Jimmy Glenn


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Essay.

Jimmy Glenn. He was the Corner Man that owned Jimmy’s Corner in Times Square. When I was watching his memorial via Facebook Live, as the life and times of COVID-19 dictates, I was amazed at the number of people from around the world that tuned in, and at the fact that the family so generously decided to stream the service for all to participate. I saw the two bartenders I knew best, Tiffany and Aneta, pop up on the feed, giving their emotional benedictions to Jimmy. I wrote a little missive myself early on. The stream of kind words flowed along with my tears.

I’ve known Jimmy for about six years or so. I had known him. One early evening, an exboyfriend introduced me to the best and only functioning Jukebox in Time Square. The Jukebox itself is legendary. Outside of it being the original one Jimmy had installed, it only played music that Jimmy enjoyed listening to. Which meant that you had to be in a particular place in your state of being, scrolling through jazz, R & B, or soul. Hit the white, hard plastic, upraised forward button, then back button, line up the top letter and number with the number on the track. You had to decide whether your dollars went to the box, or to your bartender. Usually, you found a way to make both happen, especially when you convinced newbies in the dead of silence that no music will be heard unless they paid for it. You know, like the way artists should be paid to hear their genius.

There were times when I was between gigs and jobless that meant I just had enough to pay for a drink or two, and times when I stayed way passed the closing bell. There was the time I realized too late, with a frosted beer in front of me, that I was short two dollars, and I had no money, honey. Jimmy’s was a cash joint unless you spent over a certain amount, and you never wanted to admit to having drank over that dollar value, nor that you didn’t want to leave enough bills in cash to tip the bartenders out. The time I was too short on cash, I was completely embarrassed, looking down at the change in my wallet, praying to Jesus that I would have enough in quarters. I had to count down to the pennies, still coming up short the two bucks I owed. Jimmy had done a drive by earlier, saying his “Hey, baby,” as I sat at one of the coveted stools at the bar. It was early in the shift for these guys. I had finished bartending at the now defunct fancy seafood restaurant at Rockerfeller Center, and had a rough service. I was still new there on a Saturday, which meant I had served but a handfull of people over an eight hour period. Humiliations galore, coming from all angles. I hadn’t noticed, but Jimmy had wandered by behind me again, and I looked up when he paused. He saw I was digging around for money in every pocket of my bags. Gently, he placed his eighty-year old hand on mine, and sat down next to me, nodding to the bartender saying, “I got this for you, babygirl.”

We spent the next little while talking about what was going on in my life. I’d never been in there without tipping generously, or being friendly to people. He knew shit must have hit the fan. “I ain’t worried about you, mmm-mmm,” he said, patting my hand. “You will always land on your feet. I can see that. This here is just a bump in the road. You are a fighter.” Tears bubbled in my eyes, and I stubbornly fought them back while sipping my beer. “Thanks Jimmy. I want you to know I don’t give up… ever.” He got up, pointing to my cash stack at the edge saying, “you leave that there for the girls.” The bartenders I had come to know best, Tiff, Aneta and his grandson, Karriem, always made room for me and looked out for me. It was a business, but they cared and made sure I wasn’t being too harassed, or if I was being harassed, they found an open chair I could switch to if possible. All of them at the top of their game in don’t ask, don’t tell in my opinion. I’ve seen, and they’ve seen of me things that probably shouldn’t be shared for the masses. But, that’s what made me feel safe there, as an usually single female visitor. There were times when women helped women too. I have helped get a stool, get to the bathroom and helped newcomers understand the law of the land.

Jimmy’s was the best place to be entertained by both locals and the world, and the spot to witness it all was at the bar, where people more drunk than you said the darndest things. People would come early if they could, to stake out a stool. I got pretty good on a busy day, a Friday or Saturday, slipping into a stool right under someone’s nose. When you’re by yourself it’s about 100% easier. Max, a two person team could wrangle seats. It was a total game, and if you were with the right person, you knew that one stool would become two in short order. The fun of it was to find out how nuts or how interesting your neighbour was and either they would leave because they were pregaming on five dollar vodka sodas, Hennessy and Gingers or three dollar beers. Once the shift happened, you got to watch the madness, and watch the bartenders keep tally on their score cards. You could just sit there and watch it all while listening to the Jukebox amplify everyone’s spirits to a reasonable roar.

I only got kicked out once. It was a confusing situation until I realized I had broken the strict “No Politics” code, by wearing a controversial t-shirt. At that time, I was doing well and working a gig that was highly politically based. We got swag in the form of t-shirts, with a tag line from the show. I was confused because I had already seen Jimmy and paid my respects. He had been busy, so that time I hadn’t sat down. I was wearing a sweater though, which I later removed. After I returned from the bathroom, I said hey to Jimmy again, who did a double take. He then sent a visual message to Tiff, who nodded, looking puzzled. “Um, so, Jimmy says this is your last one,” she said, confusedly, while mixing two other cocktails. I had just started a second beer. “Did I say something… have I not paid something…?” Both of us puzzled for a bit. She tried to find out but he wasn’t giving anything and it wasn’t her perview to ask either. She was awfully kind to even try. Still puzzled, I didn’t argue, but took it as a sign to go home at a reasonable hour like a reasonable human being. I finished my drink and reached for my sweater. I looked down to zip and then, started laughing. “What is it?” Tiff asked. “It’s my fucking t-shirt!” We both laughed. Jimmy was 100% serious about no politics. Even when you didn’t realize you were being political.

That’s the kind of guy he was though. Caring and gentle, but hey, he still had a business to run. I don’t even know what it will feel like when it’s possible to go back without him there.

RIP Jimmy Glenn.

© 12 June 2020, Isabel Alvear

#COVID #midtown #bartending #nightlife #journey #bars #neighbourhoods #boxing #newyork

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