New Spring Story 2

Get the firehouse, 'Cause she sets my soul afire...



At first glance, you would not notice Dixean "Dixie" Chappius. She stands about five feet tall, she has pleasant feature but she makes a conscious effort NOT to attract attention. While attractive and friendly, she take pride in making no residual noise. She obviously creates noise when she speaks but when she walks, works, runs, eats or sits, she is truly silent; an intuitive ninja with a love of the calm. At times, especially as the town's only salaried firefighter, she has to remember her quiet nature and go out of her way to make some noise to be recognized. It may be because other firefighters want to know where she is during an alarm or resulting house fire but usually it is because her silence gives most people the creeps. She fully understands and accepts the collective need to be heard but if left alone to her own thoughts and day to day adventures, she is quite content to remain stealthy. It has caused her social life to take some unfair detours; her lack of secondary noises has consistently been perceived as a general lack of interest and therefore a lack of opportunity for the suitors. While she makes the extra effort of clatter when inside a burning building or attempts to add superfluous comments on the radio squawk box because her crew prefers the noise of something to frightening silence to continually reassure the team of her safety. While she does believe the noise requirement needs to be included at work, she also believes any affairs of the heart needs some sounds, she rarely has the energy to include it.

Dixie had grown up in the testosterone-fueled environment of several big city firehouses and had endured them all with a quiet class and a certain social flexibility when it came to topics non-traditional. Dixie rarely blushed and was not afraid to lean back and laugh uproariously when the circumstances and opportunity to do so appeared. She was not a prude in any sense of the word but had no tolerance for stupid people, suffered no fools of any kind and bristled at non-funny things. If some chauvinistic hammerhead actually said something truly funny, Dixie would be the first one to laugh and give the small-minded cretin appropriate props. However, if the comment or observation lacked originality or at worst, basic humor, she was legendary to verbally eviscerate the individual and leave them broken and neutered with no option but to skulk back into their banal world with full knowledge that they were idiots. The verbal evisceration was very brief but effective: a two-edged sword of impressive brevity and accurate vitriol.

Dixie was always in a tough room and many slow-witted people were happy to see her resign when the opportunity existed to take over a small town's firehouse. She had enough of the big-city politics, the stifling union rules, an odd ex-boss, the hierarchies built on cronyism, the usual internal crap which collects when several dozen A-types share close quarters and fits of boredom only interrupted by full-on adrenaline. Either way, the fact is/was she wanted out. She loved being part of a team, providing public service, doing an essential job for her community and the true camaraderie of a working fire crew made the decision tough but after countless run-ins with incompetent administrators, she jumped at the chance to manage her own department. The challenges were real: organizing, deploying and running an all-volunteer fire crew were to be daunting but she wanted to start feeling proud of her work instead of ignoring the noise which resulted immediately after a fire or safety issue was resolved. During a fire, it seemed everyone did their job but between runs and community outreach efforts, the bureaucracy filled each open crack in her days and nights until she almost looked forward to the fire alarm. Once she had recognized the epiphany of extremes, she knew it was time to change addresses.

In retrospect, it was Dixie's ex-boss that pushed her over the brink. Her old boss possessed an annoying habit of appearing to be on camera when no one was watching. If a speaker was up in front of a room, presenting some topic to the assembled group, her boss would sit in the back with a permanent grin, nod continuously and actually re-mutter the speaker's comments to herself as if she was feeding the speaker the lines but always two seconds too late. And to compound the annoyance, the old boss constantly had her hands in front of her mouth, implying some toothache or fascination with her finger odor. It was obviously an unconscious habit but when she noticed someone watching her, the hand or hands would quickly come down, the observer would get a double-winked smile and the moment one looked away, the hands would go up again and the boss would continue nodding, muttering and exploring her hands and mouth area with her nose. This behavior went on throughout Dixie's tenure and when her boss was finally promoted, Dixie literally sighed in relief but that relief was short-lived. In her new role of community liaison, the boss would attend a vast majority of the meetings which Dixie was required to attend. Now, out of her fire uniform and wearing the requisite blue suit, sensible pumps and clunky jewelry of senior city administration or a D1 women's basketball coach, the ex-boss's nodding, mouth-covering, finger-smelling mid-management style would continue unabated and unchecked.

Dixie saw a future of continually enduring this olfactic dance or she would have to leave with her only goal to forget about this freak. And then one day, after putting up with the usual behavior, she decided now was time to bolt. Life was obviously too short to have to put up with someone who behaved in such a bizarre manner. The boss, now ecstatic with her new look and role, wanted to be viewed as some wise, street-smart enigma but basically came across as the equivalent of ill-tasting clear broth: some substance but lacking depth, direction, description and desire. Alliteration aside, Dixie's desire diminished and her departure was a definite demonstration of disinterested disgust. After the third meeting in one week with her old boss, she answered the ad for the small town and got out as soon as she could.

The firehouse was situated in the middle of the town and the top floor building was just tall enough to see the rooftops of all the businesses and homes. On nice days, Dixie found herself on the roof looking around for either solitude or the tell-tale signs of a house fire. Lucky for everyone involved, the town rarely had house fires and as such, being a volunteer firefighter was not viewed as a burden to most of the folks making up the brigade. Dixie would sit up on the roof, her feet leaning on the walled abutment and quietly contemplate all matters which crossed her active mind. For about eight months of the year, her roost was a pleasant one and a benefit she did not take lightly. The only way to the roof was up a loud but reasonably safe staircase so if someone was looking for Dixie and she wasn't working on the fire equipment, it was highly likely that she was on the roof. Any one ascending the stairs would be announced by their noise well in advance of their arrival so Dixie enjoyed the comfort of knowing she was never going to be surprised up there. And while she had not done or was planning on doing any activity which could compromise her character or reputation, it was nice for her to have that option if circumstances ever did change.

Dixie had dosed off up on the roof one spring morning; it was almost lunch time and the sun's rays were beaming down on her with a warmth that counteracted the mid-fortyish air temperature. She was reading one of her technical manuals and within a few minutes, she fell asleep in her chair. The chair was wedged between the chimney column and the wall; with her feet up, Dixie was also wedged in with the sun beaming on her face, the still-Winter wind mercifully blocked and nothing on the docket except for a visit to Fred's bakery for a few fresh beignets to constitute her lunch. She heard a familiar voice and triangulating it with the sound of their footsteps, determined she had about three minutes to stand up, wipe any slobber off her face, put the chair away, close the book and act busy before the visitor ascended to the roof.

"Hey, Dixie! Are you up there?"

"I am sure am, Malts. Come on up."

Dixie took a moment to scan the city and take a deep breath. The silence was over for the foreseeable future.

"Hey, Malts. How are you?"

"I am great, Dix. I was wondering if I could bounce a few ideas off you."

"Sure. Let me get a chair."

"You better get two, this might take awhile."

The two sat down and adjusted their seats so the conversation could take the least distance but the relatively isolated location made the adjustments appear unnecessary. They were at least a hundred yards from any other comprehending life form but old habits and social mores are hard to break. While Malts was reaching into his pocket for some notes, Dixie instinctively wiped her face to remove any potential food particle from her face. This act was driven by wisdom born of pain and over the years, the mannerism was consistent with any looming conversations; too many times she had left a crumb or sugar dusting on her face so as Malts began to speak, Dixie's hand had completed its hunt and returned quietly to her lap.

"Do you remember Billy Boyd?"

"The 'batter-batter-swing' guy?"

"That's the one."

Billy Boyd was a fairly generic citizen of the town with only one claim to fame. As a teenager, he had attended a major league ball game in September and watched two teams attempting to close out their season with little fanfare and minimal attention. Both teams had fallen out of their pennant races by early July and were just playing out the string in relatively anonymity. In September, it is common practice for the big league club to add many of their minor league prospects to their roster and the combination of new faces, non-important games between two non-important teams and the start of professional football, resulted in a crowd estimated kindly at five thousand paying customers. While five thousand customers are a lot of people, when you place them sporadically throughout a stadium designed to hold eighty thousand, the silence becomes deafening. Young Billy Boyd began to chant "Hey Batter, Batter, Swing----------------------------gah" repeatedly and within a few minutes, aided by the law of larger numbers, the entire stadium began to chant the same mantra. The collective voices of "Hey Batter, Batter, Swing----------------------------gah" began to surround the players and the absurdity of the circumstances caused Billy to become a local hero for about a week. However, Billy clinged to his performance and made every opportunity to reference his ideas to anyone dumb enough to engage in a conversation with him. To the citizens of the town, he became known as the "batter-batter-swing" guy and the label was still in force when Malts made reference to him on the roof of the firehouse.

"Well Billy came to see me today," said Malts.

He checked off something on his list but Dixie wasn't worried. Malts had always used lists because he hated to forget anything. When time was slow, he would consolidate his open issues and general thoughts onto newer lists and was diligent about thoughts unresolved. There was a certain charm in the way Malts trudged through life with his lists and while she had always thought he enjoyed checking off the items more than actually completing the tasks, she was happy that he had come prepared. While Malts was readying his next thought, Dixie was quietly rubbing her leg with the side of the chair in order to facilitate blood flow back into the stem. She had tucked her leg underneath when she began reading (sleeping) and was trying to get it back into operation without calling attention to the situation. There was no worry because Malts was fixated on his list.

"Did he bring up the 'batter-batter-swing' story?"

"No, not a word. I think I have talked to him five thousand times since the game and he has brought it up every time until today."

"That is strange. Do you think he is okay? I don't care past the general human being thing but still, he is harmless."

"I think he is but that is not the point. The point is," said Malts as he checked off another item, "is that he asked me something that has troubled me."

"What is that?"

"Billy the 'batter-batter swing' guy looked at me and said, 'I don't know why things seem to be so odd."

In his lifetime, Billy Boyd had not said one thing original. He, at best, parroted whatever was said by those around him and other than the "batter-batter-swing" contribution to society, he appeared content in his own world of derivative, banal thought. Whether he was the social canary in the social coal mine or just someone who hadn't had much to say, the change in Billy Boyd appeared to be a harbinger and Malts wanted to bounce this off Dixie as soon as possible.

"Billy said that?" said Dixie. "What else did he say?"

"Nothing, he looked into my eyes and asked why things seem so odd."

"Wow."

"No kidding, wow. What do you think we should do about this?"

Malts said, "I am already doing something about this, I told you."

They spent the rest of the lunch hour tossing around ideas. Each had concerns ranging from the distressing lack of intelligent social discourse, the troubling dumbing-down of the media, the consistent deterioration of quality products and services, the ailing environment, the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots but felt that something else was causing Billy to stumble on some epiphany. They had no interest in asking Billy due to their larger fear of the 'batter-batter-swing' story but felt he had brought an issue to their attention and they needed to pick up the challenge and right a wrong which was just below the surface.

It is fascinating what you see when you are not looking for anything in particular.

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