adventures in cooking

Rob’s Lament

I don’t remember where exactly I met Rob for the first time. I assume it was in the parking lot of the Meijer supermarket we used to work for. We spent long hours walking back and forth pushing rows of shopping carts into the store. It was mindless manual labor and for a young man of that age it was exactly what I needed at the time. I didn’t fit in with the other kids I went to school with, not for a lack of trying from some people to bring me into the loop. Having a job is joining a tribe with a goal. Most people fail to understand this. When people aren’t pulling their weight and the chief of the tribe doesn’t appear to care, the tribe can fracture and you end up with sub groups within the tribe. I hated bagging groceries and so my tribe ended up being the cart retrieval crew, a group of young men wearing reflective vest, sunglasses, and carrying nylon rope to hold the row of carts together. We had our own language and culture out on the pavement. We were doing things with shopping carts most people had not seen until Jackass aired on MTV. Cart surfing was a fun pass time, riding the side of the cart and balancing on two wheels while cruising down the hill.
For safety we were paired up and sent out in teams. There had been multiple stories of abductions and assaults in that parking lot so were wore beepers that would sound an alarm with security if we saw something that needed their attention. Rob and I would team up, grabbing carts, talking comic books and movies, our taste in many things were almost identical. This was during the great comic boom or the roaring 90s, that time just before the crash when people had invested thousands of dollars into over printed magazines with fake fans and inflated prices. Rob and I were some of those shmucks that bought into the boom with hopes of cashing in or joining the ranks of those in the industry. I wanted to be an artist but found my calling with writing instead. Rob on the other hand possessed a natural talent for art and even sold pictures at work to co-workers with the cash. Juvenile cartoons with a hint of realism were his trade. One bagger paid him twenty dollars for a commissioned piece of a man penetrating a squirrel. It sounded funnier at the time. While I studied art and graphic design at the local community college, Rob sat at home with his sketch book learning on his own how to draw.
There was a sad mood that hovered over Rob. When you looked at him you would see a young man, dirty in appearance, malnourished, and a sense of style that could have been pulled from a Quintin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez film. To look at him one would not thing he had much to offer, to listen to him was to find out otherwise. He was smart, a sponge of useless knowledge that would vomit from his mouth and leave people mystified and feeling dumb. There were people that loved him and others who despised him for the reason of wasted potential, but that was all of us. To be a young man without direction wandering out into the world could only lead to three things, self-destruction, sloth, or success. At any given time, we were guilty of all of these things.
Rob grew up out west on an Indian reservation. I won’t pretend to remember which state he lived in because I don’t remember. I had no idea he was native American until he told me, he could have passed at Italian or Greek. His parents weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed and had a long list of horrible mistakes in their past that they expected their children to fix. I was hanging out with Rob one night when he asked to stop in to see his family. I was the only one that owned a car at the time. We pulled into the Airport Inn where his mother, father, two brothers, sister, and nephew were living in a one-bedroom hotel room. His mother didn’t speak much an had a scowl on her face that would make the average Russian woman of the Stalin era appear chipper. It was up to the kids to pay their way and most of them had dropped out of high school to find jobs. Rob earned his GED at 16 and therefore had an advantage over his other siblings. Paychecks were handed over and money was used for rent, food, and cigarettes. When big purchases were made the parents were the soul decider and the kids were to keep their mouths shut. For the life of me I can’t figure out what his parents were thinking. The kids left one by one as they discovered their independence causing a divide in the family. Whoever left was shunned and not allowed back until nobody was left. The youngest brother left first when he was hired in at a local factory. When their parents demanded the pay check he told them to “fuck off,” found an apartment, bought a van, and moved out. The pressure to make up for the loss was put onto Rob and while he supplied the family with money it wore on him and eventually, he was kicked out. That was how he ended up as my roommate.
Let’s back up shall we. Rob had met Nate before I started to work at Meijer and Nate left not long afterwards. I didn’t remember ever working with Nate but he was fond of telling me they thought I was a stuck-up asshole when I first started working there. Rob was a follower and while he had the potential to be so much more, he decided to be the side kick to Nate’s world of debauchery. If they could be compared to anyone Nate was Jay and Rob was Silent Bob with it being unclear who was leading who. It was the easy path and it was the road we all preferred at that time. We didn’t have a cause, a great war, something to motivate us to do anything. Nate and Rob were caught up in the MTV world of seeking out “bitches and money.” The cold war was over and there was no 9-11, all we had was a blow job in the White House and people constantly reminding us we were poor. Fight Club would later become our religion.
Coming from a nomadic people, Rob was constantly shifting through jobs, leaving and coming back always thinking the new job was going to be the big one, the money maker, the job to solve all of his problems. The job itself never mattered it was the pay that was motivating factor. In between, Rob would pick up shifts at Olga’s as the dishwasher and in his words, “I get paid and there is free food.” He wasn’t referring to screwed up orders from the kitchen either.
I think there is a time in most people’s lives when they are permanently scarred and while they don’t realize it, they never move on. Rob’s taste in women goes back to the reservation, a place with little to offer and few options for the young. Rob had a girlfriend when he was 13 and they soon found themselves pregnant. Trying to do the right thing, Rob took a job at the local Seven Eleven to save up for his coming family. The naïve delusions of youth can be a powerful thing until your world comes crashing down. While leaving work Rob passed the dumpster, heard something inside, and found his girl inside, wrist cut and bleeding to death. He climbed inside with no help on its way and watched her die taking their child with her. Later, he would try to join her and was sent to a psychiatric institution. I learned all of this years later on a drunken night where we tried to out do one another on who had the shittiest story for a game I would like to call Victim Porn.
For a while it looked like we were all getting our shit together. Rob was out of his parent’s home, he had a car, a union job at the local trash company, and there was talk of him becoming a tattoo apprentice. I landed a job at one of the local hospitals. Nate was still being Nate and that was what needed to change. The moment any of us started doing well the hammer would fall and we were beaten back down to the lowest position in the group. If Nate wasn’t doing well nobody would feel like they were doing well. Of course, it was a woman who would end the group. I met my ex-wife at the hospital and while we all hung out together there was a divide taking place. For Nate and Rob to be single while I had somebody was unacceptable. Rob sided with Nate trying to make Christie feel like shit and it was over. One night, Nate and Rob stopped by and while Nate stayed in the car Rob came to the door asking if I wanted to hang out. “Oh, porking the pig?” he asked seeing Christie walk to the kitchen. “Fuck you Rob.” I said before telling him not to come back. Nate stayed by the car yelling some crap about “bros before hoes” and they never came back to the apartment.
Rob and I once attempted our own comic book, an action crime thriller with vigilantes and drug kingpins. I wrote the script and worked on inking while Rob drew the panels and penciled the characters. We were about three pages in when Rob stopped working on the project. To this day I still have those pages filed away just in case…
I ran into Rob years later. His first question was “so when did you get divorced?” At the time his assumption was wrong and Christie and I were still married. Meanwhile, Rob told me about the stripper he married named Scarlett and how they split when she went back to work to pay their mortgage. There was a pattern, a lifestyle that Rob was accustomed to, and it wasn’t feeling secure. Rob had finally started that apprenticeship and was on his way to become an artist. A few years after that, when I was divorced, I spotted Rob at a local coffee shop. He had large gaged earrings, multiple tattoos, piercings in places that looked uncomfortable, and a perfectly shaved head. I don’t know if he recognized me as the new bald man that I was. We never spoke and to this day I wonder how far he had gone on his adventure to become an artist, the only one of us still following that path.

adventures in cooking

The Tale of Brendan

Neighbors came and went with the seasons at Maple Ridge Apartments and during the spring of 2000 a white pick-up truck backed up to a door and started unloading furniture. A few days later I heard a woman calling out my name in the parking lot and I saw someone I recognized but didn’t know, although she acted like she knew me. Karen was a cashier at the Meijer grocery store I worked for in high school. Two years later one of those cashiers was my new neighbor. Karen was ten years older than me with dark straight stringy hair, a thin face, and a bad attitude. This was the first time she had tried to be nice to me. In the two years I worked with her I could not recall anyone liking this woman. Then I met her husband.
Brendan was close to my age. A young decent looking guy who acted like he was always on a caffeine kick and had never heard of something called peace and quiet. His blonde hair was spiked with gel and he was still at that stage of eating whatever he wanted and still appearing in shape. When you met Brendan, you could not leave without hearing about his truck. It was a mid-90s white Ford Ranger that was nothing remarkable except that it had been totaled in an accident and rebuilt. To this day I can’t figure out what is so special about a truck that “has no value” as he put it and “I could never sell it since it doesn’t exist.” How much of this story is true, I have no idea? There were the holes I found in the story back then, how do you buy tags for the plate? How do you get a plate? Insurance, it’s not like they won’t look up the vin number. None of these questions were answered and he usually turned the topic to sex. Women he banged. Prospects in the apartment complex. Women, women, and more women was the constant topic of discussion, but he never talked about his wife.
The marriage was rocky from the beginning. These two were always fighting and Karen would storm out taking their kid, I don’t remember if it was a boy or a girl, to her mom’s place leaving Brendan to roam the complex on his own.
During that time, I had regular visits from Gary, a former co-worker from Meijer that knew Nate and Rob who were also regular visitors. Rob eventually became my roommate for a period, and it was during that phase Brendan and Karen moved in a few doors down. Gary lived in the building behind ours and as the social butterfly that he was. He knew most of the people in his building, who smoked weed, who was throwing parties, who was looking for some action, etc. Gary was not picky and as he put it, “they all look that same when the lights are out.”
Karen had stormed out of the apartment again. There was the usual yelling and screaming that had all the neighbors looking out of their blinds. A few minutes after she left, Brendan was knocking on the door expecting me or Rob to entertain him. I didn’t answer the door and went about my business. An hour later Gary came knocking and around that time Rob came home from work. He had the misfortune of landing a Union job for a garbage company and his task was cleaning out the backs of those trucks. And I thought I had it bad with the rats.
“Ya’ll gotta come ta muh building. Dis gurl haffin a party up in der.” Gary was difficult to understand. If you didn’t know Gary you would think he was drunk, or high, or maybe a speech impediment, or just had dental work done. None of these were true although sometimes he was high but that made it easier to understand him.
I was bored so I said to heck with it and followed Gary and Rob out the door. On the way Rob went to Brendan’s and that man came rushing out like a dog let off the leash.
There was indeed a party that was happening. Some girl that nobody knew had just moved in and was having people over. Her real agenda was to have someone bring some weed so that she could get high and Gary was happy to fulfill that wish. With a dozen of us in this one-bedroom apartment we sat around looking at one another wondering how nobody had something to smoke it with. Rob went back to the apartment and grabbed an old corncob pipe that he had, and Brendan assigned himself to pack it.
“I’ve done this before,” Brendan said. “I’m good at this.” Not exactly the thing to brag about when you are pressing your thumb into the bowl with all your might. He never broke apart the bud and instead stuffed the entire thing into the pipe. Gary sat back watching completely entertained. Eventually the bowl was lit but nobody could draw from the damn thing, so we went about drinking cheap booze and making small talk. Brendan was hitting on the girl the whole time. He would say he liked rap and she would reply she liked country. “I was just kidding. I love country. Country is my jam.” Then he started talking about his truck. To my surprise the girl started asking all the same questions I had regarding the truck being legal. Brendan changed the subject to what he wanted to do with it. “I’m going to lower it down, put some small fat tires on it and run some lights underneath. It’s going to be sweet.” The girl on the other hand said. “I like big trucks.” Brendan changed his tune and said, “I was just kidding. Ya, I’m going to get one of those kits and put some big fat mud tires on there.”
This act went on all night and I was one of the last people to leave. My job that evening was the cock blocker. I didn’t like Karen, hell I didn’t like Brendan, but who was this girl that was being pulled into their bullshit. When Brendan went to take a leak, I told the girl he was married, and they had a kid.
“He said he was single,” she whispered back. “How do you know?”
“He lives a few doors down and I worked with his wife. Look do what you want but now you know.”
I went home that night feeling a little better. To this day nobody knows what happened. The next morning Brendan came nocking on the door. Half-awake I answered and he told me about his sexual escapades with the girl from the party. “She had a huge bush and she blew me. It was so good.” These were the details that would be repeated and never expanded upon and I was fine with that.
The next day I saw Rob and he said he ran into Brendan after work. “He said she was shaved, and they fucked.” After comparing the few notes we had it was obvious somebody was lying.
A week later Rob came storming into the apartment with a large cardboard box. “You won’t believe what this guy a work gave me.” It was difficult to tell what it was at first, all the VHS tapes had the covers missing and the titles were in small print.
“What is it?” I asked.
“There is this old cranky Vietnam vet at work who doesn’t talk to anyone and is pissed off all the time. He comes in today and says ‘does anybody want this box of porn’ so I raise my hand up and he tells me its all lesbian porn because seeing another dude’s dick is gay. He didn’t have to explain that to me, but he did. Then he tells me that if I didn’t take it then it was going in the trash and I put it in my car right away.”
Rob starts going through the titles; Muff Divers volume 4, No Dicks Allowed 2, Carpet Burn, and the list went on and on. He was happy with his find and had the next day off.
“Just make sure you clean up afterwards,” I said rolling my eyes as he explained he wasn’t leaving the house all day.
That next day I went to work at Olga’s and Rob stayed home with his box of porn. What happened is as follows. Rob went through his tapes reading the titles. When he came across All Anal Action volume 12, he thought “this sounds nice.” None of the tapes were rewound so if you put it in the VCR you were starting at some random spot. This tape started with a close up, loins slapping and heavy breathing, Rob sat back on the couch and enjoyed, until the camera started to pull back. There was something odd he couldn’t put his finger on. The guy was odd enough, not exactly what the man at work had said these movies were. No, the problem was the girl in the movie who either had a serious case of hemorrhoids or…
Rob fast forwarded enough to learn he had been enjoying two guys going at it and for a few minutes he sat in a corner balled up crying. Then he had an idea.
Rob rewound the tape to the exact spot he had found it and took it out of the VCR. Then, he called Brendan. “Dude, you know that box of porn I got from work. I have something you need to see.” Brendan was at the door in seconds. “Now when you watch it don’t rewind it. It’s at the best scene.” Brendan grabbed the tape and ran back to his place eager to watch the film. Rob waited.
And waited…
And waited…
What he had expected was for Brendan to come back yelling and throwing the tape at him. Maybe a phone call where he said, “very funny asshole.” Some prank played on him later. But none of these things happened. We never saw Brendan again. We never saw Karen again.
When I came home that night Rob told me what had happened, and I too waited for a response. A week later the truck was gone. A few days later, Karen was moving out on her own with the kid. She never said anything to us. We had no idea what had happened to Brendan. The girl in Gary’s building disappeared that summer as well. It was like those few weeks had never happened.
Rob often wondered if he had ruined Brendan’s life, opening doors that weren’t meant to be opened.
“Rob, he tried too hard. You know this. He was living in denial.”
“What about Karen?”
“He picked the one girl at the bar that looked like a man. And she was always a bitch.”
“Ya, she was a bitch.” Rob smoked his cigarette and maybe felt better about the joke he had played. I could see why it would be difficult to move on. A marriage destroyed, a child’s life in limbo, and a woman with nowhere to go. I think Rob liked Brendan, for all of his faults, of which there were many, he was likable in small doses, really small doses, like not living a few doors down from you, or keeping a safe distance while passing on the street far enough away that you won’t end up talking, or not knowing that a person like him exist at all. That is the best way to enjoy Brendan’s personality.
To this day I have never run into Brendan. I don’t know if I would recognize him if I saw him. I never saw the white truck on the road. I never saw Karen again either. It was obvious from the beginning that Brendan had some issues the down side was that he had to take a few people down a road with him because he was too afraid to do it by himself. In the end I think the big old box of porn was a practical joke that turned into a two for one deal. When you work with garbagemen expect to feel a little dirty.