“Two fat guys walk into a restaurant…”
I don’t know what the punchline of that joke would be. It’s been so long since I lived the actual setup. The last time I had lunch with my friend Jimmy was over seventeen years ago. I miss our time together, our unhealthy attraction to food, my guilt for pigging out on the stuff and his utter shamelessness for bingeing.
I met James Tatsch at a party of Tower Theatre and Showcase Cinema employees way back in 1980 when I was a new Tower employee. I was my usual wallflower self–not talking to nearly all of the guests since I had just met some of them as fellow floor staffers and the rest being complete strangers to me–some Showcase Cinema floor staff and the remaining friends of Tower/Showcase employees. I would find a corner in this Midtown Sacramento house to inhabit or just walk around aimlessly–rarely stopping at a cluster of chatting attendees. At one point I wandered into a bedroom with a one-sheet of Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 film “Swept Away” on the ceiling. There sitting at a desk playing one of those now considered “old school” wooden labyrinth games was this morbidly obese man–older than anyone else in the party by at least fifteen years. (Yeah, that doesn’t seem much now that I’m 60, but the difference seemed significant at 23.) His isolation, WearGuard clothes, ankle-supporting leather hightop shoes, and his advanced baldness also added to his years, I suppose.
While I was stared at the sexy movie poster, Jimmy said hello. I said hello back and a perfunctory conversation ensued. While we talked–he working the labyrinth game and I staring at Mariangela Melato’s body. He rarely looked up when he spoke that night. He said his name was Wolfgang, a reinvention moniker after Wolfgang von Goethe–a name I would refer to him as until the last ten years of our friendship when I began to call him Jimmy–the name his family called him. I thought Jimmy was more endearing than Wolfgang or James.
He would only make eye contact briefly after he lost a game and just before he fetched the ball from the return and resumed the game. Was that rude? I don’t know. I liked that he was not so intensely engaged in our conversation. It provided an easy way out if it got uncomfortable and anyway, I was too transfixed by Mariangela Melato’s body. Later, I would find Jimmy fascinating, witty, charming, and–ultimately–tragic when others found him either weird, uninteresting or repulsive. Over the next thirty years, I found that most people chose one of the latter qualities rather than agreeing with my assessment of the man. We would become famous friends with many negligible things in common and one big one: we both liked to eat!
This post is about our friendship and mutual love for stuffing our faces. I originally wanted to write a comprehensive history of our friendship. Thanks to my poor memory I settled on the beginning and what I’m afraid is the end of our friendship and one element in between.
I have struggled with my weight since settling down with my wife. That’s not her fault. I have always been a little on the thick side. By the time I was in college–occasionally living (and nearly starving) outside the home–I was probably at my best weight. In fact, when I met Jimmy I might have been near my best weight. Yeah, I’ll blame my weight on him.
A few years into my marriage (in the early 1990s) I had gotten used to home-cooked meals again and was getting far too comfortable watching TV after dinner until bedtime. It was at this time Jimmy would come over about two or three times a month. We would sit and chat and often fetch fast-food dinners for the whole family. Other times he would buy some exotic food that he would share with my wife and I after the kids went down. We would sit at the kitchen table–Jimmy testing the tensile strength of the wooden chair he sat in–and chat and eat into the late night. So it was logical in that environment that I would gain weight.
Perhaps the best example of how the consumption of food was the bond between Jimmy and me was the night we chowed down somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen Jimboys Tacos. My wife had called from work or shopping to ask what I wanted for dinner. I replied, “Just bring home a shitload of Jimboys Tacos. Wolfgang (Jimmy) is here.” She didn’t disappoint. Jimmy and I ate somewhere in the vicinity of a twelve beef tacos along with some taquitos and plenty of Jimboy’s fake guacamole. We also emptied a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke (being on a diet and all).
It’s funny how, at the time, my wife thought that the whole scene was grotesquely humorous–two fat guys going through a sizeable greasy-orange bag of taco and taquitos, our bald foreheads glistening with sweat from the hot sauce we didn’t spare. Those days are long gone. Now, whenever I down a large flauta (basically a giant taquito) and prep myself for Flauta No. 2, she says in, with absolutely no humor in her tone, “You’re not going to eat both of those?” She’s right, of course. I’m a lot fatter and older than I was when I ate all those tacos and I need my wife to remind me of that, but I miss Jimmy and the free-wheeling taco jam; and hey, why did she buy two of these things when she’s eating a taco salad?
Then there were the excursions. About twenty years ago I had to surrender my driver’s license to the DMV after I started experiencing seizures that are usually suppressed by the medications I have been taking since I was twelve. This problem, it appears, has passed and I have my license back, but for nearly ten years I was at the mercy of my family and the horrible Sacramento Regional Transit District to get around. Jimmy–always wanting to be the hero–offered to take me out to lunch every so often and help me run some errands. We would sometimes go shopping at off-beat places: Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese markets where Jimmy–a student of linguistics–would try his hand at understanding the help that didn’t speak English. I bought stuff that I would have never purchased for my family. I’d show it to the household and Jimmy almost always took it home with him.
We would sometimes go to Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen where I would buy him some sausages and buy some landjäger for myself that I could take to work. (The stuff would keep without refrigeration for over a week!) Along with his bouts of Manic Depression, Jimmy suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and an obsession to know virtually everything there is to know German sausages. We got kicked out of Morant’s once because Jimmy asked too many questions and when the butcher at the counter was through answering questions Jimmy dished out some of his choice sarcasm and the butcher told him to take a hike, shooting me a look like I somehow insulted him as well.
Whenever we went to a sitdown restaurant I had the misfortune to have an attractive woman wait on us. Despite his looks, Jimmy was a charmer, but his charm didn’t woo the waitresses. They always said their boyfriends were at the bar or waiting outside in the car or was “a line cook here–right on the other side of those doors”–pointing at the swinging doors as if to say if I scream he will hear me and kick the shit out of you. These waitresses would tell this to Jimmy as he continued asking them questions that got more and more personal. They always kept their cool but I couldn’t help thinking the replies to these queries were thinly disguised “back off, fatso” lines, and that these smoke signals were also intended for me, too, though I usually kept my face buried in the menu.
And if Jimmy was serious about flirting with the help his ordering completely obliterated what remote chance he had with these ladies. He ordered as if he were feeding two people and a small child. Jimmy also asked a lot of questions on various items, keeping the waitresses at our table and away from their other customers. The kicker came when we finally ordered he insisted on keeping the menu–on one occasion having a tug of war over the menu with the waitress. Jimmy won, placing the big laminated thing between his gigantic ass and the chair. (I dare you to try to snatch that menu now, flustered waitress!)
The weird menu-hoarding thing was because he had to “pavement checked” the menu before surrendering it. It was his OCD–he had to thoroughly scan the information and the actual physical menu before he felt secure enough to relinquish it. Also, he always ordered dessert. No matter how embarrassed I was, I also ordered something after our large lunches.
Bread was another thing. Whenever we ate at a restaurant that served a complimentary basket of bread, we would buzz through at least two baskets. Jimmy would stuff the un-eaten slices in his “bagatelle” (a double entendre for the brown paper bag he would carry with him everywhere that contained his glasses, a magnifying glass, tissue paper–trifles). He felt absolutely no shame in requesting additional baskets of complimentary bread. The waitress would come by asking “Is everything alright.” Jimmy would always be polite and say “Oh, yes!” or “It’s all excellent. Thank you.” Unfortunately, he took that time to ask something about the waitress: how long had she been working there, what kind of earrings was she wearing, does that ring signify you are married? As embarrassing as this was, he would always top all of this by waiting until the waitress was about two tables away before yelling, “AND MORE BREAD FOR MOPPING.” I wanted to slink down under the table grabbing my Penne Rustica and the remaining slices of bread on the way down, of course.
I ran into a clip from Louis C.K.’s FX TV show “Louie” and immediately thought of my lunch dates with Jimmy. I’m not sure how the reader feels of C.K. after his gross sexual misconduct. I am sympathetic of his and all other victims of sexual misconduct, but I also am selfish enough to wish the whole thing didn’t happen so he can keep making standup specials, TV shows, and films like the indefinitely shelved I Love You, Daddy. Anyway, below is a clip that is the closest thing I have ever seen on TV to my lunches with Jimmy. Jimmy would be Bobby, Louie’s friend: utterly shameless in his gluttony. I would be Louie: willing to stuff my face with my friend, but self-conscience about it.
For some reason, the lunches with Jimmy stopped. Maybe Jimmy ran out of places where he was welcome. I’m not sure, but around that time I got a scooter and I was pigging out on burgers alone and reviewing them for this blog. One of a few big reasons I do so few Burger Scoot reviews these days is because the empty chairs around me remind me of our Saturday lunches. His visits to my home were also on a less frequent basis.
In 2010, Jimmy overdosed on Lithium–a prescription drug his psychiatrist prescribed for his manic depression–which he had been taking irregularly since before I met him. I dropped in on him at the request of a mutual friend who could not reach him and was worried. I found him in a horrible state. I called 9-1-1 and saw the EMTs haul him off in an ambulance. I visited him in the hospital a couple of times. When he was discharged from the hospital his sister picked him up and delivered him to an assisted living facility in Washington. I called him about a year or so after he moved to his new residence, but now his medications were being managed by professionals and I was no longer talking to my old friend. It was like the meds killed the manic part and left him just depressed. I spoke with him a second time, but there was no change. He didn’t want to talk very long and I suppose that was a good thing: the old Jimmy–the Wolfgang I met at that Midtown house party back in 1980, the guy I ate a shitload of tacos with and got kicked out of Morant’s with–was gone.
As I type this Vivian, my lab mix is eating her dinner behind me. It hasn’t happened yet, but as soon as she wolfs her food down–not too different from the way Jimmy and I would attack our food–she will drink some water. When she is finished lapping up the water she will return to the empty kibble bowl with her wet mouth and lick the bowl clean. Aah, there she goes! Vivian doesn’t need bread, her tongue does all the mopping.
I miss my friend.
After a Sacramento Symphony concert in the 1990s, I believe. Jimmy is center with his Women’s Philharmonic t-shirt, I’m on the right laughing my ass off at something I wish I could remember. Our mutual friend from the D.C. area, Carl “Mad Dog” Hattery, is on the left.