Men of a Certain Age (Two Bottles Of Wine With a War God edition)

Had this conversation with someone the other day, in regards to the new novella Two Bottles of Wine With a War God. The story hit him especially hard, but that was kind of on purpose. Not him, specifically, but men who have reached a certain age, a certain level of advancement in their life, where they can take a look back over their shoulder at what was, while wondering what might have been.

I’ve seen the stats on the “average American” and how they are born, live, and die within about a 50 or 100 mile radius. Never really spend time even in other American cultures, let alone traveling outside the US to see how the rest of the world works. It’s nothing but a kind of sadness at where you might have been, but for…?

I’m a bad person to compare yourself to. in between 1990 and 2001, I moved 17 times. Each of those moves was at least a zip code, if not a county. Three of them involved states and time zones. I can tell you when something occurred because I will associate it with a job, a city, or a period in my life that was short and sharply demarcated.

For example, college: Summer ’86 to Winter ’89. Then eight months working part time, goofing off and gaming part time, and preparing to move to LA for grad school in the fall of ’90. (I was driving cross country a few days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, watching gas prices explode with every fill up.) LA doing grad school and then other things until I got fed up and left SoCal in ’95. But you can include a 16 month stretch in the middle there when I was a bouncer at the Riverside Cowboy in Riverside, CA. (Long story. Good one, but long. Bring good beer.) The bar is long-since gone, but having a memory associated with it frames a pair of dates very tightly for me.

Back to flyover country, Sep 95 – Feb 97. Taught Junior college, among other things. Worked on a US Senate campaign learning database technology. (We lost so I ended up in Washington state instead of DC. Another long story.)

Someone asked me about a movie the other day, and when I came out. I said 1996, but he was sure I was absolutely wrong. However, I remembered who I went to see it with. He looked it up and was shocked at how old the movie was.

Seattle-ish, since early ’97, but now I can map things based on where I was working. A year here. Two there. Seven at this place, but we moved our office twice in that stretch, and I bought a house with the first Mrs. Ward. That was me landing from all the mobile in 2001, and not moving again until  2015, when I came out to the farm.

Job after that only lasted a little more than a year (the company went through implosion unrelated to my department.) Then a year at Microsoft. In that stretch, DJ got sick from breast cancer, and it killed her in the summer of ’08.

Did various and sundry other things. Like spending my 40th birthday on Trafalgar Square before driving upcountry and staying at a B&B outside Boston. Bought the land that would be the farm. Dated some, but none of them worked out, until one of them accidentally walked back into my life five years later and utterly disrupted it. (In a good way.)

What does all that mean? It means I’ll be 50 next summer, going on 5,000. At least it feels that way some days. Social media lets me interact, however vaguely, with the first woman I ever fell in love with, and whom I haven’t seen in the flesh in more than twenty years. In fact, a great many of the women I have ever dated as a grown-up I could ping on social media right now. Huh.

Yan Bedrov, to get back to the story, is a complicated man. A man who did stupid shit when he was younger, but managed to survive it. To grow up. And eventually to face growing old. We all do, but not everyone does so with grace. And men have a different path that women do.

I have been accused of pulling a Marty Stu with the Jessica books, because some people who knew me back in the bad, old, angry days assume that I’m Vo Arlo. I’m not, but I did study anger with a fine knife a long time ago. As the old quote goes: “Mistress, I understand evil. I’ve BEEN evil.”

But I got over it.

But yeah, if you wanted to accuse me, you’d be better off starting with Yan. He never wanted to be in charge, but to do his thing, his way. And he had to fight his way through the stupid shit and small people to get there.

Yan’s been divorced twice. I’ve been widowed once, and come close to other things that never quite worked out, mostly because I would have been a bad husband in those days. (I’ve been better housebroken since then and leave it at that.)

But I also understand what it means to be middle-aged, and alone, and facing a long rest of your life, wondering how you got there, and what you’re supposed to do next.  I’ve been Whippet, sitting at the end of that bar, looking back in despair at everything I had lost.

But Yan and I both shrugged, finished our drink, and left, walking back out into the sun and challenging the world to do its worst. (Stupid idea. Don’t ever do that. Trust me on this one.)

Yan found Ainsley. I found the Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm). Both of us had to…not reform ourselves so much as reinvent ourselves as someone else. Someone who could be happy. Who could make sure that they didn’t turn into Whippet, having lost everything and everyone and still be wondering how.

My life is rich. No two ways about it. I have been working from home for myself for just shy of a year now, writing like mad and publishing hard and constant. It’s starting to show up in the numbers. I’m trying to trade up to better problems, once the mortgage and the bills are covered with enough left over that I can goof off.

But, and I’m as guilty of this as the next guy, men who reach a certain age, a certain milestone in life, have no choice but to look back and wonder What If? How might things have turned out differently had I…?

Most mid-life crises are caused by somebody deciding to chuck everything out today to pursue those stupid dreams he gave up twenty years ago for reasons he’s forgotten. To fight against growing old, rather than accepting it and looking on life as a challenge to be met, rather than a thing to be avoided.

To stay married, you have to communicate. Yan didn’t understand that when he was young. I did, but had my own reasons not to trust anyone enough to let them in. Even today, you don’t want to see the inside of my soul. You don’t have enough asbestos to survive it.

But I like me. I grew up in spite of all the crazy, stupid shit that should have killed me circa 86-97. I turned into a responsible, respectable adult eventually. Just don’t tell anyone.

Two Bottles of Wine With a War God is not Yan growing up, but how such a man as him (or me) might deal with something like the existential crisis brought on by walking into the Lion’s Den and instead confronting your own past, and your choices, rather than a Sentient Killing Machine.

Not everyone will get this story. That’s okay. I don’t expect to hit it out of the park, every time I commit words. But you have to be a man of a certain age, a certain temperament, to get this one. There’s not a lot I can do about that, except to promise you that this is one of the darkest things I plan to write, in terms of emotional manipulation. (Planning, key word here.) Got one other planned, along a similar vein, on dealing with immortality and how to not grow old and die, when everyone else you know has, or will.

For those of you who did get it, thanks for the nice things y’all have had to say this week. For those of you who don’t, hang tight, because the CS-405 stories (of which many of you have already read the first one accidentally) are a much sillier thing. Mostly. There are some serious elements there, too, but this is war, and war stories should be serious, when they aren’t complete and utter slapstick.

And Ben, sorry to put you through an emotional ringer.

But we’re getting close to the end of Jessica’s tale. I’m there. A few others will be soon. The rest of you still have Winterhome to experience, and all that comes with that story, before you get to Petron.

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the ride as much as I have.

shade and sweet water,


West of the Mountains, WA