It looked like it was going to be a long night, as it is early in Spring Break and we were all bracing for the worst this week as Key West has been packed with people all winter long. Traffic has been terrible and everywhere is sold out, parking is at a premium and the lure of summer looms large when year round tourism dials it back a bit and the crowds die down. But not yet.
So there we were, massively staffed with four dispatchers and my Trainee and we were working. All three ambulances were out on calls, the phones were ringing and JW, my enthusiastic Trainee was typing madly keeping up with the radio traffic on the main police channel. I was keeping an eye on him, intervening when he got backed up, trying to let him find his own way in the morass of laconic police radio traffic that punctuates the night.
Nick out of uniform
Then the night eased up for a while. Keith went on break and the four of us slowly turned inwards from our computers and the conversation drifted to Nick's forthcoming vacation, to be taken with his cousin in New York City. Nick looked unenthusiastic when Shannon and I suggested Broadway would be his oyster for a week. His cousin he said was employed on Broadway as a set dresser and could get him passes but he wasn't sure he was interested. An appalled silence filled the room. Dispatchers can be a judgmental lot so Nick retrieved his honor by allowing he might, possibly, go see something. Then when Shannon started asking about reservations to eat out the appalled silence indicated once again that Nick was taking his trip far too lightly. In his defense he reminded us it was going to be cold and probably snowing. He sounded keen on that saying he'd ordered a winter coat and Shannon started in on him about his footwear; more appalled silence. "You mean you don't have waterproof shoes?" She looked at me and I looked at Nick. JW typed the sparse radio traffic and kept his head down. Things were looking harsh for Nick. Shannon seemed to figure he was probably going to get stuck in a snow storm and she would end up doing a week's worth of overtime to cover for him while he extricated himself from a snow drift, slowly, just to spite her. Nick sounded keen about the prospects of seeing cold weather, far more so than a chance to see a play for free or eat in some of the world's best restaurants. I've worked with him for years and I am sure he thinks I'm as weird as he is to me sometimes.
Shannon out of uniform for winning a decorating contest
After a pause for a few more 911 calls and their requisite dispatch conversation started up again in a lull. This time the subject of sleep came up and how Shannon's husband likes to eat in bed. I started this because I mentioned there was an actress on a Netflix show called Black Sails I wouldn't kick out of bed for eating crackers and Shannon said she was "plain."
Louise Barnes as Mrs Barlow
Fat lot you know, I replied with a spirited lack of maturity, which somehow prompted a discussion about spouses' sleeping habits which led us into a very dark place indeed. It turns out Shannon lives with a tobacco chewer, a vile habit JW has happily dropped but my Trainee took the time to commiserate with Shannon who remarked that her husband has been known to fall asleep with a drink in bed, waking suddenly to launch the cup across the room, a habit that wrecks her sleep. Not to mention the time he fell asleep with her head nestled on his shoulder, the ideal spot to collect the drool that slipped out of the side of his mouth into her hair.
Which sounded horrible enough until she noted that the drool in question was laced with tobacco juice such that she woke up with a terrible burning sensation on her skull. Looking in the mirror she saw her hair was dyed with a bright orange splotch. She sat in the shower for an hour cursing her partner, the cause of the distress which only deepened when repeated lathering did not remove the stain and did not stop the scalp burning like the fires of hell were rooted in her hair. They both had to take the next day off to spend hours at the beauty salon repairing the damage at vast expense to her then-boyfriend.
That's nothing JW broke in as we stared at Shannon, always perfectly coiffed, in horrified pity. I had the worst hair day of anyone's life in Tampa few years ago. And he was right, he did.
JW was an enterprising 19 year old when he decided to go to hair dressing school when he was living in the big city, away from his roots in Key West. It was a good school for JW to go to because he wanted to meet women and he figured there were lots of those in such a place. He played his cards right and got to sit around smoking and talking with his fellow students. Which was how he got to become a guinea pig and get some powerful black dye in his hair. Not so great but his instructor said he needed black eyebrows to match, naturally. While dubious JW was a student and felt compelled to comply with the instructor's request. Which was when things started to go wrong. His brand new hair do took an unexpected turn and he found himself looking at a black rug with heavy orange accents, what I laughingly referred to as a Harley Davidson do. His eyebrows were powerfully black, and stayed that way JW said for a month.
Being a fashionable young man he felt he could not in all decency go to work looking like Bobo the clown though unfortunately he admitted to his manager that he wasn't coming to work in the restaurant because of his failed hair do. Your hair? they squeaked. He was adamant and so were they, a failed hair style was no reason not to work. They parted ways over the phone.
Driving home JW was looking mournfully in his mirror at his devastated scalp, the orange streaks in the unnaturally black mane and his black caterpillars that replaced his normally sandy colored eyebrows...not a happy camper. And much less happy when Armenia Avenue shrank from four lanes to two and became a one way marked by an immovable cement barrier which the distracted youth drove up on - hard.
Such was the force of the blow three tires blew out and JW was disabled. A situation made all the more precarious because his aunt had taken the time to wash his hair with ammonia in an effort to rinse out the orange, and the ammonia had the unfortunate side effect of leaving a black high tide mark across his forehead. In order to cover the devastation JW had wrapped his head in a turban using a towel from his aunt's place to enable him to get home unobserved. That plan was now shot to pieces because as JW tried to get his Saturn off the road he proceeded to wreck a rim.
To add to his anguish he was under strict instructions to wash the ammonia out of his hair else it might make the orange go green and cause his hair to fall out such was the chemical power of the ammonia. Realizing his predicament JW did the only sensible thing he could do and called his grandmother in Key West who marshaled family resources and soon an uncle was speeding to Armenia and Azeele loaded with a gallon of fresh water to save his nephew's hair.
That was a bad day JW said mournfully, noting that in the space of a hour he had got his hair dyed orange, lost his job, wrecked his car and taken a rinse in the middle of the intersection from a gallon jug of water like a homeless dude showering in public. Plus JW noted ruefully his plans to get lucky at the salon fell through where he said he ended up in his words, "a bit of a laughing stock." Best of all he had to get a job at the beauty shop as he was no longer working at the restaurant. Besides the owner wanted to keep an eye on his scalp for signs of longer term damage.
It was a good thing we had a quiet moment there in dispatch because it took us all a few minutes to get our breath back and compose ourselves. Keith came back from break to find us panting and exhausted, our faces streaked with tears and JW serenely running the radio amidst our obvious loss of control. Keith looked around, said nothing and neither did we as he sat down at his desk. The night followed it's course but we all of us understood why these days JW has no hair at all. Much safer.