In front of a row of old trailers and homes along U.S. 321 near the southern edge of York, an old man pushes a lawn mower. The lawn mower is not running. He pushes it anyway.
“You Jimmy T?” the man is asked.
“The one and only,” says James “Jimmy T” Starnes.
“Lady down the street needs her grass cut, she’s too old to do it, and I want to help,” said the man with the gnarled hands and feet and neck and back. “You help people. Sometimes people give me the gas, I mow for a dollar or two. Most I do it for free.”
The old man, 73, so skinny when he turns sideways he disappears, turns to go into the dark trailer he calls home in York. The front door is locked to keep out thieves.
So Jimmy T climbs on a chair, then through a window, to get into his own house. He has to be a contortionist at an age when he should be in a recliner.
“They stole my keys,” Starnes said. “They took my wallet too. Had $142 in it, every dollar I got.”
The money, stolen a few days ago, would have paid the electricity bill, which was overdue. The power company that wants to raise electricity rates by 16 percent came and did what power companies do when a bill is overdue, whether the person is 73 and disabled or not.
“I stood right here, and they turned off the lights,” said Jimmy T. “I been here without lights for days. No food. No electricity to run the refrigerator if I had any food. I would have paid the bill with the money I had.”
The temperature at the time Jimmy T said this on Thursday was 89 degrees and climbing.
Jimmy T receives Social Security benefits after a lifetime of hard work. The check for $1,142 dollars a month comes the third of the month, straight deposit to the bank. That means Jimmy T will have to go a week after his money was stolen and his power cut off.
“Means I wait until Wednesday next week to get lights, I reckon’, ” said Jimmy T. “Wait here in the dark.”
Jimmy can’t call anybody because a year ago, the phone company cut him off, too.
Inside the mobile home that Jimmy T has lived in for 22 years, here at the end of his long life in York, is the empty refrigerator. The empty freezer. The darkness.
“You stay outside in the light until it gets dark, then you wait and you wait until you can fall asleep,” Jimmy T said. “You scared, but you try to sleep.”
Jimmy T was asked when he last ate.
“Yesterday,” Jimmy T said. “Some soup a friend give me. I appreciate it, too.”
Jimmy T has no children or close family except a cousin. A friend, Linda Hutchison, gave him that soup, but she’s on a fixed income herself.
“What kind of world is this, a man going to be 74 years old and they cut off his lights when it is so hot?” Hutchison wanted to know. “He got his wallet stole. He doesn’t have a dime.”
There is no answer to the question.
Less than a mile from where Jimmy T lives in darkness, millions are spent to renovate the old York County Courthouse. The York County Council frets over a county museum, and considers spending taxpayer money on lawyers to sue over a museum filled with stuffed animals and rocks.
Jimmy T worries that he will fall behind on other payments and he might be evicted.
York police, who know Jimmy T and have helped him in the past, are investigating the theft of his wallet, said Lt. Rich Caddell.
Jimmy T doesn’t know who took his wallet. He has opened his home to people on the cusp of homelessness, helplessness. Even the York Police know that.
On Thursday, as Jimmy T was explaining what it is like to live in darkness and brutal heat, York County probation agents stopped by looking for somebody else who had been around the place months ago.
Jimmy T was gracious with the cops, thanked them for stopping by.
Along with the money and his keys, Jimmy T’s identification cards and Social Security card were inside the wallet, so those are gone, too.
“I guess with my ID gone, saying who I am, ol’ Jimmy T just ’bout don’t exist in this world no more,” he said.
Then Jimmy T got up from the old chair on his old front porch, walked to the lawn mower, and pushed it silently down the street to see if he could cadge some gas to cut an old lady’s grass.
He waved an old gnarled hand as he walked.