“Buddy Boy Bob”

Woke up today with the remnants of a sweet dream floating around in my head. As I got ready for work I tried to piece it all together, and make some sense of it, but couldn’t. It remained fragmented and elusive, a montage of scenes from my youth, a blast from the past!
Scene One: A sunny afternoon on Angelino Street. I couldn’t see myself but I knew I was there standing near the corner of Third looking south on Angelino. Several of my friends cars were parked on either side of the street and my red VW was parked behind Paul McCully’s white, Ford panel truck. It is unusually quiet, there isn’t a soul around.
Scene Two: Early evening. I was walking through Memorial Park with my cousin Dave both of us were wearing our green, army field jackets, smoking a cigarette or a joint, I’m not sure which. we were laughing and talking about something.
Scene Three: We’re in my friend Bob’s bedroom. He’s playing guitar. I can see Bob clearly but I’m looking away and can’t see my own face, but I know it’s me. I’m holding a microphone and singing The Door’s, “The End.”
Scene Four: It’s dark out. I’m standing outside my house watching my mom through the kitchen window as she washes dishes. I’m listening to her singing “Que Sera, Sera.” It sounds beautiful. That is all I can remember, four fragments, bits and pieces of a dream or maybe several dreams, who knows? All I know for certain is that that collection of moments touched me and made me feel very nostalgic.
Later on my drive to work good old Jack FM keep my dream alive by playing a moldy oldie, favorite of mine,”Beck’s Bolero” by Jeff Beck. I couldn’t help but smile as I cranked it up. Beck’s Bolero was one of Bob and my favorite stoner songs. I can’t tell you how many times we’d catch a buzz and listen to it again and again. What a trip! Talk about feeling nostalgic! Man, that brought on some great memories! 

 

And that’s the kind of day I had, I worked with students all day, but try as I might, I couldn’t turn off the memories. In the back of my mind it was 1969 all over again. Bob and I were seniors, having the time of our lives! All the while the sweet refrains of “Beck’s Bolero,” played on…

I first met Bob in the fall of 1962 while serving my sixth grade sentence in the parochial penitentiary known as St. Frances of Rome Catholic School in Azusa. I was incarcerated there for nearly four years.  Back then St. Frances was not a very good place for a child to get an education. Father Dugan, our beloved pastor and cousin of film star Spencer Tracy was a notorious alcoholic and was prone to tip a few before saying mass. There were quite a few tales about his alcoholic exploits.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of his assistant pastor’s showed an unusual amount of interest in the eight grade lovelies, and enjoyed coming out at recess and lunch time to hug and be hugged by them. (at least he wasn’t into boys) But it was the nuns who truly made Saint Frances of Rome a living hell! They were the worst kind of religious zealots and our teachers as well. Most days they were too wrapped up in reminding us of all the sins we were committing and trying to save our souls, to actually teach. They liked to refer to themselves as Brides of Christ and that was probably true. I can’t imagine any man in his right mind who would have wanted to be married to any one of them, particularly Sister’s Regis, Mary Daniels and Simplicia.

Sister Anastacia was our sixth grade teacher. She was a tall, burly  woman  who walked with a stoop, she was jokingly referred to as “The Bear.” Of all the nuns, she was the most pleasant. On that particular October morning we were sitting in our already crowded classroom when Sister Regis, our principal, appeared at the door. At her side stood a young Robert. Even after all these years I can still see him standing in the doorway, trying  hard not to show any sign of fear or nervousness, wearing a  tough guy mask that seemed to say, “first day in a new school, so what, no big deal.” Unfortunately the mask he wore didn’t fit well. Many of us sensed the apprehension he fought so hard to hide. He would have been better off looking a little nervous or uneasy.  I believe it was the tough guy role that got him into trouble with the guys and  kept Bob from being fully accepted into the flock until months later.

Sister Regis then introduced him to the class and we in turn greeted him in some half-hearted manner, a nod or a smile or some other meaningless gesture. I don’t remember if I made any decision about liking Bob on that first day, I only know that I felt extremely sorry for him and what he was going through, for like him, I too had gone through this same first day, new kid, introductory trauma.  Just one year earlier I had been the new fifth grader. On my first day Sister Regis had walked me to my fifth/sixth grade combo classroom and introduced me to the class. I remember trying to act indifferent, but I know my fear was showing.  After my introduction I was shown to my desk near the rear of the classroom. I’d been seated only a few minutes when the kid across the aisle from me quietly introduced himself and started asking me all sorts of questions. I was a little leery about his intentions but in time realized he was being genuinely friendly. His name was Steve. He was a sixth grader and was one of the popular kids. Being befriended by Steve was clearly a stroke of good luck for me. At recess he introduced me to several of his friends, and thankfully, they accepted me. To this day I don’t know why Steve chose to take me under his wing and allow me to become a part of  his circle of friends, perhaps I’ll never know, but I thanks him just the same.

Bob, was not as fortunate. For the longest time he remained the invader, a stranger in a strange land, who didn’t seem to fit in. I’m not sure why he remained an outsider, I think he was just trying too damn hard. You just can’t force yourself on sixth graders, you simply had to roll with the punches and hope that in time you’d be accepted. But Bob would have none of that. He was defensive and quick to offer resistance against the injustices put upon him and believe me, there were many.

The attacks were endless and ranged from simple classroom pranks to the more complex like loosening every nut and bolt on his bicycle then waiting all day to watch as he pulled it from the bike rack to go home, only to have it come apart in his hands. There were also a number of physical assaults. Bob never failed to disappoint, always reacting with anger just like we wanted. Yes I said we, for although I stayed in the background and never actually led an attack or pulled a prank on him, I was as guilty as the others, and took pleasure in his misery.  Better him than me.  In time things got better and by the end of the school year many of us were friends with Bob. Of course there were still a few who took pleasure in giving Bob a hard time.

In retrospect I feel sad and am very sorry that I just stood by and did nothing. If only I had known what good friends we were to become, perhaps then I would have found the courage to stand up for him, to stand beside him.  Instead I did nothing for fear that I too would become a target, a role I wanted no part of. After all, I was on the inside, in with the cool crowd, and being the follower that I was at the time, filled with self doubts and low self-esteem, I just couldn’t jeopardize my position with the guys. The costs were simply too great, much more than I was willing to give in sixth grade. I can only hope that Bob understands the position I was in and the pressure I was under, and has forgiven me for my failure as a friend. I still can’t believe that I allowed those jackals to harass him like they did. It was all so pointless and God, so unnecessary. We were all so cruel back then.

We went on to be the best of friends and shared many an adventure together, good and bad. I have many tales I could share about our friendship, perhaps another time. We still keep in touch, (emails, Facebook,) but not as much as I’d like. If you read this Bob, I hope you know what a great friend I think you are and how much I treasure our friendship. I know you forgave me my tresspasses in that first year at St Frances and I’m glad you did! It’s been a hell of a ride!

Love you man!

J S

 

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