Jimmey is also a tap dancer, a secret he kept hidden for years, and was once a Colt model going by the oddly Semitic and decidedly unsexy moniker, “Sydney Karl.”
I met Jimmey in the shower at Gold’s during the halcyon days of my bachelorhood, when I was living for the workout, my career in a hapless tailspin while I was ensconced in a beachfront apartment with exposed brick. I invited him over for breakfast, although no meal was ever served. After some half-hearted attempts at dating, I soon learned that Jimmey lived in self-imposed isolation, refusing to go anywhere but the gym or his office.
In his office at 20th Century-Fox, he had Pee-Wee’s former couch from the days when the Playhouse was shot on the lot. It was a long comfortable, candy-colored couch. I stalked that couch for years afterward, begging Jimmey to give it up. Billy and I coveted that couch for our guesthouse, hoping to create a playroom atmosphere up there. When Jimmey relented, as a birthday gift to me, it was the perfect fit for Billy, Bob, and me. On most nights, that's where you'd find the three of us entwined.
It was also to be the couch where I found Billy, and after that, I never wanted to see it again. It’s now in St. Elmo with Billy’s niece.
When I knew I was going to LA for the holidays this year, I nagged Jimmey for months to visit, carefully luring him out of his hermitage. I promised him safe passage.
“Oh…um. I don’t know, Terry. Who’s going to be there?” he asked. I soothed him by saying it was just going to be Ricky and Mickey, people he already knew, and I told him I wanted him to meet Joe.
“I’m so fat.” He turned fat into a three syllable word, dragging it out into one long note even Barbra never hoped to hit.
“Honey, you always say you’re fat and you’re always adorable.”
“I’m really puffy, though.”
“Ple-e-e-ase come over,” I said, speaking his native tongue. He agreed, but his appearance was hardly guaranteed.
He got lost while attempting to find Ricky’s house and I talked him down as if he were Karen Black trying to land a jumbo jet. I met him outside as he deplaned from his truck, his arms held out as if to prove how fat he was, grabbing the few extra pounds on his waist before he said a word, his face apologetic. A bushel full of kisses and a basketful of hugs happened while I was listening to him mumble about puffiness, and gently I led him into the house where people waited.
Ricky, Mickey, Joe, and Jimmey piled into my bluish rented Taurus, taking advantage of a break in the endless rain to drive downtown. One of Joe’s primary destinations, besides the site of the final Symbionese Liberation Army shoot-out, was the Watts Towers. I’d been there twenty years ago with Russell but all I remember was thinking, Oh. Yeah. There they are. My reaction this time around was a little more thoughtful, although the structures are really just a beautifully sad glass and cement reminder of one lonely obsessed man with a madcap vision.
Joe was in the sightseer’s shotgun seat while Mickey was nestled between the two beef slabs of Jimmey and Ricky in the back. We drove downtown, where the streets were still flooded from the previous night’s downpour. None of us had ever seen the Bradbury Building, an elaborate reminder of LA’s golden era where Chandler had Philip Marlowe’s office; a building where dreams had been bought and sold for years and years.
On our way, we wove through the crowded streets of LA’s downtown, a dissipated reminder of a thriving city center, long ago forsaken for the flight westward toward the beach. To modern Angelinos, it’s a place to visit ever so often, escaping the 310 or the 323, or worse, the 818. Large pools of water collected in massive potholes, the city not really caring at all about the condition of the streets or the people who lived there. A bus passed by on our left and a tidal wave of dirty street water washed over the car, completely enveloping it. The suddenness of it left me blinded inside our watery cocoon, my hands clenching the steering wheel to keep control.
Joe and I sucked in our breath at the excitement of what was happening when we heard cries and whining from the back seat.
“I’m all wet! That water was fi-i-i-lthy! It’s all full of dise-e-e-ease!” The high-pitched voice was unmistakably Jimmey’s. Mickey and Ricky were looking at him. Jimmey's window was the only one open in the car. I craned my neck, saw Jimmy’s face frozen in open-mouthed horror, and started to laugh. Soon, we were all laughing and pointing at him, schadenfreude in a Ford. The video camera whirred in Mickey’s hands, capturing every second of Jimmey’s extreme discomfort; Joe snapped some stills, and my cackle filled the car. Rising above the collected merriment was a sopping Jimmey repeating his mantra, “I’m all dir-r-r-ty.”
It’s not surprising Jimmey stays at home, scurrying to work and back, because for Jimmey, this is what invariably happens when he meets the public. Something always comes along to validate Jimmey’s fears, and the public won’t see him for months, but Jimmey called me the next day and exclaimed, “That was so much fun!” I knew he meant it, although I think it will be a long time before Jimmey comes out to play again.