jimmy from New York ..
Jimmy runs a bar on the other side of the island, been there for twenty one years he says, thick and thin, fire and flood. A rawboned lad is Jim, not quite the gym junky but getting there, plenty of flex in his undersized T shirt as he does his rounds of the bar, polishing this, lifting that. Always with the eye for passing trade.
His bar furniture is old and tested, a veteran of hard nights and long days, chipped and rickety. Like us. Passing trade.
Not much time for the aged has our James, he’d rather be shooting shit with the tablefull of younger Norwegians on the other side of the room.
This has to be dealt with. Old is bold in my ledger.
‘I was in America once, back in ’64.’
Jimmy looks over from his sink, grunts. ‘Oh yeah?’
‘Yeah, New York. Where are you from, Yank?’
‘Drove down to Florida from New Jersey in a used car, slept in it one night and was rousted by the cops just outside Daytona before dawn. Somebody living next door to the vacant lot we were parked in complained.’
‘You don’t say.’
‘Get out of town they said, me and my mate. So we obliged.
Shit of a place, that Florida.’
Jimmy gets a call from a delivery guy outside and does a three minute flex on the pavement before coming back inside empty-handed.
‘Then we rolled west through the south to Mobile and stopped for something to eat at a road cafe, walked in and every truck driver in the place stopped eating and gave us the group dead-eye. I grabbed a coffee to go and it was goodbye boys’.
Nothing from brother James.
‘Shit of a place, that Alabama.’
Hard man to get through to is Jim, so we carry on.
‘After awhile we got to Arizona but couldn’t get a good feed there because a white skin doesn’t work when you want one in a black place, if you know what I mean.’
That got him.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Any negroes in your family, Jim?’
Six months before that road trip we were sitting in a bar on a cross Atlantic passenger-liner drinking with a woman who had been everywhere and knew everything. American. Thought Australians were otherworldians, bone-heads in the ways of the world, nincompoops.
When the conversation turned to Martin Luther King I had to ask her:
Being a bone-head.
‘Any negroes in your family?’
The world stopped turning.
Jimmy gave me the same look she did. So I went on.
‘When we got to San Diego the only place we could park and sleep was in a naval shipyard car park, drove right in. Three hours later I hear a car pull up alongside, doors open and close, five seconds of silence then someone bangs the car roof ten times with a heavy baton. Naval patrol.
Out they get, out we get … then it’s another get out of town.
Shit of a place that San Diego.’
By now Jimmy is getting antsy and I’m still on my first beer. Tsingtao, an outstanding drop.
‘What’s that state north of California,’ I ask our man, ‘where it rains all the bloody time?’
‘ Yeah, that one. We were parked someplace outside of a phone booth trying to get the number of a bloke we knew in Nanaimo when a cop car rolled past on the other side of the road, pulled up hard, threw in a big 180 and jerked up a foot away. Out comes two cops and whaddya know? It’s another get out of town.’
Jimmy’s heading upstairs about now, he’s had enough so I have to shout.
‘Shit of a place, that Seattle.’
What’s the name of that bloke who likes to see folks suffer? Dante Alighieri? Well that’s me.
I wait for young Jim to come back down.
He moved behind the bar, hardly looked up.
‘Your booze array is out of whack there, Jimmy,’ I say, pointing to the liquor bottles racked up behind the bar, whiskies, scotches, gins … rums.
James looks at me, sees where I’m pointing, looks over there, looks back at me.
‘The Bundaberg is sitting in front of the Myers, you got it the wrong way around.’
He shrugs.’I don’t drink rum.’
Jimmy’s not going to move anything.
‘Well if you do, don’t start with the Queensland stuff.
Shit of a rum, that Bundaberg.”
By now I’m wondering how much a man can take. But this is a bar, he’s a barman and I’m the guy on the other side doing the drinking. That gives me licence. It’s the Australian way.
‘Ever bought a second-hand car in Trenton New Jersey, Jim?
How many times can a guy wipe a clean bar top and look cool … Jimmy is fading here.
‘Me and my mate Kerry picked an old Ford and asked the dealer to wheel it into the shop and fire it up … the beast threw bloody sparks everywhere so we asked him for some tools to pull off the engine housing. The salesman, Ricky something, asked us if we knew what we were doing.
Kerry straightened up from under the hood, he was a big unit who had worked as a heavy duty mechanic in the Territory for most of his life. He told the spindly Yank car salesman he was the best mechanic who’d ever walked into his shed and if he wanted to sell a car he’d best get out of the way.
Ricky left the building.
.. and Jimmy never said goodbye either, didn’t even wave.