The People You Meet: Smiling Pete

by jimowensjr

Recently, I’ve made a new friend.  He’s twenty-six, holds two jobs, and is always smiling.  As it turns out, we live in the same building and on the same floor.  My new friend, I’ll call him Pete, and I have a lot in common.

As children, we both lived in a large Midwestern city.  We both like college football.  We both like baseball.    I like to travel.  So does Pete.  We’ve been to a lot of the same places.

There are some differences in our lives.  We pull for different teams.  Pete has two sisters.  I’m an only child.  Oh yeah, I’m fifty-six.  So my kids are older than Pete.  In many ways, it’s an unlikely friendship, formed in an unlikely place.

On the weekends, Pete works at one of my favorite hangouts.  He greets guests.  He busses tables.  He makes the joint an even better place to visit—if you’ll let him.  A lot of people miss that experience.  You see, they don’t want to make eye contact with Pete.  They’re a little uncomfortable around him.

Pete’s speech is a little difficult to understand.  He has trouble with Ys and Hs.  Sometimes, when he joins me while I’m eating, he has to pull out his phone to type out what he’s trying to say.  Then, he’ll turn the phone to me and patiently wait for me to catch on.  His wide perpetual smile displays a set of imperfect teeth.  Pete is fair-skinned. He says he burns easily.  And sometimes, I can’t tell if he’s forgotten to shave or if he’s growing a beard.  His dark black beard set against pale skin can make Pete seem even more unusual.

I’m honestly not sure what Pete’s disabilities might be.  Although he has trouble speaking, he’s bright— but maybe just a bit below the peak of the bell-shaped curve society uses to define normal. I know he doesn’t drive. That doesn’t seem to bother him  though, because he walks to a local high school during football season where he serves as team manager.  He’s been doing that since he was sixteen years-old. Clearly, Pete doesn’t trouble with commitment to a job.

When Pete and I  first began to run into one another, I’ll admit I was a little uncomfortable.  I’ll even confess that I still am sometimes.  But that’s my problem, not Pete’s.  When Pete sits down to keep me company, the conversation can be a little awkward because while he understands every word I say, I can’t always understand him.  I’m getting better at it.  Thankfully, Pete is patient. The best friends always are.

Today, Pete wasn’t even working when I rolled in and placed an order for my go-to meal. He was just hanging out—and was rather nattily dressed, I have to say. With a big grin and handshake, he told me, “ooo eat in ‘ere a lot.”  Remember, Pete has trouble with Ys and Hs.  But I knew exactly what he meant.  I do eat in there a lot.  And he was ribbing me, you know, the way friends do.

After I grabbed the little number thing and cup of water, I looked over to my shoulder to see Pete following me. Before I could finish saying, “Sit down, down.  Keep me company,” Pete was already in his seat.  Today, we talked about his Father’s Day lunch with his Dad and family.  We talked about swimming.  We talked about baseball.

His team lost today.  As it turns out, Pete really loves his team.  Pulling the sleeve of his t-shirt over his shoulder, he proudly displayed a St. Louis Cardinals tattoo.  He pointed at it with pride.  And of course, he was smiling.

And so was I.