Poor Clothing Choices, Part II: Jail is a Cold, Cold Place

I don’t always make the best choices… professionally speaking

This may come as a shock to some.  But the fact is, On multiple occasions, I have really screwed myself over when it came to my career path.

For example, It probably wasn’t the best idea to sleep with my supervisor back when I was a paramedic.  But ambulances and bad decisions kind of go hand-in-hand so I’m writing myself a pass on that one.

I probably could have been a bit more of a team player at Starbucks, and maybe I came off a bit surly when I walked out of that mandatory training class in which we were being indoctrinated with corporate coffee lingo and told we needed to sell more plastic shit from China.

… what can I say, I had somewhere else to be.

The jury’s still out on whether or not it was wise to nail my paramedic field instructor’s ass to the wall for sexual harassment.  Ultimately, it BURIED me as far as working EMS in THAT town went, but the fact is, I just couldn’t stomach having that self-important, loud-mouthed douche-bag demand that I tell him how I chose to style my pubic hair.

Even now, my decision to write a blog about my medical-examiner misadventures undoubtedly communicates a certain lack of critical thinking… It could be an employment Armageddon if these stories fell into “the wrong hands”.

Anyway… moving on…

Most of my on-the-job blunders have gone pretty vanilla… no more ill-advised affairs or flagrant sedition.   Nowadays, pretty much my only indiscretions involve my wardrobe.

In the first, “Poor Clothing Choices” post.  I shared a tale of how the local police force came to be acquainted with my lingerie preferences.  It was an embarrassing little incident, not only for me (because, after all, I was the one flashing the purple leopard-print bra), but also for the officers involved.  I mean really… talk about awkward.

I think that the primary reason it was so terribly, terribly uncomfortable for my law enforcement colleagues was not simply due to the partial disrobing of a woman… because, honestly, the police, the paramedics and other emergency workers see people in various levels of undress all the goddamned time… I think the real issue was due to the fact that the partially disrobed woman was ME.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that those of us in emergency services tend to shut off the portions of our brains that involve sexuality and eroticism.  At least I do.  I deal with dead bodies all the time.  How creepy would it be if I left the sexy-switch in the “on” position while I was man-handling a corpse?  EW!

Maybe this is naive of me, but I truly feel gender-neutral when I’m working and as a result, I tend to think that’s how the officers view me as well: First and foremost, I’m the medical examiner.  All my other characteristics just kind of trail along behind.  I think they honestly forget that I’m packing those double X chromosomes until something happens… like… they catch an eye-full of leopard-print-clad booby.  Then my irrefutable female-ness marches right up and punches them in the junk.  Their faces go slack and I can almost see the realization take hold: “Oh my GOD, you’re a GIRL!”  They’re shocked, they’re stymied, and they revert to an earlier stage of social development; one in which they seem uncertain as to whether they should offer to carry my books… or kick me in the shins to convey their affection.

Still, as cringe-worthy as “The Leopard-Print-Bra” episode may have been.  I must admit that it’s not the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me at work.  Hell, it’s not even the most embarrassing thing that’s happened this summer…  Shoot… just this week…

Well… suffice to say that I had another wretchedly uncouth situation while on duty the other day…

… and once again, it involved my breasts.

I’d love to say it wasn’t my fault, but it totally was. I was asking for it.  I challenged the hand of fate and fate, unreservedly, bitch-slapped me.

So… dressing one’s self for work as a medical examiner can be maddeningly tricky.  For one thing, the weather patterns in my locale are extremely variable.  It’s not uncommon to experience blistering sunshine, torrential rain and light snow flurries… all within the same 24 hours.  Similarly, the nature of the job itself is equally unpredictable.  It’s not like you can just assume you’re going to spend your entire work-day sitting in the same office behind the same desk.  I might end up in a walk-in freezer.  I might end up in a hot yoga studio.  I might be crawling through a ditch on the side of the road, or I might be parading through the local country club.  People die everywhere… including jail… People die in jail.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone, it’s been all over the media- all the people who have died in police custody.

So I suppose it could be said that I should be prepared to go to jail at any moment… but I wasn’t… I REALLY wasn’t.

I had been at home in my pajamas when the call first came in.  It was early evening and I had doffed my office-appropriate wear and dove into the shower the second I got home.  The pager heralded the call and I was relieved to hear it was nothing terribly interesting: just some elderly guy who had been found deceased on the floor by his bed.  The neighbors noticed he hadn’t closed his garage door the night before and they called in a welfare check to the local police.  Realistically, the guy’s medical history was as long and complicated as a Kafka novel and he had every reason in the world to be dead… meaning there was no reason for me to come to the scene.  But the investigating officers were edgy due to the fact that the guy’s garage door had been open to anyone who cared to wander in.  And they thought the way he was twisted up in his blankets was “unnatural”.  So I indulged their intuition and went to assess the scene.

It was here that I made my utterly rookie blunder: I assumed.

It’s not that I assumed that there was nothing unusual about this guy’s death… I EXPECTED that there was nothing unusual about this guy’s death, but I still went to check out the scene, meaning my instincts were intact and I didn’t ASSUME it was a natural death and blow it off.  I ASSUMED that once I was done with that scene, I would be coming back home… which one should never assume.  One should ALWAYS ASSUME that it’s going to get really hot, and it’s going to get really cold. Everything is a homicide, everyone is going to get an autopsy. An airplane carrying 300 passengers is always going to crash down in your jurisdiction 20 minutes before you go off shift….  you are never going to see your home EVER AGAIN, you are never going to have access to food or water EVER AGAIN.  You will be wearing the clothes currently on your back FOREVER.

Every medical examiner should assume all of these things during every shift… and they might be prepared for roughly half of what can (and will) happen.

In my case, I left home for this simple little-old-man-dead-in-bed scene wearing what I can only describe as… inappropriate under-garments.  It was the tail end of a scorching summer day and I really didn’t feel like getting dressed again.  It’s as simple as that.  Re-building an appropriate work out-fit would have involved layering up with a bra that included cups, under-wires, hooks and bands of elastic.  That glorious item would have to be followed by an undershirt, then the requisite button-down collared oxford… and I just didn’t fucking FEEL like it…  not simply to take a peek at some dude who bought the farm in his sleep and then rolled out of bed.  I had no doubt that the dead guy’s house was going to be a giant sweat-box (Seriously, elderly people keep their homes as hot as blazes… even in the summer.  Something abut how old age completely screws the thermo-regulatory centers in the human brain) and the notion of getting all that clothing back on sounded more tedious than a 3rd grade production of Macbeth.

So I didn’t…instead I put on this light, nylon “Bralette”, (which is what I think they call them in the catalogs these days) covered it with the afore mentioned button-down and called it good.  After all, it was just a quick scene assessment, right? In and out and home before the sun oozed below the horizon and the night’s chill seeped in.

A word about “bralettes”.  I’m not sure why they exist.  They’re really the most dysfunctional piece of clothing I’ve ever come across.  I suppose they come close to being a bra in that they’re sort of a nylon undergarment that sits against your skin, but they don’t really offer any support.  Similarly, they are nearly a shirt in that they have a neck-line and the hem extends to the mid-torso, but other than that they don’t provide any coverage and they wouldn’t pass for actual clothing anywhere but at Burning Man… so there you have it.  A bralette is kind of like a crappy friend:  fun to hang out with at Burning Man, but when you need actual coverage and support, they’re not good for anything.  What made me think that wearing this crappy friend to work was a good idea?  I have no clue… I was just convinced I wouldn’t be wearing it long.

As predicted, the old man’s house was a sauna and his death was nothing remarkable from an investigative standpoint.  I was congratulating myself for being able to knock out the scene investigation before sundown when the pager went off again.  This time it was nothing simple or easy.  Some dude had died in jail.

Jail deaths are a lot like officer-involved shootings.  Everybody freaks the fuck out.  With the scrutiny on police brutality, excessive force and deaths in custody, whenever anyone dies in jail it has the same effect as dashing through a crowded room, screaming that you’ve got ebola… initially no one is really sure what to do, they just know they don’t want any of it getting on THEM.

The response is dramatic and time is of the essence.  The jail goes into complete lock-down. The officers all have to report to their superiors. Everyone calls their union reps, then the district attorney… THEN the “major crimes” squad.  Every inmate, shoelace, fork and bean gets counted and an army of investigators converges on the jail, including yours-truly.

I was there… in my “bralette”.

Had I been thinking a bit more clearly, I would have run by my house and changed, but home was actually in the opposite direction from the jail.  And I’m not too proud to admit that when I heard I was going to a jail death, I joined in the time honored tradition of freaking the fuck out. Of course, a bunch of investigators freaking the fuck out doesn’t involve, screaming and gnashing of teeth, but rather a lot of people getting really quiet as they think about everything they have to do and what order in which they should do it all.  At least that’s what I was doing… trying to remember and prioritize every minute task involved in a case where the public outcry would be, undoubtedly, swift and deafening… which means I wasn’t thinking about my underwear.

Until I was.

I bailed on the old man’s house and rocketed across town to the jail where I was met by a couple of crime scene techs, three detectives and the law enforcement union rep.  As we entered the jail, I couldn’t help but note that it was… a bit nippy in there.  Hell, it was downright COLD.  And suddenly, I felt the goosebumps tighten on my arm… followed by the insidious crawl of chilled nerve fibers on my neck, back and… breasts.  I glanced down…

“Hi!” my nipples shouted up at me.  “Here we are!”

“ACK! Oh my GOD!” I replied.  “What the hell? What are you guys doing OUT!”

“What?” my nipples asked.  “It’s cold in here, we always come out when it’s cold. What’s your problem?”

“What’s my problem? Are you kidding me? I’m WORKING… in JAIL!!  You guys can’t do this when I’m working!”

“Well, that’s not OUR problem,” they shrugged nonchalantly.  “YOU’RE the one who covered us up with this stupid ‘bralette’.  Serves you right.”

“Oh Jesus.  Please please PLEASE settle down.  Don’t do this to me. I’ll DIE of embarrassment and then there won’t be anyone to investigate my death because I’m the only one on shift.”

“Tough tittsies,” my nipples leered. “You made your choice, we’re OUT and we wanna see what’s going on.”

Of course, this conversation wasn’t audible… at least I don’t think it was.  It’s simply the dialogue that flashed through my mind when I glanced down and realized my nipples were harder than two diamonds in an ice-storm…. and they were clearly visible through the flimsy stretched material of my “bralette” and white oxford.

I was mortified.

Like I said, I tend to feel fairly gender-less when I’m working.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m almost always OBVIOUSLY the only woman at the scene of a death.  It’s a fact I try to downplay as much as possible because, let’s face it, in a male-dominated work-place, women get a bum rap and tend to be something of a target. It’s hard to be taken seriously. Don’t believe me?  Check out the movie Silence of the Lambs, or North Country.  It’s a thing.  And downplaying my gender as well as being taken seriously is difficult when my nipples enter a room three minutes before I do.

My law-enforcement colleagues aside, I was in jail… a MEN’S jail… where the men don’t really have a damn thing to do but look out their cell windows and heckle the shit out of anyone who walks by. As most of the jail staff tends to be men, the rare glimpse of a woman in the jail turns up the typical inmate-shit-talking to a deafening degree.  Back when I was a paramedic and I had to pick up patients who were inmates, I was treated to a wide array of speeches wherein the convicts described everything they’d like to do to my “skinny-blonde-bitch-ass”.  It was an intimidation tactic.  The inmates were bored and looking to entertain themselves and achieve some kind of notoriety for being the guy who made the paramedic woman blush… or flinch… or cry… whatever.  It was all easy enough to blow off then… but it wouldn’t be so easy to keep my composure when my nipples were smiling and waving at passers-by like they were on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“So, are you ready to get going with this?”

I glanced up from my obnoxious nipples. “What?”

The lead detective cocked his head at my sudden and complete lack of focus.  “We’re gonna go interview the guard of the unit, are you ready?”

“uuuh, yeah, I’m good.”  I said, hastily grabbing the straps of my bags and camera at the shoulder, thereby making it look like I was supporting their weight, but in reality I was hoping to shield my chest with my forearms and elbows.

The prison administrator, a nervous little man who kept wiping his nose and saying things about “cooperation” and “procedure”, escorted us into the staff lunchroom where our prison guard and his union rep sat, waiting.  The detective seated himself at the table and I did so as well, careful to hunch forward to make it look like I was intent on this interview… thus artfully keeping my nipples just below the margin of the table.

“Spoilsport!” my nipples howled.  “We can’t see ANYTHING from here!”

“Shut up!” I snapped.  “This isn’t about you so just simmer down.”

“What?”

“Nothing…” I said to the watery-eyed guard, who looked like he weighed about 78 pounds, soaking wet, and probably lived in his mom’s basement. “Please, tell me about today’s events in your own words…”

The evening wore on like that.  And let me just say, you really don’t think about how exhausting it is to wear inappropriate clothing, until you spend an entire evening trying to artfully disguise the fact that you seem to be smuggling coffee-beans into prison, two at a time.  I spent no less than 6 hours walking around that jail with my arms crossed over my chest- giving some people the impression that I was bossy and aloof… or I had the camera poised just below my chin, as though I expected a gaggle of celebrities to wander through the prison at any moment… OR I had my hands up at my shoulders, offering my poor shoulders some extra support as I lugged all of my gear around by wedging my hands under the straps and strategically positioning my hands round-about mid-chest level.

“Mmph! Thifff mif tho umfrm!” My nipples whined from under the stifling press of my hands and arms.  I’m not sure what they were trying to say.  I didn’t care, As far as I’m concerned, they’re both total assholes.

I’m not sure if anyone noticed, I have no idea if the police and guards were just being polite and declining to just blatantly stare at my ginning nipples… but not one of the prison inmates made a single peep, and I doubt they would have held back if given an opportunity to draw attention to my breasts.

So I guess that’s another one chalked up to experience.  I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, I’m proud of the fact that I never make the same mistake twice.  Still, it’s a smae there are so many mistakes to make just once.  I think I’ve made all of them and now I’m just inventing more.

But let me tell you… when and if my co-workers find the bullet-proof, underwired, triple-hooked, elastic banded bra I stowed away in the glove compartment of our work-truck, I will refuse to remove it from the truck and take it home.  “Believe me, you guys… ” I’ll tell them. “It’s essential equipment. Because our job is hard… as hard as chilly nipples.  And jail is a cold, cold place.”

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