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Fifty-One Shades of...
I think he’s got insomnia again.
I hope it’s not gonna be like the last time he had it a few years ago. That time he drove himself crazy, going on and on about the fact that it wasn’t natural for the station not to get a run in the middle of the night, and coming up with one wacky idea after another to use to try and get himself to sleep, including wearing himself out during the day, drinking warm cocoa before bed and even staying up to watch TV late into the night in an effort to fall asleep...only to end up awake enough to get through the late-late-late-late show. Chet even came up with the idea of hanging a stokes over his bunk so that he could rock himself to sleep like a baby in a cradle, going so far as making several butterfly mobiles to hang off the sides—and the rest of the guys pitched in to help make them. I thought Johnny was going to blow a gasket when he saw it until I told him not to think of it as a cradle but as a hammock, where he could swing under the warm sunshine and cool breezes. The mobiles made it a hard sell, though...
I didn’t think much of it last night, when I happened to have to get up to make a late-night visit to the little fireman’s room—a rarity for me, much to Joanne’s envy. Anyway, I noticed that he wasn’t laying in his normal sleeping position—flat on his back with his right arm thrown over his eyes—but had his hands folded on his chest and his eyes wide open. I shrugged and went to take care of business, not giving it a second thought...I wasn’t quite awake enough. As I returned to my bunk and sat back down again I whispered, “Are you okay?”
He didn’t move a muscle. His eyes never blinked. He didn’t even twitch. But a few moments later he finally answered my question. “Yeah.”
I was overcome by a great big yawn, and didn’t have enough energy—or brain cells—to question him any further, so I climbed beneath the covers and fell back to sleep almost immediately.
Now I’m wondering if I should have—he looked like he didn’t get a wink of sleep last night, and we didn’t even get a run for him to blame it on. Unless that was the problem? Nah—we had a night run our last shift, so that couldn’t be the reason this time. Not yet, anyway.
I’ll have to keep an eye on him, though. Stuff like this tends to grow exponentially where my partner’s concerned.
My pigeon looks a little tired this morning.
Maybe a visit from the Phantom will help wake him up.
I made slow work of changing out of my bunkers into my uniform, hoping to be around when Gage opened up his locker. I can’t count the number of times he’s fallen for my water bomb gag. Even when he tries to avoid them he sets them off. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nobody ecscapes the Phantom. But today he had a little something extra special planned for his pigeon...
They finally make it into the locker room—Gage and DeSoto. You never have to look far from one to find the other. Roy was busy talkin’—somethin’ with his son’s Boy Scout troop—and Gage was doin’ the listenin’. Usually it was the other way around. This’ll be perfect—a witness to the Phantom’s triumph! Gage won’t know what hit him.
And at first, he didn’t.
It took him a moment, but eventually he opened his eyes again and stood there with milk dripping down his hair and face. His shirt was soaked.
“Jeez, John,” I began, looking forward to impending explosion, “I know you like milk and all, but you’re supposed to pour it in a glass, not take a shower in it.”
He turned to look at me then, opening his mouth as if to speak...
But he never said a word.
Roy and I looked on as he turned back to his locker, grabbed some clean clothes and headed for the shower.
I turned back to his partner. “What, did he get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” I asked, confused and disappointed that the Phantom had been robbed of his triumph.
DeSoto looked at me and shrugged. “Something like that.” He glanced back to the closed shower door—the sound of running water was all that could be heard—then he turned forward again and looked down at the puddles of milk on the floor in front of Gage’s locker. “You’d better clean this up before Cap comes in.”
He turned back to his locker and continued getting dressed.
I grabbed a few rags out of the bottom of my locker and began cleaning up the mess, not even questioning the fact that Roy had, in essence, ordered me to do it. And when I was finished I was just as confused about what had happened as I’d been when I’d started.
Oh, well. B-shift’ll be comin’ on in less than an hour, so there’s no sense in doing anything about it now. The Phantom’ll just have to try again next shift.
I wonder what’s up with Johnny?
He came on shift this morning looking a bit ragged for just having had a day and a half off. I wonder if he’s coming down with something? I mean, with all those sick people he and Roy have to deal with, it’s no wonder they don’t come down with something more often. Look at what happened to him with that monkey flu a few years ago—the guy almost died! He’s had colds and laryngitis a time or two, too.
He didn’t sound like he was getting sick when I spoke with him this morning when we were in the locker room together—he’d pulled latrine duty today. A little distracted, maybe, but not really sick. Of course, I didn’t get all that much time to talk with him—the squad was toned out not ten minutes after the shift started, and they haven’t been back since. I think Chet finished the job up for him. I hope he wasn’t planting any booby-traps while he was doing it...
Anyway, running around all morning on all those calls must be a rotten way to spend a day if you’re sick. Me, I never get sick. It’s that good Latino breeding stock of mine. Well, that and my momma, who feeds me good food and takes care of me and my brothers and sisters.
Hey, wait! Cap put me on cooking detail today—maybe I’ll make some of my extra-hot homemade Chili for dinner tonight. That’ll burn whatever it is Johnny’s coming down with right out of him—and it’s one of his favorite dishes, too! I think I’ve got all the ingredients I’ll need on hand...
It’s almost time for lunch, so I’d better get started.
I think Johnny’s got insomnia again.
I know the squad’s been running all day, but he already looked kinda tired when he came in this morning.
He’s also been way too quiet, at least when he and Roy have been back at the station with us.
We can’t have that—I’m supposed to be the quiet one around here.
I glanced around the dayroom, observing the rest of the guys in their various states of relaxation as they sat in front of the TV. I was sitting in the chair against the wall, and Roy’s chair was next to mine, although he’s facing the TV. Cap, Marco and Chet had their chairs directly in front of the tube. But Johnny sat by himself on the couch on the opposite side of the room from me, so I could see him clearly. The others were engrossed in the murder mystery movie of the week, but I could tell that, while Johnny appeared to be watching it, he wasn’t really paying all that much attention to what was going on in front of him.
Maybe he’s coming down with something?
Maybe, but I don’t think so. He’s not coughing or sneezing. And he doesn’t look like he’s got a headache—eat all the smoke that we do and you quickly come to recognize the signs of a headache on the face of your fellow firefighter. He wasn’t hurt on the job this shift, so that can’t be it...
He just looks tired.
I’d bet my money on insomnia, except he’s not voiced a single complaint all shift. The last time he had it, it was all we could do keep Roy from pulling his hair out and Chet from...well, being Chet. That stokes cradle was one of his better ideas, and he doesn’t have many of them.
Roy passed the bowl of popcorn to me and I took a handful before passing it back in his direction. You can’t watch a good movie without popcorn. I glanced back at the screen to see how much farther the action had moved along. I’d figured out who the killer was two commercial breaks ago. Yup, it’s getting close to the end. I glanced over at Johnny again, and decided to try and help him out a little.
I got up and headed for the refrigerator.
“Where ya’ going, Mike? You’ll miss the best part of the movie,” Chet chided me, not taking his eyes off the screen—or his hands out of the popcorn bowl.
I didn’t bother to answer him, but pulled the milk container out of the fridge and poured some into a pot, turning the heat on low. My wife, Sandy, sometimes has trouble falling asleep, so I’ve had practice making a mug of warm milk in my sleep.
When it was warm enough, I filled the mug and walked it over to Gage, holding it out far enough away from him so that if my sudden presence startled him he wouldn’t be likely to accidentally knock it out of my hands.
Still, it took him a few moments to realize I was standing there and to see what I was holding out in front of him. He glanced up at me, and I could see the gratitude in his eyes as they briefly met mine before he looked away again, his hands reaching out to take the mug from me.
“Thanks, Mike,” came the quiet reply, as if he were trying not to call anyone else’s attention to us.
None of the other guys seemed to notice as I moved around behind them and took my seat again. Nobody except Roy, of course, who glanced in my direction after I sat down. Gratitude shone from his eyes as well.
I guess I’m not the only one who’s a little concerned about our youngest crewmember.
The next thing I know the movie’s over, and Cap’s ordering us all to turn in. I’ll wash the pot out tomorrow morning. Right now it’s time to hit the ol’ rack.
As I walked toward the dorm I found myself offering up a quick prayer to the Almighty that we wouldn’t get toned out tonight...and that all of us would get a good night sleep.
Time to rise and shine.
Well, rise at least. I was up before the wake-up tones, as usual, so I quietly meandered out of the dorm and headed to the kitchen, my brain cells signaling to the rest of my tired body two words that act just as efficiently as the morning tones would: Coffee. Now.
But when I arrived I found that I wasn’t the first one up...nor was I the only one that needed coffee to jumpstart their system.
Being a good captain takes a lot more than just knowing how to direct your men at a fire or doing paperwork. It also means you’ve got to be a role model for your crew, as well as warden, father, confessor and friend. Sometimes I’ve even had to add ‘chief walnut at the nut house’ where this crew was concerned. But they were a good bunch of men—and the best damned crew LA County Fire Department has to offer, if I do say so myself. Not that I’m biased or anything...
So as I was saying, being a good captain also means knowing which hat needs to be worn at what time, and right now I think I have to put on my Confessor/Friend hat for the benefit of one of my men.
He glanced up at me wearily before looking back down at his half-empty mug. “Mornin’, Cap.”
“The coffee smells good,” I offered as a conversation breaker as I poured myself a cup and rejoined him at the table. “Thanks for getting up early and making it.”
He shrugged silently.
I wonder if he got any sleep at all last night? We were called out on a run at 02:23—a heart case—but the engine was back in the barn just over half-an-hour later, and the squad returned about half-an-hour after that. There were no other runs during the night. He should have been able to get at least a few hours’ sleep once they’d returned. But it sure didn’t look like he’d gotten any.
In fact he looked like he hasn’t slept in several days and, judging by the way he looked yesterday morning when he reported for duty, he probably hasn’t.
I wonder if he’s got insomnia again?
If he does, he’s sure not acting like he did the last time he had it. I was afraid the rest of the guys were gonna laugh him right out of the station—or become a lynch mob. But this time...
“Is everything alright, John? You’ve been looking kind of tired lately...” I let my sentence drift off, hoping that he’ll follow my lead. Under normal circumstances, offing John Gage a chance to air his thoughts—whether they be grievances, real or imagined, or his latest ‘brilliant’ idea on how to make a lot of money—would have led either to an hour long rant or a shift-long burst of over-enthusiasm.
Today it led to another shrug and an “Everything’s fine, Cap...”
I resist the urge to sigh. Trying to get a handle on my youngest crewmember was often like trying to catch lightning in a bottle—it just couldn’t be done.
“Well, I hope you know that I’m not just your captain, but your friend. And that my door is always open to you if you want to talk.” I’m afraid that was the best I could do at 06:59 with only one cup of coffee under my belt.
“Thanks, Cap,” came the quiet acknowledgement. I think I may have made some headway, because I’d just earned a barely-perceptible upwards quirk at the corner of his mouth.
I got up to leave the kitchen so I could get to the radio before the tones went off, but couldn’t resist giving him an encouraging pat on his shoulder before walking out the door.
How do I get myself into these things?
Roy cornered me in the locker room this morning while I was changing, and talked me into going home with him for some breakfast. Joanne wouldn’t be there, though—she and Jenny were going with Chris on a school field trip to the zoo today—so it would just be the two of us. And he wouldn’t take no for an answer! I know he’s been wonderin’ what’s been goin’ on with me lately...and that he’s been worried about me...
But that’s exactly why I didn’t talk to him about it... I didn’t want him, or any of the other guys—to be worried about me.
Or mad at me, especially considering what happened the last time!
But now it looked like I wasn’t gonna have any choice in the matter. I just knew Roy was gonna try and get me to tell him what’s been bothering me within five minutes of setting breakfast down on the table in front of me.
I just wasn’t sure how I was gonna explain it to him.
I pulled my car into the driveway behind him, waiting until the Porsche was safely tucked into the garage before shutting down the Rover and climbing out of the vehicle. My steps were slow as I made my way into the house...
I felt like I was about to face a firing squad.
I sat at the kitchen table while he took out the fixings for pancakes and whipped up a batch. He tried to make small talk, but I wasn’t really able to come up to more than one- or two-word answers.
When he put the last of the pancakes on the plate he suggested that we go out to the back patio deck and eat there, since it was such a nice day out. I grabbed the plates, silverware and butter in one hand and the maple syrup in the other, and followed him out on the deck. He went back inside for the coffee while I set the table.
We were quiet as we tucked into the meal, and I was grateful for the brief stay of execution. But all too soon the food was gone...and I braced myself for the question I knew was coming.
“So, Johnny...you wanna tell me what’s been bothering you lately?” Good ol’ Roy, always dependable.
I might as well come clean—he won’t let me alone until I do. I was feeling pretty nervous, so I got up from the table and began to pace around the deck.
“Well, I... Ya’ see, Roy... Pete—you know, Pete Wilson, over at 18s? I did some overtime there last weekend. Well, while I was there, Pete and I got to talkin’, and it turns out Pete’s brother owns a body shop over on Sepulveda. And he said he could get me a great deal on a new paint job for the Rover. It could use a new coat of paint, so I said, ‘Sure! Why not?’ I gotta bring it over to the shop after our next shift, since we’ll be off for three days after that, and it should be ready to pick up by then... Anyway, Bobby—that’s Pete’s brother’s name—he really dug the Rover, and he told me that having ‘em painted a different color from the hard top is all the rage over in England and that, if I wanted, he would paint mine a color other than white. Well I thought, since there aren’t many Rovers runnin’ around Los Angeles anyway, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of ‘em that was two-toned, on the rare occasion I’ve actually seen another Rover in the area—and let me tell you, Roy, I can count on less than one hand the number of times that’s been—well, I thought I’d get the different color paint job. You know, really make my Rover stand out in the crowd! So I told him I’d do it. Bobby suggested that, since the hard top was white, I should paint the body green, since I love the outdoors so much, so I agreed to that too. He gave me a book of paint swatches to look over and pick out the one I wanted before I go in to do the job. But Roy, do you have any idea how many different shades of green there are?!?!”
Roy didn’t answer me, but just sat there, lookin’ at me with his mouth hangin’ open. I just hoped he understood my dilemma!
He’s got the entire A-shift crew worried about him and it’s all because of a new paint job for the Rover?!
“Is this why you haven’t been able to sleep for the past four nights?” I asked him incredulously as he continued to pace around the deck.
He stopped and turned to face me. “Well of course, Roy! Haven’t you been listenin’?! I mean, there are just so many shades of green to choose from! There’s ‘forest’ green and ‘fern’ green, as well as ‘pine’ green and ‘moss’ green...”
Only my partner could worry himself into insomnia over something as ridiculous as a paint job for his car.
The pacing began again. “...‘lime’ green and ‘teal’ green...”
Children are starving in Africa, and he’s worried about a paint job...
“...and ‘bright’ green and ‘tea’ green and...” He stopped to look at me again. “Hey, Roy, can you believe there’s something out there called Green Tea? You can pick it up at health food stores. I bet ya’ it must really taste disgusting, wouldn’t you think? Anyway, then there’s ‘asparagus’ green and—”
“Johnny! Johnny, wait a minute!” I interrupted him before he could continue his list, or start pacing again. “If you were having such a hard time making a decision, why didn’t you just decide to have the Rover painted all white again?”
Now it was his turn to look incredulous. “But Roy, that’s so boring!”
I had to ask.
I dropped my head in resignation, smothered a sigh and counted to ten.
Wait a minute. This monumental decision of his might have explained Johnny’s insomnia, but it didn’t explain why he’d been so quiet at the station. The last time he had insomnia he couldn’t stop talking about it!
“So why didn’t you say anything about it to me or one of the other guys? We would have helped you narrow down your choices and avoided all the stress!” For us and for yourself...
“Well, after the way you guys acted the last time I had insomnia, I figured that if I even brought the subject up you all would laugh me right out of the station! And I wasn’t about give you guys another opportunity to set up a stupid cradle for me with the stokes, either! I’ll bet you Chet still has those goofy butterfly mobiles hidden in his locker somewhere, too...”
Okay, he had a point there. “Okay, so maybe you didn’t want to tell us about your insomnia or the reason behind it. But why did you clam up all of us sudden? Being that quiet isn’t like you, Junior. You set all our radars on high alert...”
A sudden blush rose up on his cheeks. Oh, this was gonna be good.
“Well...I was afraid that if I started talkin’ to you guys, you’d wanna know what the problem was, and I didn’t wanna risk spilling the beans, you know?”
“But it was your not talking that clued the guys in that something was wrong, Johnny.”
“I know that, I know that! But I also know that if I’d asked those guys for an opinion I’d end up with four more opinions than I’d know what to do with!”
I smothered the smile that threatened to appear on my face. He said four, not five. I guess my opinion means something to him after all. So maybe I could help him make a decision and put this whole thing behind us...
“Okay then, so you’ve been looking at the swatch book for a while now. Does any one color strike you more than the others?”
He hesitated a moment before answering, “Well, I there was one swatch that I kinda liked...”
I jumped on it. “Good! So, there you are—go with your gut instinct and let the rest of your choices go.”
The lounger was directly behind him, so he sat down as he thought about it. It took a few moments, but he finally looked back at me with a hopeful expression on his face. “Really? Ya’ think so?”
No way was I gonna let him obsess himself out of this again. I got up from the table and moved another chair around to sit directly in front of him. “Absolutely! Johnny, you’ve got great instincts. How many times have we been saved on the job because that ‘gut instinct’ of yours kicked in at the last minute? I trust that instinct, and so do all the rest of the guys. I say go for it!”
I sincerely hoped I wasn’t going to regret my talking him into whatever color green he had in mind.
A big smile dawned across his face as he embraced his final decision at last. “Alright, I will. Thanks, Roy!”
I nearly sagged in relief. “That’s what friends are for, Junior.”
“Never doubted it, Pally.”
I got up and began collecting the breakfast dishes. Johnny started to get up to help me, but I waved him off. “Why don’t you just hang out out here and relax for a few minutes while I take all this stuff inside. I’ll bring us both out a hot, fresh cup of coffee when I’m done.”
“If you say so...”
I brought the dishes inside and set them in the sink, letting the water run in them to make for easy cleaning later. The only things I held off on were the mugs—those I refilled with more coffee.
A few moments later I went back outside. “Alright, fresh coffee coming right up...” Then I stopped dead in my tracks.
Johnny had stretched out on the now-reclining lounger and was fast asleep, his right arm thrown up over his eyes.
I shook my head fondly at the forever-unpredictable antics of my younger partner. For as much as he could drive me crazy, I just couldn’t imagine my life without him.
A yawn of exhaustion overtook me as I stood there watching him sleep. Maybe he had the right idea. That matching lounger was looking pretty good right now, if I do say so myself.
I set the mugs down on the table and stretched out on the lounger next to his.
Yup, maybe John Gage wasn’t so crazy after all...
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Posted to Site 06/26/12
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