me over there more than fifteen years ago. And boy, did my eyes nearly bulge outta my head the first time I ever walked into that house. There was fuckin’ porno everywhere. Not like classy nude sculptures or paintings or anything like that either, but the hard stuff – ya know? Stuff showin spread-open pussies and buttholes, and all kinds of penetration. And I don’t exaggerate when I say that it was everywhere. I swear to god, four decades worth of magazines covered all the tabletops, and stacks of VHS tapes could be found next to all the TVs. Believe it or not though, there actually was some stuff that they apparently considered taboo enough to keep outta the public eye. At one point, in order to reach the interior of a window in the closet of a bedroom on the second floor, I had to move a couple boxes that were in the way. These boxes, I discovered – appropriately stuffed away deep in the closet, mind you – had been where Porno Boy kept all his shemale videotapes. Dozens of ‘em. Literally all the “chicks with dicks” action any slightly gay old married man would ever need to satisfy every last one of his most depraved curiosities. Busty blondes with bolted-on tits, spread-eagle and showin off big boners with cum drippin out the ends of ‘em. Really classy stuff. The house truly was a porno paradise. But the guy’s wife seemed like a traditional Italian housewife that, every time we were there, had always been in the kitchen preparing big elaborate homemade meals, and I never could understand why she’d put up with piles of smut bein scattered across every room like that. Did he beat her if she ever voiced opposition? Could she have been into it? I really have no fucking clue. Back then as a teenager doin that job for the first time – and even thinkin about it now – it’s just too strange of a relationship for me to understand.
“Yeah, he’s definitely a porno boy,” my dad once said of that customer. “But he’s actually not the original Porno Boy. This guy I used to work with when I first got on the fire department – Ron Zamali – he was the original. He was an okay guy and all, but man did that fucker love his porno. All day, he’d be sittin in front of the TV watchin the same tapes over and over. Like, even when some of the guys’ wives and kids would sometimes come to visit, he’d just have this porno shit playin and we’d hafta say to him, ya know, ‘Hey dude, can we shut this shit off for a bit while so-and-so’s family is here? I don’t think they really need to see this stuff.’ He was decent enough to shut it off when we asked him, but other than instances like that, it was just always on. And the guy’d seen each of these movies so many times that he’d memorized ‘em from start to finish. No one else in the firehouse was ever interested in watchin the same porno for the twentieth time over, but that wouldn’t stop him from puttin it on again. And then when he was watchin it, he’d call the attention of the guys around him and say stuff like, ‘That’s not the main actor’s dick right there in this close-up shot.’ And the guys would say, ‘What the fuck’re you talkin about?’ And he’d say, ‘No, ya see, that penis is different than the main actor’s one. This here is a stunt cock.’ A stunt cock – can you believe that? That guy was a total fuckin pervert.”
Another story I recall from my dad’s early days on the fire department that unfortunately doesn’t involve pornography had been about this dude named Chief Warren Reddick. My dad said that on one of his off-days, he and one of his younger brothers’d been playin tennis at Independence Park and afterwards they decided to pick up a case of beer and bring it over to the firehouse where my grandpa – a captain on the CFD – had been working. It was a hot summer afternoon and the guys’ plan’d been to just post up with their old man and sip a few cold ones, but they ran into an unforeseen problem.
“So we picked up a case and brought it over to Grandpa’s firehouse,” my dad told me. “And we walk in and say hi to Grandpa and show him we brought a little somethin to drink. And he says to us, ‘Whattaya doin with that case o’ beer? The chief’s here for cry-eye!’ And he brings us over to the window that looks out behind the firehouse, and points out there at the chief. They used to have this small above-ground pool out behind that firehouse back in the day, and when I looked out, I see the chief out there with his shirt off floatin around in the pool with about fifteen empty beer cans floatin around him in the water. And Grandpa says, ‘We’ve been tryin to get rid of this guy all afternoon, but if he sees that case o’ beer, he’ll never leave.’”
The first time I ever heard that story, I said to my dad, “Oh, I thought Grandpa wanted you to hide the beer from the chief because you guys were gonna get in trouble, not because he’d wanna drink it all himself.”
“No, no, no,” he responded. “It wasn’t like that back then, back in the eighties. As long as you did your job, no one gave a fuck if you wanted to have a few beers at the firehouse. In fact, I think it made some guys perform better. It made ‘em less afraid to run into burning buildings. And besides, we knew the chief – Chief Reddick. I’d actually even gone out on a boat with him one time. He took out me and Johnny Lally, and we were drinkin on his boat and just cruisin along, and at one point he said to Johnny, ‘Hey kid, reach into that cooler and throw me another beer.’ And Johnny says back to the guy, ‘Oh sorry, this one I just opened was the last one.’ And without a word – you could tell how pissed off the chief was – he turned the boat around and headed straight back to the shore. I said to him, ‘Hey dude, you never take a guy’s last beer, man. What the fuck.’ And Johnny was just a kid back then and he shrugged like, ‘Sorry, man. I didn’t know.’”
“And that was the end of the boat ride?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, it was instantly over once the chief’s beer was gone.”
“I see,” I said. “But like, don’t battalion chiefs gotta be makin their rounds around the district all day visiting firehouses and makin sure everything’s goin smoothly and shit like that? Like, how did this guy drive his car around if he was totally fucked up all the time?”
“Well, back then the chiefs all had their own personal drivers, so it was never really a problem. Nowadays, yeah, they drive themselves everywhere. And it’s just not the same in general – the whole department, I mean. Ever since that video came out in the mid-nineties showin a buncha guys gettin drunk and dancin on tables in one of those south side firehouses for one of the guy’s retirement parties, you can’t openly drink in the firehouse anymore. Guys still drink on the job, no doubt about it. I know at a few of the houses they’ve emptied out the Coca-Cola vending machines and reloaded ‘em with beer so they can be more discreet about it, but it’s nothin like it once was.”
Speaking of booze, a bit later on in his career, once my dad’d become lieutenant, one story I remember that he used to like to tell’d been about this one Puerto Rican fireman named Beauchamp.
“Champ is what I called him,” my dad said. “He was a character. He was a big dude, but he had this high-pitched voice and he was always sayin to me, ‘Ya know, Danny, I’m Irish just like you.’ And I’d say, ‘Champ, what the fuck’re ya talkin about?’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah, the guy who adopted me when I was a kid – he was Irish, so that makes me Irish too.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, okay Champ. Sure thing.’
“Sometimes Champ would stay out all night drinkin before comin in to the firehouse. And his wife…well, his wife didn’t like that very much. I remember this one time he showed up to the firehouse all fucked up and came up to me stinkin like booze. He was sayin, ‘Danny, my wife – she’s gonna call here. She wants me to get in trouble. You gotta be the one to answer the phone.’ I told him I’d handle it. Sure enough, the front phone rings minutes later and I answer it and this hysterical broad is demanding she speak to the highest ranking officer in the house. I told her that that’s me. She says that her husband’s been out all night drinkin again instead of bein at home sleeping in bed alongside her. She said she’s callin to make sure he gets punished for comin in to work drunk. I stay all polite and formal, and thank her for bringin this to my attention, and assure her that he’ll be punished accordingly. Then I hang up the phone, look over at Champ and say, ‘Champ, go upstairs and lay down for a couple hours.’ And he says, ‘Oh thank you, thank you, Danny!’”
Another one of my dad’s lieutenant stories he liked to tell – this one not involving booze – went as follows.
“One time I was floating lieutenant at one of the firehouses on the west side – I can’t remember which one it was right now – but this young black fireman comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Lieu, tonight I got my championship softball game and I was wonderin if I could cut out for a few hours to go play. I got a buddy that could come in and cover for me while I’m gone. Whattaya say?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure. If it’s the championship and you got a guy comin in to cover for ya, then yeah, sure, why not?’ So the guy’s buddy shows up and then the guy leaves to go play the game, and half-an-hour later we get a run. It’s a fire and the rest of the guys get their gear on and are ready to go and this guy – the buddy – is still dickin around, puttin his shit on. He’s very slow, but eventually we go and get to the fire and it’s not a real big one, but we’re inside the house and I’m givin everybody directions. At one point I tell the guy’s buddy to grab the pike pole and start rippin the ceiling down to see if any of that shit inside there is still burning. And the guy just stares at me like he has no idea what I’m talkin about. And so I say to the guy, ‘You’re not a fireman, are you?’ And the guy just shook his head no. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, when the guy said his buddy would cover for him, I thought he was gonna send in a buddy of his from another shift or maybe a guy who was on his Daley or somethin like that. That’s not that unusual of a thing to do for a couple hours, ya know? But sendin in some fuckin guy who’s never been in a fire in his life to cover for ya…that was a first for me.”
One other story I remember my dad often telling from his days as a lieutenant on the fire department hadn’t been about one of his underlings, but about one of his superiors.
“Yeah, Captain John Schmidt,” he said. “Schmitty, I liked to call him. Guy had an outrageous temper. He was notorious for throwin fits and gettin so uncontrollably pissed off that the guys would hafta call his wife up and get her on the phone, then convince Schmitty to pick up the line. She was the only one that could ever calm him down once he got goin. Some of the guys used to like to fuck with him. I wouldn’t. I’d just stay outta the guy’s way. I wouldn’t fuck with him, he wouldn’t fuck with me, and that’s the way I liked it. But some guys liked settin him off, ya know? Schmitty liked everything a particular way, but the guys on the other shift, when they knew he was comin in right after ‘em, they’d leave stuff all outta place just to fuck with the guy and he’d lose his mind. He’d be yellin and swearin and throwin chairs across the room at 6:30 in the morning, and I’d be like, ‘Why you guys gotta do that? You guys get to leave. I’m the one that’s stuck here all day with this knucklehead now that you got him in this fucked-up mood.’ And then when we’d be out on runs, he’d be yellin out the window and swearin at people in traffic and…I’m surprised the guy never got himself or any of us shot. He was a fuckin nut, that guy.
“He used to like to hang out in the yard behind the firehouse and he’d set a target up on a tree then throw a tomahawk at it. If any of the guys came out to watch he’d brag about how accurate he was and explain how important it is to not miss and chip the bark offa the trees as to not harm nature in any way. He was weird like that about the nature stuff – I think he liked to pretend he was one of the natives or somethin. But anyway, then he’d throw the tomahawk and miss the target and take a chunk outta the tree and throw a fit, and that was always a good time to get away from the guy – when he was pissed off and had a tomahawk in his hand.
“Even weirder than that though – and this is where my other nickname for him comes from, Roadkill Boy – was when we’d be comin back from runs or be out on a change-of-quarters and the guy would see any sort of dead animal layin in the middle of the road. He’d have us pull over so he could get out and scoop up the roadkill to bring back to the firehouse with us.”
“Well, why?” I asked my dad. “What would he do with it? Did he stuff it or did he cook it or what? Like, what could this guy possibly wanna do with these rotting, smashed-ass dead animals?”
“Tim,” he replied, “I got no fuckin idea what he’d do with the roadkill. Like I said, the guy was a nut.”
My dad said that at least one time during their years working together, he had a confrontation with Old Schmitty Boy.
“I was runnin a bit behind in the morning and didn’t have time to shave at home. So I got to the firehouse, set my bag in my locker and headed to the bathroom to have a quick shave before we’d do our house chores. And I’m in the middle of shavin and Schmitty comes in the bathroom and starts givin me shit. Although I was runnin behind like I said, I technically wasn’t late, so him decidin to be an asshole like that really pissed me off. So I told the guy to get the fuck away from me. And he got all offended and said somethin like, ‘Is that the way you talk to a superior officer?’ And so I stopped shavin and looked over at the guy and said, ‘Get the fuck away from me or I’ll fuckin kill ya.’ And he said he was gonna write me up for that, and I said, ‘Good. I don’t care. Just get the fuck away from me.’ So a few weeks later, I had to go stand before a chief for a disciplinary hearing. I knew the chief, the chief knew me – it was one of Grandpa’s old buddies from back in the day – and of course everyone in the district knew what typa guy Schmitty was. So I sit down and the guy gets right to the point. He says, ‘Dan, did you tell John Schmidt that you were gonna kill him?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘I see. Well, in all your years on the job, I’ve never had any problem with you. You’re an exemplary firefighter with an excellent track record. This was just a one-time thing, right? I’m not gonna hear about anything like this happening again, am I?’ And I said, ‘No sir.’ And he said, ‘Good. That’s what I like to hear. Now go get back to work.’”