'X' is for X-Acto


The squad pulled into the bay, and the four men already in the station sighed. The bickering coming from the squad was audible as soon as the diesel engine cut out. So much for the peace and quiet.

"I tell ya, Brice, I don't care what you say. That's gotta be one of the most difficult patients I've ever had," Johnny said.

Roy's vacation was proving challenging for everyone at the station, but particularly for Johnny.

"He was mentally ill and frightened, in addition to having a bad laceration that needed medical attention. It wasn't his fault," Brice said.

"Well I know that, Brice. But that doesn't mean I can't say he was difficult," Johnny said, as he slammed the squad door shut. "We'll go tell the guys what happened, and see if they think he was difficult."

Johnny followed Brice into the day room, where the other four men greeted them unenthusiastically, or not at all. None of them wanted to become involved in an argument between Johnny and Brice.

"All right, so it was like this," Johnny said. "You all heard the dispatch info for our last call. Thirty-five year old male with a laceration, right?"

"Right," Chet said warily, from where he was reading a magazine at the table.

Marco made himself look busier than he was at the stove. Captain Stanley held up a finger, and said "That reminds me …" as he left the room. Mike Stoker continued working on his crossword puzzle on the end of the couch not being taken up by the dog.

"Well that wasn't the whole story. As usual. We walk in there, right, and the guy's mother warns us right off the bat that her son is schizophrenic. I know, he can't help it, but it made treating a pretty severe laceration all that much more difficult when he thought we were the FBI coming to take him away." Johnny looked around the room, angling for a response of some kind.

Chet bit. "Sounds pretty difficult to me already."

"Aha! Well, it got even worse. See, the guy had been working on a model plane, with an X-Acto knife. It slipped, and he cut his forearm, real deep. Really bad—a lot of blood, cause he'd nicked a minor artery."

Mike slouched farther down on the couch, and held his New York Times Magazine up a little higher, as if to protect himself from the discussion of the red substance that was the bane of his existence as a fireman. For most firemen the dreaded red stuff was fire. For him, it was blood. He pretended he wasn't there, and hoped neither Gage nor Brice would notice him.

"And then—you won't believe this, guys. Then, the guy pulls his X-Acto knife on me. Tells me I have no grounds to arrest him, and that God said he was untouchable," Johnny continued. "His mom finally talked him down, but not before he took a couple of real good swipes at me with that knife. I'd say that was difficult. Wouldn't you?"

"Is that story completely true, Gage?" Marco said. "You've been known to embellish, from time to time. Whaddaya say, Brice? Is he exaggerating?"

"No," Craig Brice said slowly. "Gage is mostly correct in his description of the incident."

"Mostly correct?" Johnny said. "Mostly correct? Now what, exactly, do you think I have wrong?"

"The knife was not an X-Acto knife."

"Well, it sure looked like one to me. And I got up close and personal with it."

"It was certainly a craft knife with a removable blade, but when he set the implement down, and I confiscated it, I noticed that the knife read 'X-tra Knife,' not 'X-Acto.' It was probably a cheaper imitation of the name-brand product. Therefore, it is not entirely correct to call it an X-Acto knife."

"Brice, there's all sorts of things like that. Where everyone uses the brand name to mean anything of that kind. I bet you do it too."

"I most certainly do not," Brice stated.

"Oh yeah?" Johnny said, pointing his finger at Brice. "I bet I can come up with some word like that where you don't have a … a … I don't know, a generic word for it."

"I would wager you can't."

"Well, let's just start right at the beginning of the alphabet, then. Alka-Seltzer," Johnny said.

"Effervescent antacid."

"Whatever," Johnny said. "Nobody would actually say that. Band-aid."

"Adhesive bandage."

"Ditto," Johnny said.

"Spirit reproduction."


"The word 'ditto' is a trademarked name for reproductions using a technology of—"

"No, you dimwit. I meant 'same thing.' Nobody would say 'adhesive bandage.' Chet, what would you say?"

"Uh, I'd probably say Band-Aid," Chet said.

"Moving right along," Johnny said. "You made me skip 'C.' How 'bout, uh … Chapstick!"

"Lip balm," Brice said instantly.

"Okay, here's a good one. I bet you didn't know 'Dumpster' was a trademark."

"I did know that, in fact. Heavy-duty waste receptacle."

"C'mon, Brice. Nobody actually talks like that. I mean, that sounds like, what's his name—the guy on Star Trek with the pointy ears?"

"Mr. Spock," Brice replied.

"Of course you'd know that. How about this, though: escalator. Bet you didn't know that one."

"The trademark expired in 1950, but I still find it more appropriate to use the term 'moving stairway.'"

"Even though the trademark is expired?"



"The generic term is more descriptive, and thus more appropriate."

Johnny swore under his breath. "Frisbee."

"Flying disk."

"Uh, G, H, I … nope. Oooh: Jello."

"Gelatin dessert."

Chet managed to make himself disappear somewhere around 'M.' Marco made himself ignore the conversation as well as he could, singing his mother's favorite song under his breath at the stove.

Mike, however, was becoming fascinated by the conversation, against his better judgment. He found himself rooting for Gage in this fight. Clarity, in Mike's opinion, took precedence over one man's version of propriety. And if everyone knows what Jello is, Mike thought, you should say 'Jello.'

The verbal repartee ended at 'Xerox,' when Johnny was unable to think of any words for 'Y' or 'Z.'

Brice couldn't resist a parting shot.

"I certainly hope I've given you some appreciation for the correctness of generic terms this afternoon."

"What you've given me is a headache," Johnny grumbled. "A really, really big headache."

"Perhaps you should go take some aspirin," Brice suggested helpfully.

Mike spoke his first unsolicited sentence all day. "You know, Brice, 'aspirin' was a trademark."

All eyes in the room shot to the corner of the couch, where everyone had forgotten there was another human present. Even Henry opened his eyes and sat up when he heard Mike speak.

"Pardon me?" Brice said.

"The Bayer corporation trademarked the name 'aspirin' in 1899. Bayer lost its U.S. trademark during World War I, when the corporations U.S. assets and trademarks were seized by our government. So really, if you're going to follow your own rules, you should recommend that he go get some acetylsalicylic acid."

And with that, Mike returned to his crossword puzzle.

"Hah!" Johnny said to Brice. "And hah again!"

Brice stared at Johnny through his thick glasses lenses for a few seconds, and left the day room.

Johnny went over to the couch.

"Stoker, how did you know that? I didn't even know that. And I was ready—because we argued about this the other day, and I was ready to trip him up."

"Chemistry term paper on aspirin, sophomore year in college."

"Well, I owe you, big time! I've never seen anyone put him in his place like that before. That was terrific, just terrific! You're the best, man. Seriously. Any time you need a favor, just ask, okay?"


"Uh huh?"

"Go take your aspirin. And bring me some, too, since you owe me a favor."

The End

A/N: It's been so much fun seeing the stories everyone came up with for all the letters!