I stopped going to UConn in 1993. I pretended that I was still going, but I didn’t. I’d drive out to some park and listen to the radio. Then I’d come back home like I spent all day on campus in lecture halls and labs and libraries. Not sure why I did that. My dad died the previous November. Maybe I was depressed. Anyways, my mom found out and I had to get a job. That was tough. The Cold War was over. Pratt and Whitney would have been an option most of the time, but they were laying off. This was the Peace Dividend. I answered an ad for vacuum cleaner sales? Why, don’t ask me. I knew nothing about the product. We didn’t have carpeting in the Army. If I were selling floor buffers, that would have made more sense.
Kirby was the brand of Vacuum cleaner. It was manufactured in America, by the Scott Fetzer Company. Scott Fetzer was owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which was owned by Warren Buffett, It was Made n America, unlike Electrolux, which was made by some Scandinavian bastards. This is a point we tried to emphasize. Times were tough, so folks were in a protectionist mood. Kirby did steal some foreign ideas. We had a company songbook like we were part of some Japanese conglomerate.
“Kirby Will Shine Tonight.” Was one of the tunes we would sing in the morning before going out on sales calls. We also had “Tales From The Field” where one of the guys who actually sold one of these machines would motivate us with his story about how he sealed the deal. I lasted a month. Supposedly, you would earn a salary on top of your commissions if you did enough “shows” or appointments, but they made it nigh impossible to get your foot into enough doors. They gave you a price they wanted you to sell the vacuum cleaner for, but you could go down. Like a car salesman, you’d use the old ploy. “Let me call my boss.”
“Mary, I got some good news, for you. I can knock $200 off the price if you sign on the dotted line tonite.”
Mary was always the name of our notional customer when we practiced demonstrations. We’d turn the vacuum cleaner on, do a little patch of floor and show her all the dirt that came up.
“See, Mary? See all this dirt!”
It was a quality machine, but it was expensive. We’d get warm leads from a couple of telemarketers and go to their houses. But there weren’t enough to go around, One of the ones I got was far some lady who was on welfare. Didn’t they screen these potential clients?
I wound up on the van crew. We’d go into some subdivision armed with gift baskets to use as bait to get us into the house. The van crew was a bunch of rock and rollers with one foot in the grave. They were guys in their thirties who were all devotees to booze and grass and maybe harder stuff. Bruce was one of them. He lived in a motel. He liked it, but it looked like a hellish existence. Another guy was named Don Eldridge. He lived with his sister and would spend most of his nites and weekends in a drug haze. There was an Eldridge Street in town, so I pretended in my mind that he was actually shabby gentility. These were the guys that actually made sales of vacuum cleaners and they were in dire straits.
One time, we were in West Hartford, going door to door like Fuller Brush men. I found a mark. A strange looking dude who was interested in the Kirby. He said that he repaired computers and it would come in handy to get rid of electronics dust. A very friendly guy was he. But things got weird. He told me that he was a Scanner. I had no clue what he was taking about. He freaked me out when he said it was just like the movie. He could read my mind and had telekinetic powers. The glazed look in his eyes told me that he wasn’t trying to bullshit me and believed this stuff. I almost beat feet right then, but I composed myself enough to grab the demonstrator model. You lost it. You bought it.
Kirby was a low rent version of Glengarry Glen Ross. They even had a sales contest. The prize was a vacation at Jack Tar Resort.
Did some grunt work for JobPro. Working in an ice cream factory was the worst. Hood had a plant in Suffield that seemed so… Soviet. It should have been called Ice Cream Works #17. I worked there one day and they asked me if I wanted to come back. I screamed. I went home, drank a 40 of Crazy Horse Ale, then went out with the Wig and his brother and caused a scene at some chain casual dining place.
Finally, I got a job with First Security. It felt like ‘Nam. My brother worked for First at UTRC. It was a cushy job. Sit at the front desk during off hours and monitor folks coming in and out. I wound up at Saint Francis Hospital. Wacko Jon Dacko ran the account. You couldn’t relax.
It was a big place in a notsonice section of Hartford. When I got there, two gangs were in a war: the Latin Kings and Los Solidos or The Solids. Dacko warned me about this like I was a suburban kid who couldn’t hang. Hey! I was a grizzled vet and still young enough that nothing scared me.
My first day, I was trained by Tommy Harrington. It was 2nd shift. I was Unit 5. Harrington was a relief sergeant. Jake Fortier was Unit 3 or the shift sergeant for second shift. Unit 5 was a rover and had keys to the whole hospital; including the morgue. So we started out by doing fire safety checks. Ostensibly, we were supposed to check the safety on various units, but most guards went through the motions. Then again, the whole point might have been to show our face on the wards. 2-2 had some nasty characters as patients. Street people with habits. 2-2 sticks out in my mind because after we walked that floor we went down the stairs and went outside through an alarmed fire door.
“Signal 9 2-2. Disregard the point.”
That’s what we would radio in to the control room. An alarm went off when we opened the fire door and we had to tell them to disregard it.
One time, a Puerto Rican girl was missing after she went swimming in the Farmington River. The Stateys sent out a diving team and they couldn’t find her body. Eventually, her extended family found her limp corpse, brought it to the ER, and proceeded to riot. I think that I had just pulled a double shift when I got a call from Owen asking for all hands on deck. I drove my Cavalier from Ellington to Hartford in 15 minutes.
Marcus Camby starred at UMass, but he was from Hartford. He got drafted into the NBA. The nite before his first training camp, he and his homies were partying at some after hours place. A fight broke out; someone had to go to the ER and the fracas continued in the waiting room. I was supervising that nite, but it wasn’t my proudest moment. I wasn’t able to maintain order. Fortunately, HPD swarmed the hospital and things calmed down.
Oksana Baiul, the figure skater, wrapped her car around a tree one icy nite. She was still in her teens at the times. She went to the ER. She was loaded and some lab tech leaked her tox results to the press. They got fired. It was the middle of the nite, so I didn’t feel like waking up Dacko or Lucette by paging them, but I should have.
There were labor pains during the building of the Patient Care Tower. Some felt that Saint Francis wasn’t hiring enough minority contractors when they were constructing a new building where the old helipad used to be. So they jumped into the pit. The pit was where the foundation was being laid. We got beaucoup OT during this stretch.
There were gangland shootings frequently. We were afraid of some of these bangers finishing business, so we aliased victims. One time, someone gave a patient Gilbert Bane as an alias. Gilbane was the general contractor on the PCT. It was a lame joke. I was supervising a weekend shift once when a gunshot kid came to the ER. I dubbed him Earl Weaver after the old Orioles manager.
Unit 7 was where the action was; the ER. A lot of that post’s work involved restraining patients. It wasn’t the most humane thing, but I could understand it. One time, some plainclothes cop brought in some kid who was a low-level crack dealer. The kid put some rocks in his mouth and wouldn’t spit them out. He refused to. So the cop brought him to the ER to get him to spit it up. They called in a bunch of us to help out. O’Neil was there, so was Dacko. I was there, too but I got called away for an alarm elsewhere. I’m glad that happened. Right after I amscrayed, the kid ingested the crack and had a massive fatal heart attack right there.
Most of the ER duty was more mundane. We’d restrain junkies and alkies in C-side. They dreamed of going to the Institute of living. At least the frequent fliers did. But beds there were scarce. We had to use universal precautions against blood borne pathogens. Thanks to the HIV virus, blood was poison. Usually this meant latex gloves, but sometimes we had a spitter on our hands and that meant donning masks. Sometimes we had tourists. Like the time the Allman Brothers Band were playing at the Meadows. Some dude had too many shrooms and they brought him to the ER to sleep them off. An HPD cop brought in a six-toed junkie and he was raising a ruckus.
“Hey man. Can you keep it down?” The concert kid said. He looked a little like Curtis from the old Ameritrade ads.
“You at the concert tonite?” asked the cop.
Another time, it was a snowy day and classes at most of the area schools were cancelled. A couple of West Hartford kids got into one of their parent’s liquor cabinets. It may have been their first taste. They got hammered and went outside to make snow angels. One kid passed out. The other one freaked out and called 911. I was 7 that nite and when I got to C-side, they were there with the street people. I think that scared them straight. The more sober one was drooling so much that the EMTS put a mask on him. His partner in wine threw up in front of me.
That was gross. But I once saw the innards of a stabbing victim hanging out of his body. Even grosser was this teenaged girl. She tried to kill herself on her birthday by drinking antifreeze. The doctor and nurse pumped her stomach as we held her down. They stuck a rubber hose up her nose and poured some charcoal solution into her. I held the girl down, but I could not hold down the meal I just ate in the café.
Sometimes we had to restrain more than the limbs. One time, there was a head banger in C-side. Raul was the tech on duty and he rode his motorcycle to work that day. With his blessing, we corkscrewed Raul’s helmet on the guy’s head.
“KNDE 871 Clear at x hundred hours (or x thirty hours.)”
That was our radio call sign. But it took me a while to figure it out. O’Neil or whoever was in the control room usually mumbled it.
Let me tell you who was who. Unit 1 was the captain. Jon Dacko was the captain the whole time that I was at Saint Francis. 1S was Lucette. She was the Security Director and a hospital employee. 1A was the lieutenant. First it was Eric Letendre, and then Jake got promoted. 2, 3, and 4 were the shift supervisors. 5 was the rover with the keys and the tour wand. 6 guarded the main entrance. 7 was in the emergency room. He was assisted by 7A in the evenings. 7A had to remain in the waiting room. 8 guarded the ER driveway and handed out tokens for the ER parking lot. You wound up hanging out with the ambulance crew. They thought they were God’s gift to the world. Pam Paseka, my partner in deli, worked for one of the ambulance companies. She never said boo to me. I waited five years and she never did. I would have talked to her if she did, but I’m shy or snobby like that. I want others to approach me, not vice versa. 9 drove the patrol SUV. The thing broke down constantly. It wasn’t meant to be driven 24/7. I crashed it once responding to a signal 16. 10 and 11 patrolled 1000 Asylum Avenue. Unit 9 would sometimes escort ladies to their car, especially at nite. We weren’t supposed to accept tips, but one time two old biddies kept insisting that I take a sawbuck from them. Who was I to argue? I told Eric Letendre about this. He told me that he’d pretend I didn’t tell him and never mention anything like that again. Around this time, some relief sergeant named Torres on 3rd got fired. A few days later, I was driving around in the Explorer with Eric. Some lady from Medical Records was riding with us over to 1000 Asylum. I forget her name, but she was tight with us because she had to go down into the bowels of that building on occasion during the nite and it was spooky. She asked why Torres was fired. Letendre said, “He was accepting gratuities from escortees.”
I almost lost my shit. If I had a dip of Skoal between my cheek and gum, I swallowed it then.
10 was a 9 to 5 Mon thru Friday guy; Sergeant Winston Gordon. 12 was in another building at 140 Woodland. 13 was downtown where some nursing students lived.
14 was at the Cancer Center. 15 guarded the entrance from the parking garage. 18 was on 4-6 in the maternity ward. 19 was at the entrance to Building 6 across Woodland Street from A-Lot. A lot of folks didn’t like Post 19 because it was boring. I didn’t mind it because I could dip Skoal and people pretty much left you alone. 20 was at the Nursing School. 21 was a rover. 22 and 23 escorted visiting nurses throughout the city. Later on, there was post 27 in the new Patient Care Tower. There was also a post in the PG. That one sucked. I flipped out one day when I couldn’t get a visitor to move his car out of the way of the entrance. There wasn’t enough oxygen in there on a hot day and I was running on fumes. Anyone else would have been fired, but Dacko liked me, I guess. We also had a couple of German Shepherds and their handlers.
It was a frustrating job. We had responsibility, but no authority. We weren’t armed; which was probably a good thing. The pay was low and it wasn’t a cool slacker job like bar backing, or working in a pizzeria, bookstore or coffeehouse. We were The Man, but we weren’t. Even Environmental Services (what they euphemistically called the janitors) were in a higher caste.
You know what made it feel like ‘Nam? The hours. We had a standby system. If someone booked off or called in sick, #1 standby from the previous shift would have to pull a double. If someone else booked off, #2 would have to stay and so on. Sometimes you felt like you lived at the hospital. They wouldn’t let you sleep there, though, like an intern and I recall at least one guy crashing his car after a double shift.
All of this would have a cascading effect. Someone would quit (sometimes midshift) and some kid would get stuck covering for him. He’d say, “Fuck this! I can work at Mickey D’s instead.” And he’d quit. The rest of us would turn into zombies. I think that this was around the time I discovered coffee.
I started working for First Security in August of 1993. I started on second shift. “No one starts on first shift.” That’s what Dacko told me. Of course, a few weeks later, some new hire wound up on first shift. In September, I was trained one Saturday on the use of handcuffs and restraints. My friend got married the nite before and I was massively hung-over. Eventually, I wound up on first shift and even got promoted to relief sergeant. There was a lot of turnover at the hospital. Many officers would only last for a month or less. Others left to become correctional officers. We had some cop wannabes, but it was tough to get on to a town’s police force. There was a lot of competition. But the prisons were hiring a lot back then. I almost joined the DOC myself. So, it was easy to get seniority on the security department. And I was one of the smartest guys there. The job didn’t exactly attract wizards. But I wasn’t a leader of men and had trouble instilling confidence in people so my promotion wasn’t easy to come by. Lucette didn’t like the fact that I had trouble making eye contact.
To blow off steam, I’d have a few drinks with The Wig. I must have really got drunk one time, because I volunteered to go to third shift. I didn’t like first shift. Too many people around and too much office politics. But third? It was in the middle of the nite. During the winter, I never saw the sun. Eventually, I went back to school fulltime and worked Post 11 on weekends. The Wig actually inspired me. He went back to school. I figured that if he could do it, so could I. He wound up an internship short of getting his business degree. But I stayed the course and got a BA in Econ.
Post 11 was chill. No one was at 1000 Asylum on the weekends except some IT guy. I did a lot of my econ homework and read a lot of other books while on duty. I did have to do Mail Rounds on Saturday. That meant escorting the mailman around the building so I could unlock doors and he could deliver. We had this fat postman who reeked of mold or mildew. I could never quite place the smell, having lost a lot of my sense of smell over in the Dirty East. I could also never figure out how a guy who walked so much kept that physique. Finally, I had the security job that I wanted. Bill James wrote his Baseball Abstracts in a similar situation. I did write a short story on Post 18. I should have done more, but I can’t turn back the clock. I lucked out and got a job right after I graduated from ECSU. Did I like working at the hospital? Not really, but it had some fun moments; especially on the weekends when we could explore strange corners of the hospital.
I told you about Captain Dacko and a few others. Let me tell you about some of the rest of the people. Bev Greenaway was the diabetic Barbadian control room queen. She worked from 6 to 2 in the control room. This was a windowless cell that had phones, radios, alarms, and security cameras. When she got excited, she would speak in patois and was difficult to understand. Chris Beebe was the TO or training officer. I remember when they had a dedication ceremony for the new Patient Care Tower. “Seven Amazing Stories” is what they called it. It was a really frustrating day for him because he was in charge of that special detail. I was in pain from standing on a floor all day that was as hard as diamonds. Chris looked defeated as he dragged on a cigarette after the ceremony was over. They didn’t have a TO when I started. Tommy Harrington was the guy who trained me. He was an 11B in the National Guard. Later, he became a volunteer fireman. In addition to cop wannabes, we had a lot of firemen.
Dacko was an ex-cop from Donora, Pennsylvania. He was related to Scott Zolak and went to high school with Ken Griffey, Senior. There were rumors that he was a cokehead. I’m not sure how true those were. Someone said that Sergeant Gordon was his connection, but people like to make shit up. Dacko was heavyset, quick to anger, and would sometimes call you five times in five minutes while you were off duty. It was like he was George Steinbrenner while I was Billy Martin.
Eric Letendre was the lieutenant when I started. He came up through the ranks and used to be a canine handler. Later, he left to do undercover work as a plant in a plant. That was part of First Security’s Investigative Services Division. But it wasn’t for him. It is hard to be a rat. He worked from six at nite to two in the morning, but I’m not sure what he did other than write the schedule. That was a gargantuan task in and of itself.
Jake Fortier was unit 3 and was later promoted to 1A. He liked to drive around the campus in his POV and surveil surreptiously.
Brian Harvill was Unit 2. When I first met him, I thought that he looked familiar but I couldn’t place him. Turns out that he was a year ahead of me in high school. He was friends with Joel Greene who tended bar at Elmo’s.
I wrote earlier about some calamities I experienced on the job, but I was never as defeated as the Saturday when some lady died and her family proceeded to tear up a ward. We were warned that people sometimes grieve differently, but this was dangerous. We had to call the cops up to assist. There wasn’t much else I could do.
Shaka Zulu wasn’t a security officer, although he once grabbed one guy’s hat and wore it. He was a frequent flier and holder of the longest arrest record in Hartford history. It was all minor stuff like disturbing the peace and being drunk and disorderly. If being an obnoxious drunk was criminal, he was the Moriarity or John Gotti of the North End. He wouldn’t seek treatment in the ER. He’d just come by on a cold nite and crash. Looked a little like Redd Foxx. Shaka annoyed the hell out of staff and visitors and patients, but we found him amusing. We had to kick him out before the day shift arrived. Another guy like that was Homer. He was the king canner of Hartford. Eventually, he sobered up and bought a van. And he really did live in it down by the river. For him, this was the high life.
Joe Zordan was Unit 20 during the day. He had a feud with the second shift guy, some oldster named Goodkofsky who Joe insisted on calling Goof Offsky. It got bad enough, not bad enough for them to fire Joe, but bad enough for Zordan to get exiled to third shift.
Another character we had to deal with was Mr. Welch. He was the Post Inspector. He was an old guy who worked for First Security. He kind of reminded me of Command Sergeant Major McBryar. First had various other accounts in the Hartford area and he would visit those as well as Saint Francis, but he loved to write people up. For petty violations. And sometimes, a visit by him could end your career. Like Owen, for example. Owen was this older guy who worked post 12 part-time. It was one of those satellite posts. He had his nice little fiefdom. The building would close at seven or eight in the evening and he would lock up, return to headquarters and turn in his radio and keys. He usually changed into civvies before driving back to HQ. Well, one day, Mr. Welch showed up at his post at 7:58 and Owen was wearing jeans and sandals. They fired his ass.
Bruce Lincoln was a guy who worked third shift. He wore a bulletproof vest. He never washed it and he smelled worse than my friend, the Saturday mailman. We called him stinkin’ Lincoln. One time, I was supervising first shift on a summer Saturday and would be relieving Lincoln, who was supervising third. I went to 125 Riverside Drive with The Wig. I was gonna have a drink or two, and then be home safely in bed by midnite. While I was there, I ran into Lincoln and Cole, another third shifter. They had to go in in a few hours and they were hammered. They wanted me to join them for shots. Uh uh. I was afraid that I was going to arrive at the hospital in the morning only to find nothing but a smoldering ruins. Lincoln was the guy who crashed his truck after pulling a double.
O’Neil was eventually promoted to sergeant on third shift. But he hit a guy. That was a no-no. He was canned.
I was always courteous and polite and gave good directions. Customer service was one of the things they wanted out of us. I was just indecisive. At least I wasn’t as indecisive as Ted. He was my doppelganger and NYPD Blue fan. Like me, he used to be an Army linguist. He was also a longhaired vegetarian who was Keith Doberman to Owen’s Rush Limbaugh. Sometimes, when Owen’s shift was over, he’d gab about politalks with whoever was in the control room. I’m not sure what t Ted was doing at Saint Francis. He seemed out of place. He wanted to become a sergeant. The pay was better. He whined and whined and eventually got promoted. But his own troops complained about how he took forever too respond to alarms and other stuff Ted was doing. They brought in Tim Howard, the ADM to break the news to him that it wasn’t working out and they let him go.
As for major triumphs, I did manage to work for First for close to five years without getting fired. That was quite a feat. I came close once towards the end when my relief didn’t show up one Saturday nite and I was all set to go to a stag.
A typical shift started with roll call. They wanted us in fifteen minutes early for roll call. We weren’t paid for this and someone could have probably filed a complaint to the Labor Department about this but such is life. Jake Fortier was good at this because he had a droll delivery. He’d warn us to be on the lookout for various outpatients, usually from the dialysis unit who would wander the halls and steal things. Or the fired doctor who was a gun nut and had an ex-wife who worked in the ER. Then it was on to your post. Usually, standbys got to choose their own post, and there were always standbys, so you wound up on post 8 or 19 freezing or sweating your ass off. You got two breaks. A shift; one short 15 minute one and one for a meal. Usually you rotated post halfway through the shift. After eight hours you were done. Unless you weren’t finished with writing your reports. We wrote a lot of reports like we were real instead of rental cops. You couldn’t take a shit without having to write it up. Some guys couldn’t write their way out of a wet bag. It’s not like they often had to. The restraint reports were prefilled and you just had to circle different items and put in a date and time. The rest of us lapsed into a dry reportese: “At the above date and time, yada, yadier, yadiest.” And we referred to our selves in the third person like “this writer” or “this officer” like we were Rickey Henderson. The supervisor always stayed late. Shannon Conover was Unit 4 when I started at Saint Francis and he took forever to finish his paperwork. He looked a little like Stephen Colbert. I don’t think he could hack the job, but it took a special person to hack the job.
We had a secretary. I think that here entire job consisted of ordering lunch (we ate a lot of Chinese) and typing these reports into a computer. I worked most weekends, but I got some off for reserve duty. I didn’t like the Reserves as much as I enjoyed active duty. Less camaraderie and it was an older crew. More lifers and half of them had civilian jobs with various governments, be they fed, state, or local.