Current Occupation: Business Owner (Landscaping)/ Freelance Journalist
Former Occupation: Retail clerk, hotel maintenance man, phonebook deliverer.
Contact Information: Dan Morey lives in Erie, PA where he operates a small landscaping business. He is also a freelance writer who has worked as a book critic, nightlife columnist and outdoor journalist. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications, including Splitsider, The Broadkill Review, Far Enough East, Drunk Monkeys, Ducts.org, Red Fez, Paper Tape and The Journal of Asinine Poetry. Find him at danmorey.weebly.com.
In Pursuit of Happiness
I was having a drink with an old friend the other day when he surprised me with a personal question:
“Are you happy?”
I didn’t know how to respond. If I said yes I’d look like a liar or a fool, and if I said no he might think me a depressive bore. I’ve found that the best thing to do in these situations is to find out what the other person wants you to say and then say it.
“Why?” I said. “Aren’t you?”
“Me either. Completely miserable in fact.”
But was I?
The truth is, I’m pretty content. I’m in my 30s, single, with no children. I’ve been told I should feel unfulfilled because of this, but I don’t. I’m far too self-absorbed to be an effective father, and the freedom of bachelorhood has always suited me. I run a small, seasonal business that leaves me plenty of time for fishing, leisure travel, and lengthy periods of inactivity.
But am I happy? And what exactly is happiness, anyway? Most people are continually striving for better jobs, more income and more possessions. Is happiness linked to accumulation? To upward mobility?
If it is, I’m in trouble. Though I’m convinced that my potential is limitless, I choose to live an easy, unstressed existence. Sometimes thinking about all the careers I could have lulls me into a sort of romantic somnambulism, a trance-like ecstasy where actual circumstances disappear, and airy fantasies become truth. Look! I’m a famous archeologist romping through the jungles of Peru in a soiled fedora! And now I’m a secret agent, shadowing a conspirator through the souks of Kandahar!
Daydreaming is enjoyable, but reality inevitably encroaches, and I remember that I’m a 21st century American male, and as such am expected to pursue non-imaginary goals. At this point my comforting reveries begin to chafe. Imagination makes life tolerable and intolerable at the same time; illusions are both an escape and a reminder of my unambitious nature. Sure, I could go to school, mold my physique, apply for training, and eventually become that secret agent. But just think of all the work involved! And even if I did accomplish those things, who’s to say I’d be happy? Experience leads inevitably to disillusionment. Imagining a life is always better than living it. If I did become a super-spy, I’d soon yearn to start a dairy farm or manage a hotel.
I’m an incurable fantasist, a trait I inherited from my late father, who always envisioned himself as some kind of Scottish nobleman. His passion for all things Scots could manifest itself at any time. One night, when I was about 12, a friend and I were watching MTV. Around midnight a wailing erupted outside—an unbearable caterwauling, as if a mob of stray cats was being flayed.
“Not again,” said my friend.
We peered out the window and there was Father, marching up and down the street playing his bagpipes. He was draped in full parade regalia: spats, kilt, feather bonnet and tartan cape. The bejeweled butt of a dirk dagger extended from his sock and twinkled in the moonlight. He probably imagined himself leading a clan of shouting highlanders into battle.
This kind of delusional passion frequently manifests itself in my own life. Though I’ve yet to don a costume, I have at various times asked others to do so.
I was in the woods, under a pine tree, with a girl.
"But I don't want to," she said.
"Why not?" I said.
"I don’t know. It just feels weird."
"What's so weird about a wig?"
I threw the blonde wig at her, and she reluctantly tried it on.
"Perfect," I said. "You look just like Debbie Harry. Now the makeup."
"Forget it. I'm not smearing that black stuff around my eyes."
The illusion was incomplete, and she failed to live up to my ideal. Even today, I have difficulty working up enthusiasm for real people—they always seem to disappoint. This attitude, also inherited from Father, often compels me to snuff out eagerness in others. If I can’t get what I want, why should they?
One day in the mid ‘90s my little brother burst into the kitchen with a sample case of fancy cutlery.
"I'm gonna make so much cash!" he said. "After I sell three sets I get to keep half the profit on future sales!"
Father and I worked together.
"Did you pay for those samples?" said Father.
"Don't you know a scam when you see one?" I said.
"But I could sell a lot. I might be good at it."
"Right," said Father. "And I might win the Nobel Prize."
Mother was also a frequent victim.
"I'm going in to work for a few hours,” she said one morning. “Then I’m taking the rest of the day off for my doctor's appointment."
"Why don’t you take the whole day off?” I said. “You really let those jerks at the office push you around."
"I happen to like the people I work with. We’re a team, and we have a lot of stuff to get done this week."
"Team my ass," said Father. "You think any of those people give a damn about you?"
Luckily, Mother's enthusiasm was always uncrushable. Had Father succeeded in souring her outlook, his comfortable lifestyle would’ve been in serious jeopardy. Like me, he was never able to work for anyone, so he started his own real estate business. During boom years, he made good money. When things were slow, he played a lot of golf.
So it goes for a great many men in my family. Father’s cousin Ray, for instance. Here was a man who roamed the neighborhood when it was mostly cow pasture and corn, bumming cigarettes and drinking beer. Once my Grandmother unwisely hired him to fix her garage door. When she went out to check on his progress, she found him asleep in the pachysandras. The door hadn’t been touched, and Ray was clutching a nearly empty bottle of rye whiskey.
"Get up!" yelled my grandmother.
Ray jerked himself upright, shook his head twice in a decisive manner, and said:
"No sir, I wasn’t anywhere near that gherkin barrel."
Uncle Robert, on my mother’s side, was similarly disposed. After he was dishonorably discharged from the Navy (booze), he became a flimflam man, traveling the country playing cards, running cons, and barking at carnivals. He even taught rich widows how to dance at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. He finally settled in Los Angeles, where he took up acting. One night in the late 80s we gathered around the television to watch him play an obnoxious old man on an episode of Mike Hammer. Robert squawked deliriously and taunted the detective who, as I recall, punched him in the nose.
Uncle Robert’s life seemed exotic to me, and I idolized him. Later, I realized that wherever he went, regardless of how many people he came into contact with, he was always an outsider. The last time I saw him, he looked worn and haggard. Not working hard can turn out to be very hard work. He died alone in Las Vegas a few years later.
Father, Cousin Ray, Uncle Robert—these men are all in me. Their genes are my genes. I could probably exorcise them with therapy or medication, but why would I want to? Because they weren’t happy? I don’t think they were unhappier than anyone else.
“I take that back,” I said to my friend as we finished our drinks. “I am happy. As happy as I care to be.”