The Creation of Big Bob Johnson

I was looking through some old emails the other day, when I came across the first short story I wrote as an adult. It’s called “Big Bob Johnson”, and I wrote it when I was 23 or 24. I’d finished college a year earlier, where I’d focused a lot on writing and the teaching of writing. This led to a job as the only English teacher at a small school in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

I was teaching Creative Writing, and had to grade a lot of essays. I also had to plan a bunch of curriculum, and would write along with the students. The words “fat fuck” would not leave my mind. I don’t know if it’s because I thought the degree of the insult was so severe - being a ‘fuck’ is bad enough; adding ‘fat’ seemed like taking a dump on the counter of a house you just robbed.

But I had this big computer, situated in a pool house that was doubling as an apartment. It sat on the edge of a little lagoon. As the night fell, I sat at the desk, put an ashtray on the right-side of the keyboard, lit a cigarette, and began writing. I felt like an actual writer. This is what I must do, I thought.

I was so proud of the phrase “vividly remember”.

I probably smoked 10 cigarettes as I wrote that story, all in one sitting. I was so proud of it when I was done. It felt like a night well spent, like I’d served an appropriate sentence to Father Time.

I woke up the next day thinking, I now have a short story. I thought that when I was famous, this could start the anthology, show my brilliance as a young man.

Then I had it edited.

The principal of the school I was at said her husband was an editor, and brought the printed pages of the story to him for me. They came back, and “vividly“ was crossed out. It was considered redundant. I already had the word ‘remember’, the husband said. “Vividly” was thus redundant.

I argued, but I’d just finished college where editing words and papers was the norm. But, I stuck up for myself. “Vividly stays,” I declared, and kept it.

The name, Bob Johnson, felt so American. So right. And calling him “Big Bob” had a ring. (This probably also came from college and the non-stop search for “everyman” in seemingly every story.)

15-years later, I look fondly upon the time writing the story, but question the product. It shows an interesting glimpse of where I was at.

But I also figure that 15 years from now, I’ll probably look back the same way. So, I might as well publish it.