Limited Career Choices – My Brother’s 50th

zb regency scannerThis is the countdown to March 17, and a happy 50th to my brother, Brian, the best brother anyone could ever want in the whole world.

We’re going to talk about our early career training.  Yes, Brian and I used to pretend we were firefighters.  In fact, we still pretend we are firefighters, but at least now we get paid for it.

In the late 60s and early 70s, every adult male in our lives at that time was a firefighter. When your father, grandfather, uncles, great-uncles, and great-grandfathers are all firefighters, well, you simply assume every adult male is a firefighter.   There was some adjustment when we began to attend Kindergarten and found that there actually WERE adult males who…wait for it…were NOT firefighters.  We just assumed everybody’s dad was. We didn’t know anyone’s dad who wasn’t.  The best result of that was if we wanted to pretend we were firefighters, we had unlimited access to anything we needed. Real helmets.  Real gloves.  Real three-quarter boots. Real turnouts. My Dad even had one of the old Survivair 15-minute SCBA backpacks that Brian and I would breathe off of when Dad wasn’t paying attention (and you thought all these years that thing was a little leaky).  And it wasn’t just “regular” old structural gear like all the other firefighter kids we knew. Between Dad and Smokey (Grandpop) we even had access to proximity gear. Fire extinguishers. Halligans.  Pretty much anything in the Ziamatic catalog.

When we played firefighter, it was of course, very authentic. As we met new friends, I’m pretty sure they did not catch the nuances of advancing an attack line vs. a blitz line (NO! The BIGGER hose!), or the differences between “yelp” and “wail” (and Brian can absolutely imitate pitch and quality of a stutter tone air horn). All of this being accomplished on the swingset in the backyard.  And when we stopped the “truck”, even then, someone got out and spotted the rear.

We had the best and greatest device at the time, a Regency scanner, in the living room. Brian and I would listen to Philly’s command and tactical channels. When Commissioner Joe Rizzo was “on location” we would listen carefully, then replicate everything the officers were saying on the air when we were playing. A few years ago, comfortable in our success as accomplished fire officers, real movers and shakers, I got this highly unusual phone call from Brian, who is as deadpan as I am.  Most of the time.

“Guess who I’m having lunch with?” he asks, somewhat giddy.  I’m stumped. “Joe Rizzo.” THE Joe Rizzo? Joe RIZZO? The Commissioner? “Yes.”

The hell with any heads of state or some A-List actor: Brian was having lunch with Joe F***ing Rizzo.  We were both celebrating. ‘Nuff said- back to being tough.

We had actually had the same situation a few years earlier in the basement of an Annapolis church while making the “Dog of God” (a badly drawn lamb on a banner for Kati’s First Communion). It turned out we were making jokes like best buddies over our horrible artwork with this guy who was having similar artistic challenges for his Godchild-to-be. When he found out we were both firefighters, he was pretty happy too, as it turned out HE was a firefighter too!

Brian and I aren’t “shop-talkers” so really, our conversation with our new bud Howard was kept to how we would rather be enjoying a Guinness instead of arts and crafts, and checking out one of the hot moms in the room. By the end, I gave him my business card and he handed me his: Brian and I were yukking it up with FDNY Fire Commissioner Howard Safir. Both Brian and I were looking at each other like five-year olds meeting A-Rod or Ripken, Jr. or Jeter.

Some people look starry-eyed at celebrities, we are that way with metro chiefs, I guess. While we joke that we didn’t have a choice, we ended up in adulthood as real brothers in the best brotherhood ever. To think back then that we’d be here where we are now is just crazy sometimes.  It’s like he and I never grew up. Tune in tomorrow.  This is the countdown to March 17, and a happy 50th to my brother, Brian, the best brother anyone could ever want in the whole world.


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