Remembering Bob

December 6, 1999

Sometimes it is impossible to get the words onto the page. The thoughts are there, but so are the demands of life, the interruptions and the distractions.

But I am going to write something anyway, because I set out to do so. I am also motivated by a piece I read about my friend Bob, who for the past 20 or so years sat down and typed out a column 5 days a week, year in and year out. He had to have had distractions and interruptions, but he got the writing done.

Maybe it is different for you and I, we don't get paid.

Bob did. He was the most widely read newspaper columnist in this town, which is not what you would call small.

Bob died a couple of weeks ago.

I miss him.

He wrote a column about the two of us once, about how we got into a contest of sorts during the last 12 weeks of the year. We started keeping track of the distance we swam on a grid which had been posted on the wall. Small little squares, 4 of which equaled a mile. After a couple of weeks, his line and my line started reaching out across the chart, far ahead of all the other names.

Bob had severe arthritis and took up swimming and weight lifting to try and ease the aches and pains. He took an hour and a half each morning to knock off a mile or so. I usually only had half an hour at best. The long and short of it was that we finished the 100 miles together, even though I had to put in a couple of 2 mile days there at the end. We went out to dinner together and celebrated our finish. The next year he did 300 miles, and I only got in 250. We had a 3 billion calorie lunch to celebrate.

We often sat in the hot tub after swimming and talked about this and that, about life and its twists and turns.

We laughed a lot together.

We almost always swam next to each other. The far left lane was marked SLOW, and the one right next to it was marked FAST.

Bob carried in his fins and webbed hand thingies and plopped down in that slow lane as regular as clock work. Day after day, year after year.

Outside of the pool we would run into each other in the weight room. Then the headphones were removed to share a joke or a gape. Bob strained at those weights.

During the last year we saw little of each other. Bob's wife changed her schedule so he got to the Y about an hour earlier than I, so we became ships passing in the shower or the sauna. Later when I gave up on the Y and moved to a new facility we lost touch completely.

Bob had a great big heart, and in the end, complications from heart by-pass surgery ended up killing him. He fought for over 3 months, but since I don't read a newspaper, I didn't know how ill he was. I would have gone to see him. Bob was 63 and had a lot of columns left to write.

I guess because I am such a creature of habit, I still swim in the same next to the last left lane in the new pool.

Most days I swim alone.

It's his lane, that one to my left. I miss you buddy, I'm saving you a lane.