It's not about the house.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Luca Brasi Slept Here

Sorry, Other Bear (and others who haven't asked but might be wondering): I actually don’t have any before-pictures of the kitchen. All of this was back before I found that Coke bottle in the Kalahari. But when I finish the renovation story (just a few posts away now, I swear), I promise to put up a slew of afters.

Or, well, not exactly “after” – more like in-between.

Johnny had painted a basement for the Jimmy the Gas Fitter a couple years before, on the “someday, I'll call upon you to do a service for me” Godfather barter system. Now the day had arrived at last, and I drove Johnny to the Irish Bar to collect.

We hadn’t been in the Irish much since we bought this house and moved over the bridge, but nothing had really changed. The vending machine by the front door that used to sell cigarettes sold scratch tickets now, but the video game on the other side was still PGA. We took our usual places at the short end of the long wooden bar. Ordered beers. Said a round of pleasantly-surprised hellos.

I didn’t know Jimmy the Gas Fitter well enough to recognize him from across the room. Mostly, I knew him by his nasal squawk. He has a smallish face on a sturdy, block-shaped head, and when he speaks he sounds as if he’s forcing a large voice out through a tiny hole. Which I suppose he is.

Needless to say, I didn’t recognize the back of his baseball-hatted head among the hundred others that bobbed over a hundred identical plaid-quilt coats. But Johnny did. He pointed out through a hole in the crowd a particular Spotbilt-logoed cap and, after we’d been sitting for about a half a beer, excused himself to head off in that direction.

But he didn’t stop. He walked right past what I still was only assuming must be Jimmy, and went into the men’s room. After a few minutes, he came out, walked past Jimmy again, and sat back down.

“What about Jimmy?” I said. “I thought you were going to -- ?”

“He saw me.” Johnny said, and turned back to his beer.

Sure enough, ten minutes later, Jimmy appeared at Johnny’s elbow.

“How you doing, Erin?” he said to me. But to Johnny all he said was: “Is it time?”

I read my paper while the two of them hashed out the details. The materials and stuff would come from Jimmy’s stash, so all we'd pay for was the permit. He'd go down to Town Hall the next day they were open, and as soon as he had permit in hand, he’d start the work. He’d call us the night before and let us know to expect him.

With hands shaken all around (even though I had really nothing to do with it, I got to shake hands, too), we bought Jimmy a beer. While waiting to pay for it, Johnny asked if maybe Jimmy knew of a plumber who was straight-up and available. It just so happened Jimmy did.

Jimmy had recently done some gas-fitting work for Plumber Bob, so Bob owed Jimmy a favor of his own. Jimmy said he wasn’t ever going to need a plumbing job, but he was willing to give us the favor Bob owed him, if Johnny would someday come back and paint another room at Jimmy’s house. Done and done.

So we got our plumbing hooked up for nothing, too. That was, like I keep saying, two years ago almost exactly, and Johnny's not been back to Jimmy’s yet. We check in at the Irish once in a while. Their eyes meet from across the room. Johnny nods his head up once to say hello. Jimmy nods his, then shakes it one time to the side.

I didn’t used to speak this language, but I get it now. What Jimmy’s saying is:

“I saw you.

“It’s not time yet. ”

And for all I know, that day may never come.

But if it does, Johnny will not refuse.

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