Tag Archives: writing

Exley’s legacy – and ours

16 Nov

Last month, while in the grip of COVID and with little else to occupy me, I picked up my dog-eared copy of Frederick Exley’s classic novel, A Fan’s Notes and began happily re-reading it. For those who’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the book, it’s perhaps the classic story of young manhood, of a life lived not so much gracefully as …. well … undignified.

Occasionally, one comes across a book like Exley’s – a tale that hits those familiar notes of one’s own feelings and yearnings and even experiences. And so, I decided to lose myself once again in Exley’s lyrical prose, detailing “that long malaise, my life,” of alcoholism, madness, and the American Dream gone awry.

This was Exley’s life, related to the reader in tones of dark humor, a man who hungered for fame, but felt he was doomed to a life of anonymity, a mere spectator, cheering the accomplishments of others.

Venture up to Exley’s hometown of Watertown, N.Y., where much of this novel takes place, and you can find his simple grave marker bearing the words: IT WAS MY FATE, MY DESTINY, MY END, TO BE A FAN.                  

Exley was born in this remote upstate New York burg in 1929, the son of Earl and Charlotte Exley, the former a fine athlete and larger-than-life figure, at least among the brethren of his hometown. That Exley would grow up in the shadow of his father is among the central themes of A Fan’s Notes.

We are introduced to Exley drinking beer on a Sunday afternoon in a barroom before a television set awaiting the start of a National Football League contest featuring his beloved New York Giants. Exley is a fan, of the team and its star player, Frank Gifford. It’s here where Exley’s perceived near-death experience sets the stage for the rest of the book.

For Exley, Gifford represents the fame he’ll never know. That he has formed an attachment to Gifford, the campus hero with whom he had a brief, tense encounter at USC, the college they both attended in the early 1950s, is part of the story. Gifford serves as Exley’s kind of alter ego, his funnel to glory and worlds he can only hope of achieving.

For Exley’s life is one long roadmap of failed jobs, bad relationships and marriages, stints in mental institutions. His days otherwise filled with drinking and watching football as he copes with his own unrealized dreams of literary fame. Remarkably, for all his failures and giant missteps, his jaded outlook on life, Exley demonstrates incredible insight, and at times even sensitivity, of the human condition, through his writing.

Like many memoirs, the reader can see Exley as a figure who wanted something more. But unlike these other stories of triumph over great hurdles, Exley’s is one of one ignominious defeat after another.

What did I long for? At twenty-three, I of course longed for fame. Not only did I long for it, I suffered the singular notion that it was an heirloom passed on from my father.     

He recalls his younger days in New York, hopeful times when he sat in barrooms, dreaming his dreams, a man apart from others, awaiting the fair maiden who never arrives. In Chicago, his life takes a turn for the better, when he lands a plumb job doing public relations work, traveling the country by rail. Evenings are spent hanging with other striving young men of the city, drinking, plying their male charms with the many available women.

It’s in this middle portion of the book where he meets a young woman, a dream girl, who represents everything he thinks he wants or should want. But Bunnie Sue is a mirage, a dream gone awry, an allegory of the bourgeoise existence he realizes he can never achieve or want. The scene of Bunnie Sue’s father proudly showing off his remote-control garage door opener to Exley and repeatedly opening and closing the door is a hilarious and unmistakable jab at middle class, suburban life.

Back in the book’s first chapter, an older Exley at the cusp of middle age, anxiously awaits the start of the football game and experiences what he fears might be a heart attack. Taken to a nearby hospital and afraid of dying, a chiding nurse assures him he is having not a heart attack, but a bad physical reaction to a long weekend of heroic drinking sans food. Here, an attending physician asks of Exley if he’s Earl Exley’s father, a man the doctor recalls as a good man “and tough too.”

It was the latter that got to me, said as it was in such a way as to indicate that my father’s son might not be so tough.

There are numerous references to his father, including a likely fictional episode in which Exley accompanies him on a trip to New York to track down Giants head coach Steve Owen to set up an exhibition between his dad’s semi-pro Watertown team and the Giants. Exley, though a child, can see that the proposed game is preposterous, though he of course doesn’t utter such words to his father.

I do remember that Owen, too, thought the idea of such a contest ridiculous. Worse than that, my father had already been told as much by mail, and I think that his having made the trip in the face of such a refusal struck Owen as rather nervy, accounting for the uneasiness of the meeting. On Owen’s leaving I did not dare look at my father. It wasn’t so much that I lived in fear of him as that I had never before seen any man put him down, and I was not prepared to test his reaction to a humiliation which I had unwittingly caused.

The book is sprinkled with eccentric and interesting characters who serve no other purpose, I suppose, than to make his life bearable. Among them is Exley’s friend, The Counselor, who like Exley, has not wholly embraced the American Dream. The counselor, a brilliant lawyer, who is eventually disbarred, opens his home to a parade of outcasts and oddballs. It’s here where Exley spends his days on The Counselor’s couch, reading, drinking, and getting to know some of these visitors, among them Mr. Blue, a slippery door-to-door aluminum siding salesman, with an obsession for cunnilingus and with whom Exley accompanies on his sales calls.

Early in the story, Exley makes solo trips to the Polo Grounds when Gifford is a young player in the full flower of gridiron talent and reaping the sort of fame in the great city of New York of which Exley can only imagine. Years later, with Gifford an aging player, Exley makes a final trip to Yankee Stadium, where the Giants now call home, and witnesses the famous Bednarik hit, the vicious tackle that knocks out Gifford – a cruel, sad reminder of his own mortality. (You can find it on YouTube.)

A Fan’s Notes is perhaps not for everyone, notably women readers. Much of the focus is certainly on football and male escapades of drinking and sex from a world of more than a generation ago – the 1950s and 1960s – when women were mostly excluded from the front ranks of society. Indeed, it wouldn’t be unfair for a reader to conclude that Exley was perhaps a misogynist. Or does he portray himself as such to remind us his utter failings as a human being?

Still, it’s a book that gripped me from the time I first read it at age twenty-two and perhaps unavoidably, a story of which I strongly identified, and continue to identify, even if I didn’t experience all the misadventures and dark episodes of Exley’s life.

What is interesting to note is that the very fame Exley desired, and which he never thought he would achieve or perhaps deserved, did come to him with A Fan’s Notes, a critically acclaimed, award-winning story that remains a cult classic.

That it never became the best seller of more widely known and lesser works of literature is perhaps the cruelest joke of all. But if the joke is on Exley, he probably expected it, maybe even embraced it.

He would complete just two more books in his life to wrap up the trilogy he had set out to write, neither of which approached the richness, the full storytelling of his first effort. To say that Exley was mostly an unwriting writer, a one-book wonder, is probably on the mark.  But my, what a wonder that one book is.

Mike Reuther is a freelance writer and the author of numerous works including Baseball Dreams, Fishing Magic, The Baseball Losers, and Write the Darn Book. He makes his home in central Pa. His author website is https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Reuther/e/B009M5GVUW

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Mike Reuther books

28 Feb

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Welcome to my site.

I am the author of some 20 books of fiction and non-fiction, including novels with baseball and fishing themes and what people might call “navel-gazing, philosophical, what’s the meaning of life?” stories.

I also have books on writing that, I hope, target that vast crowd of beginning and struggling writers out there.

I have worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 30 years, with time out now and then to pursue freelance writing and a few sales jobs that didn’t come to much. Hey, what’s life without a little variety … right?

What I am is a writer and an author, getting my voice out there to be heard by people like you who stumbled onto my page.

Check out my books. Or … if you must … click off this site and look for something else that tickles your fancy.

Here’s the link to my books.

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Mike+Reuther&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

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

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.

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.”

Colorado blues

29 Aug

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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

FREE book – Jan. 17

17 Jan

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.