by Tom Hazuka
As names go, I could do a lot worse than Robert Ford. I’m not Adolf Hitler, for example, or Ted Bundy. Most people don’t know jack about history anyway, so have no clue that Robert Ford shot unarmed Jesse James in 1882. Jesse stood on a chair to straighten a picture, and Bob pumped hot lead into the back of his head.
For the record, I probably would not have done that. I don’t even own guns. Well, I used to; now I have only one, a .45 pistol I take to the shooting range every other blue moon.
My old friends call me Bobby; my new one calls me Bob. My mother calls me Robert when she’s pissed at me, which happens somewhat less often these days. My father was also Robert Ford and if he continues to walk this earth I assume he still is. I last saw him at Christmas when I was seven, twenty-three years ago. For my birthday that June he took me to the range, and nearly died laughing at how scared I was of the gunshots, trembling like a poodle on the Fourth of July. It was the first time he called me a pussy, and the last time he said it with a smile.
My mother always called him Bob no matter how ticked off she was at him. To me she calls him “your father.” To her friends, though, he’s often “that bastard,” likely echoing Frank James’ name for the Judas who murdered his brother. On the off chance you care, Bob Ford was gunned down ten years later in a saloon he owned. He was thirty.
I’m thirty. Something should have happened in my life by now. I should have a girlfriend, or a wife, maybe even a kid or two. I should have moved on from my job at the lumberyard, where I’d planned to work the summer after high school while I figured out what my real life would be. I did grunt work at first, then drove a forklift for ten years until Sebbie the owner made me a dispatcher, which pays better but the stress is giving me an ulcer. I started smoking again, and a pack of Marlboros a day burns up an unhealthy chunk of my raise.
The truth is I don’t know jack about history, either. I know Bob Ford for the same reason I’d know Watergate if my name was Richard Nixon. How could you not be curious? Anyway, it’s better than being named Michael Jordan or Tom Brady, where people smirk at you for not being the real one. As if you had a choice in what’s on your birth certificate.
The other night I saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on TV. Casey Affleck played Bob. He was good, I guess, but sometimes I watch actors and think I could do that, or better. In a way, movies are easier than life because someone writes your lines for you. The hardest part is the audition.
Maybe I am a coward. Twelve years at Cheetum Lumber are eleven too many, but a few guys have been there twenty or more and Manuel Lizardo has over thirty. Manny still smiles when they rib him for pronouncing “you” like “Jew,” but he has a little limp now and sometimes groans when he stands up. He‘ll tell you he’s just grateful to have a job after coming to this country with nothing. His wife cleans rooms at the Ramada, and they put four sons through college. I don’t know what their kids do, but they damn sure don’t work in a lumberyard.
I hear the community college takes anyone with a pulse. I could try that. I read and write halfway decent, and could go at night. Maybe I’d meet a woman there, someone new, not the usual barflies at The Hideout. I could sign up for one course, I don’t know what, something interesting, something a smart, good-looking woman not prejudiced against lumberyard workers might take.
But I’m beat and frazzled after work—how could I even pay attention? Maybe she’ll think I’m a dumb-ass. Maybe I am a dumb-ass, but I don’t have to be the coward Robert Ford. I’m at least going to check the school catalogue, see if something looks good.
My brain might be shot, but it’s all I’ve got.
Tom Hazuka has published three novels, many short stories and two books of nonfiction. His memoir, If You Turn to Look Back, will be published in 2022. He has edited numerous anthologies, including Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Funny and Flash Nonfiction Food. He taught fiction writing for many years at Central Connecticut State University. Links to his writing and original songs are at tomhazuka.com.