Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Father-Son Chat July 26, 1995

So I sat on this stool, on July 26, 1995 sometime about 9:30 PM, holding this little human-being as he suckled on the nursing bottle. I told him how his mother and I met, how we came to living together, how much I loved her. I made promises to him that only a daddy can promise.  I told him how he came to be, and what happened some nine months or so before his birth.

Nick Delassandro owned a small diner and was huge part of the Ventnor City community. The whole beach community ate breakfast at his shop, deals by politicians were brokered at any one of booth tables, coffee poured by a waitress that won the multi-million dollar lottery and used the payout for her husband to have a much needed surgery and finally could breath without the weight of debt on her wages. Nick was family to my family. His son, Nick, Jr. was my brother’s best man.

The senior Nick videotaped everyone dancing to the Pointer Sister’s “We are Family” when he collapsed. My mom tapped me on the shoulder and told me to help Nick up, thinking that he slipped. Another friend of my brother’s, Glenn Magill, came over.

“He’s not breathing.” Glenn knelt at mid-chest.

“Starting CPR.” I looked around as other guests and family gathered around. “Someone call the ambulance. Everyone backup!” Another Ventnor kid knelt at Nick’s head and attempted to give rescue breaths. He was becoming upset and couldn’t continue. In Ventnor Middle School, we were taught CPR in the 7th Grade. Our Gym teacher, Mrs. Keys, had an uncanny resemblance to the Resusci Annie doll – including the blue sweat suit with white race stripes and white tennis shoes. Sometimes, I wonder if that is why I became an EMT before becoming a cop.

Glenn Magill and I began CPR and rescue breathing. I kept saying to Nick, Sr. between breaths and compressions “Stay with us, Nick. Don’t let the fucker win!”

A few moments later, I felt the soft patting on my shoulder from a responding medic. I stood as he put the Bag-Valve-Mask on Nick’s face, delivering oxygen from a tank with the squeeze of the football like bag. Another medic tore open Nick’s undershirt, placing leads to the portable defibrillator and monitor on Nick’s now exposed chest. I looked at the monitor, seeing the uneven pattern of ventricular tachycardia. “He’s in V-Tac.”

My mother told me to go outside with Gigi. She figured that if Nick was not to survive, it was pointless for me punish myself by witnessing the medic attempt to jolt Nick’s heart into a sinus rhythm. I stepped outside to find a Galloway Township cop backing the ambulance, with the hedges blocking the backdoors just so he could park his Crown Vic in the lot.

“They won’t be able to get the stretcher in with the doors block.” I said this to the cop pointing at the hedges and the back of the rig. “You have to move it up.”

“That’s not my job.” The cop walked with the Barney Fife stride, grabbing his Jim Brown garrison belt, and pulling his trousers up.

Not his job? It wasn’t his fucking job to move the rig in the first place.

I jumped in the driver seat, and looked to my left, as I grabbed the steering wheel, to find Barney Fife standing in an isosceles stance. His knuckles were white as he gripped the handle of his still holstered gun.

“Sir, get out of the ambulance, NOW!”

“Are you going to move the ambulance or am I? Because if my friend dies, I will make sure his family sues you and your department.”

I guess he figured he was wrong, or the thought of being the target of a wrongful death lawsuit must have entered his mind. He nodded and I got out of the rig to stand to the side. The cop moved the ambulance back to its original position and was immediately scolded by the fire chief for being in the ambulance and why it was positioned the way it was. Someone had told the chief about the cop moving the ambulance the first time.

My stomach was churning, and I felt the dry heaves of nervous nausea rip apart my lungs. I walked to the back of the building and vomited, feeling pain as I took in each breath and spewed. Gigi rubbed my back and helped me stand. I went back into the building, only to be confronted by my father yelling about how right the cop was and how I was almost arrested. I held my ground. The cop was wrong…Period. After this it was followed by a dozen or so “Fuck Me? Fuck you!” and other exchanges of the explicative nature.

I walked away and heard him say “Don’t come home either, you ungrateful shit.”

I had never backed away from a fight, but by this time I was 29, and learned from martial arts and experience sometimes it is better to be thought an asshole and walk away than bring myself to the lower level and have it proven. In the end, I moved in with Gigi, became a daddy, got married, and with Glenn Magill gave Nick, Sr. eight more years to see a few more grandchildren born. I saw Glenn again at Nick’s funeral at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Margate. We were thanked for the additional years by Nick’s family, but I felt uncomfortable receiving any praise. There was no need. Even when Glenn and I were handed plaques for heroism by the Galloway Township PBA, there was no need. I didn't want the plaque; I did as was expected of me. It wasn’t until I buried my own mother, and carried her from church to hearse, from hearse to grave, that I understood their pain that October night, 1994. Nicky, Jr. helped me and my brothers carry her.

Once in awhile, when I drive down, I stop where Nick’s shop was on Portland Avenue, just off of Ventnor Avenue, behind the old Gulf Station. I remember when I was a kid, being paid a dollar or a hamburger to take out the trash. I remember how Nick would play the oldies and reminded me of Vic Tayback from “Alice.” Maybe it was because he was a decent man, a good dad, and kind heart who just happened to own a greasy-spoon like Mel Sharples.