BY ART GATTI |
I stood at home plate
as Jeff Hardy was cooking on the mound,
but I never sat before a plate of his food,
never advised him to take that head chef job
up on the hundred and first floor.
Years before she married and changed her name
to Debbie Jacobs Welsh,
I lusted after Debbie Jacobs…
Never acted. Stayed true to my vows.
But I never told her to put on United Airlines garb,
board Flight 93,
or get her throat cut fighting for our country
and her passengers.
But I did take that city job in ’95,
testing young guys who’d been raised
playing with long, red toy trucks,
now striving to be real firemen.
I failed those not up to it,
passed the sweaty, joyous survivors of the ordeal,
helped them out of the heavy gear they wore
in their half hour of hell.
To all I had said, “You can do it!”
I tested three hundred
and two-thirds failed;
but to those who went on to training
hoping to graduate from the academy
I had said, “You can do it!”
And they did.
They were a pride I took personally,
that I harbored
as though they were me —
never guessing what their final calling would be.
If I’m glad of anything,
it’s that I ignored the rules as the test was ending,
and, against city regulations, I wrote about it,
took personal notes
as all-too-brief biographies
of the victorious men in the fifty-pound vests
spilled from my pen.
On September 12, 2001, I found these six-year-old notes:
January 26, 1995:
“William Johnston — scored 100% — William’s got my general build:
six feet, a hundred and eighty pounds.
His head of chestnut hair has been given a bowl cut
and he was wearing an earring in his left ear.”
February 2, 1995: my last day as Special Examiner, Firefighter Physical:
“Adam David Rand — scored 100% — Adam installs tile these days.
He is here for a rescheduled test, due to faulty equipment the first time.
He’s about five-five, a hundred and fifty pounds.
One of the strongest and best so far…”
On Nine-Eleven, William Johnston was with Engine 6
from Lower Manhattan, which lost four men, including him,
and Adam Rand came to die with Squad 288 from Queens.
“You can do it,” I told them.