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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

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Return to lately 2016.

like they're colors
april 1, 2016

Q: So what have you been up to lately?

A: I was at my dentist the other day, and of course he got into small talk with me, they always do, I think that's a smart approach for anyone in a white jacket who's going to cause you some degree of pain, it puts a visit in context, we're going to talk briefly about the weather then he's going to stick a long needle in you while he marvels aloud, looking out the window, at how rainy it's been, and the thing is, he'll usually follow up with, What have you been up to lately, and I really have no answer. In a way, it's like talking to your father long distance on the phone. How's it going? You're not really going to say how it's going, because you don't want to share what's actually going on in your life with your father, and your father doesn't really want to know. He's got his own problems. The phone call is basically an excuse to hear your grown-up voice for a while. I remember one time I got a call from our next door neighbor and he asked, over the course of our conversation, What have you been up to? And because I had at that time just undergone a procedure I had dreaded doing, and was so relieved it was over, I said, I just had a colonoscopy! And boy, did that shut him down. I mean, he did not want to know anything at all related to what's inside my pants, and you know what? I don't blame him.

So anyway, when my dentist asked me what I had been up to lately, I wasn't really sure how to respond. Because I hadn't been "up to" much of anything. Mary and I have rich, private lives together, but there aren't specific events we want to share with the world. It's not like I gave a speech, got a raise, or moved into a corner office. I perfected frying eggs sunny-side down, I discovered an appreciation for smoked gouda, especially when used in a béchamel with Brussel sprouts, I steamed a section of white carpet by the desk in my upstairs study that had gotten gray with drifting cigarette ash. But you can't use any of that as an answer. It just sounds too bizarre. The person you're telling something like that to is not going to know how to respond.

So instead I said, Just enjoying retirement.

As it turned out, his parents had recently retired. So he asked me, What was the biggest change you noticed in your life since retiring. And he was sincere.

So I answered him sincerely. The biggest change is that now that you don't have twenty things you're committed to doing that day, now that you're home all the time, in the enjoyable silence of your rooms, every little task you do have seems like a big burden.

Back when I was working, I'd get a cavity filled early in the morning, drive from there to the airport and fly down to Houston to negotiate a contract, fly back up to Dallas to oversee a meeting with Department of Labor auditors, give a deposition in a legal case we had pending, come home and mow the lawn, and think nothing of it. A typical day. Nothing to it.

But once you're retired, you get used to staying home, you love staying home, and even driving into town once a week to pick up a prescription refill is a big, fucking, major deal, like D-day on Normandy beach. It's all relative.

I could tell by his face that my answer had surprised him. But also, by his expression, that it kind of made sense to him.

Q: How are the cats doing?

A: To the degree they share with us, they appear to be doing fine. We see them mostly around the time they're scheduled to be fed. Other than that, not so much. They're too busy cleaning their crotches, watching The Mouse Channel.

Q: Your writing?

A: It's an enjoyment that has stayed with me since childhood. Back when I wrote using the old-fashioned method of pen on paper, developing a huge lump on the left side of the upper joint of my right middle finger, because I stupidly never learned how to hold a pen properly. I blame the nuns at my Catholic grammar school. They should have smacked me across my narrow back with their yellow yardsticks whenever I positioned my pen the wrong way. I love putting a scene together. How it can start at one place, but end up at a completely different, unexpected place. That's one of the great pleasures in life, shifting words around, like they're colors.

Q: Food?

A: When Mary and I first got together, we loved preparing elaborate meals, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, or the start of a vacation. A few months after we moved in together we quit our jobs in Santa Barbara and drove up the coast to San Francisco, where we wound up in a really great apartment located over a garage. (That apartment has so many memories for us.) The San Francisco Chronicle published a recipe for Double Garlic Something or Other, a really involved recipe that included an extraordinarily long list of ingredients, a lot of which you wouldn't normally think of as going with each other, probably about fifteen separate tasks that had to be accomplished along the way to finishing the dish. It took two days to complete. We bought all the ingredients Thursday in a brightly-lit supermarket, started the preparations Friday as soon as we got home from work, listening to Talking Heads, Bowie, and Devo albums on our record player (since we were the only apartment above the garage, we could play our music as loud as we wanted, as late into the night as we wanted.) Saturday evening we had everything done, put it all together, carried our plates to our bed (we eat all our meals in bed), raised our eyebrows to each other, lifted our forks.

And the dish had absolutely no taste to it whatsoever. For all the strong-flavored ingredients, it was utterly bland. Every ingredient apparently cancelled out every other ingredient. But it gave us a good laugh. I think we wound up eating grilled cheese sandwiches on our sheets while Bowie sang about teenage wild life.

As for now?

Mary and I love eating meat, but more and more, we drift towards fresh produce. Especially for our evening meals. A roasted acorn squash, green beans simmered with onions and bacon, a steamed wedge of cabbage with butter poured over it, an artichoke served with a simple room temperature sauce. Or sandwiches. Because they're so easy to prepare. Doctors let you down, neighbors let you down, even customer service technicians let you down, but sliced ham never lets you down. It's always there, patiently waiting while you select a bread, a condiment, for that evening's meal.

That apartment in California over the garage? When we went back years later to look at it, after living in Maine for five years, and on our way to resettling here, in Texas, we discovered it and its neighboring homes had been razed, replaced by a high rise office building. But it still exists, in our memories.

Q: Health?

A: I can feel arthritis starting to swell my joints. Like an overnight guest who spends way too much morning time in the one bathroom. Both my parents suffered from it, so no surprise. Beyond that, there are several medical procedures I need to have done, none of which I'm looking forward to, but the tip of my right index finger will eventually find its whorls tapping against the pads of our phone, musically entering those doctors' numbers as if in celebration.

Q: What makes you happiest these days?

A: As is always the case, getting to share my life with Mary. That's really what's best in life--sharing it with someone you love, who loves you. A joke is funnier if someone to your left is also laughing, food tastes better if there's an echoing "Mmmmm!", walking anywhere is a walk worth more if when you reach your hand sideways, another hand grasps it.