June 9: “The Sailor” by Darci Schummer

Greetings, Story366! Happy day to you. So this is something that happened to me the other day: I took a load of clothes to the Laundromat to dry—our dryer’s busted—and in the parking lot, in front of the Laundromat, an old fella is spread-eagle on his back on the blacktop. At first, I thought it was a laundry-doer, out to catch some rays (it was the hot day of the year, high 80s), but then no, it was clear he wasn’t soaking in the sun on purpose. The guy was out for the count. When I shut my car door, he opened his eyes, but quickly closed them again. I asked him if he was okay and he shook his head. I asked if he needed help and he nodded. I called 911, told them what was up, and they sent help.

Pretty much, the guy was drunk passed-out. He clearly appeared to be a homeless type, the overly tanned/burnt skin, his worn, dirty clothes, his smell. Physically, he looked exactly like Blue from Old School, in his late sixties, if not older. A cop car pulled up within a few minutes and I waved them down, and immediately, one of the officers said, “We know this guy. He’s probably drunk.” That was apparent, but also not my call. Sure, I earned my First Aid merit badge back in seventh grade, but I still didn’t think it was a good idea, on a really hot day, to leave a sixty-something-year-old dude spread out on blacktop. Kindness, decency, and common fucking sense said to call 911, so I did.

Inside, I made a general announcement to the other laundry-doers, many of whom were gaping through the window when I pulled up. “You know, there was an old guy passed out in the parking lot out there,” and a woman replied, “Yeah, we saw him. I told the woman in the office. I have a daughter here and didn’t want to go outside.” Fair enough, as she did have a young daughter there, but she also had a phone in her hand. Apparently, the lady in the office’s response was to call the Laundromat’s maintenance guy/security guard—also well into his sixties—who pulled up right then, as if on cue. He came inside and walked over to the lady in the office, who pointed at me. The guy came up and asked if I was the one who called the cops, and when I said yes, he told me, “I could have handled him.” This maintenance/security guy was implying, heavily, that I shouldn’t have called 911, that I’d made an error. He was more or less saying that the Laundromat didn’t need that kind of hassle, that situations like this one was what he was for (even when he’s not actually at the Laundromat).

My answer to this guy was simple and forcefully delivered: “That guy’s an old-timer. It’s pretty hot out there. He could have died.” Then I went outside and had to wait for a few minutes because the police cruiser was blocking my car. I watched the cops try to stand the guy up. They couldn’t. The sat him on a bench and asked him questions; the guy didn’t know his name, what year it was, who was president. The maintenance/security guy then talked to the cops for a while. One of the cops saw I was waiting and moved his car. As I backed out, maintenance/security guy came to the window and said, “You did the right thing.”

So why am I telling you all this? Well, for Spring Break, I made up a whole trip to Daytona Beach and a fratful of guys to have adventures with me. I’ve told you about the weather patterns here as transitional material. I’ve noted when the Cubs have won and when they’ve lost (no game today, by the way). So if I see a guy dying in a parking lot, and nobody does anything, I think it’s a good story, good enough to share on Story366.

Plus, the protagonist in today’s story, “The Sailor,” could very well be that guy spread-eagle in the parking lot. “The Sailor,” from Darci Schummer’s collection Six Months in the Midwest, out from Unsolicited Press, is about a guy named Ed who is wandering around Minneapolis in a daze, nowhere to go, nowhere to be. He seems to be disintegrating, too, falling deeper into a world he doesn’t recognize, the streets of Minneapolis growing more and more foreign too him, as is reality. This is where the title comes from, how Ed is lost at sea.

Schummer’s narration is solid throughout “The Sailor,” as she employs more of a stream-of-consciousness effect than anything. The story is told in third person, but it’s a close third person, so we get Ed’s thoughts, which are rotated between general description of what he’s doing in the front story, along with italicized conversations with whom must be his ex-wife, as well as quotations from a student essay he’d read in a class—Ed was an English teacher—a sailor describing his life in the Navy. The narrative amalgamation this produces makes a nice character sketch, building Ed into multiple dimensions as we find out why he’s digressed so severely.

Ed’s a tragic character, once a gifted teacher who just seemed to lose his mind. This lost him his job and his wife, turning him into one of those people we see on the streets, the kind of guy I saw outside the Laundromat the other day. I don’t know the laundry guy’s story, but it’s probably similar, some tragedy, some addiction or disease taking him off a more hopeful path. Somebody loved that guy at some point in his life, but there he was, drunk and passed out in a strip mall parking lot, people more afraid of him or annoyed by his existence than they were concerned that a human life was at stake. Ed is that guy, so Schummer’s well told story is particularly striking to me this week.

Six Months in the Midwest is about Minneapolisians (that can’t be right) who are lost in the Midwest, lost in their lives. I’m not sure if Schummer is from there—my money says yes—but there’s this worn feeling to the characters in these stories, people damaged by the harsh winters, gray skies, and bleak futures. Schummer captures that particular feeling in all the stories I read from her book, supplying a voice to those who need a voice.