Bronson and I are eating fried clam strips from a stall under Deno's Wonder Wheel in Coney Island, discussing the man who tried to snatch a little girl from the boardwalk outside the New York Aquarium a few days ago.
"Jail forever," I say. "Let the other inmates fix him."
"I don't know how they handle things in your neighborhood," Bronson says, "but in Bay Ridge, a pedophile gets a visit from three Greeks late at night and never comes out of his building again without installing a ramp."
I nod and swallow. "Marine Park doesn't really have any apartment buildings," I say, and Bronson throws a clam strip at me.
The call comes in for a "sick," the KDT display indicating that a 23-year-old woman fainted but is now conscious. We drive to an apartment building that has seen better days. The exterior is corroded by salt, the stoop is cracked, and the lobby looks like it hasn't had a paint job in decades.
We want the fourth floor, so we take a slow ride up the rickety old elevator. Bronson looks nervous, checking out the escape hatch, which is painted shut.
"Imagine if the cables snap," I say.
He breathes a sigh of relief as the door opens. "The patient better be walking," he says. "There is no way I'm getting back into this thing." We knock and the dented metal door is opened by a thin woman who points to an obese woman sitting on the couch, smoking and watching a soap opera. I count no fewer than five children under 7 years old running around the hot apartment in their underwear.
A huge tray of fried chicken wings from a Chinese restaurant sits open on the kitchen table. The children occasionally grab one, douse it with ketchup, and wash it down with soda. I'm mortified.
"How are you, ma'am?" Bronson says to the obese woman.
She tells us she fainted. She says she feels dizzy whenever her blood pressure goes up, but that she doesn't take any meds.
An empty potato chip bag sits crumpled beside her. If she normally eats that much sodium, I figure her pressure is up quite often, but I say nothing. I'm a cynic by nature and don't imagine I'll make much headway in changing her eating habits.
Bronson goes up to a boy of about 2. "Five high!" he says, and the kid eagerly swats Bronson's hand and laughs. "Five low," he says, then pulls his hand away as the kid tries to make contact. The kid swipes at air. "Ahh, too slow," he says, and the boy laughs.
His 7-year-old brother comes over looking stoic. Bronson tries the high five routine, but he just gives Bronson the finger, then leaves the room.
Just then, a man opens the apartment door and walks in, his face expressionless. The thin woman introduces him as her boyfriend. He says nothing, enters the kitchen, and starts eating some wings. The children quiet and stop moving. I don't know what makes me sadder, their normal hyperactivity or their sudden silence in the presence of this man, who obviously terrifies them.
Meanwhile, the patient is telling us she doesn't want to go to the hospital. The thin woman argues with her that she had better go.
"Or else you can just find some other place to stay with your kids," she threatens.
"None are yours?" Bronson asks. "Nope," she says. "But this one is," she says, patting her belly.
The 7-year-old comes in with a plastic toy and smashes it on the floor, then stops, petrified, when he sees the man in the kitchen.
The mother looks at the child, looks at the man, and gets up from the couch. "Let's go," she says.
When the job is over and we're driving, I revisit the cold, soggy clam strips and muse to Bronson about what the kid's punishment might be for smashing his toy. My own children are surrounded with homecooked food, books and blocks, and green grass. I smother them with kisses, work very little so that I can be with them, and eschew babysitters in favor of my mother. I am rewarded with bright eyes, huge smiles, and healthy checkups at the pediatrician.
I tell Bronson how my husband once said, "Woe to the man who tries to hurt our children." I say the man would be found dead in the weeds along the Belt Parkway and I'd find my husband's gun locked in the strongbox in the basement with a bullet missing.
Bronson looks at me with a puzzled expression, like he doesn't know who I am.
I finish off my clam strips. "He's a very good shot," I explain.
Ms. Klopsis is an emergency medical technician on an ambulance in Brooklyn. This column details her observations and experiences. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients.