Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ostrich

The Unknown Ostrich: From the dates of approx Jan . 1989 to 1991.…….
If I’m going to bring up any sort of memories of the fire department, the ostrich would have to be included. It’s now September of 2007 and I still get occasional comments and questions about it. Somewhere in a filing cabinet in the garage or behind a pile of books in the house is a small brief case which contains all I have left of the first and only underground newspaper published by and for the sanity of the Conyers Fire Department personnel.
I worked on shift with Marcus Hill, David Rhodes, Bob Cooley and Bucky Everson at the beginning of the ostrich publishing and , although we had plenty of problems and inequities in our department, we also had a lot to be thankful for. The guys on my shift were a unique blend of personalities. Bob, Bucky and I were old timers, relatively speaking, with Conyers. David and Marcus were new. I was the mediator between the two groups and usually the peacemaker as well, when I wasn’t stirring things up and making it worse! It was a pretty productive time for me career wise because I had just finished graduate school and my options and possibilities were expanded. I had started working part time for the Longfellow’s and was all ready seeing long term possibilities with them and I suppose I just felt less trapped in the fire department than maybe I had in the past. I suppose that gave me confidence and made me a little more bold in my criticism of problems in the department. As I wrote that, though, I realize that I was always pretty outspoken when it came to department politics. I was at the time exploring possible ways I could stay with the city of Conyers fire department and yet advance into some new areas which utilized my degree in counseling. I wrote a proposal and spoke with the city manager about employee assistance programs and I was thinking about a PhD,. program as well. But back to the fire department.
I remember sitting around the table in the bay area some time after lunch on a week day shift. I honestly don’t remember the specific gripe we had but it involved something to do with a decision we felt the Chief either had not made or made poorly. We had gotten wind of the possible end of the city of Conyers department and a merger into the Rockdale county department so we were all a little insecure about our future and morale was low. Its funny how we are all different when it comes to the information we process in our brain. Some of us can file away dates , and details, others emotional memories, others trivia, etc. I’m not much on the actual sequence of events which I am writing about. To be historically correct I would need to get several of us together and get others ideas on these things. Since that may never happen, I’m trying to capture the ‘spirit of the times’ if not the exact sequence of events. I just remember feeling injustice, anxiety, anger, loss of control………..I could go on. This fire department had gone through a lot over the years and we really had a brotherhood and now it looked like with a little discussed agreement, the county would take us over and assimilate our men and equipment into their department. It was described as a merger but we could see the handwriting on the wall. They were the bigger department, we were one station. We would have nothing to say about the situation. It was a kick in the rear because we had been part of a planned expansion of our department with a new station in the planning stages which would mean new men and equipment, etc. right or wrong most of us with the city felt superior to the county I think I know most of us did not want the merger and would have been happy to be left alone. We felt our work schedule was better than the county, our equipment, our shift strength (the number of men on a truck was a lot larger than the county, which is important. With 5 men arriving on a truck it‘s much safer and more effective in the initial attack of the fire; clean up, etc, is also spread to more people). Not wanting to offend any of the county boys because I have known some of them for years as well, I just felt that on average, the city people were a cut above the county on pretty much everything from IQ to education, to personality, etc…… And now they were going to be our bosses and we felt no one was looking out for us in this whole deal.
Our chief was Jerry Norton. I had known him for years, got along with him, considered him a friend in some respects more than a boss but I was also well aware of his shortcomings. We all have shortcomings and st this department we were generally good at overlooking them, just like a family does/ Jerry’s got a little difficult to overlook after he became chief from his long time assistant chiefs job. He was not the most assertive, dynamic chief one could have………He was a shelf sitter, who would pass responsibility on to others and become expert at avoidance techniques and indecisive. He could sit with a problem for years rather than make a decision on it . All this made our situation even worse for, again, we felt like Jerry was sitting in his office ‘fiddling’ while Conyers burned (Rome) Did I mention feeling helpless?
Back to the table in the bay. I was doodling on a scrape sheet of paper when the idea struck me; draw up a patch for a new fire department. We were talking about us and more specifically Jerry Norton having his head in the sand like an ostrich , not seeing what was getting ready to happen to us. If his head was not in the sand it was in another less desirable place, I know that for a fact! Well I drew a patch with a firemen upside down with his head in the sand, feet sticking up in the air and the ‘In the Sand logo around the perimeter of the patch. It got a laugh and other guys who came by there the rest of the day were shown the drawing as well. Next thing you know we were starting to let our imaginations run wild and we were writing ‘underground’ articles in which we changed names just enough to make them recognizable, i.e. Roland Vaughn, the city manager became Rolling Fawn, etc. Our method of writing was sharp, biting, satire and sarcasm! David Rhodes was my young assistant and he wrote some of the articles but I did most of them. It was inspired! We had lost much of our motivation since we had found we were being sold out but for this we definitely had motivation! We wrote night and day. We even created a hidden office for our typewriter and Ostrich meetings; on top of the supply closet in the truck bay. We could fake some cleaning job and see anyone long before they could see us. We had the high ground both morally and literally. Initially, we were just passing the articles around but we were soon doing art work and newspaper layout in the form of the Ostrich , done on cut out and real paste ups of the local newspaper headings. We compiled a whole newspaper and did articles on everything from sports to crime, education and school board meetings, taking the story ideas from real articles and satirizing them along with changing the names. Even the ads were biting: i.e. New Fiber-Fawn (remember Fawn was derived from the city managers name Vaughn), the gentle laxative…………etc. We were putting together complete newspapers, taking them out to make copies and distributing them around very mysteriously; no one knew the identities of the primary editors , especially the top dog…………the Unknown Ostrich” Of course the UO was me and I now admit it freely . I think most people could have guessed it was me and David who were the primary ones behind all of it but it was never admitted. Our circulation grew and eventually some copies got to the county department and we even got a copy to the real newspaper, the Rockdale citizen. They even mentioned our paper in print one time, playing in to the secrecy we had developed.
I found that brief case with the Ostrich materials in it the other day. It’s funny. I was the principle contributor and conspirator and I hardly have any of the articles and papers left! Most of this brief cases was my originals and art work, etc. I am going to attempt to get some of them copied for posterity
To be continued

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