Several years ago I began a piece… it was really to be an extended sketch of both Clayton and James. I felt there was an amazing story there… of the connection of the two people. I was able to put down a “rough cut” on introducing Clayton, and I was just about to begin the introduction to James, when I put my pen down. This sometimes happens to me… I have to leave a piece for a bit, give myself some time to mull things over before resuming the story line.
When James left Ash Creek we saw less and less of Clayton. I saw him on occasion over at Dry Dock. And then he became ill…
I never did pick up the piece again, although I knew there would be a day when I would regret not having done so… when I know I should have made a better effort at telling a marvelous story of two incredible people.
I re-read this for the first time this morning. I haven’t looked at it since I can’t remember when. It’s not as good as I would like; but I am going to resist the urge to “polish” it up and revise portions.
This is just the way I put it down. A work unfinished.
Walk down the street one day… look at the folks you see. This may not be your practice… so much of what we do these days is to avoid contact — to not see. But try anyway. Look at those passersby, the person sitting next to you at the lunch counter and then give yourself over to imagining what’s going on in their lives.
I have spent A few days and nights lost in despair of one flavour or another. Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes it’s light like a quickly moving weather front. But nothing shakes me to reality better than seeing someone… connecting in some way to someone, and than imagining what is that person going thru? How is their day going? Are they suffering? Are they at peace?
Every night that I have visited Ash Creek Saloon I have seen Clayton. It would be a couple a years before I even knew his name… or even guessed his story. And this will be a story of Clayton, and importantly of one James Doyle, who you will also get to meet.
Clayton was always hanging around the bar. I figured he must have been a “kitchen rat” or perhaps a busboy, and by the time I got to the saloon, 9:15PM or so, he was “off shift” and just hanging out. The rest of the wait staff and bar staff treated him like one of the gang… so I figured he was one of the gang.
Sean, Kelly, Billy or James (the bartenders extraordinaire of Ash Creek) would stake Clayton to a brew and he would station himself close to one of the TVs and pretty much keep to himself. At some point a plate of fries or chicken tenders would be put in front of him which he would attack with uncommon enthusiasm.
He would keep quiet… sometimes changing his seat. I thought it was just shyness, he didn’t want to have disturb or be disturbed by the paying patrons.
Then, during the evening the kidding would begin, it seemed to be on cue, part of the evening’s entertainment: at 9:35PM for your amusement — Clayton. James would make a comment about him being a “cupcake” or something. Clayton would wave his hand in disgust, “don’t listen to him!” Depending on the evening, the jocularity would just spread, sometimes joined by some of the other regulars… each statement by Clayton would be returned by James or Sean with a greater assertion about Clayton loving boys (which is not the case), or shacking up with girls (which is also not the case)… and you could see Clayton getting steamed with an expression of mute exasperation that could only be rivaled by Harpo Marx.
Things would settle down as the evening progressed toward closing. Then, regardless of the ribbing that he had endured, he would begin to clear glasses from the high-tops, push the bar stools back in & generally police the area. Yeah, like a circus clown who also would be responsible for picking up the discarded Cracker Jacks boxes and peanut shells after the last performance.
Night after night, almost in set piece, I would see Clayton perched on a stool, off by himself, or on occasion sitting next to another citizen… but still off by himself, if you know what I mean. His eyes dart and flash, not really at rest; but alert to the air… the way a small mammal lives in fear of the hawk.
Never quite at ease, he accepts acknowledgements from the regulars… “howzit goin’ Clayton?”… “whodayah like in da series?”
Clayton’s eyes roll to expose a gleaming white, his lip trembles before he issues his pronouncement. And then his face breaks into a grin… a real smile. And what a smile. It shines in the subdued light of the bar. It radiates warmth, and its brightness is in steep contrast to the tone of his skin.
James announces to the assembled, “Clayton is buying shots for everyone!” Clayton pounces, “Don’t believe him!” He waves it off like a hockey referee disallowing a goal. A petulant expression consumes his face, as if the mere suggestion had depleted his wallet.
There would be laughing, and some good natured pats on the back, too… and somewhere in all this, was the precious heart of someone who expressed both ultimate vulnerability and graciousness, and another heart that expressed a caring.
One day I call Kelly over… “What exactly does Clayton do here?”
“Nothing?? Do you mean he doesn’t have a job here?”
“No… well, you know at the end of the night he’ll help clean-up, ‘bus’ stuff to the back… that sort of thing & we ‘take care’ of him…”
Here it is, I had seen Clayton at Ash Creek every night I visit (and folks I am there a lot)… he is practically a fixture… like the prize western saddle that is on display in the dinning room.
“So what’s the story Kelly?”
“I know that he lives with his Aunts. If you want to know more you have to talk to Jamie.”
My Mother named me James. That was what I was to be called. When I was 10 weeks old some relative or friend of the family called me “Jamie”. That put the kibosh on “James” for my Mother. From then on I have been called Jimmy by my family.
Now this James Doyle, stalwart of the Ash Creek bar staff, is in fact called “Jamie” by the staff and those in the “know”.
We share the same name — and I call him James. I like the sound (and in a story for a separate occasion — there is an 8th grade science class in Bridgeport who knows me as “James”). James. I like it, make me feel kind of important. That’s a fine thing to share a name with James Doyle, because I know he’s important.