Just Quit Already!
Day-by-Day through Year One of Retirement
Day 306, Sun May 1: Here’s good news: I got my dead yard tractor hauled up from my lower yard to my garage at the street. I can now call to have the repair service come out and get it running. It’s been sidelined since last summer when I topped off the oil, started it up and it blew out a huge cloud of oily white smoke and then died. I couldn’t keep it choked up and running. It was late summer and I mowed the entire yard one-and-a-half times with the regular hand mower – a Black and Decker electric — but that’s not a sustainable strategy.
Today Enid and I pushed it partway up but then it got too heavy for us. We don’t have a vehicle that can tow it. In a pinch we might have tried Enid’s Rav 4 but we would be pulling up a damp grassy slope so we were not confident we’d get traction. I was stressing a little bit about the situation. I posted a plea for help to my neighbors on the community text-message board (not Nextdoor, this is even more hyper-local to our immediate neighbors – a Google group normally used to warn of police speed traps down the hill, power outages, suspicious cars in the neighborhood, or random wildlife spottings). Within five minutes, two fellow citizens come to the rescue. These are people with a degree of responsibility and neighborliness that is rare in our times. Larry has a truck and a tow strap. Matt has a sweet ATV that he normally keeps at his cabin in Wenatchee, but fortuitously has it here in Bellevue this week to move around the logs from a tree he took down in his yard. He drives the ATV down and we hook up the strap. The rest of us get behind my riding mower ready to push if needed, but we are superfluous. Matt pulls it up the slope to the road faster than we can run to keep up. Job done.
Now this week I will call to have the repair guy come out. It is an older Craftsman tractor mower and every time I have them out to do a tune-up (annual maintenance, plus one time I drove over a piece of rope I didn’t see in the yard and wrapped it around the blade), the mechanics remark admiringly. They always comment a variation of “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
Day 307, Mon May 2: It’s another 80-degree and sunny hot day. I transfer some money from my savings account to my checking to cover our budget for a while longer. I pull the weekly bills out of my briefcase – the place I still stash them when they arrive in the mail, as I have done for 30 years and see no reason to stop now — and pay them by writing checks. One of my Monday tasks. Then I hop online and make an appointment to get the riding mower repaired – the first date they have open is in two weeks from now.
At noon I go for my routine dentist appointment cleaning and hear from my hygienist Ina all about the party she and her Russian friends had at New Year’s. The Russian food, the Russian games, the Russian videos they watched. Not sure why she was thinking about New Year’s in May but I was a willing audience for her monologue. And then with that project in the books, before I came home I walked a five-mile round-trip from the dentist office parking lot across the overpass above the 520 highway and down a residential street on the northernmost border of Bellevue.
Back at home I put on seasonal music, a mix-tape CD marked “Summer” that I made a few years ago in anticipation of days just like this. It delivers on its promise: “No Shoes No Shirt No Problem,” “Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “California Girls,” “California Gurls,” “Hot In Here,” “96 Degrees in The Shade,” “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” “Margaritaville,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Under the Boardwalk.” And more like that.
The asparagus is going crazy in the garden; fresh asparagus is an insanely great treat to grow in the garden – even by the high standards of every other garden vegetable. But that’s for another day.
For supper I’m making turkey sliders, potato salad, fruit salad. We’ll eat outside. I just checked and we’re fully stocked for lemonade.
Day 308, Tue May 3: Because I have read online that the morels are blooming here in Washington, and because I saw somewhere last year that Bridle Trails Park is a location for morels, that is where I head for my walk. I take a backpack and a plastic produce bag just in case it’s true. Be Prepared, that’s my motto. Of course, I realize how ridiculous this is; it’s preposterous that any mushrooms in this vast 500-acre forest will be growing in sight alongside the paths I’m walking on. This turns out to be true. I trek five miles from the trailhead at the north end of the park to the horse stables at the south end and see no morels, though I have a few false alarms involving pine cones doing morel impressions. And I do meet one person actually riding a horse.
But my walk is not without benefits, mushroom-wise. As I’m nearing the end, a little yip-dog puts the rush on me, followed by its apologetic owner and a friend. I tell them what I’m up to and one says, “That’s right, it is morel season. And I’ve heard they are here in the park, though I haven’t seen them myself. I’ve been hunting mushrooms all my life. They key to finding morels is to look under cottonwoods, that’s where they’ll be.” And, ding, a lightbulb goes off in my head that has not been switched on for 65 years. I grew up along the Platte River in Nebraska, which is lined with nothing but cottonwoods. Every spring my dad would take us out to hunt morels (what we called “mushrooms” since we hadn’t heard the word “morel”) and then when we had a bunch he would sauté them (what we called “fry them up” since we hadn’t heard the word “sauté”) with scrambled eggs. But nobody ever made the cottonwood/morel connection for me until today.
Rice and beans for supper.
Day 309, Wed May 4: Got up and took a morning walk at Kelsey Creek Park, 150 acres with a couple of miles of trails. There’s forest, wetlands, streams (well, Kelsey Creek) and a small farm that operates as a petting zoo. In May, they have a sheep shearing day there that is so popular it causes traffic jams all over the neighborhood and they have to run shuttle buses from the area’s school parking lots.
Eat, clean, mow, read. Repeat. I meant to clean up the front yard but I got involved in some writing I needed to catch up on. By the time I was ready to work outside it was 3:30 and sprinkling.
For dinner, I had to improvise. Found a bag of bulk black beans I didn’t know I had, so I gave them the quick soak. Fried up the turkey sausage left from the other day when I made sliders. Made rice with the chicken stock I boiled up last week. We’ve got avocados and cheese to grate. So tortillas it is.
Day 310, Thu May 5: Up in the morning, a cup of coffee in a “With The Beatles” mug alongside a bowl of Joe’s O’s with raisins, walnuts and almond milk. I’m launched.
Thursday is my yardwork day. Over the past few weeks I’ve trimmed up a lot of branches, sprouting volunteer trees and overgrown shrubs around the yard and then just left them where they fell. Today I go out for a couple of hours and haul the mess up to the big pile I am amassing in the woods just off the service road. The trimming up of the lush and aggressive growth in our yard is a never-ending labor – I could use Sisyphus’s help and experience on how to approach it – but the pile itself will eventually get to be Too Much and we hire in a chipper to eliminate it.
When I return to the house around lunchtime a package is leaning up against the front door. A few weeks ago I began getting the printer error message that the black ink was getting low. So I went online and ordered a replacement from Lexmark, which arrived in a few days. The printer got more and more anxious about my printer habits. First it started beeping along with the message, then adding that there were “an estimated 0 pages remaining.” But it kept printing just fine and readable and dark black so, like any sensate human would, I planned to keep on until the black faded away. Lexmark printer CS310n had other ideas. I hit print and it error-messaged, beeped and played its trump: IT REFUSED TO PRINT THE PAGE EVEN THOUGH ONE MINUTE EARLIER IT HAD PRINTED A TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE AND LEGIBLE PAGE ! ! ! It was like that dystopian vision of technology run amok when the computer HAL disrespects the astronaut Dave in the boring old movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” and won’t open a door for him.
I could not figure out a way to override it, there was no “print this page anyway” option. OK, no problem. I replaced the cartridge with the new one I bought from Lexmark and hit print. It beeped and error-messaged frantically “REMOVE UNSUPPORTED PRINTER CARTRIDGE.” Sure enough, the one I got from Lexmark was a different number than the one that had been in there, even though I bought it off their website by putting in the model number of my printer. And even though it clicked right into place, what a fool I am for thinking it would work. Have I wasted 65 years of life and learned nothing? Let me summarize: Lexmark is not my favorite company right now (we will see if they redeem themselves with a customer-first return policy).
Staples, on the other hand, is the King of Companies. I drove across town to the Staples over near El Rinconsito, my preferred taqueria. Everybody there, staff and most customers (at El Rinconsito, not at Staples), is speaking Spanish but they are welcoming and will switch to English if you need it. If I knew then what I know now I would have done this Staples strategy in the first place but I had thought ordering online would be more convenient and efficient – like I don’t have 15 minutes to drive to the store. I walked into Staples with the used cartridge in my hand. The guy didn’t have it in stock but he ordered it from the warehouse. And they have free home delivery, the best invention since pay-at-the-pump gas and ridged chips. This is yesterday afternoon, remember – and it is here today, first leaning against my front door and next clicked into place in my printer. Back in bidness.
Day 311, Fri May 6: Playing music is important, it can add a rewarding dimension to anybody’s life. I have several guitars and a keyboard taking up room in the basement right now that I haven’t played in months. Years. But I could. In retirement, folks who played in bands when they were younger have time to take it up again as a hobby. Or if that’s not gonna happen, they can reminisce fondly about the bygone era, embellishing the truth about the times when they coulda been somebody. Here’s my life story, told like that:
• Mrs. Diffey was our grade-school music teacher at West Ward School. We marched down to her room in the basement and learned to sing. She divvied us up into Robins and Sparrows, and it was better to be a Robin. The Sparrows are probably still in therapy about that. My other lasting memory of Mrs. Diffey is that she always seemed to have hankies stuffed up her sleeves or in her bra. Every year at the all-school performance each class would do a one-song mini-musical with characters acting out the song. One year a friend of mine had to put on a humiliating pair of overalls and a straw hat and amble around the gym while the third grade sang “Gone Fishin’”. We also did a choir arrangement of “The Gettysburg Address” that I can still sing.
• Mrs. Uerling. She was the organist at St. Augustine’s church where my family went, and all of the Becker kids took piano lessons from her. My older sisters got pretty adept, and my oldest sibling, Ann, very good. She could sit down with a book of show tunes or this year’s pop hits and sight-read right through it while the rest of us stood around and sang. At the time I took lessons I was in grade school and a pretty uninterested piano student. Surprising as it may seem, there were other things going on. Still, against heavy odds, I learned enough that later on when I was in bands I could play keyboard chords to songs whenever that helped, or a riff or accent notes when we were recording and that was needed. I can sit down right now and entertain a crowd by playing “Bring It On Home to Me.” Or at least get through it so it’s recognizable. At Mrs. Uerling’s annual recitals I played “Indian Tom Toms” two years in a row; eventually advancing (to use the term loosely) as far as “Fur Elise.”
• Mr. Bacon was the junior high and high school choir teacher. In 1961, when I was in sixth grade, it was the folk-music era of the Kingston Trio and New Christy Minstrels. He started a before-school enrichment activity where kids could bring in their guitars for group lessons. I had a cheap guitar by this time, so I was there. We’d do “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and “500 Miles.” Later, in high school, I always took choir with Mr. Bacon. This is where I learned how the different voices fit together, which is the reason I was able to sing harmony in situations later on. Because rehearsals for the musicals overlapped with basketball season I was mainly part of the chorus whether it was “HMS Pinafore” or “Carousel.” Listed in the program in a long paragraph of “Sailors” or “Townspeople.” (Same with the school plays – I didn’t have the time to fully commit so, at best, I might be John the Butler in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” nothing more starring than that).
• Mr. Wurtz was the band director. We could start in band in sixth grade. Because my brother Pete played tuba, I also was given an E-flat tuba as my instrument. Hated it except for the attention I could get making rude noises. When my Uncle John died I inherited a cornet but when I spoke with Mr. Wurtz about switching instruments he said they already had enough brass players. I was gone.
• Unnamed band. In junior high, a trio started getting together to play: me on bass, David Cook on drums and Kenny Lee on guitar. Those guys were good musicians even then. I didn’t actually have a bass, I just played bass lines on a regular electric guitar. With my first one, the little amp and speaker was built right into the lid of the guitar case. I wish I still had that set-up. We learned “Oh Pretty Woman.” We learned “Gloria.” Maybe “I’m A Fool” by Dino, Desi and Billy. There must have been other songs in the set list. I think this combo played one gig, JoEllen Pokorny’s birthday party. This was an era when local bands could achieve some success. Schuyler had the Oak Ballroom, where I saw many groups from neighboring towns: the Shades of Blue from Columbus, the Six Wild Brakmen from Fremont, the horn-infused Chancellors from Lincoln. It was also the place to see top regional acts: the Rumbles, the Fabulous Flippers, the Fay Hogan Experiment. And once in a while a national recording act would swing through: the Angels with “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Jimmy Soul with “If You Wanna Be Happy,” Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids with “Party Doll.”
• The Hallucinations. Ninth and 10th grade. This was me on bass (by now I had a bass), David Cook on drums and Kenny Lee on guitar – the three of us had been getting together for a year or so prior – plus Jim Finley on guitar and Paul Ehernberger on a Farfisa keyboard organ. We played parties and school dances. We had posters. Repertoire: “Pay You Back With Interest,” “Glad All Over,” “Come On Down to My Boat Baby,” “Good Lovin’,” “Blue’s Theme from The Wild Angels,” “A Taste of Honey,” “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet.” “Gloria,” of course. Once the band started to have some success I had to drop out because of, again, the time conflict with basketball. This is not the big sacrifice it may sound because I got a lot of fulfillment out of basketball, too. We were state champs one year and made it to the championship game another season. Even after I was out of there I still hung around with the band and roadied for them a little bit when they were the Butterup Garde. I remember once we travelled an hour-and-a-half to a job in Grand Island on a snowy winter weekend and, in a Spinal Tap moment, forgot the drummer back in Schuyler. He drove all the way there on his little motorcycle and I sat in on drums for the first set: a lot of Creedence, which I could handle, and “Honky Tonk Women,” which defeated me (damn you, Charlie Watts). Dave Cook showed up and sadistically stood at the bar for a couple of songs, laughing at my pathetic efforts to keep time. Eventually the guys were rocking Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hanging On” and the whole first side of “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Except for Jim Finley, who became a German teacher, those dudes played in various bands for, in some cases, much of their adult lives. A couple of them are still at it. Outstanding musicians.
• Rick & The Rockets. This happened in my junior year of college, the early Seventies. I auditioned. I could play bass (as Willie Nelson says, “Can’t everybody?”) and sing enough like both Elvis and Buddy Holly that I got in. I didn’t know it at the time, but I later came to believe that Tim and Carl were looking for a singer because Rick had quit over some beef. (In a band, there is always some beef.) Sometimes, mainly to get under Rick’s skin, it would be billed as “The Rockets & Rick.” Our biggest gig was at Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln in front of 9,000 fans, opening for Sugarloaf. We killed. Our smallest was a week earlier at a lounge on the University of Nebraska campus in front of about 90. We killed. The Rockets were a band and a philosophy. On one level it was a Sha-Na-Na thing. We greased back our hair and played the Fifties repertoire with crazed energy. “At the Hop,” “Peggy Sue,” “Hound Dog,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Teen Angel.” We both parodied that music and loved it deeply. Then, there was another facet. As Rick described it one time, the Rockets were like the Mothers of Invention, just without the talent. (Actually, of course, like everything with the Rockets, that was a good put-on; the musicians were excellent players and superior entertainers.) And, finally, overlayering all of this was a profoundly nonconformist anti-authority world-view that valued individual and collective eccentricity. Politically, the Rockets espoused the Grease & Freedom Party (this was a gag because, at the time, there was an earnest leftist movement called the Peace & Freedom Party that was taking itself seriously). Post-Rockets, there’s a lot of achievement from this crowd. Rick Apthorpe owned a successful homebuilding company in Lincoln (“Erection Construction,” we used to joke; take it easy, that’s not really the name); the drummer Tim Hartin (he sang “Monster Mash”) is a decorated public-television producer; Rocket friend Dave Brink, who would sometimes be sent out at the start of gigs to portray the faux-opening act “Toilet Seat” for 30 seconds (he would haltingly play a few random notes on guitar in front of the unwitting and baffled crowd, then the Rockets would rush out from the wings, dog-pile him and start the actual show with “Rock Around the Clock” [and, additionally, Dave was a genius cartoonist in Can O’ Beans Comix that I was also involved with]), has a long resume of movie credits as a camera guy; guitarist and accordion virtuoso Carl Circo (when I asked him in all naïve seriousness once what separated the merely good from the great accordion players he said, “the faces you make”) teaches at the University of Arkansas law school; and dancer (that’s right, dancer!) Tim Sindelar is an attorney in Massachusetts who has made a difference as a special education advocate for students on the autism spectrum or with disabilities. It makes me proud to have known them when they were just idiots onstage.
• South Street Shakers. In the later Seventies, when I was in my later Twenties, I met Terrill Clements through mutual friends. Probably Charlie Johnson, the impresario of The Museum of the Odd in Lincoln. Charlie grew up with Terry in the Benson neighborhood in Omaha and I knew Charlie from Henry James and Thomas Hardy classes in the basement of Andrews Hall at the University of Nebraska. (How did we ever stay awake through those?) Terry was a great dude who had vast knowledge of music and catholic tastes; he could play all the styles on bass: rock and roll. He was an able recording engineer when we later went down that path. A decade or more later both of us ended up in Seattle and, while we were living unconnected lives by then, we would bump into each other or get together every so often. By 2010 he was working with a jazz combo: “Killer Joe” and “In Walked Bud.” Back in the Seventies when it turned out Terry and I both played, we made a date to get together. I had a red hollow-body with a whang-bar – an off-brand knock-off of a Gretsch (one of those “guaranteed not to crack” guitars) — and he had an apartment on South 20th Street in Lincoln. I don’t remember taking an amp over there; we probably both plugged into his gear. Then we had to figure out what we mutually liked and could play. I remember that the first song we tried out was “Mystery Train” by Elvis or Little Junior Parker and that went pretty well. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” “Not Fade Away” for sure. I don’t recall what else, but most likely some Jimmy Reed. And if you told me we did “Gloria” by Them, I would not dispute your memory. For a while we had noisy little get-togethers in my basement on Sumner Street: me on guitar, Terry on bass, Charlie on sax, sit-in guests like Dale Ashmun (who a few years on was part of the “Punk” magazine crowd in New York). A while later still, Terry had fallen in with singer Marlene Coleman, guitarist Richard Sullivan, drummer Jeff Cloidt and a guy whose name escapes me right now; they were trying to rehearse and see if they could get a band off the ground. At some point they invited me over to sit in. There was an awkward interlude with the guy whose name escapes me singing “Diving Duck” while I sat there. And then I was in and he was out. The Shakers played a lot around Lincoln, Omaha and towns within a few hours of there. Marlene sang “Let’s Have a Party” and “Baby Workout” and “Summertime” and “Ride Your Pony” by Lee Dorsey. I sang — or made sounds, (bringing to mind the old crack, “Do you like my singing?” “Not to my knowledge.”) — on “Cry To Me” and “Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs. We did two different songs called “Bad Boy,” the one by the Jive Bombers and the “now, Junior, behave yourself” one by Larry Williams. It was a good band.
• Unnamed acapella group. After the Shakers ran its course I did a singing quartet. It was Danny Meldon, a street-corner acapella guy from New York who I’d known for a decade from when he wrote a bunch of good songs for a great horn band called Music that I used to hang out with; Marlene Coleman, the bluesy singer who’d been my bandmate in the Shakers; Al McCracken, who could do anything on any instrument to make any band sound better, and who I knew real well from when he played valve trombone in Music; and me. We did this for fun. We would go over to Marlene’s place one night a week, stand around the piano and sing four-part harmony. “Sunday Kind of Love,” “People Get Ready,” “634-5789,” “Speedo,” the Marvelow’s “I Do” that was a hit for the J Geils Band. We had it tightened up. We played out a single time, doing a 10-minute intermission set during the packed 5 o’clock FAC at the Zoo Bar. We caught people off guard and shook up the house.
• Pinky Black & the Excessives. The Excessives was a trio playing bars around Lincoln comprising Terry Clements and Jeff Cloidt, the rhythm section from the Shakers, and Butch Berman, the guitarist from the Megatones and Rock Therapy. They’d do Link Wray and Bo Diddley tunes and obscure oldies and erstwhile hits like “Twenty Flight Rock.” Somewhere around 1982, Danny Meldon, my compadre in acapella singing, was putting together a revue called “WHOT Radio” to do a series of shows. His idea was to have a bunch of different acts doing a few songs each, like an old-time Cavalcade of Stars. Except with non-stars from Lincoln, Nebraska. He knew I was writing songs on the side and he grafted me onto the Excessives for these performances. We sounded good so we just kept going after that as Pinky Black & the Excessives. I didn’t exactly play the part of Pinky Black but some people thought that, because I fronted the band, introduced the songs, told the jokes. That band was upper echelon musically and terrifically entertaining. We rehearsed and played all the time so every little thing was locked in. We made some decent records, a couple of 45s and an EP. We had a four-track recorder in our rehearsal studio and we got solid results. Sometimes we’d play as a quartet but we also regularly added in a horn section of sax player Jerry Boster and trumpeter Jeff Patton to give it a little soul texture. It was a success. The live shows were off the chain. Our bar and club gigs drew big, sweaty dancing crowds in Lincoln and we played out as far as Kansas City, Iowa City, Wichita. If we liked a song, we played it. Besides a bunch of originals, our repertoire ran a gamut: Clarence Carter’s “Snatchin’ It Back,” “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Pipeline,” Sam & Dave’s “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean.” “Gloria” by Them, interpolating “Shakin’ All Over.” Encore with “Finger Poppin’ Time” and maybe for the second encore when the house lights were already on, “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat.” Some nights the lid came off and stayed off.
• Kristin Chambers. For five years in the 2000s – most of Elena’s high-school years – we took dad-and-daughter singing lessons from Kristin. I’m a gifted amateur; she’s a true pro, a fabulous singer-songwriter (not the chick-with-a-guitar cliché), working hard to forge an indie career, making records and playing gigs. At the time she was teaching with Musicworks Northwest, 10 minutes from our place in Eastgate. We’d meet every other week for 50 minutes in a little lesson studio about half the size of a motel room. Kristin would play the piano and we’d sing: “Falling Slowly,” “Oh, Darling,” “Up On The Roof,” “Take Me Home Country Roads,” “Helpless,” “Breathe.” The rest of the time we’d crack jokes or sit around and talk about life. It was a great five years.
Day 312, Sat May 7: We drove 15 minutes (we take picturesque, winding Newport Way not I-90; I try to do as little freeway driving as possible when there is an efficient alternative) to Issaquah, parked at PCC (where we’ll grocery-shop later) and walked a half-mile to Sammamish State Park where Paddlefest was in full swing. It was just what it sounds like and it was a blast. First, it was sunny and cooking hot. Next, this was an event that was all about kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. The shore was lined with them. You could pay a trifling amount to get a wristband and then you could do demo rides. There were at least 100 people out on the lake, maybe closer to 200. We didn’t go out – we have kayaks at the cabin that we can paddle around in – but we very much enjoyed being around fit, athletic, fun people. It was totally an outdoor vibe with a little surfer dude mixed in. Entirely family-friendly with little kids, dogs and even a handful of oldsters like me in the crowd.
The grounds were covered with vendors’ tents displaying gear and accessories. I tried out a motor-driven boogie-board, sort of like a skateboard bred with a Segway. You balance up there and lean in the direction you want to go. I think the young woman in charge of it was a little taken aback that a geezer wanted to try, but she gamely grabbed me by the arm to hold me steady and away we went, slowly, for 10 feet or so, bumping over the lawn. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating my skills but I feel like if I had a perfectly flat surface made of some soft, giving material, and if I was full-body-armored in a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads – I could be doing this within an hour. Enid shopped for kayak booties – the kind that are like a wetsuit and can get soaked and still keep your feet warm. Hers got stolen out of the cabin five years ago (just as a side comment here about the criminal mind: what kind of thief takes your kayak booties?) and she’s been just using old tennis shoes ever since. She tried on some good booties and plans to buy them online. All in all, a very fun morning.
In the afternoon, Enid took Nadia down to work in the garden and I hung around the house. M’s win 3-2 on a 10th inning home run by Robinson Cano. Sounders win 2-0 on goals by Clint Dempsey and Justin Morris. Feeling celebratory, I’m in bed by 9 and asleep by 10. That’s what you call a heck of a Saturday.
Day 313, Sun May 8: Listening to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions to get the day started right. I go up to the studio and straighten up and clean up on my workbench and in the Christmas Hallway while Enid is painting. It’s a way we can do something together without actually doing something together. Some foxglove is blooming prettily right in the view out the window. I can’t remember if I tossed seeds out there in the studio patio lawn or if they self-seeded somehow.
Later in the day I get an email that reminds me that not everybody is retired: a guy who worked for me a few years back gets in touch to ask if I’ll be a reference for a job he’s hoping to get. I say yes, but then I never hear from the people who are supposed to call me. A few months from now I will see where a different person got the job. I hope that was actually a good outcome for my man.
Day 314, Mon May 9: Superior Appliance Repair will be here tomorrow afternoon to fix the dishwasher. It’s not cleaning the top rack of dirty dishes. I expect it to take them a few hours (at most) and cost me a few hundred dollars (at most).
When you’re working you don’t always have time to notice all the things that need regular maintenance and repair and you certainly don’t have time or inclination to ruminate about household maintenance. You just git ‘er done and move on. Now that I’m retired and jotting the most humdrum things down in this journal, I’m more aware of the repairs and the list seems never-ending. Cars, lawn tractor, dish washer, dryer, chain saw. Handyman work. Window washing. Sprinkling some diatomaceous earth around the house foundation to ward off ants. DIY projects. Plus the cabin. It’s like a whole second career in facilities management.
Which includes food services. For dinner I find a zip-lock bag in the freezer marked “Spicy Cajun Stew 11/14” so that is what we have, over rice.
Day 315, Tue May 10: When you are in the labor pool the advice is always to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. In my working years I tried to look professional: regular good haircuts (thanks, Luba at Salon Tewl), shaving pretty much every day, shined shoes, shirt and tie (thanks, Nordstrom Rack), everything neatly cleaned and pressed (thanks, Two-Hour Dry Cleaning). I was not a competitive dresser but I tried to stay contemporary. Maybe on Fridays I’d be in jeans and a polo shirt with a little two-day stubble.
I know it’s not manly but my whole adult life I tried to stay up on style trends and position myself appropriately. I’ve done a lot of things – worn a lot of different glasses frames, had a pair of lemon-yellow wide-wale corduroy bell bottoms during the decade when that might draw one look, but not two.
I shaved my moustache when moustaches went out of fashion and everybody got rid of theirs. I shaved my goatee when goatees came too much into fashion and everybody started sprouting one.
Remember, too, for this past decade I worked at a college; the professional staff was pretty professional but some of those academics took “casual” to another level. The bar was not that high.
I still like to read the men’s style sections. When I was on the chain gang, this would give me cues on whether to buy wide ties or skinny ties. Whether yellow shirts were in this year. Obviously, I was never the person who would spend $2500 for a designer cape (yes, they are showing capes this year – ha! The fashion industry knows that there is never a shortage of people who seem to enjoy being dorkily outrageous). And I am not going to put out $600 for a pair of jeans. That would have to be a real comfortable pair of jeans. But if I see something I like then you never know what I’ll do about it, to get something approximating the look.
Now I no longer need to keep up appearances for work. And another benefit of being old: no one is paying any attention to you. But as a retired older gent I also don’t want to be the guy with soup stains on the front of my misbuttoned shirt and a ragged cardigan sweater. A lot of the senior-lifestyle experts warn against it and recommend that one way to remain relevant is to stay well-groomed. Always dress age-appropriate, stay away from trendy. But make an effort to look sharp.
Philosophically, I’m on board with that program. But in reality most of my days now are spent rambling lonely as a cloud around the house and yard. The only one who’s going to see me is myself, and then probably only a fleeting reflection in a window or window And since I am the kind of person who is nonjudgmental when it comes to books and their covers, I don’t make that much of an effort to dress up for myself. Shorts and T-shirts. For the short-term, as for attire, let’s put it this way: I’m set. If the topic is grooming, I’ve got myself scheduled for weekly shaves. I know that it’s my inner beauty that really matters.
Still, I have to check myself because – while you might think there is no way to decline further, wardrobe-wise — there is always another sub-basement. On some days – this is one – my vintage light-blue Bellevue East Lacrosse T-shirt is so holey that it’s more like filigree (just getting to the place where I feel it is extremely comfortable, but still) and my pale green sweatshirt itself is fraying at the cuffs and collar. I want to convey “retired gent” not “hobo.”
Day 316, Wed May 11: We are into full-on gorgeous spring. It is 80 degrees and sunny again. The expansive view of Mount Rainier from our big south windows is majestic. I’ve been meaning to ramp up my walks which have been dwindling lately, so at 10 I park at the Factoria QFC and walk nine miles roundtrip to Mercer Island and back. The bike trail is alongside unpleasant I-90 traffic all the way so that it has a way to cross the channel of Lake Washington but there are also stretches where it drops down and is a lovely boardwalk through Mercer Slough.
The Mariners are playing the Rays at noon so I enjoy lazing around and I keep an eye on the game while puttering around the house. I think about going full-force and stripping down to my skivvies to watch the game but I think better of it. The M’s win on an 11th-inning walk-off homer. They are in first place, they look like they are legitimately good, they are definitely entertaining and it’s very exciting to be a fan. I wonder when they will revert to the losing form that Mariners fans know so well.
I take up the recycling to the bin, I take down the scraps from the kitchen under-the-sink compost bucket to the garden compost pile. We are starting to get radishes and the first garden lettuce. For lunch, I have leftover salad and leftover fruit salad. I make vegetable broth out of the butt ends of veggies I have stashed in the freezer. I eat an apple. I make chicken stock out of the bones I have stashed in the freezer. That’s what passes for noteworthy on a beautiful day like this.
For dinner: BLTs with avocado and aioli instead of mayo.
Day 317, Thu May 12: I drove to Lewis Creek Park, parked and walked 8.5 miles along Lakemont Blvd. and Forest Drive on the southern border of Bellevue. Every once in a while I will walk on an arterial like this with a sidewalk on only one side of the street and not all that much traffic. A half-hour into my workout today I needed to take a leak so I waited until no cars were coming and snuck off into a little area of bushes and trees to take care of business. I could have just done it standing right there on the sidewalk because no traffic came in either direction until I was back and walking.
It may seem like an odd choice to walk along an arterial, but it’s not unpleasant and it’s a change of pace from forest trails or bike paths. You almost never see other pedestrians. Today, in my whole two-hour walk I met only three other walkers (not counting some workers): a slow-walking older man who appeared to be out for his heath, a middle-aged woman toting three shopping bags (not sure where she could possibly have been coming from as there are no stores within miles) and an older woman walking her dog who, after I said hi, let fly with several friendly sentences. I thought she said her dog was keeping a stop-watch on walkers, so obviously I understood not a single word. I responded in the best way I could: I smiled and nodded my head agreeably.
Yesterday I walked in a similar setting. After shopping at Staples, I hiked six miles on the sidewalk side of NE 140th Ave. on the northernmost side of town. Not certain, but I may have done a border crossing from Bellevue into Kirkland somewhere up there. The whole time. More than an hour, I saw one other person on foot, an older gent in a turban and that long white shirt and baggy white pants that Indian guys wear if they are traditional dressers. He was walking with a sort of side-to-side rocking that brought to mind the posture of a tourist maintaining balance on a boat.
Day 318, Fri May 13: First, let me point out that I walked seven miles on sidewalks from Factoria to the Wilburton railroad trestle. I followed along a little hidden quasi-arterial with almost no traffic that seems designed entirely to let drivers cut through the Wilburton neighborhood and avoid the heavy density of cars on The Connector.
Then the repair guy came out to fix my riding lawnmower, a classic Craftsman. I explained what happened. This all started last summer. I filled the lawn tractor’s tires with air, poured gas in the gas tank and checked the oil. The dipstick showed no oil at all, so I poured in some regular car thirty-weight I had. I kept pouring and checking by peering in and when the quart was empty I figured I was good.
I started it up and it blew out a huge cloud of white oily smoke, then sputtered and died. Told this tale, the repair man said, “Ooooh.” He had a little inflection or accent – Haitian or African maybe. He said he’d suck the oil out and then we would see what had to happen next.
An hour later he was done, the mower was purring like a champ, and it only cost me $236.26. Plus he sharpened the blade. I had been expecting more pocketbook damage. When I asked whether it was tuned up so I could win the lawnmower races now he laughed and said, “When I drove it up the street I popped a wheelie. Small one.”
The only problem with getting a lawnmower repaired is that now I have to mow the lawn. It takes me about twice as long as usual – a couple of hours — since the grass hasn’t been trimmed yet this year (it’s two feet high in places) and I have to go slow and run over a lot of sections twice. In truth, though, it is not a chore, it is a pleasure. It is a short list of things more fun and gratifying than tooling around the yard on a riding mower.
Day 319, Sat May 14: Things are changing at the end of our cul-de-sac because our next-door neighbor Marilyn is selling her house and the agents’ opening is today. While our view is to Mount Rainier, her house has a panoramic vista of Seattle. She’s lived in the house for 40 years and she’s pretty lively – she still maintains a clientele as an attorney (including us; she did our will). But it is getting to be too much for her to manage. She tells me she’s 75 and once she was widowed five years ago she started looking at strategies to move on.
For now, she’s playing it by ear. She doesn’t really have a new home in sight and she’s in no hurry for the house to sell. In fact, she wouldn’t mind if it takes until September so she can spend a final summer up here. Hope we get good neighbors. (We do better than that, we get great neighbors, Adam and Monika.) By which I mainly mean neighbors who don’t have barking dogs; that will be a positive start, at least.
Day 320, Sun May 15: Fifty degrees and misting. We have a round thermometer outside the front window by the landline phone. You can know how warm or cool it is outside while you talk.
Today’s weather means it is either winter in Seattle or spring in Seattle. Or, some would say, summer in Seattle. But that’s not quite true. Summers in Seattle are, contrary to stereotype, glorious with just a few gloomy and chilly days like this. Usually the only bad days are the Fourth of July and any days you have a picnic planned. Let’s look for silver linings. Since it’s rainy we don’t have to water the seedlings.
Day 321, Mon May 16: I roasted a chicken with roasted vegetables. One way I do it – the way I did it today – is that first I save squeezed-out lemons in a bag in the freezer. Then I stuff them under the skin of the chicken, and maybe a few in the cavity, and roast away. Today I jammed a sliced up onion in there, too, plus I poured some Stubb’s Barbecue Sauce both inside and outside, a little olive oil, drizzled black vinegar and soy sauce, then sprinkled salt, pepper and rosemary over everything. Put the chunks of carrots, broccoli and potatoes all in the same pan with the chicken. 425 degrees for an hour and fifteen minutes (then when you stick it with a knife the juices never run quite clear so it always has to go back in for a little longer; I think our oven runs cool). Bon appetite!
Day 322, Tue May 17: Depending on how rainy the spring is we might start planting the garden in March or April and keep going through the gardening season. That’s what we’ve been doing. It’s a temperate climate here but we’re pretty far north and our house is at an elevation of 974 feet in the Cascade foothills. So cold-season crops do great. Not so much with anything that needs real heat or a long growing period. Forget sweet corn or watermelons.
Both Enid and I like to have the garden for all the reasons you might imagine. We think it’s healthier for us and for the environment. We get a kick out of saving money on store-bought produce. We believe in living lightly; I’m from the tail-end of the hippie, back-to-the-land “Mother Earth News” era and Enid’s mom always gardened. We embrace the notion of self-sufficiency (as far as we take it) and eating locally, especially when “locally” is our back yard. We think we’re doing something good when bees are buzzing around the garden. Enid does most of the hands-on gardening now and finds it contemplative and satisfying (also a good workout sometimes). But I have always liked to have a garden, too. I’ve always had backyard plots, and when I lived someplace where I didn’t have room for that, I made do with container gardens on the deck. There’s always room for a pot of lettuce, radishes and carrots.
Besides the vegetable garden (with flowers), we’ve got herbs on the front deck. We’ve got a few fruit trees. We’ve got a Meyer Lemon tree in the living room. We’ve got strawberries in flower boxes on the back deck, on the south side of the house. By midsummer, we can sit in the sunshine on the blue deck chairs at the round glass-topped table, lean over just slightly and pick a handful of tasty berries.
For dinner I made chicken salad from the other day’s roast chicken, plus a big green salad alongside it.
Day 323, Wed May 18: Enid took a personal day. We walked in Issaquah, up and down the quaint Front Street business district and venturing out a few blocks into the neighborhoods on different sides. Overcast and cool day that turned sunnier as it moved into afternoon. We stopped at Squak Mountain Nursery and bought tomatoes and flowers. For lunch we finished off the leftovers from two nights ago: picking at the carcass of the roast chicken, plus leftover roasted potatoes and the onions that had been stuffed inside the bird, and the leftover salad. We ate standing up at the kitchen counter, both of us eating from the same Tupperware containers. My idea, not hers. At least we each had our own fork. Not elegant, but pretty good.
After lunch Enid planted the cherry tomatoes in the main tomato bed against the south side of the house where they catch the reflected heat; she leaned some old storm windows over them as a makeshift cold frame. She planted a second patch down in the garden itself, some heirloom tomatoes that Enid gets from our neighbor Alex. And finished up with flowers for the planters on the front deck. I made a pile out of some branches that we cut a month or so ago from our fruit trees and had then just left lying in the yard, in the way of some places I needed to mow. Once they were cleared out I fired up the tractor and finished cutting the lawn.
Day 324, Thu May 19: Let me comment on politics. It’s an election year with the conventions this summer and then the general voting in November so the campaigning and dirty tricks are in full stride. Presidential campaigns are by nature a grotesque spectacle and this one has been ur-typical. By now the overflowing clown-car of candidates is down to a few who have mustered platoons of fervent politically-clueless followers. My personal politics are so far to the left of what any acceptable American candidate could safely denote that I almost never feel truly represented. Sometimes my local politicians come close but none of the national headline names. This will all be ancient history by the time anybody reads this, so here is the report from the middle of the stream.
This year the Republicans started off with a whole ship of fools – a dozen or so at the early debates – but it has winnowed down to an orange guy named Donald Trump. You never know, he could even be our President in a few months. He’s a frat guy – or wannabe frat guy – but from one of the lesser houses, a place with Gamma in its name, not Sigma.
Despite evidence to the contrary, this guy Trump and all the Republicans say that America is in real shitty shape and they can make it great again. I agree that American policies have been really crappy for middle-class people like me for, oh, basically my whole adult working life. I just don’t feel like The Donald is the answer. I’ve taken some personal responsibility for my own situation and I feel like a few intermittent presidents – Clinton and Obama – have done enough to make the country great that even the various Reagan and Bush administrations haven’t been able to totally kill it.
Candidate Trump is a booth-tanned – or possibly a spray-painted — serial failure as a businessman with a nutty hairdo. He’s a full-on crazy person with a huge army of insane supporters. It’s not even clear if he is really a candidate or whether he entered the arena as a marketing stunt for his brand. And try as I might, I cannot remember whether Trump played Mr. Creosote in “The Meaning of Life” or whether it was one of the eaters in “The Cook His Wife and Her Lover.” The man, himself, can’t seem to stop talking about his narcissism and other isms.
The last remaining challengers to Trump in the primaries were Ted Cruz, a deeply religious yard chicken, and Marco Rubio who I think is a City Councilman from a suburb somewhere.
The country is aflutter because Trump says out loud and in a belligerent bullying tone – on topics ranging from race to religion to the size of his wiener — what most Americans only think before they rush off to confession. He treats everybody with derision and it is impossible to watch him and not conclude that he is compensating for some deep insecurities. Partly, Trump is remindful of people we all worked with during our careers. People who were extremely incompetent and kept getting promoted by their supervisors just to get them the hell out of the unit, until one day you look up and they are the clueless Vice President of IT or Human Resources or Advancement. Mostly, though, Trump is a proud dope with no core and an exterior like a diner counter that seems wiped down but the elbows of your cardigan still stick a little. When people run out of Trump things to be outraged about they act pissed about his wife, who sometimes wears dresses that show a lot of cleavage or butt cheek.
Anti-Trump people think a Trump presidency, like his candidacy, foretells a return to a plutocratic America with Nazi overtones. I say what “return,” that seems like what we’re living in now.
Anyway, it’s not like a President can actually get anything done anymore. I am not that concerned. First, I don’t think this cluck is really electable, but I have seen crazier things happen in elections. And, second, I’ve lived through Nixon, Reagan, Bush II and if the Republic can survive those Three Stooges I think we can pursue life, liberty and happiness for a while longer, no matter who is on Air Force One.
Some folks I grew up with in elementary and high schools in Schuyler like to post their progressive politics on Facebook. They sometimes do serious analyses or criticism or commentary. I like it best, though, when they are funny, making their points by cracking on their subjects. When Trump, in a debate, went on at length about the size of his hands in a thinly veiled allusion to his whanger and then, the next day sprang his health care plan (well, “plan”), my Facebook pals chimed in. “The prostate exam’s over, Dr. Trump? Gee, I didn’t feel a thing.” Followed by “Prostate Examiner in Chief. Intern Chris Christie will be assigned the ones without health insurance.” When Trump finally nailed down the nomination, a friend commented, “The barking dog has caught the car.” (Within a few years we will all have a clearer idea of how that turned out.)
Which brings us to the Democrats. The one who will eventually be the candidate is Hillary Clinton, a tough and fearless old campaigner wrapped in a leathery exterior sprayed down with asbestos coating. And judging from the evidence, apparently the same thing on the inside. Everything they say about her seems indisputable: she is a consummate politician with a lifetime of experience who could stare down Vladimir Putin, she is bought and sold by corporate America, and she is totally without any moral compass or scruples. In other words, she’s the most electable of them all.
A lot of people on all sides of the political ball seem to really hate Hillary Clinton. They drag up all manner of issues as proof of her duplicity – some of them from 30 or 40 years ago. And some just drag up the sexism and misogyny from last week.
Her opponent, showing surprising staying power for now (and, of course, he will eventually wash out) is Bernie Sanders. He’s a grouchy grandpa who sells himself as a Socialist and basically has one note – a really good one, for sure – based on overturning the apple cart and redistributing the wealth and making the Middle Class great again. I will be in line for my share of the money when he gets that accomplished and they start handing out the cash.
Personally, I would like to hear any candidate come out for cutting back the obscene military budget, to get us out of these senseless never-ending wars and, for that matter, to get us out of this national military worship. They never will because they are afraid they will be called a traitor. They don’t even want to go out of the house without their flag lapel pin. I’m a pacifist, don’t believe in wars, don’t believe in armies, don’t believe in killing, don’t believe in dying for a cause (as Bertrand Russell said, “I would never die for my beliefs. I’m not sure that I’m right.”).
Sanders has positioned himself as the outsider, the only “honest” politician (there’s one every election cycle, no?). It is a thin line, though, between being resolute and principled and being inflexible and blindered. Where integrity leaves off and intransigence starts in. And it’s not clear what principles have to do with effective politics and governing. It’s not like those two pursuits are honorable or honest.
Still, he has struck a chord with progressives and disenfranchised young people, most of whom are refreshingly naïve about the way politics works and some of whom have nutty conspiracy theories about why their man isn’t getting the nomination. During the run-up campaigns he drew huge enthusiastic crowds to arenas and his backers see this as evidence that he is truly the front-running candidate. Of course, if the ability to fill arenas was the way we kept score in politics, of course, Bruce Springsteen or Kenny Chesney would be president. While I am a Bernie supporter, I feel like I should be more fired up about his candidacy. When President Obama – who I feel has been a great President – was first rising up eight years ago I had a very visceral and emotional reaction to what he seemed to promise and represent. It was good to feel that for a candidate or a President. I don’t feel it with Bernie. My head tells me he’s terrific. My heart not so much. Maybe he is too much like me, an old, white progressive. Or maybe it’s because I feel that, despite his claims that he is different, he is a 30-year lifer politician himself. So I enjoy the charade that he is different without really going all in with him.
But I will vote for one of these candidates in November even though I’m very cynical about whether my vote counts – I don’t think it really does. I strongly feel that none of these candidates has the first clue what matters to me or what my life is like. And yet, I will fill in the circles on my ballot with a black pen and mail it in. My responsibility as an American.
I figure that Hillary Clinton will get my vote. She’s pretty good, allowing for the fact that she is right-centrist and I am more extreme in my beliefs. There are even some things Donald Trump says that I agree with. He’s a dope and his remedies are crazy but he’s not 100 percent off track in naming the problems.
Which brings us to transgender bathrooms, a headline issue for a few weeks lately that seemed to be a litmus test for whether you are progressive or conservative. Here is the short version: transgender people want to use whatever bathroom they are comfortable using, and this gives conservatives the skeevies. Personally, I am good to go. No, I don’t totally understand dysmorphism or people who are fluid sexually but I understand enough to know they are trying to figure out their identity. And in the case of bathrooms, they are trying to pee in peace. We are talking about bathrooms, for cripes sakes! One scary story told by anti-trans folks seems like a low risk: that a male sex offender is going to pose as a transgender woman just to get in the women’s can and assault somebody. Could it happen? Yes. Is it likely? No.
So, letting public toilets serve as an apt analogy for the presidential election gives us the same conclusion. Could Trump or Sanders win? Yes. Is it likely? No.
Day 325, Fri May 20: On my walk up to the next neighborhood, Summit, and back I saw a couple of nice things. Part of my jaunt was through a little wooded trail and 10 feet up a tree was a dramatic pileated woodpecker. It was careful to stay on the other side of the trunk from me, but I spied it. Then when I was in the steepest part of the climb, out on a sidewalk in the neighborhood of big homes, somebody’s landscaping including a patch of little bright purple-red flowers on grayish green stalks. A bee was in one of the flowers, making things happen.
In the afternoon, while we were out and about we dropped by The Pumphouse for a mug of beer and a basket of coconut shrimp. Then back home we were each on our own to make the best we could out of whatever leftovers we could find.
Day 326, Sat May 21: Philanthropy. When you’re working, with a revenue stream, you can have your household budget include a line for giving and you can be a generous person. Feel good about yourself. For me it was usually to support something my daughter was involved with: PTA or a team or a club. For others it might be politics or church.
My strategy was to give every worthy cause on my list a flat $100 during their annual campaign. With some of the sports teams or other activities I would chip in more on an ad hoc basis but that $100 gave me a good marker; when they asked for $150 (and of course they did) I would know that they were upselling me. I didn’t resent the upsell – I’ve been on the other side, after all, strategizing fundraising campaigns – I’m just not susceptible to it. Also, I am really good at saying “no,” even to causes I align with. And there are many political and social causes I believe in but did not support with money.
In Act Two you have to reconsider your philanthropic strategy (along with every other strategy). Until the dust settles on our flow of income/outgo I’m declining every opportunity to give. If and when I get back into it, I will probably prioritize the University of Puget Sound first. They’ve been a good educational experience for our family and they do a good job of reminding us they need support, without hectoring.
For dinner I baked salmon with rice, squash and a big mixed chop salad. White wine.
Day 327, Sun May 22: I’m rattling around home alone. Enid and Elena are off for a few days on a mom-and-daughter getaway to Santa Fe, as a 21st birthday present. I dropped them off at the curb at Sea-Tac this morning.
I picked up around the house and did some paperwork while I kept one eye on the M’s beating the Cincinnati Reds in a game that started at 10 am here. I heated up leftover chicken pot pie for lunch, then drove to Target to see if I could buy a boombox that plays a cassette tape and a CD (to replace the one at the cabin that has finally stopped working). I walked at Robinswood. I came home and decluttered some paper files while watching the Seattle Storm play the Minnesota Lynx in a 4 o’clock game. Read two Sunday papers.
Supper: heated up leftover salmon and squash from yesterday.
Day 328, Mon May 23: Like everybody I’ve got about a bazillion jpgs that I need to get organized, and that is a good project. In fact it may take me the rest of my retirement to get it done. This is just one of the many decluttering and downsizing projects awaiting my attention. In the overall picture, I’ve been making progress on it, bit by tiny bit. Everything counts, it’s all progress.
I’ve got these images in folders on the computer, on thumb drives tossed into the back of my office cubby, even on memory cards still in old CoolPix cameras. I would back up all of this to cloud storage except that is too complicated for me to figure out. I did i-Cloud when somebody else was sharing some photos and – while it worked – it required a password and then it sent me a half-dozen text messages I ignored. It was pushing for way more of a relationship than I was willing to commit to.
But at the very least I need to weed through the images and delete the million I don’t even want. Then I’ll delete the two million that are copies. Some I need to upload to Walgreens’ or Bartell’s photo printing page and get prints made and then put them into photo albums or three-ring binders. For me, it is still way more fun to leaf through an album of actual prints (or, maybe even better, to go through a shoebox full of unorganized prints) than to run a slideshow on the laptop. Then I will still have Part Two to keep me occupied: go through my old boxes and scrapbooks of snapshots from the pre-digital age – my own pictures but also family history — and figure out what to do with those. Scan them or scrapbook them or something. Oy, it’s overwhelming.
Day 329, Tue May 24: Irritation No. 1: My Windows account made me change my password because it was going to expire. This is my home computer and I am the user of it 99 percent of the time; the other one percent is other family members. I don’t want a password on it at all and I certainly don’t want to have to change it every so often. This used to drive me crazy at work, although then I could at least appreciate the security rationale for changing it periodically. I tried to find a way to turn off the need for a password but could not find it. To be continued.
Irritation No. 2: Just now, inexplicably, all my favorites were gone from my Edge favorites list; I click it and there’s nothing there. But there is a helpful “Import Favorites” from another browser. In my case this would be my old Internet Explorer – kind of the precursor to Edge – and I would be mostly fine with that. EXCEPT it imports the favorites in alphabetical order, so I have to re-order them the way I need them. And, of course, it’s missing anything I’ve favorited since changing to Windows 10 a few months ago.
Irritation No. 3: I just ate a bowl of microwaved leftover chili and then one of the first things in my Facebook feed was “Reasons Not To Eat Microwaved Food.” Given the timing, I’m not sure if I should read it or if I’m better off not knowing.
I walked at Boren Lake in Newport Hills southwest of here. That was pleasant, not irritating. And, as a side observation, it never occurred to me that people went fishing on a date; I saw two different young couples with their lines in the water.
Day 330, Wed May 25: They say it’s like this for most everybody, and I can’t disagree when it comes to my experience:
1. First, once the retirement parties are over, you have a honeymoon with yourself. If you want to do things, you do them. If you want to do nothing, you do nothing. You’re free and legal.
2. Next, uh-oh, retirement gets kind of mundane, you get bored, Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” gets stuck in your head.
3. Then, they say, you have to build a new identity so that you can reach closure with your working days and find new purpose. Honestly, I never had that much of myself wrapped up in my career and I had thought about some of this retirement stuff, so I found it to be a smooth slide into the New Me. It’s an evolving process but not a distressing one.
4. And, finally, ta-da, you figure out your new daily schedule, your new domestic balance, your new sense of self. Your new meaning of life.
The New Me walked 12 miles, that’s a lot even for yours truly. I will pick up the rest of my family on their return flight from Santa Fe just after supper time.
For dinner, I made dal and naan that we ate after we got home from the airport.
Day 331, Thu May 26: Enid went down to the garden to thin cabbages and came back with a treat: a handful of raspberries. She said fresh peas are not far off; there are some pods forming and tons of white blooms.
Day 332, Fri May 27: Besides every other thought that goes through your head when you are retired, you start thinking about where you will eventually be living in your real declining years. In our case, we’re probably good where we are for another decade or so and then we’ll figure out the next move. There are reasons to only age in place for a reasonable time.
For one thing, the upkeep on our property. We live on an acre, mostly untamed. For now we keep up – most of the time — with the mowing and trimming and gardening and brush hauling. We like doing it but it’s an ongoing task and our ability to deal with it will surely diminish. Sure, we could hire gardeners, and maybe we will. Maybe we won’t. For another thing, Enid is 55 now and plans to work for several more years, maybe a decade. Once she cuts the string, that’s one less thing keeping us here.
We already enjoy daydreaming out loud about that future. We haven’t made any plans, though we can probably rule out a few things. We’re not the kind of people who would buy a Winnebago and travel America; I’m pretty imaginative but I don’t see that happening. We have thought, though, about spending a few years trying out new places: maybe we move to Phoenix or Arkansas, or one of the “Best Places to Retire” we click through on Facebook, or live in a rental property some place for a year to see how we like it.
There’s another option. We stay put here in the Pacific Northwest – we like it – and just downsize. We’ve already walked through a couple of cottage housing developments – they are not strictly retirement villages but retirees live there — and liked the vibe and the cute architecture. Wherever we end up, one of our check-marks will be that it has a decent sense of community; we’ve had that both here at our home and at our cabin co-op.
Conventional retirement developments aren’t really what we’re looking for. It seems possible that with the waves of retiring Boomers that some new models of retirement living will be popping up, some kind of co-housing or cooperative set-up that mixes independent living with the power of community support and appropriate options for light assisted living. I haven’t really researched this yet, but we can’t be the only people thinking the way we do.
There are a lot of ways to do it. Our financial advisor, Kathleen, told us that she and a bunch of women have made plans to move in together in a house or a compound and create their own housing model with a built-in support system when they are retired. We don’t really have a cohort of friends that we want to live with that intimately, but a step or two back from that might work for us.
Day 333, Sat May 28: Yesterday Enid got off work at noon, we nabbed Elena in Tacoma at mid-afternoon (she got off work at 2:30) and drove out to our cabin for the vacation community’s spring work party. Stopped on the way at El Sombrero in Belfair for an early dinner. Driving in for the last half-hour on the gravel road we were blasting Sam Cooke and singing along (in a couple of days, on the reverse commute we will go with Old Crow Medicine Show and then a mix-tape CD with Steve Hanson, the White Stripes, Hound Dog Taylor and a bunch of other good ones).
Hood Canal is heavy with shrimp boats; the “season” is just a few days – and a relatively few hours on those days — so the shrimpers all have to get out here and put down their pots. The work party itself goes well; I join a group that is weed-whacking and lopping the South Beach picnic area where we will have the potluck Saturday night (also a good event).
I talk with Jim, a retired attorney, about some acquaintances he has at a New York firm who refuse to work with Donald Trump on the grounds that he is “an asshole” who disputes fees after they have been agreed to. I talk with Pieter, a retired doctor, who has been auditing history classes at the UW. I talk with Mayumi, a retired arts administrator, who is planning an encore career as a lecturer about Japanese-American history in the Northwest. This is sounding like it was a retirement camp, so let me just say I also talked with Rosemary (five years old with a burgeoning interest in walking out on downed logs and jumping off of them onto the beach); with Julia (three years old and with an avid interest in doing whatever Rosemary is doing); with Max (five years old and with an insatiable interest in poking a stick into the campfire and waving the burning baton around).
At our own cabin we do a bit of cleaning and straightening up, making notes about more major fix-ups we need to accomplish. Enid scrambles up on the roof (!!!) to rake off the leaves and clean the skylights. You can stand on the roof but it is a steep angle – if you fell you would roll off. I used to go up there myself but that is not happening any more. We have a rope tied to an I-hook so you can wrap it around your waist to have security just in case you slip. It’s good to have the skylights cleaned off and I’m glad she didn’t fall off the roof.
For Sunday night dinner we are invited to Brad and Kai’s cabin. We have known these guys for just a few years since they joined the cabin co-op and we consider them good friends. Walking home at 11 through a half-mile of darkened forest with just a lantern-style flashlight is a lot of fun.
Day 334, Sun May 29: As I’ve said, we like gardening for all kinds of reasons. Having a garden plot covers lots of aspects of the healthy lifestyle. Planning, planting, tending, harvesting, preserving; these things are mostly Enid’s bailiwick. Eating; this is where I contribute.
Just on the economics side, we get a kick out of seeing, say, raspberries in the store for $3.99 for a little container, and then coming home and picking an equivalent handful and eating them on the spot. We ring it up as $3.99 of free raspberries. This October when delicate squash are 99 cents apiece, we will chuckle at the $20 worth we have in a basket in the studio. We feel like our salads are gratis all summer. When, next winter, we pull out frozen tomato sauce that we made from the garden, we feel like we are putting one over on Ragu and Paul Newman. Yes, we are well aware that it’s not really free, that we have cash outlays for seeds, fertilizers, soil amenders, twine, tools. Hey, we’ve read “The $79 Tomato.” But we prefer to knowingly look the other way on the expenses, to consider the cash outlay just a wise investment in staying healthy and happy.
I read where they grew some lettuce on the Space Station. Outstanding work, NASA. We are already enjoying lettuce from our garden and over the next few months we will have so much lettuce that we can’t keep up with eating it. Match that, astronauts.
Day 335, Mon May 30: I walk seven miles roundtrip to the Newport Way Library. I mow the lawn. I weed-whack half of the tall grass at the studio patio and break the weed whacker. I run the load of dirty laundry we brought back from the Canal. I do a load of dishes. I watch the Mariners beat the Padres 9-3.
Day 336, Tue May 31: I unclog a clogged sink drain and make a note in my calendar to do some preventive maintenance every couple of months. Pour some Bio-Kleen down there, or at least some boiling water. I’m confident doing a little bit of plumbing, if it doesn’t involve too much running water. Weirdly, plumbing repairs always seem to involve excess water. So, replacing a toilet tank float bulb? I’m good to go. Replacing the entire toilet, ummm, let’s think about that a little longer. Digging a big muddy hole in the yard to expose some PVC piping to a hose bib that’s leaking? I’m the man. Fixing the actual leak? Better call Reliable Plumbing.
It’s good to accumulate a “staff” of experts who can help you keep your life running smoothly. It takes a village to raise a retiree. In our case we don’t have a yard service or housecleaning – we do it ourselves, at least for now. But we do have expert help: financial advisor (Kathleen); tax prep (Mitch); doctor (Dr. McCandless); dentist (Dr. Wentworth); car repair (Glenn at Eastside Auto Works); tree-cutting (Jim); window cleaning (Affordable Window Cleaning).
About the only place where you can’t pay somebody for advice is one of the main things you need expertise on in retirement: the maze of social security and Medicare. Somebody could make their next million advising on Social Security strategies. I started trying to figure it out two years before I retired and never really did. Nobody will actually tell you what’s best in your particular circumstances. Finally, the HR benefits guy at Bellevue College told me what to do (he was still indirect about it, but there was no misunderstanding his message). Mahalo, Karsten.
Since we didn’t do a grocery shopping this past weekend I’m foraging in the larder for dinner: baked small gold potatoes topped with skipjack tuna salad, plus a green salad. Enid texted that she’d be a little late because she had to stop at Fed Ex to get a couple of paintings packaged for shipment to a buyer in Arizona. Could she bring anything home? Yes, cheese and crackers and dessert to bookend the tuna-topped potatoes.