Friends Happen When You Need ‘Em…

…which is a variation of  a favorite Kris Kristofferson song line: Heroes happen when you need ’em, from the song “Wild American” (these words, clear during his performance on the CD I own, do not appear in the printed lyrics nor in any copy of those which I can find on line, although there is a very similar line from which they were likely derived in a moment of inspiration).

Carl Pietrantonio happened to me somewhere around 1990-91, online in the, to a few of us, legendary Compuserve Comics and Animation Forum, owned by a man named Douglas Pratt. It was an online meeting place, before blogging, before lots of things, for people involved with the contemporary comics industry. It was nothing like such a place would be today; most of us used software which would allow us to download message threads, read them and respond as inclined, then upload our comments while downloading new messages, and so forth.

Membership ran the gamut from comics creators to fans of their work. I was writing in the comics book trade press in those days, as well as doing work for the PR and publicity arms of DC Comics, for example, and in the early days of running my Jacey Services online comics subscription business (no members of the Forum were then subscribers, several later became so and have remained so, including Carl). Some of the creators who were part of that forumhave gone on to much broader fame (Neil Gaiman, Peter David), others have become recognized superstars of the comics medium (Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, Bill Willingham) and let me note right away that the five names chosen are but a few of those I could use as examples.

In 1993, there was a large comics convention held in Philadelphia. I had early on invited a couple from Virginia and their young son to come and stay with us for the weekend (the male half eventually became a Jacey Services subscriber and is today my software guru for the business). Carl emailed and asked if he could visit during the same period. He claims I invited him to do so with great enthusiasm; I remember telling him that there was no bedroom for him but he could sleep on the couch (as we shall see in a few paragraphs, that was something he would probably consider an enthusiastic invite).In any case, he came, he stayed and we all had a great time, including a small party at the house with several others in town for the convention the night before it began and a massive dinner downtown in Chinatown.

Two years later, Carl showed up at my door out of nowhere one afternoon just to prove that he could find the house, having complained during that first visit that I drove him to and from it on a different path each time to keep him confused. A few years after that, by coincidence on my very last night in that house following a divorce, he again appeared, son and daughter in tow. They helped me move out the last of my meager belongings and his son walked smack into and destroyed a screen door in the process, sort of my final farewell by surrogate.

And then, three years ago this coming November, after I had written online that I was again moving and facing a daunting task, he took a week’s vacation and, unasked, flew across the country from his home in Washington state to help me get it done. I don’t really know if I could have pulled it off without him, my son-in-law and another old friend (local).

Friends happen when you need ’em.

Carl was back again a week ago Wednesday, which in part accounts for why it has been so quiet here lately (the other factor has been meeting a lot, and I mean a lot, of print deadlines which came together all at once), but this time it was no surprise. I was just another stop on his ten-week journey across America from his apartment in Bellingham, Washington to attend at least 21 Major League Baseball games, and one Single A game, and thus fulfill a dream. He left home June 2 and won’t get back until around August 9 or 10. He is staying with friends and relatives where he can, some of them people he hasn’t seen in 30-plus years (probably situations arranged under that “enthusiastic invite” delusion I mentioned above), or in motels along the way (some booked in advance, some by happenstance), and in his truck (see below).

I’m not a wanderlust sort myself, but I thought now and again, mostly again, which is to say several years back, about doing some sort of extended trip like he’s undertaken. I came to realize that I need my mooring, a connection to place, and would feel way too disconnected if I were on the road for an extensive run.  These days, of course, things like the internet and cell phones and the like make it a bit easier to both be away and there at the same time, to stay in touch and to feel a sense of “being home” even when not. Carl regularly emails me, clearly is staying up with this and my other website as he sends his usual spelling and grammar corrections, and is in regular contact with his newly acquired gal pal back home. Plus he can’t even get lost due to the persistent guidance of his new GPS system.

So Carl is on the journey he always dreamed of  (with the added pleasure to pause and marry off his daughter at the Maryland shore the weekend before arriving here) and that’s some accomplishment. How many of us actually ever do that thing we always promise ourselves we’ll do someday? He’s been recording it all along the way and you can check out more of his photos than you’d ever want to see even if you knew who the hell all the people are here (he hasn’t added captions as yet for those of his visit here, which may be a good thing).

Carl arrived here with what another old friend, a very funny lady named Joan Kelly, would call “a whole buncha lotta beer” (Joan would always introduce herself with a perfectly executed  curtsy as “Joan Kelly, third grade,” which conjured up for me the image of a stern-faced nun glaring down at her–maybe you have to be Irish, or Catholic, and I have no idea in hell why all this just popped up from my subconscious) and most of our six day party during the visit centered around that fine beverage and will therefore be recounted over in my Liquid Diet blog (I’ll post a link here when it’s up so that anyone interested can go take a look).

Let me close (and, yes, this has gone on a painfully long time), with this image of Carl perched on the tailgate the morning he left so you can see the mattress in the truck bed on which he sometimes spent the night and, just barely, the coffee-maker he brought along on the shelf at the rear of the bed. I had other photos but seem to have run out of space here at WordPress and can’t upload anything until I buy more, such a deal, so I’ll just note that up front behind the driver’s seat, he has three plastic bins stacked and anchored together with a metal rod and several shirts on hangers and that the other seat has been removed and various items in the resulting space. An electric coffee cup plugs into the lighter, the coffee pouring from two large thermos bottles he fills every morning. A Tom Tom GPS unit on the dashboard keeps him on the right track.

Just another guy on the road, following his dream….


11 Replies to “Friends Happen When You Need ‘Em…”

  1. How great! Wish I’d known when Carl was zipping through the Missouri area (it was said he made a Cardinals game in St. Louis) he could have stopped off here or I could have met him somewhere- St. Louis is only two hours from where I live.

    I have no such grand trip plans as Carl has, but fulfilled a secondary desire to see Mt. Rushmore last year on the greatest vacation trip I’ve ever had. I fell in love with the Rapid City, SD area and would happily retire there or have a vacation, summer home there should I win the lottery.

    Go, Carl!

  2. I would have been happy to send Carl to you. And be careful what you wish for (or think you can get away with now that he’s gone). He’ll surely read this and he is coming back that way…

    Rapid City, SD? Good God in heaven.

  3. Rob,

    I am sorry I didn’t get in touch. My trip through MO was short and I needed to head on to make it to my Cousin’s house in NC next after that game there. Rest assured, you’re on the list for a visit next time!

  4. Mr. Curtin,

    Thanks for putting up with my dear ol’ Dad while he was on his most anticipated leg of his trip (it was but a sidetrip to give me away, you know, one of those secondary thoughts)!

    I always have treasured the memory of helping you move. You gave me a small print of a painting that was signed “J. Mitchell,” and I kept it hanging in my place for several years, only recently having taken it down after coming to turns that I believed, (I think falsely), that it was a print of a painting BY Joni Mitchell, one of my three favorite singer/songwriters of all time. Sigh. Anyways, your generosity has always remained with me as an example, and I appreciate it!

    Hope all is well with you,
    Annie, Carl’s Daughter

  5. Nice to hear from you. You do realized that your getting married probably broke Craig Shutt’s heart, don’t you? he always seemed to have a thing for you after you greeted him at the San Diego airport.

  6. Wow, happened to see the link in my browser and took a new look at this article and completely by happenstance, it has been exactly two years today since this was published. What a coincidence! Great article and still one of the best trips I have ever had.

  7. I just want you to know that I still remember that visit and despite my best efforts, still can’t figure out where the hell one town in your area is from another town. Other than your Future Nuclear Disaster power plant nearby, there aren’t any good landmarks.

    But I’ll try again to learn next month!

    Re-read all this again as I wished to send the link to a friend. Yes, I have friends. Don’t laugh.

  8. TEN YEARS!!!!! Still great memories of that trip and my visit there! CAN’T WAIT TO DO IT AGAIN!!!

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