“If you have a problem,” people said, “you call Jimbo.”
It was as vague as that. Not, “If you have a problem with your plumbing, you call Jimbo,” or, “If you have a problem that requires some knowledge of calculus to be solved, you call Jimbo.” Nothing so specific, but consensus was, “If a problem exists, your main consideration should be the speed with which Jimbo is called.”
There was also some consensus that the reason to involve Jimbo was to get said problem solved, and Jimbo was quite deft at making this sort of thing take place. Past those somewhat general points, though, details became vague. How or why Jimbo solved these problems was a mystery. Specific examples were never, ever used. Nobody ever said, “I had a problem opening a jar of pickles, so I called Jimbo and he came to my house and opened it for me.” Even the people who had been helped by Jimbo were apparitions, friends of friends, guys known by other guys twice removed, with only pronouns to identify them. Jimbo was a meme, passed from person to person, self-replicating and mutating and somehow just plausible enough that he wasn’t culled from the general consciousness like a tired video of a dancing baby.
All of this might lead you to believe that Jimbo himself is a fiction — a bogeyman for problems everywhere. I wouldn’t blame you. I was like you, once. When grievances were aired within earshot, and somebody would say, “If you have a problem, you call Jimbo,” I would roll my eyes and shake my head. Meaningless figurative language, I’d think, like what may or may not be good for hypothetical geese and supposed ganders, or imaginary noses pressed to concocted grindstones. Yes, if you’ve got a problem you should call Jimbo, and you’d better not pout because Santa Claus is coming to town.
I certainly can’t claim that I ever had a problem-free life, but my problems were always fairly minor. A flat tire here, a busybody coworker there; a mildly-broken heart here, a leaky faucet there. I had my problems like everybody else, and I solved every one as best I could, without any assistance from this “Jimbo.”
Then I had a problem I couldn’t solve. I won’t bore you with the details, because that would be a waste of your time and an invasion of my privacy, but suffice it to say it was a Big Problem. (Some might call it The Big Problem, or in the interest of brevity, The Problem. So emblematic of “problem” that it should be there right next to it in the dictionary. Proper noun, capitalized. That problem.) You know the one. You can picture it right now: your deepest fear, realized. The thing your mother warned you would happen if you kept smoking or drinking or jerking off or whatever. I suppose anybody else could have run into this problem, same as all the little ones, but “anybody else” is exactly what I had counted on. Anybody else — not me.
My first reaction was to deny. It’s an easy reaction, and it can even be quite relaxing. Denial is the moment before they read that first lotto number, when you’ve still won. Or maybe even after they read that first ball, when you know deep down that the number is in your favor — that you just heard it wrong. I guess it was the start of those stages of grief they tell you about when you lose a loved one — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was grieving for the post-small-problems, pre-big-Problem portion of my life that was now over. Next, predictably — and quite satisfying, in its own way — was anger. And it was in traversing this stage that I found myself at a bar, and at the end of that bar I saw, scribbled on a napkin, the name “JIMBO” and a phone number.
You want me to say I lunged for that napkin and clutched it, kissing it, and I that I dialed the number and Jimbo solved my Problem. Instead, I asked the bartender who, exactly, had left it there. When he said he couldn’t remember I told him I wouldn’t order another drink — and I had made it clear that I planned to order many, many more drinks — until he threw it away. He obliged and I finished my drink, too quick, letting the sticky liquid trickle down my chin, then motioned for another. Call the number? I didn’t need rabbits’ feet, prayers, or names scrawled on napkins. I didn’t want them. My anger and I were just fine on our own, and with a few tall, cool drinks, it started to feel almost like a party.
The next night I left another upscale establishment and stopped off to relieve myself in what I now understand, hindsight being what it is, was a public telephone. Resting my head on the cool metal I came face to face with it again: the name “Jimbo” and the exact same number, scratched into the plastic with brute force and a sharp object. I didn’t pick up the phone and call, and I didn’t write down the number. I muttered something that was the aural equivalent of urinating in a public telephone, and then I chose to fall down. Then I got up, dusted myself off, wrung myself out, and went home.
I wanted my Problem solved, certainly, but I wasn’t about to start calling strangers out of the blue. It struck me as the same sort of naivete that leads one to kiss the clock at exactly 11: 11 and expect a wish to come true, or take a wide arc around a black cat’s path and expect a change in luck. The same name and number appearing twice, in the same neighborhood, probably meant there was a very lonely Jimbo living nearby, or somebody was using the ubiquitous expression’s notoriety to alleviate their own boredom. It was surprising, maybe, but not miraculous. It was a coincidence, not a solution.
As the weeks wore on, no solutions presented themselves, and I moved slowly, sadly, from anger to depression. It looked bleak, friends. I locked myself in my apartment for days, isolating myself from everything. My Problem was there with me, looking back at my sunken, sleepless eyes from the mirror. I retreated from one room to the next as each began to smell. Then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t take the walls any longer. They felt like they were towering impossibly high, or moving in to crush me. I wouldn’t say mocking me — to tum another common phrase, these walls couldn’t, in fact, talk — but they became more solid, in a sense. It felt less and less like I could move through them, even with the help of a door. I got in my car and drove, while I still could. My Problem rode shotgun, but we didn’t have much in the way of conversation. It was more of a monologue, which I performed for my Problem whenever the urge took hold, and the Problem just sat there and listened, without defending Itself or offering any kind of insight.
Of course now you’re wondering what exactly, technically, the problem is. Maybe you’re paying close attention to my musings about black cats and walls, but what you’re really thinking about is, “What exactly is so unsolvable that it has this guy so worked up? You want a technical name, preferably — if you’re being completely honest — something in Latin. But therein lies the problem. If I say, “Cancer, I found out I got cancer,” then you’ll think, “There are treatments for that! I had a friend with cancer! It’s a tough fight, but not impossible.” If I say, “My wife left me,” then you’ll say, “People get divorced all the time. Affairs, falling out of love, two-timing and backstabbing -nothing special about that.” Everybody is an expert on his or her own special type of misery. But community and fraternity breed acceptance and coping, and this is not the kind of thing I could cope with. Even bringing up acceptance, in the face of this problem, is out of the question. Think of it like this: your grandmother has just died, and everybody is telling you how wonderful she was and how okay it’s going to be, and you shake all the black-sleeved hands and hug all the oft-forgotten aunts and think about how great and okay it would be if they would all stop acting like there’s a silver lining here, like this is somehow a good thing. It’s not a good thing, not at all.
I drove until I ran out of gas, and then I just walked. It was the middle of nowhere, some country road that rose and fell in waves, cracked with small canyons and tributaries. It would have been relaxing if the timing had been different, and the people involved hadn’t been me. The smell of pine was so foreign it made my nose itch. I followed the road with no destination in mind. I started thinking of Moses in the wilderness, which made me feel a little more cheerful and messianic, but then I passed a farmhouse, then a few more houses, and then found myself on some small Main Street at some small diner.
It had been a long time since I had eaten. Whatever survival instinct I had left must have forced me to order pancakes and coffee, even though my stomach had become a tight, baseball-sized knot. It had gotten to me, finally and completely. No more denial, no more anger. I was ready to accept. I was ready to give up. And it wasn’t until the waitress took my n:ienu I let my head loll towards the table, that I saw
“JIMBO” and the exact same now-familiar number scratched into the laminate.
I became a cliche. I rubbed my eyes, pinched my cheek, and splashed water on my face. I did all of the things that you’re supposed to do when you’re confronted by something that could not and should not exist.
Of course I called the number. Wouldn’t you? Out here it wasn’t just a coincidence, or some guy getting his kicks. Hundreds of miles from the bar, hundreds of miles from the phone booth, hundreds of miles from the last person who had told me, “If you have a problem, you call Jimbo,” I realized that, in my five steps, I had completely skipped “bargaining.” I was ready to negotiate.
I lied to the waitress, told her I needed to call a tow truck. I would have dived over the counter and held a knife to the short-order cook, made up something about the Blob to fill these small town folks with nostalgia and dread, if that’s what it took to get to a phone. I dialed Jimbo. The phone rang, and the tones were hours, days, years apart. Somebody picked up and said something incredibly deep and prophetic, like, “Yeah?”
I didn’t say anything. There was a slight crackle of static, but it was unclear whether it came from Jimbo’s end or mine. He must have heard me sighing because he said, “Yeah, go ahead.”
I gulped. “Is this Jimbo?”
“This is Jimbo,” he said, and my body didn’t quake or shiver like I thought it would. I don’t know what I had expected him to sound like.
“I have a problem,” I said.
There was a long silence, and I imagined the words traveling slowly down the phone line like toothpaste through a tube. I repeated the expression in my head, like a mantra: “If you have a problem, if you have a problem, if you have a problem … “ What else was there to try? I know I called it naive, and silly, and useless, but what was the harm? What’s the worst that could happen? Nothing? What else could I do?
“Well,” said Jimbo, “you called the right guy.” That’s when I shivered. That’s when I quaked and felt the relief, the divine ecstasy that I was expecting.
Turns out everybody was right. I can’t say what Jimbo did, or how he did it, or why, because I don’t know. I wish I did, because Jimbo was exactly the right guy to call. He solved my Big Problem, and I know this sounds like every other Jimbo story — somebody you don’t know, with a problem they can’t describe, miraculously saved by Jimbo — but I don’t care, really. All I know is what happened to me. And all I can say is: if you have a problem, you call Jimbo.