“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
“You should always go to everyone’s funeral,
otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
When I sat down at my laptop this morning I was going to do another selection of obituaries, many of which I find very amusing whether that was the originators’ intention or not.
But then one thought led to another and I remembered little Jimmy, so now this post is about him.
Little Jimmy lived in the town where I was born. He was small, about five feet tall or possibly 5 foot 1, no more than that. He wasn’t what you would call stupid, but he was definitely a bit odd – a few cents short of a dollar you might say. Clinically I think he probably had a mild case of autism. He was our own little Rain Man, you could say.
When I was a kid Jimmy would have been in his late 50s, but he acted more like a kid than a grown up. And as I grew up Jimmy didn’t. When he was in his 70s he was just the same and acted just the same. He always wore a big pair of leather army boots and a Crombie type overcoat, even in the summer. Both were slightly too big for him. I think someone had probably given them to him.
To earn himself some cash little Jimmy would do odd jobs and errands for people around the town. He was honest and reliable. And people were generally good enough to him, letting him do things they could easily have done themselves. Sometimes they would get a bit of harmless entertainment out of it too.
I remember one occasion a friend of my Dad’s had a bicycle with a puncture. Rather than wheeling it all the way to the bicycle store, or fixing the puncture himself, he called little Jimmy over.
“Jimmy, I need you to take my bicycle to Joe,” he instructed, Joe being the bike shop owner. ”And tell him,” he went on, “that the puncture is either on the back tire or the handlebars.”
He also handed him a couple of dollars and away little Jimmy went with the bike.
Sure enough we found out later from Joe that little Jimmy had arrived with the bike and duly announced to the shop and its customers that, “You’re to fix Billy Simpson’s bike and he doesn’t know if the puncture is on the back tire or the handlebars.”
But apart from his odd jobs, little Jimmy had three real passions in his life, delivering newspapers, collecting lost golf balls and attending funerals.
My Dad used to say that Jimmy was the oldest paperboy in the world and we should write to the Guinness Book of World Records. Of course we never did, but we enjoyed the joke all the same. And we enjoyed watching him collect his newspapers.
The scene never changed.
When the newspaper delivery van arrived at the newsagents the guy would open the back doors of the van and lift a bundle of papers to take into the shop. That was the cue for little Jimmy to make his way into the shop in front of him.
“Let the man through, let the man through,” he would shout with great urgency, at the same time pushing his way to the shop counter and scattering all the real kid newspaper boys out of the way as he did so.
It was chaos. But, as if by magic, this always got little Jimmy to the counter first and meant that he got the first lot of newspapers all to himself. Like I said, you couldn’t really call him stupid, just a little bit odd!
However, these semi-violent outbursts aside, when he wasn’t collecting his papers Jimmy was a gentle soul and everybody liked him. He was a fixture of the town, a real character, the type of people that don’t seem to be around any more, mores’ the pity.
He made some extra money for himself with his second passion, collecting used golf balls. In fact he had quite a successful business going. As soon as it was daybreak little Jimmy was on the golf course and searching in the rough and long grass for lost balls. Luckily for him the local golfers mustn’t have been much good, except at slicing, because there seemed to always be an endless supply of wayward balls.
Little Jimmy collected thousands of them, cleaned them up and then sold them back to the golfers, all of whom knew Jimmy and were happy to pay him. His price was substantially below new cost so everybody got a good deal.
However, little Jimmy must have taken Yogi Berra’s advice literally (see opening quote of this post) because his main passion became attending funerals. He went to every funeral in the town, whether he knew the person or not.
Not only that, but he kept a journal and logged the date, the time, possibly the number of people attending and so forth. It was one of those overly excessive obsessive qualities that makes me think now that he was probably autistic.
For bigger funerals, and although he couldn’t drive and never had a car, he also took it upon himself to direct traffic into and out of the cemetery. And he could be quite cross and demanding with the drivers as he was doing it.
It was thinking about the obituaries and funerals and such that led me to write this post because it was at the funeral of one of the town’s ‘big-wigs’ that my best and everlasting memory of little Jimmy occurred.
A lot of people had gathered up for this particular funeral. The guy had been a prominent businessman in the town for many years. Everyone knew him and respected him and therefore naturally wanted to pay their final respects by attending his funeral. There were probably also one or two who were there just to be seen to be there. No matter, it was a big turnout.
Eventually the mourners, including me and my Dad, made our way to the cemetery and sure enough little Jimmy was there, directing and organizing the cars. And there were a lot of them, not only because of the number of people but because it was a wet autumn morning.
Everything was wet including the ground around the graveside. Muddy and very slippery too. Luckily we hadn’t far to go, the open grave was just at the edge of the car park.
Little Jimmy was still directing the traffic. The more cars the more frustrated he seemed to become, anxious for the whole thing to start so that he could make the relevant entries in his journal.
“Come on, come on,” we could all hear him shouting impatiently at the drivers, as he waved them left and right and forwards into the few remaining parking spaces.
And then it happened.
As almost the last parking space was being filled, and little Jimmy was hurrying things along as best he could, he was walking backwards signing with his hands at a car in front of him to guide it. His concentration was focused solely on the car in front of him. He had no idea what was behind him and what was behind him was the curb at the edge of the car park. Just beyond that was about two feet of wet muddy grass that marked one end of the open grave around which we were all gathering for the interment.
No, little Jimmy didn’t see the curb behind him. Nor did he realize what it was when he tried to take another step backwards but found he couldn’t.
I watched the whole thing take place, knowing what was going to happen yet thinking somehow that really it wouldn’t. But it did.
Little Jimmy’s momentum backwards knocked him off balance, his feet left him and he sat down rather fast and very hard on to the muddy patch of grass.
If he had left it at that he would have been okay I think, but of course he didn’t. Shocked by what had just happened and trying to get up again as quickly as he could – the way we all try to do as if nothing has happened – he put his hands out behind him to push himself up on to his feet again.
The trouble was there was nothing for his hands to lean against, just the space of the open grave.
I never will forget the look of complete bewilderment on his face as his hands disappeared from view and then, pivoting on his backside, his head and shoulders disappeared too. In part of the same not so graceful movement his legs shot up into the air momentarily and then quickly slid down out of sight into the open grave to join the rest of him. The last that was seen were the big army boots which somehow added to the comedy.
It was truly one of the funniest things I had ever seen in my life and despite the solemn occasion I found it impossible to hold back the laughter. Thankfully several others were similarly afflicted which helped to take the bad look off me.
Jimmy was so short that he had no chance of ever getting out of the grave on his own. It would have been near impossible even for a much taller person because of the conditions. And so the fiasco continued.
Concerned citizens realizing what had just happened went to assist little Jimmy. A few of them almost meeting the same fate as their dress shoes were no match for the mud and they slithered dangerously close to the chasm in front of them. There were a few flailing arms and funny dance steps and ‘Ali Shuffles’ as they tried to retain their balance, all of which didn’t help me regain my composure.
Eventually little Jimmy was hauled out of the open grave, a bit wet and dirty - like a drowned rat, my Dad said later – but apart from a bruised ego, not much the worse for wear.
The whole debacle didn’t put him off. The next funeral little Jimmy was back with his book making notes. He didn’t have the same enthusiasm for traffic duty though.
Not too many years after that little Jimmy attended his last funeral – his own. No body bothered to log it into a journal, but for an ordinary little guy a surprising number of people made the effort to be there. And some of them, like me, had smiles on their faces.
Maybe Yogi Berra was on to something after all!