I still saw Jim and his wife Natalie off and on after Dave left the building. A bit more bio on Jim; he worked in education, moved up through the ranks from a teacher in one school district to a high school principal in another district. He then completed further education, took on more responsibility, endured more time on the job, had three more promotions in upper administration before rising to the superintendent of the district, where he ultimately retired. Before he was the top, top dog, we briefly worked together.
I finally had begun to interview a few people years after the Viking Funeral as I had come upon some questions that needed answers. Jim had been unwell for several months, so I felt compelled to talk to him less he leave this Earth without me taking the time to ask him my questions. He reflected on many things on the afternoons that we got together as we chilled in his living room, beginning with similar words he shared all those years ago in his eulogy for Dave, “I swear, whenever I was having a particularly unpleasant day, I would talk to Dave or simply think of him and realize nothing I was dealing with was all that bad.”
He conveyed the time he had realized that he and his friends had done alright for themselves. He was enjoying dinner with the four guys (he and Dave P, Brian P, and my Dave) all from a run-down neighborhood in San Bernardino, decades away from that crappiness, had worked their way into successful careers they loved and were helping the community. Jim remarked then that if their parents were still alive, they would be proud, should be proud. “Not bad for boys from ‘the ghetto’ they all joked.”
My mom, the last mom standing, was the de facto mother to all of them, is proud of them. Proud way back when, and proud now, not only for what they had accomplished in their careers but in their stable personal lives. She was grateful for how these guys valued their friendships with each other. They had grown to become responsible, kind-hearted men. I spoke for her, my late dad, and a little for myself (then and now); I thanked Jim for the millionth time for his friendship and kindness to Dave and (pause) for always kissing him on the head!
The kissing Dave on the head discussion led to me meandering during our unstructured storytelling time together to the story of Archie cornering Dave with hopeful romantic lips. As you recall, Dave dodged Archie’s hot lips advances, entirely different of course than the brotherly love sort of head hugs and kisses given by Jim.
Jim laughed so hard even in his weakened state of health, then made sure to reiterate for the benefit of everyone in the room, “You know, I only kissed Dave on the top of the head because of what I read about the head being sensitive for quads and all?” All of it was hilarious.
Jim also told me about his worst horror story movie with Dave that took place on what he described was “Had to be the hottest day of the year,” which in San Bernardino summer temperatures can reach more than 110 degrees; Dave’s van (or lift) was… (SURPRISE!!!) broken down again. Dave drove himself in his wheelchair out in the heat to the theater in Del Rosa, maybe five miles from our house, and met Jim and Natalie there because nothing was going to derail Dave from plans with anyone. Jim said, “When Dave got there, I thought he was gonna die; he was so red and overheated. I was so worried. I asked Dave if he wanted to go, but Dave responded with, ‘Go where?’ Without his van, that would have meant heading back out into the heat, so Dave just wanted to ‘stay and cool off in the theater where it WAS cool and just enjoy the movie, damn it.’” So they did. I had never heard that story, and it made me unhappy but also did not surprise me because Dave was unstoppable once on a path toward plans for something. Come hell or high water; Dave did not cancel anything.
You heard from Jim’s eulogy about what a disaster it was feeding Dave and for good reason. But this was not because of Dave, the paralyzed guy in any food spilling scenario. Here is my supporting thesis…
After grad school, I applied for the one and only position within a 50-mile radius of Redlands in my general field of education, Communications. As small world conditions would have it, that job happened to be in the school district where Jim worked. I didn’t realize he was in upper administration at that point; last I knew, he was a high school principal, and I had no idea it was in the same school district because the school was in another city. School districts are weird and sprawling that way, I learned.
By the time I was offered the job, I had understood I would be working in the same sprawling district, at the same general location but in a different building than Jim. I am sure there were always people who came to know that I knew Jim from forever, who thought he helped me get the job, but Jim was not involved with any part of that process, and I didn’t even know to have asked him specifically for help anyway, nor would I have. I had legit credentials. I found out a couple of years later from a school board member that his relative had interviewed for the same job. If anyone had sway over simply appointing anyone to a position as we all know things like that happen in this life, it was a school board member-technically our bosses, boss, so Jim could not possibly have overruled a school board member. But for the record, I really don’t care about what any people who think like that… think.
I worked directly for the superintendent and indirectly supported as needed all the other executive management cabinet members, among them Jim. Most people do not know what a director of communications does, especially in a school district. Basically, you not only have to know what is going on everywhere on the planet at all times, but you also need to know how to respond to a pointed question by the press, by a school board member, a director, a principal, by a city council member, an angry parent, and if not already obvious, my boss-the superintendent. I also had to prepare these same people as to how to respond to what is going on everywhere on the planet because the media may contact them directly for any of said planetary related questions. When asked what I do, I used the reference, “I work in the West Wing of a school district White House. Oh, and I write all sorts of VERY boring shit.”
Jim and several of my favorite coworkers who worked in his office used to go to lunch together every day. I joined them maybe once a week when the stars would align. More than a hundred people worked at the collective of buildings and departments that comprised the district office. They were REALLY great people, you know who you are, but lunch with these guys was always a fun highlight of the day. But nothing of my role in that position is important to this story, other than proving my required awareness of difficulties that arose in our work, everyone’s difficulties, my ability to document things, and my proximity to Jim with eyewitness testimony of the best evidence possible that my brother was NOT the messy eater between those two.
So everyone can understand the context for how hard I laughed when Jim included feeding Dave messy food in Dave’s eulogy and tried to blame Dave for any food stains; I had to include this hilarious story. At least two other people besides me in attendance that night knew what I knew; That Jim was a perpetual stain attractor. He liked to be very professionally dressed in a suit, tie, dressed sharp, you know- CRISP. He also truly knew himself and always kept an extra shirt and tie on hand for lunch related calamities because HE had a history of which he could not blame shirt stains on a dead guy.
I have no idea how many times I had lunch with Jim and our colleagues, maybe fifty, probably many more. But, my very favorite lunch out with Jim and our friends from work occurred at one of a handful of local sandwich places we would go to frequently. It was the sort of place where the owners ran the kitchen and remained behind the counter where you order your food. They always warmly greeted us, which for any of us individually might be more than once a week. The place had a drive-through window, hard plastic booths, white tile flooring, floor to ceiling windows, and overly bright fluorescent lighting. It was clean, and they made a decent sandwich. Not fancy by any means, it was a burger, fries, and sandwich place with large portions.
We ordered our food. We sat at a table with chairs in the middle of the small dining room, waiting for our numbers to be called. We grumbled about the circus drama du jour and which monkeys were, unfortunately, our monkeys that exist in every workplace survivor story, I am sure. But our monkeys and our circus were pretty crazy, and that wasn’t even taking all 25K kids we served into consideration.
We all had our food; the noisy paper unwrapping of sandwiches began, followed by the quiet of taking our first bites. That VERY brief moment of contemplative enjoyment of the diversion from our circus with our food was interrupted within one-and-a-half bites by Jim’s startling shout and jerk of his head in annoyance at what we all saw when he lifted his hand with the sandwich up out of the way, an enormous drip of mustard on both his navy striped tie and his white dress shirt. We about spit out our food at each other, half coughing in our laughter at this development. This was not the first stain any of us had ever witnessed out to lunch with Jim or noticed on him later after returning from lunch with him.
He was irritated by the circus before the spill. We knew from these previous experiences what was going to come next, and given this extreme energy at the onset, we just knew it was going to be glorious. We are those kinds of perceptive friends, and it was a particularly impressive bit of mustard, and well, I have already mentioned the monkeys if that wasn’t clear enough that it had been a bit of a shit show day at the circus.
He started his tirade with a litany of God Damn its that was epic in proportion as it grew in volume with shifting emphasis on the three available syllables with each successive pronouncement. “GOT (yes pronounced with a t) Damnit!!!! Go-o-o-oT DAMN it!! (pause) DAAAAAAAMN IT!!!! He slapped his sandwich down hard on his messy wet paper wrapper, splattering a bit more mustard liquid on himself, which did not add any joy to his moment.
He then attempted to wipe his big hands off with those silly, practically see-through thin and undersized cheap napkins you got at quasi drive-through restaurants like that and then began unsuccessfully wiping at the offending bright yellow mustard off of his otherwise crisp self. He was making both stains so much worse. He probably should have just eaten in his undershirt!
The rest of us, Roger you met last chapter, Rick another friend who worked in the office with both Jim and Roger, Dan who worked in my department and I could not help but snort and try to avoid choking as we momentarily stopped chewing while Jim cursed and fidgeted going between his two rapidly growing mustard stains. There was no helping him, plus we were hungry, and the circus was not going to mind itself, so we laughed after we swallowed our bite of food, and shook our heads at the entertainment unfolding at our table, and continued eating.
Jim came to the realization after going through all the napkins and cursing all the loud words at the table that it was no use continuing to fight it; the mustard stains had won and were here to stay, he may as well resign himself to the number two shirt and tie waiting back at the office for him. Dejectedly he picked up his sandwich to take another bite with one hand, then grabbed his gigantic iced tea, like 64 ounces of gigantic, and took a dramatic swig in irritation at the disdainful stains. One bite and one swig had not brought him back to Earth. He set his cup down quickly in his continued irritation with one last groan of resignation. Unfortunately, he slammed the cup down on the pointy top of the squeezable mustard container-holder of the offensive mustard that caused the stain, to begin with, blowing out the entire bottom of his mostly 64 ounces of iced tea.
What a perfect display of gravity hard at work; I was sitting across from Jim and watched in horror, the bottom circle of the enormous half gallon white Styrofoam cup open up, in a perfect circle first entering inside the cup with the initial poke of the pointy mustard thing, then back out divulging all but one large irritated sip of a half-gallon of iced tea that left that cup so much faster than it could have possibly gone in. Tea went EVERYWHERE! You have never seen middle-aged professional people move so fast in your life. We all dove away from the table, out of the way of that half-gallon sized iced tea tsunami heading every direction at once.
Jim jumped up too, tea had run down the front of what was left of his white shirt AND his suit pants-like he peed himself. There was no saving this guy from that first bite of food, it was just a disaster, a hilarious disaster, and we could not contain our quasi-polite laughter anymore.
We each instinctively grabbed our half-wrapped, barely eaten food off the table. We all ran and grabbed more of those ridiculously thin napkins from the central napkin counter with our other available sandwich free hand. Those thin napkins were more like toilet paper and useless in the face of the wave of tea that sank our table.
Between the four of us and professional help from behind the counter, including a mop, we got our entire area cleaned up; all the while, the rest of the people in the dining room were staring at us, Jim was standing there holding the Styrofoam husk of his former half-gallon cup in one hand and sandwich in his other hand, shouting repeatedly, GOOOOOT DAMN IT!!! He clearly was in shock at the complete catastrophe at what should have been a simple lunch.
This lunch outing is what I was envisioning as Jim tried to blame my innocent as a lamb brother during Dave’s EULOGY for eating messy food, I mean, Dave wasn’t there to defend himself, plus he was paralyzed; technically, he could not spill anything. While I did not relish my friend having to endure a spill like that, it is all the proof I needed to illustrate my point. I gently made sure Jim knew I wasn’t buying the Dave was a messy eater eulogy that afternoon.
Jim’s poor health got the better of him within a year. I am so glad I made dates to get together with him and his lovely wifey Natalie to gain his perspective on this and the following chapter stories because all of them were so worth it and also being able to give Jim just a bit of my appreciation for being such a lovely friend to my brother. I was grateful to be able to give Jim one last hug and my gratitude for his friendship to Dave and to me the day before he left this Earth. I also met his daughter Kim for the first time that evening at the hospital. I knew who she was, and she knew who I was, but we had never met. Of course, I told her the tidal wave-Goddamnit story because it is my very favorite story of her dad ever, and we laughed. We need laughter in the face of death more than anything, I think.
Natalie contacted me a few days later, asking me to speak at Jim’s memorial, but unfortunately, we were away from California at the time she called. We were in Dallas, it was Friday, and the memorial was Monday morning. They had decided on a pretty quick date because Jim’s children were already in town from all places, Dallas, and it made sense. I didn’t think we could make it and had to say no to Natalie, which broke my heart, and I am sure it broke hers too. I got off the phone and cried my eyes out in frustration of not being able to speak for him on that day while my husband furiously tried to find a flight home anyway. Maybe at least I could make it back in time for the funeral. Nothing was available for one or both of us. It turns out I ended up getting the worst case of Norovirus; I haven’t been that sick since I was a toddler and could not possibly have traveled anyway. Still, the entire weekend was ruined on a couple of levels, as you can imagine, plus the most copious projectile vomiting ever on top of that.
If I were to have given a eulogy for Jim, besides emphatically publicly acknowledging that he was an incredible friend to my brother, to our family, to me, I would have to include my frequently said phrase from the days when we worked together. As often happens when one is promoted to a role where unpleasant decisions have to be made, people downhill of that decision will complain. I would NEVER let anyone bitch about Jim in my presence; I would stop them by announcing, “I would take a bullet for Jim.” That shocked most people because I said West Wing, not Secret Service, I am a little wisp of a human compared to Jim, but they got the point. In time I know they understood my dedication as they got to know Jim, his work ethic, his fairness, his humor better. I suppose this chapter is just that, but alas, some bullets are not possible to stop. I aspire to be the kind of friend you were-but have a way to go. Let me also state for the permanent record and correct one tiny aspect of Dave’s eulogy… some people just spill more than others, and we will call it a day. I adore you, thank you for being in my circus, Jim!Mardi
Back to my afternoon with Jim, he laughed as I enacted my perspective of that epic lunch spill to him. Several years after the fact, it had grown hilarious to him too. As we came down off that laugh, I asked him to tell me one of my favorites, the Las Vegas stripper donut story, again, so I would get the details correct. He was delighted to recall all of it, moved back in his recliner, and back in time to provide the history of the guys taking Dave to Vegas because you had to know the chronology of the Vegas trips before the Las Vegas stripper donut story to fully appreciate the Las Vegas stripper donut story…
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