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Jimmy Milikan

by Jose Chaves

 

Mrs. Neese once called him an "ornery cuss" because he always got into trouble. I stayed away from him for the most part, but sometimes heíd draw these Jeeps during silent reading like the kind he said his brother Gary had.  I didnít care much about Jeeps, but I thought his drawings were cool, so I tried to copy him.  I can still draw one today with the same enormous tires and American flag poking out the back.  Sometimes, he would even draw a keg of beer or naked lady in the back and we would crack up until Mrs. Neese had to put the hammer down.  

One time I ended up going to his house after school with some other friends. It was a blue rambler and everything on the inside was clean and polished and there were lace doilies over all the furniture.  He showed us his older brother Garyís AC/DC collection and we listened to "hells bells" on 8 track. He put the black light on a Rush poster and said if we looked real hard we could see the devil. I stared until I started to see some horns forming above the drum kit, then he said: "we better get out of here or my brother will kick the shit out of us."

His house smelled like Lemon Pledge and laundry softener and the longer we stayed, the more I wanted to go home to where things smelled normal. He had a white poodle that came into the kitchen while we were looking for food. Jimmy lifted it up and pretended to hump it from the rear. We all laughed, but thought it was kind of weird. Sometimes Jimmy could be funny, but he was also the kind of guy you couldnít talk to. You were afraid that if you said the wrong word, youíd get jacked in the face.
  

My grandfather at one point had me convinced that Jimmy was just a bully and that "a bully is just talk." And so one gray morning on the playground, I stuck up to Jimmy after he called me and my friend Joey Velasquez spicks. It was the first time Iíd ever been called the word, but it wasnít difficult to figure out what it meant.  But before I could complete a sentence, he had punched me three times in the face. I felt my chin go numb and my stomach drop through the blacktop.  I walked silently to the office trying not to cry and then was sent home for fighting.


Years later I would see Jimmy half-drunk on his porch step and drinking Bud Ice with another guy who was wearing a John Deere cap.  I just happened to be walking by and he said hi to me in this weird voice that was so jaded with sarcasm I couldnít tell if he was happy to see me or not. "Hey Joey," he said, "come on over and have a beer."

"I donít drink anymore," I told him. But I was afraid heíd think I thought I was better than him--I was home from college after all, and he was still working down at Les Shwab tireóso I asked him for a smoke to show I was not a not wuss. "Oh, come on," he said, handing me a cigarette. "You need a beer. Donít kid yourself."
 

"No thanks," I said. "Iíve already been through the fucking ringer with the booze."

"Donít kid yourself," his friend said.

This was a phrase they kept repeating over and over.   Later I thought about how "kidding yourself" was another way of saying denial and how funny it was to have a couple alcoholics drinking on the front porch and telling each other not to kid themselves. What also amazed me is that nothing had changed in twenty years; I was still afraid of him. He seemed just as capable of kicking my ass that day as ever, although maybe for different reasons. Or maybe he was genuinely happy to see me, but didnít have the words to say so. It was difficult to know since almost every sentence in our short conversation had the word "fuck" in it.
 

"So how you fucking been?"

"Pretty fucking good. Yourself?"
  

"Fucking great."

"Donít fucking kid yourself."
 

 Even when I said goodbye to him, I said: "Good to fucking see you Jimmy" because I was afraid that if I just said, "good to see you Jimmy," he might think it was queer.

But as I was walking away, he yelled: "Give me a call sometime," which must have been his awkward way of asking forgiveness, as it was something he never would have said to me in school.  

"I will," I yelled back, but I knew that I would never call him. I too was talking about forgiveness.
   


Jose Chaves holds an MFA from the University of Oregon in poetry.  His poems and short-short stories have appeared in the Atlanta Review, Rattle, and the Exquisite Corpse.  He has also published a book of translations of Latin American flash fiction, The Book of Brevity. This is his first publication of creative nonfiction.

 

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photo credit Dinty W. Moore 2002