During his regular workday, Peter Miller is chief of Time Inc.'s Sports Library, coordinating a staff of nine as they answer questions from SI and other parts of the company on everything from the gender of Olympic mascots to the identity of the Marquis de Portago. But after hours, Miller discards the guise of mild-mannered librarian and plunges into the middle of conflict. As a volunteer at the Brooklyn Mediation Center, an adjunct to the Kings County court system, Miller gets people with grievances against one another to sit down and talk, rather than go to court. Explains Miller, "You help them fashion an agreement, which is then drafted as a legal contract."
Miller, 39, was born and raised in Manhattan, where his mother, Barbara, is a social worker and his father, Edward, is a retired physician. Miller enrolled at Coe College in Iowa in 1966, but, imbued with the spirit of the times, he left after two years and spent the next five traveling around the Midwest, writing short stories and working at odd jobs. He cleaned vats at an oat mill, packed pork cutlets at a slaughterhouse and even performed as a pro athlete. The last was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where some friends played in a community soccer league. When the goalie for one team was injured, Miller tried out for the position and got it. He was paid $5 a game, with the promise of a $5 bonus for each outstanding performance. Miller lasted four games, allowing a respectable 10 goals or so. He didn't get a bonus, but he did get a broken nose.
Miller returned in 1973 to New York City, where he got a job as a file clerk in Time Inc.'s main library. He moved to the sports branch in 1977 and became its chief last February. Between 1977 and '82, Miller was an active member of the Time Inc. unit of the Newspaper Guild of New York and took part in various union negotiations. It was his experience at the bargaining table that led him to take up mediating. One case involved two residents of an apartment building, one of whom kept an exotic menagerie of reptiles, including one valuable albino snake. The snake would slither out windows and along the plumbing and appear in the neighbor's apartment. Miller helped the disputants work out a deal whereby the reptilophile paid the cost of "reptile-proofing" his neighbor's apartment by caulking around windows, doors and pipes. Says Miller, "The beauty of mediating is that, while you don't impose solutions, you develop an ability to see them."
Away from the stacks, Miller makes pacts.