A Stupid Story
Kids lined up along the sidewalks. Shuffling in the cold. Under
these factories. Smells like raw sewage. God, itís like theyíre
knee-deep in their own crap. Smell that? No place to hang out, you
ask me. But what the hell do I know, right, old guy like me?
Want one? Donít smoke? Fine. Suit yourself.
My boy Jimbo used to hang out here. His name was Jim, actually
James, but I called Jimbo since he was young. Used to be one of
them, standing right down there all the time.
No, just a little further up.
One time I picked up a kid right here. Right about here. I
merged over toward the kids, cutting across the left lane, to pull
up along the curb like a regular, like someone out for a blow.
Some bitch honked at me and shot the finger. If I was someone
else, or maybe if itíd just been a few months earlier, I donít
know, I might have blown her away. Seriously, I might have shot
her. Bitch, know what I mean? Sure you do. You donít just go
beeping and shooting the bird at people. What world do you live
in, lady? People get shot. You wouldnít do that. Right. Itís
stupid. Exactly. Crazy. Down here, too. Yeah. (Laughter.)
Dead in the sewage. (Laughter.) Dumb bitch.
Anyway, traffic was real bad that evening. Taillights here to
there. Could smell gas in the car with you. Even though it was
winter, window rolled up, heat on. True story: Kid in my
neighborhood goes to the hospital after falling asleep with a
gas-soaked rag over his face trying to get high. Same kid is now
almost thirty, walks around town with a Walkman on, smiling. Walks
like twenty miles a day. Still lives at home, in a room above the
garage. Never had a job. True story. Swear to God. You ought to
write that down.
That day I pulled up to the curb, and I caught a wheel on the
sidewalk and then dropped off, making all the kids look. Some
laughed. I felt a little stupid. I was kinda nervous. Iíll give
I rolled down my window.
Yeah, said a kid with those weird dreadlocks. Right, like that,
like, I donít know, cigars or something. Bout yea-long.
Anyway, Hi, I said. I pointed to the kid Iíd seen before, a
few days earlier. He was sitting against the fence, looking sort
of lost, like Jimbo. He seemed perfect, like a stunt double, swear
to God. He looked like someone whoíd hang himself in a second. I
said to the kid in my window, Him. I pointed. Over there, I said.
Could you get him for me?
Kid turned and yelled, Beano! This guy wants you.
He said "wants" like I was the worldís biggest perv,
spanking it in my car already.
Beano looked around, hesitated a sec, then stood up and walked
over to my window. His breath was like exhaust hissing out of his
nose it was so cold. He had on a hooded sweatshirt and a hat on
backwards, Padres, or maybe Orioles. Black. I couldnít believe
the resemblance. I couldnít believe it.
He goes, What?
I smiled. I couldnít believe it. I know, I said that. But I
couldnít believe it. Just like Jimbo, my boy, with all this
I was wondering if you wanted to make a few bucks, I said.
Nah, man, I ainít like that, he said. Those kids are down
thereóhe pointed behind meóon the next corner.
Itíll take about an hour. Iíll give you fifty bucks. I
showed him a crisp fifty, like this. Nothing sexual, I said. That
ainítí me. And it ainít, right.
What then? he goes.
Get in and weíll talk. You wonít have to do anything.
Right, man. Youíll try to eat my eyeballs or something, Mr.
Dahmer. Thatís what he called me, Mr. Dahmer.
Fifty bucks. And I ainít going to touch you. I was real
stern, real serious about that. I ainít a perv. You know that.
You can see that. Iím fifty. I gotta good job. I gotta wife. I
pay taxes, a registered Republican. I donít go for boys. You
write that down, you put that in there.
I donít know, he goes. He looked around.
Fifty. I held up the bill again, like this.
You touch me, you make a move, and youíll be sorry. My dadís
I go, Hey, I wonít lay a hand on you.
Seriously, he goes, pointing at me, getting in. If I say the
word, you let me out.
We drove to St. Anneís. I was thinking about Jimbo. I was
sweating a little under my arms. Just a little bit, even though it
was cold. He kinda gave me the creeps. Sitting there. Iím not
going to lie. I was thinking about my boy, my son, and getting
pretty sad but I didnít want this new kid, Beano, to know I was
sad so I put it on the radio station Jimbo used to like, I mean
back when he would talk to me, and pushed in the lighter here and
lit a smoke and offered Beano one, too. Want one? No still, huh?
Suit yourself. You like that station? I like country. Old stuff.
This? I donít know what the hell this is. But, hey, you like it,
Iíll keep it on.
Anyway, Beano took the smoke and asked me what I wanted from
I want you to be my son, I said, and later, you know, when I
started really thinking about all this, when I started thinking
that maybe itíd be nice to talk to someone about this, I kept
going back to the way I said that. I mean, Iím not trying to get
all psychoanalytical or anything but thatís just a weird way to
put it, you know. Iím like the next guy. I ainít immune to
stuff. I feel things.
What? Beano goes.
Act like my son, I go.
You mean pretend to be your son? Beano goes.
Yeah. Is it that complicated? Fifty bucks. Half hour. No big
What do you want me to pretend Iím your son for?
His grandma. My wifeís mother. She loved my son Jimbo. She
always asks about him. My wife already told her, but sheís, you
know, out of it. Sheís old and half-crazy. She wonít remember.
She canít remember one minute to the next.
See, I guess I thought I was going to be a hero. I felt like I
needed to do something niceófor me, for Nana, for Jimbo, even
for my wife maybe. I donít know. Why am I talking about this
shit? You ever feel like that, like you need to do something
decent? I grew up real religious. Baptist. Donít mess with a
Baptist, man. Christ. Fire and brimstone. Satan just like embedded
in the particles in the air or something. You should put down that
Iím religious. Because I am. I love God plenty. I ask him stuff
Wait a minute, Beano goes. Jimboís dead?
Nah nah, I said. I paused. I got kinda, I donít know, you
know, like, some kind of, I donít know. Nothing like that, I
said, heís justÖunavailable.
But if your wife already told the old lady maybe it ainít
such a good idea.
You want the money or no? I say.
We were almost there at that point, a few blocks from here;
know where it is? Right.
Beano looked out the window. Headlights were bright in the
sideview mirror, which was right below his chin from this angle. I
was looking like this. He was sitting right there, where you are.
Real quiet he goes, Yeah, I want the money. Just saying.
I lit another cigarette, asked if he wanted one.
No. Donít worry. I ainít going to ask you again.
Then he goes, right out of the blue, You divorced?
None of your business, I said. Then: No I ainít divorced. I
said I was married, didnít I?
All right, man. Not like I care. Just seems like youíre
probably divorced. Seems like you live alone, is all.
Iím married, I said, like I told you. For now. Then I figured
I didnít owe this kid an explanation. I said, Things are just a
little weird. Me and my wife have a lot on our minds.
He looked over at me. Yeah. Just pay me my fifty like you
St. Anneís. You can never find a parking space. I drive laps.
Laps. It gives me a headache every time I come, if you want to
Nana, my wifeís mother, who was really like my one and only
mother during the whole early part of our marriage before she had
a stroke and then all the complications and then just got all old
and senile and incoherent, was up on the fifth floor, in a private
room that was costing my wife and I our whole retirement. When it
rains it pours, know what I mean? That could be your title. When
It Rains It Pours. Or: John Barclay: Everything He Touches Turns
Me and Beano got on the elevator and went up and didnít say
anything the whole way. He fidgeted just like Jimbo. I wondered if
he took anything, any medications; I wondered what he thought
about, if he thought, you know, bad stuff, sad stuff, whatever, I
donít know. But I didnít ask because I wanted this to be as
simple as possible.
Now Iím not even going to get into the stuff about Nana, tell
you about the machines and her expressions and the bed pans and
the sour smell of dying people, and so on. Itís depressing.
Depressing. Horrible is what it is. Life. Christ. I donít know.
Jesus. Push in the lighter there. Satan in air particles. What
about that? (Laughs, uncomfortably.)
I canít save people from what goes on in their heads and make
their lives all peachy. I mean, what am I? Iím a kidís dad and
Iím supposed to be able to fix his whole life. He wouldnít
even talk to me. Iím supposed to make my wife want to dance.
What? What am I? What am I? Who the fuck am I? Iím this fat old
guy. I got a job. I got stuff to do. I wish I could change things.
Iíd fix everything, Iíd fix everybody, I swear to God, I
would, Iíd do it. Iíd save my marriage, make time move
backwards. If I could, Iíd erase whole years and then do it all
over again, but prepared this time, tuned in to the little stuff I
missed the first time. My life ainít peachy. You donít see me
hanging myself in a shed. Thatís just selfish, you ask me, thatís
just trying to hurt the people who love you and make them feel
guilty is all.
All right. Sorry. Iím rambling. Keep that up and I might
start to look really bad, huh?
So Beano sat in Nanaís room and I told Nana that Beano was my
son Jimbo. Jimbo was doing really great in school. He was probably
going to go to college. He was on the debate team, football, all
kinds of bullshit.
I whispered to Beano to tell Nana that he loved her. Why not?
Jimbo maybe would have. I doubt it. But maybe. Fifty, I whispered.
I love you, Nana, Beano said, but he was looking at me and he
was turning a little pink. He didnít sound convincing.
I pointed at her and gave him a face like, Come on.
He leaned over her then, like he really meant it, and said,
real sincere too, Nana, I love you. I wondered who he said that to
for real. If anyone. I got that kind of mind, you know. I wonder
what people are thinking, what they might say if given the
opportunity. Some people say Iím philosophical.
She said, Oh I love you too, Jim. Youíre my best boy. Nana
loves her Jim.
Her face is all wrinkled but God it was, well. It was
something. Nearly killed me, kid. That one nearly took my head
Then a few other things happenedóa nurse came in, I turned on
the TV and me and Beano and Nana watched "Wheel of
Fortune." One of the puzzles was COOKIES IN THE COOKIE JAR;
another was GOODBYE BLUE SKY. I got both right way before the
Amway rep. from Syracuse or the teacher or whatever from Phoenix
or Philadephia or Fargo. Then we left. That was basically it.
So I brought Beano back down here. I gave him the fifty and he
got out. We didnít say anything. A dealís a deal in my book. I
promise, I deliver.
Then Beano stopped on the sidewalk and turned and looked at me
like he wanted to say something.
I rolled down the window.
He looked at his shoes, scuffed something on the concrete. He
was a nervous kid.
He goes, Iím sorry about your son, man.
I didnít say anything. He looked at me. I nodded. He walked
off. I drove home.
I donít know. Itís a stupid story, isnít it? I donít
think this means anything. But if you polish it up maybe.
This is really just something I tell people sometimes. Not like
I really dwell on it. This is just a story I tell people. You
know, to talk.
Greg Bottoms is the author of Angelhead a memoir. A
collection of his stories, Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks,
will be published next fall by Context Books.