Iowa Writes

JIM JOYCE
The Joyces I Know


Last week I looked outside my apartment and saw an iceberg phonebook. Rain and freezing weather made it a whitepages weapon. I lugged it inside and set it by the furnace to thaw. Returning from work the next evening, I opened it up because I live alone and have a kitchen table all to myself. According to my crinkly telephone-book paper here, there are 14 James Joyces in this town.
        I am Jim Joyce. I am the diminutive of James, and in 8th grade I heard of Mike Joyce from my friend Abby. Abby only wore white t-shirts and sang product theme songs with my name inserted in key lines, like the Goldfish Crackers song. I was totally in Abby's graces until one day she leaned in to me kiss-you-close and said, "Hey. Are you related to Mike Joyce? Because I met him last weekend boozing in the park and can I tell you--he is a babe."
        Who the hell is Mike Joyce, I wondered, like my name was territory this kid had been creeping in on me. Mike Joyce belonged to a parish two parishes over, at some school called Mary Star of the Sea, one of those aquatic Catholics we all laughed about but never met.

Last week I looked outside my apartment and saw an iceberg phonebook. Rain and freezing weather made it a whitepages weapon. I lugged it inside and set it by the furnace to thaw. Returning from work the next evening, I opened it up because I live alone and have a kitchen table all to myself. According to my crinkly telephone-book paper here, there are 14 James Joyces in this town.
        I am Jim Joyce. I am the diminutive of James, and in 8th grade I heard of Mike Joyce from my friend Abby. Abby only wore white t-shirts and sang product theme songs with my name inserted in key lines, like the Goldfish Crackers song. I was totally in Abby's graces until one day she leaned in to me kiss-you-close and said, "Hey. Are you related to Mike Joyce? Because I met him last weekend boozing in the park and can I tell you--he is a babe."
        Who the hell is Mike Joyce, I wondered, like my name was territory this kid had been creeping in on me. Mike Joyce belonged to a parish two parishes over, at some school called Mary Star of the Sea, one of those aquatic Catholics we all laughed about but never met.

I live in the shadow of many Joyces. John, James, Ed, Tom, Ed, Tom, James, John; all our Irish Bible nickel names jingling around from 22nd Street to 127th.
        One woman who dumped me just before I turned 22 said, "I refuse to be the girlfriend of Jim Joyce. Everywhere I go it's Jim Joyce this, Jim Joyce that." I kept telling her it didn't mean anything. It's just leftover fame from other Joyces spilling over, it's only alliteration and pleasing noises.
        For forever I didn't know who the big-deal modernist novelist James Joyce was. I figured he was maybe one of my many gray uncles, the ones who love golfing and saying "Jayzuz" and "Oh cripes, wouldjalookitthis?" The Joyce men, who are numerous, it's like they all have not made it to finishing school. So sometimes when I talk, I have this dumb-dumb hurry slur, I mush words together, I always have to repeat myself, real slow. Like when I was at this Hyde Park party and a rowing-club guy puts a hand on my shoulder and says, "You're an English teacher, really?"
        When I was 17, I worked for a Joyce in the adult-beverage business at Town Liquors in Beverly, a Chicago neighborhood of cops and Catholics and occasional stabbings. Town Liquors is a place on Western Avenue, looking like a dented shoebox, just across from Fox's, the Irish pizza place. In the backroom of the Town Liquors store, with my inventory clipboard keeping score, I pulled the bottles that needed to be on the floor that evening. Beefeater, Dimitri, Sapphire, Yaegersomething. Then the side door opened and my boss Tom (Ed/Mike/John) Joyce came in.
        "I saw you pocket that bottle of SoCo earlier," Tom said, and slammed me against the bottles along the wall. A whole row of pints went ka-thunk, rippled against the shelf, and rattled accusingly. I felt I was in a detective movie. I got that bolt of excitement that hits young people on the verge of experience. Tom gripped me by both shoulders and said "Don't you ever, ever take things from here again."
        At that point I'd never stolen anything. I didn't even know that SoCo meant Southern Comfort liqueur. But I left feeling collateral guilt. And so weeks later, I helped fellow stockboy Tim Stagias hurl flats of Icehouse beer out the backdoor into the gravel alley for cemetery drinking. 
        "Look and see if Joyce is coming!" Tim said, hurling the cases into a garbage can.
        "C'mon," I said, snapping my fingers. "That's all you're taking? That's all you want?"
        "What're you talking about? We already got a real big haul!"
        I finally tried Southern Comfort five years after Tom Joyce thought I stole it. I sipped it in my friend's kitchen and figured it's what a kid would steal from a liquor store. It's like whiskey candy. At 22, these were the kinds of things I was doing. Slurring around and drinking. Lots of what'd you say? And evenings of blurry walking.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JIM JOYCE

Jim Joyce is a high school teacher in Chicago and was recently accepted into Bennington College's low-residency MFA Writing Program.  He has taken several classes at the University of Iowa's Summer Writing Festival.  Once a year, he self-publishes the zine Let It Sink.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's The Many Joyces I Know, Part II.

This page was first displayed
on September 10, 2014

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