No one knew for sure what Junior Griffin would do with all his free time once he finally retired from the phone company.
Some said he would likely just do more of what he did on the weekends—fish. Folks say there’s nary a pond around here that Junior hasn’t thrown a line into at least once in his sixty-five years.
Others said Junior’d finally have time to fix up the old truck he bought years ago and had since sat on cinder blocks beside or house. Or maybe he’d just fix up his house. He liked to do that on Saturdays.
We all supposed it didn’t matter what he did really, so long as it was something. It’s good to stay active when you retire.
It surprised us all when the fishing and fixing didn’t take. Junior said those things had always been weekend pursuits, and having to do them during the week kind of felt like cheating. Those things were special, he said. He didn’t want the shine that was on them to rub off from overuse. So he puttered around town—the hardware store, the gas station, loafing and gossiping with the other retirees.
When that didn’t take either, Junior went out and did something no one expected.
He went to Staples and bought a computer.
The world was passing him by, he said. Nowadays everyone was connected—“computerized,” he called it. On the Internet and surfing the web and chatting it up. A neighborhood kid hooked everything up and taught Junior the basics. Showed him what sties everyone used, things like You-Tube and Google and Bing.
But it was Facebook and Twitter that caught Junior’s fancy. Imagine, being able to talk to people anywhere. Imagine being able to make friends with total strangers clear on the other side of the country. On the other side of the world, even. It was a pretty amazing thing to consider for a man who’d hardly ever ventured far from the hollows of Virginia.
Junior dove headfirst into the magical world of social media. He Facebooked and tweeted with all the vigor of a bona fide professional. Had friends as far away as South Africa. Took him a while, of course (we all know how long it takes to really get the hand of such things), but before too long ol’ Junior was yakking it up on the web almost ten hours a day.
He met writers and artists, housewives and businessmen, the powerful and the pain. It was glorious and new and exciting.
And then it wasn’t.
Junior disappeared from the world of the Internet just as quickly as he’d arrived in it. One day he wasn’t there, the next day he was, and then he wasn’t again.
I was up in the mountains over the weekend when I ran into him. Sitting on the tailgate of his old truck looking down over the valley, a sandwich in one hand and a mason jar containing a questionable liquid in the other. As happy as he could be.
He asked me how the Internet was doing. I told him it was still there and doing fine. He asked me if I’d noticed his absence, and I told him I had. I wasn’t about to ask what happened to chase him away, not with that view of the valley sitting there for me to look at. Besides, I figured he’d tell me anyway.
He chewed his sandwich and gulped from his jar. “It’s fun, bein’ on there,” he said. “Get t’meet all kind of folk. Nice folk, too. I needed that, you know, ’cause I retired. And Ellen’s been gone three years now—d’you know it’s been that long since she passed? Anyways, gets lonely bein’ at home all by m’self. Havin’ all that company on the computer made things easier.
“But you know what? That weren’t the company I needed. I started sittin’ in front of that dad-blamed thing while the whole world went by. The more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. Got to be too much. I was yappin’ my mouth off, but I’s never sayin’ anything. Got to be too much. People’s always sayin’ how great all that Facebookin’ and tweetin’ is, and I guess they’re right, but tweetin’ ain’t no better’n livin’ is what I say. You hear me?”
I said I did.
Junior finished his sandwich and said he’d best be going. There was still some daylight left, and he wanted to get some fishing in. He always liked fishing, he told me. Gets you outside in the quiet so you can think and breathe and be.
Can’t do that on the Internet, he told me.
I couldn’t disagree with that.