“James Samuel Simon, 82, of Wheeling, died Sunday Oct. 7, 2018.”
… so the short obituary starts, with mention of his high school and military service. Really not much to report on his 82 years.
I knew Jimmy from around 1970, give or take a year. I worked in downtown when the eateries were crowded at lunchtime. One of the popular places was the Regal Cafe located on the west side of Market Street just south of the (then) Central Union Building, which is an empty lot now. It was a lively place with lots of “action” going on in the back, and the group of “wannabes” standing out front on the sidewalk. Their number was visibly depleted after a botched burglary in a city downstate, maybe Clarksburg.
The luncheon crowd was a mixed bag. Kitty Doepkin, a noted columnist for the paper and a most interesting character, was a regular at a table with an admiral’s wife who lived in Forest Hills and Joe Hoffman, another newspaperman, and whoever happened to join them that day. The luncheon group was chaperoned by a little Buddha statue that belonged to Kitty that the Regal management placed on their table every day. The Buddha smiled at the toasts and seemed to enjoy the lively conversation.
It was in the early ’70s when I was having lunch at the Regal with my son Neil, and I was encouraging him to join the ROTC program at WVU. This would save tuition, he would be paid on top of it and then have a career laid out for him when he graduated. (Thank heaven he ignored my sage advice.) He said he didn’t want to wear a uniform, he had enough of that at Linsly, and the Vietnam War was not a popular idea with the young.
I pointed out to him that everyone wears a uniform; to observe the clientele at the Regal. The lawyers wore well-cut three-piece suits, the gamblers had cigars sticking out of their breast pockets or in their mouths, the bankers wore suits with shiny worn spots and often brown shoes with blue suits. We played a game of guessing the occupation of the clientele coming and going.
Jimmy was invisible, but at the same time an integral part of the scene. He was always hyper and talked to everyone and no one. He was never still and ambled about with his pigeon-toed, graceful, athletic footwork. The two women who made the soups and the lunches (gamblers always meant good food), would shout to someone to bring Jimmy to the counter where they told him to sit on a stool and eat his lunch. They made sure he ate well.
I never saw any money.
Jimmy was a “go-for,” he ran errands around town, mostly for and to the gambling places. I remember him dribbling a basketball up the street imitating his hero, Hot Rod Hundley, with great skill, bouncing the ball off of buildings, grabbing it as if receiving a pass and “going up” for a dunk.
After Jimmy retired, he lived in the high rise in North Wheeling. I stopped to see him a few times. He had become a recluse with a long beard. The last time I saw him was years ago. He stayed in his apartment, which was filled with old TV sets that he allowed someone to store there.
Then I forgot about him, until today, and I remembered the saying, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Jimmy was a special child of God who brightened your day when you saw him. For 82 years our village, the folks of Wheeling, have taken care of him.
• Bill Hogan, born and raised in Wheeling, W.Va., is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and worked in the worlds of finance, real estate and alcoholism rehabilitation. Bill has six children and three grandchildren. He and his second wife, Susan Hogan, served in the U.S. Peace Corps from 1987-90 in Benin, West Africa. Now retired, he is a trustee of the Schenk Foundation, an artist, a writer and self-proclaimed “highly skilled dispenser of bull.”