Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Old Friend Bob

After graduating from CU in 1978 I went up to Glacier Park and Many Glacier Hotel where I had a summer job on the bar crew along with 6 other kids, all of whom had some kind of musical or theatrical talent. My dorm neighbor and 2nd-year bar crew buddy, Bob Pazera, played the baritone horn. This morning, after having recently been contacted by one of our crew members, I discovered that Bob has been blowin’ that bad boy with the celestial philharmonic since 2003. The news that Bob had departed the planet at age 48, while profoundly saddening - we lived together the winter of 1979 at the Missoula Snow Bowl after our summer of bears, babes and booze - came as no shock. Bob was one wild motherfucker, especially for a tuba player.


He was a casebook Jekyll and Hyde alcoholic: shy, soft-spoken, quiet, bookish and unassuming
Bob Pazera
when sober; destructive, violent, grabass horny, and fearless when drinking. And he was a big guy: 6’3” 220 - an imposing bruiser with a Bigfoot gait and long meaty arms that hung apelike down his thigh, invincible in one-on-one with deceptive quickness and agility. The oaf of the Bolshoi, I used to say. His face, framed by the shag style of the day, was so clear complected and whisker-free that he could have passed for a six-year old, and the way his mouth naturally turned up at the corners made him look to be in a constant state of mild amusement at the goings on around him. A friend likened him to The Big Lebowski, which would have been a perfect fit if Bob wasn’t so schizo.


Author, whacked
The stories from that summer and the following fall and winter are the stuff of legend, especially now that the principal protagonist is reportedly dead and has been for the past 11 years. As the inventor of the FUBAR Malt (FUBAR = Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition, common in the military) Mister Bob, as he was called by the British hotel manager, Ian Tippet, would often pour drinks so strong that the guests sent them back. So he would down the reject and pour another - it didn’t matter if one reject was a Vodka Collins followed by a Manhattan followed by a Grasshopper: when he was drinking he was on a mission to see just how fucked up he could get. If pot or blow was available there was no stopping him, but we didn’t have much of a stash up there.


The employee dorm at Glacier
He also liked to get other folks drunk, so one night he challenged me and another bartender to sample every variety of booze in the bar after work. We didn’t get very far. Another night we served up free drinks to any employee who wanted them - I don’t know how we managed it, but some of the employees got so drunk that they accused us of trying to poison them and wouldn’t speak to us after that.


He also loved to throw customers off when they came up to the bar or the window to order a drink, or even waiting on tables, he would say “what can ya get me?” (instead of “what can I get you?”). A stupid little thing but it stuck with me.


There was a couple, Larry and Sylvia, that spent the summer in their RV in the Swiftcurrent campground on the other side of the lake and fly fished evenings until 10PM when it finally got dark. After fishing Larry and Sylvia, who knew Bob from the previous summer, would show up around closing and hang around drinking free beer that Bob would supply, and cognac or tequila or whatever else they fancied, playing cards and smoking cigars with us in the Swiftcurrent Lounge until 2-3AM, when we would stumble back to the dorm under the swirling, pulsating psychedelic light show known as the Aurora Borealis. It was important not to let Bob pass out in the bushes because that area was crawling with grizzly bears.


At the end of the summer season at Many Glacier Bob decided we needed some decor for our
apartment in Missoula. So after we shut down the bar at 11 or 12 - whenever it was - we stealthily removed all of the various deer and elk antler trophies from the Interlaken Lounge and spirited them to a hiding place off the shoulder of the road down to Babb, where we later collected them. The following summer Bob went to work at Many Glacier again and, in his oddly loyal and responsible way, returned the antlers to their rightful displays on the walls of the Interlaken lounge.


Once we got free of the booze-addled summer camp at Many Glacier (which will become a novel some day, in which an evil hotel manager sexually “takes advantage” of young men until one disappears, along with other adventures) and moved into our spot at the Snow Bowl, we would often go for several nights at a stretch dry, then go at it with a vengeance. Bob bartended at a disco joint in south Missoula and I played solo guitar at the bar of the Red Lion Inn.


Larry and Sylvia were living in Missoula that winter, vs. wintering in the desert, and they came over with my girlfriend for Thanksgiving. The night before when Bob and I got the turkey Bob also bought a case of Heilemann’s Special Export, my favorite beer from that period, and instructed that we were to drink the whole thing: 12 beers each. In the process of drinking and decorating the apartment for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I heard Bob shout “catch!” and there over my shoulder was a 16 lb. frozen turkey coming right for my head. The turkey crashed into the wall, where I retrieved it, dropped back into the pocket and fired a perfect spiral to Bob cutting across the kitchen. But it was one slippery turkey and Bob couldn’t hold onto it, letting it smash a hole in the hollow core bedroom door. We played turkey toss for another half hour or so, completely trashing the apartment and tenderizing that bird to perfection. The next day I cooked it in a paper bag and it was unbelievable!


One Monday morning in the wee wee hours I got a call from a neighbor about halfway down the 10-mile snow packed ski area access road: Bob had slid his sedan over the edge of the road, crashed through the cedars, larches and pines and somehow survived. Drunk as he was he did not want to involve the authorities, but the neighbor insisted I come get him and take him to the emergency room. When I got there I found out why: a stick about an ⅛” in diameter had pierced his neck, entering on the left side and protruding about 2 inches on the right. It was like the old bone through the nose trick except this was a stick through the neck, and Bob couldn’t feel a thing. It seemed a miracle that there was no blood, and an even greater miracle that the stick didn’t poke a hole in his esophagus or damage his spinal cord.  


I took Bob to the emergency room and waited while they removed the stick and set him up with a pus drainage apparatus affixed to the exit hole on the right side of his neck. I took him home and we both slept most of the day (the ski area was closed Mondays and Tuesdays). When he got up he couldn’t move, his body had been so traumatized. After several days he could move again; by n’ by he went back to work, but for weeks he always had a gross little napkin in his pocket he would use to dab at the pus leaking down his neck. He stayed for another three weeks without a single drink, then,  since his car was totalled and he couldn’t work a second job he went back home to Mom and Dad in Albuquerque.  


Bob was a nicknamer. The owner of the ski area was named Melasky, which Bob thought sounded
like Polanski so he called him him Roman. Roman was also a fierce drunk and would sometimes announce closing time by hurling a couple of full pitchers of beer across the room, but never far enough to where I sat on a little stage leading the skiers in song (who were the same hardcore ski racer gang day in day out.) Roman’s daughter was named Bodagget, which is the larger, harder form of a dingleberry. Roman’s wife was Mrs. Roman, and aside from Melasky I can’t remember anyone’s real name. They were red-headed New York Polack Jews and what they were doing running a ski area in Montana is anybody’s guess. We often had contests to see who could throw Bodagget’s cat, Bodagget Junior, furthest into into the snowy woods.


I saw Bob twice after he left Missoula, both times when Holly and I lived in Scottsdale where she designed interiors for model homes with the infamous Charles Keating (another novel in diapers) and I worked at an ad agency. Bob and his wife lived in Chandler where Bob had landed a gig as a city planner. The first time Bob came to our house in Scottsdale, solo. Bob and I proceeded to get drunk and then wrestle our way through the house, smashing furniture and awakening the next day to nasty bruises, rug burns and other injuries.


Holly and I visited Bob one more time at his place in Chandler. We saw his wife Sarah briefly, then went for a hike in the Superstitions. Bob was on the wagon and it was a very pleasant afternoon.

I spoke to Bob once more around 1990, when we were amazingly both on the wagon. I had been investigating “the program”, and Bob said that he found it too depressing; the folks there were such hard cases, serious alcoholics, and he couldn’t relate. He told me that it was under control, he had learned how to have a drink now and then without having a schizoid meltdown, but he figured it out too late. His wife had already bailed.


And then this morning I learn that this incredibly funny soft-hearted guy had exited, and as much as I would like to believe that it was cancer or a cerebral hemorrhage or something not related to drinking, the odds that he stacked his car or even took his own life in a drunken state of hopelessness are far greater. I’ve reached out to his ex and will continue to sleuth until I find out what took him down. It really does break my heart, poor bastard. He was a fun, smart, sensitive guy up until about the 5th beer. Who knows maybe he was a great city planner for the city of Chandler too?

Rest in Peace, my friend.












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