Jimmy Maul took a crap in public and never showed his face in town again. It was the last in a series of debilitating events that lead him down Highway 135 with his thumb stuck out, then down Highway 50 East, until he divested himself from the one place that could have been his salvation.
Gimme Gimme Jimmy, as we called him, burned the house down where he was staying; he stayed there in exchange for fixing it up. It was as a result of passing out mid-sculpture with a live blowtorch in his hand. He was an artist of sorts, but even by Crested Butte standards he was a loafer. The only thing he had to lose was his reputation, which was already threadbare. The day after he burned his landlord’s house down, at the most public moment possible, Jimmy squatted in the outfield of the town softball diamond. KBUT was playing the Brick Oven team, who were all wearing Rasta colored T-shirts, half of whom had large dogs named “Kaya” leashed to the bleachers.
I know this not because of town gossip, but because I happened to be walking by the field precisely at the moment when Jimmy did it. I blew a tire on my Huffy at the Four Way Stop, so I so I had to walk the bike home from the post office, where I had fetched a bill for my college loans.
Through the crowd of bodies and beer cans, I noticed Jimmy in the outfield. The outfield was adjacent to the decimated house, which still haunted Crested Butte with the odor of burning coals. Tall, gangly, and ravaged-beast faced, Jimmy seemed to be waiting for a home run to catch. He could only see out of one eye because he had lost the other to a tree; he wore an eye patch. In characteristic fashion, he leaned against the outfield fence with a look on his face that said, “Oh yeah? Up yours.”
Pretty much everyone watching the game noticed Jimmy there. Owen Donnelly, the tall comedic paramedic who had just recovered from cracking his pelvis on a rock while skiing on steep backcountry, was playing for KBUT in the outfield. He turned around to Jimmy and said, “Jimmy, you feel like playing softball?” The back of Owen Donnelly’s head was nicely clipped, as usual.
Jimmy said, “Pretty soon this town is going to disappear like AM radio.” He spread his arms out like Jesus. His Ohio State T-shirt had a new hole in it, and his blonde arm hair reflected the late-afternoon light.
I know what they said because Owen Donnelly told me.
The game continued, and Jimmy stayed put. I would have walked home to The Meadows Unit 7, where I was living with tree-planter who did coke and a girl who was out on the trail three weeks out of the month rehabilitating misbehaving teenagers, but I was transfixed by Jimmy. Something looked very wrong. Something always looked wrong with him, but this day was different.
Bases were loaded. The Brick was winning six to four. The batter, I don’t remember her name but I know she taught skiing to people in wheelchairs and had a Great Dane named Hansolo, she hit a home run, which Jimmy Maul just looked at while it flew past him and hit the brick wall of the Old School building. The ball rebounded and landed in the outfield, where Owen Donnelly picked it up in his glove and sent it back to the pitcher. All of the players on base cruised around the diamond, and a rowdy drunken cheer rose from the bleachers.
Jimmy Maul started walking out of the field. But before he walked to the hole in the fence, he turned his back to the crowd, pulled his pants down, and squatted. It felt like slow motion from there. Head after head, like a line of dominos, turned toward Jimmy. Mouth after mouth closed like nutcrackers. Mouth after mouth opened like a wave breaking on the shore, each asking some variation on, “What the hell is he doing?”
Owen Donnelly was standing the closest to Jimmy, and perhaps was the most compassionate person on the field. He walked toward Jimmy and squatted down next to him, which I thought was brave because it looked like Jimmy was pooping in the outfield. Really, Owen Donnelly was the one person I knew who had the strength of stomach and the decency to attend to a distraught and crapping misfit.
Jimmy Maul said something that looked nasty, and turned out to have been, “I know when to come and when to go.” Owen Donnelly backed away several yards, folded his arms, and waited. Jimmy Maul stood up and hiked up his trousers. He turned to the crowd and glared out with his one good eye. He lifted his hands like Jesus one more time, and loped off the field toward the still steaming foundation of his landlord’s house.
We never saw Jimmy Maul in town again. I didn’t miss him, because he was a crummy artist and because he ruined the open mic I organized. He didn’t believe in the written word, so to each poet who read off the page, he stood up and shouted improvised obscenities until the poor rural poet sat down. After the open mic, I pulled him aside and talked to him in the voice that I reserve for cab drivers who cut me off on my bike when I lived back East. I didn’t miss him when he fled town. But since there were only four actual artists left without him, I did feel his absence.
Oddly, though, I did run into him once more. Several months later, I was driving back East with a dreadlocked Craigslist ride share. We stopped in Grinnell, Iowa to camp in a state campground, which was full of retirees with small rowboats. I was walking to the bath house to take a much-needed shower, when I noticed a familiar looking figure sitting cross legged atop a picnic table. It was undoubtedly Jimmy Maul. His long arms and cavernous torso, his tattered Ohio State T-shirt, his maniacal blonde hair, and his eye patch were all unmistakable. He was whittling a long staff.
I approached him and he refused to look up. “Jimmy?” I said. It smelled damp and sweet like Iowa that night. Bugs were being zapped left and right.
Slowly Jimmy raised his head. With the tip of his knife, he lifted his eye patch to reveal a white and puckered eye socket. He refused to recognize me. He said, “My name is Human.”
I said, “What are you doing here?” I dug my toes into the warm grass.
Jimmy said, “There are other places to live than Crested Butte.” I tacitly agreed, although the state campground in Grinnell, Iowa would not have been my choice.
Now that I’ve been gone a while, I often wonder if I too should have gotten over myself and stayed. I wouldn’t have started my lucrative career as a Website editor up in the Butte. Yet I think, given enough time, I would have settled into a slow and genuine meditation, and learned to play the banjo. Or something.
This story is based on my life before teshuvah, but it’s fiction. It’s a picture of a certain time and place where I was, but everything has been cobbled together. There is truth in it, but some of it is blatantly made up. That period of my life was actually so depressing that I can’t bring myself to write it as memoir. Photo of the Crested Butte, CO softball field: eskimo_jo/flickr creative commons.