Edit 2/7/2018: on @MrJackdaw’s and @clg6000’s suggestion, I’m going to leave this as an open topic, if anyone wants to talk about those who have gone before us. Please, just be polite, and speak no ill of the dead (unless they deserve it!)
A friend of mine died almost two decades ago last week. I never wrote anything about it until now. I don’t know why I’m doing this at this time, or exactly why I’m doing this here. I was just reminiscing of playing games of Chess with him (usually losing), Backgammon, Go, and actually getting him to play Bushido Blade on the PS1 once, and Mario Party on the SNES. I’m sure I could lure him into a game of Fiasco if he was still around, and definitely Hive. I just feel comfortable with you nerds, so I thought this would be a good place to lay this down.
We met working at an enormous independent book shop, “the third largest remaindered bookshop in the world” (Main Bookshop in Sarasota, FL, it no longer exists. The owner figured no one would argue with “3rd largest,” and he was correct). I was 27 then, now I’m 44.
This is about Peter.
Peter was a glorious man.
He was skinny and balding and 68 in back in 1997. He had a mustache that was perfect and gray, salt and pepper. He had poise, he was erudite, and he spoke 7 languages, 3 of them like a native (Finnish, Scandinavian, and English).
He was a man born out of sequence. He should have been a Great War fighter pilot, shooting down the Kaiser’s men in his biplane.
Although he smoked for most of his life, the lung cancer that killed him had nothing to do with smoking. He had quit several years before, but that was totally unrelated, according to his doctors. Back when he did smoke, he smoked awful French cigarettes, like Gauloises or Gitanes. He had a story: a homeless guy bummed a smoke off of him, and after one puff, the homeless guy coughed, threw it in the gutter, and cussed him out.
He met his wife, Claudia, who was only in her 50s, working at the bookstore. According to them, they hated each other instantly, and fought constantly. So, naturally they fell in love and got married.
Peter was a fantastic chef. He was skilled, he had professional training. He had a restaurant/b&b in upstate New York called The Rogue Scholar. He made amazing flourless chocolate cake, chicken, and schnitzel, and many other things. I was lucky enough to rent his and Claudia’s’ house when they were snowbirding up north (a “snowbird” is someone who comes down South to Florida for the winter, and lives up North for the summer, on the East Coast of the USA). I got to use gas burners, every day! I feel guilty about this, but I kind of miss using a gas stove-top almost as much as I miss Peter.
Peter was the most debonair person I have ever met. He may have been the one person I’ve ever met whom I would describe as “elegant.”
Peter was missing two fingers off of his right hand. The two smaller fingers, the ring finger and the pinky. I never received a satisfactory explanation for that, but then again, I didn’t ask too hard. It was either frostbite or the mafia, or possibly a combination of the two. It was a bit shrouded in mystery, and the story changed a little every time. But like I said, I didn’t ask too hard.
Claudia, his big beautiful wife, who was much too young for him (as we liked to say, he was robbing the cradle, his wife was in her fifties, almost 20 years younger), was openly a fan of pornography, or at least risqué art. Any “Rated M,” or even “X”, comics my (ex)wife and I brought home were welcomed while we lived with them. She always wanted to see when I had a new copy of Heavy Metal, or when my wife had a copy of Cherry. We’d chuckle and read it together, and yes, I know that sounds weird, but it was so much fun. Peter would smile at us, and cook, and talk.
They had separate bedrooms. They loved each other very much.
After Peter died, Claudia scattered his ashes from several places, as part of the the vacation they were taking. They took this trip specifically because they knew Peter was going to die soon. And he did, right on schedule.
Some of his ashes were scattered from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Some in Versailles during the rebuild of the Hall of Mirrors, so some of his ashy ass will be there forever. Some of his ashes were scattered in their friends’ “Sven and Svenetta’s” field of marijuana, in an European country that shall remain undisclosed (obviously not their real names, and honestly, I can’t remember anyway, I didn’t really know to begin with, and it’s been almost 20 years [probably Denmark]). Some were scattered here, on Siesta Key. Some were scattered in places I will never know.
Even though I expected it, the next time I saw Claudia at the bookstore (I no longer worked there at that time, although I had worked there for 3 years prior), and she told me that Peter had died… well…I kind of lost it. She told me, “Don’t! Don’t you cry now!” I still had to excuse myself for a few minutes to find a quiet place, in this huge bookstore where we had all gotten to know each other so well. I bawled like a baby.
She forgave me, later.
There was a cat. I don’t remember if it was Lord Byron or Misha (the two cats who lived in the bookstore). But that helped.
This is a eulogy that’s about 20 years too late. The bookshop isn’t there anymore. The house on 7th Street isn’t there anymore. Peter’s been dead a long time gone. I wasn’t able to say this then, I was too young and stupid. So I’m saying it now that I’m older and stupid. Better late than never.