When I opened my front door on Wednesday morning, I choked on smoke. Clouds were billowing from the Verizon parking lot next to my apartment building. Was Verizon going up in flames?
I walked briskly down the sidewalk, trying to catch a glimpse of the fire. But the walls around the parking lot blocked all view. Surely it was a Verizon van? Two old women and a young man congregated at the end of the block. As I approached, the gentleman exclaimed, “Wow man, is that a fire?” No man, it’s a Giant taking a shower. I mean, really.
Wasn’t anyone going to do something? This was an example of the Kitty (CAT!) Genovese Bystander Effect! The responsibility to take action was being diluted! I needed to step up to the plate! And heck, should the wind take an unexpected turn, my building would go up in flames! So I picked up the phone and dialed 911.
As the phone rang, I shivered in my boots. What if it wasn’t a real emergency? What if it was just a… bonfire? In middle school, my guidance counselor, a terrifying, ogre-like woman with an over-sized mole on her chin, would waggle her finger at us during her bi-annual “what-to-do-in-an-emergency” lesson, and growl, “If you call 911 and it’s NOT an emergency – you will be prosecuted by the law.” Her twelve-year-old audience shivered in fear. Was I headed straight for the cooler*?
A woman picked up on the other end of the line, “911 how may I help you?” She sounded bored and annoyed. I was rather taken aback. Wasn’t she supposed to be caring and attentive? What if my infant was choking on a grape? Wasn’t she supposed to say, “This is 911, and we’re here to help!” But alas, no time to consider her customer service skills. All I could do was get on with business. “Yes, I’m calling to report a fire on Scholes Street, between Lorimer and Leonard…”
Within minutes, sirens were wailing, and fire trucks were speeding to the scene. My duty was done. I was having trouble breathing in the hazy stink and I was going to be late for work, so I left. As I walked away, I envisioned my building going up in flames, and tried to guess how much insurance I would collect. In turn, I fantasized about buying an entirely new wardrobe, new leather boots, a pleated wool skirt… God forbid!
- The Bystander Effect is real!
- Middle school guidance counselor = menace.
- Back up career plan: Emergency Customer Service Coach.
* slammer, can, joint, pen, prison, clink, pound, bullpen etc.
Rosie (the Cat)