"I'm a Downtown Man"

Jimmy is a big man in a small, strange world.

Sgt. Mike Bergmann, now in the 1st District, became one of the first men in blue to help Jimmy with the chores of everyday living, back in the early '90s, when Bergman was with the 4th District. He helped Jimmy manage his money. "He wasn't balancing his checkbook," says Bergmann, "and he never did catch on. I ended up doing most of his banking for him for about two years. When I left the 4th, [Sgt. Denny] Pollihan was still down there, and I gave him that job."

"Well, yeah," affirms Pollihan. "I paid his rent every month, because the boy just don't know how to do it. I tried teaching him one time, you know, I told him, I said, 'Jimmy, look at it this way. You got 10 people who come in to Gus's, and they all want this certain pair of shoes, but you only have seven pairs of 'em. I said, 'How many more pairs of shoes will you have to order to satisfy all your customers?' And he thought and he thought for, like, a minute, and he said, 'Well, I'd order a whole case, because it must be a good seller.' Right then I knew: Forget trying to teach him arithmetic. But that's basically what me and Mike did, was take care of his banking for him and his books. If we were on afternoons, after we'd get off, we'd go by the tavern, make sure he got home. That's about all we did, kind of watch out for him."

After Jimmy's mother died in 1994, some cops got together and put him in the Plaza Square Apartments. Gus may have had something to do with that as well. Jimmy can't recall exactly who was responsible for setting him up in his current digs, though Gus casually mentions that he "keeps" Jimmy in the studio apartment because he's an alcoholic who "can't keep himself clean or out of trouble." Gus claims that Jimmy drinks two cases of beer a day, which is probably an exaggeration by half. Gus says a lot of weird things about Jimmy. For instance, Gus says Jimmy's mother once told him that Merle "Okie from Muskogee" Haggard was Jimmy's brother. Jimmy doesn't believe it. "No relation whatsoever," he says.

Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."
Jennifer Silverberg
Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."
Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."
Jennifer Silverberg
Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."

Although Jimmy's existence has been defined by a prodigious daily consumption of beer, he says he is rethinking matters. "I'm cutting down," he offers later, standing at the rail of the Missouri Bar & Grill, a Bud Light longneck in his right hand. "Yesterday I went to the doctor," he adds. "I got on the scales and weighed 124 pounds, and I felt heavier than that. My blood pressure was 170/70. I'm sometimes noted to drink one or two cups of coffee, but I think maybe it's the beer. I've had the shakes before. I get real woozy, sweaty, pinkish in the face."

He's also a pack-a-day man. He French-inhales, even. In the evening he smokes Newports, but mornings it's the milder Marlboro Lights. Exercise consists of walking the six blocks to work -- that's seven days a week, 365 days a year. "Sleet, rain, snowstorm," he says. "I'm like the mailman. I'm gonna come to work."

Gus is there every day, too. At least he was, until late February, when he had to undergo emergency surgery. "Dad said he was having problems," recounts his son Vinnie. "He got winded while dancing." Gus went in for a checkup; the next day he was on the table, being prepped for a quadruple bypass.

In the weeks after the operation, half the cops in the 4th District stopped by the store to ask about Gus. Worried customers, too. "The ticker? It's OK," rasps Gus, still hoarse from surgery. "I got a new valve in my heart. But Jimmy, since I got sick, instead of coming to work at 11 or 12, he comes in at 9. He feels bad, you know what I mean? He's getting his stuff together, and he's not drinking in the store no more. He cut that out. He only drinks after hours."

Jimmy never visited Gus in the hospital. "I want to remember him like I saw him here -- strong and healthy," he says, as a tear begins to well in the corner of his eye. "We been together a pretty good long time. I don't think I'd be very happy if something happened to him. I wouldn't like that at all."


"C'mere, look at this," says Trifon Panopoulos, standing at the door of the men's room in the Missouri Bar & Grill and pointing to a wastebasket inside. Nestled among the sodden paper towels in the trashcan are three spent cans of Bud Light. The empties are the work of Jimmy, who strolled in 20 minutes earlier carrying a thick and battered briefcase fastened with duct tape. He said hello to his fellow regulars at the bar -- "What's up, Big Time?" -- ordered a beer from Athena the bartender and then made his way to the john, where he stayed for a good long time. Suspiciously long. But Trifon, the owner of the place, knew all the while what Jimmy was up to in the commode. And he's amused by it. "Over at Gus's, toward the end of the day," he says, "they pick up a case and start working on it. Whatever's left at closing time, he brings over here in that briefcase. He'll drink three or four in here while he talks to himself, and he'll order a couple out there." The Greek shoots a wide, toothy grin. "What's funny is, he thinks I don't know."

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