Friday, February 19, 2010

Gentleman Jim

He's about five foot-nothing, and shaves his white whiskers a couple of times a month. His voice sounds like a Harley-Davidson when he inevitably tells you, “I ran with the Hell's Angels for forty years.” Usually he has a beer in his hand, or he'll let you know that he's on his way to get one. “At least I'm honest, right, buddy?” and then laughs with the sound of a Gatling gun. “ You got any pies?”

If the world were full of beers and free pies, Jim would be a happy man. A terrible, terrible, happy man.

Jim's been married to Lisa for nine years. Usually one of them ends up in jail for a week or two from time to time. Last time Jim went to jail because, as he said, “they tried to tell me I hit her. I didn't hit her, she hit me!” It's equally possible that was a big fat lie, or the absolute truth. Either one is as likely as the other.

Jim and Lisa's relationship is dysfunctional to say the least, but that doesn't mean there isn't a real and true love underneath it all. The last time Lisa went to jail, it was for several weeks, and Jim was a mess without her. I know, he's also a mess with her, but he cried more.

It's been a slow process getting to know Jim. I suppose that's because he's such a crusty character, and it can be easy to think of him as just that, a character. A one-dimensional personality that adds a bit of flavour to our life in ministry. But no one is just a character. I've come to realize that more and more over the last several months.

There was a day a few months ago when I stopped by to say Hello, for no particular reason. I just had the time. He asked if I could give him a ride up to the store so he could get a couple of groceries. He hadn't been drinking that day, and as I drove with him to the store, we had a nice, normal conversation. I was reminded that there was more to him than just the crusty old biker. As he walked down the aisle at the grocery store, he said things like “Pardon me, young lady” to a retiree and “Excuse me, sir” to someone else. He even brought a smile and some laughs to the check-out clerk as she rang up his items.

There's a regular guy in there. Sometimes even a nice guy.

A few weeks ago, I dropped off a friend at the motel after church. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, Jim came walking by. He stopped and came over to the van. “You guys goin' past the Arrow? Can I get a ride?”

“Sure,” I said, “Hop in. I haven't seen you in a while. Where you been?”

This was when he told me that he'd been in jail for hitting Lisa, and there's always more to the story than what's at the surface. Just as he was getting out, he told me that his daughter had died on Christmas day. She was murdered. I almost had no response. “Jim, I'm so sorry...”

Jim had a daughter in her thirties. She lived in Texas and managed a Walgreens. She had three children, all under the age of six. On Christmas Eve day, her ex-boyfriend, the father of her children, broke into her home, started a fire, and attacked her with a tire iron. She died in hospital almost a day later.

Later, I found Jim in his motel room, and told him again that I was sorry about his daughter.

“Thanks, buddy,” he said. He whimpered as he embraced me. “I'm okay.” And some more tears escaped.

“We love you, Jim.”

“I know.”

I was able to find a couple of nice pictures of her from news reports on the internet. I had them printed and gave them to him the next time he came down to the Ninth Street Cafe for some bread. As I handed them to him he started crying again, and gave me a hug.

“Thank-you” he said.

A few minutes later I saw him showing off his photos to his friends, and soon they were posted on his motel room window for all to see.

Jim really is quite a character. He's funny and practically defines the term, “crusty”. He's also a character with deep wounds and a longing for real love. I've seen him with his other daughter, who is mentally and emotionally handicapped. Gentleman Jim can sometimes be a gentle man. He has love in his heart, and no one is beyond hope who has a friend.

I'm glad that he's my friend.

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