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"Big Bob and Little Bob", excerpt

Wednesday 11/13/19


In the neighborhood I grew up in there was a big Bob and a little Bob. They were our neighbors and my parents’ friends. They were good friends themselves and lived next door to each other. You could not tell where the lawn of one of their yards ended and the lawn of the other began and it was something they had to agree upon though I do not think they had a direct discussion, whoever cut the grass second would just cut the extra that had not already been cut. Big Bob was married to Terise but everyone called her Terry, and Little Bob was married to Laura. Besides being bigger—he was approximately 1.25 Little Bobs—Big Bob was older. He was like a mentor, generally speaking, not just to Little Bob.


Our parents played card and board games with them. They made adulthood seem fun. I liked board games. It was nice to know you could play them later. Reassuring. Little Bob and Laura had a girl named Pamela and she was very autistic. At the time that word was not used a lot. She wouldn’t even see you standing there sometimes. I’d say, “knock knock, anybody home,” making like I was going to knock on her head like it was a door, but my mom told me after that she was ashamed of me and I should never do that again and when it happened, because my my mom was not there, my dad said, “cool it, and “cool it” meant you had fucked up big time in a disappointing way.


Big Bob and Terry had a pool and of course that was a big hit in the summer. We went there, me, my mom, dad, sister, and also the Little Bobs. Big Bob was a scholar of the Civil War. He read all of the books by Shelby Foote thirty times. When you talked to him he would use a quote about the battle of Appomattox to make his points and I absorbed some of them so later I had fourth grade teachers who thought I was a Civil War savant who could not figure out long division. Little Bob was a classical pianist. That was his actual job. Not just a thing he did in the other room for your parents after you had gone to bed and they had finished the board games and wine, though my dad only drank Scotch and Big Bob had bourbon which seemed more Civil War-ish. I always think of it coming from barrels of Southern oak in a place like Virginia which is where Appomattox was fought. Little Bob played a lot of Schubert because he said Schubert was for friends, and that Schubert’s own friends would have parties for him even when he was not there and they would sing and play his music. That honestly moved me. I was not popular. Made me feel a little hopeless, too, like there was nothing I’d ever be able to do to have people be moved that way about me.


Big Bob and Terry had a daughter named Debbie and she was going to die. She had a bone disease. That’s all I was told. I remember when she had band pins on her jacket, groups like Quiet Riot and I thought that was so cool when she played me “Cum on Feel the Noize,” though she said it was by another band first but I did not care, to me it was all Quiet Riot. That “girls rock your boys” portion when she would mouth the lyric and look at me in that part of the song made me feel like we were really close. One time I was over Big Bob’s because they were watching me. My brother’s dad Billy was a drunk and they had to get him out of jail again, though at the time they said it was something to do with grandma, the metal siding on the easement wall of her house needed fixing, but then again, that is where Billy had rammed some guy’s head and made a dent. That might have been their code, the grandma bit. One time my dad told me about how when his father was dying. He wouldn’t normally share that kind of thing. He kept it buttoned up. We were driving, I wanted him to go faster, I was late for hockey practice or whatever, and he made a remark about only being pulled over once, but it wasn’t a ha-ha funny joke, it was a “I am tired it is so early in the morning I have things on my mind I cannot tell you” joke, which, as you know, are different. I asked why he was going so fast the time he was busted which was a stupid fucking word on my part, I tended to default to glibness in the car with my dad, I think it was how I tried to impress him because he liked a good one-liner. He said because his father was dying and he wanted to see him one last time. That’s what he told the motorcycle cop, and the cop contacted other cops ahead on the road, and they took my father right to the driveway of the house where Billy made dents with people’s heads in the metal siding, and my dad saw his dad that last time. I did not skate well at that practice. I kept looking at my father in the stands to make sure he was watching. Debbie and I were watching He-Man. Skeletor came on. He had another plan to conquer the universe. This guy. Say what you will, he was adept at brainstorming. I was going to ask her if Skeletor was her mortal enemy because of the bones, but I did not because of the word “mortal,” I think that was all that made me know any better. I cannot even imagine now the kind of “cool it” that would have brought on. Ice storm of remonstration.


Debbie was going to get married even though she would be dying soon of her bone disease. My mom called the man honorable. His name was Abraham. Honorable Abe. You can imagine how this made me think with Big Bob’s love of the Civil War. Love of Civil War history. They are two different things. My dad drove a tangerine-colored MG that was the coolest car and his concession to being hip and young though he was only about thirty-five, so he still could have been a starter in the Major Leagues. He sold it to Abraham and Debbie in the spring when they were getting married, for almost nothing. He wanted them to enjoy their time. My mom said, “Your father is a good man,” after I asked why he sold the car and I did not respond with anything glib because I was really proud of him, though I did not say that either. The winter before was when we had the blizzard. Debbie was trying to bring something to a neighbor, it was milk or food or I don’t know what, but the neighbor was old—I remember because she scared the shit out of me when I was coming home late on summer nights right before it was dark and I saw her looking out of her living room window—and it was important.


She had not come back and Big Bob was looking for her and Terry called my dad and my dad went out like he was a fucking comet, my mom had his jacket waiting for him and she kind of held it up and he flew into it and it stuck to him and he was gone. He found her between two mounds, on the ground, already beneath some snow, near Little Bob’s house, and Little Bob had just come out and she was unconscious. My dad carried her into Big Bob’s house and Little Bob ran off to try and find Big Bob as quickly as Little Bob's little legs made possibe. It didn’t take him long, despite all of the directions in which he could have searched. Big Bob and Little Bob had a knack for each other. They spent a lot of time at each other’s houses, late, this was when men had dens, and at Big Bob’s house Big Bob would teach Little Bob about the Civil War, and at Little Bob’s house Little Bob taught Big Bob about Liszt and Beethoven piano sonatas and Rachmaninoff who was to Little Bob as Quiet Riot was to me because of Debbie.