Retirement – Month Five, November

Just Quit Already!
Day-by-Day through Year One of Retirement

Day 124, Sun Nov 1: Fall Back!

I’ve caught a cold, which is puzzling since I have nearly zero contact with humans on a day-to-day basis. Probably from touching too many door handles at the library or something. Anyway, I am treating it by dowsing with Dayquil syrup (I have downed the old half-bottle that was long past its expiration date that I found left over in the medicine chest) and Contac tablets every four hours, mixing “day” and “night” for variety. I feel it sitting in my chest but I’m able to suppress the coughing for the most part. Feel lousy but may try to walk a couple of laps around the Hill today anyway, just to do something.

Busy sports day: we have to watch 1) the Seahawks v Cowboys as the Hawks try to battle their way back into relevance after a choppy start 2) The Sounders v Dallas in the MLS playoffs. This latter game is concurrent with our Community Association annual meeting to elect officers and hear a really long report on the water system (there was a whole string of emails on the community email yesterday suggesting ways to avoid the scheduling conflict with the soccer game, but the Executive Board held firm). The good thing about Sounders games is that they run a replay immediately after the real-time game so we can watch it when we get home at 8 or 8:30.

Most normal people would Tivo it or DVD it or whatever you do now to record it. But in our case we’re not most normal people. Ever since the DVD recorder glitched out a few years ago (well several years ago now) and I couldn’t get it worked out, I just said fuck it and we haven’t recorded anything. Just watched something else or nothing at all. Quality of life around here doesn’t seem to have suffered.

Day 125, Mon Nov 2: Hey, I’m rich. Possibly.

In the mail is a notice from the Social Security Administration that I may be eligible for a $173 claim from the Lincoln Journal-Star, dating back to when I left there in 1985 after working a decade right out of college. I vaguely remember that I rolled out about $20,000 from their employer-match fund at the time, but I have no idea what this latest thing could be.

I dutifully follow the SSA’s instructions to contact the Journal-Star benefits administrator to file the claim. I did have some expenses: my postage and handling costs of a dime to make a copy of the SSA letter at the library and a Forever stamp to mail it (49 cents?). I figure that is 59 cents well spent since, as everybody knows, it takes money to make money. Fingers crossed.

I also completed another bit of retirement paperwork: I filled out Group Health’s benefits coordination form to deal with the Medicare/Group Health plan situation. Of course the form itself was the opposite of crystal clear, so I completed it out as best I could and then wrote a note to describe my intent. Fingers crossed.
Burritos for supper.

Day 126, Tue Nov 3: My three best music books I read so far this year: Nonfiction: “Do Not Sell At Any Price” by Amanda Petrusich. It’s a peep into the oddball underworld of obsessive 78s record collectors and, by extension, a brilliant exposition on why music means so much to all of us. Fiction: “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James. The thick patois is like James Joyce and William Shakespeare passing through mid-70s Jamaica; most of the time I knew what was going on, but not always. At all times the atmosphere was unmistakable. Memoir: “Rod” by Rod Stewart. Unsurprisingly it’s witty and charming but also unexpectedly honest and direct; he seems to steer by two guide stars: Know Thyself, and Judge Not.

Veggie burgers from the freezer for dinner.

Day 127, Wed Nov 4: Nice sunny day. I drove to Crossroads, then walked five miles round-trip south up 156th past the Lake Hills Library to the intersection with the little fruit stand, and back.

I know I’ve bragged here about how I no longer have any business-wardrobe expenses since I dress in shorts and T-shirts every day. But I’ve been wearing the same six pairs of white Nike socks. And, as you know, I take walks. So the socks have been wearing out, a hole in the heel here, a toe poking through there. I’ve mixed and matched as best I can but today I caved, ducked into Sports Authority while I was at Crossroads and bought six pair white Nike and six pair black Under Armour crew socks. A $40 outlay. It will turn out that I like the feel of the Under Armours a lot better. Should last me a couple of years.

Wednesdays are my housecleaning days, and once a month I give the bathrooms a deep clean. The first time, it took a real head-down effort to scrub everything top to bottom, since it had been a while. Now I’m more in maintenance mode so today’s cleaning goes pretty quick.

For dinner: BLTs (turkey bacon) and fruit salad.

Day 128, Thu Nov 5: Scrolling through my Facebook, I watch an old black and white clip of Chuck Berry performing “Johnny B. Goode” in some European TV studio, Freddie King doing a five-minute guitar boogie, that video with Dave Grohl and Questlove playing Ringo’s drum set in the style of Ringo, somebody has posted “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count 5, a “Raw & Uncut Interview” with Mick Jagger from 1985, Taj Mahal’s “Fishing Blues,” Lala Brookes singing “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Both Eddie Harris & Les McCann’s “Compared to What” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” two of my favorites. Then there’s Nikki Hill. Deer Tick, Jesse Winchester, Kristin Chambers, Natalia LaFourcade, Lizz Wright, Linda Wilmot, the Swinging Medallions, Bobby Blue Bland.

I’m feeling better, just hacking and coughing a little. Draining a bottle of Nyquil Severe over the past few days has set me on the path to recovery. Thursday is yardwork day so I keep glancing out the window and trying to talk myself into going out and doing a little trimming or picking up some blow-down branches and dragging them to the pile I keep at the edge of our yard, somewhat disguised by all the trees out there. It’s not raining, but it is very gray and ominous – it’s November in Seattle, for cripe’s sakes – so I am not anxious to get soaked.

I bite the bullet at 10, go out and trim salal overgrowth and dead fern fronds (I’m trying to neaten up and lighten up around the rhodies and our other showier plants along the long steps down to the house) and an hour and a half later, just as I’m cramming the last cuttings into the green bin, it starts to rain. Turns out timing is everything. Who knew? I will have to resolve this issue somehow if I am going to get any yardwork done on Thursdays between now and next May. Either get myself rainproofed or just know that I’m going to get wet. Or, of course, I could do the yardwork on a different day but that would require some flexibility. For today, I have a great feeling of accomplishment at outsmarting Nature.

Dinner: pizza, salad and fruit salad.

Day 129, Fri Nov 6: Enid and I met up at five o’clock for the free-admission First Friday at Bellevue Arts Museum. I got dressed up: jeans, brown dress shoes, a blue striped dress shirt. A belt.

The main show filling the third floor was “Counter Couture,” about hippie fashions: tie dyes, embroidered jeans, bedazzled vests, capes and so on. It was really good: nostalgic, funny and cool. The only mildly puzzling thing was the overload of knitted and crocheted stuff, including swim suits. I was around in that era and I don’t remember that. So either my memory is selective, or all the crochet people were going to different Be-Ins than me.

The other exhibit, on the second floor, was a fun surprise: campy gay ceramics: phallic teapots and also some political stuff aimed at – literally – shattering the paternalistic choke-hold on the art history narrative.

Afterwards we walked down the block and had dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy. Downtown was hopping on Friday after work with the sidewalks full and all the bars – Joey’s, Earl’s – jam packed. We had a gift card to use, but we had been snobbish about it, thinking Maggiano’s would be a close relative of Old Spaghetti Factory or Buca De Beppo. I take it all back. We liked it.

There were pictures on the walls of old-world Maggiano’s (or somebody’s relatives). There were pictures of celebrities who’ve eaten at Maggiano’s (John Lithgow in the house!). We sat in a black-leather booth that gave us a full view of the dining room, which had every kind of seating from two-tops up to a couple of long tables holding a dozen patrons. It was just the right amount of noisiness; you could chat easily with your booth partner if you leaned in a little, which made it both public and intimate. Our waitress was super-friendly and took good care of us. We had bruschetta appetizers, a glass of wine apiece, chicken and pasta entrees. It was tasty (especially the bruschetta with soft cheese and bacon). The whole tab was only $65 and Enid’s $25 gift card cut that down to even more affordable.

We had come in separate cars, so walking back to the parking lot where I always park in downtown Bellevue I cut through Bell Square and in the main central area there was a Japanese taiko drum group doing their thing: one little old guy with five babed-out young women and a huge crowd gathered around while they energetically pounded it out. They were having fun and so were the spectators. I stood around adding to the atmosphere for five minutes and then moved on. A really fun night out for us.

Day 130, Sat Nov 7: As a Nebraskan-American and University of Nebraska alum, I root for Husker football. Saying it that way doesn’t begin to capture what it’s really all about, of course. There are times – still, and I’ve been away from Nebraska for more than 30 years, and I have Seattle teams I root for now – when my self-worth is tied to the fate of the Cornhuskers. I still drink the Husker Kool Aid. Take the boy out of Nebraska, and all that.

I don’t need to get into all of the value that a sports team – especially a legendarily successful one – can add to a community’s esteem and lift a town’s spirits. There are plenty of studies on that. Boston was a perennial loser-town, then the Red Sox won it all a few times and that all changed – certainly from the outside looking in, and I imagine also for the long-suffering Red Sox Nation. In fact, Red Sox fans kind of seem like jerks now, don’t they.

As a Seattleite, I suffer along with the annual failures of the Mariners. And I exult in the triumphs of the Seahawks. Our city felt like losers when the Sonics stole out of town. And felt like winners when the Hawks won it all. I am, by no means, trying to make a case for the indefensible obscenity that is the pro sports business model. Just saying that when my teams win I feel better. Along with thousands of other fans.

With the Cornhuskers, it’s even more acute. There are no pro sports teams in Nebraska, so the semi-pro Big Red is all we’ve got. Plus, we used to be elite. In the day, Cornhusker players and teams had to be great to be considered good by the fan base. But – and this is not contradictory – the fans backed the team win, lose or draw. Even if we are now mediocre, Husker fans are always ready to party like it’s the national championship years of 1995 or 1996. Or 1970. Or 1972. The fans are loyal and ardent. I’m sure there are other places like Lincoln, Nebraska on a fall Saturday, but not too many. When I moved to Seattle I had to laugh at UW Husky fans who like to think their program is close to being elite. It’s not. It’s a nice Division One program, but everything about it is like Triple A compared to Nebraska. And Game Day? No comparison.

(In a year – next season – Elena and I will take a weekend trip back to the Motherland, the Cradle of Civilization, to visit relatives, drop by the legendary-world-famous Zoo Bar on Friday night, enjoy the spectacle of a Big Red game on Saturday and detour through Schuyler on the way back to the Omaha Airport on Sunday. It will be a great dad-and-daughter excursion and every bit of it will be terrific. We have not really seen my nieces – Elena’s cousins – for several years [15 in Elena’s case] so it is fun to go out to Mamma’s Pizza and sit and yak for three hours. They both have kids (pretty sure this makes these daughters and sons my grand-nieces and grand-nephews) who are grade-school to high-school age, and every one of them is a sparking live wire. Then move it down the interstate to Lincoln in time to pay a $6 cover to catch a late set at the Zoo Bar by the Mezcal Brothers, a superbly talented and entertaining blues-tinted rockabillyish combo [Elena uses the toilet and reports that it has a paper sign on the door: “This is the women’s bathroom. Ya, dig?”]. The following day, on Saturday, it will be us and 90,000 people just like us, dressed in red, and thronging the sidewalks of campus and the Haymarket district. The team’s mascot is Herbie Husker and our favorite T-shirt message that we spot is “Talk Herbie To Me.” Wandering around, we stumble across the arrival of the teams’ bus in front of Memorial Stadium. We bump into the Cornhusker Marching Band warming up with a four-song outdoor set at the Sheldon Art Gallery Sculpture Garden. We watch the Cornhuskers trounce the Fighting Illini, a close game until a fourth-quarter Big Red surge. There is no place like Nebraska. And then on Sunday we drive out the hour to Schuyler, through beautiful fall countryside and fields of finished corn. For me, this is a return to the Motherland so it is restorative. For Elena, it has a dab of getting in touch with her roots, touching her Nebraskan-American ethnicity and finding out a bit about who she is and why she is that way. We visit the address where I grew up [my old house is gone; the high-school gym is on the spot] and the tiny rural Holy Cross Cemetery a mile north of town where her grandparents are buried [she did not know them]. It turns out that not only are her grandparents there, but gravestones mark her great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents. It’s pretty emotional for her. Everybody needs roots, and everybody should go home and check in once in a while. But that trip is a year off.)

Personally, after three decades of self-imposed exile, I have evolved for the better emotionally: I still glory in Cornhusker triumphs, but I no longer grow despondent at their failures.

Day 131, Sun Nov 8: While Enid went to yoga this morning I went out and jogged – JOGGED – the neighborhood loop. A mile, and a personal best for me in my fitness comeback. I’m fully aware that I’m mold — as author Gerald Marzorati says, “Do not kid yourself about this. You are milling in the anteroom of the aged.” – but I’m trying to control the process a little.

Several years ago I gave up on running. My knees were shot (too many basketball games from age 10-35, not that I regret it), a few too many pounds (not really heavy, just at the top end of my BMI range) and intermittent exercise. I had cut back from running to walking for years. I figured that was that.

But when I retired, as you well know, I got into a regular – some would say neurotic – routine of taking long walks. Then I read that long and steady is good but bursts of more intense exercise are even better. Intervals, basically. So on some of my walks I’ve been mixing in 100-yard runs (it would be a lie to call them sprints) every quarter-mile or so. First, most importantly, I didn’t notice any discomfort or tweaks in my knees. Maybe it was that decade of rest that is sparing me additional trauma now.

Next, it seems like all of this exercise has to translate into a few lost pounds but I’m having trouble proving my hypothesis. I have an old bathroom scale up in the studio but I’m not totally confident in its readings. No matter how much I exercise or stick to smoothie diets, my weight seems to be exactly the same as when I was sitting on my butt all day and eating a bag of chips and drinking beer every night.

In my mind, I’ve been thinking about pushing my Personal Record – low as that bar is set — and today was a trial to see how it would go. First, I made it around the mile, so that was Success Number One. Second, my knees don’t have any adverse reactions. I get it, it’s not like I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail but it’s a start. I might even have kept going but it started raining and I was wearing a regular long-sleeved T-shirt so I called it quits, came inside and finished with my Indoor Workout (body weight and a few curls and so forth with hand weights) in the TV room.

In the evening, Enid has to go out for an event. She complains about it a little, not so much because she dislikes the event – she enjoys it – but just because she’d rather hang home and cocoon. But this one isn’t optional: International School parents have purchased an item at the annual auction for a Canvas & Cork night of drinking wine and painting a landscape under the tutelage of the school’s Washington State Art Teacher of the Year.

While she’s gone from 5-9 o’clock I watch the Sounders’ season end in a dismal playoff loss to Dallas; it goes through the regular game, 30-minutes overtime and to penalty kicks where the Dallas keeper makes a couple of saves and sends our team into the offseason.

I make myself a big salad for supper.

Day 132, Mon Nov 9: Our man Kurt is troubleshooting and repairing our septic system at the cabin. We failed a recent inspection. This is not all that surprising; the more startling thing is that we ever passed any inspections for 20 years. Part of the septic set-up there is a totally DIY thing where some wiring for the pump is in a Tupperware container above ground to keep it dry. Tupperware, like what you’d bring your lunch in to work. On the other hand, we are only there a handful of times a year, so it doesn’t get that much of a workout.

In terms of overseeing projects at the cabin, we are pretty far off the grid and sometimes we hire the work done from a modern, on-time company. Other times we get one of the local handymen, and some of them are independent contractors in the ultimate sense of the word. Kurt is one of these. It reminds me of the time I ordered custom-labeled mini- bottles of Bellevue College Hot Sauce to hand out at our end-of-year staff shindig. I ordered them from a Louisiana company that I found online and they did business in a different way. I was stressing about getting the hot sauce on time. In the end, though, I should have adapted their “no problem, mon” approach: the hot sauce showed up and was a big hit, so it was all good.

Likewise, in the Belfair and Tahuya district we can find ourselves working with a contractor who does the job but there are some quaint challenges. For example, we didn’t hear much at all from Kurt until we asked about progress. Only then did he tell us he’d already been out there and the septic job was done. And sometime after that he sent the bill.

Today I rattle around home all day. Enid has parent conferences after work (she teaches at the International School, remember), so she doesn’t make it home until after seven.
I have dal and naan waiting for her.

Day 133, Tue Nov 10: If your goal is to make your retirement great, try not to be bored. That’s been my approach, I don’t do boredom. Ennui seems to be one fear people have about riding off into the sunset. Not me. First, I’m the kind of person who can stay interested just sitting in a chair and staring out the window. On top of that, I’ve got plenty to do if I ever feel like doing it.

I live on an acre of overgrown property, with a house full of deferred maintenance projects. I’ve got a whole hallway filled with shelves stacked with bankers boxes of old photos, memorabilia, tax records, clippings of stories I wrote in my career that need to be organized. I’ve got plenty to do without getting bored.

Sometimes, against all logic, I will think I’m not getting enough done and I need to be more productive. I still haven’t totally downshifted into the retirement mindset. But I’m getting there. Most of the time I’m not worried about my productivity level. I’m not stressing about not stressing.

Day 134, Wed Nov 11: I’ve been retired for almost four months now and I have not missed the office. In fact, I have barely thought about it. Because I’m keeping this journal I naturally think about topics that, in turn, cause me to think about all my jobs of my lifetime, including my most recent. And I live just a few miles from the Bellevue College campus so I drive past there a few times a week. I see little stories about BC in the Bellevue Reporter. I see the stuff the college posts on Facebook. I was friendly but not really friends with lots of colleagues. And when I left, I made a quick and quiet exit. The door closed softly behind me. There today, gone tomorrow.

I’m Facebook friends with a few folks I worked with at various jobs over the years, but that’s about it. In the few months I’ve been retired I’ve bumped into three old BC colleagues: 1) Jim, a nice guy who started in my department as a web editor about a month before I left; I saw him at a songwriters’ concert and he described an “institutional malaise”; 2) Nora, who worked in Student Programs and who I had collaborated with on many projects over the decade; I saw her shopping at Trader Joe’s and she described a workplace where “I don’t know anybody anymore;” 3) Judith, a business prof whose daughter had gone to school with my daughter; I saw her in the parking lot outside of QFC and Petco at Factoria and when I asked how things were going at BC (I meant in general) she described a leadership vacuum in my old department of Institutional Advancement.

None of these encounters gave me retirees’ remorse. On the contrary, they made me glad I left at the right time.

Chicken burgers, fries and salad for dinner.

Day 135, Thu Nov 12: Ugh, I got really sick for two days. I had that little cold and cough last week, then in the middle of the afternoon two days ago I had to climb into bed and shut my eyes. Nausea, headache and that feeling in every hair follicle that you should never have in every hair follicle. It laid me out. I self-medicated with Pepto Bismol, ginger ale, Exedrin and lying in bed with my eyes shut. By the next afternoon I felt pretty good: took a walk and then had to take another nap. Today I am back in business. Maybe that was the flu and I can now skip getting a flu shot.

Day 136, Fri Nov 13: We are into the Seattle rainy season you’ve heard so much about. The weather report on my log-in page says 100 percent chance of rain and my streaming south windows and the dulcet tones of rain doppeling on the roof confirm it.

And I know I said that I had sworn off climbing up ladders onto roofs after that time five years ago when I fell off one and had to drive myself to urgent care. But I could see that water was washing over the edge near the downspout where it should have been going down. Plus I could see out another window that no water was actually coming out the bottom end. I figured that our solution to our previously clogged downspout pipes – wrapping the little strainers up on the roof with a tighter mesh to keep out fir needles – had been too successful.

So up I went. In a driving rain and wind. With nobody home but me. If it makes you feel any better for me, or makes you feel like I am actually a reasonable person and not foolhardy – and the truth is, I am super cautious; I’m scared of just about anything: roller coasters, driving fast, walking out onto high balconies at hotels — I did move the ladder around to the side of the little entryway porch roof that I climb up on, so that maybe the ladder wouldn’t slip the way it did on that fateful day. And the roof is flat, so once you’re up there, no problem.

Anyway, I turned back the clock five years and scrambled up there. It didn’t occur to me until later that it’s Friday the Thirteenth, but I’m not religious so that probably protected me from that superstition. It turned out I was right: the strainers were doing such a good job that they had accumulated a huge little beaver dam of fir needles and the water was just puddling up and finding the next easiest way down – over the edge. Like a Goldworthy installation if Goldworthy was Thumbelina-sized and doing environmental sculptures up on my roof. I cleared it out from around the strainers in the four downspout holes, and kicked the puddles toward the hole with my foot (I was in old Saucony runners).

The roof has settled in such a way that gravity is only partly useful to get the water to the easternmost downspouts. But the others worked pretty well. Maybe we should get up there when it’s not raining and clear those things. But it’s like the old Dogpatch joke: My roof leaks but I don’t know where the leak is. Why don’t you get up there and find it? It’s raining. Why don’t you go up there when it’s not raining? It doesn’t leak then.

Day 137, Sat Nov 14: For me these days, sometimes multitasking is doing my body-weight workout on the floor while simultaneously watching Gonzaga basketball on TV.

Day 138, Sun Nov 15: Snow! Well, barely, but still. Woke up to frosted tips on the grass and a thin layer of slush on the deck. Exactly 32 degrees. It doesn’t snow that much around here, so it’s fun when we get a little dusting.

Day 139, Mon Nov 16: Presumably I will save some money as line-items from my working-life budget drop out. For example, dry cleaning bills. My expectation is that I will not be taking my T-shirts and shorts to the dry cleaners in the same way that I used to take my dress shirts and pants. Just guessing here, but I was probably spending 50 bucks a month for that. I’m projecting that I will have very, very occasional need for a freshly-pressed dress shirt or suit for the next 30 years. On the other hand, if I’m doing a few more laundry loads I may have to pad my budget line for Tide and Bounce sheets. And, actually, Enid is after me to stop using commercial detergent and especially dryer sheets – she says they are the worst for chemical assaults on us – and instead use a homemade detergent she will make out of soap flakes and Borax. Overall, though, I am counting on this being a net advantage for my bank account, if even just by a few dollars.
For supper, baked potatoes topped with tuna fish, and a salad.

Day 140, Tue Nov 17: Happy birthday to me. I am 65. I share my birthday with Martin Scorsese, Danny DeVito, Rock Hudson and Bob Mathias, the youngest Olympic decathlon champ.

It’s extremely rainy and windy today, even in the context of a lifetime of November 17ths. The lights have flickered a few times, but are still on, although there are Facebook alerts that the power is out in the Bel-Red Corridor and in Factoria – a neighborhood just a few over from us. Before it’s done, the storm will topple trees, cause flooding and leave thousands without power. Just not us.

My idea of a really great birthday celebration is almost no celebration at all – a little but no more than a little. I would think that I’m in denial of my mortality except that I’ve been this way about birthdays my entire adult life; I do not want a big party or everybody telling me happy birthday. But I appreciate a minimal recognition. I heard from my little sister Geralyn today, with a six-word email, and I will get a warm two-sentence email tomorrow from my big sister Monica. They get it, but not everyone does.
One of my bosses once upon a time used to acknowledge everybody’s office birthday with a little cake and punch and a gift. It was really nice and thoughtful. I had to grit my teeth and grin and bear it every year. I felt so ungrateful. I don’t at all have to grit my teeth and bear it with my actual loved ones, but I still appreciate the low-key version.

For me, since no surprise party was planned, this year was another good one. I got a pair of high-tech running socks and a zip-up jacket, gray with yellow trim, from Enid; a box of Harry & David pears and stilton cheese from my mom-in-law; a letter from Elena telling me I’m a good dad, which made me shed sentimental tears in ways the socks and pears did not. Ate dinner at home, made special for me by Enid (turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cherry pie with vanilla ice cream), watched half of a Washington Huskies basketball game, and went to bed. That’s my idea of a good birthday. Another year in the books.

Day 141, Wed Nov 18: In other retirement financial news: I heard back from Lee Enterprises, the parent company of the Lincoln Journal-Star (remember that $173 I may be due from working there for a decade 30-40 years ago?). They emailed and told me to contact their retirement plan administrator, Ameritas. So I copied all the various documents (the original letter from the Social Security Administration and my original communication with the newspaper) and emailed Ameritas through their “Contact Us” link. This is the kind of opportunity that presents itself to a retiree.

Eventually, Ameritas will email back that I should call. When I do that, and talk with a rep, they have no record in their database of me or my social security number, and, by the way, they also have no record of the Lincoln Journal-Star or Lee Enterprises. I recontact Lee Enterprises and they give me the plan # and some other detailed info from their end. When I follow up with Ameritas, none of this is any help; they still have no record no matter how they search for it. The women at Ameritas customer service are really sympathetic and nice, as is the woman at Lee Enterprises.

It’s only $173 but if it’s mine, I want it. (Also, how could they have no records of this; I can’t be the only baby boomer who worked for the Journal-Star back then and is now retiring. Can I?) I have run into such a perfect dead end (no record of me!) that I am going to give up. And since I am not going to recover the money, I wonder who is spending my $173. Maybe this is why Ameritas is a successful and wealthy company, they’re doing it $173 at a time. Not so different from the way I pick up pennies on the sidewalk, just scaled up 17,300 percent to insurance-megalith levels.

Ah, but there is another explanation. After a few more days of bouncing between Ameritas and Lee Enterprises I get an email from my new best friend, Danelle Kvatil at Lee, that starts out “Found it!” It turns out that I am not due anything now because back in 1999 I took a lump sum payout and rolled it into an IRA where it has been happily accruing value for 17 years.

To celebrate, for dinner I make grilled cheese sandwiches in the panini press and a salad.

Day 142, Thu Nov 19: Bjork: “We don’t go to church, we go for a walk.”

I read so much about why taking a walk is healthy, not just for the exercise – though certainly that is good — but, the many many benefits of getting out into nature. Cheaper than therapy, it’s said, and I believe it.

Today is beautiful, sunny and crisp and I am going to head out for a few hours of nature communing, slowing down my brain rate at the same time I am speeding up my heart rate. I drink a couple of cups of coffee, a couple of cups of smoothie, and I am outta here.
I drive over to Mercer Slough, park my car in the little five-car dirt lot off of 118th, (I always park here rather than in the lot at the interpretive center; don’t know why, just habit, the same way I always park in the same end of the Bellevue Square parking garage when I am going anywhere downtown) and walk. Nestled in the heart of Bellevue, the 320-acre Mercer Slough Nature Park has five miles of trails on boardwalks and wood-chip paths, through tranquil megawetlands, blueberry fields (both active ones and decommissioned overgrown ones) and the slough itself which is used by people for canoeing and kayaking and by waterfowl for swimming and quacking. The little stream at the trailhead is burbling.

Because of the recent rains there are places where even the raised paths are squooshy and there is swampy standing water just off the path. It’s coldish, but not uncomfortable, about 40 degrees. On the boardwalks, the parks department has spread sand so that early-morning runners won’t slip on icy boards. This is in the middle of the city but at noon on a Friday I see only a handful of other walkers and runners. There are those bushes with the red berries and the white trees with yellow leaves. There are mallards in the slough and a vee of a dozen geese fly 20 feet overhead, squonking. There is that long stretch of trail that is just outside of the forest in the clear, with the wide slough on the right and the vast blueberry farm on the left, the reddish ombre of the bushes taking over my field of vision.

Day 143 Fri Nov 20: It is still not entirely certain to me whether everything is set and coordinated on Medicare, even though it was all supposed to drop into place three days ago on my birthday.

There’s no lack of retirement advice online and at the library. It covers all the aspects and is all well-intentioned. I started trying to figure out Medicare at least two years ago – maybe longer – and it has been pretty much a total failure. Right now I’m fairly certain that I’m signed up for it, but in terms of any confidence about understanding it – no.
Today I got a letter from Group Health telling me that once I gave them my Medicare Number I would be good to go. I thought I had already done this (the number is my Social Security Number followed by a “T”). But I jump online and email them the info through their “Contact Us” link. Feeling positive, and fingers crossed.

In less optimistic news, I got a voicemail from Jacob at Factoria Eye Clinic about the $243 bill I am disputing. Factoria Eye Clinic, unlike Ameritas, has not lost track of me in their database. Their explanation of why I still owe them the money makes sense but does not make me happy. The insurance, Premera, refused to pay since, at the time I was treated (I was still working then), they were the secondary coverage and Group Health was, at the time, my primary. Jacob cannot explain why nobody told me that, at the time, or why, very much on the contrary, they did not disabuse me of my understanding that I’d make only a $5 co-pay and that would be that. I said the $5 amount at least two times, once over the phone and once in person at the clinic. So now I will see what Jacob can do to split the difference with me or something but I am not optimistic. I already dropped into one conversation with him, “I’d really like to continue being your client.” But I am expecting that they will expect me to pay it.

Day 144, Sat Nov 21: Be cheerful. It’s more fun and you’ll probably feel better. When my dementia hits maybe I’ll be a crabby old guy, but while I’ve got anything to say about it, cheery it is.

Day 145, Sun Nov 22: AARP – is it me? I want to reap the benefits of the “powerful senior lobby” and I trust that it is really doing a lot for protecting my interests in the backrooms of Congress. On the Senior Lifestyle front, though, I’m not totally sure that these are my peeps. I read through the AARP mailings I get and it still seems like they’re playing to some bygone stereotype. The old and retired people I know are gardening, keeping the hands-on home, playing in samba drum bands, going to Burning Man and Guided by Voices concerts. AARP still has us putting little doors in our bathtubs so we can get in and out safely, reading the Great Books compilations, going on River Cruises of Europe, eating at Denny’s. So AARP has one version of the senior retired life available for you. Other realities exist.

Day 146, Mon Nov 23: Working, you get accustomed to a crazy pace, a lot of stress, responsibility for things you can’t control. It seems normal after a while. You want to feel positive about your job, but overcommitment and overwork: not good. As best you can, shed all of that when you retire.

I plunder the freezer for supper: fish sticks, fries and a salad.

Day 147, Tue Nov 24: I vote, I participate, even though I’m conflicted and I don’t really see my views reflected in elected officials. Somewhere I’ve read that the country actually tips to the liberal side of things and that young people, especially, are leftish. But our representatives in Congress and Senate show up as more conservative because 1) they are mainly older rich people, which is what it takes to get elected, and 2) still, a lot of younger people and disaffected people talk a lot but don’t vote, so the voting public is also older and richer. The system is working for the in-group, why would they change it?

It’s a little bit different in local politics. While I don’t feel that the board of my neighborhood association always makes the decision I would make, I trust them to be ethical and above-board and have my interests at heart. Ditto my city council members, for the most part. Not so much my state and national representatives.

I came up in the Sixties and basically got woke by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Counterculture Youthquake, President Nixon and all that. My political and cultural views formed then. Whether there is room for perspective like mine in electoral politics these days is still an open question.

When I lived in Lincoln I slightly knew Bob Kerrey, who was the Nebraska governor then. He subsequently became a U.S. Senator and then a Presidential candidate in 1992 (when Bill Clinton ultimately won). The appeal of Kerrey (besides that he was a handsome young war hero – he had a prosthetic leg because of a battle injury) was that he seemed to be a straight shooter who said what he thought, whether or not that complied with the party line. He was smart and unscripted. That was great until he got far enough along that he was being taken seriously; then he acquired the usual staff of handlers who smoothed off any interesting angles he had jutting out. Once he started to walk and talk like all of the other candidates, it was over. He was just like the rest of them. Just another one.

During the middle days of the campaign he came to Seattle for a fundraiser at the Alaska Building. I went. I walked up to him afterward when he was shaking hands and said my name. He looked so relieved to see a familiar face. He pulled me aside by the coat racks where we had a bit of privacy (one of his security guys came along) and, with a look of genuine concern, asked me how I thought he was doing, how he was projecting. I think he thought I would give him honest feedback with a Nebraskan perspective. I lied and told him he was doing great.

To summarize my beliefs: I’m for immigrants, against guns, for social justice, against the military budget, for environmentalism, against the One Percent, for Black Lives Matter. There’s all kinds of inequality and discrimination and prejudice that public policy doesn’t seem to resolve. Sometimes it’s right out in the open and sometimes it is covert. Sometimes institutionalized and sometimes individual. Sexism and misogyny. Economic and class oppression. Racism. That stuff exists, and all of the other isms. I see it. You would make a mistake, though, if you thought I took all of these positions thoughtlessly. Just when you think you have me dialed in I might throw a curve.

I believe that people should take individual responsibility. I’m not a big fan of the victim mentality, even though I accept that we have systemic victimization of some segments of the population. You’d have to be an idiot to not see that black people are worse off than white people (and, of course, race and diversity now is much more complex than just black and white). But this doesn’t mean that every black person is the victim of debilitating racism or that every white person is a racist. Or that people can’t overcome the circumstances of their birth. I’ll walk out on dangerous thin ice for a second here and venture that black people are not monolithic in their views of the topic. Some black people may not feel all that oppressed and don’t really want to even be looped in with the victim crowd. Also, well-intentioned ignorance is not the same as deliberate discrimination. And, while micro-aggressions are real but there’s a reason they are called “micro.” Don’t confuse somebody giving you the side-eye with something more serious. As Chris Rock (I think) says, all racism isn’t the same: “Would you rather be called n***** or would you rather go to prison for 30 years? Your choice.”
Frozen pizza for dinner with a salad and fruit salad.

Day 148, Wed Nov 25: I’ve got two full closet cubby shelves stuffed with random folders that are jammed with print-outs, sticky notes, to-do lists, reminders, ideas. I do mean random. So bit by bit, even just a couple of months since I stepped away, I’ve started to try to chip away at it and declutter.

While I’m watching a game I can take a stack of this paperwork and try to triage it and consolidate it. “Official” Retirement Stuff like Social Security & Medicare. Household maintenance & budget projects. Miscellaneous & fun. A folder related to U of Puget Sound and another for the Loggers Lacrosse team and yet a third for Elena’s lacrosse accolades and accomplishments and a fourth for her academic kudos. One for the Co-op at Hood Canal where we have our cabin. A random postage stamp (a 29-center; wonder when that was current). Titles of books I should check out from the library. A lot of these notes I can throw out, especially since some of them (a lot of the printout) are duplicates, redundancies or just incomprehensible to me now, though they clearly meant something when I jotted it down. When I can act on one of these reminders I do.

Day 149, Thu Nov 26: Thanksgiving, and I have much to be thankful for. At lunchtime we have over just my mom-in-law and brother-in-law so it is only the four of us. Our holiday dynamics fall on the usual spectrum, so fill in the blanks from your own storehouse of scenarios. I will just say that for today nothing too racist gets said, and nobody runs out crying. We go traditional, which for us means turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted Brussel sprouts (this has been a new addition in just the last few years, and a good one), roasted almonds, cranberry sauce from the can, white wine, Martinellis, cheese and crackers, pecan pie (just one pie this year) and whipped cream. Thank you, universe, for my many gifts.

Day 150, Fri Nov 27: Parked at Walmart at 8:30am and took an eight-mile walk through the greenbelt past the blueberry farm (beautifully frosty) up to Lost Lake (beautifully misty), past the Robinswood sports fields and back. Went home and watched two concurrent football games, clicking back and forth: Huskers lost to #3 Iowa and the U-Dub beat the Cougs in the Apple Cup. We take in Enid’s car to get a malfunctioning gas gauge repaired: it’s going to cost $600 — $300 for the part and $300 for the labor. She drives a 1999 Rav-4 and, like me, she likes to drive cars as long as possible so the $600 – while it stings – is still a better bargain than paying a monthly car payment. Although eventually here in the next few years the repairs will keep accumulating and she will reach the tipping point when a new Subaru with heated seats will sound pretty good.

What do you have for dinner on the day after Thanksgiving? Enid made turkey pot pie.

Day 151, Sat Nov 28: My tradition is to put up the Christmas lights on the Friday after Thanksgiving, crank up the holiday music, and it’s on. Inexplicably, I did too many other things yesterday (yardwork, laundry, football watching) so the lights got deferred until today. It’s sunny, not rainy. I don’t go up on any ladders – if I can’t reach the hook from where I stand on the ground, then no lights there. I hang a mix of white and multi-colored lights around the front door and some front windows. I go all the way up our stairs with multi-colored, just throwing the lights on top of the bushes all the way up.

Then I bungee “Headache Santa” to the half-wall next to the front door. He’s a three foot high hollow plastic Santa with a light bulb inside that Elena bought at a garage sale when she was three-feet-high herself. He’s checking his list with a hand to his forehead, which gives him his name.

Day 152, Sun Nov 29: But enough about me. My older sister Monica is in what I laughingly call a Power Retirement, but the truth is she is doing it right and I admire her style. Contrasting her with me shows that there are many ways to be retired.
She’s four years older than me and went off to college in Chicago after high-school graduation. She was first a chemist (I think) and then got an MBA (I think). Truthfully, I don’t really have the first clue what her job was. She’s married to a psychologist (whose family moved from Cuba when he was a child – a greater distance than Schuyler to Chicago) and they have a grown son and daughter. As far as I know (and, again, while we are close in some ways I don’t know details about her life – we’re not that kind of family so why would I?) she worked hard and raised the family.

Then several years ago she retired. She had played the flute in high school and apparently had kept at it all these years because from time to time she posts a photo of herself performing – sometimes she’s playing with a quartet at a farmers’ market, sometimes she’s playing with an orchestra-sized community group. Major props to her for that. And she is often on the move, probably visiting the world that she never got around to seeing during the first 60 years of her life. She’ll post a selfie in front of a painting at the Prado, then Thailand, Prague, Argentina, Italy, London, Chile. Back in the states, she’ll post a selfie in front of our old High School building in Schuyler, her family at a Blackhawks game, she and her daughter having dinner in DC where neither of them lives, or in Santiago where one of them lives. From what I can tell she’s pretty happy, overall, with the way things are going.

Day 153, Mon Nov 30: Breakfast is a cup of coffee & yogurt with trail mix. Read the paper, checked e-mails, Facebook and Instagram. Made a to-do list for the day. Paid a few bills. Cleaned the litter boxes. Fed the cat and put some of that anti-hairball malto stuff in there. Put some moisturizer, dark-spot lightener and wrinkle-remover on my face.

Printed out some track lists for some CDs I burned. Moved some jpgs to a file to print out later at Rite Aid. Printed out the instructions for an Xmas gift I’m giving: a thing called Etee that is a sort of waxy thing you use instead of cling wrap. Put a hold on two library books. Took the extra dining table chairs we had out for Thanksgiving back downstairs to storage. Hid some Xmas gifts on the shelf in my closet. Changed the paper wall calendar in our cupboard by the fridge to December. Ate lunch. Marked some boxes of Elena’s contact lenses that I ordered for her on “left” and “right.” Folded laundry. Put the leftover Xmas lights we’re not using this year back in the studio.

Walked, got the mail, put out the trash, recycle and green bins. Talked with my neighbors up by the trash bins. Ran the dishwasher. Watched Monday Night Football. Ordered two more Christmas gifts. Chipped away at some paperwork & notes. Emptied a mouse from a trap and re-set it.

Enid had planned to host her art-crit group over here tonight. They’ve been meeting for 20 years to socialize and talk art and provide each other with moral support. Some of them have been in there the whole time and others have come and gone. But tonight four people couldn’t make it so they cancelled.

Bummer except for one thing: For dinner, Enid and I will eat the food she prepared.

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