The Ballad of Jimmy Dufresne, Chapter Two: Wasted Potential
Posted on 12/22/22 at 8:14am by Ned Reform
“Man, some of us still remember Jimmy and Cass.
I remember – I think it was 2014? I want to say summer. Those guys tore up this shithole bar on Dorchester, right? Big brawl, smashed windows, the whole nine fuckin’ yards. Staties roll up and they got the cuffs on ‘em. Game over, right? Nope. Three AM that morning, these fuckin’ assholes are partying with the governor. From shoving some asshole’s face into a piss-stained bathroom floor to doing whisky-fueled cannonballs into a half mile pool. Only that pair, I tell ya.
Jimmy Dufresne and Pat Cassidy. Fucking legends.”
December 21, 2014
Grill 23 & Bar
Have you ever looked around your job and realized that you’re surrounded by idiots and you work with fucking children?
This is one of those times.
Grill 23 & Bar is a premier dining destination in Boston. It’s THE steak house. And right now, in the midst of a Christmas tidal wave, it’s crashing and burning. The dining room is decorated by the soft glow of Christmas lights and there’s the faint sound of the jazz version of popular Christmas songs in the background, but there is anything but peace on Earth in this place. The back of the house is in the weeds, the waitstaff is running around like lost puppy dogs, the dishwashers are in the back alley getting high as a kite, the hostess scored a seven on her SATs. And the guests? Well, they have vitriol and frustration in their condescending, entitled, privileged eyes.
Frustration that happens to be pointed directly at me. As General Manager, this isn’t just a shit show… this is MY shit show.
I’ve come a long way since I was the punk who attacked his high school principal. I’ve learned, within reason, to control that bubbling darkness. The pure aggression that takes over – hijacks my body for short bursts and does things that I really, really regret later. The doctors say I’ve made a ton of progress. But times like this – they test me. It’s a battle to bottle it up. A battle that I am currently losing.
“Get off your ass and get Table 4 a round of drinks on me,” I hiss to a particularly inept waste of space who calls himself a “server.” He looks at me like a deer in headlights. I answer with a death glare until he sccurries away.
Put on the smile for table 11. “Apologize for the wait, folks. We’re trying to make sure we get it just right.”
Shoot a warning look toward Sally, a server who once tried to serve some ranch on a plate. She doesn’t pick up on the hint.
I hate it here. I hate them all.
Through the double doors. That kitchen smell – a combination of grease, gas, sweat, food, and failure – hits me like a punch in the face.
“What the fuck is taking so long?” I ask, momentarily unconcerned whether the guests in the room can hear me. The Executive Chef, a burly Irishman named Shaemus, turns away from the mountain of dinner tickets in front of me to turn to face me with murderous intent. He’s had a long night, too.
“Shut the fuck up if you’re not going to help!” he snaps. This doesn’t faze me – we tend to communicate like that. We’ll enjoy a beer together later. But he’s not done, and this next one does kind of sting.
“Maybe if your dumb fuck friend wasn’t half drunk, we wouldn’t be in the fucking weeds right now.”
Shit. My eyes turn to behind the line where the cooks bustle too and fro. The sweat is dropping, the ticket machine won’t stop its obnoxious hum as the orders pour in, and every now and then a burst of flame explodes into the air. One of those cooks, despite being completely and utterly buried in the shit, is whistling and singing as if he’s having the time of his life. Now, one might consider this a good quality in such a high stress environment: he’s keeping his cool, he’s composed, he’s put together. But you don’t know this guy. He’s not happy-go-lucky because he’s able to tune out of the stress and noise and focus – he’s in such a good mood because he got home at 11am this morning and decided to keep the party going after clocking in. And his lack of taking this seriously is royally pissing off Chef Shaemus – a fact to which my dear old friend seems completely oblivious.
Did I mention? He’s also my roommate.
“Cassidy,” roars the Chef. “Get your head out your ass!”
Pat, still behind the line, barks out a laugh as he moves a silver pan from one burner to the other, still bopping along to the music in his head. “Fuck off,” he says in a playful tone and without breaking his stride.
No, I think. No, no, no, no. That was a mistake. And I depend on this guy for half the rent.
Despite the complete hurricane of chaos that is the kitchen, time still manages to come to a complete stop with Pat’s disrespectful words. All eyes turn toward Cassidy. Pat, even in his semi-delirious state, is able to pick up on the tension as he stops working and squints his eyes toward the large, angry chef walking in his direction.
Don’t do something stupid, don’t do something stupid, don’t do something stupid, don’t do something stupid.
Shaemus is in Pat’s face now, his lip curling and his fair skin turning red. Time is still slowed to a crawl and I don’t even register what’s being said – all I can see is the spit flying from Shaemus’ face as he turns into a deranged drill instructor, pointing a finger in my roommate’s face and his eyes bulging out of his skull. Still moving in slow motion, Pat turns his head away from the angry Chef to look directly into my eyes.
Don’t, I plead without actually saying it.
Sorry Jimmy, his eyes respond.
At that point, I know I’m screwed.
As time resumes its normal flow, a Pat Cassidy right hook drops Chef Shaemus on his ass.
December 21, 2014
Jacob Dufresne & Pat Cassidy’s Apartment Building
The march up the three flights of stairs is a long one. With my black shirt’s top button open, I drag my feet and my hands are hung low in defeat. I walk slowly because in my mind, I’m playing out the imaginary conversation with my wonderful mature and intelligent roommate over and over and over. I imagine the bullshit excuses he’s going to come up with. The words “irresponsible,” “child,” and “asshole” are thrown around a lot. But honestly? It’s not quite anger that I feel. Yes, my roommate with whom I share an expensive as hell apartment in Boston just lost his job, and yes it was because he was being a total irresponsible dumb shit, but turns out that was just one of a few sprinkles on the absolutely shit sundae that was today.
I swing the door open. Or, I swing the door open after jiggling the handle a bit… it’s not the most efficient entranceway. Odd given how much of the rest of the apartment is the epitome of luxury. I toss my backpack onto the gray stained carpet and make my way toward the tiny, cramped living room. I can already smell the beer before I walk in, but once I do, there it is: Cassidy, still in his work clothes, feet up on the coffee table, remote in one hand and Natty Lite in the other. The lights are off except for the glow of the television and the small Christmas tree in the corner that he INSISTED we put up.
I just stand there, waiting for him to say something. His eyes don’t leave the TV as he flips through the channels.
“Sup,” is all I get.
I run my hands through my hair, breaking the perfectly combed manager hairstyle. Wait, is that a small bald spot I feel on top? Can’t worry about that now – focus on the task at hand. The scolding of this man child sprawled out in front of me.
“Sup?” my voice starts low and disbelieving. Then I hit him with the big brother voice: “Is that all you have to say for yourself?”
Cassidy sighs. Sets down the remote and actually looks at me. “You don’t have to get a stick up your ass over this. Not really looking for a lecture.”
I sit down next to him, rubbing my temples in frustration. “Then maybe you need to stop acting like a fucking child.”
“Did you see that asshole!? He was in my face. Nobody gets to talk to me that way, Jimmy, I don’t give a fuck if it’s Mr. Big Shot Chef. Fuck that guy.”
I can’t help but laugh at that one. Not a happy laugh. More of a deranged, I’m-ten-seconds-away-from snapping-your-neck-laugh.
“Yeah, you sure fucking showed him, didn’t you Mr. Big Shot? He’s gonna be real broken up when you can’t pay me rent in ten days.”
Cassidy takes a swig of his beer. “Fuck off. I’ll have your money, guy. Relax.”
I lean back, pressing my head against the couch and sighing again. “At some point in your life, you’re going to have to fucking grow up. And that involves eating some shit once in a while without flying off the handle. It also means occasionally you show up to work sober.”
“Hey man – thanks for not throwing a lecture at me. And, uh, jackass – last I checked, you were with me all night last night.”
“Yeah, and I got my act together in time for work, didn’t I?”
Silence. I’ve stumped him with that one. With the television on mute, we sit in total silence for close to a minute until Pat makes a peace offering in his own unique way.
“Beer?” He offers me a Natty Lite.
At this point, I’ve said my peace. I take the beer – I could use it anyway. Cass is a decent kid with a good heart, but maybe it’s asking too much of him to change who he is. He is a hell of a partner in crime when it comes to fun, but a constant source of frustration when it comes to responsibility. In a way, he’s just like the rest of the aimless morons I work with. At this point, I’m probably just wasting my breath. Maybe that’s just the way it is.
Pat turns his attention back to channel surfing, although he keeps the sound off. I decide to extend an olive branch of my own – in the name of peace in the house.
“It’s not just you,” I concede. “Work is driving me fucking bananas. Everyone in that place is just so incompetent. I’m trying to pull this wagon all by myself and it’s killing me.”
“Yeah you have been pretty pissy,” agrees Cassidy. “Plus your girl is going away in a couple weeks.”
I stop drinking. Eyes narrow as I look at my incredibly stupid best friend. “My… girl? What the fuck are you talking about?”
He returns the look – this time as if I’m incredibly stupid. “Melinda. She’s leaving for school next month. I know you’re pissed.”
“Oh,” I do my damndest to adopt a nonchalant demeanor. I think I fail. “I don’t care about that. It’s good for her. Besides, she’s not my girl.” This is supposed to be a signal for him to drop this. He either doesn’t pick up on it or decides to ignore it.
“Yeah, I suppose not,” Cassidy reaches behind the couch, producing a tan bra. “She’s just a good friend who leaves her clothes all over our house and never fucking leaves. What was I fucking thinking?”
This time, it is I who have been backed into silence for lack of a response. Another minute of quiet. Patrick decides to break it.
“Kid, if you’re so stressed about her marching off to Yale and finding some genius and forget about you while you wallow in the dirt here, I got a simple question: why don’t you just go with her?”
Come on. “Oh yeah. Good plan. I’ll just sleep under her bed.”
“Nah, dude, I’m serious. We both know you’re smart enough. I bet you’re just as smart as any of those pricks walking around that school. You’re frustrated cause you’re stuck in this shithole working with shitheads. So fucking change that. Go with her.”
That’s the thing about Patrick Joseph Cassidy: he’s such a clown, but then every once in a while he gets oddly fucking profound and insightful. It’s simultaneously both an extremely endearing and incredibly annoying trait.
“I didn’t apply. You don’t just walk into Yale and say you’re a student now. Plus, if I left, what would your helpless ass do without me?”
That last part was meant to be a joke, but I don’t think that’s how it lands. Cassidy stops channel surfing. He turns to me and he sets his beer down – a sure sign that what’s about to come is going to be serious business.
“Dude, I’m a piece of shit.”
He pauses, clearly waiting for me to interject and counter that point. When I do not, he just continues.
“I was born to a piece of shit father who’ll kill himself working his hands to the bone. I’ll die a piece of shit who killed himself working his hands to the bone. Seriously, what the fuck is in the cards for me? I barely made it through school, I don’t know a trade. I suppose I either become a janitor like my father or what… construction? But I’ll be alright: people like me always find a way to get by. But you… shit, dude, that doesn’t have to be you. You’re fucking smart.”
Despite how ridiculous that South Boston dropping of the t’s makes the word “smart” sound, this is oddly touching.
“Way I see it, you have two options: spend the rest of your life hanging out with losers like me and die bitter, resentful, and alone… or get off your ass, apply that big brain of yours, and go join your girlfriend in the Ivy League. So get your head out of your ass.”
He doesn’t wait for a response. He goes back to the television and his beer. I don’t know what to say about that random – and very kind – rant, so I opt to say nothing. His words turn over and over in my brain: is he right?
My thoughts are broken as Pat has finally settled on a channel. He turns the sound back on.
“Welcome to the show, DEFIANTS!” comes a voice from the television. On the screen, a camera is panning over a sea of screaming fans holding signs.
“WHOOOOOOOOO, it’s paperview time, Keebs!” chimes in a second voice.
“It sure is, partner, and what a show we have for you this evening!” responds the first announcer.
Cassidy’s eyes light up. “Oh shit, I forgot I ordered this!”
Professional wrestling. One of his hobbies that I can’t help but find immensely, incredibly, and undeniably stupid. As I’ve told him on several occasions.
“I don’t know how you watch this shit,” I say. “And this is pay per view? As in, you paid for it? The guy who just lost his job?”
But my words fall on deaf ears, as Cassidy has suddenly transformed into an eight year old kid before my very eyes. In response, he turns up the volume.
“Yeah yeah, those guys, but more about Junior Keeling and Team HOSS!” says the more obnoxious of the two announcers.
I get up, heading to my room and leaving him alone with his grown men in tights. I shut the door behind me, standing alone in the dark for a second as I reflect on the life advice my roommate just dropped square on my head.
I sit down in my computer chair. I move the mouse so the screen roars to life. My browser is still open to the last thing I was looking at before I left for my shift.
“Free Online Yale Courses.”