In the mid ’90s a magazine declared Red Bank, New Jersey the hippest town in the state. Bold as that assessment might sound to those from other counties, it was true at the time. At least for me.
Met The Wife in Red Bank in that period. It was a million to one chance, which I very nearly squandered. Fortunately, I reversed course and secured a date. For political reasons–her very, very large boyfriend–we labeled it a black and white photo discussion over coffee and sandwiches.
Kevin Smith set up a production company on Broad Street, long before he dreamed of Hollywood Hills. There were gourmet coffee shops, restaurants, antiques, and musicians on every corner. Bruce Springsteen shopped in town. Red Bank had a vibe and media blessings; good tidings buzzed all around us. And a poet, Bob Simmons* appeared at odd moments on a bicycle.
He lived in Sea Bright, a summer town on the shore, and rode to Red Bank after work most nights on a rusty Schwinn with a notebook in his back pocket.
By profession, Bob caddied at an exclusive golf course, then gambled the earnings through the winter. When he needed extra cash, he got hit by cars. He was the master of the 5,000 dollar settlement. Several of the cases might have generated big cash awards and landed him on easy street, but Bob didn’t get hit to get rich. He got hit because he rode his bicycle poorly when drunk, and not much better sober. The way he figured it, his needs were humble, and money corrupted a man. Bob hated corruption.
When the settlements paid out, Bob shared the winnings. Free dinners, smokes and whiskey for his crew. He was generous like that, and we all paid him in kind when he was down on his luck. He was loved. I spotted Bob cigarettes and cheeseburgers like the rest of the guys.
He had an awful lot of talent, especially when it came to writing. Every so often, usually after a night on the town, out came that notebook and Bob unleashed some verse. Normally, I don’t care much for poetry, it’s too steeped in meter and meaning for my working class tastes, but Bob had a way with the pen and page.
This year, I’ll be the same age as Bob Simmons back in the glory days, and I decided to find him.
To be continued…
* Bob Simmons is not his real name.