When the weakness of a firefighter is discovered, it is exploited by some for the entertainment of the rest. I was an exploiter. I worked with many unusual people myself counted in that statement.
Some had strange behaviors around the way they ate, slept, exercised, read, talked, you name it there was someone on the job with a different way of doing it, a way most would describe as not normal.
Here is another uniqueness of the fire service, because we do live with our co-workers for 24 hour periods, we get to observe things about each other that normal co-workers don’t get to know about each other.
The nine to fivers don’t have the opportunities that we do to first learn what makes each other tic, and second don’t have the opportunity take advantage of this knowledge like we do.
One guy I worked with had more oddities than Ripley. Spanky was a man of smaller stature but the interesting thing about him was that he didn’t suffer from small man syndrome like so many mini firefighters did.
His proclivities centered more in the way he liked his personal stuff arranged. I believe it was more of an OCD issue than anything else. The control needed to be OCD in the unpredictable world of the fire station had to be a tremendous burden for him.
At the outset of his career like all new guys he had to be tolerant of harassment. He tried very hard to disguise he weaknesses and not give clues to their existence so pretty much knowledge of his short comings were made by accident.
Like the first time I noticed by sheer luck that he was particular about his eating utensils. We were preparing for a meal and Spanky had his place setting arranged for the meal. I was seated next to him; I didn’t have a fork so just messing with him I grabbed his fork like I was going to use it.
Then gave it back, for a moment he didn’t know how to react.
“Keep it I’ll get another one.” He said.
“No Spanky I’ll get my own.” I grabbed another nearby fork and began to eat. Spanky sat motionless a few minutes holding the fork but not eating.
“You don’t like my cooking asked?” Asked Grumpy George.
“No it’s fine.” Said Spanky, still not eating.
“Then dig in kid.” Now because of George’s question and Spanky’s lack of action the whole crew became aware of Spanky not eating, all eyes were on him now and the shoveling of food by others stopped.
“Yeah I’ll eat, I just gotta get a drink first.” Said Spanky. But Spanky had a glass of water in front of him. So when he got up and went to the sink fork in hand we were all watching.
He got to the sink, opened a cabinet and retrieved a drinking glass and as he went to fill it with water he tried to make it look like an accident he was dropping his fork in the sink.
“Opps.” He said as he deliberately disposed of the fork and then he grabbed a fresh fork out of the silverware drawer. He returned to the table and with a fresh fork began to eat.
“Dude, did you throw that fork away because I touched it?” I asked.
“I didn’t throw it away, I dropped it on accident and just grabbed a new one is all.” Spanky’s voice wasn’t holding up and his body language screamed I’m lying.
“You did you little shit, you threw away a perfectly good fork because I touched it. What do I got germs or something?”
“No man it was just an accident. Had nothing to do with you touching my fork.”
“Then let me touch that one.” I reached for his fork and he jerked it away from my reach.
“No man you don’t need to touch my fork. Can I just eat my dinner?”
Fast Ricky was sitting on the other side of Spanky, so when Spanky pulled his fork away from me he moved it right into Fast Ricky’s range. He was called Fast Ricky for a reason, he had cat like reflexes.
Just like that Ricky had Spanky’s fork. Then he just handed it right back to Spanky. Now Spanky had a choice, fight through his OCD and use the offending fork, or get up and get a new one.
“Well you gonna eat?” Ricky asked.
Spanky was frozen with fear. He hadn’t come to us as a kid, he was a grown man and had worked in the real world before joining us, and Spanky was no dummy, he was an intelligent man.
He started slowly.
“Okay look, it’s nothing personal, I just have a germ problem. I didn’t see if you guys washed your hands before dinner and so I don’t like people touching my stuff if they haven’t washed their hands, that’s all.”
The Captain was Old Weird so he was well acquainted with strange behavior. Difference was he was the captain.
“You know Fred (that was Spanky’s real name and being a captain Old Weird didn’t engage in nicknames for the most part) you picked a strange career path for a germ-a-phobe. You do understand we deal with germs on a daily basis?”
“Yes sir I know that and I’m prepared to handle that.”
I reached over and touched his plate now.
“Man that’s wrong, why’d you touch my plate?” Spanky asked. He was now becoming agitated.
“I washed my hands Spanky, it’s cool. I promise. I was in the bathroom taking a pee and then when I got done… wait, now I’m not sure, maybe I didn’t wash hands. Did I wash my hands Ricky, you were in there with me?”
“Naw you didn’t, I know because neither one of us did, we were talking about the call when George called dinner and we came right over to the kitchen.”
“I think you are right, I’ll wash ‘em now.” I got up and went over to the sink and washed my hands, then dried my hands on my pants.
“Better?” I asked Spanky.
Spanky got up from the table and went to the trash can, he scrapped his meal off the plate and into the trash.
From that day forward, Spanky always ate last. He would wait for everyone else to serve themselves, then retrieve his plate and silverware at the last minute and eat standing at the counter. When he cleared probation he began brown bagging and ate his meals alone and at off times to avoid the rest of us.