Guaranteed for life

March 05, 1997|By Helen Chappell

OYSTERBACK, Maryland -- Everyone's got someone in their life like Sailor. He is one of those hard-luck cases without a mean bone in their bodies, the ones who have no luck at all, mostly because they can't leave the booze or the drugs alone.

Guys like Sailor, you always end up rescuing from themselves, but it never makes any nevermind. These guys can't help themselves; they'll be all right for a long time, then they'll go on a massive bender for three, four, five days, a real toot! Even when they're high as kites, they're never mean; they're just so happy to be there that it can break your heart. Sailor's the kind who wouldn't hurt a fly, but somehow always manages to hurt himself. He's worked for me on and off for years, and when he's sober, he's a damn good worker, but when he's high . . . well, forget him. He don't know when to stop.

That was why we weren't especially surprised when Sailor showed up Friday morning before breakfast, looking like he'd been ridden hard and put away wet; his eyes were all red and his hands were shaking and he looked like he was as high as a kite. ''My landlady threw me out,'' he says, sort of listing to one side. ''Can I sleep on your couch?''

One look at him and I knew he was completely wrecked, so I threw him an afghan and went on about getting ready for work. Gail didn't say much; even she likes Sailor; like I say, you just have to like the guy, rockstar or not.

When we come on home that night, he was sittin' up asleep on the couch with that afghan thrown over his head. We knew he'd been up and about because the dog was put out in the backyard, but he was asleep, or so we thought. We were goin' to Gail's sister's to play cards that night, and we didn't come back 'til late, so we just left ole Sailor asleep on our couch. Our brand-new leather couch.

Tiptoed around him

Saturday, we went over to the Salvage in the morning, and over to Sam's Club in Dover, and Sailor was still asleep then; when he comes off a bender where he's been up three, four days, that boy sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. So we just left 'im, you know, be, and sort of tiptoed around 'im all night. By then, he was stretched out on the sofa, and spread under the afghan, and the dog was sleepin' on his feet, so we think everything was all right then.

Sunday mornin,' Gail's makin' a great big breakfast, like she does, and she says, ''whyn't you see if Sailor wants to get up and eat something,'' so I went over and put my hand on his arm to wake him up and he was right cold, and I said ''whoa, something ain't right here.''

So I rolled back that afghan and I saw it was all over for Sailor and had been for a while, 'cause he was as stiff as a plank and this fishbelly white color and he had this foamy stuff all over his mouth and our sofa. Our brand new, $2,000 leather sofa we were still making the payments on!

Well, Gail's a nurse's aide, and she took a look and said he was dead, that he'd O.D.'d and she called 911. Of course, them ambulance boys, they didn't want to come, because they said a dead body would just contaminate their nice clean truck and they'd have to spray everything with Lysol or something. But the dispatcher called the state boys, and wouldn't you know they sent us a baby trooper, instead of one of them ole boys who would know Sailor from previous encounters and I thought, oh, this is great, I got a dead man on my couch and this baby trooper giving me the fishy eye, which he did when he first got there and looked at Sailor, who was not getting any fresher or more alive.

But Gail had had enough by then, and you know what she can be like, and pretty soon, she had that baby trooper filling out the forms and tryin' to get Sailor off our couch, trying to find someone to take 'im away.

Even dead, Sailor was a world of trouble; turned out that unattended deaths have to be carried up to the Medical Examiner's office in Baltimore. Well, you couldn't get more unattended than Sailor; he must have slipped off the mortal coil when we weren't looking, and just lay there for what we figure had to be 24 hours. Neither of us could remember seeing him actually breathing on Saturday, so we think he might have passed over then, while we were at Sam's Club.

The thing that irritates me is we were tiptoeing around him all Saturday night, and we couldn't even sit on our own brand-new couch and watch our own TV because we thought he was asleep under that afghan and all the while that poor dumb sumbitch had O.D.'d!

Well, that baby trooper had to call about five or six funeral parlors before he found a funeral home that would come and take Sailor away. When them boys come with the meat wagon, they said the boss was happy to get Sailor, because the state would pay to haul him up to the M.E.'s office for the autopsy.

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