The Ckab

There was a guy I worked with, just post-college at a call center, named Steve Baker. He had once taught English in some somewhat respectable university in California (I don’t remember), moved to Atlanta for some reason, lived on the streets in L5P, and then got this sweet-sweet-job making calls for a bank updating people’s insurance coverage records. The calls were legit, but we were still viewed suspiciously by those on the receiving end. He was intelligent and well-read, obviously, and the two of us and another co-worker, Bruce-something, had active discussions on literature, history, politics, all of that stuff. They were both maybe 10 years older or so. Post-call center Steve taught world lit at Moorehouse for a while and then we lost touch. I have very fond memories of him.

I still have the book he wrote and lo-fi self-published.

He married a local theater director, can’t remember her name, and it ended badly after a year or so. Diane? Maybe.

Years pass.

I’m jogging down Peachtree and randomly encounter him on the street. It’s been I mean years and years. He now has an apartment nearby in Midtown so we go and talk about old times. He looks… a little rough. He’d always been pretty shabby and rumpled like the stereotyped absent minded professor, but always cheery and uncaring and he hadn’t lost that part of his character. I don’t think he was down but just maybe off. I’m remembering maybe a leg injury? I honestly don’t remember what he was doing with his life at the time but that’s when he told me about the evil-that-was-Diane (let’s go with that name) and how horribly it ended. I feel very protective of him and so it hurt to hear that.

(I realize I picked up many phrases from him: “It’s similar but different…” when a description is eluding; “Who’s to say?” when you just don’t feel like engaging in any further examination of a subject. Common phrases, but very him to me.)

The OK 1-A All-Star American Chabballah, by Eleven of Us, edited by J. W. Kent

One important aspect of his character: he came across as moderately schizophrenic at times with his odd beliefs and pseudo-numerology (though I think he just brought it up as a lark and to shock people. He’d say: “You look like the number 28” or somesuch and they would almost always gasp and relay why that was an incredibly meaningful number to them. It was impressive.) but at the end of the day he was just a deeply-informed and intelligent person. He also gave astrology readings. He would give readings to people in the office and they would be absurdly precise in their creation, accounting for the ~26,000 year axial precession when mapping out the sky chart for people’s birth date. He prepared Lisa’s chart and found she was almost perfectly on the cusp of two astrological signs.

With some shame I’d only read maybe 30 pages of his book–it is dense dense dense–and looking at it now the 306 pages are more intimidating than a Pynchon novel.

I had a sad dream about him last night and so needed to pull out his book and maybe read it. Dense dense dense. And then I had to do what everyone does when such a memory surfaces and search for him on the internet. I’m more sad now. (I got the wife’s name completely wrong: Olivia. Apologies, Olivia.)

DR. JOHN STEVEN BAKER, TROUTMAN, NC — Dr. John Steven Baker, 65, died on March 24, 2015, after a short illness at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, NC. Dr. Baker was born in Rock Hill, SC, on October 24, 1949, the son of the late Dr. John William Baker and the late Ruth Stevenson Baker. He was a graduate of Rock Hill High School, received a BA from Wake Forest University, an MA from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Dr. Baker was a Staff Reporter for the Florence Morning News and also taught English part-time at Francis Marion College in the early 70’s. Steve wrote “A Brief History of Florence” which was published in 1974. He then taught English Literature at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi; at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa; at the University of California at Davis; and at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Most recently, he was retired and living in Troutman, NC. Like his father, Steve enjoyed all cultural affairs. He loved literature and language and was working on a play about his Wake Forest friends. He also loved to paint and recently had an art show of his paintings at the Public Library in Troutman. He loved watching all sports, especially basketball, and was an avid fan of the Tar Heels, after the Demon Deacons, of course. He was involved in a program in Troutman to improve water quality. He was predeceased by his first wife Mrs. Jane Howell Baker and his second wife Mrs. Olivia Wax Baker. Surviving are his step-mother, Mrs. Alice Coleman Baker of Florence, SC; brothers, James Stevenson Baker and David Raymond Baker of Spartanburg, SC; a sister, Mrs. Rebecca Ruth Baker (Elie) Benchetrit of Montreal, Canada. He was also survived by two nephews, Jonathan William Benchetrit of Montreal, Canada and Jose David Benchetrit of Gatineau, Canada; two nieces, Kimberly Hutchins (Brett) McLain of Lyons, GA, and Leyna Stevenson Baker (Hunter) Hanson of Charleston, SC; and a great niece, Allison McLain, and a grand nephew, Chase McLain, both of Lyons, GA. He was also survived by several aunts and cousins. A memorial service will be held in Troutman, NC at a later date. Memorials may be made to the Dr. John William Baker Memorial Scholarship, Francis Marion University, Post Office Box 100547, Florence, SC 29501-0547.

Dr. John Steven Baker obituary from SCNOW of Florence, SC