He marched to his own drummer all his life. If you wanted to follow him fine, if not, get out of the way. He claimed he wanted to be a psychotic drifter till being informed there were no vacancies. He was my cynical friend, who wishes to remain anonymous (Bob), who passed away on June 8th at age 70. For 15 years his cynical comments were a highlight of this column. He would often say “I don’t remember saying that” to my rejoinder before fake news was popular “Bob it was in the paper, it must be true”. In April, with great sadness, announced Bob’s retirement from this column. I could no longer write words for him to say when he couldn’t say them for himself. His decline was rapid and sad. I do not want to remember how he died but how he lived.
He was a long-time loyal friend who was one of the funniest and most intelligent people I had ever met. His wit, wisdom and “Bobbisms” were legendary. The Cynical Bob image was balanced by his humanity as he “adopted” people struggling in life to help them.
We first met when we were dating two sisters (sounds like the lyrics to a country song). The two sisters did their assessment of us, looked at how much life would be better without us, and moved on with great success. Our friendship started then, endlessly talking about the two sisters. He was Sarnia’s version of the World’s Most Interesting Man who, when sailing around the world, found a short cut. Bob lived life that way. He graduated from university and travelled the world for two years. Living on Bondi
Beach in Australia while working in a plant to raise beer and travel money; was a greenskeeper in Guam; and sold skis in California. When he returned he was a timekeeper in the Valley for years and knew every tradesman in town. He lived the rest of his life like he had in university–in apartments piled with books. His furniture became retro, then out of style, and then retro again after decades of Bob’s ownership. He never owned a credit card, living on cash, and shopped for food at the local variety store, somehow escaping scurvy. He loved his smokes and his beer, feeling bad for people who didn’t drink because when they got up in the morning that was the best they were going to feel all day. When he couldn’t convince someone to join him at the pub his line was “this could be the night the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders’ bus breaks down in front of the Ups N’ Downs and we aren’t there to help them”. It usually worked. He moved into the Seaway Building in downtown where I lived which led me to ask the owners for better background checks on tenants before renting. He became the unofficial Mayor of the building. He was a mythical figure who you wouldn’t see for months and then would suddenly appear.
Have a theory that Bob was separated at birth from Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld. Just like Kramer he was an inventor. He invented a fake beeper—you hit the switch and 30 seconds later it would go off so you had an excuse to leave a meeting. Bob used to say the reason society hasn’t progressed is because of meetings. When residents started putting small satellite dishes on their balconies, he couldn’t afford one so he mounted a spaghetti strainer on a broom handle to fit in. “Deputy Mayor” Janis lived directly three floors below him in the Seaway Building. She made the mistake of telling Bob she had bought new balcony furniture and then had to live with Bob’s “threat” to using his fishing rod to troll for her furniture. Bob shared one of his unwanted visitor tricks if anyone knocked on his door. He would leave a coat hanging on the door knob on the inside of his apartment door. If anyone knocked he would look through the peep hole and, if he didn’t want company, would put on his coat as if he was just leaving. Found that funny till a few months later when I knocked on his door. Could see him looking through the peep hole and he then opened the door with his coat on. On Sundays, after reading the New York Times (All the fake news that is fit to print) would recycle the paper by leaving it at his apartment door. One day I get a note from Bob expressing his concern the paper is arriving too late and he is thinking of cancelling his free subscription if the service doesn’t improve. Once there was a fire alarm in the building at 4:00 a.m. The residents gathered down on the street looking around to see who was sleeping with whom. Firefighters brought an elderly woman out of the building and kindly placed her in the cab of the fire truck to keep her warm. Forty-five minutes later, when it was determined to be a false alarm, the firefighters took the elderly woman back in first. Bob announced to the crowd of 100 people that the woman was the “canary in the coal mine” and they were taking her in to check out the air quality before letting us back in. He then clapped his hands loudly (as those of us who knew him edged away nervously) and announced to the crowd “this has been great meeting everyone. Let’s exchange cards and get together a year from now to see how our lives are going.”
He was always full of “helpful” political advice telling me it’s too bad 99% of the politicians give the rest a bad name. He would claim to be my head of security or spiritual advisor to an often believing citizen. He was full of “Bobbisms”. Like for the Christmas parade suggesting it would be better if the parade participants just stayed in one spot and the crowd walked by instead. Or if the chicken wing truck broke down on its way to Sarnia there would be riots in the street.
Bob was smart. When he worked for an Occupational Health Clinic, the Compensation Board starting asking who the brilliant new lawyer on staff was. He joined a local security company as a guard. His first assignment was guarding the CN train tunnel. Armed with only a whistle he said that if anyone tried to get into Canada he was under strict instructions to yell “stop, stop or I will toot”. Humour aside he became the best guard locally and beyond. He became head of security at the Western Research Park in
Sarnia. With its large collection of buildings, several thousand people on site, it was almost like a small city. He was well liked and respected by all there and brought innovation in safety and security to the Park. In 2009 he was named Security Guard of the Year in Ontario, selected from 36,000 security guards, with a $2,000 prize. He played down the honour saying he wouldn’t have won if there was a swim suit contest.
In the last few years of his life his world had gotten a lot smaller. Saw less of him and when we met could tell something was happening within him as the wit and memory faded. He was well known throughout the downtown, stopping to talk to people, still cheerful and smiling, despite his challenges. The wonderful staff at the Ups N’ Downs were like family, taking care of him when he stopped in daily.
He had been in hospital then at Meadowview Villa in Petrolia. On the day he passed away, was on my way with a friend to see him at noon, until receiving the call that he had died. So instead it was only fitting that to celebrate his life, a group of us gathered at the Ups N’ Downs to share a few tears, a few beers and lots of laughter reminiscing about Bob. The friends from away who couldn’t be there joined us with a symbolic toast to Bob (although he would have said he was disappointed with the calibre of the mourners).
I have not enlarged him in death beyond what he was in life. A good man who didn’t change the world but made it brighter for all that had the pleasure of his company. He did not have wealth unless you measure wealth as not money, but as family, friends, respect and a life well lived. If you do, then Bob left us a very wealthy man.
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