I had a friend in State College. His name was Robert Rector; he was constantly dropping in on us at Quest Labs and later at the Witch House. He was considerably older than any of us, by ten to twenty years. In a certain sense he was our "sempai", in that he had been a member of PSSFS forever and a day. He lived out in the borough, in a house he had bought for himself and his then-wife, who had left him not long before I first met him in '92 or so. The marvel wasn't that she left him, but that she had stayed around as long as she did.
Bob was a child in an adult's body. He didn't peel the wings off of flies, but he did snicker at the thought. He had a gross sense of humor, and a delight in the offense taken by others in just about everything. You can still find his comments in the PSSFS attendance sheets archives - look for the "Uncle Mo" and Dr. Jane Poynter entries. He was known for drawing sprawling immensely offensive cartoons on the chalkboards at PSSFS meetings, about the Challenger disaster, Michael Jackson child molestation rumors, and Deliverance-themed gags. He was mildly obsessed by Deliverance, at least partially because he bore something of a resemblance to Ned Beatty - one of his more annoying habits was "squealing like a pig" whenever somebody got homophobic or the subject came up - quite disturbing and a bit nerve-wracking if you were doing something else in the room at the time. Bob was endlessly embarrassing.
He was also more than a little racist. He would go on for hours about Marion Barry, racial quotas, and various other race-themed irritations, most of which I've expunged from my memory because I didn't want to dwell on Bob's race issues. He insisted that he was "black" and that he had color in the woodpile somewhere, and that if we'd ever meet his father, his father was much darker than he. I've since seen pictures of Bob's father, and Bob was selling a bill of goods. Bob just thought it was amusing that blacks insisted that they couldn't be racist, and tried to wedge himself in under that exemption. He loved NWA, and insisted on repeating fragments of their raps in pretty much the same spirit as the pig-squealing.
Bob didn't really work for a living, which always made me think a little less of him - I've got a serious Puritan work ethic bias going, I'm afraid. He said that he managed his family's investments, which seemed to us to be a silly sort of pretension, and that it meant that he was living off of his father's beneficence. Just recently, I discovered that his father had left $10 million dollars in bequests to both of his alma maters - $20 millions all told. Apparently Bob wasn't kidding about the investments - his father had been a surgeon, and the family wasn't old wealth or anything. Bob must really have made that killing on Pfizer that he said he did.
The last time I saw him, he and Dave had visited me at my new digs in Bellefonte, and we had gone out to eat at the Bellefonte Wok, where he insisted on making a series of anti-Chinese jokes in front of the waiters. I kind of yelled at him about that, and then I didn't see him any more. He continued to hang out at Dave's new place in Briarwood for a few more months, and then Dave got tired of his bullshit, and told him to get lost. And he did. And didn't come back. Eventually we noticed that his house was up for sale, and the assumption was that he had gotten tired of kids twenty years younger than him cursing him out, and went back to his parents' farm outside Chambersburg, where he and his father had entertained themselves by collecting tanks and other armored vehicles for their notational "Franklin Military Museum".
I wondered occasionally what happened to him, but I only found out last night, when an idle google search brought up his father's death and bequests. Bob hadn't been important enough for people to notice when he went away, but his father had been a pillar of the community, and he got column-inches, generously enough that they mentioned the fact that his sons had died before he passed. From here, I was able to find Bob's very brief death notices. Bob had died a few days after Dave told him to get lost, shortly after the New Year, in January 2001. We're still not sure what he died of, but he was overweight and lived alone, and our best guess is a heart attack.
For more than four years now, I've had Bob in the back of my mind, judging the world partially by how he would see it, how he would make fun of our increasing political correctness, our need for propriety, our need for decorum. I somehow assumed he was in somebody else's living room, bringing "tribute" and embarrassing the hell out of his hosts before others. It's very strange that the world has been without Bob for four and a half years now. I'm sorry that he's missed so much that would have brought him joy, even if that joy would have been mostly schadenfreude over our failures and petty evils. I can't imagine that a man who drew horrible cartoons of shuttle disasters and who once wore a Waffen-SS uniform through a convention full of rabbis missed something like the September 11 disasters. It just seems... unfair.