By Liz Tracy
By David Rolland
By Alex Rendon
By Terrence McCoy
By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
I left Barbara and made my way over to two firefighters, sipping beer on the patio and sharing a good laugh. Slim was indeed slender and wore a dark-blue shirt with "Rescue 1 FDNY" printed on the back. His buddy, Blue, had dark hair and, yeah, blue eyes.
"Are those your real names?" I asked, shooting a skeptical glance at them.
"Well, you get a code name when you join the force," Blue said. "Just ask our buddy Puddle Pirate." They indicated a tall, broad man whose back was to me.
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"What do you have to do to end up with a name like that?" I asked. I had my fair share of nasty nicknames in middle school, just none that followed me out of adolescence. Not like a certain "Mustard Tits" I know.
"He's Coast Guard, but he doesn't spend any time on the open seas," Slim explained. "He hops from puddle to puddle."
"Fair enough," I said. "So tell me about this celebration. Booze and partying seem like a strange way to be remembering something tragic."
"Well, you tell firemen there's gonna be alcohol and you can get them anywhere," Slim said. We laughed, but then his face turned serious.
"I was on duty on September 11, when this was happening," he said. "I looked at the TV, and I thought, 'We're going to lose so many guys.' And we did. I knew the guys on the Rescue 1 unit who went in first."
My chatterbox rarely ceases to flow, but there's no easy comeback to a statement like that.
"We're having a good time, but you'll see tears during the toast," Slim said. "And you know what? If those guys we lost were here tonight, they'd tell you that they'd make those same sacrifices all over again."
The toast: Everyone in the bar raised a glass at 9:11:01. A firefighter on stage made the toast. He talked about the sacrifices of the 343 firefighters who had died that fateful morning in New York and of all the members of the firefighting brotherhood they've lost over the years — and how important it is to remember and honor these sacrifices.
"A saint is an ordinary person who does an extraordinary thing," he said in closing, asking us to toast to 343 saints. I drained half of my $2 beer, feeling something between a prickly sadness and melancholy inebriation. To my left, Barbara and a couple of men conducted a private, slightly glassy-eyed second toast — quietly drinking to a fallen comrade.
After a few minutes of thoughtful peace, the band resumed with a lively rendition of "Ain't That America." And I got to go home feeling like I was part of something really noble, really grand.
Let me tell you, cheap beer is nice, but nobility is nicer.