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Greta Rybus

Greta Rybus is a photojournalist and photo editor living in Portland. She started her blog, “Who I Met," as a way to begin juicy conversations with interesting people she meets. The blog has migrated with her from Montana, Europe, and, finally, to her new and dearly-loved home in Maine. You can see more of her work at www.gretarybus.com

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Who I Met with Greta Rybus
Posted: March 5, 2014

Pistol Pete- Upholsterer, radio show host

 

“If you are named Pete, you just get called Pistol Pete,” Pete Faris tells me. I imagine him as a little kid in New Jersey: tow-headed, active, involved in a million different things. Now he works in a huge turquoise building in the Bayside neighborhood, running an upholstery shop. On Thursdays he puts on an early morning radio show that plays exclusively show tunes. He runs marathons, he models nude, he has a joke for almost everyone in the neighborhood. For a pretty mellow guy, the name suits him.


 

TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU GOT INTO THE UPHOLSTERY WORLD

I started in the theater world with set design, set building, and prop building. There’s certain departments in the theater world, and I was in the prop department. They are in charge of many things, including the furniture. And bigger theaters have specific departments for these things.

DID YOUR BUSINESS COME FROM NECESSITY OR PASSION?

Well, in the prop shop, it was what I gravitated towards. Everyone had their specialty: People were good at flower arranging or welding or carpentry. I always would get the upholstery projects because I liked working with fabric.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS THAT YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

I like self-contained, small things. Which is why in the theater I went from scenery to the prop department. Scenery is all these big things and all these moving parts. It was just too much. But the prop department is just a little more focused on something small. It’s somehow just the way I am, I like something that can fit into a little area.

 

 

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THEATER?

College acting class. I was broadening my horizons, that kind of thing, but I found a home there. I like the collaboration. I like that there are individual creative people working on the same project. All interesting people, there because they want to be there. I did it for twelve years. I acted in college but then I went into the tech side as a business, because being a professional actor is a tough business. And frankly, I didn’t think I was all that good at acting. I enjoyed being part of it, part of the show and part of the whole process. It’s a very stimulating work environment. The quality of life when working at the theater is the best.

YOU HAVE A RADIO SHOW THAT PLAYS ONLY SHOW TUNES. WHAT IS IT YOU LIKE ABOUT SHOW TUNES?

Well, first of all, I know them. They are familiar to me, and I’ve heard them a million times as a stagehand. And at first I wouldn’t like them, then after hearing them 13 or 30 times, I would hear moments I liked. And then when the show’s run was over, I would be sad. And as a kid, my mother was always listening to show tunes, she would always put them on. I like opera more than a symphony. I was trying to figure out why I like David Bowie so much. But he’s very dramatic. He totally is! His writing, the whole song had a very dramatic quality. He is a production; he performs.

ARE THERE CERTAIN SONGS THAT HAVE COME TO MEAN SOMETHING TO YOU?

Certain songs do, but it’s less than what they are about and more about the memories they bring up. Like my first major job was “Brigadoon” when I was 20. At the time, I thought it was kind of a dumb musical. But now, it brings back all those memories. I was 20, I was about to graduate from college, and I was full of optimism. Music brings you back. I like the more serious songs. Even like “My Fair Lady” is more serious than “Guys and Dolls” I would say, because there’s that component of society. But in college, we did a lot of modern songs. Like even Stephen Sondheim is a little more involved.



 

HOW DID YOU END UP WITH A RADIO SHOW?

I’ve listened to WMPG forever. I’ve been a fan of local radio forever. When I moved to Maine ten years ago, I listened to WMPG a lot. They always mention that you can come on air, and I just didn’t do it. And then I thought, “You know, a show tune show would be great,” because they never have them. And I didn’t even care what time slot I got, I just thought it would be fun. It’s something I know about, the history of it, the story of it, the composers of it. Everyone on WMPG has one show a week only. And mine is 4 am-6:30 am. Inherently, it’s my nature to get up early. If I was on a stranded island, it’s what I would gravitate to. Plus, I’m excited to get up and do the radio show! I’m ready to go because it’s show time! With the lights and the dials, the whole thing.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE THEATER IS A PART OF THE WORK YOU ARE DOING WITH UPHOLSTERY?

It’s an outlet for it, somewhat. But not as much. When you are working with your hands, and at the end of the day there is something you can look at. There’s something you can focus on and make design choices with. Most of the work is residential, mostly one or two pieces. It’s nice when I work with a designer that’s doing a whole house because once again I feel like I’m part of a collaboration and  part of a bigger whole. The customer, designer, me.

WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT YOUR WORK?

Oh, it takes a lot longer than people realize! It’s so much more involved. Especially if something has a pattern and it has to match. There’s a lot of forethought. And so I’ll stare at something for many minutes. There’s sewing it and pinning it. There’s so many steps to each part. Hours can fly by. There’s a lot of patience.

 

 

DID YOU HAVE FORMAL TRAINING BEYOND YOUR THEATER EXPERIENCE?

There were the years in the theater and then I sought out formal training. Because in theater, you aren’t learning the craft, you are learning how to do things quickly to get things on stage. People mistake things made for the theater to have shoddy craftsmanship, but that’s not always the case. There is a standard you have to attain, but you aren’t always learning upholstery 100%. So I worked with two women to get training in Tacoma, Washington where I was doing theater.

DO YOU FEEL A SENSE OF EXCITEMENT OVER YOUR UPHOLSTERY PROJECTS?

I do. I certainly do, often. At this point, it’s great to be really experienced at something. It’s great to see things come and go without much effort, and you can be really aware of how much you’ve learned. That can be really gratifying. Doing something with beautiful fabric that looks great and just sort of went well. There’s things I’ve done a hundred times that I want to do better – that no one’s going to notice, but thinking of new ways to do things better. Like every kind of craft, you have the mechanics of it, and once you have those down you can work on the overall effect. When things are old and made well, you have a sense of responsibility for the piece. And the customer usually has that same sense of responsibility and they become part of the process. I get excited for them. And I still do all of my own deliveries so I can see it in its context. A lot of upholsterers farm that out, but I like to do it myself. My favorite thing is when the customer goes like this (covers his mouth with his hands in joy and surprise). It’s like this human thing people do when they are really excited. That happens a lot in my job.

I WAS TOLD BY A FRIEND TO ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR MODELING CAREER

I was a life-drawing model. I still am. I love it. I did it when I first moved here and I thought it would be a funny way to make money. But I didn’t expect to love it so much. For three hours, most of the time I am just sitting there, actively sitting and organizing my brain. A lot of it is sub-conscious. And sometimes I just think, “I need to model again.” Because I need to sit. No one just sits any more. Not even for five minutes! I do feel like I’m on stage a little bit. Even thought I’m just sitting there, I end the session famished. And totally awake, just as if I had been on stage. I am so pumped. After exercising, I have the same feeling. I don’t do it as much as I like. I usually do two sessions, and then a month will go by and I’ll do another two sessions. But it’s kind of slowed down in the last year or so.

 

 

WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?

Community is important. I’ve always tried to seek it out. I came from a big family, so I like a lot of people around me. I am not at my best when I feel unconnected. I like feeling like I am part of somewhere. I was not getting enough of that in my theater days because I was moving around so much. It’s kind of a self-righteous answer, but you know. The word gets overused, but it’s true. Every place I go, I have a goofy repertoire, and I feel good when I have that and bad when I don’t.

WHAT’S A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING RIGHT NOW OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY?

I’m going to say discipline. But that’s something that’s an ongoing battle. And there is freedom through discipline. With self-employment, you have to be your own disciplinarian. And I’ve found that much harder than I thought it would be. I used to have jobs where I had a boss but was very independent and I’d feel good when I was disciplined. And then I went on my own, and it was hard.

WHAT IS THE GREATEST GIFT IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

My engagement! As much as we say we all want to be bachelors, I was always so picky and relationships were difficult and I would doubt. But to find someone where I could think partnership with was huge. I’m pretty self-sufficient and I’m outgoing and I’m fine alone. I never had a thought that someone I’d meet could actually be bettering me as far as my life goes. In other relationships, I had to give up life. I never felt they enhanced me. She is one step better than me about things, about getting me to explore. Sometimes I need a little nudge. I was in a rut, unbeknownst to me.  I needed someone to de-rut me. Because of her, we have great weekends. And what could that be like to have that forever?

 

 

WHAT IS THE GREATEST STRUGGLE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

I’m going to say efficiency. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve finished a day and thought, “If I could do this day over, I’d be done at noon.” I spin my wheels a lot. It’s about differentiating between what is progress and what is just activity. It’s only been magnified by my engagement. Marriage! When I was single, it didn’t matter about progress. Now, the stakes are different.

WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?

I’m going to say the morning, a half-hour in. Momentum is everything. For me, the biggest problem is starting something. The first 20 minutes is always rough. You haven’t gotten hungry yet or made a mistake or gotten tired yet. It’s the potential of a day.

For more about Pistol Pete’s upholstery work: pistolpeteupholstery.ipage.com

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