It’s unbelievable. Ok, maybe not unbelievable, but certainly it’s a thing that gets lost if you give it a thought. A simple fact, a truism as they say, that you might hear a bit about and thus respond, “Wow, I simply cannot believe it.” But it’s true. One hundred percent. And don’t you forget it.
I caught wind of it last week, maybe Wednesday. I was hanging at Polly’s Cracker Bar and, as usual, was listening in on a fellow patron’s conversation with another, a woman, a beautiful woman, like one of those ageless beauties who could have come straight from your grandmother’s photo album, going on about what I am about to tell you. I’d be lying if I said I could just sit there and discretely kibbitz. No way. If you had been watching me, you’d have known what I was up to. My jaw likely would have been dropped, my tongue lapping on the floor, my face flushed and if I had any hair, it would most certainly have been standing on end. No doubt I was afraid, but far beyond the fear of being found out. It was what they were discussing that was ruining me, one cell at a time exploding in my guts. It was this news that made me pay my bill and walk out of the place without finishing my Narragansett. And once I was outside, things got even worse. Which is to say, I just stood there. And it was raining.
It probably won’t mean much to you. It won’t, that is, unless you know Peter High-Heel. If you had high-schooled with him you’d know him as Paul Ward, or Paulie. But if he had his wish, nobody back then called him either Paul or Paulie. He did like Paulie better than Paul, more of a penchant for multi-syllabic names than what he called a sound. Paul, Mike, Tom, Steve, Bill, Ed, Mark, all these horrible bursts of tones, more like burps than names, and he hated them all. So Catholic, too. Just tack on another sound, like he did with Peter, and suddenly the name had form, took shape, had life. And twice more life, no less, than his God-given name. As an aside, old Peter didn’t believe in God either, an irony that eventually made him question everything that he’d ever done. But that’s a different story altogether, a story whose details won’t even make it into this effortful narrative.
So then, High-Heel. I would say that I know what you are thinking except I really don’t. I think I do, I think that I can predict folks’ response to a name, like this anyhow, simply because to attach a name like High-Heel to an otherwise very masculine fellow is to emasculate him, no? Yes. But really, that’s me projecting. I haven’t a clue, really, what you are thinking, and trying to make sense of you from my seat over here is a problem I’ve always had. It’s a power thing. A way for me to feel like I’ve got a grip on this life, when I haven’t a clue. I’m a damn good pretender though, and that’s a fact. It’s a coping mechanism I’ve mastered. Probably my best quality.
So then, High-Heel. Our boy Peter isn’t what he seems. He’s not trying to use his name to clue us in on his sexual preferences, or his keen favor for women’s shoes. It’s got nothing to do with his being short, and he is short, but such things are what I might refer to as the obvious, and Peter is anything but obvious. Peter’s a poet. And if you ask him about his name he’ll say something about it having a mouth-feel, or a chewable quality. At least, that’s how he described it to me. He said that one day he was sitting in a cafe in Richmond, the Virginia Richmond, not Oakland, some place called Lamplighter in the Fan District, trying to think of a name to replace the belch of his Paul, and a woman sitting to the side of him was frantically reading the USA Today. Must have been a tourist, he told me, because who else reads the USA Today? It’s a shit rag. His words. Anyhow, he found her fascinating. Couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. Maybe fifty-something, skirted for work, panty-hosed, and not a drip of color on her at all. Completely tan. Even her jewelry looked tan. She blended well. A creamy caramel, like the coffee she was sipping, an earthy beige, darker than sand but lighter than dirt. And, here comes the kicker, she had giant feet. Like huge. Giant feet even for a man. Paul, at some point, was struck by the name Peter High-Heel while staring at her shod feet. A divine intervention, maybe. A bolt of lightning. Inspiration of a higher order, of sorts. But certainly, something that didn’t allow much of an explanation when he was asked what the story was behind his name. Not an interesting one, anyhow. Paul, or Peter now, never was one to embellish a fact, which, in my opinion, was a missed opportunity for this sort of thing. Like a giant forehead scar from a benign childhood fall morphing into a sailor’s brawl in the Philippines. A bottle over the head, a dodged scabbard. Nope. Peter kept it real. He’d be all, I was staring at a woman’s shoes, and bam, it hit me. Peter High-Heel. And doesn’t it have a lovely ring to it? Doesn’t it feel nice as it rolls through your teeth and off your lips? Can’t you see it rising into the air like jazz or smoke, making everything better. Peter’s name was the best thing that ever happened to him. Besides Renata, which is what I overheard those two at Polly’s whispering about. Which is why I left my beer on the bar. Which is why I am writing all this down, because if I wait too long it’ll all be lies. A forgettable, tweaked memory. And my memory, no less. Never to be trusted. I don’t want this to be my story. It’s Peter’s. From top to bottom, for better or for worse. Wouldn’t want this sort of shit on my back. No way. So here goes.