It’s Tuesday morning at 10 minutes to 10, and I have somehow neglected to come up with a subject for this week’s column, which needs to be turned in by 2:20 this afternoon. My excuse — as I sit here stupefied in my living-room armchair surrounded by the untidied chaos of Christmas morning ribbons and wrap from three days ago, sipping my Illy espresso out of a mug emblazoned with the face of the Queen Mum — is that I was up until 4 a.m. running ambulance calls with squad one, and my brain case is a bit vacant.
You know that morning-after brain-daze you used to experience in college after a hard night of drinking, when thoughts come sluggish and reluctant, and as you look around you at the too-bright world it's as if little pings! are going off, like small sparks or champagne bubbles popping, as your synapses fire but fail to ignite the engine? You can get that morning-after dazed feeling for free, and without the headache, as a sleep-deprived member of the volunteer ambulance service.
Unfortunately, I have a second writing assignment due, too, this one related to my side hustle as an emergency medical technician. (And it’s not really a side hustle, because no one is paying me, but I wanted to say “side hustle” so I could have an excuse to mention here in my last column of the disappointing year 2021 that this phrase, “side hustle,” is an annoying cliché, the most overused phrase of 2018, and we should strike it from our vocabularies for 2022, along with “Yes, queen!,” “salty,” and “the new normal.”) Tonight is our East Hampton Village Ambulance Corps monthly meeting, and I’m supposed to come prepared with promotional materials for a campaign we are going to run in the new year to increase our membership. I’m supposed to write a list of reasons “Why You Want to Be an E.M.T.” by 7 p.m.
Perhaps you’ve heard that the volunteer emergency services all over America are running out of vol unteers? We need more firefighters, we need more E.M.T.s. The ranks of unpaid first responders are aging, graying, growing thin. (We grow old, we grow old, we wear the bottoms of our turnout gear rolled.) The sense of community belonging and community responsibility that inspired previous generations has become an anachronism. Norman Rockwell died in 1978. Young adults no longer join bowling leagues or baseball teams; they no longer join the Kiwanis or the ambulance corps. Everyone would rather sit in bed knocking off non-player characters (N.P.C.s) with rocket launchers in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
Killing two birds with one stone, let’s articulate the top-four reasons Why You Want to Be an E.M.T.
Number-one: belonging. Join and you’ll become an insider, a member of a select and elite group of locals who, furthermore, are publicly identifiable, like gang members, with visible symbols of belonging and service — license plates announcing your status, jackets and T-shirts with your name beside the serpent-and-staff symbol of E.M.S. You’ll get a green flashing light to attach to your windshield. Are you new in town? Do you crave a sense of tribe in this era of social detachment and internet-enabled isolation? Just want bragging rights? C’mon aboard for instant credibility. (Well, okay, not instant. You’ll have to devote many, many evenings over the course of many months to your training, before you become an E.M.T. for real, but service is definitely a shortcut to insider swagger.)
Number two: Existential emptiness? We’ve got a cure for that. E.M.T.ing adds a little meaning to your life. Leaving the cozy comfort of your weighted blanket in the dead of night, in December, is a hassle, but the payoff for helping others in their hour of need is great. You can be assured that at least during those urgent minutes you have a larger purpose. Some of the calls you’ll go on will be gross (there will be vomit), and some of them will be absurd (moms, don’t call the ambulance just because your son has a rash from his bathing suit); and frequently you’ll be frustrated by human folly (dads, don’t drink four mini-bottles of Fireball and then vape a cartridge of weed before mowing the lawn). But, many times, you will be surprised to find yourself actually being of service in an actual emergency. It’s deeply satisfying.
Three: camaraderie. The corps does a lot of fun and goofy stuff. There are perks. Our run room is stocked with snacks, sodas, chocolates, trail mix, bite-size Famous Amos cookies, etc. There’s a lavish annual dinner — often held at the Maidstone Club, to which few of us otherwise have access — with door prizes, free-flowing cocktails, mountains of shrimp on ice, waiters strolling with canapés, a dessert buffet with a gallon of hot fudge, and a band or D.J. playing dance music. You will be invited to go on outings to Broadway shows, Foxwoods casino, a Long Island Ducks game. We eat free dinner at our monthly meetings, which we enjoy with special relish on those evenings when our fellow volunteers decide to break the format of “Robert’s Rules of Order” to bicker (as volunteer organizations inevitably do, providing reliable entertainment to those who enjoy petty drama and gossip as much as I do). Tracy Hillman’s barbecue ribs are to die for.
Four: skillz. How often, as an adult, do you have the opportunity to open a new chapter by acquiring an entirely new skill set? How many hopes do you have left that life will offer up some unexpected adventure? Once you’ve completed your basic E.M.T. course and aced the exams, you will find yourself reborn with a new self-descriptor: “I am an E.M.T.” You will know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and you will perform it on patients whose lives are in your hands. You will know how to sling and swathe the fractured forearm of a kid whose skateboard flew off the ramp in the rain. You will possess a new vocabulary and a new sense of purpose. Are you bored by the mundanity of your day job? Tired of the interior of your five-bedroom Farrell bungalow? Join us. It takes dedication. It takes a huge commitment of time. But it ain’t beans.
If any readers are so moved by the arguments above and would like to explore answering the call, please email me, personally, at [email protected]. I’m slyly (and rather at the risk of annoying my fellow members and provoking a meeting-night argument) asking you to email me personally, rather than emailing the chief, Ann Grabowski, or one of the other fine officers, for reasons of pure self-interest: Our E.M.T. Challenge 2022 is also a competition. Whichever existing member of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Corps brings on board the most recruits will not just have the gratification of helping ensure the future of the corps but will win a large monetary prize. See? Ambulance-ing may be occasionally gory, but it’s also fun.