Jerzy the Rounder

Look what the cat dragged in. If it ain’t Lazy Allen. Jesus, it’s been a long time.

Jerzy Nojinski, well I’ll be damned. Last I heard, you was in the big house.

I been out 4 years now. I changed, Lazy.

You been up to no good since we were kids Jerzy. Who changes?

I changed.

If you say so.

Ask anyone Lazarus. It’s true. I’m on the straight and narrow. Local President now. Workin hard for workers rights. I heard from Sabina you signed on. Hard to believe. All I ever seen you do was play music.

Staashu helped me get in. He says The Bottle & Can’s an OK place.

It’s a good place to work Lazy, and that’s because of the union. You remember that.

OK, what’s your angle, Jerzy?

There ain’t no angle. You got every right to not believe me. I know that. You’ll see though, you’ll see. So what happened to you anyways? You look like hell if you don’t mind me sayin. People been telling me you gave up the accordion.

Yeah, I don’t know. Ever since Peggy… you heard she passed eh?

I heard, Lazy. I’m sorry.

I guess I got a little lost after that, Jerzy, and when I wasn’t looking, the polka went and died a hard death. Lazy and the Rockets is ancient Canadian history now. I’m moving on.

See, people do change, Lazy. Listen, I got a meeting. I’ll catch up with you later. You know Ruby’s place? A lot of the guys head over there after work. Come on by later, and I’ll buy you a pint.

I wondered if any of us really do change, deep down? My old man used to bet the ponies. He’d say, son, people are pretty much like horses. You want to know how they’re going to run, read the racing form. Well, the form on Jerzy Nojinski was not promising.

Jerzy and me, we’re the same age, although I got to admit, he was looking a lot younger than I was. I remember back when we were maybe 14 and Jerzy got it in his head to let all the cattle out of their pens over at the stockyards. He told me he was going to do it, and I didn’t believe him. You’re so full of shit, Jerzy, that’s what I told him.

By the time the security guys and the coppers caught up with him there were a couple hundred steers wandering down St. Clair, Ryding Avenue, Keele St, even west as far as Runnymede. Made the papers and everything. I heard there were buckaroos riding around in the back of pick-up trucks roping and herding the cattle. Took damn near all day to get them all back. One guy living on Maria St. coaxed one of them steers into his back yard. I guess he thought he’d have free beef for the winter. Pretty hard to hide a full-grown steer in one of those postage stamp backyards, though, and they made him give it back.

Then there was the time Jerzy went into the moonshine business. He got hold of a set of plans and built himself this elaborate still in the shed back of his old man’s place. I don’t know if the plans were bad or if Jerzy simply didn’t understand the science or what the hell happened. His goddamned contraption blew the shed to smithereens and burned down the MacAllisters’ garage to boot.

Jerzy was always full of crazy-assed ideas, which without exception got him into all kinds of trouble. During his first prison term, he decided to study up to become a card shark. He learned to deal seconds, deal from the bottom, deal you any card he pleased. He had plenty of time to practice in jail and from what I hear he got pretty good at it – just not quite good enough. He wasn’t out of prison 6 months when he got in a poker game with some rough customers who figured out he was cheating. Jerzy denied everything but they didn’t care. Those boys beat him to a pulp. He wound up in the hospital, broken ribs, broken fingers, black and blue everywhere. What the hell did he expect?

It was one thing after another. Jerzy was a magnet for trouble. Now here he was, running the local union and everybody’s telling me how Jerzy did this and Jerzy did that, Jerzy helped out so-and-so and all that jazz. Sure, I was suspicious. You would be too. Still, everybody I talked to told me he was the real deal and part of me wanted to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he really did have some kind of epiphany and turned his life around. Does that really ever happen?

I wondered for just a minute if I had changed too. Being a musician wasn’t exactly a plan. It was more like something I was drawn to, a vocation you might say. Playing music was just what I did until one day I didn’t do it anymore. I can tell you one thing for sure – I never thought I’d wind up working a factory job any more than I figured Jerzy Nojinski would run a union. Maybe we’re all just prisoners of circumstance.

I didn’t spend a lot of energy thinking about it. I just came in every afternoon, worked the line, shot the shit with the guys, and drank myself numb after shift over at Rubys. Later at home, I’d sit in the dark downstairs in my old rec room and play the old tunes. Sometimes I’d fall asleep in my chair with the big accordion still strapped on.

As for Jerzy, he did his thing with the union with amazing energy and a kind of righteous enthusiasm. He did it so well, I almost forgot about the Jerzy the rounder, Jerzy the troublemaker, Jerzy the cheat. He did it so well, he was so convincing, it took years before the truth came out and Jerzy’s world crashed down around him.