Monday, October 25, 2010

I could use a laugh! (Part 1)

I am trying to think of a classic story to make me forget the rain and my jobless situation. No, I will not complain, I won concert tickets today! So just when you think that life is giving you lemonade, and you really don't like lemonade, call a radio station and win something! Well I thought of a strange and funny tale to warm your heart and mine.

It was back in 1998 and I was working in Santa Cruz. Not that I hated Seattle, but I really did not miss it. I got a job as one of the custodians of Mt Hermon Christian Conference Center, a huge complex of three camps in the Santa Cruz hills. Just as a starting point the area is beautiful. The hills are the same ones that John Steinbeck walked in the early part of the century. The redwoods are tall and silent, except in the winter when the wind roars through their branches. The ground is soft with the layers formed over the course of many lifetimes. They deaden the sound of footsteps, and you can feel the silence. Then some stupid kid starts yelling, and your peace is broken. Especially if they are members of the Dutch Reformed Church, in which case they will bring several thousand water balloons. These they throw constantly with little regard to the custodian charged with retrieval of spent balloons.

This tale does not involve the Dutch though. Unless of course you mistake the surname Verbeek to be Dutch instead of German. The name is attached to another name, the not so fancy sounding Bob. Bob Verbeek was one of the full time custodians, he was mean, proud, ands sometimes bought us drinks at the soda fountain. He was one hell of a complex individual. He was a racist, a hippie, and also a liar of prodigious stature. There were some stories he told that we totally disbelieved, and there were some that seemed plausible. In one stirring adventure he was the back gate keeper at a Canned Heat concert at the Cabrillo College football field. He proudly told us how he wouldn't let the band in because they did not have their ID's! He was fired from that job. It is stories such as this which caused me begin to think it might actually be true. Why would you lie about how you were really dumb? So the legend grew. But let me set the scene.

Bob Verbeek was about 5'10". He was scrawny with a dirty blond pony tail, saggy eyes and a constant odor that was a blend of patchouli and stale cigarettes. His teeth were a wonder of their own. His front two teeth on top were tilted together like a shovel, and they were all quite yellow. One of his main skills was bragging. He could brag about any topic that came up in conversation. If it were the custodial arts he would brag about how he was the only staff member who set up chairs correctly (he went to a conference on it!). If you were stupid enough to talk about girls he might mention the fact that he had been in adult films and was a nudist, which caused all who heard to cringe! Even the words that he pronounced correctly were vastly outnumbered by the ones he mispronounced! Vortex was Voytex, core-less toilet paper was cordless (it did not have the cardboard cord!)! He was grouchy to most people, tolerant of some. No matter what, he never ceased to be a mystery though I knew him for years.

Bob Verbeek was loud. stopping his conversations to pull the rubber band out of his ponytail, and vainly rearrange it, oblivious to the fact that his hair was thinning on top. He would cackle when he saw a pretty girl walk by, unconcerned that she was more than half his age. Sometimes commenting "Praise God for his creation", which caused the few women we told to shudder without fail. But at least Bob Verbeek  was saved, I think he told me that he introduced Billy Graham to Christ, and sang in th church choir. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, it seems that Bob always had a lot more enemies than friends. It was mysterious to all of us why he was not fired. Then we rode on the trash truck.

Bob was the driver. The caretaker. We joked that he slept in it. To this day I would not be surprised if that were true. It was an old white Heiler I christened "Moby Dick". No matter how many bad things people could say about Bob, I have never met anyone who could back that truck into the places he could. There was a childcare center at the conference center, and when Bob backed Moby in, there were probably 2 inches available on either side of the truck. The redwoods were scarred from his misses, but I have never seen anyone drive like that. Even after he was finally fired the other drivers would stop and walk to get the trash from the childcare, but not Bob Verbeek.

That summer the crew consisted of myself, and four others: Matt, Aaron, Timmy (Monkeyfingers), and the legendary Richard Reavis (I must save him for another time). We all got along fairly well. It was fun, we were 19 and the weather was good. Some of us surfed, some played ping-pong, some guitar. All in all we had a good job and were not at home. Life was good. For the most part we tolerated Bob, but we were all glad when we got to work with Walter or Nathan instead. Riding on the trash truck was OK because you didn't have to talk to him. So we were all getting through the summer fine. And that is when Timmy snapped.

Timmy had some problems with anger management, he freaked out on me once, but we worked it out. Then one day at dinner I met up with the guys and heard that Bob and Timmy had got into a wrestling match! I guess they were cleaning up the dining room when all hell broke loose. It had started as play fighting but they both got out of hand and it turned into a fight. For a few weeks Timmy refused to work with Bob. Essentially screwing everybody! The whole battle escalated when Timmy wrote "Bob Verbeek has horse teeth" with ketchup in the loading zone of camp! Our boss Tom must have thought it humorous because Timmy did not get much of a punishment.

Somehow though, over the course of the summer, we went from hating Bob, back to liking him. Do not ask me how. He was such a prolific liar, that even the things we could prove true were doubted! According to Bob he had done everything from Roller Derby to driving the bus for The Grateful Dead. The only thing we did not doubt was that he was a good bowler. He had a trophy in the window of his room, which happened to be in the maintenance yard. So one night towards the end of the summer, on a day we did not hate him. We all took Bob bowling. Of course he destroyed us. Suddenly a guy in his 30's walked up. "Are you Bob Verbeek?" "Yeah" "You used to teach me roller skating!" It was such a shock. At that moment I realized the good and bad news, IT WAS ALL TRUE!

To be continued...


  1. ian, i am under the impression you are a Christian. am i mistaken? isn't your band Christian?

  2. Ian you are an amazing writer! Please don't ever stop!

    I worked at a church camp for 2 years, practically ran the place. One of the best jobs in the world. Anita, I think it depends on the place. At the one I worked at we had everyone from the Holy Rollers, to atheists, no one cared.