Jerry calls me at 5:30 in the morning.
“Meet me at the usual place.” he says.
I had worked for Jerry for going on five months in early 2004. Jerry owned his own heating and air conditioning company, which consisted of Jerry, his wife Gene who did the books, and me. I would do whatever Jerry couldn’t get to in the day, picking up equipment, installing thermostats, running wiring, checking up on other jobs where he couldn’t be at two places at once.
The “usual place” was the company’s “warehouse”. It was one third of a small building that used to be attached to a greenhouse. Three large aluminum garage doors and ours was the last on the right end. I would arrive at 6:45 and finish my coffee while listening to WTOP, the local AM news station. Jerry would pull up in his van, and we would determine our plan for the day. Sometimes I would head off in my own truck to spend a day working on another job site, and other times I would ride with Jerry all day. And although he never said it out loud, some days I would wonder what he actually needed me there for, and then I figured out that it was mostly for the company.
“We’re going to my father’s today.” Jerry remarks as he flips his turn signal and looks in the direction of the turn.
“Ok” I say as I take my last sip of rapidly cooling coffee.
Jerry knows the roads we take like the back of his hand. If there is anyone to know in Howard County, Jerry knows them…and they know Jerry. His father is equally as well known. Dutch worked the stockades at the docks in downtown Baltimore. Livestock were brought in by ship and loaded into corrals where trucks would take them to their designated locations throughout the surrounding counties. Some were designated for slaughter, some for agriculture, and some for government testing. Apparently a few years back, they were unloading a particularly feisty bull. As the bull came off the docks, it bolted, and before Dutch could get the pen door closed, the bull flipped the gate off its hinges and essentially head butted Dutch. The diminutive, retired aged man took a running shot from a full-sized bull…and lived.
“Only shame that really came out of it was that he had to quit doing the two things he loved,” Jerry says, as we whip through the back roads like Ichabod Crane, “drinking beer and talking.”
The local pub owner always ordered a case of non-alcoholic beer, should Dutch ever make an appearance. We pull into the driveway of his father’s house. Jerry immediately gets out and begins grabbing some tools. I exit the passenger side with the look of amazement that has been plastered on my face since entering the driveway.
“Like the color?” Jerry remarks, patting me on the back and giving a little chuckle underneath his breath.
“It’s…interesting.” I say.
“Few years back he bought twenty, five-gallon, pails of industrial latex paint at an auction upstate, he decided he didn’t want it to go to waste, and painted the house with it.”
“What color is that supposed to be?” I ask.
“Robin’s Egg Blue”, Jerry replies scratching the top of his head.
Its looks like the color of the sky on a cloudless day…on LSD.
Jerry hands me a crowbar, and points me to a shed in the back yard.
“The backhoe is coming at ten o’clock. I need everything you think might be worth savin’ in that shed out by that time. We’re gonna tear it down.” He says as he heads toward the side door of Dutch’s house.
He turns. “Oh and by the way…Crazy Pete’s gonna come over and help you.” Then he disappears inside the house painted like Willy Wonka’s nightmares.
Here I am standing outside of a house that could just be where the “Great and Powerful Oz” would live, with a crowbar in my hand waiting for a man named “Crazy Pete”.
I head toward a shed that has the exact opposite effect the house has on its initial viewing. The shed is no bigger than a small bathroom. It has a simple wood plank floor raised off the ground about ten inches. The siding is made of 1×6 boards nailed in an alternating pattern vertically. A simple, angled tin roof sits on top of the shed like a comfortable hat. The shed has obviously seen its better days, and I worry if I step into it, I won’t be in Kansas anymore.
“Looks a little rickety don’t it”, comes the voice from behind me. I wonder what Ash would do in this situation?
“Go on in, nothing in there gonna bite you…I don’t reckon.”
You know that scene in Deliverance…?
I turn to find a man, who is surprisingly hard to categorize by age. He looks like he is in his late 60’s, but his voice is young, almost vibrant. He stands before me in a pair of tattered blue jeans, a tank-top undershirt, and hair that can only be described as what Einstein might have had if he had gone through the heroin-chic era. He opens his mouth wide to give me a friendly semi-toothless smile and remarks, “Had to take my bridgework out while I’m a workin’.”
“I’m Crazy Pete” he says as he extends a hand towards me.
Now I’m not worried too much at this point, although for some reason I do have a passing image of Ned Beatty in my mind. It always concerns me a little when people attach adjectives to their name. It’s one thing for someone else to attach it. “Like I have this friend, Ditzy Jane, we call her.” And everyone proceeds to ask:
“Is that really her name?”
“What makes her so ditzy?”
and so on…
But when THAT person refers to themselves that way, well then I have to raise a little concern…right?? But I feel that may be asking about how he got his name is better suited once we’ve destroyed a shed together.
I open the shed door’s simple latch and it reveals a dark, dank space with creases of sunlight peeking through the cracks in the siding. “This is how horror movies start.” I think. As I open the door wider to the allow the full light of day to wash over the floor, I immediately notice that it looks like most people’s sheds. Gasoline cans lying around, Mason jars filled with nuts and bolts, screws, washers, and all manner of small odds and ends. I notice what I believe to be a hitch bar in the corner. A hitch bar is what we called a large pry bar about five foot in length with one end looking like a large nail head and the other end a flattened piece of blade iron. Basically, it’s a big iron fulcrum. Except when looking down to see a blade, I see the end is sharpened to a point.
Why is it that whenever you walk into a new unfamiliar space the last place you look is I up?
Across the beams hang a series of iron hooks and chains, and my first response is that Jerry’s dad has secretly been in the S and M movement for years, perhaps even one of its founding fathers.
Crazy Pete pushes past me and begins to lower the hooks off their nails. He has three in each hand and turns towards me to walk out. Somehow I am reminded of Wolverine Vol. 2, issue 1.
“Hogsh hooks.” He says with a slight lisp from his absent bridgework, and walks past me back into the light.
“Hog hooks. Dutch used to slaughter his own hogs. These er fer hooking the hog to drag him down to the blood tub to drain.” I immediately regret having that bacon with the side of eggs for breakfast.
He returns to the shed and grabs the bar.
“This is fer speerin the hog. Right down through the neck.” And he raises the bar above his head and brings the point crashing down into the soft earth. “Ain’t nothin’ better than slaughterin’ your own hog.”
In the course of fifteen minutes, I have discovered the shed from Evil Dead, met a guy named Crazy Pete, and had an engaging and hands-on demonstration of “hog slaughterin’”. All this happening in the shadow of the house from the Smurfs.
Over the course of the next two hours, Crazy Pete and I would ramble on some more about the practice of “poaching a pig”, and I would know more of why Pete refers to himself as “Crazy”. Pete and Jerry went to school together. They’re related in some way, but with Pete’s bridgework lying in a glass of water across the street, I shake my head a lot and utter “yeah, uh-huh” the way most people do to sound interested in what someone is saying although you have no idea what is being said. Apparently his moniker “Crazy” derives from something that happened at a local high school football game. I can’t catch all of it, but I do pick out the words “ride”, “donkey”, “naked”, and “jail”.
Pete lives next door to Dutch in a house he describes as, “full of my full-time bitchin’ wife and whore of a daughter.” He smokes more than a nervous Sean Penn during a Charlie Rose interview. And I’m pretty sure that there is some kind of prevalent drug habit that makes up most of his past. Yet, Pete has an innate sweetness about him. After slinging slaughter supplies for a couple of hours you feel as if you get to know a guy. Jerry would tell me later that Pete takes whatever money he can work or scrounge and will head to North Carolina for days, sometimes weeks at a time. Then he will call around to see if anyone can go and pick him up or he hitchhikes with the truckers along Interstate 95. Jerry says he will spend all of his money on hookers and cocaine, his wife is not as bad as he says she is, and his daughter is actually a whore.
The back hoe comes and takes the now empty and discarded shed to the ground. Pete is standing in front of it, taking long drags off a cigarette, the smoke wafting into the clear blue sky, his shadow casting long along the grass to the back of the house.
Jerry emerges from his father’s house.
“Why do you call him ‘Crazy’ Pete?” I ask?
Pete will take his money for a hard day’s work and head to North Carolina. No one sees him for months. Dutch will pass on within a year.
“Cause. We thought “Stinky’ Pete was just too cruel a name.”