I wandered through the video store, passing the only other customers, two firefighters from the station around the corner. They were both sporting those heavy insulated pants, held up by suspenders. As I walked by, firefighter #1 asked #2, “Hey, what’s Sin City about?”
FF#2: “Oh, we saw that already. Me and Joe’s crew saw that back at the house last week. It was good.”
FF#1: “Oh, okay.”
I passed on by, sneering at #2’s appraisal of the film, and after a short while, found the movie I’d been looking for.
When I arrived at the counter to pay, the store employee, a stocky bottle-blonde in her early 30s, wasn’t there. She was back with the firemen, helping them find a flick. As they worked their way back to the counter, she was explaining that, believe it or not, she wasn’t Italian, but actually “Slovakian.”
New York’s Bravest settled in next to me at the counter, and the clerk offered them her recommendation, Jarhead, explaining that though it wasn’t technically a “war movie,” it was close enough.[It struck me as weird and yet somehow completely appropriate that New York City firefighters, with probably one of the world’s most stressful, adrenaline-laded jobs, had a taste for war movies. I could just see them lounging around the firehouse, jazzing to the fear and violence, waiting for that bell to ring, summoning them to the next three-alarmer.]
Firefighter #1 asked her if she’d seen Jarhead, and she demurred: “Oh no, I haven’t seen any of ’em. I hate movies.”
FF#1: “You work at a video store and you don’t like to watch movies? Do you like to go to the movies? You like ’em then?”
Bottle-blonde: “No, I’m a terrible date! I either fall asleep or I walk out.”
As I listened to firefighter #1 striking out, I sniffed the air. I thought I smelled something. It smelled like something was burning!
And then I realized: the firefighters’ clothes — probably especially those rubber pants — stank of smoke.