I worked for a Jewish Cowboy when I lived in Toronto.
All of Bob’s customers called him the Jewish Cowboy because he always wore cowboy boots, khakis, long sleeved button up shirts, and a Stetson. Oh, and he was Jewish.
I don’t know too much about Bob’s origins other than he was Jewish and he was born in Poland sometime in the late 1920s early 1930s.
When I lived on Canadian Forces Base Downsview I was a loner. Actually for most of my life after CFB Namao I was a loner. One of the things I loved to do was to jump onto the railway tracks that ran through the base. I’d walk up the railway tracks as far north as the rail yards north of Steeles Avenue.
I was always fascinated by the dead animals that I’d find on the tracks. How could they not hear a train coming. Even without sounding their horns trains were loud. Was it a quick death. Did the animal even know what had hit it. Was it painful. A million questions.
Usually I’d bring a book with me and I’d climb the signal platforms and read my book on top of the signals while the trains passed underneath.
On one of my journeys up the railways I saw a warehouse with video games in it. I was curious. I hopped the fence and went over to take a look.
I can’t remember how things went down, but I told Bob that I was handy with electronics and that I could solder. So as a test he asked me to solder some wires to a joystick. So I stripped the wires, fluxed the wires, tinned the wires, fluxed the switch tabs, applied a small bit of solder to the switch tab and then I applied the tinned wire into the molten solder blob, removed the soldering iron and let the solder cool. It was nice, and shiny, and perfect.
Bob then asked me to look at some video game logic boards that had some problems. I fixed them.
So I had a job. Bob paid good, just a little bit above minimum wage, which for a 13 year old wasn’t bad. And on days that I worked, Bob paid for my meals. Bob refused to buy me smokes or to let me smoke in the workshop, but he wouldn’t say anything if I stepped out for a smoke.
Bob owned two companies. Trans American Construction and Trans American Video Amusements. I don’t think he had operated Trans American Construction much by the time I started working for him. His main business was Trans American Video Amusements.
When I started working for Bob his shop was in a warehouse on Finch. A little while later he moved to a new warehouse on Steeles Ave.
Bob’s customers spanned all the way from Oshawa, Ontario to Niagara Falls, Ontario. He had agreements to put video games in all of the Holiday Inns in Southern Ontario as well as all of the Hasty Markets. Bob also had various other locations such as small convenience stores. I’d usually go in and work with Bob on Saturdays.
Bob had a Dodge Kary Van that was modified with a lift gate on the rear for lifting and lowering the video games in and out of the box.
We drove in this van pretty well all over southern Ontario.
Bob wasn’t the least bit hesitant to drive on base and stop in front of our PMQ and toot the air-horns to let me know that he was waiting.
Bob didn’t like my father very much. Bob would often tell me that what concerned him the most about my father is that my father just didn’t seem to care that I was never home. What type of man lets a stranger take his son on the highway and out of the city?
By the time Bob moved up to Steeles Avenue I would come to work after school and I would stay there until 9 or 10 at night. Bob could always tell I was leaving late because Gerry, the guy who owned that auto shop next-door, would tell Bob what time I was leaving, and Bob could see what time I armed the alarms.
And this blew Bob away. He said that he’d never seen anything like this. He said if his daughter started disappearing for hours that he’d ground her.
And my smoking. Bob had never seen anything like it. The fact that my father didn’t care about my smoking shocked Bob. Bob couldn’t comprehend this.
I never could understand why Bob cared so much about my father or my home life. I guess at the time I didn’t realize just how off the rails and dysfunctional my household actually was and how apparent the dysfunction was to people outside of my family.
Bob was a good natured guy. He never really got angry or upset. I dropped a video game out of the back of the truck in the shop one day. I thought that Bob was going to be pissed off, or worse. Nope. Shit happens, just try harder next time. My father would have killed me or at least humiliated me.
One time we were driving to Niagara Falls. Antonio was with us. Antonio was another helper that Bob often employed. Bob was driving, Antonio was in the passenger seat, I was sitting between Bob and Antonio. Bob asked Antonio to clean the sideview mirror. Antonio reached into the glove box and grabbed a small “rag”, rolled down the window, and started rubbing the dirt off the mirror using the “rag”.
“Antonio! After all I have done for you, this is how you repay me!” Bob bellowed.
Antonio starts looking at Bob and then looks at the mirror thinking maybe he didn’t clean the mirror good enough.
I forget exactly how the exchange went but I clued in really quick once I saw the decorative embroidery around the edge of the “rag”. Antonio still hadn’t figured out why Bob was upset so I pointed at the “rag” and then I pointed at the back of my head. Antonio didn’t get it right away, but then the realization started to dawn on Antonio’s face. Antonio unfolded the “rag” and realized that he had just used Bob’s yarmulke to clean the mirror. When Bob saw the look of horror on Antonio’s face he couldn’t stop laughing. Antonio spent the rest of the day apologizing to Bob.
Bob got a flat tire once in the truck. I got underneath to put the jack in place under the axle. Bob didn’t realize that my legs were under the lift gate and he was in the process of unloading games off the truck to make it lighter. Bob treated me like royalty for the next couple of weeks after that.
Bob bought me a jukebox at one of the video game auctions at Starburst Distributors for my 15th birthday. Wasn’t an expensive machine, but it was more that what Richard had bought me, which was nothing.
I’m pretty sure that the summer of 1987 was the last summer that I worked for Bob. That was the year I dropped out of grade 9. And it was also the year that I started working for Ed Blah and Bruce Beveridge of Rainbow Games. But the summer of 1987 was when I learnt a little bit about Bob’s history.
We were moving games down to the CNE from Bob’s warehouse. As the CNE happened in August this was typically the most humid time of the year in Southern Ontario. Bob was sweating, and I mean really sweating. Sweating so much that I was certain that he was going to pass out from heat stroke. I kept insisting to Bob that he should take his long sleeve shirt off and wear a short sleeve shirt or a tee-shirt.
Bob was becoming visibly annoyed with my pestering. He looked over at me and asked me if he showed me something would I promise never to bother him again about short sleeved shirts. He also asked me to promise to never tell anyone about what he was about to show me.
Remember when I said that Bob had been born in Poland in the late 1920s? Remember the fact that he was Jewish.
Bob rolled up his left sleeve and there was his concentration camp number.
The Nazis had rounded him and his family up and they were sent to a concentration camp.
Bob was the only one who survived the camps. The rest of his family was gone.
After the war Bob first landed in America before settling in Canada.
And I think this is what bugged Bob the most about my father.
Bob’s family had been destroyed by hatred. Richard was destroying his own family out of indifference.
The Nazis had taken everything away from Bob and Bob in turn built a miniature empire and looked after his wife and his daughter.
Richard never had to deal with a force of destruction like the Nazis, but here he was content to exist in his little self absorbed world not caring in the slightest where his kids were getting off to.
It shocks me now to look back on all of the people I had interacted with as a child. People who I liked. But people who I though were wrong about my father. It wasn’t that my father didn’t care, my father was in the Canadian Armed Forces. He was a busy man defending Canada. Besides, I made the babysitter molest my younger brother, so maybe he was right to not like me very much.
I didn’t know that my father was being physically or mentally abusive. My father’s attitude was common on the bases amongst the other fathers. In fact when I saw civie kids “getting away with murder” I thought it was their parents that were abnormal or just too weak to discipline their kids properly.
Now I fully realize that men like Bob Becker were right. There was something horrifically wrong with my family. My family was a dysfunctional and self destructive military family.