Wednesday, April 27, 2011


It’s been a while since I’ve talked about my buddies at the fire house- so let me add a post to the legend.

Like I’ve said before- at the fire house we had a majority Hispanic group- as a White boy I was in the minority. Yet many of my best buddies were Mexican- and to be honest the fights/disagreements were hardly ever race based- we would joke about race- but when there were disagreements it was political [union stuff].

But yes- we would joke- lots. One day I was working with a white brother at the substation [called station 2]. There were only 2 of us on duty at that station- my friend has a white sounding name- he was a Yankee like myself who came south when his family moved here as a boy. I hear him on the phone one day- he was calling back to check up on a free credit card offer that some company kept calling him about.

You could tell that he really didn’t care that much about the offer- but they kept calling him [or writing?] to offer the thing. So as he’s on the phone I hear him giving his last name- he starts getting mad- you can hear it in his voice. He’s telling them ‘no- that’s not how you say my name- it’s $#@% not %$@#!’. They obviously mistook him for being Mexican- they were pronouncing his very white last name with a Hispanic slant.

Well, as he hung up the phone- you could see he was mad. I asked him ‘what’s up’ he of course knew it was too late to cover the incident up- so he tells me that the offer was only for Mexicans- even though they personally hounded him for months. I mean it was funny- I couldn’t stop laughing.

One more- Over the years at the fire house you do stuff to kill the monotony. So one year the guys got into doing arm wrestling competitions. Now- as a younger kid- in the earlier days at the fire house- I got into all sorts of competitions- pushups, chin ups, etc. One day one of the young guys comes up and says out of the blue ‘John- I heard you hold the dept. record for chin ups’. I mean I must have been around 45- I guess the record went back 20 years- I had no idea who held the record! But these legends pass down [I think I did 19 chin ups- according to the Lore].

So the younger guys are all competing with each other with the arm wrestling. Now I’m about 45 at the time and I really don’t want to enter the arena at this age- you know- like a George Foreman thing. But I’m finally persuaded and for some reason I wind up beating the top guy and get the title- it was funny- I would just show up to work and some young kid from another shift would just be there- waiting to challenge. I had a friend who would get a kick out of how the guys wanted to just challenge me out of the blue.

One day I walk in- and the other guy is just there- with his arm in the challenge position- like he was waiting all night for the big show. So as my buddy starts laughing ‘hey John- you got another challenger’ I walk over to the counter- and in about 2 seconds he goes down- I mean it was shameful to be honest. Even his buddy that put him up to it was mad ‘Darn Joe- you went down like a woman!’

So after a while the former champ- Mike- who was a top competitor- Mike weighed about 225, young kid, all muscle. He actually beat me a few times- and me him. It’s just the last time I won I would never give him a rematch. I mean he would beg for just ‘one more chance’. I would say ‘hey Mike- true champs don’t rematch at the drop of the dime’ and I would blow it off.

So one day- out of the blue- me and Mike are working at the sub station- and for some reason I walk into the dorm and say ‘Mike- today’s your day- let’s get it on’. I mean you could see the unbelievable joy in his face [which would soon turn to extreme sadness!] as he thought ‘here’s my chance to redeem myself’. So we sit down at the table and the match is on. Some days you have good days- others bad. So we get into this long match- maybe 20 minutes- and I finally do the surge- and I guess it was that 5th cup of coffee- but I could feel Mike going down. As he begins to give in- it was like slow motion- I look at Mike- and he has this extreme look of unbelief on his face- like after all these months of wanting the re match- he cant believe he’s blowing it- he just looks up and with a complete look of desperations says ‘OH NOO!’ And he goes down.

I felt bad for old Mikie- he waited a long time to redeem himself- and no redemption came. I of course gave Mike the same offer that I did with a few other buddies- I said ‘Now Mike- you know the guys are gonna have to find out sooner or later- either I tell them- and if I tell them- they will hear the whole story- the desperation in your eyes as you went down- the whole 9 yards- or you make the call to the main station and fess up over the loudspeaker’.

Mike saw the writing on the wall- in a way it was sad to sit there at the sub station- to hear Mikes voice over the loudspeaker ‘Guys- Mike’s calling from station 2- he has something to say’ and to hear the confession. Geez- if someone walked in off the street they must have thought ‘what does ‘John beat me again’ mean’? Yes- I must admit I enjoyed the thrill of victory- Mike of course would never challenge again- after a while all the challenges went away- it was me ‘the old guy’ holding the title once again- after all those years.

It was still funny to get the challenges from out of nowhere- guys you thought would never even care. One day I’m sitting in the captain’s office with the captain- a good 15 years my elder. I’m in there with my other buddy- the one who cracked up over seeing the challenges come from nowhere. We were laughing about the whole thing- how the younger guys were distraught over their losses- it was funny. All of a sudden- my captain- who has been hearing the stories for months- looks at me with a serious face- and says ‘you know John- I used to be a pretty good arm wrestler back in the day’ yes- I saw this look before- the look of courage- someone who has heard all the war stories and he thinks to himself ‘I know I can beat John’ Yes- I often saw this look- right before the arm went down.

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