The Answering Machine (five years later)

The Answering Machine


I call and hear your voiceHoward Family
on the answering machine
weeks after your death,
a fledgling ghost still longing
for human messages.

Shall I leave one, telling
how the fabric of our lives
has been ripped before
but that this sudden tear will not
be mended soon or easily?

In your emptying house, othersSam and Veronica
roll up rugs, pack books,
drink coffee at your antique table,
and listen to messages left
on a machine haunted

by the timbre of your voice,
more palpable than photographs
or fingerprints. On this first day
of this first fall without you,
ashamed and resisting

but compelled, I dial again
the number I know by heart,
thankful in a diminished world
for the accidental mercy of machines,
then listen and hang up.DSCN3064small

Robert’s Birthday

From Crazy Robert’s World of Fun – celebrating our third year in the beautiful Cloverdale Terrace subdivision:



After 60 years of quality anti-submarine warfare for the peopleof Mountain View, Moffett Field is closing its doors forever!


We’re blowing it up out to the bare walls for one day and one day only! Nothing will be spared! Just pennies on the dollar!

Bring your checkbook! Or just something to barbeque (BYOM)! Come to Crazy Robert’s Sale HQ, Airshow, and BBQ at Emily Drive in Mountain View, on 17 October, 1200-2200 hours – come early for best selection!

Or shop by phone: RSVP’s are welcomed, call 415-967-1686 (secure line).

Bring the whole family!

International arms merchants welcome! We offer favorable conversion rates!

Free surveillance ballons for the kids! (limited to stock on hand)
No rainchecks will be honored.
All sales final.

Getting there is easy! Just hand this chart to your NAVCOM!

Check out these authentic WW II/Cold War artifacts:

  • P-3 Orions – some in original box!
  • Nuclear torpedoes – expand your sphere of influence – make new friends!
  • Hangars – great for projects: factory warranty!
  • Runways – cash and carry – be the first on your block!
  • Sonobuoys! Sonobuoys! Sonobuoys!
  • The Blue Angels – Clean! Low miles! See ’em in action!

No reasonable offer refused!
Everything is out on the apron for your inspection. Find what you need, then come make your best deal!

From Robert, 1992. Happy Birthday, Robert. We love and miss you.

More About Robert

I  am John Howard and I am one of Robert’s brothers. The pieces of Robert’s life I want to talk about are his devotion to his family, his friends, and his work.

Robert was a great dad!

Robert was a great dad.

I can picture countless times that Robert would stop by our house on his way out to Saturday excursions with the girls loaded in the back of a bike trailer, his Suzuki, or his car. They were usually headed to a park or some other outdoor place. That was his special time with them and he really loved it.  Sam and Nica told Robert they were interested in motorcycling a month ago.  Robert borrowed two minibikes from my sister’s family.  I stopped by and gave him a youth helmet for Sam.  When I arrived late in the evening, the bikes (which hadn’t been started in years), were not running.  I thought “Hmm, hard to believe this trip is gonna happen tomorrow.”  The email from him the next night said the trip was a wild success.  He’d stayed up late into the night.  Disassembling the entire fuel system and rebuilding it.  He could fix anything and nothing was going to make him let down the girls.

He loved having kids in part because he stayed a kid. Robert loved creating and having a creative “builders” home was in his DNA.  Those of you who know Howards know that we are packrats. Ana-Maria was working on him, trying to pare down the stuff. One sticking point was the number of Legos. Robert wanted more in his, I mean the girls’, stash.  My daughter, Amanda, told me this week that  he would buy new kits and slip them to her having her mix them in when she was babysitting.  Thus the Lego pile grew.  Wherever they are Ana Maria just gave Robert “THE LOOK”.

Robert became a consummate PTA dad.  Volunteering in class and hosting an annual 4X4 excursion auctioned off each year at El Carmelo’s silent auction.  And, of course,  schlepping and setting things up for Ana-Maria’s art and volunteer events.

Another 4x4 Adventure

Robert was a true friend!

He was part of a really tight group of guys right out of high school — they are still tight. They are here today. Four of them gave each other nicknames to make them sound more cool. One of them was named Bond.  Robert intended to call himself Rutger after Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer.  They contracted Rutger to Rat and so he was to them these last 30 years. Rat would host parties in his first home on the flight path to Moffett field during the air shows.  We’d watch the shows sitting on the roof.  In the fifties his house had been hit by a Navy jet and rebuilt.  For one of the shows they made a Papier Mache Jet tail-section and mounted it on the roof.  He always felt safe there because as he said: “This house was pre-disastered!”

For Robert, anything longer than a weekend meant a trip out of town. He would constantly go on for four-wheel driving adventures or pack up the camper with the family and their stuff and take off. He joined a group of my friends on an annual Fall camping trip to desert hot springs. Robert introduced us to new secret places that he had found in his own adventures.  It was on one of these trips that he took me 4 wheeling.  After three hours of being alternately thrown against the dash, passenger window, and roof I told him I wasn’t getting the appeal.  He stopped at the top of a steep, stair cased descent.  Looked over and said.  “Here, you drive it down.”  I was hooked.  I bought another Samurai and the two of us had several adventures as we progressively fixed it up.

Robert was a Builder, Teacher, and Engineer

Robert was a builder.

Robert was a gifted designer, craftsman, and engineer. Robert could design and build anything.  And chances are he’d have the material in his vast array of “extra parts”.  In High school he modified a moped to be a cafe racer.  Complete with fairing and dropped handlebars.  Later in life, he continually modified and optimized cars and houses to meet his exacting ideas.  No one I knew could do it better and I have no idea where he found the time.

He and I worked at Apple at the same time and he was considered “one of the creative ones”.  Robert also became a talented manager and was called into save several programs.  He loved design and designing.  At work he worked closely with the engineers and created a fun  team environment.  While going through his files the other day I found a note from  Jean-Louis Gassee, an early Apple Executive VP, congratulating Robert for his work on an Apple project.  How this was exactly the kind of innovation needed and to keep up the good work.  Robert wrote Jean-Louis back, “Thank You.. and that’s very nice of you…, but I really thought it was a team effort.” He was humble and always acknowledged those around him.

Robert was an engineer.

He spent the last 15 years at Lunar. You know how almost everyone grouses about their job at some point or another? I never heard him say a bad thing about it. It seemed to fit like a glove. His colleagues there told us this week that Robert could listen well and was nice, but he was also extremely rational and could think things through and bring analytic skills to play. Through Apple, Lunar and teaching at Stanford he played a key role in mentoring many young engineers.

Robert was funny!

Robert with the cigarette-smoking baby.

In a family full of people who fancy themselves as funny and a Silicon Valley full of clever people, Robert stood out. It was what you noticed first about Robert.  He had a wicked sense of humor. He was faster than the rest of us. He could hit a joke before you realized you had an opportunity.  A night out with Robert was going to be a night of humor and insightful irreverence.

Final Thoughts

I have been thinking about us coming here today. We want to know that their lives had meaning — that they will live on. Robert lived a life with few regrets. He concentrated on the important things: family, friends, creating, teaching, and learning. I can promise you  that Robert lives on in our memories; in the work lives of everyone he mentored and worked with; in the terrific products he was part of bringing to market; in the inspiration he provided to be a good husband and father; and in the humor that still rings in our ears.

I love you and will miss you, Robert.

John and Robert on a camping trip. The photo was taken automatically, using a timer Robert brought.