Pete Feb 2011
Pete and I first became friends at Chaney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. The bond has held through four decades and multiple cross-country relocations.
The last time I saw Pete was in the summer of ’09 at our 40-yr. Chaney reunion where we jumped right into an easy banter as if we chatted every day. That night he confided that he and his wife, Jana, had gotten heavily into the teachings of one Harold Camping. Mr. Camping is the major proponent of the idea that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the accompanying Rapture, when all the Faithful will be bodily transported up to heaven, will occur on May 21st, 2011.
When he let this bombshell drop, the big day was almost two years away, but since it’s only about ten weeks from now I wanted to check in with my old buddy to see how he’s coping. I had called him on Jan. 1st to wish him a happy new year, but after a few rings a weird, loud siren-y sound kicked in, like a miniature ambulance trapped in the receiver. I didn’t know what to make of that. Was Pete living “off the grid” in a subterranean bunker at an undisclosed location somewhere? Had he installed a non-believer filter on his outgoing message? Was he walking the streets of his new hometown of Palm Springs, CA, with a hand-made sign exhorting local heathens to “REPENT!”?
I tried reaching him again this week and I was happy to hear Pete pick up after a couple of rings, sounding his same old self. I was also happy to hear that I’d interrupted him as he was painting his living room. That, I figured, was not an activity I would associate with a guy who’s getting ready to be whisked into the hereafter in a couple of months.
The easy banter showed up right on cue: He told me about Jana’s inroads in the local art scene. He enthused about how great his new Bose system sounded. We talked politics. (His Lefty leanings jibe with mine, in stark contrast to the stereotypically right-wing politics I've seen in most fundamentalist Christians.)
I told him that if I believed The End was imminent I’d probably be spending my time on something of a bit more epic nature than painting the living room. Did this mean he was backing off on the May 21st expiration date?
“Nope”, he said, “I just want to leave it looking nice.”
I applauded his decision to remain fully engaged in the day-to-day. Had he made any lifestyle changes, I wondered? “Just one”, says Pete—“I left my job in June and have been getting unemployment.’’
When he asked me about the latest developments in my life I started telling him how much fun Susan and I have been having planning our once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris and Rome in the fall. He listened and interjected sincere-sounding “oohs” and “aahs” in appropriate places.
All in all it was a very pleasant catching-up conversation and it wasn’t until an hour or so after I’d hung up did the folly sink in. He’d been supportive of my trip, all the time thinking in his heart of hearts that Paris, Rome, and the world as we know it won’t even exist in six months. And I’d been supportive of his Doomsday, I’m-going-to-heaven-and-you’re-not scenario, meanwhile thinking the poor guy’s gone off the deep end.
Just two old pals enjoying the easy banter.
June 2019 update…
By now we know that Harold Camping was mistaken in his cypherings trying to pin down the end of days. Initially, he claimed it was a miscalculation—he forgot a begat, or something-- and amended his prognostication to a new date. But when that second date came and went sans Saviour, it must have taken a toll on the good Reverend because in 2013, not terribly long after JC’s no-show, Harold’s personal end of days did occur.
My trip with Susan to Paris and Rome was great, thanks-for-asking. Both were lovely, vibrant cities, nowhere near the smoldering hellscapes that Pete was no doubt envisioning during our phone conversation. We hope to return someday before the plagues, pestilence and famine kick in.
Yesterday, out of the blue, Pete called. We haven’t kept in touch for the last few years, but he was checking to see if I was planning on attending our 50-year high school reunion coming up later this summer. He & Jana (who’s also from the Class of ’69) are going and I suppose I’ll go, too. The classic easy banter ensued, during which it was revealed that they have been prepping for retirement to Portugal. Sooner rather than later, if the 2020 elections don’t go to their liking.
Hearing that, I was immediately conflicted about what my response should be. What election result would be “to their liking”? On the one hand, if here were two people who feel so strongly that they are ready to leave the land of their birth and move to another continent to protest four more years of the current treasonous buffoon in the Oval Office, I say “More power to ya!” But if people I care about are uprooting their lives to leave a country that doesn’t have the decency or the common sense to re-elect a visionary and patriot like Donald Trump—well…let’s just say I’d like to know who I’m consorting with.
Sensing the reason for the awkward pause in the conversation, Pete hastened to clarify, “Oh, we’re definitely not Trumpsters.”
It was a relief, of course, to hear that old friends share your reality-based worldview, but I can’t help but wonder what’s the best approach to take at the reunion when confronting ex-classmates representing a full spectrum of political outlooks. Should I throw caution to the wind and bat around current hot-button topics like the incineration of the planet and the usurping of American democracy? Or would I be better advised to stick to small talk of 50-yr-old high school trivia--championship football teams, sucky cafeteria food, favorite teachers?
You know…easy banter.