The Bittersweet Ballad of Uncle Jim, Part Two: Uncle Jim’s European Vacation
If you’re just tuning in, then you’re going to want to check out Part One of the tale of Uncle Jim. When we left the can collecting, drink-addled madman, he was about to tell me about his European adventures. Specifically, Bulgarian nude beaches. I just wanted to note that Jim has a tendency to ramble and go back and forth. I’ve attempted to arrange the story chronologically as best as I understood it.
Yes, there actually might be some nice beaches in Bulgaria. I checked. However, I can’t speak to the quality, or even the existence, of their nude beaches. According to Jim, a Bulgarian nude beach is a necessary detour in any trek to Europe. The way he tells it, the nude beach was probably the best part of his trip. Aside from two nasty nude beach stories that almost made me walk away (the things I do for this blog), it was actually the most humanizing part of the story.
I think it was because Jim was still with his girlfriend at that time. With a touch of sadness in his voice that quickly gave way to defensive indifference, he explained that she was equal parts beautiful and crazy. He made it sound like they spent days at that beach, consistently drunk, but concerned with nobody else but each other. “I would do anything,” he admitted, “to go back to those few days.” I take everything he says with a grain of salt (and I hope you do too), but knowing what I do about the guy, it’s hard to imagine him making something like that up. He’s doesn’t exactly have the poet’s soul. It was an exceptional case amongst all of his stories; his drunken tirades usually gave the impression that he was never going to slow down for one woman. Apparently, she was different.
Uncle Jim’s grasp of European geography seemed shaky, but from what I understand they made their way to Greece after Bulgaria. It was in Greece that his story started to sound more like what I expected an unhinged alcoholic’s trip to Europe would be like. He quickly met two drinking buddies. The first was a Macedonian guy, or as Jim pronounced it: “the Maccadunyan guy,” who, sadly enough as you’ll soon see, was probably his closest friend. The second self-identified as a gypsy. Jim didn’t pull any punches when describing the guy, and after I had heard the whole story, I tended to agree with his assessment. Jim absolutely hated him. He did make one other friend, a Mormon missionary of some kind. Jim never explained why a missionary was associating with him, but I can guess why. The way Uncle Jim tells it, his entire crew could have really used some soul-saving.
The first portion of Jim’s time in Greece sounded really intense, an elongated binge of completely unrestricted debauchery. Jim, his girlfriend, and their two new companions spent the nights drinking and the days sleeping. I don’t really know if this went on for days or weeks, but it was awhile. Obviously that kind of thing can’t go on forever. Jim didn’t realize it in time, but something was going wrong with his girlfriend. He had made it abundantly clear in every sentence he’d uttered about her that she was “completely fucking crazy,” but he hadn’t elaborated yet. One day, seemingly out of the blue, she was gone. She had left with the gypsy, and they had taken all of the couple’s money. Stranded in Greece with nobody but the Macedonian, Jim’s European odyssey had taken a depressing turn. He had absolutely no way of finding her. The carefree days on the beach were a longways gone.
He had no leads until a week or so after she left when the phone calls started coming. “Crazy bitch was bipolar.” Jim revealed, “she was having some kind of episode.” I don’t know what was really wrong with her, but she started calling Jim regularly, completely incoherent and babbling about where she was. If Uncle Jim is calling you incoherent, then something is seriously wrong. As time went on the calls just got weirder. “Last time she called me, she told me she was in ‘Hitler’s secret bunker.'” At this point, Jim’s tone was full of venom. If I hadn’t already heard about their time in Bulgaria, then I would’ve thought he despised her. The gypsy I was sure about though. “You know where she was? You know what that motherfucker did to her?” he asked me. “He left her up there in mountains. Took everything she had and left her on a road up in the mountains. She ended up in an asylum somewhere.”
At this point, I was nearly speechless. I’m kind of speechless now. It was one of the most ridiculous stories I’ve ever heard, coming from one of the most ridiculous people I’ve ever encountered. Shit, it was pretty ridiculous that I had ever spoken to the man in the first place, let alone stand there on the street for 45 minutes and listen to him rant.
Jim made it sound like he had attempted to find his way to the asylum but eventually just decided to leave Europe. It was never clear when or where he had met his “girlfriend.” For all I know he had met her on the beach in Bulgaria. At any rate, Jim made arrangements to go home, alone. He missed his first flight because the Macedonian stole his passport. He didn’t seem too upset about it when he told me. I guess the Macedonian felt really bad for Jim because he showed up a few days later to return it. Uncle Jim didn’t have enough money for another flight so he borrowed cash from the Mormon missionary knowing he would never give it back.
As sad as the story ended, Uncle Jim is a huge advocate of visiting Europe and would love to go back. How often do you go on a vacation where you fall in love, have your heart broken, and meet an entire set of kooky characters? I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. I don’t know if any of it is true. I really don’t care either. It’s a good story, and it was worth telling. It made me realize something about him. Despite the fact that he spends his mornings wandering around the Bronx collecting cans, he’s always smiling. He’s lived a harder life than most of us will ever know, and still, I’ve only met a handful of people with a lust for life that could rival Jim’s. As much as his life could serve as a cautionary tale, there’s at least a thing or two we could learn from people like Uncle Jim.