Jimmy was a dreamer. He was born that way. When he looked into the sky as a child and saw the stars, which shone brightly in the sky, he was sure he’d soon view them from the moon…and then Mars…and then Jupiter…and so on. Of course, he grew up a little bit, realized that a trip to outer space was not so easily obtained, and settled for being the greatest quarterback in the history of football. His body did not cooperate with his aspirations, however, and his growing ceased when he was just 5 foot 10 and 170 pounds. At this point he settled for the less glorious occupation of movie star. His mother told him he had a knack for the spotlight—at the very ripe age of 6—he just kept believing it, all the way to his early thirties. So he gathered all of his money and moved to Hollywood, sure as day that he would be the next big thing.
Within three months he was nearly penniless, worried about the eviction notice on his front door, and positive that his next paycheck from the corner gas station would not be enough to keep him from being homeless. So he packed everything he could in a backpack, and walked five miles to the Greyhound station. A one-way ticket back to Boston cost him everything he had, except for ten bucks, which he could hopefully stretch out for a couple meals on the long road home.
When he arrived home, his mother greeted him with open arms. “My baby boy,” she said as he buried his head in her chest, sobbing and embarrassed. “Why are you crying? You should be proud of yourself for trying.”
The only words he could muster through his cries of pain were, “I’ve failed…I’ve failed at everything.”
“That’s not true,” she said. “You’ve been a daring explorer, and besides, you don’t want to be one of those movie stars…all of the good ones die young, and I need you to take care of me.”
Those words were a healing solution for his heart’s present troubles. She was older, and since his father had passed there was no one else to aid her. So he moved back into the room he had occupied as a boy for two decades. He was not the slightest bit surprised when it was exactly as he had left it, fourteen years previously.
“Jimmy,” his mother said as she handed him a warm breakfast on his first morning back, “You’ve always been such a good story-teller. Why don’t you be a writer? You can inspire people, talking about the things you’ve done and the places you’ve been.”
He picked up a pen and began jotting down ideas that afternoon.
A few weeks later, his mother became very ill. She was getting older, and her body’s resistance was weakening daily. Money became tight, due to the doctor visits and prescription drugs, and Jimmy was forced to put down the pen and pick up an apron. He was in his mid-thirties, and waiting tables at a Martini bar near Harvard.
Every day was a challenge, both physically—having to attend to his mother nearly ten hours a day, and mentally—having to serve over-priced drinks to well-off Ivy League academics, who condescended him by the very way they demanded round after round, rarely leaving less than a 40% tip. Of course he needed the money more than they did. Look how old he was, and what he was doing.
Jimmy’s lone friend was a woman, close to him in age, who also worked as a cocktail server. Sarah was every bit his fancy. She was pretty, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and an optimistic approach to the tasks in front of her. She loved listening to his stories, and admired his youthful dreaming, despite the obstacles that always seemed to overcome it. She, too, had seen her share of troubles. When she was just sixteen she lost all of her living family members in a plane crash, and had been on her own ever since. She refrained from telling him, because she preferred not to speak of it. Looking forward was always the more comfortable thing to do.
Evening after evening they would pass each other, back and forth, left and right, as they relayed orders and overflowing glasses of gin around the dimly lit bar. Night after night they would sit down and have their shift drink. She would have a vodka martini, up, with olives; he would entertain a gin gimlet martini, with a twist of lemon. Most nights they would gripe and complain to one another about something that was said to them, by an intoxicated kid, in a derogatory way of putting them down—putting them in their place.
The night before Christmas Eve, they talked about what they would like if Santa Claus actually existed. Despite Jimmy’s nature, he asked for a time machine.
“Why a time machine?” she asked.
“So I could go back to when I was a young man, and do everything differently.” He was worn down. He was out of dreams. He was a pessimist. He needed to be relieved of the burden of failure that plagued him for so many years.
Sarah stroked his back lovingly and said, “If everything on Earth was perfect, we’d have no need to strive to be with God…in Heaven.”
“So how about you?” he asked.
“Yeah. What would you like if Santa Claus really existed?”
“I’d take a martini…just like this one—
“I wasn’t finished,” she continued. “I would take a martini just like this one…but instead of it being after a night of serving, it would be at my very own place.”
“So you would like to own a martini bar?”
“Why a martini bar? Don’t you hate this place, like I do? Putting up with crap from people ten years younger who have ten times more money?”
“I don’t hate this place. It provides me a living. I can afford food and a home and money to buy the things I need. Besides, I’d be the owner. I wouldn’t have to serve anyone that I didn’t want to.”
“I’ll tell you what,” he began. “I’ll buy you a martini bar. I promise.” In an instant, the dreamer side of Jimmy was ignited. He desired greatness again. But something was different. This time, he desired greatness, not for himself, but for someone else. And this time, what he desired felt like more of an obligation than a goal.
They closed the bar and went their separate ways. When Jimmy arrived home, he did as always and entered his mother’s room. The television set still beamed, illuminated by the pixels, which made up the moving images. This was not like his mother. She always managed to turn off the TV before going to bed. Worried, he walked down the hallway toward the bathroom.
“Mom?” he called out as he pushed open the door. “Mom!” he shouted, as she lay motionless on the floor.
He knelt down and lifted her body off of the cold tiles. She had no pulse. She had no life. He sobbed as he held her. And as he buried his head in her chest the only words he could muster through his cries of pain were, “I’ve failed…I’ve failed at everything. I should have been here. I’ve failed you!”
He stayed like that, embracing her until the paramedics came and took her away.
He did not sleep that night. Instead, he began drinking. He began drinking hard.
When he woke up it was mid-afternoon, and he was lying on the bathroom floor, aside the toilet, exactly where he found his mother. He first looked down at the floor, where he had carved with a knife the words “I have failed” into the tile floor. Then he looked up, and saw the noose, tied tightly around a hook in the ceiling. He could not recall his suicide attempt.
So he pulled himself up—first to his knees, and then to his feet. He looked at the noose and thought, “I have failed at everything.” So he turned the footstool upright, and began climbing to the top of the three steps. “Finally,” he said, “I will succeed.” As he turned on the top stool so that the noose would fit tightly around his neck, he caught a glimpse of a gold Crucifix, which hung next to the door. Then he remembered the last time he saw a gold Crucifix. It dangled off of Sarah’s neck the night before when she said, “If everything on Earth was perfect, we’d have no need to strive to be with God…in Heaven.”
The grim and painful look on his face turned into a smile, and then a tear. All he could think of was his promise to her. She was all that he had, and even though he did not know it, he was all that she had.
He loosened the rope from around his neck, and stepped down from the stool. His heart was beating with a burning desire to succeed for her.
So he washed up, changed clothes, and went to work. It was Christmas Eve, and he was happier to be there than ever before. Much to his delight, the owner of the bar had reserved the upstairs room for a family Christmas party. Although they had never even met, Jimmy asked the owner to step aside. Then he told him everything—all of his dreams that were shattered—all of his attempts for success that were sidetracked—all of his previous failures in life. He told him of his mother’s death, and his subsequent attempt of suicide the night before. He told him of his awakening upon seeing the gold Crucifix. And finally, he told him of his promise to Sarah. When he was done with the story, he asked if he could buy the bar.
Without hesitation, the owner agreed. He said, “We close at midnight, and you re-open at midnight. I will sell you the bar for one hour, at a dollar per minute.”
Amazed and totally astounded by the graciousness of a near stranger, Jimmy had to ask, “Why? I mean, thank you! But why are you so eager to do this for me?”
“Because,” the owner said, as he removed a chain from around his neck, “It’s Christmas. And Christmas is about miracles.” Hanging from the chain was a gold Crucifix.
So, Jimmy and Sarah closed the bar down as they always had—flipping chairs and stocking glasses before turning the lights nearly all the way off. Jimmy waited anxiously as the minutes slowly ticked away. Finally, it was midnight.
“Care to have a drink?” she asked.
“It’s up to you,” he said. “You own the place.”
“Sure I do,” she laughed. “In my wildest dreams.”
“No, really,” he declared. “I bought it for you.”
“Have you been drinkin?” she asked.
Then the owner came down from his party upstairs. He walked over to Sarah, and handed her the key.
“Take care of the place, huh?” he said.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“You own the joint now. And you’ve got fifty-nine and a half minutes until it’s mine again. So enjoy the drinks while they’re free! And please, lock up behind you.” He turned and winked at Jimmy.
By the time it was said and done, the barkeep had fixed their drinks. She had a vodka martini, up, with a couple olives; he entertained a gin gimlet
martini, with a twist of lemon.
My father did not propose to my mother that night. He told me it occurred some time shortly after. But a plaque still hangs in my bar, directly above the two stools they sat in that night, which reads: “Jimmy was a dreamer, and I’m living proof of his success.”
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