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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?”

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FREE book – Jan. 17

17 Jan

Buy this book – 99 cents. Limited offering

4 Jan

Mike Reuther’s fiction often involves characters searching for that certain connection in their lives. The Dude Who Wanted Out is no exception.

You can download this ebook for just 99 cents Jan. 4 & 5.

Sneak look at my latest book

28 Dec

Jack McAllister knew every hatch on every trout stream of Central Pennsylvania. Much of his life revolved around casting dry flies, wet flies, nymphs and other food imitations at that elusive creature known as the trout. He would have it no other way. Jack had gained a reputation as one of the most respected fly fisherman in the state, a dubious distinction in that it gained him no great rewards or wide renown other than that realized in fly-fishing circles.

His had been a mostly quiet life–a true trout bum’s existence–one of fishing, guiding and tying flies. In Jack’s mind, nothing was finer than catching an evening hatch down at the Shad River, just before dusk, when the trout were rising. Jack built this life for himself, an unhurried and quiet existence in this remote mountain area where the living was easy, and a man’s word was as good as a handshake. But it all changed in the year of the Great Green Drake Hatch.

In the years before the arrival of the Great Green Drake Hatch, when Memorial Day weekend in the Green Spring Valley was nothing more than a camper’s holiday and many a fly fisherman would have been hard put to find the Shad on the map, things had been different. In those days, Jack’s home was a ramshackle cabin just a long cast from the Shad. He had lived well there, perhaps even somewhat happily, or at least in a state that didn’t approach anything that could be even remotely referred to as misery.

Happiness, as Jack liked to say, was a damn elusive proposition, but with proper planning, you could latch onto it, and then “hold on like hell” as if you’re hooking up with one of the Shad River’s healthy sized Brown Trout.

“Hell, even if it breaks your damn line, you can have yourself a nice ride,” Jack had said more than once to Max Soothsayer.

Soothsayer nodded and smiled as he gazed out toward the water.

Jack and Soothsayer had spent countless hours together wading the pools of the Shad and the other streams feeding into it. Soothsayer was getting along in years now, and didn’t head out to fish as much as he had in his younger days. A bum knee forced him to use a wading staff even in the calmest stretches of water. Most of his time was spent tying flies in the back of the Roll Cast, the general store off Route 6 he owned, where Jack dropped in nearly every day for a sandwich, to meet a client needing guiding, or for the latest gossip. Although it was in truth a store, it was also part barroom, part eatery and more or less the social center of the village, that is, if you could call the half-dozen homes clustered nearby along Route 6 a village of any kind. Many of the homes were summer cottages, used by hunters or trout fishermen who could be depended upon to show up at the Shad every spring.

Soothsayer was one of the few people Jack could stand to be around for any stretch of time. For one thing, Soothsayer had more knowledge about the Shad River hatches than anyone he knew. Soothsayer also had a keen sense of just what the fish would take. More than once Jack had come tromping into Soothsayer’s store in his waders, frustrated over a particularly troublesome hatch the trout were feeding ravenously upon, but which were ignoring his every cast. Soothsayer, always calm in a crisis, would make a few simple suggestions, or perhaps calmly trim the hackles off some of Jack’s flies before sending him back out to the water. Often, Soothsayer’s sage advice turned around what had been a horrible fishing day.

It was true that Jack loved to fish so passionately that he was thought to be a little off his nut by the local folks. Indeed, he was obsessed with the whole business of catching trout. Jack was never able to explain this fever or love affair or whatever the hell it was he had with fly fishing, but he didn’t have much time for folks who elevated fly fishing to art or religion or other nonsense either. Damn it. He just liked to fish. Being out on the water with a fly rod when the trout were surfacing to grab white mayflies or March Browns or sulphurs. Well … there was just no better time to be alive as far as Jack was concerned.

He’d fished the Shad and every one of its feeder streams from Green Spring Valley to the New York state line. And if there as any prettier stretch of God’s lush landscape or any more productive trout water in America than that fifty-mile swath of terrain, he’d be damned if he knew where it was.

He’d been on some of those legendary trout streams out West and wet his line on more than a few of the other rivers famous for big brown trout, in the Adirondacks and up through Vermont. He took trips every August out to Montana with the local Trout Unlimited group for some serious angling on the fabled waters of the Madison River. But the Shad River right back here in Pennsylvania remained his favorite.

Jack didn’t claim to be a poet but there was something about the Shad he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He knew damn well that to the non-fishing crowd there was probably nothing special about the Shad. It was hardly the sort of stream that drew the canoeists, the kayakers searching for a white-water thrill. A narrow meandering sort of stream, its waters often ran shallow. In a dry summer, it became little more than a trickle in a lot of places, creating marginal trout water and lean economic times for him and Soothsayer. Summer brought a few hikers and campers but few anglers.

Before the arrival of the Great Green Hatch the Shad had been a decently productive trout stream holding the usual amount and variety of insect hatches. It had a fly-fishing only section and a handful of the more noted members of the fly-fishing fraternity were known to occasionally make appearances at the stream. Then came the Green Drake Hatch. It had been something not unlike a religious awakening for the Shad.