Michael Pielaet-Strayer

For Jimmy

Jimmy was an old man with beautiful eyes
that dragged at the tails and crinkled shut
whenever he smiled or laughed
and his smile was broken
because in the long ago of his rowdy youth
he’d gotten in a bad way
with some bad dudes
and one of them had wrenched Jimmy’s arms
behind his back
while the other raised a fist
just so
and pulverized Jimmy’s two front teeth
into dust
with a fat hairy knuckle crowned
in a high school ring.

The effect this gap would have in later decades
was to impart unto Jimmy’s countenance
a seeming quality of eternal infancy—
but Jimmy was a strong spry old man
with powerful legs
who’d run track and field in college
and he still played games of pick-up basketball
on the weekends
and he volunteered at the Salvation Army
on his off days
and he always had a girlfriend
or two
and he kept them busy.

Jimmy was born on an American military base
in Tokyo
not long after
the dropping of the Bombs
and he’d grown up in California
in an era of apartheid
and done a stint in San Mateo
for bootlegging liquor
in the age of Reaganomics
and he had five children
by two different wives
and two grandbabies with another on the way
and he was sixty-five, a part-time cook,
rooming in Seaside
with a giant French Samoan named James
when I met him.

We worked together nights on the line
in a corporate kitchen
on the corner of Broadway and North Fremont
and he vexed our managers because
he was imperturbable
and refused to move at anything
other than his own pace
and he had a disdain for spec
and to further impair his increasing deafness
he would bring his own wireless speakers
to his shifts
and play Marvin Gaye
so loud
nobody could hear the BEEP!
of the orders coming in.

Jimmy had a side hustle
and he would drive his battered truck
up and down the dark roads of sleepless nights
collecting wooden pallets—
that he would turn around and sell
to “a guy” he knew in Salinas.

Once I told him about a great stack of the things
twelve feet high
piled next to the dumpsters
outside my apartment in Monterey.

Good lookin out, he said.

They were gone the following morning.
The next time I saw Jimmy
he had for me a pound of coffee beans
and the time after that
a loaf of banana bread
he’d baked himself.

Jimmy was always bringing me presents
some modest
others not so
like the coffee beans
or the banana bread
or this desk on which I’m writing
or the bed in which I sleep.

And we rolled our eyes
at the inanities of management
splitting hairs
and we reminisced
about the women who’d spurned us
and agreed they weren’t all that
and we admired the waitresses racing by
in their grinning veils
and we endured those rushes
we thought would never end
and we outlasted the streams of bosses
in their khakis and button-down shirts
with their clipboards
and reptilian eyes
that assessed us like we were towels
to be wrung dry
and we laughed
……………at their absurdity
and we laughed
……………at the girls
and we danced as the speakers thumped
and the ten thousand hamburger patties
sizzled and sang
for a time
like a magic spell
the sadness of it all would just
fade away

and there would be a kind of stasis then,
a kind of peace,
and the line wasn’t so bad a place to be
with Jimmy there
bopping in his do-rag
and ancient yellow shirt
with his beautiful eyes
smiling his gapped newborn’s smile

and Jimmy
if you’re out there
through whoever’s eyes you read this
however it finds you
I never told you:

I love you, old man. 

© Michael Pielaet-Strayer

Michael Pielaet-Strayer is a writer from Monterey, California. His work has appeared in numerous publications, most recently  Twisted Vine Literary Arts Review, Aethlon: the Journal of Sports Literature, and  The Loch Raven Review.

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