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Pete, or Thoughts on Home

photo by That’s So Michelle

One of my life’s ambitions is to be so rooted where I’m living that the waitress at the neighborhood joint knows I’ll take “the regular” on a given Tuesday at lunch time. In this vision I’m probably an old lady, since the norm these days is for young adults to be so mobile that one changes jobs or moves on a near annual basis.

So far, a few places and people have come close to this vision, foreshadowing that sense of truly being home, and encouraging me to believe it’s possible.

In high school in Memphis, it was the waitresses at West Street Diner in Germantown knowing to go ahead and bring my friend Jenny and me an extra order of their sweet bread (which is to die for), or our favorite barista at the Starbucks on Poplar and Ridgeway.

When I walked from my first row house in DC to my job in Congress, I often stopped in at Jacob’s Coffeehouse. One morning, I stuck my head in the door and quickly decided to go on to the office without my coffee after seeing a long line of kids clearly on their middle school trip to DC.  The owner’s wife (who to me is a Korean version of my friend’s mom, Cindy Morris) ran out after me calling my order, “Large hazelnut? Large hazelnut?”

She let me circumvent the line. Truly one of the highlights of my year. (And apparently my life!)

Here in our current spot, that sense of rooted-ness has come in the form of a man named Peter Bis.

Apparently homeless, though with internet access and a fascinating conspiracy theory blog, Pete always sat under the tree in front of the gas station on the corner of Massachusetts and 2nd NE. We learned that he passed away last night.

(Read more about Pete in this profile in The Hill, and unofficial news of his passing here.)

Though I didn’t usually stop to have extensive conversations, Pete always exchanged greetings with us as we walked by, or waved if we were in the car. Like a nice public service for commuters, Pete’s signature move was counting down the week for you.

“Three more days til the weekend!”

When Israel and I were dating—could he see the infatuation in our eyes?—he’d call out a warning: “No skinny dipping!”

And when we grew to a family of three and were out with the stroller, his go-to line became,”Triplets next time!”

“Yeah, right, Pete!” I’d usually reply.

Not to leave anyone out, he also had advice for our baby girl Mary Tobin: “You take care of your mommy!”

Just yesterday afternoon, Mary Tobin and I went on a coffee run to Ebenezer’s for some friends in the middle of packing up their apartment to move, so I grabbed a coffee for Pete, too. He liked his coffee with a knuckle’s depth of half and half, and six packets of white sugar.

Pete was as much a part of the landscape of our life here on the Hill as the Capitol dome in the distance.

Thank you, Pete, for helping us feel safer in our neighborhood, and more at home in our home. Thank you for teaching us to bloom where we’re planted. We’ll miss you.

9 thoughts on “Pete, or Thoughts on Home

  1. Have a friend near here in “Ross Vegas” (Rossville) who ordered delivery pizza with her family every Friday night. One Friday when they were busy & didn’t order, the pizza company called THEM to make sure nothing was wrong.
    God bless Pete! Lorrie Mason

  2. I feel like I missed out by knowing this character. We should never underestimate our potential impact on the world around us, because even the least of us–in this case a homeless person–could be argued to be among the the most.

    This reminds me so much of essays by rick bragg that I like so much. And it’s written by my wonderful sister.

    What’s not to love???

  3. Well-crafted and insightful, Josie. Ben, I should have KNOWN you and Josie would appreciate so fine a writer as Rick Bragg. All Over But the Shoutin is one of my most favorite books.

  4. Far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t get all these glowing eulogies. I was Pete’s neighbor for several years, and I have to say, the man frightened me. He would spend hours at a time sitting in front of the building, smelling of death even though he had an apartment with a shower, harassing anyone who would walk by with his rambling and sometimes offensive theories. Ultimately, his hoarding resulted in an apartment that was completely unusable, and he he would sleep in the laundry room (a very frightening sight late at night). Also because of his hoarding, neighboring units such as mine suffered from cockroaches and other vermin. This man is part of the reason I ultimately moved from the building.

    • Hi, sounds like you are speaking ill of the dead! Your situation does sound terrible, and I would never try to make light of it or of Pete’s problems. This post reflects my family’s personal experience with Pete, which was pleasant as well as thought provoking. Thanks for your comment.

      On Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 5:47 PM, tell me a story

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