The Farewell Installment

Citizen Jim Stories Independence Day

Citizen Jim arrives on Independence Day to confront Chicken Sheets with his suspicions that the days of Citizen Jim Stories are numbered…

It’d been a balmy day, the sky threatening to piss buckets of rain from daybreak on. We’d decided on a low-key Independence Day celebration that would consist of celebrating absolutely nothing about the joy and pride of living in a country run by George W. Bush.

I sent Miss Mabel out in search of some good all-beef hash and a couple packs of cigarettes, and had just settled down in an easy chair to catch up on my reading when there was a fierce banging on the front door. So far that day, I’d already sent packing two pairs of Jehovah’s Witnesses (at 8:30 a.m. and at 2:15 p.m.), an encyclopedia salesman and a group of Cub Scouts who’ve been bugging me for weeks to let my yellow tomcat, Jay, join the local troop.

Anyway, the pounding was starting to travel from the front door to my head, and I flung my book across the room before rising to investigate whatever fresh hell awaited me on the other side.

“What?!” I shouted as I opened the door. The people next door threw some firecrackers out into the yard, where they popped and smoked.

“That’s the same question I wanna ask you, only I’ll add to it ‘—the fuck do you think you’re doing?'” said Citizen Jim.

“I was just sitting here, not bothering anyone or anything,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

“Well, I’ve already HEARD THE NEWS! So you can quit acting like—”

“Like what? What news?”

More firecrackers went off in the woods behind the house. It was four in the afternoon, still daylight, but they’d been exploding all over the neighborhood for most of the week.

Jim threw his hand palm-up and shoved it toward me. “Bah! Go fuck yourself, TRAITOR! I have half a mind to pelt you with a handful of the rock-hard corn dodgers I’ve got here in my backpack,” he said, “but I don’t want to waste them!”

“Whatever you’re mad about, I’m sure you’ll forget what it is in a few minutes,” I said. “Do you want to come in for a drink of water?”

Just then, we heard what sounded more like gunfire than firecrackers, and Jim dove under the front porch. “GodDAMNIT, Stimpy! I never knew South Carolina was so much like Sarajevo circa 1993! SHIT!”

Jim crawled out from under the porch and hurriedly ran through the front door into the living room, slamming and locking the door before I could even get inside. I began pounding with all the might in each of my fists.

“Yeah, sure does suck, doesn’t it? Having to stand outside and bang on the door of your best friend when all you want to do is see them because you love them and miss them so much? Now you know how I’ve felt over the years.”

When I finally got inside, I sat down on the couch and stared at Jim, who was so busy trying to shove pieces of silverware and packages of microwave popcorn into his backpack that he didn’t notice me.

“They’re just stories, Jim,” I said.

“They were just stories!” he said. “But I read on CNN.com or the Daily Rotten or something that you won’t be writing them anymore. The article said you’re quote-unquote retiring the character of Citizen Jim and his devoted, abused friend, Chicken Sheets.”

“You didn’t read that on CNN.com, Jim, or anywhere else,” I said. “But it is true. I’m, uh, retiring the Citizen Jim series.”

“I KNEW IT!” he screamed and threw his backpack across the room, sending forks, spoons, a metal barbecue fork and a gravy ladle flying in all directions. “I TOLD Lulu Whippy that this was going to happen when you slacked off on us. I told her and I told ********* and I would have told Helga Holbein if she had answered the phone when I called!”

“Oh, now, please—”

“Meredith warned me! She did, she came sharking around the last time I was in Fairhope and she said you’d pull this shit on me. But I didn’t believe her because she’s THE SHARK!” he shouted, pulling at his hair and shaking his head violently from side to side.

“Jim, just calm down,” I said, backing away from him.

“You! Why, you—what about THE SOCK FACTORY?” he yelled. “That was PERFECT for a Citizen Jim story! And the one where you were going to flash ahead to the future when we’re both famous writers so you could diss me to anyone who would listen?”

“I don’t have time anymore,” I said.

“Oh, you have time to go on job interviews and wash clothes and feed the cats and make Miss Mabel’s lunch in the morning, but you don’t have time to write a GODDAMNED CITIZEN JIM STORY every few weeks?” he yelled. “Well, that’s nice to hear and nothing but a pack of LIES!”

“Precious Lamb, don’t be mad at me! You never read the stories, anyway,” I said.

“Well, I would have if you’d ever written one that made me sound half-way sane,” he told me. “I suppose you aren’t going to come clean before your so-called ‘retirement’ about the fact that, in real life, I’m the cool, collected, sensible one and YOU’RE the knee-jerk, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed JACKASS???”

“I might mention it in passing, but, again, time might not permit it,” I said.

He walked across the room and bent to pick up his backpack. “Well, how would you like it if I permitted this bottle in my backpack to conk you on the damned head?” he asked, reaching into his goody bag and pulling out a super-sized bottle of Crystal brand hot sauce.

“That’s our hot sauce!” I said.

He looked at the bottle. “Oh, yeah. I see it’s got both your names on it,” he said. “Here.”

I snatched the hot sauce from Jim and slammed it on the counter. “Are you finished?” I asked him. “Because I’m very busy. Very, very BUSY!”

He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess I’m finished. But I just happen to think that stupid story about BookExpo 2005 is no way to end the run of Citizen Jim, is all. It was supposed to be a two-part story, but YOU NEVER FINISHED IT!”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I am.”

“Yeah. And this one sucks, too. That’s the shame of it,” he said, and walked out the door, dodging a group of stray Roman candles while also trying to avoid being attacked by Mister Meme. When he finally got to the street, I watched as he took off running with some Jehovah’s Witnesses in hot pursuit.

He’d be back, though, I knew that much. But next time, things would be different. Oh, yes. Next time, I’D be in control of everything that happened.