Timmy’s skinnier than death, grimy with that in-ground dirt that permanently tints the flesh. A worn out army cap slicks down tight to his head, covering a buzzcut barely short of bald. He’s swaying a bit, with a little tremor.
Guys like that usually don’t set foot in a nice diner unless they’ve lucked into a $20, probably gifted by some poor fool who wants to see them eat something besides sterno.
Not Timmy. Timmy’s different.
I met Timmy because I don’t play games, I engage them in mortal combat. My psyche equates game-playing with reading a book or watching a movie: It needs to end. So I will grimly smash through to the final level, doing whatever it takes to get the damn thing over with. (Result: I rarely game because until I reach the end, I’ll be totally obsessed and focus on little else).
Right now, though, I’m battling Pokemon Go six or seven hours every night, ever since coworkers mildly suggested that I shouldn’t call the game “pointless” until I’d tried it.
I tried it. Two weeks later, I’m a third of the way through Level 25, my Vaporeons have conquered every Lapras, Snorlax, and Gyarados they’ve come across, and I’ve taken over more than 100 gyms. (If you understand any part of that, my condolences.)
I still don’t see the point, because what Pokeman mostly does is hijack your plans. You find yourself choosing restaurants near Pokestops and Pokegyms so you don’t waste time in pointless eating when you could be racking up XP.
Which is what I’m doing when I meet Timmy. A nearby diner just happens to contain a Pokestop AND a Pokegym, and I’m mortally fond of breakfast for dinner. So last night I go over there, stick a lure on the Pokestop and happily settle in with eggs, sausage, and my new Exeggutor, kicking the snot out of a Clefairy. (take THAT, Yellow Team!)
I’m mostly oblivious to the world outside, but an incessant tapping noise finally gets through. It’s the guy in the next booth, rapping sharply on the diner window and looking like Homeless Personified. He’s saying, “Yep, girl, I’m good. I’m right here. You just stay there.”
“She needs to see me,” he says to no one in particular, “Or she gets high-strung.”
The guy’s attached to a ratty old backpack, and I mean ATTACHED. He leaves it on his back when he sits, so that he bends like a pretzel in the booth. From the smell, he and soap have an uneasy relationship, but the folk running this place are nice, so the manager hands him a menu and smiles.
A small, well-dressed boy, maybe 9 or 10, slides past her to sit in the guy’s booth. “Sally’s OK, Dad. I told her I’d bring her part of my hot dog.”
My brain plucks the guy out of the box marked “Down on his Luck Drifter” and slots him into “What the heck???!?”
Meanwhile, this guy is fondly ruffling the boy’s hair. “Thanks, son. What say we get some grub?”
They bend heads with the waitress, studying the menu, ordering big. Steak, all the trimmings, and a beer for the man; the boy wants two hotdogs and a whole plate of fries. His dad tut-tuts and adds a plate of veggies. “This little knucklehead,” the man tells the waitress, “He just drinks milk until he’s old enough to take me down. Right, boy?”
The boy giggles, “A BIG milk, Dad. I need my teeth AND my fists.”
I watch the back of the guy’s head as he laughs, see dirt creased into his neck and his frayed-to-the-nubs t-shirt until it almost looks all of a piece. Or at least I try to, because this guy can’t keep still for more than a couple of minutes.
He stands and raps on the window. He walks the booths, smiling graciously at the diners like he owns the restaurant. He picks out a My Little Pony statue at the gift shop and pays for it, carries it back for the boy’s inspection.
The boy nods, so the guy carries the pony to a neighboring family’s table. “Excuse me,” he says politely, “Can I give this to your little girl?”
A curly-haired toddler reaches out with a glad cry, while the mother gapes. “I…guess so…THANK YOU,” she says, bemusedly, “Honey, what do we say to the nice man?”
“Fanku,” says the toddler, but this guy’s already back at his table, catching my eye.
“Well, HELLOOOO THERE!” he says, waving at me, “Ain’t YOU the breakfast queen! Scrambled eggs for dinner, I LOVE THAT!” He smiles a broad, broad smile, with more gaps than teeth. The few that are left are chipped and crooked and yellow-brown.
“Hello back,” I say companionably, “Nice night.”
“Sure as hell is,” he grins, reaching out a hand for me to shake. “I’m Timmy, and this is my boy, Ike. We been busy all day and we’re hungry, hungry men.”
The dirt under his nails is ancient, and he’s missing the tip of his index finger, but his shake is firm. He turns around in his seat, props his elbows on the low wall between us, and starts in like we’ve been chatting for years.
“Helluva day, just a HELLuva day,” he says, “You know I been all over, travel the world. I got old girlfriends everywhere, from… before the boy. They get older, can’t work no more, they fall on hard times, some of ’em. They’re like damsels in distress. Australia, Penang, the Philippines…”
Somebody’s broken his nose, and half of his right eyebrow has been replaced by a jagged scar. He must have a heckuva backstory, but I haven’t seen a more cheerful man in months. So I sit there, hearing about retired hookers in faraway places, with the back of my mind wondering if this guy is for real.
“In the Philippines it rains like a motherf…rains a LOT,” he corrects hastily, “I got an old friend down there, see her when I’m in port, give her a little something. She can’t work no more, she’s living in this one-room house…”
He grimaces, “Well, it’s more like a tent, ya wanna know the truth, it’s not a real house, not like YOU have, and the roof leaks. She calls me in the States, she says, ‘Timmy, my roof leaks,’ but she can’t get the word out for leaks. Bad English, you know.
“I can’t tell you what I thought she said, it wouldn’t be polite, but I went down there and fixed her roof. She had a foot of water in that little old house. Took me a couple of weeks to get it right. But I like to leave ’em set up just a little better than when I got there.”
“Did Ike go with you?” I ask.
“Ike? Naaah. He’s in school, he can’t just tramp like me.”
“I’ve got homework,” says Ike, giving me a reproachful glance.
“Ahhhh,” I say, which is all that’s required; Timmy’s handling both sides of the conversation.
“Our landlady watches Ike while I’m gone,” he continues, “And ‘sides, we got one KICKASS dog, name of Sally, after one of my old friends. Best dog you could want, keeps my boy safe, and she’s ours forever.” He stands again, raps on the window and calls to Sally.
“She’s just a mutt, year old, part pit bull, part African Ridgeback. They’re the dogs that hunt lions barehanded,” he says impressively, “Ain’t no lion could stand up to my Sally, and she’s not even deepened up her chest yet.”
“Kick ASS!” says Ike.
Timmy finally pulls off his backpack; he lays it on the booth wall and gives it a pat. “I just gave a $20 bill to this couple out there. I think they’ve been partying all day, they was so wasted,” Timmy says, “Didn’t know ’em, didn’t care, just wanted to give ’em some money. They couldn’t believe it, they ran down that street telling every man jack of an asshole that this crazy guy up there was giving away $100 bills.”
He taps his forehead and winks. “You can bet we got out of there in a hurry! But I still like to be nice to folk that’s nice to me…” and he looks at me, expectantly.
“Oh, well, I’m just fine,” I babble, “You men go on with your dinners.”
‘Ahh, we got some time yet,” he says, “Steak takes awhile. I just wanna meet people, talk, get to know ’em. Today’s a helluva day,” he explains, patting that backpack, “because I just came into some money.”
“Our landlady, she’s a wonderful landlady, just as kind and gracious as you’d meet in a palace. She’s got this little shithole of a room we rent, but she’s just so nice and helpful, well, you just hadda be nice to her back.”
“So Ike and I, we help her out, we fix her yard, we paint a couple of rooms, we fix this busted door she’s got, right, Ike?”
“Yeah, we replaced the lock,” Ike explains.
“But see, she’s old, she’s really old. She had her 100th birthday couple months ago. Big party, lots of cake and everything, and all the time she’s running and dancing around like a young chick. I’m not kidding, it was great. But then she slips and breaks her hip.”
Timmy’s smile dies, “You know what happens to old ladies who break their hips, right?”
“They die?” I guess.
“Yeah. We visited her in the hospital every day, Ike made her a get well card, and we took her this yarn stuff she likes in case she got bored. But she died anyway.”
He sighed. “That’s what people do, I guess, when their hips break. Her lousy luck, but my good luck because she left me some money.”
“That was nice of her,” I say, thinking it’s about time I ended this and checked into Pokemon…
“Bit more than $450,000. “
“She just gives it to me ’cause she don’t have no kids or nothin. I’m not expecting it, it’s like lightning striking twice,” and he gives me this round-eyed look, slurring a bit on his words, “Can you believe it? It’s like I get no breaks my whole life, never had more than a couple hundred in my hand, and here comes Jesus, saving up for one big shot at the end.”
Timmy gives that backpack another loving pat–he can’t seriously have $450K in there…can he? I notice that Ike’s clothes are brand new, with shiny new Nikes on his feet, but his dad…well, you’d have to go a loooong way to find nastier, grubbier gear than Timmy’s.
Their food arrives, and Ike downs half his milk in one long gulp. Timmy shoves the plate of fries closer to his boy, and Ike takes a handful, washing them down with more milk.
I really, really want to ask about that backpack, but…”You gonna give the dog some of your steak, Timmy?”
“Naaah, she eats better’n people, fresh meat every day. I’m good with a bow and arrow, and I give her what she woulda got in Africa. Squirrel and rabbit, mostly, opossum if me and the boy can’t get nothin’ else for her. Sally eats good.”
Ike beams in agreement, and takes a big bite of his hot dog, eyes shining with love for his dad. Timmy watches him eat, and smiles.
“I’m 61 years old,” he says quietly, “Never make it to 100, but I’ll be here long enough to get that knucklehead to college. That’s what counts.”
He returns to his meal, I go back to my Pokestuff, and then he and Ike rise to go, leaving the bill and some money on the table.
He stops beside me and points to the toddler with the pony. “That little girl, she’ll be gorgeous some day. Break hearts. Maybe Ike’s. Good for her.”
About now there are a lot of things I ought to be saying, like “Do you have a financial advisor to invest that money?” or “I’d hate to see you spree that money away, Timmy, when you could use it to stay comfortable for the rest of your life,” or even “A fool and his money are soon parted, my friend.”
I don’t say any of them. I just smile. “Good luck to both of you.”
“I guess they was right,” Timmy grins, “Prosperity is just around the corner. Nice talking to you, Cynthia.” And he and Ike head out into the night, to their kick-ass dog.
I check my Pokestats and the waitress drops off my check. She passes Timmy’s table, scoops up his money.
And screams. Timmy bought 20 bucks worth of dinner with a $100 bill.