Mr. Jim's apartment had a tiny bedroom that opened on a once sumptuous living room that fell into a comfortable state of decay during his last years. The walls were decorated with large, framed photographs of every heavyweight boxing champion from John L. Sullivan to Joe Louis, who retired the year Mr. Jim died at the age of 82. Mr. Jim knew them all. He loved every kind of fighting, even to the point of going clear to Havana to watch cockfights. But he never let on about his acquaintanceships. Like my father, he made it a rule not to consort with athletes or sportswriters for fear his presence might be misconstrued by the public.
My father was not a character, at least not in the flamboyant way the public expects gamblers to be. Indeed, his dress was so conservative, his manner so sedate, his air so lofty that many of my friends were under the impression that he was a lawyer or a doctor.
On the other hand, Mr. Jim, a millionaire, gave those who did not know him the impression that he was one step from being a bum. He invariably wore suits, but he always seemed to have on the coat from one with the trousers from another. This state of disarray was enhanced by the fact that his clothes always needed pressing. He did not have the patience to tie a necktie, so he seldom wore one. His short stature was accentuated by the natural stoop of age, and he had a handsome head of pure white hair and a pink complexion—pink, that is, on those rare occasions when he didn't need a shave. Altogether, he gave the impression of being a benign gnome looking for a handout.
Mr. Jim slept, ate and drank whenever he felt like it. He hardly ever went to bed before dawn, and he never awoke until noon. His breakfast was invariably the same: a bowl of Wheaties, three fingers of Scotch and a Havana cigar that would have made an ape sick.
Mr. Jim's home was even more disreputable than his apartment. It was a ramshackle row house on the fringe of Foggy Bottom with cheap lace curtains, tired, overstuffed furniture, bric-a-brac all over the place and the odor of dust and cigar smoke embedded in every nook and cranny. Here he lived on a come-and-go basis for more than half a century with his wife, Miss Annie. Incredibly, Mr. Jim did not even own the house. He paid rent, which in the '40s soared to a high of $42 a month. Sometime after the First World War he got into an argument with the landlord over who should pay to have the house electrified. It was nearly 1930 before the debate was settled, and that was one of the few arguments Mr. Jim ever lost.
A great movie fan, Mr. Jim thought nothing of seeing two or three films a day. Never one for carrying much—if any—money (which may account for the fact that he was never held up), he sometimes had to beg his way into the theater, which wasn't hard, because most of the cashiers knew him. He would pay them later. If that didn't work, it wasn't difficult for him to find a cabbie who knew him. Mr. Jim would borrow a buck from the driver and give him a marker for five, which the cabbie could turn in to the doorman at the casino.
Of the several cars owned by the club, Mr. Jim favored a four-door Cadillac over the limousines, which were used to drive big winners home at night if they felt they needed protection. He had a driver named Stodey, who could have been called a chauffeur in only the broadest definition of that term. Stodey usually was found taking a nap behind the wheel while he waited for Mr. Jim outside a movie, or while he spent half the night sipping Scotch and Mountain Valley Water at some obscure bar. Stodey, in fact, not only took naps behind the wheel of Mr. Jim's car while he was parked; sometimes he took them when the car was moving.
One night while driving Mr. Jim to Atlantic City, Stodey dozed off in suburban Baltimore. He was stopped by a cop, who was under the impression that the weaving of the car meant that Stodey was drunk. He was also speeding, at Mr. Jim's insistence; the old man wanted to catch a nightclub act that was to begin at midnight. Stodey pleaded innocent. He had been dozing because Mr. Jim had been running him ragged for two days and speeding because Mr. Jim was in a hurry. "Is that right, mister?" said the cop, shining his flashlight into the backseat at Mr. Jim.
"He's lying," Mr. Jim replied. "I'm just a hitchhiker he picked up three blocks ago." At that, Mr. Jim climbed out of the car and walked away. A block farther on he found a service station, where he called for a cab and hired the man to drive him to the nightclub, 150 miles away. It was two days before an exasperated Stodey caught up with him.
One morning my father told me that Mr. Jim wanted to see me, and he took me to the club. I had just graduated from college, so Mr. Jim felt congratulations were in order. We walked into his apartment and found him wearing a threadbare bathrobe and a pair of slippers so worn his toes poked through them. We chatted for a while with my father, who then excused himself to go to work.