Thursday, June 30, 2011

My friend Peter

"Good day, Peter!"
"Good day, Steve!"

That's the daily email dialogue between two friends, that has routinely started my day for 10+ years. Mundane. Occasionally it varied; perhaps a language variation such as "Buenos dias, Pedro!" "Buenos dias, Esteban!" or some other embellishment.

Tuesday, June 21.

"Good day, Peter! Happy summer! Summertime - and the livin's easy."

No reply. Very uncharacteristic of Peter.

The day went on, and I didn't get any messages, or phone calls. Troubling. We're 2500 miles apart - me in Boise and he in Billerica, Mass. But we work closely together doing tech support, etc.

I asked around - nobody expected Peter to be out; he hadn't signed up for vacation time. Not a peep from him all day.

Wednesday, June 22.

I arrive at the office at the same time as Stan, the president of the company.

"Did you hear about Peter?" he asks. (It should be noted that everybody in the organization knows Peter.)

"No - what?"

"They found him outside his house, with a severe head injury. It doesn't look good."


I ran to my cube and emailed his colleagues, across the Fruited Plain in Billerica. I was imagining a mugging, or some other violent incident. But... Peter? Something like that couldn't happen to Peter!

And it didn't. The evidence pointed to a tragic accident. The door of his house was locked, the upstairs window was open, with Peter lying directly underneath.

Personally, I reckon some marauding raccoons may have been involved. For you see, Peter had told us (myself and a circle of a half-dozen friends in a half-dozen locations) that he'd been having raccoon trouble. One of the last emails I got from him the day before:

Don't tell Teri, but I got the pepper spray to ward off those dang raccoons!
Bring it on!

Could Peter have been leaning out an upstairs window, delivering pepper spray at the rascals, and lost his balance? (What other explanation could there be?)

They airlifted him to the big hospital in Boston - arguably the best medical care on the planet. They did surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. His mother came in from Philly. And we waited... and waited... and prayed... and waited some more...

Peter never regained consciousness.

I feel like a permanent cloud has blocked the sunshine.

Yeah, I'm feeling sorry for myself. (I'm sure Peter's fine. And I expect we'll be reunited someday, Up Yonder. As my bride replied, when I told her: "I guess that's just one more thing to look forward to in the future. Lucky guy, he's in a much better place. It's hard being the ones left behind.")

Peter Allen - a man with a natural cheerfulness and optimism, that most of us can only envy!

A "Renaissance Man" in every sense of the word - excellent at his job, but with a wide variety of outside interests and talents. Some of them that I'm aware of: music... theater... movies... crazy cars... amusement parks and roller coasters! Peter loved the coasters! He'd tell us of his coaster-specific jaunts. He'd tell us of the latest 90-degree, 4-G-force, 85mph coaster to come on the scene. (He was happily anticipating "Untamed" - a coaster that just came online on June 11, up in his "neck of the woods.")

Peter had a gift with the English language... speaking and writing. One of his jobs was to document software bugs for our vendor. A real snoozer of a responsibility, huh? Not necessarily... a couple times he wrote 'em up in "hard-boiled gumshoe" style. He referred to himself as "Mister A - Private Investingator." (The misspelling – investingator – was deliberate. We teased him when he "fat fingered" it once, and it became an ongoing shared amusement.) The software vendors were not amused at Peter’s poetic license, but some of us laughed so hard we cried.

We made up job-related lyrics to some well-known tunes, and Peter regaled us by phoning 'em in to voicemail. In one, Peter does a pretty decent Elvis interpretation of "Heartbreak Hotel," lamenting the frequent network drops we were experiencing at the time.

(NOTE: If you are interested in reading some of Peter's hardboiled detective prose, or listening to his vocal stylings, click on the little folder link, just below. If the music sounds as though it's coming out of a speaker-phone... that's how it happened. Enjoy!)

Peter loved and admired his mom. If he wasn't off ridin' a roller coaster, he was using his vacation time to visit his mom in Philly... or to travel someplace with her. My recollection is that the two of them had gone to the California Bay Area not too long ago. On May 5, I got an email, "I'm going down to Philly for the day on Sunday to visit Mom."

Peter referred to literally everybody as "my friend." A lot of people have lost a friend in Peter.

When he was last in Boise, Peter came over and had dinner with us in the back yard, on a lovely summer day. Since then, whenever I have boasted about my granddaughter - it's a frequent, pathological thing - he would remind me that he held her in his arms, when she was a tiny baby. (She's 4 now.)

21 months ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I elected to have surgery, and confided in a few close friends, including Peter. His faith and optimism buoyed me up, and made me recognize in him a true spiritual brother. (And he and Crystal sent me some fantastic butter toffee, that surely hastened along my recuperation! The "Bacon Mints" that he sent me on another occasion? Not so much. HAHAHAHAHA!)

Can a close friendship be maintained when those friends are 2500 miles apart, and sustained primarily by emails and phone conversations? I emphatically declare, "Yes!!"

I expect the sun will come out from behind the cloud, eventually. But the departure of my friend Peter will leave a big void, for quite some time.