Crazy Pete or The house that Dutch Painted

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.

“What hooks?”

“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.”


Keep It To Yourself

There are just certain things you don’t say or do to a pregnant woman. Obviously, and I may be totally wrong about this, but I think most people get that memo. Birth is unique in that it is one of the few events in an individual’s history that they can share with every other living human being on the planet, yet no one can remember it. We all went through it, but I challenge anyone that says they can remember being born, yet it has happened to all of us. Somewhere between that blankness of memory and impending adulthood, we develop a certain awareness to memory, but nothing we can do, dream, or hallucinate will recall that event back to us. It’s as if the two things we commonly experience in life, birth and death, we have to rely on the memories of others. Well, not death actually…cause why would you need to remember your own death? Anyway…I digress.

“I hope that this situation will not stress you out and cause you to lose the baby. I would be very upset. It would just kill me.”, she says through a thin veil of tears hanging from her eyes. This coming out of the mouth of a woman whose “family” was preparing to sue my pregnant significant other. The suit would be dropped in a few days because of lack of evidence, but I knew it was because of lunacy. Because if you say something like that to a pregnant woman, you have stepped off the balance beam of mental stability and floated into the abyss of just plain stupidity. Because this is what a pregnant woman hears in her head, “I would like to cut your baby out with a spoon. But no hard feelings…eh?”

We have a cousin that lives in the same town we do. Plenty of people have family that lives close to them. All families, I have come to realize, also have that family member that is vaguely inappropriate in social settings. You know the Uncle that burps the alphabet at family reunions, or the Aunt that smells of some kind of exotically bad cheese and has a knack for always hugging you into her armpit. Two things I immediately notice about these family members: One is that they seem to only be this way with family, and that it only seems to bother family members. Outside of the familial bounds, the uncle is seen as charmingly rude. His friends laugh at him and say things like, “Well there’s Ralph for you. He’s a real character.” While the aunt is seen as charmingly exotic, friends remark that her artwork is handsomely abstract, and they don’t even notice the 27 cats in her house anymore when they visit her. The other thing that I notice is that an amazing amount of family members DO NOT live anywhere near the offensive party. I am not that family member. Up until a few months ago, the “cousin” (as I’ll refer to him), lived in the same state, but at a comfortable distance. I find that right amount of distance is about three hours. It’s just far enough away to weasel out of visitation, and seriously decreases the chances of a random meeting. An hour drive requires little effort, while three hours puts you in the range of a serious trip. That however all stopped when the cousin moved into the same town. Have you ever noticed with the family you want to see you have to put in an enormous amount of effort, but the people you would just assume disown if you could, always have a way of randomly showing up at your doorstep to announce their great and abiding presence in your life?

“We’ve moved up here! Isn’t that great! Now we have family to hang out with!”, he says at my front door while he bounces up and down like a child waiting to blow out the birthday candles. This being the same man that only a few weeks earlier had made a random visit to my girlfriend’s place of business and proceeded to fart on her leg and laugh in front of her other co-workers. The way he announces himself in the store is to grab an unsuspecting associate and have them announce over the walkie-talkies that her “lover” is in the store and would like to see her. He is her first cousin, and he is forty-two years old and married. Lest you think he is a total ogre, let me in fairness inform you that he has a successful career, and from all appearances a lovely wife. They live a comfortable lifestyle, and reside in a nice house. Professionally he’s a success; socially he’s a train wreck.

We had debated for some time telling family about the pregnancy. Not because we didn’t want to tell anyone, it’s just that it was just as much a surprise for us as it would be for them. I came up with a three-tiered plan for telling our families, press release style. We, of course, told our parents first, and from there we moved our way though the immediate families, letting other family members share in the joy by allowing them to tell the immediate family strata below them: parents to children, to uncles, aunts, and so on. We told the mother of the cousin, and informed her that we would tell him when we felt the time was right, which she wonderfully honored.

“I have football season tickets for you.” he says into the receiver of the phone.
“We’re not going to get them this year, we have other things we are planning on.” she says dryly as if talking to a casual acquaintance.
“What?!? What could be more important than football tickets!” he screams as if he’s just received the news his house has burned down.
“We’re expecting a baby.”, she says calmly.
“So what’s that have to do with not getting football tickets?”

Two days ago he shows up at her work. He is with his wife.

What is it about a pregnant woman that opens up the opinion bloodbath? It seems that everyone, regardless of whether or not they have children, feel its ok to give you their advice on children or that they must tell you their worst pregnancy stories.

“It was wrapped around the baby’s head three times, and I spent three hours in surgery so they could get the little bastard out…but he’s such a joy! We’re so lucky to have him!”

“Oh you won’t get any sleep! I was in labor for 16 hours. I didn’t take the epidural, stood on my head and did two back flips right before she popped out. You will never work harder in your life! But it’s all worth it.”

“Oh honey, don’t worry about taking a shit everywhere! Just ask for the enema. And bring plenty of snacks!”

He proceeds to first start touching her stomach. Now I don’t know a lot of things, sometimes my social graces need a little refining, but I do know one thing…you do not touch the stomach of a pregnant woman unless she ASKS if you want to, and maybe not even then. If you like your hands actually attached to the ends of your arms, my advice to you is steer clear of the tummy touching. Fair warning.

He then makes a comment about her size increasing. People…listen, and listen good. It is never ok to make a comment to a woman about her size, period. It ranks right up there, and maybe higher than asking her age, weight, or going through her purse. But saying it to a pregnant woman borders on being both stupid and dangerous. I know my woman. She’s like most women; she has a concern about how she looks. I wouldn’t call it a dangerous concern, but if you think your woman doesn’t have it, you’re retarded. Now take that normal concern for a woman and feed it the steroids of pregnancy and you have a woman who looks (in my humble opinion) wonderful, but feels like a hippo and the Spruce Goose all rolled into one.

“You know your boobs are going to get big and tender. Bigger than they already are!”

This is something you might hear from an inappropriate obstetrician, not your first cousin.

If I had been there, this is the point at which I would have taken a swift kick to his twig and berries. Not that it would have made any difference. This is the same man that informed us at our first ever dinner with them, the great lengths and personal conviction that went into getting “his winky snipped” as he put it.

His wife stands there…mute.

You’ve gotten that look from your partner. The kick under the table, the glaring look, the pinch on the back of your arm fat that your significant other so lovingly gives you to let you know that, in fact, you have crossed the imaginary line of good social sport. I get “that look” all the time. If it wasn’t for her, I’d have to go and get that tattoo on my forehead that says “Insert Foot Here”. That’s how relationships work. It’s as much about keeping each other out of trouble as it is getting in trouble together.

“I think I should say something!” I utter as I push my chest out in bravado pacing a track across the floor. My whole stomach is churning and I feel like a football hooligan on opening match day. My mind runs circles around various scenarios resembling something of an amalgam between the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Godfather. I envision taking him down with my posse at an abandoned toll booth stop. Rat-a-tat-tat, the rhythm in my head is almost deafening.

She lies on the couch, with her belly exposed. The life of our child swimming inside her, and she says, “What are you going to say? He won’t even get it if you explain it to him.”
And in the middle of my mind, bullets raining down, I realize she’s right. Put your Tommy guns away.

If I were to say or do something, I know the reaction I would get…bewilderment. He would stand there after my highly justified and incredibly logical berating, and have a quaint, almost childlike expression on his face. My dog gets the same look on her face after she has gotten in to trouble. The head tilted sideways, ears drawn forward, and eyes as calm and glassy as the sea.

Then, he would probably try to hump my leg.