I have worked with the Moon on several fires (first name, Rick, but he likes to go by just Moon), and have written a couple of stories on his life experiences as related by him during ‘staging’ times, or times of waiting around for orders when it gets boring.
(He gets his own category in the side bar for more Moon Stories)
Usually, Moon sleeps at all stops or possible rest breaks. When walking or hiking, however, or just working, few can keep up. Moon walks fast, because he is restless and impatient. He sleeps to store up energy for the next thing or catching up. You can only sleep so much in the day, and then the stories begin if you are lucky.
Moon works on about twice to triple clock-speed (for you computer nerd types) as normal humans. He talks fast. It is often hard to understand what he is saying and I often have to ask for a repeat. Most people just miss the punch line and look at him funny, but they miss a lot, because, to Moon, everything is funny. If you look just right, he looks a lot like Robin Williams, except wild-eyed and long-haired. He reminds me a lot of my brother Landy in some of his traits – Landy was diagnosed as schitzophrenic. Moon is often joking about all the people in his head. I don’t buy it, but I laugh at the joke.
To many Moon, at first glance, is different and off-putting. I felt the same way until I worked with him. Moon is aware of this, but it is something he has accepted and put behind him. It doesnt seem to bother him at all; he jokes about it. He tells about his grandfather, who is a family hero of sorts, saying about him, “Rick is just a little…well… different”, and then he gives that self-deprecating laugh. It took a while for me to figure out that the wild-eyed look and the funny grin was both a defense, and possibly a test to see who could get past it or at least get them to mind their own business.
My recent faller-boss, Jerry, said to me early on, “Marc, your partner is just a little squirrelly!” I laughed and said, “So am I – I just don’t look so much like it”. We ended up working together with Jerry for several days, and there was tension between Moon and Jerry.
Moon is a pest to the authorities. He asks for stuff that seems unreasonable on the surface, like, “Can we take a break, now?” (before we even get started). Once he was sleeping and knew the assignment was short and easy, so refused to wake up and get out of the truck for appearance’ sake. The faller-boss said, “I’m OK with it if you are”. So we went and did it and left the Moon sleeping in the truck.
On previous fires, I worried that his ways were going to cause me embarrassment, or get us de-mobed (laid off) from the fire early, so it was an added stress to deal with. On this last fire, I was more laid back, not worrying so much because I have come to realize that it is a government run endeavor and performance has little to do with anything. I was right – we were there till near the end. One thing I noticed as we went along is that a lot of people know Moon from his 20 years of previous fire experience, and most greet him with respect.
I guess the reason I go into all of this is that this kind of person intrigues me, probably because of some of the experiences with my family. Also, I like finding hidden gold in people in the way of attitudes and life-experiences I can use to figure out the hidden value there. My underlying theory is that many people are hiding stuff that I need to know, interesting stuff, and it is doubly pleasing when somebody I initially wrote off as ‘strange’ (and I don’t think Moon would be offended by my describing him in this manner) turns out to hold so much value that contradicts the initial impression. I sense that there are many contradictions to the person I am mining for stories. He strikes me as an innocent, the more I get to know him, but once when asked for stories by the girl faller-boss we had, he later told me of some illegal activites of his and that he could not tell her a lot of his stories. His self-deprecating laugh accompanied this confession. Then he proceeded to tell me a string of tales that had us both laughing so hard that I could barely see through the tears to drive home.
When we first started on this fire, de-briefings were required at the end of the 12 hour shift, which especially annoyed Moon – he wanted to go home. “Just keep on driving. I’m serious! (as we approached the designated de-briefing spot). Trust me, we won’t get in trouble, keep on going! Go!” I stopped, parked, and joined the crowd of men waiting for the powers in charge to do their work and let us go home. Besides, I enjoy this part. A lot of good stories are related by co-workers as they are in a good mood because of the end of shift that is near after a successful work day on the fire. Moon tolerates it. As soon as the division leader says go, Moon grabs me by the suspenders and drags me backwards on a dead run for the truck to get out first ahead of the convoy of pickups and fire engines headed home to camp. I open my door, hit the starter while I am climbing in, and we are off, at the head of the convoy. We soon leave them in the dust, to Moon’s satisfaction.
One time Moon started pestering Jerry, the faller-boss to let us go home early at about 17:00 pm – the Fire People always use military time – about two hours earlier than the designated ‘wheels turning’ towards home time. This particular day, it had even been intimated that it might go even another hour to 20:00 pm, which was almost unthinkable to us bored staging fallers. We had already completed the day’s mission by working fast and hard, driven by the whip–cracking Fallerboss Jerry; there was nothing for us to do. On top of his normal impatience, he was dealing with problems at home with his lady, and he had come to the fire in the middle of having his home, a modular mobile trailer, being replaced with a newer model. He had been sleeping in his shop every night.
He was pacing back and forth in his fast walk in front of the tailgate where Jerry and I were seated having some kind of deep discussion about politics, religion, fire behavior or whatever else we could think of. Jerry turned out to be a fine person I could relate to. Moon was about 3 feet in front of us doing his pacing for the whole time. The impressively patient Jerry said, “Moon, you’re driving me crazy!” Rick grinned, and said, “I got nowhere to go, but I’m in a hurry to go” as he laughed at himself, but continued to pace. It reminds me of a niece of mine, who when she was little and got frustrated by the limitations imposed on a little one, would go to her rocking horse on springs and make it bounce and buck for long periods of time. I think that rocking horse saved her from mental distress and preserved the wonderful drive she has today – but that is another story.
Finally, Moon got permission from Jerry for us to drive up to a nearby road junction where we had phone service so he could call about his house situation. On our way up there, the Task Force Leader, who was in charge of ‘wheels turning’ times went past and Moon demanded I stop. He got out and flagged down the TFL and asked if we really needed to attend the end of day briefing or if Jerry could do it for us and turn us loose for the day. It was an acceptable idea to the open minded, seasoned TFL, so after going back and clearing it with Jerry, the faller-boss, we were released. Headed out, the jubilant Moon exclaimed, “I’m not as dumb as I look!” I was impressed, and glad I had watched and learned. No one else, including Jerry, had the temerity to ask what was obvious to all of us. It was a win/win – Jerry got his hours in, and we got released early.
Later on, as the long days, seven days a week piled up, Moon became a little hostile when I defied some of his wishes/demands. A little tension began to develop. It is almost inevitable when partnered up with anyone for any length of time. Most of the time it was over work ethics and performance of the job. I have a strong sense of wanting to please the boss. Moon has no boss. One day at the de-briefing place, dp4 (a heli-drop point and a spot wide enough for several rigs to park), after working all day with the sweetest, nicest possible faller-boss, Colin Rabe, I heard an explosion of laughter from Colin and Jerry and the group of fallers around them, as Moon loudly proclaimed about Colin in his fast staccato, “He’s not MY boss!!”.
I stopped worrying about our presentation to the world, but there still developed the tension between Moon and I. I noticed it and disliked it, but there was the issue of dealing with it. My knee-jerk reaction when confronted with hostility is to respond in kind, but silently. I remembered having unsuccessfully dealt with my brother, Landy, in the same sort of tensions, and having a bad time over it. I tried to not react, but there was Moon, sulking in the corner of the pickup. It wasn’t all bad, but noticeably there. The break through came in a strange way. One morning Moon came to work stressed out. He said he felt spacey. I realized that this confession was serious in nature, not the usual joke. I instantly felt concern. I asked him if this was the traditional too-many-days-on-the-fire spaced out feeling. He said no it was not that, it was the fighting with the woman. I know how it is to be doing this kind of work when your mind is out of it – not good.
He was droopy all day. He didn’t even complain about our day of hard work, having to each run a saw all day in the hot sun and do a lot of hiking up Sand Mountain, which was applicably named. I became the mother. I waited on every need. I would jump in and do the hard work that he usually was right on top of, especially first thing in the morning. I packed extra water and Gatorade up the hot mountain and made sure he had some. Water drips off him when he is working. He says he has a ‘leak’. When we all ran out of water before the day was over, I gave Moon half of my last jug which I had hoarded. The droopy Moon was a damper on the outlook of the world. At the end of the day, which I was relieved that we all survived, I shook hands with him and wished Moon well. He seemed to appreciate all my supercilious concern. We would not see each other for a few days, as we were being relieved for a two day break from the fire.
When I came back a few days later, it was a different Moon – he talked so fast and told so many corny puns and Moon jokes, I had to work my brain to keep up. It never stopped all day. I was worn out, but appreciative and amazed. To me, it felt like I had passed a trust test. The rest of the fire was short and over soon as the weather changed and we were no longer needed.
The next to the last day, we had a new faller-boss, Andy. At the staging area, Moon came running (well, his normal fast Moon walk) back to the truck, got in and said, the faller-boss was getting chewed out by the division sup. which was a cute, dark haired lady. Moon had seen her mad before and said you didn’t want her mad at you. He demonstrated both parties of the confrontation, first her pointing her finger, shaking it in their face, shouting down at the offender, then the offender leaning backwards with an alarmed look on his face. He said she could really cuss. Haha! Then he said, “You don’t want to make HER mad!, she’ll get on her ‘huckin’ broom, fly down there and turn you into a TOAD! RIBBIT!!” Haha!
This ride with Moon has been quite the educational experience. I learned that ‘normal’ is boring, stupid and lame. People who judge you by appearance are also, normal, stupid and lame. Moon is more free than most people, has a heart grabbing innocence in spite of his wild exploits, and accomplishes a lot with pure audacity. I think I like Moon’s world better than the normal world where politics rule and people cut each other’s throat for a temporary promotion on a fire. You can have a lot of fun and get away with it most of the time. All is relative to perspective. Best of all, Moon trusts me and I have a friend.