July 1, 2012

The Church of the Other Bob


There was a chubby, round-faced kid in my high school named Bob. Bob had long hair, bad skin, and wore little round glasses. He lived with his mother in a shabby house on the west side of town, and I don’t recall him ever mentioning his father. Bob hung out with the stoner kids, did lots of drugs, and only came to school when he felt like it (which averaged about three days a week). As short and squat as he was, he had a very slow, easy, fluid way of moving through the halls. He was in no hurry to get anywhere, and that was fine with him. He didn’t give a good goddamn. Bob didn't really care too much about much of anything.

            He was my hero.

            See, here’s the thing with Bob—for all of the above, he was also one of the most frighteningly sharp people I’ve ever known. He simply preferred not to flaunt it in any of the traditional, officially-prescribed ways (like doing schoolwork). Most of the smartest people I’ve known have been human derelicts, because they ultimately could find no place in the world. In Bob’s case, maybe it was no surprise that when he stretched his socks over the outside of his pant cuffs, he bore a striking resemblance to Benjamin Franklin.

            He was extremely well-read across a variety of fields (history, philosophy, religion, psychology, etcetera). He was a demon of an artist (often whipping out pornographic caricatures of popular cartoon characters—and really good ones—during class). He was funny as hell, and he could destroy me at chess.

            As for offending people, well, that was a regular daily activity for him. It was like breathing. He took a great, giggling pleasure in finding ways to shock teachers and classmates alike, and played no favorites. On those days when he decided to come to school, he showed up early, and he and I would meet at the far end of the third floor hallways and talk or play chess until things got too crowded. Then he’d begin to target people, laughing all the while.

            I mentioned above that Bob didn’t care about anything. That’s not strictly true. Bob believed in a great number of things, all of them extreme, and a different one every time he came to school. One day he’d be a Nazi, the next a revolutionary anarchist, the next a Black militant (yes, well). Some days he was a fundamentalist Christian, others a Muslim, others a Satanist. He went so far as to carve appropriate symbols in his arms, depending on what he believed that day—swastikas, pentagrams, crosses.

            It could’ve been a cheap joke on anyone’s part, but Bob could always back it up. He could quote gospel, or Mein Kampf, or recite Martin Luther King speeches off the top of his head. And he would hold tight to that day’s chosen belief system until the end of the day. It could be a little spooky at times.

He also knew he’d be something different the next day. And he’d still destroy me at chess.

            Knowing he wasn’t the most attractive kid in school, he decided to use that as a tool for his own amusement (or what others might call a “weapon”). Fully aware that they were a little nauseated by him, he would corner the pretty, stuck-up girls and engage them in philosophical debate until they ran away. The pretty Christian girls were a favorite target, because he would approach them pretending he was interested in learning more about Jesus. What choice did they have but to talk to him? Then over the next few minutes he would dismantle their belief system and reduce them to tears before returning to where I sat watching, a big smile on his face.

            He tormented teachers, administrators, jocks, anyone he held in contempt. The funny thing is, I don’t recall anyone lashing back at him in any way—mostly, I’m guessing, because they thought he was insane.

            I rarely saw Bob outside of school. Once out of school he chose to hang out with the devil-worshipping heavy metal stoners instead of the geeks. But we did do one thing. Apocalypse Now had a long run in Green Bay, and we’d both seen it eight or nine times. One night before it left town we decided to go together. Now, having seen it that many times already, we both had the entire film memorized. That meant trouble for someone.

            We didn’t plan it beforehand, it just sort of happened. We found ourselves sitting behind this random victim, and as soon as the film started rolling, we began reciting the dialogue word-for-word a second before it was spoken on-screen.

            When the man decided to change his seat, well, we did too, somehow ending up right behind him again. This happened three or four times before he finally decided to leave. That was a relief. After he left we could finally enjoy the film in peace.

            I’m not real sure how Bob managed to graduate, but he did. Maybe the school just wanted him out of there.

            After graduation we completely fell out of touch, and I’m sorry for that. I saw a small notice in the local paper that he’d been elected student body president at some vocational camp in the northern part of the state. A year or two later someone told me he was working as a janitor at a local shopping mall. People hear that and they groan a little, but you know, it might have been all Bob wanted. He was never the ambitious type, despite his intelligence. Maybe if they left him alone with the broom, he was satisfied. Some people are like that.

            Or hell, maybe he’s on a cross-country killing spree or is a Wall Street investment counselor now, I don’t know. All I know is that he was my first nihilist mentor, and I’m grateful.


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