The cop, fireman & clothier
Every family has a “special” member. If not they should because these are the people that keep things alive and kicking. Uncle Robert was quite the character. The younger brother of my Mom, he never failed to ignite some sort of firecracker into all of our lives. His first professional job was as a city cop. Now I find this comical because he is a small man in stature and is funny as hell. I try to imagine him arresting some thief and before putting him in the squad car, kicking around a few jokes over a couple cigarettes. From what I can tell he was a good cop, until his “nice ways” ran amok with the department rules. When you bust a guy for possession of marijuana, it’s not a good idea to keep it yourself and let the guy go home to his wife and kids.
Also, not a smart move to have sex with the local prostitutes in exchange for not dragging them in for a misdemeanor charge. Oh, he had a few more sneaky moves I’m sure, but these are only the ones I managed to eavesdrop on. It was not long the Captain thought he might work out better as a fireman. In exchange for not firing him, since he was a decent guy, he was asked to join the local fire department.
The fire department had no idea who just landed in the station house. In comes the ex-cop who barely weighed one-hundred fifty pounds and damn near suffered a hernia his first day. The big hose proved a bit much, so by general vote he was made the cook. Perhaps I should have prefaced this with although he was married and the father of five boys, Uncle was gay. Station #59 was about to see what a gay fireman was capable of. Some would love it and some not.
Being tasked as the cook meant he could pull out all of his decorating finesse and show the boys how fine dining was done. He cooked elaborate meals complete with place settings and cloth napkins. Hell, I heard him say on a few occasions some of the men wanted their wives to come learn from him. Now Uncle was a dancer in a past life too and had no qualms with doing a few smooth steps then capping it off with the splits right in the middle of the firehouse. He was one dynamic individual that’s for sure. Unfortunately for him, this was in the seventies and a dancing, gay fireman did not make him one of the “boys” so he was given his walking papers. In true Uncle style, he took off his necktie, made a scarf from it and exited that fire station with all the grace, finesse and charm of Fred Astaire. He was not soon forgotten of this I am certain.
Uncle was hired as the manager for a large Man’s clothing store. He had found his nirvana and would stay employed there for over twenty years. He used to say his success as a clothier was because he of his honesty, had more fashion sense than Halston and made people smile. He is absolutely correct on all three grounds. Like all good things must come to an end, so too was his fate.
Uncle was diagnosed with Aids and somehow through sheer determination, he managed to live for almost twenty years after that first blood test. The last time I saw him he weighed maybe one hundred twenty pounds and was losing his voice. I still recall sitting on the balcony of his apartment, smoking cigarettes and he asking me was I happy with how my life was going. Telling him I was content, he put out his smoke, lit another and said, “Contentment is fleeting; find joy that lasts beyond anything”.
Uncle died a few months later in a Veterans Hospital. He knew joy.
(today is Uncles birthday)