The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Warts Week Finale:I Have Herpes!

And chances are, you do too!
I’ll explain: I was diagnosed with type 1 genital herpes about 5 years ago. I’ve been very open about it because very few people are and the stigma surrounding it is a bit unfounded. People are usually open about having HIV and AIDS, a life threatening disease that is commonly contracted through sexual activity, but the people that are the most open about their Herpes, a relatively harmless virus, are the fictional characters in the Valtrex commercials.

A little information: 1 in 5 adult men and 1 in 4 adult women have genital herpes. People don’t realize how wide spread it is because only a fraction of the people that have it ever show symptoms. Another fact that people don’t understand it that cold sores are caused by the herpes virus, often passed on to children commonly and unknowingly by their relative’s kisses . That’s where it gets really widespread: anywhere from 50 to 65 percent of adults have oral herpes, a figure that keeps going up the older you get.

It’s hard for you to know for sure if you have it or not, outside of testing a suspected out break. You can be tested for antibodies that the body creates in defense of it. And like the commercial says: you can still spread it when you don’t show symptoms(called “Asymptomatic Shedding”) that applies to all forms of herpes.

The two must common forms of Herpes Simplex virus: Type 1- causes most cases of oral herpes and type 2-which is most common form of genital herpes. Either type can occur in either location, but type one is becoming more popular as genital herpes because while people protect themselves from things like that with condoms, people don’t use them during oral sex and it’s transmitted that way (the way I contracted it).

I wanted to use the blog as an opportunity to educate people a little on Herpes. In my openness, I’ve been shocked on the attitudes some people have had towards me. After I told one friend about it during a poker game, he refused to drink after me. The irony was that he had a huge coldsore on his lip at the time; having never had a cold sore myself, I was more likely to catch something from him than he could get from me. I told him this, with a lot more profanity, but eventually I educated them about herpes and we figured out that two of the other guys had it too.

As I gathered information about herpes when I found out I had it, I realized how damaging the stigma truly is. I read posts online from people who have been driven into deep depression over a herpes diagnosis and think the worst about their significant others, when either of them might have had it for years before they had an outbreak. Even a couple, when each only had one sexual partner have given it to each other, it can spread-with a little bad luck-from oral to genital then back to the other partner genital to genital.

As far as my life goes, my girlfriends have been understanding for the most part, and I have always let them know far before it becomes an issue. I’m very careful and haven’t spread it since I’ve been diagnosed, at least as far as I know. It‘s so common, that you’re not fully protected unless latex prevents any direct contact of lip to genital, genital to genital, even lip to lip. I’d rather be honest than feel I was keeping something from them for even a second, I even tell people I sleep with in my dreams I have it. It’s inconvenient, yes, but isn’t life?

So that’s it for the “warts and all” week, I hope on some level it was entertaining. I’ll return to my regular musings on Monday.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Warts Week:My Abortion Adventure

“Have you ever hit a woman?”
Even asking me such a question betrayed how little she knew me. But here we were.
Sara (not her real name) was someone that I had a casual friendship with, like I had with a lot of people that made their way through the house where I lived at that point. With a pool table, dart board and foozball table, we were a popular afterhours hang out.

Sara’s and my friendship had gotten more intimate one of these afterhours, which she swore me to secrecy not to talk about afterwards even though we decided to continue, but by this time it was over.

She asked the question at the beginning because she was pregnant, and she didn’t know how I would react, but I was already suspicious when she took me aside at the bar where we hung out and said that we had to talk.

Even though I ultimately left “the choice” up to her, I couldn’t say that I wasn’t relieved when she said that she wanted to end it. I was in no way then -or now, for that matter- ready to become a father. But I thought I was smarter than this.

All through high school, I would give all of my friends shit when they didn’t use SOME form of birth control and gave them tons of shit as they sweated out late periods. I was ten years older now, why wasn’t I smarter?

The oddest part about it was the “relationship” I had with Sara. After the first night we spent together, she didn’t even look me in the eye for a while because her friend told her that I “fell in love too easy”, a common misconception about “nice guys” such as myself, this person didn’t even know any one I had ever been in love with. (I realize that this might not be painting that kind of “nice guy” picture for you, just take mine and everyone I knows word about it). I was comfortable to keep things as casual as she-and seemingly everyone else I knew then-seemed to be.

As we went on, she confessed to me that the mutual casualness had turned to unrequited feelings, with me in the odd role as the recipient. I let her know that I didn’t share them, but she still wanted to continue our physical relationship. I stupidly and insensitively agreed at first, until my conscious got the better of me and I broke it off for good.

Which brings us to the beginning of the post, we were able to schedule a “procedure” quickly, so that it would only happen about 6 weeks in, which made it about 3 weeks of waiting. In the meantime, I went through quite a range of emotions: shame for being so careless; regret for the necessity of what we were going to do; and quite a bit of misplaced anger.

In my darkest place, I thought that she might have done it on purpose to “trap” me. This wasn’t fair, she had given me no real reason to believe that.I wouldn’t allow my self to think it for to long, but it was never far away in my mind. She had actually been married before after her boyfriend had gotten her pregnant before she miscarried their baby and got divorced.

We got up really early one December morning and I drove her to the clinic 2 hours away. We made small talk among the way. She had had quite a shitty fall, just a little while before there was a small fire at her house that happened in her room after a cushion got wedged up against a heating vent. She said that there was a part of her that thought that her roommate did it in retaliation for the disagreement that they were having about the roommate sleeping with her friend’s boyfriend.

I told her that I didn’t think that it was on purpose, and that sometimes in situations like this your mind goes off in scary directions in search of blame. I never told her that I came to that conclusion thinking about our situation.

Just before we pulled into the clinic, Sara chose that time to tell me that the ultrasound that she had gotten showed that they might have been twins, which nearly caused me to drive off the road that I was already driving off of.

We entered the nondescript facility and waited in the waiting room with 2 other sets of people: the patent and the support person. I noticed immediately that I was the only other male in the support role and it made me a little sad to be one. I thought that going with Sara and paying for half of it was the absolute least thing I could do. Years later, a female friend told me that the male end of the genomic equation may have never even known that they got someone pregnant.

For as long as we waited, the actual procedure took next to no time at all and we were headed to lunch. Sara told me about it, ”He said he had no problem finding the tissue.”

I waited at Sara’s house until her roommate got home, then I was gone, to marinate in my drowsy shame alone. Sara and I still saw each other in our social circles but we never really talked like we once did. One drunken night she told me, “I want you to know that I appreciate what you did, you were a good guy.”
“Thank you,” I said, ”I was really worried that I wasn’t.”

It lifted a psychic weight for her to say that, I hope she didn’t just say it to make me feel good.

It didn’t lift all of it, though. I have and will support a woman’s right to choose; in fact, like evolution, it’s something that we shouldn’t even be discussing in the 21st century . I also recognize the fact that as a man, my perspective has limited value.

But that doesn’t mean I think abortion is the most moral of choices. Writing these post has had a cathartic value, but it’s almost mike puking bad karma; it makes you remember what it tasted like. Even writing words like “procedure” and “tissue” brings back all the echoes of that shame that is really good at hiding most of the time.

Also while writing, I realized that the twins would probably have turned 10 about now. There is not a day that I regret the choice, but doesn’t mean it was easy.

Stay tuned for the extra special Warts Week finale tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Warts week- I Hate Teachers!

Now that I’ve got your attention, a qualifier: I don’t hate all teachers. I’ve had many friends and acquaintances that have been teachers (my girlfriend is studying to be one now). My disdain is similar to the kind that many people have for the police(not me, mind you), I’m not against the profession itself or the people who do their job well. My problem is with the people who approach their chosen profession with the same of lack of enthusiasm and passion as the rest of us, but expect all of the admiration that they feel they’re entitled to simply because they’re teachers.

I recognize that it’s not the easiest thing to be a teacher in America. The Bush years have been especially hard for the educational system, the joke of “No Child Left Behind” fitting snugly against the “Compassionate Conservatism” one in the history textbooks of the future. Teachers are often treated like second class citizens, underpaid and over worked. Lacking the proper funds, teachers often have to fill in the deficit with their own money.

The thing is, everybody knows this. I certainly did when I tried to study to be one myself. Right or wrong, this has been the way things have always been; it’s always sucked to be a teacher.

When you went to school , did you have more of the kind of teacher that inspired you to challenge your idea about what you can do? The kind that might be portrayed in a oscar-nominated movie by Hilary Swank or Samuel L. Jackson? Or did you have the type that fled to the smoke-filled sanctuary of the teacher’s lounge at every opportunity and bitched about how little they got paid?

If you answered the second, your scholastic experience is much like mine, where an unusually large number of them were called “coach” and we were allowed to use dictionaries during spelling tests.

But those painful memories were gone until I started at the toy store.

We did a lot of work with area schools, donating thousands of dollars worth of toys, art supplies, and books every year. We would set up accounts through schools so that we could bill them for what they needed, tax free and at a discount and even set aside special school nights during the holiday season where a percentage of the proceeds go to a certain area school.

But my boss stopped short of allowing a direct teacher discount. He reasoning was much like mine, “When you become a teacher, you should know that you’re not going to make much money.” I love that man.

Nobody likes to be told, “No”. As adults we use our words and reason to deal with it instead of the old pout and stomp we employed as kids. Every one of the following rebuttals should be served in a broth of Pete’s-a-bad-guy.

“What do you mean, no teacher’s discount,? A store like this should support the community!” causing me to inform them of the information contained in the paragraph before last.
“You know, we don’t make a lot of money.” Neither do I, and I don’t get summers off.(Before I start getting defensive comments from educators and educator sympathizers, I realize that they don’t get the WHOLE summer off, just a lot more of it than I did)

“(A competitor) gives me one, I’ll just get my stuff there.” According to someone that works at my store that used to work at that competitor and from our own casual investigation, they charged 10 to 20 percent more on everything than we do. I’d try to explain this, but was often rebuked with a, “Yeah, right.”

When I’d explain the school billing policy, some would bristle even more,”You mean it would have to be for the school?” or try to convince us that a wrapped gift (that they would have already identified as for a relative to their salesperson) would be for the school. People would even be visiting from all over the country and expect that their teacher ID would be sufficient for the discount that they felt they were entitled to as educators.

So teachers: Some of you have my respect, all of you have my sympathy, but you’ll excuse me if I stop short of a round of applause.

Stay tuned for the next episode: My Abortion Adventure!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Warts Week-I Punched A Little Kid!

Circa early 1981:a school bus in Delaware during the morning pick-up.
“Your mom’s CHEESY!”
“Take it back, Tommy!”
“No, she is!”
A little background is in order, where I grew up, ”Cheesy” was the negative slang adjective that was as big an insult as a non curse word could be. Tommy was my 6 year old next door neighbor and, with his brother Shawn, was one side of a rather contentious “friendship” of sorts. There weren’t a lot of kids in our neighborhood-in fact there was only my brother and Eric down the street and Tommy and Shawn’s fellowship was often a port in a storm of pre-teen boredom even though we couldn‘t stand each other.
Tommy was a tow-headed hellraiser with language filthier than a subway bathroom. Even though he a father and his grandmother lived nearby, he seemed to have his own code of behavior, like throwing rocks at the back of a neighbor's house that he excused with, "It's OK I know these people."

But him calling my mom cheesy was a step beyond. Even excluding the umbrage taken when someone insults your mother when you’re too young to start doing it yourself, my mom had been nothing but gold to him; including, but not limited to, fixing the neighbor’s back window that Tommy had broken by throwing rocks at it and always telling us, ”You better be nice to those boys!”

I went to my bus driver for guidance (or as we called it then, tattling).
“Mr. Fisher, Tommy called my mom cheesy.”
As he guided the bus he gave me some sage advice, “If somebody said something like about my mother, I’d meet him behind the school,” he raised a beefy fist with hair so thick you can lose your keys in it for emphasis, “if you know what I mean.”

I did, in fact and so did Shawn. I was going to punch him, just once to register my disproval.
We used to joke that if Tommy shot the President, Shawn would stand between Tommy and the police and say, “Your not gonna arrest MY brother!” and he certainly didn’t like the idea of me hitting his brother.

As we got off the bus at the elementary school, I got off first and waited for Tommy to get off. Shawn stood in front of Tommy, waving his arms around to shield him, but I still got one good shot to the face, underneath Shawn’s flailing right arm.

As Tommy ran wailing to the nearest authority figure, Shawn charged towards me in retaliation. I pushed him away and walked the block to my school, since I was in a higher grade.

This was where the polarization occurred, because the age difference between Tommy and I: I was about 11 while he was about 6.

As the news got out two distinct groups emerged in reaction: people who knew Tommy and his pain-in-the-ass way and were happy that he got a sock in the eye and those who just knew that I hit a kid much younger than me.

Everyone in the neighborhood had punched Tommy at one point or the other. Eric(who was my age) punched him when Tommy threw a dirt clod that hit him in the face, my brother had punched him on many occasions, even Shawn ran him over with his bike and then gloated about it because he didn’t get in trouble. But my punch was in front of everybody on the bus instead of us, so I got the attention.

People that knew him came up to me and said things like,” I’m so glad you hit him, he’s such a brat. He‘s had it coming.”
The approval reached farther than I could have expected, he was in same class with my brother and when the teacher asked if Tommy was present, he said, ”My brother punched him.” My brother reported that the teacher tried to stifle a grin and said, ”Oh, really…”

However, people unaware of his charms threatened me with physical violence, ”You like to hit little kids? How would you like it if I hit you?” One girl, April, who sat on another part of the bus offered to sic her brothers-who were huge for their age- on me.
In my defense, I said, ”But he called my mom cheesy!”
“You should have just taken it.”

What I did was wrong, no doubt, but let’s not fool ourselves: at that age no one can tolerate a disparaging word against our mother. Lord knows I would have never said one against April’s.

Stay tuned for the next episode: I Hate Teachers!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Warts Week-The Meanest Things I Didn't Say (but lordy, I thought!)

This the first of my “Warts and all” week posts, where make entertainment (hopefully) out of moments I’m not the proudest of in my life. I haven’t been everyone’s pal all the time and there have been definite times when I didn’t want to be one.

These are things that I thought about saying but, the angel of discretion won over the devil of hurt or easy humor. I have actually said some mean things, though.

When I was in my very early twenties, my friend Chris worked as a light man for a lot of local bands and met a lot of groupies that we ended up hanging out with often. They made it obvious that the only guys that they were interested were the ones who played in the myriad cover bands and occasional “national” act that played in Ocean City. It was a bit emasculating, being treated more like a girlfriend than anything else, being privy to all kinds of information that I never asked or wanted to know about.

We were watching some band play some song live when one of the groupie girls squealed, “This is my favorite song that they play!” adding slyly, “I’ll have to thank them back at the hotel.”
I almost said,”I think you might be a bit big for them.”

Thank God I didn’t,the implosion of her ego would have been so huge, nothing would have been safe.

My last year in Salisbury, I dated a woman that was the girlfriend of someone I knew that used to live in the area but moved to Baltimore a while back. He, understandably, was quite upset with me when he found out and vowed to punch me in the face next time he saw me.

A little while later we ran into each other at a party, after my unsuccessful attempts to avoid him. He was actually much cooler than he had to be and told me,”You actually did me a favor getting me out of that relationship. I ALMOST said,”That’s funny, she said the EXACT same thing.” He didn’t deserve that.

A few months after my most painful breakup ever, the girlfriend that had broken up with me called me frantically,”Are you O.K.? I had a feeling that something had happened to you.” She took these feelings very seriously, it often meant that someone she knew had died, but I was fine. I almost said,”You’re a little off, last night was the first time I made out with someone that wasn’t you.”

This actually almost happened dozens of times after my then-roommate Ed told me his three kinds of human failure. Every once and a while, a customer at the toy store would say after they did something stupid,”I’m an idiot.” I’d say,”No, you’re not stupid.”, I had to stifle the desire to add on,”Really, you’re just foolish. Your smart enough and you know better, you just did the wrong thing anyway.”

At it’s core, that’s REALLY not an insult, but I certainly smells like one.

It reminds me of something I started saying when someone would ask a potentially prickly question: “Do you want me to answer that honestly or sensitively?”

Friday, August 17, 2007

Like I said...

I am now in Austin, up to my waist in the culture(consumer and otherwise)that I was otherwise denied in "don't got it. don't need it" Iowa.

I realized that I'm a bit of an "accidental tourist" in my own country, where a psychic peace can be achieved as long as I am close to a Chipotle and a Best Buy. These aren't things were suppose to NEED but I can no longer deny this basic truth about myself.

When I was in Iowa, my friend Shawn used to make a lot of "Corn" comments, when I drove through Iowa in late summer a few years ago I made the comment,"If I see another goddamn ear of corn I'm gonna shoot myself." This was before we reached the "Cornhusker State" of Nebraska.

But for the first few months of my exile, I didn't see much corn, even when it sprouted it didn't look that much different from the soybeans that were also a popular crop.

Then the corn explosion! My uncle and I would drive past the same cornfield and visibly notice the growth from the day before.

As the peak time approached, my uncle got more excited, he had always told me that if you get it at peak freshness, you could eat it off the stalk, it was so sweet. His friend Jim had some corn rows on his land that always produced far more than any of us could ever imagine eating.

When it hit the peak, we certainly tried: Corn on the cob;boiled or broiled,corn fritters, corn bread and creamed. I couldn't stop eating it was so F-'n good; I could have eaten it raw off the cob, but I love butter and salt too much.

The key, as I was told, was it's off-the-stalk freshness, since the sugars start to turn starch after it's picked. That's why corn gets chewy and......

As I shucked countless ears of corn, I devised an efficient method that I referred to as the "Iowa Handjob."
One more useless corn fact: If anyone had ever had to deal with fresh corn, the biggest pain in the ass is getting rid of the corn "Silk". Each strand of that is connected to an individual kernel, acting as a kind of feed tube as the ear grows. It was strange to see the kernels whose silk strands didn't make it as far as the outside of the ear of corn to turn brown with the rest, they'd be white and emaciated
while their neighbors would be bursting with corn goodness.

My girlfriend, Johanna, drove up to take me to Texas, and she got a feel for what Shenandoah was like instead of just hearing me talk about it.
Her take of the fresh-off-the-rind Pork:"It's like I've never had pork chops before."
On the fertility of Iowa:"I've never seen so many kinds of green!"

So now I'm in Austin, "Live Music Capitol of the World." and it really is. There are always shows every where and it's really getting me excited to start playing music again.

It has afforded me the productivity I went to Iowa to achieve, I'm writing like a demon, relative to my normal productivity. In the two weeks I've been here, I've written more than I did in two months in Iowa.

If I get the chance this weekend, I'll write some posts for next week that I'm calling "Warts Week" as in, warts and all. They will all be posts that don't cast me in the most positive light,that are still hopefully entertaining to read and taking my dedication to honesty to new levels.

One last thing about Austin: The handstamp that I got from Stubb's the day after I arrived echoed a common local sentiment:"Don't Move Here".

Too Late.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'm in Austin(and offline)

I moved to Texas and I don't have internet access, so I apologize for the blog darkness. I'll try to get something working so I can post, I certainly have a lot of backed-up posts.

Seeing you soon, hopefully.