BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Noontime comes with a rush on a typical working day at O'Charley's in Eastgate. Jeff Keiser, a 32-year-old mortgage broker, sits across from me at a table loaded with food.
Over the soup and salad special, he talks about his new job and his life.
During a break in the conversation, Jeff looks up and sees a mirror image of his own life, a life that's out of control, a life he wants to simplify and enjoy.
All around him, diners gulp down their meals. With one eye on their watches, they hurry to make the next appointment, do the next interview, cut the next deal.
"I'm just like them," Jeff said. "Busy, busy, busy."
Jeff has a new job. Three months ago, he was named sales manager at the Mortgage Source down the street from the restaurant.
"To get up to speed, I'm working 60-70 hours a week," he said with a sigh. Three times a week, he lunches with clients and his new bosses.
Twice a week, he lunches alone to try to get his life in order. Today, he's dining alone with me. Jeff's sharing one of his solitary meals for a "Lunch with Cliff." It's my treat in exchange for people telling me what's on their minds.
Most times, you see a person at a table for one and you think, loner, quiet guy, milquetoast.
Not so with Jeff. He can be quite whacky. On our way to lunch, as his co-workers watched from inside, he did an impromptu headstand in a flower bed outside his office building.
"Holy cow! The blood's still rushing to my head," Jeff yelped as he returned his body to its upright position. "Everybody knows me as the class clown. I'll do anything to get a laugh. I'm a nut." But inside the prankster is a serious, reflective soul, who, like the rest of us, is trying to get his life on track. He uses his solo lunches to make lists of what he needs to do to straighten things out. Jeff wants to enjoy the important things in life.
Throughout lunch, Jeff spoke of the long hours he works. Some nights he's on the job until 9 or 10 p.m. He does this by choice. "I like helping people with their mortgages."
But he doesn't like coming home and not having any free time "to do things around the house or have fun with my family.
"My kids are 4 and 2 already, and that time has just flown by," he said. "Life is moving so fast."
Last weekend, he put on the brakes. He took his wife, Tracy, and their children, 4-year-old Zachary and 2-year-old Kelsey, out to dinner.
For a few hours, his world slowed down. Everyone had fun.
"But then we got home and realized all the stuff we should have been doing. The house was still a mess. We were two days behind, and my parents were coming over for dinner the next day."
Jeff said there's a room in his West Chester home "loaded with boxes that have never been unpacked since we moved into the house. We have another room in our basement, I swear, filled with boxes and bags and envelopes of pictures we have never put into photo albums." I flinched as he talked, remembering my boxes of photos yearning to be filed.
"Everything is a jumble. My wife is always saying we are so disorganized." So twice a week, Jeff goes to lunch by himself and tries to get organized by making lists. Like so many of us, like so many of the people around during this lunch hour in a busy restaurant, Jeff just wants to slow down his world and make sure he doesn't miss the important stuff.
He studies my expression, perhaps feeling a little exposed. He assures me he and his wife are not "going crazy about this. I'm sure everybody is like this."
Saying that, he suddenly looks worried.
"At least I hope everybody is like this," he said. "If not, I'm in big trouble."
You're not, Jeff. I think recapturing our lives is on everyone's list.
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.