My grandpa was a mountain of a man. James O. Nuser, or Big Jim as he was known in St. Johns, where he and my grandma Rosie owned and operated the Roadhouse from 1957 (when it was the Parkway Inn) to 1982. (Side note: They took it over again in 1992 after the previous owners failed and had to fix it up and re-open it. It was a huge hit and my brother now owns it as Ryan's Roadhouse.)
Jim was about 6'4" and had hands the size of bricks. He was notorious for his rough and tumble ways of running a bar. He was a boxer in the Navy and even fought a couple pro fights. I've heard thousands of stories of him throwing guys out of the bar and other fights. One of the best was when he lied about his age to join the Navy out of Eastern High School. He had been seeing Rosie before he left and fully expected her to be waiting faithfully when he got back. The day he arrived back, a few years later, she was getting a ride home from friends and a guy named Dick made the mistake of being in the backseat with her. Rosie wasn't serious, but ol' Dick was definitely sweet on her. Until the day Jim got back. The car pulled up at her house and this is the conversation in the car as told to me by Rosie and someone else in the car I met years later:
Driver: Here comes Jim.
Dick: Oh, Jesus! He's coming across the street!
Rosie: Oh, he's not going to do anything.
Dick: HE'S TAKING OFF HIS RINGS AND HIS WATCH!! GET OUTTA HERE!! GET OUTTA HERE!!
The car took off, but you can't outrun Big Jim. He went to Dick's house that night and after pushing the door open with Dick trying to hold it shut, he told him Rosie was his girl in no uncertain terms: a fist to the jaw.
The Roadhouse had these cool glass double doors at one of its entries for years. They were put in after he grabbed two guys under each arm that were causing trouble and carried them out through the old door. He didn't open it first, hence the new glass doors. He told of the aftermath in the unpolitically correct way that was him.
"The (police) chief called me after he picked 'em up and said, 'Those two Mexicans you threw out are in here holding their heads and not moving,'" he would tell me. "They told some guy in their cell, 'Don't mess with that Beeeg Jeeem-- he hits like bull.'"
He hit another guy one time like a bull, but not before he got hit. In some bar fight, a guy ran from across the room and slugged him.
"He knocked me right off my bar stool," he told it. "Man, the ol' German come up in me and I hit that SOB so hard I broke my knuckle."
True. If you looked at his right fist, there was a valley where the mountain of his third knuckle should be. Gone. Broken on somebody's face. He was so big it's even tough to describe. He was almost a hulk with his huge frame and shoulders and arms. He once showed me some boxing moves and accidentally hit my cheek. It started bleeding on the inside pretty good. He was showing me in slow motion. Imagine getting hit with that full force in his heyday.
I thought of him the other day when a crescent wrench in my back pocket was pulling my jeans down. Jim's crack was always showing, because he was always working. He built a basement, a kitchen, cooler, three extra dining rooms and an upstairs residence at the Roadhouse. He was always building an addition-- almost til the day he died.
He was always the story-teller and the guy who had a line that would make you laugh and remember. We call them Jim-isms. Most revolve around the restaurant industry, but we still break them out once in awhile.
(When someone leaves the heat or AC on): "Whaddya got stock in Consumers?"
(When someone leaves the door open): "Shut that door! You'll have every fly in the county in here!"
(When someone once threw an unopened sugar packet away): "Re-use that! We don't make a dime on anything that hits that $#!&-can!"
(When Rosie would upset him): "JC, Rosie! You're gonna be the death of me!"
(When Rosie would upset him): "I'm gonna hit you right in the incision."
(When you dropped something): "Don't get a job at the bomb factory."
(When you made a mistake): "You could screw up a two-car funeral."
(When you made a mistake): "You could screw up a Chinese junkyard."
(On a woman of lesser social standards): "Blow in her ear and her pants fall off."
(On someone losing their virginity): "I never entered flesh until I was 24-- and that's when the toilet paper broke."
(On eating onions): "They make you strong like bull."
(On boxers who had to fight him): "He sold advertising on the bottom of his shoes."
(When you can't do something mechanical): "You gotta be smarter than what you're workin' on."
(When you did something odd/wrong): "Never seen the likes of ya."
(When someone's in a hurry): "You act like the Russians were at the door."
(When I'd tell him true-story TV movies were embellished): "Uh-uh. It's fact-based."
(When asked something only someone else knew): "Hell if I know. I gave up mind-reading years ago."
(On getting a job right): "If you gotta do it, you might as well do it the right way."
(On how to do something): "Take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves."
There's at least 10 more I can't even print here, but this whole post came about because of one of his sayings I didn't get for a long time. I was helping him work on something and he would say after awhile, "There. Man runnin' for his life would never know." Then we'd be done. I never understood it, but instead of face the wrath of one of the previous sayings or get a thump on the head, I never asked.
Maybe 15 years ago, my dad and I were hanging a huge NASCAR hood and I looked up and told him it needed to go an inch to the right, he said, "Nah, a man running for his life will never know."
Me: What does that mean? Grandpa always says that I never had the guts to ask him.
Tom: It means if a guy's running through here and he's being chased, he's not going to stop and see that the damn picture is a tenth of an inch off.
Me: Ohhhhh. So, it's an excuse to not get something done right.
I eventually told Jim I figured it out and was afraid to ask. He had a good laugh over it even after I asked if that was the reason everything was always crooked in the Roadhouse. Needless to say< I began saying it all the time. My father-in-law didn't get it either when I first said it and I took much joy in explaining it. He said it the other day and told me it's his favorite expression.
I guess Big Jim will always live on in one way or another.
Speaking of which-- one more story. This one happened after he took back the bar and Ryan and I were helping him run it. It was Saturday evening of a Mint Fest weekend in St. Johns and Jim had been in the kitchen all day and was in no mood for anything that didn't include his easy chair, the remote control and a good murder-mystery. A girl at a table didn't get served because she didn't have her I.D. and she was the only one not drinking and not happy about it. She demanded to see the manager about her steak, which she had eaten more than half of.
Me: Can I help you?
Lady: This steak wasn't good and I want my money back.
Me: You ate a lot of it. I can give you 10% off.
Lady: 86 cents?
Me: (realizing she'd done her homework) That's right.
Lady: I want to see the owner.
Me: No you don't.
Lady: Yes, I do.
I tried to help her, but at this point, I was ready to let this girl get what she had coming to her. I went back to the kitchen and informed Jim and Rosie of the situation. he told her to handle it and I said no, this was something you're going to need to do. I told him about her I.D. and that she's at the 6-top with the three guys who were pretty big. Three guys in their mid-to-late 20's all over 6-foot tall and muscular.
Jim started out to the dining room. I hurried back behind the bar for a ringside seat.
Jim: What's the problem?
Lady: (shocked for a moment at Jim's size): Uhh... I-- uhhh... my steak isn't good and I want--
Jim: Hold it-- you're the one with the bad I.D. right? There's nothing wrong with that steak and you're paying for the whole thing. (Turning to the 3 guys) YOU'RE ALL PAYING FOR EVERYTHING OR YOU'RE GOING DOWNTOWN! (Turning to me) GET THEIR MONEY OR CALL THE COPS!
The guys never flinched and actually tried not to make eye contact with Jim. I never saw a table get out their money and pay faster than these 6 and they hurried out the door. He called down to the bar later-- like he always did-- and asked if they paid their bill. I told him they set a new world-record for fastest bill paying. He was much calmer now.
"Good. Shut that air off. Bye."