Friday, February 22, 2013

Doctor Bob

The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of youth...come and go with us through life; again and again in riper years we experience, under a new stimulus, what we thought had been finally left behind, the authentic impulse to action, the renewal of power and its concentration on a new object...
—Evelyn Waugh
I met Bob Shaffer in 1991 before he became known to New Orleans as Dr. Bob, the artist. I was living in Slidell with my two kids, was divorced and filled with fear and loathing. I thought I'd left the traditional attributes of youth behind forever.

My children's father Parker and I had had a marriage made in heaven in one sense. We were both do-it-yourself gadget freaks. When the first personal computers hit the market in the early 80s, we were hooked. I started Archives Fabled Labels in 1984 and spent the next ten years, with the aid of my PC, churning out the work of a full design and marketing staff. By 1990 I had assembled my own 386 system and become both a self-taught software developer and an unwitting Windows beta tester on the cusp of the desktop publishing revolution.

Despite my primitive system and lack of formal credentials, my neighbor Bill Krieger, an orthopedic surgeon, volunteered my expertise to his wife Suzanne, who was running for state legislature. I ended up designing the graphics and writing nearly every word Suzie spoke or published during that campaign. It was a fight against a deeply entrenched incumbent, but Suzie's focused ferocity together with my quick PR response gave her the edge.

After the campaign, I got back to a stalled project of turning an old stable into an office. To thank me for my volunteer work, Bill paid Bob Shaffer to finish the job. Bob lived with Jan, one of Bill's surgery nurses. Bob was not only a jack of all trades but he told extravagant tales of various schemes and adventures...his Indian grandmother, his sister doing time for manslaughter, his bar fights, his buddy who owned a tiger, an old lady who was going to leave him her 60s Mustang, his Dr. Bob act when he visited Jan at Slidell Memorial Hospital. It made little difference where reality began and ended with Bob's stories. What he gave me was the stimulus to recover the authentic impulse to action. Bob Shaffer was all action.

Though Parker and I had divorced in 1989, two years later we still didn't have a community property settlement. Parker had no financial incentive and I was paralyzed with dread. One day over lunch with Archives' accountant Fred (who would become my second ex-husband) and Bob, the conversation turned to the stalemate. I said I wished I could hold Parker's sailboat...still technically part of community property...for ransom to force him to deal fairly with me. On that, Bob and Fred snapped into full pirate mode.

"I'll go get it," said Bob. "Show me where it is."

"My brother lives on the Mississippi coast," said Fred. "We can hide it there."

The plot continued to thicken until I told one of my sensible girlfriends what we were up to. "If you think Parker's mean now," she said. "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Since the kids spent holidays with Parker, Christmas was hard. On Christmas Eve Jan was with her folks in Chicago and Bob proposed to cheer me up with a Redneck Tour of St. Tammany Parish. We set off for places that weren't on the rolls of any known taxing authority. We would step into a twenty foot square cinder block box at the end of a gravel road and order a drink from a man behind a four-foot wide plywood bar who poured from a pint of Wild Turkey he took from a shelf under fat, looping, multicolored Christmas lights. Bob introduced me around to everyone like they were all old friends. I figured Bob must know every eccentric in St. Tammany Parish.

Bob saved the best stop for last. As we walked into what was known back in the day as a dyke bar, we spotted two empty bar stools. I took one, Bob the other. As I scanned left to the stool beside me, I found myself staring into the eyes of an enormous she-beast. As we looked each other over, my eyes traveled to the words SEXUAL GIANT tattooed on her bulging forearm.

"Sexual Giant," I said. "What does that mean?"

"That's my name," she said.

I extended my hand primly. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Giant," I said.

Miss Giant did not see the humor and began to rise menacingly from her stool. Bob furiously apologized and dragged me out of the bar. By the time we got home, we were so giddy we put on some honkytonk music, kicked off our shoes and danced while we relived our harrowing escape. Just then a huge roach skittered across the floor. I gleefully stomped it. Bob fell against the wall laughing until tears rolled down his cheeks. "Damn!" he said. "What kind of woman am I mixed up with? First she nearly gets me killed in a dyke bar. Then she steps on a roach with her bare foot!


  1. You should write a book of Essays. I know few people who have had a life as full of adventure, infinitely more interesting then Sarah Vowell or David Sedaris. (Though I do love them.) What I really need to know, is when I get to go on this bayou tour. It sounds incredible.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting. You made my day. Having spent all this time bedridden has led me to lots of thinking and remembering. Until now, I haven't had the energy to write even. I fear that once my energy's back I'll get caught up in another one of my crazy projects that'll keep me too preoccupied to write. Mixed blessing. I'm going to do my best to post some more. I don't know where it'll lead, if anywhere. But the fact that someone with your education and sensitivity wants to read it is all the validation I need. I would love it if you would post some essays too. Job has been sending me some marvelous writing. Some of it's brutal, as you might imagine, but it's all good. Right now, I'm wrestling with just how to handle the stuff he's sending me. He's got a lot to say.

  2. I think I'm always wrong. It amazes me that some people think they are always right. How do they get that way? It must be nice. Great story and great to know that Bob is doing well. He's still hot.


    1. Yes, he is still hot. I talked to him this morning and told him about the story. He said people are doing stories about him all the time. The NY Times did one last month. He went right into outlandish stories about millionaires and such. Hard to follow, but entertaining as hell. I hope he remembers I gave him the chain saw that started his career.

  3. great stories... keep it going

    1. Thanks, Debra. This is fun, but disconcertingly like work.