Just Quit Already!
Day-by-Day through Year One of Retirement
Day 63, Tues Sept 1: It does feel like a page has turned. For one thing, it’s September so summer seems over. Enid has gone back to work so my daily dynamic is different. It’s coolish and rainy out, portending the impending autumnal gray.
The first two months that I was retired, July and August, were more of an extended summer vacation. Now this feels like something else, like retirement is getting real. It’s no big psychic jolt or anything overt, just a shift in my mood. Not reflection and certainly not melancholy, just different. Not sure whether it’s the Two Month Retirement Adjustment or the End of Summer or it has finally dawned on me that Things Have Changed.
Day 64, Wed Sept 2. Every once in a while I will just litanize my mundane dawdling tasks of the day – as if I were an attorney billing in 15-minute increments. It is a reminder of how putteringly routine – yet oddly enjoyable – retirement days can be.
8:15 Wake up, get up. Do a little stretching.
8:15 – 9:30
• Have a cup of coffee in my favorite coffee mug, painted by Elena when she was three, as a Father’s Day gift. It is a heavy cream-colored mug with random daubing. Now it has a chip out of the rim. It is by far my preferred cup. Coffee tastes way better when I drink it out of this cup.
• Drink a glass of water, eat a banana and a few handfuls of dry Joe’s O’s. Take my daily 50+ vitamin and supplements.
• Fix the full-length mirrored sliding-door on what we call the “Sports Closet” in the Office/TV room. It had jumped its track and just needed to be reset.
• Clean the cat litter boxes, the never-ending Sunday and Wednesday task.
• Change the furnace filter – a Fall and Winter job. Temperatures have been down in the 60s the past few days, so it’s on my mind.
• Throw in a load of laundry. Normally, Thursday is Laundry Day but I am still working my way through various piles and laundry baskets of dirty clothes left behind by Elena, so orderly schedules are not my friend at the moment.
• Check emails and Facebook.
• 9:30 I do a walk-around and go over the jobs with Florian from Amy Works handyman repair, who has arrived to install the kitchen screen door and replace the mirror door on the downstairs bathroom medicine cabinet. We don’t expect to ever go in and out this screen door but we want to be able to open it and get light, breeze and a view. Plus it will give Nadia another vista to the outdoors; she loves to look out screen doors and windows – watching nature movies. As for the medicine cabinet, I was straining to open one of those hard-shell plastic cases that items come in when it suddenly popped apart and the tube inside shot out and splintered the mirror. Two big cracks. I put some strapping tape on it so the glass wouldn’t fall out and we’ve lived with it that way for most of a year. Florian is a chatty guy with what I think is a French accent; then it turns out he’s from a different country. When he hears me call the cat Nadia, he says, “That’s my daughter’s name. We named her after Nadia Comaneci. I’m Romanian.” I find out more. He’s not only Romanian, he’s a struggling abstract wood-carving artist. I have had to stick Nadia locked up in our bedroom while he does the screen door, so she doesn’t dart out.
9:45 Drink another cup of coffee and finish checking my emails and goofing around on social media and starting to write this journal entry.
10:45 Move laundry to the dryer, pick up random cups and glasses around the house and load into dishwasher, take two bags of recycling up to the bin. The new screen door won’t shut properly; there’s not enough room and the piston that eases it closed bumps into the inside door. I tell Florian to leave the piston off and we will pull the door shut manually. We don’t intend to go in and out of that way anyway; it is intended to be more window than door.
• 11:30 I vacuum the TV room and the hall rug. I google how to set up the HDMI cable so that we can use the TV as a monitor and watch DVDs or internet content on a computer. Part of it sounds easy, part complicated. I don’t attempt the actual set-up.
• 11:45 Florian has finished the screen door and will move down to the medicine chest in the master bath.
• Noon: I forage in the fridge for lunch: leftover chicken, leftover salad and a glass of milk.
• 12:45 Florian is done, cleaned up, paid. I asked him about the feasibility of fixing the outside lights from the garage and down the steps. I want them to all work together with a sensor, so they come on automatically at night via either motion or flipping the switch. I want this both for security reasons and also just to provide more light down the steps. He says it can be done, and we will get this done in the next few years. It’s a sunny day, so it’s nice to leave the door open and enjoy all the benefits of the new screen door.
• 1:30 Drink a cup of water. I was going to take my walk but all of a sudden it has clouded over and looks a little ominous. I try to avoid danger and getting wet. I will wait and see what develops.
• 1:45 Vacuum the rest of the main floor: the kitchen, Nadia’s bathroom, the guest bathroom, dining room rug, living room rug and front foyer.
• 2:00 In the time it took me to think about the weather and run the vacuum, it rained enough to make the sidewalk wet and then the sun came out again. Just when I think I’ll go for it, with the sun still throwing bright rays at the house, it starts raining again, sort of hard. Bright sun and pouring rain at the same time. Thanks, Seattle. Once it backs off I walk up to the Summit, the adjacent neighborhood that is on an even higher hill than us, for about a three-mile walk. It doesn’t rain.
• 3:00 I sit around drinking water and staring out the back door to the deck.
• 3:15 Spend five very enjoyable minutes listening to a fabulous slow instrumental track on You Tube called “Florida Blues” on an album called “Close But No Cigar” by the outstanding harmonica player Madison Slim. Somebody mentioned it on Facebook. Slim was with Little Jimmy Valentine and the Heartmurmurs back in the early ‘80s in Lincoln, when they were the best thing going. This new record is tasty, plus, I know the guy.
• 3:30 Go down to the garden and pick the limited random veggies that are still left as the growing season curls up on itself — green beans, broccoli, a few more tomatoes and a cabbage for the vegetable soup I’m planning. Also a couple of cucumbers for salads or pickles (I just cut them in nickel-rounds and put them in a jar of brine from a Vlasic pickles when we have already eaten all the store-bought ones). A few raspberry canes are still working on putting out Raspberries 2.0 so I get a small handful – maybe 20 berries.
• 4:00 Pour myself a white wine in the same favorite coffee mug I’ve been using all day and finally sit down and read the Seattle Times. The weather has been changeable all day but now it has made up its mind: full-on sunny, with puffy white clouds in a blue sky.
• 4:30 I’ve got all the doors open to their screens, but now it’s cooling. I turn on the fireplace. Google a couple of spicy vegetable soup recipes and start dinner so it will be ready around 5:30. A few minutes early or late for this dinner won’t make a bit of difference – it’s soup. I thought Enid said something about stopping at the club for her workout, but I also thought she said she’d be home around 5. I know that she likes soup and I had thought we were in soup weather. At times it turned a bit warmer this afternoon so maybe I should switch to grilled wieners, lemonade and ice cream bars. These are tough decisions. I stick with soup.
Day 65, Thu Sept 3: It’s a good thing nobody was watching when I danced around the living room for four minutes to “Pump Up The Volume.”
On the less fun, but possibly more important, side of things I finally get around to filing some claims for reimbursement from VEBA. This is the thing where I have an account with the cash-out money that rolled over from my remaining unused sick leave at work when I left. It totaled up to a couple of thousand dollars that I can draw down. It’s actually pretty easy and intuitive to do the claim – you just fill out the form and attach jpgs or pdfs of the receipts. As a trial run I put in for two claims totaling $423.50, both from Group Health, both from the same day (July 21) and both for Elena, related to her Madagascar trip: a polio vaccination ($61) and, from the pharmacy, an oral antibiotic called Cypro and an antimalarial called Malarone ($362.50).
Since this is my first time filing a VEBA claim I have a few false starts and minor mis-steps but nothing alarming and I git ‘er done. The reimbursement is supposed to show up as an automatic deposit to my checking account so now I will have to see 1) whether they accept or reject my claim, and 2) if accepted, whether the money gets deposited.
Dinner: Baked potatoes topped with tuna salad (canned skipjack tuna, zesty aioli, chopped celery, chopped pickles, a squeeze of lemon) and a big mixed vegetable salad. I make salads as one of my menu regulars. It’s easy, healthy and tasty. The only small downside is that salad is not the most durable thing for a leftover; it is usually still good (sort of) for lunch the next day but not so enticing after that. The base is lettuce (or, in a pinch, another leafy green like spinach) and then I basically toss in whatever diced or cut-up veggies I have available. I load it up, I don’t keep it simple. If I have dried-out bread I might make croutons, or dice up cheddar cheese, or sometimes hard-boil eggs and mix them in. If I’m on top of my game and doing it right, the salad can include everything and the kitchen sink. Today I made it with lettuce, spinach, kale, tomatoes, edamame, red onion, carrots, red peppers, broccoli, celery, feta, and olives and then squeezed a lemon over it and seasoned to taste with red pepper flakes, marjoram, sesame seed, sunflower seeds (the shelled kind, not the kind you chew and spit in the dugout), hemp seed, smoky pepper and basil. Enid specializes in making a killer vinaigrette but tonight we topped it with Brianna’s Lemon Tarragon dressing.
Day 66, Fri Sept 4: At the risk of TMI, I am starting to get an understanding of how old guys’ hygiene erodes. In my professional career I was a shirt-and-tie guy, so after 40 years of a shower and shave every morning – maybe a little stubble on Casual Friday — I didn’t shave for the whole first week or more after I walked away. And then only because the nascent beard got itchy. So far I’m still mostly on the daily shower regimen but some days it’s already afternoon before I get in there. Or evening. Or the following day. While that sounds like it might fit the bill quite agreeably, retirement-wise, it actually could result in a restraining order if it gets out of hand.
A retired college pal of mine from the bygone era reported that his wife said he smelled like an old house and since he didn’t want that, he headed straight for a major scrub down. So I can see that the slope slips from here.
Day 67, Sat Sept 5: We spent the day at our Hood Canal cabin, a two-hour drive, for the traditional annual end-of-summer Corn Feed. The co-op where we have our cabin has 25 family memberships. Some are original founding families (or nearly so) now into the second or third generation. We are one of these because Enid’s mom and dad were early first-generation members. She’s been coming here all her life (and so has Elena; her first trip out was when she was a month old). I’ve been coming since I met Enid. When I was growing up we always had cabins (what we called “shacks”) on the Platte River, for hunting, fishing, fun. Others are newer families who joined when somebody left.
It is not for everybody. It’s not just about owning a vacation home, there is an expectation that members will participate in the community in all of the available ways: serve on committees, join in work parties, watch out for one another and be neighborly. There have been rare lawsuits – I know of one in my 30 years of being involved — brought by folks who just wanted to build a mega-cabin or drag a driveway through the woods. The co-op community has prevailed in these legal actions. We have very similar situations at the cabin and in our neighborhood at our home. These communities and their governance are more than just community associations. There’s an implicit social contract to be a good citizen. And while I realize that everybody has a limit on how well they want to know their neighbors, it makes life a little better to have a couple of built-in communities with some shared values.
A lot of people always make it out for the Labor Day Weekend Corn Feed. We boil up sweet corn in a couple of big pots over an open fire-pit set just back from the water’s edge, above the tide line at the South Beach. The genius of the founding members of this co-op is that they designated that no cabins could be built right on the beach, everything has to be set back in the woods. So, for example, from our deck we can see the water through the chiaroscuro of the trees, but we walk a half-block down a trail to reach the water. The result is that 25 members share a mile of open rocky beachfront and we never feel like we are walking in anybody’s yard. Brilliant.
Before starting the Corn Feed potluck, we pull in the swim raft that has been anchored off the beach all summer and haul it up and stash it above the storm line. This is always a very fun and hilarious activity. Everybody gets hands-on around the raft – real little kids, really old people as well as the hale-and-hearty. The thing weighs a ton so we huck it up the slope of the beach a few feet at a time – “One, Two, Three, Lift!” — until it is safely stored for the winter.
Then we eat, drink and make merry with a potluck. It’s a collective of like-minded progressive tree-huggers who are into camaraderie and community. One of the things they warn about when you’ve separated from employment is that you have to be attentive and purposeful to have social interaction built into your life since you will no longer get it from the workplace. You’re not supposed to get isolated and lonely. I’m a bit of a loner — that is I’m comfortable with my reclusive self — but even I get their point. This vacation community provides some of that for me, and maybe it will become even more important as time goes on.
In the past, I would often be one of the first to leave the fire pit and head back to the cabin as the sun started to set over the Olympic Mountains across Hood Canal. Today I stayed and chatted and was one of the last to depart (not counting the hard-core sitting around the fire with vodka-infused marshmallows who looked like they were going to close the joint down – reminding me that there are some things you just shouldn’t do after age 50). Hanging out a little longer wasn’t deliberate on my part, but that’s what happened.
Day 68, Sun Sept 6: Finally got a calendar loaded on my computer, which I’ve had at the periphery of my brain for a while. I had been accustomed to an Outlook calendar at work and wanted it at home to keep me organized and on task. In my mind this was a bigger deal than it turned out to be in reality. All it involved, of course, was to find the Microsoft Office calendar and open it, pin it to the taskbar and start using it. Took about one minute and it will be just fine for my needs.
But it had taken me until now to do it since I’d been harboring low-level anxiety, thinking maybe I would have to do something challenging like download a calendar app or go through a complicated process to load Outlook. Or create another account with yet another password, for cripe’s sake. I already had one failed attempt to load Outlook several years ago and it clearly left scars. Like most people, I am not at all a Luddite and I love it when the technology runs like a charm. I have a simple rating system for technology: if it works, it’s good; if it doesn’t work, it’s bad. So I look forward to doing new technology things with the same enthusiasm I have for dental appointments. Getting this calendar set up is a big deal to me. It will help my life go more smoothly. Or at least make me feel like my life is going more smoothly.
Let me repeat an important thing to know about me that will be enabled by the Microsoft Office Calendar: I am an obsessively neurotic list maker. I make daily to-do lists, long-term project lists, lists of the lists I should be keeping but haven’t started yet. I recommend this practice to anybody who wants to be like me. You decide for yourself where you think a healthy cut-off line is. I don’t really need the Microsoft Office calendar for these lists – I write them down on pieces of paper. And I don’t really need the Microsoft Office calendar for actual appointments – we keep a paper calendar hanging inside a kitchen cupboard door where we jot down either our individual events or family obligations so that we don’t double book. This attention to calendaring was more important when we had busier lives, when there were three of us in the house to coordinate and when my personal schedule was more hectic and less forgiving. But it’s still a good habit. When a person is living a hectic personal life and work life, there’s much to remember, so these reminder lists are really useful. Now, I don’t have that much going on, but it’s still a comfort to have my lists.
Maybe back in some corner of my psyche it also helps me to somehow justify my nonworking existence: see, I’m retired but I’m still so productive I need a calendar to keep track of things. In truth, I don’t have meetings anymore, so my Microsoft Office calendar is more for reminders and for recurring stuff. I’ll mark in there annually at the end of October and the end of April to pay our property tax. Like I would forget that. I’ll put in a reminder in the fall to plant daffodil bulbs that will flower in the spring. I’ll have a recurring prompt every Monday to pay the bills for that week, even though I know – with no reminder — that I habitually pull out my briefcase every Monday and pay the bills I have stowed in there.
Then, aside from the calendars, I construct a hand-written To-do This Week list. On some days I might even copy out that day’s items on a piece of scrap paper. This allows me to put down things like “return library books” or “unload dishwasher.” On my daily list I include “dinner” and sometimes the menu I’ll prepare. If I’m doing it right I have pretty much everything in there except a daily reminder to get up in the morning and go to bed at night. You may think I’m kidding and depicting a parody version of myself for entertainment purposes. Sadly, I’m not.
Tonight: marinated baked chicken (cut up into parts first) and black beans/corn/rice made in the frying pan.
Day 69, Mon Sept 7: Labor Day, so it is time for the annual community Salmon Bake back in our Bellevue neighborhood, similar in many ways to the Corn Feed we attended at our cabin community just a few days ago. Today’s event happens up at the playfield. A bunch of huge sides of salmon get grilled on big barrel grills over charcoal and cedar chips. It gets pleasantly smoky. The tradition calls for tons of tomato slices, salad, garlic bread, beer, lemonade and desserts. The further tradition is that everybody brings their own baked potato.
The camaraderie and sense of community is really strong. (It’s not that there are never conflicts among neighbors, but those are set aside at a community event like this.) Lots of neighborhoods have block parties, but ours is a few steps beyond that. It’s not that easy to articulate or show examples, but there’s a genuine sense of social contract and commitment to true community than other places I’ve lived. Salmon Bake has been going on in our neighborhood for more than 50 years. A difference from the Hood Canal event is that this group comprises actual year-round residents rather than summer get-away vacationers. This year’s Salmon Bake is a lot of fun: good weather, great food, well-attended. It’s nice to have a multigenerational community with tottering old folks mixing it up with knee-high hard-chargers.
My traditional task is to go up there two hours early and wear an apron, stand around the grills drink beer and shoot the shit with a bunch of other guys, from eight-year-olds to 80-year-olds. Then when it’s time to eat we carry platters of salmon 30 feet over to the serving tables next to the fire pit. There are benches and people bring camp chairs and blankets to fan out into the playfield. Enid’s tradition is to make a couple of chocolate pies.
While we’re getting ready at home I put on Roseann Cash’s great “The List,” which is emotional for lots of reasons. Then I find Rhiannon Giddens’ solo release from earlier this year. Back home after Salmon Bake, at nine at night, we have a good half-hour talk with Elena from Antananarivo (it’s seven in the morning her time). The Facetime didn’t work so we didn’t have visuals. Elena was using Facebook Messenger so there wouldn’t be any crazy phone costs, but we missed the strategy on that so we will need to load the app on the IPad. Regardless of minor technical difficulties, it was great to have a leisurely chat.
Day 70, Tue Sept 8: One of my retirement charges to myself is to try to have dinner ready when Enid gets home. And then to cook a big enough amount so there are leftovers that she can take for her lunch and maybe some for me the next day, too. I’m a decent cook. I was on my own, a bachelor-style singleton, into my late 30s so I’d better learn to cook if I wanted to eat anything good. But once we were married I got out of practice for sure, since over the years the cooking ratio in our house between me and Enid was about 10-90, tipped to her side. For one thing, she is a really good cook – I mean good as in fabulous – and she likes to do it. For another, gender stereotypes.
So for 25 years I’ve done the occasional Sunday-morning scrambled eggs or French toast, the smoothies, a wicked roast chicken. But now I’m back. I figure that one thing I can do to support her and contribute is try to have dinner on the table.
Day 71, Wed Sept 9: I get a boilerplate email from VEBA telling me they have processed my medical expense reimbursement claims and I can go online to my account to see if I have been approved or rejected. It looks like they have approved the larger claim for $423.50. Woot woot! (Although when I subsequently look to see if it has been automatic deposited to my checking account, it has not. Note to self: keep an eye on it for a few days.)
The smaller claim that I submitted at the same time, for $61, is not approved. I will have to look at it more closely, but at first glance I do not see any place that explains why it was denied. It does say I can resubmit it. But since I would simply resubmit the exact same thing with the same receipt, I’m not sure how that would be an improvement or result in a different outcome. It’s a moot point, though, because I’m not going to bother with that. Medical care is expensive so, eventually over the next few years, I will turn in enough out-of-pocket medical claims to use up my few thousand dollars of VEBA. $61 today is not going to make any real difference one way or another.
Anyway, I have to suspend my relationship with VEBA for a few hours because I have an errand to run. A few months ago I trimmed a laurel branch that fell and clipped the tip of the chainsaw bar. Something bent, either the bar itself or more likely some teeth in the saw. So today I finally took it in to the G&H Repair shop near the Spring District in North Bellevue.
The beautiful warm sunny weather has returned so after I drop off the saw I park nearby in the Fred Meyer lot and walk northeast without charting any particular course. When I take my walks it is not uncommon for me to navigate by a book of blank maps. After a few blocks I realize that I am trekking through the vast Microsoft campus (campuses, plural, really; I see signs for ones marked East, West and North). I’m on a public street but on every side are well-manicured lawns and sprawling buildings. I’ve been to the Conference Center here many times for events but never on foot so I’m a little surprised when I come across the entrance. I cover seven walking miles total and four or five must have been on Microsoft’s expansive land. As if I needed any confirmation that it’s a big powerful company.
For dinner I use the leftover rice from last night’s tacos to make fried rice and veggies: onions, carrots, green beans, celery, radishes spiced with cumin, turmeric and Cajun spice. I had also used the big stock pan to turn a bowl of garden tomatoes into a spicy sauce, simmering for a couple of hours, and we ladled that over the top. For dessert we had home-made plum ice pops; we have a gizmo (does that word still exist?) for making popsicles and Enid used some plum slurry left over from making compote to freeze up tasty ones.
Day 72, Thu Sept 10: I hooked up the HDMI cable so we can watch DVDs, or, for that matter, anything else on our desktop (or, I suppose, laptop). We have no other DVD player or DVR hooked up to the TV so the only device with a disc player is the regular computer. It sits about five feet from the TV.
Setting up an HDMI has been on my to-do list for at least a year so we can watch DVDs or movies or You Tube or streaming. The impetus that finally got us off the schneid was that Enid wanted to look at “Forks Over Knives” that she checked out of the library. With only a few mis-steps, it worked and she watched it. So, good job HDMI people.
The movie itself is about how it is healthier to eat plant-based instead of animal-based. I’m basically 90 percent there already, since I haven’t had a steak or a Big Mac or a Coke in 40 years. I’m out of practice, meatwise. I do eat chicken and fish and dairy products in moderation but I am basically on a healthy diet with tons of fruits and veggies so I am not worried that an occasional fried egg will cut me down. I agree with most of what the plant-based advocates say. I don’t proselytize (much) because I figure nobody needs me hectoring them about what they eat. But I believe –and have practiced for all of my adult life – that good nutrition is really important. Here’s a news flash: you put food in your body so you might want to pay a little attention to what you’re loading. Besides the personal health factor, there’s also a persuasive environmental case against the meat industry.
I have to pause here and mention one downside of having a lot of fruit around the kitchen and a compost can under the sink: we have had an invasion of fruit flies for the past few days. They’re everywhere. I know they will just last a few days; I took biology class where I sat in a huge lecture auditorium and learned about the lifespan of the drosophilae. But, still. Gross.
One small place where the Forks Over Knives movement (if that’s what it is, a movement) misses the mark for me is that they primarily make a reductionist health argument about eating plant-based. It’s not dissimilar to the way marijuana advocates framed their debate up until these last few years. It was always about the medicinal aspect. Plus maybe they would throw in, “And you can make pants out of hemp, too!”
After a while it somehow turned to where it was obvious that lots of people just want to smoke a little weed and get slightly high because it’s harmless fun. And then they legalized it.
Likewise, Forks Over Knives make food sound like it is only for sustenance. Or medicine, even. While this is all true, it disregards the pleasure of eating tasty food. That’s a main reason people keep deep-frying those bad-for-you baconburgers. It is entirely possible – easy, even – to eat organic, veggie, fork-style and still have it be delicious. I do it. Sure, I fall off the healthy-eating wagon from time to time myself. But if my biggest vice is enjoying cheese on my crackers once in a while, I am doing OK. I eat that cheese guilt-free.
Day 73, Fri Sept 11: All summer I’ve been meaning to go downtown and catch one of the weekday free Live at Lunch concerts. It’s just what it sounds like, and every city has a version of it –Jazz in June. Summer Blend. Miller Time Presents – offering every kind of music. (On another outing, next summer, Enid and I will be taking a walk when we stumble across The Soul Connection in time to hear their last four songs: “Domino,” “Chain of Fools,” “Knock on Wood,” and “Walking on Sunshine”. They know their demographic and it is me.)
Today, the final day of this year’s series, I finally show up for Crème Tangerine playing at the Bellevue Connection. It’s a plaza next to a brewery in the middle of the tall buildings, with a bunch of food trucks for the lunch crowd. It’s sunny and fun.
Bellevue’s a more diverse city than Seattle itself, so it’s a mixed crowd racially and ethnically and there are old people and office workers and parents with little kids by the hand or in strollers. The Bellevue demographic split is maybe half white, 30 percent Asian, 10 percent Latino, six percent black and four percent other. I only get over the bridge into Seattle on rare occasions but from what I hear it’s pretty much Whitey Town now with some areas like South Lake Union dominated by Amazon buildings and employees.
These tech businesses are basically Man Camps, like the North Dakota fracking fields but with a bachelor’s degree. I wonder what those poor dopes will do in 10 years when everything they’ve learned about programming is obsolete. Probably be going to free lunchtime concerts and drinking little giveaway sample cups of Naked juice. The strawberry-banana is good. Bellevue has plenty of tech flavor too, of course, so the lunch crowd features pods of – not to stereotype – endomorphs who look like they could use a few days on the Green Smoothie Cleanse themselves. An alarming number of man-buns. A generation ago these would have been ham radio guys. Now, this.
As for the entertainment, Crème Tangerine is a Beatles cover band, but not Beatles impersonators. No mop-top hairdos or Sgt. Pepper’s jackets. No left-handed bass player. They just play the tunes and they really make no attempt to sound just like a perfect re-creation of the record or anything. They were fun but at all times I knew I was watching Crème Tangerine, not the Beatles. It did remind me of how great the Fab Four were, because every song is a killer. And if the Village Theater ever puts on “Across the Universe,” Crème Tangerine has got a shot to add to their resume. I don’t know what the future holds for me in Beatles cover bands, but Crème Tangerine will tide me over until the new thing comes along.
Lots of the people sitting in the chairs in front of the stage are, like me, old folks who remember where they were when they first heard “Hey Jude” (I was sitting in the school parking lot in John Davidson’s car) and who also can work up some enthusiasm for anything if it’s free. But, of course, everybody enjoys the Beatles so plenty of younger workers wandering through to pick up their lunch pause to head-bob for a few songs.
After 45 entertaining minutes Crème Tangerine’s lead singer says they are going to divert from their Beatles’ shtick and do a few things by other bands they like. I’d earlier heard them do their sound check with “Superstition,” so I didn’t mind. Until they started in on “Take It To the Limit.” If it was the actual Eagles, I might stay and watch (if they were playing for free at Live at Lunch). Problem is, except for a few songs, I borderline hate the Eagles. No, that’s too harsh, let me put it a different way: I like the Eagles better than I like Sting; if Crème Tangerine had played one by Der Stinker I’m not sure what I would have done.
As it was I just quietly left – walking calmly but quickly to the exit — came home, pumped up the air in the wheelbarrow tires and spread some wood chips on one of our walking paths. PS: The VEBA reimbursement for my approved medical expenses did get deposited into my checking account, so I feel like that piece of my retirement system is working, even though I still don’t understand why they accepted one claim and rejected the other. To be continued.
Day 74, Sat Sept 12: It’s a pretty, sunny fall day so Enid and I took a 10-mile walk on the East Sammamish Trail and had the cool experience of twice almost stepping on a garter snake sunning on the path (two different snakes, not the same one two times). Both times they jerked awake and wriggled off. They are always cute but, even more significant, they are supposed to be a predictor species for a healthy and diverse biome. Judging by appearances on the East Sammamish Trail, they are thriving. The main danger to these little guys would seem to be if they fall asleep on a trail with heavy foot and bike traffic.
The trail runs for 11 miles above the shore of Lake Sammamish from Issaquah’s charmingly preserved little downtown on the south to Marymoor Park on the north. We park in a massive lot near an Issaquah lumber yard and a Fred Meyer and walk five pleasant miles before we turn around and double back. Like the Kirkland Corridor, this is another stretch of repurposed abandoned railway, a wide paved path paralleling a busy arterial for a few miles until it gets past the boat launch. Right alongside the path is a good strip of natural wetlands and grasses. Then the walkway drops off to a graveled surface and the arterial calms down, and the trail becomes a bucolic path behind some waterfront homes that provide peeks around their corners at Lake Sammamish glittering in the sunlight.
There’s a 25% off coupon for Freshy’s in the paper so we drive over to Mercer Island – it’s just 15 minutes – and pick up a couple of cod fillets for dinner and a big handful of the teriyaki salmon jerky for a snack.
Day 75, Sun Sept 13: There are some people who really adore their job. Weirdos.
No, I joke only because I’m a cynical bad person. I know that there are folks who love what they do and get a lot of meaning out of it. For most of us, though, work is not a great thing in their life. I read someplace that 90 percent of people are, at best, “not engaged” with their work. That’s pretty much where I was, both throughout much of my career and especially towards the end. Many times, to be honest, it was creative and stimulating and exciting. Mostly it was tolerable. Sometimes it sucked.
I liked it well enough but I didn’t love it. To say that would be a mischaracterization. And would also be super creepy. (Like these CEOS who are asked in an interview what they do in their off-time, and answer proudly, “I have no downtime, my work is my life.” You’ve heard this from these guys; major Ewww factor.) For me this was especially true once I transitioned out of journalism and into bureaucratic communications. Sometimes it was better and sometimes worse, but it was rarely fabulous. I suppose I should be grateful that it also was never Amazon or Microsoft. Or so I’ve heard.
One of the better things about reaching the end of the line is that you simply don’t have to pay the emotional costs of office dynamics, whether petty or significant. (Another advantage is that you are old, period; nobody’s paying attention so you don’t have to make any effort to remain hip or relevant – if you ever cared about those things – unless you want to.) These days I scan the headlines – “The Toxic Workplace” can catch my eye – but I don’t get more involved than that. I no longer read articles or books about how to advance my career or even how to survive it. It made me laugh the other week when I read that a problem at Amazon is that there aren’t enough men’s toilets, so some of the Brogrammers are in distress about holding it.
I listen with genuine sympathy when Enid vents about a workplace situation or some professional group where she feels like her contribution is underappreciated (and, overall, she’s one of these people who genuinely likes her job and gets a lot out of it, so there’s not that much complaining). I’ve been there, so I can play the empath. One, I don’t want her to feel bad and, two, she’s undoubtedly right: those people are assholes. When I was working myself I might have selfishly thought, “Yeah, yeah, you don’t know how good you’ve got it. You want to hear intolerable, let me tell you about my day.” Now my self-interested thought runs more to, “Wow that sucks. Glad I’m not involved in that anymore.”
There’s a reason somebody made that meme of a butterfly tethered to a rock: “Note to self: Let Shit Go”. They say (“they” do) that you don’t quit a job but you quit a boss. Like everybody, I’ve had to outlast a few Monster Bosses. I’ve been laid off a couple of times – never a good feeling — and had a couple of intolerable situations where I had to tighten up my resume and bail out of there in stat mode. It always sucks when a workplace situation deteriorates. Work is stressful enough without being distressful. The Bad Boss thing is real enough.
I’m sorry to say it, but my experience is that most people in leadership positions have very few leadership qualities. Nobody wants to follow them, though usually the little people have to. Sometimes (not always) the Big Boss is really good, but the next level of vice presidents or directors have really drifted above their competency level and out of their depth. I think that often they have at least some animal sense that they didn’t get the promotion based on merit. That makes them even less secure and more petty.
Worse, though, are the ones who don’t even know that they’re incompetent. The ones who don’t know what they don’t know. The foulest of these stupid ones continue to make decisions and give orders that everybody else in the room knows are bad. Usually they won’t shut up, providing more and more evidence of how little they know. Not a formula for excellence. When I first started working I innocently thought that everybody who was in a leadership position got there because they had talent and worked hard. It took me less than 40 years to suss it out. I’m a quick study. Quick-ish, more like.
There are exceptions. Most recently, the President of Bellevue College from which I retired was a really good, smart guy with a lot of emotional intelligence. Of course, he only lasted about three years before the Board of Trustees decided to “go in a different direction.” His resignation was “amicable,” the press release said. And 25 years ago when I started at the City of Seattle Water Department I had exceptional people straight up the line of command: my immediate boss; the Water Department Superintendent; the Mayor’s communications director; and Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, my Most-Admired Elected Official. All first-class.
There must have been others in the other 40 years of my working life. Give me a minute on this. I’ll get back to you. I have lost contact with all of these folks. I’m connected on Facebook with a handful of colleagues from various former jobs, but that’s it.
If I wasn’t keeping this retirement journal for a year I don’t think I would spend too much time at all reflecting on my pre-retirement life. I walked away with no regrets or remorse. Sure, there’s a normal tendency for an older person to spend as much or more time looking backwards as forward. When I do, I try to keep it positive.
It could, I suppose, be an opportunity to revisit old wrongs done to me. But I haven’t brooded about slights that happened in high school since, oh, about a week since I got out of high school. And bad bosses who were mean to me? I am not interested in remembering them. Plus, I’m not religious but I believe that karma’s a bitch so it will all work out without me ever having to act on my revenge fantasies.
Day 76, Mon Sept 14: Dangerous subject ahead. When it comes to politics, I’m way on the left side of most topics, especially social issues. I used to pride myself that I was way ahead of the country because for a long while I was all for legalizing weed and gay marriage, to name two matters, while the powers that be hemmed and hawed and pursed their lips and furrowed their brows. Then those things got legalized and it turned out that the great midde-of-the-road didn’t care that much. It turned out that there are millions of people who felt like I did about these things.
I’m going to have to find other issues to champion so that I can feel like I’m avant-garde again. I miss that superiority and smugness.
On most any issue I am likely to join in more on the left or progressive viewpoint. Not on everything because I’ve lived a long time with my eyes open so my common-sense-meter kicks in on some of the loonier leftish ideas, but I’ve got a pretty long rope of tolerance in that direction.
I’m not an activist, I don’t march in protests. It’s not in my nature. I’m a little too staid for that. I don’t even really express my views on Facebook. I’ll have a discussion about them but only with like-minded folks, I’m not too interested in a debate. And when it comes to Facebook, I prefer an echo-chamber to an insane asylum.
I’ve never got involved in campaigns except for once in college. I was a freshman or sophomore at the University of Nebraska and I was sitting on the lawn in front of Selleck Hall when fellow student, Diane, walked by. “What are you doing right now,” she asked. “Nothing,” I said. “C’mon with me,” she said, and who was I to argue. It turned out that she was going to a meeting where a bunch of political activist pranksters were putting together a slate of candidates to run for student government as Yippies. I was there, so I got nominated. I imagine this is pretty much the way it works for the major parties, too. The slogan was “Yippie: The Red Hog With the Red Meat.” I forget which office I was listed for, but I remember that I didn’t win.
I have a lot of friends who have done that political campaign work. They always seem like the kids in Government Club. Almost all of the actual candidates are running for office fueled by some kind of power-trip pathology – except perhaps at the most local level where they truly do want to serve.
I’ve worked in city government, though, so I’ve been in the room when the mayor and various political operatives were chopping up an issue – low-income housing, say. I’ve seen a little bit of how those discussions happen.
Spoiler: there are trades and compromises but no big conspiracies. Governments and quasi-government organizations do their best to be competent but they can barely tie their Chuck Taylors sometimes. So – while of course there is favoritism in the way decisions are made — to think that they can somehow conspire in vast networks of elaborate backroom deals is crazy talk. I’ve got batty friends who believe that there is a plutocratic “Shadow Government” making the real decisions, controlling everything including what time you take a leak. For all I know, this may be true, but I don’t have time to worry about it.
I came up aware of political action in the Sixties: civil rights, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, the Chicago Seven, Richard Nixon and all of that. I have lost neither my idealism nor my cynicism: I still think that one day we should have civil rights for everybody in this country; I’m still a pacifist and I have a hard time seeing where war has ever done more good than bad. I think anarchy has its place, but I also participate in the rituals of democracy.
I vote, even though there are rarely candidates who truly represent my view. I get it, they have to crowd themselves to the middle where most voters live, not try to attract nuts with extreme views like mine. And, of course, there are even crazier perspectives. I have an otherwise pleasant friend who thinks there is a shadow government behind the curtain pulling the strings. Controlling what time we take a leak. And who am I to say he’s wrong.
I wish we had a system where my support for progressive positions was somehow reflected in proportional representation. (My argument falls apart when the next words out of my mouth are, “Like in Italy.”) But we don’t have that; we have the two-party democracy, with maybe a few Independents or Other-Party candidates who can be viable at the local level. Some would say one-party and I cannot argue that the distinctions between Democrats and Republicans are always sharply defined. If there is not a viable more progressive option, I always vote Democrat because they are usually at least a touch better.
Day 77, Tue Sept 15: I picked up the car from Eastside Autoworks: $107 for a routine checkup, oil change, tire rotation and a few other things. They also recommended a new battery and new tires, but that’ll have to wait. I picked up the chainsaw from G&H Repair, with a bill of $52, including a new chain and a clean-up and tune-up.
I took a walk. I made some more tomato sauce out of our bumper harvest of garden tomatoes.
For supper I cooked up those bow-tie style pasta (what do they call them?), sauted up a pan of mixed veggies (onion, carrots, green beans, radishes dusted with cumin, garam masala and Cajun spice) and garden-tomato sauce, then mixed it all together. Pasta is maybe not the best choice from a health and weight-maintenance standpoint, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do with the extra tomato sauce left over after I filled a couple of jars for freezing. So pasta it is, plus a big salad. After we ate we had to run an errand to north Bellevue so we stopped at Ezell’s Famous Chicken and, for dessert, had the small order of their nonpareil chicken livers that we scarfed down in the car on the way home, wiping our fingers on a paper towel.
Day 78, Wed Sept 16: I’m not feeling great so I run a few errands and do a few things but mostly take it easy and lounge around. When I was walking yesterday I felt a twinge in my left knee and today that has turned into a vague tightness or irritation or discomfort or something in my knee, hamstring, butt and/or lower back. So I take a recovery day from exercise. I also have what feels like the start of a sore throat and maybe a little bit of uneasiness stomach-nausea wise. Not a bad plan anyway, since it’s a bit rainy and when I walk up to the mailbox (this doesn’t count as exercise, just counts as walking to the mailbox) in places the wet road is sprinkled with the yellow and orange confetti maple leaves. Makes for a moody, emotional picture of fall. Definitely looks like the aftermath of a party room when the lights come up and somebody needs to sweep up. Bye-bye, summer.
Day 79, Thu Sept 17: I have marked Thursdays as Yardwork Day — in my weekly schedule. Also Laundry Day; apparently there are not enough days in the week for my busy card of responsibilities. Every week I actually take a blank sheet of paper – I save up the blank back sides of junk mail or back sides of draft printouts – and write out an activity outline for each day. Sick, huh? Mostly it’s the weekly routines – laundry, housecleaning, yardwork – plus reminders for things to do every day (workout, dinner menu plans) and then the occasional deadlines that would create an apocalyptic shitstorm if I forgot (pay property tax, buy Anniversary gift).
Since it’s a gorgeous day today – beautifully lit and rain washed after yesterday — I spent a couple hours cutting and pulling brush from around the yard. I’m trying to at least put in a few random hours a week on it. I only get knocked off my Thursday yardwork schedule if it’s too rainy; I’m not going to make myself miserable just to trim a few branches. Or another reason it doesn’t happen is if I just don’t feel like going out and doing yardwork. That sometimes throws a wrench in my plans. Whether or not I get out there every week, it is a never-ending task. I will never be done. Nature will always outperform me.
Day 80, Fri Sept 18: After several mis-starts, I finally get Facebook Messenger loaded on my phone and talk to Elena for a half-hour. She’s in Madagascar and it’s good to hear her voice and hear about what’s up. Kids grow up and you have to stay out of their way while they live their lives. When you love them it’s a challenge sometimes. And I don’t know if you know, but Madagascar is a long way away.
The Messenger app download got hung up for about 15 minutes on a page asking me to enter an account number (which they sent to my phone). Then when I’d enter it, it would reject the number, even though I was looking right at it when I put it in. During all of this, we were still able to message back and forth to try to suss it out. Maddeningly, though, when Elena would call me on Messenger my phone would ring but I’d have no way to answer. It would show “Missed call from Elena.”
Then when it finally said I had made too many errant tries at the account number and was shutting me down, I clicked out of the page and suddenly I wasn’t shut out at all. I was where I’d wanted to be all along, on a Messenger page where I could call Elena. Something kind of iPhone 5 koan about it: you can’t get there until you stop trying to get there.
Day 81, Sat Sept 19: I’m feeling fine so I get in a five-mile walk at Robinswood Park. This is a park just 10 minutes drive-time straight down the hill from us on 148th, over I-90 and past Bellevue College. It has two turf fields where I have stood in the freezing spring rain and watched many lacrosse games. Lots of times when I’m walking here in the fall there are youth soccer games and sometimes adults – often it will seem like a Spanish-speaking team, say, against a bunch of Serbian-looking guys. Right next to that is a ballfield where I’ve enjoyed watching an inning or so of Pee Wees. There’s a walking path around all of this and a playground for little kids. A long rolling lawn to the south and a pond with ducks. If you go one direction from there you get to a dog park, in another direction to trails through the woods, and in yet a third direction the tennis complex.
Back home at noon I watch the Cornhuskers v Miami. My beloved Huskers stink and fall way behind, then mount a miracle comeback, scoring a bunch of times in the last few minutes of the game to tie it 33-33 and send it to overtime. With all the momentum, they immediately make a bunch of errors and blow it for the loss.
So I have to carry that humiliation on my shoulders until 4 o’clock when the Sounders play Vancouver. The Sounders had an abysmal summer and fell out of the playoff table, but now they are getting good and are back in the picture with a few weeks left in the season. It’s late in the campaign so they basically have to keep winning – especially against Western Conference foes – and root for losses by most of those same adversaries. The Whitecaps are leading the entire league in points, the game is in Vancouver, and the Sounders beat them like a timbale, winning 3-0.
Day 82, Sun, Sept 20: In other news, my sister Monica was home in Schuyler for her 50th Class Reunion and sent us a photo she took of the old Becker Grocery building on a corner downtown.
When I was young my folks had a little grocery. My dad had started it in 1938 (possibly co-owning with his dad, who – also possibly – previously ran a tavern in that space; the story has never been entirely clear to me). It was lightly connected to Thriftway, but this was the era when an independent grocery could still exist in a small town. I don’t know that it thrived, since our family was always on the lower side of the line. But it could provide.
I would be taken there sometimes and stashed behind the deli counter to babysit myself. I whiled away long hours playing a dice-rolling baseball game, or a spin-the-dial horserace game. Above the store were some high-ceilinged empty apartments and my dad put a basketball hoop on a wall so I could shoot free throws and layups. Sometimes we would get a container of goulash from the Corner Bar across the street and have that for lunch. Once when the carnival was in town I was out rambling around the booths – I was still pretty little – and my dad closed up the store at 9 and went home without me. I guess he counted five kids and thought he had counted six. I went back to the darkened store, considered my options and headed for home until my dad doubled back and found me walking along Highway 15. My mom was pretty mad. At him, not me.
Once in a while my dad would have to sell the last turkey to a paying customer so our family would have pot roast or hamburgers for Thanksgiving. I don’t ever recall feeling the least bit deprived because of it. And our family got a lot of experience eating a lot of product that didn’t move off the shelves. On the good side: artichokes in butter sauce. On the less-good side: off-brand, neon-colored pop.
In Schuyler, a town of 3,200 then, there were three or four groceries – plus meat markets and bakeries. I think that each store owner was trying to thrive and grow, but not at the expense of driving a competitor out of business. I was too little to understand any of it but I think they felt that there was room for all. It was not competitive zero-sum business like sometimes happens today.
When I was 10 or so there was a big fire at the store. My dad rebuilt and re-opened but he never regained traction. While he was closed down customers started buying their groceries at Dubsky’s or Grubbs’ and the customer base never totally returned. Eventually he sold the store.
My mom started teaching school, first at a rural one-room school and then at Saint Bonaventure’s grade school 15 miles away in Columbus. Women were kind of limited at that time regarding the jobs that were considered “appropriate” and teaching was one. Still, I think she liked that job; it gave her some sense of identity and independence.
My dad moved full-time into a business that he had already been doing as a side hustle while he still had the store: he sold gravestone monuments. His company, Watertown Monuments, would send him weekly packets of obituaries from his sales area and he would drive around and contact the surviving relatives about buying a marker. This sounds weird and macabre but he said it was actually OK.
First, he would crack a joke: as long as people keep dying he would have a job. Secondly, he said, grieving people actually want to have a sympathetic person show up at their door and help them remember their loved one. (I actually had a taste of this as a beginning newspaper reporter; sometimes when there was a sudden death we would contact the family for a comment about the deceased and they almost always were glad to talk it out. Only occasionally did they seem to feel like it was too invasive. Unlike my dad, however, I never got comfortable with talking to the relatives.)
Dad said the only hard part was to not over-sell them, because they were so vulnerable at the time that they would want to buy the biggest and most expensive headstone. That was a good job for him and eventually he was making solid money.
Somewhere in those years, after I was gone off to college and life, my folks sold the house I grew up in to the school district, which put up a new gym on the site. Mom and Dad moved to the other side of the high school and bought another home immediately adjacent. When they had retired from their jobs they lived there for several years until they couldn’t maintain it anymore, and then into assisted living in Omaha until they passed.
I’m not sure what other businesses were in the Becker Grocery building over the years after my dad got out. In the photo Monica sent the building is all boarded up but looks familiar. Faded and worn but still standing. Like me.
Day 83, Mon, Sept 21: Maybe everybody else who retires does it with full and detailed knowledge of the process and the jargon and the ins-and-outs of getting signed up for Social Security and Medicare. That’s a support group I should have joined, but somehow I did not.
My deficiency of solid information is not for lack of effort. Trying to be a responsible person, I actually spent a year or two before I adjourned taking stabs at trying to figure it out. I have no confidence that I understand almost anything about it. I feel pretty good about my plan and I bounced it off of various experts before I quit my job. But honestly, who the heck knows.
Every retiree will do Social Security in their own way. As I’ve mentioned, since we aren’t desperate for the money right away my strategy is to defer on taking my benefit for a few years, and maybe several. So the thing in my face right now is Medicare, specifically coordinating it with being covered on Enid’s Group Health plan from her work. I’m sure I am overthinking it, but every step of the way is a challenge. I know what I want to do, but every piece is perplexing, right down to the indecipherable jargon on some of the forms.
I’ve put it off as long as possible. Now I finally have to bite an especially unappetizing bullet and make my appointment with the Social Security office and get my Medicare lined up so that it is ready and right when I turn 65 in two months. The main thing driving action right now is that Enid is in her open enrollment period at work, so we need to sort out if this must be done now or can be deferred until November and then done as a “special circumstance.” Probably the former. Her Bellevue Schools HR office has been intermittently helpful and then at other times non-helpful. And while I hear differing reports on the customer-friendliness of the local Social Security office, it seems that public opinion tips to the side that they are pretty obliging.
So it is with this faith in my government that I forge ahead. I am picking up the thread I started a few months ago when I tried to make an online Social Security account and it rejected me, failing to recognize my Social Security Number.
Let me just repeat, in case you were speed-reading and hitting only every other word: the Social Security system didn’t recognize my Social Security Number.
To remedy this whole mess, I figure I will make this appointment with a friendly representative at the local Bellevue office and let them help me straighten it all out. Of course there is no local phone number to call. On the socialsecurity.gov site there is no way to make a local appointment similar to the way you might reserve a table for dinner. There is an 800 number, so I give that a try. They feature peppy smooth jazz and the little voice breaks in every couple of minutes to assure me they will get to my call. At one point the robot’s message gets a little defensive and he points out that they serve 50 million people. Many of whom are apparently in the queue ahead of me.
I’ve got nothing but time, right? You’d think. I guess what I’ve really got is 17 minutes because after that long on hold I finally get frustrated and hang up. I jump online again for a few minutes and even look at the application form there but it is not all that intuitive so I bail on trying to apply online.
Instead I do an end run and call the Group Health Medicare 800 number. They at least answer their phone, and connect me with a human rep in a few minutes. Truth be told, with Medicare strategy I feel like I’ve already received solid advice from Karsten in the Bellevue College HR office when I quit my job a few months ago, and I’ve had it confirmed more recently by a guy running a seminar I attended held by Group Health at Group Health. (I went to several sessions with lying titles like “Medicare Made Clear.”) I do know this: I want to take Medicare Part A and defer Part B and keep that part of the coverage on Enid’s plan.
The Group Health phone rep I get today is very cheery but pretty much advises the exact opposite of what I’ve heard from everybody else. Then she tells me I don’t even need to be talking with Group Health but all my forms filing needs to happen with the Medicare people themselves and with the Bellevue School District’s benefits office. In other words, her message to me is a chirpy “Leave me alone.”
I’m nothing if not flexible, so I improvise up a new plan: tomorrow I will go down to the Bellevue Social Security office near Uwajimaya and Total Wine and see if they take walk-ins. Man of action. To be continued.
Day 84, Tue Sept 22: The day is a beaut, belying the change of seasons. Warm, sunny and just plain great. A fabulous day to talk with bureaucrats.
I am at the Social Security office by 9:05, take a number, sit on an uncomfortable bench just long enough to use the bathroom once, get called to the window and the woman behind the intimidating thick Plexiglas security barrier is really helpful. Honest.
To recap: the system as I have experienced it so far is nearly impenetrable and there are a paralyzing number of options and nuances. Most people with expertise, maddeningly, won’t actually advise you but instead will simply lay out the options again and tell you the choice is up to you. Somebody could make their next million by opening a Retirement Benefits Advisor office next door to the other critical services like the financial advisor and the tax preparer and the dog groomer. Every retiree has to get involved with Social Security and Medicare, but for some of us it will be a more immediate, more intimate, more involved relationship right off the bat. It’s daunting enough for me and I have the relative luxury of wading into it a bit at a time. For the person trying to figure it out for the first time, it can be summarized in three little words: it’s a mess.
That all changes once you get to the thick Plexiglas window. Maybe it helps that I don’t’ start out by yelling at her. Sometimes that can be a good approach. First, this federal employee sees right away that I’ve already tried and failed to create an account online, so she fixes me up for that on the spot. Then she tells me to just do the Medicare enrollment form online (I’m not yet convinced that the form will be straightforward without some Medicare-speak that I won’t understand, but c’est la vie) and it will automatically coordinate with both the Bellevue School District and Group Health to make it all work right. From her view I don’t have to even do anything to let them know.
I write down everything she tells me and repeat it back to her for confirmation. So I will do what she advises. Wish me luck. We will find out whether I’m successful or not in two months on November 17 when it is all supposed to kick in on my 65th birthday.
I am a member of the “when something sounds too good to be true” school of cynicism. But I am also of the “take your victories where you find them” philosophy and I am out of the Social Security office just before 10 o’clock.
To celebrate I drive up to North Bellevue and take a walk through Bridle Trails Park, a big 480-acre forest with 28 miles of walking trails where people can also ride their horses along the trails. Sometimes I have seen horses and riders there but today I encounter only horse poop.
To extend the party, for supper I’ll make oven-roast marinated chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, and salad, with fruit salad for dessert.
Day 85, Wed Sept 23: Like many people our age with an elderly parent, Enid is keeping an eye on the situation with her mom. Hepsie is pushing up on 90, is still mentally sharp and lives in her own house, 15 minutes from us, with Enid’s bachelor brother. She drives so she’s got freedom of mobility and isn’t isolated in that respect, though that’s clearly not going to continue much longer. She’s had a few falls – that we never hear about until long after the fact — but nothing broken yet. In short, she’s relatively hearty but she is slowing down.
Enid and I talk a lot about what we might be dealing with over the next few years. Just talking about it probably makes us a little more prepared and a few steps have been taken to prepare for the inevitable. For example, Enid’s name is on her mom’s bank accounts and her mom has shown where she keeps the various files and paperwork at her house. She’s told Enid the basic outline of her will. So at least there is that.
I went through a version of this 15 years ago when my folks died. Everybody goes through it, but it’s hard when it’s you. When they couldn’t handle their house in Schuyler anymore my mom and dad went into assisted living for a while in Omaha. After a while my dad wouldn’t necessarily know who you were – this was upsetting to my sisters but not quite so much to me, since he didn’t seem distressed by it — but he had always been a really nice and sociable guy who liked to sit and talk and that never left him. For a while, if you went to visit he would chat and be in the moment and enjoy it. Sometimes the fourth time he asked “where do you live” and you replied “Seattle” he would say “Oh, that’s right, you told me that.” We had an auction to sell their stuff which, of course, was emotional. My two sisters who lived there, Ann and Mary, had to do the heavy lifting with a little relief from siblings who flew in to assist once in a while. It was hard for them. I was not any help; that was outside of my emotional skill set. Being far away was double-edged: I didn’t have to deal with the everyday crap, but I felt helpless watching the decline from afar. And then straightening up the after-death paperwork is a chore, even when it is not so fraught with emotion.
When my Uncle Rudy died with no heirs except his nieces and nephews, my sister Mary and I handled his estate. She was there in Omaha and I was here in Seattle so we divvied up the tasks as best we could. For example, I could take papers and sign them with a notary here in Seattle as easily as she could do it there. And we had a lawyer on the ground locally in Schuyler to untangle the gnarliest aspects. Uncle Rudy owned about 20 houses in Schuyler, plus a few business properties that we had to sell. Almost every one of them had some quirk. For some we couldn’t even find any previous sales paperwork, they seemed to have been bought with cash and a handshake. On one of them, the corner of the house itself jutted a couple of feet over the property line into the neighbor’s yard. Eventually it all worked out.
He had been renting to Hispanic families, who were kind of new in Schuyler at that time and not entirely welcomed. I believe that he did this out of some basic goodness, but also because he was a diehard contrarian and this was a way for him to stick it to the local power elite. He had no use or respect for authority. He was about 6’5” and rough around the edges, with a glint in his eye. Uncle Rudy said what he thought. (After Enid came to Schuyler with me the first time, he got me aside and provided advice: “You better marry that girl.” OK, thanks, Uncle Rudy.) At family gatherings he would say provocative statements, including crazy-uncle racist ones, just to get his liberal nephews and nieces to take the bait and join the fray of a debate. And yet, after he died, his accounting books showed that he never collected rent from any of his Hispanic renters in December. He left instructions that they were to be given the right of first refusal to buy the houses they were occupying, and some did. In case I’m not being clear here: he was great.
Enid’s dad died five years ago so she’s been through the rough emotional part, but when her mom goes she will also have to handle the all of the ensuing details, too. I will do whatever I can to help. Everything about it sucks. On the bright side, it’s good that she can spend some quality time with her mom now. They can swap books. They can crack jokes. They can share their mutual ultra-progressive political and social viewpoints. Her mom is getting more radically progressive as she gets older. They like to go for lunch at Spice and eat great Chinese food. They like to go to Starbucks for coffee (her mom brings a few of her own cookies from home so they can have a snack, too – Starbucks hasn’t complained yet). And it’s also good that Elena can take her Gran out to dinner once in a while. They usually go to Pogacha or Nordstrom Grill and talk about whatever women talk about.
Day 86, Thu Sept 24: A little bit of the music I listened to today: Iris Dement’s “The Trackless Woods” while I was dusting and vacuuming and thinking that I should put away the deck furniture but not actually doing anything about it. Everything she does is great, and this is a moody record with lyrics translated into English from a Russian woman who wrote them around 1910 – not exactly my traditional housecleaning music which is usually more like Funkadelic or Fats Domino. Enid says that when she was a kid they would always have on the Kingston Trio or Brothers Four for the Saturday morning cleaning.
I also listen to: the Amboy Dukes’ song “Journey to the Center of the Mind” on Facebook (somebody was poking deserved fun at Ted Nugent and I remembered how much I like this great song he made before he went loopy); half of Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing “Didn’t It Rain Children” on Facebook (apparently there is a campaign on to elevate her as the “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll” so I thought maybe I had missed something with her – she probably is a little under-appreciated but it was hard for me to join the bandwagon on this one, it seems too much like revisionist history, and the song itself was kind of meh); part of Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin’s song “Mister Kicks” on Facebook (they’ve got a new album out and I liked the Blasters); a couple of minutes of Albert Collins and Stevie Ray Vaughn doing “Frosty” live (Albert Collins is one of my all-time favorites, I’ve seen him live many times and he never disappoints, Stevie Ray Vaughn – I never really got it, and actually I like to listen to his brother Jimmy Vaughn better); Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” (since I’ve been hearing about a Bill Withers revival and I always liked him both for his music and for his individualistic approach to life); Fatoumata Diawara’s album “Fatou” (she’s just spectacular).
For supper: tuna melts with tomato slices cooked under the broiler, and salad.
Day 87, Fri Sept 25: We drove out to our cabin for a weekend getaway. We see our neighbors’ truck in the parking lot, and then later see Judy and Gerry – he’s a well-known sculptor — and chat for a few minutes about chanterelles. It is the time of year – end of summer after we have had a few rains but it is not the rainy season yet — when we can typically walk the High Trail for an hour and gather a couple of produce bags of chanterelles. Today we get three. Not three bags full. Three mushrooms. They sauté up nicely for supper.
Day 88, Sat Sept 26: Earlier this week, I did a first sort-through of my closet to downsize my wardrobe. I boxed up a bunch of shirts but left a dozen or more hanging in the closet – they are good office-ready collared shirts in good shape. It’s possible I will wear an occasional shirt & tie over the next few years. And I may want to hang onto some of these clothes for another reason. There is definitely a perverse appeal to the notion that in 2035 I could be an old goat at an event wearing a 2015-era suit & tie, smelling of cedar closet blocks. And maybe Old Spice.
But if I’m remotely honest about it, I will probably not need or want all of these shirts and definitely not the 30 or so ties currently hanging on a hanger in my closet. This morning I had a light touch and was pretty generous with what I kept from my office work wardrobe. But I just do not see a future that includes six white shirts or three pairs of brown pants (plain, pinstriped and kind of checked pattern).
Elena already went through her clothes when she was here and wound up with a bag to donate. Then, to my amusement, Enid went through Elena’s toss-outs and snatched back a couple of things to keep – a white long-sleeved Under Armour shirt to run in, a pair of Capri pants. I stash it all in the garage for a garage sale at some vague future date to be determined.
By March, six months from now, I will realize that I have turned into a T-shirt guy and worn collared shirts about five times in the intervening months. It is obvious that I can take the next step and go through again and reduce my wardrobe by half.
But this is part of the deal with retiring the way I did. I don’t have to make any drastic urgent decisions. Unlike somebody who retires and the next week sells their house and buys a boat to sail around the world, I can live with things awhile to see how they play out.
Nevertheless, it is clear that downsizing has to happen, however low-key my approach. It’s a never-ending process just to get started on it: picking up, cleaning up, organizing, and closet downsizing. Enid went through the bookshelves in the hall from the kitchen to the TV room and pulled out a dozen cookbooks and coffee-table art books that nobody is going to ever look at. They get the same fate as the clothing: garage sale, then Half-Price Books or Goodwill.
I am no different than anybody. Besides household items and clothing, I have a lifetime accumulation of paperwork that I need to sort into throw-out and keep piles: scrapbook memorabilia, ancient financial records, defunct to-do lists. Wonder what I’ll do with my time once all of these things are neatly organized and under control. I may never find out. But at least I can find out what my closet looks like with half as many shirts hanging on the hangers.
Day 89, Sun Sept 27: I’m the kind of person who likes routine things to happen routinely. There is probably a diagnosis for my behavior. For sure, I compile to-do lists to the point of obsessiveness.
You might not tell it by observing, say, the dishabille environment at the side of my bed, but I like to have my life and my stuff as orderly as possibly: a place for everything and everything in its place. If I use something, I put it back. So if I go looking for a hammer, I want and expect it to be in the “hammer place.” If I need to look at critical documents, they should be in the Critical Documents Box. Car keys in my little wicker basket in my closet cubby. This is a way to have a smooth-running life most of the time. Of course, when it falls apart, then it really falls apart because the keys, hammer, critical document could be just about any place if it’s not in its assigned place. (I should also make clear right here that devoted married couples can have a loving and long-term relationship even if one of them does not share the other’s fixation on putting things back where you got them from.)
When I was working, when time was so tight, I also tried to keep a Task Calendar in my head, just so things didn’t descend into total chaos. Some things have to happen on certain days whether I want them to or not. The trash and recycling and green bin has to go out on Monday night for Tuesday pick up. The property tax has to get paid on April 30 and October 30. But I also had other things slotted into certain days. Sunday & Wednesday: scoop out the cat boxes; Monday: pay any bills for that week (I still accumulate them in the same black fabric Eddie Bauer shoulder-bag attaché case I toted to work for the past 30 years); Wednesday, house cleaning; Thursday, laundry loads and yard work. And then, First of the Month: change out the cat litter entirely. And so on.
In my secession from the workaday world I’m still keeping a version of this going (plus adding a few maintenance items) to preserve some order in my life and also to make sure this stuff doesn’t get ignored. But, also, I realize I am free from the tyranny of it. I don’t have to wait for Thursday, I can throw in a load of laundry any time I want.
President Obama said, “You need to focus your energy. You need to routinize yourself.” He was talking about wearing only blue or gray suits, to cut down on choices he’d have to make when he was also on the hook to make choices that affect the fate of the world. But it can apply more widely to anybody’s life. Thanks, Mr. President.
Since my current job is housekeeper I will try to do it well. I’m like the all-purpose operations manager around here. I’ll try to adapt any of the things that worked for me in my working life. So, yes, I keep to-do lists and try to routinize some tasks so that I deal with them daily, weekly, monthly or otherwise periodically. Puts me in the reliable and predictable world of routine. And then, just like in a band or a basketball team, once you’ve got the plays and the fundamentals down tight, you can improvise successfully.
On the other hand, you may be relieved to hear that we have no family vision and mission statements, no meetings or memos or forms. Even when I was working and it probably would have helped, I ran the other way from family meetings. It works. We handle our “family business” much more effectively than any actual business ever could.
Day 90, Mon Sept 28: An easy way to get along in life — true while you are in the workhouse, but even more true once you’re retired — is to say yes to all inconsequential stuff that won’t affect you (and this is easy since it’s almost all inconsequential: “Rule One, don’t sweat the small stuff; Rule Two, it’s all small stuff”), and also yes to the few important things that will make a positive difference. Say yes to your loved ones. Say no to everything and everybody else.
Everybody’s different, of course, so not everybody is comfortable saying no. (What’s the joke? “You’re an individual. Just like everybody else.”) My advice to a younger person if they asked would be different. Then you need to get involved in some iffy projects because the risk/reward payoff might be worth it. Be generous, not selfish and you’ll feel better about everything. But you’re retired now. You don’t need deadlines, deliverables, expectations from others. Only from yourself. And then, barely.
Today, I’m answering only to myself. I drove out to the Issaquah Lowe’s to shop for materials to deal with a few fix-up projects. Our doorbell stopped ringing and changing out the battery and unplugging and replugging the indoor chimes thing – it’s wireless – didn’t solve the problem so I’m going to get a new doorbell kit. I’m also going to look at battery motion-sensor lights and solar walkway lights. And scout out plexiglass sheets for repairing a broken studio window that a bird flew into – I have a piece of laminated cardboard in there now that is a yard sign promoting Bellevue East Lacrosse. And I need to compare various screen-type products, to find a size of mesh that might work to jam into our roof drains to keep out the fir needles while still letting the water drain down. It’s sunny and warm, so while I’m there I’ll take a five-mile walk through that little bit of forest and around those lakes on the Costco corporate campus.
Day 91, Tue Sept 29: I finished my two-day lawn mowing project.
I’m way over on the “don’t care” end of the homeowner spectrum when it comes to lawn upkeep. I like the natural look and I dislike the chemical lawn maintenance industry.
We live on an acre, much of which is non-lawn covered by salal, Douglas firs, maples, rhododendrons (and too much invasive English ivy and non-native blackberries). We have a big fenced vegetable garden. But, still, there is grass and it has to be cut. We have a small flat front yard and a similar patch of back yard and then huge grassy swales that slope up and down. Along the edge of our property right next to our neighbors Bo & Jan we have a wide green strip called the “service road” which, to my knowledge, has never seen a service vehicle. So all this grass is why I have a Craftsman riding lawnmower. All this grass plus the fact that riding around on a mower is one of the cooler things in life.
But my lawn tractor has been out of commission since mid-summer and I haven’t called the repair guy yet to come take a look. Once earlier in the summer I mowed part of the lawn with the hand mower – it’s an old electric Black & Decker – and then after that I just let it all go during the hot months. Now that we’ve had a few rains lately, things have greened up close to the house and the far reaches of the yard were getting knee-high. So I plugged in two heavy-duty 50-foot extension cords and went at it.
And despite my feelings against having too much of my self-worth tied up in the look of my yard, it was really satisfying to see the neat, well-mowed result. It took me two hours yesterday and another hour-and-a-half today. It is sunny and about 70 degrees out. By the time I was done I had sweated through my T-shirt, an indicator either that it was really hard work or that I am in really sorry shape. But it was certainly a good workout for me, so in the interest of a healthy lifestyle I may never get the riding mower fixed.
Just kidding. I will definitely get it repaired because I still have unrealized plans for it. I haven’t yet tricked it out with one of those little hot-rod knobs on the steering wheel. And a beer bottle caddy; I still have to put my mowing drink in the mesh pocket on the back of the seat cover, hope it doesn’t spill over when I’m going up and down the yard, and then twist around and fish behind my back to find the bottle when I want a drink. So there’s important work to do upgrading the lawnmower that has nothing to do with mowing the lawn.
Day 92, Wed Sept 30: There’s a movie out starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway called “The Intern.” I don’t really go to movies so I won’t see this but I’ve read the commentary and seen the trailers. DeNiro plays a retired exec who gets bored and goes back to work as an intern at a company inhabited by working-age people. So he’s a fish out of water.
It appears to check off all the clichés. Gee, old people are sure cute. And look how clueless this geezer is about social media. It looks like a bunch of “oh, these crazy seniors” comedy ensues. Then DeNiro dispenses “wise old person wisdom” to hard-charging but in-over-her-head company president Hathaway. A father figure, like the sagacious old janitor (often a black guy) in Disney TV movies who tells the kid the right thing to do for Air Bud. Yikes, right?
Then again, it’s Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway, and I like both of them. And the reviews are all positive, suggesting that it affirms the worth of old people without getting too gooey or heavy-handed with the message. It’s too bad that the starting premise is that it’s terrible to be retired and not working so your life lacks any meaning, but I suppose that, too, is a reality for some retirees.
But this is not a real movie with hopes for success. This production is somebody’s tax write-off. Even with a couple of bankable stars, it doesn’t have a chance to do any box office, so it will disappear from the theaters without a trace. There will probably not even be any spilled popcorn to carpet-sweep up. For me, I will wait and find out about all of this in a few years when it is playing on a movie channel in the comfort of my TV room.