Old Man Pete #7 To be a Neighbor

We were broke! I wanted on welfare so bad. Good God we would’ve been rich! I was looking for odd jobs to use up my spare time since I only worked 65-70 hours pr week. Pete asked me about my 40′ ladder. “Do you think you can trim some rogue branches in my tree?”

I knew the right answer!

We wrangled out an agreement for $100 and I couldn’t wait till Saturday. Pete said Saturday would be the best because there was gonna be a big party that night. I asked Dave and Linda (next door neighbors) a few days later about the party and they didn’t know about it. I even asked Kevin and Mike and it was news to them but they were game for a good time.

Saturday came and at about 10 AM I was ready to go. I jogged across the four lane with a 40′ ladder and started looking for saws and equipment. That got some attention and pretty soon Kevin started trying to help. At first I kept chasing him off as I needed the money and didn’t want to share but pretty soon I gave in.

With Pete yelling incomplete and partially incoherent instructions while I hung onto the ladder using one of those extendo saws duct taped to a broom handle, Kevin worked the ropes. Dave and Dewayne moved brush and we worked up quite a sweat.

Different neighbors came and went and by 3 or so the whole yard was cleaned up so guys started asking me for their share of the earnings. I asked Pete about money and he said “come in and have a drink and we’ll figure it all out”. Drinking this time of day at Pete’s usually included making a little food so 7 o’clock came around about the same time as all the neighbor folks.

“Hey Kenny, it’s about time you got paid for a good days work don’t ya think?” He fumbled around in his wallet while a lot of yelling went on about how much everyone thought their share was.

We split up and I had 10 bucks in my hand and the place got quiet as people scurried off. “Lets go for a ride Kenny”. We dropped Kevin off at a place where he knew a guy who had a friend (you know the drill) and we found our way to the liquor store. On the way back we picked up Kevin and Sandy and headed back to Pete’s

DeWayne, Dave and Mike were talking with Corey and Linda a couple of houses down so when we piled out the party started.

Several hours later Pete was waxing philosophically when he started in.

“You know what I like about this neighbor hood Kenny?” I smiled and waited. I loved these talks. “We still know how to be neighbors. Mnyeah, mnyeah. Most people now days don’t know how to work together and play together.  All my friends from the old days are dead but here I am with a whole new generation of friends. I’ve been having yard parties in this exact spot for over 50 years and here we are.”

That went on late into the night as I started to see a glimpse into the life of a man who had lived long ago but was still here. When dead people were alive and when old people were young and beautiful.

I might have fallen asleep. I’m pretty sure he had too.

Kevin was laughing just as the leg of his plastic chair gave out and DeWayne pulled him out of a bush. Mike had enough and headed home.

“Good night Kenny. You’re a good friend.”   “Good night Pete. Thanks for a great day”

That Saturday morning $100 was the most important thing in the world. By Saturday night I felt like I’d made a thousand.

The cool summer breeze felt cold. I felt like a part of something. Something meaningful.

I was learning to be a neighbor.

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Old Man Pete #6 Laughing Pete

Old Man Pete didn’t laugh much. He was in a lot of pain, the kind that only whiskey can subdue. When he did laugh though it was intoxicating.

Most of the time when I saw him laugh it would be proceeded by an instant of silence then a smirk or a quick single-burst of laugh followed by smirk or smile. He would turn toward me with extended smile then the laughter would start.

Usually his communication when laughing was a shared conspiracy. “Look at that Kenny. See that?” He would ask. “Isn’t that just a bunch of shit?” Then he would laugh.

The thing about Old Man Pete laughing was that he would begin complimenting the people around him while rebuilding the story, emphasizing the funny part. “That’s the thing I like about you Kenny is that you understand life.” As he talked he would fill me in on his beliefs about life. (suddenly philosophical) I would agree and the compliments would flow. Kevin would chime in or maybe DeWayne and the compliments would shower them as well.

We need another drink Kenny goddammit yer the only person your age who knows how to make a drink. He’d say it just like that with no punctuation.

After a good laugh Pete would fall deeper into philosophical meanderings that would include his time working the troupe trains during WWII or building the great dams on the Northwest Snake River up Washington way. (Properly pronounced Worshington).

Over the years his smile changed more and more as he removed failing teeth. The dentist wasn’t allowed near his mouth, (the greedy bastards) so Dewayne would pull them for 5 bucks apiece.

Once started, the laughter would continue and the whiskey flowed. Often I had to leave because of the inconvenience of having to work but on lucky nights when I could stay, dying brain cells allowed our minds to release custody. Stupor gradually took over and Pete would begin to sing. Bit by bit German became the language and he would sing in an old growly voice and translate the most beautiful love songs. I never knew if he was really singing a song from the past or making it up as he went. Haunting, Beautiful, Hypnotic.

One of my favorite memories of Laughing Pete was a day or so after my youngest son was born. It was a warmer-than- usual day in mid May and the crew was smoking, drinking, telling stories and I grabbed up the newborn for introductions.

I walked into his house without knocking and showed the prize. Brand New Baby. Pete smiled and held out his arms, receiving the results of a 9 month project that started with a card game.

Pete, shirtless as usual on warm days looked at the tiny tyke and began telling those around about his own babies from 60 + years ago when Baby got a hold on his nipple.”Whoa, whoa there, leggo a that”! Pete somehow produce enough skin that Baby was nearly at arm’s length before the seal broke. We all laughed and while Pete was recovering from  that strange situation it happened again. “Whoa, whoa there Pardner”!! After popping the kid free the second time Pete handed Little One back to me suggesting that I take him back to mamma.

C’mon back if ya can Kenny and let’s drink to celebrate!

 

 

Old Man Pete #5

Kenny! Keeennyyyy! Kennnnnyyyyy! I was sleeping in an un-air conditioned house. I worked hard so sleeping well was no problem but something was waking me up. As I woke up I kept thinking someone was calling me.

Me: Hey Babe, wake up

Wife: Huh? what?

Me: Listen

W: What, I don’t hear anyth…   Kennyyyyyyy

Me: Hear that?

W: Is someone yelling?

Me: Yeah, It sounds like Old Man Pete. We laid quietly listening. 3 or 4 hollers later we were convinced that someone was hollering my name.

W: What does he want. It’s the middle of the night.

Me: How the hell do I know what he wants? I’ll go check.

I pulled on some Levis and opened the front door. Slightly cooler air breezed in along with the much clearer sound of Old Man Pete calling plaintively from across the four lane city street separating our homes. Oh Fuck! Something must have happened to Pete. I took off across the street.

Yesterday had been Pete’s birthday. Being an awesome friend meant drinking the right amount of whiskey to celebrate and I could smell booze seeping from my pores and a lightly sick feeling joined my search for the meaning of all the racket.

His door was unlocked so I arrived in his living room to find him partially in the process of falling out of his lift chair. “Help me Kenny” he gasped, “don’t let me fall”.

So Pete was never a giant man, probably 5′ 7 at his tallest…. maybe 5′ 8 on a torture rack and he probably shrank a bit with gravity pulling at him and all. Add to that 50-80 pounds of good German cooking he looked like an ordinary American minus a shirt.

He had been standing up most of the day as we were drinking and visiting down below his wooden porch where the van was parked. His knees were shot and his leg muscles just didn’t have the what-for to hoist him one more time to get him off to bed. He’d been fighting a slowly lost battle with gravity and yelling for me for awhile and had managed to relieve himself of 4 or 5 beers in the struggle.

I lunged in and hooked under his arms fully expecting to hoist him comfortably into place but with both of us sweating, him from exertion and me, well, who the hell knows but either way we were grappling like two greased pigs at the fair. “Don’t drop me Kenny” he kept gasping and I promised I wouldn’t.

So we slow danced in epic struggle, this old man and me and within 45 seconds or so I felt my initial strength waning.

 

 

So back in the old days people had phones that hooked to the wall on a mounting or hooked by a cord so you could have a phone on a table near your chair, bed, or some other place of convenience. Pete had one about 5 feet away on a table a little to the back of the chair and I spied it.

Starting a rhythmic effort I heaved him then swung a foot towards the phone and finally knocked it to the floor. It was a 2 pieced affair with a cradle and hand-set attached by a springy coiled cord. The hand set had the newer button type interface, thank God, instead of the kind with the spinny ring where you put your finger in the hole and drag to the stop point to dial. I’d-a had a heck of a time sticking a toe in there and rotating that. Also a stroke of luck that I hadn’t laced my work boots on.

It took a micro eternity that can only be measured in the type of seconds we were dealing with to carefully dial my home number while holding a slippery human with every muscle wishing I had learned the yet uninvented science of ergonomics.

I could hear the calling sound the phone made and the sound of my concerned wife came on.

Wife: Ken?

Me: Ya, we need help!!!

W: What do you want ME to do?

Me: Beat on Dave’s door, I think DeWayne spent the night there. If they don’t answer run to Mike’s house. Wake the whole fucking neighborhood if you have to.

Several eternities later, probably 20 seconds, I heard our door slam. Soon I heard loud banging, I’m talking FRANTIC loud, on Dave’s door.

There was human jabbering and foot steps. The door crashed open and my wife appeared with DeWayne.

In short order we got Pete to the toilet, cleaned up a bit and into bed.

DeWayne stayed the night if I remember right and it slipped off into my memory.

I asked Pete one day why he didn’t have professional assistance, you know, for stuff like this. He had a great answer. I’ll tell you about it sometime.

 

Old Man Pete #4

So one Saturday night Pete was out of whiskey so after all the nonsense included in any endeavor we loaded into his van to visit the ladies at State Liquor Store #9.

I had a family and not a lot of money so I sort of tagged along without really being a structural part of the group. Riding along to the store there was the usual yelling and repeating of mindless dialogue and I smiled and nodded, commenting when it seemed appropriate even though I seldom knew what was going on.

We got there in good time with Pete at the wheel. (He can’t walk but drives just fine) We pulled up into the sweet spot directly in front of the door in the handicap spot and the fight started.

Pete: KEVIN! Shaddap goddammit Shut… Shut.. KEVIN….. Shuddap…Shaddap… goddammit go get the bottle.

Kevin: I got it last time.

You’ve gotta understand that Kevin is the closest person to being an idiot I’ve ever known. I don’t know his hard drug history, (there might not be a hard drug history) but he could sure drink and smoke pot. Twice he passed out for a few days and I wondered if he was gonna die but in a few more days he was back like he’d never left. I have pictures of him unconscious at another neighbor’s house. One time he lost his voice for almost a week having something to do with Everclear.

Kevin is loud, obnoxious, almost always drunk, and plays a mean game of chess. (Yes, he beat me at chess almost every time) His laugh was totally happy with the rasp of a dying man and he LOVED to laugh.

Kevin was up front of the van with Pete, and Kevin’s mom Sandy, was in the back with me.

Sandy: Well I’m not getting out; my head hurts.

K: I don’t want to get it. I went last time.

P: Just go get the goddamned bottle Kevin you sonofabitch.

So that theme cycled with me chiming in with I’ll go get it Pete, just tell me what you want.

No Kenny goddammit, Let Kevin go get it.

This continued for maybe 15 minutes. What can I say… It was interesting and weird at the same time…. whatever, don’t judge me.

Finally it was deemed appropriate that we all go in. In the sense of whatever we unloaded. Cursing and yelling being the minor spectacle, I got Pete his crutches and poor Sandy brought her headache, and me just wanting to drink whiskey.

It must have taken 5 minutes to get to the door and IT WAS LOCKED!!!!!!!!

IT WAS TWO MINUTES AFTER CLOSING!!!!!!

They closed while we sat in that goat smelling van and argued like morons.

Old Man Pete #3

So one day I was looking out across the street and was casually aware that Old Man Pete’s yard and porch were a mess from last nights party. Being the awesome neighbor that I am I went to State Liquor Store # 9 and bought a bottle of R&R that I thought Pete would like.

It took awhile him to come to the door on a late Saturday morning.

Pete: Who is it?

Me: Kenny

Who?

Kenny

Just a minute Goddammit

I could hear him moving around for a couple minutes cursing the cat and life in general.

P: WHO is it?

Kenny

Kenny from across the street?

Yeah, it’s me Kenny

Ok Goddammit. Hang on.

A little commotion later the door open and two semi feral cats shot out the door with the unmistakable odor of cigarettes, alcohol, and a house that’s been closed up for awhile.

Hey Kenny what are you doing?

I saw your porch and was thinking about helping you clean up.

My porch?

Yeah.

Hang on Goddammit.     He unhooked the chain and used his crutches to move beer cans and general garbage that was in the way of the door.

P: So what’s this about my porch.

It’s a mess Pete let’s drink some whiskey and I’ll help clean up.

Gimmie that bottle. Yeah, Yeah. A bottle of R&R huh. Gimmie a minute.

He turned and went into the house leaving me standing there and spent several minutes cursing the cats and a number of people in the neighborhood that weren’t any where around. I assumed he was preparing a morning drink but he returned empty handed and started moving around the porch.

Using his crutch as a pointer and a club depending on whim he knocked over some beer cans. How ’bout this Kenny, is this a mess?

Yeah, let’s clean it up.

What about these bottles, they rattled and scattered across his wooden porch, Are these what you think is a mess.

This continued for about five minutes as he whacked the roses, Whadda ya think Kenny, do my roses need trimmed too?

Yeah Pete, they’re a mess. I’d be glad to help.

Yeah, Yeah. He always said it with kind of a mny sound, you know, the mexican n with the wiggly line above it that makes the nyu sound like in manyanna. So he says mnyeah mnyeah.

Anyways,

Who lives in that house? Pointing at my house.

I do Pete.

No, no. That house right there. Pointing at my house again.

I do, that’s my house.

The one with the fence.

You’re talking about that house right there with the fence? That’s my house.

No, no Goddammit that one right there with the paint there on the front!

If you’re talking about that house right there (I pointed exactly at my house) That’s my house.

That’s your house? You live there?

Yeah Pete I live there.

GO SWEEP YOUR OWN FUCKING PORCH!

He pushed past me and slammed the door.

I was pissed! Mean old bastard.

It took about a week to calm down and I was sitting on a broken chair that was wedged in tightly against some boxes (so that it wouldn’t block the narrow walkway).

I got to looking at the cobwebs and last fall’s leaves and all the boxes of stuff that I had stacked there some time ago while working on a project and sort of forgotten about. Getting up and getting a street view I suddenly realized what my house looked like from his house.

It only took about an hour to clean up and I went back to State Liquor Store #9 and bought a bottle of R&R. I tapped loudly.

P: Who is it Goddammit?

Kenny

From across the street?

Yeah

Hang on Goddammit

I could hear the normal routine and the door opened a crack.

Did you sweep you porch?

Yeah Pete, It’s clean.

Come one in and lets have a drink and you can help me with my porch.

 

 

Old Man Pete #2

Old Man Pete

Old Man Pete taught me how to drink whiskey. I learned slow and retained little and it is one of the best long-term experiences of my life.

So many little things happened. Just strange and wonderful little things that make the  stories that just…… just ‘pop up’ sometimes.

He could have been a thousand but he wasn’t. He was in his 80’s during the 9 or so years I knew him. He was old and pretty fat. His knees were shot so he used permanent crutches with the forearm supports to even get out of bed or his lift chair.

He also had a wheel chair that Kevin would push him around in but the first time I met him he was in one of the early model carts like the ones at Wal-Mart that you can ride around in if you twist an ankle or something and it hurts to walk.

I was just old enough to be trying to be a man. Had a family and was learning a trade to try and pay the bills. We had just bought a little rundown 2 bedroom house for 11,000 that must have been worth at least 5,000. I didn’t realize what I had till just now but at the time it was really grand. I had a house and I was gonna make it!

Well Pete was kinda nosey in a neighborly way and I was trying to respect my elders so he would grouse and grumble and tell me stories of the last fifty or so years of living across the street from me and I would listen and encourage politely for him to continue.

I kept sort of doing this until I found myself with a very interesting friend.

In the beginning I don’t think I really liked Old Man Pete. Thinking of it now he must have had a hard time breathing. He would talk a bit and say yeah, yeah in kind of a grunt and he was hard to understand. Friendly, really gruff. Very agreeable.

This is about to get really long because there is a really cool story I want to tell you but there is a bit of a set up to understand what makes this particular story so interesting.

I’ll do it in a few posts.