In which Citizen Jim arrives right before the Labor Day holiday weekend and is mortally wounded in a shooting incident not related to labor unions or holidays or weekends.
I always thank God for Friday when that day rolls around. This Friday I was especially overjoyed to see the back of another week because the Monday coming up was Memorial Day and I would be off work.
Now, why we celebrate Memorial Day in May and Labor Day in September is anyone’s guess. But is it any wonder that only a badly decomposed carcass of a labor movement is left in this country when our government purposefully, willfully ignores traditional labor holidays?
“Here’s a symbol,” the Powers That Be seem to snigger. “Let’s place the holiday celebrating workers right before the season that marks the beginning of death in nature.”
“Nobody–but nobody–gives a drippy shit about your socialist agenda,” said Citizen Jim.
He was sitting astride a ten-speed bicycle that probably had seen its best days in 1981, right around the time that Breaking Away was released in movie theaters across the U.S.
“What a wonderful T.G.I.F. surprise!” I said, thrilled to see my best friend in the world.
He took a swig from his water bottle and then spat it onto the sidewalk. “Put a lid on it or I’m gonna yank the commie traitor right out of you–by the roots of your scraggly hair.”
It was quitting time at work and he’d parked himself right outside the door from which my co-workers and I fled at 5:30 like big-haired tramps running toward the stage at a Whitesnake concert.
Citizen Jim aimed his water bottle right at me and let a stream of blue Gator Aid shoot out onto the front of my shorts. “Haha! You peed yourself!” he laughed. “Haha. I’m sorry. Hop on and I’ll give you a ride home.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I have a car. Why don’t you let me give you a ride?”
“Um, no. Thanks anyway. But I know how you drive and I’d feel a hundred times safer going to your house strapped to the grille of a speeding Mack truck driving on the wrong side of the interstate during rush hour.”
I threw up my hand in surrender. “Suit yourself,” I said. “But I’m ready to get my weekend started. If you aren’t coming with me I’ll meet you in a couple hours at my house.”
Not surprisingly, Citizen Jim flew into a rage! As I walked to my car, I heard, “If there weren’t so many people around I’d take off my shoe and beat you unconscious!”
He’d shouted this so loudly that folks stopped lighting cigarettes and unlocking their cars to look back at where he was standing. What Jim had said was a bald-faced lie, of course. I knew from decades of experience that, as far as Jim is concerned, the more people who are around when he beats me unconscious with a shoe the better.
I’d been home for fifteen or twenty minutes when I heard a rumble coming from the street in front of our house. I walked outside.
Miss Crabtree and Marmaduke were tossing a baseball to one another, but they stopped to stare as the back of the now-parked dump truck slowly ascended. We all watched in confusion as it spilled onto the asphalt bits of gravel, clumps of dirt, a few Pepsi cans, an empty Big Mac box, a couch cushion, a pair of sunglasses and, finally, Citizen Jim and his bicycle.
Jim had to scramble away quickly from the moving truck–diving toward the grass in our front yard–while the dump truck’s backup alarm blared over the sound of popping tires, twisting metal and Jim’s shrieking.
As soon as the truck drove away, Jim stood up and pointed at me. “You! This is all your fault!” he yelled and ran at me, easily snagging my shirttail and yanking me to the ground.
“Hey!” I screamed. “Somebody help me!”
But by now, Marmaduke and Miss Crabtree were relaxed in the rockers on the front porch. As they sipped lemonade from Mason jars, Jim flipped me over and pinned my shoulders to the ground with his furry, sweaty knees. “Say it!” he yelled. “Say you smashed my bike!”
“No!” I shouted. “Take your stinking paws off of me, you damned dirty ape!”
“Say it!” he said again, his nose almost touching mine.
Marmaduke and Miss Crabtree started pumping their fists toward the porch ceiling. “Say it! Say it! Say it!” they chanted.
I was starting to feel like a so-called winner of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson when it suddenly got quiet. Jim grunted, lifted up his arms, and then fell over on his side, howling and yowling and clawing at what Marmaduke would call “his butt hocks.”
“Something musta bit him bad!” said Marmaduke. “Better go get the itch cream!”
“Actually, I think Nicholas hit him with an arrow,” said Miss Crabtree. She started waving wildly and I sat up to see what had her attention.
Sure enough, Marmaduke’s friend Nicholas was walking toward us. We were always glad to see Nicholas, if only because he seemed to have the most extensive collection of Halloween costumes–worn year-round–of any seven-year-old we knew.
Today he was dressed as a Vietnam-era soldier, his face smeared in camouflage paint, camo pants tucked into the tops of his little combat boots. He was holding a plastic, child-sized crossbow, which he dropped in the grass to run toward Marmaduke. The boys made a mad dash for the backyard, lemonade, baseball, and Citizen Jim forgotten.
“Hey! That brat just shot me in the ass!” Citizen Jim yelled.
Miss Crabtree put her hands on her hips. “You’re lucky he wasn’t wearing his Ninja outfit,” she said.
“Stimpy,” Jim croaked. “You gotta help me. It’s stuck! In my ass! I think he put poison on it!”
He was wrong, of course. Nicholas had only shot him with a foam-tipped arrow. And it wasn’t coated with poison, I pointed out to Jim.
But he continued to writhe around on the ground, moaning and gasping, squeezing his eyes shut as if fighting waves of intense pain. “My wife…Please just…tell her I…if I don’t…Make it home…Please…” he struggled to say.
“Oh, fer fuck’s sake,” said Miss Crabtree. “I’m going inside. Let me know when you save Private Ryan.”
“What, Precious Lamb? What is it?” I asked.
He crooked his finger, a signal for me to get closer, but I refused to fall for that ancient trick.
He now lay on his back, eyes closed, each intake of breath seeming a struggle. “Tell her…Tell…That I don’t…want her…to remarry,” he gasped.
Since he wasn’t actually dying I didn’t see any harm in saying, “That’s an awful thing to have to tell a sixteen-year-old widow.”
Citizen Jim’s hand shot out and grabbed my ankle, gripping it like a vise. “Also, there’s…it’s a key…in…in my copy of…Valley of…of…“
“Of the Horseman?” I tried to finish, referring to an old novel by Jean Auel.
“Of the Dolls!” he whispered angrily, with no hint of ellipsis in his voice. “Opens a…diary in…oatmeal box… buried…lead bag…” His grip loosened a bit, then got so strong I felt a bruise forming almost immediately. “If I…ever…stand…up…again… I…I’ll…KILL YOU!”
Then his eyes closed, his mouth fell open and his head slumped to the side.
Five seconds later, he began snoring.
By the next morning, he’d moved to the front porch and was sleeping soundly with the garden hose pulled around him for warmth. We tucked the phone number of a local taxi cab company and a Greyhound bus schedule into the waistband of his shorts.
I took the bus schedule out and wrote a P.S. on the bottom of the paper: “FYI, you crapped your pants.”
Then I replaced the note and we headed off to the first of many weekend barbecues.