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Mike Reuther books

4 Feb
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Thanks for checking out my site. The image above with the bookcases holds all my titles. Okay. That’s a load of crap, but I have written books, about twenty at last count. Check out the link below to see what I’ve written. C’mon. It won’t take that long.

 

books2read.com/u/m0MMp0

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Searching for Sanity – Chapter excerpt

14 Jan

 

Happiness considered 

 

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Chapter 3

“You want to what?”

Sam Sneed lowered his head and ran a single hand over his nearly bald head. His eyes narrowed, forming a frown on his face. He looked up from his desk in his small office at Steve.

“I want to write some stories about happiness,” Steve said. “A long series.”

“Happiness?” Sneed said.

He shook his head. Sneed was a small man, close to retirement age, who’d been editor of the Meckleysburg Times Tribune for more than twenty years. He’d worked his way up to the position after many years as a reporter. He oversaw a paper that reported on the usual happenings that many papers serving small cities captured—local government, crime, happenings in the community. And, of course, there was the sports section, a department, separate from the general news-gathering operation.

“I want to interview all sorts of people. What makes them tick. Why they do what they do with their jobs, their off time. Where they see themselves in the grand scheme of things.”

Sneed was now staring at Steve, like he was deranged.

“Steve. I mean … happiness?”

“It’s an important topic. Maybe the most important issue of our times.”

Sneed continued staring at Steve. He lurched back in his chair and looked through the big window of his office that afforded him a view of the newsroom.

“The newspaper needs to do something different once in a while,” Steve said.

“Oh, here we go with that again.”

“It’s true.”

Sneed came forward in his chair and shuffled some papers on his desk. “Seems to me like you got enough to do with other stuff.”

“I can handle it.”

Sneed raised his brows and blinked. He looked down at the floor. “What about those novels you write? Don’t you get into that stuff in your books?”

A good point, Steve thought. “Sometimes … sure.”

“Then why this?”

“I want to talk to actual people. I want to really explore this topic of happiness.”

And now Sneed smiled. “You know what would make me happy? Standing on the first hole at Green Valley with a driver on my first day of retirement.”

“So. That would really make you happy. Huh?”

“Throw in a cold beer waiting for me at the eighteenth hole and I’ll be ecstatic. At least for that day.”

“Interesting. You want to retire?”

“Sure.”

“Why? Aren’t you fulfilled in your job?”

Again, Sneed leaned back in his chair. The question, Steve realized, seemed to amuse the editor. “You always were a little bit different Steve. You’ve done some good work over the years, although sometimes you seem to get bored, off track with things. Like that time you led the reporters revolt and you all walked off the job for a day.”

“We hadn’t had a raise in six years,” Steve said, still seething from the memory.

“Okay,” Sneed said, raising a hand. “Let’s not dredge up old bones. Go ahead if you want and do your series on … what is it? Happiness? Now leave me alone. I got work to do.”

 

 

“Really. He’s going to let you do a series on happiness.”

Frusty looked intently at Steve as they sat across from each other at the small table of the Chinese Wall restaurant. He took a bite of his egg roll and shook his head. “Who will you talk to?”

Steve gestured with a hand toward the window behind him. “Hell. Out there. The people are everywhere. Living their miserable lives. Sitting in their homes wasting it away in front of the boob tube holding their TV flickers. Making that death march to work every day.”

Frusty stopped from biting into his egg roll. His eyes widened. “Hey. That sounds like my life.”

“No offense,” Steve said. “But … well.”

“Nobody is going to open up to you about their inner self.”

“Oh? Let’s try it out. Are you happy Coy?”

“C’mon.”

“Well?”

“Are you?”

“No.”

“Well there you go,” Frusty said, crossing his arms and throwing Steve a smug look.

Steve poked at the noodles floating in his bowl of Won Ton soup. He looked off into the kitchen rich with the aroma of Chinese food cooking where he could see people furiously busying themselves with preparing meals.

“You think these people are happy?”

“Who?”

“This Chinese family working their tails of every day. The same routine over and over.”

Frusty’s eyes squinted toward the kitchen. “I think they may be too damn busy to give it much thought.”

“Really?” Steve said. “So, you’re point is that keeping busy is the solution to happiness?”

“Well, kinda. Yeah. I mean … work keeps your mind occupied, free of all the other crap going on.”

“And that’s why you work so damn hard?”

“I think we already established that I’m not happy.”

“But you’re content with your job and your big screen TV and NFL football package and your nice house and a wife.”

“You were going good there till you mentioned the wife,” Frusty said with a grin.

“So, I guess you are kind of miserably happy. Coy Frusty, a victim of inertia, unwilling to change, settled in and counting down the days till retirement.”

“Something like that Steven. Something like that.” Frusty pushed his plate of rice away and looked at Steve. “And what about you?”

“I can’t say I’m happy either. I’ve never been crazy about having a job with a boss. Writing about stuff that doesn’t get me fired up.”

“But you have a job.”

“I have a job. You’re right. And it does pay the bills.”

“Right. I guess that’s my point. I mean …. What can you really expect out of life? Hardly anyone gets the life they really want. That’s just reality.”

Frusty stared at Steve.

“What?” Steve said.

“The divorce. It was tough on you. Wasn’t it?”

Steve sighed. “At first. Yeah. Kind of a shock really. I mean … I think we were like a lot of couples. We kind of drifted apart after so many years of marriage.”

“Wasn’t she always complaining about money? How you didn’t make enough of it at the paper?”

“Yeah. Sure. That was part of it. And she had always wanted kids.” He thought of the miscarriages. After all these years, it still hurt. “But then we got into our forties and that ship had kind of sailed.”

“Yeah. Marriages aren’t perfect. That’s for sure. But I think there is more good than bad with them.”

“For some people maybe.”

They exchanged smiles.

“Was it Freud who said if you’re happy in the bedroom and happy in your work, you’re a happy man?”

Frusty laughed. “Well. He just might have been on to something.”

They walked out of the restaurant. It had been a wet summer, one of the wettest in memory, and the fall foliage that Steve always looked forward to had arrived late this year. Off in the distance, the trees on the hills across the river that swept past the small city were aflame in bright fall colors on this brilliant warm autumn day.

“What a great day huh?”

“Makes you glad to be alive,” Steve said.

“So. Am I your pilot test case?” Frusty said as they walked the two blocks back to the newspaper.

“I didn’t think about it, but I guess you kind of are.”

“What the heck. Use anything I told you, but don’t include my name.”

“Well. You know how we both feel about anonymous sources in stories.”

“Oh hell Steve. Do what you want. In this age of social media and everyone bearing their souls to the world, what the hell does it matter?”

Me Too Fellas

17 Dec
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The radio playing at the camp site segued from a jazzy blues number to NPR public service messages and then the voice of Jon Ritter: “Do catch the next program of Brit Talk with our very special guest .. Robbie Pop.”
“Who?” Moran asked.
“Robbie Pop,” Ritter said, poking at the camp fire.
“Who in the hell is that?” Moran said as he used his foot and his walking stick, Misty Blue, to clear a spot on the forest ground in preparation for his evening exercises.
“Robbie Pop,” Reuther said in an annoying tone.
“Never heard of him,” Moran snorted as he launched into his Royal Canadian jumping jacks.
“Well … he’s our guest on the next show.”
“But what does he do?” Moran asked, stopping from his exercises.
“He’s British,” Ritter said.
“Okay. Fine. But what does he do?”
“He’s British,” Reuther said. “Egads.”
“And I hold a Ph. D. in classical literature,” Moran said. “Again, what does he do?”
Reuther and Ritter looked at each other. They both well knew that his Ph. D. had been earned through an online correspondence course.
“He’s going to come on our show and talk about …” Ritter looked to Reuther for help.
“Brit stuff,” Reuther said.
“Brit stuff. Ha. You guys are pathetic. Can’t you find someone with something interesting to talk about? Who in the hell books your guests? Who is your program director?”
“Er …Annie,” Ritter said.
“Annie. Ha. Cozy arrangement for you Jon.”
“Now look,” Ritter said, pointing a finger at Moran.
“It’s going to be a good show,” Reuther said. “We’ve never had an English fella on our program.”
“Yeah,” Ritter said. “I mean … the show is Brit Talk after all.”
Moran shook his head. “You two have hit a new low. I mean … for the love of God, what was that nonsense you aired last week?”
“You mean … our comedy act?” Ritter said.
“If that’s what you call it,” Moran said.
Reuther and Ritter exchanged looks and then launched into it: A pair of mimes locked in a square glass box, trying to feel their way out.
“Mimes on the radio. How utterly ludicrous.”
“Hey. What’s good for the ratings is good for our show,” Reuther said with a grin.
“You got that right Mike,” Ritter said, grabbing a can of Vienna sausages from out of his backpack.
“For the love of Pete, why don’t you put me on your show?” Moran said, closing his eyes and rocking back on his heels.
“You?” Reuther said.
“Yes me.”
“But what will you have to offer?” Ritter asked.
“Indeed,” Reuther added. “Shall we talk about your history of plagiarism or the student sexual harassment scandals that have followed your academic career?”
Moran leveled a hard gaze at our heroes. He raised Misty Blue and charged.

Standing on a bridge watching life go by

12 Oct
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“The thing is,” Reuther said as he stared off at the scraggy mountain top, “I’m past my fertile period. Making it as a fiction writer is out of the question.”

“That again,” Ritter said, rolling his eyes. “Every time you hit a wall with your writing you go on about being past your fertile period.”

“Well, it’s true.”

“It’s not true. C’mon. Let’s check out the Deckers Bridge and see if any trout are rising.”

“Since when do you care about trout rising?” Reuther said.

Ritter hoisted up his backpack and started off toward the bridge some fifty yards away. “I don’t, but it will get your mind of your stalled writing.”

“It’s not stalled. More like done … over, finished, kaput.”

Ritter didn’t want to hear it. Just that past winter, Reuther had come out with a dozen short stories that had wowed the literary world. What had followed had been the kind of success and attention that anyone would kill for – glowing reviews in the New York Times and Publishers Weekly, interviews on CNBC and the major networks, even a bit part in some silly reality show. Sure, it was October now, and much of the hoopla over Reuther’s book was in the rearview mirror. And that, as Ritter saw it, was the real problem.

“You’ll just have to write another book,” Ritter said as they stood on the bridge and peered into the roiling waters of the South Platte River. Ritter liked it here, particularly in the fall on weekdays, when it was quiet and the summer vacationers were long gone.

“I guess so,” Reuther said.

“You guess so. Shit. Just do it,” Ritter said, turning now to face his longtime hiking buddy. “I mean, God sakes alive Reuther. When you got into this writing business, you knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.”

“But I’ll never write anything as good as Misfits, Dreamers and Mad Poets again,” Reuther said, referring to his book.

“Probably not,” Ritter said, as they both watched a blonde woman in a skin-tight kayaking outfit suddenly emerge from the Ponderosa pines on the far bank.

“Wow. Not bad,” Reuther said.

“Er … not bad at all.”

“Boyfriend is probably right behind her somewhere.”

“Of course,” Ritter said.

Sure enough, a young, svelte and sturdy man clad in his own skin-tight kayaking outfit, the lightweight water craft balancing upon his back, emerged from the forest.

“You see Mike. We all have our time in the sun.”

“Guess so ol’ Bean.”

They watched the couple move quickly down the embankment and to the water before climbing  into the two-person craft. All at once, the man looked up toward the bridge where our two heroes stood, giving them a thumbs-up, a gleaming toothed smile, before using a paddle to nudge the the kayak into the swirling water. The woman, sitting behind him in the kayak, smiled and waved as well. They two of them appeared, Reuther thought, to be the very epitome of youth, and beauty and vigor. They were, he realized, the kind of people that could be found everywhere in the West anymore. And just like that, the kayak was heading downriver and then under the bridge and past them.

“There’s a rise over there,” Ritter said, pointing to the spot behind the boulder known as Elephant Rock that formed a deep pool.

Reuther had been watching the kayak carrying the young couple grow smaller down the South Platte. He turned to look where his buddy was pointing. Sure enough, a large ring slowly expanded from near Elephant Rock. “Guess I should have brought my fly rod,” Reuther said.

He thought back of a few years ago, when he first came out here from back East. Back then, he’d been fishing four and five times a week – when he wasn’t writing his brains out that is.

“You need to quit moping around and get back to it,” Ritter said as if reading his mind.

“Guess so,” Reuther said.

“You guess so. Hell.”

They stood for a while on the bridge not saying anything. A breeze carrying the hint of winter blew against their faces. The sun disappeared behind some clouds.

“A cold beer wouldn’t be bad right now,” Ritter said. He was leaned over the bridge’s iron railing watching a cluster of fall leaves drift below him. He straightened and smiled at Reuther.

They both turned to gaze across the two-lane road feeding into the village at the blinking beer signs of the tavern.

“Shit yeah,” Reuther said.

It’s not too late …

27 Sep
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“You know Ritter,” Reuther said. “Downtown Lancaster looks more busy, I daresay even vibrant, with lots of youngsters in their 20s and 30s.”

“Hipsters,” Ritter said with a snort.

“Even in Chumley’s?”

“Especially Chumley’s,” Ritter said with disgust.

“You mean?”

“Exactly.” Ritter threw up his hands. “Used to be a gathering spot for writers and dreamers and misfits. Now, it’s junior executives. Young fellers and gals with laptops, their gaze on the bottom line.”

“Damn. What happened?”

Ritter used his index finger and thumb to pick up a stray crumb from the muffin he’d just eaten. He looked out the window from his balcony affording him a birds-eye of the Lancaster Barnstomers ballpark. He’d carefully selected this place back in the early 2000s before things had changed, when Lancaster was still holding on as a gritty, tough little city with a chip on its shoulder, very much aware that it couldn’t be little New York, let alone a tiny Philly. But shit … now …

“But Jon. Things change. I mean … look at us … Time was when we were the young rock ‘n rollers. Regularly knocking off fifty miles on the trails in a day, clacking away on our Remington typewriters, banging out thirty pages at a clip.”

“It’s not our town anymore.”

“Well … not your town anymore. I mean … I left years ago.”

“Right. You did the Kerouac thing. Found your true calling as a trout bum.”

“I begged you to come along. Remember?”

“I remember,” Ritter groaned.

Reuther studied his old hiking and drinking buddy. Geez. He was starting to look old, tired.

“It’s not too late you know.”

Ritter emitted a sigh. Shit, he thought. But it was too late. And yet … and yet …

“You know, when it comes down to reality. We’re all here on this earth just a short time. We need to grab the gusto while …”

“No,” Ritter snapped. “You’re starting to sound like a beer commercial.”

“Well … I mean …

Ritter slowly shook his head. The late afternoon shadows from the downtown buildings were throwing long shadows across the streets.

“I got laid off yesterday.”

“What?” Reuther couldn’t believe his ears. “This is it. Your chance … ”

“Er … I don’t think so.”

“But why?” Reuther said, jumping out of his seat. “This is it. C’mon. You can be out of this burg by tonight, on your way to a new life.”

“Yeah. And we could both sit around that stream you’re so fond of … what is it?”

“The South Platte River.”

“Right, the South Platte, build a campfire and belt out ballads like Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean. It’s elusive, a myth.”

Rutter pushed himself away from the table and began walking around the room.

“C’mon Jon. You can do this.”

“No. It’s a myth Reuther. All of it … the West and the outdoors and how it can save your soul.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“C’mon Reuther. Face it. Happiness … you can’t buy it, and you sure as hell can’t find it through geography.”

A tentative knock came on the front door – three soft, tentative raps upon the wood.

Reuther saw a sly smile appear on Rutter’s face.

“Did you order Chinese?”

“Er … you’ll have to leave now Reuther.”

“A girl?”

“Please. Take the fire escape down Reuther.”

The Bargain

6 Sep

Ritter poked at the campfire as he mulled over the question.

“What if I had choice between giving up hiking and rock climbing or spending the rest of my life with Annie Klondike?” He furrowed his brow and looked quizzically at Reuther.

“Right. What would you choose?”

“But that’s absurd,” Ritter said, tossing down his stick.

“Just work with me here Jon,” Reuther said.

“I would never give up hiking and rock climbing. I mean … those are my passions.”:

“Okay,” Reuther said. “I get it. But what if giving them up would mean being with Annie … the gal you’ve long pined for … for the rest of your life.”

“But it’s not going to happen,” Ritter said, throwing up his hands.

“No. You’re right. It’s not going to happen. Unless you believe in magic and such possibilities, no one is going to suddenly appear and offer you such a bargain.”

“Right,” Ritter said.

“Still … what would you choose?”

“Jeepers. You’re not going to let this go. Are you?”

Ritter studied Reuther’s smiling face as his longtime hiking buddy moved closer to the fire, his face lit up crimson from the flames.  He appeared almost otherworldly. Ritter had a fleeting thought that perhaps Reuther was a kind of supernatural being who could indeed make such a thing happen. A chill ran through him that even considering an answer would involve him in a sort of Faustian bargain.

“Well … Reuther said.

“Who do you think will win the World Series this year?” Rutter asked, a nervous lopsided grin crossing his face.

“Jon. C’mon.”

“You c’mon,” Ritter said. “This is just stupid.”

“Maybe,” Reuther said, rocking back on his heels and looking skyward. “Then again …”

Ritter poked some more at the flames. “Well what about you Reuther?”

“What about me?”

“Let’s say you had a chance to have your book be a bestseller and make you a boatload of money, perhaps a movie deal. You even win a Pulitzer. You gain worldwide fame.”

“I … don’t follow Jon,” Reuther said.

“Sure. Let’s say that happens, but only if you agree to spend the rest of your life unplugged, off the grid, in some lonely, one-room cabin in say … Greenland? Cut off from everyone you know and love … forever.”

Ritter watched Reuther consider the question as he chewed on his jerky.

“Interesting proposal Jon.”

“Yeah, it is,” Ritter said with a laugh, jumping to his feet.

He watched his buddy consider it for a few more moments. “I wouldn’t take the deal.”

“Why not?” Ritter said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Reuther said.

“But you’d have everything you always wanted … a bestselling book, fame, immortality.”

“And no one to enjoy it with.”

“Er … right,” Ritter said.

“So.”

“So what?”

“I guess you’d give up your outdoors pursuits if it meant you’d gain Annie.”

“Never,” Jon said.

“But she’s your dream girl.”

“Dream girl?” Ritter considered the very words. Dream girl? A buxom outdoors gal who piloted prop planes around the Northwest and Canada. A sharpshooter and trapper, who drank her whiskey straight and could more than hold her own with any man. Surely not a gentle lass, and yet …

“She’s promiscuous,” Ritter said.

“And your point is?”

“No … no I wouldn’t even consider such a foolhardy notion of giving up hiking and climbing. Besides, this whole dialogue has been ludicrous.” Rutter got to his feet. “I’m going to bed.” He headed toward his tent.

“Funny isn’t it?”

“What?” Ritter said. With his back to Reuther, he stopped halfway between the now-dying campfire and his tent.

“These gals. They sure do funny things to our heads.”

“They sure do,” Ritter said. “They sure do.”

Misery Trails

2 Sep

 

And Jon Ritter said, “Who are you?”

The man said his was name was Carlyle and he was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on one leg and was happy to make Ritter’s acquaintance. He hopped back on the single leg and gave Ritter a cool, appraising eye. It was the kind of look that Ritter usually found off-putting. Shit. His boss, Moran, often gave him that face, a kind of challenging look. But on this hot, dry day high in the Sierra Nevadas, Ritter was just too dog-tired to really give a shit. The seven hours he’d been on the trail on this July day were really destroying him. And then this guy had skipped up behind him, seemingly out of nowhere, greeting him in an unmistakable British accent, “Top of the day to you,” causing Ritter to nearly jump clean out of his hiking boots.

“Look. I’m just hiking. Okay? I’ve got a lot of miles to make by Friday.”

“Friday?” the man said. “Ha. So, you’re not a thru hiker.”

Ritter groaned. So, it was going to be that again. He was apparently one of them—a hiking snob. These guys and gals (increasingly there were more women on the trails these days) who labeled you a kind of wimp or tenderfoot. They figured it wasn’t worth hefting it along on these jaunts of several days. They were thru-hikers, giving up months of their lives for these marathon jaunts. Criminy. They let it be known they couldn’t be bothered with anything less.

“Er … no. I’m not a thru hiker.”

“Short hike or not,” the man said with a smug grin. “You’ll never make it like that?”

“Like what?” Rutter said.

“That pack. Bloody hell. What have you got in that thing? A piano?”

“Er … just my provisions for the next several days. Food, blanket, sleeping roll, pocket knife, my paper back copy of Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.”

“It looks awfully bulky to me,” he said, hopping forward on his leg to look more closely at it. “How much weight are you hauling Jack”?”

Jack?

“Never mind. I’m fine sir.”

Ritter turned to go.

“Wait.”

Ritter stopped.

“Would you mind terribly if I hop-scotch along with you? I haven’t really had much company the last few days.”

The fella’s tone had softened. Jesus. The poor guy was lonely.

“Fine,” Ritter said.

“I’ll go slow too.” He hopped up and down on one leg smiling at Ritter.

Damn it, he thought. Who was this dude?

And so, they walked. This guy, he had to be about sixty-five, was a small, compact fella, agile and spry. In fine shape too. Jesus, he sure could move on just one leg. It was all Ritter could do to keep up with him. Occasionally, he turned to see if Ritter was still there—the bastard. At one point, he lit up one of those e-cigarettes, the vapor trailing him and blasting Ritter in the face as he hopped along. Smoking? God. It was too much. And he talked. God did he talk—about politics, European soccer (about which Ritter knew nothing) and hiking. To hear the guy tell it, he’d hiked everywhere, all over America and Europe, even the Himalayas. He claimed to have scaled Mount Everest too. If that wasn’t enough, he apparently was some kind of bird expert too, gesturing with that damn e-cigarette at different species of birds that came into view, emitting these weird cackling noises to communicate with them.

It was Ritter who suggested they make a stop—at the outcropping of rocks near where the trail turned.

“Ah … too tired to go anymore Jack?” the man said.

“Fuck you,” Ritter whispered, but not loud enough for him to hear.

They stopped. From high above, they could both look down and see the water from the snow-melt thundering down the mountain.

Ritter threw back his head and looked to the sky, taking in the sound of that roaring water—the finest sound in nature. Yeah. This was what made all the walking and the sweat and the toil and the humdrum of putting one foot front of the other, worth it. Jeepers. Best decision he ever made in life was taking up hiking all those years ago. Even skiing or getting drunk with Reuther wasn’t this good.

This is great, he thought. He found a tree and sat with his back against it just taking it all in. God, it felt good to be off his feet. He had all but forgotten about his annoying temporary one-legged hiking companion from across the pond when he heard talking. He looked over to see Carlyle with a phone pressed against his ear. Okay, fine, he thought. A lot of hikers brought their phones along any more. He had learned to accept that. Apparently, he was able to get cell service out here.

“I’ll ask my hiking companion here,” he heard Carlyle say.

And then he was gesturing with that damn e-cigarette to Ritter. “Say. Some of my friends are up the trail not far from here. They brought grub. I think Sebastian said something about steaks and beer. You’re welcome to join us.”

Damn. He was hoping to be rid of this guy. But steaks and beer? Jeepers.

“Er … thanks, but no. Gonna try to do another few miles.”

“Yes. Sebastian? It will just be me. Tell Yvonne to simmer my steak over the fire to well done. Jennifer and Misty are going to be there too? And Constance? Ah … splendid. I do hope the beer is cold.” He brought the phone down from his ear and smiled. “Well … cheerio,” he said, giving Ritter a farewell wave as he hopped around the bend of the trail.

Steaks and beer and women? Ritter’s mind reeled at the possibilities. Jesus. Maybe it was time to rethink this.

“Hey wait,” Ritter screamed.