A Glint in the Eye and a Growl in the Belly
That night the Missouri was friendly. There was a half-moon and he steered the small boat by swimming one-handed on the stern, kicking and steering around the bends of the river and round the sandbars, whenever possible. He was thinking of old friends, some gone, most not yet, some good, others searching. He might have had a tear in his eye but the river washed it away.
The river and the half-moon absorbed him on his way down the Missouri to the landing. ~PV
“So I talked to Peder about that dream,” Julie says, referring to a dream in which her father had sat upon her bed and spoke to her. “I started crying when I talked to him. I said, ‘It was like he was there talking to me.’ And I was crying when I said, ‘but I don’t know how this shit works. I don’t know if it works that way.’
‘Ah, Jule,’ Peder said, ‘that’s exactly how it works.’”
We’ve been sitting in Peder’s apartment for an entire day and now into the night, sitting some kind of secular shiva for him and for ourselves, a setting of face-to-face that came about organically amidst the needs of pragmatic concerns; all the trivialities of death that assail those left behind. The living room, the office, is covered with history, a life, all scrawled on notes ranging in size from post-it to repurposed take-out fliers to whole reams of oddly-cut yet uniform papers. A large number of the post-it sized notes are phone numbers, addresses, and the occasional little reminder to pick up wine or stop at the bank or to listen to a specific NPR segment. A smoke alarm dangles from it’s wiring on the ceiling amid cobwebs of some distant vintage, yellowed a darker shade than the nicotine-coated walls. A cane, Peder’s cane, rests quietly against the desk, directly beneath the silenced smoke detector. Loose cigarettes lay strewn across every horizontal surface, and the ashtrays haphazardly placed between stacks of paper and pill bottles suggest that Peder had started smoking again recently.
Yellow-paged books sit serenely on shelves coated with a fuzzy patina of dust and age. The kitchen, recently cleared of old empties, ancient food stuffs, and forgotten peanuts, is now in the throws of Terry Buetler making Tuna Noodle Helper, his specialty and an old favorite of this crew. A painter and carpenter by trade, like Peder, Terry has a lot of fine skills and has learned to do his job very well in spite having, like Peder, of a crippling issue with math.
(For Peder, math was such an issue that he almost didn’t get his degree. A friend of his, a psychologist at USD, wrote up a recommendation to the school board suggesting that Peder’s college-level mathematical reasoning skills had been burned out by excessive LSD usage, a convenient fiction that Peder came to refer to as “Acid Amnesty International”. As a carpenter, Peder developed his own method of geometry which never failed him.)
Carryl wanders into the kitchen to find Buetler puzzling over how to double a recipe that calls for 2/3 of a cup. Carryl peers wide-eyed at the box, unable to decipher the instructions without her glasses, which were left at the hotel in the rush to get here this morning. After a few minutes of fumbling they manage it together.
A short while later Buetler is wandering around talking about everything that pops into his head to Savvy and I, and Carryl and Julie are talking in the kitchen.
“Yeah,“ Carryl says, “we’re sitting Shiva, South Dakota style: Bring us food, bring us wine, pay your respects.”
“But I don’t want Molly to think that we’re having a bunch of people through here,” replies Julie, “you know, I don’t think she’d be comfortable…”
“Oh no,” Carryl intejects. “No no, like, I wouldn’t want to- I wouldn’t want to- but see, I’m already that way.”
“You’re not posting no…”
“Yeah, fuck that shit,” Carryl laughs.
Julie grabs her glass. “I don’t have anybody to call.”
“T.J.’s coming and that’s enough for me,” she says as she draws a glass of wine from the box on the counter.
“yeah,” Carryl continues, filling her own glass. “And that’s what we’re doing and I think, actually, which- so I’m not saying we have to do anything. I think what we’re doing… I’m just, like, recognizing the there is a minor setting, not that I’m Jewish or ever been that involved, but part of the sitting Shiva goes in layers and stages, like you start with the immediate family, and then it’s not for several days before before it opens up. This one gal, I knew her reasonably well, she came up to me this year at Human Factors, she’s Jewish, she lives in Israel, and she said, ‘hey, just wanted to say…’
Terry lopes in, a joint in his mouth.
“Oh,” interrupts Julie, “we decided to take the lid off and let it cook down a little, ‘cuz it’s kinda soupy. I don’t know, it’s your…”
“You think, Carryl?” Terry asks, “is it too soupy yet?”
“No, I think we’ll go with Julie’s ideas on this one,” Carryl replies.
Julie stammers, “With the- the- the-”
“…the lid off…” Carryl supplies.
“Yeah,” Julie shoots back, “just let it simmer a little, but with the lid off, maybe…”
“It’ll evaporate better, probably…”
“Yeah,” Terry says edgewise, “it’s a good idea.”
“Yeah,” Julie nods. “Absorb the liquid.”
“Maybe it was Peder’s idea,” Carryl says, nodding sagely. “Yep.”
“I think Peder would really want me to-” Terry begins. “He knew why you guys were here to help me with this,” he chuckles.
“Or maybe he wanted soup,” supplies Carryl.
I’ll almost always fall in love with people who are often in trouble on account of their own good wits. ~PV
“I’m gonna put this outside for Peder,” Terry says, heading toward the door with a bowl of the much-anticipated Tuna Noodle Helper.
“Yeah,” agrees Julie, then, “wait, why does he have to be outside?”
“Well,” Terry backpedals into the room, “it’s free out there…”
“He can come in here,” Julie says. “He IS here.”
“Where should I put it?”
“By his big coat,” Carryl says, pointing at the mountainous black parka piled on the corner of the desk, Peder’s smiling face beaming over the top from an 8×11 photograph.
“He was never a big eater, he’ll probably only nibble at it,” Julie sniffs.
“At some point,” Carryl chimes, “he might want to go outside for a cigarette.”
“Yeah, he’s got his Icehouse, and his Tuna Noodle Helper.”
“Let’s make it thematic,” says Terry. “He would have liked that. Where’s that ashtray and one of those fucking cigarettes?”
“Oh shit, we’ve been cleaning a lot…,” mumbles Carryl.
“oh man,” Julie agrees.
“…been cleaning too much if you can’t find a dirty ashtray.”
A person can become so alone that he almost no longer understands friendship. I don’t say this to explain myself or excuse myself, I simply know this from my experience. Now, perhaps because it’s Solstice, I want to reach out to my old friends to say that I have them still in my heart and mind and that I am most grateful for what I learned from them. ~ PV
“What’s important?” Terry asks me. “You’ve got to look at the streets. Yeah, it’s cold out, but how many people, if they didn’t have their digital media would not be outside? Hanging out or doing something, there would be events. Picasso and those guys… and back in the NY School, abstract expressionism, they had people they’d talk to, like a constant dialogue and community, and I think it’s so crucial for art to survive, especially in the individual, and not around bouncing shit [off other artists]. I miss that dialogue so much. It’s depressing.”
Carryl sings, “That’ll work for me, lord. That’ll work for me. I’ll have an Icehouse, and that’ll work for me.”