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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Smilin' Jim

Greenwich Village, 1958.

If you didn’t see her, you might think she was just an ordinary girl. Serving pasta and wine in her parents’ place, scooping ices behind the counter. You could be nattering away at your table. Suddenly she’s there, like a cat or a bird.

You look up and see her and I know just what you’d be thinking. Sophia, like Sophia Loren. Dark eyes, wavy dark hair framing her face, full red lips, body like a movie star. I’m not going to say any more ‘cause I don't want to be impolite. But you get my gist, don’t you?

 We were both just fifteen when we met and I thought, I got to start working out. You know how it is when you see something and think, I gotta have this in my life? Not like once or twice, mind you, but always. I gotta make her look at me, just once, but I gotta build up the muscles before I do it.

More than muscles. Elena, she’s no ordinary girl. You gotta be special for Elena. For one thing she’s got gypsy blood or something; she sees things other people don't, like ghosts and things. And you know she's truly seeing them because she knows things, like a little girl who died in their house, and Elena saw her when nobody else did. She was a long-ago little girl, with a little cap and a long skirt. Elena knew all about her.

I'm not that way but it doesn't give me the willies. I had to have something though, something I do that would impress her. I can cook pretty good, but her mom can too. I started lifting weights and I got pretty strong. But that wasn't enough either. Then I started filling out, getting older, you know, and she started to look at me more.

Still couldn't figure out what to do with myself so I started being nice to people. I mean extra nice, opening the door for ladies, giving bums my nickels, that sort of thing. Smiling a lot so they called me Smilin' Jim. And Elena started noticing. 

You're not like the other boys, she said, and I said, I'm just being me, Elena. And miracle of miracles, she started to like me.

Now and again I’d get in the boxing ring, for a little bread, if you know what I mean. Pretty girl don't come cheap, she wants to go out dancing, go to a different restaurant than the one her parents had. I want her to be happy and give her what she wants.

You gotta be tough in the ring, but I didn’t tell her I was doing it. Wanted her to think I was always nice, you know, listening to people’s troubles and buying their kids lollipops.

Then one night I'm in the ring, beatin' the stuffing out of some poor sap, and I look up and see her. Staring at me plain as day and I think, that’s it, I'm done for. Practically started crying right then and there. But when the fight’s over she comes over and I think, she’s gonna slap my face.  Instead, she throws her arms around me, shaking like a leaf.

I knew you could do it, Jimmy, she says in a whisper. I always knew you were holding back. I don't say nothing, just stare at her. And just like that, she kisses me so hard I’m nearly faintin’ in front of the guy I just knocked out.

Now we're engaged, and she says she'll be my wife as soon as she’s done with high school. I'm still nice as pie to everyone I meet at the bakery, or anywhere else for that matter. Just stay tough in the ring.

But that’s okay with my Elena, and if it’s okay with her it’s okay with me. Women, you know? What can I say but go figure?

Parents still don't know we're engaged, mine or hers. Not going to worry, though. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime... life is good.