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..: stories

..: Another Talk With Peter

So I came home from work tonight and saw Peter again. He was at his usual spot, leaning on the railing of the third floor walkway in our Culver City apartment. Tonight, Peter was wearing long pajamas, and not just his usual boxers and undershirt.

"Just cooling off in the night breeze," he said. That was his usual opener. Tonight, I was a bit tired, and actually wanted to just get into my apartment. But I decided to stay and chat.

"Isn't it about time for your anniversary?" he asked. Yep, it just passed. Time went real quick. I was holding a carefuly selected 8 pack of blank VHS tapes from Best Buy. These tapes are to backup the wedding videos, actually, I told him. "Oh, you can do that? Do you do it on the computer or something?" Actually no, I just connect the camera to the VCR, copy it that way.

"All we have is VCR, and one of those tape deck things. Had a disc player, you know those little music discs, CDs, and it went kaput on us. Had to have it fixed, the laser went kaput. Cost $84 dollars to get that fixed. Then it went kaput on us again, by that time I just said forget it." Wow, $84 dollars, I said. That's too much. I thought about the Pioneer CD changer I had just sold on eBay last month. "Well I used to play my old arias, operas, you know the kind of music I like on it. But I transfered them all to tape so I can listen to them that way. We don't even have a computer anymore. Maryanne brought one home when she retired from Texaco. It was the oldest computer they had -- 27 years old. The screen got so bad you couldn't hardly see it." He held his open palm close to his face, pretending to squint at amber glowing characters that weren't there.

He asked about my wife, how her business was doing. And then he spoke about those poor kids, and how they are graduating with so little job prospects. Peter is turning 79 soon he says. When he was young, he would make 2 or 3 dollars singing in different places all over the States.

"One dollar then was about 100 dollars today. That was during the Depression, you know. I was a teenager. I would sing all over. Whorehouses, gin mills, those little floppy joints under the railroad tracks. That was Chicago. We'd just stand there behind the bar, sing, and people would throw coins at us. My father, he earned about 6 dollars a week. Later on, he was earning about 17 dollars a week. By then I was singing in enough places that I was making 32 dollars a week. So I helped out a little. But I had to pay for my singing lessons and sheet music, that kind of thing."

Are you going to do any singing this season? "Yeah, I will be at the local church. Just talked to the organist today. My voice isn't what it was. It's about half of what it was when I was forty, when I was singing operas and arias. The peaks aren't so good anymore, you know. Just can't get the C's, I sing them in a lower key."

"We just spent the day with my granddaughter. Loyola High School. Not the college. Grandparents day today. Had a great time there. They had a little presentation, choir, that kind of thing. She's a senior now. We pay for her schooling, costs us $10,000 a year." He looks at me for emphasis.

That is a lot of money. I asked him how many times the rent has increased while he's been here. He said about 4 times in the seven years he's lived here.

"Back when I moved in, I paid two weeks extra before signing the lease, so I could get things set up. We hired movers, but we didn't trust them for everything. I moved some things myself in my Cadillac. Maryanne has some handpainted China and things that her great aunt made that are 125 years, I'm certainly not going to trust the movers. Yep, I missed that Cadillac. That was the last of my 13 Cadillacs. Do you know I've had over 50 cars in my lifetime? Well, you know, I began driving when I was 13 on the farm, and then got my license at 17. That was back when the seats were real cushy, and not like now, the cushion is so small. My fat butt just smashes it down."

We heard a door open behind us. It was Maryanne. Her voice was crisp and classic. "Peter, there's something wrong with the television. I change the channel but it's just the same." Peter turned his big body around to look at Maryanne, then back at me. "Looks like I better go."

Good talking to you, Peter.
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