Tuesday, September 2, 2008

One-Eyed Jim

Today is Jimmy's birthday.

I first met him when I bought the building that was to become Mick's Music & Bar. There are apartments above, and he was a tenant. I thought I should introduce myself, and knocked. Apparently very few people knock on his door. He opened it with an impatient snap. No one told me Jimmy had just one eye, and he didn't happen to be wearing his fake one. I thought I saw his brain. It was not the best first impression.

Jimmy, glass eye in, began hanging out in my bar while I did the remodeling. He was an old union guy, and was full of advice, some of it useful. He'd leave around three o'clock each day, which was when the R-Bar opened. The R-Bar was a tiny little place down the street where retired guys like Jimmy would spend their afternoons. I called The R-Bar his office, and eventually everyone else did too. His mail was delivered there. His legs were bad, so sometimes I'd give him a lift. Whenever I got in over my head, I'd ask Jimmy if he knew a masonry guy or a plumber or whatever. He'd go to the office, and the next day three guys would show up looking for work.

Jimmy began to share in each success, be it installing a toilet or laying tile. He'd shake his head at my fumbling lack of expertise, but his good eye had that same twinkle my dad's used to get when I finally got something right.

When I needed to run to the hardware store, I'd ask Jimmy to keep an eye on the place. He'd pretend to thumb out his glass one, and I'd cringe in disgust.

The day I finished building the stage, we celebrated. It had been difficult. I had struggled with the angles and miters, always a little over my head, but finally got it done to my satisfaction and that of the city inspector. That night Jimmy waddled home drunk from Louis Bar, crawled up the long flight of stairs to his apartment, and teetered when he got to his bathroom. He lost his balance and grabbed the medicine cabinet, which pulled off the wall and slammed into the toilet, smashing the tank. Five hours later his neighbor heard water running and discovered Jimmy still asleep on the floor amid all the broken ceramic and mirrors, water pouring onto the floor. The next day I arrived to find our new stage waterlogged, the wood curled like a potato chip. When Jimmy saw what he had done I think he cried more than I did.

Jimmy had a girlfriend, Zetta. She would give him rides in her huge white Cadillac. Neither of them got around all that well, and they'd check on each other twice a day, at eleven and three. The day Mick's opened, Jimmy insisted on being the guy who bought the first beer, with Zetta at his side. (She didn't drink.) He proudly handed me a framed two dollar bill, which today is hanging on the wall. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the beer he ordered was $3.50. Zetta winked.

Jimmy's routine was so trustworthy that when he missed his eleven o'clock call, Zetta immediately sent George, Jimmy's neighbor, to check on him. George found Jimmy dead on the stairs. No one knows what happened.

But he's not quite gone. I feel him in the bar during the day. When I attempt to fix a clogged drain and skank sprays all over me, I hear him chuckle, and I chuckle too. I notice that things don't break down nearly as often as they used to. Jimmy must have a lot of connections up there too.

Happy birthday, Jimmy. And thanks for the help.

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