Just Quit Already!
Day-by-day through Year One of Retirement
Day 276, Fri Apr 1: Most things in life you have some control over. The things you say. Your hairdo. Boxers or briefs. But your circumstance of birth is not one. I can’t help it if I’m lucky.
My Nebraska birthright gave me an advantage that many do not have. Proud Nebraskan-Americans, of my generation anyway, have the opportunity to savor life in a way that I have found out is not universal. For one thing, when I was there Nebraskans appreciated individual eccentricity, and that left a Nebraskanist impression on me that I’ve never been able to shake. Plus, there’s all that natural beauty.
I had to get out, of course. I looked around one day at age 35 and thought, “uhh.” But that’s just me. Many people are born there and have stayed there and flourished. Ture, being a Nebraskan doesn’t give you any advantages in the eyes of the world. In fact, it’s to the contrary; the world looks down its nose a bit at Nebraskans. We kind of like it that way because we know better.
And we are not letting you in on the truth about Nebraska. This isn’t Texas, after all. We’re not going to spend a lot of time talking about ourselves (this paragraph – this book — aside). If you find it – the state and the state of mind — on your own, then you’re welcome to join. I’m not talking about what the world thinks, because who cares. I’m talking about real advantage in life. Interior assets.
Also, there’s another dimension that has to be taken into account. In Nebraska, when I was young, you might hear somebody use the local idiom and say it’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. In more than 30 years in Seattle I haven’t heard anybody say that. It’s one of the few things still troubling me about Seattle.
Day 277, Sat Apr 2: We pick up Elena at SeaTac at 6:30 in the morning. She’s coming home from an anthropology conference in Vancouver. She has to get to the locker room in the Fieldhouse by 10 to be on time for her lacrosse game at noon today, so she flew rather than driving. It meant that she had to get up at about 3am and her 45-minute “international” flight took only a little longer than it took us to drive to the airport.
After the game we go to Duke’s Chowder House on the Tacoma waterfront and sit out on their deck in the lovely sunshine to eat a mid-afternoon lunch. Paddle boarders and kayakers were out there on the water. The kind of beautiful set-up that can leave a guy breathless. I asked for a heavy porter or stout and our waiter – who it turned out was the manager doing emergency duty – said those had been taken off the drinks menu but he did have Pike Place Kilt Lifter on tap. I had one. Our other waiter had also been pressed into service; she confided that she was a bartender.
Given the staffing situation, you can forensically reconstruct what had happened a few hours earlier: a patron came through the front door out of the beautiful sunshine and asked if the deck was open. It is now, said the manager. Sometimes the best you can get from a café is that the food is accurately described on the menu. At other, happier, times you get something more than serviceable. Even had Duke’s been the former kind of eatery it would have been an extremely pleasant setting. But the kitchen stepped up with good sandwiches and we ordered three different kinds of chowder and swapped tastes.
So I’m winning at outdoor lunches and in other aspects of my life I’m succeeding vicariously. Both Enid and Elena are piling up lots of accomplishments and accolades. Enid has a show opening this week at the Seattle Art Museum Gallery – this is the sales and rental gallery at SAM that handles top northwest contemporary artists. She also finished up a satisfying and thought-provoking project with some University of Washington researchers and a science teacher at her school about teaching physics through kinetic art. She was hired on as the art expert , and to some extent, a contributor on the pedagogy side.
Elena came back from her national Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Vancouver and she was totally fired up. Her paper on Madagascar cook stoves was the national second-place winner for a prestigious award. She was in against all levels of entries, including doctoral theses; it was a blind judging so for an undergrad paper to come in second was pretty hot (just a little Dad Pride here). To put it in terms I can relate to, she’s pretty much the Number One national undergrad on the anthropology draft boards. She also got another valuable lesson. She said various professors she met at the conference would treat her one way until they heard about the accolade, and then they would be much more solicitous once they knew that she was Somebody. She got recruited for grad school, which came out of the blue. Back on campus, she’s being recognized next week as a leader at a convocation. She’s been asked to be a student rep to the university Board of Trustees for next school year, where she will get to see how the Big Decisions are made. She is not the kind of person to boast about her successes, or even talk about them. She plays off some of these recognitions as trivial but I advise her not to do that. Accept them, enjoy them, and savor them.
It’s a good thing that the rest of my family is holding up the boat. There are no accolades for me these days. I’ve had plenty in my life. If I get any more, I will gladly accept them and enjoy them. I hope I get famous here over the next 20-30 years. But, being honest, I’ve got enough certificates and plaques to last me. I’m kind of over that.
Day 278, Sun Apr 3: A Jimmy Dale Gilmore CD was playing and Enid and I slow-danced around the living room for a couple of minutes. I know they say that the main romantic thing women want is for the guy to do the dishes once in a while, but I’m here to tell you that there are other options for keeping love alive.
Day 279, Mon Apr 4: Enid is on her spring break and today she is off driving her mom on some errands. They’ll stop and eat at her mom’s new favorite restaurant, the Dim Sum Factory. Enid’s take on the food: fabulous.
Our IRS tax refund of $4,223 showed up deposited in my checking account. It’s a good thing in two ways: 1) it replenishes my account, and 2) While I know that it is my money in the first place, it always seems like I’m getting something gifted to me when I get the tax return. I have a fondness, bordering on misdemeanor, for free money. This return raises the same feelings as when I find a random dollar bill in a pocket of the jeans coming out of the dryer or when I win three dollars in the Lotto. Except this is even more satisfying since it comes from the government to me; I’m sticking it to the man.
Now, to finish up the final tax-return check box, I need to go back into Elena’s financial aid account on the FAFSA website and link them up with our tax return so they make an informed decision about her aid for this coming year (I filled out the FAFSA a while ago but used last year’s tax return info as a baseline or estimate).
For breakfast, Enid whipped up some buttermilk biscuits. She is the genius of biscuits and snails – cinnamon rolls featuring puffy swirls of delight. It’s a good thing, because I wouldn’t have the first idea how to start on these baked things. If I get involved, it’s to take the tray of golden treats out of the oven when the timer screeches. I can handle it.
Day 280, Tue Apr 5: With Enid on Spring Break we are in vacation mode so we drove to Seattle Center to look at a Janet Echelman sculpture at the Gates Foundation. It’s a big net that hangs over a plaza and sways and ripples and shimmies in the breeze and lights up at night. We are there in the daytime, so we got the partial effect. We also popped into the Visitor’s Center. Normally this mix of interpretive center and paean to the Gate’s philanthropy would not ring my chimes, but it is well done without the usual interactive clichés. I enjoy it.
We then jumped over to Discovery Park on Magnolia for a six-mile walk through the rolling meadows and sand dunes, along the edge of the bluffs, and down a long path through the woods to the beach. It’s brisk down there, so it’s good that we brought along jackets. A dozen or more people are walking along the shore enjoying the wind and the crashing waves.
We used to live near here, on the Interbay side of Queen Anne, so Discovery was one of our main parks. On the way home, we passed through our old neighborhood and up 11th Avenue West past our old house (they’ve stuck an ungainly addition onto the north side!). And then down the little business district on the Queen Anne Counterbalance, and through the canyons of downtown Seattle and the International District – the two of us gawking and commenting all the way about what has changed.
Day 281, Wed Apr 6: In the morning, while I’m taking care of some online tedium (tedia?), I listen to – instead of scrolling past — every song that somebody has posted or shared on my Facebook in the past few hours. This is excluding amazing amateurs or instructional videos or anything like that. Just actual performers, performing. And, of course, on another day it could have been a quite different selection. Here are the songs: Sir Douglas Quintet, “Magic Illusion;” Sons of the Pioneers, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds;” Lester Young, “Mean to Me:” Sonny Clark Trio, “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You;” Anita O’Day, “When Sunny Gets Blue;” Don Byas, “All the Things You Are;” The Uniques, “Crimson & Clover;” Gene Pitney, “Town Without Pity;” Marcia Ball, “Red Beans Cookin’;” Paul Quinichette & John Coltrane, “Anatomy;” The Kinks, “Sittin’ On My Sofa;” James Brown, “Give It Up Of Turn It Loose;” Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried;” Paul Quinichette, “Blue Dots;” The 5 Royales, “Dedicated to the One I Love;” Didi Wray, “Por Una Cabeza;” Slim Harpo, “I Need Money;” Marvin Gaye, “Got To Give It Up (Part I & II)”; Fantastic Negrito, “Where’d You Sleep Last Night;” the Angels, “My Boyfriend’s Back;” Nirvana, “Swap Meet;” Los Lobos, “Good Morning Aztlan;” the Pretenders, “Stop Your Sobbing.” I could go on, but I’m pretty sure you get the picture.
And then about noon there was news that Merle Haggard died so a billion or so Merle Haggard songs posted. I like him but I did not listen to them. Thirty-five years ago I interviewed him on the phone and after covering a bunch of topics I tentatively raised the issue of his drug use. He jumped right in and summarized for me, “Yeah, things got a little brown around the edges there for a while.”
Day 282, Thu Apr 7: Enid’s show at the Seattle Art Museum SAM Gallery opens tonight with an artist’s reception at SAM Gallery. The life of an artist – painter, writer, musician — is tough, filled with lonely struggle and effort and frustration and rejection sprinkled with a few triumphs. So you can have a lot of self-reliance and belief that keeps you going, but it’s really nice for her to get this affirmation that she’s doing good work.
The gallery picks up maybe one new artist a year so it’s a major score. Besides everything else, it has the cachet of the Seattle Art Museum’s name attached. And buyers are already interested in purchasing the paintings so there is a good trend on the business side of the ledger, too. It opens doors.
The opening event itself was really good. Her paintings were nicely displayed and a big crowd dropped by. I hung out for most of the hour-and-a-half and enjoyed socializing. In at least three of my conversations, the talk turned to retirement. As I’ve mentioned before, this happens. You put in a lifetime of indentured servitude – 16 tons and what do you get — you’re likely to have something to say about it.
One couple, who I met for the first time at the event – and who, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, were both wearing nutty broad-brimmed hats — was living in a cottage they had built themselves on 40 acres they had bought near Bremerton. Although they were chatty enough with me, they said they are naturally reclusive and had made a joint resolution to get out and socialize more this year so they didn’t get too old and isolated. I told them I’d be over to pitch my yurt on their acreage.
Another couple, Jim and Nancy, I know because they also have a cabin in the same vacation community as us. He’s a retired attorney and when I was president of our cabin co-op he and I worked together pretty closely on an issue that required some legal expertise which he quietly pro-bonoed. They recently sold their house and moved to a oldsters community. They said they like it and I didn’t ask any more about it.
The third couple was Max and Mindy, the parents of a girl who played 4th & 5th grade basketball with Elena on the Electric Gumballs; that was a really good team that ran to the city semi-finals one year. They’ve got a successful business designing signage and displays for places like zoos, parks, interpretive centers. They’re still working but scaling back and, depending which one answers the question you ask, they’re either just getting a little tired of it after all these years or they pretty much hate it. Don’t we all.
Day 283, Fri Apr 8: It seems like summer because we’ve been in a run of 70-80 degree sunny days and this morning we uncovered the patio furniture and set out the deck chairs. We spent a couple of hours sweeping, scraping moss, and cleaning the metal furniture. Front deck, back deck, Duck Pond.
Had to make a run to Home Depot to get repair hardware for the big table on the front deck. One of the legs was wonky because a bolt had worked its way loose and was missing. Gone. How that happened by the forces of nature I do not know, because it took me five minutes of half-turns with a hex wrench to extract another one to take to the hardware store as an example. My hand was tired. Sometimes I am resourceful, though, and this was one of those times; I got Philips-head bolts as the replacement and they went in easy with a regular screwdriver. Planted the little rosemary plant we bought, too.
Enjoying the fruits of my labors, I sat out on the Duck Pond at the east end of the house, drank an apple juice over crushed ice, read the Friday papers and stared out at the scenery.
In the afternoon we upgraded the Studio Patio. This is a slab of concrete and a patch of rough overgrown lawn with a wild plum, a couple of vine maples, a couple of bamboos, a bank of forsythia and a blooming Scotch broom at the top of our property. It is outside of two big swinging barn doors that can be thrown open to Enid’s painting studio and the workshop.
When I say upgraded, I mean that Enid raked leaves and swept the patio and moved a pile of bricks and some maple firewood rounds. My assignment was to mow down the two-foot-high heavy grass. The weed whacker was acting up, as it has been doing since the first day I got it a year or so ago (and this after having a dependable weed whip for 15 years previously). It will either only feed out a couple of inches of line so that I have to stop every five minutes and open it up and disentangle it to get it working again. Or it will feed out pretty much the whole spool of line all at once so that I have to stop every five minutes and open it up and re-wind a whole new spool’s worth. But my main objective today is not to fix the weed whacker, but to finish the damn job. Which I do.
Then I hammer a couple of nails into a disintegrating bench, so it is sit-worthy for another season. And then we sit and have a glass of white wine in our peaceful secluded nook.
Supper is sauted veggies. Dessert violated at least two of our dietary guidelines, but it had to be done. By some miracle a bottle of root beer had spontaneously appeared in the garage fridge so we ran down to the Albertsons at the foot of the hill for a pint of Emerald Supreme vanilla bean ice cream and had delicious floats.
Day 284, Sat Apr 9: I twisted my ankle – just a tweak, but still. So I’m not walking today, or doing much of anything that involves standing up and moving around. Enid and I were walking five miles on the Sammamish River Trail, a six-foot wide paved path that runs next to the river, a lovely waterway that is maybe 50 feet across. There are ducks and geese and I have seen herons and otters. We parked on the street near Redmond and walked the trail up past that rusted iron pedestrian bridge. It was bright and hot at mid-afternoon and there were tons of walkers, runners, parents with strollers, bicyclists. After we turned around and headed back, one of the bikers came up behind us, hailed out with “On your left,” so I edged over slightly to the right.
And stepped perfectly on the edge of the paved part, turned my right ankle and pitched sideways. I didn’t actually fall, just did everything but. It happened fast, not one of those slow-motion things. My ankle hurt but we kept going because what else was I going to do; it was still a mile back to the car. I walked it off.
In retrospect, I was pleased that I didn’t end up sprawled on the ground. For one thing, it would have been much more disconcerting had I actually taken a tumble. It would have been disorienting as well as likely resulting in more injuries like scraped hands. I am not that into falling down any more. I don’t want to trip and fall. I don’t want to ride a bike and plunge. I don’t want to be standing on a chair and spill. So there’s that. Secondly, maybe one of my little morning stretching exercises helped me out here. Among my stretches I do first-thing on getting up, I balance on each leg for 20-30 seconds; maybe that gave me some muscle memory and helped me stay upright.
I did feel stupid. Pretty much every article about getting old reminds you of the dangers of losing your balance and tipping over. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up, right? Usually this is in the context of elder-proofing your home: no loose throw rugs or piles of stuff in the hallway. Don’t have a family pet that loves to dart between your legs on the darkened stairs. Don’t dig any pits in your living room and then forget about them. But, also, they remind you to stay vigilant when you’re out. Heads up for unexpected sloping ramps between rooms of the used bookstore where you’re shopping. Scout ahead for unforeseen curbs along the street. Or maybe you are just standing on a completely flat surface when you lose your balance and go boom.
In other words, be alert at all times. You’re old now. There are a lot of things you can fall off of. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that there are all the same things you could have fallen off of when you were younger but now you actually have pretty good odds of taking the spill.
Of course, who can stay alert at all times? Terri, the mom of one of Elena’s lacrosse team mates has it worse than me. She is in a walking boot and has a couple of screws in her ankle and leg bones. She was sitting on the couch, with their golden retriever at her feet and their Lazy-Susan style coffee table in front of her. She started to stand up. The dog didn’t move. She started to step over the dog. The dog stood up under her, and she reached for the coffee table which did its Lazy Susan thing. Next: emergency room, screws, cast, walking boot.
For me, a twisted ankle is nothing because I have a lifetime of experience. I know the difference between something that hurts and an injury. At least I did 40-50 years ago when I was an active athlete. In these last 10 or 20 years I’ve had to recalibrate and error on the side of caution, with extra recovery time. I played basketball as a kid, so it would be redundant to say I had ankle injuries. My first bad sprain was in seventh grade and it swelled up like a softball. After that, there would be a few times a year that I would re-turn it. No amount of taping seemed to be totally preventative.
As an adult, when I no longer had a coach to tape me before practices and games, I bought those ankle-support sleeves and wore them. Now, I see even better ones on the shelves at Sports Authority. Sometimes I just go and window shop the ankle braces with a sense of nostalgia even though I don’t wear one anymore. For years I had a residual clicking in my right ankle though that has gone away in the last decade. Maybe I am turning back the hands of time on my body’s deterioration. Or maybe that old familiar click will be back as a result of this latest thing.
For me, after I had gimped back to the car we stopped at a QFC to pick up some groceries for supper. Sometimes serendipity works to your advantage. A young woman was walking around the store handing out samples of something called Ultimate Healing Cream (“All natural. Chemical Free”). It was little packets, the size of the mustard things you get from the hotdog stand, and I took one to be polite. I forgot about it until the next day. My ankle was still pinging and I rubbed some of the stuff on it. It worked! It eased the discomfort. Anyway, I am fine and I’ll get over it. For now my ankle hurts and my knee hurts (a little less) and my right side and my right hamstring and my right butt cheek have something to say about it. The ankle never really discolors or swells up – it’s a tweak, not an injury (I keep telling myself) but I will still feel a little something in there for three weeks or so. Don’t worry about me, though. I’m tough. I’ll survive.
Day 285, Sun Apr 10: On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we get the weekend subscription to the New York Times.
A writer a few months back proposed “Too Old For This” as the mantra for a generation. My generation. At some point, she writes, you can just “Let It GO.“
Personally, I don’t have time for shit-talkery, and I find myself even more unfuckwithable than before I was retired, and even then I was always on the Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff side when it came to irritations. Also, I don’t spend too much time hoping people will like me or brooding if they don’t. Of course I want to be loved, just like anybody, and I try to be nice and accommodating and a good team player who gets along. It’s just that I’ve got my limits. It’s a short leash.
But, sure I’m resentful of small humiliations. I bleed when I’m cut. Yes, I bottle things up. I’ve just never been that interested in the drama. And I know that all things pass. It works out, one way or another. I internalize all these emotional survival clichés like the one about how the ship doesn’t sink because of big water on the outside, it sinks when the water gets inside; so don’t let it in. True, true and true. I’ve had this attitude about a lot of things for a lot of my existence.
The New York Times’ “Too Old For This” writer is female, so she’s got beefs with life that I never had – workplace discrimination, body-image issues. That distinction aside, nevertheless, her points are good ones and I can relate. She advises lot for old people (and I summarize and quote her): “Take a pass on bad manners, on thoughtlessness, on unreliability, on carelessness and on all the other ways people distinguish themselves as unappealing specimens. Take a pass on your own unappealing behavior, too: the pining, yearning, longing and otherwise frittering away of valuable brainwaves that could be spent on Sudoku, or at least a jigsaw puzzle, if not that Beethoven sonata you loved so well in college. My new mantra is liberating. At least once a week I encounter a situation that in the old (young) days would have knocked me to my knees or otherwise spun my life off center. Now I can spot trouble 10 feet away (believe me, this is a big improvement), and I can say to myself: Too old for this. I spare myself a great deal of suffering, and as we all know, there is plenty of that to be had without looking for more. Toxic people? Sour, spoiled people? I’m simply walking away; I have little fight left in me. It’s easier all around to accept that friendships have ebbs and flows, and indeed, there’s something quite beautiful about the organic nature of love. I used to think that one didn’t make friends as one got older, but I’ve learned that the opposite happens. Sometimes, unaccountably, a new person walks into your life, and you find you are never too old to love again. And again.”
Day 286, Mon Apr 11: I got up, pulled on a Puget Sound Loggers Lacrosse T-shirt, nuked a cup of leftover coffee from yesterday’s pot, then did a bunch of stuff. Followed up by messing around a while. No need to get into the details. Then I posted some photos from yesterday’s Loggers game on the Facebook page. Elena’s old high school coach, Craig – a really good guy who coached both her regular team and a summer travel team called Vandals — shows up at a game a year to check in on her and she is always really happy to see him. She spent three years trying to please him and they mutually enjoy seeing how each other is doing.
After the game there had been a barbecue for the team and parents and families. Some of the team members live in a house near campus called “The Crease” that is an unofficial team clubhouse. I gather that The Crease has all the equipment needed to play a few rounds of beer pong at any time. It was a nice day to hang out in the backyard and eat burgers and chips and salad and watermelon. The team honored their three seniors and then everybody crammed inside to watch a video of the team cutting up to “Party in the USA.” Except for the couple of players who actually put it together, it was a premiere for the rest of the team. The huge and incessant roars of laughter when certain players were featured doing certain things made it clear that the inside-jokes were right on target. There are a lot of things you get out of being a member of a team that have nothing to do with what happens on the field.
Today in the afternoon, back home, I ran an errand down to the foot of the hill, parked at Albertson’s and walked through the quiet neighborhood behind the little shopping mall area. When I got back to the car I decided to keep going for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t tired yet, and 2) it wasn’t raining yet. I walked across the pedestrian bridge over I-90 and down past the Metro Park & Ride. This was seven-and-a-half miles all close alongside the freeway, so not a sylvan stroll, but it had its own energy as these in-city walks usually do.
I made turkey-burger sliders in the pan with sautéed onions, plus salad and fruit salad for dinner. Crackers and hummus for an after-dinner snack. Bowl of trail mix for dessert.
Day 287, Tue Apr 12: Somebody said – either a Zen monk or a stand-up comic – that a simple life with few desires is happiest. I’m pretty easy to keep satisfied, me and my small pleasures: Taking a walk; Reading a book; Looking out the window; Scratching the cat’s head; Cooking up dinner; Sitting around. These things can give me a low-end pleasure boost like smoking serotonin laced with tryptophan.
Day 288, Wed Apr 13: I finally finish (I think) updating this year’s FAFSA – the federal form that colleges use to determine student financial aid. This thing has many lives – it keeps popping back into my world, it’s bony hand around my ankle demanding more.
In years past this actually went smoothly. The prospect of it was daunting, but the online process was surprisingly user-friendly.
This year, I thought I was finally outsmarting it. I actually filled this out in January, but used placeholder info from our 2014 tax return, then checked a box that said when we filed out 2015 return we would update the FAFSA. It happens automatically, you just go in and check a box that tells it to retrieve your tax information from the IRS. And, as you will remember, I got our tax return finished a few months ago and have even already received the return. So far, so good. Now, if you are an easily upset person, you may want to skip ahead a few paragraphs.
Yesterday when I tried to update the FAFSA form – which I have also done in previous years in exactly this same manner – it kept rejecting me. I would put in my username and it would reply that the username was already attached to an account. YES! MINE! A couple of times it accepted the username but not my password and sent me through the “Forgot Your Password?” process. Then when I entered the new password it would tell me that the username and password did not match what they had on file for the account. Gee, I wonder if anybody else has ever had a similar experience.
I tried to get help with the Chat service on the FAFSA site. As soon as a friendly customer-service rep signed in and said hi, the system disconnected. This happened three times. Then I called and actually got a very helpful woman on the line in less than a minute. After some discussion verifying that I was legit, and explaining my problem, I told her what I thought was my username. “Yes, that’s it,” she said. After quizzing me a little more she had an aha moment. After creating a new password, she said, I had to wait at least 15 minutes to use it or the system would lock me out. That was yesterday. Instead, I waited 18 hours until today.
And it worked! Showing, I guess, the value of patience, especially when dealing with financial forms and the government.
Day 289, Thu Apr 14: One of the little jokes I tell people about my current life is not really a joke for two reasons. One, it’s the truth and, two, it’s not all that funny anyway. Maybe I am one of the modern non-funny comedians. When folks inquire about how I occupy my time in retirement I tell them a bunch of things and then say, “the house is really clean, and I have dinner on the table every night.”
I also try to make sure and ask “how was your day” when Enid gets home. When both partners are working, you don’t always want to hear about the other one’s day – you’ve got enough crap stored up from your own work-day. And for me, when I was working, I didn’t really want to talk very much about what happened at work anyway. I preferred to leave it at the office, good or bad.
But I am glad now to be an open ear for Enid and let her vent about the good, the bad, the trivial. It’s what a good retired partner does. If you work at it a little, and do a few things right, you can basically have an ongoing, un-directed couples retreat.
Day 290, Fri Apr 15: Good old Alan from A-Plus Computer Repair is out to see if he can solve my Windows 10 problems. It hiccupped a few months ago and then went full-ass haywire a few weeks ago. Even a patient user like me has his limits.
I futilely tried a few things that the online boards suggested, got exasperated and called Alan. I was willing to pay the home-service fee because I did not want it in their shop for weeks. Alan runs the diagnostics, tries a few fixes himself that fail, and has to take it back to his shop anyway. It will turn out that I need a new hard drive and in three days he will bring it back and reconnect everything and all will be copacetic. I will be $460 poorer, but at least $461 happier, so it is a net win.
Day 291, Sat Apr 16: A few months ago when my sister Monica emailed a photo of the Becker Grocery building in Schuyler, the question was raised about when the store was first established. I found an old newspaper ad that said “established 1928” and shared it with the family. I mentioned that long ago Mary had sent me a box full of family stuff: old photos, certificates, and so on. I’m not sure where it came from – probably when she cleaned out mom and dad’s house – but I have it now. I hadn’t looked at it for a long time, but I intended to at some point.
Monica followed up saying thanks, and asking if I wanted any of the genealogy materials she had about our ancient ancestors, going back to Germany and Switzerland and coming up through immigration to the US and Nebraska and modern times. She had inherited some materials that our sister Ann had gathered before she passed, and then Monica had paid for a couple of additional research projects. When she mentioned it to our cousin Mike Heavican (our moms were sisters and Mike, by the way, is Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court), he was really interested in getting more info on the maternal side of the family. And, finally, Monica said she had asked me about this once before and I rebuffed her, saying I was only interested in the current times and moving forward, not the past. I don’t exactly remember feeling that way but, in any event, I feel differently now and I would like to get the research.
She starts emailing me attachments, tracing our lineage back pretty far, four or five centuries in some cases. Over the months we will trade bits of info and anecdotes about our more recent ancestors – parents and grandparents — trying to bring this narrative into sharper focus. Eventually I’d like to put together some kind of book or report or organized file with our family history; it’s on my list but not top priority right now.
Day 292, Sun Apr 17: We are in Oregon for the weekend to watch lacrosse. The Loggers thump Linfield 15-4. During the game Elena becomes the program’s all-time record holder for ground balls and earlier in the year she also climbed to the top spot in Caused Turn Overs; these career records mean you’ve been really good for a long time.
She’s a great player who has piled up accolades at all levels. In college she has been a first-team all-conference defender every year and in high-school she was a multi-year all-state pick. In the annals of our own family, she has become the Best Athlete, supplanting my uncle George “Chink” Busch, who starred in football and was a first-team all-conference basketball player for Creighton in the 1930s. Accolades aside, I have never seen her in a game at any level of competition where she looked overwhelmed. On the contrary, most of the time she looks in control of the situation. I suppose if she had to defend against the US Women’s National Team she would have to scramble, but I have not seen that yet.
McMinnville, the home of the Linfield College Wildcats, is charming. It’s an hour west of Portland, about 3-1/2 hours from Bellevue. Every season we come down here for the games (and also to two other little towns for games against conference foes, Pacific in Forest Grove and George Fox U in Newberg). McMinnville’s historic original downtown is especially lovely. Last night was their art walk and wine tastings, so we snacked at a couple of shops that were participating.
The dining is great here and besides the snacks we stopped at Gem, a Cajun-theme place (we just had appetizers: a glass of wine, braised greens and coleslaw with a hint of horseradish). Then we wanted to eat at Thistle but you need reservations and no tables were available for walk-ins. So instead we walked a block to Pura Vida, a Latin American themed cafe with a natural and locavore twist. On previous trips we ate at Community Table, where you get your (delicious) sandwich and then sit at long tables with other patrons. And we ate at La Rambla, a tapas spot.
Right after dinner, since we were both operating on just a few hours’ sleep from Friday night, we fell into bed at the Comfort Inn. Enid was out by 6:30 – I watched a soccer game on TV and then I was gone to dreamland, too.
The drive to these colleges outside of Portland is normally very pleasant and the scenery is lovely down here; rolling hills and grape fields for the many wineries (also, it is the center of hazelnut production, so there are groves of those trees).
We like the camaraderie of the lacrosse parents’ group. We, of course, get to know the regular supporters a bit. The parents or family members who are Seattle or Portland residents become familiar faces. Then there are new parents who visit once a year from afar, like the mom who is in this weekend from Utah to see her daughter. The friendly vibe extends to the parents from the other teams. It’s a nice thing. Enid and I were eating the Comfort Inn’s breakfast, wearing Loggers Lacrosse shirts, when a woman walked up and said, “Let me guess, going to the women’s lacrosse game?” She was the mom of the opponent Linfield’s goalie, visiting from Colorado, and we had a nice chat.
At the Pacific game yesterday we saw the Chapmans who live in Woodinville, another Seattle suburb. We’ve known them for years, ever since Meg, who plays for Pacific, was both Elena’s team mate on some summer travel teams and her opponent during the regular season. The girls have been playing with and against each other since seventh grade and we like the Chapmans very much.
The drive back to Bellevue after the game is not so charming. There are a handful of traffic slowdowns due to construction or fender-benders and, while we never come to a full stop, it takes about five hours. By the time we get home I am ready to sit on the couch a while and decompress.
Day 293, Mon Apr 18: We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave. It is 89 today. It was so sunny watching the two weekend lacrosse games in Oregon that my legs got sunburned below the knees and left a real distinct tan-line. In a few days Enid will comment that I’ve got an attractive golden glow of a sun tan. That’s right, the Bronze Adonis.
For dinner I make BLT’s and potato salad and we eat out on the front deck, chasing it all down with lemonade.
Day 294, Tue Apr 19: Hot hot hot! While I take a walk most days, my habit lately has been to do my exercise late-morning or afternoon after I mess around on Facebook and reading emails and checking a few errands or tasks off my to-do list.
Today, because it’s so hot I decide it will be more fun to get it out of the way early, so I do. After a bowl of Very Berry cereal and a cup of coffee in a Sounders FC cup I drive over and park at Albertsons, then walk through that traffic tunnel and up through a forested greenbelt. I connect with the I-90 trail alongside the freeway where it is a wide paved bike and running path and just separated with some brambles and a chain link fence from the traffic. I go as far as the overpass above the freeway and then turn back, a total of four miles. I’m slightly sweated through my t-shirt by the time I get back and I’m feeling pretty good about it. Maybe this will be my new routine, working out first or second thing in the morning, and then sitting outside on a bench, on a lovely day.
Yesterday I was inside doing some paperwork at the kitchen table with the doors open, listening to a gypsy music CD by Esma Redzepova and I kept hearing what sounded like somebody intermittently blowing a whistle during the song. It fit. Then the song stopped and the whistling continued and it dawned on me that it was a bird outside.
Today I listen to “Everyday I Write the Book” that somebody posted, and then to two whole CDs: Sly & The Family Stone’s “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” which turns out to be more extended instrumentals and improvisatory and murky and low-key than I had remembered. (A month from now Elena will be lying on the couch reading Greil Marcus’s “Mystery Train” with me sitting under her feet and she will recite out loud his comment about the Sly Stone record: “Muzak with its finger on the trigger”); and The Mothers of Invention’s “Uncle Meat,” a record I have loved since I bought it as a 16-year-old, solely judging it by its cover and, man, did I get a big payoff.
Tonight for dinner we are invited over to neighbors a few blocks away. We’ve been talking for a while about getting together and were finally able to make it work on all of our calendars. We walk over at 6:30, have a nice dinner of grilled salmon, garden asparagus and salad with the couple and their daughter, a senior at Forest Ridge who has just been admitted to the UW in what sounds like some kind of high-powered science program. Then we eat raspberries and blueberries with whipped cream while sitting on their deck to watch the sun set dramatically over Seattle and the Olympics. And walk back home after dark under a starry sky.
Day 295, Wed Apr 20: Had a turkey-bacon sandwich for breakfast, just a bunch of slices of bacon fried up and put between pieces of toast. That was it. Not my most shining moment in the pantheon of healthy breakfasts.
It’s another beautiful day and when Enid gets home from work around four I feel like people-watching so we basically call in sick to ourselves, skip some of the stuff on our to-do lists and head to Downtown Park.
This prosaically named common is right at the edge of downtown: on one side are the skyscrapers and buildings looking down from on high and in the other direction, to the south, is Old Bellevue. It’s a flat half-mile walking and running path, plus a man-made stream alongside it, all encircling a vast greensward of several acres and a duck pond where, also, people sail the little boats. With its paths and trees it has some of the feel of a European park, which probably is what they were thinking when they designed it.
And it shows some good forward planning on Bellevue’s part a few decades ago, or whenever it went in. At that time Bellevue was a classic suburb with sprawling neighborhoods and a shopping-center downtown. It would have been easy to carve up this open space, let the developers’ gold-rush have its way, and call the results Something Centre. I don’t know if some bygone planner was actually visionary or just lucky, but it worked.
Now, downtown Bellevue has become an actual small city of with a booming business in the center metropolis and lots of people living down here as well. They’ve started digging the tunnel for the light-rail train that will come through in the next few years and on the other side of downtown – diagonally across from where we are today – a new planned “arts neighborhood” called Spring District is going in. It’s a busy little city.
So Downtown Park is kind of like Central Park, if Central Park and Manhattan were each about a million times smaller. But you get my point; it feels like we’re in an urban setting. I already got in my workout earlier in the day and we take four loops of the circuit (I end up with nine walking-miles all told) and then relax on a bench to watch the world go by.
There are lots of other walkers of all ages and some who are really styled up – perhaps Nordstrom employees from nearby Bellevue Square or something who are working the noon-to-nine shift and getting in their exercise on their break (also a handful of tech geeks who are wearing their little badges pinned to their belts); a few joggers; dog-walkers; parents with kids using the playground or watching the ducks or getting soaked by splashing in the stream. A bunch of people show up and set up five pop-up volleyball courts and start playing – obviously some kind of Wednesday volleyball meetup. At 4:30 the place starts to fill up with runners who have clearly just got off work nearby and are putting in their workout.
For dinner I saute some turkey sausage and a bunch of veggies — onions, red bell peppers, asparagus, carrots, celery. Throw a little sauerkraut in for a change of pace.
Day 296, Thu Apr 21: The Mariners are playing in Cleveland, in a game that starts at 9am our time. I remember this at 11 and turn it on to watch the final three innings. If I was still working I would watch the replay of this tonight but in couch-jockey mode I can take an hour to watch while multitasking and picking up around the house. At one o’clock our time, in the Mariners’ 10th, Robinson Cano dings a three-run tater for a 10-7 win.
After the game, I head over to Home Depot to arm myself for the battle against ants – we don’t have an indoor infestation or anything, but both Enid and I have seen one or two, which is one or two too many. So just reconfirming my anti-ant stance.
Day 297, Fri Apr 22: I love music and some of my best music experiences have been at live concerts. There’s something cool about the very nature: it’s there and gone. Even the most professional, robotic, scripted shows have extemporaneous moments. And the acts that actually try to be improvisational – even if they are playing the same set list they’ve done a thousand times before – can often strike gold. There’s always the chance that you’ll hear something new, unique and cool.
Then there’s the whole ritual: being in a crowd of like-minded people, the anticipation, the magic moment when the house lights darken. All of that is great.
But I don’t go to concerts any more. They’re too loud and crowded for me. It’s one thing when you’re in the comfort of your living room and you control the volume. It’s entirely another when you are at a hockey arena and the soundman is taking a nap mid-concert. Plus, the big shows are way beyond my budget, which is more like a few dollars than a few hundred. Also, I’m not that crazy about being in a big crowd. It’s more of a hassle than an escapade. So my concert-going these days is all online. I appreciate the people shooting footage on their phones; especially since I’m not stuck behind them at the actual event. Besides all of that, I’ve done it before. Hundreds of times. Once upon a time I was out and about.
When I worked for the Lincoln Journal for a decade from around 1975-85, part of that time I was the entertainment writer.
At the time, Lincoln had a couple of prime small clubs, the Zoo Bar and the Drumstick. The Zoo (drummer Dave Robel once described it as “an alley with a roof on it”) featured Chicago blues, Texas rockabilly and top local bands in all of the Americana styles. All great. Magic Slim, Luther Allison, John Littlejohn, Eddie Clearwater, The LeRoi Brothers, Charlie Burton & Rock Therapy.
One of my Top 10 music experiences happened at the Zoo. When I arrived the band was in full force and the room was so packed that by the time you made it from one side to the other you were wearing somebody else’s makeup. I pushed through the crowd on my way to the bathroom up there at the side of the little stage. When I popped free, I was two feet away from Otis Rush, filling in as a substitute for the advertised headliner Eddie Clearwater. He wasn’t even standing on stage, but down at the edge of the tiny dance floor. He was everything great you’ve ever heard about his legend. At one point in “Laughing Just to Keep From Crying” (I think the actual title is “You Don’t Know My Mind”) he carved off about 20 choruses of guitar solo that went straight to the heart. Thrilling. Then during the breaks he sat alone on the back of the two-foot high stage, talking to nobody, staring into the distance.
The Drumstick booked rock acts – the kinds that were on the tail-end of punk or new wave or power pop. The Drumstick was a little bigger than the Zoo. Here I saw acts like Joe King Carrasco & the Crowns, the Blue Riddim Band and Joan Jett, when she was down on her luck. I interviewed her at the sound check (my cassette tape recorder malfunctioned for a minute and she fixed it with a Bic pen) and a few hours later she took the roof off the joint, and took the lid off of my skull.
I saw a mostly-unknown act called Pat Benatar at the Royal Grove, playing to a half-filled room of maybe 500 people. I don’t know why I even bothered to go, but I did. She had already racked up minor success with a few unremarkable releases that were indistinguishable from scores of other records dog-paddling around at the lower end of the Billboard charts. She was still a nobody, on her way to New York to play some showcases and – with nothing to win or lose in Lincoln — she could have just done a perfunctory walk through her act. Instead, she turned the Royal Grove inside out with her talent and energy. I don’t like too much of the Arena Rock Pat Benatar, but I really liked the Small Club Pat Benatar. A couple of months later “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was everywhere.
Back then, Lincoln’s main arena for mid-sized shows was Pershing Auditorium. Because of the city’s location, it was a convenient stop for mid-level bands crisscrossing the country in any direction. So I would dutifully be out there to review shows by Van Halen or Cheap Trick. I had many opportunities to ponder the artistry of journeyman groups who are now long gone: Savoy Brown, Foghat, The Outlaws. I was there that tour when ZZ Top brought a live longhorn steer out on the stage.
After I moved to Seattle I did some of the same type of work for the Seattle Weekly, though by this time I was a little more into the places where the line between pop culture and the avant-garde was especially blurry. It was fun to come across exciting talent at little clubs where you could walk right up within arm’s length. KD Lang at the Backstage, when she was still channeling Patsy Cline, wearing a dress that was to all evidence sewed up from a parlor curtain. The Neville Brothers, just prior to their bounce-back, looking like pirates at a rodeo and laying out their irresistible New Orleans funk. Mother Love Bone and Green River shattering eardrums at the Vogue, before they were Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. I had a good time but it’s not all Happy Faces: Kenny Gee’s dad called up and yelled at me one time for something I wrote and I felt bad about that.
So concert reviewing has its moments, but for me they are now fond memories. It’s fun, but about the sixth time you write up a Kenny Rogers or Oak Ridge Boys concert at the Nebraska State Fair and try to think of something enlightening to say – and they all have something to offer, but still – the charm wears off.
Day 298, Sat Apr 23: Here’s a thought. What if, in these journal entries, I just punted on any kind of story arc or plot (I know I surprised you that I think these things have even the slightest smudge of either of those literary elements) and every day I simply listed my task list: take out the trash, wipe down the counters, pick up, recycle, laundry, yard work. That could be pretty boring. But, get this: maybe it would eventually be like an Andy Warhol or Yoko Ono movie, boring for the first four hours when nothing happens, then kind of interesting for the final two hours when nothing happens.
Wait, what? I already have written that entry a couple of times?
For supper, Enid makes lentil soup for supper.
Day 299, Sun Apr 24: Walking out of Trader Joe’s I bump into a Bellevue College colleague from the real old days. About five years ago she got caught up in the riptide of a downsizing there that I survived. Happily enough she landed on her feet and is teaching communications at another area college. This is only the third or fourth person from that job that I have seen in the 10 months since I walked away. While I hadn’t thought about it much at all, if you asked I would have said I expected that I would run into more former workmates. But that has not been the way it’s gone.
After Trader Joe’s, we drive around the corner to Golden Steer Meat Market; we’ve heard good things but never stopped here, mainly because we don’t eat meat. They have two main big signs in the window. One says “Today: Goat” and has a drawing of a kind of Pan or faun of some kind with a pointy goatee and horns. The other says “Imagine Peace.” Enid runs in and comes back with two Asada chicken breasts. She was only in there a few minutes and she smells smoky and spicy. She says there was a little corner with chicken – apparently it is barely considered meat — but everything else was beef, goat, lamb, pork.
Day 300, Mon Apr 25: Big disaster. Our property tax is due this week and over the years I have evolved an unnecessarily complicated process to pay it. Even by my old-fashioned methods of paying bills.
Today, after years of flowing smoothly, my system breaks down.
Every year when it is time to pay the property tax I have Enid make out a check to me for the amount (this year, about $3,600). I deposit that in my checking account and then write a check myself, to King County, and drive it to the County Building in downtown Seattle, drive around and around the block until I find a parking space, wait in the lobby for one of the ancient elevators, take it up to the Sixth Floor, stand in line and deliver it in person to one of the windows. I feel like that eliminates any possibility that the payment will get lost somewhere along the line.
A few days ago when I was describing this complex process to Enid, she showed one of her more astonished looks and asked, “Can’t you just mail it?” “I can,” I said, “but I don’t.” Seeing no gain in further conversation she just wrote me the check.
Today I left the house with an armload of newspapers for the recycling, a few bills to drop in a mailbox at Eastgate next to the ice cream shop, some library books to return at Newport Way Library, the loose check for $3,600 to deposit in my account at a Bank of America branch, and the envelope with the property tax bill and the check to pay it in downtown Seattle. I tossed the recycling, then mailed the letters.
When I got to the Eastgate branch of Bank of America I didn’t have the check from Enid to me, the one I was going to deposit. I looked all over the car. I retraced my steps, drove home and checked the garbage and recycling bins. I checked back inside the house. Futile.
That left one option: that I had accidentally dropped it in the mailbox with the bills I was mailing. Right next to that mailbox is a little private mailing business where you can ship packages, buy supplies, keep a box. I’ve used them from time to time to mail packages. I asked the guy in there if he thought the USPS carrier would show up at 2:30, as stated on the box outside. He said yes, they’d pick up no earlier than 2:30 but it could be any time after that.
When I explained my situation, he said they might give the check back to me if I could catch the carrier unloading the box. He also explained what they would do with anything that was not mail in an envelope: he made a tearing-in-half motion with his hands. That actually made me feel a little better, that they would destroy the check. I go back down there at 2:30 to see if I can retrieve it when the carrier comes to pick up the mail in the box. The mailman’s great about sorting through it with me, but there is no check.
Now this is really stressing me. Where’s the check?! I kind of pride myself on being the kind of person who doesn’t just lose a $3600 check. Unless it turns out that I put it away in the fridge or something I will have to explain this all to Enid, she’ll have to go through the hassle of cancelling this check and writing me a new one. And I’m not looking forward to that. But, like the CEO who has to own up to the shareholders about his failings, sometimes it has to be done.
Well, one thing can still work out: chicken breasts and roasted veggies for dinner.
Day 301, Tue Apr 26: OK, today is copy-and-paste from yesterday’s agenda on depositing the check and running the tax payment in to the County Building. I don’t even have to pay for parking. I’m along the curb on Yesler Way in one of the zones where you pay and get a sticker out of the kiosk and put it on your passenger window. But a generous motorist has left a sticker stuck on the kiosk with unused minutes still on it. I avail myself of the opportunity to stick it to the man – and to help my anonymous benefactor reap the good karma they have coming by closing the pay-it-forward circle they started — and I feel good about it.
On the way home I stop off to cover four miles at the Robinswood Park loop, including 1200 yards running (not continuous – on each lap I run the 100 yards length of the lacrosse fields, so two times per lap). And then I weed-whipped the grass up by the road where it was getting pretty shaggy. So all-in-all a pretty satisfying day of accomplishments.
Day 302, Wed Apr 27: It’s a true fact that over my entire working life the middle class got screwed. The oligarchy just built a façade of the American Dream out of a hill of loose sand and let us free on it.
I should be more bitter. Government policies, changes in the workplace, various careers dropping dead, the 1% stepping on our neck over and over. All true. I like money as much as the next guy unless the next guy is Donald Trump or Warren Buffett. (Well, that’s not exactly true. As long as I’m secure I don’t really care all that much about money at all; if I did I would have made all sorts of different choices. I had a little bit of a different value system going for me, and a different decision tree.) Over the years, our household income overall put us around the lower end of what is considered the upper middle class.
Still, I have a lot of financial reasons to feel sorry for myself. On the other hand, I am one of those increasingly rare individuals who believe we all have some individual responsibility. Quaint concept. We may be victimized but we don’t have to be victims. Who knows, maybe the big proletarian revolution is going to happen, but it didn’t show up during my earning years. So I just kept working and saving.
Some people may be set up to retire at 50. Some may still be going in to the office at 85. Some people are going to be rich. For some, the financial side will never be comfortable. But a few may be pretty much like me. I imagine that people reading my views here will have a range of opinions and some of my thoughts will resonate and others will fall flat. I know the feeling. For example, I enjoyed Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” because I could identify with the walking parts of it even if I could not begin to understand why she was such a dope about going out there unprepared in the first place. And I really could not connect with how the whole thing was somehow about proving something to herself. I didn’t get those parts, but obviously many people did, so it is likely a character flaw on my part. It’s about me, not you, Cheryl.
Likewise, I suppose folks reading this book will have a similar range of assessment, from “how does this insightful genius know everything about me?” to “meh” to “what an idiot”.
I see people (admittedly, mainly are people posting on Facebook) who got involuntarily retired in some sort of company downsizing. I’ve been laid off from a few jobs in my working life and it’s never fun but you’ve just got to move on to the next position (or whatever life arena the rejection and disappointment occupies: the next relationship, the next Mariners’ season). It’s not some insurmountable tragedy, but it’s really unpleasant. It’s not likely that something bad would have happened to me at some point in my final employment but I did not wait around to see. So I retired on my terms.
I also see people who are involuntarily retired who express a lot of bitterness about the way they were treated. I get it, for sure – I’ve had crummy jobs, everybody has — but also they talk about how their job was a decade of soul-sucking. It seems like, in those cases, their company did them a really good favor to send them packing, even if the company tried to make it a degrading humiliation. At least they are out of there (and I often wonder why they stayed so long in a hideous situation).
It’s important to be prepared – for anything, really, but especially for retirement. There’s a lot of talk about getting the government to step back up to its responsibility to take care of its retirees. It seems unlikely that they will ever do something really significant to fix it. If they do I wonder if I will somehow miss out again, thanks to being too damn responsible.
I don’t feel like I can influence the bigger picture of policies that can tip the situation back in my direction. So I’ve just tried to control what I can, down at ground level. I always worked for modest wages and scrimped and saved and then, when the plutocracy took over, our family was one of the screwed middle-class families. One place (but not the only place) it played out to our disadvantage (along with lots of other families in our same boat) was in college tuition: we were too rich to be considered poor (no Pell Grants) but not rich enough to just pay the tab.
I wonder if the remedy to the Baby Boomer Retirement Crisis will be similar: some solution will be devised that helps out the folks who basically were Grasshoppers, not us Ants. The rest of us will find that our assets put us over the line for any assistance programs.
Oh, well. It’s not worth worrying about. At least I feel at ease in my retired situation. There are lots of articles about Baby Boomers being not financially or emotionally prepared. Just a few days I ago was talking to a neighbor who said he is scared to death of retirement. He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t pry.
Day 303, Thu Apr 28: Affordable Window Cleaning was here yesterday to do the windows. They were affordable: $300 to do all the windows inside and out; I used to pay Rain or Shine $200 just to do the outside. Cole and Rob, two genial 20-somethings got it done in two hours.
Next up on my list of major repair jobs: call Sears to have somebody come out and get the riding mower moving again. I hauled a bunch of branches up to the pile, branches we had trimmed a few weeks ago but left lying on the ground. I raked some leaves from under the shrubbery along the steps.
In the afternoon, I took a nine-mile walk from the Walmart lot up to the fruit stand, over past Weowna Park, up through Airfield Park, back down across Robinswood and back to my car. Across the parking lot from Walmart somebody called my name: Nataliya, a blonde with an always-sunny disposition who I worked with a decade ago when I started at Bellevue College, was shopping at the little Ukrainian grocery next to Shoes ‘n’ Feet and spotted me walking by. She’s still working at BC, now as a Campus Security officer. This is a new phenomenon since I went splitsville, bumping into two former colleagues in a week.
For dinner: roast chicken stuffed with lemons and a mega-salad.
Day 304, Fri Apr 29: It rained this morning so I puttered around the house. By 1:30 it dried up. I needed to run an errand to Factoria so I drove over and did my five-mile walk by taking four circuits around the perimeter of the whole “marketplace” (that’s what they call malls now). So, basically, a lively walk with an undisturbed view of vast parking lots. I figured if it started to rain I could run for cover, but it never started to rain.
Back at home I messed around in the garage and the “apartment” next to it, taking the first nibbles at getting organized for downsizing. This is an activity that every retiree has to confront sooner or later. I’ve been threatening to get on this project for months now. My idea is that I will spend an hour or so on this task every Friday for a while and see where that gets me with sorting into piles: trash, sell, keep, decide later. Mostly I just stared at the accumulation of stuff – books, knick-knacks, household items, art, cooking gear, instruments, ancient hi-fi gear and so on. I need to triage this into things we want to keep and things we want to offload.
Eventually we will downsize right out of this house, but that’s 10 years or so into the future. If I can make a dent in our clutter and stuff over this next decade, that will be a pretty solid accomplishment. For now, I am going to put it on my calendar as a recurring Friday appointment and try to tackle some sector: folders of paper, closets, bookshelves. With boxes of old tax returns or Elena’s grade school papers it’s black and white: keep or toss. For other things – some books, some items we’ve had so long that they now may have value (I know, I’ve been watching too much “Antiques Roadshow”), anything else that might be more in the collectible category rather than junk – I will see if I can figure out a price and sell it on specialty boards. The rest of it – cookware we barely used in the first place, sports equipment we will never use again, jars of nails — will go in a garage sale or Craigslist or Nextdoor (I would say also eBay but I’m kind of scared of eBay). Then Half Price Books. Then Freecycle or Goodwill. Then the recycling and trash.
For today all I could handle was drinking a Power Ade and moving items from one spot to another. It’s a good thing I’ve got nothing but time.
Day 305, Sat Apr 30: David, one of my oldest friends (one of my oldest friends who I first met as an adult, not somebody I grew up with or went to school with), texted to see if I want to go to the M’s game tonight against the defending World Series champs, the Royals.
We meet by the Mitt sculpture outside the gates a couple of hours before first pitch, so we can watch batting practice, eat ballpark food, wander around, sit and enjoy the day. It’s a beautiful evening, the stadium is nearly sold-out, the M’s score four runs on two homers in the bottom of the first, and Wade Miley pitches a complete-game shutout.
We’ve been going to games together – Mariners, Sonics, and Seahawks – for 30 years. We were in the right-field stands the night Griffey Jr. hit his eighth home run in eight consecutive games into the seats about 10 feet away from us. I came home from that game hoarse.
But, of course, Mariners fandom encompasses a much wider range of emotions and experiences. One time David wrote a chapbook about being a Mariners fan when hope springs eternal and reality is losses that are presented to the fans in a never ending variety of new ways, the team serving up failures to the fans the way your cat bringing in dead voles and birds and drops them in your bed. It’s true what they say, that every day at the ballpark you see something new, sometimes excruciatingly new. In David’s book he recounted a perfectly painful scene: he had watched on TV as the M’s once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Then he went outside in a warm rain and worked out his feelings on his lawn, with a dandelion puller: k-chunk, k-chunk, k-chunk.
I first connected with David shortly after I moved to Seattle in 1985 and was scuffling around for freelance journalism jobs. He was editing a start-up business newspaper and over the phone assigned me a story about area businesses that were boycotting South Africa because of its apartheid policies.
A few months later I got hired on staff for a startup football magazine, Inside the Seahawks. It was owned by the great Seahawks safety Kenny Easley and while it was a disaster businesswise (neither he nor the managing editor knew what they were doing) it was pretty good journalism-wise. By some miracle they had assembled a terrific staff and we churned out an outstanding product. The first day when the staff gathered and went around the room to introduce ourselves, David and I were both like, “Hey.”
We’ve been pals ever since and our careers – and our lives – have tracked pretty closely. After a while we both landed public information jobs with City of Seattle departments, me with Water and David with Parks. He’s still working there, now as the top communications guy. We both relocated to the suburbs, me to Bellevue and David to Kenmore. His wife, Wingate, taught at Lakeside and is now an adjunct prof at Seattle U, and Enid teaches. We both had kids at about the same time, me with Elena and David with two sons, James who is studying business and playing soccer at Babson, and Robin, who just got into NYU to study photography. We share progressive political views and a basic philosophy that it’s important to be decent people. We read books.
Over the decades, obviously, we have stayed in contact if only, sometimes, every few years. We always made the effort of meeting for lunch a few times a year to catch up. Sometimes we go to a ballgame and crack jokes about inept Mariners of the past. We can make each other laugh by just reciting a litany of names; we don’t even have to say the whole joke: Bobby Ayala, Richie Sexson. Sometimes we don’t even say that much, we just watch the game. That’s another way we find out everything we need to know about how the other guy is doing, and at the same time provide all the support he needs. We somehow accomplish all of this without ever forming a book group. Some cultural critics would say that we are everything that’s wrong with men, a classic example of superficiality and males’ stunted emotional capacity.
Possibly. But I would make a different suggestion that reflects more favorably on us. I assume that David feels similar to me about this, since we keep on acting the same way toward each other. But I do not know for sure. And I am not going to ask. I’d say that the way we act with each other is, instead, a deep code and these few words about baseball can contain the genetics of all kinds of other important things. It got proved again at the Mariners’ game. There had been some preamble in the early part of the game when we had talked about the Sonics of yore and then moved on to other topics: work, family, sports, politics. In the sixth inning I remembered something and said, “Jim McIlvaine” and David replied, “Robert Swift.” We both laughed pretty hard and that was all that needed to be said. It’s good to have friends who deeply understand you and are there when you need them.