Benicia handyman, poet Peter Bray thrives after company life – Occasions Herald On-line

Benicia resident Peter Bray gained some notoriety after one of his songs, “Laid Off American Man,” was mentioned in a column by Herb Caen. Bray wrote the song in 1994 after Bechtel fired him.

BENICIA >> It's been 20 years since Peter Bray left the corporate world with a song in his heart. It brought him fame.

Yes, the longtime Benician wrote and recorded a song after being fired from Bechtel. The title was “Dismissed American Man.” He sent a cassette copy to legendary San Francisco Chronicle gossip columnist Herb Caen, who reprinted the lyrics and called Bray “my hero today.”

“He gave me the top six inches of it,” said Bray, a cheerful handyman and Benicia poetry group regular.

There is more. Within a week, Bray said he received a postcard from noted upstate New York folk singer Pete Seeger that said, “I just read Herb Caen. How do I get a copy of your song?” I thought, “How cool!” “

Two weeks later, Bray received another message in the mail from Seeger requesting a second copy.

“I thought, 'Okay, he liked it, he'll send it to Arlo Guthrie, Arlo will record it and I'll be home free!' I'm rich and fat and famous!” “

Unfortunately, “it didn’t happen,” Bray chuckled. “It’s a great thing, but I fix toilets.”

Bray, 71, still loves poetry and songwriting. He's been at it for more than 40 years, filling pieces of paper – and later notebooks – with rhymes about his children and other things that piqued his interest. He still performs at open mics where he uses humor to connect with listeners.

“If you can get the whole room to shut up and become quiet because you really speak in a low voice and bring it up, you can get the whole crowd of 30 people to move with you,” Bray said. who has self-published three volumes of poetry since 1972. “And then when you add something funny and make the same 30 people laugh, that’s just a kick in the butt!”

A native of Walnut Creek, Bray earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1966. He worked in the defense industry for several years, designing rockets, before setting up his own business as a design engineer and graphic illustrator. He eventually got a job at Bechtel in San Francisco, where he worked as a graphics manager. After 10 years, he was laid off as part of a major downsizing.

“So I wrote ‘Laid Off American Man,’” said Bray, who has been writing poetry since the early ’70s. The song begins like this: “I do windows, I do floors, I do hallways, I do doors, I do everything I can, I'm a laid off American man!”

“I had a cassette, I had a cover and I sent it to Herb Caen,” Bray said. “And about a week later, I called one of my designers (at Bechtel) after I left and said, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ He said, ‘PR is on alert.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about ?” He said, “You didn't see Herb Caen this morning? You'd better.” So I went to Raley, got the Chronicle, opened it up and he typed up all my texts.”

The final verses read: “I was vice president in charge of BD, with a mission statement and a cell phone, a company watch and a company loan, I was vice president in charge of BD.” Now I'm a gardener in the promised land, all my tools are in a one man van, now I do windows, I do floors, I do hallways, I do doors, do everything I can, I'm a laid off American!”

Not everything Bray writes or performs is funny. “Weeping at Starbucks” conveys his pain in the hours after his daughter's death from Crohn's disease in February 2012. It begins: “After house coffee and apple sales and ten thousand words of condolence via email, cell phone.”, cards and letters, it runs to that “Crying at Starbucks while the quiet chatter and overheard music compete.”

What drives his creativity? “It’s therapeutic for me and entertaining,” Bray said. “And maybe…it’ll be helpful to someone else.”

Contact Tony Burchyns at 707-553-6831.

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