Here’s the second half of Jaycee’s portrait of Jim.
Bruce was known as The Pinball Wizard because that was his occupation: hiring and maintaining pinball machines. He ran a very successful business at it too…until the electronic video games made their appearance on the scene. Bruce failed to take these first crude machines seriously, thinking they were a passing fad. They weren’t, and failing to take the tide at the flood, Bruce missed the boat. Nobody wanted his machines in their shop any more, and he couldn’t get rid of them or borrow against them to upgrade … he had left his run too late! Anyhow, he walked into the front bar one evening, looking for company and maybe a sympathetic ear to chew (a problem shared is a problem halved), not to mention a cool beaded glass of beer to smack one’s lips over – and who was there on the next stool? – Jim!
“Hello Bruce, why the long face?”
“O…g’day Jim.” A pause to sip his beer and weigh his reply.
“Oh … a few problems with the business … y’know,” and Bruce told Jim the whole sorry saga of his missing the gravy train and light-heartedly berating himself for not seeing the obvious. Jim sat through this narrative in unusual silence, just swilling the dregs of his nearly (and ruefully) empty pint glass. Jim’s contemplative silence, Bruce later confessed, may have been more to do with this fact rather than his – Bruce’s – enlightening story. Then, however, Jim had an inspiration that many consider his finest moment. For, when Bruce had finished talking, Jim stared at him open-mouthed as if to say something … he then swiveled his whole body around on the barstool to gape into the bar server, He nodded his head several times as if amazed and then slapped his hand down smartly and sharply on the bar-top, turning back to Bruce as he did so….
“Now, that’s fate!” he announced with nodding head to Bruce. Bruce finished sipping his beer and looked sideways at Jim.
“Huh! …what is?” Bruce asked.
“Why, meeting you just at this moment!” Jim didn’t give Bruce a chance to question him, but took up the conversation.
“Just today I received a letter from my uncle’s trustees (my uncle died recently, you know) telling me that he had left me some property in his will – he had a tidy packet tucked away, I can tell you, but no kids – a two-storey building in Bankstown!” Jim’s eyes were fairly popping out of his head.
“What’s that got to do with me?” Bruce asked, but now interested in this suddenly wealthier Jim.
“Well – it’s an amusement parlour …TWO HUNDRED MACHINES!!! … and I was just sitting here lamenting how in the blue blazes I was going to manage the place. I was thinking to best sell the whole lot!”
Now, you or I would’ve squinted one eye at Jim and perhaps left it at that … but, as I just told you, Bruce was a desperate man staring bankruptcy in its ugly face. Also (if I might add), the gods had at that moment chosen to punish Bruce for being too successful at wooing women, so had endowed Jim’s story with a cloak of irresistible attraction. Bruce looked smilingly at Jim’s credulous expression and spoke the very words Jim wanted to hear:
“Care for another beer, Jim?”
(Image Credit: Pinball Wizard Arcade)
Let me just go off on a bit of a tangent and tell you about Bruce. How many times have I said, “If only I knew then what I know now.”
Bruce was what would be called these days a chick magnet – attractive young ladies adhered to him like rouge to a mummer. He didn’t work at it; he wasn’t a mongrel or a presumptuous bloke, he didn’t put on airs or con anybody. He was what he was, and that was – calm … Bruce exuded what the Italians call tranquillamente, and in a climate of frenzy and hurry, that was all that was needed, and he had it naturally. I remember a conversation amongst a group of us about rising early for work and how lousy it was sometimes. Bruce listened, sipped his beer (he always sipped – he was in no hurry) and commented to the attentive gathering that he like to wake “naturally”.
“Oh – and what time is that?” someone asked.
Bruce casually lit up a cigarette.
“About one pm,” he replied … a low whistle came from somewhere. But back to the story.
So the remainder of the night was spent examining (1) the layout of the premises (Jim); (2) mintenance and upgrading (Bruce); (3) staff requirements / management policy (combined effort); (4) wages – here, Jim’s benevolence came to the fore.
“Well … that’s very generous of you, Jim, but fifty – fifty seems a little too good …”
Bruce stared glassy-eyed into his beer. “BUT … if it’s alright with the boss – who am I to argue?” and they shook hands on the deal and I might say that Bruce was so overwhelmed with this stroke of good fortune when all looked blackest that tears of happiness nearly – I say, nearly – welled up in his eyes. And Jim WAS generous, because that is what he would have liked to have given – had he got it !!!
Closing time came and the two partners separated with more handshaking and effusive congratulations on the promise of a glowing future etc., etc., and Jim reminding Bruce to meet him here at the pub at ten o’clock in the morning and they would go to the airport to get a standby flight to Sydney to look the joint over.
“Righto, Jim,” Bruce slurred.
“Righto, Bruce,” Jim slurred.
And they wobbled away to their respective vehicles.
Bruce standing at the front bar sipping an Angostura bitters and soda. There is a discarded Bex Powder wrapper at his feet. Next to it stands a light travelling suitcase containing the necessities for a short stay in Sydney. The time is ten-thirty am. … no Jim. Bruce makes a phone call from the booth.
“Hello Mark…It’s Bruce … er..where’s Jim?” ( Jim boards with Mark).
“In bed. Why?”
“What’s he doing in bed? He’s supposed to meet me here at the pub at ten!”
“He’s in bed because some fool was buying him drinks all night and now he’s hungover to buggery! Anyway, what’s he got to meet you for?”
Bruce suddenly got a shakey feeling and hesitated to answer.
“Well…” he drawled uneasily, ” We’re supposed to go to Sydney to look at this pinball parlour that he had inherited from his uncle……..”
Bruce didn’t get the chance to say any more, as the guffawing laughter at the other end of the line drowned all further communication. It also made it useless to proceed as Bruce had suddenly become enlightened …
He just quietly hung up.
To his credit, Bruce never held any animosity against Jim for the con-job. He saw the ludicrousness of the proposition and laughed at his own folly. Jim, of course, never even considered it a “con”. To him it was just another good yarn: “that was yesterday … this is today” was his philosophy.
Though I will let you in on a little secret. I buttonholed Jim one day and asked him (carefully choosing my words) if there was ever a risk of over-egging the details in his “explanations”. His answer surprised me with its unspoken depth of understanding of that basic human weakness. He looked intently at me for a longer than comfortable time and he said:
“My father had a small dagger in a scabbard – Middle Eastern, very ornate handle with emeralds and rubies, the scabbard with gold inlay, looked good – all fake, of course. He used to bring it out when people came to dinner – said he won it from a sheik in a marksmanship competition when he was serving in the army during the war. Really , he bought it from a stall in the Prahran Markets when we were on a holiday in Melbourne when I was very young … and he was only a supply clerk in the war and never went overseas … but everyone marveled at it. Rarely did anyone take the dagger from the sheath – they just loved the jewels and the gold. I thought that strange, considering that the blade is really the most important part, since it must do the real “work” – so I learnt at a very young age that people will always admire the bling rather than respect the blade.”
… and then the cheeky bastard gave me a wink!!
The last time I saw Jim was when I was working with my brickie mate, Frank, on a job at Brighton, just off the esplanade. I’d heard Jim was threatening to return for a visit from Sydney where he had gone a year or two before to live. I was riding my treadly home one afternoon and had just reached the Seacliff Hotel when I chanced to glance over to the carpark and there was Jim’s car with the NSW number plate on it and Jim sitting in it. I quickly glided over the road on my bike, alighting to one pedal as I cruised up behind the car. I was just going to call out when I noticed he was sitting in a trance-like state staring out to sea. He was wearing a combat-style jacket, CIA sunglasses, and a camouflage baseball cap. There was a book open on the steering-wheel. I crept up and peered over his shoulder at the title …Submarine Command. Hello! I thought, here’s tonight’s story. I stepped back a couple of paces out of respect to his daydreams, then banged on the side of the car. “Jim!” I called, “Hey, Jim!”
But I have a soft spot for ol’ Jim, you see – he’s a loner, a dreamer. One must respect dreamers – they’re our only salvation. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I have jotted down a few lines of verse to celebrate his audacity…
It is only in the harbours of our mind
That we reach our full potential,
Where images of reality and fantasy mingle,
Where drunkards and kings are equal…
(Image Credit: Your Story)