Mr. Pete had a friend in Washington Square Park. His friend’s name was Shorty, although I’m pretty sure the fleshy projections from Shorty’s underside were tits, not tumors as I had originally thought. But it didn’t really matter. Mr. Pete gave me a walnut which I in turn gave to Shorty, and I felt honored by it all.
Shorty was nice, as was Mr. Pete. A congenial fellow is an appropriate description of him. He told me he was ninety to which I responded with, “You don’t look ninety,” because that was the truth. At most I would have taken him for seventy. He explained that the trick was regular exercise, a balanced diet (to include garlic), and the use of an electric shaver as it “stimulated the facial muscles and combated the drying effects of aging.”
“We’ll that’s good,” I said, “I use an electrical shaver now so I guess I’ve got a head start.”
Mr. Pete seemed uninterested and changed the subject.
He liked to talk, there was no doubt about it. As a painter selling his art in front of his studio, back in his seventies I think he said, he would talk to the passing dogs rather than their owners.
“Where is your ball, pooch?” he’d ask. “You better get your owner to buy you a ball.”
Then Mr. Pete would let them walk away.
He remembered the first time he saw a dog with a ball. It was a Dachshund, and boy was it proud. Mr. Pete took a moment from his story to demonstrate the happy gait of that little Dachshund.
“Boy, was that the most proud little dog I’d ever seen, hopping along with a tennis ball too big in its mouth. But that was its ball, and it was happy.”
I smiled at Mr. Pete and we fell silent for a moment.
“I suppose there’s something to learn from him,” I said, “taking joy in the simplest of things.”
And I meant it. Mr. Pete had enlightened me. He seemed disinterested.
I asked Mr. Pete about his art and he produced a fat envelope containing many photographs. They were pretty paintings, mostly of animals, and they made me think of Rousseau.
I liked one painting in particular, a depiction of a fair skinned girl with red hair looking in the mirror. I like paintings of the human form.
“I really like this one,” I said, to which Mr. Pete gave me a broad smile.
“Ass Cheeks Aimee!” he said excitedly, and I laughed. “She’s just come out of the shower you see, and she’s hot. That seat she’s sitting on is red velvet and she’s rubbing herself on it.”
I looked at the painting again. I had only seen a girl admiring herself in the mirror, but I liked Mr. Pete’s story better.
“Is Aimee someone you knew?” I asked. Mr. Pete didn’t respond.
Mr. Pete spoke disparagingly of the French art gallery on Bleecker Street. It was all abstract art, he said, art they were trying to sell for two-hundred bucks apiece. He thought abstract art was shit.
“I’m trying to get the elderly home over there to display my art,” he said. I made mental note to check for his exhibit. I wanted to buy Ass Cheeks Aimee.
Mr. Pete had done many things in his lifetime so he listed them off to me: an artillery man in the Army where he saw action in Europe; drilling for oil as an engineer; a science and math teacher to high school students. He had even been a brass instrument musician and played under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. The name meant nothing to me but I gathered that this was someone important.
“Let me tell you a story,” he began. “You see, Leo was unhappy with the way this piece was sounding, so he told me to supplement the bass section. But the bass section was only this one old guy, this Australian, and this poor old guy was incredibly hurt. He didn’t understand why Leo demanded I play along to his part.”
Mr. Pete looked solemnly out at the park.
“We’ll I found out later that the poor old guy threw away his instrument after that performance and never played again. He was so depressed that he died that way.”
We shared a moment of silence.
“You see that’s the tragedy of ego,” he continued. “Leo was so caught up in himself that he failed to realize how he affected others. We all looked up to him, and by not giving this poor guy an explanation, by not telling him that all he wanted was a more powerful bass section, this poor old guy gave up and died.”
I didn’t know what to say to Mr. Pete. I sat and thought of myself and felt a sense of guilt flow over me. Mr. Pete didn’t know it, but he’d enlightened me.
We sat silently, longer than one would normally allow. Finally Mr. Pete pointed to Pigeon Man across the way, feeding a flock of excited pigeons and surrounded by pretty young women.
“That guy’s a bum,” he said, “I don’t know how he isn’t covered in pigeon shit.”
I laughed in agreement. Pigeon Man did look like a bum, and I couldn’t understand how he wasn’t covered in pigeon shit, either.
Mr. Pete sighed and began packing his things.
“Well it’s been nice talking,” he said.
“I’m sure we’ll see each other again,” I responded as we shook hands.
So left Mr. Pete. Father of two daughters and friend to a squirrel. An old fashioned man who believed in hard work and doing as your told. I watched Mr. Pete walk away, slightly relieved, slightly sad, but better off than I was before.