Last Thursday night I was playing three-handed sheepshead at my friend Buzz’s house. Also known by its German name of schafkopf, sheepshead is popular in Wisconsin and played almost nowhere elsewhere in the United States. This regionalism is odd, because it is a fairly sophisticated and engaging game. The same three guys usually play once a week, except this will be our last night for a while. It is deer hunting season. For the next month, my card playing buddies will use most of their free time sitting in tree stands in the woods. That is a story in itself, because even though they sit in their stands with either a bow or a gun at their sides, they almost never take a shot. Instead they spend day after day taking photographs of deer. When I ask why they don’t just take down a deer so we can get back to cards, their response is that I do not understand the mystique of hunting. I disagree; I think I do understand the mystique if photographing deer is analogous to catch-and-release fishing.

While we were playing cards, Kenn, a long lost friend, walked into the house without knocking. He’s a former philosophy professor who, after retirement, moved to Eastern Europe. He first lived in Prague, is now in Vienna, and I think lived somewhere else for a while in between. We had no reason to expect him back in La Crosse. His first words as he walked into the house were, “This is exactly where all of you were sitting when I left town ten years ago.”

The comment was disturbingly accurate. When I retired two years ago, I felt like there were two ways for me to go. One was to rid myself of everything I own and start anew. Dump my house, my belongings, my dog. Let my daughter Clare know that I’d still help with college, but that our house in La Crosse would no longer serve as her home base. I was relatively rootless in my late twenties and early thirties, and I know that it would be fun to return to that life again. Instead I have remained in La Crosse. Without the burdens of a job, I now hang out in coffee shops, write and read more, putter around the house, exercise better, and spend much, much more time on the river.

My initial reaction to Kenn’s appearance was that he personifies the path not taken. Upon reflection, however, I realize that he revealed something more serious. He pointed out to me my own inertia. I’m not in La Crosse because I’ve chosen to stay in La Crosse. I’m in La Crosse, because I haven’t made any choice at all. Manyu thinks that we should find a small place in Asia and spend winters in Thailand, summers in La Crosse. Even though this might seem like a reasonable compromise, I do not consider snowbirding an option at all. Two anchors, as far as I can tell, just hold a person in place more securely than one.

It is a copout, but I’ve decided to avoid this question of lifestyle until 1) Clare finishes college and 2) our dog dies. Jack is a twelve-year old yorkipoo. Small breeds live longer than big dogs, and I figure Jack has another five years in him. I’ll be in my early seventies, still time to make a change if I want to.

Steven Simpson