Rooftop of Bliss … or Oblivion

Maybe eye bag surgery should get on the list of things to do when I retire. But then again, I’m starting not to care how ugly I am. I’m playing old man onshore here, watching my wife kayak at Lynx Lake. Pulling a happy face for a selfie. At least I learned how to take shapshots on my iPhone without them turning into video clips.

Down to three days a week at Walmart. Used to be four.

The time I don’t spent with my chin on my chest in my easy chair, streaming stuff on my 55-inch Samsung, I spend on various forms of physical activity.

I work in the high desert rock-scape I call my yard: weed whacking, adjusting drip irrigation heads, carting off bush clippings.

I work out three times a week at Fitness for 10. Yesterday was chest and triceps; tomorrow, back and biceps; Saturday, legs and shoulders. I might blog about being a gym rat. I could brandish photos of my aging musculature, but Barb says nobody wants to see them. I’ll take her word for it.

I bicycle, kayak, and hike, activities that may include my wife, serving the added purpose of solidifying our marriage. Nothing worse than to hear, “I feel like I’ve got a roommate not a husband.” Each of us with our own TV shows. Me holed up with a book, her twittering to her friends on the phone. In opposite corners of a boxing ring, touching gloves only long enough for her to tell me I’m friendless and maritally unavailing.

So I’m exercising with her, trying to include Barb in the movie of my life. We’re working on increasing our intimacy. Better leave it at that. It’s happy work.

October 24 will be my 68th birthday. Then Walmart will see the last of me. Unless I’m there buying steaks and cheap jeans.

And what will I do?

All this physical activity is great, but I’d always prided myself on my intellectual gift. What about that?

I’ve got bad memories around this.

When I was a teacher, some students valued me and took seriously my stance as a teacher exposing them to stories and writing opportunities that enriched their appreciation. I cherish those memories of being useful.

But I wasn’t always respected. I held students hostage to my prolixity, forgetting they were castoffs from other schools, uninterested in me and my word stream.

Nearing the end of one semester, getting close to graduation, one punk gave it to me with both barrels.

“I used to come over here and all I wanted was a yes or no answer to something, and you’d keep talking for fifteen minutes about some bullshit I didn’t care about.” The boy was seething, standing over me, knuckles on my desk, teeth gritted as I sat there blanched and helpless. That hurt.

But it taught me something. I’ve come to believe the very definition of a bore is one who likes the sound of his own voice. I limit my shares at AA meetings. If, upon my death, I am remembered as terse, good.

Maybe it’s best I remain a muzzled novelist, though three books I’ve written are credible products.

Got a dirt bike and am training on flat rides. You take Peavine Trail far enough out, make that slant left at mile three. Round about mile four you see cattle off to the side. They’re no dummies. Most of them chill in the shade of trees. Lesson there about being happily retired!

None has proved publishable commercially. A computer consultant who comes over now and then to lead me out of the various labyrinths of my technological befuddlement is in the business of helping people self-publish. She encouraged me to get my novels out there by my own self.

“I could just see you reading in public.”

Was she telling me I was charismatic? Or that I was a big ham who can’t keep his mouth shut, so why not create a venue?

But that’s the problem. What kind of venue?

And who’d be there?

Facebook friends who receive the teasers regarding my latest blog post might be there. Many of them are local friends. They’d be there because they felt obligated.

I can just imagine the kitchen table dialogues.

“Why in the fuck do I have to go to Bob Gitlin’s reading? He’s a longwinded bore with his head stuck up his own ass. Bad enough to read about his fucked-up life in his Facebook posts – I never click on the stupid blog — it’d be torture to have to hear him read from a whole fucking book about his boring life and what he learned from it.”

What’s the use? The books are like the blogs. About me, even veiled as “made up.”

The first one, called Last Winter in Cleveland, though its maiden name was Crackup, is a sick sadomasochistic thriller about a drug-dealing partnership between a white guy and a black guy in Cleveland. It got as far as getting a New York agent and being read by a famous guy at Simon & Schuster, but no go.

The second, I dubbed At Risk, though perhaps a friend’s suggestion of The Flaming Cactus would have been better. I self-published it under the pseudonym R.G. Philips after a bigshot at Farrar Straus & Giroux passed. It chronicles a guy’s miserable first year as a teacher in a strange new region of the country, an ordeal complicated by the fact he’s trying to stay sober. I could remarket this novel under my own name now that I’m not teaching and the salacious sex details are nothing to worry about.

The third, new novel, Working the Freezer in Paradise, is a pastiche of linked vignettes, mostly flashbacks, chronologically sprawling but thematically unified, bookended by an old man who took a retirement job at Walmart and finds himself in the absurd position of being professionally happy for the first time in his life.

I can’t think of an elevator pitch for any of these gnarled creatures.

But I could put them all out there to have something to do when I retire.

What do I have to lose? I am word struck, in love with my examinations of life through fiction.

Instead of being suffocated in my musty office, I need a rooftop from which to scream.

And if that doesn’t work, I could always do a one and a half gainer off that roof into a manhole cover.

Just kidding. I like life too much. I always want to see what happens next. Win or lose.