The Quotable

Jungle Jim and The Nozzleheads

We’re toned out at 0200 on the last run: extrication call, non-emergency. A quiet night so far too, drizzly some, which helps, and just the one two-bagger, a grease pan flare-up Mexi-restaurant job we squelched before it hit all the flammable Tequila in back. We’re on Kelly hours anyway and it isn’t so bad. This last run is over to the QC airport and turns out it’s a genuine for real celebrity sighting. The night-guy who made the call in leads us across the empty terminal to where a famous person has gotten himself stuck in the exit security turnstile.

“He’s trapped but good,” explains the night-guy. “In a circumstance like this I figure it a job for fire safety.”

Cheeseman recognizes him right off the bat. “Hey, you’re Jungle Jim Jutson!” he says, indicating the intended rescuee with his extrication glove. “The animal expert. I’ve seen you on the box. Wasn’t you just on Larry King a few weeks back with a marmalade?”

“That’s right,” says Jutson. “A marmoset it was.” Everyone’s staring, being that up close and personal, just wallowing in the celebrity aura.

“I’m in quite a situation here,” he adds.

“You certainly are that,” I say, making my preliminary assessment. “That’s a definite situation you’ve gotten yourself in, Jungle Jim.”

Situation is this: subject is hunched inside the metal turnstile, awkward like, straddling a big crate on tiptoes, looking contorted and twisty and unhappy.

“You don’t look mighty comfortable there,” I say.

“No,” he says. “I’m not at all.” We look at him and he expands some. “This crate is pushing up against my you-know-what. I’m stuck like a worm. Can’t move at all.”

“Have you attempted to perform a self-extrication by squeezing out backwards at all?”

“I can’t move up or down,” he says. “I’m immobilized and these bars are on my face.”

This I can see, also that his eyes are big as grapefruits, making him resemble one of them sad little koala bears.

“Yes,” I say. “Definite situation.”

This is the size-up: Coming to Moline for a Saturday brunch performance at Wildlife Prairie Park, adverse weather causes the private charter to arrive late at the terminal, which closes at 11.00 Friday. Only way off the tarmac now is via the exit-only security gate, and the turnstile being ten feet tall this should present no problem excepting that JJ attempts also to shove in this massive great crate, it being 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep and 3 feet tall. This jams the turnstile tight and him in there with it, straddling the crate, miserable as sin. Meantime, outside on the tarmac, mouths against the glass like aquarium fish, is the rest of his party, two guys in overalls, the pilot, a girl in a blue suit texting up a storm, and a big pile of other crates. This group is still out there because the night-guy doesn’t know which is the key to the other exit and the supervisor isn’t due till 0500 when the day-shift reports.

“What’s in that there crate under you, Jungle Jim?” asks Cheeseman. “You got a little buddy in there with you?”

“It’s a flamingo,” says Jutson, peering nervous through the slats. “He’s 11 months old.”

Naturally, we’re all leaning down to try and see it. I for one have never seen a flamingo up close before.

“What’s it called?” I ask.

“It doesn’t have a name,” Jutson says.

“A flamingo should have itself a name,” Cheeseman says, scratching his glove on his cheek. “How’s about Frankie?”

“Frankie the Flamingo,” I say. “I’d go for that. What you say about him being Frankie, Jungle Jim?”

Jutson doesn’t say anything, has no opinion. He props his elbows against the crate, looking like he does on the T.V., same khaki jacket and same brown corduroy pants and same slack-jawed grin, except he’s not grinning, slack-jawed or otherwise.

“Hey,” says Cheeseman, bent over, peeking in the crate. “I thought flamingoes were supposed to be pink? This little fellow here’s gray. Sick is he?”

“Not when they’re this young,” Jutson explains. “His plumage hasn’t turned yet. He’ll acquire his pinkish tint later.”

“Yeah,” I say to the night-guy, “only flamingo experience Cheeseboy’s had is with the big pink plastic numbers in his yard.”

Cheeseman doesn’t hear me, being off under the arrival/departure boards getting on the wire for an update. “We got a bird extrication also,” he says. “Flamingo rescue.” Then he takes out his cell, contrary to regulations, and wakes up his daughter to inform her he’s got Jungle Jim here in person.

“The youngest is this big animal lover,” he says. “She’s with the pet people now. She’s excited to hear you’re here, Jungle Jim. She’ll be right over.”

“Tried to squeeze through,” says the night-guy. “Weren’t too swift that. You’d think a person would notice a crate is square and a turnstile is round, being as it is a turnstile?” He looks at Jutson. “Makes you wonder.”

“Well,” I say. “You don’t have to be smart to be on television. Just photogenic is all.”

Jutson is listening to this conversation, so I smile reassuringly while the night-guy repeats no way is he calling the supervisor and also no way we jimmy that turnstile either, federal regs.

We break out the marrieds anyway. I split the Halligans and the flatheads, lay other Kelly tools out on the tarp, all for show. Truth is, I have assessed that the only way to extricate is with a Barracuda rescue-saw, a Denver Door Opener or a Hydraulic spreader.

“How come flamingos stand on one leg?” asks the night-guy.

“I don’t know,” says Jutson. “Say, can someone get me out of here?”

“How come you don’t know?” says the night-guy, peeved. “Ain’t you supposed to be an animal expert?”

“No one knows,” says Jutson, snarky now. “Perhaps they do it to conserve energy.”

“Conserve energy,” says the night-guy. “I’ll be damned.”

“Is that why they call them dancers flamingo dancers?” asks Cheeseman. “Because they dance on one leg to conserve energy?”

“Could be,” says the night-guy.

“What’s Larry King like in real life?” Cheeseman asks. “Wife says he’s thick as two short planks. That true?”

“You read his column ever?” says the night-guy. “There’s your answer right there.”

Jutson is looking my way, pegging me correctly as the smart one in the vicinity. “Been to the Quad Cities before?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “Listen, could someone get me out of this?”

“In good time,” I say, in a reassuring manner as per the manual. Thing is, I haven’t a clue how to get him out of there.

The night-guy has located the missing key someplace and lets in the rest of the animal party. They herd over at the check-in counters, flapping themselves warm then begin dragging in and sniffing around the crates.

“What other of our furry and feathered friends you got here?” I inquire.

The girl says it isn’t good for crated animals to be out there in the 40-degree night, especially the small leopard and the mongoose. This is why they stuffed the flamingo in. Flamingoes and cold don’t mix. Hence them living in Florida. Good thing he isn’t stuck in the turnstile with the leopard I tell her, but she doesn’t laugh.

“Anything like this ever happen to you guys before?” I am joking, but she proceeds to tell me about the dromedary and the metal detector that time at the Statehouse and how JJ got arrested at a security screening in Ecuador when found in possession of six chameleons, a boa constrictor, a 3-foot legless lizard and several hissing cockroaches in the pockets of his raincoat.


“I don’t remember,” she says.

The night guy also finds the key to the concession, which he opens early for the travelers. They’d rather it was the bar, and say so, but sit eating bags of chips and sipping 7-Up whilst awaiting their dear leader’s release. The leopard growls in its crate. The pilot starts banging on the pinball machine in the alcove. Someone gives the mongoose a cheese roll.

“Are you folks going to get him out soon?” says the girl. “If not, we might just head over to the Best Western.”

“We’re working on it,” I tell her. Realizing I’m not, I walk back over to where Cheeseman is quizzing the prisoner about what he would recommend for a good pet. Jutson has this pained expression, maybe also consequential of the crate pressing on his you-know-what.

“Not a wolf then?” Cheeseman says.

“A hamster,” Jutson says, sounding pissy. “A parakeet or a parrot is good also.”

“I’d like to get me a tiger,” says Cheeseman “There’s a fellow in Peoria sells them in the Journal-Mail.”

Jutson gets more animated hearing that. “Don’t get into that lions and tigers racket,” he growls. “It’s against the law for one thing. You can get a lion for a hundred dollars, but the habitat costs a hundred thousand. That’s what people don’t understand.”

“I’m involved with potbelly pigs,” says the night-guy. “You any experience with potbellies?”

“No,” says Jutson. He keeps casting these hopeful pathetic looks at our tools spread over the tarp. I look at them as well.

“My grandmother had a pig was probably three hundred pounds,” says the night-guy. “He lived in her house and was fantastic. Potbellied pigs are real intelligent.”

“I’ve heard that too,” I say.

“That pig was smarter than me,” says the night-guy.

“Want to hear a joke about a firefighter and an animal?” asks Cheeseman.

“No!” shouts Jutson. “I’d prefer it if you. . .”

“Sure,” says the night-guy.

“See,” Cheeseman says, “this fireman is washing down his engine outside the station when he sees a little girl in a red wagon, with tiny ladders on the sides and a garden hose coiled up. She’s wearing a helmet and the wagon is being pulled by a dog and a cat. ‘Nice fire truck,’ he says. Then he looks closer and sees the girl has tied the wagon to her dog’s collar and to the cat’s testicles.”

“Oh,” I say, laughing. “I remember this one.”

“’Little girl,’ the fireman says, ‘I don’t want to tell you how to run your rig, but if you tied that rope around the cat’s collar instead, I think you could go faster.’ The girl says, ‘You’re right, Mr. Fireman, but then I wouldn’t have a siren.’”

The night-guy and me near bust a gut laughing, but Jutson doesn’t say anything. He’s not near so jolly as he comes across on the television.

“When I was a probie,” I tell them, “we went out to rescue this cat, up a tree as usual. Those were the days we still did such. So we had the rescue truck with the extension ladder. But the tree was too tall and narrow to support the weight, so we tied a rope around it instead at about half its height and the other end to the trailer hitch on a pickup truck. We drove the truck forward and forced the tree to bend, the idea being to grab the animal from the ladder. Well and good, except the knot securing the rope to the hitch slipped.”

“Jesus,” Cheeseman says.

“That cat was last seen flying over Monmouth way, like a comet or some such. Chief said the incident gave a whole new wrinkle to the word ‘catapult.’”

“I wonder if someone might consider getting me out of here,” says Jungle Jim, interrupting. “I could really use going to the bathroom around now.”

“Way I see it,” I say, “is there’s only one thing for it and that’s for us to pass you a pry bar in there and for you to set about dismantling that crate yourself bit by bit.”

“This flamingo here is quite disturbed,” Jutson says, looking buggy now, pointing at the crate like there’s a bomb inside.

“Frankie,” says Cheeseman.

Jutson’s been at the crate a good ten minutes when who shows but the Cheeseman kid. She’s a rodent-like looking little thing with thick glasses causes her to squint like a mole and a sticky-up ponytail. College age. She’s carrying a big sheaf of papers, which I reckon she wants autographed. Right up to the turnstile in her Birkenstalkers she comes, and Jutson, head down levering away, doesn’t even see her there. She’s smiling, and not in the good way, and starts up reading from her printouts.

Jutson causes unnecessary stress to baby animals by removing unweaned infants from their mothers and subjecting them to confinement, studio lights, crowds, lengthy transport, and other aspects of an unnatural, alien environment including the shopping network QVC.”

“Now wait a minute here,” Jutson says, looking up and waggling the Halligan at her.

Jutson’s ‘pet’ lion bit off the arm of a 3-year-old, a chimpanzee he brought to a church bit off a deacon’s finger, a fox he brought to Good Morning Idaho bit the host’s leg, and a cougar he brought to a conference bit a congressman viciously on the nose.

“Hope it was that Durbin,” says the night-guy. “He’s a gun-grabber.”

“Now look here,” Jutson says. “That’s just. . .”

The USDA cites Jutson for failure to provide veterinary care, to provide environment enrichment and minimum space to primates kept in solitary confinement and suffering from psychological distress, to provide shelter from inclement weather, having filthy and foul-smelling enclosures. . .”

We’re all of us staring at Jungle Jim now, shocked and disgusted to tell you the truth, and him not looking terrible happy neither. The kid, it turns out, is one of them PETA people, the type doesn’t like naked ladies in furs, which I’ve never minded, speaking personally.

Jutson chose not to fire an employee who maliciously killed a rare snow macaque by hurling the animal into the cheetah exhibit.”

“That’s insane!” Jutson yells. “Why would someone do that. . .”

“You’re an animal pimp, Jungle Jim,” the kid hollers. She appeals to us all now. “His more popular animals are called ‘payoff animals’ and he likes to drag as many as he can to his exploitative circus shows. What this here is,” she points at him, “is poetic justice. This is the God of All Creatures Great and Small sending you a message, you miserable creep.”

At this juncture I wrestle her away from the turnstile, her, raucous as a ferret in heat, and Jutson, embarrassed and pinkish in complexion now, gets back to freeing Frankie from the crate.

“You’re going to burn in hell, motherfucker!” she yells.

“Now, just you calm down, pet,” I say, maneuvering her over to where the other animal folks have observed this exhibition, kind of amused. The girl’s calmer now and I fetch her a can of orange juice and the pack of peanuts she wants.

“He brought an elephant with severe diarrhea to a golf tournament,” she mutters, tearing open the pack.

“God,” says Jutson’s assistant to the others. “Remember that fucking farting elephant?”

“Before my time,” says another. “I was the incontinent camel.”

“That could be an issue right enough,” I say to him, which it could be, and then Miss Cheeseman’s up and running back at the cage again. The little rat was playing possum. She commences now pelting Jutson with peanuts.

“How do you like it?” she yells. “Here’s the payoff! How do you like it, asshole?”

Her father and the night-guy are both cackling like hyenas while the nuts go pinging off Jutson’s head and nose, but eventually they stop howling and help me get her re-restrained. I walk her outside to her car.

“That flamingo,” she says, “is not getting enough beta-carotene in its diet. That evil bastard is not giving it enough shrimp.”

Inside, Jutson has now extracted the little gray bird out the crate and is handing it, arms-length, to Cheeseman, who immediately yelps and fumbles it. “Bastard bird bit me bad,” he screeches, hopping from foot to foot.

The flamingo goes galloping through the security screen without stopping as mandated and is last seen sprinting between the Delta check-in counter and the Deere tractor display, beak inclined in the direction of baggage claim.

“There goes Frankie,” says the night-guy. “Boy sure can move.”

At this point I decide it best to call in for the blue canaries, figuring animal capture more in their line of work. When the cops show, they’re all majorly excited to shake hands with Jungle Jim, newly crawled out the turnstile backwards, albeit with assorted splinters in his ass. He has wet his pants some also, big pee-stain obvious to all, not to mention major embarrassing. Me, I can’t stay. I have to drive the rig to the hospital and get birdbrain his tetanus shot.

All the way cross-town Cheeseman has a face like fizz. “Looked stupid, way that flamingo ran,” he says, sucking on his palm and not referring to the bird by name anymore.

“Probably it so used to being on one leg and all,” I tell him.

All in all have to say that the incident related prior goes down in the book as our weirdest VFD extrication. Funniest though was definitely the time Leahy the chiropractor got his schlong caught in a Hoovermatic. Makes you wonder about chiropractors generally. But that would be another story, obviously.


Rob McClure Smith’s short fiction has appeared in literary magazines like Barcelona Review, Confrontation, Fugue, Gettysburg Review, Storyquarterly and Versal. He was a winner of the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award.

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