Bob is dead.
A neighborhood icon, the former fireman apparently died in his home late last week.
His family has lived in this neighborhood for generations, and so his passing is a loss to local history. A scrounger in the best sense of the word, Bob often collected items from various estates, often coming up with curious items he sometimes could not sell, such as the remnants of a famous actor who long fell out of the national spotlight.
I remember his having historic photos of when the tire and car industry destroyed the local trolley system, as part of its campaign to get more people to drive in the 1950s. He had images of the trolley cars being dumped into the
. New York Harbor
His was a living memory of that transition time when
turned the corner from its post World War II
industrial past to its financial district dubious future. Jersey City
Although a firefighter most of his life, his personal roots were blue collar, and he stood on the wrong side of a wave of change that altered this world forever.
I met him and his wife almost from the day I came into the neighborhood, and from them, I learned about how Maxwell’s coffee plant in Hoboken used to dump its grounds in the meadows at the bottom of the hill, just across the highway – part of a perverted landfill scheme that hasn’t yet amounted to much except to bring the smell off coffee out in extremely warm days.
He and his wife owned several houses in the area, but lived across the street from us in a building with multiple units. They were always suffering through city regulations that they complained the illegal conversions elsewhere in our neighborhood did not have to comply with. They apparently didn’t know the right city inspectors to bribe, or simply refused to, being more honest than many of their counterparts in the city.
Over the years, they maintained a large truck in which they transported goods they bought at auctions, and the bottom floor of the rental building and a significant portion of a house they owned a block away, were hives to odd items they tried to sell at flea markets around the area.
They were always coming up with interesting items, and for a time, held a semi-regular sidewalk sale on the corner during warm days, drawing small crowds.
Several years ago, Bob’s health started to deteriorate, and he began to need oxygen – one sign of impending doom. Such people rarely last long once their lungs fail. But he held on. But this put a burden on his wife, who had to care for him as well as other members of their family who inevitably moved in with them.
For the last year or so, I saw Bob only once, on a particularly warm day. He was seated on the stoop of his house taking in the sun. He looked happy, but in that fog that end of life always brings. And like others I had seen, I knew he was seeing an end we could not so easily see.
As with my friend, Hank, Bob didn’t leave without leaving signs – such as a plastic fireman’s hat on the street near where he lived. One day last week, we all heard the sound of bagpipe’s playing Amazing Grace. Nobody knows where this came from. We’d never heard it before, and haven’t since. Perhaps this was one more message since had Bob opted for a fireman’s funeral; bagpipes would have played that song.
The neighborhood is significantly lessened by his passing, the loss of one more piece of the past none of us can recover, one more sign that the
that once was is fading away. Jersey City