Keeping It Under His Hat

bob sombrero 0220
Apologies on several fronts: the photo came from Pete in document form, so I took a picture of my computer screen; and I’m quite sure this is no longer considered a Halloween costume but rather cultural appropriation.

While many of my late friend Bob’s other friends were angling for his guns, there was only one memento I was hoping to procure from his “estate”: his red sombrero. But somewhere along the way it vanished, and I figured the best I was going to get was our friend Pete’s photo of Bob wearing the sombrero.

For many years Bob operated his sign-making business, largely rent-free, out of Pat’s Screen Printing. I don’t know where he came by his sombrero, but he liked — I’m fumbling for an adjective that doesn’t denigrate real sombreros, which at least once upon a time were worn for the same purposes as cowboy hats — unusual headwear, and he would often sit as his desk, working on signs, completely content under his sombrero (which would never be mistaken for working-vaquero headwear).

I thought this would be the perfect reminder of his hours spent at Pat’s, but then it vanished. I was reasonably sure it was in the shop, but then I couldn’t find several of his personal items, and I thought maybe somewhere, somehow, they’d been transferred to his house. But his niece and her boyfriend cleaned that out, and still no sombrero. At least I had Pete’s picture.

But then a week or two ago, trying to shore up a motley, sagging pile of boxes in the Pat’s storage wing [another Bob legacy: he made signs denoting the “north wing,” “south wing” and “executive wing”], I discovered two boxes of Bob’s keepsakes in among all our abandoned shirts. In one of the boxes was the red sombrero.

Off and on since this discovery, I have been sorting through the boxes, which in typical Bob fashion he had required us to store, again, rent-free, because he wasn’t about to sort through them himself, or take them home (“I don’t have room for that,” he informed Ben, who had boxed it all up).

This sorting has been a melancholy task, but it’s also been kind of good, because it’s reminding me of why we were once such good friends. It is also, however, pointing out my failures as a human: I am not a good cleaner or sorter, even if it’s not my stuff.

I thought I would do better, because it’s easier to clean up other people’s stuff. Why on Earth are you saving this piece of crap that if it were mine would be a treasure? But at least with these two boxes, I understand why Bob saved nearly every item in them, and that’s because these things are fun. Toywise, we were pretty much on the same plane. Or flying saucer.

Some of his things I have managed to throw away, the ones that were dirty and/or broken. Some of his toys, although I doubt this would please him, have been washed and put in the toy box out front at Pat’s for children to play with. Most of his alien items have been abducted by me for inclusion in my work collection.

The rest has gone into a giveaway pile, although even as I’m putting things in there, I have my doubts about who is going to want them. His plastic megaphone that says “PouponU,” a souvenir I brought him from the Mustard Museum that used to be in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin? The print is even scuffed up, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.

As I am doing this, I am aware that some day someone is going to have to comb through my things, but I imagine whoever this is will be a lot tougher than I am, and he or she will just clear entire shelves with one sweep of an arm straight into a trash bag. And that’s okay. I don’t need a museum to my memory, although kids of all ages might enjoy the interactive alien exhibits.

As I clean up after Bob, however, I’m finding a lot of myself in there. It’s not just the megaphone; he appears to have hung onto every souvenir I brought back from my trips to Wisconsin, which used to happen on a regular sort of basis and now are non-existent. (With the Mustard Museum now gone from Mt. Horeb, what, really, is the point?)

I rescued his star scope, but forgot to bring it home to see if Lynn would like to add it to her constellation collection. The picture of a friend of his holding a kitten needs to go down the street to the friend, and Joe Cool and the aliens in a space scooter will be right at home on a shelf back by my desk.

But the real treasure I unearthed yesterday was a gyroscope with red LEDs in a series of changing patterns. I recognized it right away. We found those in the dealers’ room at probably the first Starcon we attended together. We each bought one, although I have no idea where mine is. Bob’s was still in its original packaging, even though the package had been opened, many times.

It still worked, yesterday, all these years later, and in the middle of feeling like a failure with my inability to throw things away, and melancholy about everything lost with Bob (the friendship had been slipping away for quite a long time before he died), here was this little light-up burst of happiness.

I inserted the plastic pull-cord several times and let rip, watching the miniature light show. Setting it on a table wasn’t a great idea, given the amount of grinding noise it made, but it seemed more physical there in the palm of my hand anyway. It was a good find.

And of course there was the sombrero, the last thing I took out of the second box. The last item of Bob’s. Today I need to find a place over where his desk sat for most of his years at Pat’s, and there I’m going to hang it. It won’t be too far from the plaque he made for us to remember Pat by, which I think would make him happy.



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