Saturday, February 21, 2009

The scanner

My best friend most evenings is a gray box about 8 inches by 5 (I'm not nerd enough to have measured it).
It's called a scanner and picks up messages on radio channels used by the emergency services. Given that I'm close to the scanner, physically as well as emotionally, I should give it a name, although I wouldn't spend a lot of time thinking about it as if it were a child.
We're not friends of choosing, rather we are thrown together by circumstance. My scanner is like a big, sweaty tattooed sailor who one is forced to bunk next to on a transatlantic crossing. You try to strike up a conversation but after "nice green anchor - did it hurt?" is met with a monosyllabic mutter, you give up and spend the next week listening to him snoring.
I haven't started talking to the scanner yet. That would suggest I had finally lost the plot like Max - the eccentric kid at school who talked to his feet and whose metallic voice was famously heard coming from behind a toilet cubicle on a field trip addressing the toilet paper: "OK paper -now for it."
I should be careful. In the wonderful new world of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter (whatever that is) people from school can track you down.
The other day I was contacted by the kid brother of a guy who I only have a dim recollection of from school.
"Do you remember me?"
"Of course, you were the kid who um...how is Bob anyhow."
"Just lost his job and was at home living with his parents but he's out of there now."
"Great, well that's progress - of sorts."
"He's in jail."
I digress. Max isn't the real name of the kid who was friends with the toilet paper and nor does my scanner have a name. I'm thinking of christening it Sam. It's slick and androgynous. It lends itself to inflated claims and is an ad man's dream. Nobody can scan like Sam. Scan with Sam and you'll uncover a Scam. When you need to Scan Sam's your man.
On balance Sam is probably a better name for a scanner than Sebastian.
A scanner called Sebastian wouldn't be satisfied with 75-year-old males with fluid on their lungs, or threatening groups of people with firearms.
He'd want to blow out of this place and go to a cocktail party.
And I'd want to go there with him.
Sam has limitations. I coudn't live Sam's world for ever.
At least he's kept me entertained. The talk of the suspicious sandwiches left on the seat of a Ford Taurus aroused my interest along with the suspect sighted with "unfortunate hair."
And while the language of the emergency airwaves is normally prosaic in the extreme, it has its moments when police dispatchers start shouting about multiple shooting victims and people jumping out of the window during fires.
This is a cue for me to jump up from my desk, alert my good friend the snapper and head in her (sometimes his) car to the scene of the outrage where I'll be greeted by a happy little reception party of blue lights and yellow tape.
Sometimes Sam can be wildly inaccurate to the point of requiring medication. The building that collapsed on an old woman in a storm in Hampton turned out to be a tree limb that had scraped her window.
Recently a colleague asked me if I had a portable scanner that I could take around in my car. I'm sure such things exist because the 21st century is an Aladdin's cave of portable gadgets, but I don't trust Sam in my car.
Maybe there's a small scanner device - a son of Sam - that will fit round my wrist so as I can wear it 24/7.
That way I can jump out of bed every time someone points a gun at a cashier in Newport News, dream in crackly, truncated sound bites and be at his beck and call.
It's a bad idea, though. Sam's like one of these slightly tacky people who are instantly written off when they first come to work at a company.
People mock him behind his back and say he wears slip-on shoes because he can't tie laces. It's a bit embarassing when he quotes the company motto.
Then one day you wake up and he's your boss. That's when the problems really begin.

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