November 20: “Not Schmitty” by John Warner

Good evening, Story366! I hope you’ve had a nice weekend. I’ve had a really great weekend in that my weekend is nine days long and I’m only two days in. I have a lot of work to do—Thanksgiving week is when I write all my recommendation letters, and this year I have six students applying out—but still, I’m not prepping for classes or getting up early to shave tomorrow, I know that. Today, we started the massive project of readying ourselves for Thursday, for hosting a few friends and students who don’t have anywhere to go. Today, we started by catching up on those everyday things—garbage, laundry, and dishes—that possibly just might have not been getting done every day. I also cooked three meals today (which doesn’t help those dishes go away), including a big breakfast (sausage, eggs, pancakes, and toast), a light lunch (some chicken teriyaki with brown rice), and a big dinner (chicken enchiladas). So I was the domestic dandy today, and we haven’t even started cleaning the house, shopping, or resting much yet.

I also caught a lot of the Harry Potter movie marathon on whatever channel that is—Disney Family?—that plays Harry Potter movie marathons over the course of several weekends a year. Probably good timing with that Fantastic Beasts movie out this weekend (and doing well, but not record-breaking numbers, in the U.S. this weekend). Serious question I thought of today: What happened to Hagrid? I mean, I know he was a prisoner of the bad wizards at the end, carries Harry back to Hogwarts, hugs Harry at the end. But what happened to him the last few books? If I recall (I read the books as they came out), he went to enroll the giants into the good wizards’ cause. But watching these movies, that seems to have failed, as the giants fight with the bad people. What happened to that Giant half-brother of his from the fifth movie, the one tied up out in the woods? Did Hagrid ever get with that giant French headmaster? And when Harry is resurrected at the end of the last movie, we never see him fighting, using his brute strength to beat on some Deatheaters, doesn’t use his rapport with creatures to get them to fight on the right side (heck, his spider friends fought on the bad side, too). It seems to me like J.K. Rawling just got sick of him, even maybe wanted to disgrace him a little by the end of the series. First four books? He was the main secondary character. Last three? Uh, no. Reduced. What do you think?

Lastly, I got to read from John Warner‘s spectacular collection Tough Day for the Army, out from LSU Press as part of its Yellow Shoe Fiction Series (edited by Michael Griffith). I’ve read a story or two by Warner before, but when I picked up his book today, I couldn’t place any until I scanned the Table of Contents, and even then, I couldn’t say that I could exactly categorize him as a particular type writer or explain what he does to anyone who asked. I don’t know him at all, either, except for a FB friendship that’s not connected much. I do know that he’s the editor at large for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, which certainly says something about him, and that’s he’d written three books before Tough Day for the Army. What that all added up to was I didn’t know anything about Warner, but was looking forward to reading his stories tonight.

And I was rewarded. I really like this book, read several stories, and could have written about any of them. The title story, which for this rare occasion I’m not writing about, is about an army that’s hanging out in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, one that reminded my of my childhood dentist’s waiting room, one certainly dated to the seventies, one I for some reason went to until I was twenty-five (even though all the chairs were child-sized and I barely fit those last couple times). But yeah, the whole army is waiting in this tiny waiting room, filling out forms, talking about how super-trained they are to kill, sharing Highlights for Children and People with the other waiting clients. Great story. I liked “Not Schmitty” better, though, so I’ll write about it.

“Not Schmitty” is told in the first person plural, a “we” story, a communal narrator. Who’s the commune? The men of an unnamed fraternity, guys who buy into the stereotypical all-in frat as much as any group of guys in history. They narrate their tale matter of factly, explaining how they’ve come across this particular dilemma: what they’re going to do with the pledges they have tied up downstairs, in the boiler room, which doubles as their weight room. Of course, they’re already hazing the hell out of these guys, tying them up to the weight benches in the super-hot boiler room, but someone—in the communal voice—wonders if they should also waterboard them, and within seconds, everyone agrees that fuck yeah, they should waterboard them!

But don’t take these fraternity boys for complete morons: They know they can’t go waterboarding just any goofy freshman, understanding quite well that if they accidentally kill one of these kids, they’ll totally lose their charter at the university for sure. So, they have to figure out which guy they’ll waterboard, because now that it’s in their heads, they sure the fuck are going to waterboard somebody. They take their inventory and settle on Schmitty—which threw me, as I thought the title meant it would not be Schmitty—who is tough, who loves the frat as much as anybody, who can benchpress more than any of them, and has already allowed them—begged them—to brand their letters on his ass. Schmitty is their man!

So, the narrator of this story, as a group of older guys, takes Schmitty—who despite his credentials is doubtful—and waterboards him. They put a workout towel over his face, which Schmitty bucks off, so they put it back on and stretch it tight to hold his head down. Then they waterboard him.  Having never waterboarded before, they don’t quite know when to stop, and when they decide Schmitty’s had enough, they take the towel off his face, only to find that the guy tied down, the guy they just waterboarded, is not Schmitty. Instead, he is a glossy-eyed, empty, angry human, one who is so full of hatred and rage, he has sworn he will kill each and every man responsible if he ever gets out of these ropes.

Our narrator, at that point, fully believes that Schmitty will make due on his promise, so of course, there’s no way they can untie him. As in, ever. Needless to say, they’d never thought this through. Now that’s is gone as poorly as it could have gone—yes, it’s worse than killing him, as even that would have been better—what’s their plan? I won’t reveal any more, as there’s got to be something left for you to discover, but how Warner finishes his story is absolutely perfect, better than anything I could have thought of, inspired.

“Not Schmitty” is one my favorite stories I’ve read this year, from one of the best books. John Warner’s satire in A Tough Day for the Army is spot-on, speaking to everything I like in stories. So glad I came across this book, that I have a clear sense of what Warner does as I sure like it.

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One thought on “November 20: “Not Schmitty” by John Warner

  1. Pingback: November 21: “Love Letters From a Fat Man” by Naomi Benaron – Story366

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