Cincinnati Ladder 99
Short fiction by Jeanne Savona
I take an active interest in the happenings of my community. After all, while more exotic events happen daily around the world, the Oakley neighborhood of Cincinnati is where I live and things that happen here have a definite impact on my life. Hence I strive to be up to date on matters and observant of what transpires.
For instance, through my involvement with the Oakley Community Council, I am aware that all the municipal Fire Stations regularly send out their ladder companies and crew to inspect and repair fire hydrants, check for obvious fire/safety hazards and get psychotic cats out of trees. I also know that because of budget cuts, many firemen and their trucks are often asked to cover more than one neighborhood.
With this information in my grasp, I took no particular notice that the truck Cincinnati Ladder 99 could be seen fairly often cruising Hyde Park Plaza (home of Kroger’s and Biggs super markets, Walgreens and various restaurants with bad food) though I did wonder from time to time if Brueggers Bagels and Servatii Pastries had safety issues as the fire truck was usually parked by those establishments. Recently, however, I observed what I thought was a really bizarre situation involving Cincinnati Ladder 99.
Hyde Park Plaza caters to the mundane chores of daily life – groceries, pharmacy, hardware store, Chinese take out and pizza – so I’m to be found there in the early morning at least five days out of seven (later in the day if I’m picking up moo-goo-gai-pan). I observed Cincinnati Ladder 99 on a Monday morning parked in the center of the Plaza, occupying six parking spots, horizontally and vertically – one of those spots being among my favorite places to park. Odd.
Later in the day, as I returned to the plaza to buy groceries, I noted the self-same fire truck still parked in the same place, still hogging six places. Again, odd, but no big deal. The next morning, the truck had moved – but still occupied six parking places, only now it was in front of Panera Bread. Okay. I don’t really care – I don’t like Panera Bread – they’re pretentious and their salads are limp.
Now I was becoming curious. Why was this ladder company camping out in Hyde Park Plaza? What is going on? Why do I care?
I care because I’m a concerned citizen.
I care because I’m nosy.
I parked close to the fire truck and got out of my car. I walked up to the truck and craned my neck upward, trying to see into the driver side window. I couldn’t see inside. I pounded my fist against the door, hoping someone was inside and would open the door. No response – I pounded some more.
“What are you doing here? What the hell do you want?” A voice, harsh and angry, blasted me. I jumped a foot (maybe two) and turned around. A very tall, very angry and rumpled man, probably in his early thirties, with blood shot eyes and a beard stubble was standing there, clearly not happy. Known for my good manners and ready wit I replied,
“I want to know why this truck has been here for three days. I want to know who you are. I want you to know you look like a serial killer. I want you to know you smell really awful…
“Lady – for Christ’s sake – keep it down!”
“Keep what down?”
I paused and lowered my eyes and my voice. “Are you really a fireman?”
Rumpled and stubby replied: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m a fireman,”
“What’s your name? Do you have a badge or something?”
Rumpled and stubby’s scowl increased. For the first time ever, I wished I had my cell phone right there in my hand…..push an alarm, dial 911. But I hated cell phones and mine (which my husband made me carry) was back in my car with a dead battery.
“My name is Ralph. I’m parked here because my wife threw me out of the house and I’ve no place to go. Satisfied?”
“You’re living in this fire truck because your wife threw you out? Why don’t you find a room somewhere or stay at the station house?”
“My name is Lydia.”
“Okay…Lydia. My wallet, credit cards and money are back at my house. I can’t go there. There’s no bunking at the station house – the f…ing budget cuts blew that.”
“What if there’s a call for this truck to go to a fire? You’re squatting here making it your home!”
Ralph drew himself up like a ruffled hen.
“My monitor is on. If there’s a call, I’ll get it and I’ll go.”
Ralph suddenly hunched his shoulders and put one hand on the fire truck’s side panel. “Look, lady, err Lydia. I’m really beat. Just go away and let me grab some sleep in the truck. You can call my precinct and report me – but the chief knows all about it, he knows where I am and where the truck is.”
“Why did your wife throw you out of the house?” I folded my arms and stared at him.
“What? That’s not any business of yours!”
“I’ll decide what my business is – not you. Are you some kind of woman beater?”
Ralph stared at me blearily and heaved a sigh.
“You’re not going away, are you?”
“No – I’m not.”
Ralph stared at me for a long time. Finally he took a grimy handkerchief from his pocket, wiped it across his tired face and said,
“My wife threw me out so her boyfriend, my fire chief, could move in. Now…just go away.”
I slumped back against the fire truck and stared at Ralph. I felt my eyeballs protruding from my head and I’m sure I looked like a gigged frog.
“Ralph”, I croaked, “Are you actually telling me your supervisor moved in with your wife into your house and knows you’re virtually living in a fire truck of this precinct?”
“Yeah. He said he’d arrange for me to be transferred to another district but he didn’t want me to make any noise about all of this. Hell, lady, - sorry – Lydia – being a fireman is all I ever wanted. It’s all I know.”
“Ralph – don’t you fire guys have a union or something? Don’t you have – what are they called? – Reps? He can’t do this to you!”
“He’ll get me a transfer if I don’t make trouble.”
“How dear of him! Where? The West End? Fairmount?” “And what about your wife?”
“What about her?”
“Well – I mean… I really didn’t know what to say. Look – I want to try to work this out but…”
“Well…I guess I love her and all…but she never understood what the fire department meant to me, ya know?”
No, I didn’t know, but I felt it would be useful, in light of the current happenings, to pretend I did.
“Okay, Ralph,” I soothed. “But there are a lot of other issues here.”
“Well, for starters, you’ve been barred from your own home. I’m assuming you have joint ownership?
“Okay, Ralph. So…for God’s sake, you have a right to at least get your personal belongings…..and if you would just go to the local police or a lawyer…………….”
“No way! Lawyers are just suited up crooks. If I went to the local police, well, yeah, maybe….”
“For the love of God,” I screamed. “Why do you just accept all this crap? What are you – a masochist?”
Ralph folded his arms and, if possible, his scowl became deeper and darker.
“I’m no whatayacallit! I was baptized a Catholic!”
I refrained from saying I thought the terms were interchangeable. It would be considered a sly witticism in some circles – but for once, I felt I needed to proceed with careful thought – actually caution. I took a breath –maybe two breaths – and said,
“Ralph, I’ve an idea.”
“I really want you to get an idea of leaving me alone”
“Just hear me out, please!”
I locked his eyes with mine – as best I could – and began to depose my plan (if my idea could be so dignified as a plan).
“Tomorrow is Tuesday –“
“Yippee shit!” growled Ralph.
“Shut up and listen!”
Ralph heaved a noisy sigh but did, as I asked, shut up.
“The Oakley Community Council meets right here in the Senior Center every first Tuesday of the month. The police and fire chiefs both come and present to the members all the happenings that have occurred in the past month,”
“What do you mean-and? For starters, your slimy boss will be there for two hours and not in your house, Secondly, as a Council member, I can ask him some, shall we say, interesting questions about –where does he reside? Or – where is Ladder 99 at present?”
“I don’t want any more troubles!” moaned Ralph.
This man was hopeless. But I really didn’t want to see him more victimized than he already was.
“Ralph, you’ve got to get some gumption here. I can’t tell you what to do about your marriage and your wife but, sweet Jesus, don’t allow this crummy bastard to treat you like this!” I paused for breath. “Tomorrow evening, he won’t be at your house with your wife – go there, talk to her and if nothing else, you can get some clothes, your wallet and whatever.” A thought struck me at that point.
“Don’t tell me you’ve got any kids!”
Ralph didn’t respond at once, He leaned wearily against the fire truck and after some moments said,
“No – no kids. I always wanted a couple ‘of kids – but Alice said she didn’t want kids”
“Ralph you seem like a good guy. Please go to people who can help you. You deal with this crap and get some answers” I paused a moment...“There is a question and answer session after the police and fire departments give their reports.”
A warm glow of anticipation began oozing through my veins.
“ You be sure to go see your wife tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. I’ll have some questions for the fire chief.”
(Jeanne Savona is a longtime member of the Monday Morning Writers Group in Cincinnati, whose members are well entertained by her wryly funny stories, especially her compilation about the eccentric "Aunt Katie."
Your first paragraph ...