Irwin's foray into the chivalry game began last Christmas in his quest for a memorable gift for his ex-wife. (They are still good friends.) "She always wanted a knight in shining armor," reports Irwin, 36, "so I thought I'd give her one for real." After surprising his ex, Irwin decided it would be a shame to waste the weeks of preparation reading children's books and encyclopedias, not to mention the $4,000 he had invested in a 13-year-old white Arabian horse named KK and a 19-piece plastic armor getup. So he placed ads in local papers in February, and business quickly ig-knighted.
At $150 a romantic romp, Irwin bears gifts and flowers and delivers marriage proposals (so far, the answer has always been yes), apologies and Mother's and Valentine's Day greetings. Though the recipients of Irwin's visits are usually women, one wife hired him to surprise her husband while the couple dined in a restaurant for their fifth anniversary. On another occasion a teenage Romeo, paying for Irwin's Valentine visit to his girlfriend with quarters and dollar bills from his paper route, came up $17 short, but Irwin gallantly told him to forget it.
A product of a broken home in California, Irwin hitchhiked to Michigan at 12 to live with an uncle. "I had a crummy childhood," he recalls. "Maybe that's why I live in a fantasy world." Nevertheless, Irwin takes his knighthood seriously. Even though his business card reads "Our service is limited only by your imagination," he has turned down requests for "a knight for a night" and throwing a pie. "When you put on armor," he says, "you want to do good deeds."
When he clippety-clops down the streets near his Taylor, Mich, home, housewives come out onto their porches to stare and schoolchildren gawk. During one run this past winter the Taylor police department got about 20 calls. "What was that?" the curious townsfolk wanted to know. "Oh, just a knight in shining armor," the police deadpanned in response. And so it was. Bob Irwin, a millwright at a Chrysler auto plant, moonlights as a residential rent-a-knight.