The Man Who Fell To Earth

In retrospect, what weirds me out the most is that I never saw his face until they had him on the backboard; only his lovehandles and the suggestion of a plumber’s butt. What happened was, they pretty well finished my porch today — doors hung and painted, house number up, a Zorba-like embrace from the Greek contractor — and my neighbor behind me, like me a suburban grass widow but with a yappy Dachshund instead of cats, had paused to admire.

“Now I just wish they’d clean up the tar paper,” she said.

“The what?”

“Not your guys.” She gestured across the four-lane divided. “I think the guy over there is covering up something with just tar paper, come on, the roof needs fixing.” I hadn’t seen what she was talking about. We walked toward the corner; yea verily, shingles were off the roof of the house she indicated, all the shingles, no tar paper in sight, just a heap of something on the driveway, wait a fricken minute someone is lying there.

A couple other guys in contractor-logo’ed polo shirts were standing around looking handless, and a sixtysomething woman was holding a cell phone. Dachshund Lady double-timed across the thoroughfare, dog and all, and I followed. “Did he fall?” I asked, superfluously. A ladder rested against the gutter of the shingleless house, some amount of construction tackle lodged in the angle of the dormer, some roofing tool abandoned on the peak.

The guy on the sloped driveway didn’t want anyone to call an ambulance, it developed, and kept trying to rise from a prone position. He had on a battered brown leather jacket and a baseball hat from beneath which wiry bronze-black elflocks spewed randomly. “Lie still,” said Dachshund Lady, who used to work at a local hospital. Cell Phone Lady — apparently she had just seen the man lying in the drive, and pulled over — hovered a moment more and then decided to call bullshit, and the emergency services.

EMS seemed to be asking her a bunch of weird questions. Did he have high blood pressure? How high did he fall from? (No one had seen it; the rest of his crew had been behind the house.) “Just tell them he can’t get up,” I hissed, because although the guy could move, was even clambering painfully and in extreme slow motion to all fours no matter what we told him, it was clear he was not going to stand up any time soon and shouldn’t.

“If it’s about his papers, this is Arlington, this is the last place anyone will give him a hard time about that,” I said to the nearest polo shirt, since the two guys on their feet were visibly Hispanic and undocumented jitters are a local meme. This is the county that tried to pass a ruling prohibiting the cops from running an immigration check when someone gets arrested. Falling off a roof seems right out of it. “He’s got insurance,” said one of the polo shirts.

The EMS supervisor appeared — a two-by-four, no-nonsense woman with a big blonde ponytail. An ambulance followed. An engine showed up a second or two later. A woman issued from the house next door, flourishing a cell phone of her own. A picture emerged: the leather-jacketed man on the driveway was the landlord of both houses, he was paying his employees to do repairs on his properties. I listened with half an ear while I watched them put a field neck brace on him and turn him onto a red polymer backboard, like a baby surfboard with perforations along the edge for handgrips.

His face, anonymous with pain, was about the same color as the concrete, sharp-boned, middle-aged. I wanted to move forward and say something — what? you’re going to be all right? don’t worry about Immigration? everyone’s praying for you? — but six unsmiling paramedics were in the way.

Rush hour traffic crawled by in the single lane left open by the emergency vehicles. The paramedics hoisted the backboard onto the gurney and the gurney into the ambo. I left as the tenant lady was trying to find out about emergency contacts.

I don’t know my neighbors, much less their landlords, despite having lived here eighteen years. I looked up the property on the county website later. However many Spanish guys he employs, the landlord’s name is honkier than mine. He’s owned the place for a quarter century. I can’t think why he wouldn’t want an ambulance after falling off a roof. And I don’t know who to ask.


5 thoughts on “The Man Who Fell To Earth

  1. Whoa. That is quite weird from start to finish. A neighbour turning your attention to another neighbour’s property, where someone has JUST spattered himself. I can tell you have been affected – imagine you’ll have some interesting dreams. I can only imagine one reason – he thinks he’s tougher than a little fall. “It’ll be grand,” he says.

    Your writing here is really different, I like it.

    • I guess I was in a funk. Also, I think you’re hearing Jane’s voice, or more properly Smitty’s, the first-person narrator of my mysteries. He writes like that. (Tell you sometime about local comments on how his style revealed who Jane really was, which she isn’t.)

      No one exchanged names and everyone was talking as if if we were dealing with a missed bus, and I honestly didn’t know how to behave or what to do, especially with that looming question about WHY does he not want an ambulance if he has insurance.

      And I have no idea what happened. I thought of calling the hospital with the name to see if he had been admitted, but then someone would want to know why I thought it was my business, and I honestly couldn’t think of an answer, not being Smitty, who edits a newspaper in a parallel Arlington.

      • Hmm. My mom was a newspaper editor, and I bet she’d get an off the record response to a query. But then again, everyone knew and trusted her.

        I like Smitty’s style! I bet I’d get a kick out of your book(s?).

        It must have felt odd to come in after the fact like that. I know if you were first on the scene it would have been different. The chatting like it was the queue in the checkout is pretty disturbing!

        You do have his name now, would it be bad to send a letter to him asking if he is okay?

        • I can’t decide. I definitely am going to keep my eye peeled for the tenant lady. I walk up and down that hill all the time, so I should be able to spot her and ask about it soon.

          The joke about Smitty is that when I wrote the books, which were two conspicuous romans a clef like “Primary Colors,” I decided my detective-narrator would be based on the real editor of the real local paper — because he was a dweeb and the least dashing human being on the face of the earth, and because I owed him one for being snarky to me. So I studied his style a little, and his favorite phrases, and snuck that in here and there, and local politics wonks were nodding sagely and saying “He can’t conceal his true voice, he really wrote these.” Eventually everyone pretty well figured out it was me. Also Smitty is a bit nicer than his real life model, but that’s fictional license. I fixed him up with several dames.

          I wish I could get the spark to write another one, but I sort of had my joke.

  2. Aggressive ambulance-chasing reporters often collect amazing details about the incident and the patient by ambushing distraught relatives in the emergency room. The strategy raises ethical questions, of course, especially if the reporter poses as a sympathetic bystander and neglects to disclose the newspaper connection.

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