Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"Carpe Non Diem, A Moment Not Seized" By Peter Swet - 2016 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Semi-Finalist

"Carpe Non Diem, A Moment Not Seized" 


Peter Swet

Thanks to our names, Peter Timony was destined to sit behind me in Latin and just about every other class at Trinity. In no time illicit notes were being passed around the old Brooklyn school by my new pal and me; then wild drawings of what little comes into the half-formed minds of 13-year-olds. Soon we were sharing lockers and subway rides, double-dates and lunch tables, always together -- joking, laughing, poking wicked fun at the sacred and the mundane.  Brother Linderman, the “terror of the locker room,” would tell us that taken together the two of us made a wit.
Then he’d bang our heads together. 

Before you knew it Pete was coming to my house in Queens on weekends while I subwayed to Brooklyn every Friday after supper to be part of his gang at the Holy Innocents Church Teen Canteen followed by Con Lee’s ice cream parlor on Flatbush Ave.

Then we graduated, both at 16. He became a lawyer, I became a writer. 1960 became 1990.

Pete contacted me by mail, writing to the magazine I worked for (Parade) upon reading my interview with Jay Leno. After many attempts we finally connected. He told me he’d actually considered contacting me long before, having read the favorable New York Times review of my one-act play, The Interview.  At that time, he said, he came all the way to my Manhattan doorway, but didn’t ring the bell. Instead, he stood under the Sycamores across W.11th street, looking up at the Greenwich Village town house where my new wife and I rented the top floor. He walked by a few times, he told me, wanting to ring my bell but never quite screwing up the courage. As a newly recognized writer with cover stories and “rave” reviews I might have little time for old pals. So instead of seizing the day he just stood, uncharacteristically quiet, across West 11th Street, smoking one Lucky after another, looking up at my building. After a while, he silently ambled off. 

How could he not know I’d have leaped from our 4th floor window to talk to him?! 

Years passed. Corporate law for him; Sesame Street and Stiller & Meara comedy sketches and journalism (even a soap or two) for me. 

When we met at long last I was struck by what a fine, mature man he’d turned into: a secure, steady, sober lawyer with a loving wife and 3 splendid kids. What I missed, though, was the often silly, quicksilver wit, the lightning-quick sense of fun we’d shared so hilariously and so often. Had too many years passed? Had we really changed so much? Oh, God, were we getting old?

            In no time Pete and I were attending a Trinity reunion together. We walked the old Montrose Ave. halls and classrooms, amazingly unchanged since we’d been freshmen and then, suddenly, seniors. We wandered the old yards and climbed one of the two mighty bell towers of the cathedral-sized church, talking and laughing as we looked out over Brooklyn’s historic Williamsburg district, newly urbanized and chic but teeming in our day with colorful Hassidim with their thick Brillo beards skittering past windows alive with salsa rhythms. 

Now something magical seemed  in progress: Pete (“Peter” these days,  just like me), was somehow shedding those 40 years, those 30 extra pounds,  those annoying grays, and so was I.  Suddenly we were speaking  with our long-forgotten  Brooklyn tongues  as we remembered Alan Freed’s  humongous all-star rock n’ roll rock ‘n roil reviews starring Bo Didley and Danny and the Juniors and the Shirelles  and a dozen others, all on one stage at the Brooklyn Paramount.  Pete was wearing his beloved white bucks again; I was in my Thom McCan Snap-Jacks.  

Somehow we were 15 again, laughing boisterously, poking fun at the pompous, enjoying the hell out of each other and having a ball at Brooklyn’s venerable Holy Trinity High School. He  was the same old Pete again; I was the same old Pete, too, with very few differences other than that I had quit smoking and he hadn't; that I had quit fatty snacks and exercised regularly, while he hadn’t.  

Plans were laid for Yankee games in the face of his lingering fury with the Dodgers for their 1957 desertion. Weekends with our wives and grown kids were planned; a trip to Con-Lee’s, the old ice cream parlour-hangout on Flatbush Ave, was also planned while we found ourselves singing “Who put the Bop-She-Bop-She-Bop.” And here we were, new pals. New old pals. Then I got a call: 

Pete had died. He came home from work one day, sat on his sofa and was suddenly no more.
Heart attack. 

My wife and I attended the memorial, sending a floral arrangement in the old Brooklyn school’s colors and feeling close to Peter’s new widow Sylvia and his 3 really great kids, who now would never meet my 2. 

Happily, Pete and I had been reacquainted for a moment in time.  But we might have shared so very much more. We might have remained such wonderful old Brooklyn pals, knowing and respecting each other as we grew into mature adults: watching our families grow and become friends, too; helping each other in or tough times and tragedies; and most of all sharing years and years of happiness and laughter instead of just those few scant moments in that Montrose Avenue bell tower. I missed knowing for a lifetime the bright, funny, deeply caring pal I’d known at Trinity. 

I know he felt the same.

“I should have gone to Dayton,” he’d told me over and over, referring to
the large Catholic University in Ohio which I attended but which he’d turned down in favor of staying closer to his  Brooklyn home.  I loved Pete.   I was angry when he died. 

Even now I feel cheated, remembering those moments he stood silently under the sycamores  smoking his Luckies instead of ringing my bell while acting out that phrase drilled into us so  long ago in hat Brooklyn Latin class:
“Carpe diem.”              

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and poignant - how often we all think and feel the same way- missing a friend, someone we used to know a long time ago and wanting to catch up but always putting it off for another time. I am so sorry you lost a friend. My best to you.