Tag Archives: life

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.”

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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.

Colorado blues

29 Aug
depth of field photo of two pilsner glasses

Photo by Matan Segev on Pexels.com

 

Ritter and Reuther trudged up the hill, dog-tired, but elated to be finished. It had been a long hike, following three days of camping along the river, just south of Dock Gulch. The sunshine, the scenery, the negative ions from the rush of the stream made for a perfect few days. And Reuther had caught some fat trout too.
“Smokey’s is just down the road,” Reuther said, wiping his brow as they both stopped next to the Ponderosa Pine at the trailhead and looked down Route 18.
“God yes,” Ritter said. Already, he could envision the neon sign of SMOKEY’S blinking in tiny downtown Dock Gulch, beckoning him. Hell, he could taste the burger he planned to have after they hopped into Reuther’s rickety old jeep and arrived there, pulling up stools at the long bar as if they owned the freakin’ place, the rustic joint existing for their own pleasure. He was going to treat himself to a big fat burger with fries and wash it all down with a beer. A cold one. Shit, maybe two or three cold ones. He wondered if Candy was working, the feisty fetching blonde with the alluring Southern accent who always flirted with Reuther and him. Hell, maybe he’d even work up the courage to ask her out this time. She was one of those outdoorsy types, like everyone else around these parts. Hell, maybe he’d ask her to go shooting with him. Heck yeah. He had two Glocks stashed away in his car he never used, but he had them ready per chance some gal wanted to go shooting. Or he could take her fishing. He had one rod in the car too, even though he didn’t fish. A guy had to be ready for anything when it came to women. What the hell, he could always fake it if she wanted to cast flies to trout.
All at once, there was the sound of bicycle tires skidding to a stop. What the…? Ritter noticed the legs first, long shapely and tanned legs of a young woman. A fine lass alright, astride a sporty looking mountain bike, a blonde ponytail falling out of a helmet. She was smiling. “Jon?” she said in a puzzled tone, a cock of her lovely head.
“Millicent?” Ritter couldn’t freakin’ believe it. How long had it been? Ten years? His mind reeled with memories of a shy girl, a freshman in Professor Moran’s Journalism 101 class. God, he’d been smitten with her. Of course, he had. Problem was, everyone else was too. He’d been an overage grad student then, finding excuses to steal away from his crappy job as an errand boy at the dean’s office to talk to her as class ended. Heck. There had even been a connection between them, he thought. She was so pure, so innocent, so … gorgeous. Freakin’ Moran, that bounder, had made a play for her. And to his joy, had struck out. Rumor had it that there had come a bit of sexual harassment afterwards. That unethical play chased her away from the university … for good. And now, here she was.
“What are you doing out here in the wilds of Colorado?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing.” She pulled off her helmet and shook her head, the ponytail swishing, like the tail of a horse. God. She looked good, Ritter thought.
“Er … ah. Where are my manners? Reuther, this is Millicent. Millicent … Reuther.”
“Pleasure,” Reuther said, with a grand bow.
Millicent giggled. God. That sweet infectious laugh Ritter remembered so well.
“I say … I say … Millicent.”
Reuther and Ritter turned left to see a puffy man in biking attire, hunched over the handlebars of a mountain bike, pedaling toward them with significant effort some thirty yards down the road. Ritter shielded his eyes from the sun. Egads. Ritter thought he resembled a turnip, his flesh bulging against the tight biking outfit that he had no business wearing. The bicycle drew nearer. Shit. Was that Ryerson? Ryerson Marks? No, it couldn’t be. One-time dean of the school of journalism and seducer of young co-eds.
“You two … are together?” Ritter said.
Millicent shyly bowed her head. God. She was still an innocent.
Huffing and puffing, Ryerson dismounted uneasily from the bicycle, clearly a novice to pedaling such contraptions, stumbling before righting himself. Still out of breath and clearly out of his element, he managed to walk the bike up to where they stood. “Jesus,” he said. “Mountain biking Millicent? Are you bloody kidding me?” He was sweating profusely, his face beat red.
“I tried to go slowly so you could keep up honey,” Millicent said sweetly.
No. No. It was wrong, all wrong Ritter thought.

 

“I know what you’re going to say,” Ritter said as they sat on barstools at SMOKEY’s a bit later.

Reuther shook his head. “Jon …”

“No,” Ritter said, raising his hand from his beer after slamming it onto the bar. “Don’t say it.”

They sat staring at the row of liquor bottles lining the shelves behind the bar. Reuther wished to hell they hadn’t run into that dazzling young girl … and Ryerson … the fuck. Another middle-aged, out-of-shape successful guy but admittedly, a charmer, who always got the girl. Of course, this one particularly stung Ritter who clearly still had a thing for this Millicent gal – a real looker.

“What the hell,” Reuther said. “We got beers in front of us and burgers and fries coming. “

“Yeah. Right,” Ritter said bitterly. “Living like kings we are.”

“Jon. Geez.”

It occurred to Reuther that the bar was strangely empty on this late afternoon in August.  And it was a Friday too. Normally, fishermen from up Denver and Colorado Springs way and God knows where else had long ago spilled out of offices to flee to the river for the weekend. Why wasn’t Smokey’s rockin’ and rollin’? Even the jukebox, normally filtering some mournful country and western tune or bluesy song was still. It appeared Luke, the bearded thirty-something bartender who also did gigs as a fishing guide out of the fly shop next door, was running the place solo today.

“You guys need another beer or anything else?” Luke said.

“A freakin’ gun,” Ritter said. “Put me out of my misery.”

Luke brought his head down close to Reuther. “A girl again?” he whispered.

Reuther shook his head and waved Luke away.

“Yeah. A girl again Luke,” Ritter snapped. “Now mind your own damn business and bring us those burgers.”

Luke straightened. “Easy guy. I know how painful these things can be.”

“Er … sorry,” Ritter said. He stared at his beer. Shit. Maybe he should just get drunk. Yeah. That was the ticket. But no, last time he did that he made a complete ass of himself right here in SMOKEY’S. Belting out several renditions of Take Me Out to the Ball Game as he danced jigs around the barroom.

“Where is everybody?” Reuther said.

“You didn’t hear?” Luke said. “Place is closing.”

“What?” Ritter said.

“Damn you say?” Reuther said.

“That’s right. This is the last day. The finale. Didn’t you see the sign out front?”

Reuther and Ritter looked at each other. “No,” they said in unison.

“Someone buying the place?” Reuther said.

Luke turned up his palms. “Some retired college professor from back East, I heard.

“Shit no,” Ritter said.

“Yeah. In fact, the guy was just in here yesterday with his hot girlfriend poking around.”

“Freakin’ Ryerson,” Ritter shouted confirming his initial suspicions. “Can you believe it?”

“I do believe that’s the guy’s name,” Luke said.

“What are they going to do with the place?” Reuther said.

“Don’t know. Rumor has it they want to turn it into a brew pub. Take advantage of the weekend crowds that come here to fish and hunt and ski at that new place those rich dudes from Jackson Hole are building down the road.”

Luke stood on the other side of the bar staring past the two of them. “I’m moving back with my mother in Durango. Nothing here for me.”

“What about guiding?” Reuther said.

“They bought out the fly shop too,” Luke said, shaking his head. “I lose big time.”

“Jesus,” Reuther said.

“Your burgers should be about ready fellas.” Luke walked toward the kitchen.

“Candy around?” Ritter called out.

“She quit last week. Went back to her hometown in North Carolina.” Luke slowly turned and looked at Ritter. “Sorry fella. I know you always had a thing for her.”

“We both did,” Reuther said.

“Right,” Luke said. “Well … nothing stays the same.”

They both watched Luke disappear into the kitchen.

The books of Mike Reuther

23 May

Mike Reuther
Do you like fiction, humor, baseball, fishing? How about books on writing? Mike Reuther is a longtime newspaper journalist who has a special fondness for books and literature. Check out the link below and explore his world.

https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Reuther/e/B009M5GVUW

A story of fishing, baseball but mostly life

5 Jan

Here’s an excerpt from Mike Reuther’s book, Baseball Dreams, Fishing Magic.

To really understand this story, I guess you have to start at the end. For it was on a particular Labor Day Weekend, after we’d won our amateur adult baseball team tournament, that I first shared my story about Sir Jon. Up until then, I had never talked about Sir Jon, a kind of mythical figure from my days spent on trout streams, not even with my friend Hal, who’d been with me on one or two occasions when Sir Jon had showed up while we were fishing. Most people had never even heard of Sir Jon, and he remained an elusive kind of creature. It was as if he didn’t exist. It was Sir Jon, you might say, who made me finally realize what’s important, even if there were many other people who would play a big part in shaping me and my philosophy about life.

So there I was, Nick Grimes, still at the ball field long after most of my teammates had gone. I guess I was basking in my glory at the advanced baseball age of forty-five, the winning pitcher in the championship game. Somehow, my assortment of deceptive slow curves and changeups mixed in with an occasional fastball had baffled the opposing hitters. The only other person left was my young teammate, a kid named Leggett, who’d had a big day at the plate, going four for four with a couple of home runs. He’d been a high school star but had decided against going to college and playing ball. Some people said he was crazy for not pursuing baseball more seriously. He certainly had the tools for turning professional, and he was tall and lanky with a perfect kind of baseball body that the scouts loved. But I could tell he didn’t have the passion for the game. “I like hitting home runs,” he told me one day. “But the rest of the game … It pretty much bores me.”

What Leggett really enjoyed was trout fishing, and he never missed a chance to query me about my own experiences fishing and guiding anglers around central Pennsylvania. I was sitting in the small grandstands behind home plate when Leggett plopped down beside me on one of the weathered, wood planks.

“I don’t know if I’m going to play next year,” he said.

“Oh. Getting too old?” I looked at him and smiled.

“Ah … It’s just not that fun,” he said.

“Even on days like today … when you blasted a couple of home runs and led your team to victory?”

“It’s cool but …”

“But what?”

“It’s the same old shit. Tomorrow, I’ll go to work at the mall and put in my eight hours. Then back to work the next day and on and on it goes.”

“Yeah. I know how that is.”

“I’ve been out of high school two years now,” he said. “My girlfriend wants to move things along. Know what I mean?”

“You mean, get married?”

Leggett shrugged. “Sure. Have a kid, start a family. The whole deal. I won’t have time for this.”

“Okay.”

“There’s gotta be more to life. Ya know?” He looked at me and then down at the ground.

“Like fishing?”

Leggett grinned. “Now that I can relate to.”

“Sure. Fishing is great.”

“Nothing like it,” he said.

“So. Go fishing.”

“I do man. Every chance I get. But it doesn’t change anything.”

“No, I suppose it doesn’t.”

“Like I said, I’m still stuck in that job and probably headed to the same old life everyone else has.”

“I guess it comes down to finding your passion.”

Leggett looked at me and then out at the field. The sun was low now and the trees along the first base line, some of which were just beginning to show their fall colors, were throwing long shadows across the green grass of the infield.

“You probably think I’m nuts for not taking one of those baseball scholarships a couple of years ago.” Leggett’s eyes narrowed in on me from beneath his baseball cap.

“What can I say? It was your decision.”

“Maybe I should have gone to school,” he said.

“Yeah … maybe.”

Leggett threw up his hands. “Aw hell … sometimes I drive myself crazy. Sometimes I think I am crazy.”

“Like I said, follow your passion.”

“Yeah … well. What the hell is my passion? Just tell me Grimes. What is it?”

“That’s for you to find out.”

We both sat there for a few moments staring out at the field.

“Sir Jon,” I said.

“What?” Leggett asked.

“Sir Jon. He’s this crazy mountain man who lives by himself not too far from here. You could become another Sir Jon.”

“And why would I become another Sir Jon?”

“He’s doing what he wants. He’s probably the most incredible fly fisherman I’ve ever seen.”

“Sir Jon?” Leggett looked at me with both suspicion and interest as if I’d just told him the lottery ticket he’d bought that morning had turned up a winner.

“A legend. But more importantly, a student of life.”

I didn’t know if I had gotten through to Leggett, a talented ballplayer who didn’t really like the game of baseball all that much, a kid who had spurned college scholarship offers to play. Leggett was like so many other kids on the verge of manhood, a bit lost but not hopeless, wondering what the hell he was going to be doing with his life for the next fifty years.

My reference to Sir Jon seemed to resonate with him, however. A hermit who’d given up a career to go live in the mountains and spend a lot of his time trout fishing seemed to appeal to Leggett.

“Sounds like the dude is doing what he wants to do,” Leggett said. “That’s cool.”

“It is cool.” I said.

“Yeah,” Leggett said.

He turned to me then. “Thanks man.”

“For what?”

“For giving me something to think about.”
He picked up his baseball bag and stuck out his hand.

“It’s been real,” he said.

“See you next season?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I doubt it. I think I’m done with baseball.” He took one last look out at the field. It was close to dusk by now, and the strange night calls of birds could be heard.

“Maybe I’ll look up that Sir Jon dude,” he said.

“Good luck,” I said.

“Yeah man.” He gave me a thumbs-up and headed across the field for his car parked out behind the right field fence. I watched his figure grow smaller and smaller in the fading light as he made his way across the outfield grass. And then, the engine of his car started up, and he was gone.

Sir Jon is a big part of this story I’m telling as is Leggett, even if you won’t read a whole lot about them. Keep their names in mind as you read on. Of course, the story is also about me, Nick Grimes.

 

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.