Damn Ants

I am two years old visiting Mommom and Poppop in Rumson. New Jersey. Mommom and Poppop are my mother’s parents and I adore them, especially Poppop. They have boats and a house on Highland Avenue that looks out over a canal that leads onto the Navesink River towards the Oceanic Bridge. Their home is a heaven to me.

I love Mommom and Poppop, especially Poppop. He reminds me of Jimmy Stewart. He speaks in a stumbling, soft-voiced cadence. His eyes always glow warmth and kindness. He also smokes a pipes. He keeps several of them in a lovely wooden pipe rack near his large wing chair. I love to put the pipes in my mouth and pretend I’m just like Poppop and my father. My father smokes pipes too. Both would prefer I play with the pipes only when they are around.

But I am an early riser.

Early one morning I crawl out of bed, make my way into the living room, climb up into Poppop’s large wing chair, remove one of his pipes from the rack, and pretend to puff away. Pieces of smoked tobacco fall from the pipe and speckle me in my white t-shirt and underwear. I don’t care. I’m having fun sitting in this big wing chair just like Poppop. I look out the window with the pipe stem firmly clamped in my teeth. I have to hold the pipe with my hand because it is heavy. I hear a sound, turn, and there is Poppop looking right at me, trying desperately to look annoyed at me for playing with his pipes when he wasn’t there.

I look down at the black speckles of tobacco all across my front and brush them away saying, “Damn ants!”

Peter & Poppop circa 1955


The Possibility of Sunlight

Of another relationship I say, maybe, just maybe. But not necessary. It is the page that draws me stronger now. On relationships I stay open, never pull the blinds to the possibility of sunlight. And while there are many whose hearts are steadfast in their desire for intimacy, few can actually live it. And that is the only landscape for my stride.

There are the array of partial intimacies, connections between two people, where, like two not quite fitted puzzle pieces, some of the edges align, and for that, anyone would be wise to be grateful.

In the meantime, I am drawn to the page, to the book, and, again, finally, to the physical. The long walks, the trails, the summiting moments, to climb back on the bike and break the hills that are like weeds in their prevalence here. And again to the gym, solitary in my task, regaining the vessel’s tone.

Then to the page, the garden, the sweet air, and always with the blinds open to the possibility of sunlight.

The Waiting Room

It’s some sad ass shit sitting here in the General Surgery waiting room waiting for my appointment. There’s some hurtin’ folks here. People walking bent over, crooked, slow, sad stuff. The wounded and all. Staff at the reception desk are nice and fire humor like rays of sunshine. Some of us smile, some laugh, some don’t react, must be the pain.

Another thing I’m figurin’ out about these waiting rooms is there are assholes everywhere. Sitting less than 10 feet from me is a man in his thirties and his mother. He has the face of a wrinkled egg with pale moss on top and a slit for a mouth. If I was God I wouldn’t have given him any lips either.

The dude’s cell phone rings. Immediately his tone is unpleasant, nasty. “I told you I’d call you between three and four,” he snapped into the phone. Pauses. Then, “That’s what I told you. You learn to listen. I’ll call you later, got it?” He snaps closed the phone. Looks at his mother, says, “That child needs a foot up her ass.”

I hope the surgeon’s gut him.


One of the Great Things About Dogs

One of the great things about dogs is they never complain about what you wear. They could care less. Now let me say I am all for people dressing and grooming themselves the way that makes them feel best. Not a problem. I do, though, have a hard time when some people assume quite a bit about someone based on what they wear.

Many years ago, probably around 1975, I’d been out looking for a job. I couldn’t find one on this particular day and returned home, angry and frustrated. I went to see Michael, my closest friend then and now. When I went into his house he was just beginning to lower a needle onto a record when I said, “You know what? You don’t get any fucking respect unless you have a suit and a good job.” The needle paused just above the record’s surface. Michael said, “Please – Nixon had a suit and a good job.”

Michael has a genius for right-sizing things like no one I have ever known.

I had a perplexing conversation with a woman I was in a relationship with some time back. It went something like this.

– Peter, your shirt doesn’t have a collar.
– I know.
– Why not?
– They didn’t make it with one, I don’t know. It has buttons.
– Not all the way down.
– Well, some are better than none, no?
– But there’s no collar, Peter.
– Is that important?
– If you have to ask that’s not good.
– How’m I to know if I don’t ask?
– Stop it. You should wear a shirt with a collar when we’re going out to eat.
– We’re going to breakfast at a diner.
– That’s going out to eat. I mean you’re wearing shorts, a shirt with no collar and not enough buttons.
– It’s over 90 degrees outside, lots of people are wearing shorts.
– That’s not the point.
– (I look down at my shirt) There’s enough buttons.
– That’s not the point, Peter.
– It is for the shirt.
– You’ve never made a commitment to a shirt in your life.
– I made a commitment to this one.
– Don’t you love me?
– Of course I love you.
– It would mean a great deal to me if you would wear a shirt with a collar when we went out to eat.
– Look, we’re only a few minutes from the house, let me go back and change shirts.
– There’s no time. We’re late.
– But we’re not meeting anyone.
– We’re late, I can feel it.

I have three dogs, they never ask me about what I’m wearing and I never ask them about what they wear. They have no choice. And while I do have a choice, it is mine and only mine to make.

Anyway, I have to go now. I’m late, I can feel it.

Waitin’ For the Bully

The doctor says we need to rule out cancer. I cock one eyebrow and say, No shit. He looks up, smiles and says, I think we’ll be okay here but I’m a little worried so best we’re careful. I say, I’m all for careful, bro.

I am surprised I am not surprised and not scared – just pissed. The day is beautiful and I am still in a good mood and the music that pumps pulsing from my car speakers on the ride home fills the air and as always my body moves to the rhythm. Need to rule out cancer, I think, and in a way I am glad because finally I can punch something straight in the mouth. I know the chance of cancer is not huge but knowing the possibility is on me for some curious reason makes me itch for a fight. Almost like I’ve learned a bully may be coming over and I’m thinking good because it’s been a long time since I’ve kicked somebody’s ass and this bully will do me just fine.

I am not worried about the possibility of this fight and realize this truth is a gift of sobriety. I know too there are people walking around these days who can thank my sobriety for the fact their legs have never been broken. The world of politics and advocacy can make you angry sometimes and sometimes, like I told Michael today, I miss the days when you can just challenge someone and throw hands.

Yes yes, I am glad those techniques of problem solving are many years behind me. But still… there are times when I see Dick Cheney – the man gives mens’ genitalia a bad name! – and realize I’d have no problem kicking his wimpy war criminal ass. And then there are others not so famous. One is this silk suited sugary sweet specious simp and, of course, others.

But you know what? I’m gonna go work on my garden today, plant some seeds indoors, listen to music, smile, and wait for the bully if he chooses to come to my door and, if he does – I’ll kick his ass.