Chapter 32 – Jimbo With the Steal
After my stop in the pornographic internet cafe, I took out a little tourist map I’d obtained back at the hotel and began walking the couple miles towards a popular attraction known as Shwedagon Pagoda. Shwedagon Pagoda had been a fuckin’ magical place with some of the most fairy-tale-esque architecture I’d ever seen. But for the same reasons that I would never write a food review because I can’t satisfactorily convey that which I tasted to my dear readers, I’m not even going to begin trying to explain the way I felt while wandering through this place among hoards of umbrella-hoisting Buddhist pilgrims in the ninety degree heat. What I’d instead like to discuss is what I saw just outside the place.
On the outer edges of the Shwedagon compound had been a bunch of your standard-looking twenty to twenty-five-foot-tall light poles and on the day that I happened to be there, a ragtag crew of Burmese guys had been doing some electricity work on these things. This, under normal circumstances, would not warrant any special attention. However, what made this action that was routine for them so irregular for me had been the fact that no cherry pickers or ladders were being used. Nor did the metallic poles have any built-in prongs or steps leading to the top. What these guys were doing – with tools in pocket and feet as naked as those of a mouth-harp-playing jug band hillbilly – was shimmying all the way up then straddling a perpendicular crossbar on which the lights had been mounted whereupon they fiddled and fidgeted with the lighting fixtures, taking care of whatever needed to be taken care of.
Back when I was a kid growing up in a little working-class corner on the Northwest Side of Chicago known as Edison Park, I lived down the block from one of my dad’s buddies named Jimbo. Although he’d done some hustling on the side, in the eyes of the law Jimbo had been your average blue-collar schmo employed by the United States Postal Service.
According to neighborhood legend, Jimbo had always been the single fastest postman on the face of the planet and would regularly do his entire route in the time that it took other mailmen to organize their letters at the post office. He’d be done with all his responsibilities by twelve every day and then would spend all afternoon doing whatever he wanted before returning to headquarters hours later when it was time to punch out.
To Jimbo, “whatever he wanted” meant a lot of different things. On some days “whatever he wanted” might’ve meant posting up at a dive bar and downing some Old Styles while watching a Cubs game. On others, it might’ve meant betting on some obscure horse races at venues no one’s ever heard of from the local OTB joint. Although some people might bemoan the ethics of an employee drinking and/or gambling while on the clock, keep in mind that this working class hero is assigned and gets done the exact same amount of work as everybody else – he just does what he’s gotta do with lightning speed.
The way I like to remember Jimbo is the way I used to see him on summer afternoons getting paid by the United States government as he sprawled his ass out in an inflatable kiddie pool that he kept on the grass in his backyard. As the man sipped some Styles and/or puffed some ganja which he’d end up supplying me with years in the future, he’d often take aim with his trusty Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle and fire at unlucky birds, squirrels and other critters which he’d more often than not pick off the power lines with his dead-eye BB-gun aim.
More than a decade ago, a squirrel had made its home in the soffit above my bedroom window. Sometimes for hours on end, the little rodent would stick his head out from behind a loose piece of flashing to get some fresh air and enjoy the view in between heavily laborious shifts of burrowing into the depths of my closet ceiling. His presence had been an unwanted one and, left with no other civilized way to settle the matter, my dad called Jimbo and put a hit on Bullwinkle’s bucktoothed buddy as the first step in taking back what was rightfully ours.
Since they both did what they do so very often, it didn’t take long for one of Jimbo’s backyard chill sessions and one of the squirrel’s scenery soakings to coincide. As such, upon seeing the squirrel peeping his head and upper body out his temporary home, we yelled to our neighbor to, “Come quick! And bring the gun!”
Not wanting to miss the opportunity to blast a living creature, Jimbo grabbed his air rifle from the garage and hustled right over. Red-faced from the combination of drinking and sitting in the sun all day long, Jimbo held the stock of the gun to his shoulder, closed one eye and took aim. Milliseconds after the neighborhood superstar had pulled the trigger, a clump of fur was blasted off the side of the squirrel’s face as it retreated straight back into its home like a bird going back into a cuckoo clock. Moments later it stuck its head back out and Jimbo went postal on it once again. Then the same thing happened. And then it happened again. And again and again and again until more than half the thing’s fur had been blown off its hide. I swear, when Jimbo was done with that squirrel, that son-bitch looked like Wile E. Coyote after falling victim to yet another unfortunate ACME product detonation mishap somewhere out in the middle of the desert.
Although we weren’t able to evict the squirrel by the coaxing of Jimbo’s trigger finger alone, we waited until we saw its bald ass hopping around the lawn and, upon knowing it wasn’t up in there for the time being, put a ladder on the side of the house and filled its home with insulation. In the months to come, we could easily distinguish our former cohabitant from the rest of the bunch every time we saw that tattered and battered bare-ass beast confusedly circling around the house, struggling to remember where he’d buried his nuts the season previous due to BB-induced brain injuries.
Even though his marksmanship is one of the greater things that have come out of Jimbo’s perennial hanging out in the backyard and getting trashed while on the job, in my opinion, it’s not the greatest.
According to neighborhood lore, Master J had been in his backyard one fine summer afternoon when a man from the electric company had pulled up in the alley behind his house where he removed a very nice fiberglass extension ladder from the top of his vehicle and set it up against the light pole to which a transformer had been attached. For reasons unbeknownst to everyone who’s heard Jimbo’s side of the story – I can only imagine he’d planned it to be a temporary absence while running to the hardware store or something like that – the AC/DC man pulled away in his van, leaving the ladder in place.
From his backyard, Jimbo witnessed all this as it happened. And as soon as the guy’s van had pulled around the corner down at the end of the alley and had disappeared out of sight, The J-Man ran out there, took down the ladder, carried it into his garage, placed it on a pair of sawhorses and shut the door right after. There, he pulled out several cans of spray-paint and colored the thing black, rendering it unrecognizable to the electrician, hung it up on his wall and got back to chillin’ in his backyard like nothing had ever happened.
When I saw all those workers in Yangon having to shimmy up the poles to do all that electrical work outside Shwedagon Pagoda, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Burmese version of Jimbo had stolen their ladder and – since they’re so poor, or maybe as punishment for being so stupid as to leave such an important piece of equipment behind – they were forced by their boss to make do without one.
Few photos from Shwedagon Pagoda including one of the barefoot electricians…