Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

(I sent this letter to the Winchester Star as an Open Forum submission. It’s a tongue-in-cheek response to an article by political columnist George Will. It was never published. I sent it last October so it’s safe to assume that the Star won’t be running it. It is, after all, way over the word limit. I’m able to re-publish things I’ve written in the Star as long as I credit that newspaper so I’m crediting the Star in advance should they take a sudden notion to run it. Such would be typical of the bizarre irony that seems to follow me around.)

Dear Editor,

Tuesday, Oct. 6, saw the 89th anniversary of the first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson. Jolson and I have something in common; I’m of Lithuanian descent while Jolson was born in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Alabammy, my foot!) George Wills’ column “Crisis; Men Choosing not to Work” (Oct 7) brought to mind an old Jolson song; “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum Again.” Calling it a “quiet catastrophe’’ Will goes on to cite statistic-laden information spewed by one Nicholas Eberstadt in a new monograph, “Men Without Work; America’s Invisible Crisis.”

It may come as some surprise to those who have hired me over the years as an employee or knew me later as an independent logger, produce trucker and farm tractor repairman, that my life’s work has really been the pursuit of living without work.

At an early age, my father taught me the meaning of work, operating the 19th-Century manual punch presses in his precision metal tubing factory. I decided then and there that I didn’t like it and instead followed my maternal grandfather’s example.

On a whim, he would pack a tent and other necessities, pick up whichever rifle or shotgun he chose and disappear into the rugged Kentucky hills for weeks on end. Likewise, forsaking the presses, I took along my fishing pole into the wilderness between New Jersey’s Millstone River and Delaware/Raritan Canal.

I would emerge now and then only long enough to bale some hay or do odd auto repair jobs in order to keep the beer and wine flowing while I sorted out my career path. It didn’t take long — that life suited me just fine.

So began a career of camping and traveling the country in a $10 (yes, ten) 1956 Chevrolet panel truck while doing occasional odd jobs to supplement. Eventually, my travels would lead me off the grid to the handmade log cabin of a young woman pursuing a similar course.

The family that would ensue caused me to put my career on hold for the time being, which resulted in my undeserved, decidedly mythical and downright bogus reputation for being hard-working and resourceful. Last summer, while repairing a tractor in 100-degee heat, I experienced a particularly scary heat-related episode. This caused me to pull my nose away from the grindstone long enough to look around and realize that, with the kids grown up and gone and the mortgage now ancient history, it’s over — I’m a bum again! I would rather write funny stories, restore old tractors and invent a new apple.

(Fortunately, though I don’t have a job, I do have a few hobbies that pay. A wife with a job that carries full medical benefits helps, too.) In fact, I stay quite busy not working. We have an erosion control project on our riverfront acreage so I spent the remainder of last summer in the cool, clear North River with a vodka tonic in easy reach in the early evenings.

Mr. Eberstadt asserts that “sturdy men” that are neither working nor looking for work choose to “sit on the economic sidelines, living off the toil and bounty of others.’’ I’m what the article calls a “non-participant” in the economy whenever my labor benefits me directly or is directed to whom I choose through charity and volounter service.

However, Mr. Eberstadt implies that it would be more noble to sell one’s labor and resourcefulness than try to buy it back. Men in my position are just too busy to have a job, but are not “utilized” to Herr Eberstadt’s expectations. (Just how “new” is this treatise, anyway? It has a sinister late 1930s ring to it.)

Such “non-participation” might include cutting one’s own firewood or repairing the family car or truck. I honestly don’t see how I’m taking advantage of the bounty of others with the possible exception of the local deer herd, but I don’t hear them complaining. (As the herd and I conduct our usual business, my ears are left ringing from the ol’45/70 so it’s a wonder that I can hear anything.)

As I’ve alluded to, and history will certainly attest, our grandparents and earlier generations did some really important stuff. The “age-old male quest for a paying job” is really a relatively modern phenomenon spawned by the recently demised postwar economic feeding frenzy.

Where would we be if Columbus wound up delivering pizzas or if Edison worked in a record shop? No, in times long past, an identity was as important as a job;

“Where do you work?”

“I’m Mozart.”

“Oh cool! Pardon me, sir!”

I wonder where Mr. Eberstadt found the time to chase down all of these statistics. I might leave him with the same thought that I apply to those who constantly lament over our changing economy; If you’re not too busy to complain, then likely you re part of the problem.

One such statistic in Eberstadt’s living-in-the-box manifesto says that men in my position watch an average of 5.5 hours of television a day. Please allow me to pull that average down a bit — I’ve never owned a television. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a good movie now and then.

Actually, this might be a good time to reflect upon the sentiments of one Alfred P. Dolittle from “My Fair Lady;” “The Lord above gave man an arm of iron so he could do his job and never shirk — but — with a little bit o’ luck — someone else will do the bloomin’ work!”

I had better close here. Writing this letter is beginning to feel a little too much like — well — work.

First published March 22, 2017 o‘Hallelujah, I’m a bum again’

 (I sent this letter to the Winchester Star as an Open Forum submission. It’s a tongue-in-cheek response to an article by political columnist George Will. It was never published. I sent it last October so it’s safe to assume that the Star won’t be running it. It is, after all, way over the word limit. I’m able to re-publish things I’ve written in the Star as long as I credit that newspaper so I’m crediting the Star in advance should they take a sudden notion to run it. Such would be typical of the bizarre irony that seems to follow me around.)

Dear Editor,

Tuesday, Oct. 6, saw the 89th anniversary of the first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson. Jolson and I have something in common; I’m of Lithuanian descent while Jolson was born in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Alabammy, my foot!) George Wills’ column “Crisis; Men Choosing not to Work” (Oct 7) brought to mind an old Jolson song; “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum Again.” Calling it a “quiet catastrophe’’ Will goes on to cite statistic-laden information spewed by one Nicholas Eberstadt in a new monograph, “Men Without Work; America’s Invisible Crisis.”

It may come as some surprise to those who have hired me over the years as an employee or knew me later as an independent logger, produce trucker and farm tractor repairman, that my life’s work has really been the pursuit of living without work.

At an early age, my father taught me the meaning of work, operating the 19th-Century manual punch presses in his precision metal tubing factory. I decided then and there that I didn’t like it and instead followed my maternal grandfather’s example.

On a whim, he would pack a tent and other necessities, pick up whichever rifle or shotgun he chose and disappear into the rugged Kentucky hills for weeks on end. Likewise, forsaking the presses, I took along my fishing pole into the wilderness between New Jersey’s Millstone River and Delaware/Raritan Canal.

I would emerge now and then only long enough to bale some hay or do odd auto repair jobs in order to keep the beer and wine flowing while I sorted out my career path. It didn’t take long — that life suited me just fine.

So began a career of camping and traveling the country in a $10 (yes, ten) 1956 Chevrolet panel truck while doing occasional odd jobs to supplement. Eventually, my travels would lead me off the grid to the handmade log cabin of a young woman pursuing a similar course.

The family that would ensue caused me to put my career on hold for the time being, which resulted in my undeserved, decidedly mythical and downright bogus reputation for being hard-working and resourceful. Last summer, while repairing a tractor in 100-degee heat, I experienced a particularly scary heat-related episode. This caused me to pull my nose away from the grindstone long enough to look around and realize that, with the kids grown up and gone and the mortgage now ancient history, it’s over — I’m a bum again! I would rather write funny stories, restore old tractors and invent a new apple.

(Fortunately, though I don’t have a job, I do have a few hobbies that pay. A wife with a job that carries full medical benefits helps, too.) In fact, I stay quite busy not working. We have an erosion control project on our riverfront acreage so I spent the remainder of last summer in the cool, clear North River with a vodka tonic in easy reach in the early evenings.

Mr. Eberstadt asserts that “sturdy men” that are neither working nor looking for work choose to “sit on the economic sidelines, living off the toil and bounty of others.’’ I’m what the article calls a “non-participant” in the economy whenever my labor benefits me directly or is directed to whom I choose through charity and volounter service.

However, Mr. Eberstadt implies that it would be more noble to sell one’s labor and resourcefulness than try to buy it back. Men in my position are just too busy to have a job, but are not “utilized” to Herr Eberstadt’s expectations. (Just how “new” is this treatise, anyway? It has a sinister late 1930s ring to it.)

Such “non-participation” might include cutting one’s own firewood or repairing the family car or truck. I honestly don’t see how I’m taking advantage of the bounty of others with the possible exception of the local deer herd, but I don’t hear them complaining. (As the herd and I conduct our usual business, my ears are left ringing from the ol’45/70 so it’s a wonder that I can hear anything.)

As I’ve alluded to, and history will certainly attest, our grandparents and earlier generations did some really important stuff. The “age-old male quest for a paying job” is really a relatively modern phenomenon spawned by the recently demised postwar economic feeding frenzy.

Where would we be if Columbus wound up delivering pizzas or if Edison worked in a record shop? No, in times long past, an identity was as important as a job;

“Where do you work?”

“I’m Mozart.”

“Oh cool! Pardon me, sir!”

I wonder where Mr. Eberstadt found the time to chase down all of these statistics. I might leave him with the same thought that I apply to those who constantly lament over our changing economy; If you’re not too busy to complain, then likely you re part of the problem.

One such statistic in Eberstadt’s living-in-the-box manifesto says that men in my position watch an average of 5.5 hours of television a day. Please allow me to pull that average down a bit — I’ve never owned a television. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a good movie now and then.

Actually, this might be a good time to reflect upon the sentiments of one Alfred P. Dolittle from “My Fair Lady;” “The Lord above gave man an arm of iron so he could do his job and never shirk — but — with a little bit o’ luck — someone else will do the bloomin’ work!”

I had better close here. Writing this letter is beginning to feel a little too much like — well — work.

First published March 22, 2017

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