Sunday, August 9, 2009

Act III in Life

This fleeting existence called life is basically a three-act play – introduction, conflict, resolution.

For me, Act III starts on August 10, 2009 – my 65th birthday. I will spend the afternoon listening to all the great music from my past, gracefully graduating from cougar bait to old fart. On August 11, I will be recovering from a massive hangover.

ACT I – Introduction (childhood)

ARKANSAS (1944-45): My father was conscripted into the U.S. Army during World War II. He became an officer and a flight instructor. My mother was part bobcat. I was born on August 10, 1944, on an Army Air Force base in Blytheville and entered this world with much reluctance. I will probably exit this world the same way.

OHIO (1945-46): I had my first birthday in Columbus. I took long naps and burped a lot. I still do.

WISCONSIN (1946-54): After my father was discharged from the service, we moved back to my parent’s hometown of Stevens Point, a college town with its own brewery and one tavern for every nine residents. My father returned to his civilian job as a transmission supervisor at AT&T. In grade school, I learned how to read, write and hustle marbles at recess.

KANSAS (1954-56): My father got a promotion when I was in the middle of fourth grade and we moved to the Kansas City suburbs. Lots of highs and lows. I returned a punt for the game-winning touchdown and someone stole my bike. Everything was flat, including most of the women.

MINNESOTA (1956-64): My father got a promotion after I finished fifth grade and we moved to the Minneapolis suburbs. I went through high school, and two years of college at the University of Minnesota as a math major. Plenty of highs and lows along the way.

FLORIDA (1964-65): I went to college in Miami for a year, majoring in computer science, a new field of technology opening up. I took every computer course they offered during both semesters and all of summer school. Every other waking hour, I would hang out in an Italian pool hall. If you want to learn everything about life, hang out in an Italian pool hall.

ACT II – Conflict (adulthood)

MINNESOTA (1965-66): I arrived back home in Minneapolis on August 10, 1965 -- my 21st birthday. The following morning, I had a massive hangover. I soon found a job as a computer programmer in St. Paul. In April of 1966, I was drafted into the U.S. Army. There was some sort of skirmish taking place in a far-away land called Vietnam and my country needed me to help bring it to a conclusion.

MISSOURI (1966): Basic training in Ft. Leonard Wood. I’m now an employee of the U.S. Army, learning how to do squat thrusts and clean toilets. I’m not a happy camper.

GEORGIA (1966-68): I spent the remainder of my two-year military obligation in the Third Army Data Processing Company at Third Army Headquarters at Ft. McPherson in Atlanta. I was given a Top Secret clearance, issued a desk and two blue pencils, and worked for a civilian employee during night shift, coding documents for computer processing. I shared an apartment off-post with three other draftees – John Ballas from New York City, John Valentino from Chicago and Frank Bernardi from Cleveland. Ballas was a life guard at the post swimming pool, Valentino ran the post gymnasium and Bernardi worked at the post library for a civilian employee. I'm not sure exactly how helpful we were in bringing the Vietnam Conflict to an end, but we had a fairly good time doing it.

MINNESOTA (1968-75): Returned home after my discharge and kissed the ground. Went back to my old job in St. Paul for a few months, then returned to college at the University of Minnesota to get my B.S. in Business and M.S. in Management Information Systems. Got a job in the suburbs as a computer programmer/analyst. Later, I got a better job as a Senior Programmer & Project Leader in downtown Minneapolis. When I hit age 30, I decided I had enough of the cold Minnesota winters.

CALIFORNIA (1975-86): I landed a job as senior systems analyst for a large computer installation, but hated it, so I soon landed another job as a programmer for a small computer software company, which eventually led to becoming Vice President & General Manager. Later, I became an independent contractor (hot-shot programmer for hire). I lived in many different places around Los Angeles, including (in order) a hillside rental house on stilts in the Hollywood Hills (Harrison Ford was one of my actor neighbors), my own house with pool in N. Hollywood, got married, 8 months on a yacht parked in the Pacific Ocean, our own condo in Sherman Oaks, a rental chalet in Topanga, our own house near Toluca Lake, got divorced, garage apartment in Hollywood Hills near Mulholland Drive, a rental house in Topanga, a rental mountaintop cabin above Malibu. I also studied screenwriting under various big-time professionals during this period and wrote 3 screenplays. If you go to L.A. to be discovered, you will soon discover you want to go elsewhere. On my 42nd birthday, I decided I had enough of the Rat Race and headed into the desert wilderness.

ARIZONA (1986-87): I spent 8 months in a 4X4 camper with a dog named Shadow, roaming the California gold country, the Nevada silver mining areas and mostly the desert region of central Arizona. I had lots of gold prospecting equipment with me. I needed to get out in the middle of nowhere, and stare at a campfire. I eventually found a piece of property (6 acres of cactus & nice small home) about 60 miles north of Phoenix and made an offer on the place. While the property was in negotiation and in escrow, I went back to California.

CALIFORNIA (1987): I spent about 5 months in my ex-wife's house in Laguna Niguel, watching the place for her while she was in Boston on business. I did a computer contract in Torrance during this period, making a nice chunk of money to help with my new Arizona property. After much hassle, the Arizona property finally closed and I escaped the land of fruits and nuts once again.

ARIZONA (1987-92): Lived in the desert 60 miles from Phoenix. Most of the time, it was like living about a half a mile from the sun. I prospected the desert on occasion, eventually filing two mining claims. I also did an occasional computer contract for old clients in Los Angeles. Was in L.A. working a short-term contract and happened to finish the contract during the peak Rodney King riots. I drove back to Arizona through an intersection where buildings on three corners were on fire and angry goons were harassing motorists in the streets. It was my last time in California.

ARKANSAS (1992-98): Due to some unforeseen circumstances (destiny), I sold my mining claims and Arizona property, and moved to the Ozark Mountain region in northern Arkansas. I rented a cabin on 400 remote acres that I shared with a dog and a mountain lion. The dog was with me. No TV, no telephone lines. Wrote my 4 novels there on an IBM-compatible 286 using an old version of WordPerfect. No windows, no spell checker, no Internet. It was a peaceful time of seclusion and reflection.

TENNESSEE (1998-99): 10 months in Memphis, doing a Y2K computer contract. I rented a top floor apartment overlooking the Big Muddy (Mississippi River). Memphis is okay if you like cities. I don't like cities. During this period, I found a publisher for my four novels.

ARKANSAS (1999-2009): Moved back to Arkansas and bought a nice mobile home on 8 acres a few miles away from a small redneck town (population 1,400 – the biggest town in the county). No neighbors. Paid cash for the place from the Y2K contract, but still had to make ends meet. Worked on the 2000 U.S. Census. Landed a gig writing a weekly newspaper column (2001-2007) where I won multiple awards. Also landed a gig teaching computer courses at a local college (2001-2006). In 2006, I became eligible for early Social Security. Since the early bird gets the worm, I accepted their fine offer of supplementing my existence until the day I expire.

ACT III – Resolution (unknown)

ARKANSAS (2009-2012): Blue Monday – August 10, 2009. My life starts over once again at age 65. I am now officially an old codger. I will write blogs and tweets, just to maintain my sanity. I will goof around with my dog, grow tomatoes and watch sunsets. And if I'm lucky, one of these days I will figure out what to do with my life.

BEYOND (2012-????): The great astrological age ends on December 21, 2012. Beyond that, the future is unknown.

Ain't life grand.

Quote for the Day – "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Bill Shakespeare

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and has resolved to resolve irresolvable issues. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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