When my father died in 1968 – in a head-on car wreck on an Indiana highway – the local authorities told my mother, “You can tell a lot about a man by what he keeps in the trunk of his car.” What they were clearly referencing, in that sad instance, more than the travel bags and briefcase of a businessman, was the Bible and Sunday School lesson plans they found in the wreckage, things that Dad must have wanted to be working on that evening down in Louisville.
I Remember Rob Goldberg
Since the authorities got it so right back in 1968, let’s take another look in the trunk here in 2011, and give “them” the same authority all over again: They say you can tell a lot about a man by what he keeps in the trunk of his car. On that score my father-in-law Rob Goldberg’s life was one of the coolest, most refreshing breezes that many of us will ever have the good fortune to know. Or, at least, for a few moments, to try to think we know.
The Golf Clubs on top of the Spare Tire
First, of course, most prominently placed on top of the spare tire, was the lightweight, canvas travel-bag of golf clubs. Not the fine set of clubs that he kept in the brown leather bag in the clubhouse at the Lincolnshire Country Club, but a handy set of beaters with a bulging bag of old golf balls and other gear stuffed into an easy-to-carry white canvas arm-sling.
Not that I ever saw him using it, but the beauty now is in imagining all the times that he once did: All the driving ranges he must have pulled over at just to whack some buckets of balls. The funky little nine-hole, par-3 courses that lured him into their dusky parking lots. The wide open fields in barren stretches along the once-lonely highways he loved to travel into Wisconsin and Michigan, verdant landscapes just waiting for a guy to pull over and work out a new swing he’d been thinking about lately.
I think especially of one of his favorite little Michigan country courses, the Glenn Shores, just north of his beloved South Haven, and all the times he walked me around there through all my mixture of moods (mostly good moods, when I was with him), though then he was probably loaning his travel clubs to me or someone else who might need them on the spur of the moment: “No clubs? No problem. I have an extra set in my car.” One cool breeze, and he’s gone… Today that bag and those clubs sit propped against a sawhorse in my garage; I hope his grandson Richard learns how to use them some day.
The Fishing Gear and the Tackle Box
Tucked down a little deeper, beside the spare tire, was the fishing rod and tackle box. Though I never went fishing with Rob (we were together a few times watching whales splashing alongside our shore cruisers off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, but we weren’t out catching those. . . .), as with the golf, it always gave me great pleasure to imagine the times that he called off the pressing duties of the day just to head out on the water and throw out some lines. Favorite stories of the family involve Rob getting phone calls from cousins or nephews that would prompt him to head out of Chicago in early morning hours, for day-long sessions of line-wetting and problem-solving while out bobbing around in a rowboat under a warm sun.
He also had great fishing expeditions both at Cabo San Lucas and the Boundary Waters of Quetico, but most of all I enjoyed the simple material fact of that fishing gear tucked in the bottom of his car trunk. Waiting for the lure of open water and a summery breeze. Ever ready. Easy breeze.
A Job is a Job
I like to think of him walking out of one of his southside currency exchanges, one hot and bothersome summer afternoon, and just driving down toward the Indiana Toll Road, pulling off near Wolf Lake, running out on one of those shabby, weedy strips of land out there, and making his peace with the fish.
Maybe he comes home with a few perch and some sunnies, or maybe he throws them back. More likely he picks up the family and drives everyone over to Phil Smidt’s in Hammond for supper. All the perch you can eat for a couple of bucks. Not to mention the famous gooseberry pie. Probably a tangy, sharp Tanqueray martini to wash it all down.
Leisure Has a Price
Such a grand, deep sense of leisure has to be paid for somehow, certainly, and Rob never stinted in the work department, either. Hence that black steel Luger-style pellet gun that he kept in the trunk nested in amongst a cardboard box of business papers from his Exchange businesses, cash-intensive and a magnet for thieves. But never once did I hear him speak of needing to use it – his tales of the workplace were mainly stories of rich humanity, wisdom and whimsy.
“Everyone steals,” he once said, concluding a story of an especially smart, loyal, and crafty employee whom he found out had been stealing from him. “You just don’t want them to be stupid about it.” This employee – for many years one of his favorites – eventually transgressed across that line, too, and then, “Of course I had to let her go.”
She had violated what Rob always referred to as The 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not get caught.” I’m sure the day he fired her would have been one of the days he checked in the car trunk to make sure the fishing tackle was still there and took off for Wolf Lake. Out there, even the sweet-sour-smelling breezes wafting in from the commerce of Hammond and Gary would have served to soothe his hard-working, easy-going soul.
The Wind on The Water
They say in the Bible that the wind on the face of the waters is one of the ways that we see the face of God. That God will love whomsoever God will chooses to love seems as random the wind. Where it blows, it blows. But with the passing of Rob Goldberg, we might be forgiven for believing we once saw the face of God in his easy, grateful, evanescent smile.