Local icon Tim Rumsey walked to work most days from 1987 to 2000. He began as a form of exercise but kept at it for his love of local lore harvested through his interactions with people on the street. He began documenting his musings and eventually filled 53 pocketbooks with his observations. He continues writing about his observations to this day. Here is just one tale.
By Tim Rumsey, MD
Johnny Paul lived at Family Style Homes. He was 42 years old, from Ortonville, Minnesota. A high school grad, two years of college. He said his main hobbies were watching TV, drinking cold water and smoking Chesterfield cigarettes. He smoked four packs a day.
Johnny suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia.
West 7th all-star cab driver, William Texan Dubois, knew J.P. very well. They weren’t exactly friends. Tex would say J.P. was one of his best customers.
Family Style Homes was a collection of 24 old houses by the Schmidt brewery with four or five folks with a mental illness in each cottage. Our clinic provided medical care for the 120 residents. Front desk Gloria gave them daily-life items. We all became intimate with the wrestling matches in the minds of all those souls. Tex cabbed Johnny Paul into clinic today.
Johnny was first up on my list. I opened the exam room door. The air was smokier than Mancini’s Las Vegas Lounge on a Saturday night. I was surprised the fire alarms didn’t go off. Three cigarette butts were flattened on the floor in front of Johnny.
“There’s no smoking, JP,” I said pointing to the offenders on the linoleum.
“I wasn’t smoking,” he said.
“The nurse who took my blood pressure, Aleda.”
I laughed to myself at the image of a squinty eyed Aleda trying to hold a long ash hanging from the corner of her mouth as she pumped up the blood pressure cuff on Johnny’s arm.
“Aleda doesn’t smoke,” I said.
Just then Aleda opened the door. “Emergency in the parking lot, doctor! Come now!”
Johnny jumped up ahead of me and ran down the hall after Aleda,
While Aleda and I tended to a patient, I caught sight of Tex trying to calm Johnny Paul.
Then the paramedics charged into the scene.
. . . .
Tex once opined on Family Style Homes, “A lot of people, me too, thought the place was full of nuts and nincompoops. Peeing on front lawns and generally messing with the image of West 7th Street. I learned they were basically nice folks. They suffered. They couldn’t always help themselves, and besides we’re all a little mental.”
. . . .
Johnny Paul was in and out of United Hospital’s ER and closed psych. His mother’s health was very fragile. He considered her his “ace in the hole,” but she was still in Ortonville. Johnny couldn’t get there, and he wondered what he was going to do. When his mother died suddenly, he couldn’t get out of bed for three days. And, he could not even go back to Ortonville for the funeral.
One midnight, Tex saw Johnny Paul pacing back and forth across the High Bridge. Tex was familiar with the look of terror on his face. He stopped his cab in the middle of the bridge and coaxed Johnny in. They drove around for a while Tex listened to Johnny’s fears. Then Tex dropped him off at his cottage.
A week later, Johnny came to the clinic and front desk Gloria gave him a liter of Pepsi and a pair of socks. During his medical visit, he gave me a mortuary memorial card in memory of his mother.
“Mr. Tex, front desk Gloria and Aleda are all I have now,” Johnny said.
Before he left the exam room, I gave him a one-armed hug, and Johnny asked me for a dollar.
“What would happen if you gave me three dollars?”
During his August visit, we talked about his mom. Then I had to give Johnny some bad news of his own. His blood pressure was elevated.
“I have the silent killer?” Johnny asked.
He jumped up from his seat and reached for the exam room door handle. I told him it was early. We could treat it. He’d be fine. Johnny sat back down.
“Is it from too much pop?” he asked.
“Maybe a little,” I said.
“I’ll cut down.” And, salt? Which is bad? Too much or too little?”
Johnny needed a dose or two of Aleda’s health ed. Then he asked me for my pocket change.
I showed him a quarter and three Abe Lincolns.