They call it retirement, but the word sounds so—so—how should I put it—-um—ah—-old? The word retired carries with it a tone of being “tired” as in, re-“tired”. By definition the word seems to mean “tired and then tired again” (now that’s freaking tired). It conjures up visions of someone sitting alone on an old tattered Chesterfield with an afghan covering their varicose veined legs as they blankly stare at a rerun of Wheel of Fortune. An ageless Vanna White smiles out at the audience of drooling geezers as she flips over another vowel. The phrase at the bottom of the TV screen reads, “Frogs in biology 101?” The excited contestant hits his button and shouts out, “I’ll solve the puzzle! What is, stiff and waiting to croak.” Now that’s a tad bit harsh, but being new to this élite group known as retiree’s has taken some getting use to.
Recently at a dinner party a balding gentleman with a first trimester pot belly inquired, “So, what do you do?” Awkward silence. I grimace, lick my upper lip and then say it. “Oh, I’m retired”. More awkward silence. He smiles and then looks me up and down as if to see if I am missing any of my appendages. I can see the thoughts ticking away in his worker-bee mind, “This guy is either very lazy or very rich.” Then he try’s to feel me out with some of his own self disclosures. “Oh hell, I’d like to retire too, but I cant’ afford to pull the trigger yet.” This is a guy with a 2012 Navigator and 2011 BMW in his garage, lives in a 3,000 sq. ft. home with just him and his wife, has a pool, hot tub and belongs to the Racket Club. I smile, “I didn’t pull the trigger, I just decided to take the bullets out of the gun, in other words, I choose to down size a bit.” He stares at me with eyes of pity that’s usually reserved for panhandlers and bums. He gives me a fatherly pat on the shoulder and says, “Ah, you’ll be fine. I’ll buy ya a round of golf at the country club someday.” I give him the hang loose hand sign, “Yeah, how bout we play this Monday, there’s hardly any one on the course during the week and the green fee’s are half price.” He answers me without skipping a beat, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that. We’re in the middle of mid year projections and our new revenue production targets have been increased by 15 % for this fiscal year.” The office-speak creates a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. “I’m putting in fifty, sixty hours a week right now to try to keep the workload manageable.” The lines on his forehead clench into a tight little fist. “Jesus, the road work on the inter-state has increased my commute to an hour and a half each way. Not to mention the price of gas. Damn, that V8 of mine is guzzling down the gas like its water.” He nervously rattles the ice in his tumbler of Scotch and then throws it back in one quick gesture of defiance.
More awkward silence—-. I extend my hand to give him a parting farewell. We struggle for a second trying to figure out if we should give each other the “bro shake” or the formal “businessman grip”. We end up with a kind of uncomfortable middle of the road handshake that is indicative of our disjointed conversation. “Well, stop by the house and maybe we can take the kids for a hike or go to the beach or something.” He nods and gives me a noncommittal, “Yeah, sure, sounds good.” I give it one more try, “No I really mean it. We can get up at the crack of dawn and hike up Mt. Tallac.” He only provides me his partial attention as he hastily appeases the annoying ringtone from his iPhone. Ironically the little device is playing the song, “Help” by the Beatles.
As I turn to walk away he grabs me by the arm and motions for me to wait. He quickly taps out a text message and once again addresses me. “Maybe we can hike Mt. Tellac. I’ll email you and then put it on my outlook calendar and its a done deal. By the way, what is the elevation at the summit?” It is my turn to look him up and down as I respond with a bit of trepidation in my voice, “It’s above 10,000 feet.” He sucks in his gut as he pulls up his Dockers, “We can do this bro!” I smile, “I think you’re right man. Sometimes ya got to get above all the crap to enjoy the view.”
As I drove home from the party in my 2002 Outback (4 cylinder), I am reminded of a quote by Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Disclaimer: This blog is by no means insinuating that working into ones golden years is a bad thing. In fact, many people love to continue working well into their later years, as their profession is their passion—and this is a beautiful thing. This piece is intended to examine how two individuals with different perspectives seek to find common ground and a mutual understanding of the other’s lifestyle. With that said, I accept the fact that subjective observations are biased, but that comes with the territory of being a writer.