Jimmy gave me odd jobs to do around his house; there was a bathroom that needed renovating, a cellar that needed to be reframed, and chores on a things-to-do list that homeowners never seem to get around to completing. I was recently unemployed and he was glad to keep me busy until I was able to find work, which turned out to be less than a week later. Despite supporting a wife and four young sons, he insisted that I accept compensation for services rendered, a gesture second-nature to him but one I will remember for the rest of my life. That was thirty years ago.
I first got to know Jimmy while attending Bunker Hill Community College. We were both taking courses under the G.I. Bill and would often frequent the C-Lounge ping-pong tables between classes. Like most Boys Club alumni, we were pretty darn good and it wasn’t long before our slightly younger classmates considered us “ringers.”
Jimmy was always up-to-date on current events and didn’t hesitate to express his opinion. He’d also let you know if you were doing something wrong and he never, ever backed down from anyone if he thought he was in the right, especially on the basketball court. I had the privilege of being Jimmy’s teammate in the Boys Club Alumni League for almost a decade. Without exception, he was one of the most talented, intense, clutch players I ever competed with or against. As fierce a competitor as he was on the court, he was just as compassionate and down-to-earth off of it.
After one particularly grueling Alumni League game, an exciting victory for us and the first loss in nearly three years for the legendary “Gym Club,” Jimmy suggested we celebrate by having a few beers. I agreed. We ended up at Bunratty’s, a popular watering hole near BU which featured live rock music and, more importantly, billiards tables. I wasn’t very good at pool but followed Jimmy’s lead anyway to the tables located downstairs. The basement-level, smoke-filled room was packed with billiards players. Jimmy laid down two quarters on a table and we proceeded to a nearby corner to wait for our chance to play.
In a scene right out of “Superfly,” several “pool hustlers,” nattily attired in pastel colored hats with matching double-breasted jackets and bell-bottomed slacks, loudly engaged their opponents in a taunting, yet non-threatening dialogue. When it came our turn to play, Jimmy suggested that I should shoot first then buy us a couple of beers and “whatever the guys we’re playing against are drinking.” He followed that with a “trust me.” So I did.
I missed my first attempt at making a shot then headed to the bar, per Jimmy’s instructions. By the time I returned with four beers, Jimmy had already sunk all the balls. He took two beers and handed them to the guys we had just beaten, said “nice game,” and grabbed his beer while the next opponents stepped forward to “rack-em-up.” This scenario repeated itself as more and more “pool sharks” gravitated to our table to get a crack at us.
Whenever it was his turn, Jimmy would run the table with meticulous precision, nonchalantly calling every shot. After over an hour of billiards, and without having lost a single game, we left to a gauntlet of high fives from the admiring spectators and bested players. As I suspected, Jimmy revealed that he had won more than a hundred bucks in side bets.
Jimmy and his family relocated to the Midwest many years ago. While playing in a “pick-up” basketball game one night, he had a heart attack and passed away. Jimmy was someone you would want with you in a foxhole and he always “had your back.” A true family man, he thought of others first and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in. The world can never have enough Jimmy’s.