Saturday, September 15, 2007

I'm now for sale!

Friends notice my digression as a writer and remind me, “If you ever want to be a freelance writer, you have to start writing material that is actually publishable.” This logic is really starting to sink in because I can’t think of any publication that would buy my material and I’m fully aware that a freelance writer needs to develop a robust portfolio of material that has graced the pages of magazines and newspapers if he or she wishes to further his or her career. Writing for someone other than myself seems like an intimidating process due to two personal anxieties. The first comes from doubting whether I’m knowledgeable enough in a particular subject to justify selling an article about it. I don’t want to pawn off something completely ludicrous. The second comes from the fear of having to write in a different voice other than my own. I don’t want to be the robot I was in school; churning out formulaic garbage devoid of any personality in order to please my professors. However, I do recognize these anxieties as being irrational and it’s time I write something that panders to a specific market.

What I have come up with is a piece that could be considered a form of travel writing; an area that I have always dreamed of dabbling in. The piece concerns a technique I invented and practiced when I traveled across the USA by bus and I figure it could be made into an informative pamphlet, distributed throughout tourist offices and travel agencies across the country. Here it is…

It’s understandable that you, as a traveler, do not feel comfortable carrying large sums of money because of the risks of theft. Many of you resort to other forms currencies; such as bank cards, credit cards or even traveler’s cheques. While these items do offer some degree of security that prevent others from tapping into your travel funds, there is a cost to using them; such as extra fees for using your bank/credit cards in foreign countries or having to waste valuable time in obtaining and cashing traveler’s cheques.

If you are brave enough to carry any substantial amount of cash, you will probably resort to using a conspicuous money-belt. However, there is a new way of enjoying the perks of carrying cash while still feeling secure; it is called the money bandage.

This technique is pertinent to all you travelers, no matter what your itinerary; whether your trip involves: soaking in the sun on a sandy beach while indulging on flavorful cocktails; wandering an exotic street market to bear witness to its vast mosaic of sight and sound; watching a stomach-turning act of bestiality on stage in a shady back-alley nightclub; or taking part in a rare and exhilarating hunting expedition where you have the opportunity to take down some of nature’s most dangerous beasts, including the ‘HUMAN-BEING.’

Anywhere you go and anything you do, you will face the threat of being mugged. There are juvenile delinquents everywhere in this world; just waiting to smack you over the head with a lead pipe so they can steal your money and blow it on video arcade machines, shiny new sneakers, base-ball cards or LSD. By hiding your cash under a tensor bandage on your leg, you can now fool those beady-eyed, little fuckers. Here’s how you do it…

(You need a sandwich bag, roll of medical tape, tenser bandage and a fat wad of cash.)

Step 1: Put the cash in the bag and tape it to your inner thigh

Step 2: Wrap the bandage around the bag that is tapped to your inner thigh.

Now it doesn’t look like you have a money-belt but a horrible axe wound. You can even put some fake blood on the bandage add to the effect—be creative. Just in case the thief finds the bandage be sure to have it situated high on your leg (as close to your genitals as possible.) Knowing that you’re a traveler, the thief will assume you haven’t showered in the past week and won’t want to stand downwind from you let alone touch your bandage. If you’re still worried about the thief frisking you, just remember that it’s scientifically proven that 70 per cent of the world’s population is hideously unattractive; so don’t flatter yourself.

You can’t solely rely on the money bandage because anyone who mugs you will become suspicious of why you’re supposedly carrying nothing of value. So you need a decoy that will distract a thief from becoming frustrated and searching you. A dummy wallet is perfect, but it has to be full of something, so be sure to fill it with useless items such as library cards, discount grocery cards, your social insurance number or even monopoly money.

Here is an illustration for those of you who have difficulty forming a mental image.

The money bandage allows you easy access to your money at all times. All you have to do is find a public washroom stall (no matter how small or disgusting) unwrap the bandage, rip the tape off your flesh and, once you’ve retrieve the appropriate amount of money, simply re-tape and re-bandage it again. People might be knocking on your stall’s door because you’re taking a long time or they’ve become concerned over the sound of you stumbling around and smashing into the walls, but a simple phrase that will buy you more time and privacy is, “I’m masturbating!” And if they continue to be bothersome you can add, “to pictures of your mother!” for good measures.

These are some of the commonly asked questions that arise when considering this method.

Q- Are there other effective decoys I can use to accompany the money bandage other than a dummy wallet?

A- Any receptacle that usually contains money and is typically found on a tourist will suffice. A dummy money-belt or a fake bag/purse could be useful.

Q-How big does the tensor bandage have to be?

A- As long as the bandage conceals the money it’s fine. You can find these bandaged in a variety of sizes at your local drug store.

Q- I find it uncomfortable to have a bandage around my leg. Wouldn’t it be easier if I hide the money in my shoe?

A- No, the bandage technique is superior… maybe you shouldn’t put the bandage around your leg so tightly… next question.

Q- Is there a specific age or sex I have to be in order to use this method?

A- … Of course not, what a stupid question… I’m not trying to peddle a new form of birth-control here. It’s a way of carrying your money….NEXT QUESTION!

Q- Can’t I just get traveler’s cheques. Where ever I go there seems to be a bank on every corner?

A-Why would you even bring that up when we’re specifically talking about this technique? Are you just asking these questions to be a pain in the ass?.. You better watch your mouth before I slap it.

Q- What if I’m a black-belt in taekwondo and I’m in no danger of losing my money.

A- What the hell is wrong with you?

Q- What if I’m having intimate relations with the person who mugged me and, while lying in bed, she or he asks to take a peak under my bandage to see my alleged scar?

A- That’s it! Question period is over!


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Celebrating the anniversary of SO WE SAYS TO THE GUY... but mainly celebrating its death was a collaborative writing experiment Ross Lockhart and I created over a year ago and it quickly became our very own Frankenstein monster that we took pride in nurturing, but we now both agree it is time to finish it off once and for all. It’s quite an understatement to say we’re putting it to bed, because we’re actually sneaking up behind it, jumping on its back, smothering it with a handkerchief soaked in chloroform, putting it in a burlap sack and holding it under the brimming water of the bathtub until the lethargic flailing of limbs subsides. Why are we doing this? Well, as soon as this experiment stopped being enjoyable for the both of us, we knew it was over. As we both stand next to its casket, I find myself coming to terms with the situation and realizing that I refuse to mourn its death, but I will, however, celebrate its life.

Of course we haven’t written anything for the blog in ages and it’s quite understandable if our three readers have long forgotten of its existence. To some its funeral might seem as tragic as Gatsby’s; both of us reading our eulogies to no one other than ourselves. However, the procession isn’t as destitute as some might expect, especially when I begin stuffing my pockets with as much food as I can scam from the catering table and Ross starts playing with the corpse in an attempt to reenact his favorite scene from Weekend at Bernie’s 2. This sendoff is our attempt at trying to amuse ourselves one last time and it goes to show how dearly we held this experiment at one point.

One thing that is in order is to salute Ross. His writing has been an inspiration to me and his influences will linger in my own writing. I will always look back to the teamwork we once had.

One thing that would ensure the quality of my own blog would be to continuously refer to the writing process Ross and I refined; our methods were down to a science.

After I finish writing a post, I will then ask the pertinent question, “What would Ross think about this?” Of course, even bringing up this question is nothing more than a formality because I can easily predict his answer being, “This is wank Jeff. Total wank,”

Then I would usually reply, “What do you know? I’m not changing it! I’m not changing it for anyone!”

He would flip over the coffee table and demand, “Why do you ask for my opinion when you don’t even listen?”

I would say, “Oh believe me, I do listen! I listen to what you have to say and then I do the opposite just in spite of you!”

He would retort, “And that’s why Mad Magazine will never hire you!”

Then, in a fit of rage, I would slap him across the face and, after a brief pause of disbelief, he would run out the front door in tears, with me calling after him, “I’m sorry! Forgive me!...... sometimes I just can’t control the demons!”

Yeah, these were our most productive times.

One very appearant thing he has done is make me into a better speller… wait… appearant?... No, it’s apparent… Ross you asshole you haven’t done shit in that department.

I do have my doubts as to whether we’re doing the right thing by killing this site because I feel like our writing dynamic might be something that’s worth keeping alive. Maybe I might just continue our blog without Ross; find a substitute for him and go about our typical antics.

Then again, maybe not.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Part 3 - Wild-Land Firefighters: Let's Go Save Some Babies.

Our brigade of trucks sped towards the U.S border and I sat wide-awake the entire trip, anxious over what the day had in store. My crew-boss seemed unconcerned over my inebriation but I broke a sweat whenever someone lit a cigarette in the truck because I was questioning just how combustible I was with my current blood-alcohol level. I had nothing to keep my mind off the thought of perishing in blaze of glory, except watching a few of the guys in my truck fiddling with their cameras, probably in preparation for obtaining their long awaited hero-shot.

In the morning, we arrived at the camp on the outskirts of some small town in Washington and as soon as we began pulling our bags from the back of the truck we were told to go replace our local counterparts on the fire-line. They were a chain-gang of convicts who were commonly hauled out of the penitentiary to fight fire and then make our meals back at the camp. Not only was this my first year firefighting, it was my first fire in the U.S so I was a little surprised stepping onto the set of Cool Hand Luke. The idea of these workers possibly being considered expendable by those in charge of the overall operation made me question what kind of situation we were about to find ourselves in. I expected their primary strategy to involve us being covered in fire retardant, flown up and then dropped over the fire. No sooner had I shrugged off this idea as being ridiculous, my crew and I were standing at the edge of a massive gully a kilometer away from the fire and being instructed to build a fire-guard down one slope, along the bottom of the gully and back up the opposite slope.

Instantly thinking back to the month of training I underwent to get this job, I remembered something from a lesson on fire behavor about how a gully is a particular land formation that makes for dangerous situations when near a fire— something about how a concaved structure has a higher wind velocity that perpetuates the… burning ratio… of… creating the vacuum effect that…I’m no scientist… Hell, maybe there was no danger. I can’t be certain at this point because I did end up wasting most of my time in class trying to master my ability to keep my eyes wide-open at all times, rendering those around me oblivious to the fact that I was fast asleep… I was not successful… But even if it had worked, I would still need to keep the outbursts of screaming fits, induced by my day-terrors, relevant to the topics being discussed some how and I could only imagine how difficult that would have been…

“Now, hoses come in a variety of sizes. When connecting a hose to a pump make sure it has a diameter of an inch and a half because—”


“…Hmmm. Excellent point; fire does travel at amazing speeds. Thank you for bringing up the issue of running. Now remember everyone, you should not run because using your fire shelter is your safest bet. It is when you—”


“… Yes…Ok. You should always try to have sure footing because falling can be hazardous and having good boots is key… Although, I’m not sure what you’re referring to in terms of—“


“What?…. Jeff, get it together; you’re drooling all over yourself.”

Anyways what I was getting at, before this neurotic digression, was that no matter what kind of terrain we’re on, we will face numerous flare-ups all around us because sparks travel great distances from the fire. We have to build a fireguard by digging a wide trench that will intersect the fire’s path and cut down any trees overhanging this trench to stop the fire from crawling forward, and then we extinguish any flare-ups on our side of the fireguard. The problem on this fire was that our only water supply came from two helicopters that would drop buckets on any immediate threat. Their resource was a lake a few kilometers away and because it would take them ten minutes to be any help, we were left to fight the fire with dirt... that's right... we would be throwing dirt on the fire. Unfortunately Ol’ Strong-armed McGee wasn’t on our crew that day to throw a shovel-full of dirt up a 40-ft tree that was candling.

With all of these factors, I formed an equation in my head: Being as expendable as we were + the fact that I wasn’t actually hung-over, but still drunk + the death trap we were about to climb into = A situation ripe for a fuck-up. However as soon as I remembered the most important factor - a hefty paycheque - I forgot my troubles, grabbed my tool and made my way down the gully.

My exploits from the previous night wasn’t the only thing attributing to my discomfort that day, there were other issues. One was fact that my uniform was three sizes too small because I wasn’t quick enough in raiding the company’s wardrobe. Now, I assume those who hold the typical perception of the firefighter might think of a firefighter in a tight uniform somehow alluring, but it wasn’t. I looked like an eleven year-old boy who had some how magically transformed overnight into a twenty-one year-old boy. With the expression of dread on my face, someone might have easily assumed that I also had no idea where I was or how I got there because the last thing I would have remembered was falling asleep while reading a comic book on my bunk bed.

While I’m on the subject of metamorphosis, I should mention this last analogy isn’t all that far from the truth because I did grow into my body far too quickly as a child. Due to this blessing I still find controlling my body as easy as riding an electric bull while having a seizure. Stepping onto an escalator is a life and death situation for me, so I always find climbing down a steep gully with a bunch of gear a particular treat.

We began working and my headache took form once the sex stories started following one after another; all seeming to perfect the art in being completely irrelevant to the situation. Each story topped the last but the unspoken rule of never calling anyone’s bluff, no matter how ridiculous the story, still held strong. At least I assume that was the rule because I couldn’t image anyone believing half the shit being said. When someone told me a story, they always put a substantial amount of energy in telling it and I always found it frustrating in trying to figure out what reaction they wanted from me. Maybe, “Dude, you are an animal; a tiger to be exact. Wow! I can’t just picture you doing that in my head right now… There we go… Lookin’ good tiger.”

I guess I’m also concerned for these guys, because if they ever decided to trade in their blue collars for white ones, their conversational skills might not serve them well in an office.

“Hey new guy.”

“The name’s Carl sir.”

“Carl, I’m going to need 50 copies of last month’s fiscal report on my desk by the end of the day.”

“Sure, and hopefully I’ll also have that sweet-assed secretary on your desk by the end of the day; fiscaling her report.”


“You know what I’m talking about, now don’t leave me dry and give me some skin up high [extending his hand above his head, waiting to receive a high-five]”

“[Quickly picking up the nearest phone] Security, come here immediately. I think I’m about to be sexually assaulted by the new guy.”

Since so many firefighters seemed to continuously talk about women, one might figure there would have been unwavering tolerance working alongside women, but fuck no. Having to listen to the typical complaints about the mere existence of female firefighters was just angering.

I admit, my story doesn’t take any female firefighter into account and therefore I write this as strictly through a man’s perspective; that’s because as soon as I realize women are not in this line of work to attract other women, I lose all understanding. What’s their underlying ambition? Challenging themselves to become better people?… Yeah well, I want no part of that shallow world.

Several times I heard the argument: “When it comes time to strapping a 80 lb pump to someone’s back and having them haul it up a hill, a woman wouldn’t be the one to do it.” But as I understand it, most people don’t carry the pump because they (man or woman) will avoid doing it at all cost. Sure, I’ve never seen a woman carry a pump up a hillside solo, but I’ve only seen the same three men do it every time and when one of them was me, I felt like going to collapse in tears because the thing was slowly breaking me in half. Therefore I think a slightly less disdainful statement would be, “ When it comes time to haul a 80 lb pump up a hill, anyone who isn’t built like a brick shithouse or isn’t as crazy as a rat that lives in one, wouldn’t be the one to do it.”

I’m not just saying this to avoid generalization; I’m saying this because I’ve seen zero evidence of a woman’s abilities being inferior to that of a man’s. I’ve known plenty of truly hardworking women… and some who were lazy, but there wasn’t a discrepancy between the sexes that justified this thinking.

There were only as select few who brought up the issue of women in the workforce, but sometimes the grievances became so passionate and trivial that I began to feel as if I were stuck sitting at the dinner table with that angry, drunk uncle who’s a common archetype in every family. He’s the guy who constantly wants to elaborate on his theory of how the world’s problems are the fault of those who are born without testicles or those who have no trouble keeping a tan throughout the winter. I get a little antsy when I have to listen to this because I never know if the rant is meant to be nothing more as an amusing anecdote or a cue for the S.S to burst through the door.

While all of this typical bullshit was frustrating me that day, nothing compared to working with this one particular guy. I understand that as soon as you give anyone who aspires to be the comic relief a stage that is safe, be it free from heckles or in front of an audience that will feign the slightest interest, that person will want to perform to his or her full potential. Unfortunately this guy’s audience happened to be a group of people who would be stuck in the woods together for the next three weeks and his show didn’t provide a single intermission. It was like having to work along side the lovechild of Bobcat Goldthwait and Sam Kinison and all I wanted to do is crawl under a rock.

He would REPEATEDLY do this thing that could be referred to as a catchphrase and I might ruin the intent of his joke by attempting to put it to writing, but I’ll try anyways. It begins with him arbitrarily insulting anyone who’s not present and then following his comment with a quick shaking his wrist (as if having a mighty wank) and squealing to a crescendo. It sounded something like, “Meeeeyaaa-SPLOOGE!” So here’s a random example, “No, I wouldn’t say Stevenson is the worst choice to be running the saw, but I would say he’s a writhing douchbag… meeeeyaaaa-SPLOOGE!”

… Yeah I don’t get it either. Don’t blame me, you now know as much as I do. It wasn’t listening to this every five seconds that was painful, it was trying to figure out why everyone else found his banter so endearing. My bafflement caused me to start second- guessing myself, thinking, “Maybe I should be laughing with him. This might be my fault because I don’t understand his humor. I do suppose Stevenson IS a douchbag… but wait, SO IS HE!…. Ah! This confusion makes my head hurt!”

After hour-ten I
entered a limbo between inebriation and being hung-over. I noticed our fire-guard extended all the way down the gully, but it was no more than a foot wide and for some reason we hadn’t been cutting down any of the surrounding brush, despite the fact some people seemd more than happy to be lugging around the heavy chainsaws. The fire wouldn’t even flinch when crossing it.

If those in charge decided to bring in a bus full of professional mimes to do this job, they would have gotten the exact same results as they had gotten with us. The productivity of both parties would be comparable if the mimes gallivanted down the gully and put on a spectacular show; swinging their invisible axes and shovels while wearing those renowned grins that teeter on the line between idiocy and insanity.

As soon as the first flare-up happened a few of us quickly went over to it, not to put it out, but to get a picture along side it. Everyone’s enthusiasm didn’t seem to properly coincide with their lackluster imagination because they merely positioned themselves next to the flare-up as if they were posing next to a really big fish they just caught. Now, I don’t consider myself avant-garde when it comes to setting up the perfect hero-shot, but if I were to get the supreme shot it would involve me foaming from the mouth, being bare-assed naked and throwing an axe into a 45 foot wall of flame while a pack of exiled timber wolves huddled behind me for protection… No wait; make that a family of some indigenous hill-tribe…. I would also be carrying the severed head of some mythological creature pertaining to fire…. Oh! Maybe the head of the Greek god of fire, Flamius! (Don’t worry about the authenticity; I’m a wiz with papier-mâché.)… What else?…. I’d also be shooting ice beams from my eyes because that would be my superpower… I think I would title the photo “Just another Tuesday.”

At first there were not enough flare-ups for everyone to pose next too, but soon enough another one popped up and then another, until everyone had a chance get a shot next to their prized sturgeon. We were scattered throughout the gully when each flare-up conglomerated into a wall of fire dividing our crew in half.

If someone were to create a parody of the chaos that ensued it would sound something like, “[Sound of fire burning]…Oh man! Where is everyone?…EVERYONE PULL BACK!…. This totally reminds me of that time I was banging this chick in her kitchen…PULL BACK!….No man, you have to manually focus… Meeeeyaaaaa SLOOGE!…. Come over here!… We were going so crazy on each other that we didn’t even notice the stove bursting into flames… The flash didn’t go off. Are you sure you took it?… Hey, you guys over there. Get your asses up to the road… Meeeeyaaaa SPLOOGE!…. The room was burning all around us and I just kept givin’ it to her from behind…. This shot isn’t that exciting. Maybe it would be better if I were on fire… We can’t reach you. We’ll pull back here… Meeeeya SPLOOGE!…. Goddamn, I love givin’ it from behind. Who’s with me? … I’m not talking about being engulfed in flames, I’m just talking about my uniform being on fire a little bit… Just go! Quickly!… Don’t take another one! I haven’t lit my shoulders yet…. Oh yeah well that`s nothing, one time I was going so hard on this chick the friction burned all the hair off my balls …. Meeeeeyaa—SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET MOVING!”

Half of the team ran to the top of one slope, where our trucks were parked on the road and the remainder of us, which included me, ran up the opposite slope where we found a large area that had been previously burned-over. We became trapped as the flames spread throughout the whole gully and started reaching some pretty impressive heights, however, I want to emphasize that we were not in any danger because this burned spot we were on was large enough to set up three carnivals featuring this clown show. The helicopters quickly came to extinguish our escape path, but they only ended up fanning the flames even higher. Figuring that this would play out to be a long and arduous process, I immediately lied down in the ash, put my pack behind my head and passed out. It was the sweetest six hours of sleep I’ve ever had, even though I awoke now and again to those in the grueling process of trying to set up their slightly more elborate pictures. I wished someone had taken a shot of me at that point because it would have been a great hero-shot of me curled in the fetal position, with the only resources we had in the air, stoking the fire.

Now, I don’t want to give anyone the idea that going to the fire in such rough shape was anyone else’s fault other than my own. I admit it was because of my own stupidly that I didn’t second-guess my own actions and I shouldn't have been relying on the idea of some sort of all-rational authority that would keep my foolishness in check. The most practical thing for me to have done would have been refusing to go to work the night before, but no; I did what I was told, I folded, I rolled over, I was a lackey, I was a mindless drone. Sure, when it comes time when we’re living in an oppressive dystopia, I’ll be the first one to be seen on the streets, soliciting state propaganda with a glazed look in my eyes, but as soon as someone orders me to go fight fire in a gully somewhere in Washington, I’ll be the first one to lead the resistance (garbage cans through storefront windows and all.)

Thinking back on all of this now, I realize that for all its flaws, these were some of the most exciting times of my life and it was enjoyable working with the majority of these people. I would not trade these memories for anything.

It’s a strange thing to consider, but I guess I can say that I’ve reached some sort of milestone because no matter what I do for a career from here on in I can always sit back and point out the hero-shot above the mantle every time my children start complaining about hard times. This is the equivalency of having one of those college football trophies that qualify middle-aged men who are handicapped with hobbled knees to shout constructive obscenities at T.V. every Sunday. Of course, I will have to be careful as to whom I have over for company because as soon as a fellow coworker spots it, he or she might expose the real story behind the photo… unless they become distracted by the really nice picture frame I have it in.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Part 2 - Wild-Land Firefighters: We Save Babies

Now I’d like to tell the story of my most exciting experience while wild-land firefighting.

After returning home from a 21-day tour in Northern Saskatchewan, I decided not to join my crew for the standard homecoming celebration; instead, I waited one week so I could celebrate with a different crew that was coming back from Alberta. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend that extra night with my workmates because we weren’t getting along, it was because I had already surpassed my threshold for consistent bonding-time with these people and a few drinks could have caused me to finally snap, where I might have resorted to beating the smallest one of them to death with my left shoe.

It must have been one of the most prosperous seasons I had ever known because the company treated the crew returning from Alberta to a night out at a pricey restaurant. During the celebration, none of the higher-ups noticed I wasn’t part of this crew and I only intended on getting some free drinks and a meal. Half way through, the owner of the company, King Misfit, stood up at the end of the table to give one of his ritualistic speeches.— I take the time in describing this character because he embodies much of the senselessness involved in firefighting and I like to think he’s effective in foreshadowing any protagonist’s misfortune.— He was a boisterous and ambitious soul who at first glance could be likened to Santa Clause, but as soon as he opened his mouth he revealed an embitterment that Santa could only have developed had he been shot down over Vietnam and taken as a P.O.W. at some point during his career. I found his arrogance genuinely concerning because it caused me to contemplate all other possible realities if he were living under different circumstances. For instance, had he been born in a developing country with the slightest political instability, his skills in power-tripping his childhood ant farm might have led to a career well beyond the scope of dictating his own fire crews. His zealousness in keeping us in-check through continual, unjustified, public tirades gave everyone a new perspective on tough-love. I never understood what he expected to inspire when he felt like busting everyone’s balls.

Ever since grade one I’ve had a dislike for people speaking to me like I was still in kindergarten and whenever Saint Nick decided to speak to us like we were some little league sports team holding him back from the peewee championships, I had a greater urge to play my assumed roll and embrace incompetence; maybe eat a box of crayons, take off my pants on a whim, or go into a spontaneous temper-tantrum where I cry with such intensity I throw up; Bring out that overgrown four year old inside me just in spite of him.

Anyways, before my own bitterness upstages his any further, I’ll move along and mention that this night was the first time we weren’t scorned for abusing company equipment, but praised for a season nearly well done.

‘“Rumor has it we’ll be going to the States soon boys!” he raised his glass. “Yup, anytime now! Be sure to have your gear packed and ready!... Until then, drink up!”

This news sent many into an ecstatic frenzy of high-fives and joyous obscenities because going to the U.S. meant our wages escalated slightly. However, I refused to believe this news because I was familiar with his reputation for making false assurances for upcoming work. His details and self-convictions were so outlandish, I figured that the only way his stories contained the slightest shred of truth was if he were planning on setting the fires himself. After working for him for some time, no one would have raised an eye brow had he explained, “Rumor has it we’ll be going to the moon boys! For years scientists have been telling me there’s no source of revenue up there, but they’re full of shit! You all better start training underwater!”

Despite all of this I tried to focus my attention on consuming as many free drinks as I could. After all, I was still shocked by the boss’s insistence that we “drink up.”

Imagine how a beaten dog cowers at the first sight of his master’s extended hand, but once realizing that the hand is merely trying to offer food, the dog instantly consumes everything before there’s a chance of it being taken away. Just like this dog, I saw the beer situation as uncommon generosity, so I tried drinking everything I could at the speed of wind.

When the night started getting messy, we left the owner at the restaurant and sauntered up the road to a nearby club. It was a typical night of us making fools of ourselves until 11 o’clock when the music came to an abrupt halt and the DJ announced that all firefighters need to meet outside immediately.

Panic set in because we realized that not only was the omen quite real but it was to happen far sooner than anyone could have expected. Some of us sped around the club aimlessly, bumping into each other shouting, “OH MAN, THEY’RE SENDING US NOW! HOW CAN THEY DO THAT? I CAN’T DRIVE TO THE STATES! ... Oh quick, look behind you…… Hi ya ladies. We’re just on our way to make war with the elements. Care to help us in our quest to extinguish some burning-hot lodgepole pine wood... in our PANTS! HA! [Both firefighters high-five each other, unaware of the self-depreciating nature of the last comment]”

Eventually we all found our way outside where several of our crew bosses, who hadn’t attended the festivities, were waiting. “They wanted to send our crew to Washington in two hours.” One of them said, “But they realize you’ve all been celebrating tonight, so they’ve decided to send the other crew tonight and then the rest of you tomorrow. So I suggest you all go home and get some sleep.”

I was amid the shit-storm of high-fives when one crew boss confronted me, “Jeff? You’re not part of this team,”

“No… no, I’m not.” It slowly dawned on me, “No… No they can’t!” I pleaded.

“Your crew’s heading out right now. You better get to the office.”

If, instead of breaking this news to me, he suddenly decided to empty half a can of bear spray in my face then continually kick me in the ass as I stumble around, I would have faired a far better mood. Hell, knowing the alternative I might have been able to shrug off those actions as quirky, lighthearted humor, “Oh boy, you got me-OUCH!...That was a good one-OW!... But in all seriousness, I better go home so I can get some slee— AH CHRIST!”

That night my brother woke up to a phone-call from an irate drunk shouting, “The States!… They’re sending me!…. This instant!…shit!…. Need to pack!… Please pick me up!.. Shit!..... SHIIIIT!” My brother picked me up in ten minutes and drove me to my parents’ house, where he thankfully helped me gather what I needed.

When I met my sober crew they were loading up the trucks outside the office and a few of them shook their heads, laughing at me. “Boy someone’s going to have a rough day,” someone quipped. Who ever said it was lucky my left shoe wasn’t untied because if I had easy access to it his funeral director might not have been able to conceal the Reebok emblem imprinted onto his forehead.

Once again, to be continued...

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Part 1 - Wild-Land Firefighters: We save babies

During the time I was making my way through university, I came across a situation that I found to be an amazing pain in the ass; I had to come up with a science-related article for my science magazine class. Quickly getting a hold of some of the class’s previous issues, I thought I would come to better understand what was entailed in receiving a passable mark, however, the only thing that proved to be worth while was coming across an article written by an old co-worker of mine. It was his first-person account of his heroic endeavors while wild-land firefighting and this interested me because at that time I had been working for the exact same contracting company as him for the past three years.

I can’t remember the exact details of his gallant fable but my own embellished summary goes something like: During another blistering afternoon in the wilderness of Alberta, the author and his crew worked a few kilometers away from a behemoth of a combustion that raged unremittingly amid the vast woodlands, all the while destroying its lowly inhabitants. The team frantically constructed a fire-guard by way of falling noble oaks and digging trenches with dimensions comparable to those of World War One. Suddenly, the firefighters’ radios spattered a broken message about the fire catching a second wind and mercilessly throwing its way towards them. Miraculously, their savior, in the form of a great chrome-plated sky beast, descended before them. Once they were all inside the helicopter, it began to lift off… BUT IT STRUGGLED! Slowly gaining altitude, the flames reached towards them, eventually licking the belly of their great beast. After tossing their equipment out the door to make for a lighter load they ascended over the dense tree-line. The author then leaned out of the chopper, ripped open his shirt to expose a tattoo of a flaming cobra and screamed at the fire as if screaming at mother-nature herself, “Come and get me now, you relentless bitch!”

After reading halfway through this I realized that the author was referring to a fire I had worked on; it was the House River Fire that had ended up destroying a fair portion of Alberta in 2002.

Now don’t get me wrong, firefighting wasn't all sleeping and playing cards in the woods. Sure, it could be full of exciting and dangerous moments. At House River, we were evacuated several times a week and we even had to leave our fire camp to be burned over. Firefighting has been one of the most fulfilling things I have done in my life and, to tell you the truth, I would love to get back to that type of work before I get too old and fat.

The problem I had with this article had nothing to do with the fact that the author got away with passing this course by submitting a fluff piece; Hell, I would have jumped on that opportunity if he hadn’t already beat me to it. What bothered me was that his story didn’t include any character flaws, any of the common fuck-ups that usually come hand-in-hand in this kind of situation… basically, he didn’t include any element of irrationality that makes working on a the fire-line a total gong-show—a big beautiful gong-show I have grown to love. The story was far too picturesque and if the end involved him cracking open a Gatorade and throwing it back I would have just mistaken the whole thing as just an elaborate advertisement. I understood that these elements had been sacrificed because it would have undermined any chance of the reader perceiving the author as a hero, but this reasoning quickly reminded me of an element you can’t seem to avoid in the world of firefighting… and that’s showmanship. I’ve got no problem with showmanship, but it was always my understanding that showmanship was purely a method for getting laid; strictly for bars and bedrooms, not for science magazines. Also, I think the ridiculous elements of the task were the most important and interesting aspects despite them tarnishing our image, which in my opinion wasn’t that well polished to begin with.

I’ll start by addressing those of you who are the most important people involved in this line of work: the ladies. So ladies, there will be points in your lives where you’ll be confronted in a night club by a guy who’s wearing a t-shirt that has some ambiguous literary reference relating to the dangers of fire, such as, “Fire is the majesty of the wilderness and we are merely her disciples.” The conversation he initiates will be awkward because he is too preoccupied with finding some opportunity where he can seamlessly explain his line of work to you. However, if he’s from out of town it will be cinch for him because he can simply jump in with, “Hi. I’m from out of town… Yeah, I’m just here to fight the big fire… Oh yeah, it’s coming this way… and fast. [He then looks away, as if distracted, with an expression of grave concern.]”

I’ll admit, I’ve been one of those dudes but I’m a little bitter that I never mastered my skills in conversation because I usually resorted to, “Hi. I’m a firefighter… I save wildlife… Particularly the adorable kind… Does, fawns… You know, shit that you see in Disney movies… Hell, I even save… human babies… Yup, save them from the raging flames caused by human carelessness… Say, I can’t help but notice you’re barely touching your drink. You going to finish it or can I have it?... What? Well, I don’t see the point in paying full price when you’ve already finished half of it… You know what, just forget it… [Turning to whoever was my wing-man] Let’s get out of here, looks like we went to another lesbian bar.” Ok, I never got that bad but the prestige associated with claiming to be a firefighter was always a tool that I never seemed to use properly; kind of like being a carpenter who was born without opposable thumbs.

Now I don’t intend on putting firefighters under bad light because I’ve worked with some truly amazing human-beings— some of whom I remain good friends with today— and I also can’t say firefighting is a job that can be performed just as easily by a well-trained monkey wearing an industrial-strength diaper, but I’ve worked with a fair share of misfits. Now when I say “misfit” I don’t mean it as a James Dean persona rebelling against conformity kind of misfit, I’m talking about a “hey, I once used a grocery bag as a contraceptive” kind of misfit. If the typical person who knew nothing about firefighters were to be exposed to some of these darker personalities the shock could be compared to reading a biography of a long-cherished childhood hero only to find out that hero is really just a fat, sleazy, womanizing drunk who spends his past-time skulking through alleyways in search of unsuspecting stray animals to kick, or jumping out in front of frantic mothers to viciously shake a baby carriage or two. Still, this hero might have done some important things during his lifetime but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a gloating, pompous, hate-mongering Nazi-sympathizer who probably makes methamphetamines in his mother’s basement so he can sell them to kindergartners and senoir citizensOk, I’m being ridiculous, but my point is; most of us were not the people many thought us to be.

While on the job there were many individuals who managed to manifest our doctrine of showmanship into this bizarre social behavior that involved one firefighter proving themself to other firefighters. It was reminiscent of what we all experienced in high school. We all remember those reassurances about the high school social complex ending after graduation… We’ll, it won’t if you end up either going to prison or firefighting for this particular company. Many believed that explaining the most gratuitous aspects about their personal lives to complete strangers, who usually couldn’t give a shit, was the best way to showcase their personality. For some reason I knew that certain people’s favorite position while making sweaty monkey love was “missionary” before I even knew their actual names. Hell, I started expecting this kind of information to be used as conversational icebreakers right after first introducing myself…

“Hey, nice to meet you my name’s Jeff.”
“Definitely missionary… Or on my back… Oh, my name is Carl by the way.”

The best and most important example of our showmanship was that of the hero-shot. This was exactly as it sounds: Obtaining a picture of you doing something cool/dangerous on the job. While the best hero shot would involve you battling the fire with your bare hands, it would be extremely difficult because when things actually got nuts, there was no time to stop everything to take a picture. It took me three years to finally get a good hero-shot I was proud of and here it is...

This was right after I wasted an entire roll of film by holding my camera out at arm's length and snapping picture after picture of me trying my best at being nonchalant. Knowing the effort proved futile, I gave up and started brooding when my friend unexpectedly took a shot of me from the front seat of the helicopter.

I've known some people who've loved their hero-shot so much they've actually framed it and put it on a matel, wall or bedroom dresser. It's a strange thing to consider but there are people who wouldn't be caught dead buying a bar of soap in public because they have a feral reputation to maintain, but they're willing to wait in line at a checkout counter to buy a picture frame (Not for framming a head-shot of some sort of loved one, but for framing a picture of themselves.) Personally I could see making my hero-shot into a T-shirt for myself... but putting it on the mantel? Come on.