The weird old man down by the lake

img_3911First snow on the mountains, and they all look like postage stamps with the clouds, matted in lavender-blue. There’s a purple piece of foam I found on the trail someone dropped, for sitting on, and I take it with me to the lake now, with the dog. With contract work and flexible hours, I can work an hour or two first thing in the morning, in my bath robe—go in a couple hours to the office, come home, change, take advantage of the sun breaks to walk the dog.

And it seems unnatural to work a brick and mortar 40-hour workweek now. I think of my old colleagues, the fact they’re expected to be there all day and then available off-hours too. It’s one of those unstated expectations, the kind you can never satisfy. It’s like the empty closet concept, a 40-hour workweek in the office: you find ways to fill it even if you don’t need all that space, all that time. You fill it with meetings: meetings that confuse activity with real progress, all the vague conversations that make up consensus, the politicking and positioning, the pre-meetings and postmortems.

When I worked at a theater out of college in downtown Allentown, I’d sometimes meet my mom for lunch at her work cafeteria, the local newspaper. I could walk there and back to my apartment, though it wasn’t a good area for walking. And her then boss is a friend of mine now, a wonderful poet and editor named Rick, and there was no email or Outlook: in fact, they made the leather-bound Daytimer planners in my hometown—and when I quit that job at the theater I became a temp packing boxes of planners onto containers that went onto planes and got shipped all over: weekly, monthly, annual calendar views.

I could earn more temping, inspecting ball bearings for rust defects, wheeling around dot matrix printouts on Rubbermaid carts—or loading boxes from a conveyor belt onto a pie-shaped aluminum container. And the two guys I worked with, UPS employees, were a Laurel and Hardy sort named Frank and Lou, and the first time I went to a strip club it was with those two, and one of the dancers was a girl I knew from the 5th grade though I pretended not to know, I wrote about her when we were in the UK, I changed her name: it was Thanksgiving time in school, we were doing something to celebrate the harvest and learning how to square dance, it was the first time I held my hands on a girl’s hips like that, and she took off her glasses and looked at me in a way I’ll never forget.

Now I sit down at the lake with my smartphone and my dog, my trousers, writing in a pocket notepad like I always have, still a reporter at heart covering the local news, trying to hit my deadlines and spell the names right.

At night it’s the pitter patter of the rain again like the crackle of wet campfire, it makes its own music. The dog and cat curl into themselves, bed down, the dark’s own conclusion. Outside the frog’s song’s the same as the sound of a metal nutcracker bearing down on a shell like a vice, right before it catches and cracks.

Categories: musings, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. I like that little crawfish or whatever that is in the photo. I bet if you could interview him, he’d have some stories to tell. Your current schedule sounds pretty ideal. I know you’re right about finding ways to fill the time in the arbitrary 40 hour work week. We’d all be a little happier with some time for personal pursuits, but more people are working from home or finding flexible schedules (my employer does a 35 hour work week and I don’t take any home, which is something). I liked reading about the temp job and dancer girl…always interesting and lovely the way you describe things.


    • The crawfish is the invasive variety that’s come into our local lake and it’s kicking all the other crawfish ass. You’re supposed to collect them in Ziploc freezer bags and freeze them or something. Sounds like a delicacy right? I had a hard time finding a photo to match the story, so there you go. Happy you like the descriptions Kristen, thanks for being such a loyal reader. I’m going for like 20+ days in a row of posting and I really appreciate the people who keep reading and commenting, and taking the time out. Yes, the schedule is ideal so I’m celebrating it for as long as it lasts…!


  2. “You fill it with meetings: meetings that confuse activity with real progress, all the vague conversations that make up consensus, the politicking and positioning, the pre-meetings and postmortems.” How true, Bill. I wonder why the work world refuses to recognize this aspect of the workplace? It seems like your new gig gives you the freedom to get things done and still be human. That’s a good thing ’cause it lets you write sentences like this one: “Outside the frog’s song’s the same as the sound of a metal nutcracker bearing down on a shell like a vice, right before it catches and cracks.” I hope it took you 20 minutes to create that because it is so good I’m envious.


    • I’m lucky I’m able to do the contracting thing but the health care hit really blows. $1200/month for basically catastrophic. It seems our workforce is on the seam between the old way of thinking, the 8-5, and the fact people check in and work more than that now, with mobile phones — and don’t really need to be in the office so long. You can get as much done if not more remote. Happy you like some of those phrases, I stew on stuff and then pull it out when I can. Thanks Jon for reading and I wish you and the family a happy weekend. Bill


  3. That’s one of the things I remember from work days; if you work with your mind rather than your hands, even after you leave the office, even if you telecommute, the mind doesn’t necessarily stop working on the problems when you step away from the desk.

    And that’s one talented frog.


    • I had the observation recently it’s not the fact you think about work when you’re not at work, it’s how you feel about work. I enjoy mine now, and I’m trying to ride that wave of enthusiasm as long as I can. I read a post by the great Seth Godin today about batteries, about needing someone on the project team who serves as the energy to keep things going, sustained — that’s a good image. Good to keep that fire going as long as you can. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m jockeying to create a role with greater responsibility for myself. The only thing holding me back is the greater responsibility.
    Actually it’s the fear of more meetings, but the first sentence if funnier.


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