In 1963, the year my father killed himself, I was obsessed with Bob A. I was crazy about him. My father hated Bob A. and flew into a fury whenever he heard his name. In Bob A., my father recognized himself, especially when he was young. Though Bob A. was not, as far as I know, a gambler like my father, and did not hide out in California from the Mafia or the IRS the way my father did when times got tough, Bob A. was a bad boy, wild and dangerous, and that excited me. Bob A. seemed to “get” any girl he wanted though he was small and dark and wiry. He was nineteen but he did not go to college.
The boys I hung out with at the Croydon, the coffee shop in the Croydon Hotel on the corner of Madison Avenue and 86th Street were mostly private school boys from McBurney, Collegiate, Horace Mann. A few drove Corvettes. One drove an XKE. I don’t remember the girls well except for my hooked-nose friend Lucy and raven-haired Rusty and the two Judys who, like me, attended The High School of Music and Art.
Around the Croydon, it was rumored that Bob A. had a genius I.Q. He lived in his parents’ large apartment on Park Avenue and sang rock n’ roll at Park Avenue Synagogue on Saturday nights. I can still see his big, fleshy lips and hear him singing in that high-pitched voice: Your love gives me such a thrill but your lovin’ don’t pay my bills… His room at home was filled with the latest recording and sound equipment and hundreds, maybe thousands, of records which he blasted. (I wonder now if at least some of that equipment was stolen).
When he wasn’t playing music, singing, or hanging out at the Croydon with his latest girlfriend, he lived in an underworld of pimps and con artists and creeps like his friend George, a tall scary guy with an unhealthy palor and an evil smile who once phoned my grandmother and said to her, “Suck my dick.” His friend Tommy G., a mulatto who passed for white, was AWOL from the Army. Ernie, a scary black guy who worked in a parking lot on Madison Avenue let Bob A. use parked cars to screw girls. The only girlfriends of Bob A. that I recall are Tanya, a beautiful blonde, whose looks and Russian accent I envied, and Ann, a clean-cut private school girl who applied eyeliner along her heavy lids in a perfect hair-thin line that inspired my awe. I became friends with Ann, who was not beautiful, only because I wanted to know her secret for luring Bob A.
When my turn finally came, Bob A. took me to a midtown hotel filled with prostitutes where he was probably “given” a room by friends who owned or managed the place. When I would not have sex with him–I was a virgin then–he left me there. In shock, I made my way home alone. I never slept with Bob A. Even then I think I knew he was the incarnation of my father; I could not sleep with a man who was my father. Instead, Bob A. and I became good friends. In fact, we had a special bond, especially after his parents disowned him, and he stayed in one fleabag hotel after another. His pain was familiar. His pain made him safe. I knew who to be in the presence of pain. My mother and grandmother, who considered me homely in comparison to the beauties they had both been, were grateful that any male would take an interest in me, and welcomed Bob A. into our apartment on Amsterdam Avenue and 76th Street. I remember him laughing once in my room about his stolen credit cards. Otherwise, Bob A. was vague about his illicit dealings. His visits went on for months and though my father continued to call him “a lowlife” and “a degenerate,” my father was never at home in the evening when he came over. By the time Bob A. decided to hitchhike to Miami to try his luck as a deejay, my father had already killed himself.
Recently, out of curiosity, I googled Bob A. I imagined him dying young, penniless, and barefoot on the beach, a victim of suicide like my father. But it turns out he had a hit single in 1969. What became of him since then I don’t know. The last time I heard from Bob A. was 1963 or 64 when he wrote to me from Florida and asked me to send him a dollar, which I did.
Roberta Allen is the author of eight books and a visual artist who has exhibited worldwide, with work in the collection of The Met. She also teaches Micro Memoirs at The New School and conducts private writing workshops. Her website is robertaallen.com