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Big Sam [1] and Jimmy Jam
The Filthiest of the Filthy Few: Part 1 of 3
2010, 3:30 P.M., Cold as Fuck, January 31, on the Grassy Median of Eight Mile Road between 'Grasshit' and 'Shayner', North of Detroit and South of Warren Michigan
“New Year’s Eve!” saluted Big Sam from his bent milk crate throne, flexing and ready to crack under his ominous weight, as he raised that half-drank bottle of 20/20 Mad Dog to the passing traffic in recognition of the half-eaten hotdogs and half-full cans of beer these hard-working and dwindling in number folks had tossed their way over the years, to feed their mad-planning end ever-scheming partay…
“Brutha, it cold as fuck!” said Jimmy Jam, the man who had previously always been all about the plan. But since he had tried to stop that mob at the gas station from stomping that white man to death, he was—well, not much better off than that stupid white man.
Big Sam reflected that it was a sorry day for a nation, even for a drunk nation of two, when the mad planner, the man who always had the caper-making answer, became the feel-sorry-for-me-white-folk banner. Jimmy Jam, once famed for his thick head, having lost almost every boxing match he had entered and never been knocked out know-how, had always been slick with the plan. Nowadays, he was just a smiling man, with a shut eye, a lolling head and—and Big Sam envied him this—a total lack of dread. There was no foreboding in Jimmy Jam. He saw the bright side of everything as an idiot would and it hurt Big Sam that he now felt pity for his mad-planning friend for being…well, he might as well think it…retarded, damaged, fucked up…and slow even.
It was going to be colder than ice-fuck after dark and Big Sam didn’t know if they’d be able to see out the night, with but one tarp and but three choices of vacant houses, the one having all them dead dog bodies in it and the other used for Brindle Peep’s hos. What, if even a crew of young thugs decided to take that last lonely shell of a house, they’d be out here until dawn, dead as dogs their own selves from the cold.
There went Downtown Charlie Brown, thundering by like the devil his own self, streaking through an icy sky but shoulder high.
“New Year’s Eve!” yelled Big Sam and Jimmy Jam like a chorus, as the sinister looking giant of a hairy white devil rumbled down into Detroit, managing a Nazi- salute—or was it Klingon?
Jimmy Jam used to be able to pontificate on such delicate questions of humanity and history until dawn cracked the dirty sky. But now he just shivered and mumbled, “It’s cold as fuck, yo.”
It had been so long since Big Sam had seen TV that he was getting scant on his history. So he had no clue. Downtown Charlie Brown was not a devil that a right-minded brother messed with. But they respected the man—did his business, sold his meth, loved his big negroes—but could you rightfully say that a man that savage was “gay?”—and stopped on by for an obligatory drink and said high, just passing bye, and usually left part of a bottle.
In return, Big Sam and Jimmy Jam always tendered the intelligence they had gathered, though this was slim of late, with the action having moved ever elsewhere. But Downtown Charlie Brown was a man of the ritual who stopped anyhow, even with little left to gain, for he sensed—as dread men do—his lingering fame and had no desire to let it fade. And if a hero’s poets were all dead, where would the hero find his memory bed in the eyes of yore?
Such had Jimmy Jam spoke when he had a full deck of cards, before that deck had been kicked across a parking lot. Big Sam remembered, and honored pacts past, and he certainly honored this hulking devil on his iron horse speeding past. Jimmy Jam, whose idea it had been to serve old Charlie Brown on his capers downtown, yelled along and made the motions that he had set long ago. Big Sam, now left to feel the emptiness of the follower become leader, of the admirer lost in the wake of a better man’s sharp and gone thought, led the chorus like a hearse leads the way to the grave.
There went Charlie Brown, headed downtown, hopefully to return with half a bottle of 151 rum.
And here also, northbound across Eight Mile, came some big Negro with a hulking swagger about his lilt, palms facing backward as his shoulders rounded tilt, walking towards Big Sam with an attitude of “I’ll do what I can. I will take what I can, Big Sam, from your aging hand.”
The man was fit as a fiddle and big, perhaps ten years younger than Jimmy Jam and Big Sam, all of thirty in full prime, beading mean eyes at the men who shared that milk crate throne and drank what was left of a bottle of 20/20, with an eye on their drink, an evil, domineering eye that made Big Sam think, made his watery, bloodshot eyes blink, and made his big belly sink.
“Jimmy Jam, we need a plan ma man. We got a cruel lookin’ cusser struttin’ our way, eyein’ our only bottle—Jimmy Jam! What da fuck we gonna say!”
Jimmy Jam shivered, reached for the squared and rounded bottle that was given, took a swig, rubbed shoulders with Big Sam as a man as big as Big Sam and appearing as smart as Jimmy Jam used to be, approached their spot with the manner of a patriarch, and where once he would have hatched a plot on that very troublesome spot, he shivered and mumbled, “I hope he don’ wan what we got, Big Sam, cause I done shot.”
Big Sam’s heart sank, because Jimmy Jam had always been the soul of their two-man-against-the world [well, ever since Sharp Dan got clipped by the cops] crew. Now it was nothing to it but one soft body and one soft head in the sights of this sharper mind in his suede vest and Chicago Bulls hatted head bearing down on their four-milk-crates-bailing-wired-together throne with the air of a negro looks like he gonna make it his own.
“Oh Lord, send me some help if you will—‘cause this is a bad man comin’.”
“Jimmy Jam, whose shakin’ en whose bakin’?”
The once sharp voice slurred, “Jimmy Jam da baker, Big Sam da shaker?”
Big Sam just put his arm around those narrowing, shivering shoulders and said, “Yeah man, you got the plan.”
I’m proper fucked, as the drunk white boys say.
-1. In Baltimore, circa 1988, the author new a man named Big Sam, an alcoholic, sometimes homeless, sometimes with a lady, who used to call me Jimmy Jam and fancied that we’d make a fine pair of carnival hands or could own and run a business together, him being big and me being smart and all. He would get drunk and sometimes talk tough. A mutual acquaintance, who would later commit suicide, disliked Big Sam and spoke ill of him to some young neighborhood fellows. One night Big Sam was beaten to death behind our mutual acquaintance’s house. I have often thought that one man’s words had encouraged some young men to kill the other, and I do wonder since if this incident played into the other man’s suicide some 10-12 years later. I miss both men and wish they each had a better, less bitter, end as I dream awake drunk tonight as they both had in their lonely nights long ago in Northeast Baltimore. I find it appropriate to stay up late and drink when writing these stories, just as I like to wake up early and get at the history books.
Interestingly, the only other man to call me Jimmy Jam, was my late great friend Riley Smith, a man from Mississippi who came up with that moniker one night as I drank “jungle juice” from a measuring cup and he sipped whiskey from a purpose-made glass in his gunroom, in July 2018 in Red Rock Canyon, Colorado.
I have now, recently, passed the point where most of the best men I have known are gone. Please forgive the digression.
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