How Holden Got His Middle Name
"We're making an offer on a house tomorrow," I tell Petersen, as I take Lucky, my 8-lb. poodle, for his last walk of the night.
Lucky stops and finds something new to piss on.
I met Petersen when I was eighteen and he was my age now, or maybe a couple years older. Fat with a thick Tom Selleck mustache (this was the '80s, after all, although the man still has a mustache. Unless you're some skinny jeanned doofus hipster trying to be "ironical," who the fuck has a mustache?), Petersen worked at the Berlin Community Center, although "worked" is probably a stretch, so too "community center," which as really just the old Kensington Grammar School, a piece-of-shit crumbling brick building with two lopsided pool tables and an exercise bike that only Patty Tolas and her fabulous ass ever used, much to the delight of my other co-worker, Jimmy. There were a clunky set of weights too, which is when I started my first go-round with weight lifting. Jimmy was a year older than I, and in the summer of 1988, I found a friend and a dad, both of which had been hard to come by for me.
My old man and I never much got along, so Petersen sort of inherited the mantle. Not so much at first. At first he was just this fat old guy who chain-smoked Merits, farted at will, smelled like Cheetos and spouting left-wing politics. Back then I was...a Republican. Seriously. In fact, one of the Iraq wars had just started (Operation Freedom Strike? Operation Smokey Joe and the Butt Pirates? Who the fuck remembers what they were calling this round of bullshit), and Jimmy and I were so bored with our dopey little lives in our dopey little farm town that we said we were going to enlist. I don't know how serious Jimmy was, but I wasn't entirely not serious. Anyway, Petersen sort of talked me out of it.
There are a handful of moments you can isolate in your life where you can truly say you learned something, a concrete step in your enlightenment. This was one of them. I remember talking to Petersen about the war and saying, "Those stupid Iraqis believe everything their newspapers tell them." And without Petersen having to say anything, it hit me just like that. I mean, where did I get my information?
This isn't a political post. Talking politics is pointless, like six people on different sides of a mountain pushing in opposite directions. Like my professor buddy Tom Hazuka says, "Even the villain doesn't believe he's the villain." Tom's talking about fiction writing, and it's great advice for that, but it's also great advice all around.
I only worked there that summer, or maybe a couple months after that. (And "work" for Jimmy and I was really playing whiffle ball in the front parking lot and waiting for Patty Tolas and her fabulous ass to show up. You really should've seen it. It was a fabulous ass.). It's hard to remember this stuff. Around this time the girls in my life were Sherry Gagliardi, Katie Ross, and Amy Krois ("Amy Krois," he says dreamily). It's easier to remember the girls than the actual dates.
Just around the time I was leaving the Community Center, Petersen was getting married. He'd found a woman who actually wanted to marry him (remember the old Morton Downey Jr. talk show? That's what Petersen looked/s like), and she had a house, and soon they had a baby, and I remember telling him at the time he sold out, because I was 18.
So it's been funny to us, this recent string of events, which has my life mirroring Petersen's to a tee.
He and I stayed in touch during my drug years, and he was there when I straightened out. We talk a lot, shooting the shit about the Yankees and fantasy football, the sad state of the world (note I did not say "politics"), and I ask his advice on shit like raising my son and buying houses, because he's the closest thing to a dad I have.
For his part, Jimmy is one of the few real friends I have. If you've read any of my short stories ("Unpublished Manuscript #36," "The Burn Out," "Tripping for Biscuits"), then you've read about Jimmy ("Biscuits" in fact is his idea; he really does want the color taken out of his eyes so he can feel like he's living in a film noir).
Petersen's first name is "James." (Actually, it's "Iver." Who the fuck is named "Iver"?) When it came time to give my son Holden a middle name, we thought about "Joseph," which is a stupid family tradition, where the first male son takes the father's first name as his middle, but I saw no reason to continue that because I never really considered myself my father's son. Plus "Holden Joseph" sounds stupid.
So we named him "Holden James." I tell Petersen it was after him. And I tell Jimmy it was after him. (Justine says it's for Saint James, who is like, I think, the patron saint of quality footwear or luggage or something.) The truth is it's for both of them. Plus the name just sounds really cool. Holden James. With a name like that the boy is destined to be writer. Or a bank robber. Then again, since he's my son, probably both.