Other19 Dec 2011 09:58 am

Matt, I’ve got something to show you. This warning from Costco. Let me read it. “Fresh Food Concepts is recalling Rojo’s Layer Dip because the guacamole might have Listeria Monocytogenes. Listeria is the leading call of deaths from food related bacteria.” How stupid is it to send a letter. By the time you read this you’re dead.

I know. I didn’t eat the dip.

I ate the stuff, I finished it. Wait, you knew what?

I got the phone call.

Phone call?

I didn’t tell you?

Tell me what?

That they called. I meant to. I told Sarah.

Michael 30 Nov 2011 09:50 pm

To anyone who has ever asked me if they kept me up, to all of Matt and Hilary and Hannah’s friends, pretty much to anyone who is under the age of twenty-seven.

Many of you knew Matt’s mom, my wife, Diane, and some did not. Diane and I grew up together – I consider my life before Diane the playful years. We gave each other crisis comfort in addition to play, and we figured out together how to cope with the hard-edged stuff outside of us that we called the real world. I met Diane on the last leg of my 14,000 mile hitch hiking journey (see what I mean about play) after I arrived on my brother’s doorstep in Cambridge. I thought I was passing through town on my way back to Indiana.

When I knocked on my brother’s door at some wee-ass hour, having mooched my last ride at a rest stop on the Mass Pike , Brian didn’t answer. His Native American worshipping, left-leaning (both politically and physically), ganja smoking, self-centered mountain-man of a roommate did. Brian dodged the draft by joining Vista as had John. They met in Oregon. They both turned their backs on Vista and drove east together. I don’t remember why they chose this fair state, a girlfriend perhaps, or a dart thrown at a map? Our lives, back then, were chaotic compared to many of yours, with careers yet unknown, and the future (beyond the war) rarely considered.

Diane graduated from Wellesley College and moved to Somerville . She shared her first apartment with her college roommate, Ginger Candee, and Shirley, a friend from back home. However, that union was short-lived. When I came to town in September Ginger was already sharing Brian’s bed. Good for me because I needed a place to sleep and I moved into Ginger’s empty room. I think I thought I was always going home which is why I kept it so empty a friend referred to the style as “Early Nothingness.” Much like my bedroom today. A thin wall separated me from Diane and Rich, who was her love, and  a graduate of Fordham. He was destined to be a government lawyer, and an ex-boyfriend. Who would have guessed that this classical music-loving, rule-following, valedictorian would choose me, a long haired, bell-bottomed, rootless hippie. Like my bedroom, I haven’t changed much. Diane explained her attraction to me, “You’re not boring.” Rich was the lamppost outside, I was the unassembled parts to who-knows-what.

Shirley moved within that first year and that left Diane and me sharing our space with a succession of roommates … nine I think, only two of whom were men. Yeah, even then. When we moved to Littleton in 1978, we shared that apartment with three different room- mates, all guys this time. We lived a communitarian like with people constantly drifting in and out. We grew our first garden, and enjoyed watching the antics of the drunken college-age kids next door. Four years later, we bought our house in Acton with our friend Dan. He moved out and sold his share to another friend John, who left when he married Ruth. Finally, we had enough money to own the house without roommates.

I trust these details aren’t too boring. I think they’re important to our story. How does one house on Central Street become a place of refuge, love, joy, and shared sorrow? Most so-called hippies boomeranged back to their roots and became knockoffs of their parents. Diane and I did not. We both continued to value friends and family over our occupations and shiny objects. We all know that Diane would approve of her house transformed. Though she loathed rugs we know she would have loved the sight of the floors carpeted by your bodies.

I’m a guy from the fifties. My role models were my father who wore his belt not just to hold up his pants, and Charles Bronson who never met an emotion he couldn’t suppress, unless it was murderous rage. My parents were liberal and accepting (for example – I slept with my college girlfriend at home way back then). Neither parent seemed at ease with that word love. Diane taught me how to love. She showed me I didn’t need to keep my father’s distance from Matt’s friends. I watched Diane with so many of you : she played, she listened, she advised, and she accepted you as you are.

Now, our house is mostly just Matt and me.  I do love that, but, you know, I did love having you all share it as if it were your own home with fewer rules. Though you don’t share my last name, I feel as though you should. I’m writing this after listening to Thanksgiving night’s sounds of laughter and conversation, minus the breaking of dishes and the booming baritones on the back deck. I know you’ll be back, and I know there will be other times when I awake to find bodies strewn about in outrageous positions. I also know an era has passed. I am sad but happy. Happy for the growth I see in you all.

Michael 30 Nov 2011 08:48 am

Ken Langer teaches music theory, lives in Maynard with his wife and daughter, and has written eighteen books on paganism. I met him at Sweet Bites, our local coffee shop. Ken usually stops in between dropping his daughter off at daycare and driving to work. He typically sits alone with his laptop and his latest inspiration. Our group, not so productively inclined, shares stories and laughter. Ken, not quite so focused as I thought, joined the verbal fun from afar and after a while, he permanently moved to our table and stopped writing.

Last June, Peter Langer, Ken’s eighty-year-old but very active father disappeared. Peter was still regularly collecting fossils, carving wood, trading stocks and running his apartments. Peter lived a solo life, so days went by before anyone noticed his absence. It seems he just got up from fixing his clock at his kitchen table and vanished. No trail. He left no credit card expenses, no bank withdrawals, no sightings of his bobbing head above the sage brush.

If you enter his home now, you will walk past a row of scruffy boots, all the same style, all near their discard date and all loosely laced, just as he wore them. Always up before the dawn, he’d step into his shoes and out into the desert, sometimes stopping to feed the neighborhood hounds or maybe bark back at them. Two hours later he’d return and greet his neighbor, Sam, who loved to tinker in his garage crafting custom motorcycles from parts he found at the junkyard.

I know what I know about Peter from Ken, from Peter’s neighbor, Sam, from Peter’s apartment manager, Mike, and the detective assigned to the case, another Mike. I flew out to Pahrump, Nevada, in late October because I knew in my heart that I could find Peter. Oh, just as I knew I could save Diane’s life by putting my hand on her forehead. I failed both times, but don’t feel a need to pat me on the head, because I know I’m delusional.

Ken, not so woven into the fabric of his fantasies, will someday fly to his father’s town, walk the desert cairn trail Sam and I found (the perimeter of Peter’s property is peppered with cairns), and then say his goodbyes. I want one last stab at finding Peter, but I can’t fly out there again. That town taps into my run-from-at-all-costs dark side. However, I can send my friend, Chris Grosjean (aka Goose). He’ll be in Tahoe in January and it’s only a short flight to Pahrump. To better understand the man he’s tracking, Goose will sleep in Peter’s house, talk to Sam and Mike, and then walk far past the end of the cairn trail, to the caves I did not have the time to explore.

I figure it’ll cost about $800.00 to send Goose and maybe a friend, if he can find another curious soul. I can’t afford all the costs; I spent enough last October, which is why I’m asking you all for small donations. People raise funds to walk across Antarctica. This trip has real meaning for lots of people. So please make a small donation, whatever you can, to Goose. On behalf of Ken, his lost dad, Peter, and myself, thank you.

Michael

All donations:

Chris Grosjean

54 Central St.

Acton, MA 01720

Other02 Nov 2011 11:56 am

Other28 Oct 2011 09:56 pm

John didn’t wait for me this morning to ring his door bell. He strode right up to my car.

“Did you hear the helicopter? It flew over these fields this morning for almost two hours. They started at Pete’s house and covered he same territory we did. I thought you had something to do with it.”

“Didn’t hear a thing. I ate breakfast at 6 and went back to bed.”

“We won’t find out till next week why they were here. I don’t know if you know but our paper comes out only twice a week. I saw the pilot and two guys swooping back and forth above the telephone lines, right where we walked. They had to be looking for someone.”

“I wish they’d done that yesterday. I’m still pulling thorns out of my socks and clearing my throat of dust. So now what do we do? I was going to suggest we follow up on yesterday and walk the fields again.”

“If there was someone down there they would have seen him.”

And that’s how, heat and clockwork be damned, we ended up back at the water tower. I called Ken to check again on Pete’s last journal entry and it hadn’t changed. “He wrote he’s gonna test himself by walking to the water tower.” This time I parked not at the tower but below it and spied a distinct cairn trail. We followed the cairns back towards the mountains alternately talking ourselves in and out of believing they were Pete’s.

And, to repeat myself, that’s why this hunt is so aggravating. There are no declarative clues. Not a one. There is no right direction to go. Only theories, only sentences with question marks. Not to be too graphic but four months later we’re limited to nothing but guess work. No black spiral of birds, and nothing to smell. We have sight and that is it. I can’t even, in good faith, raise money to send Goose and his friend, John, down here. What would I tell them? Don’t look where I’ve looked even though he could have been five feet to my left or right. Go to the water tower because of a journal entry but disregard Sam’s advice about the scorching heat that week. Look for cairns in the desert because Pete has them in his yard, but ignore those in the nearby trailer park? Go north to the Test Site because a psychic told me to?

I didn’t expect to find Ken’s father when I decided to come here, but I’m very disappointed. As I said to Sam, “Other than happiness, I’ve never looked so hard for anything.”

Other28 Oct 2011 11:49 am

The water tower from Pete’s neighborhood.

Cairns28 Oct 2011 08:31 am

The hunt

James and I walked for five hours yesterday. We prowled the neighborhood’s open fields, following paths Pete would walk, veering from those paths to scour drainage ditches many of which are now full of tumbleweeds. Today, we’ll do more of the same though my legs may protest and drive themselves to the airport.

James, with his wife and three daughters, moved from Germany to Nevada to retire. Married twenty-seven years his wife promptly ran off with another woman. James ended up living out of his car before moving into the house across the street from Pete. James’ father built houses in Germany which is why James acquired a union job excavating. Not limited to heavy machines, James is an all-trades guy who knows when to use who and whom. While building a motorcycle from junk yard parts he whistled Pete over one day and shared his bottled water. Fast but respectfully distant friends.

James is an outside neighbor and he knows Pete’s routine which is, as he says, clock setting. Out of the house every morning at 5 and back by 7:30.

“That field over there. I’d see Pete’s headed bobbing above the sage brush. Over there too, but he’d walk anywhere, always off the road. He’d come back with fossils, scraps of wood, all kinds of things. You saw that big rock in his yard? Has fossils in it. It must weigh eighty pounds, he brought that back from the water tower. Two, three miles away. I said how, he said he stopped often. Sometimes I’d see him walking home, sometimes he’d return through my back yard. And the dogs? He’d bark at some and feed others. The neighbor over there had a pig. Pete fed the pig.”

James knows Pete’s habits and that’s why he always wanted the search concentrated in the fields near his home. The heat and the clockwork.

“That week was hot. 110 degrees. He never would have walked to the tower. Look how far away it is. He always came back before the heat. He tripped and fell or had a heart attack or was bitten by a snake. Something. He’s not far away. Some people said he hitched rides. I never saw it. He turned them down from me. I’d be driving back from Smith’s and I’d offer but he’d say no.”

Our conversation while scuffling through the sage brush was peppered with speculation. Every sentence ended in a question mark. Pete could be anywhere and by the end of the day even James’ optimism was covered in desert dust. The fields which look dense at street level are not so from horseback, and many are scarred by ATV tire tracks.

And, by the end of the day it’s impossible not to think about a foul ending. Both Sam and I began the day knowing Pete fell in a field, but by the end of the day we were far less certain. All born of rumor, newspaper clippings, John’s comments about abusive tenants and our real frustration at the sad futility of it all.

Cairns27 Oct 2011 08:57 pm

Do you want to walk a step or two in Ken’s shoes? Meet him, read his books,  and then meet Pete’s friend, John. Buy John coffee and chat with him as long as it takes for him to smile. Listen to his stories about living in Las Vegas before the corporations moved in, his part in the movie “Casino,” his classmate Danny Liston, his love for his dogs and his love for his missing friend. “They’re two guys in town who look like Pete. Same desert colored clothing. I swear I catch a glimpse and I think it’s Pete.” Listen to him talk about waiting four hours for the police to come to Pete’s house after his plaintive call. “He could have been hurt and alive in there. They didn’t know.”   Walk in the desert where Pete walked and then have Mike usher you into Pete’s home.  You’ll walk past a row of dusty boots waiting on the tiled floor near the front door, all unlaced, just as Pete wore them. Slip in, slip out.

Many people live as though their homes are always ready to sell. Their personality is displayed by the color of the walls, the style of the couch, the size of the TV. But their hobbies, work, daily hum drums, are all pristine and put away. You enter their house and the emotional toggle of work shoes worn thin, mantels cluttered with carvings and fossils, desktops caressed by maps and reference books, a kitchen counter holding Saran Wrap and motor oil, is absent.

Not Pete’s house. His table tops aren’t Pledged to show off a salt shaker, but are covered with maps, tools, various things he was working on. Don’t misread this. The house is not a mess, the house is a display of Pete’s life in June. His interests his hobbies. Just like my dad’s basement, disorder to some, but completely comprehensible to the only person to whom it mattered. The presence of Pete in that house makes moving past those shoes  stomach tightening. Time has stopped.  The dissembled watch will never again show the correct time, the wood carving of the Grand Canyon will always lack the south rim, the dishes in the sink will be washed and put away but not by Pete.  That home is a still life.
Cairns26 Oct 2011 09:57 pm

 

I’ve become quite fond of the water tower area. I know the terrain, I know approximately where I’ve looked, I know where the cairns are, and I know it’s safe. I could stray for miles but because the land rises the water tower and the town below are always in view.Today, John (above)introduced me to Pete’s neighbor, James, and I’m going to follow James’ advice and look closer to home. He watched Pete walk through surrounding vacant lots every morning carrying a cane to ward off the aggressive dogs and treats for those behind fences.  These  fields are denser than what’s above the water tower, and though the area is not as vast, it’s just as daunting. Maybe more so because the sight lines are so limited. Tomorrow morning I’ll meet James and he and I will walk together. Company’s good. The man’s got stories and he likes to tell them.

 

Click

Cairns26 Oct 2011 05:08 pm

What we think we know.

Peter wasn’t feeling well and his journal entry indicated a hope to walk to the water tower.

John, who managed Pete’s rental properties,  saw him shortly before his last walk and said he looked fine. Pete was his boss but also his friend, not his best friend, that’d be Smoky his dog.  John lives nearby and describes their neighborhood as dangerous – lots of crime fueled by heroin and meth addictions. Sam,  Pete’s neighbor,  saw my mysterious white rental car  and called Mike  instead of the police. No John to call and the cops would’ve been barking at me to come off Pete’s roof where I’d perched for a view of the ‘hood.

“Come down right now.”

“I’m Ken’s friend.”

“Down now.”

“Okay, you don’t have to yell.”

“Now.”

“Look, as you can see there is no ladder. I cobbled together parts of Pete’s life, an exercise machine, a piece of plywood, a short homemade ladder,  to climb up here. Unless you want me to jump it’ll be a while.”

John’s depressing view of Pahrumpians resonates. I’ll include people passing through.

I eat breakfast with folks who look just like you and me except for their jet black holstered sidearms. I tried to engage a guy, who looked like a mix of Wally Cox and my seventh grade science teacher, in a conversation about guns. “You’re here for firearms training? Tell me about that.” However, my smiley inquisitiveness, which serves me so well at Sweet Bites, put him in the en garde position. “What fascist militia do you represent,” I did not ask. I changed the subject, tried to find a common thread to alter his posture, but it wasn’t to be. I, of all people, nervously left the table. “Time to watch the sunrise,” or some such alibi or is it alilie?. I add this because I find myself curiously derisive  about what people are afraid of so when John called me I was still in my,  “Don’t be silly mood.”  That cheese pizza will kill you before the black, red, yellow, government – you pick ’em – hordes descend upon you.

Every time John tried to tell me how things really were in this city, I’d laugh, forcing him to find more crackheads, more beak ins, a kidnapping even, to get me to pay proper attention. Okay, Toto I’m not in Acton.  I went to sleep last night having lost my usual “mankind is all good” self. I awoke feeling the same until I met Lou, the retired juvenile probation officer from Connecticut, at Anytime Fitness. I walked in the door hunting for an employee while looking away from the sweaty bodies, and heard him say to the built-like-a-linebacker instructor, “The Patriots suck.”

This was my introduction to Lou. When he walked away from the only other guy in the room with bigger muscles, I said, “What do you mean the Patriots suck?” I know, for those of you who heard my Chillicothe “The Steelers suck” story,  you’re thinking I’m dining on my just desserts. But Lou was not malevolent he was just … cheerfully vacant. Good thing, huh? His mood helped momentarily reset my own.

Back to what we know.

I talked to Tom,  the detective assigned to the case, this morning. He started out all official,  but after a while I made him  chuckle. I understood his no nonsense attitude birthed from respect for Pete’s family and the need to appear he’s done absolutely all he could. I also know he’s suspicious of me and my judgments.

“Any air search?” I asked

“No money, no airfield, but we used horses and ATV’s. He may be out in the desert but we’ve not found a trace.”

“No fabric, no hat, no clothes blowing around.”

“No, and In this climate that stuff stays for awhile.”

“Interesting that you say that. I walked for six hours yesterday hoping to see something kept from its travels by prickly sage brush. I found one TV, a broken bottle or two, and mylar party balloons, the ones that say don’t release. There seems to be such respect for the environment. People on ATV’s  don’t toss their garbage.”

“Not there they don’t but go to the south side of town and you’ll see what looks like a homeless encampment. People drive their cars and boats into the desert and then set them afire.”

There is it again. I try to say something nice and I get something bad back. Even from the local cops who’d rather vent than keep up the Chamber of Commerce move-to-my-lovely-town facade. My mood was set early on when I got ripped off by a car-rental-cutie in Las Vegas who showed me her vitamin B-12 drops while she inflated my rental fee. Now the angry faces that won’t return my wave, the emphsyematous store clerks struggling to breathe and smile, the weathered tattoos on sagging bodies, the glaring neon signs for sex and slots,  John’s stories, Tom’s stories, the chain link electrified fences, the cars in front of me without plates, and the omnipresence of one family name pinned on motels, restaurants, and construction equipment, makes this one city I’ll be happy to leave.

Click to enlarge. Red pin is Pete’s house and blue one is the water tower.

Other25 Oct 2011 11:28 pm

Cairns25 Oct 2011 06:23 pm

To speak to John B’s observation (he lived in Pahrump) the only sound, besides my squeaky joints, is the wind funneling past the phone’s receiver.

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