Robert Haydon Jones and Greg Lippert

Greg Lippert
“Summer of Jimmy”
Inspiration piece

The Good Humor Man
By Robert Haydon Jones
Response

There were 83 children under 16 living in 17 houses on Jimmy O’Hara’s lane. Jimmy was the oldest of six. His mother had managed to scare off all but one of the ice cream trucks. The Good Humor Man still came every weekday at 7pm and at 1 pm on weekends.

His mother had confronted the Good Humor Man. She had accused him of disturbing the peace. She had threatened to call the police. He wasn’t fazed. The police wouldn’t bother him. The town had given Good Humor a permit to vend on this lane and other streets like it clear through Labor Day. But he would be glad to come at a scheduled time if that would make things easier.

Mrs. O’Hara set the times and the Good Humor Man honored them. He came after dinner on weekdays and after lunch on weekends. Jimmy first walked up to the truck on a Saturday early in June.

He was just back from Prep School, where he had struggled most of the year. Then two varsity pitchers had gone down with injuries. Jimmy had been promoted from the JV squad and named the starting pitcher against his school’s archrival.

While he was warming up, his catcher ran out and asked him if he really meant to throw all change ups. It turned out Jimmy was choking the ball, holding it deep in his hand. His eased up on his grip and went on to have the game of his life.

By season’s end, he was the number one starter. Even though he was only a sophomore, he was named to the first team of the All State squad. He was a star! Life at his Prep School got much easier.

The Good Humor Man was pretty young – in his mid twenties. Jimmy ordered a raspberry humorette. “I hear you made peace with my mother”, he said. “Yep”, said the Good Humor Man. “It was a good move too. Believe it or not, your Lane is the highest profit street in town for Good Humor.”

The Good Humor Man’s name was Lincoln – he went by Link. He had been in the last lot of draftees from the War and had just been discharged in mid March after two years in the army. He was glad he was out. Korea was chewing up all kinds of casualties.

Link was from an “old Yankee” family a few miles up the line. He was living with his girlfriend right in town. They had a garage apartment at a great rent. Jimmy noticed that Link had several books stacked under the counter. He was not reading for college – he was reading for pleasure. He handed Jimmy a book.

“I just finished this”, he said. “It’s pretty wild. You want to borrow it?”

The name of the book was The Trial. The author was Franz Kafka. Jimmy didn’t hesitate. He snatched the book up and said, “Sure.”

That was the start of his friendship with Link. In time, the bond he had with Link, would become the linchpin of his personality and influence his life forever. Franz Kafka was a great icebreaker. John O’Hara did the name proud. The poems of William Carlos Williams looked at the world like Jimmy did. EE Cummings was the same sort of rebel Jimmy was – only braver.

The best thing was that he began a correspondence with Link that went on for years. Link’s letters to him started, “Oh boy-faced man.” and spun on for single spaced page after page from there.

His parents knew about Link. In the beginning, before he was old enough for a license, when he arranged a visit, he needed a ride to Link’s garage apartment. He would stay for hours, talking with Link and his glamorous girl friend, Olga. Link would give him a ride home.

They stayed close over the years. Link was the Good Humor Man for just one summer. Then he got a job as a copywriter for a small advertising agency in Manhattan. The next summer, Jimmy landed a summer internship at an agency near Link’s office. They met for lunch whenever they could. Often they would stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Link did most of the talking. Jimmy’s heart would sing as he listened. The Brooklyn Bridge was a generation’s reach for the stars. A daring venture many expected to fail. When at last, after 14 years, it was completed in 1883, the Bridge was a soaring ode to beauty. This was a beauty no one had really expected. Crowds still surged across the Bridge’s broad promenade. Every walk Jimmy took with Link back and forth across the Bridge was a celebration.

They stayed close. Their letters kept them in dialogue. Jimmy joined the Marines. Link and Olga got married. Jimmy fell for a sweet girl at college. Link and Olga built a house deep in the deep woods. Jimmy got married and kept going to college.

Then Jimmy, rather suddenly, enjoyed some quick success as a writer for Ad Agencies. He was making good money. He had three sons. He was drinking way too much. He was out at the racetrack a lot. He hung out with a lot of wise guys. He had girl friends. He stayed in the city way too much. He lost big jobs. He got big jobs. Every so often, he would get a letter from Link: “Oh boy-faced man.” Link wasn’t doing all that well. Jimmy couldn’t understand it. Link was a brilliant writer and yet he kept being trampled by third-rate agencies.

Jimmy opened a new agency in his hometown with several large profitable accounts. His company occupied an entire building right near the center of town. Business was good but Jimmy was down. He was drinking too much. He was depressed. His wife was talking about separation.

Jimmy had hired a top Account Services executive to manage the business – and things ran smoothly enough. But the costs were high. His Account Executives were making good salaries – plus they expected Jimmy to lease them a car. His clients were very, very, happy. Jimmy’s marketing was working extraordinarily well. But Jimmy wasn’t seeing the profit that he expected.

He heard that Link was unemployed again. Jimmy called him and hired him right away. Link took over the roll out for a financial client. It had been draining Jimmy’s energy. It was strange – now they were in the same building and yet they didn’t get to talk much. Jimmy was tangled in business and personal problems. Link’s work had him busier than a one-armed paperhanger.

A few weeks later, Jimmy got a call on Saturday from a banker in Rhode Island. Two years back, someone had opened an account at his bank in Jimmy’s name. About a third of Jimmy’s monthly throughput was being deposited in the account. The strange thing was that the only outflows from the account were checks to the Account Services executive Jimmy had hired to manage administration. The banker apologized. Jimmy should have been notified right away.

Jimmy was alarmed but he figured there was some simple explanation. He left a voice mail for the executive suggesting they discuss the matter when Jimmy returned on Thursday from his college exploration trip with one of his sons.

When he returned Thursday, he walked into an empty building. Only his office and that of his secretary were still furnished. He asked his secretary if she knew what was going on. She said she did know. She gave Jimmy a slip with a phone number. Then she left the building.

Jimmy called the number and was connected to an attorney. He was informed that his executives had convinced his clients it was in their best interest to move their business to a new company staffed by his people. His clients were under the impression that Jimmy had approved the move. He was exhausted. He needed rest. He needed to retire.

All of his company debt had been paid. If he agreed with the move and signed a release, he would be given a Certified Check for $150,000. Jimmy asked if all of his people were in on this, He was told they were. Only Lincoln Selleck had misgivings but said he had to think of his wife and kids.

Of course, Jimmy was devastated. Actually, when the lawyer started to talk about Link, Jimmy threw his right arm up over his head as if he were trying to deflect a blow.

He never talked to Link again. Years later, after Link had died after a sudden heart attack, his oldest son called Jimmy. Link had always felt bad about the way things finished. His son told Jimmy that Link didn’t know what to do. Link said he had to think of his family. Jimmy said he understood. It was a lie. He was still crushed. He had been murdered.

Decades later, he thought of Link and was swept away by love. Of course, he forgave Link. He wished he had understood right away that his love for Link trumped all pain. He wondered if there was anything he could do now. Olga had died a year back at 93. The son was reachable in Iowa.

He would think on it. He had been rescued. He had basked in love. He had ambled back and forth with Link on the Brooklyn Bridge. “Oh boy-faced man!

——————————————

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8 Comments

  1. Charles DeFanti
    Posted March 7, 2019 at 10:44 am | #

    This resonates powerfully for anyone betrayed in a friendship. Or, isn’t that everybody?

  2. Posted March 7, 2019 at 12:05 pm | #

    Bob is great at giving us the journey, the vicissitudes, and the treasures we all find along the way.

  3. Jack Orth
    Posted March 7, 2019 at 12:51 pm | #

    Robert has never lost his way with words! Always great to read whatever he writes. Of course we were both in The Marine Corps in Korea years ago–so maybe I’m prejudiced! Only kidding–he was a great Marine and a great writer. I love it when old guys like us are still up and at em every day. Semper Fi, Robert!—Jack

  4. Owen Lindblom
    Posted March 7, 2019 at 3:09 pm | #

    I really loved this poetic work. Jimmy the character has grown and grown for us over the years. This one cut hard for those of us who watched the Mad Men of the 50s and 60s buzzsaw through their lives with such passion creative energy, narcissism and heartache. I knew so many Links who lived and loved and died with such fire and grace in those days. As a kid I literally adored their silent fire while the younger bucks like Jimmy blustered their way through inevitable self-destruction and (for some) humble resurrection. This is a perfect rendition of those lives and relationships. The language is getting crisper and crisper Mr. Jones. “Oh boy faced man” indeed.

  5. Ed Lambertson
    Posted March 8, 2019 at 6:50 am | #

    A insightful story of how we skip along through a lifetime of relationships, some painful, some joyful and most just superficial. Our friend Jimmy sadly let his ego lose the most important one. “Oh Boy”

  6. Malachy McCourt
    Posted March 8, 2019 at 9:11 am | #

    Only the betrayed will call it betrayal the rest of will rationalize it as personal advanacement . This one hits the solar plexus with punch splendid story the humor being oddly placed

  7. Adams David Monroe
    Posted March 17, 2019 at 3:38 pm | #

    Moving story about deep friendship and how plain old life can sever a relationship. Connection, betrayal. How distance rights wrong perception but then it’s too late. Good stuff about the hard stuff of friendship.

  8. Larry Reilly
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:00 am | #

    “Lynchpin,” “Advertising,” “empty office.” What mind could generate such.
    Loved the title. Even the best of friends have a limited time together.
    Tasty, like a raspberry humorette.

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