This is my friend Jim. Jim was one of those people who understood what it is like to yearn for something big where his talents could go. He was a musician and writer and even wrote a musical about Napoleon. He loved to laugh, and like me would find humor In the grimmest situations.
I went through a rough period a few years back, and Jim hired me to work with him selling commercial aircraft parts. Not that he needed me. He had had his business for many years, and when things were good, they were outstanding. But Jim took pity on me and made sure that I always had money and was well fed. “You just go make your pictures,” he said. We laughed a lot. A whole lot.
Because Jim’s office was in his home, he took care of his mother in law Mildred. Mildred Hurwitz had been a successful artist in Chicago. You can find a YouTube video of her talking about her painting if you have the interest. Mildred needed to be taken care of, and Jim’s wife had her move in and, because Jim’s wife worked outside the home, Jim became the primary caregiver. He would make her breakfast and lunch and take her blood sugar level and adjust her medicine every day.
Because Jim was taking care of me too, we would all have breakfast and lunch together, and it was always hilarious. When I asked Mildred if she minded if I took pictures of her, the response was, “Why the hell would I care?”
Jim’s wife grew concerned about me working with him because of how many times she found us screwing around and laughing at something. The final straw was when Jim tried to give me a mohawk haircut. We forgot about the hair left all over the bathroom and Jim’s wife didn’t think it was that funny at all. It was time for me to go.
Jim still had me come over for breakfast (after the wife split for the day), and we would meet for a beer every once in a while. I missed Mildred because she was such a pistol. Listening to her and Jim go at each other was like listening to old time radio. I missed it.
A few months later, Mildred died in her sleep. Jim told me he was glad he didn’t have to take care of her anymore. He asked me if that made him a bad person. “Did you murder her?” I asked. He replied with a maniacal laugh. I never heard him once complain about taking care of Mildred or speak to her in any but the gentlest tone of voice. “What you think about in your head, you get a free pass on Jim,” I told him. “It’s what you do that can get you in trouble.”
He missed her too.
Things got better for me, and I didn’t see Jim as much. We would get lunch together, which he always insisted on paying for except once at a bagel place when he forgot his wallet, and I didn’t have any money. What we should have done, we didn’t. Instead, we did the dine and dash. We really didn’t have to, but that was the kind of idiotic “fun” we would get up to. Maybe his wife was right about us.
One thing Jim was serious about was his heart. Jim had a condition that required a defibrillator to be implanted in his chest. He told me that when the thing would fire, it was the most incredible pain, and “It’s worse than dying.” It wasn’t unusual to find out he had spent a day or two in the hospital after the defibrillator had done its thing. He always bounced back and made some crack and that was that.
Almost a month had passed since I had seen my friend. We were playing telephone, email, text tag… we were going to get together, but I kept putting it off. I was starting to feel bad about not seeing him. So I stepped out of my comfort zone and called the house, hoping the wife wouldn’t pick it up. But she did.
Because she didn’t like me, it didn’t occur to her that I would want to know that Jim had passed away the previous week. She also didn’t think to let me know when the service was. I wanted to say so many things to her, but I just hung up in the end.
It’s been 3 years to the month since he died, and I still can’t remove him from my phone or email contacts. The pictures you’ve seen here, they say a lot about the man. He was kind and generous, and he laughed at my jokes. That smile on his face? It was always there.
He was a good person, he was my friend, and I miss him very much.
Help Me Print “Women Hold Up Half The Sky” my Second Book.
My book ‘Subway New York City ‘1975-1985’ is available on Etsy.
Gerard Exupery has been a New York City Street Photographer for 40 years, He attended the School of Visual Arts and studied with Lisette Model at The New School. He has also worked as an oil rig roustabout, a photographer’s assistant, custom printer, motorcycle mechanic, audio engineer, video engineer, producer, and Mr. Mom. Exupery also drove a New York City taxi which he considers his post-graduate work.