Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Rest of Bob’s Life

Second draft.
The Rest of Bob’s Life

Bob could stink up an entire alley, he was an alcoholic living in a box over a city grate with no idea he was going to become rich.
   Mental illness may put one on the street looking for a hole to hold up in. The so called normal person who through other unfortunate circumstances may find their way to the streets looking for a hole to hold up in. Bob is in the second category.
   Bob was a veteran during the conflict in Vietnam however he had his first bit of luck and served time in Germany. Bob had many issues to deal with and more to come in the future. The service in the military was not one of them.   
    Bob worked at East High School as a janitor ever since dropping out of High School to join the Army.
   Growing up Bob was a loner but not a bad kid. He did have a two parent home, for a time, a situation that was not all that common in his part of town. Bob's father was a very good wielder by all accounts and could get work almost anywhere where good wielders were needed. Companies would hire him despite his poor work record to work on the projects that needed special attention to details.
   Bob's home with his parents was not the worst but his father drank way too much on the weekends disrupting family life to the point where Bob and his mother would find something else to do out side the house, way outside. The other disruptive aspect of life was the constant uprooting of the family to move somewhere else to seek work because his father was fired again or quit after hitting a Foreman with a crescent wrench. The family would hit the Chevrolet roads of America Looking for a viable future that would never come for his father and especially for his mother. Life under such conditions could lead someone to a life as a loner. Living on the road like living on the streets can be a hard way of life. His father took this way of living in stride, not really caring about a future; it was one day at a time wherever Bob’s father traveled. To his father each town had its entertainments mostly a little work but mostly gambling, drinking and chasing skirts. This is not the sort of life a young kid needs.
   The highways and back roads took Bob to ranches in Colorado and poor neighbor hoods in several cities from Madison Wisconsin to Washington D.C. just a few blocks from the nations capital. Washington was the first time he heard and witnessed violence and theft. The violence happened late in the night when there was a loud fight down on the street below his bedroom window. What he saw in the spotlight of a streetlight was a man and woman shouting at each other, then the pushing and the conclusion, the beating, Bob could only stare as the conflict moving down the block until they were out of sight. Back in his town of Burlington, Iowa, the town he was born in and spent a number of his Wonder Bread years, there was fighting and arguments but not the violence he witnessed that night.
  The next morning he hurried his breakfast so he could head down the stairway and inspect the scene from the night before. What he found was a pool of blood and some teeth lying along the curb. The sky was filed with gloom and the dark threat of a storm. Bob headed back to his room to stare into the bleak view of his future.
   The theft happened to Bob at another apartment complex not unlike the previous neighborhood. The new “home” featured a dirt front yard surrounded by an iron fence with no gate despite rusty hinges where the gate used to reside. The fence ran along an alley on the left. The morning was warming up to be a fine sunny day. Rushing breakfast as he nearly always did he grabbed a cardboard box containing a windup train and tracks Bob lugged the box down the stairwell to set it up in the dirt in the yard, where better to play. He no more than started to fit the track together when a Negro kid came from the alley, around the corner and then into the un-gated yard where the box and train with most the track sat in the yard. The boy being not much older than Bob snatched the box and train and ran through the gate-less fence and ran down the street to the dismay of Bob.
   The family always returned to Burlington, Iowa where they could regroup among a large group of known people and friends. With each return I would find about it and I would look him up. Before Junior High he may show up in the school where I went or I would learn about the return on the playground, kids do have there own networking.
   Bob had heard about hippies and marijuana but places like Iowa in the late sixties were, at the time, lagging a couple years behind such cultural influences thus missing a time where his life may have taken a turn for good or ill influencing his future. At eighteen one can still redirect their future before it is set in stone.
   The future for Bob after dropping out of school was filled with the boredom of the military, work and the uselessness of drink. His house was not much better than the tarpaper shacks that used to be at the edge of town where he used to go with his father where his father had friends. Bob's future was influenced by the shanty town of his youth. I can still see the little shacks of tin, scrap lumber, tarpaper and whatever else the residents could find at hand to keep Earth's elements off their backs. The general aspect of the place was of little hope beyond government commodities and the way too frequent visits of welfare workers, police and other government entities. He knew in his heart that the shanty-town foretold what was to come in his existence. The place probably had a name that I can not remember now. I rather think the name would have not been chosen by the citizens of the community, a task that always comes from up on high down on the heads of people like Bob.
   Bob's father despite his flaws, such as drinking, losing his paycheck in a back-room at a downtown ballroom and general fooling around, was a gregarious fellow who had friends all around town.

   The ballroom where Bob went with his father had a bar where Bob would wander around barroom stools showing patron's his pride and joy, a plastic bank that was in the form of a book that he received at the bank with the big wooden handles that looked like ears serving the function door handles. Some of the patrons would drop a coin or two in the bank pleasing Bob to no end. This was Bob's first experience at panhandling.
   At nine Bob's life went from poor to worse when his father took off for the last time but not before his father stole the money out of the very plastic bank Bob would proudly hall around where ever his father took him. Finely Bob decided to walk downtown to the bank and open a savings account in his name and make a deposit something that should have brought some pleasure and pride in his life. The walk from down under the viaduct to the downtown bank with the elephant ear door handles was a long walk just to find out that he was robbed again! The Plastic bank Bob's father left behind had been refilled with pennies. Way to go dad!
   Bob saw his father three times after his father left. The first was when his mother traveled to Chicago via the train called the Land of Corn. Bob and his mother moved into the LaSalle street apartment his father rented. Bob's mother only stayed two weeks in Chicago and then returned home to Burlington. Despite only seeing his father once in the two-week period, he did have a lot of fun doing pretty much what he wanted. His mother spent much of her time sipping Morgan David wine. On the streets below Bob learned the way of life on the streets that had their own borders; the young learn quickly. The one time during the stay Bob saw his father was when he was descending the stairwell on his way to the street when he met his father ascending the stairwell. This was when and where Bob had his first drink. Bob’s father offered him a drink of peppermint schnapps that he had in his hand already opened. The booze was pleasant and disturbing at the same time, it took Bob many years to get over the fact that the booze tasted like a candy cane. To Bob's mind this was not right; it took years to get over the mental confusion. Bob did finally recover but with a desire to reclaim that pleasant feeling he had on that day.
   The second visit was when he was sixteen and his father showed up to visit Bob's mother in a small town in Iowa where Bob and his mother lived at the time. His father gave him one dollar and said "don't spend it all in one place", famous last words. Thanks Dad. Bob left his father and mother behind to talk and went to a drab, to him, teen dance that cost precisely one dollar to get into.
   The third visitation was many years later when Bob's father arrived in another small Iowa town where Bob and his mother lived and worked. Bob and his mother were sure his arrival was an excuse to be in a place where he would not be buried in potters field. As it turned out that was pretty much the reason.
   Bob did make a few trips by Greyhound to visit his father and mother. His father lived in a one-room apartment with a shared bathroom down the hall, rather dingy to boot. The first visit ended up at a local bar where his father purchased a few rounds until Bob's father tottered off to the boy's room. Bob sat in the corner booth and eyed George on the table in plain sight in front of him, he did not hesitate; Bob lifted five bucks from the pile and gained a good story to tell the few friends he had, friends that lived in the low rent homes around him. He finally got a little revenge a revenge that satisfied a long itch.
   Not long down the road his father got on his scooter with a plastic sack of beer cans to redeem for a few coins to rattle in his pocket. Bob, as a kid, would do a similar trick when. When Bob came across a quarter, he went to the corner store to get five pennies, a dime and the rest in nickels so he could jingle coins in his pocket.  When his father headed down the lane he faltered and fell over he was dead as he hit the ground.
   Bob’s father always befriended a large group of people wherever he went. Most his friends were at the funeral. Bob attended the funeral for the sake of his mother. She had to identify the body at the morgue, she used to get dead patients at a mental hospital ready to be taken to the morgue; she went to the funeral to clear the image of Bob's blue ting when she had to go to the morgue, to identify him, from her mind.
   Bob claimed his inheritance; some pictures of his father in happier days, most recently in Philadelphia, then there was the scooter that Bob could not take on the bus so he sold it to a kid in his mothers neighborhood for thirty five bucks.
   The last funeral Bob attended was a few years later when his mother passed away. The items packed in the house were to numerous to take home so he took some to the Tuesday night auction house, gave some items to her friends and kept a few things that would keep her close to his heart.
   A home again Bob restocked the refrigerator with cheap 40oz bottles of Steel Reserve beer, ripple and Mad Dog. He also stopped in at the food pantry and received a few plastic sacks of food that took three round trips on foot to get it all the way home. He did need something to wash down the food!
   Bob settled into his old routine of work, drinking and then sleeping all of it off. Twelve problematic years went by; then the great recession arrived, as it would soon be called, and then the blow; Bob was let go at the school to cut costs. At least his house was not foreclosed on.
   He actually owned the place and it was good that he lived in a very poor neighborhood or it would have been condemned. The final blow came when he left a burner on while he was at the liquor store; the house burned to the ground. The firefighters did save the foundation Fortunately the city condemned the tin and tarpaper shantytown many years earlier, or that would have been Bob's new home. But being single he was able to move into the YMCA.
   Here is where Bob started thinking about the life still left to him. Bob was pretty much done with life as it was and needed a plan. His thinking was leaning to a warmer climate where he more or less knew his way around the city. He was not thinking about doing himself in; Bob liked his drink.

   After losing his job Bob signed up for early retirement and started collecting his social security a few months later. This was one of the better decisions he ever put into action. After the fire the social security would come in handy.
   A review and a few additions of Bob's history may be handy here. As I recall he was a loner from early on when I first became acquainted with him in third grade. Bob would be in school and then there would be times where he was not around. When he was in school he kept to his own designs. We did wander and snoop around town together. I was as close to a friend as he ever had. For myself I was also a loner but I also could get along with most kids, not that I cared to.
   I kept in touch with Bob through the years and it was not always easy to due, as I later learned, his father's wanderlust kept him on the road. His father always came back to Burlington to settle in until the travel urge hit home again.
   Bob's military service was uneventful and according to Bob very boring. His janitorial job was a bore and his home life revolved around drinking and sleeping. This was the pattern until the day his house burned down and when his life went farther south than he ever thought it could.
   After the fire Bob moved into the Burlington YMCA as I have noted. He eventually found the surroundings at the Y claustrophobic, to him, compared to his cozy shack, even the dinner around the corner from the Y felt to close to his liking, just to many people to try and ignore, even the waitress was annoying.
   He finally put his plan into action.
   The notion in Bob's mind was to get as far away from his fellow man as he could There are two ways to get that accomplished. One is to move to an isolated part of the country or to move into a large city where one is about as alone as a person can be, in such places people are only interested in their own existence, the people in ones vicinity are a obstacle to be avoided. The city is a place where he could come up with the items one needs to get along on the streets with what is left of ones life.
   After a few months Bob gathered up what belongings that he had acquired during his stay at the Burlington Y. Most of the purchases were from Goodwill and were, for the most part, items suitable to hitch hiking down the road. Bob moved out of the Y in late spring and set out for Dallas, Texas with all his belongings and a vague idea as to what his future would entail. Again he moved into the Y in Dallas. Then he explored the city until he came across a likely alley paved with bricks an alley that ended in a dead-end He then set out to gather up stuff for life in the alley. He used his ATM card to acquire enough money to buy or gather the niceties to live in isolation in his alley.
   On a cool windy morning Bob set off on his usual route of panhandling and to locate usable or sale-able items from dumpsters, trash cans and trash heaps in alleyways. As he came near to the alleys exit he, for the pleasure of it, he kicked a Campbell's soup can into the street where the wind rolled the can startling a feral cat that was busy picking at a trash-can nearby. The cat in turn ran towards the alleys exit kicking up a scrap of paper on the way. Bob watched the scene and the scrap of paper as it twisted in the wind and finally settled on the grimy bricks in the alley where the wind was no more than a breeze. The homeless leave no stones un-turned thus Bob picked up his future.
   The small bit of paper was a lottery ticket. Bob put it in his coat pocket, fastening the pocket with the Velcro flap. Bob was a man who knew the reality of life thus he had little hope that he may be a winner of a few bucks.
   His first stop was always the dinner down the street where the owner allowed Bob to clean up for the day and in exchange Bob would clean the windows, booths and the black and white linoleum floor tiles plus the silver stools with red imitation leather seats. Now and then he would spin the stools and remember days now lost to him.

 The next time Bob went to the liquor store pretending to examine the wine and whiskey on the top shelf as if he was making up his mind as to which fine whiskey he would purchase, in the end he would wander to the back of the store and gather up the usual bottles off the bottom shelf. As he pushed his purchases across the counter he remembered the ticket in safe keeping in his jacket pocket. While the clerk added up the wine and booze Bob fished the ticket from the pocket and presented it to the clerk to check. To the surprise of the clerk and then to Bob, Bob won… big time. He promised a thousand Washington’s to the clerk for the apparent luck that came his way.
   Bob finally collected his winnings as a lump sum and then reluctantly suffered the press and their questions such as; are you going to keep working or how does it feel etc.
   The trouble with sudden wealth is all the new friends that show up in your ally with their grubby hands held out. Bob found this disturbing considering all the help he received growing up and the kindness of family and friends!
   He did know a lot of the homeless around his digs. Many of them were alcoholics so Bob considered the problem as to how to keep the beggars off his back.  The temporary solution involved handing out a few bucks to his “friends” so the could buy the items they desired, mostly a liquid that come in bottles that contain properties that help the days go by.
   The final answer came to Bob one nice day when he headed out on his rounds to find the entrance to his alley blocked by his smelly friends, friends who were getting a little to pushy about there handouts. So Bob passed out the few dollars he felt safe carrying around to keep the bums happy for a few hours and to fend off a betting that may end up with his teeth ending along the curb.
   Bob spent a couple sleepless nights hold up in his spacious shelter AKA a tarpaper shack thinking about the current
problem in his life. He considered his past and his future. The final answer; he gave all the money away to a reputable battered woman’s shelter, a homeless shelter with a long history of helping people in need and the rest to a long standing food pantry. He spread the word on the street as to what he had done and that he was now broke and that he would be happy for the rest of his days.

   Bob was rich in spirit and finally took control of the future. He lived out the years in peace, doing it his way.

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