Bob was my first friend. We lived about a block apart and started playing together when we were about 5 years old.
Throughout childhood we were buddies. School friends were school friends, and after school it was pretty much Bobby and Tony. We splashed in the kiddie pool at Abbot Park. We were Cub Scouts together. We raided cherry trees and apple trees and broke a lot of windows. We played ball, double-dated and hung out at Joe’s pool hall. And later we got some leg in separate bedrooms at Neal’s house while his parents were on vacation.
I got to high school first, and we didn’t hang out much for a couple of years, while he stopped being Bobby and got to be Big Bob, 6-foot-4-inch, starting center on the football team.
Bob had two older brothers—loud, tough, aggressive and dumb as posts—one now dead, the other only from the neck up. They were proud louts, and Bob was forever trying to out-macho anybody in the room.
Bob was homophobic long before I’d heard of such an affliction. He used to say gay men—although that’s not what he called them—made him sick to his stomach. He wanted a man to hit on him, so he’d have an excuse to beat him up.
In 1965 Bob got drafted and was sent to a recruiting office in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he spent the next 17 years—in the town, not in the Army. Then his wife put him out, and he came back to Chicago.
We were both down and out in the early ‘80s, so we shoveled snow together and pretended to be handymen. Bob’s friends’ houses always had full ash trays and filthy carpet. He seemed drawn to people who hadn’t quite cleared their heads from their last fuck-up, and who didn’t want a clear head anyway, if you had a little something on you to share.
Back home Bob discovered heroin, lost his job, got shot, was hit by a car and eventually started getting disability checks from somewhere. Bob was retired, or should have been.
One Sunday morning a few weeks ago he asked his father, with whom he lived, for money. Theo refused, and Bob pulled a gun.
When the cops showed up, Bob came to the door holding a pistol, and for the next couple of hours the neighborhood was crawling with SWAT teams, until Bob surrendered and they took him to jail, where he’s likely to be until he goes to prison.
I know Bob as well as anybody, and I think he was just fronting, as usual.
And why did the cops come to his father’s house to begin with? Theo had called Bob’s older brother and, rather than come himself, his brother called the cops. His brother.
One more thing. As boys, Bob and I cut our thumbs and pressed them together so our blood would mingle and make us blood brothers, like we saw in Hondo. We’ll always be blood brothers. Theo should have called me.