Pete Botte is a man who I meet by the river. Always by the river. He doesn’t say much. Not at first. And he always seems thirsty. So I offer him a bottle of whatever I’ve got and, before long he speaks. And the words flow easy as water – soft, curious, and hypnotic.
I meet Pete Botte by the river. Always near the river. There are all kinds of myths about who can and what cannot cross running water, you know. There are all kinds of myths. And Pete Botte loves those myths. Loves all sorts of myths and speaks at length about things that may or may not be true.
And I listen.
But always near to the river.
Upon our farewell, I’ll ask him for a written sample and he always obliges so that, by the next meeting, he’ll hand me a typewritten sheet or two or three. I’ll thank him. And we’ll chat some more near the river. And then he’ll go about his way, wander on down beneath the lamps that light the trail that wanders off beside the running water. And I’ll go on my own way, taking his writings home with me.
I will never have Pete Botte meet me at my home here in the woods. It is enough that I hold his writing here in my hands. It is enough that I meet him where I do – always by the river.
His pieces I present here, signed (as he does) with his name, p. botte.
I met Manny Gantee in a bar on a Tuesday morning on Broome or Spring or one of those streets that run like angled curiosities in lower NYC. I was fresh out of high school and there to meet a girl who never showed up. So we drank cold beers and talked quietly above the roar of the furnace coming from the basement of the place. The sun angled in, my brain grew increasingly angled and all was right with the world.
I saw him again one day out at Holy Hill, north of Milwaukee. We were nearing our 30’s and felt out of place among the withered pilgrims drifting around us as we sat in the last pew. We sat there in the creaking silence and whispered occasionally about kismet. He had business the following week in New York. I was going to Omaha. I told him to write me something.
From there, he seemed to have disappeared. But I still get postcards and bar napkins and used bus passes in the mail – sometimes all bundled up in a brown envelope as some kind of second-hand-smelling inventory of the thoughts that spiderweb and back-alley their way through Mr. Gantee’s head.
We are apart now. Struck out along separate trails. The diaspora. There’s forest around me – green, thick with insect sounds and water running somewhere through a ravine. On his end –? More forest? Desert? He stayed for a while in a pedestrian tunnel running up the western slope of Seattle. He told me about that afterward. If things had gone differently, his body would have been cleaned up with the hypodermics and the tattered tent that surrounded him. I wouldn’t have heard. Still, the pilgrims go to Holy Hill. And I sit in this old, old house. I plane pieces of wood, cut the grass, and in the evening, I check the mailbox.
All cold tin and echoes. And the occasional homemade envelope from Seattle. Or NYC. Or Temeculah, Poughkeepsie, Los Angeles, or Last Chance, CO. Letters on loose leaf, toilet paper packaging, or written in red on 20-year-old newspapers.
He has no address but occasionally he’ll leave me a temporary email address. And so I’ll write, never knowing if what I’ve written to him will ever be read. But when I get something from him, I tack it up here as a kind of remembrance of a man who is already a ghost. I imagine him reading my words somewhere. Maybe he doesn’t. And maybe he does. But here, I’ve posted his words, always signed with his name, m. gantee.
I met Heidel as he stood, twitching nervous and unsure in the darkened doorway of an antique shop the other day. I would say he’s an unimpressive man, an anxious man, a man who inwardly consumes as much of himself as possible so that there’s hardly anything left of him for the world to detect.
But he is a good man.
He loves antique shops and libraries and book stores – any place, really, that holds the artifacts of past lives, their ideas, their tastes, and the smell of thousands of fingertips left to molder on the forgotten items and books that sit quietly waiting for –?
“What do they wait for?” I asked Heidel.
“They wait for an Armageddon of sorts,” he answered.
I asked him what that meant.
“It’s what we are all waiting for and never believe that, through the work and bus rides and dirty diapers and weddings and funerals and graduations and failing grades, through it all, we never believe that we are in the slow burn of it. Here,” he turns to look at me. “Here. And now.”
“And so the books that have collected the oils of a thousand hands–?”
“They have arrived,” he said, “and they will continue to arrive until they settle into dust. And they will have arrived when that dust gathers and contracts into another universe and whatever lay beyond that one…”
He nudged one of last fall’s leaves with the toe of his worn sneaker.
I like Heidel. And I’ve begun to collect some of his pieces, posted here, and always signed with his name, d. heidel.