Tales from the Street Trades: Things You Probably Don’t Want to Know

It was August, near National Airport, and the guy lost his girlfriend and blew his brains out in the bushes. We found him by the smell. Flesh sliding off his face, sternum white through his chest, and my god the maggots. “Think CPR might help?” I asked, ever the wise guy. You get a tough-guy attitude, not because you want to be a tough guy but because otherwise you would go into a bar and never come out.

When children are burned alive in fires, which happens in shitty tenements with corrupt inspectors, they turn exactly the dark pink of a Christmas ham, except their bellies explode and things come out. There isn’t enough bourbon, not anywhere. You like children’s stories? If you hold the hands of a girl of three in a pan of boiling water, you get what are called “immersion cuffs.” She screams a lot because she doesn’t understand why Mommy is hurting her. Usually the mother does it, next the dirtbag new boyfriend, almost never the father.

There are people cops don’t much like, such as retail crack-dealers hangin,’ bangin,’ and slangin.’ Others they just don’t understand, such as faggots, or have a quiet sympathy for, such as whores. Some people they want to hurt, hurt bad. Child abusers, for example, or pimps running thirteen-year-old runaways.

I went with a DC cop to interview a rape victim of fifteen in some hospital. She was screaming, sobbing, out of her mind despite sedation—the usual. The guy had roughed her up pretty good. The protocol is never to mention the perp’s race but, if the girl is white, there’s no need. If you think rape is a sexual crime, you have a lot to learn. You don’t risk three years in jail and cripple a woman for something you can buy on any street corner for ten bucks.

The cop came out and said quietly, “I hope I arrest the the guy.” The jaw muscles said the perp would be red blubbering goo. You can’t get too involved.

Police brutality has its appeal at times. It really does.

You may think you know idiots. No. Cops know idiots. You’ve seen those shoes with the bright red lights built into them that flash when you walk? Some knucklehead in 7-D, in Anacostia, was wearing them. He mugged a pedestrian and ran into a dark wood to hide. I’ve known smarter lug nuts. Seven-D also had a security-camera picture of a prisoner whose head was so narrow he could slip between the bars of his cell.

Of the street trades, med-techs get less credit and deserve more than most. They see the ugly stuff. I rode once with the super of the Arlington, Virginia fire department. Fire departments have a problem because buildings don’t burn very well, what with concrete walls and steel fire doors. So they do a lot of ambulance work. I once saw a hook-and-ladder truck respond to a miscarriage. The paramedic did his job perfectly well, but it seemed an odd way to get to the scene.

Anyway the super and I went to a call somewhere in the burbs and found this old guy, maybe seventy, bumping off walls. He’d walk as if seeing nothing, hit the wall, turn, and bump into another wall. The reason was his wife of decades who was lying face up on the floor with her face purple and breathing, if that’s the word, with a noise I still don’t like to think about. Surprise, huh? We all reach the exit door, she had, he knew it, and he had just lost it. The med guys put her pressure at something like 375/280, a number you could have inflated a truck tire with, and put her in the ambulance because that’s what amblulance crews do, not because there was the slightest reason. The super and I drove off. She may have exploded in the ambulance.

I’m not kidding about getting hard, about turning off. You’re a surgeon at Med-Star, a shock-trauma unit. The chopper brings in a kid of seven, horribly screwed up. Maybe a truck hit him, or he fell into a cement mixer, or it was an asteroid strike. As a surgeon you don’t care what did it, only how to fix it. Blood, you say, I need blood, more blood. The brain is swelling badly, all those machines that say beep-beep and aren’t supposed are going crazy and you work desperately for an hou and the kid is dead. Depending on how your head works, you say “Oh, fuck,” and catch the second half of the Redskins versus the Steelers.

One night somewhere in suburban Maryland, maybe Kensington, some guy thought eighty miles an hour was a reasonable speed. It was about how fast he came through the windshield when he hit something. Bythe time I got there with the cop I was riding with he was lying on the pavement and an ambulance crew was working on him for no particular reason. Red gunch was spewing from his mouth, which I suppose is what happens when your chest is completely crushed. A woman paramedic dived into a bag with that fast but controlled way they do things and started intubating what amounted to a cadaver. Women can’t carry stretchers, but they can sure do medicine.

Another ambulance had showed up and wasn’t doing anything because there wasn’t anything for it to do. A gal on the crew knew my cop and so a conversation started, hey, how’s the wife? We ought to get together, ribs and beer, how the kids doing?

Heartless with some guy going liquid, drowning in his blood ten feet away? No. You can’t get involved. There isn’t that much bourbon. If you can save the guy, you do, and that feels good. If he croaks, you say “Fuck it, let’s get a burger.” Or go to the psych ward and turn yourself in. Those are the choices.

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