Thingish Things

Angels Among Us

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Apr• 02•11

A few years back I was asked by a friend to help a New York City school in danger of closing.  It was a small private school – still is fortunately – that had fallen on tough times.  Its enrollment was down and declining. My task was to teach its board how to publicize the school to attract new students.

I was kicking around the place one afternoon, going from classroom to classroom in search of interesting news stories. The dean of the school had assigned an administrator to walk me around, a former mid-level state political hack in his mid-sixties who had come to the school a couple of years before, presumably to put in a few more years before retiring. Nice enough guy, but nondescript.  If there was anything you might take away from him, it would be that he was overweight and unkempt.  The kind of guy you walk by every day without noticing.

At the end of the tour, I had a couple of stories worth pitching, but nothing that was going to win anyone a Pulitzer.  I thanked the man and said I would call him the following Monday to follow up.  I’ll remember the next five minutes for the rest of my life.  Here’s how it went:

He: “I won’t be here Monday.  I’ll be gone next week,”

Me: “Oh, where are you going?  Someplace fun I hope?”

He: “I’ll be in Russia for the week.  But I’ll be back the next Monday.  We can talk then.”

Me: “Very cool.  Always wanted to go to Russia.  Have you been there before?”

He: “Few times.”

Me: “Do you have family there?  Are you Russian?”

He: “No.  I’m Italian.  But I go to Russia every year for vacation.”

Me: “No kidding.  That’s interesting.  What do you do there?”

He: “Nothing really. I just help with something.

Me: “Oh?”

He: “Just something I do. But I’ll be back a week from Monday.”

Me: “What is it, if it’s okay to ask?”

He: “I help put fire alarms in schools.”

Me: “Really?  How did you get into that?”

He: “It’s just something I started doing a few years ago.”

Me: “On your own?”

He: “Yes.  Just me.”

Me: “How did you get into that?”

He: “I read a story in the paper about a school for the deaf in Russia.  The school burned down and all the children died because they couldn’t hear the fire bell.  So I put in alarms that have flashing lights.”

Me: [staggered] “On your own? This is just you? “

He: “Well, the Russian government lets me do it.”

Me: “Is someone deaf in your family?”

He: “No. The story just got to me.”

Me: “It must cost a fortune.  How do you do it?”

He: “I can’t do too many at once, because it’s expensive. So I do a couple of schools on each trip.”

Me: “That’s….incredible.  You have no other connection to Russia?  You just do this?”

He: “The story kind of got to me.  And I figured I never got married; I don’t have any kids, and my rent’s not too bad.  I’ve got a decent pension from the state and I won’t need a whole lot when I retire.  So this is just something I do.”

Me: “How may schools have you done?”

He: “This will be my 12th and 13th.”

Me: “I hate to ask you this, but this really is an amazing story.  I’ve gotta say I’ve never heard anything like it. Would you mind if I spoke with a reporter about what you do? This is really something people should know about.

He looked down, thought for a moment and said: “No thanks.  I’d rather not.  This is just something I do.”








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One Comment

  1. Your Friend says:

    Soul-crushingly lovely story. Let’s hear it for the overweight and unkempt.

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