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Robert Ellis Gordon Headshot

Bobby Kennedy and the ShatterProof Thermos

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Part I

As everyone knows, when Jack Kennedy died, he charmed his way past Saint Peter. Slipped in as if getting into Valhalla was no more of a challenge than getting into some pretty blond's pants.

But Bobby got the short end, as usual. The way his case was handled was infuriating. The countless delays, the surly clerks, the lost files. The incompetent lawyers and judges. It was worse, Bobby claimed, than the CIA under Dulles.

A harsh assessment, to be sure, but who can blame him? After dragging things out for nineteen years, Saint Peter's ruling was that there wasn't a ruling.

Yes, you heard me correctly: no ruling.

Which was anathema to Bobby.

Anathema.

Bobby was, after all, a man of action.

The type who despised indecisiveness.

But what could he do?

He was powerless.

A bitter pill for a Kennedy to swallow.

A very bitter pill indeed.

But Saint Peter held the cards.

All the cards.

And Saint Peter couldn't make up his mind.

Had Bobby been good or had Bobby been bad? Should he send him to Heaven or Hell?

Peter couldn't decide.

Peter wouldn't decide.

Couldn't. Wouldn't. What's the difference?

To a fellow who's chilling his heals, I mean.

For nineteen years.

In the hole.

Yes, you heard me correctly: the hole.

It seems some fat lazy clerk had lost Bobby's paperwork so...

But the point isn't fat lazy clerks.

The point is that after nineteen years, Saint Peter took action at last.

He devised an alternative sentence.

And what a doozy of a sentence it was.

Peter sent Bobby back, returned him to earth, only not as a newborn but an adult.

Who had total recall of his previous life.

But couldn't make use of his connections.

Couldn't even work in politics, in fact.

So how could Bobby make a living?

Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down?

Peter sent Bobby back as a moving man.

Yes, you heard me correctly: a moving man.

A furniture mover in Seattle.

And just what was Saint Peter's rationale?

According to Bobby, there wasn't one.

According to Bobby it was just an Adlai sort of move. A classic Adlai Stevenson sort of move.

I.e. a mama's boy move. Pure mama's boy.

But what do mamas have to do with all of this?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

The point is that mama or no mama or twelve mamas, Peter out-maneuvered Kennedy and then some.

Even claimed he had a reason for so doing.

Yes, according to the ruling the clerk handed down, Peter wanted to test Bobby's mettle; wanted to see how he'd handle himself.

So he recycled the guy.

Absurd.

And more absurd yet was the way Peter dealt with the matter of Bobby's powers.

Sure, Bobby had some, alright. Bobby was a Kennedy after all. So what could Peter do but give him some magic, some genuine Kennedy magic?

But being just the sort of bureaucrat that Bobby despised -- a State Department striped-pant sissy -- Peter sissified the magic with regulations. A whole passel of CYA regulations.

Bobby couldn't, for example, use his magical powers to influence national elections. Or statewide or local elections. Not even if a Democrat was threatened. Not even if a Democrat with sterling credentials was just a nudge away from victory at the polls.
Bobby couldn't visit his kids. He couldn't visit his grandkids.

Why there was actually an ordinance prohibiting harassment of his not-yet-late rival, Eugene McCarthy. Bobby hated Eugene McCarthy. And I guess I would've too if I were him. At least after that scene in the hospital. This was back in Life One, in California. And there was Bobby Kennedy with a brain full of bullets, with his head swollen up to twice its size. His wife, Ethel, was there, his children were there, he was forty-two years old, and he was dying. Dying, and with him the National Soul. Or at least the best part of its soul.

Not the moment for McCarthy to appear. But he did, he showed up at the hospital. Ostensibly to pay his respects. And what do you think that effete bastard said to the grief-stricken throng in the corridor? He said, "Let's get together and unite behind Lyndon."

Reprehensible, friends.

Reprehensible.

And not even death and eventual recycling had tempered Bobby's hatred of the man.

Which perhaps explains why, when he sent Bobby back, Peter issued a CYA regulation on Lazy Gene.

But what could Bobby do with his powers?

He could use them on behalf of the movers.

Which Bobby did.

He was a vigilant, effective wonder worker. The type who was willing to shrink an armoire to make it fit in an undersized elevator. And who never once failed -- if a partner lost his grip -- to stand there and magically hold up both ends of an eight-foot long loaded credenza.

Yes, he was fiercely devoted to easing the lives of his fellow moving men. But Bobby was a wise man, too. A strong believer in self-reliance. So he only used the magic when he absolutely had to, and even then, Bobby did so with reluctance.

A miracle here, a miracle there. Hardly a day-to-day phenomenon. Or even a weekly phenomenon.

It was more like once a month.

Less.

But you know how it goes with miracles. The people who witness them at the time they occur are invariably reluctant to discuss them. After all, if they do, the folks that they tell will likely conclude that they're crazy. But after the fact, once the Great One is gone and word of his powers starts to spread, the stories about the magic grow so big in the telling that the truth is buried forever.

And so it is, nowadays, in moving-man lore. The legendary Bobby in no way resembles the actual recycled Bobby. The way movers talk about the recycled Bobby -- who long ago entered Heaven -- you'd think he was a full-time wonder worker. You'd think he was constantly shrinking armoires and holding up loaded credenzas. Or causing a string of sequential green lights -- an unheard of event in Seattle traffic -- to help a new driver avoid the hill starts.

Hokum. Malarkey. Piffle.

More often than not Bobby gave of himself through judicious application of common sense.

Part II

Take the way that he handled Andy. Andy was a sophomore at the University of Washington who came to work for the summer. And he was really something else, this Andy kid. Talk about cocky. Talk about rude. Talk about your basic handsome and graceful and insufferably obnoxious human being. He was six feet two inches tall. And what a build this Andy had! He was pure, unadulterated muscle.

Of course you need more than muscles to be a good moving man nowadays. To be sure, any dolt can take contraptions apart. But as for putting them together at the other end of the move, that's a horse of a different color. What with banks of computers that have to go just so, and complicated office panel systems, and custom dimensions, and bullheaded clients, and floor plans that always but always omit immovable columns and indicate non-existent power poles... well, who but a genius could figure it out?

Which is another thing this Andy was. In college he was taking an accelerated program in both mechanical and electrical engineering.

Andy's game plan went like this: study hard, cheat on exams, and shamelessly suck up to his professors. The way Andy figured, if he stuck to his plan, he'd make lots of important contacts. And get better recommendations than anyone else. And earn oodles of money after graduating.

Which is precisely what he ended up doing.

But that's neither here nor there.

The point is that summer, when he was working for Jake's firm, he was kind of like Amadeus Mozart. You know what I mean- how, according to the movies, Mozart never had to write a second draft. His sublime concertos, sonatas and operas always came out perfect the first time.

Well, the same went for Andy on the job. He could, just for starters, reassemble a workstation as quick as you could say Jack Sprat. And the result was always square and always level.
And he was equally impressive on household moves. Let's say, for example, that he was moving a couch through a hall and a narrow doorway. And let's say the turn was tight. Well another moving man- even a cagey veteran like Full-Time John- would have to try a few combinations.

First he'd tell his partner to carry it straight through. And when that didn't work he'd say, "Okay, let's flip it on its back." And when that didn't work he'd say "Let's stand it on end." And when that didn't work he'd cuss. And cuss again. And cuss again. And yet again. And sure enough they'd get the couch through the door with a minimum of dings to the doorjamb.
But Andy, as I say, was different. He'd just eyeball the height and eyeball the width and the next thing you know, that couch was in.

And he never dinged the doorjamb, either.

Well of course Jake, the owner, adored him. "If I had two more like Andy, even one more," he'd say, "I'd be richer than Croesus. I'd retire!"

But as for Jake's regulars, the year-round employees, they weren't so enamored with the kid. And it's not because Andy was gifted. In fact, jealousy had nothing to do with it. The average moving man isn't bothered in the least if another moving man is simply better. In this respect, as in other respects, moving men are different than poets.

But what have poets got to do with all of this?

Nothing, nothing at all. All I'm saying is that as opposed to poets, your average moving man views grace and talent in another not as an affront but a boon.

And why is talent in another such a boon?

A talented partner will look in your eyes and know the precise moment to lift. Without a word being spoken he'll tilt a desk just enough to prevent the heavy drawers from flying out. And you won't have to ask him to stop and re-grip; he'll sense that it's time and just do it.

It's an art, not a science, this moving man dance, and the ones who have the touch are prized commodities. For at the end of a day with a talented partner, no matter how hard you worked, you're not exhausted. Consequently, you have enough get up and go to take the kids into town for an ice cream. Or to flirt with your wife and play footsie till dawn. Or to start a new home improvement project.

But if you spend the day working with an artless moving man, the type who has no sense of rhythm; the type who's constantly pushing when he ought to be pulling; who moves in quick jerks, who daydreams... well, by the time you punch out your fingers are bloody and as likely as not you've thrown your back out.

You drive home exhausted. You hate your job. You hate your life. You snap at the wife and the kids.

Which makes you feel guilty. You know you're a failure. You wish you could eat a gun. Or better yet, slit your left wrist.

Lengthwise, you tell yourself. Lengthwise.

See, that's where most people screw up. They hack and they hack against the grain, making a mess and getting nowhere.

If you're truly serious about offing yourself, then walk the talk and take yourself out in a tidy and efficacious manner.

Ditto for moving large desks.

So it was in spite of, not because of Andy's God-given gifts, that the others found him hard to be around. The problem was the way he condescended.

For example, if a fellow was having some trouble deciding how to reattach two panels and Andy came ambling over, he'd assess the situation and shake his head. Then lickety split he'd get the job done, stand back from his work and sigh. "Jesus," he'd mutter to no one in particular so as to let the guy know he was stupid; so as to let the guy know, in no uncertain terms, that he was mentally deficient scum.

Or let's say two moving men were taking a break, maybe having a smoke by the truck. Well those breaks are important, you know. They're what make the whole business halfway tolerable. To stand there and gaze at the sun and the clouds and feel your sweat cool and sip some coffee, and get a nicotine jolt and quietly talk... well, it makes life worth living for a moment.

But the thing about Andy was he never took breaks. Also, he didn't have vices. So he'd pass the two guys by the side of the truck and give them a look of disgust. It was a look that said, "Why aren't you working? And why are you smoking? It's because you're weak-willed."

Not to mention the mornings with his girlfriend. That was the worst part: the girlfriend. Not that anyone begrudged him the right to have a girlfriend, or minded the fact that she was gorgeous. What was painful was the way Andy kissed her good-bye, right there in front of the loading dock. And it wasn't just a peck on the cheek. It was a no-holds-barred hot-blooded tongue-lapping deal with a fondle or two thrown in.

It happened every morning at five to eight. First, they'd arrive in Andy's car. Then he'd get out on the driver's side and go around to open Patricia's door. From there they would walk to the front of the car and do the routine by the hood. Sometimes it lasted several minutes.
Of course the men on the dock did their best not to look, but Patricia was so striking they couldn't help it. Her curves were pronounced and her skin was so fine you could practically smell her tan. She was nineteen years old. She was luscious.

So the dock would get quiet as the moving men looked, and it made them feel bad to look. The ones who were married would think of their wives, of how plain and dumpy they were. They'd pat their pot bellies, their middle-aged bellies, and sense a vague sadness inside.

And as for the young guys who didn't have girlfriends?
It made them think that they'd never have girlfriends. Not girlfriends like Patricia, at any rate.

Actually, Patricia was very nice. She was even kinder and humbler than she was gorgeous. So what was she doing with Andy? Why is it that nice girls get hooked up with jerks?

Who knows, but it happens all the time.

Patricia had a job at Nordstrom's. She was a clerk in Fall Apparel and Accessories. So after the kiss she'd get in the car and drive to some downtown garage. Then the dock would get quiet as the loading resumed, and no one worked harder than Andy.

Part III

Now Bobby Kennedy, who as his father once said, was by far the best hater in the family, just hated this Andy kid. Loathed him to pieces. Despised him.

To a certain extent it was justified. Bobby hated the way Andy flaunted Patricia; the pleasure he took from hurting others. But in addition, Bobby hated the clothes Andy wore, his curly blonde hair, and his voice. And the sounds Andy made when he was chewing his lunch. And his name. And the shape of his ears.

No doubt a smart shrink could explain it. With a wave of his hand the shrink might conclude it was a cut and dried case of projection. After all, in his youth, Bobby Kennedy, like Andy, was an arrogant son of a bitch. But then again, unlike Andy, who was handsome and bold, young Bobby had a shy, gawky side. So with a wave of his hand the shrink might conclude that no projection whatsoever was involved. Or that in view of the fact that both Bobby's old man and Andy were Sob's, Bobby's hatred of Andy was a cut and dried case of sublimated fratricidal impulse. Or that family background was completely irrelevant and that chemical imbalance was the cause. Or that hatred of Andy was an appropriate response to a thoroughly obnoxious human being, and that therefore the chemicals in Bobby Kennedy's brain were remarkably vital and balanced. Or all of the above. Or none of the above. Or a combination of some of the above.

Shrinks are amazing that way. I mean the deepest emotions are no mystery to them. But the thing is the emotions still exist. So the question for Bobby was how to handle them.

One option, of course was magic. He could've used his special powers to humiliate Andy. He could've really done a number on the kid.

One time, for example, when Andy and Patricia were practically at the point of heavy petting, and the guys on the dock felt lower than low, Bobby started to think about Andy's tongue. He was thinking about making it sticky. About making it even stickier than Krazy Glue. And Bobby could've done it, no problem. But it wouldn't be fair to Patricia, he thought, so he opted not to weld the two together.

And there were lots of other things he could've done. But as I say, Bobby only resorted to magic when more conventional solutions were unavailable. Besides, he was fiercely competitive. It was a Kennedy trait he possessed in abundance, and not even death and eventual recycling had diminished Bobby's drive in that regard. At least not once his buttons were pushed. He just had to beat Andy, to take him down a notch or two. And he had to do it as an equal, man to man.
So all through June, Bobby waited. And all through sultry July. He was waiting for the moment, the perfect moment. And the waiting was hard on Bobby. At times it was almost unbearable. You see, once Bobby Kennedy's hatred was aroused, it was his style to press his enemies, and press them hard.

Take what he did to that gangster, Jimmy Hoffa. This was back in Bobby's previous life as a mob-hunting mob-hating lawyer. And he went after Hoffa with so much zeal that Hoffa felt compelled to give this warning: "I do unto others as they do unto me. Only worse."

And then there was Joey Gallo. This was also back in Life One. "So," Bobby said, when they encountered one another in the halls of the senate one day. "You're Joey Gallo The Jukebox King. You don't look tough to me. Wanna' fight?"

Mr. Gallo, who was notorious for executing enemies by impaling them on meat hooks, demurred on the grounds that he firmly subscribed to nonviolent resolutions of conflicts.

But who cares about ancient history? Who cares about a time of hope and ideals which vanished for good when Bobby died?

The point, the only point, is that when Bobby hated he took action, so not taking action drove him nuts.

He'd lie awake nights and think about Andy and all the things he despised about the guy. Like the way in which Andy tried to act like the boss even though he wasn't the foreman. It was usually Bobby or Mitch or Full-Time John. They were in charge of the crews. And they treated the guys with respect. Whereas Andy, a subordinate, gave orders just the same. Andy loved to give orders, and give them curtly.

And then there were the things he said at lunch. He made these pronouncements, cruel pronouncements. Like how the poor Sob's who lived on the streets deserved what they got in life. And how the minimum wage was communistic. And how anyone who worked in a dead-end job without any medical benefits, without any pension or chance for advancement- well, they were just lazy and stupid. Whereas people like him, who had smarts and ambition, were the ones who'd have comfortable futures.

Well, this made the guys feel low. Real low. And Bobby could feel them waiting. He could see it in their eyes: they were pleading. They were pleading for Bobby to neutralize Andy, and it reminded him of 1968. Of all the people who'd urged him to run. Who'd begged him, in fact, to challenge the President.

And Lazy Gene, of all people, had beat him to it.

Gene McCarthy, Bobby thought. Lyndon Johnson, Bobby thought. Not to mention CIA's Allen Dulles. He screwed up the Bay of Pigs, did he ever. It wasn't even a bay, it was a marsh.
And how do you storm a marsh?

You don't, Bobby thought. You can't.

So the invasion was a disaster.

Which is why he told his colleagues in the moving man trade to never trust the CIA.

Well what with Bobby's thoughts about Andy getting mixed up with his memories about McCarthy, and of slimebags like Gallo and Hoffa, it's easy to see how Bobby's hatred of Andy became a major obsession.

At night Bobby tossed and turned. He'd writhe until dawn with venom and spite as he thought about that cocky college kid. And he was tempted, sorely tempted, to go back on his vow and work a bit of sorcery on the guy.

But no, Bobby thought, he couldn't do it. He couldn't and he wouldn't and that was that. He just had to beat Andy without any magic. He had to do it as an equal or not at all.

Part IV

So as I say, Bobby waited and waited. He waited until the middle of August. And then he finally put Andy in his place. It happened on a Monday morning.

It was the usual morning scene. Carl and Jay were loading the trucks with clean padded blankets and four-wheeled dollies. Mitchell was checking out the color-coded tool kits to make sure that the tools were all accounted for. Jimmy and Mike and some part-time guys were standing around sipping coffee, while Bobby, Jake, and Full-Time John were making up the crew lists for the day. The big trucks were idling and the dock smelled of exhaust, cigarette smoke, and coffee. When Bobby first started in the moving man trade, the smell of the dock made him nauseous. But now he had grown to like it. He enjoyed the cool dock before the heat of the day; before the sweat, the hot tempers, the city traffic.

This being a Monday there was some banter here and there about various weekend exploits. But at eight minutes to eight, the banter stopped. At seven minutes to eight things got quieter still, and at six minutes to eight, all work ceased. Even Jake came to stand by the window of his office which overlooked the dock and the truck bay. It had become an established if masochistic daily rite- this business of waiting for Andy. And sure enough, at five to eight, Andy and Patricia pulled up to the curb and went into their kissing routine. For once, it was mercifully short. Then Patricia drove off in the snazzy Camaro, and Andy came swaggering up.

As always, in his left hand, he carried his lunch, but in his right hand he held a thermos. It was a sleek green and silver Stanley thermos. Normally, Andy carried a bottle of fruit juice (organically grown, of course,) but today, as I say, things were different. Andy bounded up the stairs to the freight dock. Once he clocked himself in he was always bounding. He'd plunge into work at such a furious pace and get so much accomplished in a day that Jake never once had admonished the kid for not coming early like the others. Needless to say, this rankled the crew, but enough about the ways in which Andy rankled.

The point is, this Monday, he broke his pattern. For once he reached the top of the stairs, he didn't rush over to clock himself in. Instead, he slowed to a walk. Then he held up his thermos and twirled around slowly so all of the guys could see. He was waiting, apparently, for a comment. But when no one said anything Andy took the initiative and explained his new thermos to the guys. He said that Sunday had been his birthday, and that one of Patricia's presents for him was this very expensive thermos. "It's a fifty dollar unit," he said. "And maybe that sounds extravagant. But if you take the long view it's not expensive at all. If you take the long view, it's an investment. You see," Andy said, and he proceeded to deliver a short talk on the nature of thermoses. In this talk he pointed out that the average moving man owns a plastic quart thermos from K-Mart. And the problem with the average quart thermos from K-Mart is that it breaks at the drop of a hat. For instance, said Andy, if the shoddily manufactured quart thermos from K-Mart gets knocked around in the cab of a truck, the vacuum tube in that substandard thermos implodes on itself and shatters. And the same thing can happen and often does happen if you plunk the thermos down on a hard surface. Consequently, he continued, the average moving man buys two or three thermoses per year. But since his Stanley thermos had a stainless steel shell and absolutely wouldn't break no matter what, he'd never have to purchase a replacement. So over time, he'd save money, lots of money. Moreover, as a result of superb engineering, his juice would stay cooler and his tea would stay hotter than the drinks that the others brought to work.

Well this had the desired effect. The guys on the crew had never given much thought to the quality of their thermoses. I mean a thermos was a thermos was all they'd thought. But now they realized that their thermoses were inferior. They represented bad investments that cost money to replace, good money that could've gone elsewhere. That could've and should've helped pay to send their kids for their regular dental checkups. Or to settle a winter utility bill. Or to buy half a week's worth of groceries.

The guys were really feeling low about their thermoses.

But then Bobby, who'd been listening from the door of Jake's office, walked up to where Andy was standing. He said, "You're girlfriend got gypped, Andy boy."

"What?" Andy said.

"Patricia got screwed."

Andy couldn't believe his ears. And neither could the rest of the guys on the dock. They sensed a fight in the making. They gathered round.

"Drop it," said Bobby.

"What?" Andy said.

"Drop your thermos on the floor if it's so great. It'll break," Bobby said.

"It's got a stainless steel shell."

"It's a cheap piece of shit," Bobby said.

Andy pointed to the shiny chrome bottom of the thermos. "Chrome isn't cheap," he said.

"So drop it," said Bobby. "Unless you're afraid."

Well what could Andy say to such a challenge? He dropped the thermos on the concrete freight dock. It bounced once or twice, but didn't break.

"See?" Andy said.

"No," Bobby said. "Throw it like you mean it. Throw it hard."

"Okay," Andy said, and he threw it. This time, after bouncing, the thermos rolled away. Carl picked it up and brought it back. He handed the thermos to Andy. "Not a scratch or a dent," Andy said.

"You didn't even try," Bobby said. "You threw it like a girlie, Andy boy. Really throw it this time if you're so sure."

Well as I say, Andy had a lot of muscles. And he hated being called, "Andy boy." So he took a huge windup and stretched high on his toes. The guys in the circle backed away. Then he slammed down the thermos so hard that it broke. He'd fractured the ostensibly unbreakable shell, and the insulated vacuum tube imploded. There was a bang and a sound like broken glass. Some yellow organic papaya juice dribbled onto the concrete dock.

"See?" Bobby said, and he walked away. He flashed a wink and the famous Kennedy grin as he cut through the edge of the crowd.

As for Andy, he just stood there looking foolish.

"That's some deal you got," Mitchell said.

"If you take the long view it's not expensive at all. And it'll keep your juice cool," Carl added.

Then Jake came out and said, "Let's break it up," and the guys on the dock went to work.

Andy had only two weeks to go before he returned to school. And his behavior didn't alter very much. To be sure he was briefly if only slightly subdued. But he was his old self again by midweek.

Still, morale on the crew improved. It got better with each passing day. By the time Andy left no one gave him much thought, and that's the story of the shatterproof thermos.