Officer Alex finds confirmation in New Orleans of his long-held beliefs about firefighters
“Hey, you gotta meet this guy, he shoulda’ been a firemen I swearta’gahd!” a firefighter named Caballero said from across a dining table in a dark New Orleans restaurant that was older than my beloved Tennessee, but would still prefer to remain nameless.
“I know, but I kept passing the IQ tests. A real tragedy,” I said between spoonfuls of something they told me was redfish couvillion.
“See?! I love this guy!” he said, making my point.
A thousand firefighters, cops, teachers and other assorted public-servant types had descended here on the armpit of America for an annual employee benefits and financial conference. This was a world completely alien to us as sight hounds and adrenaline freaks (teachers aside; more on that later), but one that fate had cast us into, much like our careers.
“Wait,” said Caballero. “Is this drum?” he asked while examining one of the few spoonfuls that hadn’t made it to the unfortunate napkin on his lap. “’Cause this doesn’t look like redfish.”
“Of course it’s drum, you knucklehead,” said a compatriot of his with a nametag that read Alf. “It’s redfish couvillion, doesn’t matter what kind of fish you use for it. Everyone knows this. Clearly this is drum, blackened I’d say. We’re not in East Austin here, Cab.”
Now I paused at the exchange. “Well, the beignets had regular sugar crystals on them instead of powdah’d sugah. What else would I expect?” Caballero shot back.
“Be that as it may,” said Alf. “Quit embarrassing us.”
All these years and I’d never seen such a blatant confirmation of all I suspected about firefighters. But in all these years I’d avoided conferences and training seminars in New Orleans. And this wasn’t even the reason.
The sister of the wife of the guy across from me who was still staring at his couvillion (or as cops would call it, “soup”)? I recognized her at the table next to us as the woman I stepped around on Bourbon Street last night because she was sitting in the middle of the road with her legs crossed Indian-style, her eyes closed, and the remnants of a bottle of red wine in a death grip despite her otherwise apparent stupor. Her jeans were soaked in the same wine and general filth that accompanies this thoroughfare and her sister and brother in-law were pleading with her to leave to no effect, and that…That was the reason I avoided this place.
Foodies and lightweight drinkers aside, I only wish I’d remained that lucky—because despite my avoidance of the firemen for these reasons, as it turned out the teachers were the really wild ones.
The city of New Orleans had truly come back from the brink. The silver bullet that was Hurricane Katrina only served to spread her destitute and misbegotten across the nation (or more specifically, to Chattanooga and Houston as best the country could tell), leaving federal money to repair the place and allowing police to regroup and let the golden goose that was the French Quarter keep laying its prize eggs, only now and then requiring the NOPD to come in to scoop up a random drunk like an alien abduction and spirit him or her away, never interrupting the perpetual party of alcohol and sweaty crumpled small-denomination bills that made this whole sick organism work.
And despite knowing this and all the inherent risks? I wound up hanging out with a Chicago school teacher I met at a conference social who could pass for Laurence Fishburne at three meters away, and who, despite his calm demeanor and perfect inflection, had decided to try to ruin my life for the next few days.
One minute we’re downing horrible well drinks at the hotel, and I’m looking at my watch calculating bed time, and the next thing you know it’s 4 a.m. and I’m drinking with Morpheus himself out of plastic glasses in a bar with no name three blocks south of Bourbon Street near a church that could as easily be used as a set for “The Alamo” as it could be for a John Carpenter vampire movie. What?
Eight a.m. seminars came early, but I made it despite myself (and with the help of an excellent in-room coffee maker), and I’ll be damned if Furious Styles himself wasn’t sitting in the back row looking like he was ready to accept an Oscar, smiling and raising his own cup of Joe at me, already settled in
“I had crab cakes with that dude this morning at 5 a.m.,” I said, pointing him out to “IAFF Alf” from the night before. “It’s like drinking with the Terminator.”
“Did you?” he replied earnestly. “Let me guess. Lemon remoulade, right?!”
I rolled my eyes. This was going to be a long week… and like Morpheus about Neo, I was right.
When officer Alexander D. Teach is not patrolling our fair city on the heels of the criminal element, he spends his spare time volunteering for the Boehm Birth Defects Center.