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I found the bagpiper. His name is Lockbox, and like most firefighters, he looks like he could flatten you with one punch. He’s keen to point this out, among other painful things he can do to me, as he tells me not to print half of what comes out of his mouth. Accordingly, I will not.
I can say that Lockbox is part of a contingent of DC firefighters from 30 Engine who rotate in and out of an apartment across from The Starboard. For men who work 24/72, Dewey Beach is a happy place, a place where they can swim, drink, collect blackmail on their coworkers and drink some more, pulling beer from a tap built into the fridge.
About 11 live in the house at any given time, which is run like a firehouse – bunk assignments on a whiteboard in the hall, and a schedule of activities pushpinned to the corkboard. Also on the whiteboard, in sloppy handwriting: Alec’s old, he pees when he sits down.
They offered me a chair and a cold beer in a blue plastic cup. The kitchen was only in mild disarray – a tub of gray scrambled eggs cooled on the counter, and the sink was filled with blue plastic cups. A husky fireman in a cutoff explained that with their schedules, if you take a day off, you might as well take a week.
“We do wholesome things while we’re here. What did we do last night, huh?” he asked a wiry fireman with salt-and-pepper hair. “We have bible night. What hymns did we sing? Oh yeah, and we wash our plastic cups. We’re very environmentally friendly.”
“I’m serious. About the cups, I mean,” Husky said.
Alec – salt-and-pepper, sinewy arms, the lines on his face few but deep – explained that they’re really more than a group of public servants getting shitfaced on the weekends; they’re a brotherhood. When a few 30 Engine guys split for New York City a few years ago, they started bringing NYC firefighters to Dewey with them.
News of Dewey spread by mouth, referred to as “This Town Down At The Beach.” Most any firefighter is welcome, Alec said. There’s a guy called “Boston Brian.” Once, a 65-year-old firefighter dropped in for a beer. He brought his wife.
“They’re here two minutes, and it’s as if they’ve been here all summer,” Alec said. When he discourses on the meaning of brotherhood, Lockbox cuts him off.
“Don’t try and act smart,” he said. “You were running around in a Hooters shirt last night.
“You were wearing the sundress,” Alec countered.
Lockbox’s face brightened. “ Wanna see the pictures?” he asked.