Robby the Favored Son

I’m not sure if the first child is always the favored child, but in our family that was the case. It seemed Robby had his way with most anything he wanted. That is at least my perspective, which is a child’s perspective, which can be reconstructed a bit. I know enough now to know that how I currently perceive my childhood can be different from reality, but it’s my story and my blog.

I’m not sure how my parents saw it, but their favor on Robby did seem a bit skewed to me. I was not particularly bothered by this perceived favored status he had, though at times it was frustrating.

The truth is that Robby was four years older than me and that was just long enough to put us in two different worlds. When I went to first grade he was in the fourth and was moving on with life. I was not really adjusted to the school thing until about the third grade and he was in the 7th by that time. He was cutting edge and I was simply following his wake, making my own life, trying to figure things out. I really didn’t have much of a clue about things until he hit high school and by that time he was gone, at least in my mind, in my experience. He also had Joey, a year younger, to contend with so I suspect I was not in his thoughts. He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. I was way down the sibling chain and there was no reason for us to interact, at least not the way our family was set-up.

I think the only time I was truly mad about the favored status thing was when Robby wanted a car and somehow he worked it out with my dad to take my money from my bank account to buy him a car. My dad took about 1K from my account, which was about all I had at the time if I remember correctly. Being a minor my dad had to help me open the account. This “parental consent” clause gave him the ability to take money if he wished. I was 12 when I opened my account. I remember having a savings book and it was the coolest thing to watch the money grow week by week in that account. I was 14 when it hit 1K and that is about the time he took the money for Robby to buy him a purple, metal-flaked 1966 Volkswagon bug. I was ticked off (Read: understatement). I worked for two years to save that money and it was gone at a whim. Robby had a desire and it was fulfilled at my expense.

The car was passed down to Joey and maybe Gary, but I’m not exactly sure about that, then when I turned 16 or 17 I got it. By that time the car had seen it best years. It was a very frustrating time for me. I re-carpeted the car and got it ready for “coolness” and enjoyed it for a few months. I skipped school with Chip Simpson one day to go to Greensboro to pick up some wrestling tickets for a big show they were having. The car blew a rod on the way back, just outside of Greensboro and we had to hitchhike home, which took us from around 1 PM to 11 PM that night. It was a bad day. The mechanic said it would cost more to repair than it was worth so I gave the car to him to cover the towing and assessment bill. I think I got ripped-off on that deal.

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Robby the Mean Prankster

Robby was a mean brother. One time he took the bed sheet off one of our beds and tied some type of strings to it to form a makeshift parachute. He made a couple of us brothers climb a tree and jump into some sticks he had constructed in an upright position. I did not understand why he had the sticks protruding upward. I didn’t understand much of what Robby did. The chute did not open up btw, but fortunately we were not hurt.

Another time he urinated in the lawn mower because he did not want to cut the grass. Another time he took a rope and made a “squared circle” around four trees and bushes to form a wrestling ring. He got hyped-up from watching the wrestling show that Saturday and he and the next older brother, Joey, put on ski masks and pretended to be the “Masked Bolos”, a wrestling team back then. He and Joey then beat us up. All of these incidents were prefaced with the warning that if we told on him he would beat us up. He said it differently that than. Between the continual fear of getting beat up and a drunk dad who verbally taunted us most of the time, it was a sad childhood.

One time Robby tied up a cat inside an open Coke machine and beat it to death. Another time he hung a boy out of the second story of our old school building by his ankles just for kicks. Another time he tied a wire between two trees at the end of the path that led to our grandmother’s house. He was hoping that one of us would run down the path to grandma’s house and get clipped at the neck. The real funny part about this episode is that shortly after Robby strung the wire up mother called him back up to the house to do something. In time he forgot about the wire and some time later mother asked him to run to grandma’s house to pick up something. Mother said she was washing the dishes in the kitchen looking out the window that faced grandma’s house and while washing dishes she was watching her oldest son run down the path and all of a sudden he was nearly decapitated as his legs shot out from under him. This was an excellent moment in my childhood, from my perspective.

One evening Robby and Joey got in one of their normal fights and it escalated to the point where they broke a window in the living room. The glass cut a major vein and Robby began to spurt blood out on the floor. This stopped the fight. He was weakening before my eyes. It was a surreal moment. They called the ambulance and he was saved from death this time. It was the oddest thing to sit there, not able to do anything watching your brother die. I remember another time when mother got angry at him and threw an ashtray at him and hit him on the side of his head. It was a heavy ashtray, which had to hurt.

Robby and Destiny

Robby was one of those guys that had destiny written all over him, specifically in the area of athletics. He was a born athlete. There was no question about his giftedness. I do not remember when he took the field in the big three: baseball, football and basketball. In our day these were the main sports that kids played. He was best at baseball probably because he enjoyed it more and had more access to the sport through Little League, Babe Ruth and High School competitions.

To illustrate destiny I remember one time when he was playing on a Little League team and his team was behind. It was the last inning and their team was down. Robby hit the ball and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. The ball rolled through the glove of the shortstop or third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the fence in left field. It was like the ball and the defense were playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run, his team won and he was the hero, again.

One time on the high school football team he was knocked down around the 20 yard line of the opposing teams end and he got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10 yard line as the player was trying to run for a score. He never saw Robby coming. It was a magic moment. No on could catch the opposing player and Robby not only was knocked down, but he got up and took off after the guy and tackled him. It was even more spectacular because when Robby was knocked down his helmet came off. He made the run and tackle w/o his helmet. He didn’t have time to put it on.

When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC Clyde King of the New York Yankees came down to interview him. He was that good. Unfortunately, only Robby could mess up his destiny. He was incarcerated and would never be able to fulfill his field of dreams. Robby seemed to always be the first to break this record or the youngest to do this or that on whatever team he was on. He was rewarded time and time again. He was gifted. Even when he went to prison he played on the prison teams and was a star.

I really do not know what went wrong with him. He was a very angry kid. I do not know how he got so angry. All of us boys were angry kids. We had a pagan worldview. Dad used to beat us. He was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. He stayed drunk or was drinking most of the time. I really don’t remember a time when he was not drinking. I think Robby got caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention and his path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed in sports rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.

I had always thought that it seemed illogical to see Robby as an old person sitting in a rocking chair on some back porch somewhere with a wife and grand kids. It didn’t sound right for him. It seemed to me that he was born to die early. And that he did.

Robby

My oldest brother, Robby, was born in July of 1956. He was a rare person. He was more gifted in certain ways than any of the rest of us. He certainly had more potential than any of us as far as making a success of himself and getting out of childhood and into adulthood in good shape. I do not know what went wrong with him. But it did go wrong in the worst kind of way. In June of 1987 I received the phone call that nobody wants to receive. It was from my mother. It seemed it was early in the morning, but I cannot remember now. It was 7 years before I took up the pen and began to journal.

Nevertheless, she told me that Robby had broken into a mobile home and there was a man sitting across the way with a double-barrel shotgun in his hand. He shot both barrels at Robby’s head. Robby put his hands in front of his face apparently in an attempt to protect himself. It shredded parts of his hands. Robby fell face down on the floor and the man took the shotgun, turned the gun around to where he was holding the barrels and used it as a sledgehammer on the back of Robby’s head. He broke the stock of the gun on the back of his head. This is what ultimately killed him though he could have died from the gunshot wounds if the guy had not bludgeoned him to death. That was it. His life was over. He was obliterated.

The killer was not prosecuted if I understand the story correctly. It is my understanding that the police felt like it was one less criminal off the streets and he was probably acting in self-defense. Robby had just gotten out of prison in January or February of 1987. He had been in prison most of his adult life. He would be what they call an institutionalized person. He was so acclimated to the inside that he could not live on the outside. The rehabilitation program didn’t work for him. Prison was his niche. It is what he did, what he was, a place where he was king of his domain. Whenever he got out, which was three times I think, he found himself back in all but the last time. That last time he was murdered.

Apparently, as the story goes Robby had a girlfriend on the outside. He was writing letters to her. She kept the letters. She also had a husband or significant other. Robby decided he wanted the letters and went to get them. This is why he broke into the trailer as I understand it. The one brother who had the most potential was the first one to die. The one who never missed a day of school until his 10th grade year died 31 days before his 32 birthday. The person who was always the youngest in whatever sport’s league he was in and broke all the records had a record, a prison record, and it was a good thing in some people’s mind that he no longer lived. It was the beginning of a new set of disappointments for me like no other time in my life.

Peabody Hotel: Beginning of the End

The Peabody Hotel is in Memphis, TN. It is a historic hotel, one of the more popular hotels in America. I was there during the filming of the Tom Cruise movie The Firm. I did not see him or anyone else from the movie. The niche of the Peabody is the duck walk they have twice per day. The ducks stay in a suite, so they say, in the Penthouse. Every morning a guy in a tux comes down the elevator with the ducks and they walk down a piece of red carpet to the pool in the hotel lobby. People gather to see these ducks do their walk. In the afternoon they do it all over again.

Alcoa Recycling had a nationals manager’s meeting at the Peabody. I can’t remember the year. I went to this conference. We toured the Memphis facility and took another tour of a processing plant I believe. This was one of the more agonizing moments of my life. The agony had little to do with the trip, the people or the work. It was all about me; it was all my fault. As a fundamentalist with an anger problem it was a recipe for disaster. I simply refused to fit in. I could not have been more self-righteous, arrogant, stubborn or angry. I had standards which no one in my company believed or practiced. It was an exercise in debauchery according to me.

There were wives flirting with the opposite sex. Many husbands were doing the same thing. There was drinking, lewd jokes and more. In one of the plenary meetings they showed an org chart that had “God” under the CEO. It was supposed to be a joke. By that time I was at my self-righteous limit. Sometime during the week I went to my room after dinner, took out my large print KJV bible, laid it on the floor and begin to pray that God might convert them and give me grace to endure this conference.

As I was waiting for the car to come to pick me up and take me back to the airport I was sitting in the lobby of the Peabody watching the player piano and began a rough draft to the President of the company sharing my opinions about the events of this conference. It was a mean, scathing, angry, self-righteous indictment of the company, the people in the company and my utter disgust with their attitudes and behavior. It was the low-point of my tenure. This low point was not because of their sin; it was because of mine. I was totally out of step with reality, my culture, expectations of pagans and a reasonable methodology on reaching my culture. I couldn’t have been more arrogant. I was ticked and they were going to know about it. They were wrong and I was right. I could not see clearly. They were behaving according to their worldview. I wanted them to be as holy as I was without being regenerated and if they were not going to be converted then they should not act like sinners in front of me. Yep, I was winning friends and influencing people. I was influencing people for sure. This was the beginning of their plan to fire me. They accomplished that by downsizing and shutting the plant down two years later.

Piano and Pop Tops

The original machine we had for packaging our aluminum cans was a crushing type machine. We would send the cans up a conveyor belt and they would drop into a large bucket and then down into a compactor and would be compressed into a cube. They would come out a small door and slide down a trough where we would pick them up, stack them in a bale and then strap them together into a multi-cube bale to be picked up by a forklift and placed on an eighteen wheeler.

As part of the crushing and refining process the cans would go up the conveyor, over a magnet to pull out the steel cans and then before they dropped into the compactor they would be slightly crushed and the debris (paper, cigarettes and other dirt) would fall into a 55-gallon drum. This slight crushing process typically caused the pop tops to snap off the can and fall into the “debris” barrel. Once the barrel was full I would take it out back and dump it. This happened about every day or so.

I got to thinking that if I could salvage the pop tops I could sell them and make a profit since they were being thrown away anyway. This was something the former worker was doing. It also kept us awake during the day since there was not a whole lot to do. Therefore, I spent the entire summer salvaging pop tops. It worked this way:

I had a framed table top on four legs that was about 4 feet high. The top of the table had a screen mess type of metal where I could shovel the debris out of the barrel onto the table. Much of the dirt would immediately fall through the screen mesh table top onto the ground. The mesh was small enough to where the tabs could not go through. What was left on the table top was pop tops, which I wanted, small pieces of paper, rocks, a few other small objects and scores and scores of cigarette butts. Pop tops and cigarette butts were the main things left. Once all of the dirt was hand-sifted out I would pour the remainder of the material on the table into a 55-gallon drum of water. The pop tops would go to the bottom of the barrel and the cigarette butts would float on top of the barrel. I would sift (hand scoop) the butts off the top and throw them to the ground. I would then take a forklift to pick up the barrel of water and clean pop tops and pour them back onto the wire mess table. I could then sift out any remaining debris. Then I would take the pop tops and put them in large thick plastic bags and stack them in the corner. These bags were about 5 feet high. They were huge and very heavy. Once I had a vanload, which was over 600 pounds I had Penny take them to a buyer and we made enough money to buy a piano. It took all summer, was a bit of dirty fun and well worth it. I made over $300 cash for my part-time job.

Alcoa Recycling

Dr. Clark was a big help. He gave me a recommendation for a job opportunity with a “mom-n-pop” recycling organization. I visited one of the two employees that worked for this company. It was located at the White Horse Road Fairgrounds. He was an out-going senior who was going back to Louisiana after graduation. (Not “out-going” in that he was full of joy. He told me that Jesus never smiled and we shouldn’t either. He was a lot of fun!!) He said I could have the job if I wanted it, but I needed to come down in May rather than some time later. He was leaving and they needed somebody. He said he worked there for four years and never did any of his homework outside of the workplace. He said he could have two or three customers in an eight hour day. It seemed like a remarkable opportunity. I took the job and planned to move down in May.

Penny could not quit her job until later in the summer. We worked at the same place, TransAmerica Delaval. She quit in June/July and then moved down with the kids. I lived in a small apartment during that time. We found a house a few miles away, but it was not going to be ready until later in the summer. I felt some pressure about getting the house but thought since our life was changing so much it might help the situation. I don’t know if the pressure was self-derived or externally derived. The house was more than what we needed and could really afford. It seemed like the right thing to do and I hoped we could swing it. We moved in during the late summer. Both of us were making $20.00 per hour in 1986 combined. After we quit our jobs and moved to Greenville I was the only one working making $5.00 per hour.

Work went great! I had virtually no customers that first summer. Not only that, but the owners sold the business to Alcoa Recycling within the first week or two that I was hired. I got immediate benefits and a raise. Alcoa bought the company because during the 80’s they were trying to raise the recyclability of the aluminum can. This small plant was a marketing tool. The recycling rate was under 50% in those days and only a minority of people was on-board with recycling in our country. By 1993, when they closed the plant, the recycling rate was over 70%. We had worked ourselves out of a job so to speak. It was a fun job. I worked there through college and on into 1993 when they shut the plant down due to down-sizing.

I began waiting on the public when they brought in a bag of aluminum cans to sell. It took about 24 cans to make a pound and the rate was anywhere from .25 to .65 cents per pound. It varied in price for many reasons. Alcoa began to promote more and I became busier, but never so busy to where I couldn’t do my homework onsite and they were okay with that. In addition, we owned Golden Goats and Can Banks in 11 (I think) locations from Cheraw, Woodruff, Gaffeney, Pelzer, Fountain Inn and more. People would bring their cans and put them in the machine. It would weigh them and “spit” out the appropriate change. Two or three times per week the big wagon would come with several thousand pounds of cans which we unloaded by shovel, crushed and blew on a tractor trailer to be shipped to Maryville, TN.