The Summer of Bob
The Summer of Bob
The year was 1968. Life was at its cheapest in Southeast Asia. Turns out, life was pretty cheap right here at home too. It was a hot summer in more ways than one and I was a thirteen-year-old kid in need of a summer job. That’s the summer I met Bob. Whether it was good fortune or bad, I’m still not certain, but one thing’s for sure, I learned a lot that summer.
Bob was the poster boy for angry white males. He also suffered from the short-guy syndrome and he resided somewhere around the low water marker on the IQ scale. On the positive side, Bob needed a helper for his sandblasting business. I stepped up, and while I may have been oblivious to the turmoil on the evening news that summer, I learned four critically important lessons from my new employer.
1: Initiative ALWAYS Trumps Brains
As I mentioned, Bob was not thinktank material but Bob had initiative. He owned his own successful sandblasting company as well as a worm farm that supplied fat juicy night-crawlers to the local bait shops. Bob was also an avid fisherman but more about that later.
The important fact is that Bob paid me $3.50 an hour to haul fifty-pound bags of sand all day and keep the sandblasting pot loaded. Sandblasting is one grueling job and the places we worked (like blasting the holding tanks at the Garland sewer plant) were not ideal. Bob was motivated. He took the jobs nobody else wanted.
2: No Good Comes From Oversimplification
Bob was a bigot, but he was an equal opportunity bigot. He hated every non-white, non-male, non-short person equally. And for good measure, he threw in anyone more successful than himself (most adults). At 5’-11” and only slightly taller than him, I narrowly inched inside Bob’s circle of acceptability.
Aa a typical thirteen-year-old, I was just beginning to appreciate abstract ideas as well as cause-and-effect relationships. Consequently, I used to entertain myself by throwing out loaded questions to Bob like, “What’s the deal with black people?” or “Do you like ANY women other than your wife?” (Bob’s wife was smoking hot.) His answers always had a common theme. Some individual in his past – whether they be black, native American (I never mentioned to Bob that my mom was native American), female, or just tall – had done something bad to him. In his limited scope, Bob considered all people of similar race, sex or stature to be the same as those evildoers in his past. Turns out that almost fifty years later, I’m still meeting Bobs of every race, sex, and stature, embracing the same oversimplified explanations.
3: Everything Is Negotiable
Bob started me out earning $1.50 an hour but I quickly realized how physically demanding, and even dangerous, the job was. After a couple weeks, I told Bob I either needed to go back to mowing lawns or he needed to pay me $7.50 an hour. Between “Deliverance”-like squeals, Bob insisted that I, a thirteen-year-old kid, was strongarming him, an adult. I stood firm through the squeals, threats, pleas, and silent treatment but I did finally relent at the $3.50 mark. (I owe that one to my dad who told me to start the negotiation by asking for far more than I expected to receive.)
The tables soon turned, however. About mid-July, we ran out of work. Bob could only pay me a couple days a week when we had sandblasting jobs. He offered me fifty cents an hour to work on his fledgling worm farm during the idle times but once again, I held fast until my negotiating skills finally floundered at $1.05 per hour. (Guess I should have started out higher.)
When we weren’t working, Bob loved to fish. He owned a 12’ skiff which he hauled on top of his old station wagon. Bob made the generous offer of letting me keep any fish I caught using his gear if I went along to help load and unload the boat. I countered that loading his heavy boat was harder work than worm farming. Consequently, in the summer of 1968, I was probably the only thirteen-year-old earning $1.05 an hour for sitting in a boat, listening to a grown man’s rants, while sneaking beers from his ice chest.
4: Respectability Matters
Don’t ever try to one-up me in the game of comparing worst jobs… I’ve worked on a worm farm. Worms thrive in one primary environment – horse shit! And as it turns out, almost anyone who owns horses will allow a thirty-five-year-old man and a thirteen-year-old boy to spend sweltering summer days tromping around their pastures, filling burlap bags with dried horse manure and carting it away to provide room and board for a bunch of useless worms, destined to be impaled on sharp hooks and consumed by fish who obey hunger over their sense of caution!
Now about the same time we were stifling our gag reflexes and catering dinner for a bunch of soon-to-die invertebrates, the newly expanding Whataburger franchise opened a restaurant in my hometown, only a mile or so from the grassy expanse we were scouring. Bob was chomping at the bit to try out that new Whataburger, so much so that he uncharacteristically offered to pay for my lunch. What we didn’t realize as we stepped into the icy paradise of that orange and white temperature-controlled chalet, was that we had gone nose-blind to our soiled condition. A very courteous but resolute manager approached and invited us to become the first customers to ever be ejected from a Whataburger. Even worse, that SOB was taller than both of us.
Let’s meet for coffee and you can tell me what you learned in 1968. If you can convince me you’ve had an even worse job than worm farming, I’ll buy you lunch but don’t show up smelling like horse shit.
“Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain”
– Henry Ford
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