I saw Michael’s Peter because of my uncle who lived in New Jersey within eyeshot of the Empire State Building. Every summer my dad would drive my mom and me to see his brother. We flew like a missile for 24 hours. No rest stops, but I didn’t mind ‘cause my folks always made a bed for me in the back seat. And I loved the Pennsylvania mountains except for the time my dad got lost and almost backed us over a cliff in the fog. I can’t imagine what it would be like to fall from a great height.
We always took a day trip to New York City while at my uncle’s. The previous year, we’d gone to see a Yankees game, and I saw The Mick blast one over the center field wall. After the game, I actually stood on second base when fans were allowed to cut across the field to reach their exit gates. Hard to imagine that happening in today’s security-wound world.
One spring, Dad announced over meatloaf that we were going to the World’s Fair in New York that summer. I whooped and imagined the world’s tallest roller coaster and most dizzying tilt-a-whirl. But Mom explained there wouldn’t be many rides. Instead the World’s Fair was primarily pavilions and exhibitions showing the diversity and wonders of different countries. Strike one. But we also could go see the Yankees play again, right? No, Dad said.
He’d checked the schedule and they’d be on a road trip. Strike 2. But, Mom said to perk me up, the Vatican Pavilion was to showcase Michelangelo’s Pietá, one of the greatest works of art ever. Swing and miss, strike three. Thanks, Mom.
Fifth grade was entering the late innings, and that week Mrs. Henderson asked each of us to make a short speech about what we planned for summer. I was always nervous talking in front of class and got tongue-flummoxed when I came to “Michelangelo’s Pietá.” I ended up saying something that sounded like “Michael’s Peter.”
At least that’s what Stanley Jenkins claimed to hear. Stanley was usually looking up from the bottom of the curve, but I think he might’ve had a learning disability because he was too good at being a wiseass to have been stupid. Anyway, Stanley needled me with “Michael’s Peter” for the rest of the school year, especially when we played baseball at the Tyler Vance schoolyard. Big mistake.
I never saw a kid try harder at something than Stanley at baseball. I was no Whitey Ford but almost always struck him out. One Saturday, Stanley asked me to do him a favor. His dad, State Senator Emerson Jenkins, was stopping by for a few minutes to watch us. Apparently Stanley had been bragging at home about all the homers he hit. His dad didn’t believe it and wanted to see for himself. Stanley asked me to lob one he could belt over the sidewalk.
Stanley’s dad arrived and stood, gripping his coat lapels, behind the bicycles we used for a backstop. Stanley stepped up to our cardboard home plate, tapped the bat to his shoes, spit in his hands, took a practice swing and yelled for me to give him my best fastball. I did.
Three times. Three whiffs. I can still see Stanley glaring at me … and how he avoided looking at Senator Dad, who was shaking his head. “Michael’s Peter up your ass,” I whispered to Stanley as he drug his bat back to the patch of grass we’d dubbed a dugout.
The World’s Fair wasn’t a complete waste. There was a giant globe, a building in the form of a Chrysler engine and a life-sized, jaw-chomping T-Rex. But there were also a lot of boring things … like a scale model of the yet-to-be built World Trade Center Twin Towers and, of course, Michelangelo’s Pietà.
The lines to the Pietà, though long, moved quickly because of one of the neatest things I’d ever seen to that point in my life — a moving walkway from the entrance of the softly lit exhibit hall to the exit. I thought the statue was OK, but it certainly wasn’t like seeing The Mick. I got bored after the first minute or so and found if I closed my eyes as I glided along, I could imagine myself flying. I was soaring over Yankee Stadium when the bright light of day crashed me to earth.
The first week in sixth grade, we had to give a “What you did this summer” speech. I told the class about my World’s Fair visit. Stanley Jenkins didn’t utter a peep about Michael’s Peter. Guess I’d taught him a lesson. He did ask me some questions about the World Trade Center, but all I knew was the Towers were going to be “really tall.”
Stanley moved away the next summer when his dad got a job with a law firm in Washington D.C. I pretty much forgot about Stanley till I read in the paper, many years later, about how “a former state senator’s son,” Stanford L. Jenkins, was on the 92nd floor of the South Tower the morning of 9/11. I felt sad about Stanley, but at least he’d apparently become some kind of big shot. Good for him, I thought, flashing to the image of Senator Dad holding his lapels and shaking his head. As I read further, though, I learned Stanley was in the Tower delivering coffee.
Nothing wrong with that. But, looking back, I wish I’d lobbed him one.
© David Henson
David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong and now reside in Peoria, Illinois, with their dog, Annabelle, who loves to walk them in the woods. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net and has appeared in numerous print and online journals. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.