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Unread 04-18-2021, 11:39 AM
Max Goodman Max Goodman is offline
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Posts: 1,937
Default Pete McLaughlin

Four years ago today, Pete McLaughlin killed himself. Almost his exact age, living less than an hour from him, I never knew him or his work until, a week ago, putting some books in a Little Free Library, I found his book. This is the title poem.

I Wish I was Billy Collins
by Pete McLaughlin

I wish I was Billy Collins.

No, not George Clooney, just good old Billy C.

I bet Billy lives in some

charming upstate hamlet,

probably New York or Vermont.

His house is rustic and inviting

no gate, just a hand-painted peace sign out front

and a box that says "free rhubarb, take some"

a wrap-around proch and swing,

tasteful unpretentious curtains,

a happy chimney whispering out aromatic smoke,

and there's always an apple pie

cooling on the window sill.

And so here I come now--

Yes! It's me, fantasy Billy

smiling the smile of the successful

rolling up in my vintage

(but not gaudy)

'56 Chevrolet pickup

my dog Thoreau, a rescue of course, riding shotgun

manic chickens scattering crazily as I pull in.

You see,

I was in town, at the diner,

with Clem and Lefty and Cecil

sipping coffee and discussing

the high school football team's prospects.

It's fall--everything is beautiful.

My wife, who works with orphans,

has just come in from her pottery studio.

She kisses me and informs me

that my agent called and Harvard

wants to honor me again next month.

"Oh how tiresome," I say.

"I'd rather play horseshoes with Clem."

But I go anyway.

Some wealthy hedge-fund alum

whose literary daughter has all my books

dispatches his pilot to fetch me.

He glides into our cow pasture at the appointed hour.

We don't have cows anymore,

too much work.

But it's nice not having to drive to the airport.

I make my speech.

Everyone loves me.

At the reception afterward

as usual

some comely twenty-nine-year-old

grad student

her siren's hand lightly on my lapel

lets me know just how much

my work has meant to her. ...

but I'm used to this by now

so it's no trouble.

I'm such a great guy.

Back at my hotel suite

I toss off a quick


for the New Yorker

and sleep soundly as always.

I even wear pajamas.

My children all work for Oxfam

and are expert mountain climbers.

I never need Viagra

my eyes are 20/20

my teeth so sound

the dentist has me visit

only once a year.

But sometimes... on quiet evenings

when I'm tinkering with the Chevy

(I call her Sylvia, after Sylvia Plath)

the Red Sox game quietly on the radio

I find myself wishing I lived in Santa Cruz... yes

in a musty studio apartment

with a decrepit cat who barfs violently on the carpet at four a.m.

it's as though he's trying to turn himself inside out for Christ's sake

and neighbors whose high decibel, jack-hammer style love-making

comes and comes again hard through the cheap-ass half-inch sheetrock wall

penetrating even the protective pillow I press to my beleagered ears

and a voodoo smoke alarm with a freaking mind of its own

and a malevolent marauding murder of hoodlum crows

who seem to derive particular glee from shitting only on my car...

But that lasts about two seconds, tops

I shake my head, smiling sheepishly,

and I chuckle softly to my silly Billy self

switch off the light

and head upstairs to bed

to my extraordinary wife

and sleep like a fucking baby.

Last edited by Max Goodman; 04-18-2021 at 08:33 PM. Reason: typo correction
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Unread 04-18-2021, 03:00 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Staffordshire, England
Posts: 4,042

Thanks for that Max. I found this story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the poem. The fantasy Collins' perfect lifestyle is very funny. It really captures the ambivalence a lot of people have about him, I think — finding him smugly annoying yet maybe secretly wanting to be more like him. Not jealousy of his success so much as his being an all round aw shucks good guy who is impossible to dislike. And so by disliking him it makes you dislike yourself a little bit. And he even has the temerity to be a self-deprecating good sport! Grrr…ha

Pete, bouncy with nervousness, told me he had written a poem called “I Wish I Was Billy Collins,” a uniquely Pete mashup of gentle mockery and honest homage, and had actually put the poem in an envelope and mailed it off to the bestselling poet himself. Billy–outdoorsy poster boy of the New Yorker-and-NPR set–had written Pete back. And he’d sent a funny, implicitly approving note! Which as a matter of fact, Pete could pull out and read aloud right then and there for us!
Such a terrible shame about the poet. You just never know.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 04-19-2021 at 12:33 AM.
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Unread 04-18-2021, 07:47 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 15,338

I like it, though it takes a bit too long to get to "But sometimes", the turn at which the lineated prose of the joke turns into an actual poem. Very sad what happened to him.
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Unread 04-19-2021, 05:45 PM
Simon Hunt Simon Hunt is offline
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Monterey, CA USA
Posts: 2,196

Thanks, Max. I never met Pete, but he was the friend of some friends... I know they miss him terribly, and I appreciate seeing this poem again here.
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